Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Offline

Just wanted to let you all know that I’ll be offline as of Friday, most likely. Because of the stupid delays in getting Eric’s unemployment card, we don’t have enough to pay the internet bill, so it’s going to be shut off. I will be able to check a few things on my phone, but that’ll expire next week, too, which stinks.

In other weird news, we’ll be moving soon (across town lol) because my mom is worried that this house isn’t safe, so she bought another one for us (we have to pay her back when Eric’s job starts paying and we’ve gotten caught up). I don’t know if they’ll let us hook the electricity up, though, as we’re a month behind on that, too, but the house was cheap (foreclosure; she got it for next to nothing). Then she has to pay for a new furnace, sewer hookup, and a new water heater for it, which is why I can’t ask her to help us. I suspect she might have cashed in a few things to buy the house (it was cheap enough that she has to pay cash for it O.o). If I had the money, I’d knock this house down as it seems like one problem after another. The latest is that the well on this property is going dry, and we just don’t have enough money to dig a new one, either. (It was after a crying convo with Mom about this that she decided we just need to get into a new-to-us house)

Thanks to those who have helped us as well as those who have offered moral support and prayers via email. It means the world to us, truly, and please, please, if you can, please consider purchasing my e-books or even making a donation, if possible. Right now, it makes me angry to have to ask AGAIN because I keep telling myself that I CAN see the light at the end of this particular tunnel, but honestly … We have 178 due for auto insurance, 140 due for electric so we can actually move into the other house–both due before we can even apply for a lost unemployment card–and that’s not counting internet or phones that we can live without if need be. Please, if you can help, it would be appreciated more than you know…

 

 

 




Or log into paypal and click on the Send Money tab. My email is sueric1111@gmail.com

posted by Sueric at 6:13 pm  

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Little Help?

So figured I’d post an update to let everyone know how it’s going. We’re doing all right, all things considered. Eric started a new job, and so far, so good, so when things settle out again, I hope that everything will get back to a more normal state around here.

As some of you know, I started posting stories to a new archive, too, and it’s nice because you can download the stories in full in a few different formats, which is the best and easiest way to download the edited versions of stories I PDF’ed a long time ago as well as some I never have, like Chronicles, Meta, and Torrent. You can also comment there, so that’s pretty huge.

Sueric on Archive Of Our Own

As some of you know, we’re also having a devil of a time in getting Eric’s unemployment card, too. They say we can’t ask for a new one till the other one is lost for 21 days (business days, that is), and at this point, we’re getting pretty desperate, and Eric won’t get paid for another couple weeks (2 week schedule, and he’s ended up mid-way so no check for nearly 3 weeks ugh). We applied for food stamps which is another joke, entirely. Indiana changed the rules so you have to have your prior employer fill out this paper thing that is hard to do when the place closed down, but they don’t want to hear it and just keep telling me they need this form filled out… Frustration is pretty common. We’re down to very little in the way of groceries, (we have some meat that a neighbor gave us lol and some dry goods given by a friend), but are out of basics like milk, etc, not to mention things that we just don’t have money for, like toilet paper (I know; I know …) If anyone can buy my ebooks or help us out in any other way, it’d be so greatly appreciated. We’re down to very little gas, and if I can’t get Eric to and from work, we’re going to have a whole bunch of other problems, not to mention bills coming due that we just don’t have the money for and stuff like that.

Any help at all would be a blessing. I hate to ask again, but I just sort of feel like we’re ALMOST there—almost …

 

 

 




Or log into paypal and click on the Send Money tab. My email is sueric1111@gmail.com

posted by Sueric at 3:57 pm  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

P9: 221 Haste to the Wedding

~~Chapter Two Hundred Twenty-One~~

~Haste to the Wedding~

-OoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO-

It’s the wild life that’s in your veins

You’ll feel like an animal that’s been uncaged …’

-‘The Wild Life’ by Slaughter.

-Valerie-

 

 

“You know, I’m trying to figure it out.”

 

Valerie blinked and leaned forward in the salon chair to peer down the line at her soon-to-be sister-in-law, Bellaniece.   “What do you mean?”

 

Bellaniece giggled, flicking up her claws as she examined the nail polish that had just been so carefully applied. “You’re actually allowing Evan to have a real bachelor party? I can’t decide if you have that much faith in him or if you’re just trying to give him enough rope to hang himself.”

 

“I have serious doubts that he needs that much rope, to start with,” Sierra Inutaisho remarked almost baldly despite the smile on her pretty face.

 

Unable to repress the slightly gloating smile that surfaced on her face, Valerie tried for an innocent expression though she had a feeling that no one was buying it. “Oh, I think he’ll behave himself,” she allowed somewhat dryly.

 

“Bassie’s the one who planned the party, so I wouldn’t think it’d get too out of hand,” Jillian commented, lifting a steamed towel off her face to peer out from under it. Then she giggled. “Well, maybe . . .”

 

Valerie didn’t comment right away, but she was hard pressed to keep her knowing grin from spreading. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Madison’s questioning gaze, and she purposefully ignored it as she accepted a glass of champagne from one of the technicians passing through.

 

“You know something, don’t you?” Madison asked in a hushed whisper.

 

“. . . Maybe,” Valerie admitted. “Let’s just say I have little doubt that Evan will have a very memorable night.”

 

Madison giggled but let it go for the moment.

 

“And this is just heaven,” Valerie went on, closing her eyes as she sank down a little lower in her seat. When Madison had suggested a spa-day for all the ladies, Valerie had jumped at the idea, and, though Madison had insisted that it would all be on the house, Valerie still stubbornly insisted upon paying her for it, instead.

 

At the moment, however, Madison was busying herself by giving Valerie’s mother the royal treatment, as it were. Hair trimmed, color refreshed, a full vitamin body wrap along with a chem-peel for her face, and it was absolutely amazing, how young she looked now. “Shouldn’t you be pampering yourself?” Rhonda asked, leaning back to raise her eyebrows at Madison.

 

Madison laughed and waved a dismissive hand. “I pamper myself all the time, and I love doing this!” she insisted. “And you are one hot mama!”

 

Giggling softly, Rhonda blushed. “It’s the makeup,” she demurred.

 

Valerie rolled her eyes. “Give it up, Mama,” she scoffed. “Of course, you’re gorgeous!”

 

“You’d better call and make sure Daddy’s taken his medicine before he sees you,” Kaci Lea warned with a girlish little giggle. She’d already had her cut and color retouched, not that she’d really needed it, of course.

 

Rhonda laughed but couldn’t hide her blush at the compliments, either.

 

“So are you nervous, Valerie?” Samantha Drevin asked, leaning forward to peer down the line at the soon-to-be bride.

 

Drawing a deep breath, Valerie shook her head. “Not yet,” she admitted. “At this time tomorrow? Probably.”

 

“Well, I, for one, can’t wait until you’ve married my Evan,” Gin added happily. Suddenly, she sniffled and quickly dashed a hand over her eyes. “My baby’s getting married . . .”

 

“Aw, don’t worry, Mama,” Jillian piped up with a bright smile. “You’ll have another baby soon, so not all your babies will be married, after all!”

 

Gin giggled, and for just a moment, a strange sort of expression seemed to flicker across her features, almost as though she wanted to say something, but she must have changed her mind because she smiled instead and shifted around in her seat a little.

 

“Gin? Are you all right?” Kagome asked, her brows drawing together as she carefully eyed her daughter.

 

Gin blinked and nodded quickly, her bright smile back in place once more. “Fine, Mama.”

 

Kagome didn’t look like she wasn’t buying Gin’s insistence. “Maybe we should go back home and let you lie down a bit.”

 

“No, I promise, everything’s fine,” Gin insisted, waving off her mother’s concern with a flick of her wrist. “Besides, I took an early nap at Cain’s insistence, so I’m good.”

 

Kagome didn’t look entirely convinced, but she slowly settled back in her chair once more.

 

“So where is Evan taking you on your honeymoon?” Evan’s aunt, Deirdre, better known as ‘Nezumi’, asked.

 

Heaving a sigh, Valerie rolled her eyes. “You know, he refuses to tell me?” she complained since she was getting a first-hand lesson as to just how stubborn Evan could actually be. She’d thought that she could get anything out of him—or she had until she’d discovered that he really had no intention at all in telling her just where they were planning on going after the wedding.

 

“I don’t think he’s told anyone,” Sydnie remarked, tapping a delicately manicured claw against her lips thoughtfully. “I know he didn’t tell my puppy anything . . .” Trailing off for a moment, the cat-youkai’s gaze shifted to Gin. “Did he tell you anything?”

 

Gin blinked and slowly shook her head. “He won’t tell me, either,” she confessed. “He just wants it to be a big surprise. I’m sure that it’ll be wonderful, no matter where you two go.”

 

“Knowing Evan, it won’t matter, anyway,” Madison added. “I highly doubt that he intends to step foot outside your hotel room.”

 

Valerie laughed since she had to agree with Madison. Knowing Evan, it probably would take some cajoling on her part if she hoped to see anything outside of the hotel, after all . . . Though, she had to admit, at least to herself, she didn’t think she’d have very many complaints, one way or another.

 

“But you’re going to be going on a good, long honeymoon, right? Or does he have too many other things lined up?” Kagura asked.

 

“Actually, no, he doesn’t. I’m not sure how long he wants to stay gone, but he did mention that it would be ‘a while’ . . .” Valerie glanced over at the woman who was currently leafing through the latest issue of Cosmopolitan. When they’d been introduced earlier, it had surprised Valerie that she had actually been a little in awe of that particular woman. Maybe it had something to do with her husband; Valerie wasn’t sure, but there was a certain presence about the both of them, almost a feeling of understated royalty—or at least, what Valerie imagined that meeting royalty in real life might feel like. But Kagura had smiled, and Sesshoumaru had assured her that he was pleased to see that Evan had finally found someone to spend his life with, and that had been enough to put Valerie completely at ease.

 

It was no small thing, really. To be honest, Evan’s entire family possessed that sort of aura, and if she hadn’t known already that there was something different about them, it would have been easy to guess. After all, it just wasn’t normal to see that many absolutely stunning people, was it? And not one of them looked to be the ages that she now knew they were.

 

Evan and the rest of his family had refrained from giving actual relationship statuses to the introductions when it came to meeting Valerie’s family, though. She had to wonder if the only reason they’d actually gotten away with it was simply because of the commotion that was surrounding these last couple days before the wedding, and it helped, she was sure, that the mansion was so full, so busy, that it was fairly simple to sidetrack conversations that might have led to the harder to answer questions, anyway. It wasn’t that Valerie didn’t want to tell her family about Evan’s, but . . .

 

But Samantha had no qualms in explaining things to Valerie—things that Evan had only brushed upon. It was Sami who had told Valerie the horrifying story of her initial meeting with her husband, Kurt. She’d told Valerie in such a matter-of-fact way about the atrocities that had been visited upon her when she’d spent time in a research facility, being tested because the human researchers had known that she was ‘different’. She’d told all of it to Valerie because she’d wanted her to understand why there was a slight rift still between her husband and her father, who still blamed Kurt for his involvement on some level, even if he was the one who had ultimately set her free, too. Samantha had felt bad because the tension had been noticeable enough, even if everyone else had tried that much harder to be cheerful and happy, as though they believed that they could compensate for it. It wasn’t that Kichiro had been openly hostile or anything, no, but maybe it was the overall happiness that seemed to engulf the entire estate that drew more attention to the strain. For his part, Kurt had been friendly, even if he was a little on the reserved side, and it hadn’t taken long for his dry sense of humor to show itself, either, and that was something that Valerie could appreciate. The rest of the family including Bellaniece were warm enough toward Kurt, though Valerie would be lying if she tried to say that she hadn’t noticed the slightly more reserved way that Bellaniece behaved around Kurt, either. It wasn’t unfriendly, it simply wasn’t as open as she normally was, either.

 

Samantha had also admitted, too, that Kurt had said that it might be better if he quietly ducked out of the celebration. After all, he couldn’t blame Samantha’s father for his feelings, either. Evan, however, wouldn’t hear of that, and, given that he’d already asked Kurt to be one of his groomsmen, then having to rearrange things would have just been harder than it already was.

 

After that talk, though, Valerie had understood, and even when Evan had asked her if she wanted to tell her family about him, she’d assured him that it wasn’t entirely necessary. Sure, she was certain that her family would be all right with the information in the end, but she couldn’t help feeling as though it wasn’t really her place to tell them, either. As much as she hated to think in terms of death or any of that, she knew her father’s life wasn’t something that could be measured in decades to come, and her mother?   Rhonda might well be in much better health, but the fact remained that parents were just not supposed to outlive their children. No, the only real question was whether or not to tell Garret or Kaci Lea, and there would be time to decide that later, too, though Evan had said something that he’d meant as a joke, but it still remained in Valerie’s mind.

 

Well, we could always try fixing them up with youkai. I mean, they might be human, but if they had youkai mates, then they’d stick around, too, wouldn’t they?” he said as they were getting ready for bed last night.

 

You make that sound a lot easier than I imagine it really is,” Valerie replied.

 

Evan shrugged then grinned at her. “Never say never, baby.”

 

But that wasn’t really the issue at the moment, even if she did wonder in the back of her head about the feasibility of the offhanded comments that Evan had made. The initial bout of nerves she’d suffered before all the guests started to arrive had proven to be groundless. It both pleased as well as humbled her to see just how sweet, how accepting Evan’s entire family—direct and extended—were toward hers. The women had all been more than happy to befriend Valerie’s mother and sister, and Valerie had seen most of the men taking the time to meet and talk to both her father and brother, as well. After meeting the family as a whole, she figured she shouldn’t be at all surprised at how Evan had turned out . . .

 

Valerie’s cell phone buzzed on the small stand beside her, and she smiled when she saw who was calling. “Aren’t you supposed to be getting ready for your bachelor party, Roka?” she asked mildly.

 

Evan chuckled. “Sure, but I figured I had time to check in with you before that. Having a good time?”

 

“The best time,” she replied. “Forget the rest of the party, I think I’d rather just move in here.”

 

“Oh? So what are they doing to you?”

 

“Right now, I’m soaking my feet in this tub of goo that feels fantastic.”

 

Evan’s chuckle turned downright nasty. “I’ll make some ‘goo’ for you, baby,” he offered.

 

Rolling her eyes despite the laugh that escaped her, Valerie shook her head. “Go to your bachelor party,” she told him, “and leave us alone, okay?”

 

He heaved a melodramatic sigh. “All right; all right,” he agreed. “You ladies have fun. I miss you.”

 

She smiled. “I’ll see you tonight.” Ending the call, Valerie laughed again. She hadn’t really thought that he could be any goofier, and yet, there was something definitely lighter about his mood, if that were really possible. In the last few days since he’d finally had it out with Cain, he had been so much happier, more at peace with himself. Come to think of it, Cain seemed to be that way, too . . .

 

They’d gone out to celebrate Evan receiving his doctorate. They’d brought along Valerie’s family, as well, making it a family outing of sorts. It was too bad that Gavin and Jillian hadn’t been there, but they weren’t able to fly in until late last night. Bas had looked rather shocked at first, but he’d also said later that it wasn’t really surprising. Evan had always been smart like that. Gin couldn’t help but to get a little teary over it all—Valerie supposed that her emotions were pretty touchy, but they were happy tears, and that was all right, too.

 

It was hard to believe that the wedding was so close—the wedding that, at times, she hadn’t thought would be possible. All the plans were finalized, everything was ready for the big day. Now if Valerie could just remember to stop worrying about those details and to let herself enjoy the next couple days, she’d be home free . . .

 

 

-Evan-

 

 

“I can’t believe you brought me to a strip club!” Evan exclaimed as he slipped into a chair beside Bas, who was leaning heavily on the table, toying with a cold bottle of beer. “You rock, Bubby! I take back every shitty thing I ever said or thought about you!”

 

Bas rolled his eyes but chuckled. “Yeah, well, since it’s your bachelor party, I figured that you’d want to have it at the tackiest, seediest, nastiest place I could find.”

 

Evan laughed but didn’t disagree. “Did you check it out before tonight?”

 

Bas snorted. “Nope.” Then he grinned. “I had the groomsmen do it.”

 

He choked on a sip of beer since his groomsmen were Gavin and Kurt, the most unlikely pair, ever, and the idea of those two coming in here for any reason? Well, that really was damn funny, all things considered. “Bet that went over well,” Evan couldn’t resist adding.

 

Bas actually chuckled. “Their mates found it amusing enough,” he had to allow. “The girls said it was much worse than the other ones on the list, so I guess you could say that they’re the ones who had approved it.”

 

Evan’s grin widened. “Sami and Jilli? Those two scoped the places out?”

 

Bas offered a noncommittal shrug. “According to Gavin, the girls insisted on coming along. Apparently, they didn’t think Gav or Kurt would actually go in if they didn’t.” Slumping back in his chair with a thoughtful scowl, Bas shrugged. “They were probably right.”

 

Evan had to laugh since those two were currently sitting at a table as far back as possible with Sesshoumaru Inutaisho and Griffin Marin—all four of whom looked as though they’d rather be just about anywhere on earth than right where they were.

 

Grimacing when the music cranked a notch or two louder, announcing with the dimming of the house lights, the raising of the strobing spotlights above the stage that the real show was about to begin, Bas slowly shook his head and heaved an audible sigh.

 

“Kurt and Gavin said that you’re to blame for all of this,” Toga Inutaisho remarked, stopping beside the table to give Bas a very pointed look.

 

“If it were up to me, I’d have just had a football party or something,” Bas allowed, a slight grin surfacing on his features. “But it’s for him, so . . .”

 

Letting out a deep breath, Toga shook his head but chuckled. “Somehow, I feel that this has ‘disaster’ written all over it,” he added.

