Addie squeezes her eyes shut, the past and present tangling together in her head.
All those nights at the Alloway, watching him play.
All the times he found her at the bar, and smiled.
All those firsts that were not firsts for her.
The palimpsest bleeding up through the paper.
Toby looks up from the piano, and there’s no way he can see her in a place this big, but she is sure his eyes meet hers, and the room tilts a little, and she doesn’t know if it’s the beers she drank too fast or the vertigo of memory, but then the song ends, replaced by a warm wave of applause, and she is on her feet, moving toward the door.
“Addie, wait,” says Henry, but she can’t, even though she knows what it means to walk away, knows that Robbie and Bea will forget her, and she will have to start again, and so will Henry—but in that moment, she doesn’t care.
She cannot breathe.
The door swings open and the night rushes in, and Addie gasps, forcing air into her lungs.
And it should feel good to hear her music, it should feel right.
After all, she has gone to visit pieces of her art so many times.
But they were only pieces, stripped of context. Sculptured birds on marble plinths, and paintings behind ropes. Didactic boxes taped to whitewashed walls and glass boxes that keep the present from the past.
It is a different thing when the glass breaks.
It is her mother in the doorway, withered to bone.
It is Remy in the Paris salon.
It is Sam, inviting her to stay, every time.
It is Toby Marsh, playing their song.
The only way Addie knows how to keep going is to keep going forward. They are Orpheus, she is Eurydice, and every time they turn back, she is ruined.
“Addie?” Henry is right behind her. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry,” she says. She wipes the tears away and shakes her head because the story is too long, and too short. “I can’t go back in there, not now.”
Henry looks over his shoulder, and he must have seen the color drop from her face during the show because he says, “Do you know him? That Toby Marsh guy?”
She hasn’t told him that story—they haven’t gotten there yet.
“I did,” she says, which isn’t strictly true, because it makes it sound like something in the past, when the past is the one thing Addie’s not entitled to, and Henry must hear the lie buried in the words, because he frowns. He laces his hands behind his head.
“Do you still have feelings for him?”
And she wants to be honest, to say that of course she does. She never gets closure, never gets to say good-bye—no periods, or exclamations, just a lifetime of ellipses. Everyone else starts over, they get a blank page, but hers are full of text. People talk about carrying torches for old flames, and it’s not a full fire, but Addie’s hands are full of candles. How is she supposed to set them down, or put them out? She has long run out of air.
But it is not love.
It is not love, and that is what he’s asking.
“No,” she says. “He just—it caught me off guard. I’m sorry.”
Henry asks if she wants to go home, and Addie doesn’t know if he means both of them, or only her, doesn’t want to find out, so she shakes her head, and they go back in, and the lights have changed, and the stage is empty, the house music filling the air until the main act, and Bea and Robbie are chatting, heads bent just the way they were when they walked in. And Addie does her best to smile as they reach the table.
“There you are!” says Robbie.
“Where did you run off to?” asks Bea, eyes flicking from Henry to her. “And who’s this?”
He slides his arm around her waist. “Guys, this is Addie.”
Robbie looks her up and down, but Bea only beams.
“Finally!” she says. “We’ve been dying to meet you…”
En Route to Berlin, Germany
July 29, 1872
The glasses rattle faintly on the table as the train rolls through the German countryside. Addie sits in the dining car, sipping her coffee and staring out the window, marveling at the speed with which the world goes past.
Humans are capable of such wondrous things. Of cruelty, and war, but also art and invention. She will think this again and again over the years, when bombs are dropped, and buildings felled, when terror consumes whole countries. But also when the first images are impressed on film, when planes rise into the air, when movies go from black-and-white to color.
She is amazed.
She will always be amazed.
Lost in her thoughts, she doesn’t hear the conductor until he is beside her, one hand coming to rest lightly on her shoulder.
“Fräulein,” he says, “your ticket, please.”
Addie smiles. “Of course.”
She looks down at the table, pretends to shuffle through her purse.
“I’m sorry,” she says, rising, “I must have left it in my room.”
It is not the first time they have done this dance, but it is the first time the porter has decided to follow her, trailing like a shadow as she makes her way toward a car she does not have, for a ticket that she never bought.
Addie quickens her pace, hoping to put a door between them, but it is no use, the conductor is with her every step, and so she slows, and stops before a door that leads to a room that is certainly not hers, hoping that at least it will be empty.
It is not.
As she reaches for the handle, it escapes, sliding open onto a dim compartment, an elegant man leaning in the doorway, black curls drawn like ink against his temples.
Relief rolls through her.
“Herr Wald,” says the conductor, straightening, as if the man in the door were a duke, and not the darkness.
Luc smiles. “There you are, Adeline,” he says in a voice as smooth and rich as summer honey. His green eyes slide from her to the conductor. “She has a way of running off, my wife. Now,” he says, a sly smile on his lips, “what’s brought you back to me?”
Addie manages a smile of her own, cloyingly sweet.
“My love,” she says. “I forgot my ticket.”
He chuckles, drawing a slip of paper from the pocket of his coat. Luc draws Addie close. “What a forgetful thing you are, my dear.”
She bristles, but holds her tongue, leans instead into the weight of him.
The conductor surveys the slip, and wishes them a pleasant night, and the moment he is gone she pulls away from Luc.
“My Adeline.” He clicks his tongue. “That is no way to treat a husband.”
“I am not yours,” she says. “And I did not need your help.”
“Of course not,” he answers dryly. “Come, let’s not quarrel in the hall.”
Luc draws her into the compartment, or at least, that is what she thinks he is doing, but instead of stepping into the familiar confines of the cabin, she finds only the darkness, vast and deep. Her heart catches on the missed step, the sudden drop, as the train falls away, the world falls away, and they are back in the nothing, the hollow space between, and she knows she will never fully know it, never be able to wrap her mind around the nature of the dark. Because she realizes now, what it is, this place.