Title: This Life and the Next
Fandom: Grey's Anatomy
Summary: This is vary A/U. What if love is truly eternal?
What to expect: a conclusion
Rating: R (It does get rather saucy)
Spoiler: There will be referencing to previous episodes
Archiving: Only with the permission of the author
Disclaimer: The show and characters are not mine and there is no intention for copyright infringement.
A/N: Had someone told me that it would have taken more than 6 months to update, I would have accused them as being ridiculous, but I shouldn't have been surprised... Part three took 3 months. Darn Life getting in the way. However, Part 4 is a lot longer than all the previous parts, so hopefully this will be a treat and not a misery for you all. Firstly, I need to answer a question that has been asked several times, There are 6 parts in total.
Part IV was always going to be difficult to write as it features a lot of opera, and how does one write opera... I was almost tempted to just attach links to each Aria and say "Listen and save me written words." Yet, I've decided that with each chapter that features an Aria, I will name the Aria, Opera and Composer at the start so if you wish to listen, you can find them on youtube and if you don't like opera, hopefully my words will be enough justice.
Finally, I want to thank you all for comments, favourites, reviews and patience. Hopefully, this fic will continue to bring you pleasure. And rest assure, I fully intend on completing it, even if it does take months at a time to update. Please enjoy.
(A Doll's Song - Tales of Hoffman - Offenbach)
"Callie! Wake up! You're due on stage!"
Callie groaned as she rubbed her forehead, before seeing her reflection in the mirror opposite her. She looked up at the other woman calling her and nodded.
"Callie, you need to stop drinking before a show," The older woman teased, and Callie grumbled as she stood up. She looked into the mirror, and straightened her black corset, hoisting it so it comfortably held her full breasts.
"I'm ready," Callie teased, kissing the older woman on the cheek, before slapping her behind.
She grabbed the half-empty bottle from her vanity, grimacing at her reflection once more before stepping into the corridor. She felt herself be pulled back by the older woman, and frowned.
"You don't even care anymore, do you?" Alice stated as she brushed the creases from the long cream skirts of the taller woman's dress, before pulling it over her head. She stood back and watched the brunette straighten the dress out on her before reaching out a hand to fix it.. "You sleep, you drink…"
"I still sing well," Callie argued slapping the interfering hands away.
"That is all you do well," Alice muttered as she looked at the brunette up and down. The black dress would hopefully not come under the scrutiny of the bright lights. She took the bottle from the other woman's hand, ignoring the grumbling protest.
The sandbags hit the wooden floor with a dull thud, lifting a new layer of dust into the air. Callie watched them swirl as if they were a tornado while she stood in the wings. She peered through the curtains and saw that the audience was yet again small, coaxed inside with promises of a free aperitif. She saw the performers on stage finish their piece, obviously struggling to be heard above the sounds of a rogue percussionist. She smiled as she watched the conductor wave his baton, oblivious to his insubordinates, lost in his own thoughts. The revolutions had finished, and with them the demand for the operetta. She had started performing this particular operetta two years earlier, singing the same aria every night. She had no idea as to why the company insisted on replaying the same piece every evening to near empty auditoriums, but it paid for the food she ate and the roof she slept under so she could not complain.
The director, a short, balding man whose manners were lax, and imagination lacking, copied the acts of other directors, better ones. He had insisted on using the wishes of Offenbach, the controversies adopted by the works held in the Bouffes Parisiens, and remained oblivious to the rejection recent times had of the works of Offenbach. He had been informed by many that the composer was considered a spy by many, especially his audiences, but he remained loyal to his icon. The opera, "The Tales of Hoffman" was Offenbach's last, never seen by the composer, yet played to its death by this short, balding man according to many.
Callie pushed through the backstage wing, onto stage, beginning her favourite aria from the piece, "The Doll's Song". She loved the challenge of hitting those high notes, and would find herself lost in her own performance that music and audience no longer existed. As she moved robotically to the words as she was required to do so in her character as a doll, she aimed for the high ceilings with her voice. She knew her moment would come to end and that the other characters would break her, stripping her of her clothing, pushing her to the hard floorboards, and kicking her aside as they did every night. Her job was almost finished for this evening but for this moment, she was the star.
When she had completed the aria, and bowed her head as if she had wound down she closed her eyes, listening as the other characters came to life, sang and moved. She felt the hand on her back and knew it was her final moment. She glanced at the audience as she sang, her eyes meeting briefly with blue eyes, her voice wavering for almost a second as she tried to regain focus before looking back at the tenor who was singing with her. She watched as the tenor, Philippe, sing his realisation that his character had been duped into falling in love with her character, a doll, and prepared herself to be broken. Her costume ripped from her, leaving her in only her black corset, undergarment and garters. She was pushed to the ground, and moved aside. She hated that moment, being ogled by the audience, hearing the jeers from the men. She knew this is why they came, not to hear the music, or watch the opera, but watch the women wear less than their wives do.
She slid of the stage and saw Alice waiting with a robe for her. She pulled it on, wrapping it around her before peering through the curtains and seeking out those blue eyes. She could see the fair-headed woman sitting upright behind the jeering men, her position tense, her face stern yet without a crease. She didn't belong there, her long blue and white dress fitted tightly around the torso, her long hair tied back into a twist. She was the only woman amongst men, men that though dressed well in evening suits, didn't behave as well.
"Who is she?" Callie murmured and felt Alice step up and lean against her back. She turned her head and saw the older woman resting her chin on her shoulder and felt her shrug.
Callie looked at her once more before returning to the dressing room to rescue her bottle of wine. She lay on the battered chaise longue, closed her eyes and rubbed her head. She lifted the bottle to her lips, tasting the drops that rested at its rim with her tongue before groaning. Her head had ached since she had woken, and she knew it was due to the wine. She rested the bottle on the hard floor, and swung herself back into seating position. She could see her dress hanging over the screen, and pulled a face at it.
"Callie?" Alice called as she opened the door, before seeing the younger woman resting her head between her hands. "You're not dressed?"
Callie met grey eyes, and saw the faint wrinkles come to light as panic adorned the older woman's face. Alice grabbed the dress from the rails and stood over the reclining woman, the shadow of her shape dancing over the caramel skin of the younger woman.
Callie saw annoyance dancing across Alice's features, and took the dress. She stepped into quickly, not caring about creasing or even tearing. She saw that Alice had sat at the dressing table, and studied her for a moment. Her features were wrinkled, her dark eyes small but sharp, her form petite, her dark hair tied back into a bun, greying at the head. She placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, and saw Alice look up at her through the mirror.
Alice had always featured in Callie's life, and adopted the younger woman as a niece even though she held no relation with her mother. Before Callie was born, Alice had befriended her mother, Simone, as a child. They were of similar age, enjoyed music and reading and immersing themselves into imaginative worlds. When Simone found a husband, Alice smiled at the wedding. When Simone gave birth to a child, Alice held her hand. When Simone became ill, Alice soothed away her fever. When Simone died, Alice watched the cheap coffin sink into the ground holding the hand of a small child. And when that small child's father disappeared into the night, Alice took her in.
Callie linked her arm through Alice's as she led her out of the simple dressing room, through the poorly lit corridor and out of the side exit of the theatre into the dark alley. The night was warm, its clouds lit by the many lights of Paris. They moved onto the main street and were greeted by passing horses, chattering women at doorstops, and men cheering everyone and no-one with their mugs of beer. The heart of Paris was where silence never visited. Callie steered Alice to the front of the theatre, side-stepping a sleeping man.
"Alice… " Callie started, but stopped as she recognised blue eyes watching her from inside the coach. The fair-headed lady was watching her intently, her eyes shining, her smooth face framed by fallen curls, her expression curious. Callie had no time to react when she saw the tall man step into the coach, ordering the driver to leave. The horses pulled the coach away with ease, kicking up loose stones in their wake. She felt herself being pulled back into walking pace, and felt her body act without use of her mind. She wasn't even aware that Alice was talking until she heard her name being called loudly.
"Calliope!" Alice almost shouted. "Where are you tonight?"
Callie shook her head, "I feel like I have suffered from a deja-vu."
Alice shrugged as she pushed the door to the apartment open. It was small yet enough for the two women. It was three rooms, a living space, a bedroom and a bathroom. The bedroom was once shared by them both, but now was just for the older woman. Callie slept in the living space behind the privacy of erected screens. Callie sat on the battered chair and kicked loose her shoes from her feet. She looked up at Alice who was shedding her coat, hat and gloves.
"Will you not be with Pierre tonight?"
Callie shook her head, "I am not as exciting as a revolution…"
"The revolution is over," Alice mused.
"Which makes me even more depressed…" Callie smirked. "I am not as exciting as a non-existent revolution."
"He is a fool," Alice admonished as she lit the fire.
"Isn't that what you say about them all?" Callie chuckled. "At least I didn't love him…"
"Have you loved any of them?" Alice smiled and Callie laughed lightly. She stood up to assist in the making of their supper.
"Does anyone ever love?" she mumbled, not knowing of any such thing.
"What did you say?" Alice asked, and Callie shook her head, working in silence.
The night became morning, and the mood was sombre as the two women ate, dressed and moved in silence.
Callie woke with a start and an ache in her head. She groaned as she rolled away from the light peering through the sheer drapes, and placed a cool hand on her forehead. She closed her eyes tightly, begging for sleep to return, but it simply eluded her. She grumbled as she swung her legs around the edge of the bed and rubbed the remains of sleep from her eyes. She stood, letting her simple white night dress fall against her legs and stretched her back. She stepped beyond the screen and saw that Alice had not woken. It was early and she was without the materials for a breakfast, more importantly the makings of coffee. She dressed quickly and slipped out quietly.
The day was starting. She could tell by the scents that mingled in the new day's air. It was a mixture of cold from the last of night, and the warmth of fresh baked produce, the bitterness of stale ale and the smokiness of the workhouses starting their fires. She saw children running hoops down the small lanes, shrieking as they moved their little legs, and laughing as she danced between them. She lifted her skirts as she stepped over pools of spilt liquids and quickly avoided carriages and wagons. She smiled as she walked through the markets, admiring the fruit before taking some in exchange for a coin. She tucked the parcel under her arm before turning the corner into the avenue. Behind her was the small lanes of Paris neglected by the new architecture and before her stood new Paris.
Napoleon III and his Empire enlisted the help of Haussmann to redesign Paris, make the city superior in architecture and infrastructure, elevate it above all cities. The roads were smooth, the pavements wide, the trees tall, and the buildings clean and grand. It became the place for the wealthy; its parks filled with men in neatly tailored suits, women in gran dresses, and children who will never need to worry about where their next meal came from. Its buildings filled with beautiful apartments, restaurants with the best of cuisine, its stores with the most expensive of items. In line with such buildings came luxurious hotels, epic theatres and galleries boasting the great arts. Paris, once a city of royalty, was now a city of envy.
In the middle of the avenue lay a cafeteria, small and almost hidden by the large stores of fashion and jewellery, hotels of splendour and theatres of enormity. She stepped inside and was greeted with a smile. This was her luxury; fresh coffee beans.
Callie grinned as she greeted the young man behind the counter. Gustave was barely a man, his face smooth, his eyes bright, his mood unaffected by adulthood. She almost envied him, unmarked by reality and blessed with innocence.
"Gustave, I'll have a kilo of your best please," she smiled before looking around at the small café, many of its tables empty except for one whose occupants she knew were judging her. She was not wealthy and her clothes said as much, but here she was buying a product of wealth. She knew they were thinking her as an unsavoury woman, she must be for how could she afford such an expense. She glanced at the corner table, and recognised the blonde tresses, curls loose under a simple white hat, blue eyes sparkling in the light. She was reading a novel, its title not legible, and appeared oblivious to Callie's stares.
"Callie… Callie… Callie!"
Gustave's voice was almost a shout, making the brunette jump. She saw the blonde look up at her and smile at the taller woman's obvious embarrassment. Callie turned to Gustave, flustered as she paid for her items and took the two small parcels. She turned back to the blonde woman, willing herself not to but was strangely disappointed to find the seat vacated and the smaller woman no longer in view. She looked back at the young man and smiled.
"Thanks Gus… even the smell of coffee is enough to keep me in bliss."
The boy chuckled, "You would not think this if you worked here…"
She bid him farewell, promising a return in the near future and stepped out onto the smooth pavement. She saw the blonde standing on the corner, watching her before disappearing into the depths of grand buildings. She wanted to follow but the weight of coffee and the smell of fruit reminded her that she did not belong here. She turned back to the familiar small lanes of her Paris.
She scuffed the heel of her shoe on the loose paving as she stood outside, her back against the rough brick sides of the theatre. She watched as the carriages proceeded past with haste, their horses kicking up stones with each touch to the ground. The buildings were once rich in colour now dampened by the memories of the revolution, the sky once bright now grey with the steams of nearby industries. Callie had dreamed of performing for Opera national de Paris, in the centre of the theatrical world of the French Capital where lights were never dimmed, noise never silenced, people never without dream or passion, but had never had the fortune to do so. Instead, she had found employment for the rundown building that could easily have been mistaken for a deserted structure if not for the tattered posters pasted to the sides of the large wooden entrance. It was on the wrong side of the Seine, away from the arts, the music, the great stages, hidden between warehouses, cafes and tall residential houses.
She would internally complain everyday about it whilst it was light, yet once darkness came, the small lanes of poor Paris came to life. The air filled with scents of rich coffee, freshly brewed ale, and warm baked produce. The buildings adorned with bright lights, each with their own shade from oil lamps, candles and the electric light bulb. The sounds of dull monotony replaced with laughter, chatter and glee as people greet each other as old friends, embracing and drinking together as family.
The season had ended in the small theatre; the local people, their audience no longer finding the appeal in what they perceived to be the entertainment of the bourgeoisie. Guillaume, the music director, accepted defeat when the artistic director, Francois told him that Offenbach no longer brought in an audience; that they would leave after Callie's scene, after she had been stripped of her clothing after her aria. They would stage another opera, another that had the romance and tragedy to appeal to their audience. The allure of its characters to stop them disappearing after flesh is shown. The two men knew that they had an attraction in Callie, she was beautiful in every possible way; her skin was dark like the women of the deep Mediterranean, her smile was sweet and sexual, her long dark tresses wild, her form accentuated with curves at the hips and breasts. She was exotic in appearance and blessed with voice. She was what would bring men to the theatre, along with their wives or mistresses. She was the one that could play their lead in their new opera. She was perfect for Carmen.
Callie heard the side door swing open and glanced over to see Alice appear, her wrinkles creased, her hair no longer tidily pinned back, her cheeks flushed.
Callie chuckled, "If I didn't know any better, I would say you were having a wild time with Guillaume…"
Alice glared at her, "Do not make me smack you Calliope… you are not too old for that! That incompetent, little, pathetic piece of humanity… that wasp! He infuriates me!"
"Must be love," Callie mumbled.
Alice smacked the brunette lightly on the shoulder, "Argh! He changes every decision after it's made. Also, he is angry because Opera-Comique is also staging Carmen… and now he wants to change it..."
"He won't," Callie said calmly. "He does this every time and then someone has to remind him that those who go to Opera-Comique would never step foot inside these walls… and once he is finished sulking about his place in society, he will shout and yell and curtains are up again…"
"And in the meantime, he throws his tantrums at me…"
Callie studied the older woman, and smiled as she hugged her briefly, "If only you two would just see sense and do the deed…"
"The deed?" Alice asked, her eyebrows raised. "Marry?"
"Eh…," Callie grinned. "If that's what you want to call it."
She laughed as Alice cheeks flushed and slapped her on the arm again.
The prologue sounded through the narrow corridors behind the stage, alerting Callie of the beginning of the opera. The opening night had seen the seats filled by the local people, the air filled with excitement at seeing something new, the anticipation was felt by all within the walls of the small theatre as violins filled the silence with the sounds of Bizet's famous work. Callie could imagine Guillaume standing on his podium, his hands wild with movement as he ushered the percussionists into the music, his fingers gesturing as the strings slowed down, his baton moving with ease as his eyes closed, lost in music, ignorant to his audience. He was frustrating as a man, but as a conductor he was a magician, allowing the music to create the illusion of being elsewhere.
Callie looked across the stage and saw Philippe waiting for the cue to his arrival and she nodded at him. He was attractive, his eyes light blue, his brown hair uncombed, his beard not full, his military costume pale against his tanned skin. He exuded masculinity and she could see why women would blush slightly when he glanced in their direction. He stepped onto the wooden boards, his voice deep as he sang, the other performers surrounding him providing his chorus. She heard the percussionist play her cue and stepped onto the stage, her dress swaying as she moved, her corset low under the light material, her curls loose, framing her face. She sang her first note, her voice flirting with her tenor's deep notes. She forgot her audience, submerging herself in Bizet's world as she played Carmen, a feisty gypsy.
As the opera came to its ending, as her character falls, stabbed in the heart by Philippe's Don Jose. She lay on the hard wood, looking into the man's eyes as she sang her last note, allowing her character's soul die with the tenor's aria, and the haunting tones of the orchestra. She looked up at him before turning her head to act as dead, and saw blue eyes amongst the audience; eyes that never left her own dark ones. The curtains fell and the music of the orchestra replaced by the raucous applause, cheers and whistles. She was pulled to her feet to take the curtsey as the curtain was raised once more. She looked for the blonde she knew was there but could not see her. She shook her head, smiling widely as cheers continued to fill the theatre.
"You were wonderful," Alice praised as Callie walked towards her dressing room, the bottle of wine still in her hands. She watched as Callie quickly changed from her costume to her dark crimson dress, ignoring the creases as she pulled it over her head, hiding her corset rather than display it as the costume did. Callie glanced in the mirror and nodded before looking back at the older woman who was watching her in bafflement. She glanced at the wine and grinned before stepping out of the dressing room to the foyer.
"Callie?" Alice called after her only to see her disappear. "Your wine…"
Callie forgot her age old ritual of wine after a performance as she pushed herself through an audience trying to vacate the theatre. She ignored the leers from the men and the gasps from the women as she peered over heads trying to catch sight of the mysterious woman that pierced many a thoughts in the last few months.
Sighing with disappointment she turned towards the stage-doors, and caught sight of fair hair. The smaller woman was slim, her figure perfectly carved for the dress of silk she wore. Her hair tied back in a twist, a few strands loose against her temple. She was listening to a tall man, handsome in his coat with tails and tall hat. He was pale, with hazel eyes and fair hair. He was of wealth, evident in his attire and his stance. He took her hand, hooking it under his arm as he escorted her through the departing audience. She looked over at Callie who was watching them and smiled at her.