 

Evan grinned. “Aw, c’mon, Toga! You can’t really say that you wouldn’t enjoy watching Sierra if she wanted to put on a striptease for you.”

 

Toga’s answer to that was a terse grunt, and even in the dusky light of the club, Evan could make out the trace of red that had filtered into Toga’s cheeks.

 

“You’re bent,” Bas muttered as he tipped his beer to his lips.

 

“I have to say, I honestly didn’t think you had it in you to find a place this . . . interesting,” Kichiro remarked, slinging an arm around Toga’s shoulders.

 

“Interesting is a good way to put it . . . I suppose,” Toga grumbled, trying to duck away from Kichiro, who only tightened his grip on his cousin. “I feel like we’re all going to have to be fumigated before Gin allows any of us back into the mansion.”

 

“Well, Sydnie did say something like that, too, when I told her where we were going,” Bas admitted thoughtfully.

 

“Which reminds me: did you actually tell her what you were doing tonight?” Evan asked, raising a speculative eyebrow at his brother.

 

Bas snorted. “Yes, I did.”

 

“So how did you manage to make it out of the house?” Evan couldn’t resist asking since everyone knew about Sydnie’s legendary jealous streak when it came to Bas.

 

To his surprise, Bas broke into a somewhat smug kind of grin. “She was all right with it after I told her what was planned.”

 

Frowning at Bas’ almost cryptic wording, Evan turned his attention back to the stage, only to pull a classic double take moments before pinning Bas with a droll kind of expression that was completely ruined by the bark of laughter that quickly followed. “Oh, my God!” he exclaimed, smacking his hand down on the table in his complete amusement. “That is wrong beyond wrong!”

 

Bas grinned, too, but narrowed his eyes as he tried not to watch the spectacle unfolding on the stage where three transvestites were very happily doing their thing to the ungodly loud beat of the music. “You wanted strippers. You didn’t really say what kind of strippers . . .”

 

“Kami, I’ve been in some nasty-assed places before, but this . . .” Ryomaru Izayoi grumbled as he stomped over to his twin and cousin. “Are those . . .? Balls!” he exclaimed, the look on his face registering his abject disgust over what, exactly he was witnessing. “What the fuck . . .?

 

Staring in complete and morbid fascination, Evan couldn’t help the idiotic grin that only widened. The tops had come off and there was jiggling a-plenty despite knowing that those three were most certainly male—even if the upper sections of their bodies didn’t resemble their male counterparts in the least. “I can’t believe you hired ladyboys!” he said, holding his hand up to summon a waitress. “Bring my brother another beer!” he insisted, waving a hand in Bas’ general direction. “Holy hell, Bubby! This is awesome!”

 

Bas rolled his eyes as a soft chuckle escaped him. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen Dad’s face,” he ventured as the waitress hurried away to fill Evan’s order.

 

Dragging his gaze off of the strippers, Evan glanced over at Cain who did, indeed, have the weirdest expression on his face: a very odd mix of amusement and complete horror, like he was busy watching a train wreck full of circus clowns or something . . .

 

The overall effect was enough to send Evan into another bout of laughter, and Bas grimaced when the groom stuck his fingers into his mouth to unleash a loud, shrill whistle.

 

“Congratulations, Evan,” Morio Izayoi remarked, clapping Evan on the shoulder. “Can’t say your choice of bachelor party entertainment is my thing, but it’s nice to see that the bride to be . . . trusts you.”

 

Rising out of his chair to give his cousin a quick hug, Evan couldn’t help the cheesy grin on his face, either. “Morio! How was your flight?”

 

Morio chuckled. “It wasn’t so bad.”

 

“Speak for yourself,” Mikio Izayoi said, nudging Morio out of the way with a wince. Paler than normal, almost peaked, the hanyou looked like he’d seen better days, and considering his balance problems tended to be exacerbated by flying, Evan figured that he probably didn’t feel any better than he looked at the moment.

 

“Yeah, but you always hate planes,” Morio replied. “Besides, how could you possibly say it was bad when you got phone numbers from two of the stewardesses?”

 

Mikio made a face as his cheeks reddened—about the only trace of healthy color in his features. “I didn’t ask for them; you did—and they’re probably fake, anyway,” he muttered.

 

Morio chuckled. “Are you kidding? Women love you! They think you’re so darned cute!

 

Rolling his eyes at the added emphasis on the word ‘cute’, Mikio wrinkled his nose and opted to ignore Morio’s commentary instead. “I can’t stay,” he went on, turning to Evan once more, “I just wanted to stop in on the way out to the mansion.”

 

Evan nodded but then offered a nonchalant shrug. “Might want to rethink that,” he warned.

 

Mikio blinked, absently reaching up and fiddling with his twitching left ear. At this point, Evan had to wonder if it wasn’t more of a habit than anything else since he’d done it as long as Evan could remember. “What do you mean?”

 

Evan’s grin widened. “The women are supposed to be having V’s bachelorette party out there tonight—after they finished at the spa, anyway—so unless you want to be molested by all those women, you might wanna stay here.”

 

Mikio made a face. “The fact that I’m related to most of the women who would be at that party makes it all the more disturbing, don’t you think?”

 

Evan chuckled. “There’s that, too,” he allowed with an offhanded shrug. “Oh!” he suddenly exclaimed, digging into his pocket and pulling out his wallet to hand over the keycard for the front door of his house. He never used it since the identilock only required his thumb print, but he carried around the card just in case. “Go on over to my place, if you want. There’s food in the fridge, booze in the bar, and you’re welcome to use the guest room. It’ll be nice and quiet, too, so feel free to make yourself at home.”

 

“Oh, uh, okay,” Mikio agreed. “It’s not a problem, is it?”

 

“Nah, it’s all good,” Evan insisted.

 

Mikio didn’t look entirely convinced, but he finally nodded, taking Evan’s card with a rather wan smile. “Thanks. It’s just for tonight,” he explained quickly. “I’ll go over to the mansion in the morning.”

 

“Stay as long as you want,” Evan replied. “Besides, V was impressed when I told her that you’re an attorney, too.”

 

Mikio nodded, and Morio grinned. “I’ll take him over there. Don’t do anything fun without me!” Then he stopped to consider what he’d said and he shrugged. “Then again . . .”

 

Evan laughed and sat back down as Morio and Mikio headed for the exit, pausing here and there to greet their relatives in passing.

 

The stage music ended, and the strippers ran off the stage moments before the overhead lights brightened as the slightly lower in volume house music came up. Bas got to his feet and stepped around the table to grasp Evan’s shoulder as he turned him to face the rest of the guests. “On behalf of my brother, I wanted to thank you all for taking the time to celebrate Evan’s impending wedding,” Bas said, raising his voice to be heard over the low din. “Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t entirely sure that Evan would ever find a woman who was willing to put up with him, but I don’t mind admitting that I was wrong. Valerie’s a wonderful woman. In fact, she’s so wonderful that she even sent over a cake for you, Evan . . .”

 

Evan turned and glanced around, breaking into another goofy grin as a huge four layer cake was wheeled out of the back by the trio of strippers who hadn’t bothered to retrieve any of their discarded clothing. The tiers were lined with burning sparklers, and when they reached Evan, the ‘girls’ hurried over to make a show of kissing Evan’s cheeks in the loudest, most obnoxious way possible.

 

Bas reached over and handed Evan a blunt-edge cake knife.

 

“I am not entirely sure I want any of that,” Kurt remarked dryly as he stepped up beside the would-be groom.

 

Gavin flushed deep crimson when one of the strippers shot him a slow wink. “Makes me glad I didn’t have one of these parties,” he muttered.

 

“Cut the cake, Evan,” Gunnar remarked from his spot at the table beside Sesshoumaru who didn’t look uncomfortable, exactly, though he certainly didn’t look impressed.

 

Evan stepped over to the cake, narrowing his eyes as he considered exactly how he should cut into it. Before he could lower the knife, however, he jerked back as the top of the cake seemed to explode. “Ta-da-a-a!” Bugs exclaimed, throwing his hands high in the air as he burst out of the cake. Decked out in a fluffy little bunny costume, the rabbit youkai wiggled his fingers at the rockstar.

 

Evan laughed as he helped Bugs out of the cake. The rabbit leaned over and planted a loud kiss on Evan’s cheek before relinquishing his hold on him. “Surprise, Zel! You didn’t really think I’d miss a chance to be your bunny, now did you?”

 

“I thought you said you were boycotting the wedding!” Evan exclaimed, slipping an arm around Bugs.

 

“I was going to,” he allowed with an exaggerated pout. “But getting a chance to see all these fine men? Well, how could I possibly pass that up?” He spotted Gunnar and gave a jaunty wave. To Evan’s amusement, Gunnar actually nodded in acknowledgement of the greeting. Bugs heaved a very melodramatic sigh. “That one is just absolutely scrumptious, isn’t he? Melt-in-your-mouth good . . .”

 

“Looks like ol’ Gunnar’s in a pretty good mood,” Evan remarked. “Maybe you should go over there and say hi.”

 

Bugs giggled, waving a hand at Evan. “He’d never give me the time of day, Zel, and you know it’s true . . .” Trailing off as he seemed to be considering his options, Bug’s broke into a grin. “Then again, it doesn’t hurt to be friendly, now does it?”

 

“He’s not going to hit on Gunnar, is he?” Bas muttered as they watched the overzealous rabbit bound away.

 

Evan cleared his throat. “Oh, he might . . .”

 

Bas broke into the barest hint of a smile. “Is it bad that I kind of hope it does . . .?”

 

Evan chuckled. “Nope,” he allowed with a shrug. “I kind of hope he does myself . . . So V ordered the cake, did she?”

 

Offering a little shrug, Bas nodded. “She figured someone as bent as you are would enjoy it, yes.”

 

Digesting that in silence for a moment, Evan chuckled. “And here I was nice enough to hire a real stripper to show up at the mansion . . .”

 

Bas blinked and stared at Evan for several long moments. “You didn’t.”

 

His grin widened. “Oh, yep, I think I did . . . Calls himself John Long Dong. He’s not nearly as impressive as you are, though, but the odds of getting you to strip didn’t seem very good. Anyway, I figured the girls would get a kick out of him.”

 

“John Long—?” Cutting himself off abruptly, Bas slowly shook his head. “Only you, Evan,” he muttered, but he didn’t seem nearly as irritated as Evan suspected he’d be. Either way, he’d thought that it’d be good for a laugh. He only wished that he could see their faces when they answered the door and found Mr. Dong standing there, waiting to join the festivities . . .

 

 

 <<< 220: Reconciliation

222: Reticence >>>

 

~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~

A/N:

The Wild Lifeby Slaughter originally appeared on the 1992 release, The Wild Life. Copyrighted to Mark Slaughter and Dana Strum.

== == == == == == == == == ==

Final Thought from Bas:

John Long Dong …?

==========

Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Subterfuge): I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga. Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al. I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.

~Sue~

posted by Sueric at 3:45 pm  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Happy Holidays …

Season’s Greetings. Happy Holidays. Heaven forbid I say, “Merry Christmas” … right? Well, since this is my blog post, I’ll say it anyway: Merry Christmas.

 

I hope the holiday season finds everyone well and healthy. Life around here has been one huge roller coaster this year with more downs, it seems sometimes, than ups. I mean, on the plus side, we were able to complete repairs on the house —thanks to the people who helped us get those done on time! You will forever be in my heart; I hope you all know that.

 

On the down side, my husband’s company had a meeting around Halloween and told everyone that things were ‘looking up, blah blah blah’, and then last week, another meeting to announce that they’re closing as of March 2014. It felt kind of like a kick in the gut, or maybe the very last indignity heaped upon an already craptastic year. My positivity at this point is shaky at best and barely hanging on, and it feels sometimes like the more I try to encourage others, the more my life seems to fall apart. At this point, I’m just trying to hold everything together for my husband’s sake. I mean, this isn’t his fault. He’s worked there for fifteen years now, and then this. It’s all so horrible, and I’m glad they’re giving everyone notice, but just before Christmas . . . well, it makes everything just a little harder to take. We already knew we had next to no money for Christmas, thanks to Eric’s lack of overtime. My kids are old enough to know that they won’t get a lot for Christmas, and they’re okay with that. They’re just happy to be with us, and I’m happy, too, and yet I can’t help but feel like that happiness is so very fragile, as though it’s teetering at the edge of a very thin blade and that happiness is a tightrope I’m walking. I feel like this is what I get for thinking that the worst was behind us because I know what the job market is like around here. It’s not good. We come from an industrial area, and yet all the industries are closing. Of the twenty factories that existed prior to the recession, only four remained. As of March, there will be three. People ask us, why don’t we move? It’s not as simple as that, either. As it is, we own our house: no rent, no mortgage, and if we can barely make it through as it is, then what hope do we have for a time when we won’t have an income to speak of (because unemployment is just not enough to make it.) Will Eric get a severance package? Sure, but not in the true sense of the term. He’ll get a very small amount for his fifteen years of dedicated employment, and all that will serve to do is screw with filing for unemployment and such because, as many know, even if you want food stamps, you have to starve for a good month before you can even qualify to get those, too.)

 

I feel like we’re at the very bottom of a glass cylinder that stretches up to the skies. There’s nothing to grab onto; there’s no hope at all. Eric doesn’t have his GED, and I tell him that he can get it—I mean, he kind of has to, all things considered, and yet, I worry about that, too. See, he was in a car accident when he was in high school, and it affected his short-term memory and still does. He has trouble remembering things, and if those things don’t interest him (like school work, for example) then he has even more trouble with it. When he dropped out of school, he was roughly three grades behind. He’s not stupid. He learns things through repetition and does a lot of note taking, but he’s scared it won’t be enough to help him get the GED, and I believe he can. At least, I hope he can since his ability to get another job depends upon it. As for me? I’ve been putting in my application everywhere, and nothing. Now, part of that, I know, is due to the fact that I haven’t worked since 2000. The rest of it? The biggest part of it? I’ll be honest here. I made some bad choices back then, and I got in trouble with the law. Where it used to ask on apps, “Have you been convicted of a felony in the past seven years?” it now asks, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”, and once they see the YES box checked, then you can forget about it. Yes, I realize that I made my own bad choices, and yes, I learned from my mistakes. Yes, I know that my inability to get a job is ultimately my own fault, and I take responsibility for that. But no where on those apps does it ask, have you learned your lesson? Do you understand the reasons behind your own actions? Can you be sure that you won’t repeat the same behavior again? Because I could answer all of those positively. I went to counseling. I learned things about myself that I didn’t know before—ugly things that I hadn’t wanted to know, and yet, I was able to deal with those same things and to grow from them. I know that people are allowed to make mistakes. I don’t think that they should be punished for them forever, but I am, and I know that it’s my own fault, but that doesn’t really help me feel better when I think, what the hell are we going to do?

 

As for my computer (which I’m not writing this from lol), I don’t currently have one. I have to borrow my kid’s computer because mine got dropped and pretty well shattered, which is the main reason I’m writing this now. I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to get another computer. At this point, it’s a frivolous thing that we just can’t afford. I just don’t know, so the reality of it is that all of my stories are going to be put on indefinite hiatus. I hope you understand. I hope to finish the stories one day, and I will check in as much as I can from my phone or on my kid’s computer. Just know that Evan and Valerie will get their happily ever after.

 

My wish for all of you is to be healthy and happy, to love and to laugh. The time I got to spend with all of you was truly a blessing to me and one that I will forever truly miss.

 

Sue

posted by Sueric at 3:22 am  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Fulcrum: 10 Carefree

~Chapter Ten~

~Carefree~

 

 

Kendall laughed softly, tearing off a bit of bread and tossing it into the pond.  Almost instantly, the small flock of ducks zoomed in, fighting over it, only to voice their displeasure at the missed opportunity as they started to disburse.  She repeated the process a few times, giggling quietly every time the fowl rushed in.

 

Leaning against a the gnarled, split trunk of an old river birch tree not far away, hands in his pockets, a lazy little grin gracing his features, Zain was content to watch her antics with the creatures.

 

She’d loved the idea, as they were walking rather aimlessly, when they’d passed a small park, and she had first noticed the ducks—loved it enough that she’d insisted upon running into a nearby bakery to buy a modest loaf of dense, dark bread.  She wanted to buy a few of them, actually, but he had told her that one was plenty, hopefully not too much.  Then again, quite a few more ducks had arrived shortly after the impromptu feeding had begun, so he wasn’t quite as worried about that as he had been, to start with . . .

 

“I’m sorry,” she said, holding her hands out, showing the ducks that they were empty.  “I’m out of bread . . . My lord wouldn’t let me buy more.”

 

Rolling his eyes, he uttered a terse snort at the very blatant jibe, but his smile didn’t falter.  “You would feel bad if you overfed them,” he told her then nodded at the one little duck that kept bobbing around her feet.  Every so often, it would grab the hem of her dress in its bill and give a little tug.  “That one either wants to be your new best friend or it’s trying to decide whether or not your skirt needs salt.”

 

Resting her elbows on her knees, she twisted her legs to the side to better see the overly-friendly duck.  It quacked rather loudly since her movement also yanked her clothes away from it just before it could grab it once more.  “I don’t suppose he’d do well in an apartment, do you?”

 

“I think there is an ordinance against such things in the city,” he replied.  “I’d have to look into it for you.”

 

She turned to smile at him, but it was more than that.  There was a simple radiance about her.  She seemed completely content, at least for the moment—a far cry from the woman he’d found earlier.  Pushing herself to her feet, she wandered over to stand beside him, her gaze still fixed on the birds in the water.  “So what’s next on the agenda, my lord?”

 

He snorted indelicately, casting her a marked scowl that she missed completely since she still had yet to look at him.  “For you to stop calling me that,” he said.

 

She blinked and finally glanced at him.  “Calling you, what?”

