“Do you miss me,” she asks, “when you are not here?”
Those green eyes drift up, the emerald even in the dark. “I am here, with you, more often than you think.”
“Of course,” she says, “you come and go whenever you want. I have no choice but to wait.”
His eyes darken with pleasure. “Do you wait for me?”
And now it is Addie who looks away. “You said it yourself. We all crave company.”
“And if you could call on me, as I call on you?”
Her heart quickens a little.
She does not look up, and that is why she sees it, rolling toward her on the table. A slim band, carved of pale ash wood.
It is a ring.
It is her ring.
The gift she made to the dark that night.
The gift he scorned, and turned to smoke.
The image conjured in a seaside church.
But if it is an illusion now, it is an exceptional one. Here, the notch where her father’s chisel bit a fraction too deep. There, the curve rubbed smooth as stone by years of worrying.
It is real. It must be real. And yet—
“You destroyed it.”
“I took it,” says Luc, looking over his glass. “That is not the same thing.”
Anger flares in her. “You said it was nothing.”
“I said it was not enough. But I do not ruin beauty without reason. It was mine, for a time, but it was always yours.”
Addie marvels at the ring. “What must I do?”
“You know how to summon gods.”
Estele’s voice, faint as a breeze.
You must humble yourself before them.
“Put it on, and I will come.” Luc leans back in his chair, the night breeze blowing through those raven curls. “There,” he says. “Now we are even.”
“We will never be even,” she says as she turns the ring over between finger and thumb, and decides she will not use it.
It is a challenge. A game, parading as a gift. Not a war so much as a wager. A battle of wills. For her to don the ring, to call on Luc, would be to fold, to admit defeat.
She slips the token into the pocket of her skirts, forces her fingers to let go of the talisman.
Only then does she notice the tension in the air that night. It is an energy she’s felt before, but cannot place, until Luc says, “There is about to be a war.”
She had not heard. He tells her of the archduke’s assassination, his face a mask of grim displeasure.
“I hate war,” he says darkly.
“I would have thought you fond of conflict.”
“The aftermath breeds art,” he says. “But war makes believers out of cynics. Sycophants desperate for salvation, everyone suddenly clinging to their souls, clutching them close like a matron with her finest pearls.” Luc shakes his head. “Give me back the Belle Epoque.”
“Who knew gods were so nostalgic?”
Luc finishes his drink, and rises. “You should leave, before it starts.” Addie laughs. It sounds almost as if he cares. The ring sits, a sudden weight in her pocket. He holds out his hand. “I can take you.”
She should have accepted, should have said yes. Should have let him lead her through the horrible dark and out again, and saved herself an ocean, a miserable week stowing away in the belly of a ship at sea, the beauty of the water tarnished by the unending nature of it.
But she has learned too well to hold her ground.
Luc shakes his head. “You are still a stubborn fool.”
She toys with staying, but after he is gone, she cannot help but conjure the shadows in his gaze, the grim way he spoke of the coming strife. It is a sign, when even gods and devils dread a fight.
A week later, Addie caves, and boards a ship for New York.
By the time she docks, the world is already at war.
New York City
July 29, 2014
It is just another day.
That is what Addie tells herself.
It is just a day—like all the others—but of course, it is not.
It is three hundred years since she was meant to be married—a future given against her will.
Three hundred years since she knelt in the woods, and summoned the darkness, and lost everything but freedom.
Three hundred years.
There should be a storm, an eclipse. Some way to mark the monument of it.
But the day dawns perfect, and cloudless, and blue.
The bed is empty beside her, but she can hear the soft shuffle of Henry moving through the kitchen, and she must have been gripping the blankets, because her fingers ache, a knot of pain in the center of her left palm.
When she opens her hand, the wooden ring falls out.
She brushes it off the bed as if it were a spider, an ill omen, listens to it land, and bounce, and roll away across the hardwood floor. Addie draws up her knees, and lets her head fall forward on them, and breathes into the space between her ribs, and reminds herself it is just a ring, and it is just a day. But there is a rope inside her chest, a dull dread winding tighter, telling her to go, to put as much distance between her and Henry as possible, in case he comes.
He won’t, she tells herself.
It’s been so long, she tells herself.
But she doesn’t want to take the chance.
Henry’s knuckles rap on the open door, and she looks up to see him holding a plate with a donut, three candles stuck into the top.
And despite everything, she laughs. “What’s this?”
“Hey, it’s not every day that your girlfriend turns three hundred.”
“It’s not my birthday.”
“I know, but I didn’t exactly know what to call it.”
And just like that, the voice rises like smoke inside her head.
Happy anniversary, my love.
“Make a wish,” says Henry.
Addie swallows, and blows the candles out.
He sinks onto the bed beside her. “I’ve got the whole day,” he says. “Bea’s covering at the store, and I thought we could take the train out to…” But he trails off when he sees her face. “What?”
Dread claws at her stomach, deeper than hunger. “I don’t think we should be together,” she says. “Not today.”
His face falls. “Oh.”
Addie cups his cheek, and lies. “It’s just a day, Henry.”
“You’re right,” he says. “It’s a day. But how many of them has he ruined? Don’t let him take it from you.” He kisses her. “From us.”
If Luc finds them together, he will take more than that.
“Come on,” insists Henry, “I’ll have you back long before you turn into a pumpkin. And then, if you want to spend the night apart, I understand. Worry about him in the dark, but it’s hours until then, and you deserve a good day. A good memory.”
And he’s right. She does.
The dread loosens a little in her chest.
“Okay,” she says, one little word, and Henry’s whole face lights with pleasure. “What do you have in mind?”
He disappears into the bathroom, reemerges in a pair of yellow swim trunks, a towel cast over one shoulder. He tosses her a blue-and-white bikini.