Cosima's question hung in the air.
And though it was a very good question, it wasn't the most important one. No, the most important question was one that we didn't dare ask. It passed between our hands as we worked together; sorting through the journals, sorting through my clothes, sorting through my papers, too, and tucking them all into a traveler's clutch; but we dared not whisper a word.
Yes, the question passed back and forth between us when our eyes met; me kneeling by the bed; Cosima leaning over the map she had laid out over my desk. She traced and retraced lines, then rested a pencil against her mouth just as my father had done all those years ago.
I watched her and the more we ignored the question, the bigger it grew, until it loomed over me, taking hold of my insides and shaking them up.
Will we get out of here alive? I thought. Is it really possible?
But I knew better than to ask. I knew I had to keep my head down, my heart closed, and my eyes open.
Hope had gotten us this far — Aishe and I.
Hope had led Laurent home across the Austrian countryside.
Hope had even brought Cosima back, had persuaded her to risk her life for us. Hope had done all of these magnificent things, but that night, in that quiet bedroom, hope had no place.
There was only room for one thing — survival.
Cosima glanced at me over her shoulder, a sigh on her lips.
"I have to go," she said.
"Go where?" I said.
"Up in the air," she said. "I have a radio transmitter in my plane, but it's no good here on the ground. I'll have to take off, get as high as I can, and hope for the best."
"Up in the air? Right now?"
"Yes," she said. "I've got our course to the coast all charted out. But it's pointless if no one knows we are coming. They aren't expecting us for another six days."
"I see," I said. "Well, how long will that take?"
"Not long. Just until I make contact."
"And what if you don't make contact? What if no one hears you?"
"I'll give it a few minutes, but I've got to come down after that. I've got to conserve fuel."
"And then what? What if no one hears you?"
"Then we will have to fly blind, I guess."
She sighed again. She sighed and her shoulders sank, and I worried that she was giving up.
"Oh," I said.
And still the question stared both of us in the face. Will we get out of here alive?
She turned away, rolling up the map and pushing back from the desk.
"In the mean time," she said, stepping to the window. "Make sure you have all of your things in order. Once that sun peeks over the horizon, we are gone. Do you hear me?"
"Oui," I said, standing up as well. "We will be ready."
Cosima gazed out the window with her back to me. She was silent. I didn't like it.
We both listened to the rhythmic sounds of Ethan's tired but consistent digging; the tinny smack and swoosh of shovel against frozen ground, a sound so brittle that we could hear it clearly, even through the closed window.
"Yes, have everything ready, and when I get back I will take Aishe in my plane. You take the other plane. Then we take off, no matter what...no matter what."
"Oui," I said.
And Laurent? I thought.
But she didn't mention his name. She simply pulled her leather jacket on and headed for the door.
I measured the moments she was gone, not by the ticking on the clock, but by the scraping of the shovel outside my window. I didn't look out, though. I couldn't.
I stayed by Aishe's side, kneeling by the bed. And when my knees got tired, I sat on the floor, my head resting on the edge of the mattress, and my hand outstretched to hold Aishe's.
The sounds from outside were unbearable — the ceaseless scrape and swoosh — but even more unbearable were the moments when the shoveling would stop and I'd hear Ethan's voice, weak and frightened, asking something of Laurent. If Laurent ever responded to him, I never heard it. I only heard the return of the shovel to the ground.
I rested my head on the mattress. I closed my eyes.
I might as well sleep, I thought. I might as well sleep until Cosima returns.
The shoveling sounds became more and more distant and muffled, until I could barely hear them at all.
Until they almost sounded like water washing up against the shore of a far off beach. But by the time I had noticed the shift in sounds, I was already halfway to sleep.
I watched myself fall into sleep, a part of me still vigilant, a part of me still holding out like the last night guard.
But I couldn't hold out forever. Finally, I slept, but it was a restless sleep and full of dreams. And even as I dreamed, I was half awake.
