×

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue / (by V. E. Schwab, 2020) -

/

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue /     (by V. E. Schwab, 2020) -

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue / (by V. E. Schwab, 2020) -

" " " " "- " . . . , . , . , , .... , . , . , . , , . . , , . , , - . 180 , 300 , , ...

:
: 419
:
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue / (by V. E. Schwab, 2020) -
:
2020
:
V. E. Schwab
:
Julia Whelan
:
:
, , ,
:
upper-intermediate
:
17:11:05
:
64 kbps
:
mp3, pdf, doc

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue / :

.doc (Word) v_e_schwab_-_the_invisible_life_of_addie_larue.doc [1.87 Mb] (c: 23) .
.pdf v_e_schwab_-_the_invisible_life_of_addie_larue.pdf [3.56 Mb] (c: 23) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

:

( , ).


To Patricia_ For never once forgetting. The old gods may be great, but they are neither kind nor merciful. They are fickle, unsteady as moonlight on water, or shadows in a storm. If you insist on calling them, take heed: be careful what you ask for, be willing to pay the price. And no matter how desperate or dire, never pray to the gods that answer after dark. Estele Magritte, 1642_1719 VILLON-SUR-SARTHE, FRANCE, July 29, 1714 A girl is running for her life. The summer air burns at her back, but there are no torches, no angry mobs, only the distant lanterns of the wedding party, the reddish glow of the sun as it breaks against the horizon, cracks and spills across the hills, and the girl runs, skirts tangling in the grass as she surges toward the woods, trying to beat the dying light. Voices carry on the wind, calling her name. Adeline? Adeline? Adeline! Her shadow stretches out ahead_too long, its edges already blurring_and small white flowers tumble from her hair, littering the ground like stars. A constellation left in her wake, almost like the one across her cheeks. Seven freckles. One for every love she_d have, that_s what Estele had said, when the girl was still young. One for every life she_d lead. One for every god watching over her. Now, they mock her, those seven marks. Promises. Lies. She_s had no loves, she_s lived no lives, she_s met no gods, and now she is out of time. But the girl doesn_t slow, doesn_t look back; she doesn_t want to see the life that stands there, waiting. Static as a drawing. Solid as a tomb. Instead, she runs. PART I THE GODS THAT ANSWER AFTER DARK Title of Piece: Revenir Artist: Arlo Miret Date: 1721_ 22 AD Medium: ash wood, marble Location: On loan from the Muse? d_Orsay Description: A sculptural series of five wooden birds in various postures and stages of pre-flight, mounted on a narrow marble plinth. Background: A diligent autobiographer, Miret kept journals that provide insight into the artist_s mind and process. Regarding the inspiration for Revenir, Miret attributed the idea to a figurine found on the streets of Paris in the winter of 1715. The wooden bird, found with a broken wing, is reputedly re-created as the fifth in the sequence (albeit intact), about to take flight. Estimated Value: $175,000 I NEW YORK CITY, March 10, 2014 T he girl wakes up in someone else_s bed. She lies there, perfectly still, tries to hold time like a breath in her chest; as if she can keep the clock from ticking forward, keep the boy beside her from waking, keep the memory of their night alive through sheer force of will. She knows, of course, that she can_t. Knows that he_ll forget. They always do. It isn_t his fault_it is never their faults. The boy is still asleep, and she watches the slow rise and fall of his shoulders, the place where his dark hair curls against the nape of his neck, the scar along his ribs. Details long memorized. His name is Toby. Last night, she told him hers was Jess. She lied, but only because she can_t say her real name_one of the vicious little details tucked like nettles in the grass. Hidden barbs designed to sting. What is a person, if not the marks they leave behind? She has learned to step between the thorny weeds, but there are some cuts that cannot be avoided_a memory, a photograph, a name. In the last month, she has been Claire, Zoe, Michelle_but two nights ago, when she was Elle, and they were closing down a late-night caf? after one of his gigs, Toby said that he was in love with a girl named Jess_he simply hadn_t met her yet. So now, she is Jess. Toby begins to stir, and she feels the old familiar ache in her chest as he stretches, rolls toward her_but doesn_t wake, not yet. His face is now inches from her, his lips parted in sleep, black curls shadowing his eyes, dark lashes against fair cheeks. Once, the darkness teased the girl as they strolled along the Seine, told her that she had a _type,_ insinuating that most of the men she chose_and even a few of the women_looked an awful lot like him. The same dark hair, the same sharp eyes, the same etched features. But that wasn_t fair. After all, the darkness only looked the way he did because of her. She_d given him that shape, chosen what to make of him, what to see. Don_t you remember, she told him then, when you were nothing but shadow and smoke? Darling, he_d said in his soft, rich way, I was the night itself. Now it is morning, in another city, another century, the bright sunlight cutting through the curtains, and Toby shifts again, rising up through the surface of sleep. And the girl who is_was_Jess holds her breath again as she tries to imagine a version of this day where he wakes, and sees her, and remembers. Where he smiles, and strokes her cheek, and says, _Good morning._ But it won_t happen like that, and she doesn_t want to see the familiar vacant expression, doesn_t want to watch as the boy tries to fill in the gaps where memories of her should be, witness as he pulls together his composure into practiced nonchalance. The girl has seen that performance often enough, knows the motions by heart, so instead she slides from the bed and pads barefoot out into the living room. She catches her reflection in the hall mirror and notices what everyone notices: the seven freckles, scattered like a band of stars across her nose and cheeks. Her own private constellation. She leans forward and fogs the glass with her breath. Draws her fingertip through the cloud as she tries to write her name. A_d_ But she only gets as far as that before the letters dissolve. It_s not the medium_no matter how she tries to say her name, no matter how she tries to tell her story. And she has tried, in pencil, in ink, in paint, in blood. Adeline. Addie. LaRue. It is no use. The letters crumble, or fade. The sounds die in her throat. Her fingers fall away from the glass and she turns, surveying the living room. Toby is a musician, and the signs of his art are everywhere. In the instruments that lean against the walls. In the scribbled lines and notes scattered on tables_bars of half-remembered melodies mixed in with grocery lists and weekly to-do_s. But here and there, another hand_the flowers he_s started keeping on the kitchen sill, though he can_t remember when the habit started. The book on Rilke he doesn_t remember buying. The things that last, even when memories don_t. Toby is a slow riser, so Addie makes herself tea_he doesn_t drink it, but it_s already there, in his cupboard, a tin of loose Ceylon, and a box of silk pouches. A relic of a late-night trip to the grocery store, a boy and a girl wandering the aisles, hand in hand, because they couldn_t sleep. Because she hadn_t been willing to let the night end. Wasn_t ready to let go. She lifts the mug, inhales the scent as memories waft up to meet it. A park in London. A patio in Prague. A tea room in Edinburgh. The past drawn like a silk sheet over the present. It_s a cold morning in New York, the windows fogged with frost, so she pulls a blanket from the back of the couch and wraps it around her shoulders. A guitar case takes up one end of the sofa, and Toby_s cat takes up the other, so she perches on the piano bench instead. The cat, also named Toby (_So I can talk to myself without it being weird . . ._ he explained) looks at her as she blows on her tea. She wonders if the cat remembers. Her hands are warmer now, and she sets the mug on top of the piano and slides the cover up off the keys, stretches her fingers, and starts to play as softly as possible. In the bedroom, she can hear Toby-the-human stirring, and every inch of her, from skeleton to skin, tightens in dread. This is the hardest part. Addie could have left_should have left_slipped out when he was still asleep, when their morning was still an extension of their night, a moment trapped in amber. But it is too late now, so she closes her eyes and continues to play, keeps her head down as she hears his footsteps underneath the notes, keeps her fingers moving when she feels him in the doorway. He_ll stand there, taking in the scene, trying to piece together the timeline of last night, how it could have gone astray, when he could have met a girl and then taken her home, if he could have had too much drink, why he doesn_t remember any of it. But she knows that Toby won_t interrupt her as long as she_s playing, so she savors the music for several more seconds before forcing herself to trail off, look up, pretend she doesn_t notice the confusion on his face. _Morning,_ she says, her voice cheerful, and her accent, once country French, now so faint that she hardly hears it. _Uh, good morning,_ he says, running a hand through his loose black curls, and to his credit, Toby looks the way he always does_a little dazed, and surprised to see a pretty girl sitting in his living room wearing nothing but a pair of underwear and his favorite band T-shirt beneath the blanket. _Jess,_ she says, supplying the name he can_t find, because it isn_t there. _It_s okay,_ she says, _if you don_t remember._ Toby blushes, and nudges Toby-the-cat out of the way as he sinks onto the couch cushions. _I_m sorry . . . this isn_t like me. I_m not that kind of guy._ She smiles. _I_m not that kind of girl._ He smiles, too, then, and it_s a line of light breaking the shadows of his face. He nods at the piano, and she wants him to say something like, _I didn_t know you could play,_ but instead Toby says, _You_re really good,_ and she is_it_s amazing what you can learn when you have the time. _Thanks,_ she says, running her fingertips across the keys. Toby is restless now, escaping to the kitchen. _Coffee?_ he asks, shuffling through the cupboards. _I found tea._ She starts to play a different song. Nothing intricate, just a strain of notes. The beginnings of something. She finds the melody, takes it up, lets its slip between her fingers as Toby ducks back into the room, a steaming cup in his hands. _What was that?_ he asks, eyes brightening in that way unique to artists_writers, painters, musicians, anyone prone to moments of inspiration. _It sounded familiar . . ._ A shrug. _You played it for me last night._ It isn_t a lie, not exactly. He did play it for her. After she showed him. _I did?_ he says, brow furrowing. He_s already setting the coffee aside, reaching for a pencil and a notepad off the nearest table. _God_I must have been drunk._ He shakes his head as he says it; Toby_s never been one of those songwriters who prefer to work under the influence. _Do you remember more?_ he asks, turning through the pad. She starts playing again, leading him through the notes. He doesn_t know it, but he_s been working on this song for weeks. Well, they have. Together. She smiles a little as she plays on. This is the grass between the nettles. A safe place to step. She can_t leave her own mark, but if she_s careful, she can give the mark to someone else. Nothing concrete, of course, but inspiration rarely is. Toby_s got the guitar up now, balanced on one knee, and he follows her lead, murmuring to himself. That this is good, this is different, this is something. She stops playing, gets to her feet. _I should go._ The melody falls apart on the strings as Toby looks up. _What? But I don_t even know you._ _Exactly,_ she says, heading for the bedroom to collect her clothes. _But I want to know you,_ Toby says, setting down the guitar and trailing her through the apartment, and this is the moment when none of it feels fair, the only time she feels the wave of frustration threatening to break. Because she has spent weeks getting to know him. And he has spent hours forgetting her. _Slow down._ She hates this part. She shouldn_t have lingered. Should have been out of sight as well as out of mind, but there_s always that nagging hope that this time, it will be different, that this time, they will remember. I remember, says the darkness in her ear. She shakes her head, forcing the voice away. _Where_s the rush?_ asks Toby. _At least let me make you breakfast._ But she_s too tired to play the game again so soon, and so she lies instead, says there_s something she has to do, and doesn_t let herself stop moving, because if she does, she knows she won_t have the strength to start again, and the cycle will spin on, the affair beginning in the morning instead of at night. But it won_t be any easier when it ends, and if she has to start over, she_d rather be a meet-cute at a bar than the unremembered aftermath of a one-night stand. It won_t matter, in a moment, anyways. _Jess, wait,_ Toby says, catching her hand. He fumbles for the right words, and then gives up, starts again. _I have a gig tonight, at the Alloway. You should come. It_s over on . . ._ She knows where it is, of course. That is where they met for the first time, and the fifth, and the ninth. And when she agrees to come, his smile is dazzling. It always is. _Promise?_ he asks. _Promise._ _I_ll see you there,_ he says, the words full of hope as she turns and steps through the door. She looks back, and says, _Don_t forget me in the meantime._ An old habit. A superstition. A plea. Toby shakes his head. _How could I?_ She smiles, as if it_s just a joke. But Addie knows, as she forces herself down the stairs, that it_s already happening_knows that by the time he closes the door, she_ll be gone. II M arch is such a fickle month. It is the seam between winter and spring_though seam suggests an even hem, and March is more like a rough line of stitches sewn by an unsteady hand, swinging wildly between January gusts and June greens. You don_t know what you_ll find, until you step outside. Estele used to call these the restless days, when the warmer-blooded gods began to stir, and the cold ones began to settle. When dreamers were most prone to bad ideas, and wanderers were likely to get lost. Addie has always been predisposed to both. It makes sense then, that she was born on the 10th of March, right along the ragged seam, though it has been so long since Addie felt like celebrating. For twenty-three years, she dreaded the marker of time, what it meant: that she was growing up, growing old. And then, for centuries, a birthday was a rather useless thing, far less important than the night she signed away her soul. That date a death, and a rebirth, rolled into one. Still, it is her birthday, and a birthday deserves a gift. She pauses in front of a boutique, her reflection ghosted in the glass. In the broad window, a mannequin poses mid-stride, its head tilted ever so slightly to one side, as if listening to some private song. Its long torso is wrapped in a broad-striped sweater, a pair of oil-slick leggings vanishing into knee-high boots. One hand up, fingers hooked in the collar of the jacket that hangs over one shoulder. As Addie studies the mannequin, she finds herself mimicking the pose, shifting her stance, tilting her head. And maybe it_s the day, or the promise of spring in the air, or maybe she_s simply in the mood for something new. Inside, the boutique smells of unlit candles and unworn clothes, and Addie runs her fingers over cotton and silk before finding the striped knit sweater, which turns out to be cashmere. She throws it over one arm, along with the featured leggings. She knows her sizes. They haven_t changed. _Hi there!_ The cheerful clerk is a girl in her early twenties, like Addie herself, though one is real and aging and the other is an image trapped in amber. _Can I get a room started for you?_ _Oh, that_s okay,_ she says, plucking a pair of boots from a display. _I_ve got everything I need._ She follows the girl to the three curtained stalls at the rear of the shop. _Just give me a shout if I can help,_ says the girl, turning away before the curtain swings shut, and Addie is alone with a pillowed bench, and a full-length mirror, and herself. She kicks off her boots, and shrugs out of her jacket, tossing it onto the seat. Change rattles in the pocket as it lands, and something tumbles out. It hits the floor with a dull clack and rolls across the narrow changing room, stopping only when it meets the baseboard. It is a ring. A small circle carved of ash-gray wood. A familiar band, once loved, now loathsome. Addie stares at the thing a moment. Her fingers twitch, traitorous, but she doesn_t reach for the ring, doesn_t pick it up, just turns her back on the small wooden circle and continues undressing. She pulls on the sweater, shimmies into the leggings, zips up the boots. The mannequin was thinner, taller, but Addie likes the way the outfit hangs on her, the warmth of the cashmere, the weight of the leggings, the soft embrace of the lining in the boots. She plucks the price tags off one by one, ignoring the zeroes. Joyeux anniversaire, she thinks, meeting her reflection. Inclining her head, as if she too hears some private song. The picture of a modern Manhattan woman, even if the face in the mirror is the same one she_s had for centuries. Addie leaves her old clothes strewn like a shadow across the dressing room floor. The ring, a scorned child in the corner. The only thing she reclaims is the discarded jacket. It_s soft, made of black leather and worn practically to silk, the kind of thing people pay a fortune for these days and call it vintage. It is the only thing Addie refused to leave behind and feed to the flames in New Orleans, though the smell of him clung to it like smoke, his stain forever on everything. She does not care. She loves the jacket. It was new then, but it is broken in now, shows its wear in all the ways she can_t. It reminds her of Dorian Gray, time reflected in cowhide instead of human skin. Addie steps out of the little curtained booth. Across the boutique, the clerk startles, flustered at the sight of her. _Everything fit?_ she asks, too polite to admit she doesn_t remember letting someone into the back. God bless customer service. Addie shakes her head ruefully. _Some days you_re stuck with what you_ve got,_ she says, heading for the door. By the time the clerk finds the clothes, a ghost of a girl on the changing room floor, she won_t remember whose they are, and Addie will be gone, from sight and mind and memory. She tosses the jacket over her shoulder, one finger hooked in the collar, and steps out into the sun. III VILLON-SUR-SARTHE, FRANCE, Summer 1698 A deline sits on a bench beside her father. Her father, who is, to her, a mystery, a solemn giant most at home inside his workshop. Beneath their feet, a pile of woodwares make shapes like small bodies under a blanket, and the cart wheels rattle as Maxime, the sturdy mare, draws them down the lane, away from home. Away_away_a word that makes her small heart race. Adeline is seven, the same as the number of freckles on her face. She is bright and small and quick as a sparrow, and has begged for months to go with him to market. Begged until her mother swore she would go mad, until her father finally said yes. He is a woodworker, her father, and three times a year, he makes the trip along the Sarthe, up to the city of Le Mans. And today, she is with him. Today, for the first time, Adeline is leaving Villon. She looks back at her mother, arms crossed beside the old yew tree at the end of the lane, and then they round the bend, and her mother is gone. The village rolls past, here the houses and there the fields, here the church and there the trees, here Monsieur Berger turning soil and there Madame Therault hanging clothes, her daughter Isabelle sitting in the grass nearby, twining flowers into crowns, her tongue between her teeth in concentration. When Adeline told the girl about her trip, Isabelle had only shrugged, and said, _I like it here._ As if you couldn_t like one place and want to see another. Now she looks up at Adeline, and waves as the cart goes by. They reach the edge of the village, the farthest she has ever gone before, and the cart hits a divot in the road, and shakes as if it too has crossed a threshold. Adeline holds her breath, expecting to feel some rope draw tight inside her, binding her to the town. But there is no tether, no lurch. The cart keeps moving, and Adeline feels a little wild and a little scared as she turns back to look at the shrinking picture of Villon, which was, until now, the sum of her world, and is now only a part, made smaller with the mare_s every step, until the town seems like one of her father_s figurines, small enough to nest within one calloused palm. It is a day_s ride to Le Mans, the trek made easy with her mother_s basket and her father_s company_one_s bread and cheese to fill her belly, and the other_s easy laugh, and broad shoulders making shade for Adeline beneath the summer sun. At home he is a quiet man, committed to his work, but on the road he begins to open, to unfold, to speak. And when he speaks, it is to tell her stories. Those stories he gathered, the way one gathers wood. _Il ?tait une fois,_ he will say, before sliding into stories of palaces and kings, of gold and glamour, of masquerade balls and cities full of splendor. Once upon a time. This is how the story starts. She will not remember the stories themselves, but she will recall the way he tells them; the words feel smooth as river stones, and she wonders if he tells these stories when he is alone, if he carries on, talking to Maxime in this easy, gentle way. Wonders if he tells stories to the wood as he is working it. Or if they are just for her. Adeline wishes she could write them down. Later, her father will teach her letters. Her mother will have a fit when she finds out, and accuse him of giving her another way to idle, waste the hours of the day, but Adeline will steal away into his workshop nonetheless, and he will let her sit and practice writing her own name in the fine dust that always seems to coat the workshop floor. But today, she can only listen. The countryside rolls past around them, a jostling portrait of a world she already knows. The fields are fields, just like her own, the trees arranged in roughly the same order, and when they do come upon a village, it is a watery reflection of Villon, and Adeline begins to wonder if the world outside is as boring as her own. And then, the walls of Le Mans come into sight. Stone ridges rising in the distance, a many-patterned spine along the hills. It is a hundred times the size of Villon_or at least, it is that grand in memory_and Adeline holds her breath as they pass through the gates and into the protected city. Beyond, a maze of crowded streets. Her father guides the cart between houses squeezed tight as stones, until the narrow road opens onto a square. There is a square back in Villon, of course, but it is little bigger than their yard. This is a giant_s space, the ground lost beneath so many feet, and carts, and stalls. And as her father guides Maxime to a stop, Adeline stands on the bench and marvels at the marketplace, the heady smell of bread and sugar on the air, and people, people, everywhere she looks. She has never seen so many of them, let alone ones she does not know. They are a sea of strangers, unfamiliar faces in unfamiliar clothes, with unfamiliar voices, calling unfamiliar words. It feels as if the doors of her world have been thrown wide, so many rooms added to a house she thought she knew. Her father leans against the cart, and talks to anyone who passes by, and all the while his hands move over a block of wood, a small knife nested in one palm. He shaves at the surface with all the steady ease of someone peeling an apple, ribbons falling between his fingers. Adeline has always loved to watch him work, to see the figures take shape, as if they were there all along, but hidden, like pits in the center of a peach. Her father_s work is beautiful, the wood smooth where his hands are rough, delicate where he is large. And mixed among the bowls and cups, tucked between the tools of his trade, are toys for sale, and wooden figures as small as rolls of bread_a horse, a boy, a house, a bird. Adeline grew up surrounded by such trinkets, but her favorite is neither animal nor man. It is a ring. She wears it on a leather cord around her neck, a delicate band, the wood ash gray, and smooth as polished stone. He carved it when she was born, made for the girl she_d one day be, and Adeline wears it like a talisman, an amulet, a key. Her hand goes to it now and then, thumb running over the surface the way her mother_s runs over a rosary. She clings to it now, an anchor in the storm, as she perches on the back of the cart, and watches everything. From this angle she is almost tall enough to see the buildings beyond. She stretches up onto her toes, wondering how far they go, until a nearby horse jostles their cart as it goes past, and she nearly falls. Her father_s hand closes around her arm, pulling her back into the safety of his reach. By the end of the day, the wooden wares are gone, and Adeline_s father gives her a copper sol and says she may buy anything she likes. She goes from stall to stall, eying the pastries and the cakes, the hats and the dresses and the dolls, but in the end, she settles on a journal, parchment bound with waxy thread. It is the blankness of the paper that excites her, the idea that she might fill the space with anything she likes. She could not afford the pencils to go with it, but her father uses a second coin to buy a bundle of small black sticks, and explains that these are charcoal, shows her how to press the darkened chalk to the paper, smudge the line to turn hard edges into shadow. With a few quick strokes, he draws a bird in the corner of the page, and she spends the next hour copying the lines, far more interesting than the letters he_s written beneath. Her father packs up the cart as the day gives way to dusk. They will stay the night in a local inn, and for the first time in her life, Adeline will sleep in a foreign bed, and wake to foreign sounds and smells, and there will be a moment, as brief as a yawn, when she won_t know where she is, and her heart will quicken_first with fear, and then with something else. Something she does not have the words for yet. And by the time they return home to Villon, she will already be a different version of herself. A room with the windows all thrown wide, eager to let in the fresh air, the sunlight, the spring. IV VILLON-SUR-SARTHE, FRANCE, Fall 1703 I t is a Catholic place, Villon. Certainly the part that shows. There is a church in the center of town, a solemn stone thing where everyone goes to save their souls. Adeline_s mother and father kneel there twice a week, cross themselves and say their blessings and speak of God. Adeline is twelve now, so she does, too. But she prays the way her father turns loaves of bread upright, the way her mother licks her thumb to collect stray flakes of salt. As a matter of habit, more automatic than faith. The church in town isn_t new, and neither is God, but Adeline has come to think of Him that way, thanks to Estele, who says the greatest danger in change is letting the new replace the old. Estele, who belongs to everyone, and no one, and herself. Estele, who grew like a tree at the heart of the village by the river, and has certainly never been young, who sprang up from the ground itself with gnarled hands and woody skin and roots deep enough to tap into her own hidden well. Estele, who believes that the new God is a filigreed thing. She thinks that He belongs to cities and kings, and that He sits over Paris on a golden pillow, and has no time for peasants, no place among the wood and stone and river water. Adeline_s father thinks Estele is mad. Her mother says that the woman is bound for Hell, and once, when Adeline repeated as much, Estele laughed her dry-leaf laugh and said there was no such place, only the cool dark soil and the promise of sleep. _And what of Heaven?_ asked Adeline. _Heaven is a nice spot in the shade, a broad tree over my bones._ At twelve, Adeline wonders which god she should pray to now, to make her father change his mind. He has loaded up his cart with wares bound for Le Mans, has harnessed Maxime, but for the first time in six years, she is not going with him. He has promised to bring her a fresh pad of parchment, new tools with which to sketch. But they both know she would rather go and have no gifts, would rather see the world outside than have another pad to draw on. She is running out of subjects, has memorized the tired lines of the village, and all the familiar faces in it. But this year, her mother has decided that it isn_t right for her to go to market, it isn_t fitting, even though Adeline knows she can still fit on that wooden bench beside her father. Her mother wishes she was more like Isabelle Therault, sweet and kind and utterly incurious, content to keep her eyes down upon her knitting instead of looking up at clouds, instead of wondering what_s around the bend, over the hills. But Adeline does not know how to be like Isabelle. She does not want to be like Isabelle. She wants only to go to Le Mans, and once there, to watch the people and see the art all around, and taste the food, and discover things she hasn_t heard of yet. _Please,_ she says, as her father climbs up into the cart. She should have stowed away among the woodworks, hidden safe beneath the tarp. But now it is too late, and when Adeline reaches for the wheel, her mother catches her by the wrist and pulls her back. _Enough,_ she says. Her father looks at them, and then away. The cart sets out, and when Adeline tries to tear free and run after the cart, her mother_s hand flashes out again, this time finding her cheek. Tears spring to her eyes, a vivid blush before the rising bruise, and her mother_s voice when it lands is a second blow. _You are not a child anymore._ And Adeline understands_and still does not understand at all_feels as if she_s being punished for simply growing up. She is so angry then that she wants to run away. Wants to fling her mother_s needlework into the hearth and break every half-made sculpture in her father_s shop. Instead, she watches the cart round the bend, and vanish between trees, with one hand clenched around her father_s ring. Adeline waits for her mother to let her go, and send her on to do her chores. And then she goes to find Estele. Estele, who still worships the old gods. Adeline must have been five or six the first time she saw the woman drop her stone cup into the river. It was a pretty thing, with a pattern pressed like lace into its sides, and the old woman just let it fall, admiring the splash. Her eyes were closed, and her lips were moving, and when Adeline ambushed the old woman_she was already old, has always been old_on the path home, Estele said she was praying to the gods. _What for?