She sat at his desk, pen in one hand as the other quivered beside the stationary. What would she write? How could she explain herself to him? And would she mention that thing?
Even now, ensconced upstairs, Angelique could still see it staring at her. She remembered how her hand twitched and it's eyes jolted toward the offending appendage. For a few moments, that stare stopped her where she stood. But near as quickly, she released a sigh. She took two steps back and the eyes still followed. She closed her own and took off down the corridor. She did not stop until she reached the bedroom.
She knew that she had to act fast. Her old, travel worn bag had been stowed away in a closet. Fumbling, she retrieved it. Opening it, she smiled at its contents: a red plaid dress. Short on finery, it was the dress she wore when she stepped off the train in London. To new beginnings: those were the words she spoke once she set foot on those much longed for streets. They would serve her well once again.
She changed quickly. She tossed the slip and dressing gown in the bag. She went back to the closet and took a look at the other gowns. Angelique had only been staying with Dorian for a few days but the space was positively bursting with silks, satins, laces, and velvets of every color. She reached out and rubbed the material. It was fine: delicate, soft, and worthy of a fine lady. They would have to settle for a lesser host. She would be leaving them all behind.
That still left her farewell. Finally, she closed her eyes and wrote. Once finished, she folded the letter and scribbled his name across the front. There was no need for her to examine its contents. Her heart had spoken; Angelique saw no need to let her mind question its words.
She grabbed her bag and began her march downstairs. Angelique took special care to close the hidden panel. She took one last look around, making eye contact with as many portraits as she could. She raised a solitary finger to her lips and nodded.
She paused at the door but only briefly. Her hand lingered over the frame, drawing lazy figure eights along the grain. "No time like the present," she whispered.
Once she stepped outside she turned left and began to walk. She did not look back.
This is goodbye. Words fail me when I try to articulate what you've done for me since we've met. I've learned much about who I am and who I am not.
We are different but not in the way others would suggest. We demand different things from each other. You have already begun to move on. It is time I do so as well.
Perhaps we will meet again on some untold street. All of this will be some fond memory. Do say hello. I will not hesitate to do so. But do not expect me to return to this. I do love you--I just cannot be who you want.
Adieu--from one wanderer to another,
"But of course!" Angelique turned and faced her. "Let me get a good look at you, my girl." She twirled her index finger lazily and Angelique complied with a quick spin. "You've not changed much."
"Not much time has passed," she said.
"Perhaps. I did not expect to see you back here so soon."
"Nor did I. May we talk…"
"Yes. Come along." Madam took her by the hand and led her through the crowd.
"Are you back for good?" she asked once they entered an empty hall.
"I do believe so...at least for now."
She smiled. "I did not doubt it, Angelique." Madam stopped in front of a doors and threw them open. "Even the most willful of children always return home."
Five Months Later
Angelique had always imagined seeing him again one day. Some nights, she would imagine the scenario in detail: the fine clothes, the winning banter, and then the heartfelt sighs before moving on with the affairs of their days. Who he would be with would not matter. The two of them would be all that mattered and the trifles of their lives would just melt away.
All that planning did not prepare her to see him drifting from boutique to boutique with a young blonde woman on his arm. What was her name? Lily. It took only a moment but she remembered her so well: darling, naive, and new to the city. Another feather in his hat. It would have been for the best to turn away.
Yet she could not. Carefully, she crept to the other side of the street. The small cafe became her base of operations, it's nearest table serving as her home station. She watched them walk and talk, each taking slow, meandering steps as they transversed the sidewalk. "Nowhere to be," she whispered above a tea cup. "The idle rich strike again."
They stopped just before another brick walled shop. Lily turned, her back to the wall as she looked into his eyes. Dorian seemed to smile and leaned over her. Angelique turned away. Perhaps it was more than she wanted to know.
"It is never easy to see a lover with another."
Angelique looked up. Sitting to her side was a small, square man with yellow hair and beard. He reached out and placed a hand atop hers. "We have all been there before, my dear. I would like to say that it becomes easier...but it never does."
"I know you, don't I?"
"But of course! But some time has passed since the ball. I am..."
"Mr. Lyle!" she exclaimed. "We danced a bit before your friend was..."
"Indisposed," he said, corners of his mouth turning down. "In many ways, it was a dreadful night. But the pleasure of meeting you was one shining moment."
She did not bother to hide her smile. But just as quickly it began to evaporate. "How long have you been sitting here?"
"I'm afraid I've been with you the entire time. You were so engrossed by your spying that I did not want to interrupt you. Perhaps I should have? You would have missed the whole dreadful scene."
"No. Some things must been seen to be believed." Angelique shifted in her seat and looked away. "You can never really move on until you've seen things with your own eyes."
Mr. Lyle merely nodded. "Then it was proper to give you your time."
Angelique looked back to him, his mouth slightly pursed and his eyes heavy lidded with concern. She smiled: it felt like ages since someone had shown concern for her. "Tell me something happy, Mr. Lyle. I'm sure you have at least one thing to say that will lighten the mood."
"Hmm… but I do! It is less a moment of levity as it is an invitation," he said. He leaned in and, with widened eyes, begged her to do the same. "A dear friend of mine has had to turn down a standing dinner invitation from one of our mutual acquaintances. It would be just divine if you would take his place."
"But I couldn't! I don't even know your friend."
"You will be surprised." He fumbled through a small purse until he retrieved a calling card. "Please be at this address tonight."
"Oh I don't know..."
