We ride the tube across town, gripping tightly to the handrail above our heads as the train moves from side to side on the track. People get off at each stop, momentarily opening up a space around us, before it fills again with commuters or tourists or young college kids with white headphone wires dangling down from their ears to their jacket pockets. I look across at Paul. He grips my hand tightly, staring straight ahead, until he notices me looking. He smiles warmly and squeezes my hand a little tighter.
Even after living in London for almost two years, I still can't bear the claustrophobia of the tube. Or the voice from the speakers that no one can understand, not even native English speakers. Or the rudeness of businessmen and women as they push past the crowd in their smart grey suits, glaring at whoever crosses their path with that look of arrogance in their cold, grey eyes.
Paul's voice interrupts my thoughts and I feel his hand start to pull me towards the doors as they slide open silently. Euston Square. I didn't even realise our journey was over. Thankfully Paul is paying attention.
Bodies bump into me from all directions as I dart through the crowd as if was in a maze, squeezing through gaps as they open only for a moment. Tourists wander slowly around, staring at maps of the city and the tube maps on the wall. They keep stopping in my way. I have to keep turning and choosing a different path. I find myself growing increasingly annoyed. Maybe I'm becoming like one of those impatient commuters I hate so much.
I can't blame these people; less than two years ago, I was just a lost tourist in a new city. I called London home but I barely knew where I was most of the time. I was homesick for Paris, where everything seemed slower and less chaotic. I had Paul, so I wasn't entirely alone, but sometimes it felt very lonely, like it was just the two of us in our little apartment in an alien world.
Things were better when I started school. That's why I came here; to get my PhD in immunology at UCL. Paul got a job at a bank. It was easy for him; he just walks into a room and everyone wants to talk to him, everyone learns his name and remembers it. Thanks to his previous experience in banking at an American firm back in Paris, he was soon rising in the ranks, and with the money I was earning from teaching classes on the side, we had enough money to rent a bigger place near the university.
I fell in love with school right away, and I’m still as dedicated now. Paul loves his job too. I can't complain about anything, really. We have a very comfortable life here. But sometimes I still feel as lost and as lonely as I did at the beginning.
We finally make it over to the escalators. I let the step carry me upwards through the rounded tunnel, colourful posters passing by on the walls, for restaurants and West End musicals and Madame Tussauds. I let go of Paul's hand, pulling my black coat higher up around my neck as we reach the steps that will take us out of the station. I brace myself for the cold wind that swirls through my hair and whistles through my ears.
We walk in silence towards the university. Paul doesn't bother saying anything, so I don't either. He tries to reach for my hand again, but I take it away.
He's meeting his work friends on the next street. They're going out for drinks, like they do almost every weekend. Paul invited me, but I made it very clear I'd much rather attend Dr Leekie's guest lecture at the university than sit silently in a corner watching Paul and his loud-mouthed, arrogant, posh-boy colleagues get wasted and throw their heads back in laughter, so loud everyone turns and stares at them. None of the other wives or girlfriends get invited out; most of them are getting cheated on anyway. Sometimes I think I'll be next.
'Paul the banker' is very different from the Paul I met in Paris. I hate to see him act like such a fool, so I never go out with them anymore. I hate Paul's friends.
As we approach the street, they cheer as they see him. He waves over at them, then stops walking and turns to me.
'I'll call you later. Have a great time at your lecture'.
'You have a good time, too', I say quietly.
He leans down and kisses me on the mouth, but I gently push him away when I hear the shouts and whistles from down the road. He breaks away with a quick 'love you' and runs across to join his friends. They shout my name, jeering, whistling, Paul laughing along with them. Assholes.
The sound fades away as we walk away in opposite directions. The street is unusually quiet, but as I near campus, the click of my high-heeled black boots against the concrete dissolves into the low hum of voices, growing louder and louder as I pass the hospital and join the busy main street. I join the crowd of people heading towards the science building.
Dr Leekie is giving a talk on neolutionism. It's a subject that I find very interesting, but I imagine that many people will be apprehensive or sceptical of his ideas. Others follow him as though he is a religious leader. The Freaky Leekies, they're called. I spot a few of them now, some with silver hair, some with silver eyes.
I make my way inside the old, red brick building and follow the steady stream of people, flowing like a river through the open double doors and into the busy theatre. Row upon row of fold out chairs are filled with enthusiastic scientists, and I instantly feel as though I belong. I almost laugh at the thought – a collection of misfits, nerds and oddballs, but together we make a strange family. I spot a single empty seat on the end of the row near the middle of the room, and hurry towards it. The girl in the next seat has a brown leather bag slung over her shoulder, occupying half the empty seat. She rummages around inside the bag, looking down in concentration through glasses that keep falling further and further down her nose, then stopping at her thin silver nose-ring.
'I'm sorry, could you move your bag?' I ask, not wanting to disturb her but out of options, as the last seats are taken elsewhere.
She looks up quickly, startled, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose. Her eyes, hazel in colour and framed with thick black eyeliner that sharpens to a point in the corners, meet mine.
'Oh, of course, I'm so sorry!' she smiles, waving her hands around. She grabs her bag and moves it onto her lap, continuing her search.
'I'm always losing things in here', she murmurs in her American accent.
I set my own bag down at my feet and settle into the chair, running a hand through my curls.
'Aha!' she says triumphantly, pulling out her cell phone. She turns on silent mode and slips it back into the bag as the lights dim around us. She brushes her dark brown dreadlocks over her shoulder, leaning forward eagerly. I can't help but smile at her enthusiasm. A loud cheer echoes around the theatre as Dr Leekie makes his entrance.
I can’t help but think coming here was a mistake. Dr Leekie is one of the most narcissistic and delusional men I have ever witnessed, and I’m willing to bet the full lecture theatre adds further fuel to his arrogance. A short way into the speech, he begins to explain that he can speak French, Spanish, Italian and several other languages due to some kind of multi-lingual chip.
'Bullshit', I hear a whisper beside me. I turn to look at the smirking girl in the next seat.
'You don't believe it?' I whisper in response, leaning closer to her.
'Nah, he's just trying to impress us. He’s trying to recruit for his fan club', she murmurs. Someone hisses 'shhhh!' at us from the row behind. I giggle quietly, covering my mouth with the top of my coat in an attempt to muffle the sound. She smiles across at me, as though we have our own private joke, then turns back to Dr Leekie.
Her smile is the infectious kind; the warm, bright kind that makes you want to see it, over and over again. I watch her for a moment, before I turn my own attentions back to the front of the room.
The lecture drags to a close. Dr Leekie is charismatic, sure, but I didn't at all understand the points he was trying to make. I was interested in neolutionism before, but now I find the whole idea very confusing.
'Is it just me, or do you find that guy seriously creepy?' the American asks as we stand up to leave.
'No, I agree', I laugh.
'I don't trust him at all. Or those silver eyed groupies down there'. She nods towards the bottom of the theatre, where a group of Freaky Leekies are surrounding the professor in awe.
We make our way through a side door, which opens out into a small event space. It's empty of furniture, except for the tables where glasses of champagne are set out on a white tablecloth.
'I don't know though, it looks like they know how to entertain!' she grins, almost pushing her way through a group of people to grab a glass. She hands me one as well.
'I thought that was a French accent I heard', she smiles, intrigued.
'Yes, I'm from Paris, originally, but I've lived here for almost two years now. And you, you're American?'
'Yeah, but my sister lives here, so I've got my family close. Are you a student here?' she asks.
'Yes, I’m working on my PhD in immunology'.
'Oh, cool!' she exclaims. 'I'm in evo devo'.
I blink in confusion. Evo devo? Oh wait -
'Yeah! Sorry, that's what we call it here'. She giggles apologetically, apparently finding my confusion amusing.
'I'm Delphine', I say, extending my hand, which she takes in her own.
'Cosima', she smiles.
'Enchanteé', she replies, almost giggling because she knows her accent is completely wrong.
Cosima. It's a beautiful name. I like the way it sounds, even if my accent alters it. I have never met a Cosima before.
I let go of her hand.
It's fitting, though, because I have never met anyone like her. We stand there, talking, for over an hour. Trading stories back and forth about our experiences of living in England and studying and our undergraduate degrees. Talking about science. Laughing at her stupid jokes. Dr Leekie enters the room to a round of applause, and makes his way around the room, chatting to attendees. I ignore him. Cosima suggests going to confront him and challenge him on some of his claims, but she decides it’s not worth it. I’m glad, because I’d rather stay here, talking, just the two of us.
I am fascinated by this woman. Her brilliant mind and her bohemian style, her animation as she talks, and her tattoos. And that smile.
And then her phone vibrates, and her smile falters. It ruins the moment.
'It's my girlfriend, she's waiting for me outside. I'm sorry, Delphine'.
I try to hide my disappointment. 'Don't be’, I say. ‘It was really nice to talk to you, Cosima'.
'You too! It's good to meet someone I can totally geek out with. Are you staying any longer, or …'
'No, I'm going to go home, I think. My boyfriend's out with his friends, so I've got the TV to myself for the evening'.
She laughs. 'Walk out with me?'
We make our way out of the building, snaking around the groups of chattering scientists. The place is still full of people, and Dr Leekie is still swamped by his dedicated fans.
When we reach the door, Cosima stops. ‘Wait’, she says, and reaches a hand into her bag, pulling out a small notepad and a pen after a moment. She scribbles something onto a black page and tears it off, then hands it to me. A phone number, written in scrawling handwriting.
'Because we should totally study together some time!' she exclaims excitedly.
My heart leaps. She gave me her number! That means she wants to see me again! I probably shouldn't be this excited, but I can't help myself.
'Oui, of course. I would like that', I smile back, folding the paper slip carefully and tucking it away in my pocket.
'Okay, great! Well, I guess I’ll see you around, Delphine!'
And with a wave, she's turning away and walking down the street, into the arms of a small blonde girl wearing a beige trench coat and a fedora hat. They walk off together, laughing, hand in hand, while I'm left cold and alone on the sidewalk. I watch as she disappears around the corner, until the last trace of her is gone. And, as if by some tragic cosmic joke, it starts to rain.
I stand there for a few minutes, letting the cold droplets of water fall through my hair and down my neck. I feel as though I might burst into tears and I don’t know why.
Paul calls me. I answer the phone. Reluctantly.
Okay, press call.
Come on, it's easy.
All you have to do is hit a button.
Yes, but what happens when she picks up?
I argue with myself like this for several minutes, my phone in my hand, gripping it tightly, pacing up and down my bedroom.
Why am I so nervous to call Cosima?
She's just an ordinary girl. She has the same interests as me. She gave me her number.
She's beautiful. And she's not just ordinary.
I sigh in frustration, trying to shake the nervous feeling that eats away at my insides.
My stomach is turning somersaults. My mouth feels dry. My hands are shaking. I haven't felt this way about anyone in a very long time. Maybe it's because I don't know her, but I really want to. Maybe it's because she's so confident, and I'm so awkward, and I'm worried I'll say the wrong thing. Maybe it's because I'm worried she's forgotten me. Or maybe it's because I am so fascinated by her and I'm not sure why.
When I saw her with Shay, holding her hand as they walked down the street and out of reach, I felt my heart sink. I felt … jealousy?
No way. It can't have been. Why would I have any reason to be jealous of Shay?
She has no interest in science (Cosima told me that). She's not especially beautiful. I’ll bet my apartment is better than hers, my clothes more expensive, my lifestyle more comfortable.
But she has Cosima, so all those petty things don't matter. And I have Paul. And sometimes, Paul makes me miserable.
Anyway. I'm not jealous of Shay. But when I spoke to Cosima in the lecture theatre last week, I felt that I had found someone who truly understands me. I meet so few of those people, and when I do, I do everything I can to keep them around.
Felix is one of those people. He's been my friend since I first moved to London, and one of the first people I met here. I barely even remember how I met him. It was in a bar in Soho, I remember that. Somehow we got talking. I don't even know what about. But by the end of the night, we were almost unconscious and, with great effort, we staggered back to my apartment, barely remembering the way. He fell asleep on my couch. Paul was very confused when he got up to make coffee the next morning, finding a random man dressed in black skinny jeans and a tank top with black make-up smudged beneath his closed eyes sprawled out on the rug on the living room floor.
That's the thing about Felix and I; no one expected us to be friends. We are the opposite of each other, yet still, he knows me better than anyone.
I told him about Cosima. I told him I met a girl at Dr Leekie’s lecture who's as crazy about science as I am.
'What, she's as nerdy as you? Aw, Delphine! You've finally found your people!' he had exclaimed, strangely proud.
He told me to call her. He said it’s about time that I make more friends here. He's right, I suppose.
I think about this now as my thumb lingers over the call button. Then, in a snap decision, I press it.
The phone rings four times, and I hear a voice.
'Bonjour, Cosima. It's Delphine'.
'Delphine, hey!’ I hear the smile in her voice as she realises it’s me. My heart pounds. ‘How are you?'
'Very well. And you?'
'Yeah, I'm good! So, what's up?'
'Well, I … I'm heading to the library this afternoon and I wondered if you would join me?'
'Oh, yeah, that would be cool! Oh, wait I have class today, or is that tomorrow, oh I can't remember' she mumbles to herself. I hear the faint flipping of pages in the background. 'Nope! I'm free all afternoon!' she announces. 'Shall we say, two o'clock?'
'Yes, that would be great'.
'Awesome! See you then!'
See? I tell myself. That wasn't so bad.
But still, my heart is pounding. I shake my head, laughing at myself and my unnecessary nervousness.
She walks into the library, almost twenty minutes late, wearing a simple black dress with patterned tights. A dark red scarf is hung loosely around her neck. Her arms are filled with textbooks, notepads and folders, and I see her clutch them tighter to her chest as she weaves in between students stood inspecting the tall bookshelves.
'Sorry', she mumbles over and over as she bumps into people. I watch her, giggling. She hasn't seen me yet. Her searching brown eyes scan the room, and when they land on me, I quickly drop my head, looking down at my book. I pretend to be very interested in the text on the page, but in truth I haven't been able to concentrate at all. I don't even know what the book is about. Every time I heard the creak of the door and felt the breeze drift into the room, I would snap my head up, hoping to see Cosima.
And here she comes now, past the bookshelves and the computers, over to the large wooden table where I sit. I don't see her, as my eyes are still on my book, but I feel her. Coming closer and closer. It’s like an electrical current, surging towards me, making my hair stand on end. I can't tell whether I'm trying to play it cool or I'm just really, really nervous.
'Bonjour Cosima', I say, turning to face her. She smiles brightly and takes a seat beside me. Her books slam down on the table with a loud thud, causing people to turn around and look at us.
'My bad', she cringes, giggling.
She begins flipping through her textbook, and when she lands on the page she wants, she turns to face me.
'I'm so glad you called, I actually wanted to ask for your thoughts on something, is that okay?'.
'Of course', I reply.
'Great, well, my lab partner and I have been working overtime on this sequencing project, I started work on it months ago, and I actually came across a lab report by this guy Professor Duncan …'
She continues in great depth, but I listen to her voice rather than what she is saying. The way she rambles excitedly when she speaks about something she is passionate about. Every word is illustrated with wild movements of her hands. I watch her eyes flicker from me to the page in front of her and back again. I watch her lips as the words leave them, forming shapes and curling into a smile as she becomes fascinated with her own ideas. It's like watching a child on Christmas morning.
I nod along in agreement, hoping that I look convincing.
'So', she finishes. 'What do you think?'
That's how I spent the day with Cosima.
We began with a discussion of Cosima's project. That conversation moved swiftly into a debate about genetics and genome sequencing, and somehow, we landed on the subject of human cloning. Cosima, being an identical twin, had many strong opinions on the matter.
'My sister and I are completely different', she had said, twisting a delicate silver ring around her middle finger. 'I'm a scientist and a PhD student. Sarah didn't even finish high school. She's … well, let's just say she's creative when it comes to making money. And she used to play in a punk rock band', she laughed, shaking her head.
'What, you are not a punk rock fan?'
'I wouldn't say that, but I will say that everything I know about that genre of music is because of Sarah. I can name every member of The Clash, but she still has absolutely no interest in learning a single one of the elements in the periodic table. My point is, just because we look the same and we have the same genes, doesn't mean we are alike at all. Identity doesn't always come from inside yourself, outside influences are equally important'.
I barely registered when she stopped talking. I got lost in her words. It was so refreshing to talk to someone as intelligent as Cosima. I mean, Paul is smart, and Felix always loves to gossip, but no one I know speaks with such passion as she does.
I leaned forward, resting my head in my hand. 'Do you think human cloning will become something that future scientists do? Like, maybe one day it will become common. Wouldn't that be strange?'
'Yeah it would! But who knows? Maybe it's even going on right now, in some creepy top-secret laboratory somewhere'.
'Any one of us could be a clone', I joked. 'Maybe one day I will walk down the street and I will see Dr Leekie with long brown hair and sunglasses, wearing a shirt with a peace symbol on it and a guitar on his back'.
Cosima laughed. 'I met my clone in a dream once'.
'It wasn't just your sister?'
'No, she was just some girl who looked just like me, but she had, like, really light blonde curly hair, and she was really pale and tired looking. Her name was Helena. She was Ukranian'.
'That's a strange dream'.
'I know, right? And by the way, I have two sisters. My other sister, her name is Alison'.
I blinked. 'Triplets?'
Her eyes had clouded over for a moment, the sparkle dulled.
'Yeah', she said. Her smile was not as bright as it had been only a second ago.
I sensed that something was wrong, but I didn't pry. After all, I hadn't said anything to upset her, had I?
We spoke for hours more, trading useless stories and little anecdotes back and forth. The subject of our studying was quickly brushed aside. It didn't matter. I didn't care that I would have to spend all night catching up on work, making up for the time I spent with Cosima. It was time well spent. We said goodbye, and as she walked away in the opposite direction, I kept turning back to watch her go.
In the weeks that follow, we’ve been hanging out almost every day. Mostly at school, when we study together or meet for coffee. She’s a TA too, and most of the classes we sit in are held at similar times, so every day Cosima and I walk to and from campus together, before we reach the street that sends us walking off in our separate directions. The street that I dread, because I know it means she's leaving, and lately, spending time with Cosima is the only thing that brightens my day.
Paul is spending more and more time away from me, working late or out with his friends. I'm trying to hide the fact that every day I grow unhappier in his company, the company that is so rare nowadays, but I think he can sense that something is different in me. And why wouldn't he? We've been together such a long time. I don't want to hurt him, and I know he doesn't want to hurt me either. So we're stuck in this silence that stretches on and on for weeks at a time, trapped in our own good intentions.
A few days ago, I told Cosima about it. We were walking to the university and my phone started to vibrate in my pocket, and taking it out, I saw Paul's name light up on the screen in glaring white letters. And without even thinking about it, I hit the reject button. So abrupt. It was strange of me to do that.
'Shouldn't you have answered that?' Cosima asked, half-joking. The sun slanted across her face, making her squint in the light as she looked up at me with curious eyes.
'Non, it's probably nothing. Most likely he wants to tell me he's working late. Again'.
'Huh. He's been doing that a lot lately?'
'Honestly, I think he's avoiding me', I shrugged. 'Things have been really awkward between us lately'.
I didn't know why I was telling her this. I thought that she didn't care, but suddenly I was pouring my heart out about every tear I'd shed, every argument, every back-handed comment, and she just listened attentively as the words tumbled out of my mouth at rapid speed. I'm sure that she couldn't even understand most of what I had said. My accent becomes much heavier when I speak quickly or angrily. But I could see her eyes scanning my face as we walked, trying to salvage my words.
She listened. And I was so grateful for that. Though she couldn't really do anything to help, I was comforted by the thought that she cared.
Tonight is an unusual one.
Paul and I sit at a round wooden table by the window in our favourite pub in the city centre. We started coming here when we first arrived in London, finding the stereotypical roughness and the mostly local crowd charming. The real London, I suppose, how it used to be, before people like Paul began using it as a millionaire’s playground. Beer rings from the bottom of pint glasses stain the peeling wood. Car headlights glare through the darkening streets as the sky turns from orange and pink to a velvety dark blue. Paul is holding my hand in the gap between our seats. My other hand is wrapped around a cold glass of white wine. This is normal.
But what isn't normal about tonight is the fact that we are joined by two women, sitting across the table. Cosima and Shay.
I was a little surprised when Paul suggested we invite my new friend out for a drink, but I appreciate the gesture. I think he's just happy that I'm finally fitting in to life in London; until now, Felix was my only real friend.
Cosima is wearing a red crop top, navy skinny jeans and black ankle boots with silver buckles on the sides. A half-moon pendant hangs on the delicate silver chain around her neck. Shay is dressed in a beige fedora hat and a white lace dress.
We are currently locked in a heated debate about Cosima's favourite films.
'Of course, 'The Empire Strikes Back' is the best Star Wars film', she says as if it is the most obvious thing in the world.
Paul shakes his head in disagreement. 'I always liked 'A New Hope''.
'Don't get me wrong, it's a classic', she explains. 'But it's just not the best one'.
'Okay', I say, 'here's one for you. 'Alien' or 'Aliens'?'
'Hmm', she considers this for a moment. 'Alien'.
'The Terminator, 1 or 2?' Paul asks.
Shay sits in silence, the hint of a smile occasionally touching her lips. She keeps turning to look out the window, as if there were somewhere she'd rather be. Ugh. Shay.
Stop it, Delphine. You don't even know her.
The conversation has moved on to the topic of Shay and Cosima's travel ambitions.
'We've talked about where we want to go on vacation next year, but we can't decide!' Cosima says.
'And we might not have the money to go too far', Shay admits.
Cosima nods in agreement. 'I would love to go to Japan, or maybe Indonesia, but maybe it's off the cards for any time soon. But maybe mainland Europe?'
'I want to go to Spain' Shay tells us. 'Barcelona is my favourite city, I would love to go there again. Or France. Cosima tells me you two moved here from Paris?'
'Yeah, that's right’, Paul answers. ‘Delphine grew up there, and I moved from Kansas City when I was nineteen'.
'That's so cool! I would love to visit Paris. But Cosima won't go'.
'Not true!' Cosima exclaims defensively, holding her hands up. 'But there are so many cool cities in Eastern Europe I wanna visit too. Like Warsaw, or Prague, or Kiev'.
'Maybe you can go and meet Helena', I say with a smirk.
The comment passes right over Paul and Shay, who continue to talk as if they haven't even heard me. But Cosima, she just stares at me in surprise as a knowing smile creeps slowly across her face. We are locked in this little moment that is so short, but feels like it could go on forever.
She follows me to the bathroom a few minutes later. I stand before the long mirror above the sinks as she locks herself in a cubicle. I lean closer towards the mirror until the white overhead spotlights touch my face. I paint my lips with dark red lipstick.
'I can't believe you remembered my dream', Cosima says quietly, her voice muffled slightly behind the door.
'I remember everything you tell me', I reply simply.
'I talk so much, though, I wouldn't blame you for ignoring me. That's what everyone else does'. There’s a hint of sadness in her voice.
'I could never ignore you, Cosima. You are fascinating to me'. I say this with such ease, like I have never been surer of anything.
Cosima is silent for a moment.
'Well, that's really cool', she says, almost shy. If I didn't know her better, I could've sworn she’s nervous.
Today Felix is wearing a tight black t-shirt under a worn leather jacket and black denim skinny jeans. His hair is messy and spikes up slightly at the front, and his dark eyes are lined with smudged black eyeliner. His combat boots are heavy against the concrete, causing a loud thud with every step.
He throws one arm around my shoulders and pulls me closer to him, almost dragging me along as we walk.
'Darling, it's been such a long time', he says with a sigh. It hasn't really been so long, I saw him only a couple of weeks ago. But with Felix, every minor inconvenience is exaggerated into something dramatic.
'Yes, I suppose it has', I reply, half-truthfully.
'So I have to tell you all about the drama with Colin-'
'What's he done now', I groan. Whenever he mentions Colin, his on-off boyfriend, he talks and talks for hours.
'Actually, it's my fault this time', he shrugs.
I sigh in frustration.
The glowing red sign for Bobby's place hangs above us, and we duck into the low doorway. This is Felix's favourite bar; he's known Bobby for years.
'Oh, come on, Del! I have to listen to you complain about Paul all the time!' he says as we descend the narrow staircase.
'Fair point', I admit reluctantly.
He strides over to the bar and jumps up onto one of the wooden stools.
'Bobby? Hey, Bobby! The usual, if you would', he shouts across the bar to the small blonde woman talking to another customer at the far side. Her thick glasses, with black frames around the lenses, remind me of Cosima's. I chew on my lip nervously.
Bobby turns to greet Felix, walking around to our side of the bar. They kiss each other on the cheek, the she stalks off the back room to fetch more glasses, grabbing a towel and flicking it sharply at Felix as she leaves.
'Do not snap towels at me, Bobby, I had a very traumatic childhood', he yells after her.
I jump up onto the stool next to Felix. Posters of punk rock bands and old gig flyers cover the dark red walls, and the floors are wooden. Black leather chairs and red couches litter the room. Being below street level, it is always dark in here, but the dull yellow lamps and flickering candles in the middle of tables emit a cosy golden light into the place. It's still early in the evening, but busy already, most of the chairs taken by young adults in black jeans and band T shirts. I shrug off my dark denim jacket and drape it over the stool beside me.
'So, speaking of Paul, have you dumped that guy yet?'
I look down. 'Let's not talk about that', I mumble.
'So you have?' Felix pushes.
'No, I … I said I didn't want to talk about it!'
'Okay, fine’. He waves a hand dismissively. ‘Now, back to my thing. So, I called Colin yesterday, and he kept acting really moody with me, and then he said he was mad at me because he found out that I went out with some of his friends while he was at work - Delphine, you're crying!'
I was trying to ignore the saltwater tears silently trickling down my cheeks and landing with a delicate splash on the varnished wood of the bar.
He winces. 'You know, I didn't mean to say that about Paul-'
'No, you're right’, I admit. ‘You're right'.
Felix sighs. 'What's brought this on?'
'I don't know', I shake my head. But I do know. At least, I think I do. ‘I don’t want to hurt him, I just . . . I don’t think he’s the one for me anymore. I want other things’.
Felix eyes me suspiciously. 'Have you met someone else?'
'No', I reply nonchalantly.
'Hmm', he murmurs, leaning back to take a sip of the beer Bobby slid across the bar to him. 'We'll come back to that one later'.
'I just feel so guilty when I think about breaking up with him’, I confess. ‘He had made a life for himself in Paris, and when I wanted to study in London, he was so supportive. He moved here for me. He left everything behind'.
'Darling, I know you've been together a long time, and I know you feel bad. But you can't help that you're not happy. And to be honest, Del, I don't think he's happy either'.
I nod tearfully.
'You don't have to rush into anything, but you've been trying to make it work for a while now and it's not really happening for you'.
'I don't want to make it work', I whisper to the floor, so quietly the sound barely leaves my lips. I look up at Felix. 'I don't want to make it work', I repeat, louder this time.
'That's my girl!’ he grins proudly. ‘I've been waiting to hear you say that for months!'
He takes my hand and squeezes it tightly. With the other hand, I wipe away my tears with the back of my hand.
'Thank you, Felix', I say earnestly.
'Don't mention it'.
'So'. I brush strands of hair out of my tear stained face. 'Why did you go out with Colin's friends?'
I decided it was about time that I introduced Cosima to Felix, so I asked him if I could invite her along when we next went out for drinks. Though a little unconvinced at first - the prospect of meeting another scientist was incredibly boring to him - I managed to persuade him by promising to buy all his drinks. Earlier today, he called to say he'd invited his foster sister along too. I'd heard a lot about Sarah, but never once have I met her in all the time I've known Felix. He said she'd been spending some time in Canada reuniting with old family, or something like that.
Felix arrives, late as usual, and joins me at the little table by the window, the same one I sat at with Paul, Cosima and Shay recently. The evening is dark; I can see my reflection in the window as the dim yellow of the hanging light above my head seeps into the glass, making the outside world invisible.
I have only just greeted Felix with a kiss on the cheek and a compliment of his outfit (all black, unsurprisingly) before, across the room, the door swings open and two women walk in.
My jaw hits the floor.
Cosima walks in, dreadlocks tied up in the usual high ponytail, wearing her favourite red coat. She is joined by a girl with long dark hair that falls in messy waves down her back. This girl wears a leather jacket, tight black shorts with patterned black lace tights, and heavy combat boots. Her eyes are framed with dark, smoky make-up.
This girl looks exactly like Cosima.
Of course, her style is so different, and so is her hair, and so is the fierce expression on her face, compared to Cosima's warm smile. But the differences end there.
This girl is Cosima's sister for sure, the one she had told me about. But what is she doing here?
I hear Felix gasp beside me. 'Cosima Niehaus!' he exclaims. 'You're friends with Cosima Niehaus?'
'You know Cosima?’ I ask, astonished. ‘Why didn't you tell me?'
'I didn't know it was that Cosima!'
'Merde, Felix, how many other science geeks named Cosima are there around here?'
'Well there might be loads!’ he cries defensively. ‘How should I know, I'm not part of your nerd club'.
'And I guess you know her sister too?’
'That would be my sister', he tells me.
'That's Sarah?’ I gasp. ‘Wait, you're Cosima's brother?'
'No, Cosima is Sarah's sister!'
'What? That would make her your sister too!'
He shakes his head. 'No, no, no, only me and Sarah were fostered by Mrs S, and Cosima was adopted by another family. That's why she's American and we're English. Separated at birth, blah blah blah, I'll explain later, they're coming over!'
While I sit there trying to wrap my head around this twisted situation, Felix jumps up from his seat to greet his sister. Cosima comes over to me, kissing me on the cheek. I have butterflies in my stomach again.
'Your best friend is Felix? No way!' she laughs, pointing from him to me. 'Small world, huh?'
'A little too small', I mutter, glaring at Felix as Cosima takes the seat next to me, slinging her coat over the back of the chair. Honestly. I told him that my friend's name is Cosima and she studies evolutionary development at UCL. Was that not enough for him to connect the dots?
Sarah sits down in the seat opposite.
'So you're Delphine? Great to finally meet you', she says.
'You too', I reply, feeling a little shy in her presence.
'I have to say, Felix, Sarah and I were a little surprised when we ran into each other on the way in', Cosima says, resting her head in her hand.
'What? I didn't know you knew Delphine'.
'Cos said she was here to meet Delphine and her friend, and I told her that I was meeting Felix’, Sarah explains. ‘And his friend Delphine'.
'I can't believe this', Cosima laughs, turning to me. 'All this time you've been best friends with my sister's brother?'
'Of course, I would have known if I'd met Sarah before', I say, still in a state of utter confusion. 'I mean, you two look so alike!'
'I know, it's crazy', Felix muses. 'I nearly had a heart attack when I met Cosima the first time. And Alison'.
'So you three didn't grow up together?' I ask.
'No, we were adopted by different people. I didn't know about them until a few years ago', Cosima shrugs.
I frown. Cosima talks endlessly of her sisters, but only in the present. I never even knew Cosima was adopted, and now I’m discovering that her family was torn apart before she even knew it. 'Are they even allowed to do that?' I ask, concerned.
'Not really. We never found out why it happened to us, or who our real parents are. I grew up in San Fran, Sarah in London and Alison in Toronto'.
'And Beth and Cosima were adopted together', Sarah interjects.
Cosima shoots Sarah an icy glare, but I can see the hurt beneath the anger.
'Anyway, Del and I were just talking about Sarah's party', Felix quickly changes the subject.
What? Who is Beth? Do the girls have another sister? I bite my tongue and force the curiosity to the back of my mind, hating to see Cosima upset, even if I'm not sure why.
'Yes', I confirm, trying to sound disaffected. 'Congratulations on the engagement, Sarah'.
'Thanks. We thought that it was a good time to finally tie the knot and all. Our daughter Kira is nearly six now, so', she trails off.
'Felix has told me all about her'.
Sarah laughs. 'Considering Felix always says he hates kids, he absolutely adores Kira'.
'And Alison's kids', Cosima adds.
'Remember Kira's third birthday?' Sarah asks Cosima. 'Felix bought her a teddy bear so big it barely fit through the door!'
'Aw, Felix', I tease. 'Getting soft?'
'Never', he says haughtily. 'I only love my nieces and nephew. Every other child is positively disgusting'.
I laugh, remembering the event only earlier today when Felix shouted at a little boy for cutting in the line at the tube station.
'Sarah, there's Cal', Felix says, pointing towards the bar.
Sarah whips round to see a tall man in a grey wool coat stood at the bar, waving her over.
'Oh! I'll be back in a minute', she says, jumping out of her seat and almost running towards the bar.
'Me too', Cosima gets up to leave as well. 'I promised Shay I'd call her'.
Felix waits until the sisters are out of earshot before speaking.
'So', he says, eyeing me suspiciously, 'how long have you been in love with Cosima?'
I blink, taken aback. 'Excuse me?'
'Don't play stupid, Delphine. You forget how well I know you'.
'I don't know what you're talking about', I shrug, taking a sip of my beer.
'Oh yeah? So, let's see, you met Cosima about two and a half months ago, correct?'
'Well, isn't that funny?’ he remarks sarcastically. ‘About two and a half months ago was when you finally realised you didn't love Paul and you were unhappy'.
Merde. He's definitely on to me, and if he suspects me of developing feelings for Cosima, then he's probably right. Sometimes, I trust Felix more than I trust myself. Just stay cool Delphine.
'And?' I say, flicking my straightened hair over my shoulder.
'Well, you started hanging out with Cosima almost every day. Then you would call me up, or we would go out, and you would just gush over her for, like, an hour at a time. It got really boring after a while'.
Hm. Maybe I did do that.
'And the final clue?' he continues. 'The way you look at her. In that moment before Sarah came in and ruined it, your eyes just lit up. You looked possessed, Del. Seriously, it was weird. And you keep staring at her, like every time she opens her mouth to say something. You should probably stop that'.
'Am I that obvious?' I ask shyly.
Felix puts a hand on top of mine. 'Only to me, darling', he says with a comforting smile.
I smile gratefully in return. 'Anyway, I'm not in love with Cosima. But maybe I do like her as more than a friend'.
He frowns. 'So what are you gonna do?'
'I could never tell her', I explain. 'It would never work. Besides, she has a girlfriend'.
'And you have a boyfriend'.
I shake my head determinedly. 'Not for long'.
Felix's eyes light up. 'You're going to do it?'
'I texted him earlier and told him we need to talk. There's no going back now'.
'That's my girl!' he exclaims, punching my arm playfully.
'So that's the first problem’, I think aloud. ‘The second is working out how I'm going to stop my crush on Cosima'.
'It's one thing after another with you', Felix smirks.
'Thanks for the reminder'.
'Ah, don't worry. You have me'.
'I know’, I smile appreciatively. ‘I love you. And, by the way, thank you for listening to all my ramblings about Cosima'.
'Don't mention it'.
Cosima returns to the table, looking across at us with that infectious smile of hers.
'So what are we talking about?' she asks eagerly, pulling her chair closer to the table.
'We were just talking about Colin', Felix announces.
'Ugh, are you serious?’ Cosima groans, putting her head in her hands. ‘I can't deal with any more of your drama'.
He winks at me across the table.
Thanks for reading you guys!
I close the door quietly behind me, taking my boots off straight away and stepping forward into the darkness, my feet soundless against the wooden floor. The apartment is seemingly empty, until I see Paul sitting in the leather armchair across the room. He holds a tumbler of whisky in his hand, swirling the shallow amber liquid in circles. He is illuminated by the glow of the moon, shining in through the open window. Waiting for me. He knows.
I go over to the chair opposite him and turn on the lamp on the end table.
'You know, I've been expecting this for a while’, he smiles sadly, without looking at me. ‘But I didn't think it would happen so soon. I thought we might even work things out'.
I sink down into the chair, tucking my straightened hair behind my ear. I look down at the floor.
He continues, staring out of the window. 'You know, I never thought I would settle down with anyone. I thought I would work for my entire life and be happy with it. But then I met you, and that wasn't enough for me anymore. I wanted to settle down. When you wanted to go to UCL, I didn't even think twice about moving to another country because you were there and that was everything I needed. I would've followed you anywhere, Delphine. I nearly asked you to marry me'.
I look up, cautiously, but my eyes do not meet his. He still stares out into the night as though he's talking to an invisible presence on the other side of the glass. He looks out with longing. Perhaps it's the ghost of Delphine he can see, the one he loved. She’s long gone now.
'But things change’, he continues. ‘People change. I know that, and I don't blame you'.
'You haven't been happy either', I say quietly, not in any way accusing, but rather in observation.
'I know’, he admits. ‘I wanted to be'.
He turns to me now, his eyes shining with tears that haven't fallen yet. I can feel my own tears pooling at the bottom of my eyes. They dampen my eyelashes.
'What do we do now?' he asks.
'I'm moving in with Felix', I tell him.
'Okay', he nods after a moment.
There's a stretch of silence as we both struggle to find the words. What can I say now? The end of an era is looming and I barely feel anything at all. I used to know everything about him, and now he’s a stranger to me. I’m leaving my home and I feel as though I’m leaving after a one-night stand. It isn’t supposed to be like this. We’re supposed to fight, and then we’re supposed to fight for each other. But that’s not us, and maybe that’s okay. Because the truth is that Paul and I ended months ago. Tonight, we finally get our closure.
It’s bittersweet. I’ll grieve for what we lost, but mostly I’ll revel in the freedom I deserve.
I'm the one who speaks first.
'Paul, I'm sorry things turned out this way'.
'I know. Me too. But this is for the best'.
I nod in agreement. He comes over and wraps his arms around me, and we stand there for a moment, me crying silently into his shirt.
I know we’ve done the right thing, ending it, and it feels strange to be letting go. It feels strange that it’s been so easy. But I guess that just proves that this is the way it’s supposed to be.
We pull away, and he releases me from his arms for the last time.
'I'll come to pick up my stuff tomorrow, if that's okay', I say.
'Yeah, of course’.
I turn for the door, when Paul asks, 'Delphine? Is there someone else?'
The question catches me off guard, partly because I wasn't expecting it and partly because I don't know how to answer. What can I say?
Yes, there is someone, someone I really like, maybe even love, but she's with someone else.
'It's okay, you don't have to answer that', he says, interpreting my silence as guilt or secrecy. I would tell him. He deserves to know. But I don't even know what to tell myself right now.
I smile gratefully. 'Goodbye, Paul'.
And I step out into the brightness of the hallway, closing the door on a chapter of my life I am happy to have finished.
Felix takes me out for breakfast the next morning. I drizzle maple syrup over golden brown pancakes, and every time I glance upwards, I am met by sympathetic eyes staring worriedly into my own.
'Don’t pity me, Felix', I snap at him.
'I'm not!' he exclaims defensively. 'Okay, well, maybe I am a little bit. I'm sorry, what else am I supposed to do?'
I can't blame him. It's not like I should be upset with him, all he's doing is showing that he cares. But there is nothing I hate more than people pitying me, especially when they have nothing to feel sorry for.
'It went well’, I told Felix when I arrived at his apartment last night. 'Very well, in fact. He knew from my text. He sat there in the dark when I walked in. I thought it would be awful, but he understood’.
Felix hugged me and made me coffee. He helped me set up the spare bedroom and organise what little of my belongings I had with me. We talked as if nothing had changed.
But now he keeps looking at me, with guilt in his expression. I don't know what's going on.
'Felix, why do you keep looking at me like that?' I demand.
He looks down at the table and sighs. 'I told Cosima about you and Paul'.
'What?’ I gasp. ‘Why?'
'You know me, I can't keep anything a secret!'
I roll my eyes. 'Yes, but why did you feel the need to tell Cosima?'
'Because it's important!'
'Not to her isn't! I wasn't going to tell her until the next time I saw her, why the urgency?'
He pauses. 'I think she likes you too', he sighs.
I stare at him, folding my arms. 'Don't be ridiculous'.
'I'm not! I've known Cosima long enough to tell when she has the hots for someone, and she definitely has them for you'.
'I don't believe you’, I argue. ‘She has a girlfriend, remember?'
'Honestly, Del, I never really knew what Cosima sees in that woman. They're nothing alike. Cosima acts differently around her. But you, you're like the girl of Cosima's dreams'.
I feel a lump in my throat, and tears start to cloud my vision. 'Felix, stop it'.
