"A Beautiful Thing" - An Original Sinners Short Story - Happy Birthday to Me!
I feel bad for Søren since his birthday comes right before Christmas. He's always getting combined presents. I guess that's my fault. Sorry, Father Stearns! Anyway, a few years ago I wrote a short story for Søren's birthday/Christmas. Since it's MY birthday, I want to celebrate it with Søren.
So here it is - "A Beautiful Thing." A bit of Christmas/Søren's birthday in June. A gift from me to you, my Sinners. Consider it my Un-Birthday present to you all...
A Beautiful Thing
An Original Sinners Birthday story
by Tiffany Reisz
(takes places approximately 3 months before The Siren)
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” - Mark 14:3-6
Nora drove to the music store at the other end of town and ignored her ringing phone the entire way there. Maybe if she didn’t answer it, Kingsley would forget about why he was calling her. December 12 meant Christmas was all of thirteen days away. She had shit to do that didn’t involve beating up the mayor’s younger brother.
She pulled into Theremin’s as her phone bleated at her once more. With a growl she pulled it out of her coat pocket.
“King, new rule. No kink at Christmas.” She got out of her car and slammed the door behind her.
“Forty thousand dollars,” was his answer.
Nora paused a moment to pick her jaw up off the sidewalk.
“Okay, maybe kink at Christmas. What’s the job?”
“One week in Las Vegas. All expenses paid.”
Nora leaned back against her car hood and crossed her booted legs at the ankle. She held her coat tight around her neck. The temperature had dropped ten degrees since morning. By nightfall it would snow. She could smell it on the air.
“Feet. Pain. Blood.”
Nora sighed. She’d have to have her entire collection of needles professionally sterilized. Again.
“Sounds pretty basic. What’s the catch?”
For forty thousand dollars there had to be a catch.
“No catch. Not really.”
“King, don’t bullshit a bullshitter. What’s the catch?”
“His name is Victor Moretti.”
“Is that ‘oui’ or a ‘non’?” Kingsley asked, his throaty laugh sending the temperature back up ten degrees.
“It’s a ‘Hell, no.’ Moretti? He’s mob. You know I don’t play with the mob.”
“Victor is only one of the Moretti sons. He’s never been convicted of any crime.”
“You’ve never been convicted of any crime either. That’s not saying much.”
“He’s not in the family business. If he was, he wouldn’t have moved across the country to get away from it.”
“To Vegas, where mobsters go to retire. King, he’s the son of a fucking crime boss. Those people are the reason my dad was buried closed casket, remember? You know my number one rule,” Nora said as she headed toward the entrance of the Theremin’s. “’Any job except the mob.’ Tell him no but be nice about it.”
Nora hung up on Kingsley as she walked into the store. She’d ordered a new guitar case for Wesley, and it had come in finally. She wanted to get it early since he’d be leaving her right after finals on the fifteenth to spend Christmas in Kentucky with his parents. So far she didn’t really have any plans for Christmas. Maybe she’d fly off to Jamaica for a week and spend it on the beach. Maybe she’d go to Paris and find a handsome stranger to seduce. She used to spend her Christmases at Kingsley’s. After saying Christmas morning Mass, Søren would have lunch with his sister Claire in Manhattan and then spend the rest of the day hiding out with her and Kingsley at the townhouse. They’d exchange presents and eat and drink too much. But then she’d left Søren and Christmas hadn’t been the same since then. She’d almost asked Wesley to stay with her but knew that sweet boy would do it just so she wouldn’t be alone. She couldn’t ask him to miss Christmas with his parents. The crazy kid actually liked his family. What a concept.
Jews. That was the answer. She needed more Jewish people in her life. There. Now she had her New Year’s Resolution—make more Jewish friends. Then she’d have people to party with while the rest of the world did the Christmas thing. Perfect plan. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and maybe some atheists. She’d get right on that.
Inside the music store, Nora found the owner who went into the back to get Wesley’s guitar case. While Nora waited she wandered. In a side room she stopped short when she laid eyes on the most beautiful grand piano she’d ever seen in her life. Solid black finish with gleaming golden guts on the inside. Of course the inside of a piano wasn’t called the guts. What was it called? Søren would know.
