21. La Dame Rouge

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone enough

to truly consecrate the hour.

I am much too small in this world, yet not small enough

to be to you just object and thing, dark and smart.

I want my free will and want it accompanying the path which leads to action;

and want during times that beg questions,

where something is up,

to be among those in the know,

or else be alone.

Rainer Maria Rilke

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

My queen is exposed.

I frown down upon the red-stained ivory chess piece, its details illuminated by the moonlight streaming in through Edward’s floor-to-ceiling windows. It is the only light we have, the beams painting the darkness of the den in icy, silver hues. We are each one pawn down and Edward’s face is thoughtful, dark eyebrows drawn down in contemplation as we survey the board… and we could be marble, we could be stone, still and quiet, our skin cast into pale tones that match the ivory squares of the Staunton chess set between us.

I am naked, save for the flat sheet from Edward’s bed that I’ve draped around my body. He’s attired himself similarly with an afghan from his Horchow sofa; its soft, dark material drapes across his hips as he sits across the small table from me. I finish deliberating and make my move, placing the red queen three squares away from the center, out of the reach of Edward’s white knight. He watches my move and smiles, waiting only a moment before moving one of his pawns into play.

There is no immediate threat and I am free to advance; cautiously, I move the red bishop to a square adjacent to the white knight. A warning.

“Do you know who Viswanathan Anand is?” Edward asks after a moment. He moves his bishop into place behind his own knight; I can now no longer attack him without suffering immediate retribution.

I answer him with a shake of my head, eyes fixed on the board. He is silent while I ponder the pieces, looking for another way to strike. Finally, I move my own knight into play.

“He’s a chess grandmaster, widely considered to be one of the foremost players in the world,” Edward continues, moving another white pawn into place two squares away from my queen.

I scowl as I see what he’s done; my queen’s movement is now limited. With little else for me to do, my bishop retreats.

“And?” I demand, annoyed at the dearth of options.

He only shrugs. My eyes follow his elegant fingers as they maneuver the white knight to the center of the board.

With the placement of his pieces and mine, my queen is practically immobilized.

“He once said that chess is a language. It can be developed as a skill through constant practice, but true fluency comes when experience is augmented by natural ability.”

Frowning, I move my queen to the only defensive option available to her: one square to the right.

“And I suppose you consider yourself fluent,” I muse.

His smile widens at my derision. The white knight moves again, this time landing squarely amidst the ranks of my own pieces.

“Check,” he announces.

Fuck, I think, but do not say; his amused expression seems to imply that he’s heard me anyway.

“The three-pronged knight fork,” he informs me with an ingratiating smirk. “The strategy allows the knight to simultaneously attack two opponent pieces from a position invulnerable to counterattack.”

I glare at him, moving my king out of danger and bracing at what I know will come next.

“Farewell, milady,” he intones smugly, removing the red queen from the board as I grit my teeth in silence.

Eight moves later, he’s won the game without even developing his king side.

“Don’t sulk,” he chides with a laugh, gripping the afghan around him as he stands up. “You did well for a novice.”

“I’m not a novice,” I snap, my skin flushed with anger at a loss wrought by my own incompetence. My fingers tense around the edges of my sheet as I replay his strategy in my mind. Stupid, stupid girl.

Ignoring my reticence, he comes around the table, leaning over me to press his lips into my hair.

“I don’t believe you,” he says against me, his hands running across my bare shoulders.

“My father taught me how to play,” I inform him coldly, stiffening further as he chuckles. “Don’t fucking laugh at me.”

“My apologies,” he replies, his tone is anything but remorseful. “It’s a shame he didn’t teach you better than this.”

I grab his wrist as his hand moves beneath my sheet, pushing his roving fingers away. Undaunted, he returns, ignoring my grasp as his hand finds purchase on my breast. He hums appreciatively as he fondles me; I fight a moan as his fingers deftly tease my nipple into a peak. “One win doesn’t make you an expert.”

“Years of wins do.”

A flash, a memory of his slim hips rutting against a nameless slut in a garden maze.

“You play with more aggression than strategy,” he continues, pressing his mouth to the skin beneath my ear. “Your game is too reactionary… a series of unconnected assaults or defenses, all leading to the capture of your queen.” His fingers release my breast and move further down, seeking the juncture between my thighs. “Open,” he murmurs.

Defiant, I clench my legs together tighter.

His low laughter rumbles against my neck. “Don’t be a sore loser, Isabella. I’m owed the spoils of my victory.”

