Monthly Archives: July 2013

Lilly White By Madeleine Pryze

Lilly looks up at a mansion of sandstone and leaded glass. Birds tweet nearby. When Lilly moves, the gravel whispers beneath her feet.

She mounts the well-worn step and reaches for the knocker. It has a peculiar shape that she can’t decipher – a bow on its side? A handlebar moustache? It makes a noise like any other knocker.

Lilly waits in the aural ocean of rustling leaves.

She starts to wonder if she has the right estate.

How long must one wait before it is no longer rude to knock again?

The door opens. It is Genevieve Reynolds, beaming from ear to ear. “Sorry I left you for so long, our manservant is on his weekend at home! Come in!

Genevieve moves like a dancer; her feet don’t make any sound on the polished chessboard of the long hallway. This is the sister of the man I’m supposed to meet? Lilly thinks. Mother wouldn’t set me up with anyone less than a proper gentleman…

“I was making a cool drink, would you like one?”

“Please.” Lilly follows.

From what must be the kitchen, Genevieve calls, “I’m dreadfully sorry that Sebastian and Bertie aren’t here. They knew we were to dine early but they’re still on one of their silly hunts in the woods. Three guesses who shall have to wash the muzzles of all the hounds when they return!”

“I can’t abide fox hunting. Those poor animals.”

In the kitchen, Lilly is passed a glass of fresh orange juice. She sips it; the glass is cold and the juice delicious, slipping down her throat.

When she lowers her glass, Genevieve is looking at her intently. “You have a lovely neck. The gown last night failed to show it off.”

Lilly swallows the last of the juice. “Maybe that’s why none of those eligible bachelors took a shine to me.”

“Oh, you don’t want any of those little boys. Debutante balls aren’t the matchmaking wonders that our parents would wish them to be. There just aren’t many ripe apples left around here anymore. Look at me, twenty-three and not married! I’m a spinster!”

She laughs, and Lilly watches her. This young woman has so much confidence, so much poise. She is so very womanly, and yet not girlish at all. Genevieve is utterly at peace with herself.

“I wondered at your accent,” Lilly reveals, “until you told me your name.”

“Mother was French. Sebastian allowed it. He was a rogue, to find himself a Parisian bride and drag her back here once I was born! You know, he wanted to pass me off as an orphaned niece? The things people feel they have to say to fit in! England is a stuffy old place, isn’t it?”

Lilly opens her mouth to speak, but doesn’t get the chance.

“I say, have you ever heard of a French gentleman named Manet? He wasn’t stuffy in the slightest. You know, he painted the filthiest picture of this girl Olympia, who was an honest-to-goodness—” She looks around conspiratorially, “—fille de joie!”

“A what?”

“A… professional, a… lady of the night!”

“Oh!”

“It was downright blasphemous,” giggles Genevieve, and leans back with her arms pushing up her breasts, blowing a kiss up to the heavens and fluttering her eyelashes.

Scandalous! Lilly thinks, but at the same time feels a trill of excitement run up her body at the naughtiness of it all. And Genevieve goes on:

“Of course your father is fun, isn’t he! I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sebastian laugh so much, not since Mother died.”

“You call him by his given name?”

A brown newt runs under a door that joins the kitchen to the garden. It tastes the air, turns around on its hooked toes, then hides in the cool shade of the iron oven.

“Father and I don’t … understand one another. We are very different. I am much more like my mother, and he didn’t understand her much either.”

“How so?” asks Lilly, and immediately regrets the question. Who is she to ask anything of this young woman, who she hardly knows and met less than twenty hours ago? To interrogate a stranger in their own home…!

Genevieve takes a glance through the window at the verdant orchard outside. The newt dashes away from her feet and escapes the way it came in with a papery rustle.

“Sebastian and Bertie could be hours. Let’s go upstairs – I want to show you something!”

A girlish pleasure takes over Lilly. She never had a sister and her mother kept away anyone who could have become a close girlfriend. To see Genevieve’s excitement is to be infected by it; together they dash, giggling, up the huge sweeping staircase that takes them from the hallway to the upper landing.

“The east wing,” says Genevieve, checking the degree of dust on a door knob before entrusting her white glove to it, “is where we keep our skeletons.”

She looks Lilly in the eye. “You aren’t scared of ghosts, are you?”

Lilly shivers.

Genevieve laughs a deep, booming laugh and slaps Lilly on the shoulder. “Come on, I’m teasing! Follow me!”