“Nice, isn’t it?” The store owner came into the room with the guitar case. “Imperial Bösendorfer. Fully-refurbished. One owner—the wife of a Presbyterian minister.”
“Presbyterian?” she repeated. “Damn Calvinists.”
“Excuse me?” he said, clearly not understanding her.
“Never mind.” Søren was the only man she knew who when asked what his pet peeves were, would answer Calvinism. “It’s amazing. How much is it?”
“It’s actually very reasonable. It’s on consignment and the family can’t wait to get rid of it. Forty-five. Delivery and tuning included.”
Nora’s knees buckled at the figure.
“I know,” the owner said, shaking his head. “It’s a steal. A new one would run you eighty.”
“Little out of my price range, I’m afraid.” She had enough money for the piano but just barely. She also had a mortgage, a roommate to feed, and the dream of giving up work with Kingsley to write full time. If she dropped forty-five thousand dollars on a piano, she and Wes would be eating ramen noodles for the next year. Either that or she’d better get a big fucking book deal real fucking fast.
“You should play it at least. A piano wants to be played.”
Nora reached out and touched the keys without depressing them.
“No, I don’t play. I have a...” She paused and tried to find the right word. “…friend. He plays beautifully. Learned it from his mother and then mostly self-taught. One of those prodigy types.”
“Actualls, he’d a Jesuit priest. He plays with the symphony sometimes if they need him. He has a Steinway, but, well, it’s kind of broken.”
“Such a shame.”
“Just the sustain pedal. Long story. Do you play?” Nora asked. She was dying to hear the sound of the Bösendorfer. Some of her happiest memories involved Søren and pianos.
“Not much anymore. But I have my own personal pianist I keep around here. Isaiah?” He called out the name, and a boy of about twelve years old came running from the other room.
“I’m here!” Isaiah announced, his voice so loud the keys of the piano vibrated.
“Isaiah takes lessons here,” the owner explained. “His family’s apartment’s not big enough for a piano. I let him come practice here whenever he likes.”
“Nice to meet you.” Nora held out her hand and Isaiah only stared at it. “Don’t be scared. I know strange white ladies are terrifying, but I won’t bite you. Probably not, anyway.”
The boy grinned broadly and held out his hand. She shook it with vigor.
“Good handshake,” she said. “Strong hands make for a better pianist. Will you play something for me?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he said with gusto as he threw himself down onto the piano bench. He cracked his neck and knuckles and wiggled his fingers over the keys. “Any requests?”
“Play a Christmas song,” Nora suggested. “Any one you like.”
“I like ‘em all. But I just learned this one.”
He inhaled and closed his eyes. When he opened them again the blustery boy had transformed into a professional musician. He brought his fingers down onto the keys. The familiar haunting strains of “O Holy Night” filled the store.
The piece brought back a thousand memories. How she loved this song...how much it moved her every time she heard it...how she couldn’t hear it without wanting to fall onto her knees and adore the God who had created men and music.
She remembered...how old had she been? Twenty-four? Twenty-five? One night in early December she’d gone to the rectory at midnight and found Søren at the piano playing this very piece. He knew she was coming to him that night, and he knew it was her favorite. As he played she came to him and sat on the floor next to the piano bench, resting her head by his thigh. As the last notes rang out and died, he laid a hand gently on the side of her head. Without a word he bade her to stand. He didn’t need words to give her orders. She could read his face, his eyes, his body language like a book. He snapped his fingers and she reached under her skirt to pull off her panties. Søren lowered the fallboard to cover the keys as she straddled his lap and leaned back against the piano. They kissed then, tongues and lips mingling, for what felt like an hour. She ran her fingers through his blond hair. He slid his hands up and down her thighs.
“Please, Sir,” she whispered against his neck.
She growled in playful frustration. He hadn’t hurt her yet. They’d done nothing but kiss. As long as he didn’t hurt her he could kiss her and tease her and taunt her and touch her forever without needing to fuck her. It wasn’t until he inflicted pain on her that he grew aroused enough that he had to have her. But she...she had to have him, and right now.
