The SirenTiffany Reisz
Author: Tiffany Reisz
“It’s okay,” Wesley said. “I’m not ashamed of it. I’m just…waiting. ”
“You think I’m an idiot, right?”
“Of course not. But whether you like to admit it or not, she is fourteen years older than you. These sorts of relationships rarely work out even under the best of circumstances. Not if experience is any indicator. ”
“Yeah, well, whose experience?”
Zach looked from Wesley and back at Nora. He stared at her but didn’t see her. Instead, he saw a door and the door opened and standing in the doorway was Grace, and no woman in the history of the world had ever looked so brave or so scared or so beautiful standing in a doorway.
Wesley didn’t answer. Zach didn’t know what to say to comfort him. If he had any words of comfort, he would have told them to himself. But there was nothing but the cold, hard truth that loving someone and being loved back was only the beginning, not the end, of all the pain.
The young man in the green jacket came to Nora with his book to sign. Zach heard Nora asking for his name and if he wanted her to write anything in particular in his book.
“How about, ‘To my number one fan, Fuck me,’” the young man said leaning over the table. “And then sign it in blood. ”
Zach’s stomach dropped when the man pulled out a small thin, knife and started to climb onto the table. Wesley was already on his way to Nora. It was a good thing, too, because Nora had pushed back out of her chair and the man loomed only inches from her. He saw her back pressed to the wall.
It seemed to happen in slow motion. Wesley jumped up on the signing platform and dragged the man back by his jacket and threw him down hard to the floor.
“Zach, get her out of here!” Wesley shouted at him.
The urgency in Wesley’s voice jarred Zach from his state of shock. He ran to Nora and grabbed her by the arm.
“No, Zach,” she said, trying to get to Wesley. For a second time since meeting her he was shocked by how much strength was hidden in her small frame.
“This way,” Lex said and Zach finally steered Nora away from the crowd and toward the bookstore’s stockroom. As he dragged her away he glanced up to the second floor. The man in the gray suit had pulled out a cell phone and was dialing a number. Zach hoped it was 911. They reached the stockroom and Lex locked the door.
Nora was already on her way to the door when Zach stopped her, blocking the door with his body.
“Get out of my way,” she ordered with shocking ferocity. “Wes is out there with that lunatic. ”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Zach said, not sure he believed his own words. But he knew if the man was dangerous then it was Nora who he was after, not Wesley. “Stay back here until it’s safe. ”
“He’s right. I’ll go check on things,” Lex said and hung up the phone. “I’m sure security’s got him by now. ”
“Please,” she begged, “make sure Wes is okay. ”
Lex left them in the stockroom and Zach locked the door again.
“Yet another reason why I avoid signings,” Nora said, pacing the floor. Her high heels echoed ominously against the cold concrete floor.
“I see. This happens a lot at your appearances?”
Nora shook her head. “I’ve had my fair share of crazies. But this is the first one with a knife. ”
“Well, violent erotica will give the crazies ideas. ”
Nora looked up at him sharply.
“Are you blaming my books for this?”
“Of course not. It’s only that stories with sexual violence in them will attract violent people. It appeals to the baser instincts. ”
“Baser instincts? Violent people? My readers are housewives and college girls and a few straight guys who are trying way too hard to find out what women want in the bedroom. I don’t write for insane people. Is it Salinger’s fault that Mark David Chapman misread Catcher in the Rye?”
“That is not what I’m implying. But when you market yourself as a sex object, it can’t come as a shock when someone decides you can be bought. ”
“Bought?” she scoffed and met Zach’s eyes. She looked at him so coldly he was almost afraid of her. “I can’t be bought, Zach. And even if I could I’m out of your price range. ”
“Nora—” he said, trying to apologize.
Lex opened the door with Wesley right behind him. Nora raced across the room and ran straight into Wesley’s arms.
“You okay, kid?” She ran her hand over him as if checking him for injuries.
“I’m fine. The cops have him. He’s apparently a Bellevue resident off his meds. ”
“He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
“Nah,” Wesley said. “He went down hard, fast and easy. ”
“Sounds like one of my characters,” she said, wrapping her arms around Wesley.
Zach met Wesley’s eyes from across the room. His voice had been glib with Nora, but Zach could see the sheer panic written across the boy’s face.
“Come on. We’re going home,” Wesley said, letting Nora go.
“Home? That’s ridiculous. All those people are out there. We’ve got to finish the signing. ”
“No, Nora. ” Wesley’s voice was stern and intractable. For a moment Wesley seemed older than Nora. “We’ve got to give the cops a statement and then we’re going home. You can finish the signing when Lex gets some more security in here. ” Lex voiced his agreement with Wesley, and Nora promised she’d reschedule as soon as possible.
“That guy didn’t hurt you, did he?” Wesley asked as he opened the door for Nora.
Nora stopped and looked back at Zach. Zach stomach’s flinched from the look of pure pain in Nora’s eyes.