The door opens into a long corridor lit from the right by dozens of sash windows. The left side is a wall of paintings – landscapes of exotic places Lilly recognise as Prague, Paris, the Nile in Egypt – interrupted occasionally by mahogany panelled doors, all closed.

The last door in the hallway is the one that Genevieve stops by. “This was my mother’s private study. Sebastian wasn’t expressly forbidden to enter it, but… Well, I don’t think he was always comfortable here. Or wanted to think about her amongst all these things.”

Genevieve opens the door with a strange expression on her face: excitement? Or apprehension? Is it possible for it to be both at the same time? Lilly doesn’t know, but at first she is confused when she steps into the room behind Genevieve.

It looks just like a normal room. A bed, some cabinets, and two tall bookcases against the left wall. To the right, a small table in each corner display sets of curios in wood, glass and bronze. The walls are otherwise occupied by paintings and photographic portraits, an array of sepia and oil.

In all respects perfectly normal.

“I don’t…” Lilly begins, then tapers off. Genevieve is examining a large painting beside the door, positioned so that the light from the windows frames it perfectly. The painting is about as big as the door itself, produced landscape and gilded in gold-leaf wood.

In the picture, a woman lays on an untidy bed. At first, Lilly mistakes it for Titian’s Sleeping Venus, the classical depiction of that most famous Roman goddess. But in this painting, “Venus” has a bracelet, a choker, pearl earrings, and in her demeanour has something else… Something in her gaze that marks her out as different. A knowable, even forgivable sin. Everything in the picture gives off a sumptuousness: the flower in her hair, and the rich oriental blanket on which she lies.

“She is cast in such hard light,” Lilly murmurs. “It shows everything except what she covers with her hand…”

“A shame she does that, yes?” suggests Genevieve, with laughter in her voice. “That isn’t a lilly behind her ear, before you ask – a white orchid.”

Suddenly it strikes Lilly. This isn’t Venus at all – but Genevieve’s fille de joie – a prostitute!

“She’s…” Lilly chokes on the word.

“She is a real woman.” Genevieve looks with deep appreciation at the picture. “But the painting is a copy only – the original has yet to even be put on display to the public. What a stir it will cause in Paris!”

Lilly’s eye catches a small portrait next to it, rendered in rich oils. Another nude, but this lady laced in the most outrageous manner, as though those loose shifts were never intended to cover her nakedness at all! And a third picture, a photograph in smudgy sepia, of a thin young girl putting on – or taking off – her stockings. She is otherwise naked. Her lips are painted bright red; there is a wink in her eye.

“Pornography!” Lilly is embarrassed by having to state the obvious, but she cannot help it. “The police…”

“They don’t know anything about this room. It was Mother’s interest and no-one else’s business. Sebastian was very… generous to let her maintain this hobby of hers.”

Every painting, every photograph – even the lamp, which is shaped like a man’s… The size of it! And the clock on the table, with moving hands tracing invisible lines over the contours of a couple engaged in—

“I must sit down!”

Genevieve smiles as Lilly sits in a velvet-lined armchair. She hands Lilly a fan, which Lilly opens to prevent herself from fainting. The image inked into the folds is another nude woman, wearing a fur hat and covering herself with a fur glove.

“Don’t look at it,” Genevieve scratches her temple, “if that helps. Or the chair…”

Lilly’s hands grasp tighter at the chair’s arms. She daren’t look down, but she isn’t in control of her head, which swims with cool vapours. The rich velvet of the seat’s covering seems maroon at a glance, but is shades of red. In the swirls of its pattern are tiny running figures, boys and girls, grinning as they’re chased by obscene fauns and satyrs with engorged…

“My goodness.”

“Are you okay?”

Lilly takes a breath. “I’m fine. This is quite a shock. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Isn’t it fabulous?” breathes Genevieve. When she talks about these things, her accent thickens. This must be a little like how her mother sounded when she spoke, thinks Lilly.

…Her mother!

“This room was hers, you say? Your mother’s?”

A smile spreads like wildfire across the young woman’s soft features. “She had an interest in archaeology, much like Sebastian. But their interest diverged there, I’m afraid. Sebastian was there in Pompeii a few years ago.”

“That buried Italian city? Father mentioned it last summer…”

“They found all the buildings that those poor people lived in, right before the volcano blew up in their faces! The houses were preserved with people and furniture and all their things… Those excavators are there right now, scraping ash off the wall to reveal all their frescos and graffiti and… all sorts. Do you know what else they found?”