“Please...I need you inside me, Sir.”
“Keep begging. It’s under consideration.”
He kissed her earlobe, her neck. He opened her blouse and kissed the swell of her breasts. And so she begged him as instructed him. Please, Sir...please...I’ll do anything, submit to anything, give you anything, accept anything...use me, abuse me, bruise me...she begged him in a poem of desperation.
When his teeth bit into the soft flesh of her shoulder she knew it would happen. She gasped in pain as his previously gentle fingers dug into her hips hard enough she flinched.
The flinch did it. In seconds the piano bench now sat toppled over on the floor. Nora, then still Eleanor, lay on her stomach on the floor halfway under the piano. She braced herself with slow deep breaths and wasn’t shocked when Søren pulled her shirt off and pushed her skirt to her waist. He landed the first brutal blow land on the back of her thighs. She didn’t look at what instrument of torture Søren wielded on her. Cane or crop or switch from a tree...it didn’t matter. They all hurt like fuck. Good. The greater the pain now, the greater the pleasure after.
After a dozen or more brutal blows to the back of her body, Søren dropped the crop onto the floor. Crop. It hit the hardwood with a softer sort of thud instead of a rattle of rattan. She braced herself for more pain. He might flog her next or whip her. She closed her eyes and let go of herself and any fears. No reason to be afraid. Søren loved her. He’d hurt her but not harm her. He took more pleasure from inflicting pain than she took from an orgasm. She gave up her body to him, gave it up like a gift. And like a present, wrapped and given, he tore her open.
Søren straddled her thighs and gripped the back of her neck. Scalding candle wax landed on the center of her spine. Another drop hit a few inches higher. With Søren on top of her and holding her down, she couldn’t flinch. She reached out for something, anything to grasp, and wrapped her fingers around the sustain pedal. She focused on the metal in her hand, its coolness and smoothness. The burning wax coated her spine and sent pain shooting through her entire body. It ended...finally it ended, and Søren pushed her onto her back. Her enflamed skin hit the hardwood and she cried out in agony. But the agony was short lived as Søren kissed her again, kissed her mouth, her neck, and spent as much time kissing her breasts as he had brutalizing her back. The moans that came from her were borne of pleasure, the deepest pleasure, the sort of pleasure that came only after suffering pain. The pain threw the pleasure into such sharp relief that sex without pain seemed illogical to her. Why even bother with someone so muted? So dampened?
When Søren pushed her thighs wide open and brought his head between her legs, she felt anything but bored. His fingers dug deep into her and ground against her most sensitive spots while his tongue and lips against her clitoris brought her to the edge of orgasm and left her hanging there with knots of need coiling in her stomach and back and her hand still gripping the sustain pedal to steady herself.
Søren rose up and covered her with his body. He entered her hard and fast, and she came after the first few thrusts. After her climax, she relaxed and simply let him have her. She loved the pressure of him inside her, filling her up, moving within her, and the ragged but controlled tenor of his breathing.
After he came inside her he slowly pulled out and dragged her into his arms. She panted against his chest as he stroked her hair and kissed her forehead.
“Did you enjoy that?” he asked as she lay across his lap.
“So fucking much. Only...”
She eyed the piano and saw the sustain pedal hanging at a somewhat off angle.
“I think I broke your piano.”
The song ended and the final notes of “O Holy Night” played by young Isaiah shivered up Nora’s spine.
“Thank you,” she said to the boy. “You’re very talented. I hope you never quit playing.”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. I’m on the basketball team at school. My dad, he wants me to quit piano and only play basketball. He thinks my sister should take the piano lessons. She doesn’t like it though. Just me.”
“Why does he think your sister should take piano lessons and not you?”
“He says music is for girls. Mom tells him he’s crazy and that it’s good for me to know music so I can play in church.”
“Music’s for girls?” She looked up at the storeowner and winked at him. “I’ll have you know the strongest, smartest, toughest, and most intimidating man I know also plays piano. What do you think of that?”