Even as I raised my head, even as I noticed the sunlight flooding in through the window, even as I heard the ticking of a clock that sounded like waves on the seashore; even then, I knew I was dreaming. I knew I was not fully awake.
But still, I rose.
My bed was empty. The quilt was neatly tucked beneath the pillow. The window was open and hot air blew in all around me; it smelled of sunflowers and sundresses. I was tempted to step to the window, to look out, to search for something I had not seen in a long time…
But then my mother called my name.
Well, when I say she called, I don't mean I heard it on the air. When I say she called my name, I mean I heard it in my heart. I mean I heard it like a song she used to sing, before I even knew what her words meant, or before I even knew that her voice was not my own; was not coming from within me but from without.
The song lured me out of my room and into the hall.
I stood on the landing. I looked through the open door into my parent's room. The wall had fallen away, and sunlight filtered in, and still I heard the waves gently lapping against the shore of our home.
I smelled food. I smelled my old life. I smelled family, security — love.
I went down the stairs, and before I set foot on the bottom landing, the radio sprang to life in the sitting room. The radio sprang to life, and the hairs on my neck rose up, and I knew I wasn't alone. I leaned forward, glancing down the hall.
"Oh, don't worry, that's just me," someone said.
I looked up to see my father sitting at the kitchen table. There was no map in his hands. There was nothing, but him in his overalls and shirt, his hands dirty from a day's work, and his face red from the sun.
He looked young. He looked espirit. He looked like a photograph of a memory, both perfectly fresh and perfectly far.
My mother stood at the sink, humming along to the radio tune, and she had not seen me. I felt great waves of joy wash over me, swish, swish, swish.
I wanted to run to them. I wanted to embrace them both. But I knew they weren't real. Even as I was overcome with emotion, I knew they weren't real. I stood still, unable to believe; unable to disbelieve.
"I love you," I whispered.
To this they said nothing.
"I miss you."
At that my mother turned around. She smiled, and her smile was deep, catching the light, gathering up all the smiles of my childhood into one moment.
"How are you?" I said. "How are you now?"
"Every day is a revolution," my father said.
I didn't understand. He smiled at my befuddlement and started again.
"Where we are, everything changes."
"...everything changes," I repeated, as if that meant I understood.
He nodded his head.
"Some things more than others," he said. "You get what you give."
I still didn't understand. I looked to my mother.
"What is the biggest difference?" I asked, hesitating for a moment. "Between where you are now and where I am?"
She smiled, tilting her head to the side. "We live more…"
"Live more?" I asked.
"Yes, we live more fiercely," she said.
"We are learning to float," my father added.
I thought I understood, or at least, a calm fell over me. They are learning to float.
And even as he said the word float, I heard the swish, swish of waves outside.
"The waters are rising," he said.
"I know," I said.
But the swish, swish was transforming; mulling into something more present, more sonorous, more urgent. The swish of waves quickly became the cries of an infant, muffled and not easily located.
I glanced around the room.
My mother set her dishcloth aside, then brushed past me into the hallway, her hair touching my cheek then fading away. She stopped at the basement door, and instead of opening it, she reached her hands into the wall — yes, right into the wall — and I knew it wasn't real. She stuck her hands right into the wall, and pulled out a brick, ripping away the wallpaper in the process. She dropped the brick, but it made no sound when it hit the floor.
The only sound was the sound of an infant's cries, wailing and wailing.
She pulled away more bricks, dropping them in a pile in the hallway that kicked up a cloud of dust. Then, silently, she urged me closer. She pointed into the wall.
I stepped closer. I leaned in. I looked.
I gasped. A child was there, in the wall, wrapped in rags and wailing. I reached out. I took it into my arms. My mother touched my face.
"You must learn to float, too," she said.
"I will," I said.
I gazed down at the child — my child. I felt her cries in my heart, certain that they were my own, that they originated from within me and not from without.
I stepped to the front door. It opened on it's own. Sunlight flooded into the entryway. Light flooded into my eyes and into my heart.