'Delphine, I'm not saying this to upset you, this isn't some joke’, he protests. ‘I mean it. Cosima likes you. Maybe even loves you. You should have seen the look on her face when I told her you'd dumped Paul. Ever since she found out me and you were friends, she won't shut up about you. She calls me way more often than usual, just to talk about you even more. It's driving me crazy'.
I'm pretty sure he's exaggerating, but still, the hope that Cosima does have feelings for me makes my heart speed up.
'The girlfriend situation is a potential hurdle, that's true', he continues. 'But I think you should talk to her'.
'And say what? 'I've heard that you're in love with me, so dump your girlfriend so we can be together?''
'No, no. Just tell her you left Paul, she'll be like 'oh, I heard', and then ask how her and Shay are doing'.
'I will not be doing anything like that', I say harshly, stabbing through the pancake with a fork so forcefully that it clashes loudly against the plate underneath.
We continue to eat in silence.
I'm back in Bobby's bar, but this time I'm alone, with my head resting in my hand, golden waves falling through my fingertips. The other hand nurses a tumbler of vodka. I've had far too many of these. My head is fuzzy and I struggle to stay balanced atop the bar stool, like I'm in a hazy dream.
Bobby keeps staring at me. She's talking to another customer, a girl with long silky black hair that hides her face from my sight, but every few moments, she leans away from the girl and eyes me with concern. I can tell she wants to say something to me. She shouldn't worry. I'm fine. I'm just fine.
I haven't spoken to Felix properly since breakfast last week. We go about our own business like the other isn't even there. Avoiding him has become much more difficult now that we live together. I'm still mad at him, but by this point, I'm not entirely sure what I'm mad about. Telling Cosima about my break-up? Maybe. Assuming that I broke up with Paul because of Cosima? Definitely. I didn't dump Paul for anyone but myself.
Keep telling yourself that, Delphine. Maybe you'll even believe it yourself one of these days.
So yes, maybe Cosima did have an influence on my decision to end a long-term relationship, but it was a relationship I was miserable in. The truth is, I had never really thought about it before I met her. I thought I was happy with Paul because I didn't know any different. But being with her, even that first time we met, it was … magical. I hadn't felt that way around anyone in a long time.
Seeing her again was like a dream come true, and so was every day after that. It's still like that now. My heart still speeds up every time she appears around the corner or walks towards me across campus. I can feel it thudding against my chest as if it's calling out to her. I feel warmth every time she smiles. When she looks at me, I can't breathe.
I never take her for granted. I'm always afraid that one day she'll just up and move back to America. Or worse, she'll decide she doesn't want to talk to me anymore. But when she shows up, even if she is always late, a warm relief spreads through me and gives way to an excitement like an electrical current, surging down my arms and through to my fingertips. If I touched her, I think I would give her an electric shock. Just because she smiled at me.
Is it love? Do I love Cosima?
Of course I do. I always have.
In my head, everything clicks into place like a jigsaw puzzle I've finally completed. I met her almost four months ago and I've loved her for every one of those days. At first as a friend, but it didn’t take long for my feelings to evolve into something more. As quickly as that. I didn't know it then, but I do now. And I have to tell her.
I swallow the rest of my drink in one, almost dropping the glass down on the table. There's a sharp clink as it hits the wood, and Bobby looks up quickly, startled. I hop down off the stool, cross the busy room and begin climbing the stairs, ascending upwards into the cool night. I dial Felix's number as I duck out of the door, the lights of the street glaring in my face.
'Felix, I'm going to tell Cosima I love her!' The words are a little more abrupt than I had planned, and a little more slurred.
'What?!' comes the shocked voice. 'No! Why?'
'What? You told me I should talk to her'. I can't control my voice at all. My accent is much heavier and I'm surprised Felix can understand me. But he's a professional at understanding drunk Delphine.
'No, I didn't mean tell her that. She has a girlfriend, Delphine, you can't just drop a bombshell on her like that'. He speaks quickly, in a harsh, disapproving tone, warning me as if I'm about to walk straight into danger.
'But I do love her, she has to know it!'
'Delphine, think about this. You're risking your friendship here. This is a big deal, you can't just go over there without a care in the world'.
'I have thought about it! You said she loves me back'.
'No, I didn't say that! Ugh, I wish I'd never said anything. Damn it, Felix, always getting involved where you don't belong', he curses at himself. 'Delphine, please come home. You can sober up, we can talk about this'.
'I have to try', I say determinedly before hanging up on him and almost running in the direction of Cosima's apartment.
I almost fall through the door when Cosima opens it. I haven’t seen her in over a week, and so I treasure having her right here in front of me now. She stands there, giggling at my drunken clumsiness, in a red tank top and plaid pyjama shorts, all her make-up removed and her dreadlocks tied into a neat top-knot. It's strange to see her eyes so clean behind her glasses, without a trace of the sleek black eyeliner that usually frames them. It's like I'm seeing them, truly, for the first time. She always looks beautiful, but especially tonight.
'Hey, what are you doing here?' she giggles, grabbing my arm to steady me. The hairs on my arms stand on end at the feel of her skin against mine. Of course, we have touched before, but tonight, every memory of Cosima is categorised: before I realised I love her, and after. Everything that happens now is after. That makes it even more important. It's important that I get this right. It's important that I don't mess things up.
I'll be fine. What could happen?
'I just wanted to see you!' I exclaim. I can't calm down. I still can't remember how much I drank at the bar. Clearly it was way too much.
'Woah, you're really drunk right now!' she laughs, talking my hand and pulling me inside the apartment. She closes the door on the bright hallway, and the air darkens around me. The only light is filtered through a dark red lampshade in the corner or floats out from the candles littered about the room, filling the air with the spicy scent of cinnamon. Joni Mitchell sings softly from the record player on the shelf by the window. I sink down into the worn leather couch. I could just fall asleep right now, the room is so cosy. Cosima pours me a cup of coffee from the pot on the kitchen island. She brings it over, laughing at me still, and jumps onto the sofa beside me, crossing her legs.
'Yes, I am a little drunk, I'm embarrassing myself', I hide my face in my hands jokingly.
'Could be worse', she smiles, taking my hand and pulling it away from my face. 'I fall through doors when I'm sober'.
'Yes, but you are very clumsy', I giggle, sipping my coffee. 'Where's Shay?'
'Oh, she's … out', she looks down at her lap. 'Busy, as always'.
'Oh? Busy with what?' I push.
She looks up, as if deciding what to say. There's pain in her eyes.
'Je suis desolée, you don't have to tell me-'
'No, it’s okay', she says. 'I … I don't know where she is tonight. She usually has a reason, but lately she's been going out without even making an excuse for herself'.
'Sounds familiar', I roll my eyes, taking another sip of coffee.
'Yeah, I heard about you two. I'm sorry'.
I shake my head in reassurance. 'Don't be. We should have broken up months ago'.
'How long had you been together?'
'Three and a half years'.
'It is a long time, I suppose. What about you and Shay?'
'Just over a year'.
I swirl the coffee around inside the cup. 'And … you're happy?'
We fall silent for a moment. I cringe, knowing that I've gone too far, but to my surprise, Cosima answers.
'Actually, I don't know right now. I thought I was, but … I think Shay hides things from me. We used to talk about a future together, but sometimes I think she's forgotten', she looks up, hazel eyes burning deep into mine. 'But then again, maybe I have too'.
Without even thinking about it, I lean forward and press my lips against hers. Drunk Delphine has fully taken over now; I can't think, I can't behave normally. I can't stop. I lean in closer, wrapping my hands around her waist. I want more. But she grabs my hands and pushes me away.
'Delphine, what are you doing?' she gasps.
'I love you, Cosima', I blurt out. 'I always have done, and I know you feel the same'.
She looks at me, jaw hanging open in shock. Her eyes are hard, unlike the warm, kind ones that I know so well.
'I feel it. It's not a lie! We have a connection, don't tell me you don't feel it'.
'Delphine, you don't know what you're saying-'
'I do, I know how I feel!' I protest.
'I have a girlfriend, Delphine!’ Cosima cries. ‘You can't just decide you love me and then come to my apartment and expect me to just fall into your arms'.
'You're happier with me’, I whisper, running my hand down her slender arm, from shoulder to wrist. ‘I could make you happier’.
She snatches her arm away. 'Are you kidding me? Are you joking right now?' she says angrily, her voice becoming louder with each outraged response.
'You said it yourself, you don't see a future with her', I point out.
'So that makes it okay for you to make a move on me, does it?'
'Save it', she snaps. 'You have to go'. She stands up, throwing her blanket down on the sofa, storming off towards her bedroom.
'Get out!' she yells, pointing at the door. She turns and storms out of sight.
I run my hands through my hair, sighing in anger and frustration and hopelessness. I grab my bag and slip silently out of the door, closing it behind me and sinking to the floor. The hallway lights are blinding me. The room spins. I can hear Cosima crying on the other side of the wall.
Well done, Delphine. You've screwed it up.
I wake up the next morning with a pounding head and blurred vision that pins me to the bed so I can't get up. I blink harshly, over and over, willing my eyes to focus on the room around me. My hair is a tangled mess. There are black mascara stains on the pillowcase. I must have cried myself to sleep.
The curtains are open, though there is no sunlight filtering through. The sky is covered with a blanket of thunderous grey clouds. Hmm. That means Felix has been in my room to open the curtains. Does he know about last night? Probably. I don't remember how I got home, but I can almost guarantee that he would have been waiting for me when I got there.
I stare at the wall, where my favorite picture hangs; it's a photo I took from my old bedroom window in Paris. The yellow sky of sunrise that tops the beige buildings and empty streets gradually fades out into a clear blue above the Eiffel Tower, streaks of pink in between. The city was quiet, still sleeping; I remember. I was awake at half past five in the morning, drinking coffee on the balcony of my apartment. The cool air was so peaceful. I felt the sun on my face, growing warmer with every passing minute. I just sat there, doing nothing. Watching. It was one of the happiest and saddest moments of my life. I had never been more appreciative of my city. Of my home. Because that was the day we left for London. I was excited for the adventure ahead, but in that moment, I thought how can I leave this, the most beautiful sight in the world? I still miss my city. And at times like this, when my heart is breaking, I long for home more than ever.
But I found my new most beautiful sight. A woman, who'd have thought it. I never considered bisexuality for myself, but as a scientist I understand that sexuality is a spectrum. It's not important anyway. I don't care that Cosima is a woman, I don't care that I've never been with women before. With her it just feels right.
Or, it did. Before I went and ruined everything.
I struggle, eventually, out of bed, throwing a soft knitted cardigan on over my pyjamas. I can hear Felix clattering about in the kitchen. I don't really want to speak to him, but I can't leave my room without doing so. Sighing, I pull the door open.
'Ah, there she is! How does it feel to walk the walk of shame, Delphine?' he taunts, pushing a cup of coffee towards me as I sit down at the breakfast bar, head in my hands. He turns away, going back to the pan, where bright yellow eggs sizzle as they cook.
'I hate to say I told you so, but honestly, darling'.
'What happened?' I ask groggily, struggling to remember.
'I'm suprised you even made it home. You were a crying mess. You came back and just collapsed on the floor, sobbing. You told me what happened, and I tried to calm you down, but you just wouldn't stop crying. You did, eventually, and then you were sick in the bathroom, and then I took you to bed. That's everything'.
'Oh', is all I can say.
'Truthfully, I think your emotional disaster was taking it a bit far', he says, serving up the eggs and toast on two white plates and placing one down in front of me. 'I doubt the damage is irreversible. You'll have to give her a bit of time, but I'm sure everything will work out and things will go back to normal'.
'You didn't see her face', I mutter hopelessly.
'True', he sighs. 'But I know I'm right. She does like you. And don't worry, I'll get all the gossip from Sarah'.
I smile gratefully. 'Thank you. For last night. And thank you for your advice, even when I don't take it'.
'It's what I'm here for', he smiles in return.
He means a lot to me. I don't tell him enough.
I spend the rest of the week and a few days after that lying around the house, unsure of what to do next.
Felix said to give her time. So that's what I'm doing. But this is what it's come to; I can't do anything but give her time. I'm sitting around the house all day watching the clock's hands shift slowly from one minute to the next. I can't sleep. I've been skipping class. I can't bear to show my face in case I catch a glimpse of her on her way to class, walking across campus, or worse, walking with Shay.
I told her I loved her, and she rejected me. True, I behaved so inappropriately that I don't even know how I can look at her again. I deserve it. I deserve to get rejected.
In one night everything changed, and I would give anything to go back and change what I did. I wish I hadn't told her. I wish I was still wandering around in that cloud of blissful ignorance, where Cosima didn't know about my feelings for her and even I was blind to them as well. We could be friends again. I could be happy. Instead I sit here, devoted to the only woman I have ever loved like she is my last chance at happiness. And it's destroying me.
So I'm giving up. I don't want to, but I think this is how it ends for me and Cosima. How can we possibly go back to normal when I'm too afraid to face her and she doesn't want to talk to me? And how can we be normal when she knows that I love her and she doesn't love me back?
So, reluctantly, I prepare myself to move on with my life.
Until one day, a month later, she comes to me.
She's the last person I expect to see standing in the doorway. But here she is, in black skinny jeans and a soft red sweater, biting her lip, attempting to hold back the tears that shine beneath her eyes. Her signature black eyeliner is dragged down her cheeks in sprawled lines that cross over and merge into each other.
She's breaking my heart.
'Cosima, what are you-'
'We need to talk, don't we?' she interrupts me. 'We can't just pretend like it never happened'.
'I didn't expect us to', I whisper to the floor.
'Then where have you been?' she cries.
'Giving you time. That's what I thought I should do'.
She sighs, shaking her head. 'I don't need time. I don't need anything else from you'.
The words sting like razor blades. I feel my heart sink as tears begin to fill my eyes.
'I did love you, you know', she continues, her voice growing shakier with every word. 'You were right. I did feel a connection between us. Felix was right. And Sarah. They were all right. So fucking typical. I'm always the last to know, even when it comes to my own feelings. And when I knew, I couldn't stop hanging out with you, I couldn't just stop calling and ignore you. You would know something was up'.
'Why didn't you tell me?' I whisper through my tears.
'Because I couldn't let go of Shay. I loved her too. Maybe in a different way, but I didn't know for sure. And I did see a future with her, I'm not sure what kind, but it was there. And then, last week, I found out she was cheating on me. I came home early from school, and I found her with some stupid fucking hipster guy. In our bed. The one we shared for a year'. She covers her face with her hands. 'I am so fucking stupid'.
'No, Cosima, none of that is your fault-'
'Is it not? What if it is my fault? What if she thought I was in love with someone else?'
I look down.
'And that night, I didn't know any of that. I was in such a lonely place. I was so vulnerable, and you took advantage. You saw your opportunity and you took it. How could you do that to me, Delphine?'
There's a moment of silence as I figure out what to say. I can't think of anything but to apologise.
'I'm so sorry'.
'It doesn't matter now', she says, bitterness in her voice. 'I can't trust you anymore. That's … that's all I came here to say'.
She turns to leave, and I don't try to stop her as she tells me goodbye. I knew this was the end. I knew it. She's walking right out of my life, and there's nothing I can do.
My heart is shattered.
Two address changes; first Felix's place, then an apartment in Camden. One (very short-lived) relationship. Two trips home to Paris. One spontaneous solo adventure to Mexico, and a week in Japan with Felix. Three weddings. One funeral. A graduation and a new job. A new title. Dr Delphine Cormier.
A lot has happened since I last saw Cosima. And it is seeing her again, sitting alone across the bar, that prompts me to look back over the past eighteen months. How long it has been since she left me crying at Felix's front door.
She left, just a few days after that. Felix came home and told me she was on a plane back to San Francisco. She hasn't been back since.
She sits atop a bar stool, swinging her legs slowly to the soft rhythm of a Lana Del Rey song that plays through the speakers on the wall. Her hair is no longer than it was before. She wears a deep red skater skirt with a plain black t-shirt that hugs every curve of her figure. I can't stop staring. Suddenly I'm back in Felix's apartment, a year and a half ago, mourning the loss of a lover who was never mine. One glimpse of her brings all those painful memories rushing back, trying to trap me in their grasp and drag me back down to the depths of my own misery.
But I will not go back to that place. Escaping it was like trying to swim towards the surface with two hands gripping your ankles, holding you back as you kick and scream helplessly. But I made it out, after a couple of months. I carried on with my life. I got over Cosima. Well, I tried. I don't think I could ever truly forget her.
She turns her head slowly, dreadlocks brushing off her shoulder as she does so. I see the thick rims of her glasses, then the side profile of her perfect face. I see one eye, then both eyes, wandering, searching the room aimlessly, until -
Merde! She's looking right at me!
Oh God, look away, Delphine, just pretend that you haven't seen her …
I look down, tilting my head towards the floor so my messy curls fall down by the sides of my face. I glance upwards through the curtain of my hair. She's still looking at me.
Merde. She's definitely seen me now. And she's getting up … no, no, no. She's coming over.
I brace myself for what is likely to be one of the most awkward encounters of my life.
I look up, cautiously, brushing strands of hair out of my face.
It's like a dream. The moment I had wished for over and over. She's here, standing right in front of me, and suddenly it's not awkward at all. I'm just happy to see her.
'Bonjour, Cosima'. I can't help but smile.
She sits down in the seat opposite without asking if she can join me first.
'What are you doing here?' she asks brightly.
'I could ask you the same question', I deflect. 'I didn't know you were back'.
'Well, I've only been here a couple weeks. Settling in. I got a job at UCL, so I'm here to stay I think'.
'That's great!' I encourage.
She makes a face. 'Yeah, the job kinda sucks but it was the only thing I could find right now. And I'm living with Sarah, so that's gonna be interesting', she chuckles.
'I'm sure it will be', I agree.
'Well she's married now, and Kira's grown up so much. I feel like I'm crashing their little family life. I don't think I'll be there for too long, I'll hopefully find my own place. I'm happy to be back here though, even if I have to live with my sister'.
'The San Francisco life wasn't working out for you?' I question.
She smiles. 'I wouldn't say that. The San Francisco life always works out for me. It's home, you know? It'll always be there. I'm always happy there. I felt like it was the right time to go home for a while, when I left. I was in a really difficult place, what with Shay. And you'.
I look down at my glass, feeling the heat rush to my face. My heart sinks. But then I hear her laughing. Thank God, she's not serious.
'Don't worry', she giggles. 'I'm totally over it. And I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I just took off. I might have over-reacted a little'.
'I'm the one who should be apologising', I say, ashamed.
She waves a hand dismissively. 'I forgave you a long time ago. Turns out a trip home was exactly what I needed, just to start focusing on myself a little more. And my parents were so happy to have me back, I couldn't leave them again. My sister Alison had just moved to Napa with her family as well, it's not too far from San Francisco. So I decided to stay and finish my PhD out there. I was able to transfer to Berkeley'.
She grins. 'And I believe congratulations are in order for you too, Dr Cormier'.
'How did you know?'
'Felix is your best friend, duh. I … I still ask about you', she admits shyly. 'You know, from time to time'.
'You do?' I'm surprised, but encouraged. 'Why?'
She pauses. 'Don't think I didn't have a hard time getting over you. It wasn't just you who was sad'.
My heart stops.
Those months, when I was completely miserable, when I convinced myself she had forgotten me, she was hurting too? I had no idea. And what's worse, she knows all about what a mess I was back then.
I am gonna kill Felix.
'Why are you here, Cosima?' I ask, a little more abruptly than I'd intended.
She looks down at the drink in her hand, swirling it around in the glass, eyes following the smooth movement of the liquid. 'I just wanted to be by myself for a little while'.
I frown. 'Are you okay?'
'Yeah, I'm okay, but … well, today is the third anniversary of my sister's death', she says quietly.
'Oh, Cosima, I'm so sorry', I gasp.
Which sister? Sarah is very much alive, and Alison? Cosima just told me she had moved to California.
She notices the confusion in my face. 'I'm not a triplet, I'm a quadruplet', she admits. 'Four sisters. Her name was Beth. I haven't really been able to talk about her until recently, I always got too upset'.
Beth. I remember her name. Sarah mentioned it when I first met her.
'How did it happen?' I ask tentatively.
'She killed herself'.
'Oh', is all I can say.
Cosima sighs. 'She'd been having trouble in her relationship for a long time. She knew her boyfriend didn't love her, that he lied to her, and it destroyed her. At the time, none of us really knew what was going on with her. She was always so secretive. There was something more, but she wouldn't talk to anyone. Except maybe Alison. Those two were inseparable. Ali was inconsolable when she died. She lost her best friend in the world'.
She stays silent for a moment, as if wondering whether to go on. But she continues.
'You know we were all adopted. Sarah was brought up here, and Alison in Toronto. But Beth and I were adopted together. The agency thought we were twins, not two out of a set of quadruplets. So we grew up together. We were always so different, but still, she was my favourite person. We went through every milestone together, you know? Every first day at school, every school dance, learning to drive, visiting colleges, high school graduation. She was there when I came out to my parents, sitting next to me, holding my hand. But we grew apart towards the end. She wasn't happy, but she wouldn't talk to anyone about it. And I got upset too, because she didn't come to me anymore. To this day, I still don't know the real reason. I still don't know why she killed herself. And I'll never know'.
She stops suddenly, her distant eyes regaining their focus, as if she's woken up from a dream. 'I'm sorry, I don't know why I'm telling you all of this'.
'Non, non, it's okay', I reassure her.
She smiles sadly. 'I know it's awful, but sometimes I get so angry at her for leaving us. We loved her so much. When I go visit her grave, I sit there and yell at her. I tell her I miss her. That she shouldn't have left'.
'I understand', I say quietly, looking down at my lap.
'So you don't think I'm a horrible person for being mad at her?'
'No, I mean, I understand Beth', I say without thinking. Merde. I wish I hadn't said that.
Cosima frowns. 'What do you mean?'
I swallow nervously. 'A long time ago, I tried it'.
'What?' she gasps, eyes widening. 'Killing yourself?'
I nod seriously. 'But, that', I say with a shaky breath, 'is a story for another day'.
She can tell I don't want to talk about it anymore, and nods in understanding. Maybe it's something about her. Never to anyone else would I spill my biggest secret in a matter of careless moments. But she makes me feel comfortable. I feel like I can tell her anything, even after all this time.
'You got a tattoo', she notices, eyes flickering down to the delicate black symbol just below my wrist on the inside of my arm. 'It's Japanese, right?'
'Yes, I got it in Osaka', I reply, thankful for the subject change. 'When I went with Felix'.
'What does it mean?'
'It's the symbol for happiness'.
She smirks, cocking her head to one side. I know her next question before it leaves her lips.
'And are you happy?'
I'm silent for a moment. How can I respond to a question I don't even know the answer to? Am I happy? I never really thought about it too much. My life since Cosima left London has been a series of milestones with very little in between. I drift through my days without direction. I live alone now, in Camden. I get up, go out to work, come home, have dinner and go back to bed. I don't look forward to things like I used to, and there's nothing eventful in the present. It's a life on autopilot.
So, am I happy?
I was until I lost you, Cosima.
I shake my head slowly. 'I've been better. But I've been worse too'.
She nods. 'I know how you feel. Right now I feel like I'm … floating. Just floating around. I went home for a while, I came back and now I'm wondering why'. She takes a sip of her drink and places it back down carefully, eyes never leaving mine. 'And then, I run into you'. She stares right through me with a burning intensity that holds me in my place. I can't move. I can't look away. 'Maybe it's a kind of sign, don't you think, Dr Cormier?'
My heart is pounding as her lips curve into a seductive smile.
'Maybe it is', I agree.
She breaks off our unspoken staring contest with a chuckle. 'It's so weird, seeing you. How is everything, what are you doing nowadays?'
'It's okay. I have a job, and my own apartment'.
'And … ?'
'Well, that can't be everything'.
I shrug. 'That is everything. Life is uneventful'.
She eyes me suspiciously. 'You really aren't happy, are you?'
I bite my lip, looking down as a shock of fear shoots through my veins. 'I missed you a lot'.
Maybe it's my fear of getting rejected. Maybe it's because I don't want to lose her again. My hands are shaking uncontrollably.
No more pretending. It's better that she knows how I feel. I'm not making the same mistakes again. I want her back, even if she's just a friend. Any small relationship that I have with her is enough to make me feel ridiculously lucky.
'I missed you too', she replies.
We speak for a little while longer, before Cosima checks her watch and remembers she has to pick Kira up from her friend's house, and she's already twenty minutes late. She hasn't changed at all.
So she left, but not before leaving me her number. She was just about to go when I asked her, shyly, if I could call her some time. She stopped in her tracks, turning around to glance down at me with a small, almost smug smile that seemed to say, 'I've got you in the palm of my hand, Cormier'. And she was right. She wrote down her number on a napkin in a messy scrawl, and stalked off without saying another word.
Now the napkin sits in the bottom of my pocket, burning a hole in my side. I walk home in the crisp winter evening, a gentle breeze brushing through my hair. The rain on the road has almost dried up, wiping away the traces of the downpour this morning. Now the air is cold and clear. The pale blue sky is unblemished by clouds or airplane tracks. Just one solid colour that stretches uninterrupted from one skyscraper to the next, sloping above my head in an infinite arc. It's perfect.
There are days like today, when you walk through the streets at dusk, and you appreciate every tiny, unimportant detail of everything that surrounds you. Your pain has melted from your insides and you have breathed it out into the open air. You are happy. You feel free.
I sound all spiritual and ridiculous, but all I want to do is dance around my apartment and sing at the top of my lungs and shout out of the open window.
I feel electric. All because of the number in my pocket.
'Well, are you coming or not?' Felix asks, meticulously styling his hair in front of the bathroom mirror. 'We're leaving in fifteen minutes, so you better start getting ready'.
I sit on the couch, running my fingers over the soft material of the cushion in my arms. I rest my chin on top of it.
'I suppose I will', I murmur.
Felix comes to stand in the bathroom doorway, one hand on his hip. He's wearing his tightest black jeans and a loose black tank top.
'Cosima wants you to be there, you know'.
'Then why don't you want to go?'
I sigh. 'It'll be the first time I've been out with Cosima with everyone else there since before she left. It's okay when it's just me and her. But Sarah's going to be there, and I think she will hate me because I upset her sister. And you are not exactly going to be on my side after a few vodkas'.
'What do you mean?'
'You always take Sarah's side. You told me'.
He shrugs. 'I wouldn't if you were there. Besides, Sarah doesn't hate you. I already asked her'.
'Felix!' I scold.
'What? I didn't tell her you wanted to know. I was subtle, I promise. Anyway, go and get ready!'
He turns back into the bathroom and leans in closer to the mirror, carefully applying dark eyeliner to his bottom lash line only to roughly smudge it with his fingertips.
I get up, reluctantly, and wander down the hall into my bedroom.
It was Felix's genius idea that we all go out to celebrate Cosima moving back to the UK by going to a gay bar. So typical. I approved of the idea completely until he mentioned that he'd invited Colin, Cal and Sarah along with us. Sarah scares me enough already, and now I have to deal with fact that she probably hates me for what I did to Cosima. And worse than that, it will be Cosima and I hanging out with two couples. We are the fifth and sixth wheel.
Now Felix is in my apartment, knowing that if he came here to get ready there'd be a better chance of him convincing me to go. He's playing his 'going out' playlist through my speakers. It's getting me into the clubbing mood, and he knows it.
I'm scared to go. But Cosima wants me to, so I will.
We've been talking a lot over the past few weeks, mostly on the phone. She'll call me out of the blue just to say hello. It brightens my day.
I could go as far as to say things are the way they were before. We seem to have reverted back to the friendship we used to share. But I couldn't say that to Cosima. She still makes me so nervous. She still gives me butterflies.
I sit down in front of the mirror at my dressing table, turning the overhead spotlights on. Bright white light shines off my hair and illuminates my face. Okay. Fifteen minutes to get ready. My hair is already straightened, I'll leave it that way. It's longer now, only a little. It reaches half way down my back, but it never stays straight, always curling inwards at the bottom. I tug on a stubborn strand, watching it spring back into position as I let go.
My make-up from today has worn off slightly, so I quickly touch up my foundation and dust powder over my face. I apply a few extra layers of mascara and a thin layer of black eyeliner that flicks out into a wing in the outer corners of my eyes.
Next comes the outfit, a tight black jumpsuit, sleeveless, with a heart shaped neckline. I pair it with a leather jacket and my black Louboutin red soles, the only gift from my parents I ever really loved. I spray a few drops of Chanel No. 5 across my collarbone and apply a thick layer of matte red lipstick.
'That was quick!' Felix comments as I emerge from my bedroom, fastening small silver hoops into my ears.
'Yes, well I didn't leave myself much time'. I hand him my necklace, a tiny, elegant diamond on a silver chain. I turn around, gathering all my hair up at the top of my head so Felix can fasten the clasp.
'You look hot!' he exclaims.
'Merci', I pout.
'Well, are you ready?'
I hope so.
It's just after eleven o'clock and the club is already packed with people. I heard this place is popular, maybe people feel the need to arrive early before the bouncers stop letting people in. It's dark and dimly lit with electric blue lights that shine onto a dance floor in the centre. Dancing silhouettes move to the rhythm. The bar is crowded, the bright strip of red light that runs along the top narrowly escaping through the gaps between bodies as two bartenders work frantically to serve impatient customers.
Next to the bar, running along the back and side walls, is a line of booths with purple velvet seats circling half way around the round tables in the middle. They're all full of people, chatting, laughing, drinking and crowding around because of the lack of space. One of the booths is mostly empty, and fortunately, I can see that the three people there are familiar. Surprisingly, our party managed to get a table.
I recognise them from across the room; Sarah, sitting with her back to us, long dark hair falling in messy waves over her leather jacket, Cal, shrugging off his coat, and Colin, looking smart in a crisp white shirt, and not a hair out of place.
Felix runs ahead of me and almost jumps on Sarah's back, to which she whips around with a terrified expression on her face.
'Shite, Felix!' she yells, punching him in the arm as Cal bursts out laughing. 'And you, don't encourage him!' she scolds.
Felix puts his arm around his sister as he slides into the seat beside her, then turns to me, beckoning me over.
'Hey, Delphine', Sarah welcomes me with a smile, followed by greetings from Cal and Colin. She gestures for me to sit down.
'Hey, everyone', I say back, sliding into the booth to sit next to Felix until, much to my dismay, Sarah and Felix switch places so that he can stick his tongue down Colin's throat.
'Bloody hell, can you not, you two!' Sarah complains, shaking her head.
'And on that note, I'm going to get drinks', Cal announces, but Sarah insists that he sit down.
'Wait until Cos gets here, yeah?'
'Where is she, anyway?' Felix asks.
'Fe, have you met Cosima? When is she ever on time?'
'That's true', he acknowledges.
'Speak of the devil', Cal nods towards the entrance. I follow his eyeline to the entrance, and it only takes me a moment to find Cosima. When I do, the moving bodies around her become meaningless, faceless figures, the music seems to change to welcome her. She wears a black bodycon dress with white lace detailing at the hem, hugging her slim figure and stopping half way down her thigh, and black lace-up combat boots with a chunky high heel. God, she looks good.
She wanders further towards the bar, looking around, a little lost. Felix and Sarah laugh as she bumps awkwardly into a man carrying a cocktail in each hand. The bright orange liquid wobbles in the glasses, almost spilling over the edges. Cosima holds her hands up in apology.
Felix begins to wave wildly, but she doesn't notice. Only when Sarah yells 'Oi, Cos!' at the top of her voice does her head whip round to the direction of the sound. She smiles gratefully and comes running up to meet us, nearly stumbling in her heels.
'Hey!' we greet her in unison.
'Hey guys!' she exclaims, almost jumping up and down in excitement. She greets each one of us individually, moving around the table, until finally, she stops in front of me.
She sits down beside me and wraps her arms around my shoulders, pulling me into a hug.
'I'm so glad you made it!' she exclaims. Her lovely voice is a soft hum right next to my ear. Her hair tickles the side of my face. I cling to her unintentionally, only reluctantly loosening my arms from around her back when she starts to pull away first. But still, she is sitting so close to me, shuffling into position in the booth so our sides touch and one arm is loosely draped around the back of my waist, in the space between myself and the back of the seat. I'm sure she's just leaning on her arm, but I find myself wishing that she was holding me.
'Where are the drinks?' she frowns.
'We were waiting until you got here', Sarah replies. She's shooting subtle glances at Cal and nodding her head towards the bar.
'You shouldn't have', Cosima says.
'Well, we haven't been here very long', Colin reassures her.
'Really? So I'm not as late as usual? Maybe I'm getting better!'
Felix snorts. 'Don't speak too soon. Never in my life have I seen you turn up on time'.
Cosima pulls a face.
'So, drinks! Cal?' Sarah shoots him a pointed look.
'Yes!' he remembers. 'First round's on us. What are we all having?'
'A pint for me', Sarah requests.
'Tequila sunrises for Colin and I', Felix says.
I open my mouth to reply, but Felix interject. 'She'll be having a margarita'.
I blink. 'I will?'
'Yep! No wine for you tonight, Del, cocktails only! We're gonna get wasted!'
Oh no. This is so typical that Felix is challenging me on the first night out with the group in over a year. I always do something stupid when I'm drunk, and he knows it. Once I fell down the stairs at Bobby's. Another time I got dragged to a strip club with Felix's old friend Katja and her boyfriend's football team, and I got up on one of the stages and started dancing around a pole. Katja had to pull me down before I started taking my clothes off. Not one of my finest moments.
But tonight, I promise myself, I won't do anything stupid.
'Ok, fine', I concede. 'A margarita for me'.
'I'll have that too', Cosima says, turning to me. 'If we're going all out, we're doing it together'.
'You're a bad influence', I tease, poking her arm.
She laughs and grabs my hand. 'Dance with me?'
I nod and she jumps up, pulling me along with her. I struggle to keep up in my high heeled shoes, feeling tall and awkward as she effortlessly darts through the busy dance floor until she finds a space in the crowd. Immediately she melts into the rhythm of the music, closing her eyes as though she can feel every beat coursing through her body.
At first I am self-conscious. Cosima notices when I look down at the floor, biting my lip, barely moving. She takes my hands, dancing carelessly, confidently. She looks up at me, eyes lit up with excitement and passion and joy, smiling, laughing. She is so happy and so beautiful, and suddenly I let go of all my shyness. I feel completely at ease with her beside me.
She moves effortlessly in time with the music, swaying from side to side, moving her arms up over head, twisting them in and out of each other. She grabs my hand and attempts to twirl me around, but we both burst out laughing when it doesn't work out. I get stuck under her arm. She's too small. Instead we swap over and she is the one who twirls like a ballerina beneath my arm, and when she pulls away she doesn't let go of my hand.
Out here, under the bright lights and enshrouded in the occasional blast of coloured smoke from the machines, I feel free. I don't care what I look like. I don't care what Sarah thinks of me. I don't care that I'm in love with Cosima. I allow myself to be, in this moment. I don't see it as a problem. I love her. I have never stopped loving her and I never will.
We are two silhouettes, dancing like the others through the smoke and colour, but we are in our own world.
After dancing with Cosima, Felix, and to my surprise, even Sarah for a while, I stagger back to the table, clutching to the handrail as I hobble up the steps to the row of booths. My high heels can barely hold me up any more, and my legs threaten to buckle with every step. I reach our booth, where Felix and Colin are sat with a row of shots in front of them. I fall back hard into the cushioned seat.
'What happened to you?' Felix smirks.
'I haven't been back here in over an hour! My feet are killing me'.
'Oh, don't be so dramatic, Delphine', he shrugs.
'Oh yeah? I would like to see you dancing in these things for all that time!'
I take off one of my shoes and throw it at him. He ducks away just in time, the shoe hitting the back of the seat.
'Hey, watch it!'
'Well, you've gotta admit, that's pretty impressive', Colin says, admiring the shoe that nearly hit his boyfriend straight in the face. I can't believe I just did that.
'See, Felix, at least someone appreciates the struggle', I say.
'Fine, you win. Shot, Del?'
He slides a tiny glass of neon green liquid across the table.
'This looks gross', I complain, holding up the glass to inspect it.
'It is', Colin agrees, then holds one up for himself.
'It's sour apple flavour, tastes just like sweets', Felix explains.
'You're not exactly selling it to me'.
'Drink up!' He takes one for himself as well.
'Ready? Go!' Colin prompts us, and together we raise the glasses to our lips and swallow the green liquid in one.
'Ugh. C'est dégoûtant!'
'I know, right!' Felix responds, pulling a face at the sourness flavour.
'Felix, do you even know what that means?' Colin questions him.
'Yes, of course', he replies, as if pointing out the obvious. 'It means it's very nice'.
'No it doesn't', I laugh, shaking my head.
'Well, I don't care that you two know French. At. All'. Felix is slurring his words a little now, poking Colin in the chest with each exaggerated word. I dread to think how much he has drank tonight. Maybe it's finally catching up with him.
'Meow', Colin feigns offence at his comment. 'And you know, Delphine, I don't actually speak French'.
'I know', I giggle. Colin literally knows about ten French words, but according to Felix, he's practically fluent.
'So where's Cosima then, you little lovebird?' Felix mocks.
'What? I'm surprised you've managed to tear yourself away from her for this long'.
I roll my eyes. 'As a matter of fact, I don't know where she is', I shoot back. 'I was dancing with Sarah before, remember?'
'Yeah, yeah', Felix waves the idea away dismissively.
'Um, guys, look', Colin interjects, staring ahead at the bar down the steps.
Felix and I follow his eyeline unil I spot Cosima among the crowd. She's standing at the bar next to a small, slim woman, about the same height as Cosima, with short black hair in a pixie cut style and tattoo sleeves covering both arms, exposed by her sleeveless crop top.
'Damn, Delphine, looks like you've got competition!' Felix teases.
'No, no, Felix, I don't think she's competition', Colin observes.
I look closer. The girl moves closer to Cosima, to which Cosima edges away every time. The woman keeps trying to talk to her, leaning closer and talking into her ear. I can see that Cosima is uncomfortable; she tries to look straight ahead and order her drink.
'Uh-oh. Off you go, Delphine', Felix nods towards Cosima.
'You need to go save your woman'.
'Oh, enough, Felix', I groan.
'No, I was only winding you up before', he admits. 'You should definitely go over there'.
'What can I do?'
'I don't know, anything. Pretend she's your girlfriend. Just go get her and bring her back. She's too nice, she won't tell that girl to get lost'.
I nod. 'Um, okay', I say nervously, but I get up anyway, and, before I can overthink it, I put my shoes back on and head over towards the bar.
I can't believe I'm about to do this. As I approach them, I feel as though I am running on fear and adrenaline alone. At least I can blame this on Felix later.
I tap the Cosima's admirer on the shoulder. She turns around, startled.
'Excusez-moi, are you bothering my girlfriend?' I ask with false confidence, one hand on my hip, standing up straight so I tower over the smaller woman. I hope she doesn't see that I'm secretly freaking out.
I look at Cosima and see a flash of surprise in her eyes, but it is soon replaced by a look of gratitude. She sighs with relief when she realises what I'm doing.
The woman looks up at me with a smirk. 'You? You're her girlfriend?'
'You just don't seem like her type, lady' she replies bluntly, looking me up and down.
What did she just say to me?
Cosima blinks. 'Excuse me-'
'And what is that supposed to mean?' I snap back, rage flooding through my body and burning in my veins.
'Nothing, nothing', she holds her hands up defensively.
'I'll show you her type', I mutter under my breath. And with every ounce of spontaneity I can gather, I lean in and kiss Cosima hard on the lips, my arms circling her waist, pulling her closer.
It's not one of those movie moments. It's far from perfect, because I am merely helping out a friend in need and defending myself against this rude woman. Besides, I may have just ruined things with Cosima all over again. This is the second time I've kissed her without her consent.
But I can't deny, for me, it's magical.
When we draw apart, the woman has gone. I see her walk away towards the other side of the dance floor, shaking her head in defeat.
Cosima freezes, mouth hanging open in shock, looking up at me with bewildered eyes. Merde.
'Je suis desolée, Cosima, I didn't mean to do that, but I saw that that woman wouldn't leave you alone, so I … thought it was a good idea'.
