She sits on the sofa, her chin in her hand.
Outside the window, the day just carries on as if nothing’s changed, but it feels like everything has, because Addie LaRue is immortal, and Henry Strauss is damned.
“Addie,” he says, when he cannot stand it anymore. “Please say something.”
And she looks up at him, eyes shining, not with some spell, but tears, and he does not know at first if she is heartbroken or happy.
“I couldn’t understand,” she says. “No one has ever remembered. I thought it was an accident. I thought it was a trap. But you’re not an accident, Henry. You’re not a trap. You remember me because you made a deal.” She shakes her head. “Three hundred years spent trying to break this curse, and Luc did the one thing I never expected.” She wipes the tears away, and breaks into a smile.
“He made a mistake.”
There is such triumph in her eyes. But Henry doesn’t understand.
“So our deals cancel out? Is that why we’re immune to them?”
Addie shakes her head. “I’m not immune, Henry.”
He cringes back, as if struck. “But my deal doesn’t work on you.”
Addie softens, takes his hand. “Of course it does. Your deal and mine, they nest like Russian dolls together in a shell. I look at you, and I see exactly what I want. It’s just that what I want has nothing to do with looks, or charm, or success. It would sound awful, in another life, but what I want most—what I need—has nothing to do with you at all. What I want, what I’ve always truly wanted, is for someone to remember me. That’s why you can say my name. That’s why you can go away, and come back, and still know who I am. And that’s why I can look at you, and see you as you are. And it is enough. It will always be enough.”
Enough. The word unravels between them, opening at his throat. It lets in so much air.
He sinks onto the couch beside her. Her hand slides through his, their fingers knotting.
“You said you were born in 1691,” he muses. “That makes you…”
“Three hundred and twenty-three,” she says.
Henry whistles. “I’ve never been with an older woman.” Addie laughs. “You do look very, very good for your age.”
“Why thank you.”
“Tell me about it,” he says.
“I don’t know. Everything. Three hundred years is such a long time. You were there for wars and revolutions. You saw trains and cars and planes and televisions. You witnessed history as it was happening.”
Addie frowns. “I guess so,” she says, “but I don’t know; history is something you look back on, not something you really feel at the time. In the moment, you’re just … living. I didn’t want to live forever. I just wanted to live.”
She curls into him, and they lie, heads together on the couch, intertwined like lovers in a fable, and a new silence settles over them, light as a summer sheet.
And then she says, “How long?”
His head rolls toward her. “What?”
“When you made your deal,” she says, voice careful and light, a foot testing icy ground. “How long did you make it for?”
Henry hesitates, and looks up at the ceiling instead of her.
“A lifetime,” he says, and it is not a lie, but a shadow crosses Addie’s face.
“And he agreed?”
Henry nods, and pulls her back against him, exhausted by everything he’s said, and everything he hasn’t.
“A lifetime,” she whispers.
The words hang between them in the dark.
New York City
March 18, 2014
Addie is so many things, thinks Henry. But she is not forgettable.
How could anyone forget this girl, when she takes up so much space? She fills the room with stories, with laughter, with warmth and light.
He has put her to work, or rather, she has put herself to work, restocking and reshelving while he helps customers.
She has called herself a ghost, and she may be one to other people, but Henry cannot look anywhere but at her.
She moves among the books as if they’re friends. And perhaps, in a way, they are. They are, he supposes, a part of her story, another thing she’s touched. Here, she says, is a writer she once met, and here is an idea she had, here a book that she read when it first came out. Now and then, Henry glimpses sadness, glimpses longing, but they are only flashes, and then she redoubles, brightens, launching into another story.
“Did you know Hemingway?” he asks.
“We met, once or twice,” she says, with a smile, “but Colette was cleverer.”
Book trails Addie like a shadow. He has never seen the cat so invested in another human, and when he asks, she draws a handful of treats from her pocket with a sheepish grin.
Their eyes meet now across the store, and he knows she said she’s not immune, that their deals simply work together, but the fact remains that there is no shimmer in those brown eyes. Her gaze is clear. A lighthouse through the fog.
She smiles, and Henry’s world goes brighter. She turns away, and it is dark again.
A woman approaches the checkout desk, and Henry drags himself back.
“Find everything you need?” Her eyes are already milky with shine.
“Oh yes,” the woman says with a warm smile, and he wonders what she sees instead of Henry. Is he a son, or a lover, a brother, a friend?
Addie leans her elbows on the counter.
She taps the book he’s been turning through between customers. A collection of modern candids in New York.
“I noticed the cameras at your place,” she says. “And the photographs. They’re yours, aren’t they?”
Henry nods, resists the urge to say It’s just a hobby, or rather, It was a hobby, once.
“You’re very good,” she says, which is nice, especially coming from her. And he’s fine, he knows; maybe even a little better than fine, sometimes.
He took headshots for Robbie back in college, but that was because Robbie couldn’t afford a real photographer. Muriel called his photos cute. Subversive in their conventional way.
But Henry wasn’t trying to subvert anything. He just wanted to capture something.
He looks down at the book.
“There’s this family photo,” he says, “not the one in the hall, this other one, from back when I was six or seven. That day was awful. Muriel put gum in David’s book and I had a cold, and my parents were fighting right up until the flash went off. And in the photo, we all look so … happy. I remember seeing that picture and realizing that photographs weren’t real. There’s no context, just the illusion that you’re showing a snapshot of a life, but life isn’t snapshots, it’s fluid. So photos are like fictions. I loved that about them. Everyone thinks photography is truth, but it’s just a very convincing lie.”
“Why did you stop?”
Because time doesn’t work like photos.
Click, and it stays still.
Blink, and it leaps forward.
He always thought of taking photos as a hobby, an art class credit, and by the time he figured out that it was something you could do, it was too late. Or at least, it felt that way.