My lungs burn, but I run faster than before—determined. For what reason, I don’t know. I’m less sure as the days go on, less certain of anything. Not even music can save me.
When I reach Rue des Coquilles I slow to a casual walk, forcing myself not to breathe hard and give myself away. Nameless faces bustle past me. That’s what I’ve become: nameless. I tuck my head against my chin, warding off the cold. There’s only a pleasant breeze on the sea-swept air. The chill comes from inside me.
That’s how I enter the small house that serves as our temporary jail. I smell her acidic orange perfume before I see her. Madame Tissot appears at the bottom of the staircase as if she’s been waiting for me. Maybe she has.
“You’re leaking,” she says by way of greeting.
I glance down, where an egg yolk dangles obscenely from the corner of my tote bag. “Shoot. I’d better take this upstairs.”
Madame Tissot isn’t French by birth. She grew up in Colorado before she fell in love with a Mr. Tissot, who brought her here before he inconveniently died in a car crash while visiting his whore. Her words. Not mine. She does not seem inclined to let me pass. “Did you get hit by a bike?”
It’s the way Mr. Tissot went. A small swipe from the handle of a motorbike in a too-narrow lane. He spun around only to slam his head into the concrete ground. “No, but I should get upstairs and salvage what’s left of the groceries.”
She doesn’t move. Liam would never get caught in a conversion he didn’t want. He managed to rent the apartment while sharing absolutely nothing about himself.
Meanwhile I get trapped every time I walk out the door.
Madame Tissot leans close enough that I smell her stale coffee from this morning. “You don’t need to bother with groceries. Meals are included in your rent.”
The weekly payment barely covers the two-bedroom apartment, much less food. I realized why the first morning I went down for breakfast. Sitting at the dining table meant talking. It’s Madame Tissot’s sad little social circle. I feel bad for her, lonely in this leftover house, but not enough to go back.
I make a vague gesture. “Oh, you know. It’s no trouble.”
Realization dawns on her face. “And you probably want privacy.”
“It’s not like that,” I say, too quickly. Because it is like that. We need privacy for hiding and planning. Not for sex, the way the twinkle in her eyes implied. “We aren’t together.”
She frowns, and belatedly I realize I’m supposed to be a college student on a break. “He’s… my father,” I mutter. “He’s kind of pissed at me, but we’re working it out.”
“Ahhh, I see.” The lights in her dark eyes shift, showing a decided feminine interest in the handsome, brooding tenant who’s no longer taken. “He does not understand your wish for independence?”
I don’t know why it feels so strange to pretend Liam’s my father. It fits the cover story—and has the added benefit of being mostly true. That’s all we are right now. All we’ll ever be. The fact that I thought we’d be more… “No, he doesn’t understand.”
“You’re throwing away your future,” she says on a fake male voice. “You don’t know enough about the world to make these decisions. I know what’s best for you.”
“Exactly,” I say, surprised that the complaints of a father with an errant sorority girl so closely match my real situation. Apparently being a violin prodigy does not spare me the ordinary problems. The thought brings me a strange comfort. I’ve always wanted to be normal.
“Of course, the irony. How can you learn about the world unless you fail?”
My heart stops at the word fail. Is that what I’ve done? There’s no F on my transcript. No incomplete coursework sitting at some university, the way she thinks. Instead there’s a global tour deserted. A career as a professional violinist—abandoned.
I mumble some incoherent goodbye before starting up the stairs. They creak and moan, announcing my arrival to the man on the other side. The one who followed me home.
Right after the shooting in New York City, I was more worried about the bullet in Liam’s lung. We were worried about making sure we weren’t followed, that we retreated deep enough to be safe. It was only later that I realized Liam’s angry with me. No, that’s not the right word. He’s furious with me. A soul-deep rage that I can’t understand or breach. I’ve never seen his anger before, not really. I wasn’t the kind of teenager to stay out past curfew or spend too much at the mall. Even if I had, he’d been too stoic to let much show. This is different. It simmers near the surface whenever we’re in the same room, scalding me without a single touch.