I look down at the floor in shame. But then I feel the light touch of Cosima's fingertips under my chin, tilting my head up to face her.
'Kiss me again'.
I stumble back to the booth a little while later, a huge smile on my face. Felix sees me and leans straight up in his seat, leaning across the table and grabbing my hand. I fall down into the booth beside him, hitting my head against the back of the seat. Fortunately I'm too drunk to feel it.
'Did I just see you making out with Cosima?' he asks excitedly.
'Oui!' I exclaim. 'And then we drank three more shots, and then we danced!'
'Well, that's -'
'And then we drank some more', I interrupt him, 'and then I kissed her again, and then we got a bit carried away and she took me into a bathroom stall-'
'Ew, no, no, no, too much information!' he interrupts me, holding up his hand to stop me talking any more. 'Wait, did it go any further than that?'
I shake my head.
'Okay, I can deal with that. But anymore than kissing and I am not talking to you! I don't want that image in my head'.
'Deal', I laugh.
'Well, all I can say is fucking finally!' he punches my arm playfully. 'I mean, you didn't speak for a year and a half and suddenly she's back and you two have carried on like nothing happened. Clearly she's still in love with you, have you seen her face every time you come over - Delphine?'
'Hmm?' My eyes are wandering and I can't sit still.
'Are you even listening to me? What's up with you?'
'Je suis trés bourré!' I giggle.
'Delphine, please don't speak French, how many times do I have to say it, I don't understand you!' he complains.
'I said I'm drunk', I explain. 'Why aren't you as drunk as me?'
'I have no idea. The alcohol's wearing off already, this sucks'.
'Whatever. I'll be down on your level soon'.
Felix nods in understanding. When we go out, I've usually sobered up a bit by the time we think about going home.
'So where's Cosima now?' he asks.
'I don't know', I shrug. 'With Cal, I think, still dancing. Sarah saw one of her friends at the bar and went to smoke with him'.
Colin returns from the bar after a few minutes holding a tall glass of clear liquid.
'Yes, that's what I'm talking about!' Felix gasps excitedly, grabbing hold of the glass and taking a sip. His expression quickly turns to horror.
'Water? Water, Colin!'
'What!' he protests. 'I don't wanna drink any more!'
'Such a quitter!'
'Oh, leave him alone, Felix', I interject, and Colin shoots me a thankful glance.
'Felix, drink the water', he encourages. 'You'll thank me in the morning'.
I feel a hand on each of my shoulders and I nearly fall off my chair in fright.
'What's up, losers!' Sarah shouts. Her hair is messier than usual, and she keeps swaying from side to side whenever she tries to stand still.
Cal stands just behind her, shaking his head in embarrassment, ready to catch her if she falls.
'We're thinking of heading back now, are you coming back to our's tonight?'
'Yep!' Felix answers.
My heart sinks. 'Oh, I'm not sure if that's a good idea'.
'Delphineee!' Sarah whines, wrapping her arms around my shoulders and resting her head on top of mine. 'You have to come back to our house! We're gonna party all night long!'
Felix snorts, knowing how uncomfortable I am right now. I shoot him an icy glare.
'No, we're not, but everyone else is coming back, Delphine, you're more than welcome', Cal smiles, pulling Sarah off me and into his arms. She buries her head in his shoulder.
I decide it'll look worse if I say no, even if I feel a little weird going back to Sarah's house. I have no real reason to decline. Besides, apparently there are absolutely no hard feelings between Sarah and I.
'Okay, I will', I accept the offer.
'Now let's go find Cos!' Sarah exclaims.
Sarah and Cal's house, where Cosima is also living until she finds a place of her own, is only a twenty minute walk away from the club, but with a very drunk Sarah, a complaining Felix and a clumsy Cosima, it takes us almost an hour to reach it.
I walk along the sidewalk with Cosima, our fingers interlocked, joined hands swinging in the space between us. The cool air of the night seems to have blown away all my dizziness, and Cal and I are the only relatively sober ones left.
Cosima walks slowly, one bare foot in front of the other, along the edge of the sidewalk like she's balancing on a tightrope. She carries both shoes in her other hand. Often, she trips or loses her balance, sending her toppling into the deserted road, dragging me with her. At first it sent us into fits of uncontrollable laughter, but now it's getting kind of annoying to fall into the road every couple of minutes. It's freezing out and I just want to get to the house. Still, I can't stay that way for long. One flash of her perfect smile and my heart melts, any feeling that isn't happiness dissolving away, meaningless.
Sarah runs out in front of the group as we finally approach her street.
'Wooooo, Brixton!' she yells into the silence of the early morning, her wild hair dancing in the breeze.
'Shite, Sarah, you'll wake the whole bloody neighbourhood up!' Felix whispers harshly as he drags her back.
'That's rich coming from you', she replies, a little quieter this time. 'All the way home it's been you shouting, 'oh, I'm cold', 'my feet hurt', 'I have to walk a million miles in this Arctic weather'', she mocks him, impersonating his voice.
'I did not say that', he responds defiantly.
They stop suddenly outside a small semi-detached house with a neatly kept front garden and a concrete path leading from the pavement, through a wooden gate, to the front door. Sarah fumbles with the latch on the gate, swearing repeatedly as she struggles, until Cal comes through, laughing at his wife, to let us in. One by one, we stumble through and in through the front door. I squint in the brightness as Cal turns the hall light on.
I take off my shoes and leave them neatly beside the front door as everyone disappears through a door on the left. I take a moment to drink in the surroundings; light wooden floor, cream coloured paint on walls that are covered with framed photographs of anything and everything; Sarah and Felix as kids with their foster mother Mrs S, Cal and Sarah on holiday in Scotland, Cal and his brothers on his wedding day. There's lots of pictures of the wedding; Cal in a smart black suit and Sarah in a lace white dress. Her make-up and hair isn't styled any differently than usual; her brunette waves fall in a tousled mess over one shoulder and her eyes are smokey with eyeliner. She's the most punk-rock bride I've ever seen.
And then there are the sisters. One of the biggest ones is a photograph of Sarah and Beth. I know it's her because I can easily recognise Alison from the other photos and Cosima's descriptions of her sister. Sarah and Beth look the most alike of all the sisters, if that's even possible to say about four women with completely identical facial features. If it wasn't for their clothing, I never could have told these two apart. Sarah is wearing an oversized denim jacket over an old Patti Smith tour shirt. Beth is more sophisticated in a simple white shirt and light grey wool coat. They smile into the camera, almost laughing, arms wrapped around each other.
I can't stop staring at the photograph. It captivates me. I always found it strange to look into a picture of someone, to imagine them in the moment it was taken, and then to remember that they're long gone.
I leave Beth out in the hall with one final glance and join the others in a cosy sitting room with two soft grey couches facing a small flatscreen television in the corner and a shelf full of CDs and films against the back wall. Cosima is perched on the arm of one of the couches, patting the empty spot next to her, gesturing for me to sit down. I smile gratefully and curl up in the space beside her. She drapes an arm across my shoulders, but I think it's so she can steady herself on the couch arm. She might lose her balance and fall on top of me at any moment.
Colin passes around a pack of cigarettes, and everyone takes one but Cosima. Instead, she groans in disappointment when Sarah tells her she hasn't got any pot. I take my first drag, as do the others, and the room quickly becomes hazy with clouds of grey smoke. I haven't smoked regularly for a long time, since I left Paris. Now the smoke burns in my throat as it crawls down into my lungs.
We spend another half hour talking quietly, our voices fading as we sink into a state of half-sleep.
'I'm not saying I never want to settle down', Felix explains defensively, despite the fact that Colin is sat right opposite him on the other couch. I think Colin's asleep anyway, as is Sarah. 'I'm saying I don't want to yet. I still feel the same as I did when I was 21. I feel so young. And I'll be 30 in a couple of years. 30! That's so old'.
'Oh, it's not that bad, Felix!' Cal laughs. He turned 30 last month. 'I still feel 27!'
'Whatever', he waves a hand dismissively. 'I don't want to just feel young, I want to stay young! I mean, seriously, can you imagine me as an old man?'
'Non', I laugh, shaking my head.
'What's brought all this up, Felix?' Cosima asks.
'Oh, you know', he sighs. 'It's getting pretty serious with him', he nods over to where Colin is sleeping, not saying his name as if he might wake him. 'And that's great. But it feels like my youth is almost over. No more crazy times. I have to grow up and be responsible and stuff'.
'You already have an apartment, and a job', I assure him.
'But that stuff isn't hard to do. Settling down with someone, and settling into a routine … it might as well be the end'.
'So you think a serious relationship is the end of your life?' Cosima questions him.
'What's that supposed to mean!' Cal teases.
'I don't know. I just never thought I would be the type of person to settle down'.
'Sarah did', Cosima shrugs. 'And she's the same as she always was. A little less wild, though. And she's happy. More than ever. Right, Cal?'
'I hope so', he laughs nervously, like Cosima has just made him question himself.
Cosima shakes her head, giggling. 'She is happy. And that makes it all worth it. That's what it's all about, right?'
My heart starts to beat faster as I look up at her, because I know all I want to do is wrap my arms around her and never let go. I want to hold her and I want to tell her I love her and I want her to say it back and mean it. I curse myself for the year and a half I wasted desperately trying to move on when I know that I can't move on. I only want her. And hearing her talk about love and happiness like that … I would give everything I have for her to want that with me.
She turns to look back at me, smiling adorably, and strokes a hand through my hair.
There's a long moment of comfortable silence between us that stretches on forever. Our turn into a serious, deep conversation has driven us to a serene kind of calm that we can't break out of. I think everyone is too tired to think of new things to talk about. I know I am.
'No offence, guys, but I really want to go to sleep', Felix says, yawning loudly.
'Charming', Cosima comments. 'Are we not good enough company, Felix?'
'Always, my darling, but right now my boyfriend and my sister are already asleep'. He nods towards the opposite sofa, where Colin is resting his head back on the cushion and Sarah is stretched out beside him with her head on his shoulder.
Cal takes Sarah's hand and pulls her up so she's sat in an upright position. She rubs at her eyes, smudging her dark eyeliner down beneath her eyes and across the bridge of her nose.
'Okay, so we have Cosima's room and Kira' s room', Cal says.
Oh God. This is the part I was dreading. Everyone will be assuming Cosima and I will stay together, but the prospect is a little terrifying for me. We kissed at the club, sure, but before tonight there were no real signs of us being anything more than friends. There was the possibility, of course, but I wasn't taking any chances after last time, when I massively fucked everything up.
I don't even know if she really wants anything more with me. Was it just a drunken kiss at a party? God, I hope not.
But apparently my friends have no inclination of my inner dilemma.
'Delphine will definitely take Cosima's room', Felix announces.
I glare at him, but there is no apology in his expression. His eyes flash mischievously.
Cosima notices my icy stare in Felix's direction.
'Gladly', she says pointedly, pulling a face at Felix. 'Hope you and Colin enjoy the single bed. Come on, Delphine'.
She takes my hand, and pulls me down the hallway towards the stairs. I turn to take one last look at Felix. He winks at me, and then I'm walking up the stairs, alone with Cosima.
When I come out of the bathroom and head back to Cosima's room, she's put music on. She's swaying softly to the rhythm as she wipes off her make-up with a cotton pad, glasses perched atop her head. She's wearing only her underwear and one of Sarah's old t-shirts.
'Coeur de Pirate?' I observe, noticing the French lyrics floating out of the speakers.
'Oh! Yeah, I like it, even if I don't know what it means'.
I turn away from her as I take my off jumpsuit, self-consciously standing in my underwear. I can feel Cosima's eyes on my back.
'Don't look at me', I giggle.
'What? I can't help it. You're beautiful'.
I feel a warmth spread through my body like fire. The butterflies are back, fluttering around in my stomach. I missed them, when Cosima wasn't around.
She notices my shyness and smirks. 'Do I make you blush, Delphine?' she asks, raising an eyebrow.
'Maybe a little', I admit as I crawl into bed.
The song smoothly fades into the next and Cosima joins me in bed, lying curled up at my side, her head beside my stomach. She lies still, staring up at the ceiling like she's counting the fine cracks that creep from the corners. The house is completely silent except for our gentle music, the volume turned down low.
'What's this song about?' she murmurs.
I listen to the lyrics, though I have already heard them before. Si l'on me perd, sache que je sarai la tienne, et au creux de ses bras, la mort nous bercera.
'It's about losing the one you love', I reply softly.
I feel her shift beside me. I feel the warmth of her skin next to mine.
'Delphine?' she whispers without looking at me. 'Why did you try to kill yourself?'
My heart stops at the unexpected question. I feel it break just a little, but it's strange. Once, I would have felt physically sick at the thought of talking about it. I couldn't bear those things being stirred up inside of me again. But it doesn't hurt so much any more. I can see myself, all those years ago, crying in the mirror, but it doesn't hurt.
It's fine. I can tell her anything.
'It was a long time ago', I begin after a moment, my voice barely above a whisper. 'I was at boarding school in Paris. I was 17. I hated it there. But it all started before that, I suppose. I never got on well with my parents when I was young. They are both professors, and they were always so busy so we never really spent much time together. I tried so hard to impress them. I was always top of the class at school, I danced ballet, I played guitar and drums. I was working at all these different things all the time and still it was never enough. Every time I dropped a couple of marks in a test, or came second in the science fair, or missed a dance class, they were so disappointed.
'There's a really expensive boarding school about an hour outside the city, one of the best schools in France. When I was old enough to go, they sent me there straight away. I was so used to being the smartest person in the class, and suddenly, I was surrounded by people who were better than me. I felt like I was drowning.
'Of course, the fact that I didn't have any friends didn't help the matter. I was so quiet and nervous all the time. I'd never really had any friends before, because my parents didn't let me go out with other kids, I was always studying for something. No one at school spoke to me. They all had their cliques, and I didn't belong in any of them. I had one friend, Camille, but she moved to Quebec in the second year and never spoke to me again.
'So there I was, completely alone. I started giving up. I stopped trying in class. I lost all interest in science. My grades dropped. I was depressed, and I had no one there to help me. My parents didn't care. They started calling me every day, but they never asked me how I was. They were just telling me to work harder. One day they got a phone call from the school, and Papa called me the same night and just screamed at me for a whole hour. 'This isn't good enough, Delphine!' He kept saying. But that's the thing. None of it was ever good enough. I had always tried to be the perfect daughter, and it never got me anywhere. I felt like I had wasted my childhood trying to impress everyone else and I'd done nothing for myself. There was so much pressure. And one day, I just snapped. I went to the bathroom and, well … one of the girls from my dormitory found me in time.
'After that, they sent me home for a while. My parents were really careful around me, like I was a ticking time bomb. But after a while, I started going out with people from my old school in the city. I started practising drumming again. I started reading about science again. I fell in love with it all again. And I got better. Because I was able to do anything I wanted on my own terms, not because anyone was making me.
'I had to go back to boarding school, eventually. But I didn't really care, because I knew at the end of the year I would graduate and I could move on. And I did move on. Sure, it hasn't all been easy since then. But now I have a great life'.
I smile at the ceiling, blinking back tears. I'm not upset. I'm grateful. Grateful to finally talk about it, and to have someone who wants to listen.
Cosima is still lying at my side. I feel her warm tears on my skin. My fingers comb gently through her hair.
After a minute of silence, she looks up. Her eyes, silver in the dull light of the moon, shine with tears and curiosity.
'Do you love me?' she asks.
'You know I do', I reply without hesitation. 'I always have'.
She smiles. 'I was kinda hoping you would say that'.
There's just soft music drifting over us, no words. What little moonlight creeps in through the window lights her up in black and white, all dark hair and pale skin. She's so beautiful.
She crawls up the bed to lie beside me, kissing my neck softly as she leans her head above my shoulder, one arm draped across my waist.
'And I love you too', she whispers, closing her eyes.
She falls asleep in my arms. The music keeps playing.
Thanks for reading! Hope you're enjoying the fic!
White wine or red? I quickly scan the shelf in front of me and settle for red, not having enough time to choose carefully; I have to be back at work in ten minutes. I lean down to take a tall bottle from the bottom shelf, the dark crimson liquid sloshing behind the green tinted glass. Red is Cosima's favorite.
It's the middle of the day and the small supermarket is packed with men and women in expensive grey suits buying lunch and queuing at the Costa Coffee machine.
I look further down the aisle, to where a dark haired girl in a police uniform is reaching up to take a few bottles of Pepsi off the top of the shelf. I almost think I recognise her for a moment. Wait … I do recognise her. Is that Sarah? Her hair is tied up in a neat bun, with a few stray waves falling loose, covering her face from me. I edge closer, and the girl tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. Yes, it is her!
She turns her head slightly and catches sight of me out of the corner of her eye.
'Oh, hey, Delphine, what's up?' she greets me with a warm smile, walking over.
'Bonjour, Sarah, how are you?' I ask, a little awkward and formal. I run a hand through my hair nervously. It falls in a mess of wild curls past my shoulders as I let it go.
'I'm good. Well, as good as you can be on a Monday'.
I blink. How is she being so casual about this, just wandering over to me in a police uniform? Sarah and I aren't close, though I plan to work on it, but I still don't understand how everyone failed to tell me she was a cop? Come to think of it, there might have been a couple jokes thrown around about Sarah and the long arm of the law, but I assumed they were just kidding.
'I didn't know you were a police officer', I say, the statement sounding a little more blunt than it was meant to.
'Oh, yeah, well, still training, but I will be soon hopefully'. She sees the confusion in my face and bursts into laughter. 'I know, right? I bet you didn't see me as a cop'.
'I suppose not', I confess, hoping I don't offend her.
She shrugs. 'Well, what can I say? I'm full of surprises'.
I laugh nervously, unsure of how to respond.
'So what's going on with my sister?' Sarah asks, quickly filling the short silence. 'She hasn't been answering my calls'.
'Oh, um, I don't know-'
'She's probably getting sick of me. Every time I call her it's just so I can wind her up about you', she chuckles, shaking her head as if she's pleased with herself.
'About me?' I frown.
'Yeah! You two are official now, huh?'
The question catches me off guard slightly, but at the same time, I was expecting it. Everyone keeps asking me.
'Um, yes, I suppose we are', I reply cautiously.
I haven't even spoken to Cosima about all this yet. Is she my girlfriend, are we official? It's been almost three months since she came back to London. I don't know if it's too soon for us to be labelling ourselves, yet I find myself wishing we would.
'Finally!' she grins. 'We all knew you two were gonna be together anyway, but it's good to know it's really happening. Cos permanently drones on and on about you. It's pretty annoying'.
Sarah rolls her eyes as if it's completely obvious. 'Yes, Delphine, she's completely infatuated with you. But you didn't hear it from me'.
'Right', I agree, going along with the joke. 'I heard it from Felix'.
She laughs. 'Yeah, she wouldn't find that hard to believe. Seriously though, I'm really happy for you guys. Cosima is really happy with you'.
'I hope so', I smile back, her words filling me with warmth that spreads from my chest and flows all through my body.
'Anyway, I have to get back to work, but it was nice seeing you'. She starts walking backwards slowly.
'Oui, you too'.
'I'll see you soon, yeah?'
I nod, though she's already turned away, heading down the aisle towards the front of the shop.
I'm turning back to the shelf in front of me when I hear her call.
'Oh, and Delphine?'
I turn around to face her again.'Yes?'
'If you break her heart, I'll break down your door'. She smirks and turns away, waving goodbye as she disappears out of sight.
Typical Sarah. Kind of unpredictable. I smile to myself. Cosima often talks about Sarah's wild side and the crazy things she's done in the past, but then again, she always finishes the story with a comment on how much she's grown up over the past few years. Since getting back together with Cal after a long period apart and reconnecting with Mrs S, Sarah let go of all the anger and rebellious behaviour of her teenage years. Well, maybe not all of it.
'She's kind of psycho when she gets mad', I remember Cosima telling me. 'Consider this a warning to never get on her bad side'.
I will always remember that warning. Sarah still scares me, but I know that we can be friends.
I head straight to Cosima's apartment after work without even bothering to go home. I give a single knock on the door and let myself in.
She's kneeling down by the shelf at the other side of the room, taking out records from a large cardboard box and sorting them. The evening sun shines in through the window above the shelf at an angle that leaves a square pool of gold on the wooden floor. The light glints off the rings on her fingers. She takes a colourful record out of the box and flips it over in her hands, gazing lovingly at the cover like she's remembering something special. I recognise the record. Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold as Love. It's one of her favourites.
She only moved in two weeks ago, and she hasn't yet managed to unpack all of her things. Yet the place feels like it belongs to her, as if she's been living here for years. Pictures hang on every wall, whether they're framed photographs or Felix's paintings, and there are bright yellow sticky notes scattered across the walls and doors with reminders of things she needs to do or places she needs to be. There's always music playing and the room smells of incense and cinnamon.
I step into the apartment and close the door behind me. She looks up quickly at the sound, and a smile lights up her face.
'Hey!' she greets me, jumping up from her space in the sunlight and coming over to me. In a moment, I am trapped against the door as Cosima leans up and kisses me. I feel her hands at my waist, then moving upwards under my shirt to my bra.
'Get off!' I giggle, pushing her away playfully.
'Oh, come on, that's all you want when you get home' she retorts, eyes sparkling.
She sticks her tongue out. She's right and she knows it.
I hang up my leather jacket on the coat rack as Cosima returns to her box of records. She picks up the box and drops it down on the dining table.
'Don't let me stop you', I tell her as I go to the kitchen, carefully setting down my shopping bag on the counter and taking out two wine glasses from the cupboard.
'Oh, no', she waves a hand dismissively. 'I'm bored for today. It's taking forever, but I really don't wanna throw anything out, even if I don't want or need it any more'.
'Are you nearly finished unpacking?' I ask, my back to her as I unscrew the top from the bottle of red wine.
'Almost. I finished sorting through all of my books, finally. I got off work at four so I worked on it a bit this afternoon', she replies.
I hand her a glass of wine. 'How was work?'
'Fine, nothing out of the ordinary. What about you, Dr Cormier?'
I chuckle to myself. She always calls me that when we talk about work.
'It was good. I saw Sarah on my lunch break'.
'You did? Where?'
'Just at the store. You never told me she joined the police force'.
'I didn't?' she looks at me quizzically. 'Huh. Well, yeah. She's still in training at the moment though'.
'It looks like she's doing well'.
'I know, right?' she exclaims. 'Can you believe someone who once said her life's ambition was to make a fortune from selling drugs is now going to be a cop? Not that she actually went through with it. The selling drugs, I mean. She was kinda set on the wrong path, but her life changed for the better when Siobhan fostered her'.
I drift back towards the kitchen. 'What made her want to join the police force?'
'That time she took over Beth's job', she shrugs, as if I should know what she's talking about.
She looks across at me, tilting her head to one side. 'You don't know?'
I shake my head, leaning back against the counter.
'Oh my God. I can't believe Felix never told you this story!' she exclaims, collapsing on the couch and crossing her legs. 'So, you know Beth was a cop, right?'
'Well, towards the end of her life, she was missing work a lot. I was living here at the time, but Sarah had flown out to San Francisco to spend some time with her. She knew that Beth was on the verge of losing her job, and Sarah was not gonna let that happen. So one day, she put on Beth's clothes, straightened her hair, and walked straight into the police station. And no one even noticed anything was up. Sarah had totally mastered Beth's accent and all her mannerisms and everything. I don't think she got any work done, but it didn't matter. It was kinda epic. Sarah skyped me one time as Beth, with her voice and her clothes, and I literally spoke to her for like twenty minutes before I realised. She kept it up for about two weeks at the station before Beth made her quit. And that is basically how Sarah decided she wanted to be a cop. I think she enjoyed her little insight into the world of law enforcement'. Cosima giggles.
I shake my head, laughing. 'That's the most awesome thing I have ever heard'.
'Yeah, Sarah-as-Beth is like a legend in our family. And Beth would be proud of Sarah joining the police. So what did you talk to her about anyway?'
'Well, there wasn't much time, she had to get back to work. But we just spoke about … us?'
'Yes. Everyone is obsessing over the status of our relationship'.
'Why?' she giggles.
'I don't know', I reply, laughing too.
'I guess it's kinda cool though. You know, we're in the spotlight'.
I pull a face. 'What's good about that?'
'You don't like being the centre of attention, huh?'
'Not at all', I shake my head, curls bouncing at the sides of my face.
'Well, how about we make them stop asking questions?' she smirks. Then she jumps over the back of the sofa like a little kid and dashes over to me. She pins me against the kitchen counter, draping her arms around my neck and looking up into my eyes. With my high-heeled shoes on, Cosima is smaller than ever. She's standing on her tip-toes, laughing at herself and her own spontaneity in the moment.
'Delphine, will you be my official girlfriend?' she asks, deliberately over-dramatic and joking, but with that glint of seriousness in her eye that shows me she's genuine.
I slide my arms around her waist. 'I thought you'd never ask'.
I'm lying in bed, the soft golden light of my bedside lamp glowing on my bare skin, with silent tears trickling down from the corners of my eyes. Cosima is next to me. White sheets are crumpled at the bottom of the bed.
'What's wrong?' she asks, propping herself up on one arm so she can look at me. Her eyes search my face, full of concern.
'I cry after sex with boys too', I whisper, half laughing.
After confessing to Cosima that I'd never been with another woman before, she's been falling over herself to make me feel comfortable when we have sex. Now I have to explain myself just to keep her from worrying. I know she means well. It's still new to me, though.
A smile cracks through her worried expression. 'Why?'
'I don't know. It's just something I do'. I wipe away my tears with the back of my hand.
She catches my arm before I can put it back down, interlocking our fingers, then tracing from my fingertip to the palm of my hand, then down my bare arm. Then she shifts her position, lying her head back down on the pillow. We stare up at the ceiling, watching our own shadows.
'I wanted to ask you something', she murmurs, breaking our momentary silence.
'Oh God, it's not a proposal, is it?' I joke.
'Shut up!' she laughs, playfully pushing me away from her. 'No. I wanted to know if you believe in love at first sight'.
I turn to her in surprise. 'Where did that come from?'
'Well, Alison, the true romantic that she is, was talking about it on the phone last night. Things are a bit hectic after the move and settling into her new neighbourhood, but I think she has actually gone mad. Anyway, I was talking to her about you. She knows all about you already anyway', she admits shyly, still staring at the ceiling to avoid eye contact. 'She said she thinks it was love at first sight with us'.
'It sounds stupid', she giggles.
'Non, it doesn't'.
'Well, did you fall in love with me the moment you saw me?'
I think about this for a moment. I think back to the time I first saw her. I can watch the moment like a movie in my mind. I remember every detail in perfect clarity. I think of the first time I saw her hair. It fell over both shoulders, hiding her face from me as she searched her bag. Then I saw her face, looking up at me in curiosity; her big glasses with thick black frames, the slope of her nose and the silver ring hooked through one nostril, and her smile, so brilliant. Then I saw her eyes, golden brown, their warmth shining through her glasses. Was I in love? Maybe not, but I knew there was something special about her. The way she looked, the way she spoke using wild hand gestures to illustrate her thoughts, her confidence and her passion about her interests. I remember the way I felt when I watched her walk away. I didn't want her to leave.
'No, not at that moment', I admit. 'But I was already so attached to you by the time we said goodbye that day. You meet new people all the time. They come and go, and maybe you will talk to someone once and then they'll walk out of your life forever. You'll forget them, and they'll forget you. And the day I met you … I've never been so scared to see someone walk away and know I might not see them again'.
'But I gave you my phone number', she points out.
'But what if I had lost it? Or what if you never answered?'
'I could never have not answered your calls', she assures me. 'I was pretty crazy about you. I don't think I was in love either. I never even thought about it, 'cause I was with someone else. But I was so excited when you called. I couldn't believe someone like you wanted to hang out with me. I remember I told Sarah about you that night. I kept rambling on and on. She had to shut me up eventually'.
'You never told me that', I smile.
'You never told me your thing, either'.
I turn to face her again, resting my head on my arm.
'You don't even know how much I missed you when you weren't here', I tell her, all my honesty and sadness and regret floating to the surface. 'I know it's my own fault for making a stupid mistake-'
'It wasn't your fault. Well, okay, maybe it was a bit. But it was mostly Shay's. You can blame her for driving me to go back to America'.
'Okay', I agree, giggling.
'And I missed you too. I thought about coming back so many times'.
'Why didn't you?'
'I guess I was afraid I'd messed everything up. I was afraid that you wouldn't want to be with me after I left like that'.
I chuckle softly to myself in disbelief. 'But here we are'.
She turns to me now too, facing each other across the gap in the pillows. She looks so different without her glasses.
'I can't say that I didn't plan for it to turn out this way', she says with an air of confidence, or smugness, or maybe both.
'It seemed unlikely that it would'.
'Nah, I don't think so'.
She shrugs. 'You always come back to the one you love'.
'And that's a proven theory?' I challenge her.
'Well, I came back to you, didn't I? I was fresh off the airplane, and there you were, sitting right across the bar'.
'Like I was waiting for you', I smile.
'And were you?'
'No way! I mean, yes, I suppose I was, but... you were the last person I expected to see. I thought I was dreaming or hallucinating or something'.
'But you weren't. Because I was totally right. I came back for you. And you came back to me'.
'So you knew we'd end up together. You were a hundred percent sure?'
'Obvs', she states.
So there it is. Apparently, I shouldn't have spent so long crying over her and trying to move on, because we were meant to be together. Maybe it was inevitable that we would meet again anyway. After all, Felix is my best friend and he's also like a brother to Cosima. But if she didn't have that hope that I was still in love with her, would she ever have come back?
The idea is ridiculous, and yet somehow, through some crazy twist of fate, it worked out.
'Do you believe in soulmates, Cosima?' I ask sincerely.
'That sounds like one of Alison's questions' she teases, raising an eyebrow.
'No', I murmur, shaking my head. 'It's just something I've been thinking about'.
Her eyes are burning into mine.
'Because I think you might be mine', I say softly. It sounds stupid, but I honestly don't care any more. I want her to know everything I feel, even the craziest rom-com ideas that drift through my head like I'm a lovesick teenager. Because that's how I feel with her. She makes me starry-eyed.
She reaches for my hand, interlocking our fingers, and brings it to her lips, planting a soft kiss on my knuckles.
'I think you're mine too'.
Sorry this took a while. Hope you enjoy the chapter!
There's always this strange feeling I have when I get on a plane. There's that noise, the low hum that somehow sounds like it's sucking all the air out of the cabin. I always have to breathe slowly, counting every inhale and exhale, conserving the oxygen as if it's slowly draining from the atmosphere, as if each breath could be my last. Then there's the sickening lurch in your stomach every time the plane drops, like being on a rollercoaster.
It makes me wish I had taken the train. But maybe it isn't the flight that's the problem. I've never been afraid to fly. Maybe it's just my own fault.
When I received an email from my parents asking me to visit them in Paris, I immediately invited Cosima, partly because she has always wanted to visit France, but also because I didn't think I could handle the weekend without her. But there is still one problem, one I've been pushing to the back of my mind in the hope that it would disappear completely.
Cosima notices my silence, the way I'm almost reluctant to smile, the way I sit straight-backed in my seat, like I can't relax.
'Hey, what's up?' she asks, squeezing my hand, her eyes wide with concern. She gives me a gentle, encouraging smile.
'Cosima, there's something I haven't told you', I confess, looking down at my lap.
'What is it?'
I bite my lip. 'My parents … they don't know that we're together. I didn't tell them'.
'What?' She let's go of my hand and her smile dissolves into an expression of confusion.
'They think I'm just bringing a friend along to visit Paris'.
Her eyes widen in shock and hurt. I mentally kick myself for letting it happen.
'Delphine!' she exclaims. 'Why didn't you tell me this before!'
'I don't know! I couldn't bring myself to tell you'.
'Why? Why haven't you told them?'
'I was too afraid to tell them. They're traditional people, they're not exactly very accepting of …'.
'Gay people?' she finishes for me, raising an eyebrow.
'Well, yes, but they're not accepting of … anyone I suppose', I explain. 'They live in their own little world of professors and academics. My parents are … what do you call them … snobs? No boyfriend or friend I had was ever good enough to live up to their standards'.
'You know, this isn't exactly making me feel any better', she says, defeated.
'Merde', I mutter to myself. 'Je suis desolée, Cosima. You know that I love you and I'm always so proud of you. I'm so proud to be with you. I just never found the right moment to tell them about us'.
'You could've just told me that before I agreed to this trip'.
'I know, I was too nervous', I admit, running a hand through my hair anxiously.
She sighs. 'It's okay, I understand', she says after a long moment of silence, taking my hand again.
I want to believe her but I'm not sure. We've been together for a year. I know I would be upset if she didn't tell her parents about me, which I know for fact that she has done; I received a card from them on my birthday. So how can I ask her to be okay?
'Cosima, if you're angry you can tell me. You don't have to pretend to be fine'.
She shrugs. 'I know it's not easy for some people to come out to their parents. I mean, it was easy for me, 'cause my parents are so cool. But I understand why you didn't tell them. And, yeah, you've made me, like, a hundred times more nervous because now I have to be really careful about what I do or say, but if you want me to act as your friend for this weekend, then I'll do it'.
'Okay', I nod, exhaling like a huge weight has just been lifted from my shoulders.
'Besides, we're not just going to meet your parents, right? I wanna know all about the childhood of Delphine Cormier. I wanna see all the sights with my very own Parisian tour guide. Even if she is ashamed of me'. She pokes me playfully in the ribs.
'I am not ashamed of you!' I exclaim, hiding my face in my hands.
'Delphine, I was just kidding', she giggles. 'I will be completely supportive of whatever you decide. I promise'.
I chew on my lip as an awkward silence fills the space between us.
'My parents will like you', I offer, only half-believing it myself.
'Thanks. I think'.
'And I will find it very difficult to keep my hands off you all weekend'.
'Oh yeah?' she grins. I know for sure now that she isn't angry at me.
'Yes. And I will miss sleeping next to you'.
'Well, I am irresistible', she teases. I giggle as she flashes a cheeky grin at me.
'I want to show you all around the city', I tell her. 'And then we can walk hand in hand by the river and it will be very romantic'.
'Are we going to get an obligatory couple photo by the Eiffel Tower?'
'If that's what you want'.
'Maybe just don't show your mom and dad. Oh, that reminds me'.
She takes her phone out of her pocket and hits the centre button to reveal the wallpaper. 'Is this platonic enough for you?'
It's one of my favourite photos of Cosima and I. Neither of us can remember when it was taken, we were both so drunk. Another of Felix's crazy nights out. The flash on the camera lights both of us up against the backdrop of the deserted street in the early hours of the morning. My body faces the camera, but my head is tilted down to the side to where Cosima looks up at me. She has her arms around my waist, and mine around hers, like we're holding on for dear life. We're laughing, probably at nothing, and yet, Sarah took the photo and we're captured in this moment that we don't even remember. It looks magical. The way she looks up at me makes me feel like the luckiest woman on Earth, and the way I'm looking at her … well, I hope she can see how much I adore her.
'I hate that we have to hide', I say sadly.
'Well, if I remember correctly, that is your fault', she accuses.
"I know. I'm a coward'.
She rolls her eyes. 'Look, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. I promise I won't be mad'.
I squeeze her hand. 'I don't deserve you'.
She smiles, almost shyly, then leans back into her chair, staring up at the ceiling and wondering aloud.
'So, I'm dealing with the strict parents from hell. I don't speak French -'
'Their English is fine', I assure her.
'I'm not sure if that's a good thing'.
I laugh in response as she continues thinking it over.
'They're low-key homophobic. I won't be able to smoke. And worst of all, they don't know that I'm in love with their daughter. I assume they don't know we live together?'
I shake my head.
'Great', she says sarcastically. 'Well, there's a few hurdles. I have science on my side, I guess'.
'Yes, I'm sure Papa will love to hear about your work'.
'Evo devo to the rescue', she laughs and trails off into silence.
Cosima takes a magazine out of her backpack and shifts in her seat, trying to get comfortable.
'Well, now I'm going to read. And ignore you'.
'Okay', I concede. 'I deserve it'.
'No, it's just that Scientific American is much more interesting than you'.
I shove her playfully into the wall, where outside the window, the world is shrinking below us, a sprawling blanket of green fields and brown rooftops, roads snaking between them.
She regains her balance and gasps through her laughter. She pushes me back so I fall straight back into my chair and smack my hip against the arm rest. It actually hurts, but I'm too busy laughing uncontrollably to feel anything else. Two grown women, fighting like children. People are staring at us.
We arrived in the city around midday, welcomed into the madness by hoardes of city workers on their lunch break. If I was seeing the city from above, I would have seen them swarm like ants across the squares and through the busy streets. But we're used to the crowds in London, so it's nothing new.
Maman called whilst we were on the train from the airport. She wouldn't be home until after five o'clock, and neither would Papa. So, with nowhere in particular to go, and no idea of what to do, I brought Cosima here, to Montmartre, for coffee. It is quieter now, in the late afternoon. Everyone is back at work. Tourists drift by us, most of them couples or young students, but it is unusually peaceful for a summery afternoon like this.
When I sat down at an empty table at a quaint café shaded by red parasols, Cosima remarked that she felt like she was in a movie. It's strange to imagine my own city from the point of view of a someone who has never been here before. Someone who has never laid eyes on the places that are so ordinary to me.
We spend an hour, just sitting there, watching the world continue around us, our chairs turned towards the street and the people who walk by. But my eyes always drift back to Cosima. Her skin is glowing, make-up free except for the signature black eyeliner she is never seen without. Her outfit is effortless but classic: a floaty black summer dress with white polka-dots underneath a dark blue denim jacket with sleeves that are rolled up at her elbows. She is beautiful, without even trying.
'Why are you looking at me like that?' she giggles.
'Tu es trés jolie'.
'Am I a super elegant Parisian yet?' she asks with a horrible attempt at a French accent.
'Maybe not with that voice', I laugh.
She's sitting there like Audrey Hepburn, her head resting on her hand whilst the other holds up a thin cigarette. Delicate wisps of smoke dance from the tip and dissolve into the air above us. I didn't even see her buy the cigarettes. Maybe she snuck away to a newsagent while I was in the bathroom.
'Cosima, why are you smoking?'
'Why not?' she shrugs. 'You do it'.
'Not any more'.
'It makes me feel French', she clarifies. I don't know whether she's joking or not.
I look down at the deep red tablecloth and the delicate white China cups. They're both empty, except for the coffee-tinged rings of white foam that stick to the edges.
'Are you ready to go?' I ask her.
Cosima nods in response and stubs out the last of her cigarette in the ash tray. She slides out of her chair, smoothing down her dress as she stands up. She smiles as she sees my hand outstretched towards her, and she takes it. I feel the warmth of her skin and the cold metal of the silver rings on her fingers, until her hand slips out of mine almost as soon as she has taken it.
'Ooh, a cat!' she points out, leaning down by the sidewalk to where a ginger and white kitten is sitting in the cool shade that the buildings cast over the street. It jumps up to greet her, nuzzling into her hand. This is the third time we've seen a cat today, and every time, Cosima lights up like an excited child.
'What is it with you and cats today? I didn't even know you liked cats'.
'Everyone likes cats, Delphine', she claims, like it's completely obvious. It's also completely wrong.
'Cosima, come on, we have to go soon', I complain. 'My parents are expecting us in half an hour'.
'No way, your parents can wait! I'm having plenty of fun right here - ow!' she shrieks.
'The cat just scratched me!' she gasps, holding up the back of her hand with such a pained expression that you would think she's had her hand sliced open with a knife.
'Let me see', I walk over and examine the thin graze just below her index finger. 'Ma chérie, that is the smallest scratch I have ever seen. It's not even bleeding'.
'Yeah, well, it still hurt'.
'You're just trying to get sympathy from me'.
'Is it working?'
'Non'. I plant a kiss on her knuckles anyway, and pull her up from the sidewalk.
We reach the end of the street and the edge of Montmartre. The Sacre-Coeur Basilica stands before us, stretching into the sky, painted by a block of sunlight that slants across half of the building.
Cosima gazes upwards. 'My dad told me about this place. He and some of the other teachers at his school brought a whole class of sixth graders here a few years ago. When they got home, all the kids told their parents they visited the Taj Mahal'.
I laugh. 'I suppose it does look a little like the Taj Mahal. If it was much smaller and on a hilltop in France'.
