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       The Saint, p.41

         Part #5 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
 

  “King, you’re like the big brother I never had. And never wanted.”

  Kingsley opened her bedroom door.

  “Don’t worry, chérie,” he said in his most infuriating French accent, “someday you’ll have me. We both know you already want me.”

  “I don’t want this money.” She held up the envelope. “I didn’t earn it.”

  “No,” he agreed almost solemnly. “But believe me, in his bed, you will.”

  She tossed a pillow at his retreating back and he slammed the door behind him. Kingsley might have a point about her being an unsubmissive submissive. Not that she’d admit that to him. She collapsed back into bed and tried not to think about the money, the key and the shopping trip. How much more would her life change once she and Søren were lovers and a real couple?

  Her alarm went off at 8:30 a.m. and Eleanor dragged herself out of bed. She didn’t have her first class until ten o’clock, but she had to take her birth control pill at the same time every day. As soon as Søren had declared he couldn’t wait much longer, she’d gone into planning mode—planning not to get knocked up. She focused on that aspect of going on birth control, the “I am not going to get pregnant” part. If she thought about the “Søren is never going to have children” part she might have had second thoughts.

  She managed to give psych class at least half her attention even with her ass still smarting from Kingsley’s spankings. They were studying the Stanford prison experiments—the infamous study where Philip Zimbardo created a fake prison in the basement of a classroom building and filled it with volunteer guards and volunteer prisoners. Fascinating how quickly people took on the roles that they were assigned. Even in a fake prison, it took only one day for the guards to start abusing the prisoners and the prisoners to sink into rebellion or depression. The guards and prisoners internalized their roles so quickly that they had to call off the experiment after only six days. Some of the guards, heretofore normal university students, turned into sadists with the prisoners. The word sadist had gotten her attention.

  She wondered if stuff like this happened in the BDSM community that Kingsley ruled. Did the dominants dominate because they’d taken on that role? Did the submissives submit for the same reason? Which came first? The submissive or the submission? Maybe she would write her term paper on role-play in BDSM. What if someone put a flogger in her hand, pointed her at a submissive and was told to discipline her? She would, of course. And she’d enjoy it, although she knew she was a submissive, not a dominant. Had to be a submissive, right? She loved sitting at Søren’s feet, obeying his orders, getting disciplined by him, and dreamed of the night when he’d beat her the first time. Still … if someone did put a flogger in her hand, she wouldn’t complain.

  The Rolls-Royce pulled up in front of her dorm promptly at three. She’d hoped to find Søren waiting for her, or at least Kingsley. Sam, even? A night with Sam would make a grand birthday. But only a note and a box waited for her in the backseat.

  The tag on the box read Open Me.

  She opened the box and pulled out a stopwatch.

  A stopwatch?

  She picked up the note. On the envelope it said, Do not open until you are sitting in Q31.

  What the absolute fuck? Q31?

  She tucked the watch into her coat pocket. The car dropped her in front of a concert hall. Concert hall?

  She found seat Q31 in the balcony. She sat and pulled the stopwatch and the note from her pocket. Down on the stage, an orchestra tuned up while the conductor flipped through some sheet music. Wincing at the discord coming from the stage, she opened the note and started to read.

  Happy birthday, Little One. I have two gifts for you on this most blessed of days. First, look down onto the stage. This is one of the orchestras I play with when they need a pianist. In exchange for my services, they’ve kindly agreed to play a specifically chosen piece for you on your birthday.

  The piece will begin as soon as the orchestra is tuned. When the conductor raises his baton, start the stopwatch. Listen to the music, but pay attention to the watch. My first gift to you is this—shortly after the five-minute mark (five minutes and eight seconds if the orchestra stays in time) you will know what I felt the moment I saw you the first time. I’m not as gifted as you at expressing my feelings with words. Perhaps the music will say what I can’t.

  I will give you my second present soon.

  I love you, Eleanor.

  She read through the note one more time before picking up the stopwatch. She slid out of her seat and knelt at the balcony railing.

  The discordant sound of tuning died away. The conductor tapped his music stand.

  He raised his arms.

  She hit the start button.

  The music began.

  First came the initial blast of sound. She hadn’t expected such a powerful beginning. Then all went quiet again. The sounds danced a little, skipped down steps and back up again. One long note lingered in the air before it rolled down the steps after the other notes. The piece started to dance again. Sometimes playful, sometimes somber.