“I dread to ask!” Lilly gasps and then, despite herself, giggles.

“Disgusting drawings and paintings and murals, all with people doing it!

“That’s terrible!”

“The ancient Romans evidently had a different view on nakedness. They thought it was just ordinary… even fun. Not shameful at all. Eroticism was a good thing, for them – not illegal blasphemy like our good Queen would have us believe. Why, it’s the most natural thing in the world!”

A series of loud noises erupts from the lower floors.

“Sebastian!” Genevieve gasps. “And Bertie! They’re back! Come on!”

Giggling, the two girls return to the hallway. Lilly is almost sorry to leave the soft velvet of the chair, even with its hidden erotic images. It is only when she stands that she realises the arms, which she’d been holding so tightly, are the ends of long, smooth phalluses.

Genevieve pulls the doors closed and messes with her hair again. “Sebastian doesn’t like me going in there. It’s forbidden! I’ll tell him we were in the solarium…”

Downstairs, the men claim to have forgotten all about the arranged dinner, and certain distinct gestures belie their attempts to hide the numerous nips they must have had from flasks concealed about their persons; Bertie has, according to his father, suffered a fall as a result of a desperate vixen and sprained his ankle. Dinner is called off; Genevieve apologies profusely, but her words hide the pleasure at being the main attraction of the afternoon, and she winks as Lilly makes her departure.

Outside, Lilly wonders whether she should ask Sebastian Reynolds to arrange for her a carriage. It wouldn’t be out of order. But just as she is waiting in the gravel for her overwrought mind to make a decision, the front door opens again and Genevieve slips out.

“I wanted to give you this,” she exclaims, “but didn’t want Sebastian to see!”

Before Lilly can protest the young woman plants a decorous kiss on her cheek. The lipstick might not have left a mark, but the warmth remains.

As Genevieve disappears back into the house, Lilly looks down at the package in her hands. It is a large book, wrapped in soft red felt.

# # #

“How was Sebastian’s lot?” asks Lilly’s father upon her return.

“Very nice, father, and quote accommodating.”

“Did they show you a good time?”

Lilly thinks about this.

“I think they were holding back a little.”

# # #

That night, she undresses and dons her nightdress to sleep. Her bedroom is a small, lonely room in eggshell white and forest green, like her eyes. It hasn’t been redecorated since her birth. When she sleeps, she feels as though her four-poster bed is a cot and she sleeps within, like a child, protected.

She doesn’t go to sleep immediately. Lighting an oil lamp, she intends to study her gift from Genevieve. The weight and shape of the package have already revealed it to be a book, but it’s only when she unwraps it that she realises it’s something the like of which she’s never seen.

Leather-bound with no title, at first she wonders if it’s a portfolio of newssheet clippings… but upon opening it, she’s greeted with a lurid inner title page with words drawn laterally across a pair of full, round breasts.

She closes the book with a slap. The afterimage of the etching print fails to fade in her mind’s eye. White on black, it throbs in her mind: two full, round breasts. A matching pair. Nipples described in fine detail, areola and all.

Why would she give me something like this…?

Slowly, convinced that she is alone (as always) in her bedroom, she opens the book again.

The title page stares at her from atop those curved profanities. A LITHOGRAPHIC PORTFOLIO OF THE LADIES OF THE MOULIN ROUGE, PARIS. The inner pages are in turn fascinating, disgusting and exhilarating. Each lithograph, reproduced expensively yet faithfully on each of the heavy pages, produces a new frisson of excitement in Lilly.

All the portraits are women, many of whom are clearly, almost stereotypically French. They are arranged into “scenes”, each “scene” encompassing nine or ten lithographs. The first is named “1840-1845”, and seems to show a different age. But the things that don’t change are voluptuous and in sharp focus: an erect nipple or tuft of hair.

And yet, Lilly finds this not as shocking as she thought she might. Have I been corrupted so quickly?

The last section covers 1960-1864 – the book is very recent indeed – and she is stunned to find that she recognises one of the last girls.

Two pages from the back, a young blonde is reclined against a mountain of cushions. One arm is wrapped around a tall narrow bottle of green glass, whose label has been scraped away and replaced with a small card reading “GREENE MUSE”. The bottle is empty; the girl is entirely naked. Her fingernails are painted green. Her legs are spread and between them, the fingers of her right hand part the lips of her womanhood, exposing its purple depths to both the photographer and the reader.

