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The Long Road Home: The Journey of Alice & Jasper

Summary:
This is the story of Alice and Jasper, before they met one another and after, up until they met the Cullens. It begins with Alice in the asylum. I have taken great pains to keep the story as in-canon as possible and remain true to the characters as they were created by Stephenie Meyer; I also have tried to be as historically accurate as I can. I hope you enjoy the story, and I welcome all feedback. Thank you for stopping by!


Notes:


5. Chapter 5: Rue de Paradis

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Chapter 5: Rue de Paradis

If I’d loved New York, I swooned over Paris. It became my new home. But it took me some time to get used to it.

I’d arrived in France ten days after departing New York. The voyage had been uneventful, although by the time my feet touched the rough planks of the wharf in Paris my throat burned with an intensity I hadn’t felt in a long time. I hadn’t fed before fleeing New York, not wanting to take the time to do so…and it had been too long before that, anyway. I always put off feeding as long as I could.

All around me the crowd swirled, people jostling me as I stood motionless among them, my struggle with my thirst momentarily rendering me stiff as a statue. The scent of them, hot blood pulsing through their veins, was agonizing. Even so, in the midst of my fight with myself, I could still hear the differences in the languages around me: many were spoken, though French was definitely predominant, the voices mingling and clashing, laughter and shouts and conversations. My mind heard and catalogued them all, even as my body warred with my will. I had much to learn, and I gritted my teeth with determination: I would learn all I could, and more. And always, always, maintain control of myself.

I kept my eyes closed for a moment, remembering, trying to get a grip on my instincts. I flooded my mind with memories, trying to gain perspective.

I thought about my time on the boat. I had stayed belowdecks in my stateroom during the trip, only venturing above in the nighttime, to take in the breathtaking sight of the moon hovering over the restless sea, the stars glittering abnormally close and bright—no longer dimmed or obscured by city lights, I saw the skies the way they were meant to be seen, endless and expansive, full of mystery.

The ocean was studded with foamy whitecaps, whipped up by the strong winds blowing from the north: it was the beginning of wintertime, and there were icebergs about as well. The North Atlantic crossing was often a dangerous one at that time of the year, even with the modern advances of steamship travel. I had held my breath at the sight of the icebergs, glittering like diamonds in the moonlight, floating low in the water…but I knew there was much more to them below the surface, jagged enough to tear open the hull and sink our ship in minutes. I could hear the watchmen up in the tower constantly calling out direction changes and warnings to the officer manning the wheel below. It had been a White Star Line vessel I was sailing on, after all, and no one wanted a repeat of the disastrous Titanic incident!

Of course, the fact that I wouldn’t have been in any real danger wasn’t important to me. I could swim without tiring, could stay submerged and never need to breathe…But I thought of all the people, and held my breath anyway, anxious—for them. And I found the icerbergs a disturbingly accurate analogy for my own nature: glittering, cold, hard, dangerous...deceptive.

I loved to lean over the edge of the railing and inhale the sharp, salty scent of the water, to feel the icy cold wind as I breathed it in. It felt so clean, and I felt so alive. For the first time in…ever.

During all that time, never having to sleep, I had thought over and over about why I had left New York. Corin’s darkly handsome face and his tales replayed themselves in my mind over and over again, alternating with Eleazar’s anguished but hopeful expression as he gazed at his Carmen in her suffering.

By now, I knew, Carmen would have completed her transition into…what we were, and he would be watching over her carefully, giving her the protection and guidance that I had never had. I felt a little pang of jealousy at that, but I knew I had my golden lion, my Jasper, waiting for me in my future, so it was only a little pang. Just a tiny one.

I thought also of Carolyn, the waitress from my cafe back in New York, and hoped she found some joy. Sometimes, I would concentrate very hard and try to see her. It wasn’t as easy with her so far away, and now that I had learned how much more intense my visions for my own kind were, the ones I had for humans seemed to pale by comparison, and were difficult to bring into focus. But I did glean a few hopeful glimpses: Carolyn smiling in a new dress, a blessed few pounds heavier, wearing the shoes I had bought her. Also, Carolyn strolling down some unknown street, not in New York anymore, arm and arm with a pleasant-looking fellow in a nice suit who smiled down at her with delight and fondness as they laughed together. I hoped that meant that she’d found a good man and would have a peaceful life, somewhere.

The images of the falling man, the suicide, were still engraved onto the insides of my eyelids. I couldn’t escape the horrible sight, could still hear the screaming echoing in my mind. I was so glad to be away from the City and the memories. Perhaps a new start would help me get past it all.

It did worry me a little to be in Europe, so close to the Volturi that Corin and Eleazar had told me about. Would I run into any of them? I doubted it. Now that I knew what to look for, I thought I had a pretty good chance of being able to evade them, and I would be looking for any decisions they might make concerning me, even if only vaguely. It struck me several times how very lucky I was, to have such an ability, to have these visions: it would be very hard for anyone to sneak up on me!

“M'excuser, mademoiselle, peux-je vous aider avec quelque chose?”

A human voice jarred me out of my reverie, bringing me to the present again with a jolt. I opened my eyes and turned to the direction of the speaker, holding my breath.

A rather unremarkable little boy stood there, dressed much like little boys dressed back in New York: knee trousers and shirt, jacket, cap shoved down over a mop of unruly brown hair. His round face was dusted with freckles, his smile was gap-toothed, his eyes brown and intelligent. He stared up at me fearlessly, his hand out like he was waiting for something.

It took me half a second to remember the French I’d been learning during my voyage. He’d asked me if he could help me with anything. It was common back in New York as well, children of that age working as guides and helpers, greeting arriving tourists. And they often robbed the tourists as often as they helped them, I remembered, smiling wryly.

“Oui, s'il vous plaît, pouvez-vous me prendre pour un bon hôtel bon marché? Je viens d'arriver de New York,” I replied politely. Yes, please, can you take me to a good, inexpensive hotel? I have just arrived from New York. I decided I would give him a chance. I didn’t get any immediate sinister pictures from him.

He grinned even wider, reaching up to lift his cap in greeting and bent in a very elegant bow. “Yes, mademoiselle, I can help you very much!” he said in halting but clear English. “My grand-mère has a very nice pension, on the Rue de Paradis, it is very clean and not expensive, and my grand-mère cooks very well!”

I laughed. Clean would be always welcome…the cooking wouldn’t be necessary. But he didn’t need to know that. “Thank you…” I trailed off, biting my lip. “What is your name? My name is Alice.” I held out my gloved hand for him to shake.

The boy immediately shook with me, pumping my hand effusively, like he was trying to get water from me. He wasn't that much shorter than myself, I noticed with a bit of chagrin. “Perrine, Mademoiselle Alice, my name is Perrine. Perrine Bruyere.”