"Calliope?" Francois called. "You were wonderful… divine, astounding, marvellous…"
"And you are drunk?" Callie smiled.
"How else can I survive through opera?" Francois chuckled and Callie shook her head.
"How a man can run an opera theatre and hate opera is beyond me?"
"Business Calliope, business," Francois chuckled, kissing her on the cheek before recognising another face, leaving her alone again.
She turned to see Alice waiting for her, a bemused expression on her face. Callie went to her and the older woman nudged her expectantly.
"What?" Callie asked, almost impatiently.
"Nothing," Alice chuckled.
The Paris Exposition was an important occasion for France, a chance to show the rest of the world what a country once torn apart by revolutions and rebels could provide. It was an opportunity to promote Paris as a city of art, culture, architecture, fashion, industry and economic success. The occasion bought many visitors from other languages and cultures filling the city with excitement, anticipation and giddiness.
Alice pulled Callie through the wide avenues towards the railway, whose locomotives will take them through the exposition which saw Trocadero, its palace converted to a concert hall, the Quai d'Orsay with its ministerial buildings, Les Invalides with its museum of military, and the Champ de Mars, a large park of greenery, which once a market now was a centre of history, seeing battles of revolutions as well as festivities of success.
Callie had seen these places before as she had walked the length of the Seine many a time. Yet, she and Alice were to see something new this day; their excitement lay in the unveiling of a new structure, what the engineers called the tallest building in the world. Named after its engineer, the Eiffel Tower acted as the entrance arch to the exposition. It towered over the Champ de Mars, its shadow looming across the green grass. They could see the tips of it from a distance around the city, but nothing prepared them for being so close. The two women stood in awe as they looked up the façade of the structure, arching their necks so they could see the tip of the tower.
"It's not that tall…" Callie mumbled.
"Taller than anything else…" Alice replied
"Not very beautiful though," Callie answered.
"Still tall," Alice retorted.
"But ugly," Callie murmured.
Callie turned to another chuckle and was surprised to recognise the fair-headed woman that sat in her audience many a time.
"Don't you agree?" Callie asked, ignoring the flush that she felt on her cheeks.
The other woman nodded, "Hideous was the word I would have used."
"But tall," Alice stated before studying the younger woman. The white dress she wore was of material Alice had never even touched, cut perfectly to the woman's form. Her skin was touched by the sun, but she did not appear French with blue eyes and fair hair. She held the parasol with gloved hands, keeping the sun away from her face, smooth and flawless. She belonged to New Paris, and made Alice, in her aged dress feel poor once more.
"Sorry Ma'am," Alice murmured, acknowledging their social statuses from their attire. Callie rolled her eyes as she always did when the older woman behaved as inferior to wealth.
"You're sorry because it's tall?" the fair-headed woman said, jest dancing in her blue eyes.
Alice blushed, not knowing how to behave so chose to say nothing.
"You come to the theatre?" Callie asked, knowing it to be rhetorical. The fair-headed woman nodded.
"But why?" Callie asked, looking the woman up and down. "You are able to see the inside of some of the greatest opera houses in the world…"
The smaller woman blushed as she stepped back from the obvious judgmental stare, "I did not realise that my status restricted me to certain places…"
"Mine does…" Callie interrupted, almost rudely. She saw the challenging look in the blue eyes.
"Callie, we should go…" Alice spoke quietly, pulling the younger woman's arm gently.
"Why? Because we're not wearing the newest dress, or because we don't have a private carriage…"
"No, because you're being rude…" The blonde said evenly. "I was wondering why a woman whose voice is worthy of God as an audience was not on the stages of these great opera houses… but now I know why… you're obnoxious and rude."
Callie was stunned by the retort, calmly spoken but harsh in tone. She bowed her head for a moment before looking back at the smaller woman, and saw a slight blush reach the pale cheeks.
"We should go," Alice said, surprised by the sudden change in temperament in the brunette. She had never known the fiery temper to become meek with such haste before. The fair-headed nodded at them as Alice pulled Callie away.
"What on earth was that Callie?" Alice scolded.
Callie just shrugged, taking in her surroundings of crowds of visitors, kiosks of cuisine and trinkets, and stopped at the replicated building of La Bastille. She had heard that they were building it, in honour of the hundred year anniversary of the revolution, and that inside was a ballroom. She found it almost ironic, that a prison which held its convicts in ghastly conditions was now celebrated by the wealthy, who would never know the taste of stale bread or feel the cold of a winter's night. She laughed bitterly before looking over at the older woman.
"I hate rich people," Callie muttered.
"Even the ones who compliment your voice and art?" Alice stated, sarcasm tainting her voice. She walked a few steps ahead of the brunette, who had the sense to look sheepish.
Callie turned back to the tower, no longer seeing the blonde. She sighed before looking up at the tower. She chuckled and nodded her head.
"Hideous," she whispered to herself.
Callie pulled back the sheer curtains as she stretched her back. She looked back to the bed, seeing Pierre asleep. His nude form barely concealed by a sheet, his black hair untamed, his blue eyes shut, his nose straight and his skin smooth. He thought himself as handsome, and she could not disagree. He was not a serious lover, having left her many a time for some cause or another. He considered himself as a soldier of the republic, yet had never seen a revolutionary battle, something he resented with a passion. However, he was fortunate to be of considerable wealth born of his father's factories. He wanted a cause, to go down in history as a revolutionary. The night before he waited for the brunette in her dressing room, excitable on wine as he pulled her close and kissed her hard. Callie had laughed into the kiss before pushing him away.
"No," Callie said as she stepped behind the screen and changed out of costume. She heard him sign as he lay on the chaise longue.
"Come on Cal… I had to go…"
"To fight another dead king?" Callie laughed. "To force Napoleon cake…"
"You jest, but one day when you have a son and he is free to work in any role regardless of status…"
"My son? Why not my daughter?" Callie asked as she came back out from behind the screen.
Pierre just laughed, "She will look beautiful like her mama…"
He grabbed her hand and pulled her close, "You've missed me."
Callie shoved him backwards on the chaise longue and shook her head.
"I've missed you," he stated, sitting up and wrapping his arms around her waist, pulling her close, kissing her softly on the stomach through her dress.
She sighed as she lifted his head with her hands and chuckled as she leant forward to kiss him.
She turned back to the window, smiling at Pierre's snoring. She had missed him and his constant chatter about new socialist ideas. She could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance and remembered the blonde woman from those weeks ago. The young woman had not returned to the theatre since their altercation, and if Callie was honest with herself, she missed seeing those blue eyes watch her so intently. She pulled on her shoes and crept slowly to the door of the room. Pierre though wealthy, lived modestly, a quality that made him appeal to the brunette.
"There is a society campaigning for women's right to vote and work…" Pierre mumbled as he rolled over on the bed.
She looked back at him, "What?"
"Your daughter?" He opened his eyes and looked at her.
"If you want her to not only be beautiful like her mama…"
Callie grinned before leaning down to kiss him, "I've got to go."
"Callie!" Gus said, happy to see the tall woman. Callie grinned at him.
"How are you Gus? How is your mother?"
"She's well and I am guessing the usual. Do you mind waiting for a few moments?" he said with a grin on his young face. Callie nodded before looking around. The café was busier, most tables filled and another boy who she recognised to be Gus's younger brother served as a waiter. She couldn't help but chuckle quietly when she recognised the blonde woman sitting in the corner, looking at her over the top of her book. Callie looked over at Gus who was still serving previous customers. She swallowed before walking over to the corner table.
"Calliope," the smaller woman said, a smile evident in her voice. Callie raised an eyebrow. "I've seen you sing."
"Oh," Callie whispered. The other woman sat dressed in a cream dress, its skirt wide lined with beige and its vest tight and crisp against her torso, while her sleeves were long. She felt dirty standing in her aged deep green dress with black trimmings.
"Are you just going to stand there?"
"Oh," Callie shook herself out of her stupor. "I just wanted… I was rude."
"Yes you were."
Callie bowed her head before looking at the woman who was displaying a smile, dimples adorning her cheeks. The smaller woman pushed a chair out.
"Join me please."
Callie sat down and knew she was being observed by the other woman, who suddenly put her hand out.
"I am Ari," she announced. "And this is when you shake my hand."
Callie laughed and shook the stranger's hand.
"I'm Callie… and I am sorry."
"You're an opera singer. You're expected to be rude…"
Callie shook her head, "I am glad to have reached the expectation then."
"Your coffee Callie?" Gus announced as he passed her two packages. Callie thanked him and went to stand.
"No stay… Gus, bring her a cup please."
Callie wanted to argue, wanted to leave. This was unfamiliar to be invited into the world where she obviously didn't belong.
"I should…" Callie stood and fell to the floor without warning.
She was unaware of the blackness that had engulfed her, unaware of the silence that surrounded her, unaware of lost moments she suffered.
"Calliope," Ari almost squealed when she saw dark eyes open.
"What happened?" Callie whispered, trying to raise her head only for it to cause her to wince.
"You fainted," Ari told her as Gus and another gentleman helped her to her feet.
She sat down at the table and touched the side of her temple gingerly. She could feel a bump rising and felt the cold dampness of the cloth Ari applied to her head.
"Does that happen often?" the smaller woman asked, her voice gentle.
Callie shook her head, wincing from the pain, "Not before today…"
"Must be the awe of being in my company," Ari jested and smiled widely on hearing the brunette join in.
"Must be," Callie answered.
The two remained in silence as Ari continued to stand close, pressing the cloth against the bump until the cloth had started to dry. She stepped away to return to her seat, and Callie suddenly missed the scent of roses that accompanied the young woman.
"So why Ari?" Callie asked, breaking the silence.
Ari chuckled, "It is shortened from Arietta. My father started calling me Ari when I was a young girl as I had a tendency to mimic a lion's roar after a visit to the zoo…"
Callie raised an eyebrow and Ari continued, "It is Hebrew for Lion…"
Callie laughed, "A better story than the origin of my name…"
"I like Calliope…"
Callie grinned widely as she played with the gold locket she wore around her neck, "My mother wanted me to share her name, Calandra but my father had argued that I was born of music so needed a music name…"
"It is perfect…" Ari gushed. "You really do sing beautifully. I only go to watch you. Your voice, it surpasses the greats. Such depth, such richness, such huskiness… and I am going to stop talking now…"
Callie laughed aloud, "Oh please continue, one does like to hear such nice things."
Ari blushed, "Well, you need a saving grace even it is your voice…"
Callie chuckled, "Alice tells me that too…"
"She is, I guess, she is my mother. She raised me since my own died."
Ari nodded, "I am sorry to hear that…"
"It is quite all right, I am fortunate to have her and not be destined to the workhouses."
Callie shrugged and the two fell into silence.
"My father is dead," Ari announced loudly, then reddened as she saw that not only Callie had heard. She ducked her head before looking at the smirking brunette. "I don't know why I said that…"
"Wanted to make it a 'who has worse parentage' competition?"
"Oh, I win without a doubt…"
"Dead mother and runaway father?"
"Dead father. Socialite mother who is on husband number six. He is the same age as me, and tried to seduce me on their wedding day…"
Ari nodded before continuing, "My mother did not believe me of course. She was never designed to have children. Thank God, it was only me that survived infancy. No one should be subjected to her demon form."
Callie laughed loudly, "I think I still win."
"I only told you of husband six…"
The two women were unaware that lunch had passed until the evening light had peered through the window as they fell further into their conversations. Gus came to their table, to light the lamp in the centre.
"Shit!" Callie almost shouted as she stood up. "Is that the time? Oh shit! Shitty shitty shit!"
Ari looked up at her in bemusement, "Want to say shit once more?"
Callie stopped to turn to her, "I am late. The opera has started… and Carmen isn't there!"
"Shit," Ari offered with a smile.
Callie laughed, "I must go… will I see you again?"
The blonde nodded with a smile and watched the taller woman rush out the door without regard for those she met and knocked against.
"Do you always come here?" Callie asked as she approached the small table in the corner where the petite, blonde was reading.
Ari smiled widely as she looked up at soft brown eyes and a full grin.
"Every morning," she replied. "I like the coffee here, and one never knows when someone interesting comes along."
"Interesting? In here?" Callie chuckled. She looked around and saw a couple of women chatting at a table, their idle gossip not piquing her interest in the slightest and an elderly gentleman smoking from his pipe as he read the newspaper. She looked back at Ari with a raised eyebrow, "Really?"
Ari laughed, "Join me…"
Callie sat down at the table and picked up the book. She raised an eyebrow again at the blonde and Ari grabbed the book, glancing at the title before laughing slightly, "I like birds."
"You come in here every morning to read about birds… and I thought you might be interesting."
Ari laughed and watched as Gus poured the two of them a fresh cup filled with coffee.
"So, how is the opera world treating you?"
"As it always does. Sing, love and die… our season comes to a conclusion when the year ends, and then we get to do another…"
"We will probably not know until the actual night of performance, when I get shoved onto the stage and yelled a character's name."
Ari laughed, "I look forward to watching it."
"You visit the Opera National?"
Ari nodded, "I have on many occasions."
"What is it like?"
"You've never been?"
Callie laughed at the surprise in Ari's face, "You seem to forget that you and I are not of the same class…"
"Sorry," her response was meek and Callie rested a hand on the smaller woman's, patting it gently.
"Don't… just tell me about it."
Ari looked from the hand to the gentle smile adorning the dark-haired woman, "How about I show you?"
Callie watched as the woman stood and spoke rapidly to Gus as she took her book in one hand and her parasol with the other.
"Are you coming?" Ari called from the door and Callie scrambled to her feet, ignoring the scraping of the chair against the tiled floor and the annoyance that graced the other occupants faces.
Callie stood before it as she had on several occasions before, but never as bravely as she did in this moment. When in the company of the exuberance of Ari, she forgot that her dress was of cheap material, her shoes were discoloured with age and her purse was empty of coins. She used to sneak there late in the evenings, as the shows performed, hearing the music faintly through the thick stone walls and dreaming that it would one day be her gracing those boards. The Palais Garnier, which housed Opera National, was new in its structure yet extravagant in its style. The stone like all of new Paris, pale yet clean in appearance, the features inspired by Roman pillars and carved statues, some gilted with gold demanded admiration. She had never seen the inside but had heard rumours of gold, statues and chandeliers.
"It's locked," Ari stated as she pushed at the door. "We will have to try another…"
"Ari!" Callie called as she watched Ari slip around the side of the grand building and sighed as she followed.
She watched as Ari pushed at a second door and frown as it remained closed against her strength.
"There must be a way inside," Ari mumbled to herself.
Callie grabbed her as she went to try another door and turned her to face her, "Ari, we will be arrested…"
"I wanted to show you… I will take you tonight!"
"I can't… ssh…"
Callie could hear the orchestra through the walls as rehearsals began in the depth of the theatre.
"Do you hear that?"
Ari stopped and watched as the taller woman shut her eyes as she concentrated as she strained to hear the notes. Ari could hear nothing but the odd percussionist yet Callie could hear music come to life between the strings, the pipes and the percussion. She opened her eyes and saw blue eyes watching her with a mixture of bemusement and delight. Callie flushed with embarrassment and turned away from the building.
"Please let me take you one evening when you are free…" Ari asked almost in a whisper.
Callie nodded, unable to take her eyes from the smaller woman.
"I should go… I have to be at the theatre," her voice was abrupt and she walked away leaving a stunned blonde in her wake.
Callie jumped at the exclamation as she stepped outside of the theatre. She turned and saw the smaller woman standing next to the door. Ari pushed herself off the wall, ignoring the grazes of dirt the brick left on her cream dress. She pushed back the hair that had fallen onto her face, behind her ear and turned to the surprised brunette.
"I wanted to make sure I had not offended you," she said as she stepped towards the tall woman.
Callie laughed without feeling and shook her head, "Ari, you…"
"I never wanted to upset you," Ari continued, ignoring Callie's impatience. "I've been wondering for the past three days and I don't think I said anything wrong, though I know sometimes I do, because I have a horrible tendency to not think and I was hoping you would come to the café but you hadn't… and maybe you're just busy and I am being ridiculous with… I just wanted to make certain that… Did I upset you?"
Callie couldn't help but smile at the chatter, "You did not upset me… You just remind me of a world I don't belong and…"
"Oh," Ari said stepping backwards. "You really can't see beyond class, can you?"
Callie's frown became prominent, "You don't understand… you were born rich!"
Her shout attracted the curious stares of passer-bys and annoyed snorts from the horses pulling delivery carts. Ari rolled her eyes in anger.
"And now you make me a target for burglary and murder!" she hissed the words.
Callie sighed, "You don't need my help to do that. You wear the highest of fashion, the expensive of jewellery…"
"You would prefer me to wear rags?" Ari enraged, walked away ignoring the looks from the small crowd that she pushed.
Callie watched the blonde disappear into new Paris and sighed loudly before glaring at those watching her.
"What!" she shouted before pushing through them in the direction that was home.
Callie stretched as she rolled in the bed. She felt the sheet slip down her bare skin and shivered at the cold air. She opened her eyes and saw Pierre dressing. She watched him throw the cream shirt over his head, ignoring the unruly locks of dark hair. He smiled as she lifted the sheet to cover her form.
"Good morning," he grinned widely.
"Is it?" Callie mumbled as she closed her eyes again.
"Where were you last night?" Pierre asked as he sat on the edge of the bed, resting his hand on her hip.
"Here with you," Callie laughed. "Was it not that memorable?"
Pierre chuckled, "It always is with you… but not what I meant. You were not here here."
Callie sighed and rolled over onto her side, facing the handsome man, "Why can't I be you? Have your wealth and your freedom?"
Pierre laughed as he lay down next to her, "What would you do with wealth and freedom?"
Callie lifted her head, "I would never have to feel this resentment and shame and anger…"
"Calliope?" Pierre rolled to face her. "What's brought this on?"
"I met a woman and she is rich and she doesn't seem to care about anything and I got angry with her even though it is not her fault," Callie rolled onto her back. "She wanted to take me to Opera National…"
Pierre chuckled and stood up, "Why would you want to go join the bourgeois way of life?"
Callie sighed and stood up, wrapping the sheet around her form, before turning to face him, "To sing on that stage, in the greatest opera house… that is my dream…"
"It's just a theatre," Pierre stated gently. "You already sing. Opera is the same everywhere."