Lilly drops the book down the side of the bed, but an afterimage of the girl’s magnetic gaze lingers in her mind.

…Genevieve!

She stares at the discoloured images within its pages, wondering at the decency of what one person might call evil, what another might call natural. How can it be anything but natural? she thinks, and jumps at something under her nightdress.

She had wondered if it were an animal – the newt from Genevieve’s kitchen springs to mind – but is shocked to find that it was her own hand. She hadn’t realised what it was doing, of its own accord. The thought occurs that she could turn a blind eye to its antics. What happens behind closed doors, in one’s own bedroom, is of course utterly private.

Mimicking, in part, the posture of Genevieve of the Moulin Rouge, 1965, Lilly allows her fingers to explore a place that had, until then, been a void of wickedness to be covered up. She finds that if this is a void, it is filled not with wickedness, but deliciousness to be savoured.

What would Genevieve think of this? she wonders, and this thought quickens her breath, quickens her wrist, quickens her first arrival of the night.

# # #

Lilly has never seen the room where Genevieve sleeps. Genevieve confesses that it bears no imprint of her personality. It is, she says, just another room.

The next time they get the chance to be together, it is November. They go instead to the secret museum of her mother, which they discover is now locked.

“My father,” muses Genevieve, fishing about in her purse. “He must have known I was in here and locked it. But I had John create me a replica.”

She produces the key from her purse with a wicked grin. Lilly’s heart leaps. You know what is in here. Lilly can’t wait for Genevieve to sweep open the door and close it behind them, sealing the boundary of their privacy. You know that this is the threshold to more than just a room.

They steps inside. When Lilly asks if they can open a window, she does so in a whisper that Genevieve teases her for.

“No-one is home, Lilly, and nor will they be until the early hours of the morning.”

“You are sure?”

“I am.” She drops her purse into the velvet-lined armchair that had been the vessel for Lilly’s introduction to this new world. Even seeing it now makes Lilly feel light-headed, as though the miniature figures frolicking within the stitches of the velvet are visions of her future.

Lilly takes her eyes from the chair and the purse and settle them on Genevieve, who looks right back at her. Without severing the link between their eyes, Genevieve peels loose the ribbon that keeps her hair in place. Blonde coils unravel around her face and neck, bouncing on her shoulders.

She turns around.

Lilly sees the laces of her dress. Her hands have a life of their own. They find the bow and untangle its strands. The laces hang free. Without turning, Genevieve pinches the shoulders of her dress and spreads the fabric. The laces loosen, slipping from the eyes of the rich fabric, which then slides free from the delicate scaffold of Genevieve’s shoulders.

She turns within the sliding cylinder of the dress. It drops as she reaches up, running her fingers through her hair. When the dress is a velvet puddle around her feet, there is only Genevieve’s bodice and stockings. There is no skirt support or bustle, no under-petticoat.

“I am overdressed,” says Lilly, embarrassed. It could take an age for her to reach Genevieve’s state of bareness.

“Layers,” replies Genevieve, “are like hor d’oeuvres.”

“Whore’s what…?” Lilly’s smile, she hopes, is voracious.

Genevieve takes her time with Lilly’s dress. The outer layer is peeled away, then a silky under-petticoat, then the crinoline. It rests on its curved wires in the corner of the room, quivering, as Genevieve tackles Lilly’s corset.

“When this is removed,” says the voice behind Lilly, “you shall breathe a new air.”

“I know it.”

“And I… shall keep the lace as a bracelet.”

Lilly giggles as the corset breaks open like a pecan shell. There is little loose flesh to sag free; she gasps as two slim hands arrive under her chemise and stroke the ticklish lines of her waist.

“I want,” breathes Genevieve, “to lay my lips on this white skin.”

Lilly murmurs, “I want to let you.”

But her heart beats in her chest like a drum. Genevieve admits to hearing it and guides her to the bed. “Lie here. Don’t worry. One does not need to be afraid when one knows the procedures are in the hands of an experienced professional.”

“A professional like your Olympia?” Lilly teases.

“If I were,” Genevieve drapes herself over Lilly in a single fluid motion, “I should be far richer than I am.”

The girl on top works her fingers into the neck of Lilly’s chemise. Its hem dips between her breasts; so do the girl’s fingers, which stroke lines that Lilly can feel like they were scored with a knife. Those lines burn as Genevieve describes new ones, down the curve of each breast, then up, then between her prominent collar bones, where Genevieve kisses, taking Lilly’s breath away.