I stepped out into the sunshine, into the waves that washed up against my house. I felt the water around my ankles. I felt the sand between my toes. I saw the birds circling overhead, so many of them.
And in the distance, I saw the wave, enormous and dark, rushing toward me. I shushed the baby in my arms, but I was not scared.
"Every day is a revolution," I whispered to the child as it approached.
It towered higher and higher, blocking out the very sun in the sky. But though it was dark, I saw through the surface of the wave; I saw into the very depths of it. I saw fires. I saw stars. I saw crashing planes, bumpy bus rides, lit up poster kiosks, twirling dancers covered in sweat. I saw guns. I saw cars. I saw blackened out streets and tire marks. I saw cigarettes and lighters; I saw flour and yeast. I saw flowered branches of cherry trees fading to dark. I saw Laurent's hands around my neck. I saw Aishe's emergence from the suitcase. I saw Cosima's silhouette against the night sky, the way she kissed me — the way she kissed me — the way I loved her in letters. I even saw Ethan, the pages of my diary in his hand, the fire in his chest, the hatred in his face.
I saw my father, just a shadow on the hill, rolling a barrel of wine just as he had always done. I saw my mother, a shadow next to him, hanging up the linens to dry in the sun.
I saw all of that inside the wave, and I knew it was coming for me. I knew it would be upon me any moment, but I was not afraid. It was too beautiful, you see. How could I be afraid?
I cradled the infant against my chest.
We will float, I thought. We will float.
I closed my eyes. I took a deep breath. I expected the darkness to surround me, to crash against me and sweep me up to a higher place.
This is how things are always done, I thought.
But the crash didn't come. No, someone grabbed my arm, pulled me away, shook me free from my trance.
Delphine! Delphine! Delphine!
Her voice sounded like the waves, like the cries, like the shoveling scratch.
I opened my eyes.
"Delphine! What are you doing?!" Cosima said, her face right next to mine.
"What?" I said, startled to find myself in the darkened night.
"What are you doing out here? Where are you going?"
"I...I don't know," I said.
My arms were so tired.
"Give me Aishe," Cosima said, reaching toward me.
"What?" I said, looking down.
I had carried her down the stairs, and out the front door. I had carried Aishe out into the night, wrapped up in my bed quilt, and who knows where I would have carried her had Cosima not stopped me.
"I'll take her to the plane," Cosima said. "Go grab your things."
I heard her words, but I didn't move. I could still feel the sand beneath my toes. I could still hear the waves. I could still smell the food from the kitchen.
"Delphine! Let's go!" Cosima shouted over her shoulder.
But it wasn't Cosima's urgency that finally woke me up. It was a flash of light in my peripheral vision. I turned instinctively toward the source. There it was again, just the smallest flash of light.
That's when I saw Laurent, sitting on a mound of displaced earth, the pistol resting on his raised knees.
I saw the flash of light again. For a moment I thought it was his lighter. I thought he was trying to light a cigarette, just like old times. But no, he held tight to the pistol grip with both hands, his eyes locked on the ground before him. He mumbled something under his breath, a ceaseless whisper like a prayer.
I heard another sound, distant and muffled, of the shovel against the ground. I saw the flash of light as the shovel flew up, and a wave of dirt landed near where Laurent sat.
Ethan had dug the hole so deep, that I could no longer see the top of his head.
How long was I asleep? I thought.
"Laurent," I said. "We are leaving soon."
"Maybe we are," Laurent said, his eyes locked on the shovel that rose and fell. "Maybe we aren't."
"Well, I am," I said.
The shoveling stopped. The night was still; it was too cold for the crickets.
Laurent kicked the dirt, and it spilled into the ditch.
"I didn't say stop!" he shouted.
We both listened.
Ethan's voice came up, scared and exhausted.
"Delphine, please," he said. "He's going to kill me."
I couldn't bring myself to step any closer. I couldn't bring myself to look into the ditch. I did look at Laurent, though.