_ _Marie_s child isn_t coming as it should,_ she said. _I asked the river gods to make things flow smooth. They are good at that._ _But why did you give them your cup?_ _Because, Addie, the gods are greedy._ Addie. A pet name, one her mother scorned as boyish. A name her father favored, but only when they were alone. A name that rang like a bell in her bones. A name that suited her far more than Adeline. Now, she finds Estele in her garden, folded in among the wild vines of squash, the thorny spine of a blackberry bush, bent low as a warping branch. _Addie._ The old woman says her name without looking up. It is autumn, and the ground is littered with the stones of fruit that didn_t ripen as it should. Addie nudges them with the toe of her shoe. _How do you talk to them?_ she asks. _The old gods. Do you call them by name?_ Estele straightens, joints cracking like dry sticks. If she_s surprised by the question, it doesn_t show. _They have no names._ _Is there a spell?_ Estele gives her a pointed look. _Spells are for witches, and witches are too often burned._ _Then how do you pray?_ _With gifts, and praise, and even then, the old gods are fickle. They are not bound to answer._ _What do you do then?_ _You carry on._ She chews on the inside of her cheek. _How many gods are there, Estele?_ _As many gods as you have questions,_ answers the old woman, but there is no scorn in her voice, and Addie knows to wait her out, to hold her breath until she sees the telltale sign of Estele_s softening. It is like waiting at a neighbor_s door after you_ve knocked, when you know they are home. She can hear the steps, the low rasp of the lock, and knows that it will give. Estele sighs open. _The old gods are everywhere,_ she says. _They swim in the river, and grow in the field, and sing in the woods. They are in the sunlight on the wheat, and under the saplings in spring, and in the vines that grow up the side of that stone church. They gather at the edges of the day, at dawn, and at dusk._ Adeline_s eyes narrow. _Will you teach me? How to call on them?_ The old woman sighs, knowing that Adeline LaRue is not only clever, but also stubborn. She begins wading through the garden to the house, and the girl follows, afraid that if Estele reaches her front door before she answers, she might close it on this conversation. But Estele looks back, eyes keen in her wrinkled face. _There are rules._ Adeline hates rules, but she knows that sometimes they are necessary. _Like what?_ _You must humble yourself before them. You must offer them a gift. Something precious to you. And you must be careful what you ask for._ Adeline considers. _Is that all?_ Estele_s face darkens. _The old gods may be great, but they are neither kind nor merciful. They are fickle, unsteady as moonlight on water, or shadows in a storm. If you insist on calling them, take heed: be careful what you ask for, be willing to pay the price._ She leans over Adeline, casting her in shadow. _And no matter how desperate or dire, never pray to the gods that answer after dark._ Two days later, when Adeline_s father returns, he comes bearing a fresh pad of parchment, and a bundle of black lead pencils, bound with string, and the first thing she does is pick the best one, and sink it down into the ground behind their garden, and pray that next time her father leaves, she will be with him. But if the gods hear, they do not answer. She never goes to market again. V VILLON-SUR-SARTHE, FRANCE, Spring 1707 B link, and the years fall away like leaves. Adeline is sixteen now, and everyone speaks of her as if she is a summer bloom, something to be plucked, and propped within a vase, intended only to flower and then to rot. Like Isabelle, who dreams of family instead of freedom, and seems content to briefly blossom and then wither. No, Adeline has decided she would rather be a tree, like Estele. If she must grow roots, she would rather be left to flourish wild instead of pruned, would rather stand alone, allowed to grow beneath the open sky. Better that than firewood, cut down just to burn in someone else_s hearth. She hefts the laundry on her hip and crests the rise, making her way down the weedy slope to the river. When she reaches the banks, she turns the basket out, dumping the soiled clothes into the grass, and there, tucked like a secret between the skirts and aprons and undergarments, is the sketchbook. Not the first_she has gathered them year after year, careful to fill every inch of space, to make the most of each blank page. But every one is like a taper burning on a moonless night, always running out too fast. It does not help that she keeps giving bits away. She kicks off her shoes and slumps back against the slope, her skirts pooling beneath her. She runs her fingers through the weedy grass and finds the fraying edge of the paper, one of her favorite drawings, folded into a square and driven down into the bank last week, just after dawn. A token, buried like a seed, or a promise. An offering. Adeline still prays to the new God, when she must, but when her parents are not looking she prays to the old ones, too. She can do both: keep one tucked in her cheek like a cherry pit while she whispers to the other. So far, none of them have answered. And yet, Adeline is sure that they are listening. When George Caron began to look at her a certain way last spring, she prayed for him to turn his gaze, and he began to notice Isabelle instead. Isabelle has since become his wife, and is now ripe with her first child, and worn with all the torments that come with it. When Arnaud Tulle made his intentions clear last fall, Adeline prayed that he would find another girl. He did not, but that winter he took ill and died, and Adeline felt terrible for her relief, even as she fed more trinkets to the stream. She has prayed, and someone must have heard, for she is still free. Free from courtship, free from marriage, free from everything except Villon. Left alone to grow. And dream. Adeline sits back on the slope, the sketchpad balanced on her knees. She pulls the drawstring pouch from her pocket, bits of charcoal and a few worn-down precious pencils rattling like coins on market day. She used to bind a bit of cloth around the stems to keep her fingers clean, until her father fashioned narrow bands of wood around the blackened sticks, and showed her how to hold the little knife, how to shave away the edges, and trim the casing into points. And now the images are sharper, the edges contoured, the details fine. The pictures bloom like stains across the paper, landscapes of Villon, and everyone in it, too_the lines of her mother_s hair and her father_s eyes and Estele_s hands, and then there, tucked into the seams and edges of each page_ Adeline_s secret. Her stranger. Every bit of unused space she fills with him, a face drawn so often that the gestures now feel effortless, the lines unfurling on their own. She can conjure him from memory, even though they have never met. He is, after all, only a figment of her mind. A companion crafted first from boredom, and then from longing. A dream, to keep her company. She doesn_t remember when it started, only that one day she cast her gaze about the village and found every prospect wanting. Arnaud_s eyes were pleasant, but he had no chin. Jacques was tall, but dull as dirt. George was strong, but his hands were rough, his moods rougher still. And so she stole the pieces she found pleasant, and assembled someone new. A stranger. It began as a game_but the more Adeline draws him, the stronger the lines, the more confident the press of her charcoal. Black curls. Pale eyes. Strong jaw. Sloping shoulders and a cupid_s bow mouth. A man she_d never meet, a life she_d never know, a world she could only dream of. When she is restless, she returns to the drawings, tracing over the now familiar lines. And when she cannot sleep, she thinks of him. Not the angle of his cheek, or the shade of green she has conjured for his eyes, but his voice, his touch. She lies awake and imagines him beside her, his long fingers tracing absent patterns on her skin. As he does, he tells her stories. Not the kind her father used to tell, of knights and kingdoms, princesses and thieves. Not fairy tales and warnings of venturing outside the lines, but stories that feel like truths, renditions of the road, cities that sparkle, of the world beyond Villon. And even though the words she puts in his mouth are surely full of errors and lies, her stranger_s conjured voice makes them sound so wonderful, so real. If only you could see it, he says. I would give anything, she answers. One day, he promises. One day, I_ll show you. You_ll see it all. The words ache, even as she thinks them, the game giving way to want, a thing too genuine, too dangerous. And so, even in her imagination, she guides the conversation back to safer roads. Tell me about tigers, Adeline says, having heard of the massive cats from Estele, who heard of them from the mason, who was part of a caravan that included a woman who claimed to have seen one. Her stranger smiles, and gestures with his tapered fingers, and tells her of their silken fur, their teeth, their furious roars. On the slope, the laundry forgotten beside her, Adeline turns her wooden ring absently with one hand as she draws with the other, sketching out his eyes, his mouth, the line of his bare shoulders. She breathes life into him with every line. And with every stroke, coaxes out another story. Tell me about dancing in Paris. Tell me about sailing across the sea. Tell me everything. There was no danger in it, no reproach, not when she was young. All girls are prone to dreaming. She will grow out of it, her parents say_but instead, Adeline feels herself growing in, holding tighter to the stubborn hope of something more. The world should be getting larger. Instead, she feels it shrinking, tightening like chains around her limbs as the flat lines of her own body begin to curve out against it, and suddenly the charcoal beneath her nails is unbecoming, as is the idea that she would choose her own company over Arnaud_s or George_s, or any man who might have her. She is at odds with everything, she does not fit, an insult to her sex, a stubborn child in a woman_s form, her head bowed and arms wrapped tight around her drawing pad as if it were a door. And when she does look up, her gaze always goes to the edge of town. _A dreamer,_ scorns her mother. _A dreamer,_ mourns her father. _A dreamer,_ warns Estele. Still, it does not seem such a bad word. Until Adeline wakes up. VI NEW YORK CITY, March 10, 2014 T here is a rhythm to moving through the world alone. You discover what you can and cannot live without, the simple necessities and small joys that define a life. Not food, not shelter, not the basic things a body needs_those are, for her, a luxury_but the things that keep you sane. That bring you joy. That make life bearable. Addie thinks of her father and his carvings, the way he peeled away the bark, whittled down the wood beneath to find the shapes that lived inside. Michelangelo called it the angel in the marble_though she_d not known that as a child. Her father had called it the secret in the wood. He knew how to reduce a thing, sliver by sliver, piece by piece, until he found its essence; knew, too, when he_d gone too far. One stroke too many, and the wood went from delicate to brittle in his hands. Addie has had three hundred years to practice her father_s art, to whittle herself down to a few essential truths, to learn the things she cannot do without. And this is what she_s settled on: she can go without food (she will not wither). She can go without heat (the cold will not kill her). But a life without art, without wonder, without beautiful things_she would go mad. She has gone mad. What she needs are stories. Stories are a way to preserve one_s self. To be remembered. And to forget. Stories come in so many forms: in charcoal, and in song, in paintings, poems, films. And books. Books, she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives_or to find strength in a very long one. Two blocks up Flatbush, she sees the familiar green folding table on the sidewalk, covered in paperbacks, and Fred hunched in his rickety chair behind it, red nose buried in M is for Malice. The old man explained to her once, back when he was on K is for Killer, how he was determined to get through Grafton_s entire alphabet series before he dies. She hopes he makes it. He has a nagging cough, and sitting out here in the cold doesn_t help, but here he is, whenever Addie comes by. Fred doesn_t smile, or make small talk. What Addie knows of him she has pried out word by word over the last two years, the progress slow and halting. She knows he is a widower who lives upstairs, knows the books belonged to his wife, Candace, knows that when she died, he packed up all her books and brought them down to sell, and it_s like letting her go in pieces. Selling off his grief. Addie knows that he sits down here because he_s afraid of dying in his apartment, of not being found_not being missed. _I keel over out here,_ he says, _at least someone will notice._ He is a gruff old man, but Addie likes him. Sees the sadness in his anger, the guardedness of grief. Addie suspects he doesn_t really want the books to sell. He doesn_t price them, hasn_t read more than a few, and sometimes his mood is so coarse, his tone so cold, he actually scares the customers away. Still, they come, and still, they buy, but every time the selection seems to thin a new box appears, the contents are unpacked to fill the gaps, and in the last few weeks, Addie has once more begun to spot new releases among the old, fresh covers and unbroken spines in with the battered paperbacks. She wonders if he is buying them, or if other people have begun donating to his strange collection. Addie slows, now, her fingers dancing over the spines. The selection is always a medley of discordant notes. Thrillers, biographies, romance, battered mass markets, mostly, interrupted by a few glossy hardcovers. She has stopped to study them a hundred times, but today she simply tips the book on the end into her hand, the gesture light and swift as a magician_s. A piece of legerdemain. Practice long given way to perfect. Addie tucks the book under her arm and keeps walking. The old man never looks up. VII NEW YORK CITY, March 10, 2014 T he market sits like a cluster of old wives at the edge of the park. Long thin from winter, the number of white-capped stalls is finally beginning to swell again, drops of color dotting the square where new produce springs up between the root vegetables, meat and bread, and other staples resistant to the cold. Addie weaves between the people, heading to the little white tent nestled by the front gates of Prospect. Rise and Shine is a coffee and pastry stall run by a pair of sisters that remind Addie of Estele, if the old woman had been two instead of one, divided along the lines of temper. If she had been kinder, softer, or perhaps if she had simply lived another life, another time. The sisters are here year-round, come snow or sun, a small constant in an ever-changing city. _Hey, sugar,_ says Mel, all broad shoulders, and wild curls, and the kind of sweetness that makes strangers feel like family. Addie loves that, the easy warmth, wants to nestle into it like a well-worn sweater. _What can we get for you?_ asks Maggie, older, leaner, laugh lines around her eyes belying the idea she rarely smiles. Addie orders a large coffee and two muffins, one blueberry and the other chocolate chip, and then hands over a crumpled ten that she_d found on Toby_s coffee table. She could steal something from the market, of course, but she likes this little stand, and the two women who run it. _Got a dime?_ asks Maggie. Addie digs the change from her pocket, coming up with a few quarters, a nickel_and there it is again, warm among the cold metal coins. Her fingers graze the wooden ring and she clenches her teeth at the feel of it. Like a nagging thought, impossible to shed. Sifting through the coins, Addie is careful not to touch the wooden band again as she searches her change, resists the urge to fling the ring into the weeds, knows it will not make a difference if she does. It will always find its way back. The darkness whispers in her ear, arms wrapped like a scarf around her throat. I am always with you. Addie plucks out a dime and pockets the rest. Maggie hands back four dollars. _Where you from, doll?_ asks Mel, noticing the faintest edge of an accent in the corners of Addie_s voice, reduced these days to the vanishing end of an s, the slight softening of a t. It has been so long, and yet, she cannot seem to let it go. _Here and there,_ she says, _but I was born in France._ _Oh la la,_ says Mel in her flat Brooklyn drawl. _Here you go, sunshine,_ says Maggie, passing her a bag of pastries and a tall cup. Addie curls her fingers around the paper, relishing the heat on her cold palms. The coffee is strong, and dark, and when she takes a sip, she feels the warmth all the way down, and she is back in Paris again, in Istanbul, in Naples. A mouthful of memory. She starts toward the park gates. _Au revoir!_ calls Mel, landing hard on every letter, and Addie smiles into the steam. The air is crisp inside the park. The sun is out, fighting for warmth, but the shade still belongs to winter, so Addie follows the light, sinking onto a grassy slope beneath the cloudless sky. She sits the blueberry muffin on top of the paper bag, and sips her coffee, examining the book she borrowed from Fred_s table. She hadn_t bothered to look at what she was taking, but now her heart sinks a little at the sight of the paperback, the cover soft with wear, the title in German. Kinder und Hausm?rchen it reads, by Br?der Grimm. Grimm_s Fairy Tales. Her German is rusty, kept in the back of her mind, in a corner she hasn_t used much since the war. Now she dusts it off, knows that beneath the layer of grime she will find the space intact, undisturbed. The boon of memory. She turns through the fragile old pages, eyes tripping over the words. Once upon a time, she loved this kind of story. When she was still a child, and the world was small, and she dreamed of open doors. But Addie knows too well now, knows that these stories are full of foolish humans doing foolish things, warning tales of gods and monsters and greedy mortals who want too much, and then fail to understand what they_ve lost. Until the price is paid, and it_s too late to claim it back. A voice rises like smoke inside her chest. Never pray to the gods who answer after dark. Addie tosses the book aside and slumps back into the grass, closing her eyes as she tries to savor the sun. VIII VILLON-SUR-SARTHE, FRANCE, July 29, 1714 A deline had wanted to be a tree. To grow wild and deep, belong to no one but the ground beneath her feet, and the sky above, just like Estele. It would be an unconventional life, and perhaps a little lonely, but at least it would be hers. She would belong to no one but herself. But here is the danger of a place like Villon. Blink_and a year is gone. Blink_and five more follow. It is like a gap between stones, this village, just wide enough for things to get lost. The kind of place where time slips and blurs, where a month, a year, a life can go missing. Where everyone is born and buried in the same ten-meter plot. Adeline was going to be a tree. But then came Roger, and his wife, Pauline. Grown up together, and then married, and then gone, in the time it took for her to lace up a pair of boots. A hard pregnancy, a ruinous birth, two deaths instead of one new life. Three small children left behind, where there should have been four. The earth still fresh over a grave, and Roger looking for another wife, a mother for his children, a second life at the cost of Adeline_s one and only. Of course, she said no. Adeline is three and twenty, already too old to wed. Three and twenty, a third of a life already buried. Three and twenty_and then gifted like a prize sow to a man she does not love, or want, or even know. She said no, and learned how much the word was worth. Learned that, like Estele, she had promised herself to the village, and the village had a need. Her mother said it was duty. Her father said it was mercy, though Adeline doesn_t know for whom. Estele said nothing, because she knew it wasn_t fair. Knew this was the risk of being a woman, of giving yourself to a place, instead of a person. Adeline was going to be a tree, and instead, people have come brandishing an ax. They have given her away. She lies awake the night before the wedding, and thinks of freedom. Of fleeing. Of stealing away on her father_s horse, even as she knows the thought is madness. She feels mad enough to do it. Instead, she prays. She has been praying, of course, since the day of her betrothal, given half her possessions to the river and buried the other half in the field or at the slope of dirt and brush where the village meets the woods, and now she is almost out of time, and out of tokens. She lies there in the dark, twists the old wooden ring on its leather cord, and considers going out and praying again now, in the dead of night, but Adeline remembers Estele_s fearsome warning about the ones who might answer. So instead, she clenches her hands together and prays to her mother_s God instead. Prays for help, for a miracle, for a way out. And then in the darkest part of night, she prays for Roger_s death_anything for her escape. She feels guilty at once, sucks it back into her chest like an expelled breath, and waits. * * * Day breaks like an egg yolk, spilling yellow light across the field. Adeline slips out of the house before dawn, having never slept at all. Now she winds her way through the wild grass beyond the vegetable garden, skirts wicking up the dew. She lets herself sink with the weight of them, her favorite drawing pencil clutched in one hand. Adeline does not want to give it up, but she is running out of time and out of tokens. She presses the pencil point down into the damp soil of the field. _Help me,_ she whispers to the grass, its edges limned with light. _I know you are there. I know you are listening. Please. Please._ But the grass is only grass, and the wind is only wind, and neither answers, even when she presses her forehead to the ground and sobs. There is nothing wrong with Roger. But there is nothing right, either. His skin is waxy, his blond hair thinning, his voice like a wisp of wind. When his hand lays itself upon her arm, the grip is weak, and when he inclines his head toward hers, his breath is stale. And Adeline? She is a vegetable left too long in the garden, its skin gone stiff, its insides woody, gone to ground by choice, only to be dug up and made into a meal. _I do not want to marry him,_ she says, fingers tangled in the weedy earth. _Adeline!_ calls her mother, as if she is one of the livestock, gone astray. She drags herself up, empty with anger and grief, and when she goes inside her mother sees only the dirt caking her hands, and orders her daughter to the basin. Adeline scrubs the soil from beneath her nails, bristles biting her fingers as her mother scolds. _What will your husband think?_ Husband. A word like a millstone, all weight and no warmth. Her mother tuts. _You will not be so restless once you have children to tend._ Adeline thinks again of Isabelle, two small boys clinging to her skirts, a third in a basket by the hearth. They used to dream together, but she has aged ten years in two, it seems. She is always tired, and there are hollows in her face where once her cheeks were red from laughter. _It will be good for you,_ says her mother, _to be somebody_s wife._ * * * The day passes like a sentence. The sun falls like a scythe. Adeline can almost hear the whistle of the blade as her mother braids her hair into a crown, weaves flowers in the place of jewels. Her dress is simple and light, but it might as well be made of mail for how it weighs on her. She wants to scream. Instead, she reaches up and grips the wooden ring around her neck, as if for balance. _You must take that off before the ceremony,_ instructs her mother, and Adeline nods, even as her fingers tighten around it. Her father comes in from the barn, dusted with wood shavings and smelling of sap. He coughs, a faint rattle, like loose seeds, inside his chest. It has been there for a year, that cough, but he will not let them talk of it. _You are almost ready?_ he asks. What a foolish question. Her mother talks about the wedding dinner as if it has already come and gone. Adeline looks out the window at the sinking sun, and doesn_t listen to the words, but she can hear the light in her mother_s voice, the vindication in it. Even in her father_s eyes, there is a measure of relief. Their daughter tried to carve her own road, but now things are being set right, a wayward life dragged back on course, propelled down its proper path. The house is too warm, the air heavy and still, and Adeline cannot breathe. Finally the church bell tolls, the same low tone it calls at funerals, and she forces herself to her feet. Her father touches her arm. His face is sorry, but his grip is firm. _You will come to love your husband,_ he says, but the words are clearly more wish than promise. _You will be a good wife,_ says her mother, and hers are more command than wish. And then Estele appears in the doorway, dressed as if she is in mourning. And why shouldn_t she be? This woman who taught her of wild dreams and willful gods, who filled Adeline_s head with thoughts of freedom, blew on the embers of hope and let her believe a life could be her own. The light has gone watery and thin behind Estele_s gray head. There is still time, Adeline tells herself, but it is fleeting, faster now with every breath. Time_how often has she heard it described as sand within a glass, steady, constant. But that is a lie, because she can feel it quicken, crashing toward her. Panic beats a drum inside her chest, and outside, the path is a single dark line, stretched straight and narrow toward the village square. On the other side, the church stands waiting, pale and stiff as a tombstone, and she knows that if she walks in, she will not come out. Her future will rush by the same as her past, only worse, because there will be no freedom, only a marriage bed and a deathbed and perhaps a childbed between, and when she dies it will be as though she never lived. There will be no Paris. No green-eyed lover. No trips on boats to faraway lands. No foreign skies. No life beyond this village. No life at all, unless_ Adeline pulls free of her father_s grip, drags to a stop on the path. Her mother turns to look at her, as if she might run, which is exactly what she wants to do, but knows she can_t. _I made a gift for my husband,_ says Adeline, mind spinning. _I_ve left it in the house._ Her mother softens, approving. Her father stiffens, suspicious. Estele_s eyes narrow, knowing. _I_ll just fetch it,_ she continues, already turning back. _I_ll go with you,_ says her father, and her heart lurches and her fingers twitch, but it is Estele who reaches out to stop him. _Jean,_ she says in that sly way, _Adeline cannot be your daughter and his wife. She is a woman grown, not a child to be minded._ He finds his daughter_s eyes, and says, _Be quick._ Adeline has already taken flight. Back up the path, and past the door, into the house, and through, to the other side, to the open window, and the field, and the distant line of trees. The woods standing sentinel at the eastern edge of the village, opposite the sun. The woods, already cloaked in shadow, though she knows there is still light, still time. _Adeline?_ calls her father, but she doesn_t look back. Instead, she climbs through the window, wood snagging on the wedding dress as she stumbles out, and runs. _Adeline? Adeline!_ The voices call out after her, but they stretch thinner with every step, and soon she is across the field, and into the woods, breaking the line of trees as she sinks to her knees in the dense summer dirt. She clutches the wooden ring, feels the loss of it even before she tugs the leather cord over her head. Adeline does not want to sacrifice it, but she has used up all her tokens, given every gift she could spare back to the earth, and none of the gods have answered. Now this is all she has left, and the light is thin, and the village is calling, and she is desperate to escape. _Please,_ she whispers, her voice breaking over the word as she plunges the band down into the mossy earth. _I will do anything._ The trees murmur overhead, and then go still, as if they too are waiting, and Adeline prays, to every god in the Villon woods, to anyone and anything who will listen. This cannot be her life. This cannot be all there is. _Answer me,_ she pleads as the damp seeps into her wedding dress. She squeezes her eyes shut, and strains to hear, but the only sound is her own voice on the wind and her name, echoing in her ears like a heartbeat. _Adeline . . ._ _Adeline . . ._ _Adeline . . ._ She bows her head against the soil and grips the dark earth and screams, _Answer me!_ The silence is mocking. She has lived here all her life and never heard the woods this quiet. Cold settles over her, and she doesn_t know if it_s coming from the forest or from her own bones, giving up the last of their fight. Her eyes are still shut tight, and perhaps that is why she doesn_t notice that the sun has slipped behind the village at her back, that dusk has given way to dark. Adeline keeps praying, and doesn_t notice at all. IX VILLON-SUR-SARTHE, FRANCE, July 29, 1714 T he sound, when it comes, is a low rumble, deep and distant as thunder. Laughter, Adeline thinks, opening her eyes and noticing, finally, how the light has faded. She looks up, but sees nothing. _Hello?_ The laughter draws itself into a voice, somewhere behind her. _You need not kneel,_ it says. _Let us see you on your feet._ She scrambles up, and turns, but she is met only by darkness, surrounded by it, a moonless night after the summer sun has fled. And Adeline knows, then, that she has made a mistake. That this is one of the gods she was warned against. _Adeline? Adeline?_ call the voices from the town, as faint and faraway as the wind. She squints into the shadows between the trees, but there is no shape, no god to be found_only that voice, close as a breath against her cheek. _Adeline, Adeline,_ it says, mocking, _.they are calling for you._ She turns again, finding nothing but deep shadow. _Show yourself,_ she orders, her own voice sharp and brittle as a stick. Something brushes her shoulder, grazes her wrist, drapes itself around her like a lover. Adeline swallows. _What are you?_ The shadow_s touch withdraws. _What am I?