The chemise comes away and flutters to the burgundy carpet. Genevieve’s breath trickles over her nipples. They stiffen; Lilly murmurs something unintelligible; muscles contract within her that she has rarely exercised.

“May I?” whispers Genevieve, with her fingers hooked into the hem of Lilly’s drawers.

“Don’t ask me. Undress me.”

Are those my words? Lilly wonders, squeezing her eyes tightly shut. Without this sense, another has room to grow: she gasps at every kiss that is imprinted on her breasts, stomach, the curve of her pelvis. Genevieve’s fingers stroke her as they tug the drawers away. Lilly has never been naked with anyone but Orpha, many years ago. And yet I’m not nervous, or—

A warm kiss, directly on her sex, throws all words from her mind.

It was brief, but the warmth remains. In fact, a fire has swept through Lilly’s loins and stomach. She opens her eyes to see Genevieve kneeling over her, her thighs forming an arch over Lilly’s belly. Sunlight streams behind her and through her hair.

A nightingale alights the windowsill and trills in two voices. The sunlight appears to brighten.

Lilly is reaching up to run her hands over Genevieve’s elaborately decorated bodice. It is deep blue, bone-ribbed, and adorned with silver birds and butterflies sewn into the silk. Similar butterflies made of ribbon are attached to the garters; the suspenders are silken elastic that Lilly slides her fingers beneath to grasp Genevieve’s hard thighs.

“The stockings are from Paris,” intones Genevieve, biting her lip, “the bodice is haute couture from Worth and Bobergh. I have never worn it.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“Unclip the stockings.”

The clips are tiny silver hourglasses. The elasticised blue silk springs back and in a sudden, elegant movement, Genevieve is no longer on her knees but on her back between Lilly’s legs, with her own legs straight as arrows up in the air; the stockings are peeled away in a second, revealing white lustrous skin and ankles like pearls.

When Genevieve coils into a sideways sitting position beside Lilly, it is a momentary ballet that is less seen than existing only as an afterimage in the mind’s eye.

“You’re like a dancer,” breathes Lilly.

“I was a dancer. But not the kind you’ve ever seen.”

She is over Lilly now, her hair tickling Lilly’s face, arms planted either side. Over her shoulder, Genevieve’s bodice is seen to shrink and disappear between the orbs of her pale buttocks.

Lilly cannot admire them for long. Genevieve’s kiss is long and hot. Before Lilly knows what is happening a tongue is snaking into her mouth, and its muscular intrusion arouses her intensely. She responds, and their tongues intertwine.

Then Genevieve rolls aside, onto her back. Her eyes stare upward at the roof of the bed, and her hands rest palms-up beside her face. Lilly understands that she is to do something, so she moves onto her side and slowly unfastens the front of the bodice. Its laces are tight but once the clasp and first knot are out of the way, they loosen themselves so that a pale strip of flesh is shown: Genevieve’s sternum, her belly button, a tuft of blonde public hair.

The bodice is spread. Only the garters remain. “You can leave them on, if you like.” Lilly’s mind reels from the lessons she is learning, lessons she had never expected.

Then Genevieve is pulling her close, with the bodice opening like a flower to admit both their slim lengths. Two hot bellies press against each other, transferring warmth. Each girl feels the other’s nipples as small hard objects between them.

“Let me—” begins Genevieve, but she needn’t finish. Lilly has already made enough space between them for Genevieve’s slender arm to lower. Just like the time in the bath, her expert fingers both spread Lilly and touch the soft flesh between the folds. Her longest finger strokes slowly, slowly, and when it encounters moisture, enters.

Lilly feels herself close around the finger. It is slick enough to move in and out even under the pressure of Lilly’s muscles. Genevieve knows when to crook the finger and when to straighten; it is as though she draws shapes on Lilly’s inner wall, inveigling powerful jolts of pleasure.

Another kiss, this quicker and harder than the first. Between their pressed lips Genevieve breathes, “Do me.” Lilly’s hand is already groping embarrassingly at Genevieve’s flat stomach, now slick with sweat, in its attempt to find another place.

There: it has found it. Lilly hasn’t learnt the configuration that will allow her outer fingers to spread and inner finger to stroke, so she uses two to furrow through Genevieve’s soft down, and then the softer silken passage beneath.

Genevieve gasps; Lilly lets the gasp become a kiss, and they are breathing each other’s air, breathing each other, their gasps their breaths.