I push my seat back abruptly. “I don’t owe you anything,” I declare, gathering the sheet around me and preparing to go find my clothes. “It’s just a game.”

But he is faster than I am, pulling me back to him, turning me around and trapping me between his body and the table.

“Everything’s a game to you,” he retorts, pulling my sheet open and pressing himself against me. “But the rules don’t change just because you lose.”

I can feel the slight changes in his body from the first time I fucked him; he is leaner, sharper all over. The beginnings of yuppie flab I’d noted in his physique several weeks ago have all but disappeared. Now, it is only muscle and flesh and hardness that presses against me.

“So I beat you one time,” he continues, trapping me with his arms as I gaze impassively up into his face. “Let me enjoy it.”

“You’re too used to winning.”

“Not with you. Never with you.”

He moves to kiss me. I dodge him. “You took my queen.”

“It’s just a game,” he says, parroting my words.

“Fuck off.”

“I’m trying,” he retorts. He pulls away and leans forward, his arm reaching to the table behind me before he stands upright again. Something is pressed into my palm. “Here.”

I look down to see what he’s placed in my hand.

The red queen.

“She’s yours,” he says.

His arms draw me against him until my face rests on the flesh above his heartbeat.

It is intimate, this silence. His hands seek, spread across my flesh and hold me to him, one splayed across my lower back as the other slowly explores the path of my spine. Minutes pass, filled with only his pulse and our breaths until his fingers move up, up, up to cradle the base of my skull and for a moment, just a moment, my mind is blank, and I am as mute and powerless as the queen clutched in my hand.

“Can I tell you a secret?” he asks, his voice just above a whisper against my hair.

Pressed to his chest, eyes wide, I nod.

“I’m fucking tired of playing games.”

For several long moments, I am silent.

And when he moves to kiss me again, I let him.

+.+.+.+

I open my eyes, and there is only darkness.

From all sides, the walls whisper words of a foreign tongue.

The pillow beneath my head is unfamiliar. Ilse’s homemade quilt is too heavy.

“Can I tell you a secret?” Edward asked me once, before speaking words that fell into a hole in my chest, landing like nickels into a tin cup and for days afterward I could still feel the impact, could still hear the rattle, clang, clinking of echoes inside.

But they are silent now, quieted by an ocean of distance and the weight of an odd, shapeless shadow that presses itself against the wet-muscled caverns of my heart until there is nothing but the hollow rise and fall of my chest.

My eyes slowly adjust to the dark room. Every decision I’ve ever made is hovering above me, echoing consequences and paths not taken.

A night-hued sky blankets the world beyond the window, and I turn toward it, my limbs twitching restlessly beneath the heavy blankets, muscles anxious for movement. I remember the thrill of boneless limbs, exhaustion and sweat on sex-scented sheets. I remember the hours in between, of auburn hair and white knights and a sharp jaw clenched in contemplation.

I move my arm into a beam of the moonlight, watching the skin transform into the color of the bones beneath and remembering the squares of a chessboard. I keep my hand in mid-air, fingers tracing invisible words upon a silvered ceiling, runes of madness and wanting and fear until I can stand it no longer, closing my eyes against the reality of this silver room, of the cold winter moonlight that has overwhelmed it and the sliver of something cold in the core of me.

Waking dreams haunt me: a flash, a silhouette of my mother’s profile as she spins around me like a dervish, belting the words of Padam, Padam. Intractable as ever, my father sits quietly by the fireplace, absently nodding his head in time to the music and staring into the flames. He ignores the brush of my mother’s skirt on his arm as she dances past.

Mais il m’a coupé la parole

Il parle toujours avant moi

Et sa voix couvre ma voix…”

“Dance, Isabella,” my mother commands, glowering when I shake my head. She begins to stalk toward me, her delicate features resolute and angry as her heels cross the expanse of the room.

Her fingers come close enough for me to smell the lilac lotion on her hands and I start, blinking the vision away, fighting to drift back into the recesses of sleep.

+.+.+.+

“Is it of any significance to you,” Dr. Cope begins slowly, “that the only men you’ve allowed yourself to become attached to are somehow connected to your father or his friends?”

“It seems to be significant to you.”

“Should I just chalk it up to coincidence?”

I sigh, needlessly examining my nails. “Do whatever you want.”

+.+.+.+

Sunlight.