"You don't understand," Callie hissed as she reached for her clothing. "You're just like her. You don't have to because you're born into choices. I have no choice. I must accept what is my life, but you? You choose your life. If you desired it, you could eat in the finest bistro, travel by steam-train or boat to the parts of the world I have only read about… I can't."
She dressed quickly and saw Pierre rifling through the papers on his desk. He pulled out a slim page and turned to her.
"I hate the bourgeois because I cannot love you without a frown gracing the faces of my peers. I cannot walk through these streets without judgement from everyone. I can hear what they are thinking, 'Why is he here? He is rich" or 'Why does he go there? He is rich.' I want you to have those choices…" He passed her the piece of paper. "And this woman, she sounds like she wants the same. I will see you."
He closed the door quickly as Callie stared down at the sheet in her hand. She chuckled as she read the title, 'Droit des Femmes' before saying aloud, "If he were with a bosom…"
"Why must you take me here?" Alice grumbled. "Last time Pierre suggested somewhere to visit I ended up placed in the middle of women dressed in garters and nothing much else…"
Callie laughed at the memory of the flirtatious women in the dance hall Pierre frequented. The women there were beautiful, many from exotic lands. They were slim in form, darker in skin, fiery in movement, seductive in soul. Callie had loved it, the loud drums, the chants, the traditional dress, the passionate rawness of something new. Alice, however, was uncomfortable and mortified to be amongst women who freely showed their nude form without shame.
"That was incredible," Callie stated, enthused by the memory.
"And the tombs!" Alice burst out, not listening to Callie. "With the bones… makes me shiver."
Callie laughed again, "This is different… It's for women's rights. I showed you the pamphlet."
Alice sighed as she followed the brunette through the narrow lanes, stepping over the new drains and avoiding the grocer carts and barrows.
"This is it," Callie announced stopping before a tall building. It stood between old and new Paris, sharing the grey bricks of the new and the narrow lanes of the old. Alice looked up at it and then at Callie.
"Are you certain?"
Callie nodded but made no attempt to venture inside.
"Do you want to go in?"
Callie nodded but again didn't move.
"Excuse me ladies, are you looking for the Ladies Group?"
Callie and Alice turned to the kind voice, and saw an older man sitting in one of the coaches. He was broad at the shoulders and chest, his coat tight against his muscles. His greying hair hidden beneath a top hate, his face stern in expression, his lips unsmiling, his brow creased with wrinkles, his eyes grey in shade yet kind in nature.
He pushed open the door and climbed out and stepped towards them. He nodded at Callie before turning to Alice. He smiled warmly before speaking again, "The Ladies Group is through there. They've already gone in."
"Thank you sir," Alice bowed her head.
"There is no need to be frightened. Trust me. It is more frightening for a gentleman being in a room full of women."
Callie laughed politely and tucked her hand into Alice's arm, "Thank you sir."
Callie and Alice slipped into the back of the room, hoping not to make their arrival noticeable. They sat in the empty chairs lining the wall, and were both equally surprised to see women of different classes sitting amongst each other. Silk next to cotton, hats next to bonnets, tailored next to hand-sewn. Yet, it was the presence of a familiar fair-headed lady that surprised Callie even more.
Callie didn't listen to a single word that was spoken as she studied Ari's profile from her distance. She listened with a small smile on her face, her blonde hair tied back in a twist, a few strands loose against her temples, her dress of silk was almost the same shade of blue as her eyes. She turned and saw dark eyes watching her. She raised an eyebrow and smiled as the brunette blushed. She stood up, excusing herself politely before leaving. She stopped at the door and glanced at the taller woman before stepping out. Callie turned to Alice who was enraptured by the talk. Callie whispered to her but was left without acknowledgement. So she too stood up and walked out.
She looked around the empty entrance and down the bare corridor, before sighing aloud.
"Looking for someone?"
Callie jumped at the interruption, looking up the stairway and found the blonde sitting at the top of the stairs.
"You," Callie answered softly.
Ari laughed lightly and watched as the brunette ventured up the staircase and sat a few steps below her.
"I wanted to apologise," Callie started. "I was…"
"Rude? Obnoxious? Horrid?" Ari offered with mirth playing in her voice.
"All the aforementioned," Callie groaned. "I didn't expect to see you here…"
"Because I am wealthy?"
Callie sighed and nodded meekly.
"Did you know that this society was active for fifteen years or so? Since we were girls and nothing has changed. We are still just women."
Callie watched the smaller woman as she stared at the door of the room they had just vacated.
"Callie… when it first started, Emily Venturi one of the founding members attended a congress banquet. She was asked by a gentleman what great truth had she proclaimed. She answered that woman is a human being. He laughed and said that is a platitude. She couldn't help but agree but went on to say, that when this platitude is recognized by human law, then the world will be transformed. She dreams an almost impossible dream, but we should have learned from history, the revolutions our country has suffered seeking equality and liberty for all, that dreams can happen. Yes, there is wealth and there is poverty, but there is wealth and poverty standing side by side for a common purpose right here. I am rich. That is a platitude. You are not. That is a platitude. But I am also kind, generous, loving blessed with a good sense of humour and a fight in my heart. You are feisty, passionate, intelligent and possess great talent. These are not mere platitudes, yet you keep seeing them as just this…"
"You're right," Callie interrupted, climbing up a further step. "I am a brute in the worse senses sometimes."
Ari laughed and was about to speak when she saw the door open, "We've missed the meeting."
"Callie?" Alice called up the steps. "Why did you le… oh, my apologies Miss."
Alice bowed her head slightly as she watched the two women stand up and come down the stairs.
They stepped outside.
"Ladies," the gentleman was still there sitting in his coach.
Callie was about to speak when Ari walked to the coach. The horseman jumped down of the top to open the door for her. She turned back and looked to the two women. She smiled at the brunette, before climbing inside.
Callie watched as the horses pulled the coach away, before feeling herself be pulled away by Alice.
"Did you know that some of those ladies meet in congress to discuss the demand for a woman's vote? And for unionization and legalised prostitution… am not certain about the last one, but voting? Do you really think that could happen?"
"Who knows?" Callie chuckled.
"Are you not staying?" Ari asked with a grin as she walked into the café into Callie who was leaving.
Callie smiled widely as she chuckled, "There was no reason to stay."
"Not even the best coffee in the world?" the blonde walked past into the café. She watched the hesitation dance across the other woman's features. "My treat?"
Callie struggled with her pride and Ari sighed, "A platitude, Callie."
Callie nodded, "You give me the finest of coffee and I will give you the finest of bread one morning."
Ari grinned, "I will remember that."
"The what?" Ari asked as she linked her arm with the taller woman, holding her book in the other.
"The gargoyle and the bat," Callie answered as it if were obvious.
They had walked the length of the Seine, ignoring its waterside buildings and crowds as they lost themselves in their chatter. They had only stopped in front of the Notre Dame so Callie could regale Ari with the tale of its hunchback. Ari had read Hugo's novel but Callie's abridged version was much more amusing.
"How you can make a tragedy into a comedy?" Ari laughed. "I would hate to see what you do with Les Miserables…"
"Oh, we can't touch that story."
"It has been known to reduce me to tears," Callie stated solemnly before glancing at the bell towers. "However Quasimodo has friends…"
"It made you weep?" Ari nudged her in the side.
Callie looked at the teasing glint in the smaller woman's blue eyes and nudged her back, "And you did not weep?"
"I did but I also wept at the Hunchback," Ari admitted.
"Is that why you read an index about birds then?" Callie jested.
"Yes, something like that…" Ari replied as she pulled the taller woman back into pace.
Callie felt a tremor in her arm, and an ache in her chest. She stopped walking, clutching at her bosom.
"Callie?" Ari asked, panic tinting her voice. Callie lifted her hand, feeling the pain subside.
"Never eat before walking with you," Callie said, as the pain left and her breaths relaxed.
"You are cruel to me," Ari laughed.
"So how did you find about the society? I hadn't seen you there before."
"You attend often," Callie asked.
"For many a year," Ari answered. "Or so it seems. Wait there it is!"
They had been seated on a bench in the Champ de Mars, staring at the Eiffel Tower. They had both agreed it was ugly but they needed to see it once more before it was to be dismantled now that the exposition had come to its end.
"Where is what?" Callie asked.
"Did you not see it?" Ari pouted. "That glimmer."
"There was no glimmer…" Callie argued.
"There was," Ari insisted. "I tell you Callie, a ghost lives upon those iron bars."
"Do you really believe in ghosts?"
Ari nodded, "Don't you?"
Callie stood up and offered her hand for Ari to take.
"Come with me. I'll show you ghosts."
Ari chuckled as she took the offered hand.
The catacombs of Paris had been opened to visitors nearly a century previously, and were initially a trend amongst the wealthy but was now seeing the appearance of the curious. Callie had been before, but had not felt the depths of loss and sadness as she did on this occasion. The tunnels were mostly in darkness, with few lit torches lighting the way. The sounds were almost silenced except for the trickles of water streaming through the deep rocks of the ground. Ari had yet to release her tight grip of the brunette's hand as they passed the sign informing them that they had entered the 'Empire of Death'. The skulls and bones were arranged in sculptures of hearts, monuments, fountains… the remains of the long dead of old Paris were now used as art. Their bones whispered the history of the city, when it was once the home of reigning monarchy, their skulls witness to some of the brutal events of the many revolutions. Their death unknown, their cause unwritten, their lives unmarked, their remains nameless but honoured in the name of memory.
Callie stopped as they reach the fountain, surrounded by a wall of bones, crowned by skulls. Ari stepped towards the fountain, realising it to be made of stone, one of the few features in the underground tomb to be so. She looked up at the skulls and saw nothing but darkness where once eyes watched. She shivered and tightened her grip on Callie's fingers and smiled softly when she felt her hand being squeezed back. She looked into the dark eyes watching her carefully.
"I shouldn't have brought you here," Callie whispered.
Ari shook her head, "Why? You promised me ghosts and I was foolish not to believe you… but this…"
Ari gestured the wall of bones with her hand and sighed softly, "This… there are no words."
"It is strange but I wonder to whom here am I a descendant of, and then wonder would the same be done to me in a hundred years. Will my grave be needed by another for my remains to be moved down here?"
Ari moved closer to Callie, their arms touching from shoulder to wrist, their fingers entwined, and she touched the taller woman's chin with her free hand, turning her face to meet the dark eyes. "Don't think like that."
Callie smiled warmly, "It is quite alright because all that is left my bones, my body, my soul…"
"Your ghost," Ari jested with a gentle, dimpled grin.
"My ghost," Callie chuckled. "Will be living my next life."
"Your next life?" Ari asked as the two women walked away from the cavern, through the tunnels of bones. "Do you really believe that?"
Callie shrugged, "Why not? Nobody knows what heaven is, do they?"
Ari laughed, "That is true… and what will you be in your next life?"
"Freer than this one," Callie laughed.
The two women entered the daylight, closing their eyes as the sun graced their skin with its heat and light, before opening them again. Ari looked down at their entwined hands and stroked her thumb over the other woman's before letting go.
"Thank you for bringing me here."
Callie smiled, "Did you like it?"
"Hated it," Ari laughed. "You put my glimmer to shame, but… it was hauntingly beautiful."
"That's what I thought," Callie nodded.
"I cannot believe I persuaded you to do this," Callie stated for the umpteenth time that afternoon as she stood on the podium, watching her reflection in the half-dozen mirrors before her.
She could see the blonde grinning widely behind her, "You are enjoying yourself really…every lady needs a brand new dress…"
"But I am not a lady," Callie whined and shook her head when she saw Ari roll her eyes and mock her tone. "Ari, you are not in anyway humorous."
"I certainly am," Ari stated as she stepped up onto the podium. "And you are very much a lady…"
Callie lifted her wine glass from the high table as she watched Ari come close to her back and spilt some, "Shit!"
"You just don't talk like one," Ari laughed as she pulled the last of the thread out of the back, her fingertips grazing the caramel skin below. She looked up and saw brown eyes watching her in the mirror. "I think this is my favourite colour on you."
Callie looked at the dress in the glass, its skirt was crisp and long, touching the floor, its torso tight, accentuating her bosom, the puffed sleeves reaching her elbow, the material of silk and lace feeling new and soft against her skin. She had worn red before but not such rich, deep red, decorated with lace patterns of cream at the torso.
"I have no occasion to wear it," Callie whined again.
"You will when you finally agree to accompany me to the opera," Ari reasoned before beckoning for the dress-maker.
Callie chuckled as she watched Ari follow the store owner and dress maker to the front of the boutique. The blonde was used to being of the latest fashions, having clothing made to specific demands, tailored to every need, yet Callie was not at all comfortable with this world. Despite this, she could not deny that she felt beautiful when she looked back in the mirrors once more. She stroked down the material of the dress with the palm of her hands, feeling the softness on her fingertips before sighing as she started to loosen it from her form. She hung it carefully before returning to her own clothes, her black skirt with a slight tear at its hem, her grey blouse which was once cream and her black riding coat which was inherited out of necessity rather than bought with purpose. She looked back in the mirrors and laughed bitterly.
"You still look beautiful."
Callie jumped at the soft voice and saw the blonde watching her from the doorway. She turned around and saw Ari walk towards her.
"You have the fortune to be born with this unfettering beauty, a beauty that many women envy and many men desire. It does not matter what you wear for it lies in your features…"
Callie blushed at the open admiration and held her breath as the blonde reached her.
"I bought you the dress as a birthday gift… when it is mine I will remind you to return the favour."
Callie laughed as Ari winked.
"Alice, you complain that I spend no time with you, and when I do, you complain of the rain…" Callie stated as she pulled the older woman along the wide paths of the park.
The rain was barely presentable in its light drops. The park was, however filled with few people. Callie had been once again reminded of her steady absence in the older woman's day since her friendship with Ari had begun. She had felt the sense of guilt that only a mother was capable of making a child feel, and she suggested a walk like they used to do. She didn't care about the threatening grey skies or the protests from the surprised Alice as they made their way to the park.
"And you always told me as a child that rain is just a bit of water…" she continued.
"That was because you were always under my feet," Alice grumbled.
"Ah, so you wanted me to suffer pneumonia," Callie accused, jest in her voice.
"You never did suffer pneumonia," Alice complained as she felt Callie link her hand through her arm. "But I could…"
The voice surprised both of them as they turned to see Ari walking, being accompanied by the same gentleman that had waited for her outside the society's meeting. Callie grinned widely while Alice nodded politely.
"Miss Arietta," Callie greeted warmly as she was kissed on the cheek by the smaller woman. "How do you do?"
Ari nodded, "Enjoying the brisk change in the weather. Indecisive rain is my favourite kind of weather… can't decide whether it wants to rain or not. It is feeble rain really."
Callie laughed and nodded before noticing Alice, "Oh, excuse my manners. Alice this is Miss Ari…"
"I've heard so much about you," Ari gushed as she shook the older woman's hand, disregarding the obvious discomfort Alice had at her exuberance. "Callie admires you greatly… and at the society meeting this past week, your suggestion on how to get working women to achieve a form of union… you made Madame Rousseau swallow her words and vanity then. A moment I had always longed for…"
"What was this?" Callie interrupted and Alice saw this as a moment to escape the hand grip the smaller woman had ensnared her with.
Ari looked over at the brunette before back at Alice, "You did not tell her of this… and where were you anyhow?"
"We are preparing for a new season at the theatre…" Callie answered.
"Carmen is over?" Ari asked, disappointment lacing her voice.
"Not for another month," Callie answered, enjoying the waves of relief display themselves upon the smaller woman.
"I am Louis Reinard." The gentleman introduced himself to Alice.
"Alice Dupuis," the other woman answered in almost a whisper.
"The pleasure is all mine," Louis stated with a kind smile, which widened when he was rewarded with one from the timid woman before him.
"Oh, my manners are worse than Calliope's," Ari stated with alarm. "This is Mr. Louis Reinard, a friend of my father's… and this is Calliope…"
"Ari, my dear, if we continue this way we may find that we stand here all afternoon trapped in endless introductions…" Louis jested before looking at Callie. "I hear you make a fine opera singer."
"I don't know about that sir," Callie stated.
"And you Madame? Do you sing?" Louis turned to Alice.
Alice almost choked with surprise, "Good Lord no… I am simply a dress-maker."
"The very folk we need, or we would be left wandering in nothing but our bare form and there was a gentleman not so far from where we stand who I really hope never to have see in such state," Louis stated.
Alice turned and saw a rather large man seated on the bench, reading his newspaper, ignoring the drops of water marring the ink. His coat stretched over his arms, his trousers threatened to tear at it seams, his shirt without a button. She couldn't help but have a chuckle fall from her lips, before covering them with a hand.
"That would be an unsightly thing indeed," Callie offered with a smile, watching Alice's discomfort grow. "We must part…"
"Ah of course," Louis stated. "It was a pleasure to meet you both ladies."
He tipped his hat before offering his arm to Ari who took it with a smile. Callie and Alice made their way back to their home, both walking in silence as they avoided the heavier rain drops falling from the dull, grey sky.
"I have never had a gentleman tip his hat at me," Alice stated suddenly.
Callie laughed, "True. And I have never had a lady kiss me on the cheek…"
Alice laughed lightly, "We're coming up in the world Callie."
"Do you not find Carmen tedious?" Callie asked when she finally found the fair-headed lady amongst the departing audience. The audience was no longer large, but still enough to make it difficult to find a person amongst it.
Ari turned to the voice and smiled widely, "Calliope… you were wonderful."
Callie blushed, "Thank you…"
She recognised Louis as the blonde's companion for the evening's performance. She smiled politely but couldn't help widen the grin when she saw that he offered a warm one.
"Callie, there you are… oh, excuse me Sir," Alice bowed her head, scolding herself for interrupting.
"That is quite alright Ma'am," Louis spoke, his voice deep and clear. He saw Alice lift her face slightly and he smiled gently. "I was dragged to the opera by Arietta, she is very insistent when she wishes to be…"
He smiled widely as he glanced at the beaming blonde before turning to Callie, "And I must admit as a man who does find Carmen tedious, I found you to be excellent."
Callie blushed furiously as she dipped her head in embarrassment.
"It's true," Ari enthused as she nudged against the other woman.
Callie couldn't help but chuckle at the mirth and giddiness in the smaller woman's tone.
"Thank you," she said. "We should go."
"Yes," Alice agreed, nodding at both the gentleman and his companion.