I smiled and leaned down to pick up some of my bags, which lay piled around me on the wharf. Even though I'd left many things back in New York, I had still brought a lot; I couldn't bear to be parted from too many of my clothes. “Well, Perrine, find us a taxi, then, and take me to see your grandmother!” I ordered pleasantly; he snapped a sharp salute and streaked off into the throng of people without a backward glance.

I had arrived. Bienvenue à Paris, Alice…

Little Perrine had been as good as his word.

He’d brought back a taxi and loaded all my bags and trunks into it, even though he was tinier than me—he looked like he was only about ten years old, although I found out later he was twelve. But tiny or not, he worked like a little Trojan, hefting my heavy things without complaint. Then he’d gallantly opened the back door for me to enter the car and slid in next to me, giving directions to the driver and chattering to me alternately in confused English and French. It was quite entertaining: he was an intelligent child, and very willing to please.

I had never really spent much time around human children, and at first I had studied him intently, trying to learn more about him, about children in general. I found it extraordinarily disturbing when the scent of their blood appealed to me; they were so defenseless, so soft and innocent, with their big eyes and wide smiles, totally unaware when they looked at me they were looking at something that could erase their future altogether.

I tried very hard to not think of the burning agony building in my throat with every passing moment as we wound our way through the congested, narrow streets, but it was very difficult, with him sitting next to me in the small car: the heat of his body fairly shimmered off him, and his scent was very compelling, making my mouth fill with venom. I had to open the window and gulp lungfuls of the cold November air, trying to keep myself from going mad.

It seemed an eternity passed before the car finally slid to a stop in front of a four-story stone building. There was a bright green awning over the shining glass doors, and each window was adorned with a boxful of flowers, which somehow still bloomed in the cold. An elegant sign next to the door proclaimed “Pension des Tailleurs,” or the Hotel of the Tailors, in gold script, encircled by a depiction of winding thread and needles. I wondered about that.

Perrine let himself out and held the door for me once again, sweeping a grand gesture toward the hotel. “Bienvenue chez moi, Mademoiselle Alice, welcome to my home!” he chirped, smiling his gap-toothed grin.

I glanced about as he unloaded my baggage and bustled it inside. Rue de Paradis was a long, winding road, with nice houses, the streets and sidewalks clean and bright, and I could smell baking bread somewhere, the scent drifting on the brisk breeze. It was a welcome change from the smell of the little boy, if infinitely less appetizing.

“Bienvenue, Mademoiselle, bienvenue! S'il vous plaît, entrez!” Another voice, this time a woman’s.

I looked up and saw an older human woman coming toward me; she was withered and soft, like a dried peach, her dark brown eyes bright in her wrinkled face, wispy white hair pulled up into a bun, a grin that matched Perrine’s in both its broadness and missing teeth stretching her lips. She held out her arms in welcome. Perrine trailed behind her.

I smiled back at the woman. “Do you speak English?” I asked her. It was easier. Even though I knew my French was better than average now, I hadn’t spoken it much, and was a bit shy. I vowed to myself to use my time wisely, and learn as many human languages as I could. I hated feeling ignorant, and I knew my mind could grasp anything quickly.

She nodded. “Yes, a little,” she said haltingly, her accent very thick, looking down at Perrine for help. “I am Madame Bruyere, and this is my hotel. You are welcome here, Mademoiselle.”

“My name is Alice, Madame Bruyere. Thank you for your welcome.”

She snapped her fingers at Perrine. “Allez dire à cuire pour obtenir un peu de café et du pain préparé pour notre invité, et dites-Jacques pour préparer la chambre 12, petit-fils.” He dashed off eagerly while she watched him go with fond eyes. I wouldn’t be needing any coffe or bread, like she’d told them to prepare for me, but the room would be nice. I needed to get away from people for a while, wait for dark…and then hunt. Or else something unfortunate might happen, and I shuddered inside at the thought of that, of hurting these sweet people.

Madame Bruyere ushered me into the hotel, clucking like a mother hen over me. “Entrez, entrez! Être à l'aise! Come in, make yourself at home, please!”

The lobby was small but comfortable and scrupulously clean, the furniture polished to a gleaming finish, the fabrics colorful and well-tailored. I wondered again at the name of the hotel, and the needle and thread on the sign. Was this a family of tailors and seamstresses?

She led me up a few sets of stairs, grunting a bit with effort by the time we gained the top floor. “Whew!” she gasped, wiping her red forehead as she pressed her other hand against a door that was decorated with a brass plate reading “12”. “Here is your room, Miss Alice,” she said breathlessly. I watched her for a moment with wide eyes, hearing the way her heart was pounding in her fragile chest—if she keeled over from a heart attack right in front of me I wouldn’t know what to do.

Finally she pulled a huge brass ring from her apron pocket; the keys on it jingled merrily as she unlocked the door. “Please, go in!” she clucked again, pushing me gently in.

It was a lovely little suite. The main room was furnished with a comfortable-looking divan and armchair upholstered in a cool mint-green damask; the walls were painted a pleasant eggshell color and landscapes decorated the walls, watercolors and oils. An open door showed the bedroom, which had a large four-poster bed covered in a robin’s-egg blue coverlet and hand-embroidered pillows. Beyond the bed was a set of French doors, leading to a terrace. I imagined the view at night would be lovely.

Perrine came in behind us, pushing a cart with my luggage on it. I wondered if he’d had to climb those stairs with the cart, and then thought there must be a lift somewhere. He didn’t look winded in the slightest, in fact he was grinning.

“Would you like me to help you unpack, Miss Alice?” he asked me, laying my garment bag down over the edge of the divan.

I shook my head, my lips tight against my teeth. Again, in the small confines of the room, the scent of them filled my head, the burning of my thirst clouding my thoughts. “No, Perrine, thank you…I just need a little rest, if that’s all right?” I managed, trying not to breathe.

The Bruyeres nodded in understanding and backed out of the room quietly, closing the door behind them. Hoteliers must learn the art of discretion, I supposed.

I waited until the instant I heard the door click and turned and raced through the suite, bursting through the bedroom and through the French doors onto the terrace, where I hung over the edge of the railing, gasping the clean air, trying to rid myself of the agony the scent of their blood had engendered in me. I stayed there for a few minutes, eyes closed, my cheek pressed against the cool stone of the terrace, waiting for my control to return.

Finally I straightened and looked out over the city.

Paris in 1929 was a lovely place, as it is now, but back then it was quite a bit smaller, the buildings shorter. Much of the old city that had been standing for hundreds and hundreds of years was still there, the streets in the old parts cobblestone alleyways barely big enough for one car to pass, much less two. I could see in the distance a great metal structure, dominating the skyline: I would later find out that the builder, Eiffel, had been part of the team which had constructed the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. What a neat little circle it made for me.

