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       The Saint, p.26

         Part #5 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
 

  Claire kissed Søren on the cheek and grabbed Eleanor by the arm.

  “Let’s go,” Claire said, dragging Eleanor up the steps. “We can talk about him behind his back, and then he’ll regret introducing us.”

  “I already do,” Søren said from behind them.

  Eleanor followed Claire to the red room and found that the girl had damn good taste. Giant four-poster bed, huge couches, portrait art on the walls—it looked like a room from an English estate rather than an American mansion.

  “Nice.” Eleanor nodded her approval.

  “It’s okay. Old-fashioned. Are you in love with my brother?”

  Eleanor dropped her bag on the floor.

  “Can you tell me the right answer to that question before I answer it?”

  Claire grinned ear to ear. With that big smile she came darn close to being as striking as her older brother.

  “If I wasn’t his sister I’d be in love with him. I am in love with him, but not that way.”

  “He’s worried about you.” Eleanor hoped a careful change of subject would work. “He wants to know why you stopped writing him letters.”

  Claire groaned and threw herself onto the bed. She buried her face against a pillow and laughed.

  This seemed like entirely inappropriate behavior for a girl whose father died that week. Eleanor decided to roll with it.

  Claire flipped onto her back and smiled up at the ceiling. Eleanor dug through her duffel bag for the boxer shorts and Pearl Jam T-shirt she’d packed as pajamas.

  “It’s very weird having a brother for a priest.”

  “You mean, a priest for a brother?”

  “Right.” Claire nodded.

  “I don’t have any brothers or sisters, so having a brother would be weird enough to start with. But the priest thing, yeah, that’s gotta be weird.”

  “It’s beyond weird. Plus he’s thirty and I’m sixteen so he should be the one out there doing stuff, dating, getting married, whatever, and I should be the innocent virginal one, right? Instead he hasn’t dated anybody since he was a teenager and I’m …”

  “You have a boyfriend.” Eleanor stripped out of her shirt and unhooked her bra.

  “I do.”

  “And you two are …”

  “Yeah.” Claire winced.

  Eleanor glared at her.

  “You lucky bitch.”

  Claire laughed again and pulled the covers down on the bed. They spent the next two hours talking about Claire’s boyfriend, Ike, and their sex life, which didn’t amount to much more than a dozen encounters in his bedroom or the basement after school while his parents were still at work. Claire had decided sex was the greatest thing ever and Ike agreed with her. They’d do it more often but he came from conservative Jewish parents who didn’t like him dating a Gentile and would have been furious to find out they were having sex.

  “I’d sell my soul to get laid,” Eleanor sighed.

  “You’re gorgeous, Elle. You can get any guy you want. Why are you still a virgin?”

  “Ask your brother that question.”

  “Oh, just do what I did with Ike.”

  “What is that?”

  Claire grinned devilishly.

  “Jump him.”

  By midnight Eleanor had extracted a promise from Claire that she’d tell Søren she had a boyfriend and that was why she’d been too busy to write lately. Mission accomplished, Eleanor fell asleep without giving a second thought to the fact that she slept in a bed in the house Søren had grown up in and that in bed with her was his baby sister. She was in love with a Catholic priest who acted liked he owned her. Weird was her new normal.

  Eleanor woke up the next morning and she and Claire had breakfast in their pajamas. She couldn’t believe Søren hated this place so much. She’d never been in a big old mansion like this before. This sort of country living suited her fine.

  After breakfast she hid out in the bedroom while Claire went downstairs with Søren. The wake would last all day and the funeral and burial would take place tomorrow morning. She’d packed books and homework to occupy her while all the family stuff happened.

  “Let no one in the door,” Søren ordered, “except for—”

  “Except for you and Claire. I know, I know. Am I going to get raped in the night if I leave the door unlocked?”

  Søren had given her the most earnest of stares as Claire tucked herself under his arm and rested her head on his chest.

  “You wouldn’t be the first person that has happened to in this house.”

  Eleanor locked the door.

  At about two in the afternoon, Claire returned to the bedroom carrying a plate of food for her. At six in the evening she brought another plate.

  “Are you trying to get me fat, or are you looking for an excuse to get out of there?” Eleanor asked as she dived into her food.

  “Mostly the second one. I hate stuff like this. I’m supposed to be sad and miserable. I’m not that good of an actress.”

  “No offense, but why aren’t you sad? I mean, your dad died.” Eleanor hoped she didn’t sound judgmental. She wouldn’t be all that sad if her own father died.

  Claire threw herself down on the couch next to Eleanor.

  “I barely knew him. I’m glad I barely knew him.”

  “Was he that bad?”