"Nonsense," Louis surprised everyone, especially himself. "A traditional night at the opera ends with a late supper and a glass of fine cognac, don't you think?"
Alice looked at Callie, and the brunette nodded understanding the older woman's fears. It was difficult to be a friend of the wealth, but another thing altogether to immerse themselves into that world.
"Yes, sir, that is true, but we are not guests of the opera…" she explained.
Louis shook his head and glanced at Ari before continuing, "But be our guests."
"Sir, I don't think we can… we are flattered but we have to go and rest…"
Ari saw the discomfort in Alice's face and smiled warmly, "Uncle, I don't think they would like our places of visits…"
Louis brow furrowed before he recognised the issue in the simple attire of the two dark-haired women before him for the first time that evening. He laughed, "Nor do I… is there nowhere near here?"
"I fear sir that you are not going to quit," Callie jested and Louis chuckled.
"I have a choice between a night alone with cognac, or a night with three beautiful ladies and cognac…"
"Sir, I know of nowhere with cognac, but I may know of a brasserie that serves fine wine," Alice was barely audible but Callie was still surprised. "But I don't know if it would be suited to a man of your esteem."
"I like wine," Louis answered gently, not taking his eyes away from the shy woman. Alice looked at him and couldn't help but chuckle.
She looked at Ari who could only smile a dimpled grin and shrugged.
"I guess I should change then," Callie announced.
Alice began to look startled again and the older man placed her hand on his offered arm, "You will show me where this brasserie with fine wine is… the young ladies can find us there, can't they?"
He did not bother to wait for a reply as he led Alice away.
Callie laughed breathlessly before looking at Ari who was grinning happily.
"I think my eyes and ears may have deceived me but I do believe your…"
"Uncle seduced your…"
"Alice," Callie offered. "I must change… come."
Ari followed the brunette through the narrow corridors that lay behind the simple stage, reaching the small dressing room.
"You have your own room?" Ari asked, studying the small room. Its furnishings were simple and aged, with the scratched dressing table and stained mirror, the torn chaise longue and the tall patterned wooden screen.
"Yes, the joys of playing Carmen… that and many people have passed through these walls and I one of the few that stayed."
The taller woman slipped behind the screen. She could hear the smaller woman move around the tiny space. She pulled her costume free from her body and cursed silently as she remembered that her dress lay where she had tossed it earlier that evening - on the chaise-longue. She peered around the side of the screen and saw Ari at her table.
The blonde had noticed a half-empty bottle of wine on the table and lifted it. It smelled like no wine she had tasted.
Callie watched her and felt a sense of shame as she watched the smaller woman wrinkle her nose at the scent. "It is home-made…"
"Does it taste as strong as it smells?" Ari asks, without turning around.
Callie nodded, "You can try some…"
The blonde looked around for glasses and Callie blushed, "I don't have a glass. I smashed the last by accident…"
"Accident?" Ari turned and saw the brunette lean out from behind the screen, reaching for the crimson dress on the chaise-longue. She felt her cheeks burn as she noticed that the taller woman displayed more caramel skin than clothing as she stood in her black corset and undergarments. She clutched the bottle tightly as she caught her breath.
"Angry accident," Callie explained as she grabbed her dress successfully and held it in front of her. "I can go find a gla…"
She was stopped by the image of the fair-haired woman, perfectly attired in a blue silk gown, tresses pinned back immaculately in a twist, clutch the bottle with her clean white gloved hand and drink from it with the same gusto as a sailor.
"That is quite potent," Ari announced as she took the bottle from her lips. "Yet, strangely desirable."
She looked up at the dark eyes watching her and took another swig from the bottle.
The taller woman shook her head as she slipped behind the screen to finish dressing. She felt the temperature rise within the wall of the room as she reached behind her to pull the thread free from her corset. She heard Ari clear her throat and chuckled.
"Are you still drinking that stuff?"
Ari put the bottle back down, "As I said it is rather desirable…"
Callie could hear the bottle hitting the table with a dull thud, and heard the smaller woman let out a breath. She too let out a breath, unaware that she was holding it.
"I had never known Uncle to behave like that before. He usually comes to the opera houses to stop my pleas and takes me home with a kiss of the cheek and a vow that he will never come again…" Ari heard the light chuckle from the other side of the screen and continued, "But now, he has taken to a woman… I've never seen that before, not since his wife had passed…"
"When did she die?"
"Not long after my father… Uncle always jested that the two never matched on earth but apparently matched in Heaven…"
Callie tied the corset at the front and pulled her dress over her head. She came out from behind the screen and sat at the table. She could see the blonde sitting on the chaise-longue in the reflection of the mirror, watching her. She glanced at the bottle and saw it was no longer half-full, causing her to laugh.
"You left me a drop I see."
Ari laughed, "My manners came to me in time then. Has Alice ever been married?"
Callie shook her head, "I had never known Alice to love a man… I don't think she ever loved. For a long time I had thought she loved my mother... I honestly thought she might be an invert… but obviously not the case."
She could see Ari's eyes widen and she laughed, "Does that offend you?"
Ari felt her cheeks redden and could not find a reply in time so Callie returned to pinning her loose, long tresses back into a twist, styling it but frowning as curls escaped. She was never meant to have the fashionable hair, so shrugged as she let loose tresses cascade down her back. She touched her pendant before looking up and seeing the smaller woman watching her and turned to face her.
"It did offend you… really?"
"No…" Ari shook her head. "No… I've just never heard someone speak so openly about it…" She took a breath and smiled widely. "I am not offended."
Callie stood up, "We should go before they elope and have lots of babies."
"Calliope!" Ari squealed hitting her lightly on the arm.
(Habanera - Carmen - Bizet)
(Che puro ciel - Orfeo ed Euridice -Gluck)
(Che fiero momento -Orfeo ed Euridice - Gluck)
(Che farò senza Euridice? - Orfeo ed Euridice - Gluck)
"How have I never noticed this place before?" Ari asked as they sat in their booth, served by a man dressed as a devil.
Callie laughed as she ordered drinks of sin from the devil-waiter.
"I don't know how it is possible to walk past a wall that is a head of a gargoyle and a door its mouth and not notice it… I must be very dim," Ari continued as she looked around her surroundings.
Callie laughed again before studying the blonde. She had taken to the newest of fashion with ease, her long tapered skirt of thin blue and white stripes, her matching short, tailored jacket covering her simple white vest of ruffles and lace, and her hat adorning a twist of blonde curls. Callie own attire was nowhere near as stylish buts the dark blue simple dress was a deep shade and accentuated her curves which she kept hidden beneath a black shawl.
The Hell's Café was another Parisian craze of the moment. Its theme was that of hell, its staff dressed as devils, its menu substituting the name of beverages with words of sinful nature, its décor of hanging gargoyles and imps, leaning out of the walls and low ceilings.
"Who comes with these ideas?" Ari asked.
"We've always been obsessed with the ideas of hell… remember Dr. Faustus…"
"How could I not?" Ari replied, reminded of the tale of a deal with the devil in exchange for fortune. "What would you trade your soul for?"
Callie thought for a moment, knowing she was being watched by the blonde. She shrugged, "I have never given it too much thought… you?"
Ari blushed before shaking her head, "I couldn't say."
Callie leaned forward over the wooden table top, "So you have an answer?"
Ari pushed Callie back gently before looking over at the waiter who served them their drinks. She couldn't believe that the man was dressed as a devil and chuckled once more.
"Callie!" the shout caused not only the two women to turn their heads but everyone else as well.
Pierre walked with long, easy strides. His hair loose and untamed as it fell to his shoulders. His trousers stained with dirt, his shirt loose from his belt. He kissed the surprised brunette with a pleasant force, cupping her cheek in his strong hand as he did so. The kiss lasted a mere moment, but it was enough for Ari to turn away.
"Pierre," Callie greeted him warmly, forgetting that their last meeting had caused an argument. "You found a new fight?"
Pierre slid into the booth next to the brunette and lifted his glass and smiled, "A rest was much in need… and who may this young lady be?"
He grinned widely at Ari, and she swallowed a sigh. She smiled as he offered her his hand. He kissed her knuckles politely as Callie introduced them.
"Pierre, this is Ari…"
"Arietta," the blonde corrected, not knowing why. She swallowed down her anger as she watched the stranger throw his arm around Callie's shoulder possessively.
"Is this the lady you spoke of Callie?"
Callie glared at Pierre, an act that went unnoticed by Ari. The smaller woman stood, not able to be in the presence of the lovers any longer.
"I must go. I had forgotten about an engagement elsewhere… It was a pleasure Callie and…" she turned to Pierre who lifted his glass to his lips. "it was nice to meet you sir."
Pierre chuckled, "Sir… the bourgeois calling me sir…"
"Pierre!" Callie exclaimed, appalled at his blatant behaviour, before watching Ari walk away. "Ari, wait!"
She stood up to try and catch up with her, but only stopped by his hand on her hip. She looked down angrily at him, before snarling, "You are an idiot!"
"I had been wondering where you have been hiding," Callie stated as she saw Ari sitting in the park.
"Calliope," Ari grinned as the brunette sat down next to her.
"I am so sorry about Pierre. He is a brute who is the worse kind of brute because he accuses you of what he is… and rudely too… and when I went to follow you and you were gone and you weren't at the café…"
"Breathe please," Ari said with a gentle smile. Callie laughed before bowing her head again.
"I am sorry…"
"Please stop apologising… I had not known that you had a… gentleman friend."
Callie laughed, "Gentleman, I think we both have learned that he is not a gentleman."
"But a friend?" Ari asked, hesitation in her voice.
Callie nodded, "Yes, a friend. He was the one who told me of the society and the catacombs."
"Oh…" Ari looked down at the closed book before at the waiting brunette. "How did you find me?"
"So you have been hiding… with your book of birds," Callie grabbed the book.
"Callie!" Ari exclaimed as she tried to reclaim the book. Callie held the book away from the blonde.
"It's not a book about birds, is it?" Callie asked, and watched as Ari's face fell.
Callie ignored her as she opened the book and saw that the cover was merely just that a cover. Another book lay between its hard facings, a book with images that could only raise the brunette's eyebrow. She looked over at the blonde whose cheeks had reddened furiously and breathing had quickened. She glanced back at the contents of the book, her eyes reading the words printed in heavy black ink.
Callie couldn't help but read some of the words before glancing back at the blonde, "You're a…"
"Please don't say it aloud," Ari grabbed the book from the surprised brunette's hand. She stood up with haste and looked at the brunette. "I beg you Callie, please don't speak anymore of this…"
"Ari!" Callie called out to the blonde who walked away with a speed that would impress an Olympian.
"You know I am missing a rehearsal and subjecting Guillaume to a mountain of fury for being here, hoping to find you," Callie stated as she sat on the stairs in the society meeting house.
Ari turned and sighed. She shook her head, not wanting to speak. She turned her back to the stairs, preparing to leave.
"I am truly sorry for my behaviour. I should never have taken your book, nor been so blatant with its contents…"
"No you shouldn't have," Ari whispered as she watched another group of women enter the building. She nodded at them, a weak smile adorning her face. She could not turn around, and watched others arrive. She could hear Callie come down the stairs behind her.
"Please, forgive me… I don't want to lose a friend because of this silliness," Callie pleaded.
Ari laughed bitterly before turning to face the taller woman. Callie features were heavy from sadness, her lips wearing no smile, her eyes holding no light, her brow creased from concern. Ari felt anger course through her as she stepped closer, standing merely an inch from the other woman's face, her blue eyes dropping to the full lips before darting to the dark eyes, sharpness evident in their depths.
"You really don't understand, do you?"
Ari walked out, ignoring her uncle's waiting carriage as she continued down the lane into old Paris, followed by loud protests from Louis and the running feet of Callie. She lifted her skirt, ignoring the dirt that caked itself on the hems and the heavy rain-fall that shadowed her every step.
"Ari!" Callie yelled as she ran through the lanes, her feet falling into the deepening puddles. "Please stop!"
Ari turned a corner sharply and walked straight into a man of torn clothing, broken teeth and large muscles. He grabbed her by the arm, jeering her as he turned her further into the alley.
"What have we got here?" his breath held the same stink of stale ale and rotten vegetables. Ari grimaced as she struggled to release his grip.
"Oy!" Callie yelled as she smacked him hard in the neck calling him to yell.
"Do not even think of touching me?" She threatened as he turned to her. "One finger on my body and I swear upon the God that watches us that it will no longer have a place on your hand…"
He laughed but she stepped closer, "I know Benoit…"
He stopped laughing and released the blonde before quickly moving away. Callie turned to the shivering blonde and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"Come, you will become ill if you stay out here…"
Ari refused to move and Callie sighed, "I am not asking you to talk to me, but I am asking you to get off these streets and come with me…"
"Because you know Benoit…" Ari mumbled as she pushed herself off the wall.
Callie chuckled and pulled Ari in the direction of her apartment.
The blonde shivered as Callie closed the door quietly. She looked around at the simple settings. The furnishings served more a practical reason than a decorative one. She could see the makings of a bed behind the screen and saw another bed through the open door. The armchairs before her were old but comfortable. They sat before the screen and opposite a cabinet and a book-case. To one side was a small kitchenette had spilt coffee beans upon its surfaces and fresh fruit waiting to be cut and to the other side a small bathroom.
"I know it is not much, but it is home and has a bathroom…"
Ari shook her head and shivered once more.
"Oh you're freezing… I will find you some clothing… we can dry yours before the fire."
Callie continued speaking as she went behind the screen, rummaging through her clothing until she found something that could be worn by the blonde. She passed the simple gown to Ari who took it with a gracious smile.
"You can change in there if you wish," Callie pointed in the direction of the small bathroom. "And I will make hot coffee."
Ari changed quickly, not wishing to wear the heavy damp clothes a moment longer than necessary. The dress was longer than her form but its cotton soft against her sore skin. She stepped back into the living space, hanging her clothes from a simple frame before the fire before turning the brunette who was swearing at the saucepan as she made coffee.
"What is this?"
Callie turned and saw Ari holding up a torn newspaper article, almost a decade old and smiled.
"I am asked that many a time, but it resonated with me for some unknown reason…"
She approached the smaller woman and took the article from her light finger tips. The article was a celebration of the works of Galileo and Callie replaced it in its mantel on the cabinet top.
"I can't explain it but it just made me smile… that he finally achieved acceptance and respect…"
"I understand that," Ari whispered. "I think everyone has something that means something to them without a reason."
Callie looked into the blue eyes and saw sadness and loss in them. She stepped backwards, "Coffee…"
"Who is Benoit?" Ari asked as she watched the brunette make the coffee.
Callie laughed, "I have no idea… I sometimes believe he is merely a legend, but apparently, he is bigger than any man we see, stronger too, and fierce. He cannot be caught because he is faster than the police, and violent when touched. I discovered long ago that if you say you know him, people especially scared grown men generally leave you alone…"
Callie served the warm cups and invited the blonde to sit on one of the chairs while she took the other.
"I don't care what you are Ari," Callie announced into the painful silence. "I just want my friend back. I miss my friend."
"You will treat me differently," Ari argued.
"Why? Because you have better sense than most women?"
Ari looked at her with a question on her brow.
"Finding love in a woman. Definitely less crazy than finding it in a man," Callie smiled warmly.
"You really find no difficulty in having a friend that is immoral?"
"You are not immoral…" Callie said calmly.
"A friend that is an…"
"Invert?" Callie offered and saw Ari start to smile. "An admirer of the fairer sex?"
Ari smile grew and Callie continued, "A lover of ladies… ooo, a lady-lover!"
Ari chuckled loudly, "A lady-lover?"
"Sounds much better than invert," Callie decided and Ari laughed once more before knocking over a stack of books on the arm of her chair.
"I would have made it neater but we never receive guests…"
"Not even Pierre…"
Callie laughed, "Not even him… he doesn't know where I live… I'd never be rid of him if he did."
"You don't love him?"
Callie inhaled loudly, "I do love him…I just cannot be his wife…"
"Why?" Ari asked curiously.
"Because I cannot trust him to have only one lover… nor should he trust me to be the same."
Callie saw the surprise in the smaller woman's face and shook her head, "You are conjuring images of whores now, aren't you?"
Ari closed her mouth and shook her head, "I never thought you the kind to take more than one lover…"
"You never even knew I had a lover until recently."
Ari nodded, "That is true… is there more than one?"
"I will answer if you do… is there a lover in your bed?"
Ari shook her head and blushed, "There never has been…"
Callie drank the last of her coffee before looking back at the blonde. She saw the smaller woman's cheeks redden furiously and her blue eyes darken and leaned forward to push a loose tress from her face to behind her ear.
"That does surprise me," she whispered as blue eyes met her own brown eyes. "You are exquisitely beautiful."
Ari couldn't help but smile shyly as she leaned into the touch.
"I thought I'd find you both here," Alice announced as she pulled the door open causing the two women to move apart. "You gave your uncle quite the scare, Miss Arietta. He is waiting outside… I shall go tell him you are here. He let me ride in his carriage… but I could not invite him up here. We need to be tidier Callie… I shall tell him."
She left as quickly, her words echoing through the corridors and stairwell of the building.
"I should go…"
"Your clothes are not dry…"
"May I return this dress to you?" the blonde went to the open doorway.
"Yes… but… Ari, please wait."
Ari turned to the brunette who had stood from her chair and waited.
"We are friends?"
Ari smiled, "We are friends Calliope."
Callie tossed once again in her bed, sleep continuing to evade her as she opened her eyes once more and stared up at the night sky, the moon full in its glory. She rolled onto her back and sighed loudly. She had performed Carmen for the second last time, and had missed the blonde in her audience. She had missed Ari on many occasions in the past week. The smaller woman never ventured to the café, or the park, or the mediocre opera house and Callie missed her.
She got out of the bed and saw the immaculate clothing that was of the blonde's hanging on the hook embedded in the wall. She could smell dry rain, cold embers and the scent that was uniquely Ari of them. She inhaled the scent deeply before dressing in her own clothes. She scrawled a simple note for Alice, and left it upon the cabinet before leaving in search of Pierre.
Callie watched from the wings as the music soars through the boards from the orchestra pit. She walked onto the stage, the music greeting her with its strings and percussions.. She had stayed the night with Pierre and awoke to a gentle kiss and a praising smile from her lover. He had promised her he would watch her sing tonight, and present her with a rose as she bowed out of the character of Carmen for the last time this season. She had wanted to search his face in the audience but feared that there would be an absence in the crowd.