It was a cold, clear November day, the wind blowing little bits of fluffy white cloud across the deep blue sky. The city lay spread before me like a canvas, an uncharted map, beckoning me to explore it. I smiled at the challenge, and decided I would begin tonight.

Perhaps I could find some good jazz?

I waited until the darkness descended over the beautiful old city, watching from my balcony as the shadows crept through the streets, the streetlights flickering on in their wake. The cool November afternoon air chilled even more, became laden with dew, leaving a scrim of frost on the old granite railing around the edge of my terrace. When I pressed my fingers into the frost it didn’t melt. I was so cold. I sighed and looked up: above, the stars began to twinkle.

Now I could safely descend and slake my thirst. But where?

I had to look for someplace…unsavory. The kind of place where the bad humans could be found, doing their bad deeds…Fun places, usually, ironically. I might be able to find some good music, some dancing maybe…and hopefully, the end of my tormenting thirst for a while.

I changed my clothes quickly, choosing carefully. I had to look good, but not too good, for fear of attracting too much attention.A little black beaded dress that hung just past my knees, covered with a black swing coat, a blood-red silk print scarf, a little black cloche hat with red detail, pulled down snugly over my hair, which I slicked against my cheeks in pincurls. I stared at myself in the mirror for a long moment, wondering at how human I looked: with my eyes black as night, it was easier passing for human…but who knew how red they might be before sunrise?

I slipped from my room into the hallway, shutting the door carefully, not wanting anyone to hear the lock click home. I stuffed a little handwritten note into the jamb, urging the Bruyeres to leave me be until the next morning; I could only imagine the little old woman bustling in with a laden tray of dinner, to find me gone.

I found the lift that Perrine must have used earlier, but didn’t want to use it, for fear of the mechanism being noisy and alerting the staff that the lift was in use. But I was in luck: there was another exit, a fire exit, leading directly down to the alley behind the hotel. Perfect. I had a feeling I would be using that exit quite a bit in the coming days or weeks, however long I decided to stay in the hotel.

The streets of Paris were alive even at night; the voices of the humans mingled in the chilly air, the gas streetlights casting every face into soft, romantic lines. I felt very much at home, passing among the Parisians, even the language was coming easier to me. I could understand almost everything being said around me. They were chattering about where to go, what to eat, what to do and who to see…

That was when I heard it. A name that would change my life.

Moulin Rouge.

I found the place easily enough, it took only a few quiet inquiries and then the huge windmill atop the red roof, visible for many blocks, drew me in like a bee to a fragrant flower.

I hadn’t ever seen anything like it in my years of awareness. People (mostly male humans, that is) thronged around the sprawling building, and the conversation there was much louder and more coarse than it had been on the more “civilized” streets. The air was redolent with the smells of tobacco smoke, liquor, burning food, and body odor, combining into a noxious and heady perfume that burned my sensitive nostrils; but under it all, pulsing, hot, alluring, was the scent of the blood that coursed through all the humans. Whether they be civilized or coarse, criminal or saint, they all smelled mouthwatering to me at that point.

I hung back, watching the crowds, swallowing back the venom welling in my mouth.

The music swelling from within was carried to me on the cool night breeze, resounding drums and tinkling piano, a rowdy, raucous, sensuous beat that made me want to move with its rhythm…I saw the faces of the men as they came and went, going in looking eager and full of anticipation…coming out, red-faced and glassy-eyed, as if they’d been literally stuffed full of lewdness…Even though I didn’t understand it at all, the music and the crowd called to me, something within me whispering that I wouldn’t be noticed in there, that I might find what I was looking for in there…

What am I looking for? I asked myself suddenly, biting my hard lip between my sharp teeth, worrying it in a gesture I knew vaguely must have carried over from my past, unknown life.

Blood, that’s what you want, Alice. Blood. Plain and simple. I answered myself firmly, nodding sharply, And inside that place, you have a good chance of getting it without being noticed. So get on!

It was full dark when I managed to wend my way into the building. I had to press myself between all those strange men, trying to make myself as invisible as possible, my whole being throbbing with the amount of sensory data flowing in through my nostrils and eyes and skin…I could feel the dirty touch of their eyes on me, the way their hands slid over me when I pushed them out of my way…finally, I was inside, in the cavernous belly of the Moulin Rouge.

The music inside was deafening, the whole place darker than outside, lit by a profusion of gas lamps that didn’t seem to make a dent in the gloom. The air was smoky and stifling, the smells heavier than outside, for inside the chokingly sweet perfumes of the woman were added to the mixture.

Men were everywhere, at tables and booths and at the long, polished bars that curled around the walls; men drinking, men smoking, men chatting with waitresses and bartenders and dancing girls, men ogling the dancers on stage. There were women everywhere as well: beautiful women, of all ages and ethnicities, their faces painted, their bodies encased in tight, flamboyant costumes with flounced skirts and fishnet stockings. Their laughter and calls and conversation mingled with the men’s, until it was all so much I could barely make anything out.

There was a piano in the corner, played by a man who seemed to be having some kind of fit of apoplexy as he pounded on the keys in a ragged, pulsing melody, the piano bench pushed back as he danced in place to his music while playing. I drifted a bit closer, listening carefully, trying to make out the song. Then it abruptly ended, leaving me standing in the midst of the crowd, feeling a bit lost…then it struck up again, but with a slightly different attitude.

Whereas before the song had been joyously carefree, this tune was…warm, and felt…almost…dirty. I heard a flurry of catcalls and whistles come from around me, and when I turned to see what the fuss was about, I saw the girls come trooping out onto the stage.

There were about sixteen of them, all fine-looking and young, made up in dazzling paint and glitter, long lush hair falling in ringlets and waves about perfect shoulders, with spectacular bosoms on display in their low-cut bodices, their equally spectacular legs showing below their knee-length skirts in black fishnet stockings and tall heels. They blew kisses and shouted lewd suggestions at the men in the audience, who replied with frenzied whistles and showers of coins and flowers and handkerchiefs.

At some unseen cue, they all linked arms, and the drums joined in with the piano, and the women began to dance.

I had never seen such a thing in my life. They moved in unison, their bodies undulating and twisting as one, they jumped and kicked and twirled and pirouetted in perfect timing. They would pull one knee up in and then kick the leg high above their heads, then repeat it on the other side, so fast, so effortlessly…The men were panting, screaming their appreciation all around me; had I not been so immune to the heat, I might have been tempted to faint or flee from the raw animal miasma permeating the place.

I had to pull my eyes away from the stage, from those beautiful girls and their sensuous yet amazing displays…I had seen a lot of dancing in New York, but nothing like this. Keeping my head down, I made my way toward a darker corner, where I might be able to watch from a less-vulnerable place.

