Somehow, impossibly, Henry has found a way in.
Somehow, he remembers her.
How? How? The question thuds with the drum of her heart, but in this moment, Addie does not care.
In this moment, she is holding to the sound of her name, her real name, on someone else’s tongue, and it is enough, it is enough, it is enough.
July 29, 1720
The stage is set, the places ready.
Addie smooths the linen on the table, arranges the porcelain plates, the cups—not crystal, but still glass—and draws the dinner from its hamper. It is no five-course meal, served by glamoured hands, but it is fresh and hearty fare. A loaf of bread, still warm. A wedge of cheese. A pork terrine. A bottle of red wine. She is proud of her collection, prouder still of the fact she had no magic, save the curse, by which to gather it, could not simply cut her gaze, say a word, and will it so.
It is not only the table.
It is the room. No stolen chamber. No beggar’s hovel. A place, for now at least, to call her own. It took two months to find, a fortnight to fix up, but it was worth it. From the outside it is nothing: cracked glass and warping wood. And it’s true, the lower floors have fallen into disrepair, home now only to rodents and the occasional stray cats—and, in winter, crowded with bodies seeking any form of shelter—but it is the height of summer now, and the city’s poor have taken to the streets, and Addie has claimed the top floor for herself. Boarded up the stairs and carved a way in and out through an upper window, like a child in a wooden fort. It is an unconventional entrance, but it is worth it for the room beyond, where she has made herself a home.
A bed, piled high with blankets. A chest, filled with stolen clothes. The windowsill brims with trinkets, glass and porcelain and bone, gathered and assembled like a line of makeshift birds.
In the middle of the narrow room, a pair of chairs set before a table covered in pale linen. And in its center, a bundle of flowers, picked in the night from a royal garden and smuggled out in the folds of her skirt. And Addie knows none of it will last, it never does—a breeze will somehow steal away the totems on her mantel; there will be a fire, or a flood; the floor will give way or the secret home will be found and claimed by someone else.
But she has guarded the pieces this past month, gathered and arranged them one by one to make a semblance of a life, and if she’s being honest, it is not only for herself.
It is for the darkness.
It is for Luc.
Or rather, it is to spite him, to prove that she is living, she is free. That Addie will give him no hold, no way to mock her with his charity.
The first round was his, but the second will be hers.
And so she has made her home, and readied it for company, fastened up her hair and dressed herself in russet silk, the color of fall leaves, even cinched herself into a corset despite her loathing of bone stays.
She has had a year to plan, to design the posture she will strike, and as she straightens up the room she turns barbs over in her mind, sharpening the weapons of their discourse. She imagines his thrusts, and her parries, the way his eyes will lighten or darken as the conversation turns.
You have grown teeth, he said, and Addie will show him how sharp they have become.
The sun has gone down now, and all that’s left to do is wait. An hour passes, and her stomach growls with want as the bread goes cold in its cloth, but she doesn’t allow herself to eat. Instead, she leans out the window and watches the city, the shifting lights of lanterns being lit.
And he doesn’t come.
She pours herself a glass of wine, and paces, as the stolen candles drip, and wax pools on the table linen, and the night grows heavy, the hours first late, and then early.
And still he doesn’t come.
The candles gutter and snuff themselves out, and Addie sits in the dark as the knowledge settles over her.
The night has passed, the first threads of daylight creeping into the sky, and it is tomorrow now, and their anniversary is over, and five years have become six without his presence, without his face, without his asking if she’s had enough, and the world slips, because it is unfair, it is cheating, it is wrong.
He was supposed to come, that was the nature of their dance. She did not want him there, has never wanted it, but she expected it, he has made her expect it. Has given her a single threshold on which to balance, a narrow precipice of hope, because he is a hated thing, but a hated thing is still something. The only thing she has.
And that is the point, of course.
That is the reason for the empty glass, the barren plate, the unused chair.
She gazes out the window, and remembers the look in his eyes when they toasted, the curve of his lips when they declared war, and realizes what a fool she is, how easily baited.
And suddenly, the whole tableau seems gruesome and pathetic, and Addie can’t bear to look at it, can’t breathe in her red silk. She tears at the laces of the corset, pulls the pins from her hair, frees herself from the confines of the dress, sweeps the settings from the table, and dashes the now empty bottle against the wall.
Glass bites into her hand, and the pain is sharp, and real, the sudden scald of a burn without the lasting scar, and she does not care. In moments, her cuts have already closed. The glasses and bottle lie whole. Once she thought it was a blessing, this inability to break, but now, the impotence is maddening.
She ruins everything, only to watch it shudder, mocking, back together, return like a set to the beginning of the show.
And Addie screams.
Anger flares inside her, hot and bright, anger at Luc, and at herself, but it is giving way to fear, and grief, and terror, because she must face another year alone, a year without hearing her name, without seeing herself reflected in anyone’s eyes, without a night’s respite from this curse, a year, or five, or ten, and she realizes then how much she’s leaned on it, the promise of his presence, because without it, she is falling.
She sinks to the floor among the ruins of her night.
It will be years before she sees the sea, the waves crashing against the jagged white cliffs, and then she will remember Luc’s goading words.
Even rocks wear away to nothing.
Addie falls asleep just after dawn, but it is fitful, and brief, and full of nightmares, and when she wakes to see the sun high over Paris, she cannot bring herself to rise. She sleeps all the day and half the night, and when she wakes the shattered thing in her has set again, like a badly broken bone, some softness hardened.
“Enough,” she tells herself, rising to her feet.
“Enough,” she repeats, feasting on the bread, now stale, the cheese, wilted from the heat.
There will be other dark nights, of course, other wretched dawns, and her resolve will always weaken a little as the days grow long, and the anniversary draws near, and treacherous hope slips in like a draft. But the sorrow has faded, replaced by stubborn rage, and she resolves to kindle it, to shield and nurture the flame until it takes far more than a single breath to blow it out.
New York City
March 13, 2014
Henry Strauss walks home alone through the dark.
Addie, he thinks, turning the name over in his mouth.
Addie, who looked at him and saw a boy with dark hair, kind eyes, an open face.