Read The Blue Hour Online

Authors: Beatrice Donahue

The Blue Hour (4 page)

BOOK: The Blue Hour
2.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

I stare at the darkened mass of the wardrobe opposite my bed and genuinely question for a moment if I have imagined her. If Eve Soames, with her combination of girlishness and maturity, and the pronounced effect she has on me, is merely some fabrication of my overwrought mind—a protest against the hopeless banality of my life.

No.
She’s my secret. She is real.

And she kissed me on the lips.

I shift in the bed at the memory and two fingers slide against my opening. An image of red lips suddenly presses down on all my senses, pinning me to the bed. My mouth parts in a silent gasp, fingers soaked. Then I remember the dance tomorrow night, and despite Charles’s dire warnings, I fervently hope she’ll be there.

* * *

Before leaving the next evening I take more care with my toilette than I ever have. For the first time, I want to keep my hair down, but feel certain Charles would question it. Still, I spend several stolen minutes in front of my own dressing table, close enough to the mirror to see myself without my glasses and with my hair loose over my shoulders, imagining her sat beside me again.

This evening, the familiar scenery at the hotel looks different somehow, like the stage for a play. Grace doesn’t seem put out by my meagre contributions to our conversation. I suppose she finds it normal, but her green eyes still follow mine on the several occasions I can no longer help scanning the room, nor contain my disappointment after.

It’s gone half past ten by the time I finally see her. My heart, which has seemed lodged in my throat for most of the evening, leaps to my mouth when I catch a glimpse of the pale bare back through the press of bodies. I’m already half-raised from my chair before I realise she isn’t alone. Eve’s arm is wound around the waist of a man. A beautiful man.

“And so I told her that... Rosina! What is it?” Grace’s tone seethes annoyance. “What?” She repeats sourly, with a sharp look in the direction I can’t help but stare in.

They’re dancing now, the tall young man spinning her effortlessly to a tango. Her back is to me, just as before; she wears a black dress again, beaded this time. A red rose is tucked behind her ear. Her head is tipped in laughter.

“Rose!”

The song draws to an end. I can’t see either of them any more; I can see nothing through the haze of shame at my own fanciful imaginings.

Worse than a schoolgirl. Giddy and foolish.

I blink at Grace’s indignant face and finally register she has been speaking.

“I just... excuse me a moment.” I’m gone before she can splutter a reply.

My legs are jellied. I stagger through the forest of evening dress with no thought for where I might be going, beyond
away.
Dull, reckless jealousy—I recognise it, now—propels me forward, and near the bar I hear her laugh and turn towards it instinctively, then immediately curse myself.

“Rosina?”

When our eyes lock, the laughter fades from the scarlet. Her fine features wear a curious expression—nothing I might have expected. Not derision, or scorn. Pity, perhaps? I dig my fingernails into my palms.

“You were dancing.” The words are out before I can stop them; I barely recognise the strangled tones as my own. I glance towards the door, but my traitorous feet won’t seem to move.

“Freddie,” Eve says slowly to the young man beside her who is watching me with candid interest, “this is Mrs Rosina King. I’ll be back to make introductions soon. Mrs King, would you accompany me to the powder room?”

As well as the striking man named Freddie, I feel the weight of Grace’s stare from across the room as I hasten after Eve. For all I know, Charles has seen. I’ve ceased to care. I follow her exposed back, unable to shake the feeling I have lost something, some vital thing that I never knew I needed.

As soon as we are shut inside the single ladies’ room, Eve rounds on me, drawing the small brass bolt across the door, leaving my back pressed against it with her arms braced on either side of my shoulders.

“I’m sorry.” I stare at a cracked tile on the wall behind her and try very hard not to cry from embarrassment, and hurt, and yearning.

“That’s Freddie out there.”

Her voice is low and steady. Her scent is more pronounced in the small space and my chest constricts.

“Freddie’s reading Law at Oxford and bombed down here to visit me for the night. His friend George is around too, somewhere. Off chasing some skirt at this precise moment, most likely, so Freddie humoured me with a dance.”

I know that if I dare look at her eyes, they will be watching my face. Instead, I fixate on the fault line of the damaged tile. They would have to take out several to replace the broken one.

“He’s come to see my new place and to check I’m not causing too much pandemonium.” She pauses, then adds a theatrical whisper. “It tends to follow me.”