“Very true. And when he plays piano every woman in the room falls in love with him. Girls love musicians.”
“That’s very true,” said the storeowner. “My wife said she didn’t even notice I existed until she heard me playing saxophone.”
Isaiah seemed to think it over.
“Maybe I’ll keep playing,” he said. “Maybe I’ll keep playing basketball too. You know, double my chances with the ladies, right?”
“I like the way you think, kid.” Nora chucked him under the chin. He scrambled off the piano bench and headed back to the other room of the store. “It’s an amazing piano. I love the sound. Richer than a Steinway.”
“It’s got beautiful bass notes. Holds the sound better. There’s no piano like the Bösendorfer. They call them ‘the Rolls Royce’ of pianos. If you change your mind, let me know. Like I said, price includes delivery.”
The storeowner left her alone with the piano. Nora touched the top and felt the ghost of a thousand concertos lurking in the polished wood.
Nora fished her phone out of her pocket.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” Kingsley asked when he answered the phone.
“Call Moretti back. Tell him I’ll do it.”
Kingsley said nothing and Nora rolled her eyes. Typical Dominant trick—
stop speaking to force the other to fill the silence.
“I’m at a music store,” she explained.
“Did you know they call Bösendorfer pianos the Rolls Royce of pianos?”
“It’s almost Christmas. And it’s almost his birthday, King.”
Silence. And then...
“I’ll tell him fifty or nothing,” Kingsley said. “And I know him. He’ll pay fifty. You can keep my cut this time.”
“I knew you still loved him.”
“I could say the same to you,” Kingsley said. The past year had been a cold war between her and Søren, between Kingsley and Søren. She didn’t know what had started the war, but she knew she wanted to finish it. Maybe this would help. Even if it didn’t, she had to give Søren the piano. Why? She didn’t know except for the reason Kingsley had named. She still loved Søren.
“I’ll front you the money. Buy him the piano,” Kingsley said.
“Joyeux Noël, King,” Nora whispered.
“Merry Christmas, Elle.”
She hung up the phone and called out for the storeowner.
“You said you deliver?”
“We deliver,” he said, a broad smile crossing his wizened face.
“Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Wakefield. It goes to the rectory, not the church. You’ll have to drive up to it around the block. It’s tucked back in a little wooded area. You should be writing all this down. And it’ll need to be delivered on December 21. Do it after six otherwise he’ll be at the church working.”
“Quite a Christmas gift you’re giving,” he said as he wrote down the details.
“Well...” she kissed her fingertips and touched the top of the piano in a benediction. “It’s really for Christmas and his birthday.”
That Friday Nora boarded a plane for Las Vegas. A limo picked her up at the airport and took her to a sprawling mansion in Summerlin outside the Vegas city limits. Some sort of servant attempted to take her toy bag from her, but she waved him away as she entered the home. A man of about forty with a dark tan, a face that had once been handsome, and desperate eyes met her in the sun room.
“Mistress Nora...” He took her hand and kissed it. “It’s an honor to have you in my home.”
“Fuck your honor. You can do better than that,” she said without a smile. “Floor.”
He dropped to his feet and kissed the toe of her dirty boot.
“You know, Vic,” she said as she pulled a riding crop out of her toy bag, “I really hate you mob guys. Bunch of fucking rich bullies. You act like royalty and you’re all just lowlife thugs in expensive suits.” Victor didn’t disagree with her. He was too busy worshipping her feet with his tongue. “I hate the mob so much that I’m probably going to do some shit to you this week that you’re not going to like. It’ll be immoral, indecent, and very likely illegal. And won’t even get to fuck me. Not once. And then you know what I’m going to do?”
“What, Mistress?” he asked, looking up at her from the floor with groveling eyes.
“Leave this shithole house of yours and forget you exist. Now take off your clothes.”
Nora made it back to New York on December 20. She spent a sleepless night in her bed wondering if she’d done the right thing fucking around with a mob guy. Victor hadn’t been that bad. He, like her, had been an unwitting accomplice to the mafia far more than a willing participant. Victor hadn’t chosen to be born of a crime boss and claimed to hate his father’s world.
