Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Fulcrum: 08 Expectations

~Chapter Eight~




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.




“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!”




“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.



posted by Sueric at 12:15 am  

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