The chambre d’hôte bedroom is cold; I shiver as I slowly move through the room to dress and prepare to go downstairs. The mirror in the bathroom shows a small, pale woman with limp hair and tired eyes and I remember my arrival like it was a fever dream the vivid colors of Caroline’s annoyance, the haze of the surprised, stilted welcome and the familiarity of Ilse’s embrace.

I leave the small, third-floor bedroom and make my way through old hallways, their cream walls adorned with the occasional black-and-white photograph of what I assume is the Normandy countryside. Beside each door is a placard stating the name of the room within.

Through the door at the end of the hall is a staircase; from the smells inside, the rickety, wooden steps lead directly down to the kitchen. I follow them down with tentative footsteps.

It is indeed a kitchen, and a large one at that. A massive island dominates the center of the room, its surface covered with raw vegetables and a few pots. A large window at the sink looks into the house’s courtyard; there is a door on the same wall that leads outside.

Behind the island, Ilse’s daughter Caroline looks up from a cutting board, her hands stilling as she sees me. “Good morning,” she greets.

“Good morning.”

“I trust you were able to rest.”

“Yes, thank you.”

“You are hungry?”

“Yes.”

“There is food in the dining room,” she says, nodding her head in the direction of a large wooden door behind her.

“Thank you.”

I move past her toward the dining room door, but her voice stops me. “My mother has gone to see her friends in the village, she informs me.

“When will she be back?”

“I can’t imagine it will be long. She is very eager to speak with you.”

Her tone is polite, but there is a blade of coolness that runs through it; her face wears an expression of inscrutable blandness. Her manners only barely conceal that she doesn’t like me.

“I’m eager to see her as well,” I reply. “We were very close.”

A small flinch behind her eyes, barely detectable, but I see it I’ve poked an old wound.

I do not care; I don’t like her either.

The spark in her gaze holds, and I am ready for a riposte when her eyes suddenly dart to something behind me, their coolness warming into welcome.

I turn to find a giant of a man, tow-headed and rangy, cursing as he removes his coat. He is handsome and well-built, his broad shoulders dominating the space around him as he comes in to kiss Caroline on the cheek. I fight the urge to wrinkle my nose at his stained coveralls. He has the beginnings of a beard, and his features are offset by the crooked line of his nose. His eyes, I note, are a startling pale blue.

“How is our menagerie?” Caroline asks him.

Comme-ci, comme-ça,” he shrugs, grabbing a small carrot before popping it into his mouth. “Les poulets-

Anglais,” Caroline interrupts, her eyes hardening as she nods toward me. “Notre invitée est américain.”

He looks at me now, pale eyes baldly assessing my face and frame as he chews. “Hello.”

“Laurent is my son,” Caroline explains. “Our ouvrier agricole.”

“A farm hand,” I clarify.

He smirks. “And you are Little Isabella, the new stray, no?”

I glare at him for a moment, annoyed at the amusement in his eyes.

“A pleasure to meet you,” I say stiffly, turning to leave. The low, rolling sound of his quiet laughter follows me as I exit the room.

I move past the dining room and toward the main entryway, annoyed and unsettled. A pair of galoshes sits just inside the courtyard door; they look a bit too large, but I slide them on anyway and slip outside.

The chill air nips at the exposed skin of my neck, hands and face, but the prospect of Caroline’s hard eyes and Laurent’s mockingly indifferent ones make the prospect of going back inside unappealing.

There is a large, fenced-in field on the other side of the road beyond the courtyard and I begin to walk toward it, ignoring the cold and resisting the thoughts and voices that have plagued me since waking up. The distance I’ve traveled was intended to lighten the weight of my memories, making them into nothing more than an ephemeral, poisonous mist of the past.

I want them stripped away, sloughed off of my body until my skin bleeds raw.

I keep walking, and the air ceases to bite as my skin grows numb.

+.+.+.+

“Aren’t they beautiful?” Ilse sighs reverently.

My eight-year-old eyes follow her gaze to the pair of white swans nestled against one another on my father’s pond. They could be a sculpture, the graceful lines of their necks, the spotless white of their feathers standing out the dark water behind our family’s East Hampton cottage.

They are my father’s gift to my mother, introduced in an ornate golden cage at her birthday party the night before as he’d announced the intended parallel to their guests. Swans are mated for life, he’d told everyone present, and my mother had smiled wanly and kissed his cheek.

The party is over now, and the majestic birds, the symbol of my parents’ everlasting love, have been released from their cage and abandoned to the tranquility of the back property.