“Yeah, you hate the sinner,” she said as she carved a shallow dollar sign into his back with a razor blade, “but you love that sinner’s money, don’t you?”
“I couldn’t give it away, could I?” he asked as if she’d suggested he should put the money into a rocket ship and aim it at the sun. “Who would do that?”
“I know a guy who did.” Søren had inherited a vast fortune from his monster father and kept not a penny for himself. “I’d let you meet him, but you don’t even deserve to tie his shoelaces. Fuck you, Rich Bitch, you don’t even deserve to tie mine.”
She showed him that night and all week how little he deserved any mercy, compassion, or kindness from her. By the end of the week he was so in love with her he offered Nora another fifty grand to stay through Christmas. As she walked out his front door without even a backwards glance, she told him to shove his dirty money up his ass. Knowing what a freak he was, he probably did.
The next morning Nora called Theremin’s and made sure the piano delivery would take place. They promised it would, and she spent the rest of the day working on her new book. Without Wes around, the house echoed with silence. She played some Christmas music, but it didn’t fill up the emptiness in the house. She put on her coat and went for a walk, but the emptiness went with her. It wasn’t in the house at all. It was inside her.
At six that evening she put her coat on, grabbed her keys, and got into her car. She drove to Wakefield and found herself parking across the street from Sacred Heart Catholic Church. The memories pressed in so close she had to shove them away lest she trip over them.
The parking lot was empty, thank God. No one around to recognize her, ask her what she was doing hanging around. She stepped onto the cobblestone path that led down a tree-lined walkway to the rectory. It had snowed the night before, and a thousand footprints marred the new-fallen powder. The piano movers had come this way as they rolled the piano toward the house. She wished she’d been there to see the look on Søren’s face. She’d given the piano anonymously although she knew he’d know the gift came from her. After all, it was she who’d broken the sustain pedal on his Steinway. She sort of owed him a new piano.
As she reached the end of the path she paused and cocked her head to the side. Through the windows of the rectory she heard music emanating. She stepped closer and listened harder. Yes, music. Piano music. Søren was home and playing his new piano. At the door she pressed her ear to the wood. She knew this song. Of course she knew it. She could even hear the lyrics in her head as the notes drifted through the door.
A thrill of hope...the weary world rejoices...for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn...fall on your knees...
Nora wanted to fall on her knees right then and there. She wanted to fall on her knees at Søren’s side and rest her head on the piano bench like she had so many years ago. He played the song because he knew it was her favorite. He played even though he didn’t know she could hear him. He played it for the memory of that night and all the Christmases they’d celebrated together in secret, each one more holy than the last.
She could knock on the door and the music would cease. He’d come to the door, open it and let her in, and he would beat her brutally, the way she liked it, and make love to her all night long. She raised her hand and let it hover two inches from the wood. She paused. Tonight was Søren’s birthday. If she crossed the threshold tonight she knew she would give herself to him. And not for only one night, but forever. She would lose Wesley if she did. She would lose the life she’d made for herself. She’d even lose her name. Infamous, notorious Mistress Nora would turn back into Eleanor again if she returned to Søren. Wouldn’t she? Or maybe he would let her be herself. Maybe he would let her keep her name. Maybe they would find a new way to be together. And maybe magic elves would show up at her house and crown her Queen of the Christmas Fairies. Nice dream but Søren had already told her when and if she came back to him, his first order to her would be to give up her job with Kingsley. She could be with Søren or she could be Mistress Nora. She couldn’t be both.
So Nora lowered her hand and took a step back with out knocking. But before leaving she reached out and drew a heart with her fingertip in the window.
“Merry Christmas, Sir,” she whispered into the crisp night winter air. “Happy birthday, my love.”
When she walked away from the rectory, she didn’t take the path. She instead crossed the unmarred snowy ground, leaving her small and familiar footprints behind her. At least he would know she had been there. Sometimes that’s all one needed to get through a hard day—someone just being there.