_ it asks, an edge of humor in that velvet tone. _That depends on what you believe._ The voice splits, doubles, rattling through tree limbs and snaking over moss, folding over on itself until it is everywhere. _So tell me_tell me_tell me,_ it echoes. _Am I the devil_the devil_or the dark_dark_dark? Am I a monster_monster_or a god_god_god_or . . ._ The shadows in the woods begin to pull together, drawn like storm clouds. But when they settle, the edges are no longer wisps of smoke, but hard lines, the shape of a man, made firm by the light of the village lanterns at his back. _Or am I this?_ The voice spills from a perfect pair of lips, a shadow revealing emerald eyes that dance below black brows, black hair that curls across his forehead, framing a face Adeline knows too well. One that she has conjured up a thousand times, in pencil and charcoal and dream. It is the stranger. Her stranger. She knows it is a trick, a shadow parading as a man, but the sight of him still robs her breath. The darkness looks down at his shape, seeing himself as if for the first time, and seems to approve. _Ah, so the girl believes in something after all._ Those green eyes lift. _Well now,_ he says, _you have called, and I have come._ Never pray to the gods that answer after dark. Adeline knows_she knows_but this is the only one who answered. The only one who would help. _Are you prepared to pay?_ Pay. The price. The ring. Adeline drops to her knees, scours the ground until she finds the leather cord, and frees her father_s ring from the soil. She holds it out to the god, its pale wood now stained with dirt, and he draws closer. He may look like flesh and blood, but he still moves like shadow. A single step, and he is there, filling her vision, folding one hand around the ring, and resting the other on Adeline_s cheek. His thumb brushes the freckle beneath her eye, the edge of her stars. _My dear,_ says the darkness, taking the ring, _I do not deal in trinkets._ The wooden band crumbles in his hand, and falls away, nothing more than smoke. A strangled sound escapes her lips_it hurt enough to lose the ring, hurts more to see it wiped from the world like a smudge on skin. But if the ring is not enough, then what? _Please,_ she says, _I will give anything._ The shadow_s other hand still rests against her cheek. _You assume I want anything,_ he says, lifting her chin. _But I take only one coin._ He leans closer still, green eyes impossibly bright, his voice soft as silk. _The deals I make, I make for souls._ Adeline_s heart lurches in her chest. In her mind, she sees her mother on her knees in church, speaking of God and Heaven, hears her father talking, telling stories of wishes and riddles. She thinks of Estele, who believes in nothing but a tree over her bones. Who would say that a soul is nothing more than a seed returned to soil_though she_s the one who warned against the dark. _Adeline,_ says the darkness, her name sliding like moss between his teeth. _I am here. Now tell me why._ She has waited so long to be met_to be answered, to be asked_that at first the words all fail her. _I do not want to marry._ She feels so small when she says it. Her whole life feels small, and she sees that judgment reflected in the god_s gaze, as if to say, Is that all? And no, it is more than that. Of course it is more. _I do not want to belong to someone else,_ she says with sudden vehemence. The words are a door flung wide, and now the rest pour out of her. _I do not want to belong to anyone but myself. I want to be free. Free to live, and to find my own way, to love, or to be alone, but at least it is my choice, and I am so tired of not having choices, so scared of the years rushing past beneath my feet. I do not want to die as I_ve lived, which is no life at all. I__ The shadow cuts her off, impatient. _What use is it, to tell me what you do not want?_ His hand slides through her hair, comes to rest against the back of her neck, drawing her close. _Tell me instead what you want most._ She looks up. _I want a chance to live. I want to be free._ She thinks of the years slipping by. Blink, and half your life is gone. _I want more time._ He considers her, those green eyes changing shade, now spring grass, now summer leaf. _How long?_ Her mind spins. Fifty years. One hundred. Every number feels too small. _Ah,_ says the darkness, reading her silence. _You do not know._ Again, the green eyes shift, darken. _You ask for time without limit. You want freedom without rule. You want to be untethered. You want to live exactly as you please._ _Yes,_ says Adeline, breathless with want, but the shadow_s expression sours. His hand drops from her skin, and then he is no longer there, but leaning against a tree several strides away. _I decline,_ he says. Adeline draws back as if struck. _What?_ She has come this far, has given everything she has_she made her choice. She cannot go back to that world, that life, that present and past without a future. _You cannot decline._ One dark brow lifts, but there is no amusement in that face. _I am not some genie, bound to your whim._ He pushes off the tree. _Nor am I some petty forest spirit, content with granting favors for mortal trinkets. I am stronger than your god and older than your devil. I am the darkness between stars, and the roots beneath the earth. I am promise, and potential, and when it comes to playing games, I divine the rules, I set the pieces, and I choose when to play. And tonight, I say no._ Adeline? Adeline? Adeline? Beyond the edge of the woods, the village lights are closer now. There are torches in the field. They are coming for her. The shadow looks over his shoulder. _Go home, Adeline. Back to your small life._ _Why?_ she pleads, grabbing his arm. _Why do you refuse me?_ He brushes his hand along her cheek, the gesture soft and warm as hearthsmoke. _I am not in the business of charity. You ask for too much. How many years until you_re sated? How many, until I get my due? No, I make deals with endings, and yours has none._ She will come back to this moment a thousand times. In frustration, and regret, in sorrow, and self-pity, and unbridled rage. She will come to face the fact that she cursed herself before he ever did. But here, and now, all she can see is the flickering torchlight of Villon, and the green eyes of the stranger she once dreamed of loving, and the chance to escape slipping away with his touch. _You want an ending,_ she says. _Then take my life when I am done with it. You can have my soul when I don_t want it anymore._ The shadow tips his head, suddenly intrigued. A smile_just like the smile in her drawings, askance, and full of secrets_crosses his mouth. And then he pulls her to him. A lover_s embrace. He is smoke and skin, air and bone, and when his mouth presses against hers, the first thing she tastes is the turning of the seasons, the moment when dusk gives way to night. And then his kiss deepens. His teeth skim her bottom lip, and there is pain in the pleasure, followed by the copper taste of blood on her tongue. _Done,_ whispers the god against her lips. And then the world goes black, and she is falling. X VILLON-SUR-SARTHE, FRANCE, July 29, 1714 A deline shivers. She looks down, and sees that she is sitting on a bed of wet leaves. A second ago, she was falling_for only a second, barely the length it takes to draw a breath_but time, it seems, has skipped ahead. The stranger is gone, and so are the last dregs of light. The summer sky, where it shows through the canopied trees, is smoothed to a velvet black, marked only by a low-hanging moon. Adeline rises, studying her hands, looking past the dirt for some sign of transformation. But she feels . . . unchanged. A little dizzy, perhaps, as if she_s stood too quickly, or drunk too much wine on an empty stomach, but after a moment even that unsteadiness has passed, and she_s left feeling as if the world has tipped, but not fallen, leaned, and then rebalanced, settled back into the same old groove. She licks her lips, expecting to taste blood, but the mark left by the stranger_s teeth is gone, swept away with every other trace of him. How does one know if a spell has worked? She asked for time, for life_will she have to wait a year, or three, or five, to see if age leaves any mark? Or take up a knife and cut into her skin, to see if and how it heals? But no, she had asked for life, not a life unscathed, and if Adeline is being honest, she is afraid to test it, afraid to find her skin still too yielding, afraid to learn that the shadow_s promise was a dream, or worse, a lie. But she knows one thing_whether or not the deal was real, she will not heed the ringing church bells, will not marry Roger. She will defy her family. She will leave Villon, if she must. She knows she will do whatever it takes now, because she was willing in the dark, and one way or another, from this moment forward, her life will be her own. The thought is thrilling. Terrifying, but thrilling, as she leaves the forest. She is halfway across the field before she realizes how quiet the village is. How dark. The festive lanterns have been put out, the bells have stopped ringing, there are no voices calling her name. Adeline makes her way home, the dull dread growing a little sharper with every step. By the time she gets there, her mind is buzzing with worry. The front door hangs open, spilling light onto the path, and she can hear her mother humming in the kitchen, her father chopping wood around the side of the house. A normal night, made wrong by the fact it was not meant to be a normal night. _Maman!_ she says, stepping inside. A plate shatters to the floor, and her mother yelps, not in pain, but surprise, her face contorted. _What are you doing here?_ she demands, and here is the anger Addie expected. Here is the dismay. _I_m sorry,_ she starts. _I know you must be mad, but I couldn_t__ _Who are you?_ The words are a hiss, and she realizes then, that fearsome look on her mother_s face is not the anger of a mother scorned, but that of a woman scared. _Maman__ Her mother cringes away from the very word. Filtered out of my house._ But Adeline crosses the room, grabs her by the shoulders. _Don_t be absurd. It_s me, A__ She is about to say Adeline. Indeed, she tries. Three syllables should not be such a mountain to climb, but she is breathless by the end of the first, unable to manage the second. The air turns to stone inside her throat, and she is left stifled, silent. She tries again, this time attempting Addie, then at last their family name, LaRue, but it is no use. The words meet an impasse between her mind and tongue. And yet, the second she draws breath to say another word, any other word, it is there, lungs filled and throat loose. _Let go,_ pleads her mother. _What_s this?_ demands a voice, low and deep. The voice that soothed Adeline on sick nights, that told her stories as she sat on the floor of his shop. Her father stands in the doorway, his arms full of wood. _Papa,_ she says, and he draws back, as if the word were sharp. _The woman is mad,_ sobs her mother. _Or cursed._ _I am your daughter,_ she says again. Her father grimaces. _We have no child._ Those words, a duller knife. A deeper cut. _No,_ says Adeline, shaking her head at the absurdity. She is three and twenty, has lived every day and every night beneath this roof. _You know me._ How can they not? The resemblance between them has always been so keen, her father_s eyes, her mother_s chin, one_s brow and the other_s lips, each piece clearly copied from its source. They see it, too, they must. But to them, it is only proof of devilry. Her mother crosses herself, and her father_s hands close around her, and she wants to sink into the strength of his embrace, but there is not warmth in it as he drags her to the door. _No,_ she begs. Her mother is crying now, one hand to her mouth and the other clutching the wooden cross around her neck, as she calls her own daughter a demon, a monster, a demented thing, and her father says nothing, only grips her arm tighter as he pulls her from the house. _Be gone,_ he says, the words half-pleading. Sadness sweeps across his face, but not the kind that comes with knowing. No, it is the sadness reserved for lost things, a storm-torn tree, a horse made lame, a carving split one stroke before it_s done. _Please,_ she begs. _Papa__ His face hardens as he forces her out into the dark and slams the door. The bolt scrapes home. Adeline stumbles back, shaking with shock and horror. And then she turns and runs. * * * _Estele._ The name begins as a prayer, soft and private, and grows to a shout as Adeline nears the woman_s cottage. _Estele!_ A lamp is lit within, and by the time she reaches the edge of the light, the old woman stands in the open doorway, waiting for her caller. _Are you a stranger or a spirit?_ Estele asks warily. _I am neither,_ says Adeline, though she knows how she must look. Her dress tattered, her hair wild, streaming words like witchcraft on the step. _I am flesh and blood and human, and I have known you all my life. You make charms in the shape of children to keep them well in winter. You think peaches are the sweetest fruit, and that church walls are too thick for prayers to get through, and you want to be buried not beneath a stone, but in a patch of shade under a large tree._ Something flashes across the old woman_s face, and Adeline holds her breath, hoping it is recognition. But it is too brief. _You are a clever spirit,_ says Estele, _but you will not cross this hearth._ _I am not a spirit!_ shouts Adeline, storming into the light of the old woman_s door. _You taught me about the old gods, and all the ways to summon them, but I made a mistake. They wouldn_t answer, and the sun was going down so fast._ She wraps her arms tight around her ribs, unable to stop shaking. _I prayed too late, and something answered, and now everything is wrong._ _Foolish girl,_ chides Estele, sounding like herself. Sounding as if she knows her. _What do I do? How do I fix it?_ But the old woman only shakes her head. _The darkness plays its own game,_ she says. _It makes its own rules,_ she says. _And you have lost._ And with that, Estele draws back into her house. _Wait!_ calls Adeline as the old woman shuts the door. The bolt drives home. Adeline hurls herself against the wood, sobbing until her legs give way, and she sinks to her knees on the cold stone step, one fist still pounding against the wood. And then, suddenly, the bolt draws back. The door swings open, and Estele stands over her. _What is this?_ she asks, surveying the girl folded on her steps. The old woman looks at her as if they_ve never met. The moments before erased by an instant and a closed door. Her wrinkled gaze flicks over the stained wedding dress, the wild hair, the dirt under her nails, but there_s no knowing in her face, only a guarded curiosity. _Are you a spirit? Or a stranger?_ Adeline squeezes her eyes shut. What is happening? Her name is still a rock lodged deep, and when she was a spirit, she was banished, so she swallows hard and answers, _A stranger._ Tears begin to slide down Adeline_s face. _Please,_ she manages. _I have nowhere to go._ The old woman looks at her for a long moment, and then nods. _Wait here,_ she says, slipping back into the house, and Adeline will never know what Estele was going to do then, because the door swings shut, and stays shut, and she is left kneeling on the ground, trembling more from shock than cold. She doesn_t know how long she sits there, but her legs are stiff when she forces them to bear her weight. She rises, and walks past the old woman_s house to the line of trees beyond, past their sentinels_ edge into the crowded dark. _Show yourself!_ she calls out. But there is only the ruffle of feathers, the crackle of leaves, the ripple of a forest disturbed in sleep. She conjures his face, those green eyes, those black curls, tries to will the darkness into shape again, but moments pass, and she is still alone. I do not want to belong to anyone. Adeline walks deeper into the forest. This is a wilder stretch of wood, the floor a nest of bramble and brush. It claws at her bare legs, but she doesn_t stop, not until the trees have closed around her, their branches blotting out the moon overhead. _I call on you!_ she screams. I am not some genie, bound to your whim. A low limb, half buried by the forest floor, rises just enough to catch her feet, and she goes down hard, knees hitting ragged earth and hands tearing through weedy soil. Please, I will give anything. The tears come, then, sudden and heaving. Fool. Fool. Fool. She pounds her fists against the ground. This is a vile trick, she thinks, a horrid dream, but it will pass. That is the nature of dreams. They do not last. _Wake up,_ she whispers into the dark. Wake up. Adeline curls into the forest floor, closes her eyes, and sees her mother_s tearstained cheeks, her father_s hollow sadness, Estele_s weary gaze. She sees the darkness, smiling. Hears his voice as he whispers that single, binding word. Done. XI NEW YORK CITY, March 10, 2014 A Frisbee lands in the grass nearby. Addie hears the rumble of running feet, and opens her eyes in time to see a giant black nose rushing at her face before the dog covers her in wet kisses. She laughs and sits up, runs her fingers through thick fur, catching the dog by his collar before he can get ahold of the paper bag with the second muffin. _Hello, you,_ she says as, across the park, someone calls out an apology. She flings the Frisbee back in their direction, and the dog is off again. Addie shivers, suddenly wide awake, and cold. That_s the trouble with March_the warmth never lasts. There_s that narrow stretch when it parades as spring, just enough for you to thaw if you_re sitting in the sun, but then it_s gone. The sun has moved on. The shadows have swept in. Addie shivers again, and pushes up from the grass, brushing off her leggings. She should have stolen warmer pants. Shoving the paper bag in her pocket, Addie tucks Fred_s book under her arm and abandons the park, heading east down Union and up toward the waterfront. Halfway there, she stops at the sound of a violin, the notes picked out like ripened fruit. On the sidewalk, a woman perches on a stool, the instrument tucked beneath her chin. The melody is sweet and slow, drawing Addie back to Marseilles, to Budapest, to Dublin. A handful of people gather to listen, and when the song ends, the sidewalk fills with soft applause, and passing bodies. Addie digs the last change out of her pocket, and drops it into the open case, and carries on, lighter, and fuller. When she reaches the theater in Cobble Hill, she checks the posted timetable and then pushes open the door, quickening her pace as she crosses the crowded lobby. _Hey,_ Addie says, flagging down a teen boy with a broom. _I think I left my purse in theater three._ Lying is easy, so long as you choose the right words. He waves her on without looking up, and she ducks beneath the velvet ticket-taker_s rope and into the darkened hall, the urgency falling away with every step. Muted thunder rolls beneath the doors of an action film. Music seeps into the hall from a romantic comedy. The highs and lows of voices, and scores. She ambles down the corridor, studying the coming soon posters and the ticker tapes announcing the showings above each door. She_s seen them all a dozen times, but she doesn_t care. The credits must be rolling on number five, because the doors swing open, and a stream of people spill out into the corridor. Addie ducks past them, into the emptying room, and finds an overturned bucket of popcorn in the second row, golden pebbles littering the sticky floor. She scoops it up and marches back to the lobby, and the concession stand, waits in line behind a trio of preteen girls before reaching the counter, and the boy behind it. She runs a hand through her hair, mussing it slightly, and blows out her breath. _I_m sorry,_ she says, _some little boy kicked over my popcorn._ She shakes her head, and so does he, a mimic, echoing her exasperation. _Is there any way you could charge me the refill cost instead of . . ._ She is already reaching in her pocket, as if to pull out a wallet, but the boy takes the bucket. _Don_t worry about it,_ he says, glancing around. _I_ve got you._ Addie beams. _You_re a star,_ she says, meeting his eyes, and the boy blushes fiercely, and stammers that it_s really no problem, no problem at all, even as he scans the lobby for a superior. He dumps out the rest of the spilled popcorn and fills it fresh, passing it like a secret back across the counter. _Enjoy your show._ * * * Of all the inventions Addie has seen ushered into the world_steam-powered trains, electric lights, photography, and phones, and airplanes, and computers_movies might just be her favorite one. Books are wonderful, portable, lasting, but sitting there, in the darkened theater, the wide screen filling her vision, the world falls away, and for a few short hours she is someone else, plunged into romance and intrigue and comedy and adventure. All of it complete with 4K picture and stereo sound. A quiet heaviness fills her chest when the credits roll. For a while she was weightless, but now she returns to herself, sinking until her feet are back on the ground. By the time Addie gets out of the theater it is almost six, and the sun is going down. She winds her way back through the tree-lined streets, past the park, the market now shuttered and the stalls already gone, and toward the rusted green table at the other edge. Fred is still sitting there in his chair, reading M. The pattern of spines on the table has shifted a little, an empty space here where a book has sold, a new rise there where another has been added. The light is getting low, and soon he_ll have to go in, pack up the boxes and carry them one by one back into the house, and up the two floors to his one-bedroom. Addie has offered many times to help, but Fred insists on doing it himself. Another echo of Estele. Stubborn as stale bread. Addie crouches down beside the table, and rises with the borrowed book in hand, as if it had simply fallen off the end. She sets it back, careful not to upset the stack, and Fred must be at a good spot in the story, because he grunts without ever looking up at her, or the book, or the paper bag she sets on top, the one with the chocolate-chip muffin inside. It_s the only kind he likes. Candace always gave him hell for his sweet tooth, he told Addie one morning, said it would kill him, but life_s a bitch with a crooked sense of humor__cause she_s gone, and he_s still eating shit (his words, not hers). The temperature is falling, and Addie tucks her hands in her pockets and wishes Fred a good night before continuing down the block, her back to the low sun and her shadow long ahead. * * * It_s dark by the time Addie gets to the Alloway_one of those places that seems to relish its status as a dive bar, a reputation tarnished by the fact it_s become a favorite among headliners who want that Brooklyn feel. A handful of people mill around on the curb, smoking, chatting, waiting for friends, and Addie lingers among them a moment. She bums a cigarette, just to have something to do, resisting the easy draw of the door for as long as she can, that tipping sense of the familiar, d?j? vu. She knows this road. Knows where it leads. Inside, the Alloway is shaped like a bottle of whisky, the narrow stem of the entry, the dark wooden bar widening to a room of tables and chairs. She takes a seat at the counter. The man on her left buys her a drink, and she lets him. _Let me guess,_ says the man. _A ros??_ And she thinks of ordering whisky just to see the surprise on his face, but that was never her drink; she_s always gone for sweet. _Champagne._ He orders, and they make small talk until he gets a call, and steps away, promising to be right back. She knows he won_t, is grateful for it as she sips her drink and waits for Toby to go onstage. He takes a seat, one knee up to steady his guitar, and flashes that bashful smile, almost apologetic. He hasn_t learned yet how to take up space, but she_s sure he will. He looks out at the small crowd before he starts to play, and Addie closes her eyes and lets herself vanish into the music. He plays a few covers. One of his own folk tunes. And then, this. The first chords float through the Alloway, and Addie is back in his place. She is sitting at the piano, coaxing out notes, and he is there, beside her, fingers folded over hers. It is coming together now, words wrapped over melody. It is becoming his. It is like a tree, taking root. He will remember, on his own; not her, of course_not her, but this. Their song. It ends, the music replaced by applause, and Toby sidles up to the bar, orders a Jack and Coke because they_ll give it to him for free, and somewhere between the first sip and the third he sees her, and smiles, and for an instant Addie thinks_hopes, even now_that he remembers something, because he looks at her as if he knows her, but the truth is simply that he wants to; attraction can look an awful lot like recognition in the wrong light. _Sorry,_ Toby says, head ducking the way it does whenever he_s embarrassed. The way it did that morning when he found her in his living room. Someone brushes Addie_s shoulder as they reach past her for the bar door. She blinks, and the dream falls away. She has not gone in. She is still standing on the street, the cigarette burned away to nothing between her fingers. A man holds open the door. _You coming in?_ Addie shakes her head, and forces herself to step back, away from the door, and the bar, and the boy about to take the stage. _Not tonight,_ she says. The rise isn_t worth the fall. XII NEW YORK CITY, March 10, 2014 N ight settles over Addie as she crosses the Brooklyn Bridge. The promise of spring has retreated like a tide, replaced again by a damp winter chill, and she pulls her jacket close, breath fogging as she starts the long stretch up the length of Manhattan. It would be easy enough to take the subway, but Addie has never liked being underground, where the air is close and stale, the tunnels too much like tombs. Being trapped, buried alive, these are the things that scare you when you cannot die. Besides, she doesn_t mind walking, knows the strength of her own limbs, relishes the kind of tired she used to dread. Still, it_s late, and her cheeks are numb, her legs weary, by the time she reaches the Baxter on Fifty-sixth. A man in a trim gray coat holds the door, and her skin tingles at the sudden flush of central heat as she steps into the Baxter_s marble lobby. She is already dreaming of a hot shower and a soft bed, already moving toward the open elevator, when the man behind the desk rises from his seat. _Good evening,_ he says. _Can I help you?_ _I_m here to see James,_ she says, without slowing. _Twenty-third floor._ The man frowns. _He isn_t in._ _Even better,_ she says, stepping into the elevator. _Ma_am,_ he calls, starting after her, _you can_t just__ but the doors are already closing. He knows he will not make it, is already turning back toward the desk, reaching for the phone to call security, and that is the last thing she sees before the doors slide shut between them. Perhaps he will get the phone to his ear, even begin to dial before the thought slips from his mind, and then he will look down at the receiver in his hand and wonder what he was thinking, apologize profusely to the voice on the line before sinking back into his seat. * * * The apartment belongs to James St. Clair. They had met at a coffee shop downtown a couple months ago. The seats were all taken when he came over, wisps of blond escaping the hem of a winter hat, glasses fogging from the cold. That day Addie was Rebecca, and before he_d even introduced himself, James had asked if he could share her table, saw that she was reading Colette_s Ch?ri, and managed a few lines of broken, blushing French. He sat, and soon easy smiles gave way to easy conversation. Funny, how some people take an age to warm, and others simply walk into every room as if it_s home. James was like that, instantly likable. When he asked, she said that she was a poet (an easy lie, as no one ever asked for proof), and he told her he was between jobs, and she nursed her coffee for as long as she could, but eventually her cup was empty, and so was his, and new customers were circling, buzzard-like, in search of chairs, but when he began to rise, she_d felt that old familiar sadness. And then James asked if she liked ice cream, and even though it was January, the ground outside slicked with ice and paving salt, Addie said she did, and this time when they stood, they stood together. Now she types the six-digit code into the keypad on his door and steps inside. The lights come on, revealing pale wood floors, and clean marble counters, lush curtains and furniture that still looks unused. A high-backed chair. A cream sofa. A table neatly stacked with books. She unzips her boots, steps out of them beside the door, and pads barefoot through the apartment, tossing her jacket over the arm of a chair. In the kitchen, she pours herself a glass of merlot, finds a block of Gruy?re in a fridge drawer and a box of gourmet crackers in the cupboard, carries her makeshift picnic into the living room, the city unfolding beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows. Addie sifts through his records, puts on a pressing of Billie Holiday, and retreats to the cream sofa, knees tucked up beneath her as she eats. She would love a place like this. A place of her own. A bed molded to her body. A wardrobe full of clothes. A home, decorated with markers of the life she_s lived, the material evidence of memory. But she cannot seem to hold on to anything for long. It is not as though she hasn_t tried. Over the years, she_s collected books, hoarded art, hidden fine dresses away in chests and locked them there. But no matter what she does, things always go missing. They vanish, one by one, or all at once, stolen by some strange circumstance, or simply time. Only in New Orleans did she have a home, and even that was not hers, but theirs, and it is gone. The only thing she cannot seem to rid herself of is the ring. There was a time when she couldn_t bear to part with it again. A time when she mourned its loss. A time when her heart soared to hold it, so many decades later. Now, she cannot stand the sight of it. It is an unwelcome weight in her pocket, an unwanted reminder of another loss. And every time her fingers skim the wood, she feels the darkness kissing her knuckle as he slides the band back on. See? Now we are even. Addie shudders, upsetting her glass, and drops of red wine splash over the rim, landing like blood on the cream sofa. She does not curse, does not spring to her feet to fetch club soda and a towel. She simply watches as the stain soaks in, and through, and disappears. As if it was never there. As if she was never there. Addie rises, and goes to run herself a bath, soaks away the city grime with scented oil, scrubs herself clean with hundred-dollar soap. When everything slips through your fingers, you learn to savor the feel of nice things against your palm. She settles back into the tub, and sighs, breathing in a mist of lavender and mint. They went for ice cream that day, she and James, ate it inside the shop, heads bowed together as they stole toppings from each other_s cups. His hat sat discarded on the table, his blond curls on full display, and he was striking, yes, but it still took her a while to notice the looks. Addie was used to passing glances_her features are sharp, but feminine, her eyes bright above the constellation of freckles on her cheeks, a kind of timeless beauty, she_s been told_but this was different. Heads were turning. Gazes lingered. And when she wondered why, he looked at her with such cheerful surprise, and confessed that he was, in fact, an actor_in a show that was currently quite popular. He blushed when he said it, looked away, then back to study her face, as if braced for some fundamental change. But Addie has never seen his work, and even if she had, she is not one to blush at fame. She has lived too long, and known too many artists. And even still, or perhaps more to the point, Addie prefers the ones who aren_t yet finished, the ones still looking for their shape. And so James and Addie carried on. She teased him about his loafers, his sweater, his wire-frame glasses. He told her he was born in the wrong decade. She told him she was born in the wrong century. He laughed, and she didn_t, but there was something old-fashioned in his manner. Only twenty-six, but when he talked, he had the easy cadence, the slow precision, of a man who knew the weight of his own voice, belonged to the class of young men who dressed like their fathers, the charade of those too eager to grow old. Hollywood had seen it, too. He kept getting cast in period pieces. _I_ve got a face for sepia,_ he joked. Addie smiled. _Better than a face for radio._ It was a lovely face, but there was something wrong, the too-steady smile of a man with a secret. They made it through the ice cream before he came undone. That easy joy of his flickered, and went out, and he dropped the plastic spoon down into the cup and closed his eyes, and said, _I_m sorry._ _What for?