A hot human hand gripped my upper arm, vise-like, from behind, and pulled me to a stop; I don’t know why I allowed it, I could have flung the man through the wall, had I chosen, but some innate sense of caution stopped me. A picture flashed through my mind, giving me pause.

Alors, où vas-tu, ma jolie chose?” The man’s voice was slurred with alcohol, but I understood him well enough. Where are you going, my pretty thing?

I turned slowly and looked at the man, wincing away from the bourbon fumes on his breath; his eyes were bloodshot and bleary, his hair messy, his clothes expensive but rumpled. He clutched an empty bottle in his hand, and was quite unsteady on his feet.

But he still had a dangerous air about him. My picture told me he wasn’t a…nice man.

“I am leaving, thank you very much,” I replied coldly in French, reaching up to pry his greasy fingers one-by-one from my arm. He might stain my lovely dress.

He blinked in surprise. “Why, ma petit, the night is young, and you are lovely, why not stay and have a drink with me?” he said, grinning in a way I supposed was meant to be charming but fell far short of the mark.

“No thank you, sir, I must be getting home. I am expected.”

He laughed, the braying sound reminding me of donkey carters back in New York. “Ah, ma belle, no, no one is expecting you, I think, you just want to be rude to poor Arnaud!” He somehow managed to catch my wrist and jerk me a bit closer. His stinking breath made my eyes water…and the hot pulse of his blood, beating visibly in the jugular in his exposed neck, made my mouth water…

“Stay. One drink.” He swallowed, looking me up and down, his eyes lingering on my legs, my exposed neck. “You know you want it. You girls always do.” His voice dropped, almost a growl.

I took a small breath, trying not to inhale the scent of his blood, closing my eyes with the effort to control myself. In that hot, close room the smell of blood was impossible to avoid, and the man, this hideous man, smelled better than the rest of them. Why?

Then it struck me. After all, I’d gone in there looking for some…relief, right?

And here was relief, staring me blearily in the face, practically begging for me to end his miserable life. No one would miss him, surely. I might be doing Paris a good deed, taking Arnaud out of the picture.

I couldn’t help myself. It must have been Fate again. I cast one quick, frantic look into the future: would I endanger anyone by taking this nasty man, by making him disappear? Would there be problems?

I saw nothing. My thirst screamed within me. My mouth watered.

“Well…all right then, Monsieur Arnaud, one drink.” I smiled a little, pursing my lips at him in what I hoped was a flirtatious manner, fluttering my eyelashes. It must have worked: his pulse sped, his eyes widened, then narrowed in something akin to hunger…perhaps lust? “But not here. It’s too…common here. Not private enough.” I made my voice as sweet as honey, pitching it so low only he could hear it, and even then he had to lean toward me.

Arnaud licked his lips and nodded, dropping his empty bottle and straightening his crooked tie. “I knew you liked me, mon petit, I could see it from the first!” he mumbled, and his greasy fingers inched up my forearm, caressing the skin until they latched above my elbow, hard as iron…but I was unbreakable stone. “Come on then, ma fleur, let’s find a more…quiet place.” He laughed, and the sound of it sent shivers down my spine, shivers of disgust and thirst. "I know just the spot..."

Somehow I knew that he’d done this before. I didn’t need to be able to read his mind. I could just feel it.

As he led me through the throng of raucous men, toward a back exit, I wondered how many young women had done this exact thing: allowed themselves to be pulled away from people, into the darkness, never to come out again? How many hadn’t allowed it, but had been forced?

But it wouldn’t ever happen again.

We emerged from the Moulin Rouge into the back garden, a dark, shadowy place lit only scarcely by oil-fed torches around the edges. Arnaud kept pulling me until we went out the back of the garden, in to an alleyway, away from the crowds, away from safety…

I could hear his heart beating faster. I could smell his blood coursing through his veins, pushed on faster and faster by the spurt of adrenaline brought on by the thoughts he was having about me, about what he might do to me. I felt nauseated by the man, my skin crawled with his touch, but I let him keep dragging me.

The sound of our footsteps rang loudly in my ears. The buildings loomed high above, dark and close, blocking out the stars; no breeze touched the street, which was dirty there, trash and other refuse piled everywhere. I saw homeless children and adults huddled in doorways and beneath shelters of newspaper and packing crate. Dogs barked, water dripped, I heard someone crying somewhere, and the sounds of arguing in rapid-fire French from within one of the dark, dreary houses.

“Here we are then, ma belle, up and in you go!” Arnaud whispered suddenly, stopping and pulling me close, his other hand curling around my other arm, the thumbs rubbing appreciatively at my skin through the fabric of my sleeves. He leaned in close to me, inhaling; the smell of him made my stomach turn, except for the scent of his blood. “Mmm, you smell…very nice…” he said, and I felt his lips graze my collarbone; they were hot, and a shock coursed through me. I felt as if the place on my skin where it had been defiled by those lips might be stained. What was I doing? Why was I letting him touch me?

Alice, don’t play with your food, I reprimanded myself. Get this over with quickly, and get back to your room!

Jasper’s leonine face flickered through my mind, and I felt myself go limp with relief at seeing it, even only in my thoughts. Only a few years more of enduring this, of having to do things like this, deal with people like this…we would be free…

“Well, what’re you waiting on, girl! Let’s go!” Arnaud’s harsh voice shattered my little fantasy, his hot breath against my cheek. He jerked my arms, shaking me.

“Oh, I-I’m sorry, monsieur, where are we going?” I asked him in a whisper, trying to keep my voice as low and innocent-sounding as possible, to keep the menace out of it.

All I wanted to do was tear his throat out. The sight of his pulsing jugular, the smell of his blood, scalded me. I felt a growl building in my chest and struggled to keep it down. Wait, wait, only a few moments more!

We were standing before a tenement building, a few stories high. Laundry fluttered from several windows, trash lay heaped around the crumbling stairs leading up to the main lobby. Arnaud let go of one of my arms and hauled me up the steps and inside.

The inside of the building was no better, probably worse. The trash was also there, and the smell of it was noxious. There were no lights, only the faint glow of the streetlights coming through the open door. Arnaud stood behind me, one hand still clamped around my upper arm; he reached around me and traced one rough finger across my cheekbone, then pushed back the hair from my ear, to lean down and whisper into it.

“Come on, bebe, let’s go up to my room for that drink, eh?” I shivered in anticipation; so did he…but we weren’t anticipating the same things.

Oh, what a surprise he had waiting for him!

Up we went, three flights of stairs, until he kicked in the door to a small, close room. Windowless, it must have been on the interior of the building. I could see scattered clothing and bedding, and could smell sweat and alcohol and waste…I could hear the cockroaches scurrying away from our entry, could hear them burrowing into the cracks in the walls, hiding.

Bienvenue chez moi, ma belle!” he murmured, kicking the door closed behind us. How ironic, that he might use the same words Perrine had used just this afternoon…

It began quickly, and was over quickly.