'Yes, I always loved this place. And I love Montmartre. It's like a little village in the centre of such a huge city'.
'Did you come here a lot?'
'Whenever I could. I used to come here and watch the sunset'.
'Oui. I want to show you something'.
I take her hand and lead her around the corner. The buildings drop away on both sides as the narrow street folds out into the open air. We stand in front of the Basilica, the steps unfolding below us. I feel Cosima freeze beside me.
'Wow', she gasps.
I grin at her amazement. The city sprawls below, all grey rooftops and buildings of yellow and beige, touching the horizon at every direction. The sky is a perfect, clear blue. We can see for miles.
'It's beautiful, no?'
Cosima nods. I walk half way down the steps, then stop to sit on the cold, smooth concrete, patting the empty space next to me, gesturing for her to join me. She does so without saying a word. She props up her elbows on her knees and rests her head in her hands, gazing out at the view, fixated by it. I can't see her eyes, but if I could, I think they would be full of wonder.
'What are you thinking about?' I ask her, watching her as she looks out. I've seen this view so many times, but I have never watched Cosima's reaction to it. Somehow it is more fascinating. I see her eyelashes flicker as her eyes move in each direction, soaking up every detail of the city below.
'This', she replies without looking at me. 'This city. It's so beautiful. How could you ever leave?'
I pause. No one has ever asked me this before. I suppose most people assume I moved away to study. But, if I wanted to be here, I could have stayed to get my PhD. I could have lived here for the rest of my life, drifting through my days in an inescapable cycle of routine. But I would have been just as unhappy as I was when I was young and the dream of adventure was the only thing that inspired me.
'I think, sometimes, people get bored of where they live. They think there's something more out there for them. So they leave. That's why I moved. Yes, I feel lucky to have been brought up in one of the greatest cities in the world. But I always wanted to leave'.
'No matter where you are, there is always something more exciting happening somewhere else'.
She pulls a face. 'You're cynical'.
I shrug. 'It's what I used to think when I was younger'.
'Well, what do you think now?'
'I think there is always something more exciting happening somewhere else until you find the one place that makes you feel as though there is nowhere better. The place where you think, I don't need to go looking for something more because I know this is the best place there is, and I'm truly happy here'.
'Huh. I never really thought about that before'.
'You never felt like that?'
'Well, I suppose I did. I never would have left San Francisco if I thought that was the only place for me'.
'You see? I'm right!' I tease.
'Whatever', she waves a hand dismissively.
'Well, I went to find that 'more exciting' thing, and I'm glad I did. Because if I stayed here, I wouldn't have the life I have now'.
Cosima looks out towards the horizon as if she's searching for something. 'Do you still think there's something more exciting out there?'
'No way. I already found it. And when you find your happiness, you don't need to go looking for something any more. You have to wait for life to take you wherever you're going next'.
She looks at me. 'You had a lot of time to think about this stuff, huh?'
'I've told you about my teenage years. I spent all of them waiting to get out of here'.
'Okay, Delphine', she tilts her head to one side, like she's challenging me. 'Where are we going next? Where is life going to take us?'
I smile. 'I don't know. But I hope it will be good'.
My street is the same as it always was. In the centre of the city, just south of the Musée d'Orsay, though somehow it is quiet, peaceful. Of course, silence is always absent here, but the street itself seems as though it is detached from the continuous buzz of the city around it. The only pedestrians to walk here are the residents of the small block of streets that make up our neighbourhood, and cars crawl through infrequently. The buildings are creamy beige in colour, three storeys in height but narrow. Each house is identical, separated by a black iron fence at the front where steps lead up to the shiny front doors, each one only distinguishable by the gold numbers on each door. Small trees with thin trunks and masses of bright green leaves line the street in symmetrical formation.
I lived in just one house growing up, and so when I moved away, any house that wasn't this one seemed alien. I missed the familiarity of this place. But now, coming back is the only thing that feels strange.
Number 26. The Cormiers.
'This is it', I say, slowing down as we approach the house, the streetlamp overhead casting a golden glow on the front door, as if telling us the way to go.
'You live here?' Cosima raises an eyebrow. 'Jeez, Delphine, I knew you were rich, but I don't even think I'm classy enough to step into this place'.
I roll my eyes. 'Don't start. Besides, my parents are rich, not me'.
She pauses, stopping before we reach the path. 'I'm scared'.
'Duh, I'm about to meet my girlfriend's parents. And they don't even know they're my girlfriend's parents'.
'Just relax. They will like you, I'm sure of it. Just be yourself', I try to reassure her, but she catches me biting my lip, like I always do when I'm unsure of something, and shoots me a knowing look that seems to say, I know you're just trying to make me feel better.
Our hands are joined as we climb the steps to the front door, but as I ring the bell, I have to let go. I squeeze her hand one last time before I untangle my fingers from hers and our arms fall to our sides.
'I love you', I tell her, as though it might be the last time I get to say it. As though we may not survive whatever this weekend will throw at us.
'I think you're the one who needs to relax', she murmurs. 'And I love you too'.
She's right, of course. I need to calm down. I only have a moment to think it over before I hear the click of the door and it swings open, Maman's smiling face on the other side.
Only her hair has changed since I last saw her; where long, sleek blonde waves once hung half-way down her back, now it is cut bluntly just below the chin. It looks smart, paired with her Prada glasses and black tailored pant-suit. She's the typical professional woman; glamorous, elegant, never seems to age. People say we look alike, but I always thought she was more beautiful.
'Delphine, bonsoir!' she exclaims, gesturing for us both to come inside, dragging our bags behind us.
'Hello, Maman'. We exchange kisses on both cheeks, and she cups a hand under my chin, as if examining my face. I can see her eyes, searching for something. I'm not quite sure what.
'And you must be Cosima!' she greets her in English, kissing her on both cheeks. 'Welcome to our home!'
'Thank you, it's a very beautiful house', she comments politely.
'Oui, it is a wonderful place to live. Of course, Delphine didn't think so'.
Cosima almost snorts with laughter, and I shoot her a harsh glare. Great. We have only just arrived and already the jibes are starting. I simply ignore this comment and wait for Maman to move onto another subject. I know she will. She can't stand silence.
'How was your flight?' she asks cheerily, leading us through the hallway into the kitchen at the back of the house. On summer days, the kitchen is flooded with bright sunlight that filters through the huge glass windows that cover the back wall. Now, the warm blue glow of the evening hovers in the garden. I find it comforting.
'It was fine', I answer.
'I imagine it was! It is such a short journey, I cannot understand why you don't visit more often', she says, her back to us as she wanders over to the kitchen island, shoes clicking against the wooden floor.
'Mm hm' I mumur in response. I take Cosima's small suitcase from her and leave it with my own, propped up against the wall. She remains still and quiet, seemingly unsure of what to say or do, but I see her eyes wandering around the room, taking in the big kitchen with its shiny black counters, reflecting the spotlights on the overhead cupboards, the black leather couch by the wall and the black and white family photographs that hang above, and the oak dining table in the middle of the room.
'Where's Papa?' I ask.
'He is upstairs in his office. I'm sure he will be down in a moment, he will have heard you come in. Here, I'll get you both a glass of wine, you must be so tired'.
She takes out four crystal glasses from one of the cupboards above the counter and slips out of the door at the far side of the room.
Cosima sees the darkness behind the door and watches in amazement as Maman disappears beneath the floor.
'Where is she going?' she asks.
'The wine cellar'.
'You have a wine cellar? You are so French!' she laughs.
'Shut up', I stick my tongue out at her. She makes a face, but it quickly fades when we hear the footsteps on the wooden spiral stairs grow louder.
Maman reappears with a bottle of red and proceeds to pour the rich liquid into each glass.
'Delphine!' I hear a familiar voice behind me.
He kisses me on the cheek without another word, his simple greeting making it seem as though I have been gone for a few hours rather than a few months.
My father is tall, thin, but not skinny, and I don't think I have ever seen him wearing something other than a smart shirt and trousers. When I was younger, his formal clothes and distant attitude gave me the feeling that I was just another one of his students rather than his daughter.
'Papa, this is Cosima', I introduce her.
'Ah, oui, Cosima! The American!' he shakes her hand, peering down at her curiously, seeming to be genuinely interested in her. Maybe it's her style, or her hair, or her tattoos. Or maybe it's the winning smile she keeps flashing without even meaning to.
'That's me! Nice to meet you', she says sweetly. Despite telling me that she was scared before, she exudes an effortless confidence.
Cosima has this irresistible charm that is so natural and impossible not to fall for. She's magnetic. That's what I call it. Anyone who comes within her magnetic field is instantly drawn to her. Already, Papa is offering to take her jacket and exchanging small talk.
Maybe this weekend won't be so bad after all.
After a glass of wine with Papa in the lounge, Maman calls him through to the kitchen to help serve dinner, leaving me alone with Cosima for the first time since we arrived.
'Ugh! I don't think I've ever been so stressed out in my life', Cosima sighs, throwing her head back against the soft leather couch. 'Studying for a PhD has got nothing on socialising with the Cormiers'.
'You're doing great, they're never normally this welcoming', I assure her.
'That was welcoming? Delphine, I just had to explain the entire contents of my dissertation to your father'.
'Well, he was very interested', I say defensively.
'You said he teaches physics, he probably had no idea what I was talking about'.
'Yes, well, if he seems bitter, it's because he always likes to be the most intelligent person in the room. And you've just outdone him'.
Cosima chuckles at the pettiness of it all. 'When I was a kid, my parents always said that Beth and I should do whatever we wanted. Unless it was something criminal. But I don't think they'd care if I chose to spend the rest of my life waiting tables, as long as I was happy. They never tried to force anything on me. But you, I guess your life was pretty much mapped out from the day you were born'.
'Something like that', I smirk.
'Like, what if you told them you wanted to study art, or literature? Or that you didn't want to go to university at all? What would they have done?'
'Oh, I don't think that would have been an option. They would have dragged me to school, kicking and screaming'.
'Delphine et Cosima! Dinner is ready!' Maman calls from the kitchen.
'Oui, Maman, we're coming', I reply, rising from my seat.
I want to retreat back into the warm comfort of the couch as soon as I stand up, but, reluctantly, I start for the doorway. Cosima doesn't move at all. She just sits there, biting at her nails, staring up at me with worried eyes, like a child's. I roll my eyes and offer my hand to her.
'Let's go, ma chérie', I encourage. She takes my hand and I pull her up from the couch, stealing a quick kiss before I let her go and turn down the corridor through to the kitchen.
Cosima and I take our seats. The square glass table sits below three bright white lightbulbs, each one hanging at a different level. Their harshness is blinding. It gives off an atmosphere that I imagine an interrogation room would be like. Cosima and I sit opposite each other. Papa tops up our wine glasses and takes the seat that faces the kitchen.
'Boeuf bourguignon', Maman announces, serving a ladle of the stew onto four white plates.
'We thought our guest would like some real French cuisine', Papa adds.
'It looks delicious, thank you', Cosima smiles as Maman sets down a plate in front of her.
I appreciate the gesture. Clearly Maman put a lot of effort into this meal, and so far, both my parents have been very friendly to Cosima. But I'm sure it is all her. You can't help but warm to Cosima.
Maman joins us at the table, tucking a flyaway strand of hair behind her ear.
'Bon appetit, everybody', she smiles, gesturing for us to begin our meal.
Knives and forks clatter against plates as we begin to eat. Nobody speaks. Out of the corner of my eye I see Maman shifting uncomfortably in her seat. I am more like my father, who could go a whole day without saying a word.
'So, Cosima', Maman starts when the silence becomes too much for her to bear. 'Maybe you could tell us a little bit about yourself. Delphine hasn't mentioned you before'.
I cringe as Cosima shoots me a cold look, which softens almost as soon as it has appeared as she looks back to my mother.
'Well, I'm from San Francisco, originally, but I moved to London to study for my PhD in evolutionary development at UCL. That's where I met Delphine. Before that, I completed my undergraduate studies at Berkeley, part of the University of California'.
I have to bite my lip to stop myself from giggling at her. She's not herself. Her usual laid-back, conversational way of speaking is replaced by this formal tone, like she's in a job interview.
'What made you choose to study in London?' Maman asks.
'Well, I had always thought about studying abroad, I thought it would be a really exciting opportunity for me. And my sister lives in London, so I also wanted to be closer to her'.
'Cosima is a quadruplet', I add.
'Really? How fascinating! Your sister, is she a scientist too?'
'No, she's a police officer'.
'And what about your parents, what do they do?' Papa asks.
'My Mom is a translator at a law firm, and my Dad teaches history'.
'Is he a professor too?'
'No, he teaches middle school kids'.
'Ah! How strange that you have followed such a different path to your parents!' Maman exclaims.
'Yeah, I suppose I have. Not like you guys though, huh? All in the sciences. Delphine tells me you're both professors?'
'Yes, I teach physics and Mathilde teaches chemistry', Papa replies.
'Oh, cool, cool! So you have a member of the family in each branch of science!'
'Well, we hoped that Delphine would study physics, like her father, but that was not the case', Maman replies, a hint of disappointment running through her voice.
Cosima immediately jumps to my defence, but discreetly. 'I think immunology is a really important field. And Delphine is really smart'.
'She has always excelled in the sciences', Maman comments.
I continue to eat in silence as I watch this exchange between them, eyes flickering from one end of the table to the other to find the person who is speaking, like I'm watching a tennis match. My parents talk about me as though I'm not there. Cosima continues to nod along and agree with everything they say. But I can tell when she's lying. It's something in her face, the way she screws up her eyes and clenches her jaw as she forces a false smile. And I can hear the awkwardness in her laugh. I know her real laugh better than anybody.
Still, I can't complain about it. Everyone is getting along well, but maybe it's just because I've been silent for almost the whole time we have been sat at the dinner table. I know from experience that my joining in the conversation usually leads to me growing irritated, my mother snapping at me, and finishing off the evening with a shouting match between myself and Papa. But I'm tired of drama with them, and I've learnt to bite my tongue and let their comments wash over me without reacting.
Besides, I don't have to say anything when Cosima is carrying the conversation by herself, and by the end of the meal, I'm breathing a sigh of relief. My parents like Cosima! They have never liked anyone I've brought home in the past, not a single one. But of course, they might look at her differently if they knew the truth.
Papa and Cosima drift back into the lounge, locked in a highly complicated debate about the ethics of cloning, so I stay to help Maman clear away the dishes. She stays behind the kitchen counter, loading plates and glasses into the dishwasher as I pass them over from the table.
'Your friend seems nice', she says.
'Yes. She is', I respond shortly.
A knife clatters loudly to the floor when I accidentally drop it, startling Maman.
'Be careful!' she scolds.
'Desolée', I mutter, hair falling over my shoulder as I lean down to pick it up.
She looks at me sternly, then continues with the cutlery.
'So, I assume there are no new men on the horizon, Delphine?' she says flatly.
Here we go. 'Why do you say that?'
'Why, are there? I just thought you might have mentioned him by now'.
'Non. I haven't got a boyfriend'. I choose my words carefully. I'm not technically lying.
'Hm. Are you dating? How are you meeting people? Is there anyone at work?'
'Non, non, I'm not looking for anyone'.
'You think I should?'
'Of course I do!' she exclaims. 'You should be settling down at this time in your life, and you're not even wanting to meet someone?'
'I'm only 28', I mutter.
'That's how old I was when I married your father. I had you at 29'.
'Well, I'm not like you', I snap.
She shrugs. 'You could really consider moving back here, you know, especially now there's nothing keeping you in London'.
'Hm', I murmur in response, nodding as if I agree.
'Remember Céline, from the university?'
'She has a son your age, do you remember him? He's a wonderful young man. He runs his own business, has a lovely apartment in the city. And he's single! You know, you two should meet, I'm sure you would get along very well'.
She continues to mutter to herself, things like, 'oh, I must call Céline' and 'you would like him'. I will myself to ignore her, but I can't. And I know she will never give up. Now she knows I'm not dating any men in London, she will be calling me every week trying to get me to move back to Paris. I'm not sure I can take it.
I know how I can make it stop. I could always just tell her the truth. After all, she likes Cosima. She said she was nice. I could just tell her, it wouldn't be so hard. I've been waiting for the right time, and now seems as good a time as any. Right?
As quickly as the thoughts have gathered in my mind, they're forming as words on my tongue, falling out of my mouth before I can stop them.
'Maman, there's something I haven't told you', I say abruptly.
'You don't tell me a lot of things, Delphine', she says dismissively, without looking at me.
'Well, this thing is very important'. My hands are shaking uncontrollably, and I begin to lose the feeling in my legs, like they might buckle and leave me helpless on the floor, unable to get back up.
'Then tell me', she responds nonchalantly, like she's not even listening. She continues to load plates into the dishwasher. They clatter together loudly as if they're smashing.
Just say it. Don't hesitate. You've waited long enough. I swallow, my mouth growing dryer by the second.
'Cosima and I … we're together'.
She stops suddenly, as if my words have physically stopped her from moving. She straightens up slowly, turning to face me, confusion etched across her face.
'What do you mean, you're together?'
'I mean, we're in a relationship'. I choke the words out, trying desperately to avoid eye contact.
Her eyes widen, like she's never looked at me properly before. She can see me, truly, and the thought of it is awkward and terrifying and also kind of liberating. There are no more closet doors to hide behind.
She says nothing at first, just stares, wordlessly, as if she's looking straight through me.
'Claude!' she calls out to Papa, a harsh edge to her voice. 'Our daughter has to tell us something'.
I don't think I will ever forget the look of sheer disappointment on my parents' faces after I told them I was in love with a woman. Not that I'm a stranger to this look, I've seen it many times in my life. When I quit ballet after seven years. When I failed an important music exam. When I didn't come top of the class in biology. When I told them I was moving to London. But it hurts so much more to have them look at me this way because of something I am, not something I have done.
'You liked her five minutes ago when she was just my friend, why can't you like her now?' I complain when Papa stops shouting.
'This is different', Maman snaps.
'It's not different at all! No matter what relationship she is to me, she's still the same person. And so am I'.
'Delphine, you can't seriously be considering this', Papa tries to reason with me. 'This … this is just a phase'.
'It is not! Do you think I am still a child who can't make her own decisions?'
'You can't expect us not to react to such a ridiculous idea-'
'Ridiculous idea?' I repeat. 'Do you have any idea how much courage it took for me to tell you? I kept quiet for a whole year. But I guess I should feel lucky you're so disappointed in me. I guess I should be grateful that you care at all!'
'Of course we care!', Maman shouts, throwing her hands up in the air in frustration. 'We've always cared! That's why we will not accept you wasting all your time on a relationship that won't last. One day you will wake up and realise you're not gay!'
'This isn't just some rash decision I've made overnight. We've been together for a year, and I was in love with her long before that. This is not some kind of experiment with my sexuality. I love her'.
'So what? You really think you two will last? Can you see yourself marrying her?'
'Maybe some day, I will'.
'No way! I will not let that happen!'
'You can't tell me what to do! This is my life, and if I get hurt, then that's my problem'.
'Look, Delphine, we're just looking out for you', Papa interjects. 'I'm sure London is full of smart, interesting men. People you could have a real future with'.
I roll my eyes, growing more irritated as he talks about what I've heard so many times before. 'No one was ever good enough for me. No one will ever be good enough for me, especially not another woman. But the real problem is, I was never good enough for you'.
'And what is that supposed to mean?'
'You've been pushing me around my whole life. I can't recall a single decision I was allowed to make for myself when I lived here. You suffocated me'.
'Delphine, we're your parents, we know what's best for you. We gave you everything you ever wanted'.
'No, you didn't!' I shout. 'Because all I really wanted was for you to tell me you were proud of me, or that you appreciated me. I did everything right, but it was never enough. And then you dumped me at boarding school the first chance you got, even when I told you how much I hated it there. I was miserable, and you weren't there for me'.
My eyes are filling with tears of anger and resentment and years of bottled up emotions that are fizzing inside me like a shaken soda can, ready to explode. This isn't just about Cosima anymore.
'I needed you, and you didn't even call', I whisper as I start to cry. 'And now you wonder why I rarely visit. All I wanted was to get away from you, because I hated you for all the unhappiness you caused me'.
'This isn't about us. This is about you making a huge mistake!' Papa shouts, looking down at me condescendingly. 'I know you must have been feeling lonely after splitting up with Paul, but that doesn't mean you need to throw yourself at the first person who's nice to you'.
'Papa, Cosima is part of the reason I broke up with Paul! Besides, that was three years ago!'
'So you threw everything you had with Paul away because of some girl?' Maman questions me.
'I knew that you might not accept this, but I was done lying to you', I tell her, shaking my head. 'I knew it was important to tell you. I'm not trying to start a fight. I'm not trying to prove a point'.
'Yes, you are!' she shoots back. 'It's like you're challenging us on purpose. You're a little too old for rebellion, Delphine. You need to stop with this immaturity. And if you really are in love, like you say you are, then you can get out of our house and come back when it's over'.
I look from my mother to my father, and back again. Their stony expressions, Maman with one hand on her hip and the other pointing through the doorway as if gesturing for me to leave, Papa's fists clenched tightly as though he could punch right through a wall. I anticipated the fireworks, but I didn't think they would give me an ultimatum like this. Cosima, or them? I know which one I choose in a heartbeat.
I want to break the cold, emotionless masks they have been hiding behind for as long as I can remember. I want to hurt them.
'So that's it then?' I say, my voice hard. 'You won't accept me? I've done everything right all my life, and this is how it ends? Every dance class, every drumming lesson, every night I spent in my room staring at textbooks when every other girl in my class was out at the mall or the cinema. It was all a waste! Because if it was up to me, I wouldn't have done any of those things! I only did it to make you happy, because when I was a child I was convinced that you didn't love me, that I had to buy your affection with high grades. I went through my life questioning myself when you showed me you didn't care. I blamed myself. Why am I not good enough? I should be better. So I worked harder. And when I was 17 and completely alone, I realised I didn't have a personality, and I was just this hollow shell of a girl with a head full of knowledge and nothing else. A girl who was so tired of having her life controlled by her parents. Did you ever think that maybe you were the reason I tried to kill myself?'
I snap my mouth shut, instantly knowing I've gone too far. The room plunges into a tense silence, broken only by Maman's quiet sobs. She's turned away, leaning over the sink, one hand covering her face. Papa looks like he's been punched in the gut. This might be the worst thing I've ever done.
Without saying another word, I rise from my chair, the legs scraping against the wooden floor. As I turn around, I see Cosima down the hall, peering out from the lounge doorway, tears rolling down her cheeks. Though we were speaking in French and she couldn't have understood, I'm sure our argument wasn't difficult for her to figure out.
I grab both of our suitcases in one hand and stalk out of the kitchen, dragging them behind me.
'Come on, Cosima, we're leaving', I murmur, taking her hand and leading her out through the front door. It slams loudly behind us, and I'm stalking down the front path, gripping Cosima's hand in my own. Not looking back.
We checked into a hotel after we left last night. I didn't know where to go. I've never stayed in a hotel here before, because why would I need to in my own city? But, clueless as I was, I had this feeling of complete calm as we wandered, almost aimlessly, through the streets. I felt the cool evening breeze on my face and I could hold my girlfriend's hand and not give a damn about what anyone thought, because I wasn't hiding anymore.
The first couple of hotels that we tried were fully booked, but fortunately, we found a modest place in the east of the city with a spare room. We were greeted at the reception by a tiny old woman with long grey hair tied into a neat braid and a thick woolen jumper, despite the mild weather outside. She led us up a narrow staircase to the top of the building and to a quiet room at the end of the corridor. It was only ten o'clock, but after a long day, we dumped our bags at the side of the room and fell asleep atop the sheets.
I am woken now by a flash of white light that seeps through my eyelids, and the squeaking sound of curtains sliding across the rail.
'Cosima!', I moan groggily, covering my eyes with my hand.
She turns around quickly. 'Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to wake you'.
She's only a shadow against the brightness that shines through the large square window, but I can see that she's changed out of yesterday's clothes and into an olive green t-shirt and denim shorts.
'What are you looking at?' I ask as she continues to stare out of the window.
'We have a pretty great view from up here. I didn't get to see it last night, 'cause we went to bed straight away'.
'We're so boring', I chuckle.
'No way, we deserved to sleep, just so last night would end quicker' she says. 'I had the worst time ever, I can't even imagine what it must have been like for you'.
I sit up on the bed. 'I think I used up all of my anger last night, because I don't feel that way today'.
'If it makes you feel better, you sounded really sexy yelling in French'.
'So that's the key to me winning any argument that we have?' I raise an eyebrow.
'Yep. I'm pretty sure I would stop being angry'. She smiles, thinking about it.
I shift my position on the bed, crossing my legs and leaning back against the headboard. The room is simple, a little old fashioned maybe, with light patterned wallpaper that's peeling off in some places where it reaches the skirting board and a wooden floor that creaks when you step through the door. The bed is hard and uncomfortable, but I would rather sleep anywhere than my parents' house.
Cosima looks over at me. 'I'm so proud of you. I hope you know, but just in case you don't, I'll say it. You were so stressed out about this trip, and now I understand why, but you came here anyway. You were considering not telling your parents about me, and then you did, and I don't really know what happened then but you had the courage to get up and leave'.
'I could have handled it better', I admit, running a hand through my hair.
She shrugs. 'Well, I don't speak French so I don't know, but from where I was standing, you were fighting for yourself and for our relationship and you weren't gonna back down'.
'I told them that it was their fault I tried to kill myself', I say, looking down at my lap in shame.
Cosima's eyes widen. 'You did? Holy shit!'
'I'm not proud of it, Cosima'.
'Well, it's the truth, isn't it?'
'Yes. Partially. But I never intended to tell them. At least, not like that'.
Cosima sighs. 'Is that it, then? They won't accept that we're together?'
I shoot her an apologetic smile. 'I'm sorry. I wish you didn't have to see me argue with them like that. But I wasn't going to let them walk all over me anymore'.
She looks down. 'You don't have to be sorry. I should be apologising, I'm the cause of all this mess'.
I shake my head. 'You're not. Cosima, this started long before I ever met you. I've been fighting this fight my whole life. You know, last night, they made me choose between them and you'.
I nod. 'And it was so easy to choose you. I would always choose you'.
She smiles then. Weakly, but it's there. She leaves the window and its apparently beautiful view behind and joins me on the bed, sitting oppsosite and crossing her legs. We're like two kids sharing secrets at a sleepover.
'I know this trip has been a disaster so far', she begins, 'but I wanna make it better. And there's something I've been planning that will hopefully cheer you up'.
I raise an eyebrow, inquisitive. What has she been hiding from me? She's usually terrible at keeping secrets.
'I have something for you'. She takes a white paper envelope out of her back pocket and hands it to me, trying to hold back a grin as though she might give away the surprise.
I keep my eyes fixed on her face as I slide my finger beneath the seal of the envelope and rip it open. Only then do I allow myself to look down. I run my fingers along the hard edge of what appears to be a piece of card. No, two pieces of card. I take one of them out, and flip it over in my hand.
It's a plane ticket. Paris to Venice. Leaving the day after tomorrow.
'Oh, Cosima!' I gasp.
'Happy anniversary', she smiles shyly.
Later that morning, I take Cosima to the Eiffel Tower. It's number one on her Paris bucket list, she told me. She's been acting like an excited child since we got here, always squeezing my hand and smiling widely. I, on the other hand, am a little bored, but I try not to show it, for her sake. Not that this place isn't amazing, but I've been here so many times, it doesn't feel new or exciting to me anymore. Besides, it's getting busier by the second, as hoardes of people flood out of the elevators.
Cosima is leaning against the fence, watching the view like a movie, when my phone starts to vibrate. I turn up the volume when I hit answer and press the phone to my ear.
'How's Paris treating you?'
'We're at the Eiffel Tower right now'.
'Sounds glamorous', he says enviously.
'Not so much. It's just really busy'.
'Are your parents there with you?'
'No. Actually, we're not staying with them. We had a situation last night'.
'What happened?' he asks, confused.
'I told them about Cosima. That she's my girlfriend'.
'Oh, shit!' he exclaims. 'Well, I'm assuming the worst'.
I shake my head. 'It did not go well'.
'How badly are we talking here?'
'We had a huge argument and they told me if I was serious about her, I should leave. So I did. But not before I told them exactly what I thought of them'.
'Holy shite!' he exclaims, laughing out of surprise rather than humour. 'I'm sorry, Del'.
'I'm not', I reply bluntly.
'So, that's it then? You're, like, never gonna talk to them again?' His voice is full of concern.
'It don't know. It doesn't seem like it. But if they can't accept me, then that's their problem. I'm done'.
He sighs, but when he speaks, his tone is encouraging. 'You know you don't need them, right? Your parents? They can only be in your life if you let them be, if you choose them. My real parents, they didn't choose me. I don't even know who they are, but it doesn't matter. What's biology got to do with it? I've got Mrs S and Sarah, they're my mum and my sister, and they're as real as any biological family I could have. And now I have Cosima, and Alison, and I had Beth. They're my sisters too. I guess what I'm trying to say is, you can choose your own family. We're your family, Del'.
He's right, of course. It's why I choose to spend every holiday and every birthday in the UK. Every time I should consider visiting my real family, I don't even think about it because I'm too busy celebrating with my friends in London. Maybe they're my real family, one that I've found for myself instead of being born into.
I smile to myself. 'You know, Felix, I wish someone had been around to tell me that when I was younger'.
'Better late than never, right?'
'I'm just grateful I have someone to tell me now. So thank you. It means a lot to me'.
'Don't mention it', he brushes it off. We're both on the dangerous edge of tears, so Felix steers us away quickly, changing the subject.
'So, what are you up to today?'
'We're visiting all the tourist spots'.
'Of course. She loves it'.
'Aw. And when are you coming back?'
'Well, our trip has been extended a little', I say vaguely.
'We're going to Venice!'
I can hear him laughing. 'I know. We all do'.
'Of course you did', I realise suddenly.
'I have to say though, I am extremely jealous, and I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time'.
'Yes, I think we will'.
'And enjoy the sun in Italy. Weather's shite back here'.
'That doesn't surprise me'.
'Yeah, well I'm trying to convince Colin to take me to Ibiza, but he's not budging. Guess you got lucky with Cosima'.
She turns to me at that moment, smiling brightly, as if she'd heard what Felix said.
'Guess I did', I reply, smiling back, though she's already turned away.
'Anyway I'll let you go, I'm sure you're far too busy to talk to me'.
'I'm never too busy for you'.
'Well, obviously. You couldn't live without me'.
I roll my eyes.
'Cosima, come say goodbye to Felix!' I call to her.
She hurries over and leans towards the phone. 'See you soon, dude!'
'Au revoir, lovebirds!' he says before hanging up.
I put a hand on my hip. 'He knows about Venice. So does everyone else, don't they?'
'You know I wouldn't have been able to keep it a secret', Cosima admits with a grin. 'I had to tell someone. But then I ended up telling everyone'.
'I'm just amazed you pulled it off. Not just because of you, but the others as well'.
'I know! Colin is the worst, I thought he was gonna let it slip so many times over the past couple of weeks'.
'That's why he was acting so strange whenever I was around!' I laugh, remembering Colin's quiet awkwardness when I spoke to him, only replying in one word answers.
'He probably just didn't want a repeat of last time, do you remember?'
'When he accidentally told Kira about her surprise birthday party? How could I forget! I honestly thought Sarah was going to kill him'.
'Yeah, she was so mad!' Cosima laughs.
'Well, I don't think I would have acted like that if someone spoiled the surprise for me. But I'm glad I didn't find out. I didn't suspect a thing', I tell her truthfully.
She turns her head, looking out over the city, eyes squinting in the sun. But the place is filling up now, people swarming around us like flies around honey.
'Want to get out of here?' I ask.
Venice flashes by in a blur of heat and colour, all clear skies, blue waters and the sun like fire on my back.
And people. Lots of people, everywhere, in every narrow street, of every different nationality. Each voice speaks a different language. It seems strange to me, a city full of foreigners, temporary visitors like myself. But it shouldn't feel strange; I've lived in Paris and London, two of the most famous cities in the world, where I am always surrounded by people from every corner of the world.
We take a gondola ride around the backstreets of the city, if you can call them backstreets. They're more like little rivers, but tiny motorboats are parked outside front doors, like cars park in the street outside a house. It's surreal, imagining living here.
We wander around designer clothes stores, Moschino and Versace, nearly fainting at the numbers on the price tags. Cosima is too afraid to pick anything up, to touch anything, because she thinks she might break something if she does.
We climb the bell tower in Piazza San Marco, taking an elevator to the top and walking out into the light, surrounded by the beauty of the city on all sides. We lean out of windows with no glass to a view of orange rooftops and beige buildings down below, stretching all the way to the water beyond. Looking out over the main part of the city, we can't see the tiny canals that run through the streets like ordinary roads. The breeze touches my hair and the brightness of the sun makes it impossible to see without sunglasses. But we stay up there for almost an hour, just looking, and admiring.
On our last night in the city, we eat at a beautiful restaurant in a busy square near the Grand Canal. It's dark now, though not yet the pitch black of night. The yellows and pinks of sunset still cling to the horizon, fading into the deep, velvety blue above. Quaint restaurants line every side of the square, their cosy golden lights shining out into the seating areas, where everyone sits at outside tables, because it's still warm enough. The sound of chatter fills the air, and the vanilla scent of the candle burning in the middle of the table.
'I kind of wish we didn't have to go home tomorrow', Cosima sighs.
'I know. Back to the cold weather', I agree.
'And back to normal life. Like, we can't drink all day if we want to, we can't keep eating whatever we want, we have to go back to work'.
I shake my head. 'It's not so bad'.
'Maybe not. I guess you can't hate going back, because it only means you had a good time on vacation'.
'And we've had an amazing time', I smile gratefully. I place my hand on top of hers on the table. We interlock our fingers.
I look at her quizzically, suspiciously. 'This trip', I gesture to the square around us, 'this was because I mentioned it a little while ago, isn't it? Wanting to visit Italy? And to go on vacation with you?'
She nods, grinning, as though I've just figured out her puzzle. 'We were watching TV and there was a commercial about some hotel chain, and it showed people taking a ride in a gondola. You said you would love to go to Venice some day, because a city with canals instead of roads is like something from a book of fairytales'.
She recounts every detail like it just happened a few minutes ago, though it's probably been over a month since that day. I remember now. It was raining that evening, heavy drops pelting against the window, drowning out the sound of the TV. I was complaining about the weather. I saw the commercial, said we needed some sun, and mentioned that we should go on vacation this year. I pointed out Venice. It was just a passing comment, and she shrugged like she wasn't even listening.
'I can't believe you remember that', I shake my head in astonishment.
'Of course I remember. You don't often say you want things, but when you do, I remember. Because I want you to have it. I want to give you whatever you want. Unless you want to go to the moon, because that's up to NASA, not me. Or a million dollar house in Beverly Hills, because that's a little out of my price range'.
I rub my thumb in circles over her knuckles, wanting to kiss her soft lips, but she's too far away across the table. 'I don't need a million dollar house. I'm perfectly happy in our little apartment. And I've never thought about going to space'. I take a sip of champagne. 'And for the record, you don't have to get me things either. You make me sound like I am high maintenance!'
'What! I like to spoil you, is that such a crime?'
'Yes, because I have to think of new ideas that are better than yours', I tease. 'How can I top this?'
'You can't', she replies smugly, shaking her head.
'I bet I can', I challenge her. 'One day, I will'.
Thanks to everyone who's keeping up with this! Hope everyone's staying safe in these crazy times.
I hate coming home from vacation. We arrive in London to the mild weather of late June, but after spending a few days under the blazing Italian sun, it doesn't feel like summer.
We take a taxi. Cosima sits in the back seat, hugging herself, shivering.
'It's not that cold!' I tell her, smirking.
She glances out at the stony grey sky and the drizzle of rain that slides down the window in thin trails. 'I'm from California, Delphine, I never got used to this crappy English weather to begin with', she complains.
The apartment is cold, untouched, as though we haven't been living there for ages. There's always that strange sense of unfamiliarity that hangs in the air after you've left your home, even just for a week, that makes it feel untouched, like a strangers home. I turn up the thermostat.
'Home, sweet home', Cosima says, taking off her coat and draping it over the back of a dining chair.
I take her suitcase with my own and drag them both towards the lounge, leaving them propped up against the back of the couch. Then I go over to the kitchen, putting the kettle on to make a pot of coffee. I jump up onto the counter as I wait for the water to boil.
Cosima wanders over, gathering her dreadlocks up into a bun and then letting them go again so they fall down her back in twists of dark chocolate. She stands in front of me, taking my hands.
'I have had such an amazing time this week', she grins, swaying gently from side to side, swinging our joined hands in the space between us.
'Me too', I smile back gratefully.
'I could've stayed there forever', she muses.
'And now everything goes back to normal. We have to go back to work, we can't go outside without a jacket because it's too cold, we can't start drinking cocktails before noon …'
'Oh, we can definitely arrange something on the cocktail front', she assures me. 'And besides, home is pretty cool too'.
I look around at our little apartment, so cosy and comfortable. So us.
'Yes', I agree. 'It is'.
Her arms circle my waist, and she stands on her tip-toes to kiss me. It starts off slow and gentle, but soon it's quick, hungry. I slide one arm around her lower back, pulling her closer so our bodies are pressed together, while my other hand is tangled in her hair. Our lips part as she trails along my jawline, peppering kisses down my neck, across my collarbone. I begin pulling up my shirt, roughly tugging it over my head and shrugging my arms from the sleeves. I toss it across the kitchen floor as Cosima's hands move softly from my waist to my ribs and then to the clasp of my bra. Her lips once again join with mine, and -
We both freeze as we hear a loud knock at the door. Three short raps.
'Who is that?' I wonder aloud as we pull apart.
'I don't know. The mail guy? Did we order something?'
I shake my head.
Cosima starts towards the door, but turns back, laughing. 'Hey, babe, you better put your shirt back on before I open this door'.
I pull a face at her as she leans down, scoops my shirt off the floor, and tosses it to me. I quickly slip it over my head, then comb through my hair with my fingers. I jump down off the counter.
A chorus of 'hey!' greets Cosima at the door. Felix, Colin, Sarah, Cal and Kira, all crowded around, the doorway framing them like a family photograph.
'Hey!' Cosima exclaims, the surprise obvious in her voice. 'What are you doing here?'
'Charming!' Sarah scoffs. 'Aren't you gonna invite us in then?'
'Oh, sure, sure, come on in', she gestures for them to come through, standing aside as everyone piles in. She shoots me a confused look.
'Hey, Delphine', Felix comes over to kiss me on the cheek, followed by hugs for Cosima and I from everyone. It's like we're reuniting after a long time apart, though it hasn't been long at all. Kira clings to Cosima's leg.
'How did you even know we were back?' Cosima asks. 'We've literally been here for five minutes'.
'Well, we came by a few times already', Colin admits.
'We wanted to come see you as soon as you were back', Felix says.
Cosima eyes him suspiciously. 'No you didn't, you just wanted your presents'.
He shrugs. 'Well, there's that too, I suppose'.
She shakes her head, smiling.
Kira's eyes light up at the mention of presents. 'You got us presents?' she asks excitedly.
'Of course we did, monkey', Cosima smiles, kneeling down to Kira's height and pulling her into a tight hug. 'Aunt Delphine has them'.
I reach for the bag by the fridge and pull out a small brown paper bag.
Kira comes skipping over to me. 'You have a present for me?'
'Here you go, chérie', I hand her the bag, which she immediately rips open to find three little bracelets of tiny glass beads in pink, white and blue, and a matching necklace.
Her face lights up in amazement. 'Wow, they're so pretty!', she exclaims.
'What do you say to your aunts?' Sarah reminds her daughter.
'Thank you and merci', she says politely, as though she and Sarah had rehearsed it.
'De rien, Kira', I laugh.
'You're welcome, monkey. Now, come let me put them on for you', Cosima gestures for Kira to join her. She goes over and holds out her small wrist so Cosima can fasten the clasps on the bracelets. Then she turns around, gathering up her blonde curls in her hands while Cosima puts on the necklace for her.
Kira has grown so much in the short time that I've known her. I remember the first time I met her, just after Cosima and I got together. We were babysitting her, and we took her to the science museum, because science is her favorite subject in school, much to Cosima's delight. Now she's nine years old and when Cosima kneels down to fasten the necklace around her neck, Kira is much taller than her.