_ she asked, and he flung himself back in his seat, and ran his fingers through his hair. To the strangers on the street it might have looked like such a careless gesture, a feline stretch, but she could see the anguish in his face as he said it. _You are so beautiful, and kind, and fun._ _But?_ she pressed, sensing the turn. _I_m gay._ The word, like a hitch in his throat, as he explained that there was so much pressure, that he hated the gaze of the media and all its demands. That people were beginning to whisper, to wonder, and he wasn_t ready for them to know. Addie realized, then, that they were on a stage. Propped before the plate-glass windows of the ice-cream shop, for everyone to see, and James was still apologizing, saying that he shouldn_t have flirted, shouldn_t have used her in this way, but she wasn_t really listening. His blue eyes went somewhat glassy as he spoke, and she wondered if this was what he called on when the script ordered tears. If this was the place he went. Addie has secrets, too, of course, though she cannot help but keep them. Still, she knows what it_s like, to have a truth erased. _I understand,_ he was saying, _if you want to go._ But Addie didn_t stand up, didn_t reach for her coat. She simply leaned in, and stole a blueberry from the edge of his bowl. _I don_t know about you,_ she said lightly, _but I_m having a lovely day._ James let out a shaky breath, blinking away tears, and smiled. _So am I,_ he said, and things were better after that. It is so much easier to share a secret than to keep one, and when they stepped outside again, hand in hand, they were conspirators, made giddy by their private knowledge. She was not worried about being noticed, being seen, knew that if there were photos, they would never turn out. (There were photos, but her face was always conveniently in motion or obscured, and she remained a mystery girl in the tabloids for the next week, until the headlines inevitably moved on to juicier fare.) They had come back here, to his apartment at the Baxter, for a drink. His tables were covered in a flurry of books and papers, all relating to the Second World War. He was preparing for a role, he told her, reading every firsthand account he could find. He showed them to her, these printed reproductions, and Addie said that she_d been fascinated by the war, that she knew a few stories, told them as if they were someone else_s, a stranger_s experience instead of her own. James listened, folded into the corner of the cream sofa, his eyes pressed shut and a glass of whisky balanced on his chest as she spoke. They fell asleep side by side in the king-sized bed, in the shadow of each other_s warmth, and the next morning, Addie woke before dawn and slipped away, sparing them both the discomfort of a good-bye. She has the sense that they would have been friends. If he_d remembered. She tries not to think about that_she swears sometimes her memory runs forward as well as back, unspooling to show the roads she_ll never get to travel. But that way lies madness, and she has learned not to follow. Now she is back here, but he is not. Addie wraps herself in one of James_s plush terry robes, and throws open the French doors, stepping out onto the bedroom balcony. The wind is up, the cold stinging the soles of her bare feet. The city sprawls around her like a low night sky, full of artificial stars, and she shoves her hands into the pockets of the robe, and feels it, resting on the bottom of the empty fold. A small circle of smooth wood. She sighs, closes her hand around the ring, and draws it out, leans her elbows on the balcony, and forces herself to look at the band in her open palm, to study it, as if she has not already memorized every warp and whorl. She traces the curve with her free hand, resists the urge to slip the band onto her finger. She has thought of it, of course, in darker moments, tired moments, but she will not be the one to break. She tips her hand, and lets the ring fall over the edge of the balcony, down, down, into the dark. Back inside, Addie pours herself another glass of wine and climbs into the magnificent bed, folds herself beneath the down duvet and between the Egyptian sheets, and wishes she_d gone into the Alloway, wishes that she_d sat at the bar and waited for Toby, with his messy curls and shy smile. Toby, who smells of honey, and plays bodies like instruments, and takes up so much space in bed. XIII VILLON-SUR-SARTHE, FRANCE, July 30, 1714 A hand shakes Adeline awake. For a moment, she is out of place, out of time. Sleep clings to her edges, and with it, the dream_it must have been a dream_of prayers made to silent gods, of deals made in the dark, of being forgotten. Her imagination has always been a vivid thing. _Wake up,_ says a voice, one she has known all her life. The hand again, firm on her shoulder, and she blinks away the last of sleep to find the wooden planks of a barn ceiling, straw pricking her skin, and Isabelle kneeling beside her, blond hair braided into a crown, brows drawn tight with worry. Her face has waned a little with every child, each birth stealing a little more of her life. Filtered up, you fool._ That is what Isabelle should say, the chiding softened by the kindness in her voice. But her lips are pursed with worry, her forehead furrowed with concern. She has always frowned like that, fully, with her whole face, but when Adeline reaches out to press one thumb into the space between the other girl_s brows (to smooth away the worry, the way she has a thousand times before) Isabelle draws back, away from the touch of a stranger. Not a dream, then. _Mathieu,_ Isabelle calls over her shoulder, and Adeline sees her oldest son standing in the barn_s open doorway, clutching a pail. _Go and get a blanket._ The boy vanishes into the sun. _Who are you?_ asks Isabelle, and Adeline starts to answer, forgetting that the name won_t come. It lodges in her throat. _What happened to you?_ presses Isabelle. _Are you lost?_ Adeline nods. _Where did you come from?_ _Here._ Isabelle_s frown deepens. _Villon? But that_s not possible. We would have met. I_ve lived here all my life._ _So have I,_ she murmurs, and Isabelle must see the truth as a delusion, because she shakes her head as if clearing away a thought. _That boy,_ she mutters, _where has he gone?_ She turns her gaze fully back to Adeline. _Can you stand?_ Arm in arm, they walk into the yard. Adeline is filthy, but Isabelle doesn_t let go, and her throat tightens at the simple kindness, the warmth of the other girl_s touch. Isabelle treats her like a wild thing, her voice soft, her motions slow as she leads Adeline to the house. _Are you hurt?_ Yes, she thinks. But she knows Isabelle is speaking of scrapes and cuts and simple wounds, and of those, she is less certain. She looks down at herself. In the darkness, the worst was hidden. In the light of morning, it_s on display. Adeline_s dress, spoiled. Her slippers, ruined. Her skin, painted with the forest floor. She felt the scratch and tear of brambles in the woods last night, but she can find no angry welts, no cuts, no signs of blood. _No,_ she says softly, as they step inside the house. There is no sign of Mathieu, or Henri, their second child_just the baby, Sara, sleeping in a basket by the hearth. Isabelle sits Adeline in a chair across from the infant, and sets a pot of water over the fire. _You_re being so kind,_ Adeline whispers. __I was a stranger and you welcomed me,__ says Isabelle. It is a Bible verse. She brings a basin to the table, along with a cloth. Kneeling at Adeline_s feet, she coaxes the dirty slippers off, sets them by the hearth, then takes Adeline_s hands and begins to clean the forest floor from her fingers, the soil from beneath her nails. As she works, Isabelle peppers her with questions, and Adeline tries to answer, she really does, but her name is still a shape she cannot say, and when she speaks of her life in the village, of the shadow in the woods, of the deal she made, the words make it across her lips, but stop before they reach the other girl_s ears. Isabelle_s face goes blank, her gaze flat, and when Adeline finally trails off, she gives her head a quick shake, as if throwing off a daydream. _Sorry,_ says her oldest friend, with an apologetic smile. _What were you saying?_ She will learn in time that she can lie, and the words will flow like wine, easily poured, easily swallowed. But the truth will always stop at the end of her tongue. Her story silenced for all but herself. A mug is pressed into Adeline_s hands as the infant begins to fuss. _It is an hour_s ride to the nearest village,_ Isabelle says, lifting the swaddled child. _Did you walk all this way? You must have . . ._ She is speaking to Adeline, of course, but her voice is soft, sweet, her attention on Sara, breathing into the soft down of the baby_s hair, and Adeline must admit, her friend was seemingly made to be a mother_too content to even notice the attention. _What will we do with you?_ she coos. Footsteps sound on the path outside, heavy and booted, and Isabelle straightens a little, patting the infant_s back. _That will be my husband, George._ Adeline knows George well, had kissed him once when they were six, back when kisses were traded like pieces in a game. But now her heart flutters with panic, and she is already on her feet, the cup clattering to the table. It is not George she fears. It is the doorway, and what happens when Isabelle is on the other side. She catches Isabelle_s arm, her grip sudden and tight, and for the first time, fear flits across the other woman_s face. But then she steadies, and pats Adeline_s hand. _Don_t worry,_ she says. _I_ll talk to him. It will all be well._ And before Adeline can refuse, the infant is pressed into her arms, and Isabelle is out of reach. _Wait. Please._ Fear beats inside her chest, but Isabelle is gone. The door stays open, voices rising and falling in the yard beyond, the words themselves reduced to windsong. The infant murmurs in her arms and she sways a little, trying to soothe the child, and herself. The baby quiets, and she_s just returning her to the basket when she hears a short gasp. Filtered away from her._ It is Isabelle, her voice high and tight with panic. _Who let you in?_ All the Christian kindness, erased in an instant by a mother_s fear. _You did,_ says Adeline, and she has to fight the urge to laugh. There is no humor in the moment, only madness. Isabelle stares in horror. _You_re lying,_ she says, surging forward, halted only by her husband_s hand upon her shoulder. He has seen Adeline, too, marked her as a different kind of wild thing, a wolf inside their house. _I meant no harm,_ she says. _Then go,_ orders George. And what else can she do? She abandons the baby, leaves behind the mug of broth, the basin on the table, and her oldest friend. She hurries out into the yard and glances back, sees Isabelle press her daughter to her chest before George blocks the doorway, ax in hand as if she is a tree to fell, a shadow set upon their house. And then he too is gone, and the door is shut and bolted. Adeline stands on the path, uncertain what to do, where to go. There are grooves in her mind, worn smooth and deep. Her legs have carried her to and from this place too many times. Her body knows the way. Go down this road, and take a left, and there is her own house, which is not her home anymore, even though her feet are already moving toward it. Her feet_Adeline shakes her head. She left her slippers by Isabelle_s hearth to dry. A pair of George_s boots lean against the wall beside the door, and she takes them and begins to walk. Not to the house she grew up in, but back to the river where her prayers began. The day is already warm, the air edged with heat as she drops the boots onto the bank and steps out into the shallow stream. Her breath catches with the cold as the river laps up around her calves, kisses the backs of her knees. She looks down, seeking out her warped reflection and half expects not to find it there, to see only the sky behind her head. But she is still there, distorted by the stream. Hair once braided, now wild, sharp eyes wide. Seven freckles like flecks of paint across her skin. A face drawn in fear, and anger. _Why didn_t you answer?_ she hisses to the sunlight on the stream. But the river only laughs, in its soft, slippery way, the burble of water over stone. She wrestles with the laces of her wedding dress, peels the soiled thing away, plunges it down into the water. The current drags at the fabric, and her fingers long to let go, to let the river claim this last vestige of her life, but she has too little now to give up more. Adeline plunges herself in, too, freeing the last flowers from her hair, rinsing the woods from her skin. She comes up feeling cold, and brittle, and new. The sun is high, the day hot, and she lays the dress out in the grass to dry, sinks onto the slope beside it in her shift. They sit, side by side in silence, one a ghost of the other. And she realizes, looking down, that this is all she has. A dress. A slip. A pair of stolen shoes. Restless, she takes up a stick and begins to draw absent patterns in the silt along the bank. But every stroke she makes dissolves, the change too quick to be the river_s doing. She draws a line, watches it begin to wash away before she even finishes the mark. Tries to write her name, but her hand stills, pinned under the same rock that held her tongue. She carves a deeper line, gouges out the sand, but it makes no difference, soon that groove is gone, too, and an angry sob escapes her throat as she casts the stick away. Tears prick her eyes as she hears the shuffle of small feet, blinks to find a round-faced boy standing over her. Isabelle_s four-year-old son. Addie used to swing him in her arms, spin until they both were dizzy and laughing. _Hello,_ says the boy. _Hello,_ she says, her voice a little shaky. _Henri!_ calls the boy_s mother, and in a moment Isabelle is there, on the rise, a basket of washing on her hip. She sees Adeline sitting in the grass, holds out a hand not for her friend, but for her son. _Come here,_ she orders, those blue eyes lingering on Adeline. _Who are you?_ asks Isabelle, and she feels as if she_s at the edge of a steep hill, the ground plunging away beneath her feet. Her balance, tipping forward, as the dreaded descent begins again. _Are you lost?_ D?j? vu. D?j? su. D?j? v?cu. Already seen. Already known. Already lived. They have been here before, walked this road, or something like it, and so Adeline now knows where to put her feet, knows what to say, which words will draw out kindness, knows that if she asks in the right way, Isabelle will take her home, and wrap a blanket around her shoulders, and offer her a cup of broth, and it will work until it doesn_t. _No,_ she says. _I_m just passing through._ It is the wrong thing to say, and Isabelle_s expression hardens. _It is not fitting for a woman to travel alone. And certainly not in such a state._ _I know,_ she says. _I had more, but I was robbed._ Isabelle blanches. _By who?_ _A stranger in the woods,_ she says, and it is not a lie. _Are you hurt?_ Yes, she thinks. Grievously. But she forces herself to shake her head and answer, _I will live._ She has no choice. The other woman sets the washing down. _Wait here,_ says Isabelle, the kind and generous Isabelle again. _I will come right back._ She swings her young son up in her arms, and turns back toward her house, and the moment she is out of sight, Adeline gathers her dress, still damp at the hem, and pulls it on. Isabelle will, of course, forget again. She_ll get halfway to her house before she slows and wonders why she started back without her clothes. She_ll blame her tired mind, addled from three children, the infant_s distemper, and return to the river. And this time, there will be no woman sitting on the banks, no dress spread in the sun, only a stick, abandoned in the grass, a canvas of silt laid smooth. * * * Adeline has drawn her family house a hundred times. Memorized the angle of the roof, the texture of the door, the shadow of her father_s workshop, and the limbs of the old yew tree that sits like a sentinel at the edge of the yard. That is where she_s standing now, tucked behind the trunk, watching Maxime graze beside the barn, watching her mother hang linens out to dry, watching her father whittle down a block of wood. And as Adeline watches, she realizes she cannot stay. Or rather, she could_could find a way to skip from house to house, like stones skating across the river_but she will not. Because when she thinks of it, she feels neither like the river nor the stone, but like a hand, as it tires of throwing. There is Estele, closing her door. There is Isabelle, one moment kind, and the next filled with horror. Later, much later, Addie will make a game of these cycles, will see how long she can step from perch to perch before she falls. But right now, the pain is too fresh, too sharp, and she cannot fathom going through those motions, cannot weather the weary look on her father_s face, the rebuke in Estele_s eyes. Adeline LaRue cannot be a stranger here, to these people she has always known. It hurts too much, watching them forget her. Her mother slips back inside the house, and Adeline abandons the shelter of the tree and starts across the yard; not for the front door, but for her father_s shop. There is a single shuttered window, an unlit lamp, the only light a stripe of sun spilling through the open door, but that is enough to see by. She knows the contours of this place by heart. The air smells like sap, earthy and sweet, the floor is covered in shavings and dust, and every surface holds the bounty of her father_s work. A wooden horse, modeled from Maxime, of course_but here no bigger than a cat. A set of bowls, decorated only by the rings of the trunk from which they were cut. A collection of palm-sized birds, their wings spread, or folded, or stretched mid-flight. Adeline learned to sketch the world in charcoal and pressed lead, but her father has always created with a knife; whittled the shapes out of nothing, giving them breadth, and depth, and life. She reaches out now, and runs her finger down the horse_s nose, the way she has a hundred times before. What is she doing here? Adeline does not know. Saying good-bye, perhaps, to her father_her favorite person in this world. This is how she would remember him. Not by the sad unknowing in his eyes, or the grim set of his jaw as he led her to church, but by the things he loved. By the way he showed her how to hold a stick of charcoal, coaxing shapes and shades with the weight of her hand. The songs and stories, the sights from the five summers she went with him to market, when Adeline was old enough to travel, but not old enough to cause a stir. By the careful gift of a wooden ring, made for his first and only daughter when she was born_the one she then offered to the dark. Even now, her hand drifts to her throat to thumb the leather cord, and something deep inside her cringes when she remembers it is gone forever. Scraps of parchment scatter the table, covered in drawings and dimensions, the markings of past and future work. A pencil sits on the edge of the desk, and Adeline finds herself reaching for it, even as a dread echo sounds inside her chest. She brings it to the page, and begins to write. Cher Papa_ But as the pencil scratches across the paper, the letters fade in its wake. By the time Adeline has finished those two, unsteady words, they are gone, and when she slams her hand down on the table, she upsets a tiny pot of varnish, spilling the precious oil onto her father_s notes, the wood beneath. She scrambles to collect the papers, staining her hands and knocking over one of the little wooden birds. But there is no need for panic. The varnish is already soaking through, sinking in and down like a rock in a river, until it_s gone. It is such a strange thing, to make sense of this moment, to count what has and hasn_t been lost. The varnish is gone, but not back into the pot, which lies empty on its side, the contents lost. The parchment lies unmarked, untouched, as is the table beneath. Only her hands are stained, the oil tracing the whorls of her fingers, the lines of her palms. She is still staring at them when she steps back, and hears the terrible snap of wood splitting beneath her heel. It is the little wooden bird, one of its wings splintered on the packed-earth floor. Adeline winces in sympathy_it was her favorite of the flock, frozen in a moment of upward motion, the first rise of flight. She crouches to gather it up, but by the time she straightens, the splinters on the ground are gone, and in her hand, the little wooden bird is whole again. She nearly drops it in surprise, doesn_t know why this is the thing that seems impossible. She has been made a stranger, has seen herself slide from the minds of those she_s known and loved like the sun behind a cloud, has watched every mark she tries to make as it_s undone, erased. But the bird is different. Perhaps because she can hold it in her hands. Perhaps because, for an instant, it seems a blessing, this undoing of an accident, a righting of a wrong, and not simply an extension of her own erasure. The inability to leave a mark. But Adeline doesn_t think of it that way, not yet, has not spent months turning the curse over in her hands, memorizing its shape, studying the smooth surfaces in search of cracks. In this moment, she simply clutches the small, unbroken bird, grateful that it_s safe. She is about to return the figure to its flock when something stops her_perhaps the oddness of the moment, perhaps the fact that she is already missing this life, even if it will never miss her_but she tucks the bird into the pocket of her skirts, and forces herself out of the shed, and away from her home. Down the road, and past the twisted yew tree, and around the bend, until she has reached the edge of town. Only then does she let herself look back, let her gaze drift one last time to the line of trees across the field, the dense shadow stretched beneath the sun, before she turns her back on the forest, and the village of Villon, and the life that is no longer hers, and begins to walk. XIV VILLON-SUR-SARTHE, FRANCE, July 30, 1714 V illon vanishes like a cart around a bend, the rooftops swallowed up by the trees and the hills of the surrounding country. By the time Adeline musters the courage to look back, it is gone. She sighs, and turns, and walks, wincing at the strange shape of George_s boots. They are too large by half. Adeline found socks on a washing line, shoved them into the toes of the shoes to make them fit, but by the fourth hour of walking she can feel the places where her skin has rubbed raw, the blood pooling in the leather soles. She is afraid to look, and so she doesn_t, focuses only on the path ahead. She has decided to walk toward the walled city of Le Mans. It is the farthest she has ever gone, and even still, she has never made the trip alone. She knows the world is so much larger than the towns along the Sarthe, but right now she cannot think beyond the road in front of her. Every step she takes is a step away from Villon, away from a life that is no longer hers. You wanted to be free, says a voice in her head, but it is not hers; no, it is deeper, smoother, lined with satin and woodsmoke. She skirts the villages, the farms alone in their fields. There are whole stretches when the world seems to empty around her. As if an artist drew the barest lines of the landscape, then turned, distracted, from the task. Once, Adeline hears a cart trundling down the road, and ducks into the shade of a nearby grove and waits for it to pass. She does not want to stray too far from the road, or the river, but over her shoulder, through a copse of trees, she sees the yellow blush of summer fruit, and her stomach aches with longing. An orchard. The shade is lovely, the air cool, and she picks a ripened peach from a low branch and sinks her teeth greedily into the fruit, her empty stomach cramping around the sugared bite. Despite the pain, she eats a pear as well, and a handful of mirabelles, scoops palm and after palm of water from a well at the orchard_s edge, before forcing herself forward, out of the shelter and back into the summer heat. The shadows are stretching long when she finally sinks onto the riverbank and pulls off the boots to assess the damage to her feet. But there is none. The socks are unbloody. Her heels, uncut. No sign of the miles walked, the wear and tear of so many hours on the packed-earth road, though she felt the pain of every step. Nor are her shoulders burned from the sun, though all day she felt its heat. Her stomach twists, aching for something more than stolen fruit, but as the light ebbs, and the hills darken, there are no lanterns, no homes in sight. Exhausted, she would curl up right there on the river_s edge and give in to sleep, but insects float above the water, nipping at her skin, and so she retreats into an open field, and sinks down amid the tall grass the way she did so many times when she was young, and wanted to be somewhere else. The grass would swallow the house, the workshop, the rooftops of Villon, everything except the open sky overhead, a sky that could belong to anywhere. Now, as she stares up at the mottled dusk, she longs for home. Not for Roger, or the future she did not want, but the woody grip of Estele_s hand on hers as the old woman showed her how to wind raspberry bushes, and the soft hum of her father_s voice as he worked in his shed, the scent of sap and wood dust in the air. The pieces of her life she never meant to lose. She slips her hand into the pocket of her skirt, fingers searching for the little carved bird. She has not let herself reach for it before, half-sure it would be gone, its theft undone like every other act_but it is still there, the wood smooth and warm. Adeline draws it out, holds it up against the sky, and wonders. She could not break the figurine. But she could take it. Amid the growing list of negatives_she cannot write, cannot say her name, cannot leave a mark_this is the first thing she has been able to do. She can steal. It will be a long time before she knows the contours of her curse, longer still before she understands the shadow_s sense of humor, before he looks at her over a glass of wine and observes that a successful theft is an anonymous act. The absence of a mark. In this moment, she is simply grateful for the talisman. My name is Adeline LaRue, she tells herself, clutching the little wooden bird. I was born in Villon in the year 1691, to Jean and Marthe, in a stone house just beyond the old yew tree . . . She tells the story of her life to the little carving, as if afraid she_ll forget herself as easily as others do, unaware that her mind is now a flawless cage, her memory a perfect trap. She will never forget, though she_ll wish she could. As the night creeps through, purple giving way to black, Adeline looks up into the dark, and begins to suspect that the dark is staring back, that god, or demon, with its cruel gaze, its mocking smile, features contorted in a way she never drew. As she stares, head craned, the stars seem to pick out the lines of a face, the cheekbones and brow, the illusion drawing together until she half expects the blanket of night to ripple and twist as the shadows did in the woods, the space between stars splitting to reveal those emerald eyes. She bites her tongue to keep from calling to him, lest something else decide to answer. She is not in Villon, after all. She does not know which gods might linger here. Later, her strength will falter. Later, there will be nights when her need will smother caution, and she will scream and curse and dare him to come out and face her. Later_but tonight she is tired, and hungry, and loath to waste what little energy she has on gods that will not answer. So she curls onto her side, squeezes her eyes shut, and waits for sleep, and as she does, she thinks of torches in the field beyond the woods, of voices calling her name. Adeline, Adeline, Adeline. The words pound against her, drumming on her skin like rain. She wakes sometime later with a start, the world inky black and the downpour already soaking through her dress, the rainstorm sudden and heavy. She hurries, skirts dragging, across the field to the nearest line of trees. Back home she loved the patter of rain against the walls of the house, used to lie awake and listen to the world washed clean. But here she has no bed, no shelter. She does her best to wring the water from the dress, but it is already cooling on her skin, and she huddles among the roots, shivering beneath the broken canopy. My name is Adeline LaRue, she tells herself. My father taught me how to be a dreamer, and my mother taught me how to be a wife, and Estele taught me how to speak to gods. Her thoughts drag on Estele, who used to stand out in the rain, palms open as if to catch the storm. Estele, who never cared as much for the