Henry reaches for the falafel, and Addie remembers the woman in the window.
“What was that?” she asks. “Back there at the truck, the woman working, she looked like she was about to cry. Do you know her?”
Henry shakes his head. “She said I reminded her of her son.”
Addie stares at him. It isn’t a lie, she doesn’t think, but it’s not entirely the truth, either. There’s something he isn’t saying, but she doesn’t know how to ask. She spears a dumpling and pops it in her mouth.
Food is one of the best things about being alive.
Not just food. Good food. There is a chasm between sustenance and satisfaction, and while she spent the better part of three hundred years eating to stave off the pangs of hunger, she has spent the last fifty delighting in the discovery of flavor. So much of life becomes routine, but food is like music, like art, replete with the promise of something new.
She wipes the grease from her fingers and lies back in the grass beside Henry, feeling wonderfully full. She knows it will not last. That fullness is like everything else in her life. It always wears away too soon. But here, and now, she feels … perfect.
She closes her eyes, and smiles, and thinks she could stay here all night, despite the growing cold, let the dusk give way to dark, burrow against Henry and hope for stars.
A bright chime sounds in his coat pocket.
Henry answers. “Hey, Bea,” he starts, and then abruptly sits up. Addie can only hear half the call, but she can guess at the rest.
“No, of course I didn’t forget. I know, I’m late, I’m sorry. I’m on my way. Yeah, I remember.”
Henry hangs up, puts his head in his hands.
“Bea’s having a dinner party. And I was meant to bring dessert.”
He looks back at the food trucks, as if one of them might hold the answer, looks at the sky, which has gone from dusk to dim, runs his hands through his hair, lets out a soft and muttered stream of cursing. But there’s no time to wallow now, not when he is late.
“Come on,” says Addie, pulling him to his feet. “I know a place.”
* * *
The best French bakery in Brooklyn has no sign.
Marked by only a butter yellow awning, a narrow glass window between two broad brick storefronts, it belongs to a man named Michel. Every morning before dawn, he arrives, and begins the slow assembly of his art. Apple tarts, the fruit sliced thin as paper, and operas, the tops dusted with cocoa, and petit fours coated in marzipan and small, piped roses.
The shop is closed now, but she can see the shadow of its owner as he moves through the kitchen at its back, and Addie raps her knuckles on the glass door, and waits.
“Are you sure about this?” asks Henry as the shape shuffles forward, cracks the door.
“We are closed,” he says, in a heavy accent, and Addie slips from English into French as she explains she is a friend of Delphine’s, and the man softens at the mention of his daughter’s name, softens more at the sound of his native tongue, and she understands. She can speak German, Italian, Spanish, Swiss, but French is different, French is bread baking in her mother’s oven, French is her father’s hands carving wood, French is Estele murmuring to her garden.
French is coming home.
“For Delphine,” he answers, opening the door, “anything.”
Inside the small shop, New York falls away, and it is pure Paris, the taste of sugar and butter still on the air. The cases are mostly empty now, only a handful of the beautiful creations lingering on the shelves, bright and sparse as wildflowers in a barren field.
She does know Delphine, though the young woman does not, of course, know her. She knows Michel as well, visits this shop the way someone else might visit a photograph, linger on a memory.
Henry hovers a few steps behind as Addie and Michel make small talk, each contented by the brief respite of the other’s language, and the patissier places each of the remaining pastries in a pink box, and hands them to her. And when she offers to pay, wondering if she can afford the cost, Michel shakes his head, and thanks her for the taste of home, and she wishes him good night, and back on the curb, Henry stares at her as if she’s performed a magic act, some strange and wondrous feat.
He pulls her into the circle of his arms.
“You are amazing,” he says, and she blushes, having never had an audience.
“Here,” she says, pressing the pastry box into his hands. “Enjoy the party.”
Henry’s smile falls. His forehead rucks up like a carpet. “Why don’t you come with me?”
And she doesn’t know how to say I can’t when there is no explaining why, when she was ready to spend all night with him. So she says, “I shouldn’t,” and he says, “Please,” and she knows it is such a terrible idea, that she cannot hold the secret of her curse aloft over so many heads, knows she cannot keep him to herself, that this is all a game of borrowed time.
But this is how you walk to the end of the world.
This is how you live forever.
Here is one day, and here is the next, and the next, and you take what you can, savor every stolen second, cling to every moment, until it’s gone.
So she says yes.
* * *
They walk, arm in arm, as the evening goes from cool to cold.
“Is there anything I should know?” she says. “About your friends?”
Henry frowns, thinking. “Well, Robbie’s a performer. He’s really good, but he can be a little … difficult?” He exhales a hard breath. “We were together, back in college. He was the first guy I ever fell for.”
“But it didn’t work out?”
Henry laughs, but the breath is shallow. “No. He dumped me. But look, it was ages ago. We’re friends now, nothing more.” He shakes his head, as if clearing it. “Then there’s Bea, you met her. She’s great. She’s getting her PhD, and she lives with a guy named Josh.”
“Are they dating?”
Henry snorts. “No. Bea’s gay. And so is he … I think. I don’t actually know, it’s been the topic of speculation. But Bea will probably invite Mel, or Elise, whichever she’s dating now—it’s kind of a pendulum swing. Oh, and don’t ask about the Professor.” Addie looks at him, wondering, and he explains. “Bea had a thing, a few years ago, with a Columbia professor. Bea was in love, but she was married, and it all fell apart.”
Addie repeats the names to herself, and Henry smiles.
“It’s not a test,” he says. “You can’t fail.”
Addie wishes he were right.
Henry winds a little tighter at her side. He hesitates, exhales. “There’s something else you should know,” he says at last, “about me.”
Her heart stutters in her chest as she braces for a confession, a reluctant truth, some explanation for this, for them. But Henry only looks up at the starless night and says, “There was a girl.”
A girl. It does not answer anything.
“Her name was Tabitha,” he says, and she can feel the pain in every syllable. She thinks of the ring in his drawer, the bloody kerchief knotted around it.
“I proposed, and she said no.”