 

Shaking his head, he shrugged.  “My lord.  I told you already, Zain would be just fine.  In fact, I’d prefer it.”

 

She giggled and fluttered a delicate hand in his direction as her gaze slipped back to the pond once more.  “And I told you, that would be highly unseemly, my lord.”

 

He grunted.  “Hmm.  Let’s bargain, then, shall we?”

 

That got her attention quickly enough, and she turned to face him, arching an eyebrow in silent question.

 

“What about calling me by name when we’re alone—like we are now?”

 

She was going to flat-out refuse him.  He could see it in her expression.  When she opened her mouth to do so, however, he pressed his index finger against her lips.  The flush that shot to the fore was entirely becoming, and she didn’t pull away from him.

 

“Please.”

 

“I shouldn’t do that, either,” she murmured, gaze flittering away as the pretty blush deepened.

 

Catching her chin with a crooked finger, Zain gently lifted it, made her meet his gaze once more.  “Please,” he said one more time, his voice a near-whisper.

 

She swallowed hard, lips quivering slightly, blinking once, twice.  Her eyelashes were incredibly long, fanning over her cheeks like the feathers of a bird—he hadn’t noticed that before, probably because those dark blue eyes of hers were so incredibly vivid that it was hard to notice anything else when she was looking directly at him.

 

The strangest urge to lean down and kiss her took hold of him, and Zain let his hand drop away before he gave in to it.  After all, if she thought that calling him by name was untoward, he could only imagine what her reaction to that would be . . . Still, it was with great effort that he managed to step away from her, pretending to look out at the ducks once more, digging his hands deep into his pockets as he stifled a sigh.

 

She didn’t say anything for several moments, and when he dared peer back at her over his shoulder, he frowned.  Eyes downcast, worrying at her lower lip as she clutched her purse tightly in her hands, he’d have to be a fool to miss her acute discomfort.  “What would you like to do next?” he asked, letting the previous subject die.

 

“Oh,” she blurted, glancing at him and then quickly away once more.  “Oh, um . . . Whatever you’d like . . .?”

 

He could kick himself.  He really could.  ‘Right back to square one . . .’

 

It’s not that bad.  You just flustered her; that’s all.’

 

‘. . . Bad enough.’

 

“Y . . . You’re . . . angry,” she said with a grimace when he remained silent.  “I-I should go home . . .”

 

“No, wait,” he hurried to say, lunging after her when she turned to leave.  Catching her hand, he stayed her, only letting go when she stopped trying to get away.  “That was my fault.  I swear I’m not angry . . . I’m sorry.”

 

She didn’t look like she believed him, but she didn’t try to move away from him, either.  “You’re sure you’re not angry?” she asked at length.

 

He nodded.  “Yes, I’m sure,” he said.  “So tell me, is there anything in particular you want to do?”

 

Though she seemed a little surprised by his question, she smiled rather tentatively.  “Nothing especially,” she said with an offhanded shrug.

 

Zain heaved an exaggerated sigh and slowly shook his head.  Stepping toward her once more, he reached out and took her hand, pulling her along beside him.  “Come on,” he remarked, ambling toward the main path.  “Let’s just walk then.  We’ll figure out what you want to do as we go.”

 

She glanced up at him, her gaze still serious despite the small smile that touched her lips.  “Is this how you usually do things?   Just off the cuff?”

 

He chuckled and shook his head.  “Actually, no,” he admitted.  “In fact, my best friend would probably be shocked if he knew about this.”

 

She digested that in silence for a moment then laughed.  “So this is as foreign to you as it is to me.”

 

Nodding as he lifted his chin, as he stared up at the bright blue sky overhead, he gave her hand a little squeeze.  “I guess there’s something to be said for spontaneity.”

 

“You think so?”

 

Another chuckle escaped him as he shot her a meaningful glance.  “Yeah, I think I do.”

 

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

“You wanted to see me?”

 

Uriah Marner waved a hand in the vague direction of the chairs situated across from the broad mahogany desk but didn’t look up from the papers he was looking over.  “Yes, yes . . . Sit.”

 

Settling into one of the straight-backed chairs, Will Marner slumped down, crossing his arms over his chest, letting his long legs sprawl out on the floor before him.  As minutes ticked away, as his father seemed far more interested in whatever was on those papers than he was in telling William why he’d summoned him, he finally cleared his throat and sat up.  “Would you rather that I come back later?”

 

Glancing up with a start, the bobcat-youkai seemed a little disoriented for all of three seconds before he brushed off Will’s question with a flick of his wrist.  “Of course not.  I don’t feel like waiting another week or more before you bother to show your face here again.”

 

Breaking into a rather devilish smile, Will chuckled since he did tend to ignore the missives demanding that he return home immediately.  “Oh, was this something urgent?”

 

Frowning at his son’s flip response, Uriah stubbornly shook his head.  “Any time I summon you home, it’s important,” he insisted.

 

Stifling a sigh, Will nodded dutifully.  “Understood, Father,” he replied.  “What is it you wished to discuss with me?”

 

Uriah reached for the black lacquered humidor that always sat upon his desktop, taking  an inordinate amount of time in checking the hygrometer reading.  Satisfied that the conditions inside the box were to his liking, he then proceeded to take his time in selecting one of his ungodly expensive Arturo Fuente cigars, cutting off the end and lighting it.  Staring at the rising smoke, he savored the first few tokes off the stogy before he spoke.  “I have arranged your marriage.”

 

Will blinked once, twice, and sat up a little straighter.  “Come again?”

 

Uriah leveled a no-nonsense look at his son.  “Your marriage, boy.  It’s been arranged.”

 

Shifting slightly in his seat, Will took a moment to measure his words.  He’d rather begun to think that maybe his father was going to leave him alone on that store.  He really should have known better.  “This is . . . awfully sudden, isn’t it?” he finally asked.

 

“Sudden?  You’re thirty-four years old, William.  It’s high time you married and continued the line,” Uriah insisted.  Then he smiled, looking for all the world like the cat that had eaten the proverbial canary.  “She is the perfect match for you—and your marriage will strengthen our control here as well as extend our influence in the western district.”

 

“The western district,” Will echoed with a slow nod of understanding.  “Then Farington’s daughter, you mean.”

 

“That fool was more than happy to jump at the chance to barter off his daughter,” Uriah went on, leaning back in his chair while he gloated.  “After your wedding, it will be easy enough to simply get rid of Farington as well as that weakling son of his . . . You’re thought of highly enough that your appointment as the general of the western region would only be natural.  Since I am still currently in charge here, then it would be simple enough to install you in the west, and then your brother can take over here when I’m ready to stand down.”

 

Staring at his father for long moments, Will said nothing as he contemplated his father’s plans.  He knew what the ultimate goal was, and he knew that Uriah was willing to pay just about any price to see it to fruition.  His father viewed the entire thing as little more than a poker game, really.  But then, that’s how Uriah tended to view most things in life.

 

Will was not quite as relaxed about it all, which was neither here nor there.  Apparently, his part to play was wholly different from what he’d originally thought . . .

 

“I told Farington that we would appreciate his cooperation to ensure that the wedding takes place as soon as possible.  He didn’t see a problem with that,” Uriah went on as casually as though he were discussing the weather.

 

“And his daughter is in agreement?” Will asked.

 

Uriah shot his son a withering glower as he tapped his cigar against the crystal ashtray.  “Who cares?  She doesn’t really have a say in the matter, any more than you do.”

 

Pasting on a tight little smile, Will nodded once.  “Of course,” he allowed.  “Now, if that is all . . .?”

 

“Not quite,” Uriah said, waving at the chair once more when Will started to get to his feet.  Smothering a sigh, he did as he was told, clasping his hands over his stomach as he slouched back once again.  “Farington’s getting married next month—marrying his mistress, of all the outrageous things—and you will be invited.”  Pausing for a pregnant second while he regarded his son carefully, Uriah narrowed his eyes just a little.  “You will be there, William.”

 

“I’ll check my calendar,” Will replied.

 

Uriah pointed his cigar at him.  “No, you will be there, and you will introduce yourself to your future wife, and if you’re smart, you’ll at least pretend to be interested in her.”  Leaving that warning hanging in the air while he took another long drag off the cigar, Uriah suddenly chuckled dryly.  “Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter, one way or the other.  It’s simply to say that it’ll make dealing with her later that much simpler if you at least act personable.”

 

“Absolutely,” Will agreed, hauling himself out of the chair once more.  This time, Uriah didn’t try to stop him.  “As always, it’s been a pleasure, Father.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have dinner plans, and I don’t dare be late.”

 

“What kind of dinner plans, you miscreant?” Uriah demanded, rising to his feet in case he needed to detain Will.

 

Will chuckled since his father had every reason to worry on that score.  Will wasn’t exactly known for his discretion when it came to the company he kept.  Tying himself down to one woman when there were so many to choose from?  He wasn’t entirely sure he liked that idea, at all.  “Don’t be so eager to hang me,” he complained.  “It just so happens that Elizabeth is back from Chicago, and she begged me to meet her for dinner.”

 

Uriah grunted at the mention of his daughter, but at least he seemed to relax slightly.  “Ah, then so be it,” he muttered as he turned toward the windows overlooking the well-manicured garden of the Marner estate.  “I will send you the information regarding Farington’s wedding in the next few days.”

 

Will bowed slightly and finally turned to leave the room.

 

Crazy old man,’ he thought as he closed the door behind him and strode down the hall.  As dark and foreboding as ever, the place was.  He couldn’t remember a time when he’d ever really felt at home here, and now was no different.  An arranged marriage to a girl he’d never even laid eyes on before?  Somehow, it felt more like a surefire recipe for imminent disaster . . .

 

Well, he supposed that if it came down to it, he could always have his mistresses on the side.  He may have to be a bit more careful about being seen in public with them, but that was all right, too.  The only real objection he had was simply that women tended to complicate things more than was necessary.

 

So the time was approaching.

 

Tensions were high, and he knew that.  The pseudo-competition that existed between the regions for supremacy was always something that had existed through generations.  It all amounted to little more than the manipulation of pawns on a chessboard, as it were, and his father was not above using him as one of those pawns, either, but that was something to which Will had grown quite accustomed over the years.

 

Uriah Marner tended to be a better player than most, though.  At a point in time when the current tai-youkai’s habit of looking the other way while leaving his followers to work out their own issues, the Third’s complacency only served to further Uriah’s ultimate plan.

 

But to target Titus Farington in such a way?  The man was formidable in his own right—not surprising since the western region tended to be a lot more rough-and-tumble than the other districts.  In order for the reigning general to keep order, he had to be strong.  Still . . .

 

Will had to admit, he hadn’t seen that one coming; not at all . . .

 

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

“Are you all right now?”

 

Kendall made a face and shook her head at Zain, who had his eyes closed, head tilted back as he reclined on the grass, propped up on his elbows.  The effect was lost since he couldn’t see her, so she smiled wanly.  It had occurred to her that he was probably ruining his perfectly pressed white dress shirt, but he didn’t seem to mind, and she had to wonder if he ever wore anything a little more casual since all she had ever seen him wear was relatively formal attire.  Not that he looked bad in the black slacks he seemed to favor, but she had very little doubt that a worn pair of jeans would do him justice, as well . . .

 

“You’re not still feeling out of sorts, are you?” he continued as the slight breeze stirred the long strands of his pitch black hair.  Falling to the middle of his lower back, his hair looked like it had never been cut before, which was a rather archaic thing.  Though youkai tended to wear their hair long in the past, in more recent times, they had given into the style trends more, and most men these days tended to wear their hair much shorter.  Somehow, though, the long hair seemed much more natural on him.

 

“My stomach has settled down,” she assured him, sounding a little more petulant than she might have preferred otherwise.

 

He chuckled.  It was a very nice sound, full of warmth, of a kind of unspoken emotion that bordered on a certain intimacy that Kendall didn’t dare dwell upon.  “I warned you that you shouldn’t eat that entire pretzel by yourself,” he reminded her.

 

Wrinkling her nose at the hint of gloating in his tone, she still couldn’t help but to smile.  “It was really good,” she pointed out without sounding sorry in the least for the impromptu rest that he had decided was in order when she’d started to feel a little queasy.  Still, she couldn’t complain.  The pretzel he’d bought her from a vendor cart just inside the large park was really good, even if it had been coated with a little more salt than it needed.

 

The mustard dipping sauce was very tasty, too.

 

“You wouldn’t have thought so if you had gotten sick,” he told her.  “I thought you were going to share it.”

 

Rolling her eyes, Kendall giggled.  “After you made that horrible face when I ripped off some of it for you?”

 

“I didn’t make a face about the pretzel.  I was just horrified by the huge mass of it that you’d shoved into your mouth right before that.”

 

Which made her giggle harder.  That was true enough.  Her first bite had been incredibly large . . . “A gentleman would try to ignore a lady’s more embarrassing moments,” she told him, fiddling with the fabric of her skirt in an idle kind of way.

 

“A lady wouldn’t try to shove a piece of anything into her mouth that was big enough to choke a horse,” he retorted.

 

“I don’t think you’re nearly as nice as I thought you were when I first met you,” she told him.

 

He leaned his head back a little more, opening his eyes and gazing at her, which was probably a little odd, given that he was seeing her from an upside down perspective.  “You’re right,” he allowed simply.  “I’m not actually ‘nice’.”

 

“You sent me flowers,” she reminded him.

 

“I had ulterior motives for that.”

 

“Oh?  What kind of ulterior motives?”

 

He chuckled again.  “I wanted to hear you play for me again, of course.”

 

“O-Oh,” she breathed, lowering her gaze to her lap quickly.  He’d said it in a teasing tone, sure, but . . . But was that it?  Was that the only reason?

 

A sudden rush of nerves crashed down on her, and Kendall ducked her chin a little lower, pretended to be examining her manicure.

 

“Okay,” he said, his tone taking on a much gentler note.  “I said something to upset you, didn’t I?”

 

“No,” she blurted, forcing herself to meet his gaze again, forcing a smile that she hoped wasn’t nearly as artificial as it felt.  “Of course not.”

 

Sitting up, hooking his arms around his knees, Zain shook his head.  “You can tell me if something’s bothering you,” he said.  “In fact, I’d prefer it if you would.”

 

“It’s nothing,” she insisted.  “It’s just . . . was that the reason you’ve been so nice to me?  To hear me play piano?”

 

He didn’t move for a few moments, and then he stood up, wandering over to her, sitting beside her on the weathered wooden bench.  “I want to say yes,” he admitted, his expression taking on an almost chagrined kind of slant.  “But no, that wasn’t the only reason . . . and I swear I told you already that I’m not really ‘nice’.”

 

Not the only reason . . .?’ She smiled a little hesitantly.  “What are you, then, if you’re not nice?”

 

A thoughtful frown drew his eyebrows together, and he stared at her before answering.  “A tai-youkai isn’t allowed the convenience of being nice,” he told her.  “At least, that’s what they’ve always said.”  He shook his head and suddenly chuckled, but the sound was touched by the barest hint of something a little darker, a little weary, almost pathetic, but that word didn’t quite suit him.  “I used to get lectured a lot because I didn’t see challenges through properly, or so they said.  They always told me that I was being nice, but that really wasn’t the case.  It just seemed . . . pointless, I guess.  Why kill off someone over some trivial adolescent argument just because someone gets hotheaded enough to use the word ‘challenge’?”

 

She thought about that.  Sure, she realized that children were taught early on that using the word ‘challenge’ was a grave thing, something not meant to be taken lightly, but then, Zain made a valid point, too, didn’t he?  Even if the word was used, did someone that age really understand the consequences?  Considering that youkai could easily live hundreds of years at a stretch, the very idea of death was somewhat abstract to many teenagers who had never actually had to deal with someone close to them dying.

 

And Zain understood that on some level, didn’t he?  Maybe he claimed that it wasn’t kindness, but she wasn’t so sure.  Aloof, yes.  Possessing that innate sense of self-worth that only someone highly privileged from birth could attain, certainly.  Still, she could sense it, the feeling that he had been brought up with as many rules as she had, as many restrictions on his freedom as she had.  His rules were vastly different from her own, and that she could understand, but fundamentally, the end result was still the same, wasn’t it?  Perhaps his life really wasn’t as different from her own.

 

“So you’ve never killed anyone who has challenged you?”

 

The smile that touched his lips was more of a grimace, almost apologetic—not quite, though.  “I never killed anyone while I was still in school,” he corrected.  “The first real challenge I was issued came when I was in college, my last year: a wind youkai who wanted to put an end to the Jericho line, and he thought he would start with me.”

 

Kendall frowned, staring down at her hands, folded in her lap.  What would it be like to have to live your life, worrying that someone, somewhere was going to challenge you to a fight to the death; not because you had done anything to them personally, but just because they were displeased with the way that things were handled by the tai-youkai . . .? She couldn’t image it.  “But you don’t get challenged a lot, do you?”

 

He shrugged.  “No, not really.  Twice so far.”  He must have seen the distress on her features because he sighed and shook his head.  “It happens.  It’s just how things are.”

 

She knew that.  Of course, she did.  That didn’t make her feel any better about it, but she wasn’t a child, and even if she didn’t like to dwell upon the darker things in the world, she knew of them.  “It just seems like a harsh thing to live with,” she said.

 

“Maybe if I did nothing but think about it,” he agreed.  “I prefer not to.  There are much more interesting things to think about; things that I’d much rather my time considering.  You, for example.”

 

He’d said it so off-the-cuff that it took Kendall a few seconds to realize just what he’d said, and when she glanced at him, it was to find him staring up at the sky again, eyes bright but no trace of anything readable on his face.  “Think about . . . me?” she asked hesitantly.

 

He finally smiled his little half-smile that she was coming to know so well.  “Does that bother you?”