We locked eyes. I thought about the wave. I thought about the sunlight. I thought about the shore that was waiting for us all. But there was none of that in Laurent's eyes. He was all darkness, all rising waters, all sinking stones.
"Well?" I said. "Is it true?"
"Is what true?" Laurent growled.
"Are you planning to kill him?"
Laurent was still for a moment, but then a smile crept across his face. At first it was just a twist of his lips, but then his mouth cracked open into an eerie grin, his teeth glowing blue under the moon. He laughed heartily for a moment, then his smile collapsed back into a scowl and he kicked frantically at the loose earth, like a child in the throes of a tantrum.
I took a step away.
He began his little whispered chant again, his lips moving in a quick, contorted grin. I didn't recognize it at first.
"Delphine! Please!" Ethan cried. "Please! At least...at least tell my mother! Tell my mother that I'm here!"
Still Laurent murmured on, his voice growing in both size and sound, until finally, he spoke at full volume.
"Graben Grabengräber Gruben?" he said, kicking the dirt once more.
"Laurent…" I said. "Please, stop…"
"Graben Grubengräber Gräben?"
"You will regret this," I said. "You will."
"Nein!" he shouted, pushing himself up onto his feet.
"You are not a murderer!"
"Nein!" he shouted, the pistol shaking in his hands. "Grabengräber graben Gräben!"
"Laurent," I said. "Please...this is all my fault!"
"Graben Grabengräber Gruben?!" he repeated. "Graben Grubengräber Gräben?"
With my hands up, I stepped back.
"Don't you see? This is all my fault!"
He stepped forward, still shouting, but I shouted right back.
"All of this! I was so stupid!" I said. "At the cinema, remember?!"
"Yes, you do! I know you remember! We were supposed to go, to see The Rules of the Game...Renoir's masterpiece, remember? You wanted to see it, remember?"
"Nein! Grabengräber graben Gräben! Grabengräber graben Gräben!"
His eyes filled with tears as he spat the words at me, over and over.
Grave diggers dig graves! he shouted. Gravediggers dig graves!
"We are not grave diggers!" I shouted back. "We are not! We are just us, Delphine and Laurent!" And then more quietly, "Don't forget that…"
He paused, taking a step back, his mouth twisted up in a contorted resistance, as if he didn't want to hear my words. He stared at me across the ditch. Ethan was silent below us. He stared at me with a bitter, twisted mouth and a scowling brow, and tears spilled over his cheeks, running down to his chin.
But then he licked his lips, turned away, and started up his chant again.
I knew then that he was gone. He was lost and there was nothing I could do to save him. He had been swallowed up by the wave long ago, and there was nothing I could do to save him.
Cosima ran toward me, a shadow appearing out of shadows, a ghostly form that grew clearer as she moved closer.
She walked with determination, her head down and her hands in her pockets, until finally she looked up. Our eyes met and she smiled, reaching a hand out, grabbing my elbow and steering me gently toward the house.
Yes, she smiled, in the middle of everything, and I wondered where her strength for happiness came from.
"Delphine, get your things," she said. "It's time."
"It's time?" I said, looking to the east.
I saw the smallest hint of brightening gray sky, and the faintest dimming of stars, and I knew she was right.
The sun would be up within the hour, and we would be gone.
She led me up the stairs, she put the bags by the doors. She checked and double-checked the desk, the dresser, the bed.
She helped me into two coats — the only two coats I owned — then wrapped three scarves around my face and pulled a knit cap down over my head. But even then she looked dissatisfied.
"It will be cold up there," she said.
"I'll live," I said with a weak smile.
"That's the spirit," she said back, rubbing my arms.
Then she picked up the bags and stepped to the door. She looked back at me over her shoulder.
"Let's go," she said.
I stood in the middle of the room.
"Delphine?" she said.
I can't do this! I thought, my whole body trembling.
"Yes, I'm coming," I said.
I stepped to the door and switched off the light, closing my eyes on the room and swearing to never look back.
