They stumble, laughing, up to the bar for another drink.
“Two beers,” says Henry, and the bartender nods, and steps away, comes back a minute later, and sets down their drinks.
But only one is a beer.
The other is Champagne, a candied rose petal floating in the center.
Addie feels the world tip, the darkness tunnel.
There is a note beneath the glass, written in elegant, sloping French.
For my Adeline.
“Hey,” Henry is saying, “we didn’t order this.”
The bartender points to the end of the bar. “Compliments of the gentleman over…” he starts, trailing off. “Huh,” he says. “He was just there.”
Addie’s heart tumbles in her chest. She grabs Henry’s hand. “You have to go.”
But there is no time. She pulls him toward the door.
Luc cannot see them together, he cannot know that they have found—
“Addie.” She finally looks back. And feels the world drop out beneath her.
The bar is perfectly still.
Not empty, no; it is still brimming with people.
But none of them are moving.
They have all stopped mid-stride, mid-speech, mid-sip. Not frozen, exactly, but forcibly stilled. Puppets, hovering on strings. The music is still playing; softly, now, but it is the only sound in the place besides Henry’s unsteady breath, and the pounding of her heart.
And a voice, rising from the dark.
The whole world holds its breath, reduces to the soft echo of footfalls on the wooden floor, the figure stepping out of the shadows.
Forty years, and there he is, unchanged in the ways she is unchanged, the same raven curls, the same emerald eyes, the same coy twist to his cupid’s bow mouth. He’s dressed in a black button-down, the sleeves of his shirt rolled to the elbows, a suit jacket flung over one shoulder, his other hand hooked loosely in the pocket of his slacks.
The picture of ease.
“My love,” he says, “you’re looking well.”
Something in her loosens at the sound of his voice, the way it always has. Something at the center of her unwinds, release without relief. Because she has waited, of course she has waited, held her breath in dread as much as hope. Now it rushes from her lungs.
“What are you doing here?”
Luc has the nerve to look affronted. “It’s our anniversary. Surely you haven’t forgotten.”
“It’s been forty years.”
“Whose fault is that?”
A smile tugs at the edge of his mouth. And then his green gaze slides toward Henry. “I suppose I should be flattered by the resemblance.”
Addie doesn’t rise to the bait. “He has nothing to do with this. Send him away. He’ll forget.”
Luc’s smile drops away. “Please. You embarrass us both.” He carves a slow circle around them, a tiger rounding on its prey. “As if I don’t keep track of all my deals. Henry Strauss, so desperate to be wanted. Sell your soul just to be loved. What a fine pair you two must make.”
“Then let us have it.”
A dark brow rises. “You think I mean to pull you apart? Not at all. Time will do that soon enough.” He looks to Henry. “Tick tock. Tell me, are you still counting your life in days, or have you begun to measure it in hours? Or does that only make it harder?”
Addie looks between them, reading the triumphant green in Luc’s eyes, the color bleeding out of Henry’s face.
She does not understand.
The name draws her back.
“Humans live such short lives, don’t they? Some far shorter than others. Savor the time you have left. And know, it was his choice.”
With that, Luc turns on his heel and dissolves into the dark.
In his wake, the bar shudders back into motion. Noise surges through the space, and Addie stares at the shadows until she’s sure they are empty.
Humans live such short lives.
She turns toward Henry, who’s no longer standing behind her, but slumped in a chair.
Some far shorter than others.
His head is bowed, one hand clutching his wrist where the watch would be. Where it is, somehow, again. She is sure he didn’t put it on. Sure he wasn’t wearing it.
But there it is, shining like a cuff around his wrist.
It was his choice.
“Henry,” she says, kneeling before him.
“I wanted to tell you,” he murmurs.
She pulls the watch toward herself, and studies the face. Four months she’s been with Henry, and in that time, the hour hand has crept from half past six to half past ten. Four months, and four hours closer to midnight, and she always assumed it would go around again.
A lifetime, he said, and she knew it was a lie.
It had to be.
Luc would never give another human so much time—not after her.
She knew, she must have known. But she thought, perhaps he’d sold his soul for fifty, or thirty, or even ten—that would have been enough.
But there are only twelve hours on a watch, only twelve months in a year, and he wouldn’t, he couldn’t be so foolish.
“Henry,” she says, “how long did you ask for?”
“Addie,” he pleads, and for the first time, her name sounds wrong on his lips. It is cracked. It is breaking.
“How long?” she demands.
He is silent for a long time.
And then, at last, he tells her the truth.
New York City
September 4, 2013
A boy is sick of his broken heart.
Tired of his storm-filled brain.
So he drinks until he cannot feel the pieces scraping together in his chest, until he cannot hear the thunder rolling through his head. He drinks when his friends tell him it will be all right. He drinks when they tell him it will pass. He drinks until the bottle is empty and the world gets fuzzy at the edges. It is not enough to ease the pain, so he leaves, and they let him go.
And at some point, on the walk home, it begins to rain.
At some point, his phone goes off, and he doesn’t answer.
At some point, the bottle slips, and he cuts his hand.
At some point, he is outside his building, and he sinks onto the stoop, and presses his palms against his eyes, and tells himself it is just another storm.
But this time, it shows no signs of passing. This time, there is no break in the clouds, no light on the horizon, and the thunder in his head is so damn loud. So he takes a few of his sister’s pills, those little pink umbrellas, but they are still no match for the storm, and so he takes some of his own, as well.
He leans back on the rain-slicked stairs, and looks up at the place where the rooftop meets the sky, and wonders, not for the first time, how many steps from here to the edge.
He isn’t sure when he decides to jump.
Perhaps he never does.
Perhaps he decides to go inside, and then he decides to go upstairs, and when he reaches his door he decides to keep going, and when he gets to the last door he decides to step out onto the roof—and at some point, standing there in the pouring rain, he decides he doesn’t want to decide anymore.
Here is a straight path. A tarred stretch of empty asphalt, nothing but steps between him and the edge. The pills are catching up, dulling the pain and leaving behind a cotton quiet that’s somehow even worse. His eyes drift shut, his limbs are so heavy.