 

Biting her lip, Kendall broke into a little grin as a light flush dusted her cheeks, as she ducked her chin once more while she tried to remember that she really needed to breathe.  “N . . . No,” she finally whispered.

 

“Good,” he said.  She could feel his gaze on her though he hadn’t moved his head.  “You could, too, if you wanted.”

 

She giggled, stealing a sidelong glance at him, only to blush a little darker when she caught him staring at her in much the same way.  “What could I do?”

 

He chuckled.  “Spend your time considering me.”

 

“Could I?”

 

The laughter died away, but he still seemed amused.  “Yes.  In fact, I think you should.”

 

 <<< 09: Adventurous

 

~*************************************************~

All the characters in The Fulcrum belong to me.
Any similarities to any person, alive or dead, real or implied, are coincidental.

~Sueric~

 

posted by Sueric at 12:17 am  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Fulcrum: 09 Adventurous

~Chapter Nine~

~Adventurous~

 

 

“And you had dinner with him?”

 

Kendall stifled a sigh and nodded, avoiding Mimi’s gaze as the latter sat in a round, hanging wicker basket chair, suspended from the ceiling and draped with yards and yards of sheer white gauzy fabric.

 

Mimi looked entirely crestfallen, but then she smiled, albeit wanly.  “I’m so jealous right now, it isn’t even funny,” she admitted.  “Tell me you had a good time.”

 

“I had a good time,” Kendall admitted, settling into a thickly cushioned chair across from her best friend.

 

She hadn’t actually meant to bring up her dinner with Zain Jericho.  The last thing she’d wanted to do was to rub Mimi’s nose in it, as it were.  As fate would have it, though, Mimi had spotted the flowers right away, and from that point on, it was just a matter of time before the cat was out of the bag.  Mimi, true to form, had been both thrilled as well as a little envious.

 

“Where did he take you?” Mimi demanded, leaning forward slightly as her keen sense of curiosity took over.

 

“The Hightower,” Kendall said, breaking into a small smile as she propped her heel on the chair cushion and wrapped her arms around her knee.  “It was fantastic, and there was even a private balcony that overlooked the lake . . . We ate dessert outside.”

 

Mimi heaved a dramatic sigh and smashed her hands over her heart, a little squeal of delight slipping from her.  “And he was a perfect gentleman, right?  Did he give you his jacket?  I mean, it was a little chilly last night . . .”

 

Despite the lingering worries that had plagued her since her father’s departure, Kendall couldn’t help but to laugh.  “Yes, he was a gentleman; no, he didn’t give me his jacket because it wasn’t really that cold, surprisingly.  I guess that we were shielded from the wind for the most part.  The breeze was nice, though.”

 

Mimi digested that in silence, her expression almost dreamy as she flopped backward against the pillow-like cushions stared off into space.  She was probably trying to picture the whole thing in her head.  “And what did you do after dinner?  Did he bring you straight home?”

 

“No . . . We went for a walk on the beach.  He said that they own the stretch of it beside the complex.”

 

“Oh, that sounds romantic,” Mimi sighed.  She indulged in whatever she was thinking for another moment before sitting up straight, pinning Kendall with a knowing stare.  “So . . .?”

 

Kendall blinked.  “So, what?” she prompted when Mimi gestured impatiently for more information.

 

Mimi rolled her eyes but giggled.  “So are the two of you officially dating now?”

 

The brief reprieve that Kendall had been enjoying shattered like a glass on the marble floor.  Shifting her gaze out of the windows she shrugged.  “No,” she said in what she hoped was a casual tone of voice.  “In fact, I don’t think I’ll be seeing him again.”

 

“Why not?” Mimi demanded.  For a moment, she looked entirely shocked, but then, she frowned.  “This isn’t because of me, is it?” she asked, shaking her head to reinforce her words.  “Kendall, I was just a little girl, and you can’t really think that I ever actually believed that I—”

 

“It’s not that,” Kendall broke in, forcing another smile for Mimi’s benefit.  “It just so happens my father told me that he’s arranged my marriage.”

 

She was reasonably proud of the way her voice held steady, giving away nothing of the turbulent emotions that still tied her stomach in knots.  Too bad Mimi knew her far too well to buy into her façade.  “Oh, that’s . . .” Trailing off, Mimi seemed to be searching for the right word to describe her thoughts.  Suddenly, though, she gasped, sitting up a little straighter as she pointed a finger at Kendall.  “Tell him!  Tell your father about the Fourth!” she blurted, her voice raising an octave in her excitement.  “Tell him that you’ve already been on a date with him and everything!  I mean, come on!  You’re a general’s daughter, for God’s sake, right?  So you’d be perfect for him, and, let’s face it, no matter who your father’s chosen, he cannot possibly hold a candle to the future tai-youkai!”

 

Shaking her head, Kendall struggled to hold onto her nonchalance.  “I can’t,” she insisted.  “Besides, even if I could—even if Father did raise the issue with the Third, don’t you think that the Fourth might think the whole thing was just some kind of ploy?  Some kind of marriage trap?”  Shaking her head a little more forcefully, Kendall pinned Mimi with a stubborn look.  “It wouldn’t be right.”

 

Mimi snorted.  “And it’s all right to marry some guy you’ve never met?  Some guy you don’t care a thing for?  How is that fair?”

 

“It’s not about ‘fair’,” Kendall insisted, though in her own ears, her voice sounded tired.  “I-If we don’t suit, Father . . .”

 

She couldn’t bring herself to say the rest of the thought out loud because she wasn’t entirely sure that she believed it herself.  If she told him that she simply couldn’t marry him, what then?  Would Titus listen to her?  Would he call off the engagement?  Or would he discount whatever she had to say, chalk it up to her reluctance to get married at all?

 

“Who is it?” Mimi asked in a much gentler tone.

 

“William Marner,” Kendall replied.  Then she laughed—a harsh, almost hysterical sound—as she covered her mouth and fiercely tried to bite it back.  “Maybe Father’s right.  Maybe I’m worried about nothing.”

 

“M . . . Maybe,” Mimi drawled slowly, sounding anything but positive.  “I mean, my brother knows him from the academy, I think, and he never said anything bad about him . . .” Nibbling at her bottom lip, she trailed off as her gaze turned a bit distant for a moment.  Then she shook her head, as though willing away whatever thoughts she’d just had, and she smiled.  “Don’t worry about it, Kendall.  I . . . I know that’s easier said than done, but . . .”  Glancing at her watch, Mimi bit her lip and cast her another fretful glance.

 

Forcing yet another smile, Kendall sighed, tucking a few errant strands of hair behind her ear.  “It’s all right,” she reassured her friend.  “Now you’d better hurry or you’re going to be late for dinner with your parents.”

 

“I can call them, tell them that you need me,” Mimi offered.

 

“No, don’t you dare,” Kendall insisted.  “Your parents don’t visit you very often, and I’m fine . . . just really tired.  I think I’ll just take a hot bath and go to bed early.”

 

Mimi didn’t look convinced, but she knew better than anyone that once Kendall made up her mind, it was pretty near impossible to change it.

 

Rolling her eyes, Kendall stood and rounded the coffee table to grasp Mimi’s hands and tug her to her feet.  “Go,” she said, leaving no room for argument in her tone.  “Have fun.  Give your mother a hug and kiss for me.”

 

Heaving a sigh meant to state her protest, Mimi quickly reached out to hug Kendall.  “Okay, but promise me that you’ll call me if you need me.”

 

“I promise,” Kendall vowed.

 

Following Mimi out of the sun room and through the apartment, she opened the door and held it for Mimi, who spared a moment to stare hard at her before she finally gave in with another sigh and left.

 

Kendall closed the door and leaned back against it.  She understood Mimi’s feelings, and she was grateful, too.  That didn’t really make it any easier to deal with.  The last thing she wanted or needed was for Mimi to feel sorry for her, especially when Kendall was so close to doing that herself already.

 

A curt knock on the door behind her wrung a little yelp from her as she hopped away and swung around, grasping her blouse over her heart.  For a split second, she thought that Mimi might have forgotten something, but no.  Even through the heavy metal door, she could sense it—his aura.  But why . . .?

 

“Kendall?  Open the door.”

 

Wincing at his muffled voice and the hint of worry underlying his tone, Kendall reached for the handle, but jerked her hand back before she could turn the knob.  No, it was better this way, right?  She didn’t dare open the door.

 

Not even for Zain Jericho.

 

Especially not for Zain Jericho . . .

 

Willing herself to step back, Kendall made herself walk away, heaving a quiet sigh as she headed for the kitchen.  With a shaking hand, she filled a glass with water and gulped it down in an entirely unladylike fashion before refilling it again and slugging it back, too.  Then she set the glass upside down on a clean towel and gripped the edge of the counter tight, closing her eyes, breathing deep as her nerves slowly quieted.

 

It was entirely unfair, wasn’t it?  For the first time in her life, she’d met someone that made her want to try something different, something daring, and yet there was nothing she could do about it.  If her whole life was going to be dictated to her just like that, what was the point to it?  Was she no more than a bargaining chip to be played when the time was right . . .?

 

Letting go of the counter with a tired sigh, Kendall turned on the water tap once more to splash her face and fumbled with the drawer beside her until she grabbed a kitchen towel.

 

Dabbing at her face, she shuffled out of the kitchen and into the living room, her gaze catching on the piano.  Ordinarily, she would sit down, play for hours, forget the thoughts that plagued her mind.  This time, however . . . There was no solace to be found, not there.

 

“So what, exactly, did your father have to say to you?”

 

Smothering a gasp, Kendall swung around, only to find him leaning in the doorway of the morning room, arms crossed over his chest as he lounged against the frame, hair glowing almost bluish in the brightness of the sunshine pouring through the bank of windows behind him, his features carefully blanked, and when her eyes met his, she couldn’t look away.  Glowing, they were, those eyes, staring at her as though he could see straight into her mind, and in the silence, he dared her to lie.

 

“My . . . my lord . . .”

 

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

Zain wasn’t sure how long he stood there in the archway, conducting the silent war of wills with the woman who so defiantly tried to stand her ground before him.  He’d seen grown men cower long before she finally heaved a sigh, a trembling hand reaching up to rub her face.  Delicate and simple, yet it was deceptive, and he knew that, too.  No, maybe not ‘simple’ . . . That wasn’t a good way to describe her.  He’d met enough women to know how many of them so loosely held their integrity, how easily they’d do or say things that they thought that he wanted to hear.  She was different, Kendall Farington, and maybe that was the real reason why he was so drawn to her . . .

 

The moments stretched out between them; he waited for her to speak, and maybe she was doing the same.  In the end, she was the one who finally broke the silence that had fallen, her voice soft and sad and a little distant.  “H-How did you—?”

 

“Through the window, of course,” he interrupted, jerking his head once to indicate the room from which he had entered.

 

He saw her gaze flicker from him to the room beyond and back again.  The windows were open, yes, but the screens should have prevented him from being able to access them.  Should have, but didn’t.  A moment of curiosity, and then a little half-nod when she realized how he’d done it.  “Your aethereal form,” she concluded in a tone that indicated that she ought to have realized that he should be fully capable of such a thing before.

 

“You’re ignoring my question,” he reminded her, unwilling to take his eyes off of her.

 

“It’s not important,” she muttered, turning away from him, putting a little more distance between them.

 

“Important enough for you to cancel your plans with me,” he pointed out.  “Important enough for you not to answer the door when I knocked.”  When she still offered no explanation, Zain shrugged away from the wall, stuffing his hands into his pockets as he slowly wandered toward her.  She didn’t retreat again, but she looked like she might well want to, and Zain had to wonder why.  “You don’t want to tell me.”

 

She sighed, more of a breath than a real sound, wrapping her arms tightly over her stomach as her gaze skittered away.  Clad in a simple white dress that struck him as being just a little old fashioned, she seemed to blend in with her surroundings.  Everything in feminine shades of whites and off-whites, touches of pinks, dusty rose.  Even the white lacquered baby grand piano with the soft rose colored velvet cushion . . . Made just for her?  Probably.

 

And yet, it struck him, just how very out of place she seemed, like a child playing dress-up in her mother’s clothes; like a flower struggling to grow through a crack in the pavement.  These things her seemed to compose the perfect surroundings, and still, there was a stilted comfort to it all, a contrived sort of feel, as though she had been selecting the things in her own home more for how it might appear to someone else and not at all what she might want for herself . . .

 

Drawing a deep breath as he shifted his gaze back to the woman in question once more, he frowned when it became apparent that she was not going to offer any kind of explanation.  “You still don’t want to tell me about it?”

 

“I just . . . It’s really nothing,” she insisted.

 

He nodded.  Maybe he didn’t know exactly why she was acting so strangely, but that didn’t really matter, and as much as he might want to know the reason for it, the desire to reassure her was far stronger.  He supposed that if he were to stop and ask himself just why that might be, the answer might well surprise him, but, given the situation, he didn’t stop to take the time to analyze it all.

 

It was bad enough when he’d knocked on her door, heard her soft gasp on the other side, bad enough when he’d sensed the retreat of her youki.  A strange sort of irritation had taken hold of him then, and that was the reason he’d done something as rash as dissolve his body to fly in through her window.  Even through the door, he’d sensed it, her absolute desolation, and he wasn’t sure if he hated the idea that she was willing to suffer alone or if there really wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.

 

In the end, he’d simply reacted on instinct—a foreign sense of her upset that had goaded him into doing what he’d done, and now, there he was, but the problem remained: how could he possibly bridge the gap that seemed as wide as the sea that had somehow managed to open up between them in the space of a few hours . . .?

 

“Okay,” he agreed, conceding more to her than he ever had to anyone else before.  Careful to keep his movements slow, lest she should run—why he thought that she might, he wasn’t sure, but for some reason, he knew that he was treading on very dangerous ground—he sat on the sofa, leaning forward, steepling his fingers between his knees.  “I’ll ask you something else, then.”

 

She shot him a cursory glance, her expression composed, but the wild look in her eyes couldn’t be hidden.  “All right . . .”

 

“Did you have a good time last night?  I thought you did, but . . . was I wrong?”

 

She seemed surprised and confused by his question in turns, but she bit her lip and slowly nodded.  She looked like her answer had cost her dearly, and he had to wonder why that was.  “N-No, it’s not that,” she whispered.  “I . . . I did.  Being with you . . .”

 

He smiled just a little.  “Good.  So did I.”

 

She didn’t look like she quite believed him, but the brightness in her gaze was enough to encourage him.  “It’s nice of you to say,”  she replied with a shake of her head. “I know I wasn’t exactly the best company last night.”

 

“Why?  Because you didn’t giggle and flirt and fall all over me?  Thanks, but I’ve had quite enough of that lately myself.”  Breaking into a soft chuckle, he pushed himself to his feet again.  “You’re the first woman I’ve met who has truly acted like she was paying attention to me, not simply playing a game of ‘let’s catch the next tai-youkai’.”

 

A strange sort of expression flickered over her face, but was gone before he had a chance to discern it.  Then she smiled, albeit wanly.  “I would guess that you are quite the catch.”

 

He blinked for a moment as it dawned on him that she was teasing him.  “Am I?” he countered mildly.  “If that’s the case, then I would guess that you won’t mind this . . .”

 

She tried to pull away when he grasped her hand and tugged her toward the door.  Suddenly, though, she giggled, and immediately smashed her free hand over her mouth to stifle the sound.  “I . . . I shouldn’t . . .” she protested, giving her arm another tug.

 

He held on tightly, leading her out of the apartment.  “You want to do something you’ve never done before, don’t you?” he asked over his shoulder as she leaned to the side to snag her purse off the table near the door.

 

“Like what?” she asked, the smile on her face timid yet bright.  There was a breathless quality in her voice that was wholly endearing, and she couldn’t hide the sparkle that lit her gaze.

 

“You’ll see,” he teased, stopping long enough to allow her to lock her door before tugging her toward the stairwell.  He paused long enough to cast her a somewhat apologetic glance.  “You don’t mind, do you?  I cannot abide elevators.”

 

“So the future tai-youkai has a weakness?” she replied.  “Elevators, huh?”

 

He snorted and rolled his eyes.  “I wouldn’t call it a weakness.  I simply choose not to use them if I can help it—the same with escalators.”

 

“And if you don’t have the choice?”

 

“I can use them,” he reiterated as they descended the stairs, “but I prefer not to.”

 

“You sound like my brother,” she concluded with a little shrug.  “He hates them, too.”

 

Zain snorted before he could stop himself.

 

“You know my brother?”

 

He considered lying for about ten seconds before he gave up on that idea.  After all, if she ever mentioned him to said-brother, then it would become blatantly obvious, just what he really did think.  “He and I have never seen eye-to-eye,” Zain replied, choosing his words carefully.

 

She seemed intrigued by his statement, however.  “Is that right?  How do you know him?”

 

“We were both at the academy at the same time,” Zain said.  “If he challenged me once, he did so a hundred times over the years.”

 

He could feel her eyes on him but didn’t turn to verify it.  “Challenged you?  But I thought—”

 

“You like him, don’t you?  Your brother?  I defeated him, but I didn’t kill him—and now, I’m rather glad I let him live since you actually do seem to like him, so if I had killed him back then, I’m pretty sure that your opinion of me wouldn’t be very favorable, now would it?”

 

She rolled her eyes.  “You say that as though it was a foregone conclusion that you’d win in a real fight against him,” she chided.  “I’ll have you know that Tucker isn’t nearly the pushover you make him out to be.”

 

Zain snorted loudly and shoved the door at the bottom of the stairwell open a little harder than he’d intended.  “And you make it sound like you doubt my ability to fight,” he rebutted.

 

“Well, I don’t doubt that you can,” she said slowly, thoughtfully, “but I’ve never seen you fight—and I have seen Tucker.”

 

Biting his tongue on the scathing reply that formed in his head, Zain tamped down the urge to let Kendall know exactly what he thought of her statement.

