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.

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.

“Get 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?”


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.