“No worries, Wes. Just sticks and stones. It’s the words that hurt. ”
Zach returned to his flat after the book-signing but found himself unable to concentrate on work. All he could do was replay Nora’s words in his head. “I can’t be bought, Zach…” It didn’t take long to realize how unconscionably he’d acted. A fan had attacked Nora, and he had blamed the victim.
He checked the time—still only five o’clock. He couldn’t spend the rest of the day agonizing over Nora. Racing from his building he made only one stop on the way to the train station. He stood on Nora’s porch trying to collect his words. He wanted to have them just right so when he said he was sorry she would know he meant it. But he knew something would change between them if he crossed her threshold for any other reason but her book. Zach took a step toward the door but it opened before he could knock. Wesley was standing there with a sardonic half smile on his face.
“Nora told me to let you in. She said you were starting to look a little cold. ”
“May I see her please?”
Wesley took a step back and let Zach enter.
“In her office,” Wesley said. “She’s writing. ”
Zach followed Wesley to the office and remembered how very different things were just three weeks ago. He’d come here determined to be rid of Nora and her book. Now here he was ready to beg for another chance to make their partnership work.
Before they reached the door to Nora’s office, Wesley stopped and turned to him.
“You know, your opinion means more to her than anything,” Wesley said. “I came home today after the signing and came pretty close to throwing up. She just went into her office and got back to work. ”
Zach nodded, humbled by this nineteen-year-old child.
“I’ve come to apologize if she’ll let me. ”
“She’ll let you. Maybe she shouldn’t, but she’ll let you. ”
Wesley knocked on Nora’s office door and entered without waiting for her response.
“Nor? Got a minute?” Wesley asked. Nora was at her desk in black silk men’s style pajamas. Her hair was piled high
on her head and held up with two ballpoint pens serving as chopsticks. She was typing away furiously, not even stopping to look at them.
“What are you still doing here, Wes? I thought you had something at church tonight. ”
“Yeah, I’m supposed to help chaperone the middle school retreat this weekend,” Wesley said, walking around the desk to stand behind her chair. “But I’m not going to leave you alone after today—”
“Yes, you are. You just go and keep those kids from making out in the coat closet. Sexual repression must begin as early as possible. Go, Wes. You deserve a night off from my dramas. ”
“Are you sure?” Wesley put his hands on Nora’s shoulders and tilted her chair back toward him. She leaned her head against his stomach and looked up at him.
“Yes. Go. Have fun. You’ve earned it. ”
“If you let me go, I’m going to eat pizza,” he warned her and smiled down at her.
“One slice,” she said, raising her arm and waving her index finger in his face. “One. ”
“What if it’s thin crust? That’s low carb. ”
“Hmm…” Nora held up a second finger. “Two. But no more than two. ”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be home tomorrow morning. Zach?” Zach turned to face Wesley who was looking at him with determination. “You’ll keep an eye on Nora tonight, right?”
“Wes, I’m fine,” Nora said. “You were in the hospital last week. I have survived much scarier shit than what happened today. ”
“Yeah, well, I haven’t,” Wes said. He touched Nora’s shoulder and she laid her head briefly against his hand. Wesley’s touch and Nora’s response was light and chaste, but Zach felt he’d witnessed something very private between them. “I’ll see you later. ”
“Be safe,” she said. “It may snow again tonight. ”
Wesley left them alone and Nora returned to her typing. Zach didn’t wait for an invitation that was likely not forthcoming. He sat in the armchair across from her desk and watched her. He heard the house door open and close and Wesley’s car start and back out of the driveway.
“Nora, will you please look at me?”
“I can’t. I’m working. I’ve only got three weeks to get the last three hundred pages out of the gutter. ”
“The rewrite is in fantastic shape. I think you’ve earned a night off, too,” Zach said.
Nora stopped typing. She swiveled in her chair to face him. She pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs.
“Can I tell you something?” she asked.
“Anything, of course. ”
“My books,” she began, and Zach saw the bright shadow of a tear forming in her eyes turning them from black to green, “are the only thing I do that isn’t selling myself. No, it’s not even something I do—it’s what I am. And no one can buy that part of me. Not you, not Royal, not some psychotic asshole who thinks my books are letters written straight to him. ”
“I’m sorry, Nora. I didn’t mean to blame you for that madman’s behavior today. I haven’t been scared like that in a long time. I just took my fear out on you since Wesley beat me to the person who actually deserved it. ”
Nora stared past him and seemed to watch something only she could see. Whatever it was, it brought a faint, sad smile to her face.
“You know I didn’t start writing books until after I left Søren. I could barely get out of bed that first month. I thought I was losing my mind. Some days I thought I was dying. I started creating worlds in my head, other people, other lives. I slipped out of my skin and into theirs, and while I was there I wasn’t grieving anymore. I was feeling what they were feeling. Writing resurrected me, Zach. Trust me, I know what it feels like to sell yourself. Writing my books is the opposite of selling myself. Do you believe that?”