 

Beat me, indeed,’ he scoffed.

 

Yes, well, put your bruised ego away for a moment, Zain, and look at the bigger picture,’ his youkai-voice remarked.

 

Oh?  And what would that bigger picture be?

 

His youkai chuckled, as though Zain had said something extremely amusing.  ‘Does it really matter?  You’ve at least accomplished one thing, you know.’

 

Zain grunted unintelligibly as he pulled the front door open and held it for her to pass through.  ‘What’s that?

 

His youkai sighed though the amusement didn’t wane.  ‘She’s smiling, Zain.’

 

He blinked and glanced at Kendall, only to find that she was, indeed, smiling, and this time, it was a real smile—one that made the entire conversation worthwhile, even if he still smarted from her insinuation that her brother could defeat him.  But he stared at her for another minute before letting out a little sigh and falling into step beside her.

 

So she is . . .’ he mused, sneaking another surreptitious glance at her.  ‘So she is.’

 

 <<< 08: Expectations

10: Carefree >>>

 

~*************************************************~

All the characters in The Fulcrum belong to me.
Any similarities to any person, alive or dead, real or implied, are coincidental.

~Sueric~

 

posted by Sueric at 12:16 am  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Fulcrum: 08 Expectations

~Chapter Eight~

~Expectations~

 

 

Kendall sat on the edge of the sofa, ankles crossed and pushed back against the chair, hands clasped in her lap so tightly that her knuckles were leeched white while she worried at her bottom lip and stared at the floor.  Her heart beat so rapidly that it felt like it was trying to leap out of her chest as she tried not to fidget.

 

Titus Farington strode across the floor and back, thin leather shoes barely making a sound against the floor.  Platinum blonde hair cropped short, unlike most youkai, he pushed his wire rimmed glasses up his nose with a bent index finger before digging his hands into his pockets of his expensively tailored suit once more.  He only actually needed them for reading, but Kendall couldn’t recall ever having seen him without them, either.  Drawing himself up to his full height, just over six feet tall, he looked like he was readying himself for commanding the troops rather than trying for a comfortable visit with his daughter.

 

They’d already exchanged the perfunctory niceties, and it seemed like Titus might be trying to decide whether or not to state the real reason for his visit or if a few more minutes of stilted light conversation were in order first.

 

“Your performance last night was very nice,” Titus said, breaking the uncomfortable silence that had fallen.

 

Kendall tried to force a smile.  It felt more like a grimace, but Titus didn’t seem to notice.  “Thank you.”

 

“I looked for you afterward, but no one seemed to know where you’d gone,” he went on.

 

“I . . . I had a headache,” she replied.  She wasn’t sure why, but for some reason, she didn’t want to tell him about her impromptu dinner date, “and I was exhausted from rehearsing.”

 

He seemed to accept her excuse, and that was good enough.  She just wished he’d get on with it before the prophetic headache became a reality.

 

Offering her a tight little smile, Titus stopped and turned to face her, and not for the first time, she felt as though he were looking right through her, not really seeing her, at all.  “Why don’t you change, and I’ll take you out to lunch?”

 

Glancing down at the very simple peach dress she was wearing, Kendall gritted her teeth.  Nothing outrageous, absolutely outside of the bounds of propriety, but it was just another illustration of the things that her father decreed that she was to do without question.  Instead, she rubbed her forehead.  “I . . . I had a late breakfast,” she said, which wasn’t entirely untrue.  She had actually gotten up later than she normally did, probably since she had stayed out later than she usually did, too.  Couple that with the idea that she hadn’t actually gotten any sleep the night before, and it wasn’t any real surprise to her that she had slept till nearly ten o’clock.  That she’d only been able to choke down a piece of dry toast with a bottle of water as her anxiety rose was another matter, entirely.

 

Titus nodded slowly.  Was it her imagination, or did he seem rather relieved that she was declining his offer . . .?

 

Sinking down on a nearby chair, Titus regarded her for long moments before he finally deigned to speak again.  Clearing his throat, he leaned forward just a little.  “I suppose I should get down to the reason I’m here,” he finally said.

 

Kendall only nodded as the fist-sized lump in her throat swelled even larger.

 

“I’ve accepted an offer of marriage on your behalf,” Titus said.  She could tell from his tone that he expected her to be pleased by it.  She wasn’t, but she ducked her chin a little lower so that he couldn’t see the upset that had to be quite visible on her face.  “William Marner, Uriah Marner’s son and the heir to the southern district, assuming that the Third accepts him, and I don’t see why he wouldn’t.  That aside, he’s independently wealthy since he’s bought out the Langston Group down in Mississippi, and I hear that he is quite strong.  Might even be strong enough to give the Fourth a run for his money, if he had a mind to.”  He paused and chuckled, as though the very thought of William Marner challenging the Fourth amused him.  It certainly didn’t amuse Kendall, not in the least.  If anything, the mere mention of the Fourth—of him—set off another explosion somewhere deep down: a frantic, almost terrified feeling that had little to do with the idea of some imaginary challenge and everything to do with the idea that this decree would mean that she really could not see him again.  “All in all, he’s a good man—he’ll make a fine husband for you.”

 

Tell him!’ her youkai-voice hissed, an underlying sense of urgency adding a harshness to it that normally was not there.  ‘Tell him that you don’t want to marry someone you’ve never met!  Tell him about the Fourth!

 

“I-I-I don’t . . . I don’t think I’m ready to get married, Father,” she heard herself saying, whispering.  It was the first time in her life that she’d ever tried to gainsay him, that she’d ever challenged his edicts on any level, and it was frightening.  Clenching her hands tighter in her lap, she could feel herself quaking as she struggled to steel her resolve, to make him understand that she didn’t want any part of it.

 

Titus seemed surprised for all of ten seconds.  Then he laughed.  It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, no, but the unmistakable sense that he was simply humoring her grated on her nerves, just the same.  “Don’t be ridiculous, Kendall,” he said.  “I guess every woman is a little reluctant when she has yet to meet her future husband, but I assure you, you could not possibly do better than William.  He comes highly recommended.”

 

“I’m not even done with school,” she tried again.

 

“He knows.  He is more than happy to let you finish out the term.  We will announce your engagement formally at your graduation party.”

 

“But I . . . I haven’t even met him,” she argued weakly, feeling the edges of her resolve crumbling away.  It was ingrained in her, wasn’t it?  The unreasonable fear that she might displease him, that she really did not possess even a modicum of control over her own life, that she was nothing at all without this man, her father, making her choices for her, and that was the reason why she’d never tried to stand her ground against him before . . .

 

“You’ll meet him soon enough.”  Those words sounded in her head over and over, echoing like a voice lost in an abyss.  She had little doubt that he meant to reassure her, but to her, it sounded more like a death knell.  “You will join me for dinner tonight,” he went on, oblivious to the upset that Kendall was feeling.  “There’s someone else I’d like for you to meet.”

 

Trying to gather the last vestiges of her flagging courage was like trying to catch snowflakes, but she cleared her throat, dared to glance up at her father.  “I-I’m sorry,” she murmured.  “I’ve already made plans.”

 

“Cancel them,” he stated in a tone that left no room for argument.  “Whatever it is, I’m sure that you can do it some other time.  This is important.”

 

Her gaze skittered away as she twisted her fingers together on her lap.  “I’ve already met . . . her,” she said, unable to keep the anger that she’d tried to hide out of her voice.  “She was a . . . friend . . . of Mother’s . . .” The word nearly choked her, but somewhere deep down, she was perversely proud of herself for saying it out loud.

 

Titus seemed to be genuinely surprised that Kendall knew anything, but he sighed.  “She cared about your mother,” he said, censure heavy in his tone.

 

Did you sleep with her before Mother died?  Did it matter that Mother knew about the two of you?  Did you even care?

 

Those questions wouldn’t come out, but the outrage that rose inside her brought her to her feet, carried her across the floor, away from her father—out of his reach.  “If she cared about Mother, then she would have acted like she did,” Kendall countered.

 

“Don’t worry about things that are none of your concern,” Titus replied sharply, rapidly losing his patience when his daughter refused to try to see his side of things.

 

“You’re right,” she agreed tightly.  “It’s your concern, as you say, which is why I hardly think that I need to go to dinner with the two of you.  I’m sorry, Father, but as I’ve said, I already have plans.”

 

Titus stared at her for several moments, probably trying to decide whether or not he ought to push the subject.  He must have thought better of it, though, because he turned on his heel and resumed his pacing.  “We will be married next month, and you will come home for it.  Besides, that will be a good time for you to meet your new fiancé.”

 

“And if I don’t feel that he would be a good match?” she challenged quietly.

 

“We will cross that bridge if we come to it,” he said.  “You’re worried about nothing, Kendall.  Do you honestly believe that I would see you married to someone completely unsuitable?”

 

Kendall wandered over to the window, wrapped her arms over her stomach, stared outside at the bright blue sky.  “If you thought that it was best for me, you would—even if I don’t agree,” she said softly.

 

He was silent for a moment, but she didn’t miss his sigh.  He probably thought that she was simply being unreasonable, or maybe he believed that she was disagreeing simply because of her displeasure over his new girlfriend.  Bracing herself for him to press the issue, she drew a deep breath and held it.

 

“Who is this?”

 

Turning her head far enough to see what he might be talking about, Kendall frowned.  Standing with his back toward her, she couldn’t actually see what he was looking at, though he seemed to be holding something.  “Who is who?”

 

He glanced over his shoulder at her, a marked scowl twisting his features.  “This ‘Z’.”

 

For some reason, her father’s question caught her off guard, and she blinked in sudden confusion, and when she finally did open her mouth to answer him, it was with an unreasonable sense of panic, like she honestly believed that the truth would only exacerbate the given situation.  Then again, remembering her father’s strange statement about William Marner and his potential to beat the Fourth . . .? It made her uneasy, even if she couldn’t rightfully say why.  “It . . . Just a . . . a friend,” she heard herself saying.

 

He stared at her for another moment before turning his attention back to the card once more.  “It looks like a man’s handwriting,” he said.

 

“He’s just a fellow pianist,” she insisted, hoping that she managed to inflict just enough nonchalance into her voice to put her father off.

 

“A fellow pianist,” Titus echoed, considering her answer.  Finally, he nodded and stuck the card back into the holder nestled in the bouquet.  Then he turned to face her once more.  “I need to be going,” he said, flicking his wrist, checking his watch.  “I will send you the agenda for the week of the wedding.”

 

Kendall nodded once but didn’t turn away from the window.

 

Titus stood still, like there was something else he wanted to say.  In the end, though, he strode over to the door and left without another word.

 

Only then did Kendall let out a deep breath, slumping forward, gripping the sill so hard that she could feel the tips of her claws digging into the weathered wood frame, eyes closing as her forehead touched the cool pane of glass.

 

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

“I’m sorry . . . I don’t think . . . I don’t think that it’s a good idea to meet with you.”

 

Zain frowned as he pushed himself out of the desk chair in favor of prowling around the room.  The phone in his hand groaned just enough to remind him to loosen his grip on it before it crumbled.  “Did something happen?” he asked, fighting to control the growl that rose low in his throat.  Whether it was brought on by Kendall’s insistence that she wanted to break their plans or because of the obvious tremor in her voice, he wasn’t sure and didn’t really have the time to dwell upon it at the moment, either.

 

She sighed: a lost kind of sound, a hopeless kind of sound.  “I just . . . I’m not really very good company at the moment,” she said.  “My father . . .”

 

Letting out a deep breath as he struggled for a sense of calm that he was far from feeling, Zain plopped down in a chair.  “It sounds like you could use some time out,” he told her.  “I’ll come get you.”

 

“It’s not that,” she said.  Why did it sound like she was very close to tears?  “It’s not fair to you, and I—”

 

“It can’t be that bad,” he insisted.  “Whatever it is . . . Didn’t you want to try something new today?”

 

“I’m sorry,” she said.  “I’m really sorry.”

 

The line went dead, and Zain snapped the phone closed as the repressed growl slipped out.

 

Just what the hell was going on over there, anyway?  She was entirely too happy last night when he’d finally taken her home.  The smile on her face, the brightness in her eyes . . . That had all been real, but she had mentioned earlier in the evening that her father was in town.  At the time, he’d thought that he had sensed an underlying reluctance when she’d said it, but she’d changed the subject quickly enough that he hadn’t really thought about it too much, either.  It didn’t really matter when something about Titus Farington’s visit had so obviously shaken her.

 

And if it’s a family issue, you need to let it alone,’ the voice of his youkai-blood remarked philosophically.

 

Maybe.  Maybe not.  It bothered him far more than it ought to, her upset.  It bothered him that someone might be directly responsible for it, for that matter.

 

So what do you think you’re going to do?  Find out where Farington is staying and demand that he tell you just what is going on?

 

He sighed, mostly because he wasn’t entirely above considering it.

 

Don’t be stupid.  Just stop and think for a minute.  If you want answers, maybe the person to ask is Kendall.’

 

Kendall . . .

 

Why did he think that she might not tell him?  If she was going to, she would have done so over the phone instead of ending the call as quickly as she could.

 

But he knew as well as he’d ever known anything that she’d felt it, too—that draw, that lure, that overwhelming urgency of just being together.  He knew she did.  There was something between them, and even if he didn’t yet know what it was, he did not doubt it, either, and damned if he didn’t want to know exactly what it was.

 

It just didn’t make sense.

 

The phone jarred him out of his thoughts, and he connected the call without looking to see who it was.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Why do you sound like you’re considering killing someone?”

 

Gritting his teeth as he fought to tamp down the bitter rise of disappointment, Zain counted to ten before he deigned to answer.  “Not far wrong, Jamison.  What do you want?”

 

“Hmm . . . I was just calling to see if you were busy.”

 

“Not really,” Zain muttered.

 

“Is that right?  Then why don’t you come with me?  A friend of mine wanted to meet for drinks, but her cousin’s in town visiting.”

 

“Not interested,” Zain said, pushing himself to his feet and heading toward the door.

 

Jamison snorted indelicately.  “Let me guess: you’re working again, right?  You know, you need a break every now and then.  Working yourself to death is bad for you, and while there is something to be said for dedication, you’re well past that, if you want my opinion, and—”

 

“That’s not why,” Zain snapped.  “Shut the hell up, will you?”

 

Jamison whistled, long and low.  “Wow, you really don’t sound like yourself.  Did something happen?”

 

It was on the tip of Zain’s tongue to tell Jamison exactly where he could stuff it.  Then he rubbed his forehead and slowly shook his head.  “It’s nothing,” he lied.  Somehow, the idea of arming Jamison with the knowledge that a woman was the reason behind his current mood just did not appeal to him.

 

“Okay,” Jamison drawled in a skeptical tone, “but you know, sometimes it helps to talk about things.”

 

“Now you sound like a woman.”

 

“Yeah, I think that bit of advice came from my mother,” Jamison quipped.  “That’s how I know that it is sound, after all.”

 

“Drop it.”

 

Heaving a sigh, Jamison didn’t press the issue, much to Zain’s relief.  “All right; all right . . . but suppose you tell me where you disappeared to last night?  Though I can say that I was asked afterward if I knew the whereabouts of one Kendall Farington, too . . . Now, my educated guess is that the two of you were somewhere together, considering you took off right after her performance, and before you ask, no, I didn’t tell Titus that, either.”

 

“If you already know, then why are you asking?” Zain countered.

 

“Ah . . . so you were off somewhere together,” Jamison concluded.  “Are you going to tell me what you were doing?”

 

Zain uttered an exasperated sort of sigh.  “We were both hungry; I took her out to eat.  End of story.”

 

Jamison clucked his tongue.  “That’s all?  How boring!”

 

“Jamison—”

 

“Oh, be fair, Zain!  That girl is stunning, if you haven’t noticed, and, while I can buy the dinner idea, if you honestly try to tell me that that was all there was to it, I think I’ll have to give up on you permanently.  Just dinner?  You absconded with her from her own recital, thus robbing her of her chance to bask in the glory and praise that she should have received for it, and all you can say is that you took her to dinner?”

 

“That’s all I’m telling you,” Zain growled.  “If your only goal with this phone call was to annoy me, you’ve succeeded in spades.  Now if you’ll excuse me—”

 

“I’m rather relieved, if you want the truth,” Jamison went on, his tone taking on a more thoughtful spin.  “I was starting to wonder if you actually realized that women existed, at all.”

 

“Goodbye, Jamison,” Zain said, raising his voice just enough to be sure that his friend heard him properly.  Then he snapped his phone closed once more and dropped it onto the desk.  Sure, the idiot was his best friend.  Sometimes, however, Zain had to question exactly why that was.

 

But it doesn’t do a damn thing about our current dilemma,’ his youkai-voice pointed out.

 

Which is . . .?

 

The voice snorted indelicately.  ‘Which is, are we just going to sit here and let her get away?

 

Slumping lower in his chair, he let his head fall back, staring at the ceiling without really seeing a thing.  He supposed that was the million-dollar-question, wasn’t it?  Exactly what was he going to do?  To be completely objective, it wasn’t like he actually had that much effort invested in anything, and it stood to reason that he could and perhaps should just walk away from it all.  The things she’d said on the telephone were clear enough.  She didn’t want or need his interference—at least, that’s what she was trying to say to him, and whatever was bothering her, it was a family matter and therefore should be handled by the family.

 

Still, the sound of her words, the melancholy that she’d tried to hide haunted him, lingered in the back of his head even if he tried to ignore them.

 

From the time I can remember, every single thing has always been decided for me—my clothes, my schools, my lessons . . . even my friends, to an extent.  If they weren’t good enough . . . I came to the Conservatory because I thought . . .”

 

Because she’d thought that she could gain a little freedom, a little independence.

 

Don’t you understand it better than anyone?