  A high note, it floated above her head. Quiet … How could an orchestra of so many people sound so quiet?

  And then she heard it. The hint of a familiar melody. Where had she heard it before? A hymn. This was a hymn. Wasn’t it? It didn’t matter. She kept listening.

  At two minutes and fifty seconds, the melody came again, whispering over the floor like a secret the composer wanted to keep. She strained her ears to hear more.

  It grew louder then, but only a little louder as another section picked up the melody and carried it to her. She accepted it with open arms.

  Her hands shook and her toes tightened in her shoes. The music backed up like a river dammed around her.

  At five minutes and seven seconds the world turned into music. It erupted around her, went off like a bomb that showered joy and happiness all around her. Tears ran down her face as sounds more beautiful than she’d ever heard in her life wrapped around her and lifted her like hands to the very roof of the concert hall and higher and higher until for one brief second she looked into the eyes of God.

  She sensed footsteps behind her but she ignored them. The music had her now and wouldn’t let go. The melody disappeared and came back with a vengeance. She couldn’t get enough of it. No alcohol had ever intoxicated her so much. How did musicians stand it? How did they stop themselves and put down their instruments long enough to eat or drink or sleep? If she could make sounds like this, her hands would never leave her instrument. She would play until her fingers bled. She would make noise like this until they locked her away.

  The piece hit a final swelling note that left her aching for something … not something, somewhere, before it died. The conductor lowered his arms, turned and looked up at the balcony.

  The applause of one humbled young woman filled the hall.

  “Thank you,” she called out to the orchestra.

  “Happy birthday,” the conductor replied.

  She turned around and saw Søren sitting behind her.

  “If only Beethoven had written a piano part for his Ninth Symphony, my life would be complete,” he said with a wistful sigh. The symphony started a new piece now, beautiful but less arresting. She turned the stopwatch off and rested her chin on Søren’s knee.

  “That was Beethoven?”

  “The Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement. Otherwise known as the ‘Ode to Joy.’”

  “No piano part?”

  “I believe Beethoven simply felt the other instruments would be overpowered by the piano. It’s a large instrument. Some people find it intimidating.”

  He winked at her and Eleanor laughed, grinning up at him.

  “It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. I think I saw God. He smiled at me.”

  “I never appreciated the Ninth Symphony until I met you, Eleanor. When I saw you I heard it for the first time coming from inside my own heart. I was seventeen when I first dreamed of
you. Kingsley and I were talking, fantasizing about the perfect woman. Green eyes and black hair or black eyes and green hair, we didn’t care, as long as she was wilder than the both of us together. Only a dream … and then you.”

  “Mom asked me once what it would take for me to believe in God. I told her if I could meet one person who seemed like he was created in God’s image, I would start believing. And then you.”

  They stared at each other as if they were two people who’d met in a dream and upon waking found they still saw each other.

  “They say there are no atheists in foxholes. I can’t imagine there are many of them in symphonies. God created Beethoven and Beethoven created this…. You can hear hints of the melody in a much earlier work called the ‘Choral Fantasy.’ He dreamed of it long before he wrote it. Even the angels bend their ears to earth when the ‘Ode to Joy’ is performed. When you hear music so beautiful it gives you chills, those are angel wings brushing against you.”

  “I have chills now,” she whispered.

  “Angels have haloes and wings. We have free will and Beethoven.”

  “I think we got the better deal.”

  Søren smiled into the distance.

  “Beethoven was deaf when he composed this piece. He couldn’t hear his own masterpiece anywhere but in his own head. But we are all deaf in a way. Life is a symphony composed by God, played by us with preludes, themes, movements, passages … and wrong notes, so many wrong notes. Heaven is where we get to hear the music played perfectly for the first time.”

  “I think life is a book,” Eleanor said. “God writes it. We’re His characters. He knows what happens on the next page, but we don’t. Heaven is where we get to read the book cover to cover and see how it all makes sense.”

  Søren cupped the back of Eleanor’s neck and she rose up on her knees to meet his lips.

  “No one down there can see us up here, can they?” she whispered after the kiss.

  “Even if they could, I don’t care today. Happy birthday, Little One.”

  “Thank you, sir. Now, I believe you said something about two presents?” She batted her eyelashes at him.

  “I do have a second gift for you. Pick a number between one and five.”

  “Oh, I love this game. Five, five, five,” she said.

  “Are you sure about that?” His gray eyes twinkled mischievously at her.