The speed of it shocks Lilly. Not already! She contracts and her whole body wants to curl toward the sensation quickly building in her loins. She cries out, sheets sticking to her bucking body, and comes hard in waves. A spurt of clear fluid jumps between Genevieve’s fingers, and she giggles naughtily.

Shocked, Lilly pulls back. “Is that not normal!?”

“It is for some girls.” Genevieve licks juices that are running down the side of her hand. “You taste delicious.”

“You are positively filthy!”

“I am told I taste sweet.” It is an invitation. Genevieve waits for instruction, a look of amused patience on her face. Nervous and unsure, Lilly says, “You could kneel.”

“Would that be nice?” teases Genevieve.

“You tell me!”

Genevieve rises to her knees and throws aside the bodice, which has collected their sweat. Upright, her body is lithe and very slender. Her ribs are just discernible down her side. The arc of her clavicle, the sweep of her underarm down to her breast, is exquisite to Lilly.

Slowly, almost excruciatingly slowly, Genevieve kneels. She dips her back and elevates her buttocks, which – I can’t! But I want to… – Lilly nips with her teeth, eliciting a gasp and a giggle. Genevieve’s small but shapely breasts hang like ripe fruit. Lilly cups them in her hands. To do this she must press her thighs against Genevieve’s, her pubis against her exposed sex.

“Your body is so hot,” whispers the kneeling girl. The girl behind relishes the weight of the breasts in her palms, admiring the stunning beauty of the one who is almost prostrate before her.

Lilly is jealous of this girl’s beauty and sexiness. But she is pleased, empowered, by the thought that she owns that beauty and sexiness.

“You are mine,” she whispers, unintentionally, and then winces when she feels Genevieve’s body tense. Genevieve does not look around. Then she lowers her stomach again and shifts her balance, so that she can use one hand to brush her hair away from one side of her face.

There is a smile there.

Lilly breathes a sigh of relief. Thank goodness!

“Yes,” Genevieve replies, pouting. “I am.”

Unexpectedly, there is no puzzle about approaching Genevieve here, no mystery of how to unlock the potential pleasure awaiting in this engorged diamond of pink flesh. It seems natural for Lilly to take it in her mouth as though drinking from a small jug, and sucking gently.

This elicits an immediate gasp and low moan from Genevieve. Lilly smiles, and this reshaping of her lips produces further effects. It’s working… She uses her tongue to lap at this supple cup, exciting the outside as well as the inside. Genevieve is breathing hard; she has rebalanced again so that she can massage her breast with her right hand.

By the window, the nightingale chirrups and flutters away.

Lilly has to control herself. The greatest pleasures that Genevieve has shown her were derived from patience and tenderness. She will not suck too hard; she will not employ a finger her when her tongue will do.

It seems to work. Genevieve pressed her body into Lilly’s face, and for a panicky moment Lilly cannot breathe; then there is a hot rush of thick liquid on her tongue and yes, Genevieve hadn’t lied: she tastes very sweet.

# # #

It is the eighth day of September 1866 and today is Lilly’s birthday.

A gift in a small box awaits her between plat principal and dessert. She deftly pulls aside the ribbon – she has become an expert in using her fingers deftly – and lifts off the tiny round lid. Within the box is a necklace: a small bird, in flight, on a silver chain.

“Genevieve, it’s beautiful.”

“There was a bird in my mother’s room,” Genevieve purses her lips to receive her wine glass, “the first time we were together.”

“I hadn’t thought you’d noticed!”

Genevieve swallows crisp white Sauvignon Blanc. “Of course I noticed.”

“Thank you.”

The maître d” is correcting someone’s order, “Il n’y aura pas de charge, bien sûr,” and a waiter tops up somebody else’s glass. The clatter of crockery and cutlery is audible only when the kitchen doors swing open.

“You look sad,” Genevieve observes.

“Sometimes my mother would buy me gifts like this.”

“I understand. But your mother only wanted to show you her world. She wouldn’t have stood for me showing you another.”

Lilly nods. “Perfectly true.” She smiles. “Whereas yours…?”

“Mine,” says Genevieve, raising her glass, “would be willing me back to our apartment to bathe and then…”

“And then?”

Genevieve bites her lip. “I would like to see you wear your gift. And nothing else.”

A laugh cuts through Lilly’s sadness. It always does. Genevieve is always the one to do this: her tutor, her lover, her guiding star. The orange light of dusk strikes the curve of Genevieve’s face, and Lilly thinks, she is everything I want to be.