With a grunt, he tried to sweep my legs out from beneath me, probably to throw me down to the ground, but I saw it happening before his muscles ever responded to his mind’s commands; I pulled my arm out of his grip effortlessly, twirling around to face him, my stone-hard leg blocking his, planted firmly. I hissed in delight at his astonishment, at how his heart began to pound even more rapidly, galloping in fear. I smelled the sweat break out on him.

His eyes widened at my speed and strength, his mouth opening just a bit, “Que diable fais-tu?” he managed to say, his voice sounding strangled. What the devil are you doing?

I smiled wickedly at him, laying the full force of my black eyes and glittering, sharp teeth on him, and I caressed his stubbly cheek with one icy-cold finger, breathing my venom-sweet breath into his face. I’m sure he did think I was the devil indeed.

Je fais ce qui aurait dû faire depuis longtemps.I’m doing what should have been done long ago.

He never even had time to scream.

I am a very neat hunter, I never shed an unnecessary drop of blood or cause an instant more of pain than is necessary. Normally. I normally would take my victims, unsavory characters though they were, by surprise…It caused a lot of pain on my part, even when killing a criminal, to have them look me in the eyes, to see what was killing them, what was taking their lives…That the executioner was me.

But I let him watch me. And he saw everything as I drained his life, his eyes bulging almost out of their sockets, his hands clawing at me uselessly, his heels banging against the floor in anguish…

When it was over and I was satiated, I stood up with a sigh, straightening my coat and smoothing down my skirt. I glanced down at my arms where his fingers had been clutching me, and knew I’d never wear that coat again. Not with those memories indelibly engraved on my mind.

I left him where he lay, among the tawdry, trashy remains of his misspent life.

I returned to my lovely little suite on Rue de Paradis, and watched the sun rise over the Seine, finally feeling like I could do something with myself. The thirst was quenched, and one less rapist and murderer was roaming the streets of the lovely city I’d adopted as my temporary home.

I checked the papers for the next several days and found nothing about his murder. I supposed no one missed him.

Even so, knowing that I’d done the right thing, that I’d managed to quench my thirst for a while and at the same time done Paris a good deed in ridding it of Arnaud…even so, I felt the weight of another death inside me.

Even being a do-gooder wasn’t enough. A murderous Robin Hood. But I could hold on a while longer, until I found my Jasper, and we found the ones who would show us how to live differently.

I could live with it until then.

The next several years passed in a blur. I got to know Paris as intimately as I’d known New York, and I loved it.

I found another little café, like my old one in New York, but instead of coffee I was served espresso…which I still dumped into a handy potted plant. This café offered outdoor seating when the weather was good, and I enjoyed taking my undrunk demitasse into the fresh air and watching the passersby, like I had in New York.

Parisians were much more cosmopolitan and polished than New Yorkers, but deep down inside humans would always be humans, full of their petty differences and shortcomings, but also full of good things as well. As I watched them every day, observing them, watching the pictures that their brief lives created in my mind, I began to understand them more and more…and to understand myself, as well.

For I’d been human once, obviously, even though I didn’t remember it, and I had to have something in me that was like them, something that made me human in a way still. I studied their faces, listened to their voices and watched them as they went about their daily business. When I left my café I would go to the parks, to the museums, to study them more. I wanted to get to know humans, to get to know myself. Even though I wasn’t human any more, the basic template of humanity was still there, within me, and I had to find out as much about it as I could.

I passed my days and nights with many kinds of activities. I sat in my café in the mornings, visited museums and parks and art exhibitions. I enrolled in evening courses at the Sorbonne, where I took classes on the Classics and languages and philosophy and mathematics and sciences…Knowledge thrilled me. Then, once I'd gotten through the basic subjects, I moved on to more exciting things like fashion design and history and art. I excelled in pencil and charcoal sketches, and loved to design clothes. Chanel was my idol.

My mind absorbed information at a shocking rate; I learned at an amazing rate and with great ease, even complicated things like advanced mathematics. My French matured rapidly, until even Parisians couldn’t tell that I was a foreigner; I gobbled up Spanish and Latin and Greek in days, expanding my horizons to include more exotic languages, like Arabic and Mandarin. I ate up the emerging theories of physics and astronomy and evolution and biology and geology, and read the ancient and more modern philosophers until I felt I was bursting with information and ideas. But it all helped me to understand humans more, to place myself better in this world that they peopled.

It also helped to increase my growing sense of guilt about my…dietary requirements.

When I grew too thirsty to contain myself, I would steal off in the night to any of my favorite haunts. The Moulin Rouge was just one; there were several other dance and burlesque halls that were patronized by the kind of seedy, shady types that I preferred. The Folies Bergere and the Casino of Paris all had plenty of likely targets, all there for the same thing: women, wine, and song…and perhaps a bit of mayhem. I got very good at my stalking; I would sometimes venture out and look for a likely mark, studying him, until I had a good sense of what I was hunting. Then I would play the helpless innocent to their overbearing cad, or I might sometimes branch out and play the daring woman of the night, in search of a likely man…It was great fun, in the moment.

But it was also terribly depressing, the morning after.

I would always look at my pale face in the mirror, my red eyes blazing, and remember that the warmth I felt coursing through me was only borrowed--or more aptly, stole, and the fact that my thirst wasn’t raging like a caged lion, was due to the ending of another person’s life. Even the fact that it was a criminal, a lout, a rapist, a murderer, a thief who had fed me didn't really matter anymore…ultimately, none of it truly mattered, because who was I to pass judgment?

I was a predator, of course. I couldn’t change that. And humans were my prey. Could I change that? What other substitute could there possibly be? I had heard that they were experimenting with storing human blood, tobe used in medical procedures...was that the answer? I doubted it. My ventures into philosophy, and my trying to understand the humans, was trapping me in a legalistic, moral web, from which I didn’t see any good escape.

I thought a great deal about my golden-eyed family that awaited me, years in the future away, but still so tantalizingly close. I would lay in my bed during the days and let the visions play before my closed eyelids, sinking into the familiar trance, concentrating on savoring each image, each sound and thought. Trying to know them better, to figure them out, the way I had taken to trying to understand the humans around me. Perhaps I could figure out the answer to my problem on my own, perhaps I didn’t have to wait to meet them in the flesh?

I had distinguished several members of the family, and after time I learned their names, as I had learned Jasper’s.

Carlisle. Something told me he was the head of the family, though he looked scarcely older than me; his eyes were wise and full of compassion. I saw him laboring day and night in hospitals and clinics, healing the sick and injured mortals, never partaking of their blood. I saw him reading, writing, always learning, as I was trying to do. I saw him loving his family, the members of which he gathered around him one by one, out of loneliness and compassion and the desire for giving and receiving love. I loved him even though I’d never met him, and for the first time I thought of a word I’d never identified with any man before, to my memory: father.