“Why do swans mate for life?” I ask Ilse. “I thought animals didn’t feel love.”

“I believe some animals do,” she sighs, her eyes fixed on the elegant birds as they skim the pond’s surface. “Just as I believe some humans do not. And love is not a feeling, child.”

I frown, processing her words. “Then how do you know if you love something?” I ask after a few moments.

“You know when something is more important to you than yourself,” she says thoughtfully. “But it is the nature of the thing, not the feeling of it.”

I blink, confused. “What does that mean?”

“It means that when you are willing to suffer so that another does not, then you love them.”

I am silent as I process her answer.

“But how do I know for sure?” I ask after an extended silence.

She smiles down at me. “Only you know that, Liebchen.”

“Then I don’t think I love anything.”

“Nothing at all?” she asks, raising an eyebrow.

“No. Anyway, it sounds foolish.”

“It does,” she admits.

“What do you love?”

“You, Liebchen, and my own children. And of course, Chef’s lemon squares.”

We watch the swans in silence as my fingers pluck carelessly at my parents’ manicured fescue lawn.

“I don’t like your children,” I blurt sullenly.

“Hush,” she admonishes me, imperturbable as always. “You do not know them.”

“Do you love them more than me?”

“I love you all more than I can say.”

“But am I your favorite?”

Ilse chuckles. “You are my most favorite Swan in the whole world. And much prettier than those silly birds,” she adds, gesturing to the pair on the water.

I frown, following her gaze. “They never do anything without the other one.”

“They are mates, which means they are a set now. One does not go without the other.”

“That sounds boring. When I’m grown, I’ll do everything I want, by myself.”

“That sounds very lonely, Isabella.”

I shrug.

A few days later, a neighbor’s Pharaoh hound dog with white feathers in its mouth is spotted behind the boathouse. Yards away, the slaughtered male swan lies bloodied and motionless beneath the blank, vigilant stare of his mate.

I do not forget it the grotesque angle of the bird’s broken neck or the red stains on his once-pristine wings.

And I do not forget the sight of his forlorn mate days later, plucking out her own feathers in her grief before swimming away, leaving a white-wisped wake across the top of the pond’s placid depths.

+.+.+.+

The bleak winter sun moves higher as I continue on, ignoring the chill of an indifferent French countryside. The sunlight is strong enough only to illuminate, offering little warmth.

A paved road lies a few dozen yards to my left, a black ribbon through and beyond the large field. Tall grass sweeps against my knees, pulling against my steps as a small cluster of brown and white cows lift their heads to stare blankly as I pass.

Moments from the past circle in the silence, memories surrounding me before charging, breaching the surface and reaching, arms outstretched and grasping fingers cold with the depth of their hiding places.

My father, teaching me of history and power, showcasing everything within his control, smiling as we sail Horus across a docile sea.

My mother: a prettily plumed bird in an even prettier cage, married for money and bred for only the best, sobbing as his taillights fade into a summer evening.

The dimming spark behind my father’s eyes after he returns.

Her cruelty, his melancholy.

Ilse’s worried eyes as I am racked with shivers while she bathes and shushes me, washing the traces of the Masens’ garden maze off of my young skin and not understanding that I’m fine, of course I am fine.

The rush of dominating the man beneath me as Tyler shudders and comes, shouts as I ride him with the precision and force of a dressage master. The anger and shame of a corrupted priest, of Jacob and other lovers indignant and unmanned as I taunt them, tease them, own them and fuck them. My own transformation from a girl into the raging, ruling lines of Ammut, of Artemis, of other untamed things.

Edward’s rapturous expression as he enters me, the feeling of triumph coursing through my veins as I realize I’ve toppled the pedestal constructed in my youth, vanquished the monster in the maze.

The coldness as I realize that the victory comes with a prize: a beating, burning heart.

Edward’s disgust as he holds a manila envelope and rips apart the past.

His ragged breathing as he fucks me on a floor.

The lines of his back as he leaves.

And the numbness with which I recite the ugly poetry of the past.

All as before: against the dining-room windows,” Akhmatova once wrote.

Beats the scattered windswept snow,

And I have not changed either,

But a man came to me.

I asked”What do you want?”

He replied”To be with you in Hell.”

I laughed”Oh, you’ll foredoom

Us both to disaster.”

“Isabella!” a voice calls, interrupting my thoughts.