company of others as for her own. Who probably would have been content to be alone in the world. She tries to imagine what the old woman would say, if she could see her now, but every time she tries to summon those keen eyes, that knowing mouth, she sees only the way Estele looked at her in those last moments, the way her face furrowed, and then cleared, a lifetime of knowing brushed away like a tear. No, she should not think of Estele. Adeline wraps her arms around her knees, and tries to sleep, and when she wakes again, sunlight is pouring through the trees. A finch stands on the mossy ground nearby, pecking at the hem of her dress. She brushes it away, checking her pocket for the little wooden bird as she stands, sways, dizzy with hunger, realizes she has not had more than fruit in a day and a half. My name is Adeline LaRue, she tells herself as she makes her way back to the road. It is becoming a mantra, something to pass the time, measure her steps, and she repeats it, over and over. She rounds a bend, and stops, blinking fiercely, as if the sun is in her eyes. It_s not, and yet the world ahead has been plunged into a sudden, vivid yellow, the green fields devoured by a blanket the color of egg yolk. She looks back over her shoulder, but the way behind her is still green and brown, the ordinary shades of summer. The field ahead is mustard seed, though she doesn_t know it then. Then, it is simply beautiful, in an overpowering way. Addie stares, and for a moment she forgets her hunger, her aching feet, her sudden loss, and marvels at the shocking brightness, the all-consuming color. She wades through the field, flower buds brushing her palms, unafraid to crush the plants underfoot_they have already straightened in her wake, steps erased. By the time she reaches the far edge of the field, and the path, and the steady green, it looks dull, her eyes searching for another source of wonder. Shortly after, a larger town comes into sight, and she is about to weave around it when she catches a scent on the air that makes her stomach ache. Butter, yeast, the sweet and hearty smell of bread. She looks like a dress that fell from the line, wrinkled and dirty, her hair a tangled nest, but she is too hungry to care. She follows the scent between the houses, and up a narrow lane toward the village square. Voices rise with the smell of baking, and when she rounds the corner she sees a handful of women sitting around a communal oven. They perch on the stone bench around it, laughing and chatting like birds on a branch as the loaves rise within the oven_s open mouth. The sight of them is jarring, ordinary in an aching way, and Adeline lingers in the shaded lane a moment, listening to the trill and chirp of their voices, before the hunger forces her forward. She doesn_t have to search her pockets to know she has no coins. Perhaps she could barter for the bread, but all she has is the bird, and when she finds it in the folds of her skirt, her fingers refuse to loosen on the wood. She could beg, but her mother_s face comes to mind, eyes tight with scorn. That leaves only theft_which is wrong, of course, but she is too hungry to weigh the sin of it. There is only the matter of how. The oven is hardly unmanned, and despite how fast she seems to fade from memory, she is still flesh and blood, not phantom. She cannot simply walk up and take the bread without causing a stir. Sure, they might forget her soon enough, but what danger would she be in before they did? If she got to the bread, and then away, how far would she have to run? How fast? And then she hears it. A soft, animal sound, almost lost beneath the chatter. She circles the stone hut and finds her chance, across the lane. A mule stands in the shade, lazily chewing its bit beside a sack of apples, a stack of kindling. All it takes is a single, sharp smack, and the mule lurches, more in shock, she hopes, than pain. It jostles forward, upsetting the apples and the wood as it sets off. And just like that, the square is startled, thrown into a brief but noisy state as the beast trots away, dragging a bag of grain, and the women leap to their feet, the trills and warbles of their laughs dissolving into taut shouts of dismay. Adeline slips across the oven like a cloud, swiping the nearest loaf from the stone mouth. Pain sears across her fingers as she grabs it, and she nearly drops the bread, but she is too hungry, and pain, she is learning, doesn_t last. The loaf is hers, and by the time the mule is settled, and the grain set right, and the apples gathered, and the women returned to their place by the oven, she is already gone. She leans in the shade of a stable on the edge of town, teeth tearing into the under-baked bread. The dough collapses in her mouth, heavy, sweet, and hard to swallow, but she doesn_t care. It is filling enough, wearing the edges off her hunger. Her mind begins to clear. Her chest loosens, and for the first time since she left Villon, she feels something like human, if not whole. She pushes off the stable wall and begins to walk again, following the line of the sun, and the path of the river, toward Le Mans. My name is Adeline . . . she starts again, then stops. She never loved the name, and now she cannot even say it. Whatever she calls herself, it will be only in her head. Adeline is the woman she left in Villon, on the eve of a wedding she did not want. But Addie_Addie was a gift from Estele, shorter, sharper, the switch-quick name for the girl who rode to markets, and strained to see over roofs, for the one who drew and dreamed of bigger stories, grander worlds, of lives filled with adventure. And so, as she walks on, she starts the story over in her head. My name is Addie LaRue . . . XV NEW YORK CITY, March 11, 2014 I t is too quiet without James. Addie never thought of him as loud_charming, cheerful, but hardly raucous_but now she realizes how much he filled this space when they were in it. That night, he put on a record and sang along as he made grilled cheese on the six-burner stove, which they ate standing up because the place was new, and he hadn_t bought kitchen chairs. There are still no kitchen chairs, but now there is no James, either_he_s off on location somewhere_and the apartment stretches out around her, too silent and too large for one person, the high floor and the double-paned glass combining to block out the sounds of the city, reducing Manhattan to a picture, still and gray, beyond the windows. Addie plays record after record, but the sound only echoes. She tries to watch TV, but the drone of news is more static than anything, as is the tinny choir of voices on the radio, too far away to feel real. The sky outside is a static gray, a thin mist of rain blurring the buildings. It is the kind of day designed for wood fires, and mugs of tea, and well-loved books. But while James has a fireplace, it_s only gas, and when she checks the cupboard for her favorite blend, she finds the box nestled at the back, but it is empty, and all the books he keeps are histories, not fiction, and Addie knows she cannot pass the day here, with only herself for company. She gets dressed again, in her own clothes, and smooths the covers back onto the bed, even though the cleaners will surely return before James does. With a last glance at the dreary day, she steals a scarf from a closet shelf, a soft plaid cashmere with the tags still on, and sets out, the lock chiming behind her. She does not know, at first, where she is going. Some days she still feels like a lion caged, pacing its enclosure. Her feet have a mind of their own, and soon they are carrying her uptown. My name is Addie LaRue, she thinks to herself as she walks. Three hundred years, and some part of her is still afraid of forgetting. There have been times, of course, when she wished her memory more fickle, when she would have given anything to welcome madness, and disappear. It is the kinder road, to lose yourself. Like Peter, in J. M. Barrie_s Peter Pan. There, at the end, when Peter sits on the rock, the memory of Wendy Darling sliding from his mind, and it is sad, of course, to forget. But it is a lonely thing, to be forgotten. To remember when no one else does. I remember, whispers the darkness, almost kindly, as if he_s not the one who cursed her. Perhaps it is the bad weather, or perhaps it is this maudlin mood that leads Addie up along the eastern edge of Central Park, to Eighty-second and into the granite halls of the Met. Addie has always had a fondness for museums. Spaces where history gathers out of place, where art is ordered, and artifacts sit on pedestals, or hang on walls above little white didactics. Addie feels like a museum sometimes, one only she can visit. She crosses the great hall, with its stone arches and colonnades, weaves her way through Greco-Roman and past Oceania, exhibits she has lingered in a hundred times, continues until she reaches the European sculpture court, with its grand marble figures. One room over, she finds it, where it always is. It sits in a glass case along one wall, framed on either side by pieces made of iron, or silver. It is not large, as far as sculptures go, the length of her arm, from elbow to fingertips. A wooden plinth with five marble birds perched atop it, each about to fly away. It is the fifth that holds her gaze: the lift of its beak, the angle of its wings, the soft down of its feathers captured once in wood, and now in stone. Revenir, it_s called. To come back. Addie remembers the first time she found the work, the small miracle of it, sitting there on its clean white block. The artist, Arlo Miret, a man she never knew, never met, and yet here he is, with a piece of her story, her past. Found, and made into something memorable, something worthwhile, something beautiful. She wishes she could touch the little bird, run her finger along its wing, the way she always did, even though she knows it_s not the one she lost, knows this one wasn_t carved by her father_s strong hands, but by a stranger. Still, it is there, it is real, it is, in some way, hers. A secret kept. A record made. The first mark she left upon the world, long before she knew the truth, that ideas are so much wilder than memories, that they long and look for ways of taking root. XVI LE MANS, FRANCE, July 31, 1714 L e Mans lies likes a sleeping giant in the fields along the Sarthe. It has been more than ten years since Addie was allowed to make the trek to the walled city, perched beside her father in the family cart. Now her heart quickens as she steps through the city gates. There is no horse this time, no father, no cart, but in the late-afternoon light, the city is just as busy, just as bustling, as she remembered. Addie doesn_t bother trying to blend in_if, now and then, someone glances her way, notices the young woman in the stained white dress, they keep their opinions to themselves. It is easier to be alone among so many people. Only_she doesn_t know where to go. She pauses a moment to think, only to hear hooves clattering, too sudden and too close, and narrowly escapes being trampled by a cart. _Out of the way!_ shouts the driver, as she lunges back, only to collide with a woman carrying a basket of pears. It tips, spilling three or four onto the cobbled path. _Watch where you_re going,_ snarls the woman, but when Addie bends to help her fetch the fallen fruit, the woman screeches and stomps at her fingers. Addie backs away and thrusts her hands into her pockets, clings to the little wooden bird as she continues through the winding streets toward the center of the city. There are so many roads, but they all look the same. She thought this place would feel more familiar, but it only feels strange. A figment from a long-ago dream. When Addie was last here, the city seemed a wonder, a grand and vital place: the bustling markets, bathed in sun; the voices ringing off of stone; her father_s broad shoulders, blocking out the city_s darker sides. But now, alone, a menace has crept in, like fog, erasing the buoyant charm, leaving only the sharp edges jutting through the mist. One version of the city replaced by another. Palimpsest. She doesn_t know the word just yet, but fifty years from now, in a Paris salon, she will hear it for the first time, the idea of the past blotted out, written over by the present, and think of this moment in Le Mans. A place she knows, and yet doesn_t. How foolish to think it would stay the same, when everything else has changed. When she has changed, grown from a girl into a woman, and then into this_a phantom, a ghost. She swallows hard, and stands up straight, determined not to fray or fall apart. But Addie cannot find the inn where she and her father stayed, and even if she could, what did she plan to do there? She has no way to pay, and even if she had the coin, who would rent to a woman on her own? Le Mans is a city, but it is not so big that such a thing would pass beneath a landlord_s notice. Addie_s grip tightens on the carving in her skirts as she continues through the streets. There is a market just past the town hall, but it is closing up, tables empty, the carts pulling away, the ground littered only with the dregs of lettuce and a few moldy potatoes, and before she can think of scrounging for them, they are gone, swept away by smaller, quicker hands. There is a tavern inn at the edge of the square. She watches a man dismount his horse, a dappled mare, and pass the reins to a stable hand, already turning toward the noise and hustle of the open doors. She watches the stable hand lead the mare across the way to a broad wooden barn, and vanish into the relative dark. But it_s not the barn that_s caught her eye, or the horse_it_s the pack still thrown across its back. Two heavy satchels, bulging like sacks of grain. Addie crosses the square and slips into the stable behind the man and the mare, her steps as light and quick as possible. Sunlight streams weakly through the beams in the stable roof, casting the place in soft relief, a few highlights amid the layered shadow, the kind of place she would have loved to draw. A dozen horses shuffle in their stalls, and across the barn, the stable hand hums to the mare as he strips away its tack, tosses the saddle over the wooden divide, and brushes down the beast, his own hair a nest of knots and snarls. Addie ducks low, creeping toward the stalls at the back of the barn, the sacks and satchels strewn on the wooden barriers between the horses. Her hands dart hungrily across the trappings, searching beneath buckles and under flaps. There are no purses, but she finds a heavy riding coat, a skin of wine, a boning knife the length of her hand. The coat she drapes around her shoulders, the blade goes into one deep pocket and the wine in the other as she creeps on, quiet as a ghost. She doesn_t see the empty bucket until her shoe cracks against it with a sharp clatter. It falls with a muffled thud onto the hay, and Addie holds her breath and hopes the sound is lost among the shuffling hooves. But the stable hand stops humming. She sinks lower, folds herself into the shadows of the nearest stall. Five seconds pass, then ten, and then at last the humming starts again, and Addie straightens and makes her way to the final stall, where a stout draft horse lounges, munching grain, beside a belted bag. Her fingers drift toward the buckle. _What are you doing?_ The voice, too close, behind her. The stable hand, no longer humming, no longer brushing the dappled mare, but standing in the alley between berths, a crop in his hand. _Sorry, sir,_ she says, a shade breathless. _I came looking for my father_s horse. He wanted something from his satchel._ He stares at her, unblinking, his features half-swallowed by the dark sprawl of his hair. _Which horse would that be?_ She wishes she_d studied the horses as well as their packs, but she cannot hesitate, it would reveal the lie, so she turns quickly toward the workhorse. _This one._ It is a good lie, as far as lies go, the kind that could have easily been true, if she_d only picked another horse. A grim smile twitches beneath the man_s beard. _Ah,_ he says, flicking the crop against his palm, _but you see, that one_s mine._ Addie has the strange and sickening urge to laugh. _Can I pick again?_ she whispers, inching toward the stable door. Somewhere nearby, a mare whinnies. Another stamps its hoof. The crop stops snapping against the man_s palm, and Addie lurches sideways, between the stalls, the stable hand on her heels. He_s fast, a speed clearly born from catching beasts, but she is lighter, and has far more to lose. His hand grazes the collar of her stolen coat, but he cannot catch her; his heavy steps falter and slow, and Addie thinks she_s free, right before she hears the crisp, bright sound of a bell ringing on the stable wall, followed by the sound of boots coming from outside. She is nearly to the mouth of the barn when the second man appears, cutting like a wide shadow across the doorway. _Has a beast got free?_ he shouts before he sees her, wrapped in the stolen coat, her too-large boots catching on the hay. She scrambles backward, right into the arms of the stable hand. His fingers close around her shoulders, heavy as shackles, and when she tries to twist free, his grip digs deep enough to bruise. _Caught her thieving,_ he says, the coarse bristles on his cheek scraping hers. _Let me go,_ she pleads as he pulls her tight. _This isn_t a market stall,_ sneers the second, drawing a knife from his belt. _Do you know what we do with thieves?_ _It was a mistake. Please. Let me go._ The knife wags like a finger. _Not until you_ve paid._ _I don_t have any money._ _That_s all right,_ says the second man, drawing closer. _Thieves pay in flesh._ She tries to tear free, but the grip on her arms is iron as the knife comes to rest against the laces of her dress, plucking them like strings. And when she twists again, she is no longer trying to get free, simply trying to reach the boning knife inside the pocket of her stolen coat. Twice her fingers brush the wooden hilt before she manages to catch it. She drives the blade down and back into the first man_s thigh, feels it sink into the meat of his leg. He cries out before he thrusts her away like a hornet, flinging her forward, right onto the other man_s blade. Pain screams through her shoulder as the knife bites in, skates along her collarbone, leaving a trail of searing heat. Her mind goes blank with it, but her legs are already moving, carrying her through the stable doors and out into the square. She throws herself behind a barrel, out of sight, as the men come stumbling, swearing, out of the barn behind her, their faces twisted with rage and something worse, something primal, hungry. And then, between one step and the next, they begin to slow. Between one step and the next, the urgency falters, and fades, the purpose slipping, like a thought, out of reach. The men look around, and then at each other. The one she stabbed stands straighter now, no sign of the tear in his trousers, no blood soaking through the fabric. The mark she left on him, erased. They jostle, and rib, and head back into the barn, and Addie slumps forward, her head coming to rest against the wooden barrel. Her chest throbs, pain tracing a vivid line along her collar, and when she presses her hand to the wound, her fingers come away red. She cannot stay there, curled behind the barrel, forces herself up, and sways, feeling faint, but soon the wave of sickness passes, and she is still on her feet. She walks, one hand pressed to her shoulder, and the other closed tight around the knife beneath her stolen coat. She doesn_t know when she decides to leave Le Mans, but soon enough she is crossing the courtyard, away from the stable and through the winding streets, past bawdy inns and tavern houses, past crowded steps and raucous laughter, giving the city up with every step. The ache in her shoulder fades from a searing heat to a dull throb, and then, to nothing. She runs her fingers over the gash, but it is gone. As is the blood on her dress, swallowed up like the words she scrawled across her father_s parchment, the lines she drew in the silt on the riverbank. The only traces of it are on her skin, a crust of drying blood along her collarbone, a smear of browning red across her palm. And Addie marvels a moment, despite herself, at the strange magic of it, the proof that in one way, the shadow kept his word. Twisted it, yes, warped her wishes into something wrong and rotten. But granted her this, at least. To live. A small, mad sound escapes her throat, and there is relief in it, perhaps, but also horror. For the truth of her hunger, which she is only just discovering. For the ache in her feet, though they do not cut or bruise. For the pain of the wound in her shoulder, before it healed. The darkness has granted her freedom from death, perhaps, but not from this. Not from suffering. It will be years before she learns the true meaning of that word, but in this moment, as she walks into the thickening dusk, she is still relieved to be alive. A relief that flickers when she reaches the edge of the city. This is as far as Adeline has ever gone. Le Mans looms at her back, and ahead the high stone walls give way to scattered towns, each one like a copse of tress, and then, to open field, and then, to what, she does not know. When Addie was young, she would surge up the slopes that rose and fell around Villon, fling herself to the very edge of the hill, the place where the ground fell away, and stop, heart racing as her body leaned forward, longing for the fall. The slightest push, and weight would do the rest. There is no steep hill beneath her now, no slope, and yet, she feels her balance tilt. And then, Estele_s voice rises to meet her in the dark. How do you walk to the end of the world? she once asked. And when Addie didn_t know, the old woman smiled that wrinkled grin, and answered. One step at a time. Addie is not going to the end of the world, but she must go somewhere, and in that moment, she decides. She is going to Paris. It is, beside Le Mans, the only city she knows by name, a place that played so many times across her stranger_s lips, and featured into every tale her father told, a place of gods and kings, gold and majesty, and promise. This is how it starts, he would have said, if he could see her now. Addie takes the first step, and feels the ground give way, feels herself tip forward, but this time, she does not fall. XVII NEW YORK CITY, March 12, 2014 I t is a better day. The sun is out, the air is not so cold, and there is so much to love about a city like New York. The food, the art, the constant offerings of culture_though Addie_s favorite thing is its scale. Towns and villages are easily conquered. A week in Villon was enough to walk every path, to learn every face. But with cities like Paris, London, Chicago, New York, she doesn_t have to pace herself, doesn_t have to take small bites to make the newness last. A city she can consume as hungrily as she likes, devour it every day and never run out of things to eat. It is the kind of place that takes years to visit, and still there always seems to be another alley, another set of steps, another door. Perhaps that_s why she hasn_t noticed it before. Set off from the curb, and down a short flight of steps, there is a shop half-hidden by the line of the street. The awning was clearly once purple, but has long faded toward gray, though the shop_s name is still legible, picked out in white lettering. The Last Word. A used bookstore, judging by the name, and the windows brimming with stacked spines. Addie_s pulse thrills a little. She was certain she_d found them all. But that is the brilliant thing about New York. Addie has wandered a fair portion of the five boroughs, and still the city has its secrets, some tucked in corners_basement bars, speakeasies, members-only clubs_and others sitting in plain sight. Like Easter eggs in a movie, the ones you don_t notice until the second or third viewing. And not like Easter eggs at all, because no matter how many times she walks these blocks, no matter how many hours, or days, or years she spends learning the contours of New York, as soon as she turns her back it seems to shift again, reassemble. Buildings go up and come down, businesses open and close, people arrive and depart and the deck shuffles itself again and again and again. Of course, she goes in. A faint bell announces her arrival, the sound quickly smothered by the crush of books in various conditions. Some bookstores are organized, more gallery than shop. Some are sterile, reserved for only the new and untouched. But not this one. This shop is a labyrinth of stacks and shelves, texts stacked two, even three deep, leather beside paper beside board. Her favorite kind of store, one that_s easy to get lost in. There is a checkout counter by the door, but it is empty, and she wanders, unmolested, through the aisles, picking her way along the well-loved shelves. The bookshop seems fairly empty, save for an older white man studying a row of thrillers, a gorgeous Black girl sitting cross-legged in a leather chair at the end of a row, silver shining on her fingers and in her ears, a giant art book open in her lap. Addie wanders past a placard marked poetry, and the darkness whispers against her skin. Teeth skimming like a blade along a bare shoulder. Come live with me and be my love. Addie_s refrain, worn smooth with repetition. You do not know what love is. She doesn_t stop, but turns the corner, fingers trailing now along THEOLOGY. She has read the Bible, the Upanishads, the Quran, after a spiritual bender of sorts a century ago. She passes Shakespeare, too, a religion all his own. She pauses at memoir, studying the titles on the spines, so many I_s and Me_s and My_s, possessive words for possessive lives. What a luxury, to tell one_s story. To be read, remembered. Something knocks against Addie_s elbow, and she looks down to see a pair of amber eyes peering over her sleeve, surrounded by a mass of orange fur. The cat looks as old as the book in her hand. It opens its mouth, and lets out something between a yawn and a meow, a hollow, whistling sound. _Hello._ She scratches the cat between the ears, eliciting a low rumble of pleasure. _Wow,_ says a male voice behind her. _Book doesn_t usually bother with people._ Addie turns, about to comment on the cat_s name, but loses her train of thought when she sees him, because for a moment, only a moment, before the face comes into focus, she is certain it is_ But it is not him. Of course it is not. The boy_s hair, though black, falls in loose curls around his face, and his eyes, behind their thick-frame glasses, are closer to gray than green. There is something fragile to them, more like glass than stone, and when he speaks, his voice is gentle, warm, undeniably human. _Help you find anything?_ Addie shakes her head. _No,_ she says, clearing her throat. _Just browsing._ _Well then,_ he says with a smile. _Carry on._ She watches him go, black curls vanishing into the maze of titles, before dragging her gaze back to the cat. But the cat is gone, too. Addie returns the memoir to the shelf and continues browsing, attention wandering over art and world history, all the while waiting for the boy to reappear, to start the cycle over, wondering what she_ll say when he does. She should have asked for help, let him lead her through the shelves_but he doesn_t come back. The shop bell chimes again, announcing a new customer as Addie reaches the Classics. Beowulf. Antigone. The Odyssey. There are a dozen versions of this last, and she_s just drawing one out when there_s a sudden burst of laughter, high and light, and she glances through a gap in the shelves and sees a blond girl leaning on the counter. The boy stands on the other side, cleaning his glasses on the edge of his shirt. He bows his head, dark lashes skimming his cheeks. He isn_t even looking at the girl, who_s rising on her toes to get closer to him. She reaches out and runs one hand along his sleeve the way Addie just did along the shelves, and he smiles, then, a quiet, bashful grin that erases the last of his resemblance to the dark. Addie tucks the book under her arm and heads for the door, and out, taking advantage of his distraction. _Hey!_ calls a voice_his voice_but she continues up the steps onto the street. In a moment, he will forget. In a moment, his mind will trail off, and he_ll_ A hand lands on her shoulder. _You have to pay for that._ She turns, and there_s the boy from the shop, a little breathless, and very annoyed. Her eyes flick past him to the steps, the open door. It must have been ajar. He must have been right behind her. But still. He followed her out. _Well?_ he demands, hand dropping from her shoulder and coming to rest, palm open, in the space between them. She could run, of course, but it_s not worth it. She checks the cost on the back of the book. It isn_t much, but it_s more than she has on her. _Sorry,_ she says, handing it back. He frowns, then, a furrow too deep for his face. The kind of line carved by years of repetition, even though he can_t be more than thirty. He looks down at the book, and a dark brow lifts behind his glasses. _A shop full of antique books, and you steal a battered paperback of The Odyssey? You know this won_t fetch anything, right?_ Addie holds his gaze. _Who says I wanted to resell it?_ _It_s also in Greek._ That, she hadn_t noticed. Not that it matters. She learned the classics in Latin first, but in the decades since, she_s picked up Greek. _Silly me,_ she says dryly, _I should have stolen it in English._ He almost_almost_smiles, then, but it_s a bemused, misshapen thing. Instead, he shakes his head. _Just take it,_ he says, holding out the book. _I think the shop can spare it._ She has to fight the sudden urge to push it back. The gesture feels too much like charity. _Henry!_ calls the pretty Black girl from the doorway. _Should I call the cops?_ _No,_ he calls back, still looking at Addie. _It_s fine._ He narrows his eyes, as if studying her. _Honest mistake._ She stares at this boy_at Henry. Then she reaches out and takes back the book, cradling it against her as the bookseller vanishes back into the shop. PART II THE DARKEST PART OF THE NIGHT Title: One Forgotten Night Artist: Samantha Benning Date: 2014 Medium: Acrylic on canvas over wood Location: On loan from the Lisette Price Gallery, NYC Description: A largely monochromatic piece, paint layered into a topography of black, charcoals, and grays. Seven small white dots stand out against the backdrop. Background: Known largely on its own, this painting also serves as the frontispiece for an ongoing series titled I Look Up to You, in which Benning imagines family, friends, and lovers as different iterations of the sky. Estimated Value: $11,500 I NEW YORK CITY, March 12, 2014 H enry Strauss heads back into the shop. Bea_s taken up residence again in the battered leather chair, the glossy art book open in her lap. _Where did you go?