Once outside, the sky was noticeably lighter in the east, but still dark enough to cast Laurent's face in ghostly shadows. His whispered chant had quieted and calmed but had not died down completely.
I stumbled as we passed him, but Cosima grabbed my hand and led me out toward the planes.
She climbed up onto the wing of her plane, and called down for our bags. I handed them to her, but my back screamed at the weight of them. She took them and set them inside her cockpit, then jumped down off the wing, the impact kicking up a cloud of dust in the cool morning air.
Just like my dream, I thought.
Then we were face to face, and though her skin was a pale blue and her eyes were a dark gray, she looked beautiful. I reached for her face, my heart racing. The moment was upon us; the moment when she got into her plane and I got into mine, and we both took off and who knew if I would ever see her again.
I reached for her face and I pulled her close to me.
"Don't leave me, Cosima," I said.
"Calm down," she said, her voice cold and professional. "Calm down. You can do this. You have been trained for this. You are going to do it just like we practiced."
She led me toward the smaller plane, the one that sat behind hers, the one made of wood and canvas, the one with no weapons, no radio, and no windshield.
"It will be over before you know it," she said.
"Cosima, I…" I stuttered. "I don't know if I can do this."
She held my hands to her chest.
"You can," she said. "Delphine, focus!"
"I am!" I said. "I am focusing! But I'm not stupid, Cosima! And neither are you! You know that I can't fly myself out of here. You know it's impossible!"
"No. It's not impossible. It's completely within the realm of possibility."
"This is not the time for semantics, Cosima."
"Alright," she said. "It's improbable. I'll give you that. But it's not impossible."
I was not convinced. I ran my fingers over the lapel of her leather jacket. I wondered if this was the last time I would ever touch her. I thought of all the times I had ever touched her, they flashed and flickered across my mind, moving backwards in time, and they were far too few.
"It's a...statistical improbability," she said. "Our specialty."
I felt a sudden desire rise up in me; it was a desire to be close to her, to feel her warm skin in the palm of my hands once more.
I found myself pulling at her jacket, pulling at the sleeves, and then the zipper. I found myself leaning forward, pushing her up against the plane, pressing my mouth against hers in the dark.
She fell backwards; I had caught her off guard, and her shoulders landed hard against the metal body of the plane. She groaned, but her groan was muffled by my mouth. I pushed and pulled, pushed and pulled, desperate to get my hands in, under, around the jacket and shirt that separated us.
For a moment, she was still, save for the moan. She was, perhaps, shocked, surprised, unsure. But then her hands moved quickly to her own coat. She unzipped it and pulled it open for me.
I slipped my hands around her waist. I felt her warmth beneath her shirt. I pulled up on the edge of it, clumsily untucking it from her trousers, clumsily kissing her, clumsily sighing into her mouth when I finally touched the soft warm skin of her waist.
She sighed back, leaning up on her tip toes, her arms locked around my neck and pulling me down toward her.
My hands moved up, finding her breasts, finding her collarbones, even coming up so high that my fingertips brushed against her neck.
The plane rocked gently with the weight of our embraces. Cosima pushed me away suddenly.
"Delphine," she whispered, her voice shaky. "We don't have time. We have to go."
"Non," I said.
She ran her hands through her hair.
"No, I need this Cosima. I need you one more time — as insurance."
"Insurance? Insurance against what?"
"Against accidents! Against life! Against death!"
"We're not going to die," she said, reaching for my hands.
"You don't know that!" I said. "I need this, Cosima…"
"But the sun will be up soon. We are running out of time."
"Exactly! We are running out of time. I need to say goodbye, or hello, or...I don't know…I need to feel something besides doubt…right now! Before you leave me!"
She looked toward the cockpit. "What about Aishe?"
"Come with me," I whispered, already pulling on her hand. "She won't even know we are gone."
"Delphine…" Cosima said.
"No more doubts," I said, pulling her harder.
She didn't say another word.
