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.
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.
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.
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.
Déjà vu. Déjà su. Déjà 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.
August 9, 1714
Heat 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.