_ He looks back through the open door and frowns. _Nowhere._ She shrugs, turning through the pages, a guide to neoclassical art that she has no intention of buying. Not a library. Henry sighs, returning to the till. _Sorry,_ he says to the girl by the counter. _Where were we?_ She bites her lip. Her name is Emily, he thinks. _I was about to ask if you wanted to grab a drink._ He laughs, a little nervously_a habit he_s beginning to think he_ll never shake. She_s pretty, she really is, but there_s the troublesome shine in her eyes, a familiar milky light, and he_s relieved he doesn_t have to lie about having plans tonight. _Another time,_ she says with a smile. _Another time,_ he echoes as the girl takes her book and goes. The door has barely closed when Bea clears her throat. _What?_ he asks without turning. _You could have gotten her number._ _We have plans,_ he says, tapping the tickets on the counter. He hears the soft stretch of leather as she rises from the chair. _You know,_ she says, swinging an arm around his shoulder, _the great thing about plans is that you can make them for other days, too._ He turns, hands rising to her waist, and now they_re locked like kids in the throes of a school dance, limbs making wide circles like nets, or chains. _Beatrice Helen,_ he scolds. _Henry Samuel._ They stand there, in the middle of the store, two twenty-somethings in a preteen embrace. And maybe once upon a time Bea would have leaned a little harder, made some speech about finding someone (new), about deserving to be happy (again). But they have a deal: she doesn_t mention Tabitha, and Henry doesn_t mention the Professor. Everyone has their fallen foes, their battle scars. _Excuse me,_ says an older man, sounding genuinely sorry to interrupt. He holds up a book, and Henry smiles and breaks the chain, ducking back behind the counter to ring him up. Bea swipes her ticket from the table and says she_ll meet him at the show, and Henry nods her off and the old man goes on his way, and the rest of the afternoon is a quiet blur of pleasant strangers. He turns the sign over at five to six, and goes through the motions of closing up the shop. The Last Word isn_t his, but it might as well be. It_s been weeks since he saw the actual owner, Meredith, who_s spending her golden years traveling the world on her late husband_s life insurance. A fall woman indulging in a second spring. Henry scoops a handful of kibble into the small red dish behind the counter for Book, the shop_s ancient cat, and a moment later, a ratty orange head pokes up over the chapbooks in poetry. The cat likes to climb behind a stack and sleep for days, his presence marked only by the emptying dish and the occasional gasp of a customer when they come across a pair of unblinking yellow eyes at the back of the shelves. Book is the only one who_s been at the bookstore longer than Henry. He_s worked there for the last five years, having started back when he was still a grad student in theology. At first it was just a part-time gig, a way to supplement the university stipend, but then school went away, and the store stayed. Henry knows he should probably get another job, because the pay is shit and he has twenty-one years of expensive formal education, and then of course there_s his brother David_s voice, which sounds exactly like their father_s voice, calmly asking where this job leads, if this is really how he plans to spend his life. But Henry doesn_t know what else to do, and he can_t bring himself to leave; it_s the only thing he hasn_t failed out of yet. And the truth is, Henry loves the store. Loves the smell of books, and the steady weight of them on shelves, the presence of old titles and the arrival of new ones and the fact that in a city like New York, there will always be readers. Bea insists that everyone who works in a bookstore wants to be a writer, but Henry_s never fancied himself a novelist. Sure, he_s tried putting pen to paper, but it never really works. He can_t find the words, the story, the voice. Can_t figure out what he could possibly add to so many shelves. Henry would rather be a story keeper than a story teller. He turns off the lights and grabs the ticket and his coat, and heads over to Robbie_s show. * * * Henry didn_t have time to change. The show starts at seven, and The Last Word closed at six, and anyways he isn_t sure what the dress code is for an off-off-Broadway show about faeries in the Bowery, so he_s still in dark jeans and a tattered sweater. It_s what Bea likes to call Librarian Chic, even though he doesn_t work in a library, a fact she cannot seem to grasp. Bea, on the other hand, looks painfully fashionable, as she always does, with a white blazer rolled up to her elbows, thin silver bands wrapped around her fingers and shining in her ears, thick dreads coiled in a crown atop her head. Henry wonders, as they wait in the queue, if some people have natural style, or if they simply have the discipline to curate themselves every day. They shuffle forward, presenting their tickets at the door. The play is one of those strange medleys of theater and modern dance that only exist in a place like New York. According to Robbie, it_s loosely based on A Midsummer Night_s Dream, if someone had filed Shakespeare_s cadence smooth, and cranked up the saturation. Bea knocks him in the ribs. _Did you see the way she looked at you?_ He blinks. _What? Who?_ Bea rolls her eyes. _You are entirely hopeless._ The lobby bustles around them, and they_re wading through the crowd when another person catches Henry_s arm. A girl, wrapped in a tattered bohemian dress, green paint flourishes like abstract vines on her temples and cheeks, marking her as one of the actors of the show. He_s seen the remnants on Robbie_s skin a dozen times in the last few weeks. She holds up a paintbrush and a bowl of gold. _You_re not adorned,_ she says with sober sincerity, and before he can think to stop her, she paints gold dust on his cheeks, the brush_s touch feather-light. This close, he can see that faint shimmer in the girl_s eyes. Henry tips his chin. _How do I look?_ he asks, affecting a model_s pout, and even though he_s joking, the girl flashes him an earnest smile and says, _Perfect._ A shiver rolls through him at the word, and he is somewhere else, a hand holding his in the dark, a thumb brushing his cheek. But he shakes it off. Bea lets the girl paint a shining stripe down her nose, a dot of gold on her chin, manages to get in a solid thirty seconds of flirting before bells chime through the lobby, and the artistic sprite vanishes back into the crowd as they continue toward the theater doors. Henry threads his arm through Bea_s. _You don_t think I_m perfect, do you?_ She snorts. _God, no._ And he smiles, despite himself, as another actor, a dark-skinned man with rose-gold on his cheeks, hands them each a branch, the leaves too green to be real. His gaze lingers on Henry, kind, and sad, and shining. They show their tickets to an usher_an old woman, white-haired and barely five feet tall_and she holds on to Henry_s arm for balance as she shows them to their row, pats his elbow when she leaves them, murmuring, _Such a good boy_ as she toddles up the aisle. Henry looks at the number on his ticket, and they sidestep over to their seats, a group of three near the middle of the row. Henry sits, Bea on one side, the empty seat on the other. The seat reserved for Tabitha, because of course they_d bought their tickets months ago, when they were still together, when everything was a plural instead of a singular. A dull ache fills Henry_s chest, and he wishes he_d paid the ten dollars for a drink. The lights go down, and the curtain goes up on a kingdom of neon and spray-painted steel, and there is Robbie in the middle of it all, lounging on a throne in a pose that is pure goblin king. His hair curls up in a high wave, streaks of purple and gold carving the lines of his face into something stunning and strange. And when he smiles, it is easy to remember how Henry fell in love, back when they were nineteen, a tangle of lust, and loneliness, and far-off dreams. And when Robbie speaks, his voice is crystal, reflecting across the theater. _This,_ he says, _is a story of gods._ The stage fills with players, the music begins, and for a while, it is easy. For a while, the world falls away, and everything quiets around them, and Henry disappears. * * * Toward the end of the play there is a scene that will press itself into the dark of Henry_s mind, exposed like light on film. Robbie, the Bowery king, rises from his throne as rain falls in a single sheet across the stage, and even though, moments earlier, it was crowded with people, now, somehow, there is only Robbie. He reaches out, hand skimming the curtain of rain, and it parts around his fingers, his wrist, his arm as he moves forward inch by inch until his whole body is beneath the wave. He tips his head back, the rain rinsing gold and glitter from his skin, flattening the perfect wave of curls against his skull, erasing all traces of magic, turning him from a languid, arrogant prince into a boy; mortal, vulnerable, alone. The lights go out, and for a long moment, the only sound in the theater is the rain, fading from a solid wall to the steady rhythm of a downpour, and after, to the soft patter of drops on the stage. And then, at last, nothing. The lights come up, and the cast takes the stage, and everyone applauds. Bea cheers, and looks at Henry, the joy bleeding from her face. _What_s wrong?_ she asks. _You look like you_re about to faint._ He swallows, shakes his head. His hand is throbbing, and when he looks down, he_s dug his nails into the scar along his palm, drawing a fresh line of blood. _Henry?_ _I_m fine,_ he says, wiping his hand on the velvet seat. _It was just. It was good._ He stands, and follows Bea out. The crowd thins until it_s mostly friends and family waiting for the actors to reappear. But Henry feels the eyes, attention drifting like a current. Everywhere he looks, he finds a friendly face, a warm smile, and sometimes, more. Finally Robbie comes bounding into the lobby, and throws his arms around both of them. _My adoring fans!_ he says, in a thespian_s ringing alto. Henry snorts, and Bea holds out a chocolate rose, a long inside joke since Robbie once bemoaned that you had to choose between chocolates and flowers, and Bea pointed out that that was Valentine_s Day, and that for performances, flowers were typical, and Robbie said he wasn_t typical, and besides, what if he was hungry? _You were great,_ says Henry, and it_s true. Robbie is great_he_s always been great. That trifecta of dance, music, and theater required to get work in New York. He_s still a few streets off Broadway, but Henry has no doubt he_ll get there. He runs his hand through Robbie_s hair. Dry, it is the color of burnt sugar, a tawny shade somewhere between brown and red, depending on the light. But right now it_s still wet from the final scene, and for a second, Robbie leans into the touch, resting the weight of his head in Henry_s hand. His chest tightens, and he has to remind his heart it is not real, not anymore. Henry pats his friend_s back, and Robbie straightens, as if revived, renewed. He holds his rose aloft like a baton and announces, _To the party!_ * * * Henry used to think that after-parties were only for last shows, a way for the cast to say good-bye, but he_s since learned that, for theater kids, every performance is an excuse to celebrate. To come down from the high, or in the case of Robbie_s crowd, to keep it going. It_s almost midnight, and they_re packed into a third-floor walk-up in SoHo, the lights low and someone_s playlist pumping through a pair of wireless speakers. The cast moves through the center like a vein, their faces still painted but their costumes shed, caught between their onstage characters and their off stage selves. Henry drinks a lukewarm beer and rubs his thumb along the scar on his palm, in what_s quickly becoming a habit. For a while, he had Bea to keep him company. Bea, who much prefers dinner parties to theater ones, place settings and dialogues to plastic cups and lines shouted over stereos. A groaning compatriot, huddled with Henry in the corner, studying the tapestry of actors as if they were in one of her art history books. But then another Bowery sprite whisked her away, and Henry shouted traitor in their wake, even though he was glad to see Bea happy again. Meanwhile, Robbie is dancing in the middle of the room, always the center of the party. He gestures for Henry to join him, but Henry shakes his head, ignoring the pull, the easy draw of gravity, the open arms waiting at the end of the fall. At his worst, they were a perfect match, the differences between them purely gravitational. Robbie, who always managed to stay alight, while Henry came crashing down. _Hey, handsome._ Henry turns, looking up from his beer, and sees one of the leads from the show, a stunning girl with rust-red lips and a white lily crown, the gold glitter on her cheeks stenciled to look like graffiti. She is looking at him with such open want he should feel wanted, should feel something besides sad, lonely, lost. _Drink with me._ Her blue eyes shine as she holds out a little tray, a pair of shots with something small and white dissolving on the bottom. Henry thinks of all the stories about accepting food and drink from the fae, even as he reaches for the glass. He drinks, and at first all he tastes is sweetness, the faint burn of tequila, but then the world begins to fuzz a little at the edges. He wants to feel lighter, to feel brighter, but the room darkens, and he can feel a storm creeping in. He was twelve when the first one rolled through. He didn_t see it coming. One day the skies were blue and the next the clouds were low and dense, and the next, the wind was up and it was pouring rain. It would be years before Henry learned to think of those dark times as storms, to believe that they would pass, if he could simply hold on long enough. His parents meant well, of course, but they always told him things like Cheer up, or It will get better, or worse, It_s not that bad, which is easy to say when you_ve never had a day of rain. Henry_s oldest brother, David, is a doctor, but he still doesn_t understand. His sister, Muriel, says she does, that all artists suffer through their storms, before offering him a pill from the mint container she keeps in her purse. Her little pink umbrellas, she calls them, playing on his metaphor; as if it_s just a clever turn of phrase and not the only way Henry can try to make them understand what it_s like inside his head. It is just a storm, he thinks again, even as he pulls away from the scene, makes some excuse about going to find air. The party is too warm, and he wants to be outside, wants to go onto the roof and look up and see there is no bad weather, only stars, but of course, there are no stars, not in SoHo. He makes it halfway down the hall before he stops, remembering the show, the sight of Robbie in the rain, and shivers, deciding to go down instead of up, deciding to go home. And he_s almost to the door when she catches his hand. The girl with ivy curling over her skin. The one who painted him gold. _It_s you,_ she says. _It_s you,_ he says. She reaches out and wipes a fleck of gold from Henry_s cheek, and the contact is like static shock, a spark of energy where skin meets skin. _Don_t go,_ she says, and he_s still trying to think of what to say next when she pulls him close, and he kisses her, quick, searching, breaks off when he hears her gasp. _Sorry,_ he says, the word automatic, like please, like thank you, like I_m fine. But she reaches up and grabs a handful of his curls. _What for?_ she asks, drawing his mouth back to hers. _Are you sure?_ he murmurs, even though he knows what she will say, because he_s already seen the light in her eyes, the pale clouds sweeping through her vision. _Is this what you want?_ He wants the truth_but there is no truth for him, not anymore, and the girl just smiles, and draws him back against the nearest door. _This,_ she says, _is exactly what I want._ And then they are in one of the bedrooms, the door clicking shut and blotting out the noises of the party beyond the wall, and her mouth is on his, and he cannot see her eyes now in the dark, so it_s easy to believe that this is real. And for a while, Henry disappears. II NEW YORK CITY, March 12, 2014 A ddie makes her way uptown, reading The Odyssey by streetlight. It_s been a while since she read anything in Greek, but the poetic cadence of the epic poem draws her back into the stride of the old language, and by the time the Baxter comes into sight, she is half-lost in the image of the ship at sea, looking forward to a glass of wine and a hot bath. And destined for neither. Her timing is either very good, or very bad, depending on how you look at it, because Addie rounds the corner onto Fifty-sixth just as a black sedan pulls up in front of the Baxter and James St. Clair steps out onto the curb. He_s back from his filming, tan and seemingly happy, wearing a pair of sunglasses despite the fact it_s after dark. Addie slows, and stops, hovers across the street as the doorman helps him unload and carry his bags inside. _Shit,_ she mutters under her breath as her night dissolves. No bubble baths, no bottles of merlot. She sighs and retreats to the intersection, trying to decide what to do next. To her left, Central Park unravels like a dark green cloth in the center of the city. To her right, Manhattan rises in jagged lines, block after block of crowded buildings from Midtown down to the Financial District. She goes right, making her way down toward the East Village. Her stomach begins to growl, and on Second, she catches sight of dinner. A young man on a bicycle dismounts on the curb, unpacks an order from the zippered case behind the seat, and jogs the plastic bag up to the building. Addie drifts up to the bike and reaches in. It_s Chinese, she guesses, going by the size and shape of the containers, the paper edges folded and bound with thin metal handles. She plucks out a carton, and a pair of disposable chopsticks, and slips away before the man at the door has even paid. There was a time she felt guilty about stealing. But the guilt, like so many things, has worn away, and even though the hunger can_t kill her, it still hurts as though it will. Addie makes her way toward Avenue C, scooping lo mein into her mouth as her legs carry her through the Village to a brick building with a green door. She dumps the empty carton in a trash can on the corner and reaches the building entrance just as a man is coming out. She smiles at him, and he smiles back and holds the door. Inside, she climbs four flights of narrow steps to a steel door at the top, reaches up, and feels along the dusty frame for the small silver key, discovered last fall, when she and a lover stumbled home, the two a tangle of limbs on the stairs. Sam_s lips pressed beneath her jaw, paint-streaked fingers sliding beneath the waistband of her jeans. It was, for Sam, a rare impulsive moment. It was, for Addie, the second month of an affair. A passionate affair, to be sure, but only because time is a luxury she can_t afford. Sure, she dreams of sleepy mornings over coffee, legs draped across a lap, inside jokes and easy laughter, but those comforts come with the knowing. There can be no slow build, no quiet lust, intimacy fostered over days, weeks, months. Not for them. So she longs for the mornings, but she settles for the nights, and if it cannot be love, well, then, at least it is not lonely. Her fingers close around the key, the metal scraping softly as she drags it from its hiding spot. It takes three tries in the rusted old lock, just like it did that first night, but then the door swings open, and she steps out onto the building_s roof. A breeze kicks up, and she shoves her hands in the pocket of her leather jacket as she crosses the roof. It_s empty, save for a trio of lawn chairs, each of them imperfect in its own way_seats warped, stuck in different poses of recline, one arm hanging at a broken angle. A stained cooler sits nearby, and a string of fairy lights hangs between laundry posts, transforming the roof into a shabby, weather-worn oasis. It_s quiet up here_not silent, that is a thing she_s yet to find in a city, a thing she is beginning to think lost amid the weeds of the old world_but as quiet as it gets in this part of Manhattan. And yet, it is not the same kind of quiet that stifled her at James_s place, not the empty, internal quiet of places too big for one. It is a living quiet, full of distant shouts and car horns and stereo bass reduced to an ambient static. A low brick wall surrounds the roof, and Addie lets herself lean forward against it, resting her elbows and looking out until the building falls away, and all she can see is the lights of Manhattan, tracing patterns against the vast and starless sky. Addie misses stars. She met a boy, back in _65, and when she told him that, he drove her an hour outside of L.A., just to see them. The way his face glowed with pride when he pulled over in the dark and pointed up. Addie had craned her head and looked at the meager offering, the spare string of lights across the sky, and felt something in her sag. A heavy sadness, like loss. And for the first time in a century, she longed for Villon. For home. For a place where the stars were so bright they formed a river, a stream of silver and purple light against the dark. She looks up now, over the rooftops, and wonders if, after all this time, the darkness is still watching. Even though it has been so long. Even though he told her once that he doesn_t keep track of every life, pointed out that the world was big and full of souls, and he had far more to occupy himself than thoughts of her. The rooftop door crashes open behind her, and a handful of people stumble out. Two guys. Two girls. And Sam. Wrapped in a white sweater and pale gray jeans, her body like a brushstroke, long and lean and bright against the backdrop of the darkened roof. Her hair is longer now, wild blond curls escaping a messy bun. Streaks of red paint dab her forearms where the sleeves are pushed up, and Addie wonders, almost absently, what she_s working on. She is a painter. Abstracts, mostly. Her place, already small, made smaller by the stacks of canvas propped against the walls. Her name, crisp and easy, only Samantha on her finished work, or when traced across a spine in the middle of the night. The other four move in a huddle of noise across the roof, one of the guys in the middle of a story, but Sam lags behind a step, head tipped back to savor the crisp night air, and Addie wishes she had something else to stare at. An anchor to keep her from falling into the easy gravity of the other girl_s orbit. She does, of course. The Odyssey. Addie is about to bury her gaze in the book, when Sam_s blue eyes dip down from the sky and find her own. The painter smiles, and for an instant, it is August again, and they are laughing over beers on a bar patio, Addie lifting the hair off her neck to calm the flush of summer heat. Sam leaning in to blow on her skin. It is September, and they are in her unmade bed, their fingers tangled in the sheets and with each other as Addie_s mouth traces the dark warmth between Sam_s legs. Addie_s heart slams in her chest as the girl peels away from her group and casually wanders over. _Sorry for crashing your peace._ _Oh, I don_t mind,_ says Addie, forcing her gaze out, as if studying the city, even though Sam always made her feel like a sunflower, unconsciously angling toward the other girl_s light. _These days, everyone_s looking down,_ muses Sam. _It_s nice to see someone looking up._ Time slides. It_s the same thing Sam said the first time they met. And the sixth. And the tenth. But it_s not just a line. Sam has an artist_s eye, present, searching, the kind that studies their subject and sees something more than shapes. Addie turns away, waits for the sound of retreating steps, but instead, she hears the snap of a lighter, and then Sam is beside her, a white-blond curl dancing at the edge of her sight. She gives in, glances over. _Could I steal one of those?_ she asks, nodding at the cigarette. Sam smiles. _You could. But you don_t need to._ She draws another from the box and hands it over, along with a neon blue lighter. Addie takes them, tucks the cigarette between her lips and drags her thumb along the starter. Luckily the breeze is up, and she has an excuse, watching the flame as it goes out. Goes out. Goes out. Goes out. _Here._ Sam steps closer, her shoulder brushing Addie_s as she steps in to block the wind. She smells like the chocolate-chip cookies that her neighbor bakes whenever he_s stressed, like the lavender soap she uses to scrub paint from her fingers, the coconut conditioner she leaves in her curls at night. Addie has never loved the taste of tobacco, but the smoke warms her chest, and it gives her something to do with her hands, a thing to focus on besides Sam. They are so close, breaths fogging the same bit of air, and then Sam reaches out and touches one of the freckles on Addie_s right cheek, the way she did the first time they met, a gesture so simple and still so intimate. _You have stars,_ she says, and Addie_s chest tightens, twists again. D?j? vu. D?j? su. D?j? vecu. She has to fight the urge to close the gap, to run her palm along the long slope of Sam_s neck, to let it rest against the nape, where Addie knows it fits so well. They stand in silence, blowing out clouds of pale smoke, the other four laughing and shouting at their backs, until one of the guys_Eric? Aaron?_calls Sam over, and just like that, she is slipping away, back across the roof. Addie fights the urge to tighten her grip, instead of letting go_again. But she does. Leans against the low brick wall and listens to them talk, about life, about getting old, about bucket lists and bad decisions, and then one of the girls says, _Shit, we_re gonna be late._ And just like that, beers get finished, cigarettes put out, and the group of them drifts back toward the rooftop door, all five retreating like a tide. Sam is the last to go. She slows, glances over her shoulder, flashing a last smile at Addie before she ducks inside, and Addie knows she could catch her if she runs, could beat the closing door. She doesn_t move. The metal bangs shut. Addie sags against the brick wall. Being forgotten, she thinks, is a bit like going mad. You begin to wonder what is real, if you are real. After all, how can a thing be real if it cannot be remembered? It_s like that Zen koan, the one about the tree falling in the woods. If no one heard it, did it happen? If a person cannot leave a mark, do they exist? Addie stubs the cigarette out on the brick ledge, and turns her back on the skyline, makes her way to the broken chairs and the cooler wedged between them. She finds a single beer floating amid the half-frozen melt and twists off the cap, sinking onto the least-damaged lawn chair. It is not so cold tonight, and she is too tired to go looking for another bed. The glow of the fairy lights is just enough to see by, and Addie stretches out in the lawn chair, and opens The Odyssey, and reads of strange lands, and monsters, and men who can_t ever go home, until the cold lulls her to sleep. III PARIS, FRANCE, August 9, 1714 H eat hangs like a low roof over Paris. The August air is heavy, made heavier still by the sprawl of stone buildings, the reek of rotting food and human refuse, the sheer number of bodies living shoulder to shoulder. In a hundred and fifty years, Haussman will set his mark upon the city, raise a uniform facade and paint the buildings in the same pale palette, creating a testament to art, and evenness, and beauty. That is the kind of Paris Addie dreamed of, and one she will certainly live to see. But right now, the poor pile themselves in ragged heaps while silk-finished nobles stroll through gardens. The streets are crowded with horse-drawn carts, the squares thick with people, and here and there spires thrust up through the woolen fabric of the city. Wealth parades down avenues, and rises with the peaks of each palace and estate, while hovels cluster in narrow roads, the stones stained dark with grime and smoke. Addie is too overwhelmed to notice any of it. She skirts the edge of a square, watching as men dismantle market stalls, and kick out at the ragged children who duck and weave between them, searching for scraps. As she walks, her hand slips into the hem pocket of her skirts, past the little wooden bird to the four copper sols she found in the lining of the stolen coat. Four sols, to make a life. It is getting late, and threatening to rain, and she must find a place to sleep. It should be easy enough_there is, it seems, a lodging house on every street_but she is hardly across the threshold of the first when she is turned away. _This is no brothel,_ chides the owner, glaring down his nose. _And I_m no whore,_ she answers, but he only sneers, and flicks his fingers as if casting off some unwanted residue. The second house is full, the third too costly, the fourth harbors only men. By the time she steps through the doors of the fifth the sun has set, and her spirits with it, and she is already braced for the rebuke, some excuse as to why she is unfit to stay beneath the roof. But she isn_t turned away. An older woman meets her in the entry, thin, and stiff, with a long nose and the small, sharp eyes of a hawk. She takes one look at Addie and leads her down the hall. The rooms are small, and dingy, but they have walls and doors, a window and a bed. _A week_s pay,_ demands the woman, _in advance._ Addie_s heart sinks. A week seems an impossible stretch when memories only seem to last a moment, an hour, a day. _Well?_ snaps the woman. Addie_s hand closes around the copper coins. She is careful to draw out only three, and the woman snatches them as fast as a crow stealing crusts of bread. They vanish into the pouch at her waist. _Can you give me a bill?_ asks Addie. _Some proof, to show I_ve paid?_ The woman scowls, clearly insulted. _I run an honest house._ _I_m sure you do,_ fumbles Addie, _but you have so many rooms to keep. It would be easy to forget which ones have__ _Thirty-four years I_ve run this lodge,_ she cuts in, _and never yet forgotten a face._ It is a cruel joke, thinks Addie, as the woman turns and shuffles away, leaving her to her rented room. A week she paid for, but she knows that she will be lucky to have a day. Knows that in the morning she will be evicted, the matron three crowns richer, while she herself will be out on the street. A little bronze key rests in the lock, and Addie turns it, relishes the solid sound, like a stone dropped into a stream. She has nothing to unpack, no change of clothes; she casts off the traveling coat, draws the little wooden bird from her skirts and sets it on the windowsill. A talisman against the dark. She looks out, expecting to see Paris_s grand rooftops and dazzling buildings, the tall spires, or at least the Seine. But she has walked too far from the river, and the little window looks out only onto a narrow alleyway, and the stone wall of another house that could be anywhere. Addie_s father told her so many stories of Paris. Made it sound like a place of glamour and gold, rich with magic and dreams waiting to be uncovered. Now she wonders if he ever saw it, or if the city was nothing but a name, an easy backdrop for princes and knights, adventurers and queens. They have bled together in her mind, those stories, become less a picture than a palette, a tone. Perhaps the city was less splendid. Perhaps there were shadows mixed in with the light. It is a gray and humid night, the sounds of merchants and horse-carts muted by the soft rain beginning to fall, and Addie curls up on the narrow bed and tries to sleep. She thought at least she_d have the night, but the rain hasn_t even stopped, the darkness barely settled when the woman bangs upon her door, and a key is thrust into the lock, and the tiny room is plunged into noise. Rough hands haul Addie from the bed. A man grips her arm as the woman sneers and says, _Who let you in?