Callie flirted with her cast as she sung 'Habanera' She watched the men of the chorus stare at her, ogle and leer as they were asked to do. They let their eyes wander to her hips, accentuated by the flowing skirts as she moved, to her breasts which rose under the tight corset with each note she sang. She flirted with the audience as she turned to them, their numbers no longer as large as they were months earlier, but still enough to keep the doors open.
She saw adoration on Pierre's face as she approached the foot of the stage, flirting with him as she lifted her skirt and swayed to the music, letting the lilt of her voice reach her ceiling.
She turned once more as she knew the fair-haired woman was also amongst the audience, she could feel her presence there. She knew where she was seated, the same seat as before, and the time before that. She looked over and saw blue eyes watching her intently and she smiled as she sang. She took a breath as she reached the last flourish of her aria, gazing into blue eyes intently, flirting with the smaller woman as she sang Bizet's words of love; love as a gypsy child which knows no law.
Callie ignored the praises as she walked through the audience in the foyer, desperately trying to find Ari and spotted her standing near the young man who had accompanied her the first time they had visited the opera.
"You came," Callie said, ignoring the tall, brown-haired man.
Ari smiled widely, "Of course, last night… I had to see you."
Callie grinned as she leant forward, kissing the smaller woman on the cheek before noticing the look of disdain emitting from the young man.
He cleared his throat, "Arietta, we must retire."
"In a moment Alain… this is my friend Callie… this is…"
"Her fiancé Alain Moreau," he introduced himself almost proudly.
Ari turned and glared at him before addressing the shock in Callie's eyes with a smile.
"Alain, may I meet you at the carriage?" Ari turned to the taller man.
"And leave you with this riff-raff…"
"Callie, you have something for me in your dressing room, don't you?" she said with a mixture of exasperation and pleas. Callie shook herself from her stupor and nodded blankly at the smaller woman.
"Yes, of course," Callie said.
"I will be a moment," Ari informed the objecting man.
"Your fiancé?" Callie almost yelled as she closed the door with a loud slam. Ari cringed at the question and shook her head.
"I never agreed. It was assumed because I never declined either… my mother arranged this," Ari argued as she sat on the chaise longue. "I find him despicable… and it's almost incestuous. He is the brother of my step-father…"
Callie laughed abruptly, "This is what books are made off… why haven't you declined?"
"And risk the questions?" Ari said bitterly.
"So it is a long engagement?"
"I will decline…"
"When you are at the altar making your vow before God?"
"Why do you care so much Callie?" Ari shouted.
"Because… because I care about you and your happiness…" Callie said gently as she knelt before the trembling woman.
Ari reached out and touched the brunette's cheek with a warm hand and smiled, "I know you do."
"The season is over," Callie whispered. "Maybe, now you can take me to the opera…"
Ari's features filled with joy, "I still have your dress… you never took it home."
"I figured with you it was less likely to gather dust… will you take me?"
"Why not Pierre? I know he is of money which is why I am surprised you chose him as you seemed so vehement towards me once upon a time for the same reason…"
"Ari?" Callie interrupted gently. "I am asking you to take me."
Ari grinned and nodded with acceptance, "I should go and find Alain before he has enslaved your audience…"
"With any luck he has met Pierre and they are duking it out like only gentlemen can…"
"What?" Ari laughed as Callie led her through the narrow corridors. "With cognacs and playing cards?"
"I was thinking a brawl of fists but then realised that is not your way of doing things…"
"But sounds so much more exciting," Ari concluded as she spotted Alain at the entrance. "I must go… oh, before I forget. It is crumpled but I know it is tradition. Here…"
Ari pulled out a rose from her purse, many of its petals lost but in its pathetic state, it was the most glorious thing Callie had received. She grinned widely as she felt a sweet kiss touch her cheeks and watched the blonde disappear quickly.
The brunette stood on the other side of the street gazing up at the modern building, its cream bricks new, its windows clean, its door strong, its structure tall at five floors. It was the symbol of new Paris, modern buildings, all similar in colour and structure, all representative of the new Republic, all inhabited by people wealthy and educated. This particular building boasted the apartment of Ari.
Callie had been standing in front for almost an hour, nervous to enter, to speak to the doorman. She sighed and saw a policeman approaching her. She looked out of place, with her pleated long skirt of plain brown and high neck collar blouse of cream. She had grown frustrated with her wardrobe and its lack of suitable attire, but was quickly reminded of the time by Alice.
She took a deep breath and ventured towards the tall building and saw the doorman watching her carefully.
"You are here for Miss Arietta?" he asked, wary of her presence. Callie simply nodded and walked through the door he opened.
She stood in the foyer and saw a spiral staircase rise from the patterned tile floor and along the back, an elevator. She looked back at the doorman who couldn't help smile at her perplexity. He stepped back inside and approached her.
"Miss Arietta lives on the top floor. She is expecting you," he said warmly. "She rang down enough times to tell me so."
Callie nodded her thanks and went to scale the stairs and felt a hand gently touch her arm as it reached for the banister. She looked back at the doorman who shook his head.
"Take the elevator," he offered. "It proves to be less exhausting."
"I don't know what to do with an elevator," Callie admitted as she eyed it suspiciously.
"Come," he gestured with his head. "I'll teach you."
The doors opened slowly, the interior of the lift lined with marble effect and a full length mirror. The doorman stepped inside and held his hand out for the brunette who chuckled and shook her head.
"I can do this," Callie said aloud. "All it does is go up and down."
The doorman laughed and pressed the button for the floor before stepping back out, leaving a horrified Callie trapped in the small box.
When the doors opened again, she saw large double white doors and the top of the stairs. She stepped out quickly before peering over the banister of the staircase and chuckled. She could not see the bottom. She turned back to the door and raised her hand to knock for it to be pulled open by a maid dressed in a black dress and a white apron.
Callie nodded and the maid smiled politely before pulling the door open wider.
Callie stepped inside to see a large apartment, its entry bigger than her kitchenette. The windows were tall and allowed natural light to reach every corner of its tiled floors. The entry led to an open living room on the left and two bedrooms on the right. The bedroom doors were closed, but the living room was welcoming with its two large arches.
The tiled floors covered with a large rug, its pattern influenced by North-Western African countries, the walls cream in paint held many large portraits, one of whom Callie instantly recognised as Ari's father, a man with fair hair and gentle, kind features. The furniture was elegant with its velvet material, its mahogany edges, yet it was the grand piano that sat in the corner that impressed the brunette the most.
"Callie, you finally crossed the street," Ari teased as she stood up from the couch holding a glass of lemon water in her hand.
Callie blushed before stepping further into the living room, almost afraid to touch anything.
"Sit please," Ari invited, detecting the brunette's discomfort almost immediately. "Lucille, please bring Callie a drink… Lucille is my friend disguised as a maid. My mother insists that I have staff, but when she is not in Paris she doesn't witness my adventures in the kitchen or that I indeed can use a duster…"
Lucille laughed, "Not very well I might add."
"You can cook?" Callie asked, surprised.
Ari nodded, "I have mastered the omelette."
"Only the omelette," Lucille jested as she filled a glass for the brunette.
Callie laughed, relaxing as she took the offered glass.
"Where is your mother now?"
"London I believe," Ari answered, not really caring. "Your dress is waiting for you in the bedroom, and I hate to hurry you but had you not been standing across the street for such a length of time we would have more time to waste before the opera."
Callie stood in the bedroom, its size large, with a four-poster bed, veiled with sheer white curtains, and a dressing table as well as two large wardrobes. The dress flowed elegantly from her form, the bodice laced by Lucille with expertise. Her make-up completed with a bit of rouge, and her hair tamed into a high twist with some loose curls falling, framing her face. She looked in the mirror, and she smiled, feeling beautiful in the deep red silk. The skirts flowed easily to the floor, the bodice of cream lace tight against her waist, her bosom lifted by its structure, the sleeves puffed as was the fashion.
"Ari had purchased you shoes too," Lucille offered the black shoes to her, leather in material, heeled in design.
Callie slipped them on with ease and smiled, before touching the pendant she had never taken off. She went to remove it, feeling the scratched gold detracted from the style.
"Don't" Ari asked as she stepped into the room. "Wear it… you look truly beautiful Calliope."
Callie blushed as she turned to see Ari in the doorway. The other woman's dress was also of silk, pale gold in colour with an ivory bodice.
"As do you," Callie said.
Ari smiled, "Of course."
Callie had dreamed of this moment on many occasions but would have never thought it was possible as she lifted her red dress to climb the steps into the Palais Garnier, approaching the opera national. She could almost feel the giddiness of the blonde that stood next to her as they were greeted by the door man.
The interior was extravagant, with its multi-colour marble friezes, gold columns, and statues depicting the deities of Greek mythology. Callie turned as she reached the centre of the foyer, seeing the grand staircase supported with gold banisters. She looked up and saw the ceiling painted, and the grand chandeliers, lit to their full glory descend gracefully from it.
"We have a balcony box," Ari said as she watched with joy as Callie continued to admire the alcoves adorned with gold leaf and red velvet. Callie nodded, as she let herself be led up the staircase towards the small private box, its door way shielded by rich, plush curtains. They stepped inside where four empty seats awaited them. Callie leaned over the balcony as Ari sat down. The stage was the largest she had seen, its boards made of the strongest and smoothest of woods.
Callie watched as the wealthy filled the seats, their crisp suits and dresses, their quiet chatter filling the excited air. She turned and saw Ari watching her with a smile and she couldn't help but grin back.
"How do you like it?" Ari asked.
"Oh it is wonderful," Callie answered as she looked back at the stage. She watch the orchestra fill their pit, plucking the strings of their violins, tuning themselves as they prepare for the performance to come. Callie laughed to herself.
"What?" Ari asked.
"Just realised that I have no idea what we are to watch," Callie said sheepishly as she sat next to the smaller woman.
"Oh, Orfeo ed Euridice," Ari answered. "I have never seen it myself… as when does one get to see German opera here."
"Will it be in French or Italian?" Callie asked.
Ari shrugged, "I assumed it to be German…"
Callie laughed, "Gluck is German but much of his work is translated to Italian or French…"
The overture began, the lights dimmed and Callie couldn't help but grab Ari's hand in anticipation. Ari chuckled lightly to herself as she entwined their fingers. They watched as Orfeo displayed his grief over the loss of his wife Euridice, and how Cupid comes to him and offers him the chance to travel to the underworld to regain his wife. Callie turned and saw confusion in Ari's profile as lit from the stage lights.
She whispered, "What is it?"
Ari looked at her, "I don't speak Italian."
Callie laughed softly and moved closer, whispering into Ari's ear, "I do."
With each word sung, Callie translated softly into Ari's ear. Callie's chair had moved even closer to Ari's so she was seated almost directly behind her. Her lips were close to the smaller woman's ear, her breath warm against her neck, her words soft and light as they turned the words of Italian to French.
The lights returned and Callie leant back, but made no move to remove their close proximity to each other. Ari turned to her and saw that the brunette wore a face of sheer content.
"Would you come to the Underworld for me?" Ari asked.
Callie grinned widely, "Of course and I would pummel Cupid until he gave you back to me."
Ari smiled widely, her dimples dancing on her cheeks, "You would pummel Cupid?"
Callie nodded before looking at the door, "Are we expected to leave during the intermission?"
"Do you want to?" Ari asked softly.
Callie shook her head, "No…"
The two sat in comfortable silence watching the orchestra below.
"Do you like it?" Ari asked.
"I am surprised at the Italian…"
"I am surprised at the female playing the male lead… it's like Shakespeare reversed."
Callie laughed at the blonde's statement, "It is hard to find a male contralto so they changed the gender to find the voice for the music… but it is surprising…"
"Maybe a change in times…" Ari said almost hopeful and Callie smiled as she squeezed the smaller woman's hand gently.
The lights flickered to signal the end of the intermission before dimming as the last of the audience was seated. Callie leaned forward to continue to translate whilst Ari leaned backwards to hear the soft voice, telling how the Furies refuse to allow Orfeo through but eventually relent to the sweet sound of his voice. He is brought to Elysium which is peaceful in its bliss and Orfeo, though appreciative of such a heaven, he is still lost without his Euridice.
"What is he saying?" Ari asks when she realises that Callie has stopped.
"But the stillness that rules so much here doesn't give me happiness. Only you, Euridicce, can take off the worry from my sad heart. Your sweet accent, your loving looks, a smile of yours, are the supreme good that I want."
Ari turned to the brunette and saw tears fill the brown eyes, tears that matched her own. She squeezed the hand she held and lifted it to her lips, kissing it softly, before turning back to watch Orfeo be reunited with Euridice, taking her back to earth but with a condition attached. He could not look at her until they reached the earth. Ari felt tears fall as Euridice believes Orfeo no longer to love her. She leaned back into Callie's voice.
"I tremble, I sway and feel my heart wildly beating with anguish and terror…"
Ari stood up, and reached the door, only to be pulled back by the brunette. Ari turned and saw concern in the brown eyes, and shook her head, swallowing a sob before reaching for the handle.
"I can't," Ari exhaled as she rested her hand on the door. She felt Callie stand behind her and couldn't stop the tears fall from her eyes.
Ari turned to her, "It was easier before… I could just create fantasies that you and I were as lovers should be, just without the tender touches that are expected of these relations. I know they're just fantasies and not even worth having… I can't be around you without want to touch you, kiss you, feel you beneath my fingertips. I would sleep dreaming of you but now I see you… and I just can't…"
"Ari," Callie breathed out. She looked over at the stage and Ari followed her eyes and saw Orfeo look to Euridice, desperate to ease her pain, but only to cause her fall to death. Orfeo took Euridice in his arms and sang with a haunting loss.
"What is she singing?" Ari whispered, referring to the soprano rather than the character.
Callie turned back to the smaller woman, seeing tears well in the blue eyes, the outline of her form trembling from rawness and exposure. Callie stepped closer, feeling the other woman's breath on her lips.
Callie whispered softly, feeling her own tears fall, "What will I do without Euridice? Where will I go without my beloved? Euridice, oh God, answer me! Yet I still belong to you faithfully…" Callie took a breath as the soprano reached the peak of her voice. "Oh tell me, I am forever thy true lover, I am forever thy true lover, true lover…"
Their lips met with haste, their lips learning the touch of the other. The brunette pushed Ari into the door, as she deepened the kiss, feeling Ari's hesitant hands touch her arms, not sure where to place her fingers. The blonde let the taller woman lead the kiss, relishing the feel of the other woman's tongue against her own. Her fingers dug into the caramel skin of Callie's arms as she pushed into the kiss, wanting to taste the brunette as she was being tasted. The brunette dropped her hands to the slender woman's waist, holding her as she caressed her with her lips, before pulling back and resting her forehead against the flushed one before her. Ari looked at the stage and saw the opera had continued, its music scoring their moment. She looked back at the brunette and saw the brown eyes darker than she had seen them before and shuddered under the gaze.
"I want to kiss you again…" Callie whispered, and Ari couldn't help but smile warmly.
She lifted her hand to the taller woman's cheek, her thumb stroking the full lips before reaching up to kiss her again, softly at first, tender in motion, just lips dancing amongst each other. Ari slipped her hand behind Callie's neck, deepening the kiss, pushing her body into the taller woman, feeling the darker woman's bosom against her own, their rapid heartbeats pulsating against each other as Callie wrapped her arms around the smaller woman. Callie tore her lips from the smaller woman, needing air before placing her lips on the slender, exposed neck that waited for her touch. Ari exhaled as she felt Callie caress her with her tongue, graze her with her teeth, taste her. She closed her eyes as she inhaled the darker woman, listening to words of the finale she did not understand but if she had would have known them to mean "Long may love triumph – and may beauty reign over all the world."
Callie looked around the room, remembering how they got there. They had left the theatre in silence, walking slowly to their carriage, fearful to look at each other as the back of their hands touched. They had remained silent as the blonde took the taller woman's hand in her own and led them up the elevator and into her apartment and to the bedroom. Ari had not met the brunette's eyes as she walked to the window to close the curtains, yet paused as she saw blackness. There was no moon tonight, and the lamps seemed dimmer than usual. The blonde appeared smaller as she stood before the window. The blackness of the night sky stood as her backdrop, the dim lamp as her spotlight, and the piercing gaze of the brunette as her audience. She trembled and dropped her hands to her side.
"Ari," Callie whispered, stepping closer to the blonde. "Please look at me…"
"I can't," Ari wept. "If I do I will love you…"
Callie smiled and stepped closer once more. She reached her hand out gently, letting her finger-tips graze the arm of the smaller woman. She could feel the blonde shiver at the gentle touch, but this didn't faze her. She guided her index finger from the material of her dress at the elbow to its edge at the collarbone before tracing it slowly back down to her elbow to bare skin, before reaching the hem of her pale yellow glove. She peeled it away slowly, her dark eyes on her action, as she released the slender hand from the cloth. Her finger trailed slowly to the tip of Ari's own finger, before entwining them, holding her hand. She repeated the act on the other arm, and saw the trembling slow. Her eyes left the two naked hands entrapped in her own, before looking to the fair-headed woman's face, and seeing eyes still avoiding her. She leaned forward and kissed her forehead softly, letting her lips caress her temple, her cheek, the other, before nudging blue eyes to meet her own. They were the darkest she had known them to be.
"Then love me," Callie whispered, as she took Ari's lips with her own. She was tender with each touch, each graze, each caress. She released her hands, trailing her fingertips up the bare arms to the elbow, as her lips left those caressing hers. She kissed the jawbone, the chin, the slender neck, the exposed collarbone.
"I've never done this before," Ari murmured into the night air. Callie kissed her softly on the neck before stepping back and studying the smaller woman. She was no longer trembling, but had remained unmoving.
Callie reached her fingers behind her, deftly loosening the bodice. She pulled the dress from her shoulders, sliding it down her arms, pulling it down her torso, her breasts free from their trap. She pushed the deep red material over her hips, over her undergarments, and let it fall to the ground. She stepped out of it, closer to Ari who was watching her with abated breath. The blonde stepped closer, feeling the heaving breasts of the taller woman against her clothed ones, seeing the flush appear on the caramel skin in the dim light. She lifted her finger, and took a nervous breath before she touched the brunette's chest above the full breasts with its tip. She trailed it to the locket, running her finger over the worn piece before looking up into dark eyes.
