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The Siren, Page 45

Tiffany Reisz

Page 45

  Author: Tiffany Reisz

  Nora had raced to church after school that day and found Søren praying here by the shrine to the Virgin Mary. She’d told him how grateful Jordan was, how shocked the whole school was, how nobody knew why the coach had left so abruptly.

  Søren hadn’t smiled. He’d only lit a candle.

  “Was that hard to do?” She remembered standing in this very spot and asking him that question. “Telling that guy off?”

  “It was frighteningly easy to put the fear of God into him,” Søren had said. “And almost enjoyable. Why do you ask, Eleanor?”

  She’d zipped up her hooded sweatshirt and plucked nervously at the ragged cuffs. “I thought it might be hard for you. You know, since you’re in love with me. ”

  Søren had met her eyes and she saw she’d actually managed to catch him off guard, one of the few times in their eighteen years she had.

  “Eleanor, there are suicide bombers on the Gaza Strip who are less dangerous than you are. ” He started toward his office. She followed him, nearly running to keep up with his long strides.

  “I’m going to take that as a yes,” she’d said when they arrived at his office door.

  “I’ve always been an admirer of the Cistercian monks. ” Søren stepped into his office. “Especially their vow of silence. ” And he’d closed the door in her face.

  She’d smiled nonstop for the next two weeks.

  Nora opened her eyes and stepped away from the shrine and out of the memory. Her heels clicked on the hardwood floors grown slick and shiny with age. She thought she’d find Søren in his office working. But she paused outside the sanctuary when she heard the sound of a piano wafting through the heavy wooden doors. Inhaling the muted notes, she slipped inside the nave and stepped quietly toward the chancel where Søren sat at a grand piano.

  He didn’t look up at her as she came to the piano. She placed her hands flat on its polished black top. Closing her eyes again, she let the subtle waves vibrate through her and into her. The last note shivered up her arms and down to her feet. As the note echoed throughout the nave and back to the altar Nora opened her eyes.

  “The Moonlight Sonata,” Nora said. “My favorite. ”

  Søren smiled and played a few stray notes.

  “I know it is. ”

  Nora returned the smile and leaned forward, running her hand over the smooth black surface.

  “Happy anniversary, Søren. ”

  Søren smiled again, one of his rare, genuine smiles that reached his eyes. Something caught in her chest and she let her own smile fade.

  “Happy anniversary, little one,” he said, his voice as gentle as the last note of the sonata.

  With those four words came a thousand more memories. She and Søren had never, would never marry, had never dated in the traditional sense of the word, but never had they questioned what day would become the signifier of the beginning of their life together. The first time Søren had beaten her and then taken her virginity was thirteen years ago on Holy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, the day when Christ celebrated His Last Supper. Jesus, God Incarnate, had knelt before His disciples and washed their feet on this night. Thirteen years ago tonight Søren had done the same to her. Even as the liturgical calendar changed, they never once considered celebrating their anniversary on any other day but this too-neglected holy day, this last night of Christ’s freedom before He was taken, this last night to share a quiet moment alone with those He loved.

  Søren began playing the haunting melody again, and she let it draw her inexorably into its insistent rhythms. She watched his hands, his perfect pianist’s hands, and recalled all too well how intimately she knew those hands, how intimately they knew her. One courageous strand of Søren’s perfect blond hair threatened to fall over his forehead. She longed to reach out and brush it back.

  “You played this for me that night,” she said as the music faded. Nora closed her eyes and let the past come to her. “You were playing it when I came to the rectory. ” She remembered that night like yesterday, slipping in through the tree-shrouded back door, following the music to Søren’s elegant living room. She stood in silence and watched the priest who would become her lover that night play by the light of a single candle the world’s most beautiful piece of music as if it had been written by him and for her. “The next morning I woke up in your bed for the first time. ”

  “The best morning of my life,” Søren said.

  “And mine. ” Nora felt the old tug of love and straightened, trying to brush it off her. “When did the church get a grand piano?”

  Søren smiled.

  “A mysterious stranger had an Imperial Bösendorfer delivered to my home on my most recent birthday. I donated my Steinway to the church. ”

  “That was very generous of that mysterious stranger,” Nora said with a sheepish grin.

  “Very generous indeed. Although the Steinway still plays beautifully. ”

  “It’s had a tricky sustain pedal for ages. ”

  “Yes, and whose fault is that?”

  “That is not my fault,” Nora protested. “Do you recall what you were doing to me at the time? I had to hold on to something, didn’t I?”

  Søren looked down at his hands. His fingers hovered over the keyboard playing soundless phantom notes.

  “You could have held on to me. ”

  Nora only swallowed, finding herself in a rare moment of speechlessness. Perhaps sensing her discomfort, Søren dropped his hands to the keyboard and began playing again.