 

Frowning as her softly uttered question spun around his brain, Zain tapped his claws against the arm of the chair, the dull thuds repetitious in the otherwise silent room.  Did he understand her feelings better than anyone?  He had to wonder because the structure, the strict guidance he’d received over the course of his life hadn’t bothered him nearly as much as it clearly did her, but some part of him could understand that, at least, to an extent.  If he stopped to consider it, he had to admit that it was true that women tended to live far more sheltered, far more restrained lives.  It wasn’t really something that he’d given much thought—at least, he hadn’t until now.

 

A vague memory of something that Jamison’s sister, Seline had once said ran through his head as his frown deepened.  At the time, she had tried to sneak in the back of his car when the two of them were heading back to the university after a short visit home.  When they’d found her, crouched behind the seat, she’s pouted at them, pleaded with them to take her with them.  Zain had let Jamison deal with her as he waited, leaning against the car while Jamison had coaxed Seline out of it.  “It’s not fair,” she’d said, crossing her arms over her chest stubbornly, her voice breaking as the first tears slipped down her cheeks.  “You guys get to do things—lots of things—and I have to stay here, learning nothing but stupid things: how to throw dinner parties and how to match fabrics . . . how to arrange flowers, and how to smile and nod and agree with everything that any of you men might say to me . . .”

 

Was that it?  Was that what Kendall was talking about, what she was trying to escape?  Everything that she had been taught was designed to groom her for a lifetime as a wife of a youkai nobleman—a life of ease and sometimes excess where true freedom was often bartered away at the cost of one’s innocence and the reward?  He’d met enough older women—jaded creatures who were always looking for something that they thought they needed and usually didn’t.  Those were the women who tried to fill the emptiness inside them with whatever vices they had available to them.

 

The thing was, Zain wasn’t sure that he could stand to sit back and watch while a girl like Kendall ended up that way, too . . .

 

 <<< 07: Moonlight

09: Adventurous >>>

 

~*************************************************~

All the characters in The Fulcrum belong to me.
Any similarities to any person, alive or dead, real or implied, are coincidental.

~Sueric~

 

posted by Sueric at 12:15 am  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Fulcrum: 07 Moonlight

~Chapter Seven~

~Moonlight~

 

 

“Is it not to your liking?”

 

Kendall gave a little start and shot Zain a nervous glance, offering him a nervous little smile that she hoped wasn’t nearly as thin as it felt.  “Oh, no, it’s wonderful,” she insisted, sticking a small bite of herb-roasted chicken breast into her mouth.  It really was perfect, just as beautiful as the restaurant where they sat—the Hightower, located at the top of the Jericho Corporation’s head office building, a five star establishment that overlooked the shores of Lake Michigan.

 

He had offered to call for reservations somewhere else, and she had little doubt that he would have problems getting into any of them, considering who his family was, but he had mentioned that the Hightower was one of the better establishments in the city, and to be honest, she’d always rather wondered what it would be like to have dinner there, anyway.

 

After they’d arrived, they were taken to the Jericho family’s private dining room, which was at least half the size of the rest of the place and came complete with its own private staff of waiters as well as a live piano player discreetly tucked off to the side and veiled in half-shadows.  The décor was lavish and undoubtedly very expensive in rich, dark shades—umbers and rich forest greens, golds and navy just shades above black—that were designed to enhance instead of overwhelm.

 

“They do rent out this room from time to time,” Zain admitted quietly as he glanced around.  “But if we call, they free it up for us.  We normally just use it if we have to entertain here in the city, and that doesn’t happen too often.”

 

He’d said it like it was par for course, and for someone like him, Kendall supposed it was.  “But your family lives here, don’t they?”

 

He shrugged offhandedly, bright orange eyes glowing brighter in the incandescence of the candle arrangement in the middle of the table.  “Yes . . . no . . .” He shook his head.  “They live just outside of the city.  I believe your father’s been there many times.”

 

“My father travels quite a bit on business,” Kendall admitted, gaze dropping away as she tried to forget that the man in question was currently in the city currently—as well as what had actually brought him here, too.

 

Zain didn’t comment on her quick reply, but she could feel his eyes on her, could feel the weight of his unasked questions, but whether he was unsure if she would answer or maybe he felt as though he had no right to pry, she didn’t know.

 

“These vegetables are very well done,” she went on, a false brightness entering her tone as she hoped that he didn’t remark upon her abrupt change in topics.  “Not too overcooked, not too heavily seasoned . . .”

 

“They are far more palatable than in other places I’ve dined,” he allowed.  She could sense a hint of amusement in the depths of his voice, though she wasn’t entirely sure why that would be.  “I must admit, however, I’ve never been a huge fan of vegetables.”

 

Kendall laughed suddenly, quietly, setting her fork and knife aside as she gave up her pretense of trying to eat.  “I’m sorry.  I guess I’m not very good at making small talk, am I?”

 

To her surprise, he chuckled: a deep, throaty sound, unexpectedly warm, almost intimate.  “I wouldn’t know,” he said simply.  “I’m not very good at it myself.”

 

Somehow, though, his comment was enough to loosen the invisible grip that had tightened around her stomach when she’d first heard her father’s voice over the telephone last night.  “That seems like a strange thing to say, given who you are,” she pointed out.

 

“Does it?” he countered mildly, reaching for a glass of wine, swirling the contents idly as a thoughtful sort of scowl surfaced on his features.  Kendall bit her lip, watching him while trying not to stare.  It was  a hard thing to do, all things considered.  There was a certain air of foreboding about him, a commanding sort of allusion in every movement he made, doubtless instilled in him through a lifetime of being raised as with the knowledge of his station.  It was worn as easily as a comfortable tee-shirt: a second skin, and she doubted very much that he even realized that he possessed it, at all.

 

Handsome, surely, and yet, she had to wonder if he even realized that much.  He didn’t strike her as the kind to pay any attention to that sort of thing.  If he did, then would he really be sitting here, having dinner with someone who wasn’t really that skilled at the subtle innuendo, the articulate little games that other girls seemed to understand without much effort at all?

 

And still . . .

 

Just beneath that highly refined surface, just below the self-confidence that almost bordered upon a certain arrogance, she could feel it, couldn’t she?  That restlessness that she knew well enough, that inner burn that was searching for something else, something just a little different—something more.  It was that part of him that, whether he sensed it himself or not, that had drawn her in, that had spoken to her in quiet whispers, and even though she had very little doubt that a great many found the man to be completely intimidating, she couldn’t say that she was scared of him despite her initial feeling that she really ought to be.

 

There was something in his gaze, something a little sad, a little lost, and though she couldn’t help but wonder if she weren’t simply imagining that, she was positive on some level that she was right on the money.  That was the reason that she’d accepted his offer to take her to dinner.  That was the reason that she had yet to dissolve into a puddle of raw nerves . . .

 

“You mean to tell me that I should be . . . what?  Good at everything, and all because I’m to be the future tai-youkai?” he challenged, but he seemed more amused than irritated.

 

“I would think that should better suit the image of the Fourth, my lord,” she quipped, unable to hide the little smile that tugged on her lips.

 

He chuckled again as a distinct trill raced up her spine and back down again, settling in a strange sort of tremor deep in her belly.  “I could have sworn that I told you my name,” he chided.

 

“Is that really appropriate?” she replied.

 

For the briefest of moments, he looked a little disgruntled, as though it really did bother him that she so adamantly refused to call him by name.  “And if I were to say that it offends me that you call me, ‘my lord’?”

 

Her smile faltered, and she ducked her chin.  “Then I would say that I apologize for offending you . . . my lord.”

 

Another breathy chuckle, all hints of irritation gone as quickly as it had come, and he slowly shook his head as he dropped his napkin on his plate and slowly got to his feet.  “I would think that a woman I’ve invited on a date would be more willing to address me by name,” he remarked.  He stepped around the table, stopped before her, and held out his hand.

 

She couldn’t help the flush that seeped into her skin at the allusion of intimacy.  “I-Is that what this is?” she mused, slowly lifting her gaze to meet his, even slower to slip her hand into his.  “A date . . .?”

 

He gently pulled her to her feet and led her over to the sliding glass doors that opened onto a private balcony.  The wind that hit them as they stepped outside ruffled his hair, tossing the midnight strands in a wanton frenzy.  “At the risk of being forward, I would like to think it is,” he said, lifting his chin, shifting his eyes upward as the light of the nearly full moon bathed his skin in a bluish hue—a shadow against a darker shadow—and only his eyes seemed to glow.  Was he staring at the few stars that dotted the sky so high above?  Was he looking for something in the vast expanse of indigo?  Was he seeing anything at all?

 

She wanted to see what it was that he saw, wanted to know just what was going through his mind.  The voice in the back of her mind whispered to her, reminding her that she really wasn’t free to do things as simple as to go on an innocent date, that somewhere in the city laid out around them, her father was waiting to tell her the things that somehow seemed a million miles away, at least for the moment.  Stealing another glance at the man beside her, Kendall bit her lip.

 

It was okay, wasn’t it?  It was okay to pretend, at least for a moment.  It would be all right to feign ignorance, to allow herself just this one moment, this one evening, before the things beyond her control swept her away . . .

 

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

“So what will you do when you graduate from the Conservatory?”

 

Kendall sighed and gave a little shrug, clasping her hands together in front of her, her shoes dangling from her fingers as she wandered along beside him.  “I don’t know,” she said softly.  “I . . . I haven’t really thought about it.”

 

“But you’re in your last year, aren’t you?” Zain challenged, stuffing his hands into his pockets.  “Will you further your studies in piano?”

 

“No,” she replied thoughtfully, pushing an errant lock of hair back behind her ear.  “I don’t really like it.  I’d much rather just enjoy playing for myself.”

 

He frowned.  “Then why attend the Conservatory at all?  I thought that most people who do are looking to go on to professional careers.”

 

She laughed, but the sound was tinged with a trace amount of bitterness—an emotion that took him a little by surprise coming from her.  “For me . . . For me, it was more of an escape.”

 

“Escape?” he echoed, shaking his head slowly.  “From what?”

 

“Nothing,” she replied in almost a monotone.  Then she drew a deep breath and shook her head, as though she were trying to refute her own claims.  “Everything.”

 

Her answer confused him, and yet, somewhere deep down, it also made perfect sense.  “Are you old enough to want to escape from everything?”

 

Her back stiffened at the slight challenge in his tone.  “Is there a certain age when it’s all right to realize that you hate everything around you?”

 

He was even more surprised at the vehemence in her quiet voice, the underlying feeling that he knew she’d been trying to hide.  “I suppose there isn’t,” he allowed.  “But why would you hate everything around you?”

 

Darkened eyes staring at him with an intensity that most men did not possess.  “Don’t you understand it better than anyone?” she asked quietly.

 

The corner of his lips quirked up in a small smile.  “I can’t say that I’ve ever hated my life to that extent.  Why are you so unhappy with yours?”

 

She stopped abruptly, sank down in the sand, digging her toes into the dirt as she stared out over the lake.  “From the time I can remember, every single thing in my life has always been decided for me—my clothes, my schools, my lessons . . . even my friends, to an extent.  If they weren’t good enough . . .” Trailing off, she lifted a handful of sand and watched it trickle through her fingers.  Then she shook her head.  “I came to the Conservatory because I thought . . .”

 

Zain hunkered down beside her, resting his elbows on his knees.  “You thought you could gain a little bit of freedom,” he finished for her.

 

“Something like that.”

 

“And did you?”

 

She smiled, but it was sad, lonely, pooling in her blue eyes with the reflection of the moon.  “No.”  Then she laughed, but it was rough, uneven, almost like she was crying, but she wasn’t.  “I’m sorry,” she said, forcing a little laugh into her shaky words.  “I have to be the worst date, ever.”

 

“I don’t know,” he admitted, unsure why he was doing any such thing.  “Can’t say I’ve actually been on that many before.”

 

His answer seemed to surprise her.  “You haven’t?”

 

“Well, I tend to be a little busy,” he replied then let out a deep breath.  “I’ve taken women to some of the social functions that I can’t avoid, but it was never anything more than a perfunctory appearance.  To be honest, I can’t say that I’ve met many women I’ve been interested enough in to bother.”

 

For a moment, she didn’t look like she was entirely sure what to do or say.  In the end, she bent her knees, tucked her feet up under her, and if she realized that the dress she wore wasn’t exactly made for lazing around on the beach at eleven o’clock at night, she didn’t show it.  “Then I thank you for dinner,” she said softly, almost primly.

 

He nodded.  “My pleasure.”

 

Turning her head just enough to look at him, she suddenly smiled.  That smile escalated into a giggle, then blossomed into gales of laughter so powerful that she lifted a hand to her mouth as though to try to staunch the flow.  It didn’t really work.  “What’s so funny?” he had to ask when she offered no explanation.

 

“You know, my best friend is going to be so jealous.”

 

“Why is that?”

 

Waving the hand that had been fluttering over her lips, Kendall ducked her head just for a moment, but even in the wan moonlight, he could tell that she was still smiling.  “She’s had a crush on you for years, ever since a little party that you attended.  You gave her a flower.”

 

Zain blinked and slowly shook his head as he tried to recall something like that, but nothing really came to mind.  “Did I?”

 

She nodded.  “A stargazer lily,” she replied.  “Like I said, it was years ago.  She was just a child.  It’s not surprising if you don’t remember.”

 

Eyes flaring wide as a spark of a memory flickered to life, Zain chuckled.  “No, wait, I think . . . She was just a little girl, wasn’t she?  Wearing a little yellow dress . . . gold hair . . .?  Her parents dragged her to the garden party, and she looked completely bored . . .”

 

Kendall giggled.  “You do remember it.”

 

“Vaguely,” he admitted.  “She was very cute.”

 

“She’ll be thrilled that you remember it, at all.”

 

Zain shrugged.  “Unfortunately, I cannot say that I was looking to make a lasting impression on her.”

 

“But you did,” Kendall insisted.  “She was heartbroken that she couldn’t attend your performance at the Conservatory, but she’s in the violin division.”

 

He chuckled softly.  “You’ll have to extend my regards to her.”

 

She nodded, and the smile on her face seemed more natural than any of the others so far.

 

The two fell silent for a while, staring out over the water, staring at the moon, reflected in distorted ripples on the ever-moving swells.  Zain asked himself for the hundredth time, just why he’d wanted to take her to dinner.  It had seemed like the natural thing to do at the time, and yet . . .

 

Yet he wasn’t lying when he had told her that he hadn’t dated many women.  For the most part, he had told himself that he didn’t have the time to bother, but he knew well enough that the true reason was simply that he hadn’t met anyone he’d wanted to devote that kind of time and energy to, and for good reason.  Having spent his entire life believing that he would just marry whomever his father had chosen, it wasn’t something that he had worried about, all things considered.

 

So what was it about her?

 

He still didn’t know the answer.  Gorgeous, certainly, enough so that any man would have to take notice of her, but he’d met enough gorgeous women over time that he couldn’t delude himself into thinking that it was the only reason.  Her piano playing was something that he was drawn to, but that wouldn’t have been enough, either.  No, honestly, he really didn’t know why, and yet, there was a strange compulsion, too, as though a part of him needed to be near her . . .

 

That was ridiculous, wasn’t it?  Compelled to be near her?  But he didn’t even know the first thing about her; not really.

 

Shifting his gaze to the side, staring at her profile, he could once more sense that underlying sadness, that restlessness, that near-desperation in her.

 

Is there a certain age when it’s all right to realize that you hate everything around you?

 

No, Zain never had, but that didn’t mean that he couldn’t grasp the meaning of her question.  A lady of her station?  A youkai woman, the daughter of a high-ranking man—a general, no less?  Yes, he supposed that her life had been dictated to her in a way that his never was.  While he had been raised with rules and expectations, there had also existed a certain level of freedom, and, he suspected, it was more than she’d ever been allowed.

 

“So,” he said slowly, quietly, as though he feared that raising his voice might startle her.  “What kinds of things do you want to do?”

 

She seemed a little confused by his question.  “Right now?”

 

He shrugged.  “You said you wanted a little freedom, didn’t you?  So if you had that freedom, what kinds of things would you do?”

 

She considered that for a moment, her eyes taking on a deeper sparkle, innumerable stars rising and falling in her gaze, and she smiled.  “I . . . I don’t know,” she began cautiously.  “I think I’d like to just go, you know, wherever, whenever . . . See places, meet people . . .” She giggled suddenly.  “Eat things from street vendors . . . shop in a second-hand boutique . . . Play with children in a park . . .” Trailing off with a happy sigh, she indulged her thoughts for another moment before squaring her shoulders and casting him a decidedly nervous sort of glance.  “I sound silly, don’t I?”

 

“Not really,” he replied.  “I can’t say that I’ve done all of those things, either.”

 

“You don’t really look the type to shop in a second-hand boutique—or buy food from street vendors, anyway,” she pointed out.  He could hear the teasing note in her voice.  It didn’t hide the longing, however.

 

“I’ll take you to do those things,” he said before he could stop himself, before he could think it through.  It was more of an impulse—an entirely foreign idea to him.  “As long as you don’t make me wear anything you find in those boutiques.”

 

“Would you eat a hot dog if I bought you one of those?” she asked.

 

He chuckled.  “Okay, I might not do that, either.”  But his smile widened a few degrees.  “Well, maybe, if you asked nicely.”

 

She laughed, but the expression on her face told him plainly that she honestly believed that he was simply humoring her.  For reasons that he didn’t dwell upon, that thought bothered him.  A lot.

 

“Tomorrow,” he said in a tone that left no room for argument.

 

She blinked once, twice, shook her head in silent confusion.  “What’s tomorrow?”

 

Pushing himself to his feet, he leaned down to offer her a hand.  “You pick something you’d like to do, and I’ll take you to do it.”