Callie stood still, willing Ari to decide the pace of their actions. The blonde's single finger slowly left the locket, and travelled along the simple chain to the neck, before reaching the nape where she let it idle for a mere moment. She could feel the taller woman's breath on her cheek as she let her eyes fall to her other hand. She lets its fingertips trail across the bare stomach before her, and gasped silently as the muscles rippled under her touch. She stroked the expanse of skin, reaching the brunette's side before journeying her touch to under her breasts. She skimmed the skin, smiling as she heard Callie's breath quicken.
Her other hand left the nape of the neck, it's fingers diving into the twisted hair, freeing it from its pins, letting the tresses fall widely. She entangled the locks in her fingers, relishing the feel of the softness against her touch. She felt the brunette lightly push into her hand under the bosom. She ran her fingers over the breasts, her touch almost absent, before circling the nipples. She stared in awe as they rose to her touch, inviting her to continue. She glanced up at the brunette, and saw eyes blackening with desire before looking back to the flushed chest. She inhaled as she continued to circle the nipples, touching them bravely, hearing the elicited moan from Callie lips. She dipped her head suddenly, taking the nipple between her lips, circling it with her tongue, tasting it, sucking it.
Callie couldn't remain still as her hand reached behind the blonde's head, holding her there, willing her to continue. She hissed as teeth grazed her, and moaned as Ari pulled her closer with a strong grip. She felt fingers pull her hair as they tried to be free. Both hands pulled her close, their warm palms against the small of her back, as Ari's lips released the nipple going to the other. Callie looked down at the blonde's head, releasing her hold as Ari hungrily assaulted her breasts. The brunette reached for the cords of the smaller woman's corset, pulling them loose, before rubbing her fingers along the newly exposed skin.
Ari pulled away, her face flushed, her eyes large, her breath quickened. She saw Callie watching her expectantly as she nervously loosened the dress from her body, stepping out of it as the brunette had done, before reaching behind her hair, and pulling its locks free. The two women stared at each other, standing only in their undergarments, breathing hard as their heartbeat thumped loudly in their chests.
Callie ran her fingertips from the navel on the flat stomach before her through the valley between the breasts to the dip at the throat, feeling the beating pulse beneath. She looked into shy eyes and smiled softly, before pulling the blonde close. Their lips were no longer soft in touch, no longer wanting in need, no longer learning in cause, but hungry, desperate as they kissed. Their tongues duelled, learning the other's taste.
Ari pulled back with a moan, her fingers brave as they reached the hem of her undergarments, pulling them free from her form. She stood nude before the longing brunette, and watched as dark eyes learned her curves. She reached her fingers out, pulling at the hem of Callie's, pulling them down as she fell to her knees. Her fingertips mapped from ankles to knees as she leaned forward to kiss the spot above each knee. She could almost taste the scent that was Callie, warm and divine in the night air. She looked up as she felt strong hands against her bare shoulders. Callie nodded slightly and the blonde stood tall on her knees, placing her hands on the brunette's buttocks as she gazed at the core of this woman's scent. She inhaled it, nerves returning. She swallowed them as she ran the palm of her hand over the buttock, along the hip, down the thigh and to the core. The moistness filled her hand, making her gasp and lean closer with curiosity. She removed her hand and heard an almost painful moan from the standing brunette before replacing it.
Callie couldn't help but push into the palm, willing herself to remain patient. She almost screamed when she felt the hard palm replaced by delicate fingers, teasing her as Ari continued her exploration.
Ari looked up, releasing the brunette from her touch. She pushed the brunette backwards, willing her to lie on the bed.
Ari covered the brunette's body with her own, their skin warm against each other, soft to feel, hot to touch. She blanketed the brunette completely, her lips caressing her shoulder, her neck, her chest, her arms, her breasts, her stomach. Her fingers could not be controlled as the stroked the brunette's thighs, feeling the skin rise beneath their tips. She could have continued the onslaught of touches if she had not been rolled onto her back by the stronger woman. She felt lips against her neck, tasting her as fingers ran along the expanse of her exposed form. She exhaled loudly when the brunette tweaked nipples between fingers and moaned loudly when she felt a thigh against her sex. She moved, pushed against it as she pulled the brunette's lips to her own, kissing her hard as her own fingers returned to the centre she had been exploring. Nerves forgotten as she took Callie hard and sudden, her fingers eliciting moans, her hand being pushed as the taller woman rocked against her.
Callie opened her eyes as Ari took her deeply and tore her lips free as she pushed harder, wanting more.
Ari screamed as she felt her own being taken by long, slender fingers. She couldn't help but move into them, wanting more, wanting to be engulfed by this woman.
The two women rocked into each other, their pace no longer slow and gentle, but fast and hard. Ari screamed loudly as she felt bliss fill her, and could hear Callie moan against her neck with the same reason. The brunette rolled onto her back, trying to regain her breath when she felt the blonde move upon her. She opened her eyes as she felt a soft kiss on her stomach and watched as the smaller woman continued to kiss her tenderly towards her core. She closed her eyes and whimpered as she felt warm breath against her, and cried as she felt Ari taste her tentatively at first.
Ari could not stop drinking, tasting, consuming the brunette despite the many ripples she felt under her hands that lay on the stomach, the trembles in the thighs against her cheeks, the moans and cries of pleasure that reached her ears. It was only Callie's hands that pulled her head away that ceased her movement. She looked up and saw the taller woman's skin was flushed, her breath erratic, her body trembling.
"Have I hurt you?" Ari asked, fear lacing her voice.
Callie chuckled, shaking her head before beckoning Ari towards her. The blonde moved up the bed, and lay next to the exhausted brunette, a safe distance between them. Moments passed before Callie opened her eyes again. She looked over and saw tears fall from the blue ones. She moved closer with speed, her thumb brushing away the tears.
"Oh Ari, why are you crying?"
Ari couldn't answer as she shook her head, "It feels like a dream… A fantasy… and I am afraid I will wake to find it remains to be just that."
"It is not a dream."
Callie leaned forward, kissing away the tears tenderly. She waited until the weeps subsided before lifting the blonde's chin to meet her eyes, and kiss her softly on the lips.
"I love you," Callie whispered gently into the lips and she felt a smile against her own.
"I've never done that before," Ari said as she lay against Callie's form, sheets covering them. Callie chuckled.
"If I didn't know you, I would never have believed that… is that what the book teaches you?" Callie asked as she tapped the familiar book resting on the nightstand. She smiled as she heard the smaller woman laugh against her chest.
The sunlight was cruel in its sudden appearance through the opened curtains. Callie squinted her eyes as struggled to awaken in the light. She sat up suddenly, remembering where she was and looked around the room, finding nothing and nobody but neatly hung dresses from the night before. She reached her hand to where the blonde had been lying and learned its coldness. She wrapped the sheet close to her natural form, suddenly afraid of her loneliness.
"Clothes," she mumbled to herself as she spotted her own clothing amongst the beautiful evening gowns. She rose quickly and pulled them to her.
The voice sounded small and broken and Callie turned to it, seeing Ari standing with a tray of what she assumed was breakfast. Callie pulled her clothes closer to cover her nude body.
"It was only meant to be a dream," Ari continued, her voice quivering as she swallowed tears.
Callie exhaled and shook her head, dropping her clothing, "I thought you had regrets… I awoke alone and…"
"I made you an omelette… the fifth attempt but this one looks perfect…"
Callie chuckled as she stepped closer, and saw the omelette of cheese and ham upon the porcelain platter, accompanied by the freshest of coffee, "It looks perfect, my love."
Ari smile was bright as she felt the taller woman touch her lips briefly.
"Are you hungry?" The blonde asked as she set the tray onto the nightstand and Callie climbed under the sheets.
Callie looked at the darkened eyes and chuckled, "Will the sixth attempt be better?"
Ari couldn't have answered if she had wanted to as she felt lips take her own, and hands pull her nightgown from her body.
"Aren't we supposed to be sitting in that room?" Callie asked as she felt Ari's fingertips run circles on the palm of her hand.
The blonde chuckled, "Do you really believe they miss us? Also, I never see you…"
Callie smiled as she felt the blonde kiss her palm softly, "It will be easier soon as the opera starts again… no need to be shouted at by Guillaume as often as I am right now…"
"Why do you stay there?" Ari asked as she leaned back against the brunette, the wood of the stairs no longer comfortable against her back.
"Because, unlike you my love," Callie kissed the blonde's temple. "I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth…"
"Nor was I," Ari sulked. "Imagine the agony my mother would have suffered if I was…"
Callie laughed and watched as the smaller woman shuffled around on the staircase to look at her.
It had been merely weeks since their affair had begun, and their moments together were fewer than they'd like.
"Will you come tonight?" Ari asked.
"I will try," the brunette promised. "We open next week, will you be there?"
"As many nights as you wish me to be…"
"Every night then," Callie jested.
The doors opened, and both women jumped up and descended down the stairs reuniting with Alice who studied them with an air of suspicion.
"Madame Alice," Louis almost shouted with glee, distracted her from the younger two women. She turned and smiled warmly at the gentleman as he took her hand and kissed it softly.
"I was wondering if you would accompany me for a ride in my carriage…"
"Of course she would," Callie shouted out. "Ari and I were just discussing how we were wanting a walk… and Alice has always praised your coach…"
Louis grinned widely as he opened the door for the older woman. Alice turned to Callie with a mortified glare.
"But sir…" she began. "I am sure your time and company is needed elsewhere…"
"Not at all," Louis stated. "I can think of no better way to spend my time…"
Alice blushed, immediately forgetting about the younger women as she took his hand and stepped into the carriage.
Ari and Callie chuckled as they watched the coach disappear, its wheels kicking up small stones.
"You will get an earful tonight…" Ari started.
"But that's tonight… now, my apartment is close and empty…"
Callie heard the blonde shriek as she pulled her in the direction of her home.
"Ari!" Callie called from the living room, rolling her eyes as Lucille chuckled when another crash came from the kitchen, followed by a stream of explicit words. Callie stood, shaking off her skirts before pulling the door open on the kitchen. She watched Ari standing above the aga, her face flushed from the rising heat, her hair no longer immaculately pinned with strands breaking free at the temples and nape, her dress no longer pressed but covered with the sauce of tomatoes. She held a pan in one hand, it's base blackened and a wooden spoon in the other, looking up at the brunette who shouted her name once more.
"I don't care what Marcel says," Ari stated, gesturing to the cowering chef in the corner of the kitchen. "There is no need to add oil to the chicken…"
"Fire!" Callie yelled as flames sparked from the stove behind the blonde. She grabbed the pot of water sat upon the long wooden table, throwing it at the stove, drenching the surprised blonde and quenching the flames.
"That is why we need the oil," Marcel stated as Ari dropped the pot with a loud thud, pouting as her clothes clung to her skin.
"Aw, my love…" Callie whispered as she approached the smaller woman. "I think you should stick to the omelettes."
She kissed the smaller woman on the cheek, earning a dimpled smile from the blonde. She looked at Marcel who simply shrugged, before preparing to clean what was once an orderly kitchen. The staff of Ari's home had become accustomed to the regular visits from the opera singer, the brief moments of affection and the tender words of love had become part of such visits, and none of them cared to comment or judge.
"Arietta!" An unfamiliar voice broke through the air, causing the blonde to jump and Callie to move away. She could see tension break across the smooth features of her love, and panic fill her blue eyes.
"Ari?" she asked softly, before seeing an older woman enter the kitchen. Her fair hair pinned back into a high bun, a small red hat pinned atop, matching the dress of silk, wide in skirts and slender in waist. Her skin was tight at the cheeks, pale in complexion, and angry in expression, yet her eyes were as blue as the eyes of the younger blonde in the kitchen. Ari's hands had dropped to her sides, her face dipped slightly whilst Marcel immediately stood tall, back straightened and head bowed.
Callie knew that this woman as Ari's mother without needing an introduction. The older woman glanced at the brunette, her eyes narrowed as judgement pursed her lips, "You've hired someone new?"
Ari stuttered as she tried to answer, words failing to come to her mouth. The brunette stepped forward, "I am Callie…"
"Did I ask you for your name?" The older woman harshly snapped before turning her attention to her daughter. "And how many times have I told you that the kitchen is no place for a lady? I don't know where I went wrong with you…"
"I should leave…" Callie interrupted, feeling pain in her voice as she recognised the same in the blonde's features.
"Leave?" Agnes turned to the brunette, confusion lacing her tone.
"Mother, Callie is a friend," Ari explained.
"A friend?" Agnes looked at Callie, studying her attire, judging her wealth before returning her glare to her daughter. "Arietta, I have done everything to ensure… this is your father's doing. I told him to stop raising you as free as a boy, but he went ahead and did it and now he is dead and you are wasting life on frivolous activities such as reading your silly books, meeting with women about ridiculous ideas, and befriending street people…"
"Mother!" Ari was aghast at her mother's outright rudeness. "Calliope, I am so sorry…"
"How much money has my daughter promised you?" Agnes asked, ignoring her daughter's protests.
"She has never given me a coin, and has no need. I work…"
"As a scullery maid?" Agnes remarked coldly.
"Callie is an opera soprano," Ari explained, edging closer to the brunette who was brimming with anger as she backed towards the door.
"Oh," Agnes was, without a doubt, surprised. "Do you sing at the Garnier?"
Callie shook her head, afraid to give this bitter woman more ammunition to play with, "I must go…"
She could hear Ari shout at her mother as she closed the door, choosing to run down the spiral staircase rather than take the elevator. She felt hot tears fall from her eyes as she quickly rounded another set of steps.
"Callie," Ari called, running quickly behind her, her breath shortened by the rapid movements she was making. "Please wait…"
Callie stopped and turned and saw the blonde approach her, descending quickly down the steps. The smaller woman grabbed the brunette by the lapels of her coat, pulling her close.
"I am so sorry," she whispered as she kissed warm tears from the brunette's cheeks. "She is ghastly… I had tried to caution you… I am so sorry."
Callie nodded as she felt soft lips caress her own before pulling back, "You win the bad parentage game…"
Ari chuckled half-heartedly, kissing her lover once more, "I should go…"
Callie nodded and watched Ari return up the stairs, sighing as she turned to continue her journey of the steps.
"She was beautiful," Ari whispered as she studied the picture inside the opened locket laying against Callie's chest. The black and white photograph was aged, creased but the woman that it showed was indeed beautiful, just like her daughter.
Callie picked it up and studied it, before closing it, kissing its exterior softly before letting it fall.
"And so are you… you look like her…" Ari spoke softly, before kissing the brunette gently. "Do you remember her?"
"I remember that she always smelled of roses, and that she would insist on dancing for the sun and the rain… my father would play music and she and I would dance as if there was no care in the world. I remember her laugh, sounded like music… oh, and she would always kiss me goodnight, no matter how late it was… she would wake me so she could kiss me goodnight…"
"She sounded wonderful… like a mother should be…"
Callie rose from the bed, pulling her clothes on as the blonde lay and watched her.
"When will I see you again?" Ari asked as she watched the brunette dress.
"We open tomorrow night…"
Ari grinned widely as Callie leaned forward to kiss her lovingly, "I can't wait."
The brunette always loved the first night, the anticipation, the excitement, the adrenaline, the audience, the applause. As she watched Philippe's Samson perform the closing scene of Saint-Saens 'Samson and Delilah'. He pushed against the pillar, willing his strength back with words of strength and voice of depth. Callie was waiting for her moment to fall, beneath the falling temple. The percussion crashed as she fell, the backdrop falling loudly before the curtains dropping. She smiled as she heard the applause. Philippe offered his hand to her, pulling her to her feet before kissing her on the cheek, as had always been their custom.
The curtains opened for their bow, and Callie couldn't help but grin as the audience applauded wildly. She had never performed as she had done so this night. She had never sung with such heart as she had this performance and she knew it was Ari that caused such influence.
"Callie, you were incredible," Alice declared as the brunette walked off the stage. "I have never seen you glow that way before…"
Callie laughed as she pushed open the door into the foyer seeing many of the audience still crowding in the small space. She pushed her way through them, smiling politely at the many compliments that were directed at her. She could see the blonde looking for her, which made her smile even wider.
"Calliope!" Ari exclaimed. "You were wonderful… I mean truly incredible…"
Callie smiled before recognising the young man standing next to the blonde, his stance still remaining arrogant.
"Mr. Moreau," Callie greeted politely.
He nodded at her, "I must agree with my fiancée. You surpassed yourself, and are wasted here."
Callie smiled politely before looking back at the blonde, "Thank you for coming tonight, Miss Arietta… and I am delighted you enjoyed it… I should go…"
Callie pushed back through the crowds, to the depths of the theatre, holding her tears back. She slammed the door of her dressing room, ignoring the shouts from Alice. She grabbed the bottle of wine that sat unopened on her dressing table, pulling its cork out with her teeth before gulping its contents.
"I told you not to do that," Alice scolded as she closed the door again. "You'll break your teeth… and what has you so angry? Pierre never showed again…"
Callie laughed bitterly as she studied the older woman's concern. She gulped the wine further.
"Callie, I know you like being free-spirited, but Pierre?"
"It's not Pierre!" Callie shouted as she returned the bottle to her lips. "It's…"
Callie fell silent as she saw Alice waiting. She sighed before mumbling, "It's Pierre."
"Callie!" Alice called from the door. "Miss Arietta is here to see you…"
Callie looked up from the book she was reading, and saw Alice letting the blonde in.
"She has been feeling out of sorts these past few days Miss…"
"Oh, nothing serious I hope," Ari asked, her voice filled with concern.
"I am quite alright, thank you," Callie stated as she rose from the bed, wearing just a cotton nightshirt. "I am just enjoying a day of rest…"
Alice looked between the two women before almost shouting, "Bread!"
Neither woman had noticed the older woman's disappearance until they heard the door shut.
"Calliope… I didn't know he would be…"
"Ari, you don't need to explain," Callie spoke harshly. "Who are we fooling? This cannot continue, the secrets…"
"I ended it… I declined his proposal… That very night… My mother was furious, her husband called me many a name… but I cannot marry him. I love you and even if it is not right in their eyes or anyone's eyes… I still cannot stop loving you."
Ari's hands pulled Callie's nightgown, bringing her close to kiss her, "I cannot stop loving you…"
She kissed her again, longer than a moment before pulling back. Callie opened her eyes and smiled warmly.
"I love you too… ever so much."
The kisses were tender, undemanding yet loving.
"Alice will be back soon," Callie mumbled.
"No she won't," Ari stated as she kissed the full lips again, removing her own coat as she did.