  Claire sighed and grabbed a strawberry off Eleanor’s plate. Eleanor pretended to stab her hand with the fork.

  “You want to know how bad he was?” Claire asked.

  “Probably not, but tell me anyway.”

  “Frater won’t tell me much, so I got all this from Mom.”

  “Wait, stop right there. Explain the Frater thing to me.”

  “It’s Latin for brother. Soror is Latin for sister. That’s what he and I call each other—Frater and Soror. He says he hates the name Marcus.”

  “That was your dad’s name?”

  “Right. And this is why he hates the name, and this is why I’m not sad my father’s dead.”

  Claire took a deep breath, kicked off her black ballet flats and curled up against the back of the couch.

  “My father is … was a very bad person. My mom says he abused Elizabeth when she was a little girl.”

  “He hit her?”

  “Worse.”

  Eleanor’s heart stopped beating for a few seconds.

  “Oh, fuck.”

  “Elizabeth’s mom and my father got divorced over that. They got married in the sixties, divorced in the seventies. Everyone kept stuff like that a secret. Then he met my mom and married her. They had me. Elizabeth found out from her mom that our father had gotten remarried and had me. She didn’t know what to do so she wrote a letter to Frater.”

  “What did he do?” Eleanor was careful to not call Søren “Søren.” Apparently Claire didn’t know his real name. Interesting that Søren thought her more worthy of knowing his real name than his own baby sister.

  “This is what Mom told me. She said it was late November. I was three years old. My father was gone on one of his business trips. Mom said the doorbell rang one afternoon and she answered it. And standing on the front porch was, and these are her words, ‘a blond angel.’”

  “A blond angel?”

  “That’s what she said. He introduced himself as the son of her husband, which was a huge shock since she didn’t even know my father had a son. He told her that she didn’t have to let him in the house. He only wanted five minutes of her time.”

  “What happened?”

  “Ten minutes later, Mom was packing our stuff, calling her parents and getting us out of the house—this house. My ‘blond angel’ brother told my mom she’d married a child-raping monster and if she loved her daughter she would never let her spend a single second in their father’s company ever again. He had a friend with him, my mom said.”

  “A friend? Who?”

  “Some French guy about his age. They both helped her carry the stuff to Mom’s car. She said she offered to let him hold h
is baby sister. Me, that is. He said he didn’t know anything about children and was worried he’d hurt me. Apparently his friend held me instead while she packed up the car. He said he liked kids. Now I make Frater hug me all the time to make up for that day he wouldn’t do it.”

  “That is crazy.” So a teenage Kingsley had gone with Søren to his father’s house. She couldn’t imagine Kingsley holding a kid. “So your brother left school to warn your mom about who she’d married?”

  “He did. And guess what, Elle?”

  “What?”

  “Because of him coming to my mother that day, I lost my virginity at age sixteen to my boyfriend. Not at age eight to my father like Elizabeth did. So that’s why I’m totally in love with my brother. Not that way, though.” Claire grinned, a slight blush suffusing her cheeks.

  “Yeah, not that way. I get it.” Eleanor stared across the room and into the empty fireplace. “It doesn’t surprise me, you know? I mean, it’s horrible and it makes me sick to think about your dad and what he did to your sister. I have this friend at school—Jordan. Her mom won’t let us hang out much anymore because of some trouble I got into once. But last year I could tell something was really wrong with her. I made her tell me. A teacher had felt her up.”

  “What a sick fucker.”

  “I know,” Eleanor said. “I told your brother about it. He put the fear of God into that asshole teacher. That guy packed up his shit and left town. Your brother has this really strong protective streak toward girls.”

  “Elizabeth is the reason,” Claire said. “He’s so protective I didn’t even want to tell him about Ike.”

  “He’s protective of me, too,” Eleanor said. “Except with me, he’s protecting me from him, and I wish he’d stop.”

  “You are in love with him.” Claire studied her with Søren’s steel-colored eyes. They must have inherited that steely stare from their father.

  “Yeah,” she admitted, not looking Claire in the eyes.

  “Does he know?”

  “He does. Does that freak you out?”

  “I don’t want him getting in trouble, that’s for sure. But I don’t want him to be a priest, either. When he was in seminary, I’d cut out pictures of sexy women in magazines and send them to him in my letters. I wrote on the pictures ‘see what you’re missing?’”

  “And you say I’m evil?”

  “I know. He thought it was hilarious. He said mine were the most popular letters at his seminary. It was a joke at first. But then a few years ago when that thing happened in El Salvador, I called him and begged him to quit school and come home.”

  “What thing in El Salvador?”

  “There was a war,” Claire began, her face wearing an inscrutable expression. “The Jesuits had a school there. They weren’t part of the war. But that didn’t stop the military from killing them.”