No, soon we were running, hand in hand, down that old familiar lane that led past Lumiere's vineyards and down to the stream, just able to see our way in the moonlight. We hurried to the cherry tree, ducking into the interior space. And once we were inside, she pushed me up against the trunk. I looked out as she kissed my neck and pulled at my two coats.
The naked branches did nothing to hide us from the night. I saw right through them out to the path but I didn't care.
I pulled her against me, kissed her hard, wrapped my leg around her thigh. The tree shook and shook with us, the branches swish, swishing in the cool air. I slid my hands under her shirt. I pinched and pulled at her hot skin. She opened my coats. She pulled up my skirt. She slid her hand up. She pulled my panties away, and soon her cool hand was rubbing against the hottest part of me. She moaned into my neck.
I closed my eyes, pulling her against me. She pushed against my body, her hand moving fast and hard against my crotch, faster and harder than she had ever done, but it did not hurt. No, her fingers slid against me in a clumsy sort of ecstasy, the sounds of which I could hear loud and clear in the still night.
And then…a sensation that I had not anticipated, a fierce yearning that shook through my legs until I thought I might fall to my knees. She grunted and moaned against me, and I held her by her neck, so that her cheek was pressed to mine.
She pushed inside me, gently first, and for a moment we both became still. But soon, I moved my hips down, relaxing around her fingers, and she started up her rhythm again.
I opened my eyes. I looked up. I saw the stars through the naked branches. I whispered my own chant to them.
Merci. Merci. Merci.
Yes, I whispered my quiet appreciations.
I held my breath. I listened for her sounds; her panting breath and grunting throat. And then I pushed my face into her neck and hair, and I inhaled deeply; the smell of her filled me with warmth. And then I pushed her face away from mine, so that I could see it more closely; her glasses sitting crookedly on her nose. But she did not look up. She looked down, focusing her intentions on the hand inside me. I ran my thumb over her furrowed brow, and then back and forth over her bottom lip. She opened her mouth in response, and I pushed my thumb inside, just for a moment.
Finally, she looked up at me, and when she did, I kissed her.
I kissed her and she kissed me. Her hand slowed, her hips slowed; everything slowed as we kissed.
I closed my eyes and thanked the stars for her kiss, for her taste, for the fire that burned in my belly, the fire that had never stopped burning for her.
Merci. Merci. Merci.
But there was something that I wanted still. Something that I must know about her before I lost the chance.
I thought about the summer cherries. I thought about the taste. I thought about her kiss, the brush of her lips that beautiful day. How many times had I thought about that day? How many times had I relived it? How many times had I desired to go back in time and rewrite that scene, see what would have happened had we not been interrupted?
I pushed Cosima away. My hands trailed down to the front of her trousers. I struggled to unbutton them. Once she knew what I was after, she unbuttoned them herself. I turned her around. I pushed her against the tree. I kneeled in front of her.
"Delphine?" she said. "We don't have time…"
"I just want one more thing," I said, looking up. "I must know."
But I couldn't answer her with words. I was too shy to say it, just as I had been too shy to say it before. But I knew that I could not get in that plane, leave that place, stare death in the face, if I didn't know this one thing…
I pulled her trousers down to her ankles. It was awkward. She was cold. She huddled around my face as her knees shook. She pulled my head against her belly, and I could smell her arousal. I kissed her stomach just above her pubic bone.
She looked down at me, her face dark against the brightening sky.
"Delphine…" she said, watching me.
"I must know," I said, my voice thick with desire.
She nodded and closed her eyes, tilting her head back against the tree, and spreading her legs in a graceless pose.
There was no time to be gentle. My feelings at that moment weren't gentle. No, I licked my lips once, pressed my mouth against the front of her, kissed her again on the belly, and then, with a hunger that made me growl from my belly, I dipped my head down and opened my mouth.
And when I pressed my mouth against her, she flinched and grabbed my head. I found myself wrapped up in an all-consuming curiosity — a probing, roaming curiosity — that tasted and touched her; all salt, all sweetness, all warmth and love.