We give out the gifts that we bought for the others; a painting of the Rialto Bridge we bought from a watercolour artist in the street for Sarah and Cal, and shot glasses with delicate prints of gold Venetian masks on for Felix and Colin.
'This is great, guys, thank you', Cal says as he admires the painting.
'Yeah! We can hang this in the kitchen?' Sarah suggests to Cal.
'Yeah, it would look great over the table', he nods in agreement.
'And thanks for these', Felix says, holding up one of the glasses. 'We're always looking for more reasons to drink, and new glasses are definitely a valid reason'.
'Ah, we know you too well', I grin.
'So, you enjoyed your vacation?' Colin asks.
'Yes! Italy was so beautiful. We had the best time', Cosima replies enthusiastically.
'Aw, I'm glad'.
'Anyway, we'd better be going', Felix announces.
'What? You only just got here!' Cosima exclaims.
'Well, you said it yourself, we're just here for the presents! Besides, don't think I don't know what you two have been up to. Delphine, darling, your top's on inside out'. His eyes fall to my shirt.
I look down in horror to find the tag sticking out at my side and the bold stripes showing through faded. I feel the heat rise to my cheeks. I look across to Cosima, who is also blushing, as Sarah and Felix burst out laughing.
Cosima starts laughing too, and walks over to the door, holding it open. 'Go on then, get out', she jokes.
'See you on Saturday. You can tell us all about your trip then', Sarah waves.
One by one, they wander out into the hall, and we hear Kira's voice just before Cosima closes the door.
'What have they been doing?' she asks innocently, looking up to Sarah for an explanation. Felix breaks down in a fit of laughter that we can hear right to the end of the hall.
'Cosima, I'm home', I call into the seemingly empty apartment when I arrive back after work. I kick off my boots and sling my bag over the hook, closing the door gently behind me with a soft click.
'Cosima?' I call again.
'Hey, I'm over here', I hear a voice from across the room, in the lounge. I put my laptop bag down on the dining table and walk around the corner into the lounge, where Cosima sits cross-legged on the rug, a piece of paper in her hand, folded over in the middle.
'What are you doing down there?' I ask, leaning on the back of the couch.
'I think you need to see this', she says, looking up and holding the piece of paper out, offering it to me. There is no hint of excitement or sadness or anxiety in her eyes. I can't tell what she's feeling, which worries me a little.
'Why, what is it?'
I walk over and take it from her, straightening it out in my hands.
'It's a letter. From your Mom', she replies.
My heart sinks, clunking heavily against the pit of my stomach. 'What? I-'
'It was addressed to both of us, that's why I opened it', she explains. 'That part at the top, that's for you, obvs. And the bottom part is for me'.
I scan over the elegant handwriting that dances across the page in an elaborate sprawl, trying not to let the tears that are clouding my vision keep me from seeing clearly. Merde, Delphine, why do you always have to cry at everything? You haven't even read it yet. There's a message in French, and then a smaller note at the bottom of the page written in English. A message for each of us.
'What is this about? Where did it come from?' I ask stupidly, though I already know where it came from. I'm just confused as to why we're receiving a letter like this, only eighteen days after I thought I'd walked out of my parents' lives for good.
'It came in the mail, duh. Just read it. You have to read it', she encourages.
So I do. Beginning at the top of the page, the part addressed to me.
I don't know how we can even begin to apologise for our behaviour last week. At first, your father and I were very upset; at you, for leaving, and at Cosima, simply for being there. But it didn't take us long to realise that we were the ones to blame, and then we were upset at ourselves. It hurt so much, what you said to us, but I'm glad you said it. We needed to hear it.
Your grandmother, before she passed away, used to tell me I was pushing you too hard, and that if I kept doing it, I would lose you. I would push you away from me. But I didn't listen. Only now do I realise she was right all along.
And last week, I told you that if you loved Cosima, you had to leave. I cannot be any more ashamed to have said that. I would never want you to go, Delphine, because you're my only daughter, and I love you more than life itself. I know I didn't tell you enough when you were young, I know I let my career take over and I didn't give you the attention you deserved. I wish I had. I wish I had been a better mother to you. It broke my heart to see you walk out of that door, to choose your girlfriend over me, but, looking back on everything, how can I expect anything different?
I hope that now you will give me the chance to say that, if you love Cosima like you say you do, I will support you. I didn't want you to get hurt, but I've realised that maybe your father and I are hurting you most of all, by trying to stop you from loving who you love. If she makes you happy, then we are happy too. It might just take us a little time to come to terms with it.
I can't just expect you to come back and work things out with us. I wrote this letter because I feared you wouldn't pick up the phone if I called. But if there's any chance that, one day, you might forgive us, we'll be right here, waiting for you.
All my love,
Claude and I are so sorry for the way we behaved when you came to visit us. We are sorry that you had to see us fight with Delphine like that, and that we made you feel unwelcome. You must understand, we were very shocked when Delphine told us you were more than just her friend, but this is no excuse for our behaviour.
I can only ask that you give us the chance to make it up to you. We very much enjoyed your company and are glad that Delphine has chosen to be with someone as kind and intelligent as you. It seems you make her very happy. I hope we can get to know each other better some day.
All the best,
When words fail and I can't think of anything to say, I simply sit down on the rug, next to Cosima, and let go of the letter, watching it slowly drift to the floor. She looks at me, trying to search for something in my face, like I did to her only a few minutes earlier. Neither of us knows what to say, what to do, how to react. Cosima shuffles closer to me, and slides an arm around my waist.
'What are you thinking?' she asks after a moment, breaking the silence.
'I don't know how to feel', I reply simply.
'Me neither', she admits. 'I was hoping you'd read it and you'd know what to say'.
'It's like everything I've been waiting for', I wonder aloud. 'All I wanted was for them to know what I felt all those years, and how I feel now. Who I am now. And now they do, and now they apologise, and I don't even know how to feel'. I laugh humourlessly.
Cosima looks away, shaking her head. 'I didn't want to make any judgments until you'd seen the letter. This is kinda your thing … well, not your thing, I didn't mean it like that. It's about me too. But mostly you, and your decisions. So I didn't want to think anything'.
'No, there are no buts'.
'There has to be. You can't tell me that you don't have an opinion about this at all'.
'Well, okay, fine. I think it seems genuine enough'.
'So you would be happy if I were to forgive them? Even though they basically disowned me because of you?' I say bluntly.
'Oh, come on', she smirks, 'they can't have been serious if just a couple of days later they were writing to you to apologise'.
'They should have just called'.
'You wouldn't have answered the phone', she points out.
'Besides, I'm so charming, how could they not love that you love me?' she teases, flipping her hair over her shoulder dramatically.
I push her away jokingly, both of us giggling.
Maybe my lack of strong feelings over the letter point to something that I'd missed before; peace. I'm at peace with all my thoughts, and I'm truly happy. But I don't want to think that shutting out my parents is the key to my happiness, because after everything, I still love them. They're still my mother and father, and if they want to make it up to me, I'll give them the chance to do it, even if everything blows up in my face all over again.
Some risks are worth taking. And this is one of them.
'I'm going to go and call them', I announce.
'You are?' she exclaims, surprised at my sudden decision.
I nod. 'You see? All I need is your advice, and then I know what to do'.
'Woah', she holds her hands up, 'I don't need that kind of pressure'.
'Well, it's true. And then, I can blame you if things go wrong'.
She shakes her head, laughing. 'No way. You'll be thanking me when everything turns out awesome'.
'I'm sure I will'.
I caress her cheek and lean into a soft, slow kiss that seems to stretch out forever.
'It's taking ages to connect', Sarah complains, eyes darting all around to every corner of the screen, fingers tapping against the table impatiently. Cal stands behind her, crouching to get in the view. Kira's long blonde curls and big eyes are the only thing we can see of her, eyes peering over the bottom of the screen.
Cosima and I were a little confused when Sarah asked us to get on Skype because she had something important to discuss. Cosima asked her why she couldn't just use the phone or call round to see us, but Sarah insisted, and said that Alison needed to be there too. So now we're sat at the kitchen table with Cosima's laptop, waiting for the Hendrixes to join the conversation. Felix will be there with them too; he found some freelance graphic design work out in San Francisco with an old friend of Cosima's. He's been there for two months, due home in a few weeks, and as he's not too far from Alison, he's been spending a lot of time with the Hendrix family in Napa.
We sit and wait as, finally, they appear on the screen.
'Hey, everyone!' Alison waves.
Alison is sitting directly in front of the webcam, the centre of attention. Her hair is tied back and she wears a pink floral shirt. Donnie is to the left of her, Felix to the right, and Gemma and Oscar sit right in front of the screen, and, like Kira, only their eyes and the tops of their heads are visible.
Everyone greets each other, though our words get lost in a loud mix of all of us trying to communicate to different people at the same time.
'Hello, Aunt Sarah, Uncle Cal, Kira, Aunt Cosima and Aunt Delphine!' Gemma and Oscar chant loudly, giggling as they trail through the long list of names.
'Kids, be quiet!' Alison scolds them.
'They're only saying hello, honey', Donnie points out calmly.
'Oi, Cos!' Felix shouts. 'That bar you told me about? They wouldn't let me in!'
'Why, what did you do?' Cosima asks.
'Well … I may have gotten into a fight with this body-mod moron in the line'.
Conversations fly back and forth at the same time, the adults talking all at once while the kids chatter between themselves. I, being the quieter one of the group, sit watching, listening, attempting to take it all in.
'Oi, oi, oi!' Sarah shouts over everyone, and we fall silent. 'I didn't gather you all here just to have a chat!'
'Jeez, alright', Felix says defensively.
'Well, what's up?' Cosima asks.
'We have some news', Cal says, smiling, squeezing Sarah's shoulders.
Sarah nods excitedly, a smile breaking across her face. 'I'm pregnant!'
The screen comes alive with excited gasps and smiling faces.
Alison claps her hands together in delight. 'Sarah! Congratulations!'
'That's awesome, dude!' Cosima grins.
'Cal, you better take extra special care of my sister!' Felix warns him.
'Absolutely', he replies happily, kissing Sarah on the cheek.
'And, Kira, you're going to be a big sister!' I say.
She beams up from the bottom of the picture. 'I know, I'm so excited!'
Felix scoffs. 'You're saying that, now, Kira, but soon you'll be living with a screaming kid that will keep you awake all night …'
'Felix!' Alison turns around and scolds him, then looks back to Kira. 'Don't listen to him, honey, you should be really excited!'
'And, Kira, you'll be a great sister', Cosima says proudly.
Alison's smile fades and her face turns serious. I recognise this expression; she does it all the time when Cosima and I talk to her on Skype and she feels as though she owes us some motherly advice.
'Now, Sarah, I hope that you're looking after yourself. You've cut out drinking, yes?'
'Bloody hell, Alison, of course I have. What kind of mother do you think I am?'
'Okay, okay, I'm just checking. And you need to be taking plenty of vitamins -'
'Oh my God, Felix, please save me!', Sarah begs him, and instantly he knows what to do.
'Okay, speak to you later, bye', he says quickly as he jumps up and leans in front of Alison towards the computer screen. The last thing we see before their picture turns black is Felix's arm reaching for the end call button whilst Alison complains and tries to wrestle his arm away.
Cosima and I laugh as Sarah sighs in relief.
'Sorry, guys, had to end that conversation right there before she started driving me crazy', she says.
'You know she means well, babe', Cal tries to reason with her.
'Yeah, I know', she sighs, with a small smile that shows she's appreciative of her sister, even if she can be a little overprotective.
'Seriously though, dude, I'm so happy for you', Cosima tells her. 'How are you feeling. Like, I know it's early days and all …'
'Yeah, I feel fine, but I'm guessing that's gonna change pretty soon, judging by how I was with this one', she strokes her fingers through Kira's hair.
'Why, what happened?' she asks, looking up at her mother.
'I got really sick every morning'.
'Ew', Kira pulls a face.
I smile at the sight of the three of them, huddled together in front of the camera. They're a beautiful family.
'You must all be so excited', I say.
'Yeah, we are, aren't we, monkey?' Sarah squeezes Kira's shoulder, and she nods happily, a huge smile on her face.
Cal nods in agreement. 'We can't wait to meet the little guy'.
'Or girl', Kira points out.
'Yeah, well, your mom thinks it's a boy'.
'You do?' Cosima says, surprised. 'How come?'
'I don't know for sure, obviously, I just have a feeling', Sarah replies thoughtfully. 'Anyway, we better let you two go, it's Kira's bedtime'.
'What?' Kira says, horrified. 'Can't I stay up for a little longer. Please?'
'No, honey, you have school tomorrow', Cal reminds her.
'Ugh', Kira groans.
'Okay, well we love you guys, and we'll speak to you soon', Cosima waves.
'Love you too, see you later', Sarah says back, and the three of them wave goodbye until they disappear into a black screen. I close the lid of the laptop softly.
'Aw', Cosima smiles to herself.
'It's wonderful news', I agree.
'I better start signing up for extra shifts at work', she jokes. 'We're gonna have another niece or nephew to spoil'.
Cosima and Alison have this secret competition between them, not that they would ever admit it, about who is the cooler aunt to Kira. Donnie and I are included because of our partners, as if it's a team game. Of course, Cosima has the upper hand because Alison lives on the other side of the world, but Cosima insists that she's just more fun than her sister. Kira has lots of aunts and uncles on Cal's side of the family too, and needless to say, they're secretly competing against them too. And as for Gemma and Oscar, Cosima is always talking to them on Skype, and we send them presents in the mail all the time.
'You should probably tone it down with the whole 'greatest aunt' thing', I tell her, giggling. 'I think Sarah's beginning to suspect you'.
'Who cares if she does? It's a sister thing, she's always competing with Alison over something. And Kira will understand soon enough, when she has a sibling'.
'She'll be a lot older than her brother or sister, though'.
'Yeah, nearly ten years. Do you think she's missed out, not having a sibling until now?'
I shrug. 'I would have loved to have a brother or sister when I was growing up. I have a very small family, so I definitely felt pretty lonely, being an only child. But I'm sure Kira has never been lonely, because she's always had her family around. We're always taking her out. And she has lots of friends at school'.
'And she gets on really well with Gemma and Oscar, even if she can only see them over Skype'.
'Have they ever met in person?' I ask, only just realising that I don't know the answer.
'Yeah, once. Sarah and Kira went to stay with Alison for a couple of weeks when the Hendrixes were still living in Toronto. But it's difficult. They're so far away now they live in California, and the flights are so expensive'.
I nod in agreement.
'Still, maybe they'll come here to visit when the baby's born', she continues. 'You can finally meet the hurricane that is Alison Hendrix'.
'They won't care about me, all the attention will be on that cute little kid'.
'Yeah, maybe. Anyway, I'm going to go change'. She slides out of her chair and tucks it back underneath the table, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she gets up.
'Our family's getting to be pretty big, huh?' she calls on her way out.
'Yes. It's nice'.
Then she stops slowly and turns around, pausing, as if trying to decide what to say.
'Do you ever think about it?' she asks shyly.
'You know … having kids', she smiles nervously, but I can tell from her awkward movements, the way she interlocks her fingers and pulls them apart again as if they were truly trapped in her own grip, that she's cursing herself for saying anything.
I hate conversations like these, the ones that people tell you are really important. They are important, I know. Talking about things like your relationship and your future together, marriage, children, careers. But when it happens, you can't focus on what you really feel, because you're both afraid that the other won't feel the same way you do, so you have to risk getting hurt or hide behind a mask of vague words and untrue feelings. And I know this is how Cosima feels right now, because I can see how nervous she is. But I don't want her to feel like that. Because I love that she thinks about our future the way I do.
So I reply honestly. 'Yes. I always thought I'd like to have a family someday'.
'Not, like, now. Obvs', she backtracks.
I nod reassuringly, biting my lip to keep from giggling at her. 'I know'.
She exhales. 'Okay'.
She turns towards the bedroom, but I call her back.
'Don't be so tentative. I love that you asked me that'.
She nods as a smile creeps across her face.
'Okay', she says, this time with confidence.
It's a dull evening and I am tired beyond belief. I've been working on reports and filling out endless sheets of paperwork for three nights straight, and my mind is growing numb with boredom. Coming home from work only to work some more. But I promised Cosima I'd cook dinner tonight, and if that means a break from all this, then I look forward to it.
It's a relief when the door opens and I hear the click of Cosima's black ankle boots against the wooden floor.
'Hey, chérie', I say without looking up, my eyes still locked on the glaring laptop screen.
'Hey', she replies quietly.
I notice the lack of spark in Cosima's voice immediately. It's flat, monotone. My eyes flicker up to meet hers.
Her face is pale, drained of colour. She looks tired. Not just tired, but exhausted. Unsmiling. Eyes shining. Her sharp black eyeliner is smudged slightly at the corners in such an invisible way that only I, spending most of my time staring past her glasses, could notice.
'Are you okay?' I ask.
'Um, no, not really'. She smiles weakly, like she's trying to make light of the situation. Trying not to worry me. But her voice is shaking. 'I just found out I can't have children'.
I frown. 'What?'
'I went to the doctor and had some tests and … well, the results weren't good'.
'Oh, Cosima'. My heart sinks to the bottom of my stomach and sits there uncomfortably while my mind tries to process what I'm hearing. 'I'm so sorry'.
'Yeah', she says dismissively, looking at the floor. She shifts uncomfortably.
I don't know what to do or say, because there's nothing I can do to make this better. And it doesn't look like Cosima wants to talk about it. So we just stay where we are, rooted to the floor.
'I just wanna be alone right now', she replies quietly, without looking at me.
'Okay', I say reluctantly.
Without saying anything else, she walks slowly down the hall. I sit there in silence, just watching her. All I want to do is run over and throw my arms around her, because, though she might be trying to hide it, she's heartbroken. I could see it in her face when she walked through the door.
But she asked to be alone. So I'll leave her alone.
I try to continue working, but how can I when Cosima is devastated and there's nothing I can do to make her problems disappear? My head is spinning. I slam my laptop lid in frustration.
I reach to the side of my laptop for my phone, but I only find messy piles of loose papers. Merde. I left it in the bedroom, but Cosima's in there now, and she'll think I'm following her. This is ridiculous, I tell myself. We can't just avoid each other for the rest of the evening. This is a small apartment.
But when I go down the hall, Cosima isn't in the bedroom. I pause outside the bathroom, with its closed door, and hear huge, racking sobs on the other side. That sound is all it takes for my breath to hitch and my hands to start shaking. My throat closes up as my own tears cover my eyes in a cloud of blurriness. Fuck this. I have to talk to her right now.
My hand brushes the door handle, unsure of whether to go in there. Instead I sit down on the floor, cross-legged, leaning back against the door. I know she is in the same spot on the other side.
'Just leave me alone', she replies bluntly, her voice thick with tears.
'Cosima, I'm not leaving here until you talk to me'.
'Well, I don't want to talk!' she snaps back.
'Fine! I will just sit out here and wait'.
So that's what I do. And after almost ten minutes of listening to her cry, I'm beginning to think she really isn't going to talk to me. I'm about to break, when finally, I hear a muffled voice on the other side of the wall.
'I'm sorry', she cries.
'It's okay', I say, exhaling in relief at the sound of her voice. 'I suppose I should have just left you alone when you asked, but-'
'No, I mean, I'm … I'm just sorry'.
'Sorry for what?'
'I've messed everything up'.
'What do you mean?' I ask, confused. 'You haven't done anything. And if you think not being able to have children is messing everything up, then I think you've lost your mind'.
'No, it's not about that. I mean … we only just talked about having kids a couple of days ago in a hypothetical situation and next minute I'm running off down to the doctor to get tested'.
'Cosima, what are you talking about?'
'I'm sorry if I've freaked you out, 'cause I don't want kids right now, I just thought one day I'd like to, and then I got scared, because I know Alison can't have kids, and neither could Beth, so if they couldn't, what if I couldn't either? So I went to get the tests. And I was right. Sarah's the only one who can have a kid. She's the anomaly. And I'm just like my sisters. I never even thought about it, when it was causing them so much heartbreak'.
She pauses. 'There was a time in my life where I thought I would never have a family, but then I met you and know it's all I can think about. And now everything is ruined'.
There's a long pause. I can hear her breathing heavily, trying to calm herself down with slow exhales.
'You think this ruins everything?' I ask, trying to keep my voice as level as possible. I don't want her to hear that she's breaking my heart because she'll only blame herself. She always does, as much as I wish she wouldn't.
'No', she replies finally. Her voice is steady now, as if she isn't crying at all, but heavy with sadness. 'No, I know it doesn't. It's just something I always thought I could do, you know? And seeing my sisters with their kids … I want that. I could never imagine it with anyone else, but with you, I want it. And I'm sorry if I'm being forward, but it's the truth'.
'You're not being forward', I tell her. 'We already discussed this, remember? I want you to be honest with me. You don't have to pretend to be fine when you're not. It's a difficult thing to deal with'.
'I wouldn't have told you about the tests if the results came back fine', she admits. 'I thought it would scare you off or something. Well, maybe not … I don't know. But when I thought about my sisters, and realized maybe I had the same problems as them, I had to know. And I couldn't hide this from you'.
'Cosima, you could never scare me off by talking about us having a family some day. I like that you think about those things, because I do too. I know that we've been together just over a year, and that isn't such a long time. But I believe we have a real future'.
'I do too', she says softly.
'You see? We are on the same page. So don't ever be scared to tell me how you feel, because I'm not going anywhere'.
'Okay', she says eventually.
'Now, are you going to come out of the bathroom?'
I hear her shuffling on the other side of the wall, the soft material of her clothes rubbing against the wood of the door. It clicks open, and before I can look up, she sits down beside me in silence, her eyes ablaze with adoration and pain and leftover tears. She wraps her arms around me, and I do the same. We just sit, holding each other. We don't have to say anything else.
I arrive at the restaurant ten minutes early, wanting to make a good impression, but to my dismay, the woman, Rachel, is already sitting there at the table, flicking through the menu with an unimpressed look on her face. Merde. Now I feel like I'm late to the most important job interview of my career. This isn't helping my situation. I'm already shaking with nerves.
Relax, you're not late, Delphine. She's just early.
I close my umbrella, shaking off the raindrops outside the doorway. I gesture to the waiter at the front door that I'm joining the woman at the table in the middle. The clatter of cutlery against dishes of neatly presented meals fills the air, along with the formal conversation of employers and employees discussing business over lunch.
The sound of my Louboutins clicking against the floor alerts Rachel to my presence. She looks up, and her painted red lips curve up into the smallest of smiles.
'Dr Cormier', she greets me, gesturing for me to take a seat. As I sit down, she extends her hand to me. 'My name is Rachel Duncan. Please, call me Rachel'.
'It's a pleasure to meet you, Rachel', I say politely, shaking her hand.
Her eyes are cold, unfeeling. I can't look away from them. She is dressed all in white, a smart shirt and blazer paired with a knee-length skirt. Her golden blonde hair is perfect. It doesn't move when she turns her head. I self-consciously tuck my own hair behind my ear. I've straightened it, and it looks smarter this way, but I still look like a mess compared to Rachel.
A young waitress with long dark hair tied back in an elegant French braid arrives at the table before Rachel can say anything more.
'Can I get you anything to drink?' she asks politely.
'Yes, I'll have a glass of your house red. Large', Rachel replies in her sophisticated, monotone voice. 'Dr Cormier?'
'The same, please', I reply quickly. The waitress nods and turns on her heel, leaving us alone.
'So, Dr Cormier, I'm sure you know why I have asked you here today', Rachel says.
'Actually, I'm not', I admit.
She raises an eyebrow, her eyes glimmering with intrigue. 'They didn't tell you?'
I shake my head. I arrived at work yesterday morning to an email from the head of the immunology department, telling me a Ms Rachel Duncan from the DYAD Institute wanted to meet me for lunch. I had no idea what it was about, but when I spoke to the head of the department later in the day, he seemed pretty insistent on my attendance. In fact, he seemed … bitter? And maybe a little jealous.
The wine arrives at the table. Rachel takes hers immediately, swirling it around in the glass. 'As you may be aware, the DYAD group has recently taken over many research facilities in London, yours being one of them'.
'We are looking to expand our company further with new facilities across the world and talented new recruits. With the hard work of people like you, we can improve our research on every level'.
'People like me?' I repeat.
'Dr Cormier, we would like to offer you a position. We are asking you to join us as the Head of Immunology at the DYAD Institute in San Francisco, California. It's our main headquarters'.
I have to concentrate on maintaining a professional appearance to stop my jaw hitting the floor. Head of Immunology? San Francisco?
'Why me?' I manage to say after a few moments.
'Well, we are very impressed with your research. We feel that your talent is being wasted where you are now. I mean, you're not even head of the department here'. She takes a sip of wine.
'This is … amazing, but … I don't know if I will be able to give you an answer-'
'I'm not asking you to decide right away, Dr Cormier', she assures me. 'But I do hope you will listen to what I have to say today and consider this offer very carefully. This could be a huge opportunity for you to advance in your career'.
I nod again, lost for words.
'But first, I hope you will excuse me, I have to use the bathroom', she smiles, silently sliding out of the chair and smoothing down her pristine white skirt before walking off the back of the restaurant. She walks slowly, purposefully, her shoes barely making a sound against the floor. She is almost robotic.
I'm grateful to be alone now my mind is a mess of a million thoughts crashing in all directions. Okay, so I've just been offered the job of my dreams by the most promising up-and-coming research institution in the world. But it's also thousands of miles away.
Cosima is my first thought right now. I can't even begin to think about this before I've spoken to her. After all, this would be life-changing for her as much as it would be for me. She's happy here. I'd be asking her to move to the other side of the world for me. But Cosima is from San Francisco, her parents still live there. It's her hometown. Wouldn't she be excited at the thought of living there again? Am I worrying for nothing? Then again, she's come to think of London as her home.
Stop over-thinking this, she hasn't even told you anything about the job yet. You can't consider anything until you've heard the full deal.
I have to wait for Rachel to return to tell me more, and I promise myself that I will listen with an open mind.
But first, unable to resist, I text Cosima, telling her I have big news when I get home.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Cosima is waiting for me at the apartment. She's making dinner in the kitchen, but stops the second she hears the click of the front door and whips round, ready to hear what I have to say. The suspense has obviously been killing her. I shouldn't have texted before I got home.
So I explain the meeting with Rachel, and that the DYAD Institute are offering me a job. I tell her about the pay (her eyes widen at that part) and that it's a job I'd always hoped for. And then I tell her that DYAD is offering us an apartment, because it would require us to move away. When I say that, her smile falters and for a moment she seems upset, reluctant even.
'An apartment? Where?'
'San Francisco', I reply simply.
Then her face lights up. She starts jumping around like an excited child. Apparently for her, it isn't a catch at all. It's like all her Christmases have come at once.
I shake my head, laughing. 'I knew I shouldn't have been worried about telling you. But, hey, we are considering moving to the other side of the world'.
'Delphine, nooo, it's not the other side of the world, it's my side of the world! I'm going home!'
'So that's it then, you've decided?' I raise an eyebrow.
She slows down then, her smile fading. 'Well, no. Not if you haven't'.
She grabs my hand and pulls me over to the couch. She hops over the back of it and sits, cross-legged, facing the middle, gesturing for me to sit opposite. I do the same, so we're sitting face to face, our hands joined between us.
'I'm sorry, I haven't even asked you if you wanna take the job', Cosima apologises.
'Yes, you are so selfish', I tease.
She chuckles softly, looking down at her lap, her dreadlocks falling over one shoulder.
'Cosima, this job is an amazing opportunity, of course, but I can only take it if you are serious about moving to California. I'm not going to uproot our life here if you're not one hundred percent sure about leaving London, leaving your job, leaving your family … it's a big ask'.
'I know, but … okay, let's look at the pros and cons. So the first con is that I wouldn't have a job when we get there, but on the plus side, you'll be earning so much more, so if I can't find a job straight away, we would be okay financially'.
'A huge pro', she continues, 'is that we would have somewhere to live, so we don't have to look for an apartment. Another is that we would be living pretty close to my parents, and Alison's not too far away either. We would have family out there. But the downside to that is …'
'We would have to leave our family here', I finish.
Cosima nods, smiling sadly. 'Is that what it all comes down to for you? Do you really want this job, or is it just a money thing, or … ?'
'No, I do really want the job. All the perks are just that. Perks'.
'And what about London?' she asks. 'Would you be happy to leave here to move to the other side of the world?'
She shrugs. 'I grew up in San Francisco. For me, it's like going home. But for you, you've never been there, so it'll probably feel a little alien at first … well, you've moved countries before, you know what it's like'.
I nod. 'I would miss London, of course. No more drinks at Covent Garden, no more walks in Hyde Park, no more of … this place'. I gesture to the room around me, to all the furniture that makes it feel like the place is ours. 'But maybe a change wouldn't be so bad. And it would all be worth it, yes?'
'Yeah, absolutely. Honestly, I think you'd be crazy not to take that job'.
'And what about you? Are you going to resent me for dragging you away?'
She shakes her head, grinning. 'I would follow you anywhere, babe'.
I smile back, squeezing her hand. 'So … I guess we're moving to San Francisco'.
We pass through the sliding glass doors of Heathrow airport, Cal pushing a trolley loaded with our suitcases, Sarah pushing baby Alex's pram, Cosima and I holding our bags and Felix walking with Kira. We saw Colin already, he couldn't be here today. He's working. But the rest of our family wouldn't come over to our apartment to say goodbye, they insisted they would see us off at the airport. The apartment is empty now and I don't think anyone wanted to meet there, it was too sad to look at. All our rooms are just hollow shells of what once was our home. Like our time there had been erased overnight.
The hardest part was telling them that we were leaving. Sarah cried, which made Kira cry, which made Cosima cry, and then Felix and I started crying and Colin and Cal were faced with the impossible task of calming us all down. Everyone thought we were crazy for making one of the biggest decisions of our lives in under five minutes. But, as we told them, the job was too good to turn down, and Cosima's parents were overjoyed when she told them we were moving. It felt like the we made the obvious choice.
Sunlight streams through glass windows all around us, and I feel the warmth against my back. It still seems like such a rare moment, even after all my years in London, to stand in the sunlight and look up into the vast blue sky, clear of the dull grey clouds that usually hide it from sight. I think of it now as a kind gesture from the weather. London has let me see its bright blue sky one last time, before I can no longer call it my home.
Everything feels sentimental. It's the second time in my life I've left my home to move to another country. First it was Paris, a city that wasn't mine by choice, a place I was miserable in for a lot of my younger life. Yet still, when the time came to leave, I sat on my balcony at sunrise and I remembered every tiny detail about Paris that I loved, and in that moment I knew I belonged there, because my misery was the fault of the people around me, not my environment. I was sad to leave, and I miss it even now.
Then came London. This time it was my choice, my fresh start. And sure enough, it was hard at first, but I've come to love this place more than I ever thought I would. It's like leaving Paris all over again. I watch as happy memories of my life here flash through my head like a movie. My eyes scan the airport frantically, absorbing everything as if I might never see the place again.
We slow down as we reach the middle of the floor, an intimidating wall of check-in desks ahead of us. No one says anything. We just stand there, clueless. I glance at Cosima, but she looks just as lost as I am.
'Well, this is it', Felix murmurs, breaking the silence.
'I guess so', Cosima responds.
We say goodbye to Cal first, taking the luggage trolley from him. He hugs Cosima, then me, and tells us to have a safe flight.
Alex is sleeping in his pram, his tiny chest rising and falling steadily beneath his soft blue sleep-suit. I think of the first time I saw him, and the first time I held him, his light brown eyes gazing up at me while his tiny hands wrapped around my finger. The thought upsets me. I know the next time I see him, he'll be too big to cradle in my arms until he falls asleep.
'Goodbye, Alex!' Cosima whispers, leaning downs to the pram and planting a soft kiss on his forehead.
I do the same. He stirs slightly, his hands curling up into fists, then relaxes into sleep once again. I brush my fingers against his.
Cosima goes over to Felix next, leaving me with Kira.
She has both hands behind her back, and looks up at me quizzically. 'You're still gonna help me with my science homework, right?'
'Of course, chérie', I tell her, laughing. 'Anything you need, just call'.
'Okay', she nods. 'Here, I have something for you'.
She takes her hand out from behind her back and gives me a small card with a drawing of test tubes and conical flasks on the cover, the words 'Bonne Chance' above the drawing.
I flip open the front cover. Inside, it reads;
To Aunt Delphine,
Good luck with your new job. I hope everything goes well. I will miss you and Aunt Cosima so much.
Don't forget about me!
'Oh, Kira, that is so sweet, merci', I lean down to hug her. Her soft blonde curls tickle the side of my face.
'Au revoir, Aunt Delphine', she says quietly over my shoulder.
'Au revoir, chérie'. I hug her tighter, kissing the side of her head.
I let Kira go with a final kiss on the cheek, leaving her with Cosima to say her goodbyes. Next is Sarah. She's looking over at me with shining eyes and a smile that's almost shy. I walk over slowly, and she does the same, meeting in the middle.
'I still can't believe you're leaving', she shakes her head.
'It doesn't seem real', I admit.
Sarah looks over to where her daughter is leaning against her dad's leg, head resting against his stomach. 'You know, Kira's really gonna miss you both'.
'I will miss her too, so much. And Alex'.
'Yeah, it's a shame you won't be around to see him grow'.
'I know'. I look over to the pram, where the baby is sleeping softly. 'I thought I had all this time with him, and now, when I see him again, he'll have grown so much'.
'Don't worry, I won't let him forget you. Kira and him, they might not see you often, but that won't change anything, right?'
'Right', I nod.
She looks down, hands in her pockets. 'It's not really goodbye though, is it? It's more like a 'see you later''.
'We'll come back to visit as often as we can', I assure her. 'I promise'.
'And you better take care of my sister. Our deal still stands, yeah?' she teases, one eyebrow raised.
'Of course', I reply, smirking as I remember Sarah's threat to track me down if I ever hurt Cosima.
'I'm really gonna miss you, Del', she smiles sadly.
'I'll miss you too'. I reach out and take her hand, squeezing it as she smiles at me sadly. Then we both step forward at the same time, wrapping our arms around each other. Sarah, the girl I was once afraid of. Now I'm tearing up at the thought of not seeing her every day, of not hearing her rough accent or infectious laugh. Of leaving her behind.
And then comes the last person to say goodbye to. The person I never wanted to leave. My best friend and the one who's always stood by my side, no matter what an idiot I've been.
I turn to Felix, my heart heavy like it could weigh me down, pin me to the spot where I stand.
'Don't forget me', he punches my arm playfully, smiling, his eyes shining with tears.
I shake my head. 'I could never. We're family, remember?'
'Even before you met Cosima'.
'And especially now. You are basically my brother-in-law'.
'Kinda stuck with me, aren't you?'
I nod, biting my lip, trying to hold back my tears. 'Thanks for everything'.
'You don't have to make it sound so final', he rolls his eyes.
'I know. It just … it feels final'.
I hug him then, throwing my arms around him, burying my face in his shoulder and breathing in the scent of his worn leather jacket. I watch over his shoulder at the endless stream of people making their way towards the check-in desk, knowing in a few moments I will be joining them.
When Felix and I draw apart, Cosima and Sarah are holding on to each other like their lives depend on it, crying silently, wandering which one will let go first. Cosima slowly loosens her grip, stepping back from her sister, and just when my heart breaks with the knowledge that I'm the one who's splitting them up, she extends her hand to me, with a bright smile that seems to say, I'm ready. And suddenly I don't feel guilty any more.
'It's time to go', she says, her voice a mix of excitement and sadness and nerves.
I nod determinedly. Ready to go. Ready for a new adventure.
San Francisco is hot, at least compared to the cold weather we left behind in England. I turn the air conditioning up to full power.
'Jeez, Delphine', Cosima jumps, turning away from the window, startled by the sudden sound of cool air blasting through the car. She leans forward and turns it down again.
'It's too warm', I complain.
'No it's not!'
'Let me turn up the air con', I reach forward without waiting for a reply.
'Babe, watch the road!' she says quickly. The tyre bumps against the curb as I take a right turn.
'Note to self; never get in a car with Delphine again', she teases, leaning back in her seat and holding onto the overhead handle.
'I'm not that bad!' I say defensively.
'Are you kidding? I'm not sure if I'll get out of this car alive!'
'Fine, fine, joke all you want, but you're the worse driver and you know it'.
'That's actually true', she admits.
I slow down at the end of the street and take a left. I haven't driven since I left Paris, and even then I only occasionally borrowed Papa's car for trips out of the city, so when Cosima and I were told we were now the proud owners of a sleek black Audi, a company car courtesy of DYAD, we were slightly worried about the situation of actually driving it. In London, neither Cosima or I owned a car, because it would have been pointless. We took the tube everywhere. So, admittedly, I am a little inexperienced. But Cosima is a lethal weapon on the road. After we went for a test drive this morning and I witnessed Cosima's excessive speed, jolting gear changes and brutal road rage, we decided that I should be the designated driver out of the two of us.
It's our sixth day in San Francisco and we've been putting off unpacking by wandering aimlessly round the neighbourhood and meeting our neighbours in the DYAD apartment building. Cosima has promised to take me to some of her favorite spots in the city, as we still have two weeks before I start my new job.
Our new home in Pacific Heights is incredible. We had to check the address twice; we thought we had arrived in the wrong place. It looked too luxurious. But the taxi dropped us off outside the building with our mountain of luggage and we walked up to the front desk to pick up our key. Sure enough, we were in the right place, and we were told to take the elevator to the fourth floor.
When we opened the door to our apartment, I first noticed the huge floor-to-ceiling window opposite me on the far side of the room, revealing a view that stretched all the way out to sea. The city below us was bathed in the orange glow of sunset. I walked slowly over to the window, across wooden floorboards, past a modern monochrome kitchen with white overhead cupboards and a breakfast bar with two black leather stools, past the thin flatscreen TV on the wall opposite a black leather couch. I looked out of the window in every direction, resting my palms against the glass. I willed myself to stare as if my eyes could absorb the beauty they were witnessing and imprint the image in my mind forever. It was perfect. A dream of a view.
Cosima and I opened a bottle of red wine that was left for us on the counter with a welcome message from DYAD, and sat down on the floor next to the window. I lay down on my back on the cold wood, my head in Cosima's lap as she stroked my hair and told me stories about her life before she left for London. Most of them I'd heard before, but I didn't tell her that. I could never get tired of hearing her speak about her childhood, or her schooldays, or her family.
It was only eight in the evening but we were falling asleep, until a knock on the door startled us both. That's when a man from the DYAD housing department handed us a key and told us our car was waiting in the garage downstairs. Cosima and I looked at each other with such shock on our faces that the man actually started laughing at us.
Today, we're driving over to Potrero Hill to meet Cosima's parents, and I'm terrified. She hasn't seen them in almost three years, the entire time we've been together, because of clashing schedules and flight prices, but she spoke with them on the phone almost every week back in London. Sometimes I was there too. In that way, I feel like I know them. I know their voices, I know their faces from photographs. But now I'm about to meet them for the first time.
I made an effort to look nice. I straightened my hair, like I've been doing a lot recently. It's longer now; I like the feel of the tips of my hair brushing against my elbows when I walk, though it feels strange, as it still only just falls past my shoulders when I leave it in its natural waves. I put on a soft tank top with white and navy blue stripes, with an over-sized denim jacket over the top, sleeves rolled up. I painted my nails. I put on my best sunglasses.
'Take a left here', Cosima instructs me. We turn up onto a hill.
'I hate that the roads are so steep here', I mutter, my eyes locked on the road in concentration.
'Well, considering you're basically a learner driver, they're not the easiest roads to navigate'.
The car crawls up the hill slowly, but smoothly enough. I'm starting to seriously regret agreeing to make the hour trip to Napa to visit Alison next week.
'Carry on, and then make a right at the top of the hill', Cosima directs me.
Fortunately Cosima's parents' street is relatively flat, so I won't worry about the car rolling down the hill for the whole afternoon. It's a quiet street lined with small, pretty houses of white and pastel yellow and sunset orange, steps leading up to the front doors.
'That's the house, the yellow one', she points. 'There's a parking spot over there'.
