“My parents, along with almost every other Lost Boys’ parents. Every parent who threw their son to the wolves. This is why a lot of us learn to feel no emotion. I’m usually pretty emotionless, which is why I’m thinking maybe I can deal with Gideon’s work inside the compound. Yesterday I had to face this Parley Pipkin assbite who was one of the men in on the ass-kicking I received from Zelpha Pratt’s dad. Like it takes ten men to kick the ass of one teenager. I did all right, staring him in the fucking face.”
“You refrained from shooting him, anyway. That’s admirable.”
I hadn’t told anyone other than Gideon about Ladell Pratt yet. Deloy probably suspected that he was one of my tormentors, but was polite enough not to bring it up. “Fifteen years of controlling my emotions has taught me well. That’s why I like your scientific way of looking at things. We have more in common than you might suspect. Emotion is a defect in a perfectly logical machine.”
“No, no, not at all,” she cried, loud enough for Nana to hear. I moved closer to her, taking her by the upper arms to guide her into the shadows of the kitchen wall, farther from Nana’s bedroom. “Reason alone, without human emotion, has created more wretchedness than a zealot’s crusade.”
“You haven’t lived in Cornucopia.”
“Watching a Shakespeare performance informs us more about the nature of jealousy, how it can infiltrate a man’s life and ruin his marriage, than any textbook ever could. Harriet Beecher Stowe helped rouse society against slavery more powerfully than any spreadsheet. Dickens did more to prevent child abuse and institutional atrocity than any welfare society report.”
I had to agree with her, because literature had replaced emotion in my life. I could feel through works of art, music, and writing. I allowed myself to feel outrage and indignation on their behalf—maybe because they were “made up” works of art, and somewhat remotely removed from my own carefully guarded cage of feelings. “Well, yes. Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ is still played in about five hundred languages in ten billion elevators throughout the world. I’m sure it’s managed to soothe many a savage beast. The photo of the napalmed Vietnamese girl or Dorothea Lange’s Dust Bowl photos still resonate in people’s hearts. Oaklyn, you don’t need to convince me. I feel deeply through others’ creations. It’s just my real life where I have trouble knowing how to feel.”
“And that’s where you’ll miss out. You have to feel direct confrontations with people. There’s no sense in having pity for people if you’re being ruled by performance and profit. There’s no point in being charitable if you’re really not experiencing the compassion directly like a stab to your heart. I have a shitty boyfriend, I’ll be the first to admit that. But at least we have passion. We fight with passionate anger in our hearts.”
“That’s useless to me,” I said. It sounded heartless even as I said it. When had I become such a callous, insensitive jerk? “I’ve had no close relationships with anyone in my life—ever. Not since Zelpha Pratt.”
“You mean romantic. But you love your men.”
I stood tall and proud. “I love my men like a protective mother hen. But passion with a woman? Nothing. At least you have that with your idiotic boyfriend.” It irritated me that she had even an idiotic boyfriend. I’d grown close to her the past week, strange to say. We sort of fit together like hand in glove, though I knew she loathed me for my business practices. I was used to that. I’d been denounced for my field of work for a long time now. It was only because we serviced such a large denomination of pious men and women in the community that no one had harassed us to move.
She said, “Decisions such as whom to fall in love with, how to discipline a teenager, which beloved things to sacrifice, which dreams to follow or abandon—all of these choices should be made with emotion ruling, not wiped out and deadened by your logical thinking. If I let myself be ruled by logic, I’d never have hooked up with my worthless Italian boyfriend.”
“And that’s a good thing?” I scoffed.
She shrugged. “I’m actually trying to get rid of him. Emotion keeps drawing me back to him. But you see what I mean? You’re missing out on such a broad array of human experiences if you don’t go through any of those things.”
I was getting riled, maybe with the more Jim Beam I drank. “You don’t understand. I was kicked out of the bosom of my family. I was told that I was a thing, a bother, an inconvenience. I was a miniscule number in a perpetual multitude of numbers—an ‘it,’ not even an ‘I.’”
She folded her hands in front of her soberly, though she had drank as much as I had. “I understand. You won’t let yourself feel because that would dredge up all those angry, bitter feelings.”
“But I am angry and bitter! ‘Angry and Bitter’ is my middle name! It washes over me time and time again, trapping me in my bitterness, my rage, my inability to even remotely forgive anyone connected to that incident.”
“You have to learn to forgive, Levon, or else you can’t move on. Don’t you want to marry and have a regular wife? One that wasn’t chosen for you by some moldy old elders? Don’t you want to feel regular, normal passion and love for a woman—a woman you chose yourself?”
I don’t know what the fuck came over me. All at once, I knew I had something to prove to Oaklyn. Suddenly her waist under the furry jacket looked so small, so fragile, like she needed my big hands around it. When I grabbed her, she jumped, as though I was going to hurt her. She held onto my forearms as I lifted her onto the deck railing. She was so fucking light, with bones like a little bird! I parted her thighs with my massive ones, feeling like an ancient tree next to a swaying birch. I touched the tip of my nose to hers, and she didn’t try to pull away.
“I might not know romantic feelings,” I murmured, “but I know that sex can masquerade for emotions of that type.”
And I kissed her.
I gave it my all, letting my usual rage and indignation stand in for passion. I bit her pouty, full lips over and over again until I felt the breath of her sighs against my mouth. Her entire body did a full melt, and she even wrapped her ankles around the back of my knees.
Something happened during that wild kiss. My asshole self, who had never even really felt a passionate sexual urge—it was strictly business with all of us—began to cave in. Just like Oaklyn was folding up, dissolving like a sinkhole beneath my onslaught. Some of the walls I’d built up carefully over fifteen years began to dissolve. I could almost feel it, at the edges of my awareness, like a curtain someone was lifting on the two of us.
Like a spotlight shining on us coupling there on the deck railing, I began to feel like the star of our show. Only there were two of us, because it wasn’t just me performing like a trained seal. This was a woman who wasn’t my client. I was voluntarily licking her lips of my own free will. My cock was burgeoning, swelling against the wood railing, just an inch from her pussy. It made a giant tent in the loose lounging pants I wore, but I wasn’t embarrassed. Real feelings rushed through my lungs. Every breath I snorted against her cheek, every intake of air was like breathing true, real emotion.
I didn’t hate Oaklyn. I sort of even liked her.
My hands moved up her ribcage, felt her bony shoulders, cradled her strong jaw. Of course I never kissed clients, so I hadn’t kissed a woman in a year, maybe even two. It just wasn’t in my wheelhouse—I didn’t have the time. So feeling the true, hot, aroused sensuality of a woman beneath my very palms, well, it was a fucking turn-on.
But I knew I had to break away. I was good at doing that.
“There,” I panted triumphantly, as if I’d just solved some equation on a whiteboard. Oaklyn looked at me wide-eyed with wonder, her lower lip shining as though stung by a bee. She clearly didn’t know what to say or maybe even how to feel, so I helped her out. “How’s that for emotional turmoil?”
I was going to stalk off jubilantly, but Oaklyn beat me to it.
She leaped from the railing, shoving me out of the way. She stormed off for a few steps, but then thought better of it, and twirled back to face me. “You! Levon Rockwell. You’re the most infuriating, contrary man on the face of the planet!”
Then she stormed off. I saw her go into the kitchen and grab the bottle of Jim Beam off the counter without missing a beat, then continue to her room.
Infuriating. I liked that. It meant I was getting to her.Then I wondered why I wanted to get to her.