“And yet I find the task so entertaining.”
She shakes her head. “This is nothing. You have marred one moment, ruined one night, but because of my gift, I have a million more; infinite chances to reinvent myself. I could walk back in right now, and your slights would be as forgotten as my face.”
Mischief glints in those green eyes. “I think you’ll find my word won’t fade as fast as yours.” He shrugs. “They will not remember you, of course. But ideas are so much wilder than memories, so much faster to take root.”
It will be fifty years before she realizes that he is right.
Ideas are wilder than memories.
And she can plant them, too.
New York City
March 16, 2014
There is a magic to this evening.
A defiant pleasure in a simple act.
Addie spends the first hour holding her breath, bracing for catastrophe, but somewhere between the salad and the main course, between the first glass and the second, she exhales. Sitting there, between Henry and Elise, between warmth and laughter, she can almost believe that it is real, that she belongs, a normal girl beside a normal boy at a normal dinner party. She and Bea talk about art, and she and Josh talk about Paris, and she and Elise talk about wine, and Henry’s hand finds her knee beneath the table, and it is all so wonderfully simple and warm. She wants to hold the night like a chocolate on her tongue, savor every second before it melts.
Only Robbie seems unhappy, even though Josh has been trying to flirt with him all night. He shifts in his seat, a performer in search of a spotlight. He drinks too much, too fast, unable to sit still for more than a few minutes. It is the same restless energy Addie saw in Henry, but tonight, he seems perfectly at ease.
Once, Elise goes to the bathroom, and Addie thinks that’s it, the domino that tips the rest. And sure enough, when she returns to the table, Addie can see the confusion on the girl’s face, but it is the kind of embarrassment you cover instead of show, and she says nothing, only shakes her head as if to clear a thought, and smiles, and Addie imagines her wondering if she’s had too much to drink, imagines her pulling Beatrice aside before dessert and whispering that she cannot remember her name.
Robbie and their hostess, meanwhile, are deep in conversation.
“Bea,” he whines. “Can’t we just—”
“My party, my rules. When it was your birthday, we went to a sex club in Bushwick.”
Robbie rolls his eyes. “It was an exhibitionist-themed music venue.”
“It was a sex club,” Henry and Bea say at the same time.
“Wait.” Addie leans forward in her seat. “Is it your birthday?”
“No,” says Bea emphatically.
“Beatrice hates birthdays,” explains Henry. “She won’t tell us when hers is. The closest we’ve gotten is that it’s in April. Or March. Or May. So any dinner party in the spring could conceivably be the one nearest to her birthday.”
Bea sips her wine and shrugs. “I don’t see the point. It’s just a day. Why put all this pressure on it?”
“So you can get presents, obviously,” says Robbie.
“I understand,” says Addie. “The nicest days are always the ones we don’t plan.”
Robbie glowers. “What did you say your name was? Andy?”
And she goes to correct him, only to feel the letters lodge in her throat. The curse coils tight, strangling the word.
“It’s Addie,” says Henry. “And you’re being an ass.”
A nervous current runs across the table, and Elise, clearly looking to smooth the energy, cuts into a petit four and says, “This dessert is amazing, Henry.”
And he says, “It was all Addie’s doing.”
And that is enough to tip Robbie like a glass, and send him spilling over. He shoves up from the table with a rush of breath.
“I need a smoke.”
“Not in here,” says Bea. “Take it to the roof.”
And Addie knows that is the end of this beautiful night, the door slamming shut, because she cannot stop them, and once she’s out of sight—
Josh rises. “I could use one, too.”
“You just want to get out of doing dishes,” says Bea, but the two of them are already heading for the door, out of sight and out of mind, and this, she thinks, is midnight, this is how the magic ends, this is how you turn back into a pumpkin.
“I should go,” she says.
Bea tries to convince her to stay, says to not let Robbie get to her, and Addie says that it’s not his fault, that it’s been a long day, says thank you for the lovely meal, thank you for the company; and really, she was lucky to get this far, lucky to have this time, this night, this tiny glimpse of normal.
“Addie, wait,” says Henry, but she kisses him, quick, and slips away, out of the apartment, and down the steps and into the dark.
She sighs, and slows, her lungs aching in the sudden cold. And despite the doors and walls between them, she can feel the weight of what she left behind, and she wishes she could have stayed, wishes that when Henry had said Wait, she had said, Come with me, but she knows it is not fair to make him choose. He is full of roots, while she has only branches.
And then she hears the steps behind her, and slows, shivers, even now, after all this time, expecting Luc.
Luc, who always knew when she brittle.
But it is not the darkness, only a boy with fogging glasses and an open coat.
“You left so fast,” says Henry.
“You caught up,” says Addie.
And perhaps she should feel guilty, but she is only grateful.
She has gotten good at losing things.
But Henry is still here.
“Friends are messy sometimes, aren’t they?”
“Yeah,” she says, even though she has no idea.
“I’m sorry,” he says, nodding back at the building. “I don’t know what got into him.”
But Addie does.
Live long enough, and people open up like books. Robbie is a romance novel. A tale of broken hearts. He is so clearly lovesick.
“You said you were just friends.”
“We are,” he insists. “I love him like family, I always will. But I don’t—I never…”
She thinks of the photo, Robbie’s head bowed against Henry’s cheek, thinks of the look on his face when Bea said she was his date, and wonders how he doesn’t see it.
“He’s still in love with you.”
Henry deflates. “I know,” he says. “But I can’t love him back.”
Can’t. Not won’t. Not shouldn’t.
Addie looks at Henry, meets him eye to eye.
“Is there anything else you want to tell me?”
She doesn’t know what she expects him to say, what truth could possibly explain his enduring presence, but for a second, when he looks back at her, there is a brief and blinding sadness.
But then he pulls her close and groans, and says, in a soft and vanquished voice, “I am so full.”
And Addie laughs despite herself.
It is too cold to stand, and so they walk together through the dark, and she doesn’t even notice they have reached his place until she sees the blue door. She is so tired, and he is so warm; she does not want to go, and he does not ask her to.