I turn to see Ilse standing by the road beyond the field’s fence, her legs straddling the bar of her bicycle. I say nothing as she leans it against the fence, waiting as she crawls between the wooden slats with an agility belying her age. Her attire seems to be at odds with a social jaunt to the village her stained dungarees, galoshes, and coat would be less out-of-place in a chicken coop.

Guten morgen,” I call, remembering her fondness for her native tongue.

She grins at the salutation. “Ah! Guten morgen, Isabella,” she replies as she approaches. “It is an odd thing to see you walking in our pastures.”

“It is an odd thing to walk them,” I answer.

She smiles, extending her hand and I take it, letting her hold me at arm’s length for a moment as she looks me up and down. Her face has not changed much, save for the added wrinkles and cheekbones that have grown more pronounced with a bit of weight loss.

In her hands the passing years make themselves felt; the fingers are frail, stiff and swollen with arthritis as they squeeze my hand. Are these the same nimble fingers that braided my hair, buttoned my dresses?

“The Isabella of my memory was a pale, pretty child with eyes too big for her face and no meat on her bones,” she muses. “Who is this beautiful young lady who has taken her place?” She frowns as I fight a shiver.

“There is much to talk about, Isabella, but you are freezing. Come now we will walk back together.”

+.+.+.+

“Isabella,” my mother calls, and I turn from my place on the stairs to face her.

The shine of a cocktail still glistens on both her pursed lips and in the light of her critical gaze. “Why is Katherine crying?” she asks.

“She tried to read my book.”

“Let her read it, then.”

“It’s my book.”

“Yes, spoiled girl, and her mother is my friend who I’d prefer you didn’t run off. You will need to learn to share so that you and Katherine can get along.”

“I don’t like her.”

She sighs, exasperated. “Most nine-year-olds want friends, you know.”

“I don’t. She’s boring and nosy, and she tattles.”

“How do you expect others to tolerate you when you won’t take the trouble to be polite?” she snaps.

“Ilse tolerates me,” I retort defensively.

For a long moment, my mother regards me, her perfect face pulled into a frown.

“She’s paid to,” she declares finally, turning to descend the rest of the stairs. I glare at her retreating form until, after a few steps down, she turns back again. “Ilse is not like us, Isabella,” my mother states coldly. “She isn’t your family. Do not make the mistake of forgetting who is.”

+.+.+.+

We walk, and Ilse talks.

She talks of the chambre d’hôte, of her guests and her treasured hens and her prize cows and her grandchildren. She tells me of the village of Sainte-Mère-Église, of the people there and the charming way they nod their heads to her as she passes on her bicycle. “They call me Omi,” she chuckles. “It is the only German word they can say without an accent.”

“What does it mean?”

“‘Grandmother, she answers with a wistful laugh. “As if I need another thing to remind me that I am old.”

I am silent, thinking of her weathered hands.

“Have you met Laurent?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“He is my treasure, the only one of his siblings who stayed, you know. My grandchildren they are spread out in many places,” she sighs. “Our little corner of the world does not hold much excitement for them. But Laurent is so good.”

“Is that why he stayed?”

“He stays for me, and for his mother my daughter, Caroline, whom you met yesterday.”

“I saw her again this morning. She doesn’t like me.”

Ilse smiles and nods, looking away to the horizon. “She has reason to be reticent with strangers.”

“I’m not exactly a stranger.”

Ilse laughs.

“What?” I demand.

“It is a strange thing,” she answers with a smile. “Are you a stranger? No, you are not. And yet, yes, of course you are.”

I frown. “What do you mean?”

“Isabella,” she says kindly. “We must learn to know each other again. And you must learn to have patience with my daughter. Caroline is a kind person who has dealt with her circumstances the only way she knows how.” She pauses. “Like you, I think.”

I stare at the ground, processing her words and fighting the urge to run again.

“Whatever you feel, Isabella, know that you are a welcomed guest in my home.”

We walk without speaking; the only sounds are the soft, rhythmic padding of our footsteps and the swish of the grass against our legs.

I do not break the silence until the main house is several yards away. “Ilse?”

“Yes?”

“Caroline’s ‘circumstances what are they?”

“I will have her tell you someday,” she answers. “But it is not a happy story.”

I laugh; the sound is bitter and sharp. Ilse looks at me intently.

“Will you tell me what has happened?” she asks.

I shrug. “I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop,” she replies, a small smile tugging at the corners of her faded lips. “Until then, I will wait.”

