“Next comes the ice water,” Theo says as he lifts a bottle, frosted by its inner chill. “You have to go slowly if you want to do it right. Drop by drop, until the sugar cube dissolves.”
“How long have you been practicing this?” I demand.
“Most of the night,” Theo admits. Though he never takes his eyes off the water dripping onto the sugar cube, he adds, more quietly, “Listen—some of the stuff I said yesterday—I was out of line.”
“No, you weren’t.” After I finally admitted it to myself, admitting it to Theo is easy. “I’ve been unfair to you. I let the things that other Theo did keep me from seeing you. The real you, I mean. This whole trip, you’ve proved that you’re one of the most courageous, loyal, good people I’ve ever met.”
Theo’s never been shy; he loves being praised. That’s what makes it so astonishing when he actually blushes. “Thanks. You’re not so bad yourself.”
“Please. I’ve been such an idiot.”
“Hey. None of that.” His laugh is sloppy from the absinthe, but the sincerity comes through. “Seeing you in action like this—Marguerite, it’s been incredible. The way you jumped in after the bomb during that air raid; you were bandaging wounds while I was still pissing myself with terror.”
I can’t help laughing. “Not literally.”
“Close. You don’t want to know how close.” By now Theo has begun to smile, a lopsided, absinthe-tilted grin. “You size up these dimensions so fast. You hit the ground running. Hell, you got kidnapped by the freakin’ Russian mafia and you escaped on your own!”
“You pried off the metal grid.”
“Okay, you only did ninety-nine percent of it.” He takes a deep breath. “Yeah, you drive me crazy sometimes. But you’re amazing. I think you’re the most incredible person I’ve ever known.”
This conversation feels like it’s going in a direction it maybe shouldn’t go in. So I say, “You’re right. We should go on to the home office, so we can reach the last dimension with Paul.”
“Always Paul. You keep finding him in dimension after dimension. That’s got to be destiny, right?”
“Maybe,” I say, though it’s hard for me to believe in destiny right now.
Theo’s eyes meet mine. “But it seems like you find me almost as often.”
“Yeah. I guess I do.”
Suddenly I want to tell Theo about the pregnancy. Talking it over with someone would help, and he’d understand more of why I’ve been feeling so confused. As I open my mouth, though, Theo puts down the water bottle—sugar cube only halfway dissolved—and takes one of my hands in both of his. “Listen,” he says. “I’m just drunk enough to say this, so I’m going to say it, and then we can move on. Okay?”
Oh no. But I can only answer, “Okay.”
“I love Paul as much as if he’d been born my brother. And—and I think you know by now that I love you too. Not exactly like a sister.”
He holds up one hand, determined to finish. “Hopefully we’re always going to be a part of each other’s lives. You, me, and Paul, all three. If you and Paul work this out, if you end up together, then I’m happy for you. And I’ll be your good buddy Theo forever and ever, et cetera.” Theo takes a deep breath, as if trying to clear his thoughts from the fog of absinthe. Nearby, accordions play and people dance, the hubbub swirling around me and Theo without ever touching us. “But maybe—maybe you and Paul don’t end up together.”
Even two weeks ago, I would have laughed at the idea of Paul and me drifting apart. We were destined, I thought. Fated. Eternal. Now the future stretches before me, blank and unknowable.
Theo speeds up as he gets the final words out. “I’m not the kind of guy who’d try to break up someone else’s relationship, even if the ‘other man’ wasn’t my best friend. And I am one hundred percent positive that you shouldn’t split up with Paul because of what some other guy with his face did in another dimension. But—if that’s not all there is to it, if your relationship with Paul isn’t what you thought it was and you walk away—well. After the so-called ‘decent interval,’ if you think you might be interested . . .” Our eyes meet again, and he smiles, and then his voice breaks. “I know I would be.”
People talk about their heart being torn in two, but I always thought it was a metaphor, no more. But it really feels like that, like something precious at the core of me is being ripped into halves, neither of them complete.
He lifts my hand to his mouth. The brush of his lips against my fingers is featherlight—the ghost of a kiss, over in an instant, and then he lets go.
“That’s enough serious talk for tonight,” Theo says, suddenly glib again. He laughs—too loud and hard to sound real—as he resumes pouring the water over the sugar cube. “See how the absinthe is turning that milky color? Like an opal. That’s how you know it’s ready to drink. Can’t wait to give you your first glass of this stuff.”
“I’m not drinking,” I say.
“Hey, no legal drinking age here. Or if there is one, we’re both over it.”
I just blurt out the words: “I’m pregnant.”
Theo laughs again—but then his face falls as he realizes I’m serious. His jaw drops, and he whispers, “Oh, my God.”
The music and laughter around us seem to taunt me, and all I know is that I want out of here. I push back my chair and return to my guards. “Take me back to the Ritz immediately.”
They begin shepherding me out under the watchful eyes of the elephant. Only once do I glance over my shoulder at Theo, just in time to watch him down the glass of absinthe in one gulp.
THE ENTIRE DRIVE HOME, I TALK TO MYSELF. IT’S NOT LIKE you didn’t know Theo had feelings for you. He’d said so before.
I also argue with myself. Not like that! Theo never laid it out there like that, not even once.
Theo’s confession moved me, but it changes nothing. I hurt for him without longing for him; I love him without wanting to be with him romantically. Even when I reached out for him in London that one night, I just wanted comfort and closeness, and in my drunken grief, sex was the only way I knew to ask for that. His feelings tear me apart inside because they force me to hurt someone I care about so much.
But that’s not the only reason I was so shaken tonight. Not the reason I reacted so strongly to the relationship between the Marguerite and Theo of the Warverse. It’s not that I want to choose Theo instead of Paul—it’s that I’ve seen another choice is possible.
Do Paul and I truly share a destiny in every world, every life? Or is he just one of a thousand potential paths for my life? Theo Beck may be another path, another choice made by Marguerites in other worlds; I understand that now, but my heart still tries to deny it. Paul believes in destiny. I want to believe too.
Even after the blood and the betrayal, the emptiness inside me yearns for Paul. Only Paul.
And the way I told Theo about the pregnancy—could that have been any clumsier? I don’t think so. Not without my actually vomiting or something. At the time I felt like I had to say something, anything, to change the subject from Theo’s confession. Well, it worked.