Esme. If Carlisle was the father, she was the mother. Tiny and delicate, soft, compassionate and caring…I felt her affection even in my visions, and longed to be able to meet her, to experience what a mother might feel like.

Edward. So handsome and intelligent, I could tell there was something special, something very different about him…Very young, but so very deep in character, striving so hard to follow after Carlisle’s example…But he found it so hard to keep being good, being contrary to his nature as he saw it…I was confused by that, I didn’t understand. I saw some disturbing things coming for him in the future, I saw his golden eyes reddening, saw torment changing him, saw him becoming darker…but not forever. We would be great friends, I knew, but he needed someone, something, to soften him, to help him forgive himself…

There were others coming as well, I knew, but I didn’t know them yet, and I waited patiently for the visions of the other ones to clarify in detail. I had time.

One thing had been puzzling me for a very long time, since realizing that the others of my kind had the blood-red eyes like myself: why did my strange family in the future have golden eyes? What made them different? There was a key point missing, something crucial.

It was when Edward, my brother-to-be, suddenly reached the breaking point I had foreseen, that I had the beginning of my epiphany.

It was later afternoon, late summer, and Paris was hot. Even though I didn’t feel the heat, I had started imitating the European humans’ habit of taking a late-afternoon “nap” to get away from the heat; I used the time to think, to cast my mind out, searching for pictures that told me more about my family.

Edward. I concentrated on him. Suddenly my visions of him changed: I saw him killing people, which I had never seen before. The savage grace of his hunt amazed me, but the way he anguished over each death staggered me; I understood the guilt in taking a life, I had experienced it myself…but not like this. Not to the point where I was curled up in a ball of shame, as I saw poor Edward do, all alone in a strange place, stained with the blood of his victims.

It hit me suddenly, knocking the wind out of me, my eyes snapped open. Then how do they live? I asked myself, sitting up, running my hands through my unruly hair. How do they do it?Do they simply not drink? How is that possible? Is that what makes their eyes golden, abstaining from blood?

I jumped up from the bed, frustrated, threw on some shoes and a light jacket, and headed out into the city.

The streets were practically deserted at that time, the sunlight slanting hot and golden between the buildings, casting deep shadows between them, which I kept to as much as possible. I had hunted recently, and my eyes were very bright, and if the sunlight struck me directly…

I absently looked at the windows of the shops as I passed. Bakeries and bookstores and cafes, accountants and lawyers and clothing stores…most of them had signs in the windows advertising their closure until sunset.

I sighed, reaching out to trail my fingers across the cool glass of a pastry shop, slowing my pace to look inside. The contents of the display were beautiful and looked like they should be appetizing. It was a popular place, one I had often seen Perrine bringing boxes from to the hotel, wrapped in pink twine and emitting sweet scents. When Madame Bruyere sent up my breakfast trays in the mornings there were often croissaints or muffins or something like that on the plate. I had once tasted an éclair, and found it was not even the slightest bit appealing, like sawdust in my mouth; I’d spit the bite into a napkin in disgust, and as always had spirited the contents of the tray to the trash bin behind a restaurant near the hotel to be disposed of. I couldn’t stomach human food. I wished I could.

I turned from the pastry shop window and kept walking, jamming my hands into my jacket pockets. I always wore long sleeves, even in the summer, to keep the sunlight from causing my skin to glimmer and catch any unsuspecting human eyes. As I walked I sunk into thought, still frustrated.

It didn’t make sense to me, it never really had, how my future family was different. But up until recently I had simply accepted that they were different, and had gone along blithely, with the innocent acceptance of a child in church, that I would eventually understand.

But now I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to know. I felt the stain on my soul spreading every time I took another human life; I felt myself growing more cold and more consumed with guilt, and felt less and less like me. I knew that I had several years left before the timing was right for me to meet them, my family and Jasper, but I didn’t know if by then I would be…acceptable anymore. Carlisle’s moral standards were so high…but he was also so compassionate…I knew I was coming to feel like Edward, and I didn’t want to descend into the depths of self-loathing I saw him drowning in.

Paris was a city of scents, like any human city. As I walked I smelled my environment more clearly than I saw it, the odors as bright and discernable as colors. The dusty scent of the cobblestones and pavement baking in the sun, cooking food, human and animal sweat, burning wood and coal, flowers, spices, perfumes…and blood. Always blood. Even when humans weren’t visible, I could smell them, from within their houses and businesses…

Blood. I smelled it. But…something was…different. I stopped, turned, looking in the direction the scent was coming from.

Definitely blood. But…wrong. I sniffed experimentally, inhaling deeply, tasting the scent on my tongue, trying to figure out what was wrong with it.

To my right was a butcher shop, and unlike many of the other shops around, it was open, the double doors thrown wide. The smell came from within. As I stood there a burly human man dressed in a red-stained white apron came out, wiping his sweaty forehead, clutching a broom and pail. He bent down and filled the pail from the water faucet that stuck out from the side of his shop, then went back inside; I heard a splashing sound, then a scrubbing, and a small flood of bloody water flooded from the open doors, spilling across the sidewalk, pouring into the gutter.

I watched the water, fixated. The blood swirled in crimson blooms, streaking the pavement, and there was the scent. Animal blood. It made my throat ache a bit, nothing close to the burning agony that human blood caused...but it was there...

The butcher appeared again, broom in hand, and proceeded to scrub the bloody water from the sidewalk. Apparently he’d been cleaning the floor of his shop, during the down time of the late-afternoon. He straightened for a moment and rubbed the small of his back, saw me standing there, and gave me a jaunty wave.

“Some meat, mademoiselle? I am not open, but I have some lovely new beefsteak, I just carved it a few minutes ago, very fresh! Finest quality!” he called to me, jerking his thumb over his shoulder, toward his shop.

Then it clicked. My epiphany. I finally understood.

I had been missing the answer the entire time, and I felt like a fool. How many lives could I have spared, if I’d spent more time seeking out their secret, my future family, rather than obsessing over their personal details?

I shook my head no, unable to speak for the moment, and turned and fled back to my rooms. I had to try to concentrate again, try to see something, to confirm my suspicions.

I lay back down and closed my eyes, willing myself to see something, anything, in their futures that would help me.

It came after a while. I had grown so attuned to these people I had never met, more than I had ever been before. It came fast and hard and clear, the images I needed.

Carlisle and Esme, running, exuberant, across a frozen tundra…Laughing and holding hands, snow puffing up with their every step, sparkling in the dim midwinter daylight…Alaska. They were in Alaska. And their eyes…their eyes were dark, almost black. How strange! Were they thirsty? I fought to keep up with them.