At my silence, she says gently, “He’s my brother, silly girl.”

“Oh.”

And that is exactly what I feel like. A silly girl, having things explained to her by a worldly woman—who owes me nothing, absolutely nothing.
And yet
... Over and above any embarrassment, the tiny seed of insight grows rapidly into a crushing bloom of relief: she understood. Eve saw my foolish upset, and rather than ignore me as was her right, for whatever reason, she is here with me now, taking pains to reassure me when I don’t deserve it. My mind whirrs.

What do I want from her? What could I ever give in return? What do I possibly expect to come of this... of this...

What is this?

My breath is shaky when I finally exhale. “I’m sorry,” I tell her again.

“You have nothing to be sorry for.” Her voice is careful, neutral. I don’t hear she’s sad; I feel it.

Muted strains of a foxtrot seep through the wood at my back. I jerk in sudden remembrance: Grace.
Charles.

“I have to go back.”

She presses closer, urgent now. “Come tomorrow. To my house. There are things... I need to talk to you.”

I want to. I swallow hard.

“I can’t. Charles said—” I shake my head. “He’ll never allow it.”

“Rosina.”

I still can’t look at her. I stay silent.

“What do you want, Rose?”

It’s no use. I take a deep breath through my mouth to avoid breathing in her perfume, and tell the truth.

“Honestly? Right now, I want to go to sleep. Forget all of this. Forget I’ve met you.”

“That’s frightfully dramatic, darling. You’re complicating things.” Her tone is lighter, but unnaturally so. “This could all be so much simpler.”

“How can this possibly be simple?” I’m angry now. Not with Eve, although it’s her I hiss at, while I press my palms hard on the flaking wood behind me and rail against the futility of my life. “I have nothing. No means of my own. No family any more, except...” I can’t bring myself to say his name. “I answer to him,” I say after a moment. “I can’t even vote at my age. You have the vote now in the US, don’t you? Well, things are different here. They’re certainly different for me.” I push a sigh through tight lungs, exasperated. “You don’t understand. How could I ever expect you to? We’re from worlds quite apart, Eve.”

The skim of a fingertip over my cheek makes me close my eyes.

“Darling girl.” Her voice is honey, so sweet I want to cry. I long to bury my face in her neck and breathe, but I can’t breathe properly or the tears will come and I don’t think I will be able to stop them.

“We need to talk. Not here. Not like this. Please.”

The crack in the tile looks old; I wonder how it got there. My mind is filling, clouding.
Charles.
Charles is real. It’s Eve who is the dream. This entire time, I haven’t looked at her.

Charles.

“I’m sorry. I can’t.” I turn, fumbling to draw back the lock with shivering hands and wrench at the door, relieved but also disappointed when I stumble out and she doesn’t try to stop me.

A screen of panic slams down when my hands land on the rough fabric of Charles’s overcoat. Slowly, I look up. He’s holding my own, knuckles whitened around it. His spittle lands against my ear as he marches me towards the lobby.

“I didn’t want to have to do this, Rosina, but God knows you’ve forced my hand. As if it wasn’t enough that everyone looks at us, wondering why you can’t get pregnant, and now this. I warned you, Rose. Lord forgive me; I’m about to teach you that lesson.”

CHAPTER FOUR

The scarf bundled round my throat makes it difficult to keep my eyes on my shoes as they trudge the pavement. I didn’t go to church this morning. For the first time ever, Charles made no attempt to force me, although I’m walking mechanically to the village now, after lunch, on his insistence.
My normal constitutional. Appearances are important in the King family.

When I near the end of the High Street, a slight male figure springs forward and pulls me into an embrace, knocking the breath from me. I freeze for an instant, uncomprehending.

It’s the scent that I recognise first. She’s wearing a grey newsboy cap, pinstriped jacket and...
trousers
. Heart turning, I angle myself towards the window of Tinley’s and only narrowly avoid meeting Mrs Tinley’s prying eyes on the other side of the glass.

“Oh, Mrs King. Goodness, how perfect!” Her exclaimed greeting bears no shadow of the previous evening under pure, guileless delight. “I’ve just dropped Freddie and George at the station. Wait.” Her tone sharpens, and I instinctively duck my head. “You’ve been crying.”