+.+.+.+

“Edward?”

“Yes, Isabella?”

“Tell me what this is.”

He looks up from his computer, his eyes darting to my fingers as they trace the underside of his grand piano’s top board. He stiffens almost imperceptibly.

“Are you snooping, Isabella?” he asks, but his smirk does not hide the tightening of his eyes.

I shrug. “As you suggested, I’m keeping myself occupied while you answer your emails.”

“I’ll only be a moment- come away from there. Please.”

I ignore him, lifting the board further, propping it at an angle that allows me to see the pattern of the deep scratches I’d detected with roving fingers.

Upon closer inspection, they are not random grooves at all they are words.

“‘The game still continues, but no one has fun, I read out loud.

“Stop.”

I fight a flinch at the sudden, unexpected nearness of him. His hands come up behind me to lower the prop of the top board until the piano is shut.

“So mysterious,” I breathe, teasing as I turn to face him.

His smile is only slightly strained. “Mystery is what we do best, apparently.”

“So there’s no chance you’ll tell me why you’ve chosen to deface a Bösendorfer with depressing song lyrics?”

“No. But if you must know, it’s a line from a Henry James poem.”

I smile, determined now to discover more of the story of this blueblood boy, more of the puzzle pieces I don’t know, more of what could compel him to meticulously carve a line of poetry into something so priceless.

My hand moves up his chest, fingers glancing against his neck before winding into his hair. “I do enjoy a man who knows his way around a poem.”

He nods, but his eyes are far away and his lips, as they descend to meet my own, are pursed into a frown.

+.+.+.+

Laurent is sitting on a small wooden bench as we re-enter Au Chien Pèlerin’s courtyard, his long fingers deftly handling an apple as he peels away its skin with a jackknife. A grey wolfhound lolls indolently at his feet.

He greets Ilse with a grin. “You have found your stray, eh?”

She only chuckles, affectionately ruffling his hair as the dog at his feet whines plaintively.

“Omi, you know the rule: if you will pet me, you will pet Sascha,” he sighs. “She gets jealous.”

“I will let Isabella have the privilege,” Ilse replies. “She and Sascha have not been introduced?”

“I don’t like dogs,” I inform them flatly.

Laurent only smirks. “Dogs are God’s gift to the pure in heart. And who does not like Sascha? She is a saint.” As if on cue, the dog in question places her mangy gray head on Laurent’s knee. He mutters something to her in French before offering her his unbroken apple peel; she devours it as he scratches the space behind her ears.

“Laurent,” Ilse says before I have a chance to respond. “Isabella has seen the pastures this morning… I wonder if you would take her down to the orchards as well?”

Je suis pas un guide touristique,” he tells her rudely. “If she wants to see the orchards, she can help me prune the trees.”

“Laurent,” she sighs.

He only looks me up and down; his eyes holds a good-humored challenge. “I do not suppose you have worked in an orchard before? Of course not. Look at those skinny arms.”

Arrête, Laurent. You are embarrassing her.”

He takes a bite of his apple, ignoring her lecturing tone as he stares at me. I stare back for only a few moments before my indignation acquires an odd edge… a spark, a flicker, a flame begins to tickle at the base of my skull. There is something here, something familiar, a small, straining light in the darkness. Beside me, Ilse continues to scold, but her voice fades further as my thoughts gather, strain and race.

The intolerable, ephemeral void of the last few days makes its weight felt: cold, black and heavy- cloaks of water pulsing and pressing, and I’ve mourned my Poseidon, I’ve let his absence unsettle me, let it wear like a canker in my chest. My limbs have searched, lurched for relief as an old universe faded, collapsing behind me, its cold remnants nipping at my heels.

Freedom, I told Edward. Freedom, I said.

Here it is, presented as a dare in the insolent gray eyes of a farmhand.

And I speak, the words leaping off my tongue before I can pull them into check…

“I can work.”

In my periphery, Ilse stares at me, astonished. “Isabella,” she begins. “It is not necessary-”

C’est le pied!” Laurent interrupts; somewhere beneath his playfulness, I detect a hint of surprise. “It is settled, then.”

I smile at him and inhale, searching for the familiar rush, the beginning of something new, an escape from escape itself:

Freedom.

+.+.+.++.+.+.+

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About hollelujah
meh.

One Response to 21. La Dame Rouge

  1. Nelly S. says:

    I’m so loving this story I don’t even know what to do anymore. Gah.

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