Carlisle stopped suddenly, cocking his head, inhaling the freezing cold air, eyes closing in concentration…He was tracking. Esme beside him, their hands still locked together, did the same, her full lips curling in a predatory smile of pleasure…they smelled…blood?

And then, in a flash, they were off again, even faster, and I trailed after them in my vision, my breathing coming faster in anticipation of what I would see.

Then it was there, the bear, a huge white monster, rearing up above a frozen hummock, roaring his defiance at the scent of the approaching beings, predators like himself…But he was no match for them, Carlisle and Esme were upon him like lightning, and their growls drowned his, the massive bear collapsing into the snow, his bright red blood spattering the ground, hissing steam from the droplets…They were drinking him!

Their eyes meeting over the carcass of their kill, they smiled at each other, lost in each others’ eyes in love, and their hands met again, buried in the bear’s white fur that seemed dark against their gleaming marble hands…Their eyes were so golden, so golden now…

My eyes snapped open again, but this time in joy. I had it! I understood now!

I would never kill another human being, ever again.

Paris took on even more joy to me after that. I no longer had to frequent seedy bars and smoky clubs; I no longer had to trail after evil men and afterward mourn for them and for my own lack of self-control. It wasn’t easy, learning to direct my thirst, to accept a poor substitute for what was so very fulfilling…The thirst was always worse than before now, but it was worth it. My eyes were even turning gold. I actually stared at myself int he mirror with something akin to pleasure, instead of vague disgust. Soon I would hardly need to keep inside during the day, unless it was terribly sunny out.

I made my hunting runs outside of the city, for there was little game to be found nearby. The forests around Paris were shrinking as the humans cut down more and more trees, but I managed to find herds of deer and even a few wolves and bears, the further out from the cities that I ventured.

It was exhilarating, the freedom from the feelings associated with murder. I had never realized how much it had burdened me, perhaps because I wasn’t used to identifying the emotions, which were buried inside me with my human instincts.

I loved the thrill of the hunt now, it felt so innocent, to streak after the terrified herds of deer, to choose my prey, to drink…even though it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as human blood, it still met my needs. And I wasn’t a danger to those around me any longer.

By the time I had made those important changes in my life, four years had passed. It was amazing how time flew by, and how full my days and nights were.

I still lived with the Bruyeres, who were the best kind of people: kind, considerate, efficient, and most of all, they minded their own business. I was asked no strange questions; Madame took my rent money every month with a smile and a nod, but never tried to become involved in my life.

I got to know the whole family. Besides Madame Bruyere and Perrine were Celestine and Louis, Madame’s grown children, who both worked in the hotel. Perrine’s parents had died, apparently. His father, Perrine Senior, Madame’s eldest son, had been a soldier in the Great War in 1916; he had been terribly injured, rendering him unable to walk, and had died a few years later of complications from his old wounds, when Perrine’s mother, Paulette, had been pregnant with their son. Paulette had developed pneumonia when Perrine was only three years old and had died as well. Poor Perrine, he had never really known his parents.

Madame Bruyere told me all this one day early on in my stay with them, while she was cleaning my rooms—which were, of course, already clean. I was by nature a neat creature, and vampire skin doesn't shed to become dust like human skin. She had flitted about with her unnecessary feather duster, telling me all about her family.

“We come from Nice originally, of course, but my Grand-Pere moved us here after the Great War. He was a tailor, an excellent one, specializing in men’s suits, and my Grand-Mere was a seamstress of the finest quality, she sewed gowns for all the ladies at court, before and after the Revolution,” she had said, smoothing the drapes. “When we came to Paris, they bought this building, which was practically worthless, and they made it something again.” She smiled proudly, her gaze faraway with her memories.

I sat on my bed, knees drawn up to my chest, my arms wrapped around them, fascinated. “And are you still tailors and seamstresses? Is that why your hotel is called Hotel of the Tailors?” I had long wondered about the name, and the sign, with its needle and thread. Since my awakening, I had been fascinated by clothing, and wanted to learn more about human fashion and the art of making clothes.

Madame Bruyere smiled. “Of course, mademoiselle, we have never left our roots!” She indicated the drapes, then the coverlet on the bed that I never slept in, and the embroidered cloths on the table tops. “The hands of my family have touched everything in this place, and we still make clothes, of course. My children have a small shop downtown.” Her smile was fiercely proud. “They just took a commission from the wife of the Prime Minister last week! And all the great designers bring them piece work. Why, just last week, Madame Chanel herself hired Celestine to work part-time in her atelier!”

I nodded, fascinated. “And Perrine? Will he follow in the family’s footsteps?” I thought of the little boy’s quick, graceful hands, and his eye for detail.

She grinned. “Ah, my Perrine…” She gave the drapes a final pat and came to sit down on the edge of the bed. “So sad, my poor boy’s story, but his heart is like gold, yes? And so smart. So very smart.”

I agreed with her, thinking about him. He was so solicitous and kind, always making sure I was comfortable.

“His mother loved him so, she wanted Perrine to be a soldier like his Papa, but I don’t think that will happen. He is not the kind of boy to go to war. He is sensitive and creative, don’t you think?”

I laughed. “Very! Just yesterday he spent an hour going through my wardrobe and helping me get rid of the things he said were out of style!”

Madame Bruyere chuckled. “Yes, he has an excellent eye for such things. Clothing speaks to him. I think his uncle will be taking him to the shop soon, to learn the trade. I don’t want him wasted as a bellboy or tour guide, eh?”

“Absolutely not.”

She sighed and stood up, smoothing her skirt. “Perhaps you can go down to the shop with him, mademoiselle? You seem to enjoy clothing,” she suggested, cocking her head to the side, birdlike.

“I’d love to!” And I did. We made plans for me to accompany Perrine to their family’s tailor shop the next day in the morning.

The next morning dawned beautifully. It was springtime in Paris, my favorite time of year. The cherry trees were blooming all along the avenues, filling the air with their fragrant blossoms; it was warm, but not oppressively so. The people were out in droves, smiling with the loveliness of the day, as were Perrine and I as we strolled along together.

The Bruyere’s shop was on the Champs Elysees, which was a grand and sprawling avenue, but their shop was in a more quiet area, between a wineseller’s and a bookshop. The storefront was neat, the window bright and spotless, and the sign on the door matched the elegant lettering on the hotel’s, with the spool of thread and needles curling around the letters announcing Bruyere’s Tailoring and Fine Custom Clothing.

The shop was small but elegant, and it smelled wonderful inside, a mixture of candlewax, potpourri, silk, satin and good wool and linen. Bolts of fabric were jammed into a huge shelf lining two walls; the other two walls were taken up by mannequins in various stages of undress, a few pieces of good furniture and potted plants, and a long, wooden counter polished to a glossy sheen. Perrine’s uncle, Louis, sat cross-legged on the counter, his shirt sleeves rolled up above his elbows, pins gripped between his bared teeth, a measuring tape hanging around his neck, his hands and eyes intent on the suit jacket that he was working on. He looked up when we entered and grinned. He was a nice-looking human, in his forties, with salt-and-pepper hair and bright brown eyes like his nephew.