  “I told you, I’ll always pick the biggest number. I’m greedy.”

  “Very well. Five it is.”

  Søren reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out five white envelopes, each of them with a number on the front, the numbers one through five.

  “There are five dates on cards inside the envelope.”

  “Dates for what?”

  “Our first night together.”

  Eleanor looked at him then back at the cards.

  “You mean—”

  “Open the card.”

  With trembling fingers she picked up the card marked with a five. She resisted the urge to rip right into it. She could do this. She could be calm. From inside the envelope she pulled a piece of paper.

  “And the winner is …” she said, opening the note.

  “Holy Thursday,” Søren said. “Less than three weeks away.”

  Eleanor stared at the words and forced herself to breathe. She’d been in love with Søren for four years and now in front of her was the day written in ink.

  “I can’t wait.” She pressed the card to her heart. He cupped her face and she grinned up at him. This was happiness—simply being with him.

  “I should go. I’m needed back in Wakefield.”

  “Yeah, I have swim practice. I should go to that.”

  “Eleanor, about that.”

  “What?”

  He said nothing and he didn’t have to. From the look on his face, she understood.

  “Okay. I’ll quit the team.”

  “I wish it could be another way.”

  “This is how it is. I’ll tell them today.” If she and Søren were going to be lovers, she’d have to spend the rest of her life learning how to hide her bruises and welts. No way to hide bruises in a swimsuit. She knew there’d be a price to pay. This was a small one.

  “Jeg elsker dig, min lille en.”

  Søren kissed her again.

  “I’ll see you soon,” he promised. “You should open the other cards and see what your options were.”

  “Sadist,” she said, smiling against his lips.

  Søren left her alone in the balcony with the four remaining unopened cards. She shouldn’t open them. She knew she shouldn’t. They were the roads not taken, so why even given them a second thought?

  Fuck that, she wanted to know.

  She opened envelope number one and nearly swore aloud as she read the one word written on it.

  Tonight.

  If she’d picked number one, she would have lost her virginity on her birthday.

  God damn her and her greediness. Maybe card number two would have said Easter or some day after Holy Thursday.

  “What the—”

  Card number two also said Tonight.

  Card number three? Tonight.

  And card number four? Eleanor ripped the envelope open.

  “Motherfucking priest.”

  31

  Eleanor

  ON THE EVENING OF HOLY THURSDAY, ELEANOR stopped by her old house in Wakefield but didn’t go inside. After Eleanor started college, her mother had gotten an apartment in Westport closer to her job and put the Wakefield house on the market. Now it sat empty, abandoned, alone. Her mom had picked Wakefield because of its proximity to its good Catholic schools. Eleanor wondered if her mother regretted going through all that trouble. Her mom assumed Eleanor had turned into a godless heathen at her liberal arts school—the sort of girl who slept around and drank and never went to church. She was no saint, but she’d made it to twenty still a virgin. And God knows she loved the Catholic Church—at least one part of it—with all her heart.

  Although she hated it then, now she was grateful that her mother had made her go to church. Otherwise she wouldn’t have met Søren, and through Søren she’d found her way to God.

  She wondered about who might buy the house someday. Whoever it was, she hoped God took as good care of them as He had of her. Four years ago she’d sat in a police station thinking her life had ended at age fifteen. Now all she saw before her were endless beautiful possibilities.

  A thousand times as a teenager she’d walked from her house to Sacred Heart. She could have driven to the church or asked Kingsley to drive her. But she wanted to walk tonight like she had so many times before. She would have walked all the way from New York if she had to. She would have walked barefoot on broken glass.

  At the rectory she paused outside the door and removed her shoes. No one told her to, and she had no idea why she did it.

  On bare and silent feet, she slipped in the side door and once inside the house she heard music. Piano music. She’d never heard the piece before but it spoke to her, whispered to her, beckoned her farther in. She found Søren at the piano, his fingers gliding across the keys, waltzing in the shadows cast by a single candle. She sat next to him on the bench, her back to the keyboard, and rested her head against his shoulder. He played until the end of the piece before lifting his fingers off the keys and letting the notes hang in the air. He closed the fallboard and looked at her.

  “More Beethoven?” she asked.

  “The Moonlight Sonata. I can’t complain Beethoven didn’t write a piano part for his Ninth Symphony. He did give us pianists the Moonlight Sonata as a consolation prize.”

  “It’s beautiful.”

 
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