Authors: C. D. Reiss
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Alpha Male, #new adult
Songs of Dominance
Copyright © 2013
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This should be read after Burn, and before Resist.
people like you ever have wishes, Jonathan?
does that mean? People like me?
who have everything. Was there ever something you wanted, but could only wish
I hated the word
Festooned implied some kind of old-world
family dancing around with ribbons, draping them over lamps and doorways,
catching the flowers as they fell out of their hair. It brought to mind musical
theater and swaying skirts. It felt Swiss Family Robinson. Mary Poppins. The
. Good night, Jon-boy.
Despite the sour taste in the front of
my tongue and the bitter one in back,
was the only word that suited the house on this, the day of my engagement
party. I wanted to drink far more than I had. I wanted to take that bottle of
Jameson’s I knew my mother hid under her bathroom vanity and sit in a corner to
finish it. I wanted to suck it dry. But I didn’t do that anymore. When I drank,
I held a glass and sipped until the ice melted, never finishing before. Then I
waited and eventually got another. I hadn’t been drunk since I was sixteen.
And if I did drink that bottle? Who
would care but my fiancé, Jessica? Or more to the point, whose opinion did I
value besides hers? Who else did I serve?
She wanted this event, and she got it. I
couldn’t deny her anything, and really, it wasn’t such a big deal to throw a
party. It was nothing to gather a team of people from Hotel A to
my parent’s Palisades house,
send invitations to the right people, and make sure there was food. My staff
were experts at managing women with exquisite taste, such as my bride-to-be. It
was no burden to me whatsoever.
The burden was having the engagement at
my father’s house. The burden was explaining to him that the wedding would be
at the my future in-law’s residence in Venice, and his presence was not
There were reasons for all of it, of
course, spite not being the least of them. I understood spite, even enjoyed it
on occasion, poured over cold cubes of guilt with a chaser of regret. But this
spite was too old and too ugly to enjoy.
“There you are,” my mother’s voice came
from behind me. I’d been looking out toward the yard, watching subsets of staff
ready it for the flood of people. “Have you seen Jess?”
“She’s out with my sisters getting her
feet and fingers done. Something tasteful, I’m sure. No need to worry.”
Mom slipped her hands over my shoulders,
her hands brushing the fabric free of some imaginary lint. “Are you happy?”
“Why do you ask?”
“You’ve seemed down. Is it Jessica?”
“The thing with your father?” Mom didn’t
look concerned as much as benign. She’d perfected that look of harmlessness
over forty years, and she wore it well under light makeup and a strawberry
“He’s come to terms with it.”
“Is the bar up? I need a drink.”
She looped her arm into mine and we
My father hadn’t ever actually come to
terms with anything in his life, ever. He sat and waited until opportunities
presented themselves. He was utterly non-aggressive in the way a cat is utterly
still outside a mouse hole, waiting for the rodent to either forget he was
trapped or get hungry enough to risk everything and leave.
The party setup was going smoothly,
people in tuxedos and black dresses gadding about with purpose. The hedges had
been trimmed, the tennis court locked. The pool had been cleaned, repainted and
decorated with floating flowers. No one asked me a goddamn thing about anything
and I liked it that way. The bartender, an actor from the looks of him, was
setting up glasses in neat rows. Behind him, the majesty of the Pacific Ocean
stretched into a haze where sea met sky.
“He told me he understood,” Mom said,
continuing a conversation she assumed I wanted to have. “Business deals
sometimes go bad and someone gets hurt.”
“It’s fine, ma.”
“You should talk to him about it.”
“Hey,” I said to the bartender. “Two
“I’m not having any,” Mom said.
“They’re both for me.”
She smiled and punched my arm. “Jon.
Always the joker. Listen to me. This radio silence with your father isn’t
productive. I mean, he did agree to have the engagement here.”
“To save him embarrassment. This thing
with him has put me in the middle and to be truthful, it’s stressful.”
She knew how to feel stress, my mother.
The management of anxiety was an art form with her, necessitating the use of a
cocktail of medications and hospitalizations when she misjudged her secret
alcohol intake. Poor Mom. Really. A willing captive in a house as big as an
It was my turn to flick an imaginary
piece of lint off her shoulder. “He took my future in-laws for everything, blew
a chunk of it and passed a few million back to them. Not enough for them to get
a decent lawyer.”
“It was twelve years ago and it was a
legitimate business deal.”
“Legal. It was legal. Not legitimate.”
Despite earlier denials, she took the
glass of whiskey, holding it but not putting it to her lips, as if it was a
prop. I remembered she drank wine in public and whiskey in private. I was
getting muddled already.
“I know they’re your family now, the
. But don’t forget where you came from, young man.”
As if I ever could.