“Ah, Perrine, and Mademoiselle Alice! I am so glad to see you!” he cried, putting aside the jacket and hopping down from the counter, plucking the pins from his mouth. He held out his arms and Perrine launched himself into them; I watched them, touched by the affection, and felt a bit lonely—but at the same time so happy that Perrine had such a loving family.

I could barely wait to have that myself.

Louis swung his nephew around and set him down on the counter, looking back at me, still smiling. “So, Mademoiselle, what can I do for you today? Would you like me to measure you for a new dress? Celestine has some new patterns from Chanel just yesterday, and some lovely gold crepe de chine, it would go so well with your eyes!” He looked me up and down, measuring me with his sharp, experienced eyes; unlike the times other men had looked at me, such as at the Moulin Rouge, I didn’t feel violated. I had a feeling he could make me a dress that would fit perfectly just from the measurements his eyes were taking.

I laughed, shaking my head. “Perhaps another time, Monsieur Bruyere,” I replied. “Madame Bruyere thought I might enjoy seeing your shop and seeing how you work, and since Perrine here will be learning the business now, that I could walk him here, and observe.”

Louis nodded, reaching over to ruffle his nephew’s hair fondly. “Yes, I think Perrine here will be an excellent tailor, he has good hands, good eyes.”

I laughed. “Indeed! He just went through my wardrobe the other day and told me which things I needed to toss out, because they were out of style!”

He joined my laughter, hopping back up onto the counter beside Perrine, and taking up the jacket once more. “Well then, Mademoiselle, feel free to look around. The showroom is through there,” he gestured with his chin toward a closed door to the right of the counter, “and has some of the finer examples of our works in progress.”

I eagerly went into the showroom, which was much like the shop itself. I hadn’t noticed it because the showroom window was after the entrance to the shop. It was larger and more open, the ceiling higher, the warm morning light streaming in through the wide plate glass window and throwing the textures and colors of the fabrics into glowing detail.

Mannequins and dress forms were posed everywhere; I ran my delighted fingers over lovely cocktail dresses and elegant fancy-dress gowns, fingered the weave of the knits and embroideries. Everything was impeccably tailored, the details perfect.

Louis had spoken of having some new designs by Chanel…I walked across the room to the far wall, where a large framed display of fashion plates hung. Many were signed by the famous lady who had revolutionized human fashion in the past twenty years. I sighed. How I would love to meet her.

“Mademoiselle Alice?” a feminine voice intruded into my thoughts. I spun around, a little startled; I hadn’t heard the door from the shop open.

Celestine, Perrine’s aunt, stood in the doorway, smiling at me. She was a tall, slim woman, her dark brown hair pulled up into a chignon, dressed in a smartly tailored coral-colored wool suit, the hem ending at her shapely knees. “I apologize, did I startle you?” she asked, eyebrows raised.

I laughed. “Only a little, but it’s all right, I was just lost in these prints…” I reached back and touched the framed picture. “I love Chanel’s designs.”

Celestine nodded eagerly. “I know, Perrine has told me, Mademoiselle, and that is why I came to you just now,” she said, a wide smile showing her teeth. “I wanted to ask you, would you like to meet her? She is here, just now, and I thought…”

I had a hard time keeping myself to normal human speed as I crossed the room and allowed Celestine to accompany me back into the shop.

There she stood, by the counter, leaning casually against it, chatting with Louis.

She was a small woman, dark-haired, not beautiful in a conventional way, but her features were noble and her eyes were captivating, flashing with intelligence and charm. She was dressed in one of her own suits, the same type of design Celestine wore, with its menswear-inspired, angular shape. A strand of pearls hung around her neck, and her marcelled hair gleamed in soft curls against her forehead in the warm light of the morning. She turned and looked at me, smiling.

I was speechless.

At the Sorbonne, I had taken a few courses on fashion design, and knew that the woman standing before me had done more for women’s liberation than anyone would ever imagine. She had helped free human women from corsets and bustles and long skirts, had allowed them to show their legs and the arms, had made fashion fun. I had several of her original, older pieces hanging in my wardrobe back at the hotel.

“Good morning, Madame Chanel,” I finally managed. She straightened from leaning against the counter and extended her hand to shake mine. "My name is Alice, and I stay with the Bruyeres. I am...well, Madame, I am one of your biggest fans!" I cursed myself silently; I sounded like a lovesick teenager.

But she didn't seem to care. “Good morning, Mademoiselle Alice, Louis and Celestine were telling me that you are an admirer of my work,” she murmured, her voice rich and low. I had rarely heard a human with such a lovely voice. Her dark eyes looked me up and down with the same measuring glance as Louis had before. “I see you have good taste, besides in my designs.” She arched one smooth eyebrow, one corner of her mouth quirking up in a slight smile, looking down at my gloved hands. “Although…gloves in the springtime aren’t exactly…in fashion?” Her eyes locked on mine, held them. "And such eyes...how...interesting, I have never seen such a color before...Is it from your family?"

I would have blushed if I could have. I had thrown on a simple wrap dress that morning, a chenille sweater…and white gloves. I always wore gloves when I could, to keep my cold skin from alarming anyone with an inadvertent icy touch. I struggled for a moment to find an explanation that she might accept. And my eyes...she was so observant!

“Well, Madame, I have poor circulation…my hands are always very cold.” I bit my lip. "And the color of my eyes, I get that from my grandmother."

Perrine laughed. “That’s right, Madame Coco, she has hands like ice!” he crowed, kicking his heels against the counter.

She chuckled and let my hand go. “So, Mademoiselle, Celestine tells me you have an interest in fashion?”

I nodded, glad the cold hands and golden eyes issue was past. “Yes, Madame, I have taken some classes at the Sorbonne, and have always loved clothing. Yours especially!”

Madame Chanel nodded. “There are some excellent professors there.” She turned and looked at Celestine. “So, Celestine, shall we? It is getting toward lunchtime, and I must return to the atelier and get some things done.” Then she turned again and looked at me. “So, mademoiselle Alice, would you like to come as well? See the atelier?”

I thought I might jump out of my skin, and nodded so violently my teeth fairly rattled. She laughed kindly at my eagerness.

“Well then, shall we, ladies?” Coco Chanel held out her arm for me to put mine through it, and the other for Celestine. “The day is wasting, and we have the world to conquer, eh?”

And so we went out into the warm Paris sunshine, arm-in-arm. I felt as if I were walking on air.

Then began the happiest period of my life…up until the day I looked into Jasper’s eyes for the first time.

I was finally finding my place in the world, and finding myself in the process.