"Please! Our host will be very grateful to see you." He rose, saying, "And I could always send you carriage for you."
"No, no...I think I'll be able to make it on my own."
"Then it's settled?" She nodded. "Splendid!" Mr. Lyle reached down and took her hands in his. "Until tonight!"
Angelique had gone to the dinner with no expectations, no illusions. Still, this situation struck her as odd.
There were only 3 guests that night at the what she learned was the Murray house: Mr. Lyle, Miss Vanessa Ives, and herself. They sat at a long table, Vanessa and Lyle and the ends with herself seated somewhere in the middle. Incidental sound was the only music in the room as dour young women filled glasses and brought out the first course. Angelique would cast an eye up toward the ladies. They failed to meet her gaze.
Once they were gone, Miss Ives rose, glass and in hand and began to speak: "I thank you both for sitting with me tonight. It has been lonely these last few weeks. I didn't want to admit how lonely it was until recently. And it was only through our friend Mr. Lyle's suggestions that this meal came to be."
"I only want the best for you, Miss Ives," he said, glass raised.
"And I thank you for it! Still, so many of us are missing here this night and I wanted to note their absence." She raised the glass forward and said, "To Victor: gone but not forgotten."
"Here!" replied Lyle.
From there, Vanessa rattled off a few more names: Ethan, Sembene, Sir Malcolm. Each time, Lyle offered the same reply. She finally turned to Angelique and smiled. "But I don't want you to think I do not appreciate your presence. We met just briefly but I am grateful for the chance to get to know you tonight."
"Why...thank you," she said. Startled, she reached for her own glass and asked, "May I make my own toast to a lost one?"
"Of course, dear."
Glass in hand, Angelique rose. "I...I'd like to remember my sister Marie. Her good cheer, nature, and wishes helped me be the person I am today. She is not here tonight, but knowing she still walks in London today brings me a kind of strength."
"Here!" said Vanessa and Lyle in unison. "Gone but not forgotten."
Angelique nodded and a sigh quickly escaped her. "Yes. Thank you."
"Now," said Vanessa as she took her seat, "let us begin!"
Lyle nodded, pausing a moment from his fiddling with the phonograph to acknowledge the scene behind him. "And our good friend Victor is continuing to nurse his wounds because of his callousness."
Angelique paused, snifter perched at the edge of her lip. "I remember him," she finally said. "He is Lily's cousin? Yes?" Vanessa nodded. "Poor lovesick fool. He didn't stand a chance!"
"Perhaps not. But hopefully he will be willing enough to join us again. It's one thing to be a lovesick fool; it's another to be one on your own," said Vanessa as she snuffed out the cigarette.
"Sometimes alone is the best you can do."
"In the past I would have agreed but I don't know anymore." Vanessa leaned across her chair, planting her elbow in the arm and perching her chin on her opened palm. "I have tried so often to do certain things--the hard things--on my own. I almost always succeed when someone is at my side."
"Things are perhaps different for you," she said.
Recognition flashed in her eyes and Vanessa looked away. "Perhaps so. I wasn't thinking. Still," she said, "you had your sister."
"She was...she was not my sister. She was a friend who accepted me as I am."
Vanessa turned back to her and smiled. She reached out and took Angelique's hand into her own. "There is no need to explain. Not all sisters come to us from the blood. I may not know it the way you do, but I know it."
"Do you?" she asked, leaning in.
Vanessa nodded. "There's almost no one I miss more in this world."
"Tell me about her. I will tell you about Marie."
"Well…" she began. The tin-like notes from the phonograph suddenly burst forth and stole the general quiet.
"Are we ready ladies?" asked Lyle.
Vanessa looked to Angelique and asked, "Do you dance?"
"Of course! Who doesn't?"
"You would be surprised." Vanessa rose, Angelique's hand still in hers, and beckoned her forward. "Come now. We can't keep Mr. Lyle waiting."
Angelique rose forth. "I think not," she said with a smile.
"I insist, my dear. It would be rude to let a lady go it alone."
"And as your host, I would also insist you have a friend see you home," said Vanessa.
Angelique could only smile. "Then I will accept this kindness. Thank you."
"The honor was mine." Vanessa took her hand and said, "I hope you will be willing to join us on some other night."
"Yes...yes, I think I will."
Vanessa smiled. She turned to Mr. Lyle and said, "And you, good sir, it is always a pleasure to be with you."
"The pleasure is mine!" he exclaimed.
He turned to Angelique and asked, "Are you ready?" She nodded. "Then we should go off."
Mr. Lyle offered her his arm. She linked with his and he pulled her close to him. They both turned back and saw that Vanessa was waving at them. "Until later."
Angelique offered a small wave. They both turned forward and made their way to the carriage.
Mr. Lyle leaned in next to her and asked, "This wasn't so bad, was it?"
"No, not at all. It did me a great deal of good."
Lyle nodded. "Then it was worth it?" She nodded her answer. He paused a moment before adding, "This may be selfish but I must say that Dorian did you a bit of good."
Lyle released her arm as she climbed into the carriage. He followed her up and took the bench across from hers. "He introduced you to society. We may have never known you otherwise. We would not have known what we were missing!"
Angelique laughed and sank against the bench. "That's one way of looking at it!" She glanced out into the dim light of the cabin and smiled. She hadn't felt such contentment in a good while. And she knew it needn't end. "Tell me of how you met Miss Ives."
"I thought you'd never ask."
It was a story that would take the entire ride back to Oram Street to tell. But Angelique was engrossed the entire time.