The last family party my father and I
had attended together had been seven years earlier. Sheila’s birthday had an
unfortunate proximity to Christmas, so every one of her birthday parties became
Christmas parties. Her house in Palos Verdes perched on the edge of a sheer
drop to the ocean. For a mile in each direction, a beach as wide as a
at the base
of the cliff. But toward the end of that year, the beach disappeared under
rushing tides as it rained for twenty days straight.
Children toddled underfoot, with nannies
running bent-kneed behind them. Extended family on top of extended family, most
drunk or on their way there, myself included, even at sixteen. I did what I
wanted, like all my friends. Nothing could happen to us that money couldn’t
fix, so no one paid attention.
I had no self-control at that point. I
was a loose cannon of temperamental fits, drunken rages, and risky behavior.
The last incident had been driving my father’s new Maserati into South Gate to
drag my friend Gordon out of a meth house. I’d thrown him into the driver’s
side and hit the gas from the passenger’s side to wake his sorry ass out of a
stupor. We’d sideswiped his dealer’s Escalade, four-thousand-dollars’ worth,
and in the end, Gordon had gone right back to using, but my addiction to nearly
dying had been sated for a month, at least.
Then, the week before Christmas,
Sheila’s birthday. Los Angles had already had twenty-two inches of rain since
school started. There was a rumor Death Valley would have a once-in-a-lifetime
bloom, come spring. My friends and I were planning a road trip in Charles’s
Hummer just to mow our path over fields of poppies.
I was drunk already, bullshitting with
my cousin Arthur over which Ivy League schools we were going to stroll into.
Which had the best clubs, where the legacies were. Arthur was a douchebag. The
last time I’d driven down Sunset with him, he leaned out of his BMW to make
some noise at a girl, which was bad enough. But when she flipped him the bird
he shouted, “Man, I bet there’s some guy out there so tired of fucking you.”
“Arthur, really?” I felt like getting
out and apologizing to her, but the light turned green and we were gone.
“What, Jon? Look at her. All legs and
shit. Fuck her.”
That was the last time I went out with
Arthur. But at a family party, as long as we kept to schools and baseball, I
could hold a conversation with him.
Sheila’s party graduated from family
thing to some kind of pre-Christmas
and the kitchen got crowded. I was less and less inclined to move. People I
knew came in and out, most not related to me at that point, and aunts and
uncles kissed me goodbye and left.
I don’t even know what I was drinking. A
bong went around. It was lead crystal and totally illegal, even if the bud
wasn’t, and the liquid inside was chartreuse absinthe.
The movement of the party shifted down
the hall, through the library and into the living room, where I saw my father
was still there.
And Rachel had shown up.
there ever something you wanted, but could only wish for, Jonathan?
wish I wasn’t raised by crazy people.
for the future. That you want, but don’t think you’ll get.
tell me. That’ll ruin it.
Jessica was nowhere to be found. She
didn’t answer my texts or calls. Margie, who had taken her out for the “girl
thing” with three other sisters, said my fiancé had left the spa in her
Mercedes the hour before.
“Did she have an accident?”
“I don’t know little brother,” Margie
said, grabbing a glass of wine before the first guest arrived. “She seemed
fine. The usual.”
“What does that mean?” I felt a stab of
anger. Seven sisters. A couple were bound to dislike my wife.
“Charming and polite. Warm, even. But
“Howdy!” Leanne came across the empty
backyard, grabbing a glass as soon as the bartender poured it. The emerald of
her dress brought out the fire engine in her hair. “You should see Jess’s nails.
She got a French with an airbrush. So cute.”
“Did you see her out front?” I asked.
“Nope. Are those the cufflinks you’re
wearing?” Leanne fixed the flowers in her hair by the reflection in the window.
She wanted to make clothes, so Dad had bought her a factory. Another
money-losing proposition. Next to Deirdre, the still devout, chronically
depressed Irish poet, she was the most creative in the family.
“No,” I said. “I just wore these to
“He wants to know how Jessica looked.”
“Cool and collected. She’s a rock, you
know.” Leanne squeezed my cheeks. “You did good.”
Leanne, who was habitually single at
twenty-six because she was a workaholic, had no business judging, even when I
agreed with her.
I was fifteen, and Rachel was a year and
a half older when we began seeing each other, if that’s what you could call it.
Discretion was absolutely necessary, so she didn’t come to any family parties.
I didn’t want her near my father, period. End of. She knew why. I knew why. No
one else did. Her old affair with my father when she was too young and
impressionable to know better was a secret bought and paid for with jewelry and
electronics. I kept it for her because she wanted it that way, and though I
would have loved to tell the world about what kind of animal my father was, the
understanding between myself and a few of my sisters, was that Mom would break
into a hundred pieces if what she knew in her heart was confirmed. My father
was, so far, the luckiest son of a bitch in the world.