 

She stopped, her hand grasped firmly in his, her face registering her surprise, but with that surprise, there was also the hint of cautious hope, and the smile that she shot him was timid yet radiant.  “R-Really . . .?” she asked slowly, quietly.

 

He gently tugged her to her feet and nodded.  “Yes,” he said.  “Really.”

 

 <<< 06: Control

08: Expectations >>>

 

~*************************************************~

All the characters in The Fulcrum belong to me.
Any similarities to any person, alive or dead, real or implied, are coincidental.

~Sueric~

 

posted by Sueric at 12:15 am  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Fulcrum: 06 Control

~Chapter Six~

~Control~

 

 

“So what did you think of Teppanov’s performance?”

 

Zain nodded, slipping a little deeper into the shadows to avoid drawing too much notice as the crowd milled around the foyer.  The gesture was not lost on Jamison, and he chuckled.  “He was good,” Zain replied evenly, flipping a long strand of black hair over his shoulder.

 

“Which means that you were not impressed in the least,” Jamison said with a slow nod.

 

“No, it means that he performed very well,” Zain corrected, arching an articulated eyebrow at Jamison’s candid reply.  “Don’t read so much into it.”

 

“You didn’t feel that it was missing something.”

 

Zain didn’t remark on that.  Sometimes, Jamison knew him just a little too well.  True enough, Zain did feel that Teppanov’s performance was a bit on the reserved side, but it wasn’t worth mentioning, especially when he knew damn well that he wasn’t paying as close attention as he normally would at one of these functions, but the truth of it was, he couldn’t help feeling a little off-center, which was part of the reason why he was trying to melt into the shadows.  The other part?  He was here to enjoy the music, not to be inundated by people whom he’d never met but wanted something from him.  A long discourse about the first half of the recital wasn’t exactly something that he felt like indulging in, especially when she had yet to take the stage . . .

 

It was almost enough to irritate him, really.  All day, he’d felt edgy, out of sorts, almost anxious, and he had no idea why that was.  It wasn’t something that he was used to, this kind of foreign sense of upheaval, especially when there was no good reason for it.

 

“It was a good performance,” Jamison remarked thoughtfully, gnawing on the left side of his bottom lip, though not hard enough to puncture it with his fangs.  It was a habit that tended to make humans a bit nervous, mostly because they all knew that those fangs were very, very sharp.  Zain, given as he was to rarely smiling, had never had an issue with it, but more than once, he’d seen humans back away from Jamison just a little bit.  Lower youkai who possessed them could and did use them when fighting, but the upper youkai who had them wouldn’t demean themselves by doing something as base as biting.  Those ignorant youkai had become the irrational basis for the nonsensical tales of vampires that had grown and evolved over time.

 

“Are you ready?” Jamison asked, inclining his head toward the concert hall once more and apparently unmindful of Zain’s current preoccupation.  “I guess that the most that can be said for Teppanov’s performance was that it was nice but not one of his better shows.  He had a few technical flaws that made the whole thing seem a little sloppy.  Elementary stuff.  I’m sure that he’ll hear about it his next master class.”

 

Falling into step behind him, Zain grunted noncommittally.  “Careful. You’re starting to sound more and more like a professor every day,” he pointed out.

 

Jamison chuckled as Zain slipped back into his seat in the upper balcony that was reserved for the Conservatory’s staff and special guests.  “Well, I suppose it was bound to happen someday,” he said as he sat back down.

 

Zain didn’t respond as he ignored some very blatant giggling and hushed whispers with the accompanying glances that were meant to be surreptitious but failed miserably.  From his seat well above the general crowd, he couldn’t really make out what they were saying, and to be honest, he didn’t really care, anyway.  He had learned to ignore those kinds of things long ago, though he could recall as a child, asking why people would smile at him and even bow when he passed.  “Because you’re the future tai-youkai,” Brie, his nanny had told him with a gentle laugh and in a tone that was almost teasing, definitely indulgent.

 

That answer had confused him back then.  Even at that age—what was he?  Maybe two?  Three?—he had known what it meant to be the future tai-youkai.  He supposed that he’d simply taken it for granted at the time.  It hadn’t lingered in his mind for long.

 

Over the years, those looks had evolved.  In school, he’d received more of the ones that had questioned what made him different from the others, why he was considered to be above them all: jealous glances and harsh words that he only half-heard and summarily ignored.  Over time, as he’d proved himself again and again, those had diminished, only to be replaced by expressions that bespoke a certain level of understanding, admiration, and maybe still a little jealousy.

 

As he had matured, he’d started to notice more and more of those looks, only this time, they came from women, and whether they were drawn to the power of his position or because they found him attractive, he neither knew nor cared.  Besides, he had yet to meet a woman that he could not ignore.

 

Is that really so?

 

Dismissing the subtle challenge in his youkai-blood’s voice, Zain refused to acknowledge it.

 

If you can just ignore her, then why are you here?

 

Nodding at whatever Jamison was saying without hearing a word of it, Zain scowled as the upper lights started to dim, but the scowl dissipated as she stepped out onto the stage.

 

He didn’t notice how he sat up a little straighter, held up two fingers to beg Jamison’s silence.  Gaze fixed on the woman as she crossed the stage, she seemed somehow distant, somehow just out of his reach.  The black dress she wore wasn’t especially fancy: a simple satin gown fitted to her hips and flaring just enough to flow around her as the back of the skirt fell to brush the floor.  There was something entirely vulnerable about her delicate arms, her slender shoulders, exposed as they were since the dress was held up only by the finest of straps, and it seemed to him as though she were trying to hide or dissolve into shadow, but she stopped, turned, her expression giving away nothing as she inclined her head before taking a seat at the baby grand piano.

 

He could feel the rigidity in her stance as she sat, fingers poised over the keyboard.  Nerves, maybe?  Entirely likely, and the hush that had fallen was almost unnatural.  Her shoulders rose and fell once, ever so slightly, as though she were drawing a deep breath to calm her nerves but didn’t want anyone else to know it.

 

And then, she began to play.

 

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

“These came for you.”

 

Rising off the chair where she had been running through the song in her head, Kendall flashed a small smile at the usher who stepped into the room behind a lovely crystal vase and two dozen white roses.  “For me?” she asked before she could stop herself.

 

The usher laughed and set the vase on the table near the chair.  “Yes, my lady.  Have a great performance.”

 

She stared at the flowers as the young man let himself out of the room once more.  The low hum of the crowds mingling in the foyer of the concert hall drifted in when he opened the door to leave.  Reaching out to take the small white envelope stuck in the midst of the blossoms, Kendall hesitated for a moment, as though she thought that the card could hurt her.

 

.

Looking forward to hearing you play again.

Z.

.

 

She frowned.  Z . . .?

 

Who . . .?

 

It’s him, of course!  The Fourth . . . Zain Jericho,’ her youkai-voice chided.  ‘Who else could it possibly be?

 

Swallowing a sharp gasp, Kendall’s eyes flared wide as the truth of that assessment sank in.  It made sense, didn’t it, and yet, it didn’t; not at all.  Why would he have sent her flowers?  And if it was him, then it meant that he’d found out who she was, as well.  But why on earth would he care . . .?

 

Sticking the card back into the envelope, she carefully stuck it back into the arrangement.  ‘Looking forward to hearing you play again . . .’ Then that meant he . . . he was here.

 

Pressing a hand against her stomach as it gave a strange little lurch, Kendall slowly turned to check her appearance in the floor-to-ceiling mirror by the door.  The long black satin gown was quite plain, simply made, designed in elegant but modest lines.  She bit her lip and sighed.  It had taken Mimi nearly an hour to arrange her hair just so, pulled up on top of her head, carefully braided and coiled and twisted and then pinned in place, but her hair was so fine that wispy strands had already managed to slip loose.  Twisting a few of them around her finger, she slowly shook her head.  It would have to do since she was sure that she would only succeed in ruining it completely if she tried to fuss with it now.

 

There was nothing left to do but wait.

 

Glancing over at the piano, Kendall considered sitting down and playing through the song once but dismissed the idea about as quickly as it had occurred to her.  She’d spent the vast majority of last night practicing, until she’d managed to play it through three times without any mistakes, and she was superstitious enough to believe that if she played it perfectly right now, she would most certainly mess up during the actual performance.

 

Still, if there was one good thing to be said for spending so many hours playing the same piece over and over again last night, it was that in doing so, she had managed to push the thought of her father’s impending visit from her mind, as well, and for that alone, she was grateful.  It had kept her from breaking down completely as the fear of the unknown had crept in on her.

 

“Don’t think about that right now,” she muttered to herself, turning abruptly on her heel and hurrying back over to the chair once more.  Her knees felt strangely weak, wobbly, as though she couldn’t support her own weight any longer, and she sank down with a little sigh.

 

She’d thought about calling Tucker, but she doubted that he’d tell her a thing, even if he knew.  It struck her once more, just how unfair it all seemed.  Why was she the last person to find out anything, especially when the entire situation impacted her more than anyone?

 

Stop thinking about that,’ she told herself sternly.  ‘Just stop.’

 

Easier said than done.

 

Gaze shifting around the room while she tried to will away the thoughts that kept whispering in the back of her mind, Kendall blinked as her eyes flicked over the roses, only to return once more.  They were beautiful, perfect, lovely, but still, she couldn’t figure out why the Fourth, of all people, would have gone out of his way to send those to her.  And why did just the simple thought of that particular man set off a strange sort of tension in her that wasn’t entirely bad, just a little disconcerting in a strange sort of way . . .?

 

A soft knock drew her out of her musings, and she stood up just as Loribeth Tarkington, a flute master student and the assistant stage manager for the evening, poked her head into the room.  “Intermission is almost over,” she said with a bright smile.

 

“Thank you,” Kendall said, pressing a hand against her stomach as a million butterflies sprang to life inside her.

 

“Oh, those are gorgeous!  From your father?” Loribeth asked, nodding at the vase of roses.

 

“Uh, no,” Kendall replied, crossing the floor in a few strides and forcing Loribeth out of the room ahead of her.

 

“Don’t look so nervous,” Loribeth encouraged, slipping an arm around her shoulders to offer Kendall a quick, reassuring squeeze as they hurried down the long corridor that led to the back of the stage.  “You’re the last person I worry about out there.”

 

Kendall didn’t respond to that, but she did manage a wan smile.  Loribeth returned the gesture and gave her another chaste hug before hurrying away, leaving Kendall alone just off the stage while the din of the audience as they returned to the concert hall filled her ears.

 

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

Glancing at the name printed on the paper taped to the door for the barest of seconds to make sure that it was the one he was looking for, Zain gave the knob a very curt jerk and shoved it open before striding inside.  The startled gasp that greeted him was smothered by high-pitched laughter that stopped as abruptly as his unceremonious entrance.

 

Ignoring the nagging voice in his head that upbraided him for his marked show of rudeness, Zain narrowed his eyes at the old fox-youkai whose mouth had dropped open when his laughter had been interrupted and who continued to stare at Zain as though the latter had sprouted another head or two in the span of a few moments.  “Leave us,” he stated flatly in a tone that left no room for argument.

 

Armand, the stupid little man, seemed taken aback by the terseness in Zain’s command, but he nodded and inclined his head as he quickly hurried over to the door that Zain had just stepped away from.  In truth, Zain honestly didn’t trust himself to speak to the so-called professor, and he pushed the door closed right behind him.

 

“M-My lord,” Kendall stammered, her cheeks blossoming in a very becoming shade of pink as she clasped her hands together and swallowed hard.

 

“What the hell was that?” Zain demanded, gritting out the question from between clenched teeth when what he really wanted to do was to shout at her instead.  His youkai-voice was trying to remind him that he really didn’t have a thing to be that irritated about.  At the moment, however, Zain was not in the mood to listen.

 

She blinked a few times, her expression taking on a confused sort of tilt.  “What was . . . what?” she asked, her voice lowering to a near whisper.

 

Zain shook his head, pinned her with a glower as he waved a hand in the general direction of the door—of the concert hall beyond.  “That performance,” he stated, his tone telling her plainly that she ought to have already realized as much.

 

She didn’t look like she understood what was so obviously bothering him, though.  “It was . . . was flawless—well, almost . . .”

 

Snorting indelicately, he crossed his arms over his chest before he gave in to the rising urge to grab her and shake her.  “Technically, maybe,” he allowed.  “It was also completely lifeless and dull.”

 

Shocked, that’s what she seemed, by the bluntness of his assessment.  “Professor Armand said it was—”

 

“That idiot trains people to play the same way—identically—so that every single person’s performance is completely devoid of personality, even if it is ‘technically correct’.”

 

“He’s regarded as a master,” she said, her tone haughtier than the expression on her face that bespoke a level of confusion that had yet to dissipate, an uncertainty that worked better than anything to curb his overall disgust.

 

“What I heard from you the other night was something worth remembering,” Zain said, continuing to scowl at her, willing her to understand what he was trying to tell her.  “What you did tonight?  If I closed my eyes and listened, I would never have guessed that your performance was done by the same person.  It sounded as clinical as the recordings made to study, not to enjoy.  Do you even know the difference?”

 

She didn’t look like she did, and she slowly shook her head.  “He said—”

 

“Forget what he said,” Zain insisted stubbornly, striding over to her, grasping her hand, dragging her over to the piano.  She shot him a questioning glance, and he shook his head, letting go of her long enough to push her down on the stool.  “Play it again,” he commanded, “but this time, just play.  Don’t worry about the technicalities, just like the last time.”

 

“But I just—”

 

“Do it.”

 

She stared back at him for a minute, the confusion still lingering in her lending her eyes a certain brightness.  For a moment, she looked like she might well argue with him.  Maybe she realized that he was dead serious.  Maybe she was curious as to what, exactly, he was trying to tell her.  Whatever the reason, she lifted her hands, turned her head back to stare at the piano, then she closed her eyes and started to play.

 

Stuffing his hands into his pockets, Zain frowned as he watched her.  The beginning was just as stiff and lifeless as her performance had been, but as she played, she seemed to remember what he’d said to her about not over-thinking it, about just playing the piece.

 

It began slowly, almost cautiously, like a flower breaking through the soil in the springtime as her emotion flowed from her fingers into the piano to evoke something altogether different.  Like before, the sense of her grew steadily as she seemed to forget the things around her—maybe that she even had any kind of audience, at all.  The emotion was different from the first time she’d played for him, and that was all right, too.  It was enough that he felt an instant surge of relief, that the cookie-cutter performance that she’d just given might well be a fluke, after all.

 

But why did it bother him so damn much . . .?

 

It would be easy to tell himself that he simply hated the idea of someone with her innate talent being told by anyone, master or not, that she needed to conform to someone else’s irresponsible opinion of ‘perfect’, and he might even believe himself, at least for a little while.  That wasn’t it, though, was it?  Unlike many musicians, her piano possessed a voice, and it was as unforgettable as the woman herself.  It was that voice that had been silenced at some point between the first time he’d heard her and tonight, and that was what had goaded him out of his seat in the concert hall and into this room, and if he had his way, it was a voice that she would never, ever silence again . . .

 

There was a strange sort of melancholy that he could sense, though, a level of misplaced sadness that he could sense despite the paradox that it created within the framework of the given music.  It made no more sense than she did, yet all of it somehow felt familiar to him, too . . .

 

She finished to perfect silence, her fingers still lingering on the keyboard, and she sighed softly—a sound that was not meant for him to hear.  The small smile that quirked her lips was also not meant for him.  Still, the expression made him want to smile, too.

 

She let her head fall back as she slowly opened her eyes to gaze at the ceiling.  Slowly, she rolled her head slightly, locking those blue eyes with his, and the secretive little smile did not falter.  “Thank you,” she said, her voice barely audible.

 

Zain blinked and shook his head slightly, just enough to tell her that he wasn’t sure why she was thanking him, at all.

 

She uttered a husky little laugh.  “I’ve been practicing for tonight,” she said simply, shoulders bobbing as she sat up straighter and sighed, “but it feels like this is the first time I’ve played all week.”  She laughed again, the sound stronger, more of a normal show of amusement.  “I almost forgot how much I love it . . .” Trailing off as she continued to stare at him, her smile suddenly disappeared as her cheeks pinked up once more.  “I-I mean, playing piano, that is,” she blurted.

 

Zain chuckled.  “You shouldn’t ever forget,” he told her.

 

Blinking a few times, she seemed almost surprised, but then, she smiled again.  “Thank you for the flowers.  They’re beautiful.”

 

“You’re welcome.  I’m glad you like them.”

 

She nodded as she slowly rose to her feet once more, as the gentle scent of her came to him: of summer sun and grass, drying in a warm breeze . . . clean and simple . . .

 

She laughed again, gnawing on her lower lip in a rather nervous sort of way.  “You’re missing the rest of the recital,” she pointed out.  Did she hear the hint of reluctance in her tone?  Somehow, he doubted that she did.

 

“Ah . . . So I am.”  He inclined his head to her, then started to turn to go, but as he reached for the door knob, he stopped.  “You wouldn’t happen to be hungry, would you?”

 

For a split second, he thought that she was going to decline, but then she smiled again—a true, genuine smile, albeit a little on the nervous side.  “I . . . I am,” she ventured, her gaze skittering away to light on the floor off to the left, but that smile widened just a bit.

 

He waited for her while she carefully retrieved the flowers and held the door for her.  She paused long enough to cast him another timid smile, and he shut off the light before offering her his elbow and escorting her out of the concert hall.

 

 <<<05: Obsession

07: Moonlight >>>

 

~*************************************************~

All the characters in The Fulcrum belong to me.
Any similarities to any person, alive or dead, real or implied, are coincidental.

