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The Eye of the Needle

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He visits her in her dreams.

She isn’t expecting that. In the long, long journey from Dungetar to New York, Tilly expects very little apart from a sudden heavy clasp on her shoulder and a voice directing her to come along; it’s why she lies to the conductor, because she hadn’t exactly been subtle, and it is possible that the wretched citizenry of her hometown might collect themselves enough to send someone after her.

But no one comes, no one detains her; she travels on and on, slapping dust from her skirt in train depots and sipping cocktails on steamers, the spoils of her revenge safe in her handbag. She feels glassy and numb, not quite taking in the sounds or the bright lights, and she turns away from the stars, because seeing them is to hear Teddy’s voice again or smell the heat and sweat of his skin.

Or feel the cold hand in hers, too stiff to be real, too still, too--

At those moments Tilly orders another drink.

But eventually she washes up on the shore of New York City, exhausted and grimy and bereft, and she barely has the energy to find a decent hotel and fall onto the mattress to sleep.

He’s sitting next to her on the steps of her mother’s porch, which is odd later because they never did that, but it’s so exact, down to the dust in the air, that her heart clenches with the sudden wild, tearing hope that all the disasters were a dream themselves.

But he chuckles and kisses her, brief and sweet. “No, you’re dreaming now,” he says.

Tilly wants to weep, but it seems all her tears were used up over his corpse and Molly’s.

“Smile for me, Tilly,” he says gently, and his knuckles are light on her cheek, as if to swipe away the nonexistent moisture. “We’ve got this time.”

“But it won’t last,” she whispers. This is almost crueler than hard words and hateful whispers, to have him close and know it’s not real.

“Nothing does.” His eyes are beautiful and unafraid. He never did fear her. “Which is why we can have it again.”

“Teddy,” she says, and wakes up.

The hotel room is dim, and Tilly listens to the muffled sounds of cars and voices for a long time before she can bring herself to get up.


For the next few days she is, very carefully, far too busy to let herself think about the dream. Her handbag holds more than the notes she changes at the bank; it has references from Paris fashion houses that make brows rise and frowns soften when she wangles appointments with Manhattan designers. Her portfolio of sketches--painfully thin, but enough--gets her in the right door, and the careful tale of the months spent caring for her dying mother neatly covers the gap of time. Molly would approve, she thinks, and swallows the cramping knot in her throat back down.

This city moves at a faster beat than London or Paris, but Tilly finds she likes it. It keeps her fingers flying and her mind clicking along, and Dungetar fades into the background, the odors of dust and sheep replaced with the city smells of wet streets and garbage and the press of people. Tilly finds a flat; it’s tiny, because she refuses to have a roommate, but it’s enough and she can walk to work if the weather’s fine. She learns the streetcar lines and the local restaurants, where to find the best greengrocer; she struggles with the accents at first, but it’s not too hard to slip back into her polished almost-British tones, and they fall more profitably on the ear than the drawl of her childhood.

But no matter how hard she works, sooner or later Tilly must sleep. And she dreams.

Teddy’s as patient with her as he was in life, pacing by her side when she storms off across the landscape (sometimes it’s sun-hot hills, sometimes it’s gray stony streets), smiling when she shouts at him about how stupid he was to die that way.

“I know,” he says every time. “It was stupid, and I’m a bastard for leaving you. If I could go back, love, I’d just kiss you instead, until you believed you weren’t cursed.”

It’s many weeks before she throws up her hands. “Why me?” she asks. “Why not--why not Barney? Or your mum?” Because she’d heard them both, Mae’s screams and Barney’s wrenched sobs, and it was her fault because she’d let Teddy in, her fault her fault--

“No,” he tells her firmly, and somehow he’s holding her, that strong hug that was never a prison. “I was stupid, remember? It’s not your fault and Mum knows that.”

So does Tilly, somewhere under the guilt and pain, but that doesn’t make it easier. She lets him hold her. She is too lonely to pull away.

“Mum...I see her now and then.” Teddy’s voice is quiet in her ear, his breath warm along her temple when he lays a kiss there. “And Barney too. But you’re the one I love.”

And she wakes again.

Her flat is cold. Tilly hauls the blankets over her head, but she keeps her eyes open. It’s not real, she tells herself. You’re dreaming because you’re a bloody fool.

She misses Paris’ café, but there’s bitter coffee enough to keep her awake for almost two days, and then she’s too tired to dream, or at least to remember.

But the next time, he’s there again.

And again.

And again.

Sometimes she walks away. Sometimes she shouts again. Sometimes she doesn’t realise right away that it’s a dream, and she tells him of growing up in Europe, how she saw more faces and more shades of skin the first five minutes off the boat than in ever her life before; of London sweatshops, and sewing until her eyes blurred and her fingers bled, and the long hard creep upwards. And he tells her about learning not to care about the taunts flung his way, for living in a caravan next to a garbage tip, and how he beat the other boys until they learned to keep their gobs shut about Barney.

In the end, though, her rage runs out. Tilly sits in her dream-flat and smokes a Sobranie, because if she’s dreaming she might as well have the good ones, and Teddy sits opposite in a battered old armchair with his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped, and watches her with that warm, amused, tender gaze.

“You never could take a hint,” she remarks, and his lips curve up.

“Don’t want to.”

As it does on occasion, her mind veers off to consider how she would dress him, if she had the power to. Suits, yes, though it’s hard to picture him in an American bowler or boater; a cap would suit him better. Long trousers, a shirt open at the throat to show off that strong muscle--

Tilly blinks away the vision and crushes out the cigarette. “Why are you doing this?”

Teddy’s smile goes wistful. “Because I want to be with you.”

There are so many questions she could ask, but Tilly doesn’t think she wants the answers. As she hesitates, his smile fades.

“If you want me to stop, I will.” And an instant later they’re standing on top of a hill somewhere, with a vista of stars overhead; northern stars, Tilly sees, and remembers the place as a little village near Aix she’d visited years ago. “If you want me to go, I will.”

She doesn’t. She doesn’t, and her heart cracks under the strain of it. Her fist is clenched around a handful of his shirt, and her voice strains. “It’s not real.

“What’s real?” His hands stroke her hair back from her face. “If I’d kissed you instead of dying, we’d be apart all day and together at night. Just like now...only we’re not wasting time sleeping.”

He kisses her now, the kisses he should have given, teasing, persuading, wholehearted, and she is...she is not lost.

She is here.

“All right,” she whispers at last, and his smile makes the sun rise.


 

The Dunnage fashion house is small but exclusive, and very successful in a quiet way. The costumes have a Parisian flair, but also Madam Dunnage’s own unique taste, which matches every article perfectly to the person for whom it’s made.

She is a bit of a mystery, Madam Dunnage; she has few friends though dear ones, and no family, though she does get the occasional scrawled, badly spelt letter from very far away. She is courted by many, but gives her hand to none, and retires every evening to the spacious flat that overlooks her Manhattan atelier.

She is very punctual about retiring, in fact.

And she always wakes with a smile.