  “Killing who?”

  Claire looked Eleanor straight in the eyes.

  “The Jesuit priests. Six of them.” Claire wiped a tear off her cheek. “Elle, they killed them all. The priests, the housekeeper, the housekeeper’s daughter … Mom bought the Newsweek that had a story on it. I still have the article—‘Bloodbath in El Salvador.’ November 16, 1989.”

  Eleanor couldn’t speak, couldn’t think. All she could do was stare into the vision of Søren on his knees, a man standing behind him with a gun pointed at the back of his head.

  “They call the Jesuits ‘God’s Army,’ ‘God’s Marines,’ ‘God’s Soldiers.’ And the Jesuits take that seriously. They go to work in the most dangerous parts of the world, and sometimes they die there. I begged Frater to quit. He said God wanted him to be a priest. That was the end of that.”

  “He’s in Connecticut now. He should be safe there.”

  “Yeah, if they let him stay there. They can send him anywhere anytime they want to, though. I can’t get him to quit. Maybe you can.”

  Eleanor didn’t have the heart to tell Claire not only couldn’t she make Søren leave the priesthood, but she’d also promised God she’d never ask him to.

  By eight o’clock that evening the guests had left and most of the other relations had gone to their bedrooms. Eleanor finally felt comfortable escaping the bedroom. Claire and Søren staked out the music room and Eleanor ate ice cream while Frater and Soror worked out a sonata on the grand piano.

  “It’s in C,” Søren instructed Claire, and played a few notes for her.

  “I don’t like C. Everything’s in C.”

  “It doesn’t matter if you like C or not, the piece is in C.”

  “Can we do it in A?”

  “Is your first name Ludwig? Is your last name Beethoven?”

  “My first name is Claire, and my last name is Awesome-at-piano.”

  “Then it’s in C.”

  Eleanor watched Søren and Claire on the piano bench playfully bickering. How normal it all seemed. How comfortable. She wished she had a brother, too, someone to joke around with, to hang out with, to annoy and tease. Her parents had divorced when she was a baby. No siblings for her. Mom got full custody and two jobs. It would have been nice to not be alone so much growing up. Good thing she had her books to keep her company. No wonder Claire said she was in love with Søren. It wasn’t anything weird or creepy, only hero worship and the joy of having a man in her life she could trust completely. Eleanor also trusted Søren completely. She owed him so much for everything he’d done for her. And yet he asked nothing of her. Nothing but eternal obedience. In light of all he’d done for her and how little he asked, paying him back in eternal obedience seemed like a steal.

  They stayed up until about eleven when Søren ordered them both to bed again. Claire snuck off to call her boyfriend from the phone in the kitchen. Eleanor went to the bedroom and changed into her pajamas.

  Claire came back, crawled into bed and fell asleep in the middle of telling Eleanor how much Ike missed her.

  Eleanor curled up on her side, thinking of everything Claire had told her today. Søren’s father had been a child molester, had raped his own daughter. She knew Søren and Elizabeth were only a year apart. Had he known this was happening as a kid? Had he tried to protect Elizabeth like he protected Claire? Or had it been happening to him, too? God, just the idea of anyone hurting Søren as a child inspired thoughts of vengeance and wrath that scared even her. It was a good thing his father was dead. If he’d even looked at Søren the wrong way, Eleanor would have killed the man herself.

  Unable to sleep, Eleanor slipped out of bed and snuck into the hallway. She didn’t know what to do or where to go. She only knew she wanted to talk to Søren a few minutes if only to make sure he was okay.

  Behind a few doors she heard voices but none were Søren’s. She would know his voice in the dark with her eyes blindfolded and a thousand other voices around her calling her name. Everyone staying overnight at the house had crowded into the west wing, as Claire called it. Søren had told her once that he valued his privacy above anything, so perhaps he’d found a room in the east wing of the house. Following only her feet and her instincts, Eleanor passed into the older part of the house that lay behind a set of double doors on the second floor. As soon as she entered that hallway a draft tickled her bare legs. The air smelled of dust-covered memories. She peeked into a few rooms and found the furniture covered in white sheets tinged yellow with time.

  At the end of the long hallway Eleanor found a room with the door ajar. She looked in and saw Søren sitting in armchair with his eyes closed. The chair sat a few feet from the window and moonlight surrounded him like a halo. For a long time she did nothing but look at him, at his hands that lay on the arms of the chair, at his face so peaceful in repose, at his eyelashes—unusually long and dark for someone so blond—resting on his cheeks. Looking at Søren it was easy now to believe man was created in God’s image. If God looked like Søren there would be no atheists.

  “Eleanor, I told you not to leave your room alone.”

  She winced.

 
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