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The irony was that Emily had believed death to be on her side.

She knew before she turned to look, some prehistoric instinct raising the hair on her neck: the footstep in the doorway wasn't Arvin's. "Laura," the name left her mouth before she could remember that this wasn't Laura, perhaps had never been Laura, but really what was Emily supposed to call her? Irina? Ms. Derevko? Some other alias altogether? It was a ridiculous problem. "Come in," she said, to cover the awkward pause, and went back to the vase to slide the last of the irises into its place and dry her hands on the towel. It was an effort to fold the towel again and put it down, to stand there with her hands empty and not twist them together.

It helped that this woman did not move like Laura. Laura had been graceful, but never predatory; Sydney's coltish moments must have come from Jack. I have had something of yours, as well--the thought made Emily lift her chin and meet the other woman's gaze.

Not-Laura paced the room, pausing to lift a bowl, to finger the material of the heavy curtains. "Lovely," she murmured.

Whatever his flaws, Emily thought, Arvin had always had excellent taste. Perhaps it wouldn't be the most tactful thing to say aloud. And the room was lovely: soft shapes and deep earthy colors, a reflection of what Arvin saw when he looked at her. If Emily felt herself to be sharper and lighter, hollowed out and honed from the wind blowing off the Pacific, that could be her own secret.

Laura stopped at the french doors and stood staring out at the terrace. "Will you be happy living in Italy?"

"What?" Emily said, and then, resting her hands on the table for support, "Why not?"

Laura turned around to look at her--but that mouth, that strange half-smile, had never been Laura's. "You must have left friends behind in Los Angeles."

"Recently, most of my friends have been made in the hospital," Emily said. That usually put an end to any line of questioning, but not-Laura continued to stare. It had been so long that Emily could hardly remember the person she'd been the summer before Laura's death, all laughter and curves and ignorance. Laura had been quiet and dreaming, absorbed in her intellectual world and her daughter.

If this was no longer Laura, well, perhaps she was no longer that Emily.

"I suppose so," Laura said. "And it is very beautiful here. Arvin," she added, so casually that Emily couldn't suppress a gasp, "loves you very much."

I hope so and hysterical laughter wouldn't do. "He does," she answered. Enough to give up his world for her, and if he'd done it once he might do it again.

"He relies on you," she continued. Irina. Emily could see her now as Irina.

"He does," Emily answered again. He always had; her doubts about whether he always would had more to do with herself than Arvin.

The smile Irina gave her might have been meant to be friendly, to be Laura's. "He is doing all of this for you."

And so, the knife slipped in. It wasn't the truth, not all the truth, and really, she wondered, how stupid did Irina think she was? Or was she meant to understand the warning in all its depth? "And you?" she asked, "Who are you doing it for?" Irina paused a moment. Did you think you were the only one who understood pain? Emily thought.

Then the moment was over. "I have a daughter," she said.

"Does Sydney want your help?"

Now Irina's smile was like an earthquake and Emily struggled to keep her breath in her lungs where it belonged and her heart from shifting into some new, empty space. She had guessed wrong: there was some other secret here, some other betrayal. Some other... No. "Sydney will understand," was all Irina said, the implication better than you ever will left hanging between them.

Emily turned back to the vase and focused on the fleshy stems held there; the flowers smelled like death. There had been lilies at Laura's funeral, dozens and dozens of them, covering a coffin she had thought as empty as her own. Not death, she told herself--the smell was earth, life. The blood and shit no amount of perfume or disinfectant could really cover. Let Irina hide herself in mirrors and secrets: Emily had learned what was real.

If only what was real were what mattered.

She could no longer see the smile on Irina's face, but she knew it hadn't changed.

 

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