"Oh?" Callie questioned, as she felt hands pull her close.
"Louis is waiting for her… I told him that she had wished to visit the Louvre…"
Callie laughed, "Are you playing a match-maker?"
"They are a good match," Ari insisted as she felt fingers deftly untie her corset.
The brunette could hear the blonde gasp as she clutched her fingers tightly as the two women watched in awe the large steam train come towards them. The large black steam engine moved fast against its pale backdrop, almost real in its existence, yet merely just a moving image. The room had been in darkness but for the image that the danced upon the screen before them. This was something new to everyone in the room, something new to everyone in the world… the birth of new entertainment, and curiosity enticed both women to witness it.
Louis had told them about it at a late supper after an opera performance. He had said it had raised a panic amongst the mere audience, the motion of a photograph. Callie had said it couldn't be possible whilst Alice believed it magic. Ari settled the debate by suggesting they should attend the small hall in a Parisian hotel.
The picture had lasted less than a moment, but it was enough to impress Ari with shock and Callie with belief. Lights filled the room and Ari realised that she was still clutching the brunette's fingers. She dropped them with haste before blushing as she realised Louis was watching her. The brunette felt the gesture and saw concern in the blonde's face. She looked over at Louis who simply ducked his head as he moved to let Alice pass.
"So Miss Callie, do you believe now?" he asked as he followed the three women out into the busy avenue of new Paris.
"It will not last… it is like the magic lantern," Callie stated as she stopped at the edge of the wide pavement.
"You loved those as a little girl," Alice remembered with a smile. "You would beg your papa to bring you to the fairs so you could see them…"
Callie shrugged, "I don't remember…"
Callie looked over at Ari who had yet to speak, "What did you think?"
"I didn't like it… I half expect photos to come to life now," Ari's voice showed little feeling. "I should prepare to leave…"
"We will take the carriage and bring our companions home first…"
"It is quite alright," Ari stated. "The air will calm me after such a show…"
Callie couldn't help but furrow her brow in confusion as the blonde walked away. She desperately wanted to follow but felt Alice's hand tucked in her own.
"I have been waiting for you," Callie declared as she watched the blonde leave her apartment block.
Ari jumped at the voice before smiling slightly, "Calliope, why are you here?"
"Because I haven't seen you for days…" the brunette answered before noticing the paleness that had engulfed the smaller woman's skin. "Are you unwell?"
Ari pushed Callie down one of the alleys, "I am just tired… I can't talk now. My mother is following me now… she believes I am having an affair…"
Callie chuckled slightly and Ari couldn't help but blush before continuing, "With a man of course… she doesn't understand…"
"I miss you," Callie whispered, almost urgently.
Ari smiled widely before kissing the taller woman quickly on the lips, "I miss you too… so very much."
Callie almost squealed when she felt strong hands around her waist as she reached the heavy doors of the theatre. She turned and felt Pierre's lips on her own. She pushed him back without a moment of hesitation. His hair was cut short, jagged at the edges as the untidy strands touched his neck, his face unshaven for weeks, his skin darkened by sun and his clothes torn.
"Pierre!" she shouted, anger lacing her tone. "What is this?"
"I know it has been months, but I had found work at the shipping docks up north…"
Callie couldn't help but laugh, "You're working at the docks…"
"Yes," Pierre grinned. "I feel better than I do here. I think it is the air of the sea…"
"But you're back in Paris?"
"I was going to ask you to come back with me," Pierre blushed slightly. "You are the only woman that understands me…"
Callie shook her head rapidly but Pierre pushed ahead.
"And there's a small theatre there, not much smaller than this one… but I always knew you'd say no."
Callie frowned, "So why did you come back?"
"Just to make certain…" The tall man looked back to the streets of New Paris and smiled. "Paris is bigger now… these houses will no longer stand here. This theatre will be gone. The buildings in their place will be grand with tall windows and high balconies, and you will still be here… because of a certain young lady…"
Callie looked up the streets and saw the blonde watching them from the corner of the road, one foot in the new and one in the old. She couldn't help but smile widely at seeing her love. Weeks had passed since that brief alley kiss and she had missed her desperately.
"Who makes you smile like that," Pierre concluded, jest in his voice.
Callie turned back to the dark-haired man and saw a sparkle in his blue eyes, "How did you know?"
"Because you smile like that and because she is as jealous as a man should be when she sees me with you…" Pierre looked back at the fair-haired woman who still had not budged, her features to far to recognise but her stance stubborn and strong. "I should leave but I must warn you… Be careful. The bourgeois… they put different-minded women into sanatoriums…"
Callie grin fell as she looked back at the blonde before back at Pierre, "I will… will you come back?"
Pierre laughed, "I never seem to stay away."
He kissed her quickly and briefly on the lips before walking away. He walked towards the blonde, chuckling as he saw fury dance in soft blue eyes. He nodded at her as he walked past.
Callie watched Ari walk towards her and smiled widely as they united in one of the last streets of old Paris, surrounded by the scents of brewing ale, baked bread and old hay.
"Louis would never have you locked away," Callie whispered to herself as Ari smiled back at her.
(Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix - Samson et Dalila - Saint-Saens)
"Does Alice miss you?" Ari asked as she circled her finger on Callie's chest.
Callie turned to face the smaller woman and smiled, "It has only been a mere few days…"
Ari chuckled, "Do you miss Alice?"
Callie blushed slightly before glancing around her empty apartment. Many months had passed since she began her role as the blonde's lover and she had grown comfortable in their circumstance. Winter was approaching and with it short days pierced with coldness and long nights blanketed in darkness. She could see the small lamp burning in the living room behind the sheer screen, and the shadows it threw upon the plain walls.
"I do," she admitted after a moment. "I still cannot believe she agreed to travel with Louis… this woman has never even looked at another man, and suddenly she is in love…"
Ari grinned as she rolled onto her front, lifting her face up and watching the brunette watching her, "There is a rumour that Paris is the city of love…"
"I love you," Callie interrupted, a smile adorning her face and she couldn't help but chuckle as she felt the smaller body press into hers, kissing her hard.
"I love you too," Ari whispered into the kiss.
"For all this life?" Callie asked as she rolled the smaller woman on her back, hovering above her. Ari nodded as she raised her hand to cradle the brunette's cheek.
Callie turned her lips to kiss the palm, her dark eyes not leaving the blue ones, "And the next?"
Ari nodded yet again, smiling as her hand was kissed again. She watched as Callie dropped her head to her own, lips a mere inch away from her reach.
"I am completely yours in this life and the next," Callie vowed with a smile before kissing the smaller woman gently, softly, lovingly.
"You're crazy," Callie laughed as she watched the smaller woman run through the open space of the Champ de Mars, its green painted white with snow.
"I am marking my being," Ari laughed back as she fell flat on her back.
"You will get ill with the cold," Callie warned as she put her hand to pull the blonde back to her feet.
"And you will warm me up," Ari flirted, causing the brunette to blush. "Callie, watch out!"
Callie turned as Ari pulled her back, seeing a spooked black horse charging towards them, his muscles taut, rippling with each gallop, his mane wild, his blinkers crushed beneath his heavy hooves, his reins dragging behind him.
Callie whistled without even thinking, compelling the horse to an immediate halt before them. She chuckled in disbelief as she lifted her hand gently to his face, watching him nuzzle into her hand. She stroked him with ease, hearing only the content snorts from the animal and the rapid breathing from the smaller woman next to her. Ari's hand rested upon the brunette's before rubbing the horse down his neck. He lifted his head in pleasure, nuzzling both women before nickering in contentment.
"Hey! There he is!" A man yelled, running towards them, his whip held high in the air. He was followed by three other men.
"Yah!" Ari shouted as tapped the animal on the side, watching him run with grace and speed in the opposite direction of his oppressors.
The two women turned to each other as the men ran passed them. Callie grin broadened as Ari raised an eyebrow, smiling widely.
"We should get you in the warmth," Callie suggested as Ari shivered slightly, neither remarking nor forgetting the moment that they had shared.
"Ari," Lucille called through the closed bedroom door, tapping it with a sense of emergency. Callie woke to the incessant knocking, grumbling as she felt Ari roll from their embrace. She watched the smaller woman pull a robe close to her bare form, walking quickly to the door, and cracking it open slightly.
"What is it Lucille?"
"A telegram arrived late… your mother is returning to Paris this very morning…"
"What!" Ari shrieked, slamming the door in the poor maid's face before turning to her now alert lover. "Callie, get dressed."
Both women scrambled to dress, and be presentable as friends not lovers. Callie brushed her long locks back, pinning them into a twist, while Ari simply could not stop her fingers trembling to style her own, leaving the golden tresses loose down her back. Callie's clothing was creased from careless disrobing the night before, while Ari had the fortune to have a freshly pressed dress from her closet.
"Maybe we can leave before she arrives," Ari mumbled as she pulled the bedroom door open. She saw Lucille moving quickly with a duster, and Marcel bringing a tray of fresh coffee to the small table in the lounge.
"Miss, sit down," Lucille ordered the tall brunette. "Make it appear you have visited for brunch…"
Callie sat down and watched Ari's nerves build as she paced the room before sitting in the high-back chair opposite her. Callie grabbed her hand and squeezed it gently, smiling when blue eyes met her own. Ari nodded, and took a breath, before jumping when the door opened.
"Mother," she greeted the older woman, her voice an octave higher than normal. Agnes studied her daughter before looking at Callie, frowning at the brunette's presence.
"Arietta, what did I tell you about bringing her to the apartment?" Agnes scolded, dismissing the brunette with a flick of the hand. "We have appearances to uphold, and you are constantly dragging us down with your insistence on being a spinster, and your friendships with charitable cases."
"Mother!" Ari could not hide the shock in her tone. "Callie is my friend, a good friend…"
"Who wants only your money and kindness?" Agnes pulled her long gloves free from her slender arms, ignoring the brunette as she stood up. "This is not what I am here for. Get changed. Lucille, come and help Ari. We are visiting the Chevaliers this evening… their son has returned from New York…"
"Mother!" Ari warned, glancing at Callie. "I don't wish to continue being a pawn in you wedding games…"
"Arietta," Mrs. Agnes Bernard scolded. "You are not getting any younger, and I have given the arrangement with Alain some consideration… maybe you are right, maybe it is odd to have you marry the brother of your mother's husband… but learn this, you will marry."
"I do not need to marry… women are able to live without a husband," Ari argued.
"What women? Arietta, my naïve daughter… one needs a husband to make important decisions. Do you know where your money comes from? Of course you don't… Your father's money is almost gone, and you need a husband to take care of this… you need a husband to take care of you…"
"No, she doesn't," Callie seethed, her temperament no longer patient.
"Are you still here?" Agnes glared. "I don't want you or your kind in my home… It is tragic enough that Louis chose to marry a pauper, now my daughter is inviting them into our home… I will be soon mistaken as one…"
"Louis is marrying Alice," Callie said with surprise, a small smile adorning her face.
"To our very shame… Arietta, please bid your… acquaintance a farewell, and be ready to…"
"Mother, I am not marrying the Chevalier boy! I am not being part of your game anymore… and I am happy for Louis. Why shouldn't he find love and be happy?"
"Love? You need to stop reading those fairytales of yours," Agnes laughed, lifting a cup to her lips. "Marcel! This coffee is cold!"
Agnes studied her daughter, and frowned. Ari's dress wasn't fixed at the waist, her hair still lay lose against her slender back, her eyes shining with unshed tears, her cheeks flushed with temper, her bosom rising with quickened breaths.
"Mother, just because you have never loved, doesn't mean I cannot? I will not marry for name and money! Lord knows you tried with endless husbands… but I will not be you."
The sting of the slap echoed across the large room, eliciting a gasp from Ari. She raised her hand to where it had reddened with the marks of fingers left by her mother. She glared at her mother as Agnes lowered her hand. She looked at Callie who had moved closer to her side and swallowed as she saw pain in dark eyes.
Agnes turned to the brunette, "I asked you to leave…"
"I will leave when I am certain that Ari is safe from your rage…"
"Ari?" Agnes voice lowered to almost a whisper. "Ari?"
Agnes could see creases in the taller woman's skirts and loose ringlets escaping the twist. She stepped closer to Callie studying her face, dark eyes watching her with rage, full lips almost snarling. She lifted her finger to touch the woman's lips, pulling it back before rubbing it of another finger. She looked back to her daughter, and shook her head, her fingers trembling as the reached the smaller woman's cheeks.
"Where is your rouge, your blush… Oh God, no!" Agnes fell back a step. "I will not have it! You will not be one of those!"
"Mother?" Ari asked, her voice shaking.
"You whore!" Agnes shouted, her voice almost shaking the walls of the room. "You rat! You do this on purpose… you bring shame on purpose…"
She grabbed her daughter, and shook her with force, declaring her daughter the spawn of Satan. Callie pulled her free, only to be slapped across the face hard.
"You did this… you turned my daughter into this… Get out!" Agnes pushed at the brunette, her clenched fists thumping at her chest. "Get out!"
"Mother, you're hurting her," Ari pleaded, her hands pulling at her mother's shoulders. "Callie, just leave… please leave."
Callie hesitated as her back hit the door. She looked from the furious eyes of Agnes to the aching eyes of Ari's. "I can't leave you…"
"Lucille, fetch the police!" Agnes ordered. "Now!"
Ari reached the pair, her strong hands pulling them apart, "Please go Calliope… please, for me."
Callie exhaled as she felt tender fingers stroke her reddened cheek. She nodded as she pulled the door open from behind her. She looked over to the older woman and snarled before looking at her lover.
"This life and the next," she whispered and Ari smiled as tears fell. She nodded as she watched the brunette descend the stairs quickly.
She stood under the hot lights, ignoring the presence of the other singers, ignoring the orchestra's slow string instruments, ignoring the watching audience as she opened her mouth to sing. She could only think of the fair-headed, blue eyed woman who had captured her heart as the words escaped her lips. The words, never meaning much before, meant everything now. Her heart indeed opened to Ari's voice like the flowers open to the kisses of the dawn. And she desired so much to hear that voice speak again.
When the curtains had fallen, Callie couldn't help but let the tears fall as she pushed her way to her dressing room. Alice followed her, having watched the performance, almost absent in presence, haunting in voice. She found the younger woman weeping as she lay on the chaise longue. She was quickly next to her, cradling her head in her lap, stroking the long, lustrous locks.
"Oh Callie, my sweet what is it?"
Callie could only continue weeping as she wrapped her arm around the older woman's waist. Many moments had passed before the tears subsided. She looked up, into the kind eyes of the woman she saw as her mother.
"You're back," Callie whispered and Alice laughed lightly, before nodding. "And you're engaged…"
"How did you hear?" Alice asked. "I wanted to tell you myself… I was going to decline, but I tried to find reasons to do so. I could find none but many to agree. He makes me feel young, special… beautiful… loved."
"I am very happy for you," Callie said, pulling herself up to embrace the woman tightly, swallowing more tears.
"Is it Arietta?" Alice asked as she felt the smaller woman gulp against her shoulder. She sighed when she felt the nod. "I had always feared that you find love with her…"
"How did you know?" Callie asked pulling back, her brown eyes reddened with tears.
"How could I not? You came to life when she came into yours…" Alice smiled warmly. "And Louis told me…"
"Many months ago… he had told her to be careful," Alice answered, her voice soft. "What happened?"
"Her mother," Callie mumbled, allowing Alice to hold her like a mother holds a child.
"I understand she is rather ghastly," Alice replied. "She discovered you?"
Callie nodded, "And Ari insisted I leave, and I haven't seen her since… and Pierre said she could be carted to a sanatorium. What if she is? What if she is sent away? What if I never see her again?"
The tears returned with heaving sobs, and Alice feeling helpless, could only hold her.
Callie started stripping her dress from her body, stopping as she pulled a sleeve free to grab the bottle of wine on her table. She lifted it to her lips, taking a healthy drink before slamming it back on the table. She reached her hand to pull the other sleeve, when she saw the door opening in her mirror. She turned around, preparing to shout at whoever was on the other side, only to come face-to-face with the blonde.
"Ari?" she whispered, seeing tiredness etched across the smaller woman's features. She looked the same as Callie did, exhausted. Her hair was dishevelled, escaping its twist, her dress, pale blue with almost invisible white stripes had dirt on its hems. It was matched with a short jacket and a hat. All she needed was a parasol to match the white gloves she wore, and she would be the image of the Paris fashion portrayed in the reading papers. Callie stepped closer to the smaller woman, who swallowed hard. "Ari, I didn't know you were…"
She could not finish as lips pressed hard against her own, pushing her back into the dressing table. She felt slender hands pull her dress from her arm, pushing it down her torso, over her full breasts. It had been the simple toga dress that her costume required, and she stepped out with ease, standing only in her undergarment. She felt gloved fingers runs across her bare, caramel skin, along her stomach, her sides, as a tongue duelled with her own. She pulled back seeing Ari's cheeks flushed, her breath quick and heavy. She turned the woman around, pushing her up onto the dressing table, her strong hands pushing the smaller woman's legs apart, lifting the skirts up to her hips as she stood between them. She kissed Ari with force, softness and tenderness forgotten, as teeth clashed and tongues duelled. She could hear the blonde wince as the bottle fell to the ground with a crash.
Callie pulled away, looked at the shattered glass on the old wooden floor, stains of red wine engulfing the rotting wood. She looked back at her lover who was watching her with desire enflamed in her blue eyes. She reached back in for another kiss, nipping at the lower lips before taking her lips as hostage. Her fingers swept along the undergarment that lay beneath the heavy skirting, resting in the hot centre.
Ari pushed into her touch, her kiss harder now. She lifted herself as Callie pulled the cotton drawers down her slender legs. Once she was rid of the barrier, she pulled the taller woman back to her, wrapping her legs around her hips, holding her in place as she rocked against the unmoving hand that rested against her core. She wrapped her hands around the bare shoulders, feeling the heat through the silk of her gloves. She took Callie lips with her own, caressing then, licking them, tasting them, moaning into them as she felt the brunette taking her with strong fingers. She closed her eyes as she felt Callie push deeper, taking her completely, and rocked against her, feeling warm skin beneath her fingers and cotton against her thighs. She opened her eyes as Callie stopped moving and gasped as she saw dark eyes watching her. She reached forward to kiss the full lips before her, moaning against them, screaming as Callie claimed her completely.