I pull in next to an old Peugeot, two doors down from the house. I relax back into my seat as I turn off the engine, the black leather warm against my back.
'Are you ready?' Cosima asks brightly.
She smirks. 'That's what I said to you before I met your parents', she remembers. 'Only, I actually had reason to be scared'.
'But I'm always so shy when I meet new people'.
'Mom and Dad already know you, and they love you', she assures me, holding my hand across the seat. 'Just don't freak out, okay?'
'Okay', I say. She's grinning at me, raising one eyebrow, trying to get me to smile. It works, like always.
I hold back a little when we approach the front door of the house, letting Cosima go ahead to ring the doorbell. I see a shadow through the frosted glass window pane of the door, growing closer and closer, I hear the shuffle of feet against wooden floorboards and then -
'She's home!' I hear an excited cry as Cosima's mother Erica flies out of the door and throws her arms around her daughter. I barely see her face at first, it's buried in Cosima's shoulder, hidden by a loose tangle of black wavy hair that falls just beyond her chin. And suddenly, she's looking over Cosima's shoulder, straight at me. A bright smile stretches across her face, green eyes shining. And then she's running at me, like she did to Cosima, wrapping her arms around me in a tight hug.
'Delphine!' she cries, squeezing me tighter as I hug her back. 'It's so good to see you. It's been too long, huh?'
'Yes, I'm so happy to finally be here!' I reply.
She releases me from her hug but her hands stay gripping my upper arms. She stares at my face, into my eyes, studying me, only for a moment. But it feels like a whole minute as I look back at her, taking in her piercing green eyes, sun tanned skin, hair as dark as the sky at night. Laughter lines and a warm, kind smile.
'So beautiful', she says to me.
'Thank you', I reply, a little shy.
She turns back to the house and yells, 'Michael, get out here!'
In a matter of moments, a shadow darkens the doorway, and Cosima's father emerges from the corridor. He's tall, towering over Cosima as he leans down to hug her. His dark hair is short but messy, and he wears a red and white checked shirt with worn blue jeans. He releases Cosima and comes over to welcome me.
'Delphine, it's great to finally meet you', he smiles. He shakes my hand, slightly awkwardly, as if he's not sure how to greet me, but nevertheless, the gesture is comforting.
'You too', I reply.
'Come in, come in, both of you!' Erica gestures wildly, talking excitedly to her husband as they both disappear through the doorway.
Cosima and I stay for a moment as the voices fade. Then she turns to me and shrugs, as if to explain that the extremely enthusiastic greeting her parents just demonstrated was nothing out of the ordinary.
'Well, come on then', she grins, taking my hand and pulling me towards the door.
I feel like I belong. Like I've come home too.
Michael and Erica Niehaus are very welcoming. Erica speaks a little French to me, though she downplays her skill (Spanish, Portuguese and German are the main languages she translates at the law firm where she works, she tells me). We talk in the kitchen as Cosima catches up with her father in the lounge. We open a bottle of wine between the four of us (only the tiniest glass for me, the designated driver) and they ask me enthusiastically about my upbringing in France and my time at UCL and living in London and my new job at DYAD. Mostly things they had heard before, over the phone, but nevertheless they listen intently. We sit there for three hours, just talking.
Light from the kitchen window floods the long hallway at the front of the house, gleaming off the varnished wooden floorboards. I pause there on the way back from the bathroom, leaning back against the stair rail, to glance at the photographs on the wall.
Cosima and I haven't started to decorate our new apartment yet. It is still a showroom littered with cardboard boxes full of our possessions. It doesn't feel like ours yet. But I know when we have unpacked all our clothes and books and records and have arranged our furniture, I want to go down to the store and pick up some frames so we can hang our beautiful photographs on the wall in the lounge. Like Sarah's photo wall back in Brixton, the one I always wanted, and like the one I see before me now in the Niehaus' home.
I stare into the pictures in front of me. The largest one is placed in the centre, a photo of Beth at her college graduation. There are lots of Cosima and Beth as children; they look so similar I can't tell them apart. They have the same smile, the same childish grin that Cosima has today. Photos of them at ten years old, twelve, thirteen, fifteen … they tell a story of their personalities, from the little girls who dressed the same to the high school seniors with their own unique style.
There are pictures of the whole family, at the Grand Canyon and the Hollywood Sign and the Segrada Familia in Barcelona, and of Erica and Michael on their wedding day, then holding their baby daughters in the lounge where they sit right now. I can hear their soft voices through the wall.
And there are pictures of all the sisters together, as well as a photo of Alison and Cosima with Gemma and Oscar, and another one of Sarah and Kira. Another shows the three children together, drinking ice cream milkshakes in an old-school diner.
I'm stepping closer to the wall, peering in closer at the snapshots of the family's life, when Michael emerges from the doorway.
'Oh, hey, Delphine. You lost?' he jokes.
I shake my head with a smile. 'Just looking at the photos'.
'Yeah, we have a lot. I've been meaning to put up some more too'.
'I like them. I want to put up photos like this in our apartment. There are so many here'.
'You think this is bad, you should see Alison's house', he warns. 'That place is like a museum of Hendrix artefacts. You're going over there in a few days, right?'
'Yes, next week', I reply.
'Good luck!' he chuckles. 'She's great, but she's a little intense, especially as she's so excited to meet you'.
'You know Alison and Sarah well, non?' I observe from the photographs.
'Yeah, we see Alison maybe once a month, and of course we rarely get to see Sarah, but she stops by if she ever comes to town'.
'Well, you know, they're Cosima's sisters', he says simply. 'We see them as our daughters too. And Oscar, Gemma and Kira, they're like our grandchildren'.
'It must have been very strange for you, meeting them', I muse.
He nods. 'Beth was always interested in finding out where she came from, where her birth parents were, all that kinda stuff. And somewhere in her search, she found out that she and Cosima had two other sisters out there. She managed to find Alison first, in Canada, and then the three of them traced Sarah all the way to England. It's pretty crazy, huh?'
'I remember when we found out', he continues. 'Beth and Cosima sat us down and they said that they were quadruplets, and that they'd found their sisters in Toronto and London. We thought they'd gone crazy'. He chuckles. 'That, or they were trying to prank us. But then we spoke to Alison on the phone, and Sarah came to visit.
'It was so surreal, meeting Sarah the first time. Twins were enough trouble, and then one day there was three of them, all sat next to each other on the couch in our lounge. The same face, but at the same time they were all so different. Sarah, of course, with her accent and her clothes. But even Beth and Cosima, who grew up together, were always the opposite of each other.
'We met Alison for the first time when she moved to Napa. The girls knew each other very well by then, they'd been to London a few times to visit Sarah, then to Toronto once, but by the time Sarah and Alison were planning to come to San Francisco, Donnie got his new job and now they're only an hour away.
'We're a very close family. We always were, and finding out about the girls' lost sisters didn't change anything between us. If anything, it brought us closer. We drive out to Alison's whenever we can. And Sarah, Siobhan and your friend Felix, they're our family too'.
I nod, remembering what Felix once told me about being able to choose your own family, even if you are not related by blood. I try to imagine the situation in Michael's eyes; adopting twin girls, and later finding out they had other family out there, one beyond the little San Francisco home they had made. Was he afraid of losing them? I know I would have been. But still, he and his wife accepted two strangers, and their families, as their own children. For that, I admire him so much.
'So your parents still live in Paris?' he asks.
'Oui, they have lived in the same house for over 30 years', I reply. 'We do not have the greatest relationship, but we are working on it'.
He nods in understanding. 'Yeah, we heard all about the Paris incident. Was that the last time you saw them?'
'Actually, they came to visit recently', I tell him. 'About five months ago now. But that's the only time I have seen them since I stormed out with the intention of never speaking to them again'. I half smile at the thought. It was an awful time, but still, it was a moment I had been waiting for for years. My great catharsis.
He chuckles, then shakes his head. 'You know, I never saw eye to eye with my folks either. They didn't approve of Erica when they met her, which made everything worse. One day, they gave me an ultimatum. Made me choose between them and Erica. My parents or my girlfriend, who I'd only known a few months. But even then, I thought, 'this woman might be the love of my life'. So I chose her, and I never really saw them again after that. We moved here, to San Francisco, and every day I'm thankful I chose her. It was scary at the time, but it was a risk worth taking. And when Cosima explained what happened on the phone, told me you'd left with her without thinking twice, it reminded me of myself. Sure, you're in contact with your mom and dad now, but at the time, you didn't know that. And you chose Cosima anyway. Now, I'm happy with my choice. And I'm assuming that you're happy with yours'.
I nod, a shy smile tugging at my lips. 'I was miserable before I met Cosima. I'd choose her every time'.
The night is still warm as we pull into the parking lot at the grocery store, the air still humid. Cosima is half asleep in the passenger seat. I can see her eyelashes fluttering beneath her glasses, the soft rise and fall of her chest.
'Come on, ma chérie, the sooner we shop, the sooner we can go home', I encourage her softly.
'Mm hm', she mumbles, sitting up and stretching her arms out in front of her before opening the car door.
I slide out of the front seat and lock the car with a click of the button. There are few cars left in the lot, but the flashes of headlights and sound of engines rumbling fill the streets around us.
'Cosima?' I hear someone call behind us as we walk towards the store.
With the forceful pull of Cosima's hand in my own, we both whip round to face a blonde man with thick square glasses and a checked shirt, staring at Cosima in astonishment. Next to him is a small woman with bleached blonde hair and heavy make-up, one hand on her hip and an enormous Michael Kors handbag resting in the crook of her arm.
'Scott!' Cosima exclaims. She unlocks her fingers from mine and starts walking towards him, and him towards her. They throw their arms around each other as they meet in the middle, laughing in disbelief at running into each other like this.
'It's so good to see you, dude!' Cosima gushes. 'How have you been?'
'I know, it seems like forever! Yeah, I've been great! And you?'
'Yea, things are really good. This is my girlfriend, Delphine', Cosima introduces me. 'This is Scott, we were at Berkeley together'.
'Hey, it's great to meet you', he extends his hand, smiling warmly.
'Enchantée. It is good to meet you too', I reply, shaking his hand. Scott. His name sounds familiar now. Cosima has spoken about him before.
'Woah. She's French!' he says in amazement.
'Yeah, cool, huh?' Cosima laughs and turns to me. 'Scott loves lesbians', she states matter-of-factly, giggling as he shoots her a glare and his cheeks redden slightly.
'This is my girlfriend', he introduces the woman next to him proudly.
Her neon pink lips curve up into a smile. 'Krystal Goderitch. Manicurist'.
I glance at Cosima, who looks physically pained as she tries to hide her surprise. I have never met either of these people before, but even I am shocked at how two people so different can be in a relationship. But maybe Cosima and I are too quick to judge.
'Wow, good to meet you, Krystal', Cosima grins. 'How did I not know about this, Scott? How long have you two been together'.
'Almost two years now', Krystal smiles happily, resting her head on Scott's shoulder. Though they are an odd pairing, they look adorable together.
'So you're still living in the neighbourhood?' Cosima swirls her finger in the air, gesturing to the surroundings.
'Yeah, still in the same house and everything!' Scott replies. 'Krystal moved in last week'.
'Oh, that's so cool!'
'Are you two just visiting?' he asks.
'No, we actually just moved here. We have an apartment in Pacific Heights'.
'Pacific Heights?' he repeats. 'Damn, you're living the dream! What are you doing over there?'
'We're in DYAD Institute housing. Delphine just got appointed as the head of immunology', Cosima explains.
'No way! I work at the DYAD Institute too! I'm in evo devo. Congratulations, Delphine, DYAD is a really cool place to work. Shame I didn't have to move half way around the world so they'd give me a house', he jokes.
'She's way smarter than you, Scott, that's why', Cosima teases him.
Scott ignores this comment with another glare at Cosima. 'So what about you, what are you doing for work?'
'Well, I haven't really started looking yet, but I hope I'll find something soon'.
'You know, one of our department members is leaving next month', he tells her. 'There may be a position coming up in evo devo, if you're interested'.
'Wow, oh my God, that would be amazing', Cosima exclaims, waving her hands about wildly in disbelief. 'Yeah, I'm absolutely interested'.
'Okay, great. I'll ask around and see what I can do. We gotta run right now, but I'll shoot over to immunology when you start at DYAD, Delphine. When is that?'
'The 23rd', I reply.
'Awesome. I'll keep you posted on that job, Cosima'. He begins to turn away, the plastic shopping bag in his hand swinging as he moves.
'Yeah, that would be great. See you around, Scott!' she calls after him. 'And nice to meet you, Krystal!'
'Nice to meet you too, ladies!' Krystal calls back, waving her perfectly manicured fingers.
Cosima turns to me and giggles. 'Oh man, I can't believe Scott has a girlfriend!
'She seems very sweet', I say.
'Yeah, but, like, totally different to Scott. And two years? He rarely went on dates when we were at Berkeley. I guess I have a lot of catching up to do now I'm back'.
'Oui. We have all the time in the world'.
The Hendrix house is in a quiet suburban neighbourhood, almost as stereotypical as I had imagined. Each huge house is identical, tucked away behind a white picket fence and a perfectly manicured lawn. Range Rovers or sleek sports cars sit in the long tarmac driveways, but there are very few cars out on the roads. Women gossip in groups of twos and threes as they push along their strollers. We know this because occasionally their mouths drop open in shock, while the other woman nods in confirmation, or perhaps they haughtily toss their perfect hair over their shoulder and smile thinly, as if to say, I don't believe a word you're saying … not that I'd ever let you know that. Cosima laughs at the groups as we drive past them.
My driving has improved marginally. I still find that, often, the car jolts when I pull out of a junction or the tyre grazes the kerb when I park at the side of the street. I cringe every time I feel the wheel hit the concrete and imagine the metal scraping against the kerb. But fortunately, that is just my imagination. The tyres remain unscathed so far.
My parking is still abismal, so when we reach Alison's driveway, I pull in slowly, creeping up towards the garage door at a snail's pace, as if Alison might be watching from her windows, judging my complete lack of skill behind the wheel. When Cosima confirms my parking is adequate, I switch of the engine and sit for a moment. Another meeting, another jolt of nerves in my stomach. Cosima on the other hand, looks like she's about to burst with excitement. She quickly unbuckles her seat belt and jumps out of the car. I do the same, less enthusiastically.
We're barely out of the car when the huge door opens and Alison and Donnie come out to join us in the driveway.
'Hey!' Alison's face lights up with a brilliant smile, as she wraps her arms around her sister. She's half laughing, almost crying; anyone could tell that she's been waiting for this moment for a long time.
'Hey, Alison', Cosima greets her in her excited voice, which seems somewhat relaxed in comparison to Alison's hysteria.
'Hi, Delphine!' Alison's arms quickly release her sister and are wrapped around my shoulders. We hug tightly as though we are old friends. Which I suppose, despite having never met, we are.
'You were supposed to be here an hour ago!' Alison complains. 'But I guess that's Cosima's fault'.
'Kind of always late, so kind of always sorry', Cosima shrugs with an unapologetic smile, as if she expects everyone to know this by now.
Alison completely ignores this comment; she's moved on before Cosima could even explain the reason for our delay (or lack of, on this occasion). 'It's so wonderful that you're both here finally', she exclaims hysterically. 'I think I'm gonna cry'.
'Please don't', Cosima says flatly.
Alison pulls a face at her sister, then turns back towards the door, shouting up the stairs. 'Kids, Aunt Cosima and Aunt Delphine are here!'
She holds the door open with one hand, while she uses the other to gesture wildly for us to enter. I cross the threshold into the cool of the air conditioning and the smell of fresh coffee. The hall is pristine. Every surface gleams. The vase on the coffee table by the stairs is filled with delicate red roses. Alison notices me admiring them.
'An anniversary gift from Oscar and Gemma', she comments proudly.
'They're beautiful', I tell her.
Speaking of the children, they come hurtling down the stairs at breakneck speed, playfully shoving each other out of the way. Gemma wins the race to the bottom of the stairs when she drags Oscar back by the material of his white cotton shirt.
'Hey, guys!' Cosima exclaims. She's almost knocked out as Gemma jumps into her arms, stumbling backwards a little until Gemma's feet are nearly touching the floor. 'You're so big now, I can't even pick you up!'
Gemma let's go of Cosima, and drops softly to the floor. Oscar greets his aunt with a hug.
'Hey, dude', Cosima says, ruffling his messy back hair. 'I've missed you guys so much!'
'We missed you too!' Oscar grins.
And me, have I missed them? Is it possible to miss someone you've never met in person? Whether it is possible or not, that's how it feels.
I crouch down on the soft coffee-colored carpet as Gemma runs over to me, a huge smile on her face, and hugs me tightly. 'Hey, Aunt Delphine!'
'Bonjour, ma chérie'. Everything about her feels familiar, from the soft curls that tickle my shoulder to the small hands that grip the back of my neck. As if I've met her before. As if she has wrapped her skinny arms around me many times.
'You're taller than I thought', she wonders aloud, her head cocked to one side, as I stand up again.
'No way, kid, you're just short', Cosima teases her.
'Hey, but I'm nearly as tall as you!' Gemma exclaims, pushing Cosima playfully.
'Dream on', Cosima retorts with a cheeky grin.
'Okay, everybody into the lounge', Alison instructs with a clap of her hands. She ushers the children through, one hand on each of their backs.
The lounge is as tidy and presentable as the hall. Two cream leather couches against beige walls, light from the huge open window gleaming off them. A white marble fireplace, though I cannot imagine that it is used very often. A bookshelf, a television and a liquor cabinet. An old wooden coffee table, another vase of flowers, this time filled with lillies. Cosima and I sit down side by side on the couch.
Alison immediately disappears into the kitchen and returns after a moment with four wine glasses, which she places carefully on the table.
'So, we have a few bottles of wine to choose from', she states, as if she were a waitress. 'Chardonnay, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, or we have champagne!'
'Ooh, let's go for the champagne', Cosima replies, rubbing her hands together.
'Sure thing, we have a lot to celebrate', Donnie says, insisting that Alison sit down as he goes to the kitchen.
'Yes, you both have your new jobs!'
'Well, not yet, I have an interview the day after tomorrow', Cosima corrects her. 'Scott put me in contact with his department'.
'You know, I've never heard of the DYAD Institute before', Alison comments.
'I guess not many people have. But every scientist has heard of DYAD. Their work is groundbreaking' Cosima explains.
'Well, as much as I'd like to hear about this groundbreaking work, I'm sure I'd have no idea what you were talking about if you told me', Alison says with a dismissive wave. 'But the real importance is the money. So, how much are they paying you, Delphine? You're head of a whole department, right?'
'Alison!' Cosima exclaims, before I can answer.
'That's none of your business'.
Donnie returns with a bottle of expensive looking champagne and pours the golden liquid into each glass, bubbles circling like a whirlpool. He hands me a glass, which I accept with a grateful smile. Droplets of water begin to run down the side of the glass, falling into my lap. I draw shapes in the condensation with my fingertip.
'Well, how much do you get paid? Are you really rich now?' Oscar asks innocently.
'Yeah, are you going to buy us things?' Gemma joins in.
'Gemma! Oscar!' Donnie scolds.
'Just like their mother', Cosima mutters, taking a sip of wine.
'We were just kidding, Dad', Oscar says.
'You better have been!'
'Oh, what's the time? I need to finish peeling those potatoes!' Alison exclaims frantically, as if she had been completely ignoring the conversation. She jumps up and marches towards the kitchen.
'Well, while we're on the subject of buying things, we brought you kids some presents from London', I tell them.
'You did?' The kids look from me to Cosima and back again, their eyes lighting up in excitement.
'Oh, shoot, I left them in the car', Cosima curses. 'I'll be right back'.
She leaves me alone with the Hendrixes for the first time ever, and I find myself at a loss for words. I am shy at the best of times, even with my own family. Sometimes I can sit all afternoon and hardly say a word.
Cosima has only been gone a moment when Alison shouts for Donnie to go help her prepare dinner. He excuses himself with an apologetic smile.
'Coming, honey', he shouts through to her as he gets up.
So I'm left with Gemma and Oscar, who are both sat cross-legged on the floor, staring up at me in fascination.
'Why are you looking at me like that?' I ask, giggling.
'It's weird, seeing you, without being on a computer', Oscar muses absent-mindedly.
'Your hair is pretty. I like it better when it's straight', Gemma decides.
She nods. 'Can I braid it? Please?'
'Sure, why not', I reply.
'Yay! Okay, you have to sit on the floor', she instructs.
I slide down onto the floor, and Gemma jumps up onto the couch behind me. She begins combing through my hair with her fingers.
'I learned to do French braids last week', she tells me proudly.
'What are you guys doing?' Cosima's voice startles us as she stands in the doorway, arms folded, a plastic bag hanging in the crook of her elbow.
'I'm doing Aunt Delphine's hair', Gemma explains.
'Awesome. Will you do mine after?'
'I can't do yours', Gemma replies matter-of-factly. 'I can't braid dreadlocks'.
'Well, fine, I'll just open all the presents with Oscar'.
'Hey! I want to open my present! Aunt Delphine, I'll be right back', she assures me as she jumps off the sofa and sits beside Oscar.
Cosima rolls her eyes.
Alison's cooking is exquisite, though Cosima quietly warns me not to tell her this. She says her sister is far too big-headed about these things. I'm not so sure, but I compliment Alison anyway. It feels rude not to. However, the meaning of Cosima's warning quickly becomes apparent as Alison launches into a fifteen minute verbal tutorial of her cooking methods. Cosima shoots me a glance that seems to say I told you so, whilst Gemma and Oscar push vegetables around their plates with their forks, bored expressions on their faces. Donnie watches his wife with both fascination at her limitless commitment and embarrassment at the length of her monologue.
It never fails to amaze me that Cosima and her sisters are so utterly different, but today, I see the same irrevocable enthusiasm in both Alison and Cosima. Alison speaks endlessly about her upcoming play at the community theatre (which she insists Cosima and I attend), while Cosima discusses her potential new position at DYAD, and everything the job would entail. Though both Alison and Donnie smile politely and nod as though they understand her complex ramblings, and we return these gestures as Alison describes the vocal challenges of her solo number in the play, it is clear none of us truly understand anything the sisters are talking about. Yet still, the conversation is never dull or awkward; I can't help but laugh at Donnie's well-meaning but clueless remarks, which Alison immediately rejects, or at Cosima's vague recollection of her first time to one of Alison's plays.
'Felix and I turned up two hours early by mistake, and then ended up getting super wasted in the bar down the street while we waited', she explains. 'I don't remember anything about the show except that it was awesome'.
'And you two cheered the loudest out of everyone there', Alison recalled, with an odd mixture of pride and disappointment at Cosima and Felix's behaviour.
After we've finished our meal, and conversation drifts seamlessly between anything and everything, my phone vibrates in my pocket. I slide it out so I can see the top half of the screen. I'll just check who it's from, and reply later. But I can't do that, because it's a message from Felix, that reads, I need to talk to you. Can I call now?
Without waiting for a response, his photo flashes across the screen. My heart sinks. If Felix wanted to tell me something good, he would text me with a mysterious message, and then ignore me for several hours until the suspense almost kills me, then pop up on Skype to announce his news. He knows how much this annoys Cosima and I, which is one of the main reasons why he continues to do it. But this is different. A simple text followed immediately by a call? This means bad news.
'You okay, babe?' Cosima asks, noticing as I shift uncomfortably in my seat.
'Oui, Felix is calling. I should go to answer, excuse me everyone', I say quickly, slipping out of my chair and out through the door into the hall.
'Tell him hi from all of us', Alison calls through after me.
'I will', I reply, and move away from the kitchen slowly, out of earshot. I hit the accept call button.
'Hi, Del', he says. Immediately notice the lack of spark in his voice, the absence of his usual charisma.
'What's wrong?' I ask worriedly. 'Are you okay? Has something happened?'
'Yeah, Del. I … Colin and I broke up last night'.
'Yeah. We didn't have a huge fight or anything like that. It wasn't really messy. I just realised I had to be honest about what I wanted, even if it meant hurting him'.
'What did you say to him?'
'Just that I felt we'd hit a dead end. There was nowhere further to go in our relationship, at least we agreed on that. But he wants to settle down, spend the rest of his life with someone, and I can't give him that'.
'Oh, Felix', I sigh sadly.
'It's okay though', he assures me. 'It's for the best'.
'Yeah. Honestly, I don't think I'm cut out for relationships. I must be destined to be alone'.
'But why do you think that?'
'I don't know', he sighs. 'This has been the only relationship I've had that lasted more than a few months. Usually, I get scared and make a run for it. Yes, we were together a really long time, but still, it wasn't enough for me to stay. I don't think anyone will ever be enough. It's not that I think I'm way above anyone else, and no one is good enough for me, I don't believe that at all. But, I just don't think I'll ever be able to commit to one person for the rest of my life. It's just not me. Colin could see it. That's why we agreed to end it'.
'Maybe you're right', I mutter, more to myself than to him.
'I am right. I've done the right thing, Del, I know it. Even if it feels shite right now, it's gonna be better for us both in the future'.
I shake my head. I always find Felix hard to read, even after all this time. I can hear it in his voice that he's hurting, probably more than he ever has in the years since we met, yet his words speak the truth. He believes that this is the best thing for him. So I have to believe it too.
'Well, Felix, funnily enough, we just made a toast to the next chapter at dinner. I think you need to be included in this one'.
'Do you have a drink?' he asks.
'Me neither. Imaginary glasses will have to do'.
'To the next chapter', I announce after a pause. 'May it be the best one yet'.
'I hope so', he replies, a subtle tone of sadness in his voice. I imagine him, raising a glass, with that beaming grin of his, and yet for the first time in a long while, I'm worried he's not smiling at all.
'I know you're not as okay with all this as you're pretending to be', I tell him. This is met with a frustrated sigh. 'I'm not asking you to talk about it', I clarify quickly. 'Because I know you don't want to. I wouldn't either. We're the same, you and me. Maybe we don't always talk like we should. But that doesn't matter, because we don't have to talk about it to feel better. Just knowing you're there to act normal, whatever crazy things are happening, is enough. I hope that's how you feel too. I hope you know I'm always here. I'm always here to not talk about it'.
'I miss you', comes the quiet response after a long moment of silence.
'I miss you, too'.
'Okay, so Krystal's not the brightest girl. But she's sweet. And she adores Scott', I point out as I reverse into a narrow parking spot.
'Delphine, she thought Darwin was 'the inventor of gravity'', Cosima laughs. 'I can't take it'.
I sigh. 'Just don't laugh, don't roll your eyes -'
'Of course I won't! I'm not trying to be mean, I just think some of the stuff she says is funny'.
'Well, it is funny', I agree. 'But I'm sure Scott won't be too impressed if he catches us laughing every time his girlfriend says something stupid'.
I take the keys out of the ignition and slide out of the door, squeezing through the narrow gap between our car and the enormous Range Rover beside it.
Krystal had insisted that we go on a double date with her and Scott at Giordano's, the little Italian restaurant close to our neighbourhood. Cosima vaguely remembers the little restaurant, but she never ate there.
The couple meet us outside, Scott in a smart cotton shirt and chinos and Krystal in a tight pink minidress, and the four of us walk into the cosy restaurant together, leaving the darkening evening behind us.
A small, slim woman with a white shirt and long dark curls tied back in a ponytail is lining up small glass bottles of soda on a circular tray when she spots us. Her face lights up in recognition, and her lips curl up into a smile.
'Scott, Krystal, hey!'
'Hey Aryanna, how are you?' Krystal greets her.
'I'm great', the woman responds, a soft Italian accent in her voice. 'And who are these lovely ladies, I've never seen them before?'
'This is Cosima and Delphine', Krystal introduces us. 'They just moved back to San Francisco. Cosima is an old friend of Scott's. Guys, this is my old roommate, Aryanna, her dad owns this restaurant'.
'Nice to meet you both' she nods politely.
'You too', Cosima and I reply.
Aryanna scoops up four menus. 'Your table is the empty one at the back, Krystal, you know where. I'll bring you a little something to drink'.
It's busy; every table is full, occupied by couples, small groups of friends, and one large family at a long table by the window. They're celebrating a birthday. Wrapping paper litters the table and a pink sparkly balloon with the number 40 written in silver bobs above their heads.
Our table is in a cosy corner at the back of the restaurant. Three dark red candles melt in the middle of the table, giving off the scent of cinnamon. Photographs hang on every wall. Above our table is an idyllic image of endless rolling hills and a sky as blue as tropical waters. Aryanna comes over with a bottle of prosecco and begins pouring out the fizzing liquid into four flutes.
'This is on me, my Krystal's favourite!' Aryanna tells us, shooting a wink in her friend's direction. Krystal gives her an appreciative squeeze of her arm as she leaves.
'This place is so nice', Cosima comments as she shrugs off her denim jacket and hangs it on the back of her chair.
'It reminds me of the restaurants in Venice', I muse. 'The photographs are lovely'.
'Most of them were taken by Aryanna or her dad, she grew up in Tuscany', Scott tells us.
'They're so gorgeous', Cosima admires. 'I'd love to go back to Italy'.
'I'm so jealous', Scott says. 'Cosima always said she wanted to visit Europe, and then she ended up living there'.
Cosima grins. 'Yeah, things turned out pretty well'.
'Did you travel much when you were there?'
'A little. We went to Paris a couple of times to visit Delphine's parents, and we went to Lisbon, Venice and Budapest'.
'Budapest? I'm so jealous!' Krystal exclaims. 'I've always wanted to go to Greece!'
Cosima and I exchange glances. I bite my lip to hide my smile.
'So how are you settling in at DYAD, Delphine?' Scott asks me.
'It's going well, thank you. It will be difficult to get used to, there's so much to learn, even just people's names and how to get around the building. But I'm enjoying it. Cosima tells me everything is great in evo devo?'
'Yeah, it's great to be working with Cos again!'
'It's like being back in college', Cosima laughs.
'Yeah! Who'd have thought that nearly a decade later we'd be here in San Francisco being lab partners again!'
'That's how you met, right?' I ask.
'Yeah, the very first time we met was in the lab at Berkeley', Scott replies.
'Man, those were the days!' Cosima says wistfully.
'So what about you guys anyway? How long have you two known each other?' Scott asks.
Cosima and I look at each other for a moment, trying to work it out.
Going right back to the beginning of our story is like watching a movie of someone else's life. It feels so long ago, so surreal.
'Five years', we announce in unison.
'That's when we met', I add. 'But we've been together just over three years'.
'Can you believe it? Five years since we met!' Cosima exclaims, still looking at me with such disbelief in her face.
'It's crazy', I agree.
''That's so cute!' Krystal exclaims gleefully. 'And three years together, wow. I bet an engagement is on the cards soon, huh?'
Cosima chuckles. 'Not any time soon. We've talked about it, sure, but we only just moved, we're still getting settled in'.
'It wouldn't make much sense right now', I agree. 'We're just happy as we are'.
'Yeah, I suppose you're right', Scott nods. 'It must be weird being back here and feeling like you're totally new to the place, Cosima'.
'Yeah, super weird', she replies. 'It still feels like I'm moving into a new city, one I don't know anything about. But at the same time, this place is just the same as it always was, you know?'
'Yeah, I get it'.
'What about you, Krystal, are you from San Francisco?' Cosima asks.
'No, I'm actually from LA', she replies enthusiastically. 'I grew up in the suburbs and moved into the city when I was twenty-one'.
'Oh, really?' Cosima smirks.
I'm no expert on how American stereotypes vary from state to state, but even I can see that everything about Krystal screams 'valley girl'.
'Mmm-hmm', Krystal nods, flipping her hair over her shoulder. 'But I had to leave because I got caught up in this, like, crazy conspiracy. So I moved here, and thank God I did, or I would have never met Scott!'
'A conspiracy?' I repeat, confused.
'Totally' Krystal confirms. I see Scott roll his eyes as his girlfriend begins her story. 'So basically, it all started when I went back to a hotel with this guy one night after a party downtown. I got back to his room and I realised there was someone else there who looked identical to him. Like, an identical twin. Twins are soooo creepy!'
'Honey, did I mention Cosima is a quadruplet?' Scott interjects quickly.
'What's a quad … oh! Wait, seriously? O-M-G! I'm sorry I said that', Krystal shakes her head.
'No, it's okay', Cosima chuckles. 'It actually is kinda creepy that my sisters look exactly like me'.
'So, anyway, these guys ended up getting thrown out by security', she says nonchalantly. 'They killed my boyfriend, Hector'.
I nearly spit out my prosecco at this abrupt statement.
'Holy shit!' Cosima exclaims.
'That's terrible', I say.
'No, I wasn't cheating or anything', Krystal clarifies. 'Hector and I were in an open relationship'.
'I think they were more concerned over the fact that he, you know, died', Scott points out.
'Right', Krystal nods. 'I just thought I should make sure you guys know I'm not some cheating whore. Anyway, that was only the first weird thing that happened. I did some digging, and it turned out these guys were involved in a stem cell research plot. I tracked down one of the twins, and followed him to this creepy old building in the middle of LA. We went down into the underground parking lot and there was this, like, huge gang of people gathered there, waiting for him. So scary! So I hid behind a car, and just when I thought this weird exchange was over, I saw a woman get shot! And I knew who it was. She was a client of mine. That's when I knew. I had walked right into their trap!'
'A trap?' Cosima questions.
'Mmm-hmm', Krystal nods seriously. 'This woman had obviously been coming to the salon undercover. All this was connected to the cosmetic companies! They were the ones involved in these stem cell experiments! And they were targeting industry professionals like me. That's when I knew I had to leave'.
'Oh my God, Krystal! Did you ever find out what happened?' Cosima exclaims.
Krystal shakes her head. 'I left all that behind me'.
'Wow, you've been through so much', I say.
'I'm just lucky to have escaped with my life', she says dramatically.
I'm not sure whether Krystal just stumbled into some drug deal gone wrong or if she really did discover a conspiracy. It's an interesting story, either way.
'So when did you meet Scott?' Cosima asks.
Krystal sips at her prosecco. 'It's actually because of Aryanna', she nods in the direction of the waitress, who is chatting to an elderly couple at a table across the room. 'I moved in with her when I first came to San Francisco, and until I got a job at a salon she was the only person I knew. So, we became best friends, even though we're nothing alike. Aryanna's kind of nerdy. One day, she dragged me to this comic book store in the city. Rabbit Hole, it's called. Aryanna knew the owner of the store, and it just so happened that the owner is Scott's best friend. He was there that day. While the other two hung out, Scott showed me around the store, teaching me about all his favourite comic books. I thought he was really cute. I kept going back to the store with Aryanna until Scott finally worked up the courage to ask me out on a date'.
'And that took a long time', Scott chuckles. 'As you can see, she's way out of my league'.
'You met in a comic book store?' Cosima exclaims, looking at Scott like a proud mother. 'That is so Scott!'
'It's a really sweet story', I smile.
'And you know, considering we had absolutely nothing in common at first, I actually remembered all that stuff Scott taught me', Krystal says with a proud smile. 'Now I actually like that our apartment is covered in sci-fi memorabilia. I might not be very smart, but I can beat any one of you bitches when it comes to Star Wars trivia'.
Cosima and I laugh while Scott gazes at her admiringly. She looks back at him the same way.
We say goodbye to Krystal and Scott and walk back to the car under the glow of the full moon, joined hands swinging between us.
'Five years', Cosima says suddenly. 'We first met five years ago. Where did all that time go?'
I nod in agreement. 'It's gone by so fast'.
'We both have careers at one of the best scientific research centres in the world, we moved half way across the world together … you're a couple of months away from thirty-one!'
'Don't say that!' I'm older than Cosima, only by a year, but it's a fact she often reminds me of.
'But it's true!' she laughs.
'We're getting old'.
'I don't mind it though'.
She shrugs. 'I'm happy right here. If time is moving so fast, I might as well love every day. And I do. So I don't mind'.
Some serious angst coming your way . . . thanks for sticking with me.
'Coffee, chérie?' I ask Cosima.
I'm in the kitchen, still dressed in a smart black pantsuit and black heeled boots, having not been bothered to even kick them off at the door. It's ten thirty at night and I've only just gotten home from work. I'm exhausted.
'Yeah, thanks', she replies from the couch.
I tap my fingernails impatiently against the worktop as I wait for the kettle to boil.
'What did you do today?' I ask.
'I, uh, I set a date for the surgery', she says nervously.
'Oh, yeah?' I turn away from the counter to look for an expression of emotion on her face, something I can read. But her face is blank. Why is it blank?
'That's good news, isn't it?'
'Yeah, of course', she gives a small smile.
'So when is it?'
I blink. January 16th?
'Cosima, I'm in London on January 16th!' I complain. 'You knew that, didn't you?'
'I guess so', she says flippantly. 'I didn't really remember the dates-'
'I want to be there, Cosima!' I exclaim. 'I can't leave you to go through this on your own! Why did you tell them that date was okay?'
'Delphine, I can't just pick and choose to go the hospital whenever I like', she shoots back defensively.
This is partially a lie. The doctor knows our situation, he knows I'm not around that much at the moment. He told Cosima they would put her in for surgery when I could be there to support her. But I'm not about to point this out. I don't want to keep fighting her.
'Fine', I concede. 'I worry, that's all. I'm always worrying because I have no idea what's going on with you. You don't tell me anything'.
'That's because there's nothing to tell. I'm fine, I'm ready for surgery, and I'm gonna get better. Can we just drop it?'
I sigh. I know why she's doing this. To get back at me for all the other times I wasn't there for her.
A few months before Cosima was diagnosed, Rachel Duncan showed up in my office, asking me to represent DYAD's immunology department at a conference in Frankfurt. It was an incredible opportunity, one that Cosima and I were both so excited about. She was so happy for me. But once I returned from Frankfurt, Rachel had another assignment for me, in Copenhagen this time. Then in Geneva and Madrid and Oslo. Soon I was travelling to Asia, from Manila to Seoul. Back and forth, back and forth.
I love it. Maybe not so much that I spend most of my time on airplanes, but I get to be a guest speaker at conferences, collaborate with some of the top scientists around the world, meet talented students.
But there is always Cosima. For the first few times, she was so excited. But the assignments became more frequent, and soon I was travelling to a different country almost every month. Cosima was upset that I had to be away so much, but she supported me because this was my dream job, and though I hadn't anticipated all this international work, I loved the experience.
Until the last Sunday of August, which was one of the worst days of my life. The day she told me.
She sits me down in the lounge, telling me she has something important that we need to talk about. The day so far has been mundane; we cleaned the house, I was working on my laptop at the kitchen table while Cosima brought me endless cups of coffee. But, now, there's a look on her face that tells me it will no longer be this way.
And then she comes straight out with it.
'I have lung cancer, Delphine', Cosima says quietly, looking down at her lap, then straight up at me, her eyes shining with tears.
For a moment my heart stops. My whole body goes cold in a state of shock. I can't move. I'm completely numb.
And then I start crying. The kind of crying that begins immediately, like someone has flicked a switch.
'Oh, Cosima', I cry. I don't know what else to say. I can't find any words.
'I started seeing symptoms', she explains gently, like she's trying to calm me down. 'They weren't going away, and I got scared. So I went to the doctor. They sent me to the hospital to get some tests done. I have cancer'. Her voice cracks on the last sentence.
We've barely left each other's side all weekend. She let all that time pass leaving me blissfully ignorant.
'Why didn't you tell me?' I ask, tears welling up in my eyes.
'I didn't want you to worry. You know I hate a fuss-'
'This isn't about making a fuss, Cosima! You knew you were sick, even before you got tested, and you kept it from me! I'm your girlfriend, I have a right to worry about you'. I get up from the couch and begin pacing up and down the lounge, running my hands through my hair in frustration.
'I know, I'm sorry. I know I should have told you'.
'And I can't believe you went to the doctor without saying anything', I continue, barely listening to what she's saying. 'Didn't it occur to you that I might like to know? Going to the doctor because you're worried you might have cancer isn't something worth sharing, huh?'
Cosima murmurs something under her breath, something I can't make out.
'You weren't here!' she blurts out.
I frown. 'What?'
'It was when you were in Helsinki', she says quietly, looking down.
'Helsinki?' My heart sinks. I returned from Helsinki in May. 'How long have you known?'
'Three months', she mumbles.
I let out a frustrated sigh, my mind a tangle of anger and sadness and panic. And guilt.
