Élucide: part seven
They scurried apart; Sarah down the stairs, and Élucide, after swiping at the glass with her sleeve, up.
She stood silent on the hall runner, then began to tip-toe, coaching herself. She need only, if caught, make a convincing excuse. Why would she not be heading for the window at the other end of the hall, to see whether Isa had come back? He would come back, sooner or later, and his appearance would be the proof…ironclad proof for a feather-light dispute (though she could not imagine Jerome disputing this). Élucide crept past her own room. She was grateful for Sarah, so anxious she might have taken longer than she ought, and that Mother, entertaining guests, might need her, she had not wanted to climb a single uncalled-for step.
She thought they had, all of them, left the table at the first decent minute after Ebrach’s ushering of Jerome from the dining room. And since she had not seen Ebrach in the downstairs hall or crossed him on the landing, he must remain in Jerome’s room. She doubted she could have missed him.
Stopping, cocking an ear, she listened, moving forward. Ebrach’s voice came to her, not in words, but in beats that grew louder, culminating in audible speech, just as Élucide reached for the knob.
The door swung open, and she felt a small displacement of air. He had turned the knob on his own side silently, in the way of a solicitous friend; his scent, and words, flowed outwards.
“Be discreet in what you choose to say, Jerome.”
He faced her then, holding her eyes as though to charm her against making false claims. But she trusted Ebrach; to be alone with him in a dim hallway did not scare her in the least.
“Ah, Miss Élucide, you are thoughtful. I had not myself considered it.”
He raised a forefinger, the gesture telling her: “Wait a moment.” Ebrach stepped into the room. She could hear distinctly his end of the exchange. “Well, Jerome, you must try the treatment. If you find it gives no relief, or if you feel chilled, then you will have the sense to lay the ice bag aside.”
Of course. She’d had it in her hand; this had been Ebrach’s interpretation. Now he stepped into the hall, revealing in his wake, Jerome.
“Pour vous, monsieur.”
That―exercising her French―had been yielding to a rather disrespectable whim. He might find her pert. But Jerome said, “Mademoiselle, vous êtes très gentille. Je vous remercie.”
He accepted with his right hand her unintended offering, and with his left, caught hers before she had withdrawn it, bowed over and kissed it lightly, releasing her fingers as he retreated. He then closed his door.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)