The two women remained as they were for many moments, Ari sat upon the dressing table, her skirts pulled up to her hips, its pleats now crease, her legs wrapped around the taller woman, her arms around bare shoulder, while Callie stood only in cotton undergarments, her forehead resting against the smaller woman's, neither one's eyes leaving the other as they tried to calm their breathing.
"You came back?" Callie whispered, her voice hoarse. She felt the other woman nod against her. "Your mother?"
Ari swallowed her tears, as she pulled the taller woman closer into her embrace, holding her tightly.
"Oh, my love, don't weep… I had thought she sent you away," Callie whispered as she pressed her lips against the smaller woman's cheek.
"She did," Ari answered, her voice muffled against the brunette's neck. Callie turned slightly to meet Ari's eyes and the blonde could see the question in dark eyes. "I am poor now Callie, poorer than you. I am no longer welcome in that world, no longer free to choose… I am without a penny to my name, a home to call my own… a name to honour."
Callie felt tears fall against her naked bosom as Ari wept. She stroked the fair hair, whispering softly into her ear. "You have my home, my money… my name."
(Si mi chiamano Mimi - La Boheme - Puccini)
Ari sat in the old armchair watching the brunette prepare a meal of soup and bread. Alice had welcomed her with kind words while Louis offered to buy her a home of her own. She had refused, knowing that the older man had already fallen foul of many of his peers for choosing to marry below his class.
"We are leaving Paris," Alice announced, cautiously.
Callie dropped the large spoon against the pot, closing her eyes as she inhaled deeply.
"We cannot stay here as man and wife, not with the judgements that are likely to pass. Louis has purchased a working farm-house down south, near Sarlat…"
"Sarlat!" Callie almost shouted as she turned to face the older woman. "But that's a day journey away…"
"You could come…The steam engines now have rail there."
Callie turned to Ari who watched her carefully before sighing, "We can't… what would we do down there?"
"You could work on the farm… we could find you a small cottage… a cottage," Alice chuckled to herself. "Who would believe that I, Alice Dupuis, would be talking about cottages… a strange world indeed…"
Callie laughed as she saw joy dance in the older woman's features, "No one in this world deserves to be talking about cottages as much as you do…"
"We cannot travel to the south," Ari said after a pause. "It is unfair to you and Louis for us to impose our style of love on you, only to have you judged once more… and it is unfair to opera to take away Calliope and more importantly, it is unfair to me to take away the chance to see Callie grace the grand stages of the Palais Garnier…"
Callie laughed, "My love that will never happen…"
"Alice thought the same about cottages…" Ari argued with a smile.
Callie looked at Alice who simply nodded before looking back at the blonde. Callie laughed before looking at the blonde, "Are you certain?"
Ari nodded, with defiance in her gesture.
The wedding ceremony was brief in its length, simple in its vows and ideal in its purpose. Callie and Ari were the only guests, sitting quietly in the small chapel as Alice and Louis quietly exchanged oaths to love and honour for the rest of their days.
Callie felt Ari squeeze her hand and she looked over, studying the pale profile. Ari had become changed by her mother's rejection, was quieter, softer, gentler, her confidence no longer her forte, in its place, acceptance. Callie had sometimes wished they had never met, sometimes wished they had never pursued a relationship, sometimes wished she had never apologised for her rudeness… but only sometimes.
The carriage left in a hurry, its wheels kicking up dust as the horses sped through the streets of Paris, heading for a new life in the south of France.
"You will see her again Callie," Ari said, with a smile in her voice as she held the weeping brunette close.
"She looked so happy," Callie said as sobs ripped through her body.
Ari chuckled, swallowing the air awkwardly, turning the chuckle into a sore cough.
"Just laughed the wrong way," Ari stated as she guided the brunette to the staircase, leading them to their small apartment.
There was no longer a need for the screen and second bed in the living room, the bedroom was now theirs. Ari was quick to move the furniture to her liking, widening the expanse of the room, space lay between the chairs and the battered book-case, a dining corner had been placed for breakfast and dinner, and over the cabinet hung one of two Ari's possessions: the portrait of her father, which Louis had retrieved for her. The other was her book of stories, 'naughty but nice' stories as Callie labelled them which sat forgotten about atop the nightstand. She had no need to fantasise when she lay with her love every night.
"So?" Ari asked eagerly, as she stood when Callie opened the door.
"Apparently, we will all be with electricity before the century is finished," Callie jested as she pulled her shawl from her shoulders, and gloves from her hand.
"Le Portrait de Manon," Callie stated. "Massenet is the choice of the season…"
"I have never seen it," Ari answered as she greeted the brunette with a warm kiss.
"And now you shall," Callie kissed the smaller woman warmly. She knew that she could never afford to bring the blonde to grand theatres or galleries, but she could bring her to the small theatre where she sang.
"Callie?" Ari asked as she entered the small kitchenette. "Is that coffee I smell?"
Callie chuckled and nodded, "Yes, it is… and can you not drink it all in mere days this time? I had never known someone as excitable as you were when you drank just coffee…"
Ari swiped the taller woman, taking the cup with a smile, "I found work today…"
Callie turned, leaning against the counter as she studied her lover, "You did?"
"It doesn't pay…"
"They call that slavery," Callie jested. Ari scowled as she returned to the living room.
"I am teaching children to read…"
Callie grinned widely as she pulled her lover close, "Maybe this could be the first thing they learn to read…"
She handed Ari the letter and was met with a squeal as the envelope was snatched from her fingers.
"Louis!" Ari curled up on the chairs, tucking her feet beneath her, ignoring the creases it made to her linen dress.
Callie watched the blonde as she read, a dimpled smile lighting the smaller woman's face. She no longer wore the highest of fashion, nor visited the best places.
"They seem so happy… he has mastered the plough," Ari announced as she folded the letter. "And they hope to visit or have us to visit them…"
Callie watches as the blonde stood and came over to her, sitting on her lap as she showed her the letter. Callie read the words, laughing at an anecdote about Alice naming the chickens only to forget their names the next day.
"Do you think we will ever marry? People like us…"
"Do you think we will ever get to vote?" Callie countered, before kissing the smaller woman softly on the lips. "Maybe in the next life."
Callie could hear the cry before she turned the corner, and smiled as she was greeted with a frazzled little girl wrangling a battered doll from a thin, small boy's strong grip. She saw Ari perched on the steps to one of the old houses. Her skirts grey in shade, plain in material, her blouse cream and tight, her hair loose, styles forgotten. Ari was surrounded by a group of small children, and was obviously in the middle of telling them a story, a story Callie recognised as one of Aesop's fables. Ari looked up at the new arrival, smiling brightly as she continued to tell her story.
"He fell asleep, thinking that he had so much time to waken and win. He was that arrogant. The tortoise just kept going until he was close to the finishing line, and as he was within reach, the hare awoke. He knew he couldn't win. The tortoise was just too close. The tortoise won… so what was the moral of the story?"
"Don't fall asleep," one little boy offered.
"Don't race a tortoise," another boy yelled.
"Pick on someone your own size," the little girl united with her doll stated, glaring at the kidnapper.
Callie chuckled, and the children looked at her, their eyes filled with life, their faces scarred by poverty.
"Do you know Miss Calliope," Ari asked.
"Taking your time always wins the race," Callie grinned as she offered her hand to the blonde, pulling her to her feet.
"I will see you all tomorrow," Ari promised as she tucked her hand into the brunette's arm.
"You look tired," Callie commented as they turned the corner.
Ari sighed, "The children exhaust me… how people raise as many as ten is madness."
"I love that moment," Ari declared as she rolled on her back. "That feeling that everything inside you is about to explode, from the top of your head to the end of your toes… just explosive."
Callie chuckled and bent her head to kiss the blonde's lips, before turning her lips to the milky neck and letting her lips rest upon the breast as the smaller woman breathing calmed.
"I think that's the purpose," Callie mumbled into the skin, smiling as she felt the rumble in the chest as Ari laughed, only for it to turn into a cough.
"Are you all right?" Callie asked as the cough persisted. She pulled Ari into a seating position, concern etched on her dark features.
Ari nodded as the cough subsided, "You shouldn't make me laugh directly after an explosion."
"An explosion?" Callie chuckled, pushing back loose locks behind Ari's ears before leaning to kiss her slowly and tenderly. "Would you like another?"
Ari grinned into the kiss, nodding as she deepened it. She pulled Callie down to the bed, lying beneath her as her hands ran down the length of the taller woman's back.
Callie pulled away from the kiss, her brown eyes glistening in the moonlight, "I love you."
Ari smiled warmly, lifting her head to reach the full lips with her own.
"Ari!" Callie called as she pulled the apartment door open. "Where were you tonight?"
Callie saw the living room was still in darkness.
Her voice wavered, "Ari? Are you here?"
Fear crossed through her mind as she pulled the bedroom door open, "Ari?"
"Calliope," the reply was almost unheard.
Callie climbed on the bed, wrapping her arm around the shaking blonde, holding her close, as she stared out the window looking at the full moon.
"Are you ill?"
"The light hurts my eyes," Ari whispered. "The ache has been in my head all day… I just want to sleep it away."
Callie kissed the blonde below the ear, "Go to sleep my love… everything will be better in the morning."
"Francois is selling the theatre?" Callie announced as Ari entered the dressing room.
"What do you mean? Selling? To who?" Ari asked as she watched the brunette wipe the heavy make-up from her face. She took the offered wine and drank it with a grimace.
"I don't know the details… he tells us that this is no longer an opera theatre after this season is complete…"
"What will we do?" Ari asked, panic dancing in her voice.
Callie smiled, taking the smaller woman in her arms, "We will finish the season, and then we will find a new theatre that will have me sing…"
"Like the Opera du National," Ari suggested, grinning as Callie laughed. "You laugh, but it will happen…"
The coughing had awoken Callie. She sat up to find Ari sitting on the edge of the bed, clutching her chest as she coughed.
"Ari?" her voice was laced with fear.
The blonde's body shook fiercely as the cough rattled through her chest. Callie sat behind her, holding her close as the coughs continued.
"I can't breathe," Ari struggled between the coughs.
Callie stood quickly, pulling the nearest clothing on her as she watched the smaller pale woman clutch to her chest, each cough hurting her.
"I am going to fetch the doctor… I will be quick," Callie announced as she threw the door of the bedroom open.
The doctor had ushered Callie out of the bedroom as he examined the frightened blonde. Callie couldn't help but pace the length of the living room, hearing only coughs through the walls. He opened the door, shaking his head at the brunette.
"She needs steam to soothe the chest…"
"Will she recover?"
The doctor shook his head, "It sounds like pleurisy… I cannot treat it now. It's too late…"
"No!" Callie yelled. "It is not too late… you will make her well…"
"You brought me coffee," Ari smiled as she watched the brunette walk into the apartment.
"And bread," Callie grinned as she saw the blonde lying on the chaise longue wrapped in a blanket.
"It smells wonderful."
"Fresh from the bakery's ovens…"
"You promised me once the finest bread of all of Paris," Ari watched the brunette cut through the loaf, warm steam rising from it.
"And my fine lady will have such bread," Callie announced as she served it with pressed coffee. "I have sent a letter to Alice and Louis…"
"Oh," Ari mumbled as she bit into the bread. "Oh! This is divine… why did you withhold this from me?"
Callie laughed softly before leaning closer, kissing the ill woman's forehead, feeling heat below her lips, "You appear to be well today…"
Ari looked up and saw sadness in brown eyes. She smiled warmly, "Maybe, all I needed was the bread…"
"Then bread you shall have every morning…"
"Will you find me?" Ari whispered into the night.
Callie turned to her, resting her hand upon the blonde's, "When?"
"In the next life?"
Callie lifted herself up, and ran her finger tips across the gaunt cheeks of her lovers, "I promise you now, I will love you in this life and the next and the one after, and the one after that…"
Ari nodded before coughing again, tasting blood on her tongue. She rolled over to spit it into the bowl that lay on the floor next to her.
"I'm not scared then," she grinned as she lay back down.
Callie lay alongside the blonde, running her fingers over the hands folded on the flat stomach. She rested her head on the smaller woman's shoulder, only the thin layer of the cotton, white nightgown acting as a barrier, her eyes watching her fingers trace the length from fingertips to wrist, before turning her face to kiss the crook of the slender neck. She lifted her head and studied the sleeping face before her. Blue eyes hidden behind calm lids, lips curled into a slight smile, skin smooth, free of fear and worry. She pressed her lips against the silent lips, before moving to the cheek, resting them against the cold skin.
"Oh Ari," Callie felt her tears fall as she pulled the smaller woman closer. "Why did you have to leave me?"
"Are you sure you will not come with us?" Alice asked as she watched Louis climb into the carriage.
Callie shook her head, "Paris is her home…"
"I am so sorry Callie," Alice whispered as she pulled the younger woman into an embrace. "We wish we had come sooner…"
Callie nodded as she felt Alice release her and watched as she went to the carriage.
"Will you visit?"
Callie blew a kiss to the older woman, "Go, before you get trapped in darkness."
She couldn't sleep, the silence of the bedroom hurting her ears, the emptiness breaking her heart. The brunette rose, and dressed quickly, wanting to escape before tears threatened to fall once more.
The day was just breaking, carts carried deliveries through the narrow lanes, factory workers rose and began the trek to the end of the city, bakeries opened their doors to let their aromas fill the air, night women giggled amongst themselves as they returned to their homes, day being their night.
Callie ignored them all as she lifted her skirts and stepped off the kerb into Paris. She stopped before the café, seeing Gus measure coffee grains carefully behind closed glass doors. He looked up and smiled when he saw her. He was no longer the boy, but now the manager of the premises. She nodded at him before turning into the wide avenue of new Paris. She walked past Ari's old apartment, the doorman recognising her and bowing his head at her as she nodded at him. She continued walking, meeting the river and turning, seeing the Notre Dame, its bell tower looming, the sun bouncing of its bell. She walked towards the Eiffel Tower, smiling as she still admitted that it was hideous. She watched the sun come to its own in the blue sky, its gleam shining of the greens in the Champs de Mars. She sat down on the bench, feeling aches in her arms before erupting in her head.
She knew she had slid to the ground, but didn't feel the ground below her as trembles coursed through her, pain piercing her head. She rolled, clutching her head as she prayed to anyone that could hear to will the pain away. When it had subsided, she opened her eyes and saw clear blue skies and laughed, for it was a shade of blue that would lie in her memory forever.
She stood, seeing figures in the distance, oblivious to her presence. She brushed the dirt of her skirts, before looking up at the tower, shaking her head. She turned and walked toward the Palais Garnier, grinning as she stopped before it.
Had someone told her she would be walking through the golden foyer of the theatre, touching the plush red velvet with the tips of her fingers, admiring the statues as she walked to the stage of the Palais Garnier, she would have thought them mad. Had someone told her she would sing on this stage, she would have called them raving. But someone had… Ari had, and she was right.
She was performing Mimi in La Boheme, her character flirtatious and with spirit, who loved Rodolfo, a simple poet. Their time as two ceased, but their love never did. Mimi would become ill, and Rodolfo feel guilty for it was their life together that caused her to suffer. When Callie first studied the opera, she had wondered that if she and Ari had ceased as lovers, would the blonde still be alive, and Callie felt the guilt that Rodolfo suffered. Yet, she knew that Ari would never have lived any other way.
Callie stood on the wooden boards, hearing the slow violins as her voice soared through the air. Her voice light as it touched the first words of Puccini's "Si Mi Chiamano Mimi". She closed her eyes as the strings scored her song, their presence almost elusive as she let the words leave her lips. She reached her pause, hearing nothing but her breath, only for a second, and opened her eyes. The violins started again, as she opened her mouth, letting the words escape. Words of hope, words of dreams, words 'that speak of love, of spring, of dreams'… Puccini's words. Her voice was soft as it reached its height, its power, its range, its beauty, its force, its opulence, its spirit, and then it cracked, for a mere second as she saw blue eyes in the audience, watching her intensely. The violins led her back in and she sang the words with extraordinary rapture as she gazed into those eyes.
"Miss Calliope?" Agnes's voice was hoarse. "You truly were marvellous…"
Calliope turned from her complimenting audience to the older woman, her face wrinkled with age, her blue eyes filled with sadness. Callie excused herself from her audience and nodded at Agnes.
"Thank you," her reply was not harsh, though she wished it would be.
"I had never thought it possible to hear such beauty, such exotic in a simple voice…"
"Your daughter had always believed it," Callie interrupted.
Agnes nodded, regret evident in her features, "I wish so many things… I wish she had married, I wish she had less of her father's free spirit, I wish she had listened and stayed with me…"
"I wish she were alive, and standing here, watching me sing!" her voice raised, causing stares and murmurs from nearby people.
"I wish that more than anything!" Agnes declared.
"She had a pauper's funeral," Callie seethed. "She was buried in a cheap coffin, because I had no money and Louis was too late…"
Callie's voice cracked as tears fell, "A pauper's funeral… my beautiful, wonderful, kind Ari was buried to be forgotten."
"She will never be forgotten," Agnes said as she tentatively rested a hand on Callie's shoulder. "I wish I had told my daughter that I was jealous of her, her spirit, her ideas, her love, her soul… I am so sorry Miss Calliope, so sorry."
Callie watched Agnes slip through the crowds, tears in her eyes and lips trembling, before looking at the stage door, smiling at her accomplishment.
It had been more than a year since the passing of Ari, and Callie could still not sleep in their bed. She would waken after an hour, calling out for her before remembering that she would not answer. She would rise and spend the remainder of the night sleeping in the armchair. She woke with a start, her hand knocking the table next to her, a book falling to the ground. She turned on the lamp and looked around, sensing something out of place. She opened the door and could see nothing but the staircase. She closed the door, before pulling open the window and saw nothing but drunken men dancing with night women. She shook her head before turning back to the chair. She saw the book on the floor, opened to words and a picture. The painting though small in size, displayed two nude women lying together as lovers. Callie smiled as she picked it up, thumbing through it. She sat down and began to read the pages, hearing nothing, seeing nothing but the words, feeling nothing but the pages beneath her fingers. She closed her eyes for a moment, before opening them, reading some more. She closed her eyes again, hearing nothing, seeing nothing, feeling nothing.
Callie jumped in her seat, seeing the black and white images flicker on the screen. She looked around and saw Rosa glaring at her. She smiled sheepishly.
"That was a great movie," she offered only to be thumped on the arm.
The movie theatre was quiet, empty of its audience as the film finished, the lights turning back on.
"Again! You fell asleep again!" Rosa scolded.