'They diagnosed me two weeks ago. They didn't know what it was at first. But I knew it was serious. I just had this feeling'.
'And you couldn't find a time to tell me in three months?' I ask, trying to keep my voice level, though inside I'm a mess.
'Well, you're always working, and if not here, you're somewhere far away. I never found the right time'.
'Cosima, I know I've been busy lately, but-'
'It just feels like you don't have time for me', she confesses.
So there it is.
'Now it's my fault?' I snap. I know I shouldn't, but I'm just so confused and upset.
'No, I didn't mean that. It's no one's fault, I'm just being honest. I know it was wrong of me not to say anything. I've handled it really badly. I just didn't want to upset you'.
I go back to the couch and sit down beside her, taking her hand in my own, running my thumb over her soft skin. 'Cosima, mon amour, you've upset me more by keeping this from me. How can I be there for you if you don't tell me what's going on? Especially when it's something as important as your health'.
'I'm sorry', she looks up at me tearfully.
'I'm sorry too', I tell her. 'I'm sorry if I made you feel like you couldn't talk to me'.
I snap back to the present with a jolt. Cosima's looking away, like she's done talking. But I'm not finished yet.
'Cosima, we can't just drop this forever. Not talking about it isn't going to make it go away'.
'Delphine, I don't need you there, okay?' she snaps.
'Fine', I concede, holding my hands up in defeat.
Cosima seems to have forgotten that I know the truth. But I can't forget.
I lie in bed alone, having left Cosima in the lounge. I don't know what she's doing. Reading, maybe. Or she might have her headphones on. Sometimes she will lie on the couch for hours, eyes closed, lost in music so loud I can hear it from the other side of the room.
I hate sleeping alone. Or even lying in bed alone. It's the one time I am left alone with my thoughts, only my own mind for company. No distractions. I wish I could ignore myself, but it's not easy when I have so much to think about. So much to ponder, to agonise over, to overthink. So much to worry about. My brain can never shut off. Instead, I'm forced to collect my thoughts every night, before they scatter again in the morning and I am as lost as I was before.
Being sick scared Cosima to the point that she began shutting me out. She never wanted to talk about it, never wanted me to accompany her to see the doctor. Eventually I had to put my foot down and tell her I was going with her, whether she liked it or not. It hurt more than I let on, having her treat me like I didn't deserve to know.
But then I learned the truth. She had been silent about her illness for almost a month, insisting that she was fine and she didn't want to talk about it. Then one night, she just broke down. She cried and cried and told me she didn't want to die. I assured her that she wasn't going to die; they'd caught the cancer early, she was undergoing chemotherapy and it was working. Then the doctor told us that it was possible to treat her through surgery, which would hopefully remove the cancer altogether. The outlooks were positive. But she still refused to acknowledge this. She was so afraid of false hope.
I was working a lot, and my time spent at home was becoming less and less. So I told her to call me, any time she needed anything. But the one time she called, I was in a meeting. So I ignored it. She didn't call again after that.
The assignments kept coming in, and I missed countless appointments because of them. Cosima tells me she doesn't mind. But I can see that look of disappointment in her eyes when I tell her I'm leaving again. I'm not sure if it's disappointment that I won't be beside her, or if it's because I still haven't had the nerve to tell Rachel Duncan no, after I'd promised Cosima over and over again that I would.
I want to be there for her, I do. I want to be there at the appointments. I don't even have to go with her to the hospital. I just want to be there when she gets home. We could watch a movie, or go out for dinner, and for a few hours we could try to forget.
But it's becoming more difficult to even talk to her.
So I keep working, hoping some space will give her time to gather her thoughts and when I return, she will open up to me like she used to. But we just keep growing further apart.
Is this what we've become? Are we one of those couples who never share anything with each other, avoiding discussing anything that really matters and spending the little time we have together talking about the most trivial and unimportant things?
I don't know what to do any more. If I stay, and I tell Rachel Duncan I won't go to wherever she's sending me next, then I risk my career. Which I would do for Cosima, of course. Or … I would have done. Last year, when we were new to the city and everything was bright.
So why have things changed so suddenly? Is it the sudden change of lifestyle since we left London? Both of us working long hours, particularly me? Leaving behind almost everyone we knew in England? Maybe it's because Cosima's illness has put so much stress on the both of us. It could be because Cosima feels the need to carry the weight of it on her own.
'Delphine, I don't need you there, okay?'
The words replay in my head.
Or is it all my fault?
Have I made the love of my life believe I don't have time for her? Has she gotten so used to me not being there that she doesn't need me anymore?
Finally, a crack of golden light hits the wall like a lighting bolt, quickly disappearing with the click of the light switch from the hall. I hear the door shut, and the soft padding of Cosima's feet against the ground. She curls up next to me, a space between us.
I stare at the ceiling until I can no longer see through my tears.
'I'm sorry', I whisper.
Cosima lies motionless, silent. And then, suddenly, she's wrapping her arms around me, pressing her body against mine, kissing my neck hungrily. She straddles my waist, running her fingers down the length of my arms. Her lips are like fire, her teeth graze my skin.
She continues kissing me ferociously, urgently, moving to my collarbone, then down my chest and my stomach.
I want to tell her to stop, but I can't do it. She's like a woman possessed. She moves to the insides of my thighs. She's kissing me like this is the last time she ever will. But I feel nothing.
Is she really so afraid of dying? Does she fall asleep every night terrified that it might be her last, that she might never wake up? Or does she realise it too? Does she know?
We're losing what we once had.
At one o'clock, Cosima has been completely still beside me for almost ten minutes, breathing evenly in and out.
'Cosima?' I whisper softly into the darkness. There is no reply.
She knows how much I hate going to bed without fixing our argument, without an apology and the knowledge that we can wake up the next morning, clear-headed, and move on.
But she fell asleep anyway.
The grey skies of London welcome me on a wintry Saturday morning. It feels good to walk beneath the heavy raindrops again, to hear each one fall on my umbrella. I tread carefully, trying to avoid the puddles of murky water on the sidewalk, but I feel raindrops running down my feet, seeping between my toes, and I wish I hadn't worn these shoes.
It's eight in the morning, and the sky has barely lightened. I saw the sunrise from the airplane, but soon we dipped below a thick blanket of grey cloud and the sun was lost. I left it behind, higher in the sky.
I hail a taxi from Heathrow and head straight to my hotel in Mayfair. The exterior is grand and ornate, cream in colour with polished gold handles on the front doors. A porter opens the door of my taxi and takes my bag. I follow the red carpet inside.
I wish Rachel Duncan would stop sending me to these posh and expensive hotels. It sounds ungrateful, I know. But this isn't my London. My happiest times here were in the markets of Camden and the noise of Brixton. I lived in tiny apartments I could barely afford. This extravagance just isn't me. It reminds me of living with Paul, when he got promoted and we moved to a fancy apartment in Westminster. It seems like a hundred years ago now.
I doubt I'll be spending much time in this hotel anyway. My family is here. I'm meeting Felix for breakfast this morning. He's already insisted that we go out to Bobby's tonight and I sleep on his sofa. Sharing an apartment again like old times, even if only for a night.
I don't know how I feel about it. Thinking about the old times gives me a pang of sad nostalgia, because, in an odd way, I long for them. Things were simpler then. They weren't simple at all, but simpler than now.
I abandon my bag at the door as soon as I enter my hotel room, kicking off my shoes and collapsing onto the soft white sheets of the bed. I close my eyes, so exhausted suddenly that I could fall asleep in a second. But I have work to do before I meet Felix. Reluctantly, I slide my laptop out of my handbag and hit the power button.
I almost burst into tears when I see Felix walking down the street towards me, heavy black boots slapping against the sidewalk. I see his smile, feel his arms around me, smell his cologne, hear his voice, and I realise how much I've missed him, how much I've needed him. Sometimes a video call isn't enough. I have to be standing beside him.
We meet outside a pancake house in Soho, one Felix has been telling me about for ages. Inside, the walls are bare brick, lined with golden light bulbs and chalkboard menus. We sit down at a table in the middle. Felix orders chocolate chip pancakes, and for me, plain with maple syrup.
'I bet it feels good to be back, huh?' he says, shrugging off his black leather jacket and slinging it over the back of his chair.
'Definitely', I nod as the waitress places our coffees in front of us. 'How is everyone?'
'They're great. Alex is so big now, you won't believe it! And Kira's so excited to tell you all about the science club she's started at school'.
'I can't wait to see them', I smile.
We talk about life in London; Sarah's promotion, Cal's new job, Kira begging her parents to get her a dog, Alex starting preschool next year, Felix's many failed dates and ever unsuccessful love life, Mrs S moving out of Brixton. But, inevitably, the conversation comes back to me.
'So how's Cosima?' he asks. 'Still crying when she drops you off at the airport?'
I give a hollow, unconvincing laugh. 'Yeah'.
The truth is, Cosima stopped doing that a long time ago. Now I take taxis to the airport.
'What was that?' Felix asks, waking me up from my thoughts.
'What was what?' I reply innocently, taking sip of coffee.
'That. That weird fake smile'.
'I don't know what you're talking about', I give him another tight smile, looking back down to my plate as I push a small piece of pancake around with my fork, dragging a sticky trail of maple syrup along with it.
'Yes you do. You're being weird. You can't pretend with me, Del. Haven't you realised that by now?'
Felix continues to eat as if nothing has happened. But he knows exactly what he's doing. This is what he always does when he wants to get something out of me. He sits back and waits for me to crack.
'Okay, fine', I concede. 'You win'.
'A ha! So what is it then?'
'Cosima and I are having problems', I say without looking at him.
'So? So does everyone', he waves a hand dismissively.
I roll my eyes, growing annoyed with him. 'I know that, we haven't been living in some perfect little bubble for the past five years'.
'Actually, yeah, you have. You and Cos are the most perfect couple I know. It's quite sickening, actually'.
'Felix, I'm not joking around', I snap. 'We're not just arguing here and there about the important things. Everyone does that, I know. But we're fighting all the time, and when we're not fighting, we're rarely talking. Cosima's shut me out completely. She's trying to make me feel guilty for the times she needed me and I wasn't there, and it's working. I feel awful all the time. We agreed that we didn't want to talk about marriage until Cosima is well. But I'm scared that, when this is all over, she won't want to marry me at all'.
Felix sighs, leaning back into his chair. 'I'm sorry. I didn't know', he says quietly.
'Yeah, well I haven't really told anyone until now'.
We sit in silence for a long moment, both unsure of what to say next.
'What happened between you?' Felix asks cautiously.
'We changed', I reply, a harsh edge to my voice that I didn't intend to be there. 'That's what people do, isn't it?'
'I don't believe you', Felix shakes his head.
'Why not? Who ever said we were perfect? We've always had our problems, just like everyone else'.
'They were just little things. You never really fell out'.
'How do you know?'
He shakes his head. 'I don't', he concedes.
I stab a piece of pancake forcefully with my fork. 'I thought our time would never come. The time when we stop growing closer and begin to turn away. Some people can go their whole lives without growing apart. But maybe our time is closer than I thought'.
'But she's your soulmate' Felix encourages. 'You'll never really let go of each other, even if it feels like there's distance between you'.
I ignore the lump rising in my throat and blink back the tears in my eyes. 'I spent my whole youth locked away in my bedroom, crying myself to sleep, thinking no one would ever understand me and I was destined to die alone. I got so lucky meeting Cosima. Like everything had finally fallen into place. Maybe my luck is finally running out'.
'It wasn't luck, Delphine. You fell in love with each other. What's luck got to do with it?'
I don't respond.
'When you first moved to San Francisco, you told me you thought your life was perfect', he continues.
'But, things can't be perfect forever, can they?'
'Absolutely not. Del, you're talking to the king of failed relationships here. But what went so wrong these past months? Are you considering breaking up?'
I shake my head slowly. 'We have a whole life together. I love her'.
He frowns. 'Then why aren't you happy?'
'Because things aren't like they used to be. We barely spend any time together any more. And yes, I know it's my fault. But maybe it's hers too. Or maybe nobody is to blame, and we just have to get through it'.
'You want that? To work through it?'
'Of course. I want to fight for her, I want to work things out. But Cosima? I don't know'.
He reaches across the table and puts a hand on top of mine. 'Of course she'll want to work things out. She loves you. You're all she's ever wanted'.
'Well sometimes I have a hard time believing that', I mutter in response.
'Have you tried talking to her already?'
I nod. 'Every time I bring up our problems, she just tells me she doesn't want to talk about it. I know she's scared and stressed out, and I respect that, of course. I'm scared too. I want her to get better too. But that doesn't mean she can just use it as an excuse to shut me down every time I want to talk'.
Felix doesn't respond. He tries to, his lip quivers as if he's about to say something, but he swallows the words before they can leave his mouth.
'So I'm not going crazy', I observe. 'You think she's given up on me too'.
'Okay, I'll admit, it doesn't sound like Cosima'.
We sit in silence again. I sigh shakily.
'We've been together so long, Felix. Almost five years. I barely remember what it's like not to love her. And suddenly everything's gone to shit. It's gone from perfect to miserable'.
'I'm sorry, Del. I don't know what to say'.
He doesn't need to say anything else, and he knows I don't expect him to. He knows there's nothing he can say to make it better.
We finish our breakfast without another word.
I let the gentle nothingness of sleep wash over me, head against the soft cushion of the couch. It seems like days have passed since I last closed my eyes. I try to hold onto consciousness but it's becoming more and more difficult as the blackness fills my head-
'Hmm?' I respond, snapping my eyes open.
Cosima is sitting across from me, looking at me expectantly. 'Forget it, you weren't even listening', she shakes her head, getting up.
'I was!' I lie.
'No. You weren't. It's not important. You should sleep', she says, leaving the room.
'Merde', I whisper to myself, sitting up and rubbing the sleepiness from my eyes. I take my hand away and find a black smudge of mascara across my fingertips. Great. I feel like a mess, and now I look like one too.
I stepped off the airplane from Shanghai just a few days ago, and the jet lag hasn't quite left me alone yet. I promised Cosima I'd be okay for Alison's visit. It's Gemma's birthday and the Hendrixes wanted to drive down to San Francisco to visit us. But Cosima already cancelled it, knowing I'd be too tired.
I feel bad, of course. I wish Cosima had given me the chance. She called them without telling me. But maybe I should have tried harder to stay awake.
A couple of days later I'm leaning against the bathroom door, contemplating whether to knock or go inside or just walk away.
I hear Cosima on the other side, vomiting violently into the toilet.
'Cosima?' I call gently, knuckles tapping lightly against the door.
'Don't come in here!' Cosima calls back urgently, then, softer, 'just give me a minute'.
She emerges several minutes later, refusing to meet my eyes as she exits the bathroom. She walks straight past me, hanging her head as if she is ashamed.
I chase after her like a lost puppy.
'Cosima, are you okay?'
'Yeah, I'm fine now, just got a little nauseous there', she replies. She shifts uncomfortably, and there's a look of guilt in her eyes, which maybe I'm mistaking, because why would she be guilty?
'Did you eat something, or … oh no, you didn't drink all the wine, did you?' I ask worriedly.
'You haven't been sick like that since …' I trail off, not wanting to bring up Cosima's illness again, now it's safely in the past.
But Cosima looks up, startled, like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Her lip quivers. She looks terrified.
I feel a familiar anxiety settle in my stomach. 'What is it?' I whisper.
She looks away then, desperate for an escape. But she knows there is none.
'The surgery didn't work, Delphine. I'm going through chemo again'.
My breath hitches and I gasp for air. I cover my mouth with my hand, and stifle the strange noise that comes out, half gasp, half sob, all shock. And now rage surges through my body.
'How long?' I ask, my voice almost shaking with anger.
'How long?' I insist.
She sighs. 'Before Shanghai'.
'And you let me go, without telling me?'
She looks down at the floor, and doesn't respond.
I shake my head, a frustrated sigh escaping my lips. 'You're unbelievable'.
'I'm sorry', she mumbles.
'Just tell me why', I demand.
'I didn't want to worry you before your trip', she replies calmly.
'Oh, don't give me that, Cosima!' I snap. 'I can't count the number of times I've told you! I do worry about you, no matter what! So why don't you stop with all this' protecting me' bullshit and tell me what's really going on?'
'There's nothing going on', she maintains in that same, calm tone, but I hear the harsh edge in her voice and I know she's about to snap. I know we're about to have a huge fight, but I don't care. I need it. I need to have her shout and scream at me. Because at least it's something. I just need something from her.
'Yes, there is, Cosima', I push on. 'You won't open up to me any more. I just need to know why'.
'I just … I don't feel like I can'.
'Why not?' I demand.
'Because I barely recognise you any more, Delphine!'
She's snapped, finally. And there's no going back.
'So there it is', I exclaim, throwing my hands up in despair.
'Its the truth!' she argues. 'We're just so different now. I feel like a stranger to you'.
'But why do you think that?'
'I don't know. People change. Sometimes they just do. Who can say why?'
It's just like what I'd said to Felix. But suddenly, hearing her say it, I begin to disagree with myself.
'That can't be the reason', I shake my head. 'How is it possible that we've grown so far apart in such little time? It doesn't just happen for no reason'.
'It does, though. All the time'.
'No way. This is about my job, and your illness'.
She gasps. 'So now it's my fault because I'm sick?'
'That's not what I meant', I reply quickly, instantly regretting having blurted it out in such an insensitive way.
'Oh, I'm so sorry for getting cancer, Delphine', she shouts out sarcastically. 'I'll be more careful next time'.
'And don't make this all about me. Let's not forget, you haven't exactly been the best support system through all of this'.
'Well, maybe I could have been, if you would have given me the chance. You don't let me in, you don't even tell me what's going on. I might as well not even be here, clearly you don't need me'.
'Then leave!' she yells, pointing at the door.
'Don't be ridiculous', I respond, angry at the suggestion. 'I can't leave you, you're sick'.
'But that's the only reason you're staying?'
She knows that's not true. But there's a genuine questioning in her eyes.
'Of course not, I didn't mean that-'
'Then why are you still here?' she interrogates.
I choke on my words as they form in my throat, only to realise I didn't have any anyway.
'… I don't know', I finally respond.
Cosima shakes her head.
'I'm not leaving', I say determinedly.
She sighs. 'Yeah, well maybe that's what I need right now'.
My heart drops like an anchor into the bottom of my stomach, and fear spreads through my body like freezing water. 'You can't be serious-'
'But I am serious, Delphine!' she cries. 'I just … I don't know. This isn't working out. Things aren't how they used to be and we're just … we're not how we used to be either'.
'I know we're not, and I know we haven't exactly been happy lately', I say desperately. 'But we can work through it. You'll get better, soon all of this will all be over'.
'Again with the illness! 'Oh, I didn't mean it Cosima'', she mimics, predicting my next response. 'Well, what did you mean?'
'I mean that since you got sick, all you do is push me away', I shout. 'You don't talk to me anymore. You make excuses not to spend time with me. You used to be upset when I had to go away with DYAD, now you look relieved whenever I tell you I'm leaving'.
Cosima throws up her arms in exasperation. 'Yeah, well maybe I've just got used to you being away. I'm used to you putting your career before me'.
'The only reason I keep agreeing to go on these trips is because you seem happier when I'm gone. It's like you only love me when we're a thousand miles apart'.
She rolls her eyes. 'Don't even try to use that as an excuse. You watched me cry when I dropped you off at the airport. You know I missed you'.
'But you don't anymore'.
I'm sobbing uncontrollably now as the reality hits. That we're disconnected and broken and … and maybe I can't fix it. I thought I could fix it.
'Cosima, I don't want this to end', I whisper. 'I don't want to give up on us'.
'But I can't do this anymore, Delphine!' she cries. 'You don't love me like you used to. Look me in the eye and tell me you feel the same as you always have. That nothing has changed between us'.
I shake my head, blinking the tears from my eyes. 'I can't'.
'I just don't want this anymore', she says, looking at the floor, and then back to me, with pain and regret in her eyes. 'You're not what I want anymore'.
'What do you want?'
'I need to be alone'.
I sit down on the couch, running my fingers through my hair, and I start to understand something I didn't before.
'You tried to tell me, didn't you? About the chemo. The other day, when I was half asleep and you said it didn't matter'.
She nods sadly, tearfully. 'And several other times actually, not that you would have noticed. And still, you sit there and you tell me you have time for me'.
I feel a sharp stab of pain as her words hit me like flying knives. It's my fault.
This is my fault.
And what scares me more than anything is that this is the first time I've truly seen it. I'd convinced myself that our problems were mostly Cosima's doing, that her impossibility and stubbornness was driving a wedge between us. But maybe she wouldn't have been so difficult if I'd have put her first. I chose my work over her, over and over. And because of me, she put up walls to protect herself from more disappointment. I abandoned her when she asked for my help, and so she never asked again.
I told her so often that I'd always be there, any time she needed me, but when the time came, I never was. I've broken all my promises. I forced her to deal with her problems on her own, and now she knows what it's like without me there, now she's used to being alone …
She doesn't need me anymore.
She broke my heart over and over when she shut me out, like I didn't even matter to her. But I have to take responsibility, for some of it at least. I brought this on myself. I made myself out to be a victim, even to myself. But I was so ignorant.
I push the wet strands of tear-soaked hair from my face. 'I can't let you leave me again. I can't go through this again'.
'You have to', she replies, her voice calmer, surer of herself.
'So you've made up your mind', I say bitterly.
She nods, looking down at the floor. 'I think it's best if I went to stay with my parents for a while. We just need some space. It will be good for us, I know it'.
As I watch her, standing there in silence, I realise she'd already made her decision, even before tonight. She was just waiting for the right time to leave.
Neither of us say anything else.
After several minutes of uncomfortable silence, broken only by the sound of the quiet sobs we're trying to hide, Cosima disappears down the hall.
I hear her in our bedroom, unzipping her suitcase, the opening and closing of closet doors, the squeak of coathangers against the clothes rail. The light switch clicking as she leaves the room. The sound of the wheels on the wooden floor. All the while, I sit motionless on the couch, unable to move. I'm not even crying any more. I'm just numb.
She says something to me at the door, but I can't hear a word. I look up at her. She's hesitating, and I think she expects a response. But I can only stare, helplessly, into her shining eyes.
She bites her lip, then takes a deep breath, calming herself down before another sob escapes.
And then, she's gone. I jump up quickly, reaching the door before it shuts completely. I peer through the narrow crack, watching as she disappears into the elevator.
And here I am again, stood in the doorway as she walks away. Something about it feels a little too familiar. But this time it hurts so much more.
In the month since Cosima left, I have felt emptier than ever before. I live my life on autopilot; I pour all my energy into my work, I go home, I cook dinner, and I go to bed, alone. I stay later at work just so I won't have to go home and face an empty apartment. I'm earning obscene amounts of money, but there's nothing I want to spend it on.
I've been having trouble sleeping. Every night, that last day with Cosima replays in my head like a movie, only each time I say something different, altering the outcome entirely. Some of these times, Cosima stays. But that doesn't make me happy either.
To fix the scene, I have to go back. Back to when the arguments started, back to the time Cosima was diagnosed and, even before that, I was offered that first job in Frankfurt. Firstly, I have to turn down that job, however much I want to take it. Then I have to find a way for Cosima to let me in, which wouldn't be so difficult now that I wasn't travelling and I was always by her side. I have to accompany her to all her appointments at the hospital. I have to make her see that her illness doesn't scare me, and that even if she deteriorates, I won't ever leave her.
That would stop the arguments, and we would grow closer instead of further apart. I would have fixed the scene because it would never have happened. We would never have gotten so far that we would have to walk away from each other in order to be happy.
But it's too late for all that.
Our family was devastated at the news. I didn't want to talk to anybody at first, because I knew that everything would change for the worse. Felix would have to choose between me and Cosima. Alison and Sarah wouldn't speak to me again, which means I'd be cut off from Kira, Alex, Gemma and Oscar, the children I consider to be my nieces and nephews. I wouldn't see Erica and Michael again, people who have been like second parents to me. And even Scott and Krystal, two of my closest friends, would stand by Cosima out of loyalty to her. This was one of the first things that truly hit me as I came to terms with losing Cosima; I would lose my family too.
Felix called the next day. He had heard from Sarah. He was heartbroken. As if my own pain wasn't enough, now I had to bear the sadness of everyone closest to me.
Sarah called me the week after. She told me she was sorry, and that, of course, out of loyalty to her sister, we couldn't be friends any more.
'I once told you that if you ever hurt Cosima, I would hunt you down and make you pay. Do you remember that?' she had asked.
'Of course I remember'.
'Well, this doesn't count. Yeah, I guess you hurt her, but I know she hurt you too. Let's just say I heard Cosima's biased story, then Felix told me the account from both sides. I know this was mutual. I know how unhappy you've both been recently. We can't talk any more, Cosima would hate me for it. But I just wanted you to know that I don't hate you. I'll never hate you'.
Everything about her words were so final. I had to hang up quickly before I broke down. I didn't want Sarah to hear me cry.
Even my parents were disappointed. They had grown to like Cosima, even feeling excited at the thought that one day we would get married and have a family. Now it just feels like a punch in the stomach. They were right, that first time they met her. She would ruin me. But maybe I ruined her too.
We'd been together five whole years, and I've loved her for more than seven. She's all I've known for over half a decade. Now I have to start again, but I've never been more lost.
I wish I didn't have to go out tonight, but honestly, I've been running out of excuses.
It's difficult having a friend like Felix, a party animal and a lover of all social events, at a time when all I want to do is curl up on the couch and watch a movie and open a bottle of wine. He's been in San Francisco for two months now, working a freelance job, spending half his free time at Alison's, and the other half standing in my kitchen, begging me to go out. He insists it's because he hasn't been on a good night out in ages, but I know he's worried about me. That's his main motive.
Yes, I am ashamed of how pathetic I've become. I hate how I isolate myself and I'm making no effort to stop it. But I find it difficult to care anymore. I don't need to make new friends, or eat at nice restaurants, or visit beautiful places. I don't need to change my life. I'm unhappy? So what. That's nobody's fault but my own.
I'm still fully dedicated to my work, not that I have anything else to focus on. I gave up the travelling thing, eventually. Rachel Duncan walked into my office with another thick binder full of daunting papers and told me to pack for a week in Philadelphia. I told her no. I think she wanted to fire me after that, but the higher powers at DYAD told her that taking part in international conventions and facility visits wasn't actually part of my contract, and that she could easily send someone else in my place. She's hated me ever since. Not that I really care about what Rachel Duncan thinks of me.
So here I am, still alone, and now with my feet firmly on the ground. I haven't even considered leaving San Francisco in months, but I'm getting a little stir crazy in that big, fancy apartment of mine, which is way too much for one. It feels empty. The walls are too white and the bed is too big and my shoes are too loud as they click against the floorboards.
My parents have asked me to visit them, but I'd rather go anywhere else than Paris. We've been getting along much better, and I know they're proud of all I've achieved in my career. But, unlike them, work isn't everything to me. I might have one of the most important positions at one of the most famous research facilities in the country, the world even, but I feel more like a failure than ever. Turning up at their door feeling like I'm not good enough is something I've done too many times before, and something I will never do again, no matter how good our relationship is.
So I finally gave in to Felix's incessant nagging and decided I'll start being myself again. I did exist before, I keep reminding myself. It's just difficult to be yourself when for so long you shared everything you were with someone else.
Felix has brought me out to this place near Union Square, despite me complaining that we're too old for clubbing. Though fortunately it's more of a bar than an actual club, with a long bar, a large circle of booths and tables and a dance floor to the far side. It reminds me of Bobby's place, back in London. It's dark and dimly lit and there are cracks in the leather seats. But this is one of those hipster joints that goes for the dingy look on purpose; you can tell it's classy by glancing over at the selection of ridiculously expensive spirits behind the bar.
'Ask for Smirnoff if you want vodka', Felix tells me, noticing where I'm looking, swirling his own vodka lemonade around the glass with a straw. He's bought the first round, fortunately. 'The rest might as well be liquidised diamond. It's daylight robbery in this place - or night time robbery, I guess', he shakes his head quickly, 'whatever. But I know the bartender'.
'You know the bartender?'
He nods. 'A little fling I had'.
'Another one? How many guys have you slept with since you got here? Actually, never mind, I don't want to know'.
I run my fingers through my hair, and I'm still shocked when I reach the ends all too quickly. I got it cut recently, after Felix criticised all the messy split ends and marched me off to the hair salon. He said I'd really let myself go. It's still relatively long, falling just below my chest, and I still wear it straight most of the time, but it's different.
That's what I needed. To feel different.
'That's why I took so long over there, duh', Felix continues. 'Flirting my way to a couple of free drinks'.
'You're awful', I smirk. 'Charm isn't a substitute for money. One of these days you're gonna have to actually pay for your own drinks. You know, with these paper slips called dollars'.
'Oh, come on', he laughs. 'I'm a poor artist, remember, I need all the free stuff I can get'.
'Felix, you've got a job with that fancy place, you're not poor'.
'Yeah, but the gig's up in a month, and then I'm back to grimy Brixton. Besides, it's not that fancy'.
'Oh, it definitely is. They have a whole room full of egg chairs for 'creative thinking'. What is that all about?'
'Oh, and you can talk! That DYAD freakshow gave you a swanky apartment and-' he cuts off abruptly and his mouth drops open. 'Oh, shite'.
He's looking right over my shoulder. I immediately start panicking, and without even asking what the problem is, I turn to follow his gaze.
Merde. It's Cosima. I know it's her immediately, even though the room is dark and she's far away, on the other side of it, even though her long dreadlocks are gone, and in their place, soft waves that fall to just above her shoulders. It's her when I see her thick black glasses, the tattoos on her forearms, the dark red tank top, the color she always wore, the color of wine. I'd know her in a second.
Scott follows her in, and another guy I don't know. One of her co-workers, I assume. The three of them are laughing and joking. She looks happy. She looks happy, and it stings just a little.
I whip back around to face Felix.
'Did you know she was going to be here?' I demand.
'No, Del, I didn't, I swear', he defends himself.
'You said she was out of town!'
'She was! Until two weeks ago'.
'What? I have to update you on every little thing that happens in Cosima's life? You're a stalker'.
I pull a face, but he's right and I can't deny it. He's been keeping me up to date with Cosima, not in detail, but I know the basics. I didn't keep in touch myself, it hurt too much.
After she left, Cosima's illness worsened, then drastically improved, and half a year later, she was out of hospital completely. She went back to work for a while, and then she decided she'd fly out to Cincinnati to spend time with her cousin, Tony. I learned all this from Felix, of course. I never even saw her at DYAD, I used every back door in the building so I could avoid her.
'Merde! She's seen us!' I cringe as I notice her eyes turn to us. Her smile falters.
'Well, obviously, we've both been staring right at her since she walked through the door', Felix retorts. 'You stay here. I'll handle it'.
He slides off his chair and bounces up to Cosima, hugging. She looks so excited to see him. But her enthusiasm wears off quickly, and her face turns serious. I can't read Felix's face, he has his back to me. But I can only assume they're talking about me. I cower in my seat, shrinking back into the soft material as if I might disappear altogether. My thoughts are confirmed as I see Cosima's eyes flickering towards me now and again.
Her expression is one of hostility. Her eyes are searing, and I quickly look away, my face burning. I tuck a strand of hair behind my ear self-consciously, start twisting the silver ring around my index finger, messing with the buckle on my watch. Anything to make me look less stupid than I feel, sitting here alone.
My face remains neutral. Indifferent.
And that expression remains when I look back at the two of them, still talking away. Cosima looks at me, her attempt at subtlety failing immediately as we catch eyes. But she notices the lack of resentment in my face, and her own expression softens. She nods at me in greeting. I smile back. It's awkward, but it's something.
Felix and Cosima part ways, and Felix wanders back over to the table, where I'm still shifting uncomfortably and wishing the ground would swallow me whole.
'Don't let me keep you from her', I say bitterly as he sits down.
He pulls a face. 'I came here with you, didn't I?'
I raise an eyebrow at him, and he rolls his eyes.
'Okay, I told her I'd go speak to her later'.
I shrug. 'Fine'.
'Don't be like that. This was supposed to be a fun night. I've been really looking forward to this rare occasion I've actually convinced you to leave your apartment'.
'I leave the apartment all the time', I argue.
'But never to do anything fun. Seriously, when was the last time you saw anyone who wasn't me?'
I think about my friends, or lack thereof. There's the people at work, but I wouldn't consider most of them to be close to me. There's Ferdinand, who's rich and powerful, with a posh English accent and collection of designer suits so large he never wears anything else. He's nice enough, but he's started acting weird recently, and everyone thinks it's because he's sleeping with Rachel Duncan. There's Veera, a shy Finnish girl who works in the lab next to mine. She doesn't go out much, so I never see her outside work. Danielle I like. She's French too, from a family of ten in rural Brittany. We couldn't have had more different upbringings, which is probably one of the reasons I like her. We go out for coffee now and again. She invites me out with her friends and her brothers, but I've turned her down so often that she rarely asks me anymore. Then there's Art from tech support. He was going through a divorce around the time Cosima and I ended, and so we leaned on each other for support.
I have people. But I'm becoming more and more antisocial lately. Maybe I won't have them for much longer.
I ignore Felix's question. 'This was supposed to be a fun night', I complain. 'But out of all the bars in San Francisco, we had to choose the one she's come to'.
'I know, it's awkward', he smiles apologetically.
'You didn't even tell me she was back in town', I accuse.
'She only got back a couple of weeks ago'.
'You still should have told me', I mumble.
'Why should I? Why do you care?'
'Because I wind up in situations like this!' I gesture to where Cosima is standing at the bar with Scott and the other guy. 'We already have to work at the same place. I get nervous every time I go down to the parking lot in case I see her there'.
'You're really over-thinking this', he sighs.
'Whatever. Conversation over, let's just move on'.
We talk for a while, about meaningless things mostly. If Felix was hoping to hear exciting updates on my life, he'll be very disappointed. I have nothing to tell.
I keep looking over at Cosima. I can't stop. She's dancing on the stage area at the other side of the room, but even in the crowd, she is so easy to spot. Her dancing is the same as ever, arms up in the air and twisting to every beat, eyes closed, lost in the music.
She has become like a ghost to me, an illusion of a person who hasn't existed in reality since she left. And now here she is, very much real and living and just as heartbreakingly beautiful as before. Someone who, all this time, has been living her own life outside of my knowledge. A life without me.
And I remember what it was like to hold her. To sleep next to her. To have her legs intertwined with mine, her arm draped across my waist. To stroke the soft skin of her cheek. To walk down the street with her hand in mine. I remember how she smells, and how her eyes, always burning with curiosity, stared straight through me. I remember her lips on mine.
I remember being with her. I remember the day she left. And now all I feel is bitterness.
I want to hurt her.
I leave Felix's table, despite his protesting, and head straight for the bar. I ignore his calling out after me. I need him to let me do this and not try to interfere. He'll be distracted soon enough anyway, I've seen him eyeing up some guy in a booth not far from our table all night.
I spot a free stool at the crowded bar and quickly slide onto it, ordering another drink when the bartender appears in front of me. Then I sit there, sipping my drink, my eyes wandering up and down the length of the bar, trying to be subtle but finding it difficult. I land on a tall blonde guy wearing a baseball cap and a navy shirt. He's looking right back at me, and he's not making an effort to hide it. I give him a small smile, and he grins back. I look away then, tucking the long hair that falls over my face behind my ear. The woman sitting next to me leaves with her friends, freeing up a couple of stools next to me. And from the corner of my eye, I see the man move towards me.
This was too easy.
'Hi', he says, sitting down. 'Can I buy you another drink?'
I look down at my glass, which is conveniently empty.
'Sure', I smile. 'Thank you'.
He calls over the bartender and we order together; vodka lemonade for me, beer for him.
'I'm Jesse', he introduces himself.
'So, you're French?'
'You live here now?'
'Yes, I've been here a few years'.
'What made you move?'
'A job offer. I work at the DYAD Institute'.
'DYAD? The big science place? Damn!'
We continue to exchange small talk like this for a little while. Jesse seems like a nice person, and I almost feel bad that the only reason I'm sat here talking to him is to spite someone else.
I keep eyeing Cosima across the room. She's looking at me too, I can feel it. We don't often catch each other's eyes though, fortunately.
I order another vodka lemonade, which I would have downed in one if it weren't for Jesse's raised eyebrows. We're both getting a little drunk and the conversation becomes more flirtatious. I laugh at his jokes, though I barely hear them anyway. I shuffle in closer to him, placing a hand on his arm and tossing my hair back over my shoulder. I've forgotten how to flirt with guys in bars. I haven't done it in so long. Clearly, I'm not making as much of a fool of myself as I think I am, because soon Jesse's arm is around my waist and I'm backed up against the wall, him whispering in my ear. Again, I'm not listening to anything he's saying. I keep glancing at Cosima over his shoulder. She's still dancing. She doesn't see me.
Jesse moves in closer until our faces are only an inch apart. His hands are on my waist and I slide my arms around his neck, and then he kisses me. It's slow at first, but I deepen the kiss, pushing back into him. He responds hungrily, and soon we're making out like teenagers.
I brush my hair back over my shoulder and Jesse moves down and begins kissing my neck, hands still circilng my waist. I close my eyes for a moment, leaning my head back against the wall, soaking up the feeling of being kissed like someone wants me. It's been a lonely year without it. I enjoy the moment, even as my head swims with drunken dizziness.
And when I open my eyes, I see my mission accomplished. Cosima is staring at me, her expression a mixture of fury and hurt, and I stare defiantly at her over Jesse's shoulder. Straight into her eyes.
I win. My lips curve into a smug smile, and as the hurt deepens in her face, I've won but I'm still left feeling like I've lost.
Because none of this matters. I lost her, and that was the end of our story. Trying to make her jealous won't ever make me any happier.
I've lost, I've lost, I've lost. I'll never win, not when it comes to Cosima.
She looks away, her face turning dark. Jesse's lips move back to mine, and I kiss him one last time before gently breaking away. He runs his hands up and down my bare arms, and suddenly, they're freezing cold against my burning skin. I jerk away from his touch, and he eyes me with concern.
'What is it? I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-'.
'No, it's nothing' I say dismissively as I continue to avoid his gaze and stare straight over his shoulder.
Cosima is walking towards us, stony-faced, dark red wine that matches the color of her shirt sloshing around in her glass as she walks.
Please be going to the bathroom, I hope. But she bypasses it, coming down the stairs and over to the wall which Jesse still has me backed up against. I push him away so I can face her.
Her face is all hatred and anger, but her eyes are only full of hurt.
'You're real classy, Delphine', she says harshly. 'I thought we could be mature about this. But if you wanna act like a child? Two can play at that game'.
With that, she jerks her wine glass upward and I feel the lukewarm liquid seeping through my white shirt, leaving a huge dark stain like blood across my chest and stomach.
I gasp. It's her turn to win now. But she doesn't smile, like I did. She doesn't laugh or shout at me some more. She just stares, broken. And then, without another word, she turns on her heel and stalks towards the exit.
I'm still too shocked to move at first, but the sound of whistles and cheers from onlookers who were enjoying the fight snap me out of it. Jesse's trying to ask me what's happening, but I just look at him apologetically, and turn back to glare murderously at the audience I've accumulated.
Then I slam my empty glass down on the side of the bar, and storm out after her.
I really like this chapter. Thanks for sticking with me. Hope everyone's staying safe!
I push past the bouncers at the door in time to catch Cosima on the sidewalk, arms folded and head down, stalking away. I follow her.
'Cosima! What was that!' I shout after her.
She turns around. 'What do you want, Delphine?' she says tiredly.
'What kind of petty is this?' I gesture to my soaked shirt.
'Me, petty?' she snaps back defensively. 'You're one to talk. Kissing some random guy in front of me like that'.
'Why do you even care?' I shout, ignoring how hypocritical I sound. 'We're not together anymore'.
'Yeah, so you're going round hooking up with whoever you find in bars'. She waves a hand dismissively. 'Whatever'.
I cross my arms. 'Its good to know you think so highly of me'.
'Well, you're right, I don't care. It's your business', she says harshly.
'I was having a nice night with a nice guy and you came and ruined it', I lie.
'Bullshit!' she shouts. 'You were just using him to get back at me'.
