Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Fulcrum: 05 Obsession

~Chapter Five~




“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?”




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.




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.



posted by Sueric at 12:13 am  

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