And in this curiosity I lost myself for a moment. I forgot many things. I forgot grief. I forgot fear. I forgot pain and anger.
And I also remembered many things; the smell of sunflowers, the sun on my skin, a red handkerchief, a red dress, a smile in the mirror, a red flame, a night sky, a city that floated in the distance like fireflies, a cherry in my mouth.
Above me she pulled at my head, until the knit cap fell away into her hands, and still she did not let go. She rocked her hips against my face. Her breath came quickly, her knees wobbled in the dark. I held her by the hips, but she was shaking, and when I squeezed her tighter, I could feel down deeply she trembled.
But this only drove me on. I pushed my mouth, my tongue against her. My head and neck moved in circles, a motion I couldn't control. And then, when my desire was at its peak, when I was desperate for some release, my tongue found a place to push further into her, and in finding it, I exploded with desire.
I pushed into her again and again, driven on by some primal lust that had gripped me from tongue to toe. I pushed into her with my whole body, reaching and tasting in long deep thrusts of my head, neck and shoulders.
And she moved with me, taking me into her, thrusting with her hips, pulling with her hands, crying out from her belly, her voice echoing into the night. I didn't care. I loved it. I loved the sound.
I loved her sounds; the sounds of her body, the sounds of her flesh and her fluid, the sounds of her voice mixing with the sounds of the shaking tree limbs.
I loved our sounds; the pulling, the thrusting, the inelegant smack of our bodies colliding, the grunts of desire that lined up in time, hers and mine — our sounds.
And I felt her pleasure rise up, it rose up so quickly. She bucked her hips. She pushed me away. She huddled against me, pulling my face to her stomach as she shook and shook, little seizures, one after another, her back curled, her head thrown back.
She held me still.
It was only when she let me go that I realized that her pleasure and my pleasure had been one in the same, that my desire — my lust — had extinguished itself against her. I pressed my wet face against her stomach and sighed. I was exhausted and relieved.
Then I helped her to pull her trousers back up. She laughed as I stood, hugging me. But when she pulled me closer, her laughter gave way to sobs. She was crying. She held me to her in a death embrace.
"I know," I said. "You are mine."
"No matter what…" Her words came out like a whimper.
I held my breath, lest I start to cry, too.
"And you are mine," she said, and after a deep breath. "Always."
It was all I could manage to say.
She pushed me gently away. She pulled the knit cap back over my head and began buttoning the front of my coat, her hands trembling as she went.
Finally, she looked up at me, her face a bright blue in the early morning light, her tears catching the hint of pink in the eastern sky.
"We should go," she said. "It's time."
We walked hand and hand back to the house, the last few stars twinkling above us in the west. I said my thanks one more time, squeezed Cosima's hand and sighed, because I knew that, no matter what, whether we lived or died, the stars would go on. At least they would rise by night, and they would know…
...how much we loved, I thought.
Yes, we hurried along the path, in a half-walk, half-trot, because we were out of time. But even so, I found myself glancing back; at the cherry tree behind us, at the stream as we passed it, at Lumiere's house, and the long rows of grapevines, at the run-down wooden fence, at the Vosges mountains in the distance.
Yes, I found myself paying attention, one last time...paying full attention, to that place, to those things, to those memories. I smiled as Cosima pulled me along. I smiled as my home appeared before us, even with the hole in the crumbling wall. I smiled as I heard a bird or two begin their morning song.
It's going to be a beautiful day, I thought.
But as we approached the planes, I heard a sound that jolted me from my haze.
Flick, flick, flick.
I looked up, and there, leaning against the body of my plane, with his arms crossed, and his ankles crossed, too, was Laurent. A beaten-up cigarette hung from his mouth and the lighter in his hands. He flicked it again, and in between flicks, I heard his sniffle and sigh. He flicked the lighter again, and finally the small, fragile flame appeared. He brought it to his cigarette quickly, before the flame extinguished completely.