I throw my arms up in frustration. 'Yeah? Well maybe I do want to get back at you. I need something to make this whole mess worth it'.
'Well, congratulations, I'm glad you got what you wanted', she snaps, voice heavy with sarcasm. 'You should be real proud of yourself, Delphine. I'm glad after all we've been through, your first priority is to make sure I can see that you're over me'.
'And after all we've been through, you look at me like you don't even know who I am', I shout back. 'Standing there, talking to Felix. I could see your eyes, they kept flickering to me as if I was some stranger you wanted to get a closer look at. You didn't even acknowledge me'.
People are staring at us now. Some avoid us completely, some eye us with concern, a group of drunk guys are shouting at us, encouraging us to start a fight. I ignore them. I also try to ignore my own drunkenness.
I can see tears in Cosima's eyes. She bites her lip.
But I carry on shouting.
'And for the record, I was using him, and he's the first guy I've kissed in months. I don't go around flirting with whoever I can, I only did it because of you'.
'You're cruel, Delphine', she accuses.
'I don't care, Cosima', I say dishonestly, yet truthfully at the same time. 'It doesn't matter. Don't you understand? None of this matters. I don't care what that guy thinks of me. He thinks I'm a bitch, so what? I don't care anymore'.
'Then why do you do it?' she asks.
'I come to this goddamn club, you're here, and suddenly I can't think of anything else. All I want is your attention'.
My voice has lost its harshness, and now I just sound empty and sad. It's not what I wanted. I wanted to sound like I have it all together, like I'm not still shattered inside. But I can't do it.
And now Cosima gives a small smile. It's not a happy one, but it seems something like a peace offering. I stare at her.
'When have you ever had to ask for my attention?' she says softly. 'You know you're the only one I look at in a crowded room. You've always known'.
No. Don't listen. She doesn't mean anything by this. She can't.
I shake my head. 'Cosima, I can't do this any more, I can't do this with you'.
I turn away. I start walking. I don't want her to see me cry. She's seen me at my best and at my absolute worst, but I won't cry in front of her again. Not like this. Not now.
I take one more step. I could keep going, I could just ignore her. But how could I do that?
I slowly turn around. We stand, face to face across the space between us.
'Don't move on', she shakes her head, tears trickling down her face. 'I haven't'.
I let out a shaky sigh. 'Cosima, don't even-'
'I'm not', she interrupts. 'I'm not trying to hurt you. I just need you to know. I'm still stuck on you, and I wish I wasn't, but I am'.
Her eyes are so full. Past the shine of water, they're so full of pain and hurt and regret and guilt.
I know her better than anyone. I still do, because I know she isn't lying. I was just about to accuse her of trying to hurt me, like I wanted to hurt her. But she isn't. I can see it. One look at her eyes and I know what she's thinking, what she's feeling. And yet, in the past, when I was so wrapped up in myself, I couldn't figure her out at all. The wall has again become a window, like it was before. And I can see her.
So I search for the differences between this new Cosima, the one who's been existing without me, and the woman I fell in love with almost eight years ago.
I can't find any.
That's how I find myself sitting awkwardly next to Cosima on the sidewalk, our legs stretched out into the deserted road, the chatter and shouts of club-goers all around us, sirens in the distance. It's noisy, but it's peaceful in its own strange way.
'I like your hair', I offer timidly.
She touches the ends of the tousled waves.
'Thanks. I lost a lot of it when … you know'.
I nod in understanding.
We sit in silence once again, as a thousand thoughts run through my head. I'm sure she must be feeling the same, even though, from the corner of my eye, she seems so calm.
'Are you mad at me?' I blurt out.
Cosima blinks at me, startled, and then her face softens.
'A little, I guess?' she replies unsurely. 'Not so much anymore. Being away from you gave me a lot of perspective, and when I saw myself from both sides I learned a lot. I've forgiven you. But yeah. I don't think about it too much anymore'.
She looks out into the road, lost in all the noise of the night, but her voice is still so calm, like she's done all the fighting she can do.
'I was so scared, Delphine', she confesses. 'I thought I was going to die. Especially when they said the surgery wouldn't work. I just thought I would be better off alone. For the first time in my life, I felt truly helpless. I'd been researching and finding solutions to things for so long, but now there was nothing I could do to fix myself. And it was so terrifying. I would do anything to keep all those problems hidden away. From everyone, but especially from you. Because that fear is the fucking worst feeling in the world, and all I wanted was to keep it in so no one I loved would have to know what it felt like'.
I've started to cry, listening to her. Imagining her, sitting alone in a dark room with no way out, blackness crushing in, threatening to consume her at any moment. I'd always known she was scared the cancer was going to kill her. But her fear was bigger than any of us had seen.
Bigger than I had seen.
'Oh, Cosima', I cry. 'I wish you would have let me in'.
'I could never have done that. I didn't want you to worry about me any more than you were doing. It was already killing me, to know that it was my fault. I know you didn't sleep the first few weeks. I knew you spent your lunch breaks crying down the phone to your mom. I didn't want any of that for you. I just needed you there to talk to when it became too much for me to handle. And more often than not, you weren't. That's when I went from hating that you were worrying too much, to hating that you weren't worrying enough. So I shut down completely. And I bottled everything up'. She smiles sadly. 'It took me a long time to realize that's not how things work. You can't save the people you love pain by pretending you're okay all the time. They hurt anyway, and they'll always be concerned about you, no matter what. I thought it would be easier for me to get through it on my own. I had been for a while anyway, when you were away. I thought I was handling it well. But, sat in my old bedroom at my parents' house, I realized that pretending was turning me into a person I didn't like. I'd become cold and isolated. I wasn't fun any more. And I wasn't happy, because I didn't have you. I was still mad at you, but I wasn't happy without you'.
Across the street, a couple sit down on the sidewalk. They're younger than us, probably twenty-five. The man runs a hand through his hair in frustration, looking away from the sobbing girl by his side. They mirror us, but they're our opposite. My heart aches. I think Cosima is looking at them too, but maybe she's just staring at nothing.
'I had a dream about you', she tells me. She smiles now, the most beautiful, bright smile, tinged with sadness. 'I hardly ever remember my dreams, but this one is clear as crystal, and I can't stop thinking about it. I came home from work to this beautiful house in a suburban neighborhood. You were cooking dinner when I went into the kitchen. I kissed your cheek and you asked about my day, but I could never reply because right then a little boy comes rushing in. Our son. I helped you finish cooking dinner, and we sat down to eat as a family. You kept looking at me the way you used to. We were so happy. And when I woke up, I wasn't bitter or angry, or even upset. I just missed what I had in that dream. And I don't know how that's possible, because how could I miss a life I've never had? But maybe I just missed you. And I longed for that life we were supposed to have together. I didn't even know how much I missed you until I woke up feeling empty'.
She looks up at me, and I can see the damp of tears still lingering beneath her eyes, tinted with a streak of black eyeliner. 'I'm sorry for the way I acted. I truly am'.
I shake my head. 'Cosima, don't say that'.
'But I just need you to know', she insists. 'I'm sorry I shut you out, I'm sorry I didn't tell you what you deserved to know. I'm sorry I made you feel like I didn't love you. We'd become so disconnected. Anything we tried to tell each other just got lost in translation. Like we were on opposite sides and we just couldn't understand each other at all any more. I didn't mean for it to go so far. I didn't want to leave. But I honestly thought it was the right thing to do'.
'Do you still think that?' I ask.
'In a way, yeah. I don't know. It gave me the clarity I'd been looking for. But, ultimately, what I found is that I only want you. And I felt like an idiot, because I'd walked away instead of sitting down with you and talking about our problems'.
She looks out into the road again. The other couple are leaving, the man with his arm around his girlfriend, her leaning into him. A happy ending.
Then she turns back to me. 'I love you, Delphine', she says earnestly. 'I always have. And that beautiful life we had together? I'll do anything to get it back. I'm sorry, really. I'll do anything to make it up to you'.
'It wasn't you though, was it?' I protest, feeling more guilty by the second as she continues to tell me she's sorry when I know I should be the one apologising. 'We both said and did things that were stupid. You've got to stop blaming yourself for all of this'.
'I'll stop blaming myself when you do the same'.
I open my mouth to reply, but I can't think of anything to say. I snap my mouth shut, and Cosima smirks at me knowingly.
'Yeah', she nods. 'Felix told me everything. I know you've had a rough year, dealing with all of this. And I know you still believe it's your fault. That's why I need you to know it's not. So will you share the blame with me now, and stop stealing it all to yourself?'
I shake my head, chuckling, turning my gaze back out into the road.
'I never could get over you', I say, absent-minded, as if I was talking aloud to myself rather than Cosima. I almost laugh as I think about it. All that time I spent pining and crying over her. 'I couldn't the first time, so how could I now, when I know how it feels to have you love me back? The first time you left, you were just a fantasy to me, something I wanted but couldn't have. I don't think you will ever understand how difficult that was. I'd gone through my whole life believing I was straight and I'd marry Paul and I'd never know true happiness, because I was somehow destined for mediocrity. Then I met you, and you changed all that for me. You made me feel things I'd never felt before. But still, I knew I couldn't have you. Then the second time? You were real, and you were mine, until suddenly you weren't. And I hated myself for taking you for granted, because when you were gone, I couldn't live with myself. I still hurt every day'.
Cosima looks broken. She looks at the ground, running a hand through her hair, then back up at me, her tangled curls, dampened by her tears, flipping back over the top of her head and out of her face.
'I just want you, Delphine', she cries. 'I want you back. Could you ever be with me again?'
I sigh. 'Of course I could, Cosima, but … I'm so scared'.
'I'm scared too', she assures me. 'But please, talk to me about it. And let me talk to you. Please give me a chance'.
'Six years, Cosima. Six years together, and it took only a few months to fall apart. We said forever last time. I can't go through this again. I can't do it'.
'But we're soulmates, aren't we? We always come back to each other. I know that now'.
I bite my lip as I try to make sense of the tangled mess in my head, each buried insecurity, each forgotten hope that one day I would have her back, flying to the centre, like a web attracting insects.
'This can't be like some competition, both of us tripping over ourselves to make up for what we did, who is the most sorry', I tell her. 'That's not real, that's not what I want. I just want to forget the last six months of us, I just … I want things to be the way they used to be. And I'm scared we can never go back to that'.
She shrugs. 'I think we both have a lot of guilt. But, with a bit of work, I think we can come to a place where we can forgive ourselves'.
Perhaps she's right. All this time I'd spent blaming myself, I'd never even considered that she might be doing the same. That she might be mad at me, but she might also be mad at herself.
She continues to gaze at me hopefully, questioningly. I nod slowly in response.
She smirks then. 'I'm sorry I threw my drink over you'.
'It's okay. I deserved it'.
We laugh, and then suddenly we've stopped, and we're frozen in a tense silence. Neither of us knows what to say.
Cosima bites her lip nervously. I glance down at the floor until I can bring myself to look at her. Because I know when I look up I'll be seeing her completely open and unguarded, something I haven't seen in a long time and something I wasn't ever expecting to see again.
'So, what now?' she asks awkwardly.
And I look up.
I'm afraid of her, now more than I ever have been. I'm afraid of the power she has over me, because she is the only person in the world who has truly broken me. It was so easy to do, just a few words and I was shattered beyond repair.
She can ruin me. She's done it before, more than once. But here I am. I'm still alive. Still messing things up and still trying to fix them. Still hoping I can learn to be better.
Still a little broken. But still hopelessly, desperately in love with her.
And then the solution is simple.
'Maybe we just … start again'.
Last chapter before the epilogue! Hope you enjoy it.
I love this time of day, I always have. Early evening, six o'clock through to seven and eight. The workday is over, I can kick off my high heels and change into jeans and a comfortable shirt, or sometimes just my pyjamas. I can cook while I sip at a glass of red wine, then sit back and watch a movie or read, or maybe go out for a walk, because it's still warm out and darkness won't fall for another hour or two.
But this Friday evening, I'm just sitting, cross-legged, by the window. I can't even count how many times I've wasted an evening just sitting next to the glass that stretches from floor to ceiling, staring out. But I like that it gives me the time to think. Just sitting, doing nothing, completely relaxed. And suddenly the evening doesn't seem so wasted after all.
I do it more often now though, because I'm worried that soon I won't be able to look out of this window any more. My lease on this place expired two years after l started working for DYAD. They kinda expect you to find your own house after a while. But after all that happened in my life, and the bad place I was in, I just decided to stay. They let me keep the apartment, they just stopped paying for it. Still, the rent they charged me was so little compared to any other place like this in San Francisco. Besides, I like it here. Where else could I find a view like this?
'Well, I was too late booking a table at the restaurant, looks like we won't be able to get in until 9. Is that okay?'
I look over to the kitchen and shake my head, smiling. Typical Cosima. Always late for everything.
'Bien sûr', I reply.
She comes over to the lounge and jumps up onto the arm of the couch, tucking a dark brown curl behind her ear. 'But that does mean we have a couple hours to kill. We could go down to the bar first or-'
'Lets go to the bridge!' I say suddenly. Staring out of the window for the past half an hour has inspired me, I suppose. San Francisco is so beautiful at dusk, and the Golden Gate Bridge seems like the obvious choice to watch the sun go down.
Cosima raises an eyebrow. 'The bridge? Why?'
'Why not? It's a beautiful evening, I'm not going to waste it in here!'
'It is pretty out there, huh', she nods towards the window.
'It is', I agree. 'Besides, we haven't been down there since …' I trail off, catching myself once I've realised.
Cosima smiles sadly. 'Since before', she finishes.
I return the small smile. It still hurts sometimes, for both of us.
Being back together was hard. Cosima called me a few days after our showdown at Union Square, asking to take me out on a date. And we dated, for a few months, like we were completely starting afresh. We were reconnecting, slowly but surely. But it was difficult. Because for most of that time, we didn't know where we stood with each other, and we were both too afraid to ask the other about it. That's when I got scared, when it started to feel like all those times we kept things from each other. I knew then I needed answers. After all, this wasn't like ordinary dating, this was an attempt to salvage my relationship with the person I loved so deeply and passionately that I would do anything for them. Anything to get that relationship back.
So I confronted her. I told her I loved her and I was completely and totally serious about making it work with her, about getting back together. I told her I needed to hear that she felt the same. She promised me that she did.
After that, it became easy. We were more open with each other, and we were no longer afraid of judgment. We spent most days together, cooking for each other, going to the movies, even just sitting around in my apartment, curled up on the sofa drinking red wine and talking until the early hours. It felt natural and comfortable, and I felt secure with her. That familiar feeling of home returned whenever she was with me.
Just over two months after our first date, we told our family and friends we were back together. And later, my apartment once again became our apartment.
Since then, we've been happy. And though we can't ignore what happened, and sometimes we still feel raw about it, we look at how far we've come and we remind ourselves that it helped us grow.
And in places where we have bad memories, we make new ones.
'Okay, sure', Cosima concedes. 'The bridge it is'.
So we drove out here to Martin Headlands and Cosima and I are lying side by side in the grass, talking about nothing and watching the sky change colour as the minutes tick by.
We watch the people around us too, whether they're older couples walking with their dogs, tourists taking photos of the Golden Gate Bridge, or joggers, running in time to the music that blasts from their headphones. Or sometimes they're just teenagers in love, a couple walking by hand in hand, a girl standing on her tiptoes to kiss her boyfriend. There's a young girl with long blonde hair that swirls around her shoulders with the wind, looking out towards the sea, doing nothing else, as if she were waiting for something. She reminds me of myself, when I was fourteen and lonely and waiting for my life to begin.
And it's very beautiful. Everything about this place, this evening.
'Aren't we so lucky?', I say to Cosima, though really I'm more thinking aloud. 'What did we ever do to deserve this life we have? It's just an ordinary evening and we're spending it here at one of the most famous landmarks in the world with the most beautiful sunset. Isn't it incredible?'.
'Well that got really deep', she laughs. 'Why do you say that?'
'I don't know', I reply. 'Sometimes I just get caught up in work and research and paying bills and cleaning the apartment and getting enough sleep, all the obligations of everyday life, and I feel like I don't appreciate the little things enough. I'll let things pass by because I'm too preoccupied with something else. But it's the best thing ever when we can slow it down, even if it's just for one night. We have the most wonderful life, Cosima'. I chuckle to myself. 'Maybe I'm just crazy'.
Cosima doesn't reply, she just sits up and looks out over the edge of the hill.
'Delphine', she begins hesitantly, 'I didn't wanna do this now, but I think I have to-'
'Do what?' I interrupt.
'These past two years, they've been perfect'.
'Yes, chérie. It has been wonderful'.
She looks at the ground, shy suddenly, then back up at me. 'You're everything, Delphine. Everything I ever wanted. Being away from you only teaches me that I want to be with you all the time. Anywhere and everywhere. Forever. Because you're the only one I truly want to share my life with, and I can't see myself being without you ever again. So' she takes a deep breath, 'I wanted to ask you something I should have asked a long time ago'.
My heart stops, and I turn my head towards her so fast I feel a twinge in my neck. Ouch. That was stupid. I shift so I'm propping myself up on my elbows. Cosima fumbles inside her purse.
And then she presents it to me. A delicate little box made of smooth black leather, with soft velvet in the inside, and -
'Will you marry me, Delphine?'
An elegant silver ring, with a small, neat diamond in the centre that glitters in the sunlight. It's very beautiful, but all I can focus on is Cosima's face, hopeful and anticipating of my answer, though she knows what it will be. Half-smiling, on the edge of breaking out into that brilliant, perfect grin that seems to light up her her whole face, reaching even the depths of her eyes. She is utterly mesmerising.
I still haven't answered. I sit up, facing her.
'Oh, Cosima', I gasp, before I get lost in my own fascinations and I forget that she's expecting a response. 'Yes, yes of course I will!'
I offer her my hand eagerly, and she gently slides the delicate ring onto my finger. And there's that smile I wanted.
'It looks good on you', she comments.
'Its beautiful', I admire.
She kisses the ring gently. Then she releases my hand as I slide it up to the side of her face, her soft skin beneath my fingertips. I cup her face between my palms and kiss her slowly.
She breaks it off first, pulling away only slightly, laughing. She rests her forehead on mine, so I can feel the tickle of her breath against my lips.
'It's been a long time coming, huh?'
'Yes', I whisper, kissing her again, and I kiss her on her forehead, her cheeks, along her jawline. 'Je t'aime', I tell her between each one.
'I love you too', she giggles.
I continue to kiss her all over as the sound of her laughter fills the air around us, and eventually we tumble backwards. Now we lie, side by side, staring up into the pink sky, and we just stay there, in the stillness and the quiet.
'You know it's been ten years since we met?' Cosima muses after a moment. 'Isn't that unbelievable?'
'I know. And you're still as cheeky as you were then'.
'And you're still as gorgeous. As am I, of course'.
'Still as modest, too', I joke.
'As always', she grins. 'So much has changed though. We finished school, we moved half way across the world, we got awesome jobs. I don't have dreadlocks any more. And you're less French', she teases.
I shove her playfully. 'I'm not less French, I just have less of an accent. Damn you Americans, rubbing off on me'.
I don't notice it too often, but when I speak to people I haven't seen in a long time, they tend to remark on how my accent has changed when I speak English. And most new people I meet guess I'm from Montreal instead of Paris.
'I'm kidding', Cosima assures me. 'Your accent's still super hot'.
'Shut up', I giggle.
I sit upright and look out over the bay and the majestic bridge stretching up into the sky. The breeze brushes through my hair gently, cool on the back of my neck.
A lot has changed, hasn't it?
It's only times like these that you really see it though. When you sit and think back and you evaluate where you are now in comparison to where you were some time ago. Where you were ten years ago.
Cosima and I are still busy with our careers. We still fight and we still get stressed out, and we say things we don't mean.
But there are times like this when we can just forget about all that. Everyday life sinks into the distance and all I can think about is how I'm so lucky to be exactly where I am. The night is warm and the colors of the sunset melt seamlessly into the starry deep blue overhead. My city is so beautiful before me and the air is so peaceful and I'm madly in love with life and everyone in it. And I have my soulmate sitting right here beside me.
This is the perfect moment. If such a thing exists.
And from the dreamy haze in Cosima's eyes, and the way she looks at me then, fixated, lips curving into a small smile, I think she might be thinking exactly the same thing.
'You feel it too, don't you?' she asks.
I nod. 'I do'.
I expected it to feel like this huge, life changing moment. Like our lives together would play in front of me like a movie. Like suddenly my feelings for Cosima would change, I'd start viewing her as a fiancée instead of a girlfriend and somehow I'd love her more, or even just differently. Like I'd take a look at myself, in this moment, and see a different woman.
But it doesn't feel like that. Maybe it does for some people, but not for me. It feels so natural, normal even. Like things were supposed to turn out this way all along. Like, right now, we're exactly where we're supposed to be.
Aryanna looks as if she's about to burst with excitement when we walk through the door at Giordano's, and I immediately realise that she was in on this whole plan. The Italian girl looks up innocently, and after recognising us, a huge grin spreads across her face, one which she attempts to hide after her eyes flicker to Cosima and she realizes she is about to give the game away.
'She knows, doesn't she?' I nudge Cosima whilst we're still out of her earshot.
'Do you even need to ask?' Cosima smirks. 'I knew telling her was a bad idea'.
'Buonosera, ladies!' Aryanna welcomes us, practically clapping her hands with glee. She keeps looking from me to Cosima and back again.
Cosima shakes her head. 'Aryanna, I did it already'.
Her face falls.
'What? Cosima! You mean I missed it!'
'I'm sorry, Ari. I found, like, the perfect moment, and I just went for it'.
'The perfect moment was supposed to happen here in my restaurant', she sulks.
'Hey, this restaurant is very special to us, you know that', I reassure her.
And Giordanos is special. It's the place where, after our separation, Cosima and I had our first date. And it was like a first date too. It was a little awkward, and most of it was spent catching up on each other's lives since we stopped speaking. But, by the end of the night, we were so much more comfortable with each other. And I was hopeful, then, that maybe we really could start again, maybe we could have what we had before.
Looking back on it, maybe it was a bad idea to go to Aryanna's restaurant, of all places. Having heard from Scott about our break-up, she looked like she'd seen a ghost when we walked in together. She kept staring at us all night long.
'Can you ever forgive us?' Cosima asks dramatically, to which Aryanna laughs.
'Okay, maybe I can. Come on, I'll show you to your table'.
She takes us over to our usual spot at the back wall, promising she'll bring a bottle of champagne over.
'And by the way, Cosima', she adds, 'you're an idiot. You call me up this evening telling me you want to propose here tonight? It's Friday, busiest night of the week!'
Cosima holds her hands up in defeat. 'I know, I know. Kind of always late, so kind of always sorry'.
'Good luck with this one, Delphine, she'll arrive at the aisle a day late', Aryanna rolls her eyes, sliding two menus onto the table.
'Well, someone has to marry her', I complain jokingly. Cosima sticks her tongue out at me like a child being teased.
And I can't stop smiling. Because that person is going to be me.
The rest of the night passes by in a blur. We'd driven straight from the Headlands to the restaurant, which was a bad idea because both of us have had far too much champagne to drive home now. Fortunately, Aryanna lets us leave the car in the parking lot at Giordano's to pick up tomorrow, and we stumble home at closing time.
We smoke pot out on the grass at the back of our apartment building, passing a joint back and forth between us. Cosima still keeps a stash at the back of a drawer in our bedroom. For special occasions, she says.
This turns out to be a very bad idea, because suddenly I am an uncontrollable emotional mess. I burst into tears the second we walk through the front door, and Cosima spends half an hour trying to console me.
I eventually calm down, and we open another bottle of wine. We have sex on the couch, and drink some more, and start re-watching an episode of Orange is the New Black, which we have to turn off because Cosima can't stop laughing and I can't hear a word of what's going on on the screen. Then I throw up in the bathroom, and Cosima laughs at me instead of the TV.
We finally start sobering up about an hour later. I call my parents at three in the morning, because it's midday in Paris. They're so delighted to hear the news. Maman screeches down the phone, so loud I have to hold it well away from my ear. After speaking with me a little, they demand to be passed over to Cosima. So now I sit, watching her as she talks, thanking my lucky stars she's so good with them. My parents once thought Cosima was just a meaningless fling for me. Years later and they're overjoyed when I tell them I'm marrying her.
Cosima does the same with Sarah back in London. Once upon a time Sarah would have killed us if we woke her up with a Skype call at eleven on a weekend, but her precious lie-ins are long gone now she has a little boy who loves to watch Saturday morning cartoons as soon as the sun rises.
She answers the call alone, but soon Alex rushes up to the screen, waving at us in excitement. He's bigger every time we see him, I'm sure of it. Cal joins Sarah on the couch a minute later, confused as to why we're calling in the middle of the night.
Then Sarah spots the ring on my finger, and she claps a hand over her mouth.
'Oh my God. Oh my God!' she gasps. The two of them congratulate us excitedly. Alex looks at his parents, bewildered, before deciding he doesn't know what's going on, and he quickly goes back to playing with his toy cars on the floor.
'Bloody hell, Delphine, haven't I got enough siblings already?' Sarah laughs.
'I know, this family's getting out of control', I reply jokingly.
Sarah shakes her head. 'You never needed to marry Cos for me to consider you my sister. You've been a part of this family from the start', she says warmly.
I'm moved by her words, but Cosima immediately uses this as an opportunity to tease her sister. 'Jesus, Sarah, save the emotional speeches for the wedding'.
Sarah pulls a face. 'Oi, Kira, get over here', she shouts towards the kitchen. 'Cos and Delphine are on Skype'.
'Coming', a distant voice calls.
Sarah turns back to us. 'Too busy studying. She can't get enough of biology, thanks to you two bloody science geeks teaching her all this stuff. Her teacher says she's miles ahead of everyone else in her class, she's practically demanded that Kira takes biology and chemistry at A-Level next year. She also said Kira's been telling her all about her genius scientist aunts, and how she wants to work in a lab because of them'.
'That's the coolest thing ever', Cosima smiles proudly.
Unsurprisingly, the first thing out of Kira's mouth when she finds out we're getting married is asking whether she can be a bridesmaid. We promise her she will be.
At half past four, we finally climb into bed, and despite my insisting that I wasn't tired, I can feel my eyelids growing heavy as soon as my head hits the pillow.
'This was a crazy night', Cosima giggles.
'It was', I agree as she curls up beside me, both of us facing each other.
She takes my hand, interlocking our fingers, and kisses my engagement ring.
'To the next ten years', she says softly.
'And to all the ones that come after', I say back.
We fall asleep like that. A smile on my face. Hands still joined.
This is the epilogue! Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the story!
Another Friday night, another walk home from Giordano's. Cosima a couple of steps ahead, our daughter walking next to me, swinging our joined hands in between us as she talks about her day at school.
'Charlotte has a pet snake, isn't that cool?'
'A snake?' I repeat, mildly horrified.
'Can we get one?'
'Sure', Cosima chips in. 'Or we could get you a much cooler pet. How about a tarantula?'
The little girl pulls a face and shakes her head, blonde curls bouncing.
Adèle Emiline, named for my grandmother and Cosima's great-grandmother, who had come to America from Germany in the 1940s. Tomorrow, we will have had her for eight years, and I find myself wondering how the time slipped by so quickly.
'We're not getting a snake', I tell Cosima.
'I know, I know, I was just kidding', she assures me. 'Who's Charlotte anyway?'
'She's my new friend', Adèle explains. 'She's new at school this week and Miss Johanssen asked me to look after her'.
'That's nice, chérie', I say proudly.
'I told her it was my birthday on Saturday and at recess she made me a card'.
'That's so sweet!' Cosima exclaims. 'So, are you excited for tomorrow?'
'Yes!' she jumps up and down in delight. 'So excited!'
For her birthday celebration, she asked that all our family come to spend the day with us. With Cosima's sisters living so close now, family reunions are easier than they used to be. But still, that's what she wanted anyway.
When Adèle was two, Sarah was involved in a car accident. There were times we thought we were going to lose her. Cosima and Alison flew out to London to stay with Felix while Sarah was in hospital, and they stayed for two weeks while she was in and out of surgery. A few weeks later, Sarah was back at home with Cal and her children looking after her, but it was a long recovery process. After that, Sarah decided she didn't want to be so far away from her sisters anymore. Mrs S had moved to Canada a couple of years before with her new husband anyway, and Sarah knew she would be able to convince Felix to leave England too if it meant we could all be together.
So, a year after the accident, the Morrisons moved to the outskirts of San Francisco. Felix followed the next winter, moving into an apartment downtown. He was reluctant at first, hating to leave his beloved Brixton behind. But he knew it was for the best; he would get to spend more time with his sisters and his nieces and nephews, and the graphic design firm he'd worked for a number of times had been trying to get him to join them permanently for years anyway. I know he's happy here. I think he'd want to be anywhere, as long as his family were there.
The three of us pile into the house and hang our jackets up in the hall. Cosima kneels down and helps Adèle untie her shoelaces.
'Come on, Adèle, up to bed now', I steer her towards the staircase.
'But, Maman!' she groans.
'It's past your bedtime', I point out. 'Besides, you promised if you had hot chocolate at the restaurant, you'd go straight to bed when we got home'.
'And it's your party tomorrow, you need to sleep or you'll get cranky', Cosima tells her.
'But I'm not even tired', Adèle protests.
'Well, maybe if you go get ready for bed now, Mom will read to you', I say.
'Will you, Mom?' she looks at Cosima hopefully.
'Sure, honey', Cosima ruffles her hair. 'Come on, let's get you upstairs'.
Cosima pushes her along gently, following her up to her bedroom. Adèle continues to complain.
'Well, what are you doing now?'
'I'm going to read to you and then Maman and I are going to go watch TV and open a bottle of wine'.
'But you always drink wine'.
'Its Friday, that means it's wine night. Besides, Maman is French, that means she has to drink it'.
'Well, I'm half French, can I have some?'
'No way, kid, you're too little. And you wouldn't like it'.
Their voices fade away and I'm left alone in the hall. I turn away from the stairs to face the wall.
My photo wall. The one I always wanted, like Sarah's, or Michael and Erica's. Picture frames hang all the way across, from the front door to the kitchen door, and from the floor to the ceiling.
My eyes are always drawn to the centre photo, the biggest one. I'm sitting on the couch in our lounge, Cosima's arms around me, cradling Adèle. We're smiling up at the camera, tired, no make-up, and our daughter is fast asleep. That was the day she was born. We'd started the process of trying to have a baby before we got married, and just over a year after our wedding, the chaos that is parenthood had begun. I was in the hospital at five in the morning, Cosima squeezing my hand and somehow managing to keep me calm with her usual laid-back attitude, and later that afternoon, we were home with the most beautiful baby girl, never to be just the two of us again. Alison took the photo. It's the first one we ever took as a family of three. The Niehaus-Cormiers.
We'd gotten married in the spring. It rained on our wedding day, but still we took photos outside after the ceremony. Cosima's dress was strapless with a heart-shaped neckline, mine with lace sleeves that stopped just past my elbows, both long and flowing. Both soaked by the rain. And we didn't care. We laughed as the water soaked our hair, which we'd each left in our natural styles anyway. We danced, and we kissed, and our family took pictures with us, and by the end of the photoshoot everyone was drenched by the downpour. But it didn't matter to us. It wasn't exactly the weather we'd hoped for, but we made best of it. And still, after the speeches and the cutting of the cake and the first dance, we went outside again to find the sky had cleared and there was only the warm sunset and our family and friends spilling out onto the grass to watch it with us.
Felix had been the one to reveal all of our most embarrassing moments to our wedding guests in his speech, followed by Sarah, whose stories were equally mortifying for my wife and I, and hilarious for everyone else in the room. Alison gave a beautiful speech about finding Cosima and her sisters. Michael shared anecdotes about the nerdy but wickedly smart misfit Cosima had been throughout her school years, and thanked me for being the one to understand her. Papa even spoke, officially welcoming Cosima to the Cormier family. And Cosima had the room in tears as she thanked Beth for being her guardian angel. She said she had never believed in the afterlife until she'd lost someone so close to her, and all she had left to cling to was the possibility that she was out there, somewhere, looking down on her.
All the sisters believe that Beth is watching out for them. To this day, Sarah says it was Beth who helped her wake up from the coma after her accident. She found her sitting in her kitchen in Brixton, telling her she had to find her way back.
Even then, Cosima rarely spoke about the sister she grew up with. But after Adèle was born, she started sharing stories with her. It's her way of keeping Beth alive, making sure she's never forgotten even by the niece who never had the chance to know her.
As for me, in my speech I thanked Cosima for everything she'd ever done for me, or done to me. I thanked her for changing my world completely, for showing me there was more to life than anything I'd ever known before I met her. And I told her that all the hurt we'd caused each other, all the times she made me cry and all the times I let her down, I didn't regret any of it. Because it had brought us to that moment, and so I wouldn't have had it any other way.
My parents sent us to Hawaii for our honeymoon. I'd told them before the wedding that we hadn't planned anything yet, and then at the reception they came to us and just casually announced that that was their wedding gift to us. I nearly fell off my chair.
So with the honeymoon taken care of, I booked a trip to Reykjavik for our first anniversary, because Cosima had always wanted to see the Northern Lights. Like she had surprised me on the first anniversary of our relationship, I did the same for her on our first wedding anniversary. I told her I could compete with her surprise Venice vacation.
It became a tradition after that. Not so much the secrecy, because after that we always chose the destination together. But we always go on vacation when our anniversary rolls around, whether it's a road trip to Vancouver, hiking in the Andes or island hopping in Greece. When Adèle was very small, we left her with Alison for a week (which she loved, because the Hendrixes spoiled her). But when she turned five, we started taking her with us. We went to Barcelona, where she loved the colours of Park Guell and Casa Batllo, and to New Zealand, because Cosima had introduced her to Lord of the Rings and she desperately wanted to visit the Hobbiton film set.
We go to Paris every year too, to visit my parents. They've been over to California a couple of times, but it's more common that we go to them. We spend a week or two, and Adèle gets spoiled. She loves it there, and she loves speaking French with me and her grandparents and every shop worker or waiter who'll listen to her. In one of the photos on the wall, she's tiny and smiling, stood in between my mother and father in front of the castle at Disneyland Paris, and in a more recent one, there's me and Adèle and Maman at the Louvre, where we'd taken her because she'd suddenly become very interested in art. She didn't think much of the Mona Lisa though.
Cosima usually comes with us, but there were a couple of times when it was just Adèle and I. Gemma and Kira even came once, because they'd never been to France and they wanted to visit. They spent a couple of days with us at my parents' house, then they jumped on a train to the south and I didn't see them again until it was time to fly back to America. I was only assured that they were still alive by the two drunk phone calls from Gemma and a picture Kira sent me of the two of them with a huge group of young backpackers at a party in Marseille. They made me promise not to tell their mothers that they'd ran off, Gemma especially, knowing how crazy Alison could get. I agreed, but I did tell Cosima as soon as we got home, who quickly texted both her nieces to kindly remind them she had great blackmail material should she ever need it.
Even now, with Gemma at 27 and Oscar at 29, the Hendrix kids still have to sneak around under the watchful eye of their fiercely protective mother. Oscar is a lawyer, relatively new to the game but with enough confidence and drive to fool anyone into thinking he's had years of experience. Gemma's road to her dream job was a little more tricky. When she was nineteen, she showed up at our front door telling us her mom was going to kill her. She'd gotten a tattoo, a line-drawn rose on her shoulder, and we all knew Alison would go crazy if she found out. The truth was, Gemma had been dreaming of becoming a tattoo artist for years. She always loved to draw and paint, and she was good too. Back in Napa she'd met with a local studio who were interested in taking her on as an apprentice, and she was so excited, but so scared to tell Alison, who wouldn't even let her get her ears pierced until she was sixteen.
So we drove Gemma back home to talk to her mom. She wanted us there for moral support, seeing as both Cosima and I had tattoos and were living proof that having ink on your skin doesn't ruin your life. Alison did have a minor panic attack when she saw the rose on Gemma's shoulder. But ultimately, she came round to the whole idea. Now, with Alison and Donnie's unwavering support, she's living downtown and has a guest spot at one of the best studios in the city.
As for Kira, she's working on her PhD at UCLA. She chose to study chemistry in the end, and Cosima and I couldn't be more proud. Alex is starting high school in the fall. He plays football, but he's a great musician too. Sarah and Cal bought him his first guitar when he was eight, keen to encourage his interest in the old British punk rock music his parents played around the house. They taught him well.
The cousins are very close. There are pictures all over the wall from family trips we've taken, from when Adèle was tiny up until last year, when we drove down to Los Angeles to visit Universal Studios Hollywood. That's my favourite photo of them; all the kids in front of the entrance to the park, Kira and Gemma pulling stupid poses at the front, Oscar giving Adèle a piggyback, laughing with Alex about something I can't remember.
We try to take a trip with the whole family at least once a year. It's more difficult now our nieces and nephews are older and they have their own lives, but they'll always be around when they can. Besides, everyone drops everything for Adèle. When she said she wanted all the family together for her birthday, all the kids cleared their schedules. Adèle is the baby of the family, and her cousins and aunts and uncles spoil her every chance they get.
The wall mostly shows our family, but there's old pictures of Cosima and I too. From Venice, from our second trip to Paris, from Scott and Krystal's wedding, the last picture we took in the old DYAD apartment and one of us moving into our new house, cardboard boxes of all our things surrounding us, stacked up on the floor.
Twenty years worth of photos with her. Twenty years of memories, good and bad. And despite everything, we're here today, and we're happy.
Cosima is leaning on the banister, watching me.
'So, you might be wondering why I insisted we go out tonight', she says casually.
'Yes, actually', I reply, turning to face her.
'Well, Dr Niehaus-Cormier, tonight marks exactly twenty years since I first saw you'.
The dates run through my head. No, today is the nineteenth. I met Cosima on the twenty-third, I'm sure of it.
'That's not right', I shake my head, confused.
'So you remember the first time we spoke. But that wasn't the first time I saw you', she clarifies.
She shakes her head. 'I saw you a couple of days before, in the library. You were studying from some immunology book, I don't remember which one. But you were reading it and you didn't look bored or tired like everyone else in there. You looked so fascinated. I couldn't stop staring'.
'So you already knew who I was, when I sat down next to you in the lecture theatre'.
'The last empty seat in the room just happened to be the one next to mine'. She laughs, hopping down the last steps and joining me in the hall. 'Some might say it was meant to be!'
'Maybe they're right', I smirk in response. 'Why didn't you tell me?'
Cosima shrugs. 'I guess I never thought it mattered. But now we're getting older, and now … well, now everything matters. Twenty years is a long time, and we're going to forget the little things. It's inevitable. But I'm gonna keep holding on. I don't want to miss a thing'.
I step forward, slipping my arms around her waist. 'I will too. And then, when we're old, we can remember together'.
'Deal'. She kisses me softly. 'Happy anniversary, my love'.
We're interrupted as the floorboards creak above us. Cosima's eyes flicker upwards.
'Adèle, if you're not in bed in five seconds', Cosima warns playfully.
The sound of the floorboards stops immediately as our daughter realises she's been caught.
Cosima's eyes flash mischeviously. 'Get ready', she whispers to me.
And with that, she darts up the stairs, deliberately stamping on each step so Adèle can hear her coming. Then I hear Adèle's giggling and squealing, meaning Cosima has scooped her up from the landing and is carrying her to bed.
I shake my head with a laugh, and look back at the photos.
My eyes settle on a small black frame to the right, out of the central cluster of pictures of our daughter. It's the photo of the two of us from all those years ago, the one on Cosima's lockscreen that I made her change before she met my parents. The one where we're both drunk and laughing and hanging onto each other like we might fall over.
I smile, and my reflection in the glass smiles back. Seventeen years after that photo was taken, and so many things have changed. I see it in my own face as the glass in the frame shows me myself like a mirror. My face, in which I only recognise my age when I look at pictures of my younger self and see all the years that have passed by in each laughter line.
There are things, however, that remain unchanged, as if time has stopped with the pictures on the wall.
My love for Cosima is infinite. I can tell her I love her over and over, but those are just words. In that picture, you can see it.
I wonder if, after all this time, I still look at her that way. How can I know when I can't see myself, when I can't look up into my own eyes and see what lies in them? But if I do, and I hope I do, I hope she can see.