Maybe one of these days she would finally tire of being Mistress Nora, and she would go back to him and fall on her knees at his feet again. Maybe someday she’d give up her new life that she’d made for herself and be his once more. But not tonight. She’d already given him his Christmas and birthday present this year. He wasn’t getting anything else from her.
Nora drove the forty minutes back to her house. She’d make it through Christmas even if she didn’t celebrate Christmas at all. Once upon a time, Christmas had been a fearful time for the early Christians which is why they’d hidden their celebration under the mantle of a Pagan one. The very earliest Christians didn’t celebrate Christmas at all, she told herself. She would be like one of them this year. She would just skip Christmas, and it would be fine.
When Nora pulled into her driveway she noticed a light in her window. Hadn’t she turned them off when she’d left?
She opened the front door and found a teenage boy sitting in the middle of the living room floor wrapping a present. He wore jeans and a red and green plaid flannel shirt over a white V-neck T-shirt. And with the Christmas lights on the tree so bright and shining, even his sandy hair glowed red and green.
“Holy shit, Wes. What are you doing here?”
Wes smiled at her, and it felt like summer had snuck in the house while winter had its back turned.
“I told Mom and Dad I had to work over break and could only come home for a few days. We did Christmas yesterday. I got back this afternoon.”
“I know your dad’s long gone,” he said a little sheepishly. “And you said you and your mom don’t get along. And you don’t do Christmas with your friends like you used to… I just didn’t want you to be alone.”
“Since I don’t want to be a liar, you’re gonna have to put me to work,” Wes said. “Does your office need cleaned again?”
“You swore you’d never clean my office again after last time.”
“Oh yeah,” he said, blushing slightly. “That was…traumatic.”
“I swear the butt plugs in the bottom drawer aren’t for me. Mine are in my bedroom. The ones in my office were for a client.”
“That really doesn’t make it better, Nor. And I don’t even want to know why you store them next to your spare printer cartridges.”
“It’s the bottom drawer. Of course I store them there. Where do you store your butt plugs?”
“In my butt. Duh.”
“Why didn’t I think of that?”
Nora knelt on the floor in front of Wesley’s mess of wrapping paper, ribbons, tape, and bows.
“So no office cleaning. What an I do for you?” Wes asked, as he taped the ribbon to the bottom of his box. The wrapped box looked legitimately awful and absolutely adorable. She would teach him how to wrap a present the right way this week.
“You came back from Christmas with your family early to spend it with me. You don’t have to do anything else. Nothing. You didn’t even have to do that.”
“I like giving big Christmas gifts. I can’t buy you a new car or a house or anything, not like you need another car or another house. But I can give you me for Christmas. If you want me. You know, my company.”
“Right,” Nora said. “Your company.” She was already picturing their Christmas together. Ice-skating. Christmas present shopping. Going to the Nativity play at St. Luke’s down the street. He hadn’t just given her his company for Christmas. Now that she wasn’t going to be alone, he’d given her Christmas for Christmas.
“You have to tell me something to do or I’m a liar.”
“Telling men what to do is my specialty, kid. Go and get your guitar,” she said. “You can sing for your supper. I need some Christmas music.”
He brought out his guitar and quickly tuned it.
“Any requests?” he asked as he picked out a few stray notes.
“Anything you like.”
“Anything but ‘O Holy Night.’”
“Because it makes me sad.”
Wes narrowed his eyes at her and then nodded. He had learned by now that “It makes me sad” was code for “It makes me think of Søren.” That was the last thing either of them wanted tonight.
“No worries.” Wes grinned at her and all the sadness went away. “I don’t even know how to play that one. How about this?”
Wes leaned back against the couch and stretched out his legs. Nora put a pillow on his shins and laid her head there, curled up a like a child. With the tree lights lit and evening draping itself over the house like a black silk sheet and Wes here with her, it finally felt like Christmas. Wes started playing and the song he played was “Silent Night.”
Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright.
And it was beautiful.
If you wish to give me a present for my birthday, please consider a $10 donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center. They are doing God's work with the poorest of the poor who are now and always nearest and dearest to Christ's heart.