  “The Moonlight Sonata is a strange piece of music,” Søren said. “It’s been called a Lamentation. You can feel that when you play it, can feel the sorrow and the need in the endless repetitions. It’s simple to play but maddeningly difficult to play well. The arpeggios allow great freedom of expression. Too much freedom in untutored, unskilled hands. They say Beethoven wrote it for a seventeen-year-old countess, the Countess Giulietta Guicciardi. He may have loved her. More likely he was simply trying to seduce her. ”

  “It would have worked for me. ”

  “It did work for you. ”

  This time Nora smiled at the memories Søren’s words conjured. Again she slid her hands lovingly over the piano. “My God, the crimes against nature that have been committed on this piano. ”

  “I hope you aren’t referring to my playing. ”

  “Never. I know how gifted those hands of yours are. ”

  “Some decorum please. We are in a church, Eleanor,” Søren reminded her with only a playful hint of sternness about his lips.

  “Forgive me, Father. ” She composed her features into a pantomime mask of contrition.

  “Of course, little one. I can forgive you anything. But don’t think you won’t be called upon to do your penance someday. ”

  Before she could respond, the unmistakable squeak of sneakers on hardwood sounded outside the door. Another louder squeak followed that one and then the shrieking giggles of children.

  “Duty calls. ” Søren rose from the bench.

  Nora walked with him down the aisles and into the hall outside the sanctuary. They followed the sound of the children from the church to the annex that housed the fellowship hall and the church kitchen. Søren led her into the fellowship hall that was part gymnasium, part reception area, and before her was a scene of animal chaos. Her mental description proved even more apt as a boy dressed as a sheep careened by them.

  “What on earth?” Nora asked as they found a quiet place near the kitchen.

  “The children are practicing for Sunday’s Passion play,” Søren explained.

  Everywhere children ran to parents, from parents, sometimes through parents. As Søren’s presence became known, however, the din quieted and order began to reassert itself. She had always admired that about Søren. He let his presence speak far more often than his words.

  Nora’s eyes stopped on a woman who l
ooked vaguely familiar. As her features came into better focus, Nora placed a name to the face—Nancy James, one of her favorite mothers here. Sometimes it was hard for Nora to imagine that it was only five years ago that she still attended this church, babysat these kids, chatted with these parents. Nora was finally able to catch her eye and smile. It took Nancy a moment but then she returned the smile with full recognition. Five years…it felt like just yesterday, it felt like a million years ago.

  “Did they know about us?” Nora inclined her head toward a group of parents. She kept her voice unnecessarily low. With all the children she could have screamed the question at Søren without fear.

  “I am still a priest. I believe it is safe to assume they either never suspected or they never cared. ”

  Nora laughed coldly. “Ex-con Elle Schreiber and the sainted Father Stearns? Of course they never suspected. ”

  “Eleanor, they never thought as ill of you as you believed. When you come back, you will be welcomed with open arms. ”

  “I’m not coming back. ”

  A faint smile played at the corner of Søren’s exquisite lips.

  “And yet you are here. ”

  Nora started to argue, but she caught a glimpse of mirror-pale eyes across the room and froze.

  “Michael…” she breathed.

  “Yes, he’s helping with the Passion play this year. He’s quite good with the children. Around them he can relax, which is difficult for him in other situations. ”

  At the moment Michael looked anything but relaxed. His long black hair was pulled back in a ponytail but she could see frustrated strands loose about his face. Children bustled around him frantically. He straightened haloes, retied wings, wrestled the little angels… A shepherd nearly plowed into him and he laughed and slid out of the way.

  “Is he okay?” Nora asked, a knife of guilt threatening to cut into her.

  “He and his mother started attending here over two years ago. This is truly the most contented I’ve ever seen him. He’s at peace now. Almost happy. There is a new look in his eyes. Relief. ”

  “Relief…that he isn’t alone?”

  “Yes. I told him about us, who we are, the other world we live in. I realize I was taking a great chance by doing so, but he had listened all too well to his father’s words and convinced himself that he was sick and depraved for his desires. But telling only goes so far…”

  “Show, don’t tell,” Nora said with a grim smile and made herself not think of Zach. “It’s not fair, you know. It’s such a double standard. You let me have Michael and he’s only fifteen. But you made me wait until I was twenty. ”

  Søren inhaled slowly. “That was my mistake. ”

  “Miracles do happen. You just admitted to a mistake. What was your mistake? Not fucking me sooner?”

  “It was my mistake—” he turned and met her eyes “—thinking we had all the time in the world. ”

  Nora’s heart contracted in her chest. She studied Michael from across the room. He was far from jubilant, but she could see his posture had eased and he had a light in his eyes. She would never have guessed from just looking at him that he wore such fearsome scars under his wristbands.

  “You owe Michael a small debt of gratitude, Eleanor. ” Søren interrupted her melancholy meditation. “I had counted the day you left as the worst day of my life. The day I knelt in the back of an ambulance and administered last rites to a fourteen-year-old boy…”

  “Knocked me out of first place, did he?”

  “Perhaps a tie for first. ”

  “His scars are horrific. I can’t believe he survived that. ”

  “It was not a premeditated attempt. He broke glass and slashed fast. He bled profusely but not fast enough that we didn’t have time to save him. Still, the attending physician called his survival a miracle. ”