Then he sniffed his nose again, tossed his head back and exhaled.
"Isn't it getting late ladies?" he said. "I thought I'd have to send the search party soon."
He said it like a joke, but his voice was strained, coarse and wavering.
"Laurent!" I sighed in relief.
I stepped closer to him. I reached for the cigarette. I took a drag, myself.
"Where did you find this?" I asked.
"It's my last one," he said. I've been saving it... I was waiting for my lucky lighter."
He raised the lighter and smiled, but his nose was stuffed up, and so his weak-hearted laugh escaped through his mouth.
I passed the cigarette back to him.
"Where's Ethan?" I said, nearly afraid to ask.
"Probably half way home now," Laurent said.
"Why did you let him go?"
"Because...he said it was a good film."
"The Rules of the Game...he said it was a good film...a very good film...one of his favorites."
"Yeah, he said he'd like to see it again some time. He said I should see it, too."
I didn't know what to say to that. I didn't even know what to think. I watched Laurent's face. I watched tears well up again. He turned away, looking east toward the rising sun. He smiled, biting back tears.
I opened my mouth to speak, but Cosima reached for my hand.
"I'm going now," she said.
I turned toward her.
"Oui," I whispered.
Our eyes locked and lingered for a moment longer. Her cheeks were rosy and her lips were red. She was beautiful and she loved me. I felt all of her love in that one look, and I felt all of her peace.
"Don't take too long getting in the air. I don't have fuel to burn."
She touched my face, brushing a lock of curls from my cheek.
"Just follow me," she said. "You'll be fine. It's all physics."
She kissed me again, and the sunlight reflected in her eyes, revealing all the colors of a field of sunflowers.
"Of course, we will be fine!" Laurent said from behind me. "We've got my lucky lighter!"
Cosima kissed me one last time, squeezed my hand, and hurried away.
And I knew that Laurent was wrong. The lighter wasn't the reason we were lucky.
We were lucky because we had my dandelion, because she had crashed into my life — into our lives — all those years ago, and she had taught me how to love and be light.
I took the cigarette from Laurent, taking one last puff before tossing it away.
"Let's get this over with," I said.
We climbed into the cockpit. We pulled on our leather gloves and slipped on our goggles. I drove the plane to the driveway, just as I had done the day before. I turned the nose so that it pointed straight down the lane to Rosheim. We sat in silence, Laurent and I; there would be no more talking for the rest of the flight, not over the sounds of the propellor and wind.
We sat in silence and watched as Cosima's plane accelerated down the lane, lifted off the ground, and then, rose high into the pink sky.
I took a deep breath. I swallowed hard. I felt Laurent's hand squeeze my shoulder, and then, I gave the engine gas. We rumbled down the bumpy road, the body of the plane shaking violently as we gained speed, and then, I pulled back on the stick, and just as Cosima said, physics did the rest.
In a moment, we were on the ground, and then we were off. In a moment we were heavy, and then light we were light. I heard a distant holler behind me, and I knew Laurent was cheering. I think I was cheering, too. My lungs burned with excitement as we moved higher and higher into the sky.
I pointed the nose straight for the Vosges Mountains, just as Cosima had instructed. I pointed for the mountains in the west, and the for the banks of Normandy, and for the boat that would be waiting for us; the one that would carry us away from this place forever.
I felt Laurent squeeze my shoulder again, and when I turned to look at him, he pointed out the side of the cockpit. I leaned over. I looked out. I saw an endless patchwork of vineyards and dirt roads. Already, the town of Rosheim was far behind us. Already, there was no turning back.
But I was not sad, because when I looked up, I saw Cosima's plane, the metal fuselage shimmering in the distance, and I knew that she would stick right by me for the rest of this journey, and the next, and the next.
I waved, and in return, I saw a leather glove pressed into the side of her windshield. We were not alone.
It's already a beautiful day! I thought.
I trimmed out the plane, pointed it toward the Vosges, and let physics do the rest.