Afterward you stand at the window, still in your rose-coloured robe drawn closed. It’s June and the unseen fields beyond the stables hum with life but you think about winter. How brutally, freakishly cold it was! Every memory of those months is pierced through with it, such that there is no forgetting. You think -- for instance -- about the little red fox you found, after your arm was healed (and Mason did not die), and you were riding again (wind needling your face, your horse’s hooves churning through ice-crust into the underlying snow). It was curled in on itself, head tucked into tail, and so frozen that when you lifted its body it came away from the snowbank of a piece.
There was no blood; it did not even seem starved. It had only taken a wrong turn home.
“You can show me, you know,” Freddie Lounds says, from your bed. “It’s all right. I don’t judge.”
“I’m not worried about your judgment,” you say.
“Off the record, then.”
You turn and look at her. Freddie hasn’t moved, except to roll onto her side to face you. She’s naked and her knees are drawn up, spine curved like the question mark absent from her tone. You wonder if she’s cold. The sheets are way down at the foot of the bed, dragging on the floor.
“Is anything ever off the record with you?”
She smiles. “As of fifteen minutes ago, sure.”
You don’t believe her. It doesn’t matter. You can’t cut off her access to Mason, but she knows your angle is more interesting. Fifteen minutes ago she said, You don’t want them to catch him, do you?
You don’t have an answer for that one yet. You’re still sorting out what you want, from what you need, from the reflex to deny Mason merely because that is now one possibility among others. There is an angle from which Hannibal Lecter is only a weapon of opportunity. The scalpel claims its pound of flesh from the wielder, too -- but so what? Did the world teach you to expect less?
Freddie is still watching you, the train of thought behind her eyes ticking away. You return to her, to the bed, in order to put a stop to it. You take her by the ankles -- they’re so slender your hands nearly encircle them -- and she allows you, agreeably languid, to unfold her. Her skin is warm, and devoid of superficial flaws. It has the same smooth sheen as her voice. You should resent that, but you don’t. You want to put your teeth to it.
(There is no blood.)
“You have a lot on your shoulders, Margot,” Freddie says. It sounds like a sleepy observation, even as her fingers travel up your inner thigh. They are clever; exploratory. “I understand that. I can -- ah! Do that again.”
You’d nipped her on the breast. She tastes good; vegetarian girls mostly do. “Don’t pretend you know anything about me, Freddie.”
“I’m not pretending.” Her hand reaches the trailing sash of your robe and hovers there. “Let me guess: you don’t laugh much. They say Margot can’t take a joke, don’t they? Margot has no sense of humour. But the problem is, they’re not funny.”
It’s sharp, and you breathe it in. “Are you volunteering?”
“I have no sense of humour,” Freddie says. It sounds cheerful. “You want some other woman for that. I think you and I can help each other, though. I really hope we do.”
This time, when she reaches for the sash, you let her.