~Sueric~

 

posted by Sueric at 12:14 am  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Fulcrum: 05 Obsession

~Chapter Five~

~Obsession~

 

 

“Give me something to drink, will you?  Traffic was absolutely miserable.  There was a four-car accident on the Interstate, and—”

 

“Help yourself—like you would any other time,” Zain interrupted as Jamison dropped his jacket over the back of the sofa and yanked at his tie.

 

“Hmm, are you still looking over that merger proposal?  Is Larimar Industries even worth the fuss?”

 

Dropping the stack of papers onto the coffee table, Zain rubbed his forehead.  “Probably not,” he said.

 

Taking his time as he poured scotch into two glasses, Jamison remained silent.

 

Zain took the glass that his friend offered and waited for him to finally speak.  Jamison, however, seemed to be set on keeping his own council.  It became a warped sort of battle of wills, and finally, with a sigh, Zain relented.  “Did you find out anything?”

 

At least Jamison didn’t try to pretend like he didn’t know what Zain was talking about, but he did grimace, taking a long drink from his glass before setting it aside in favor of staring at Zain.  “Yes, I did—a few things, actually.  Her name is Kendall: Kendall Farington.”

 

“Farington,” Zane repeated slowly, eyebrows drawing together in a  thoughtful frown.  “As in, Titus Farington?”

 

Jamison nodded slowly.  “And Tucker Farington.”

 

That name drew a scowl from Zain.  “She’s related to that idiot?”

 

“Sister—at least, that would be my assumption.  Professor Armand said that Titus is her father.”

 

Frown deepening as he considered what Jamison had said, Zain leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.  Professor Armand?  He knew that name, or rather, the reputation behind it.  A stickler, wasn’t he, obsessed with the technicalities above all else.  A teacher like that could very easily ruin someone who played with the same feeling as the girl, if he wasn’t careful . . . And her father?  A strange sense of satisfaction surged up inside him, though he didn’t stop to consider why that  might be.  “Titus Farington is a good man,” he stated slowly, carefully, weighing his words as he continued to think.  “Never did understand how that little ass, Tucker could possibly be related to him . . .”

 

“Probably because your personalities are polar opposite,” Jamison muttered, picking up his glass, holding it high as he stared at the idly swirling liquid within.  “Tucker never thinks at all, and you do nothing but.”

 

That earned him a droll stare.  “There is something to be said for possessing the ability to make a rational decision based upon knowledge and analysis.”

 

Jamison chuckled and slowly shook his head.  “You cannot always rely upon that,” he stated in a tone that indicated his belief that Zain ought to know as much already.  “Sometimes, you just have to trust your instincts.”

 

“I think you do that enough for the both of us.”

 

Jamison’s grin faded slightly as he regarded Zain for several long moments.  “So . . . Going to tell me why the sudden interest in Kendall Farington?”

 

Zain had to admit that Jamison wasn’t doing nearly as much gloating as he’d figured he would.  Still, the question made Zain frown, mostly because he wasn’t entirely sure how he could answer it.  He wasn’t entirely sure why, either.  All he knew was that he just had to know more about her.  “She plays very well,” he remarked flatly, refusing to say any more on the matter.

 

Jamison seemed content to let it drop, at least, for the moment.  “I would suppose she does,” he mused.  “Old man Armand brags on her every chance he gets.  She’s performing in the student showcase Friday night.”

 

That got Zain’s attention quickly enough.  “Is she?”

 

“Mmm . . . It’s open to the public, but the tickets are sold out.  Seems that Yuri Teppanov is also performing, so it’s not really surprising.  He’s very popular with the ladies, or so I’ve heard.”

 

“Sold out,” Zain repeated.  “Is that so?”

 

Jamison pulled a ticket out of his inner jacket pocket and held it out toward Zain.  “Here.”

 

“I thought you said it was sold out.”

 

Jamison grinned.  “Do you want it or not?”

 

“You’re not going?”

 

He shrugged.  “No, I am,” he replied with a shrug.  “I bought two of them in case I decided to bring a date with me—not that I want to hold your hand or anything.  You’re not nearly pretty enough for me.”

 

Zain shot him a look and reached out to take the ticket.  Jamison flicked up his wrist before he could grasp it.

 

“On one condition, of course.”

 

“And what condition would that be?”

 

Tapping the edge of the ticket against his chin, Jamison took his time before answering.  “Is her piano playing really the only reason you wanted to know her name?”

 

Zain stood up and crossed the floor in a couple steps to snatch the ticket out of Jamison’s fingers.  “I will say yes, and you’ll leave it at that.”

 

Jamison chuckled and nodded at the papers scattered over the coffee table.  “Okay, but you know that I know that you normally spend all day and night working—even weekends, but if you really don’t want to tell me, then that’s fine, too.  At least you’re going to get out of here for a few hours.”  Suddenly, Jamison straightened up, the amusement on his features disappearing as his eyes flared wide.  “Oh, you never told me how ‘family dinner’ went the other night.”

 

Zain snorted.  “Mother invited Uriah Marner’s wife and daughter over.”

 

Jamison digested that as another grin surfaced on his features.  Of course he would find it of sovereign amusement, considering his family wasn’t constantly parading eligible women under his nose at every given opportunity . . . “Not acceptable, was she?”

 

“That’s a moot point,” Zain remarked, his own lips quirking at the corners in the barest facsimile of a smile.  “It’s not as though I’m really going to have a say in their ultimate decision.”

 

That statement drew a decided snort from Jamison, and he sat up a little straighter in his chair.  “And refresh my memory: just why are you going along with this, anyway?”

 

Zain shrugged.  “It’s how it’s done.”

 

Jamison chuckled.  “It’s how it’s done,” he echoed with more than a small hint of sarcasm in his tone.  “So you’re to be the next tai-youkai, aren’t you?”

 

“Are you really asking?”

 

Jamison snorted.  “Of course not, but what’s the point of being all-powerful if you cannot even make up your own mind about the woman you’ll spend your life with?  Tell your father to change it.”

 

That earned him definitely irritated look, which, in Zain’s case, simply meant it was even more blank than normal.  Since it wasn’t the first time they’d had this particular conversation, Zain didn’t bother with an argument, either. “You’re such an ass,” he pointed out.

 

“You’re right; you’re right,” Jamison relented despite the smile still brightening his eyes.  “I mean, he is tai-youkai.  If that really were the case, this country would have already gone to hell in a hand-basket . . .”

 

“Think what you will,” Zain muttered, stowing the ticket in the breast pocket of his white lawn shirt before reaching for the papers he’d let drop just after Jamison’s arrival.  “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to finish looking these over before tomorrow morning’s board meeting.”

 

Jamison nodded and stood.  “Not a problem.  See you later.”

 

The echo of his footsteps on the cold marble floor lingered in his wake long after Jamison had exited the room, and he sighed.

 

Just why did he have this strange fixation on that girl, anyway?  Beautiful, certainly, but he’d met enough women over the years that it wasn’t a standing point for him, and besides, he’d met enough to know that the beauty that many of them possessed in spades did nothing to hide their facetious attitudes.  They were polished until they shone, sometimes brighter than the sun, but what did that matter when all of the pretty manners only covered up the venom that could well linger just below the façade?  The truth of it all was a little uglier than any of that.  It wasn’t that he couldn’t allow that there had to be some sort of fascination to lure him in, but when he thought about the idea of pursuing any one of those women . . .

 

He sighed.  There was nothing at all noble in his feelings, nothing to say that he wanted a woman who was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside.  No, it was more that he understood innately that he was much too selfish to deal with someone—anyone—who constantly required his absolute attention, one of those women who knew well enough, what to say and when to say it when that meant nothing in the end.  He didn’t need someone who clung to him, didn’t want a woman who could not exist outside of his reach, and it wasn’t because they honestly could not.  It was a game of manipulation, and that was just not something that Zain was willing to play.

 

But why?  Why did he feel as though she—Kendall Farington—was not like that?  Despite the air of vulnerability that she projected, there was something beneath all of that, too: a will that he could sense, even if she had not given it voice as yet.  Maybe she didn’t know it herself, but it was there, and it was that sense that had come through in her piano playing . . .

 

“Pardon me, my lord.  Dinner is served.”

 

Zain didn’t look up at the sound of the maid’s voice, but he nodded.  “Thank you.  Bring it in here, please.”

 

She didn’t respond, but he heard the whisper of her shoes as she slipped out of the room.

 

Kendall Farington.

 

Just why couldn’t he get her out of his mind?

 

Letting the papers drop from his slack hand, Zain dug the ticket out of his pocket and frowned at it.  Friday night at seven-thirty . . . Had she managed to fix whatever perceived flaws she imagined in her performance?  Even the simple memory of watching her as she played was enough to take him right back to that moment: the expression on her face, the understated grace of every note . . . For some reason, the idea of having to share that particular performance with anyone else annoyed him, almost unreasonably so, and yet . . .

 

At least we know her name,’ his youkai-voice remarked.

 

It didn’t really explain her overall reluctance to tell him, in the first place, and if he considered that, he had to admit that he wanted to know the why of it.  He wanted to speak to her again, didn’t he?  Wanted to see the way her cheeks had blossomed with color under his perusal, wanted to watch as her eyes brightened when he’d told her the truth about her playing, even if she had thought that he was simply flattering her, wanted to . . . wanted to hear her say his name . . .

 

Is that so?

 

He didn’t answer.  Only a handful of people ever dared to call him by name.  All others used some form of title, some kind of honorific.  Even she had stubbornly refused to deviate from that, never mind that he had given her permission to do so.

 

Without a second thought, he pulled out his cell phone and scrolled through the list of contacts.

 

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

“Stop, stop, stop,” Professor Armand interrupted, waving his hands wildly, as though he thought that Kendall hadn’t heard him.  He stared at her for a long moment, crossing his arms over his chest, then slowly shook his crazy mane of brassy-red hair until it seemed to frizz out even more than usual.  Mouth twisting into an exaggerated grimace, he looked like he was caught somewhere between anger and tears.  “Where is your mind, Miss Farington?  Because it most certainly isn’t on the performance piece!”

 

“Sorry,” she murmured, lowering her gaze to her hands, folded demurely in her lap.

 

“Your recital is tomorrow,” the fox-youkai went on in a haughty tone: very small man; very large personality.  “If you cannot deliver, I will remove you from the performance roster.”

 

“I’m sorry,” she said again, ducking her head a little lower.  “I’ll practice harder.”

 

“You must—absolutely must—pay more attention to the score!  Don’t play with your eyes closed!  You’re not nearly talented enough to play without reading the music!  It must be exact!  It must be precise!  It isn’t yours!  You cannot own it!” he went on, sweeping across the floor and back again, stomping his foot to emphasize his words.  “You are borrowing a masterwork!  That is all!  When you are famous for composing such breathtaking pieces, then and only then can you do as you please!  Have you ignored every single thing that I’ve taught you?” his voice took on a hurt kind of quality.  “I took you under my wing!  I chose you—you!  If you cannot listen to simple instruction, you have no business being here, now do you?”

 

Biting back the irritating sting just behind her eyelids, Kendall shook her head, stubbornly refusing to give in to the threat of tears that fought to take control.  “No,” she agreed quietly, “I’m sorry.”

 

Gnawing his bottom lip with his tiny, pointed teeth—fox-like teeth—the professor seemed to be considering whether or not to believe her.  Finally, he sighed, rubbing his short forehead melodramatically.  “Okay, okay,” he relented, fluttering his free hand in her general direction.  “As you know, my reputation is on the line!  Of all my master class students, I chose you to represent me tomorrow night!  If you fail, then I do, too!  You don’t want that, do you?  You don’t want people to think that I’m a failure, do you?”

 

“No, sir,” she whispered, trying to control the tremor that rose in her throat.

 

Armand seemed to be satisfied somewhat by her humble response.  Checking his watch with a flourish, the small man scurried over to retrieve his attaché case off the sofa.  “I must go, but you . . . You will practice until you get it right!  All night, if need be!  Remember: this is not your piece to do as you please!  It is the great Sergei Rachmaninoff’s, and I will remind you that he knew better than a mere piano student when he composed this masterpiece!”

 

Kendall said nothing as the professor hurried out of her apartment before she heaved a sigh.  When Professor Armand had demanded that he oversee her practice this evening, she had known that it was a bad idea.  Still, she knew better than to argue with him, too.  As abrasive and flamboyant as the professor was, he was also highly respected, and she knew that she ought to feel grateful—privileged, even—that Armand had chosen her to offer his instruction.

 

Rising off the bench, she sighed quietly and wandered into the kitchen.  Her hands were shaking as she pulled a bottle of water out of the refrigerator—shaking so badly that it took a moment of deep breathing to calm herself enough to twist the cap.

 

What was wrong with her?  Just why had she felt completely undone lately?  It was almost as though she couldn’t concentrate to save herself, but why . . .?

 

Letting out another deep breath, she rubbed her face with a trembling hand.  Truth be told, she felt like she was teetering on the edge of a great chasm, and one false step could send her careening down into the unchartered depths . . .

 

A sudden laugh slipped from her, a dry, whispering, reaching sound.  ‘Knock off the histrionics,’ she told herself sternly.  ‘I’m starting to think like the heroine in some tawdry novel.  I’ve just been practicing too hard . . . Maybe I need to get out for a little while . . .’

 

But she couldn’t, could she?  If she didn’t get the piece down before tomorrow night’s recital, she’d never hear the end of it from Professor Armand.

 

She hated it, didn’t she?  The Conservatory, everything . . . and she hated the cage that contained her entire life.  Gulping down the liquid so fast that a trickle of it slipped out of the corner of her lips, she slammed the bottle onto the counter, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

 

The sound of the telephone made her jump, and, gritting her teeth, she reached for the handset on the wall.  “Hello?”

 

“Kendall.”

 

Her mouth suddenly felt as dry as the desert at the sound of that voice.  “F . . . Father . . .”

 

“Tucker told me about your recital,” Titus Farington said in his usual brusque, no-nonsense kind of way.  “I trust you are ready for it.”

 

“I was just practicing,” she blurted, frowning as she tried to figure out just why he was calling her.

 

“Good,” he replied in a completely preoccupied tone.  No, it wasn’t exactly preoccupied.  It sounded more perfunctory than that, like he was just making small talk to fill in the space before he got around to the true reason for this particular correspondence, like the, ‘Hi, how are you, I’m fine . . .’ part of a letter . . . “I wanted to let you know that I’ll be there.”

 

“Y-You’re coming?”

 

“Yes.  There’s something I wanted to talk to you about, anyway.”

 

Biting her lip, Kendall felt her grip tighten on the receiver.  “What about?” she couldn’t help asking.

 

Titus chuckled.  To her ears, it sounded entirely forced.  “Your future, of course.”

 

“My future . . .?  What do you mean?”

 

“You’ve had an offer of marriage.  The match will be very beneficial to our family, and I’ve already accepted on your behalf.”

 

For a long moment, Kendall could feel her heart stop dead in her chest, could feel the room spin around her as her stomach lurched unpleasantly.  She could tell from the sound of her father’s voice that he honestly expected her to be thrilled by the news.  She wasn’t; not by a long shot . . . “Wh-What . . .?  But who . . .?”

 

“You’ll be pleased with him,” Titus insisted, as though it were already a foregone conclusion.  “I will see you on Friday.”

 

“B-W-I-Wait!” she stammered.  “Father, I—”

 

The call cut off, and Kendall gripped the counter so tightly that her knuckles turned white as the telephone slipped out of her hand and clattered onto the floor.  For a minute, she thought that she might well pass out, but as the light-headedness passed, the sound of her ragged breathing seemed to echo in her ears.

 

Marriage.

 

Certainly she’d realized that it was inevitable, and if she had stopped to think about it, she might have known that it was bound to happen sooner or later.  That didn’t really help the rising swell of panic that surged deep within her.  Her mother had never kept the idea of it a secret from her.  If anything, she’d tried to prepare her for it, telling her that it would be up to her father to decide and that Kendall would learn to accept it.

 

So why was it that she felt completely upended by the decree?

 

You know why,’ her youkai-voice whispered quietly.  ‘You were hoping.  You were hoping that somehow, you’d manage to steal just a little bit of freedom, weren’t you?  Even if it was no more than a year or two . . . even just a few months . . .

 

Yes, she supposed she was—just a while away from the notice of her father, away from the stifling life that she couldn’t escape.  All of the big decisions of her life were made by that man, and it had been that way from the time she could remember.

 

Maybe it would be more bearable if she thought for even one second that her feelings had actually been taken into consideration in all of this, but she knew better.  Titus hadn’t chosen a man for her because he might make her happy.  That would have been the farthest thing from his mind, and hadn’t he said as much . . .?

 

No, it all centered around what he could gain from bartering off his daughter in marriage.  Good for the family?  It shouldn’t surprise her that Titus would choose a future husband for her in much the same fashion as he chose what stocks to buy or sell, what businesses in which to invest.  All of her life, he had made all of her decisions, dictated to her what was best for her: the people who had taken care of her, the schools she’d attended, who was or was not good enough to be her friends, everything . . .

 

The edges of panic were rising, higher and faster: almost enough to choke her, and she could feel the walls of her invisible prison closing in on her just a little more.  It wouldn’t matter if she objected because Titus Farington had never listened to her before.  No, he’d simply give her that annoyed look of his and tell her that it was for the best, don’t be difficult.  It wouldn’t matter if she cried or begged or pleaded.  Those things meant nothing at all to the man who was her father.  He wouldn’t hear her fears, he wouldn’t understand her reluctance.  He certainly wouldn’t listen to her hopes, her dreams, the things she wished for, and now?

 

Now he had chosen someone who, sight unseen, would make the rest of the decisions for her for the rest of her life . . .?

 

<<< 04: Arrogance

06: Control >>>

 

~*************************************************~

All the characters in The Fulcrum belong to me.
Any similarities to any person, alive or dead, real or implied, are coincidental.

~Sueric~

 

posted by Sueric at 12:13 am  
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