_ Addie fights to wipe away the dregs of sleep. _You did,_ she says, wishing the woman had only swallowed her pride and given a receipt, but all Addie has is the key, and before she can show it, the woman_s bony hand cuts hard across her cheek. _Don_t lie, girl,_ she says, sucking her teeth. _This isn_t a charity house._ _I paid,_ says Addie, cupping her face, but it is no use. The three sols in the pouch at the woman_s waist will not serve as proof. _We spoke, you and I. Thirty-four years you said you_ve run this house__ For an instant, uncertainty flashes across the woman_s face. But it is too brief, too fleeting. Addie will one day learn to ask for secrets, details only a friend or intimate would know, but even then it will not always gain their favor. She will be called a trickster, a witch, a spirit, and a madwoman. Will be cast out for a dozen different reasons, when in truth, there is only one. They don_t remember. _Out,_ orders the woman, and Addie barely has time to grab her coat before she_s forced from the room. Halfway down the hall, she remembers the wooden bird still resting on the windowsill, and tries to twist free, to go back for it, but the man_s grip is firm. She_s cast out onto the street, shaking from the sudden violence of it all, the only consolation that before the door swings shut, the little wooden bird is tossed out, too. It lands on the stones beside her, one wing cracking with the force. Though this time, the bird doesn_t mend itself. It lies there, beside her, a sliver of wood chipped off like a fallen feather as the woman vanishes back inside the house. And Addie stifles the horrible urge to laugh, not at the humor but the madness of it, the absurd, inevitable ending to her night. It is very late, or very early, the city quieted and the sky a cloudy, rain-slicked gray, but she knows the dark is watching as she scoops up the carving, buries it in her pocket with the last copper coin. Gets to her feet, drawing the coat tight around her shoulders, the hem of her skirts already damp. Exhausted, Addie makes her way down the narrow street and takes shelter beneath the wooden lip of an awning, sinking down into the stone crook between buildings to wait for dawn. She slips into a feverish almost-sleep, and feels her mother_s hand against her brow, the faint rise and fall of her voice as she hums, smoothing a blanket over Addie_s shoulders. And she knows she must be ill; that is the only time she saw her mother gentle. Addie lingers there, holding fast to the memory even as it fades, the harsh clop of hooves and strain of wooden carts encroaching on her mother_s whispering song, burying it note by note until she jerks forward out of the haze. Her skirts are stiff with grime, stained and wrinkled from the brief but restless sleep. The rain has stopped, but the city looks just as dirty as it did on her arrival. Back home, a good storm would wash the world clean, leave it smelling crisp and new. But it seems nothing can rinse the grime from the streets of Paris. If anything, that storm has only made things worse, the world wet and dull, puddles brown with mud and filth. And then, amid the muck, she smells something sweet. She follows the scent until she finds a market in full swing, the vendors shouting prices from tables and stalls, chickens still squawking as they_re hauled off the backs of carts. Addie is famished, cannot even remember the last time she ate. Her dress doesn_t fit, but it never did_she_d stolen it from a washing line two days outside of Paris, tired of the one she_d worn the day of her wedding. Still, it hangs no looser now, despite the days without food or drink. She supposes she does not need to eat, will not perish from hunger_but tell that to her cramping stomach, her shaking legs. She scans the busy square, thumbs the last coin in her pocket, loath to spend it. Perhaps she does not need to. With so many people in the market, it should be easy to steal what she needs. Or so she thinks, but the merchants of Paris are as cunning as its thieves, and they keep twice as tight a grip on every ware. Addie learns this the hard way; it will be weeks before she learns to palm an apple, longer still to master it without the faintest tell. Today, she makes a clumsy effort, tries to swipe a seeded roll from a bread-baker_s cart, and is rewarded with a meaty hand vised around her wrist. _Thief!_ She catches a glimpse of men-at-arms weaving through the crowd, and is flooded with the fear of landing in a cell, or stock. She is still flesh and bone, has not learned yet to pick locks, or charm men out of charges, to free herself from shackles as easily as her face slips from their minds. So she pleads hastily, handing over her last coin. He plucks it from her, waves the men away as the sol vanishes into his purse. Far too much for a roll, but he gives her nothing back. Payment, he says, for trying to steal. _Lucky I don_t take your fingers,_ he growls, pushing her away. And that is how Addie comes to be in Paris, with a crust of bread and a broken bird, and nothing else. She hurries from the market, slowing only when she reaches the bank of the Seine. And then, breathless, she tears into the roll, tries to make it last, but in moments it is gone, like a drop of water down an empty well, her hunger barely touched. She thinks of Estele. The year before, the old woman developed a ringing in her ears. It was always there, she said, day and night, and when Addie asked her how she could bear the constant noise, she shrugged. _With time,_ she said, _you can get used to anything._ But Addie does not think she will ever get used to this. She stares out at the boats on the river, the cathedral rising through the curtain of mist. The glimpses of beauty that shine like gems against the dingy setting of the blocks, too far away and flat to be real. She stands there until she realizes she is waiting. Waiting for someone to help. To come and fix the mess she_s in. But no one is coming. No one remembers, and if she resigns herself to waiting, she will wait forever. So she walks. And as she walks, she studies Paris. Makes a note of this house, and that road, of bridges, and carriage horses, and the gates of a garden. Glimpses roses beyond the wall, beauty in the cracks. It will take years for her to learn the workings of this city. To memorize the clockwork of arrondissements, step by step, chart the course of every vendor, shop, and street. To study the nuances of the neighborhoods and find the strongholds and the cracks, learn to survive, and thrive, in the spaces between other people_s lives, make a place for herself among them. Eventually, Addie will master Paris. She will become a flawless thief, uncatchable and quick. She will slip through fine houses like a filigreed ghost, move through salons, and steal up onto rooftops at night and drink pilfered wine beneath the open sky. She will smile and laugh at every stolen victory. Eventually_but not today. Today, she is simply trying to distract herself from her gnawing hunger and her stifling fear. Today she is alone in a strange city, with no money, and no past, and no future. Someone dumps a bucket from a second-floor window, without warning, and thick brown water splashes onto the cobbles at her feet. Addie jumps back, trying to avoid the worst of the splash, only to collide with a pair of women in fine dress, who look at her as if she were a stain. Addie retreats, sinking onto a nearby step, but moments later a woman comes out and shakes a broom, accuses her of trying to steal away her customers. _Go to the docks if you plan to sell your wares,_ she scolds. And at first, Addie doesn_t know what the woman means. Her pockets are empty. She_s nothing to sell. But when she says as much, the woman gives her such a look, and says, _You_ve got a body, don_t you?_ Her face flushes as she understands. _I_m not a whore,_ she says, and the woman flashes a cold smirk. _Aren_t we proud?_ she says, as Addie rises, turns to go. _Well,_ the woman calls after in a crow-like caw, _that pride won_t fill your belly._ Addie pulls the coat tight about her shoulders and forces her legs forward down the road, feeling as if they_re about to fold, when she sees the open doors of a church. Not the grand, imposing towers of Notre-Dame, but a small, stone thing, squeezed between buildings on a narrow street. She has never been religious, not like her parents. She has always felt caught between the old gods and the new_but meeting the devil in the woods has got her thinking. For every shadow, there must be light. Perhaps the darkness has an equal, and Addie could balance her wish. Estele would sneer, but one god gave her nothing but a curse, so the woman cannot fault her for seeking shelter with the other. The heavy door scrapes open, and she shuffles in, blinking in the sudden dark until her eyes adjust, and she sees the panels of stained glass. Addie inhales, struck by the quiet beauty of the space, the vaulted ceiling, the red and blue and green light painting patterns on the walls. It is a kind of art, she thinks, starting forward, when a man steps into her path. He opens his arms, but there is no welcome in the gesture. The priest is there to bar her way. He shakes his head at her arrival. _I_m sorry,_ he says, coaxing her like a stray bird back up the aisle. _There is no room here. We_re full._ And then she is back out on the steps of the church, the heavy grind of the bolt sliding home, and somewhere in Addie_s mind, Estele begins to cackle. _You see,_ she says, in her rasping way, _only new gods have locks._ * * * Addie never decides to go to the docks. Her feet choose for her, carry her along the Seine as the sun sinks over the river, lead her down the steps, stolen boots thudding on the wooden planks. It_s darker there, in the shadow of the ships, a landscape of crates and barrels, ropes and rocking boats. Eyes follow her. Men glance over from their work, and women look on, lounging like cats in the shade. They have a sickly look about them, their color too high, their mouths painted a violent gash of red. Their dresses tattered and dirty, and still finer than Addie_s own. She has not decided what she means to do, even when she slips the coat from her shoulders. Even when a man comes up to her, one hand already roving, as if testing fruit. _How much?_ he asks in a gruff voice. And she has no idea what a body is worth, or if she is willing to sell it. When she does not answer, his hands grow rough, his grip grows firm. _Ten sols,_ she says, and the man lets out a bark of laughter. _What are you, a princess?_ _No,_ she answers, _a virgin._ There were nights, back home, when Addie dreamed of pleasure, when she conjured the stranger beside her in the dark, felt his lips against her breasts, imagined her hand was his as it slipped between her legs. _My love,_ the stranger said, pressing her down into the bed, black curls tumbling into gem-green eyes. _My love,_ she breathed as he entered her, her body parting around his solid strength. He pushed deeper, and she gasped, biting her hand to keep from sighing too loud. Her mother would say that a woman_s pleasure was a mortal sin, but in those moments, Addie didn_t care. In those moments, there was only the longing and the want and the stranger, whispering against her skin as the tension deepened, the heat building like a storm in the bowl of her hips, and then in her mind, Adeline would pull his body down on hers, drawing him deeper and deeper until the storm broke, and thunder rolled through her. But this is nothing like that. There is no poetry to this unknown man_s grunts, no melody or harmony, save the steady noise of thrusting as he pushes himself against her. No rolling pleasure, only pressure, and pain, the tightness of one thing being forced inside another, and Addie looks up at the night sky so she won_t have to look at his body moving, and she feels the darkness looking back. Then they are in the woods again, and his mouth is on hers, blood bubbling up on her lips as he whispers. _Done._ The man finishes with a final thrust, and slumps against her, leaden, and this cannot be it, this cannot be the life Addie traded everything for, this cannot be the future that erased her past. Panic grips her chest but this stranger doesn_t seem to care, or even notice. He simply straightens up, and tosses a handful of coins onto the cobbles at her feet. He trundles off and Addie sinks to her knees to collect her reward, and then empties her stomach into the Seine. * * * When asked about her first memories of Paris, those terrible few months, she will say it was a season of grief blurred into a fog. She will say she can_t remember. But, of course, Addie remembers. She remembers the stench of rotten food, and waste, the brackish waters of the Seine, the figures on the docks. Remembers moments of kindness erased by a doorway or a dawn, remembers mourning her home with its fresh bread and warm hearth, her family_s quiet melody, and Estele_s strong beat. The life she had, the one she gave up for the one she thought she wanted, stolen and replaced by this. And yet, she remembers, too, how she marveled at the city, the way the light swept through in the mornings and evenings, the grandeur carved out between the unhewn blocks; how, despite all the grime, and grief, and disappointment, Paris was full of surprises. Beauty glimpsed through cracks. Addie remembers the brief respite of that first fall, the brilliant turning of leaves over footpaths, going from green to gold like a jeweler_s showcase, before the short, sharp plunge into winter. Remembers the cold that gnawed at her fingers and toes before swallowing them whole. Cold, and hunger. They had lean months in Villon, of course, when the cold snap stole the last of a harvest, or a late freeze ruined new growth_but this is a new kind of hunger. It rakes at her from the inside, drags its nails along her ribs. It wears her down, and while Addie knows it cannot kill her, the knowing does nothing to dull the urgent ache, the fear. She has not lost an ounce of flesh, but her stomach twists, gnawing on itself, and just as her feet refuse to callus, so her nerves refuse to learn. There is no numbing, none of the ease that comes with a habit. This pain is always fresh, brittle and bright, the feeling as sharp as her memory. And she remembers the worst, too. Remembers the sudden freeze, the brutal chill that stole upon the city, and the wave of sickness that blew in behind it like a late-fall breeze, scattering mounds of dead and dying leaves. The sound and sight of the carts rattling past, carrying grim cargo. Addie, turning her face away, trying not to look at the bony shapes piled carelessly in the back. She pulls a stolen coat close around her as she stumbles down the road, and dreams of summer heat, while the cold climbs down into her bones. She does not think she will ever be warm again. Twice more she has gone to the docks, but the cold has forced the callers in, to the warm shelters of brothels, and around her, the cold snap has turned Paris cruel. The rich board themselves up inside their homes, cling to their hearth fires, while out in the streets, the poor are whittled down by winter. There is nowhere to hide from it_or rather, the only spots have all been claimed. That first year, Addie is too tired to fight for space. Too tired to search for shelter. Another gust whips through, and Addie folds herself against it, eyes blurring. She shuffles sideways, onto a narrow street, just to escape the violent wind, and the sudden quiet, the breezeless peace, of the alley is like down, soft and warm. Her knees fold. She slumps into a corner against a set of steps, and watches her fingers turn blue, thinks she can see frost spreading over her skin, and marvels quietly, sleepily, at her own transformation. Her breath fogs the air in front of her, each exhale briefly blotting out the world beyond until the gray city fades to white, to white, to white. Strange, how it seems to linger now, a little more with every breath, as if she_s fogging up a pane of glass. She wonders how many breaths until the world is hidden. Erased, like her. Perhaps it is her vision blurring. She does not care. She is tired. She is so tired. Addie cannot stay awake, and why should she try? Sleep is such a mercy. Perhaps she will wake again in spring, like the princess in one of her father_s stories, and find herself lying in the grassy bank along the Sarthe, Estele nudging her with a worn shoe and teasing her for dreaming again. * * * This is death. At least, for an instant, Addie thinks it must be death. The world is dark, the cold unable to hold back the reek of rot, and she cannot move. But then, she remembers, she cannot die. There is her stubborn pulse, fighting to beat, and her stubborn lungs, fighting to fill, and Addie realizes her limbs aren_t lifeless at all, but weighted down on every side. Heavy sacks above, below, and panic flutters through her, but her mind is still sluggish with sleep. She twists, and the sacks shift a little on top of her. The dark splits, and a sliver of gray light shines through. Addie writhes and wriggles until she frees one arm and then the other, drawing them in against her body. She begins to push up through the sacks, and only then does she feel bones beneath the cloth, only then does her hand meet waxy skin, only then do her fingers tangle in the strands of someone else_s hair, and now she is awake, so awake, scrambling, tearing, desperate to get free. She claws her way up, and out, hands splayed across the bony mound of a dead man_s back. Nearby, milky eyes stare up at her. A jaw hangs open, and Addie stumbles out of the cart and collapses to the ground, retching, sobbing, alive. A horrible sound tears free from her chest, a harsh cough, something snagged halfway between a sob and a laugh. Then, a scream, and it takes a moment for her to realize it is not coming from her own cracked lips. A ragged woman stands across the road, hands to her mouth in horror, and Addie cannot even blame her. What a shock it must be, to see a corpse drag itself free from the cart. The woman crosses herself, and Addie calls out in a hoarse and broken voice, _I am not dead._ But the woman only shuffles away and Addie turns her fury on the cart. _I am not dead!_ she says again, kicking at the wooden wheel. _Hey!_ shouts a man, holding the legs of a frail and twisted corpse. _Stay back,_ shouts a second, gripping its shoulders. Of course, they do not remember throwing her in. Addie backs away as they swing the newest body up into the cart. It lands with a sickening thud atop the others, and her stomach churns to think she was among them, even briefly. A whip cracks, the horses shuffle forward, the wheels turn on the cobbled stones, and it is not until the cart has gone, not until Addie thrusts her trembling hands into the pockets of her stolen coat, that she realizes they are empty. The little wooden bird is gone. The last of her past life, carried away with the dead. For months, she will keep reaching for the bird, hand drifting to her pocket the way it might to a stubborn curl, a motion born of so much habit. She cannot seem to remind her fingers it is gone, cannot seem to remind her heart, which stutters a little every time she finds the pocket empty. But, there, blooming amid the sorrow, is a terrible relief. Every moment since she left Villon, she has feared the loss of this last token. Now that it is gone, there is a guilty gladness tucked among the grief. This last, brittle thread to her old life has broken, and Addie has been set well, and truly, and forcibly free. IV PARIS, FRANCE, July 29, 1715 D reamer is too soft a word. It conjures thoughts of silken sleep, of lazy days in fields of tall grass, of charcoal smudges on soft parchment. Addie still holds on to dreams, but she is learning to be sharper. Less the artist_s hand, and more the knife, honing the pencil_s edge. _Pour me a drink,_ she says, holding out the bottle of wine, and the man pries out the cork and fills two glasses from the low shelf of the rented room. He hands her one, and she doesn_t touch it as he throws his back in a single swallow, downs a second before abandoning the glass and reaching for her dress. _Where_s the rush?_ she says, guiding him back. _You_ve paid for the room. We have all night._ She is careful not to push him away, careful to keep the pressure of her resistance coy. Some men, she_s found, take pleasure in disregarding the wishes of a woman. Instead, Addie lifts her own glass to his hungry mouth, tips the rust-red contents between his lips, tries to pass the gesture off as seduction instead of force. He drinks deep, then knocks the glass away. Clumsy hands paw at her front, fighting with the laces and the stays. _I cannot wait to . . ._ he slurs, but the drug in the wine is already taking hold, and soon he trails off, his tongue going heavy in his mouth. He sags back onto the bed, still grasping at her dress, and a moment later his eyes roll back and he slumps sideways, lost to sleep before his head strikes the thin pillow. Addie leans over and pushes until he rolls off the bed, hitting the floor like a sack of grain. The man lets out a muted groan, but does not wake. She finishes his work, loosening the laces of her dress until she can breathe again. Paris fashion_twice as tight as country clothes, and half as practical. She stretches out on the bed, grateful to have it to herself, at least for the night. She does not want to think about tomorrow, when she is forced to start again. That is the madness of it. Every day is amber, and she is the fly trapped inside. No way to think in days or weeks when she lives in moments. Time begins to lose its meaning_and yet, she has not lost track of time. She cannot seem to misplace it (no matter how she tries) and so Addie knows what month it is, what day, what night, and so she knows it has been a year. A year since she ran from her own wedding. A year since she fled into the woods. A year since she sold her soul for this. For freedom. For time. A year, and she has spent it learning the boundaries of this new life. Walking the edges of her curse like a lion in its cage. (She has seen lions now. They came to Paris in the spring as part of an exhibit. They were nothing like the beasts of her imagination. So much grander, and so much less, their majesty diminished by the dimensions of their cells. Addie went a dozen times to see them, studied their mournful gazes, looking past the visitors to the gap in the tent, the single sliver of freedom.) A year she_s spent bound within the prism of this deal, forced to suffer but not die, starve but not waste, want but not wither. Every moment pressed into her own memory, while she herself slips from the minds of others with the slightest push, erased by a closing door, an instant out of sight, a moment of sleep. Unable to leave a mark on anyone, or anything. Even the man slumped on the floor. She draws the stoppered bottle of laudanum from her skirts, and holds it to the meager light. Three tries, and two bottles of the precious medicine wasted before she realized she could not drug the drinks herself, could not be the hand that did the harm. But mix it in the bottle of wine, reset the cork, and let them pour their own glass, and the action is no longer hers. See? She is learning. It is a lonely education. She tips the bottle, the last of the milky substance shifting inside the glass, and wonders if it might buy her a night of dreamless sleep, a deep and drugged peace. _How disappointing._ At the sound of the voice, Addie nearly drops the laudanum. She twists around in the small room, scouring the dark, but cannot find its source. _I confess, my dear, I expected more._ The voice seems to come from every shadow_then, from one. It gathers in the darkest corner of the room, like smoke. And then he steps forward into the circle cast by the candle flame. Black curls tumble across his brow. Shadows land in the hollows of his face, and green eyes glitter with their own internal light. And for a traitorous instant, her heart lurches at the familiar sight of her stranger, before she remembers it is only him. The darkness from the woods. A year she_s lived this curse, and in that time, she_s called for him. She_s pleaded with the night, sunk coins she could not spare into the banks of the Seine, begged for him to answer just so she could ask why, why, why. Now, she throws the bottle of laudanum straight at his head. The shadow does not move to catch it, does not need to. It passes straight through, shatters against the wall behind him. He gives her a pitying smile. _Hello, Adeline._ Adeline. A name she thought she_d never hear again. A name that aches like a bruise, even as her heart skips to hear it. _You,_ she snarls. The barest incline of his head. The curl of his smile. _Have you missed me?_ She hurtles toward him like the stoppered bottle, throws herself against his front, half expecting to fall through and shatter as it did. But her hands meet flesh and bone, or at least, the illusion of it. She pounds against his chest, and it is like striking a tree, just as hard and just as pointless. He looks down at her, amused. _I see you have._ She tears herself away, wants to scream, to rage, to sob. _You left me there. You took everything from me, and you left. Do you know how many nights I begged__ _I heard you,_ he says, and there is an awful pleasure in the way he says it. Addie sneers with rage. _But you never came._ The darkness spreads his arms, as if to say, I am here now. And she wants to strike him, useless as it is, wants to banish him, cast him from this room like a curse, but she must ask. She must know. _Why? Why did you do this to me?_ His dark brows knit with false worry, mock concern. _I granted your wish._ _I asked only for more time, for a life of freedom__ _I have given you both._ His fingers trail along the bedpost. _This past year has taken no toll__ A stifled sound escapes her throat, but he continues. _You are whole, are you not? And uninjured. You do not age. You do not wither. And as for freedom, is there any keener liberation than what I_ve gifted you? A life with no one to answer to._ _You know this isn_t what I wanted._ _You did not know what you wanted,_ he says sharply, stepping toward her. _And if you did, then you should have been more careful._ _You deceived__ _You erred,_ says the darkness, closing the last space between them. _Don_t you remember, Adeline?_ His voices drops to a whisper. _You were so brash, so brazen, tripping over your words as if they were roots. Rambling on about all the things you did not want._ He is so close to her now, one hand drifting up her arm, and she wills herself not to give him the satisfaction of retreat, not to let him play the wolf, and force her into the part of sheep. But it is hard. For all that he is painted as her stranger, he is not a man. Not even human. It is only a mask, and it does not fit. She can see the thing beneath, as it was in the woods, shapeless and boundless, monstrous, and menacing. The darkness shimmers behind that green-eyed gaze. _You asked for an eternity and I said no. You begged, and pleaded, and then, do you remember what you said?_ When he speaks again, his voice is still his voice, but she can hear her own, echoing through it. _You can have my life when I am done with it. You can have my soul when I don_t want it anymore._ She draws back, from the words, from him, or tries to, but this time he does not let her. The hand on her arm tightens; the other rests like a lover_s touch behind her neck. _Was it not in my best interest, then, to make your life unpleasant? To press you toward your inevitable surrender?_ _You did not have to,_ she whispers, hating the waver in her voice. _My dear Adeline,_ he says, hand sliding up her neck into her hair. _I am in the business of souls, not mercy._ His fingers tighten, forcing her head back, her gaze up to meet his own, and there is no sweetness in his face, only a kind of feral beauty. _Come,_ he says, _give me what I want, and the deal will be done, this misery ended._ A soul, for a single year of grief and madness. A soul, for copper coins on a Paris dock. A soul, for nothing more than this. And yet, it would be a lie to say she does not waver. To say that no part of her wants to give up, give in, if only for a moment. Perhaps it is that part that asks. _What would become of me?_ Those shoulders_the ones she drew so many times, the ones she conjured into being_give only a dismissive shrug. _You will be nothing, my dear,_ he says simply. _But it is a kinder nothing than this. Surrender, and I will set you free._ If some part of her wavered, if some small part wanted to give in, it did not last beyond a moment. There is a defiance in being a dreamer. _I decline,_ she growls. The shadow scowls, those green eyes darkening like cloth soaked wet. His hands fall away. _You will give in,_ he says. _Soon enough._ He does not step back, does not turn to go. He is simply gone. Swallowed by the dark. V NEW YORK CITY, March 13, 2014 H enry Strauss has never been a morning person. He wants to be one, has dreamed of rising with the sun, sipping his first cup of coffee while the city is still waking, the whole day ahead and full of promise. He_s tried to be a morning person, and on the rare occasion he_s managed to get up before dawn, it was a thrill: to watch the day begin, to feel, at least for a little while, like he was ahead instead of behind. But then a night would go long, and a day would start late, and now he feels like there_s no time at all. Like he is always late for something. Today, it is breakfast with his younger sister, Muriel. Henry hurries down the block, his head still ringing faintly from the night before, and he would have canceled, should have canceled. But he_s canceled three times in the last month alone, and he doesn_t want to be a shitty brother; she just wants to be a good sister and that_s nice. That_s new. He_s never been to this place before. It_s not one of his local haunts_though the truth is, Henry_s running out of coffee shops in his vicinity. Vanessa ruined the first. Milo the second. The espresso at the third tasted like charcoal. So he let Muriel pick one, and she chose a _quaint little hole in the wall_ called Sunflower that apparently doesn_t have a sign or an address or any way to find it except by some hipster radar that Henry obviously lacks. At last he spots a single sunflower stenciled on a wall across the street. He jogs to make the light, bumping into a guy on the corner, mumbles apologies (even as the other man says it_s fine, it_s fine, it_s totally fine). When Henry finally finds the entrance, the hostess is halfway through telling him there_s no space, but then she looks up from the podium, and smiles, and says she_ll make it work. Henry looks around for Muriel, but she_s always considered time a flexible concept, so even though he_s late, she_s definitely later. And he_s secretly glad, for once, because it gives him a moment to breathe, to smooth his hair and wrest himself free of the scarf that_s trying to strangle him, even order a coffee. He tries to make himself look presentable, even if it doesn_t matter what he does; it won_t change what she sees. But it still matters. It has to. Five minutes later, Muriel sweeps in. She is, as usual, a tornado of dark curls and unshakable confidence. Muriel Strauss, who at twenty-four only ever talks about the world in terms of conceptual authenticity and creative truth, who_s been a darling of the New York art scene since her first semester at Tisch, where she quickly realized she was better at critiquing art than creating it. Henry loves his sister, he does. But Muriel_s always been like strong perfume. Better in small doses. And at a distance. _Henry!