It is dark, and strong, and bitter, like the chocolate flakes she first tasted years ago, only without the edge of sweetness. But the boy stares at her, as eager as a pup, and so she swallows, and smiles, cradles the cup, and looks out from beneath the brim of her hat, studying the tables of men, some with their heads bowed close, while others laugh, and play at cards, or pass sheaves of paper back and forth. She watches these men and wonders anew at how open the world is to them, how easy the thresholds.
Her attention flicks back to her companion, who’s watching her with the same unbridled fascination.
“What were you thinking?” he asks. “Just now?”
There is no introduction, no formal exchange. He simply dives into the conversation, as if they have known each other for years instead of minutes.
“I was thinking,” she says, “that it must be so easy to be a man.”
“Is that why you put on this disguise?”
“That,” she says, “and a hatred of corsets.”
He laughs, the sound so open and easy Addie finds a smile rising to her lips.
“Do you have a name?” he asks, and she doesn’t know if he’s asking for her own, or that of her disguise, but she decides on “Thomas,” watches him turn the word over like a bite of fruit.
“Thomas,” he muses. “A pleasure to meet you. My name is Remy Laurent.”
“Remy,” she echoes, tasting the softness, the upturned vowel. It suits him, more than Adeline ever suited her. It is young and sweet, and it will haunt her, as all names do, bobbing like apples in the stream. No matter how many men she meets, Remy will always conjure him, this bright and cheerful boy—the kind she could have loved, perhaps, if given the chance.
She takes another sip, careful not to hold the cup too gingerly, to lean the weight on her elbow, and sit in the unselfconscious way men have when they do not expect anyone to study them.
“Amazing,” he marvels. “You have studied my sex well.”
“You are a splendid mimic.”
Addie could tell him that she’s had the time to practice, that it has become a kind of game over the years, a way to amuse herself. That she has added a dozen different characters by now, knows the exact differences between a duchess and a marchioness, a docksman and a merchant.
But instead, she only says, “We all need ways to pass the time.”
He laughs again at that, lifts his cup, but then, between one sip and the next, Remy’s attention wanders across the room, and he lands on something that startles him. He chokes on his coffee, color rushing into his cheeks.
“What is it?” she asks. “Are you well?”
Remy coughs, nearly dropping the cup as he gestures to the doorway, where a man has just walked in.
“Do you know him?” she asks, and Remy sputters, “Don’t you? That man there is Monsieur Voltaire.”
She shakes her head a little. The name means nothing.
Remy draws a parcel from his coat. A booklet, thin, with something printed on the cover. She frowns at the cursive title, has only managed half the letters when Remy flips the booklet open to show a wall of words, printed in elegant black ink. It has been too long since her father tried to teach her, and those were simple letters; loose, handwritten script.
Remy sees her studying the page. “Can you read it?”
“I know the letters,” she admits, “but I haven’t the learning to make much sense of them. And by the time I manage a line, I fear I’ve lost its meaning.”
Remy shakes his head. “It is a crime,” he says, “that women are not taught the same as men. Why, a world without reading, I cannot fathom it. A whole long life without poems, or plays, or philosophers. Shakespeare, Socrates, to say nothing of Descartes!”
“Is that all?” she teases.
“And Voltaire,” he goes on. “Of course, Voltaire. And essays, and novels.”
She does not know the word.
“A single long story,” he explains, “something of pure invention. Filled with romance, or comedy, or adventure.”
She thinks of the fairy tales her father told her, growing up, the stories Estele spun of old gods. But this novel that Remy speaks of sounds like it encompasses so much more. She runs her fingers over the page of the proffered booklet, but her attention is on Remy, and his, for the moment, is on Voltaire. “Are you going to introduce yourself?”
Remy’s gaze snaps back, horrified. “No, no, not tonight. It is better this way; think of the story.” He sits back in his seat, glowing with joy. “See? This is what I love about Paris.”
“You are not from here, then.”
“Is anyone?” He has come back to her now. “No, I’m from Rennes. A printer’s family. But I am the youngest son, and my father made the grave mistake of sending me away to school, and the more I read, the more I thought, and the more I thought, the more I knew I had to be in Paris.”
“Your family didn’t mind?”
“Of course they did. But I had to come. This is where the thinkers are. This is where the dreamers live. This is the heart of the world, and the head, and it is changing.” His eyes dance with light. “Life is so brief, and every night in Rennes I’d go to bed, and lie awake, and think, there is another day behind me, and who knows how few ahead.”
It is the same fear that forced her into the woods that night, the same need that drove her to her fate.
“So here I am,” he says brightly. “I would not be anywhere else. Isn’t it marvelous?”
Addie thinks of the stained glass and the locked doors, the gardens, and the gates around them.
“It can be,” she says.
“Ah, you think me an idealist.”
Addie lifts the coffee to her lips. “I think it comes more easily to men.”
“It does,” he admits, before nodding at her attire. “And yet,” he says with an impish grin, “you strike me as someone not easily restrained. Aut viam invenium aut faciam, and so on.”
She does not know Latin yet, and he does not offer a translation, but a decade from now, she will look up the words, and learn their meaning.
To find a way, or make your own.
And she will smile, then, a ghost of the smile he has managed to win from her tonight.
He blushes. “I must be boring you.”
“Not at all,” she says. “Tell me, does it pay, to be a thinker?”
Laughter bubbles out of him. “No, not very well. But I am still my father’s son.” He holds out his hands, palms up, and she notices the echo of ink along the lines of his palms, staining the whorls of his fingers, the way charcoal used to stain her own. “It is good work,” he says.
But under his words, a softer sound, the rumble of his stomach.
Addie had almost forgotten the shattered jar, the ruined honey. But the rest of the feast sits waiting at her feet.
“Have you ever climbed the steps of Sacré Coeur?”
New York City
March 15, 2014
After so many years, Addie thought she’d come to terms with time.
She thought she’d made her peace with it—or that they’d found a way to coexist—not friends by any means, but at least no longer enemies.