“No, I—”

I try to turn my face further away, but her arm flashes out. She lifts aside the cloth covering my jaw, which was already blooming purplish when I wound the scarf around it before setting out. Cringing in shame, I let her, rather than risk any more of a spectacle in the street.

“He did this to you?” Her tone is grim.

Of course he did. Who else?
Mrs Tinley’s eyes will be out on stalks; I can feel them boring into the side of my face. I blink rapidly and examine Eve’s mannish shoes.

“The utter bastard,” she breathes. Then, more briskly, “Come on, Rosebud. The car’s over here.”

“Charles... I can’t...”

“Piffle.” Her hand is at the small of my back, gently insistent, and I go with her. As she leads me to the motorcar, my head cannot quite comprehend the recklessness of my legs. All I know is that I want to go with her.
She called me Rosebud.

Charles will kill me,
I think as the buildings of the village begin to speed past before spreading out and finally giving way to a view of the sea.

At the great white house, her shoes clack across black and white floor but this time, her hand holds mine. She takes me to the snug before surveying my face intently.

“Do you need a doctor?”

“No, it’s nothing like that.” I’m so embarrassed.

Comprehension shimmers in the grey, and her voice softens. “Cognac.”

She only pours one glass. After handing me the huge drink and bidding me to sit in the armchair I used before, she strides back out into the hallway.

“Hello. Get me Mayfair, five-three-two-four, please.”

I take a sip of the searing liquid and its fiery descent reminds me I’ve eaten nothing since yesterday. I scan the paintings absently, listening to the one-sided conversation with mounting concern until the telephone receiver clatters. She reappears in the doorway.

“That was Perkins, my lawyer. He’s going to telephone the police station here, and ask the officer to make a visit to your
husband.
” The last word is daubed in contempt.

Clutching the glass, a cold drop of panic lands against my skin. “Eve.” I close my eyes as the feeling turns to a flood, rushing over my limbs. “You don’t know Charles. You don’t understand.”

She crosses the floor and kneels before me, taking my hands in hers. Roses stir in the air.

“Rosebud. With respect, that’s where you are mistaken. I
do
know Charles. I’ve known several men just like him. You are not to blame for this. For what he’s done. I’ve thought about what you said last night, and while I understand—you’re still not his property. You don’t need to accept this. You’re a woman, not a pet. You’re safe here; you can stay for as long as you want. If you feel bad about rent, I’ll give you board and lodging as my model while we figure something out. It’s tough work; exhausting, frustrating—no picnic in the woods, but I mean it. The world’s different since the war. And you’re right, it’s certainly different for me.”

“I told you, Eve, it’s not that simple.”

Her eyes fall on my jaw, and her thumb traces a circle on the back of my hand. I swallow heavily; normally the contact would be distracting, but fear has gripped me. It’s possible Charles might have already noticed my absence, and come looking.

“For Charles, everything is about public appearance. He’d never accept me being here—”

“After Perkins’s man pays him a visit, it will be precisely his fear of outside appearances that will damn well make him accept it, and stop him from making an enemy of me.”

The iron in her voice causes my back to stiffen, and yet again, I find I believe her with every part of myself. I can’t answer. The ticking of the mantel clock neatly segments the silence. When she speaks again, her tone is altered, earnestly pleading.

“He’s hurt you enough, Rosebud. Do you really want to go back there?”

Without hesitation, I shake my head no.

“Come upstairs with me. Please? The light will last a little longer. Let me paint you.”

I nod this time, rising to my feet, and she follows suit. The grey eyes are sombre, but she offers me her hand, fingers splayed. I twine mine in hers and follow. Up the grand staircase, past her bedroom and up again, a winding spiral stair this time, to a many-windowed room at the very top of the house. The sea is visible on three sides, a square of lowering sky shows through the skylight above.

Against one wall crouches a deep blue chaise longue. Eve lets go of my hand and hauls the daybed into the middle of the room, winds the gramophone, then turns to gather her paints.

A sense of urgency seems to fall with the light. Sitting, I reach for the pins and begin to take down my hair. When she glances up, her lips quirk and she snatches up a brush.

BOOK: The Blue Hour
2.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Bridesmaid's Hero by Narelle Atkins
Royal Secrets by Abramson, Traci Hunter
Double Image by David Morrell
Down Among the Dead Men by Ed Chatterton
Alaskan Fury by Sara King
Kehua! by Fay Weldon
Diary of Annie's War by Annie Droege