_ she shouts, shedding her coat and dropping into the seat with a dramatic flourish. _You look great,_ she says, which isn_t true, but he simply says, _You too, Mur._ She beams, and orders a flat white, and Henry braces for an awkward silence, because the truth is, he has no idea how to talk to her. But if Muriel_s good at anything, it_s holding up a conversation. So he drinks his black coffee and settles in while she rolls through the latest pop-up gallery drama, then her schedule for Passover, raves about an experiential art festival on the High Line, even though it isn_t open yet. It isn_t until after she finishes a rant on a piece of street art that was definitely not a pile of trash, but in fact a commentary on capitalist waste, to the echo of Henry_s mhm_s, and nods, that Muriel brings up their older brother. _He_s been asking about you._ This is a thing Muriel has never said. Not about David; never to Henry. So he cannot help himself. _Why?_ His sister rolls her eyes. _I imagine it_s because he cares._ Henry nearly chokes on his drink. David Strauss cares about a lot of things. He cares about his status as the youngest head surgeon at Sinai. He cares, presumably, about his patients. He cares about making time for Midrash, even if it means he has to do it in the middle of a Wednesday night. He cares about his parents, and how proud they are of what he_s done. David Strauss does not care about his younger brother, except for the myriad ways in which he_s ruining the family reputation. Henry looks down at his watch, even though it doesn_t tell the time, or any time, for that matter. _Sorry, sis,_ he says, scraping back his chair. _I_ve got to open the store._ She cuts herself off_something she never used to do_and rises from the chair to wrap her arms around his waist, squeezing him tight. It feels like an apology, like affection, like love. Muriel is a good five inches shorter than Henry, enough that he could rest his chin on her head, if they were that kind of close, which they_re not. _Don_t be a stranger,_ she says, and Henry promises he won_t. VI NEW YORK CITY, March 13, 2014 A ddie wakes to someone touching her cheek. The gesture is so gentle, at first she thinks she must be dreaming, but then she opens her eyes, and sees the fairy lights on the roof, sees Sam crouched beside the lawn chair, a worried crease across her forehead. Her hair has been set free, a mane of wild blond curls around her face. _Hey, Sleeping Beauty,_ she says, tucking a cigarette back into its box, unlit. Addie shivers and sits up, pulling the jacket tight around her. It_s a cold, cloudy morning, the sky a stretch of sunless white. She didn_t mean to sleep this long, this late. Not that she has anywhere to be, but it certainly seemed like a better idea last night, when she could feel her fingers. The Odyssey has fallen off her lap. It lies facedown on the ground, the cover slick with morning dew. She reaches to pick it up, does her best to dust the jacket off, smooth the pages where they got bent, or smudged. _It_s freezing out here,_ says Sam, pulling Addie to her feet. _Come on._ Sam always talks like that, statements in place of questions, imperatives that sound like invitations. She pulls Addie toward the rooftop door, and Addie is too cold to protest, simply trails Sam down the stairs to her apartment, pretending she doesn_t know the way. The door swings open onto madness. The hall, the bedroom, the kitchen are all stuffed full of art and artifact. Only the living room_at the back of the apartment_is spacious and bare. No sofa or tables there, nothing but two large windows, an easel, and a stool. _This is where I do my living,_ she said, when she first brought Addie home. And Addie answered, _I can tell._ She_s crammed everything she owns into three-quarters of the space, just to preserve the peace and quiet of the fourth. Her friend offered her a studio space at an insane deal, but it felt cold, she said, and she needs warmth to paint. _Sorry,_ says Sam, stepping around a canvas, over a box. _It_s a bit cluttered right now._ Addie has never seen it any other way. She would love to see what Sam is working on, what put the white paint under her nails and led to the smudge of pink just below her jaw. But instead Addie forces herself to follow the girl around and over and through the mess into the kitchen. Sam snaps on the coffeemaker, and Addie_s eyes slide over the space, marking the changes. A new purple vase. A stack of half-read books, a postcard from Italy. The collection of mugs, some sprouting clean brushes, and always growing. _You paint,_ she says, nodding at the stack of canvases leaning against the stove. _I do,_ says Sam, a smile breaking over her face. _Abstracts, mostly. Nonsense art, my friend Jake calls it. But it_s not really nonsense, it_s just_other people paint what they see. I paint what I feel. Maybe it_s confusing, swapping one sense for another, but there_s beauty in the transmutation._ Sam pours two cups of coffee, one mug green, as shallow and wide as a bowl, the other tall and blue. _Cats or dogs?_ she asks, instead of _green or blue,_ even though there are no dogs or cats on either of them, and Addie says, _cats,_ and Sam hands her the tall blue cup without any explanation. Their fingers brush, and they are standing closer than she realized, close enough for Addie to see the streaks of silver in the blue of Sam_s eyes, close enough for Sam to count the freckles on her face. _You have stars,_ she says. D?j? vu, thinks Addie, again. She wills herself to pull away, to leave, to spare herself the insanity of repetition and reflection. Instead, Addie wraps her hands around the cup and takes a long sip. The first note is strong and bitter, but the second is rich and sweet. She sighs with pleasure, and Sam flashes her a brilliant grin. _Good, right?_ she says. _The secret is__ Cacao nibs, thinks Addie. _Cacao nibs,_ says Sam, taking a long sip from her cup, which Addie is convinced now is really a bowl. She drapes herself over the counter, head bowed over the coffee as if it were an offering. _You look like a wilted flower,_ teases Addie. Sam winks and lifts her cup. _Water me, and watch me bloom._ Addie has never seen Sam like this, in the morning. Of course, she_s woken up beside her, but those days were tinged with apologies, unease. The aftermath of the absence of memory. It is never fun to linger in those moments. Now, though. This is new. A memory made for the first time. Sam shakes her head. _Sorry. I never asked your name._ This is one of the things she loves about Sam, one of the first things she ever noticed. Sam lives and loves with such an open heart, shares the kind of warmth most reserve only for the closest people in their lives. Reasons come second to needs. She took her in, she warmed her up, before she thought to ask her name. _Madeline,_ says Addie, because it is the closest she can get. _Mmm,_ says Sam, _my favorite kind of cookie. I_m Sam._ _Hello, Sam,_ she says, as if tasting the name for the first time. _So,_ says the other girl, as if the question only just occurred to her. _What were you doing up there on the roof?_ _Oh,_ says Addie with a small, self-deprecating laugh. _I didn_t mean to fall asleep up there. I don_t even remember sitting down on the lawn chair. I must have been more tired than I thought. I just moved in, 2F, and I don_t think I_m used to all the noise. I couldn_t sleep, finally gave up and went up there to get some fresh air and watch the sun rise over the city._ The lie rolls out so easily, the way paved with practice. _We_re neighbors!_ says Sam. _You know,_ she adds, setting her empty cup aside, _I_d love to paint you sometime._ And Addie fights the urge to say, You already have. _I mean, it wouldn_t look like you,_ Sam rambles on, heading into the hall. Addie follows, watches her stop and run her fingers over a stack of canvases, turning through them as if they were records in a vinyl shop. _I_ve got this whole series I_m working on,_ she says, _of people as skies._ A dull pang echoes through Addie_s chest, and it_s six months ago, and they are lying in bed, Sam_s fingers tracing the freckles on her cheeks, her touch as light and steady as a brush. _You know,_ she_d said, _they say people are like snowflakes, each one unique, but I think they_re more like skies. Some are cloudy, some are stormy, some are clear, but no two are ever quite the same._ _And what kind of sky am I?_ Addie had asked then, and Sam had stared at her, unblinking, and then brightened, and it was the kind of brightening she had seen with a hundred artists, a hundred times, the glow of inspiration, as if someone switched on a light beneath their skin. And Sam, suddenly animated, wound to life, sprang from the bed, taking Addie with her into the living room. An hour of sitting on the hardwood floor, wrapped in only a blanket, listening to the murmur and scrape of Sam mixing paint, the hiss of the brush on the canvas, and then it was done, and when Addie came around to look at it, what she saw was the night sky. Not the night sky as anyone else would have painted it. Bold streaks of charcoal, and black, and thin slashes of middle gray, the paint so thick it rose up from the canvas. And flecked across the surface, a handful of silver dots. They looked almost accidental, like spatter from a brush, but there were exactly seven of them, small and distant and wide apart as stars. Sam_s voice draws her back to the kitchen. _I wish I could show you my favorite piece,_ she_s saying now. _It was the first in the series. One Forgotten Night. I sold it to this collector on the Lower East Side. It was my first major sale, paid my rent for three months, got me into a gallery. Still, it_s hard, letting go of the art. I know I have to_that whole starving artist thing is overrated_but I miss it every day._ Her voice dips softer. _The crazy thing is, every one of the pieces in that series is modeled after someone. Friends, people here in the building, strangers I found on the street. I remember all of them. But I can_t for the life of me remember who she was._ Addie swallows. _You think it was a girl?_ _Yeah. I do. It just had this energy._ _Maybe you dreamed her._ _Maybe,_ says Sam. _I_ve never been good at remembering dreams. But you know . . ._ She trails off, staring at Addie the way she did that night in bed, beginning to glow. _You remind me of that piece._ She puts a hand over her face. _God, that sounds like the worst pickup line in the world. I_m sorry. I_m going to take a shower._ _I should get going,_ says Addie. _Thanks for the coffee._ Sam bites her lip. _Do you have to?_ No, she doesn_t. Addie knows she could follow Sam right into the shower, wrap herself in a towel, and sit on the living room floor and see what kind of painting Sam would make of her today. She could. She could. She could fall into this moment forever, but she knows there is no future in it. Only an infinite number of presents, and she has lived as many of those with Sam as she can bear. _Sorry,_ she says, chest aching, but Sam only shrugs. _We_ll see each other again,_ she says with so much faith. _After all, we_re neighbors now._ Addie manages a pale shadow of a smile. _That_s right._ Sam walks her to the door, and with every step, Addie resists the urge to look back. _Don_t be a stranger,_ says Sam. _I won_t,_ promises Addie, as the door swings shut. She sighs, leaning back against it, listens to Sam_s footsteps retreating down the cluttered hall, before she forces herself up, and forward, and away. Outside, the white marble sky has cracked, letting through thin bands of blue. The cold has burned off, and Addie finds a caf? with sidewalk seating, busy enough that the waiter only has time to make a pass of the outside tables every ten minutes or so. She counts the beats like a prisoner marking the pace of guards, orders a coffee_it isn_t as good as Sam_s, all bitter, no sweet, but it_s warm enough to keep the chill at bay. She puts up the collar of her leather coat, and opens The Odyssey again, and tries to read. Here, Odysseus thinks he is heading home, to finally be reunited with Penelope after the horrors of war, but she has read the story enough times to know how far the journey is from done. She skims, translating from Greek to modern English. I fear the sharp frost and the soaking dew together will do me in_I_m bone-weary, about to breathe my last, and a cold wind blows from a river on toward morning. The waiter ducks back outside, and she glances up from the book, watches him frown a little at the sight of the drink already ordered and delivered, the gap in his memory where a customer should be. But she looks like she belongs, and that_s half the battle, really, and a moment later he turns his attention to the couple in the doorway, waiting for a seat. She returns to her book, but it_s no use. She_s not in the mood for old men lost at sea, for parables of lonely lives. She wants to be stolen away, wants to forget. A fantasy, or perhaps a romance. The coffee is cold now, anyway, and Addie stands up, book in hand, and sets off for The Last Word to find something new. VII PARIS, FRANCE, July 29, 1716 S he stands in the shade of a silk merchant. Across the way, the tailor_s shop bustles, the pace of business brisk even as the day wears on. Sweat drips down her neck as she unties and reties the bonnet, salvaged from a gust of wind, hoping the cloth cap will be enough to pass her off as a lady_s maid, to grant her the kind of invisibility reserved for help. If he thinks her a maid, Bertin will not look too close. If he thinks her a maid, he might not notice Addie_s dress, which is simple but fine, slipped from a tailor_s model a week before, in a similar shop across the Seine. It was a pretty thing at first, until she snagged the skirts on an errant nail, and someone cast a bucket of soot too near her feet, and red wine somehow got onto one of the sleeves. She wishes her clothes were as resistant to change as she appears to be. Especially because she has only the one dress_there_s no point collecting a wardrobe, or anything else, when you_ve nowhere to put it. (She will try, in later years, to gather trinkets, hide them away like a magpie with its nest, but something will always conspire to steal them back. Like the wooden bird, lost among the bodies in the cart. She cannot seem to hold on to much of anything for long.) At last, the final customer steps out_a valet, one beribboned box beneath each arm_and before anyone else can beat her to the door, Addie darts across the street and steps inside the tailor_s shop. It is a narrow space: a table piled high with rolls of fabric; a pair of dress forms modeling the latest fashions. The kind of gowns that take at least four hands to get on, and just as many to take off_all bolstered hips and ruffled sleeves and bosoms cinched too tight to breathe. These days the fine society of Paris is wrapped like parcels, clearly not meant to be opened. A small bell on the door announces her arrival, and the tailor, Monsieur Bertin, looks up at her through brows as thick as brambles, and makes a sour face. _I am closing,_ he says curtly. Addie ducks her head, the picture of discretion. _I am here on behalf of Madame Lautrec._ It is a name plucked from the breeze, overheard on a handful of her walks, but it is the right answer. The tailor straightens, suddenly keen. _For the Lautrecs, anything._ He takes up a small pad, a charcoal pencil, and Addie_s own fingers twitch, a moment of grief, a longing to draw as she so often did. _It is strange, though,_ he is saying, shaking the stiffness from his hands, _that she would send a lady_s maid in place of her valet._ _He_s ill,_ Addie answers swiftly. She is learning to lie, to bend with the current of the conversation, follow its course. _So she sent her lady_s maid instead. Madame wishes to throw a dance, and is in need of a new dress._ _But of course,_ he says. _You have her measurements?_ _I do._ He stares, waiting for her to produce a slip of paper. _No,_ she explains. _I have her measurements_they are the same as mine. That_s why she sent me._ She thinks it is a rather clever lie, but the tailor only frowns, and turns toward a curtain at the back of the shop. _I will get my tape._ She catches a brief glimpse of the room beyond, a dozen dress forms, a mountain of silks, before the curtain falls again. But as Bertin slips away, so does she, vanishing between the dress forms and the rolls of muslin and cotton propped against the wall. It is not her first visit to the shop, and she has learned well its crevices and crooks, all the corners large enough to hide in. Addie folds into one such space, and by the time Bertin returns to the front of the shop, the tape in one hand, he has forgotten all about Madame Lautrec and her peculiar maid. It is stuffy among the rolls of cloth, and she_s grateful when she hears the rattle of the bell, the shuffling sound of Bertin closing up his shop. He will go upstairs, to the room he keeps above, will have some soup, and soak his aching hands, and go to bed before it is full night. She waits, letting the quiet settle around her, waits until she can hear the groan of his steps overhead. And then she is free to wander, and peruse. A weak gray light seeps through the front window as she crosses the shop, pulls aside the heavy curtain, and steps through. The fading light slides in through a single window, just enough to see by. Along the back wall there are cloaks, half-finished, and she makes a mental note to return when summer gives way to fall, and the cold sweeps through. But her focus falls on the center of the room, where a dozen dress forms stand like dancers taking up their marks, their narrow waists wrapped in shades of green and gray, a navy gown piped white, another pale blue with yellow trim. Addie smiles, and casts the bonnet off onto a table, shaking loose her hair. She runs her hand over skeins of patterned silk and richly dyed cotton, savoring the textures of linen and twill. Touches the boning of the corsets, the bustles at the hips, imagining herself in each. She passes the muslin and wool, simple and sturdy, lingers instead on worsted pleats and layered satin, finer than anything she saw back home. Home_it is a hard word to let go of, even now, when there is nothing left to bind her to it. She plucks at the stays of a bodice, the blue of summer, and stops, breath held, when she catches movement out of the corner of her eye. But it is only a mirror, leaning against the wall. She turns, studies herself in the silvered surface, as if she were a portrait of someone else, though the truth is, she looks entirely herself. These last two years have felt like ten, and yet, they do not show. She should have long been whittled down to skin and bone, hardened, hewn, but her face is just as full as it was the summer she left home. Her skin, unlined by time and trial, untouched in any way, save for the familiar freckles on the smooth palette of her cheeks. Only her eyes mark the change_an edge of shadow threaded through the brown and gold. Addie blinks, forces her gaze away from herself, and the dresses. Across the room, a trio of dark shapes_men_s forms, in trousers and waistcoats and jackets. In the low light, their headless forms seem alive, leaning into one another as they study her. She considers the cut of their clothes, the absence of bone stays or bustled skirts, and thinks, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, how much simpler it would be to be a man, how easily they move through the world, and at such little cost. And then, she is reaching for the nearest form, sliding off its coat. Unfastening the buttons down its front. There is a strange intimacy to the undressing, and she enjoys it all the more for the fact that the man beneath her fingers is not real, and therefore cannot grope, or paw, or push. She frees herself from the laces of her own dress, and finds her way into the trousers, fastening them below her knee. She pulls on the tunic and buttons the waistcoat, shrugs the striped coat over her shoulders, fastens the lace cravat at her throat. She feels safe in the armor of their fashion, but when she turns to the mirror, her spirits sink. Her chest is too full, her waist too narrow, her hips flaring to fill the trousers in the wrong place. The jacket helps, a little, but nothing can disguise her face. The bow of her lips, the line of her cheek, the smoothness of her brow, all too soft and round to pass for anything but female. She takes up a pair of shears, tries to trim the loose coil of her hair to her shoulders, but seconds later, it is back, the locks on the floor swept away by some invisible hand. No mark made, even on herself. She finds a pin and fastens the light brown waves back in the style she has seen men wear, plucks a tricorne hat from one of the forms and rests it above her brow. At a distance, perhaps; at a passing glance, perhaps; at night, perhaps, when the darkness is thick enough to smudge the details; but even by lamplight, the illusion does not hold. The men in Paris are soft, even pretty, but they are still men. She sighs, and casts off the disguise, and passes the next hour trying on dress after dress, already longing for the freedom of those trousers, the stayless comfort of that tunic. But the dresses are fine, and lush. Her favorite among them is a lovely green and white_but it isn_t finished yet. The collar and hem lie open, waiting for lace. She_ll have to check back in a week or two, hope that she catches the dress before it_s gone, wrapped in paper and sent on to the home of some baroness. In the end, Addie chooses a dark sapphire dress, its edges trimmed in gray. It reminds her of a storm at night, the clouds blotting out the sky. The silk kisses her skin, the fabric crisp and new and utterly unblemished. It is too fine for her needs, a dress for banquets, for balls, but she does not care. And if it draws strange looks, what of it? They will forget before they have the chance to gossip. Addie leaves her own dress draped around the naked form, does not bother with the bonnet, lifted from a line of clothes that morning. She slips back through the curtain and across the shop, skirts rustling around her, finds the spare key Bertin keeps in the table_s top drawer, and unlocks the door, careful to still the bell with her fingers. She pulls the door shut behind her, crouching to slip the iron key back through the gap beneath the door, then rises and turns, only to collide with a man standing on the street. It is no wonder she didn_t see him; dressed in black, from his shoes to his collar, he blends right into the dark. She is already murmuring apologies, already backing away when her gaze lifts, and she sees the line of his jaw, the raven curls, the eyes, so green despite the lack of light. He smiles down at her. _Adeline._ That name, it strikes like flint on his tongue, sparks an answering light behind her ribs. His gaze drifts over her new dress. _You_re looking well._ _I look the same._ _The prize of immortality. As you wanted._ This time she does not rise to take the bait. Does not scream or swear or point out all the ways he_s damned her, but he must see the struggle on her face, because he laughs, soft and airy as a breeze. _Come,_ says the shadow, offering his arm. _I will walk you._ He does not say that he will walk her home. And if it were midday, she would scorn the offer just to spite him. (Of course, if it were midday, the darkness would not be there.) But it is late, and only one kind of woman walks alone at night. Addie has learned that women_at least, women of a certain class_never venture forth alone, even during the day. They are kept inside like potted plants, tucked behind the curtains of their homes. And when they do go out, they go in groups, safe within the cages of each other_s company, and always in the light of day. To walk alone in the morning is a scandal, but to walk alone at night, that is something else. Addie knows. She has felt their looks, their judgment, from every side. The women scorn her from their windows, the men try to buy her on the streets, and the devout, they try to save her soul, as if she hasn_t already sold it. She has said yes to the church, on more than one occasion, but only for the shelter, and never the salvation. _Well?_ asks the shadow, holding out his arm. Perhaps she is lonelier than she would say. Perhaps an enemy_s company is still better than none. Addie does not take his arm, but she does start walking, and she does not need to look to know that he has fallen in step beside her. His shoes echo softly on the cobblestones, and a faint breeze presses like a palm against her back. They walk in silence, until she cannot bear it. Until her resolve slips, and she looks over, and sees him, head tipped slightly back, dark lashes brushing fair cheeks as he breathes in the night, fetid though it is. A faint smile on those lips, as if he_s perfectly at ease. His very image mocks her, even as his edges blur, dark into dark, smoke on shadow, a reminder of what he is, and what he isn_t. Her silence cracks, the words spill out. _You can take any shape you please, isn_t that right?_ His head tips down. _It is._ _Then change,_ she says. _I cannot bear to look at you._ A rueful smile. _I rather like this form. I think you do as well._ _I did once,_ she says. _But you have ruined it for me._ It is an opening, she sees too late, a crack in her own armor. Now he will never change. Addie stops on a narrow, winding street, before a house, if it can be called that. A slumping wooden structure, like a pile of kindling, deserted, abandoned, but not empty. When he is gone, she will climb through the gap in the boards, trying not to ruin the hem of her new skirts, will cross the uneven floor and go up a set of broken stairs to the attic, and hope that no one else has found it first. She will climb out of her storm-cloud dress, and fold it carefully within a piece of tissue paper, and then she will lie down on a pallet of burlap and board, and stare up through the split planks of the ceiling two feet over her head, and hope it does not rain, while the lost souls creep through the body of the house below. Tomorrow, the little room will be taken, and in a month, the building will burn down, but there is no sense worrying about the future now. The darkness shifts like a curtain at her back. _How long will you carry on?_ he muses. _What is the point of dragging yourself through another day, when there is no reprieve?_ Questions she has asked herself in the dead of night, moments of weakness when winter sank its teeth into her skin, or hunger clawed against her bones, when a space was taken, a day_s work undone, a night_s peace lost, and she could not bear the thought of rising to do it all again. And yet, hearing the words parroted back like this, in his voice instead of hers, they lose a measure of their venom. _Don_t you see?_ he says, green eyes sharp as broken glass. _There is no end besides the one I offer. All you have to do is yiel__ _I saw an elephant,_ says Addie, and the words are like cold water on coals. The darkness stills beside her, and she continues, gaze fixed on the ramshackle house, and the broken roof, and the open sky above. _Two, in fact. They were in the palace grounds, as part of some display. I didn_t know animals could be so large. And there was a fiddler in the square the other day,_ she presses on, her voice steady, _and his music made me cry. It was the prettiest song I_d ever heard. I had Champagne, drank it straight from the bottle, and watched the sun set over the Seine while the bells rang out from Notre-Dame, and none of it would have happened back in Villon._ She turns to look at him. _It has only been two years,_ she says. _Think of all the time I have, and all the things I_ll see._ Addie grins at the shadow then, a small, feral smile, all teeth, feasting on the way the humor falls from his face. It is a small victory, and yet so sweet, to see him falter, even for an instant. And then, suddenly, he is too close, the air between them snuffed like a candle. He smells of summer nights, of earth, and moss, and tall grass waving beneath stars. And of something darker. Of blood on rocks, and wolves loose in the woods. He leans in until his cheek brushes against hers, and when he speaks again, the words are little more than whispers over skin. _You think it will get easier,_ he says. _It will not. You are as good as gone, and every year you live will feel a lifetime, and in every lifetime, you will be forgotten. Your pain is meaningless. Your life is meaningless. The years will be like weights around your ankles. They will crush you, bit by bit, and when you cannot stand it, you will beg me to put you from your misery._ Addie pulls back to face the darkness, but he is already gone. She stands alone on the narrow road. Inhales a low, unsteady breath, forces it out again, and then straightens, and smooths her skirts, and makes her way into the broken house that, tonight at least, is home.

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs /     (Disney, 2012)    Snow White and the Seven
  • The Summer Children /   (by Dot Hutchison, 2018) -   The Summer Children /
  • Sycamore Row /   (by John Grisham, 2013) -   Sycamore Row /
  • The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts /   :    (by Gary Chapman, 2010) -   The Five Love Languages: The

, , .

  • .

  • ,