Over against a long row of windows, Ernest began parading back and forth in a dark blue military cape someone had dug up. When he turned, the cape lifted and flared dramatically.
"That's quite a costume," I said.
"He's a war hero, didn't he tell you?"
I shook my head.
"I'm sure he'll get to it eventually." Her face didn't give anything away, but her voice had an edge.
"He told me he used to pine for you."
"Really?" There was the tone again. "He's clearly over it now."
I didn't know what had come between these two old friends, but whatever it was, it was obviously complicated and well under wraps. I let it drop.
"I like to think I'm the kind of girl who'll drink anything," I said, "but maybe not from a shoe."
"Right. Let's hunt something up." She smiled and flashed her green eyes at me, and became my Kate again, not grim at all, and off we went to get very drunk and very merry.
I found myself watching for Ernest the rest of the night, waiting for him to appear and stir things up, but he didn't. He must have slipped away at some point. One by one nearly everyone did, so that by 3:00 a.m. the party had been reduced to dregs, with Little Fever as the tragic centerpiece. He was passed out on the davenport with long dark wool socks stretched over his face and his hat perched on his crossed feet.
"To bed, to bed," Kate said with a yawn.
"Is that Shakespeare?"
"I don't know. Is it?" She hiccuped, and then laughed. "I'm off to my own little hovel now. Will you be all right here?"
"Of course. Kenley's made up a lovely room for me." I walked her to the door, and as she sidled into her coat, we made a date for lunch the next day.
"You'll have to tell me all about things at home. We haven't had a moment to talk about your mother. It must have been awful for you, poor creatch."
"Talking about it will only make me sad again," I said. "But this is perfect. Thanks for begging me to come."
"I worried you wouldn't."
"Me too. Fonnie said it was too soon."
"Yes, well, she would say that. Your sister can be smart about some things, Hash, but about you, nearly never."
I gave her a grateful smile and said good night. Kenley's apartment was warrenlike and full of boarders, but he'd given me a large and very clean room, with a four-poster bed and a bureau. I changed into my nightdress then took down my hair and brushed it, sorting through the highlights of the evening. No matter how much fun I'd had with Kate or how good it was to see her after all these years, I had to admit that number one on my list of memorable events was dancing with Ernest Hemingway. I could still feel his brown eyes and his electric, electrifying energy--but what had his attentions meant? Was he babysitting me, as Kate's old friend? Was he still gone on Kate? Was she in love with him? Would I even see him again?
My mind was suddenly such a hive of unanswerable questions that I had to smile at myself. Wasn't this exactly what I had wanted coming to Chicago, something new to think about? I turned to face the mirror over the bureau. Hadley Richardson was still there, with her auburn waves and thin lips and pale round eyes--but there was something new, too, a glimmer of potential. It was just possible the sun was on its way. In the meantime, I would hum Nora Bayes and do my damnedest to make believe.
The next morning, I walked into the kitchen to find Ernest leaning lazily against the refrigerator, reading the morning newspaper and devouring half a loaf of bread.
"Did you sleep here?" I asked, unable to mask my surprise at seeing him.
"I'm boarding here. Just for a while, until things take off for me."
"What do you mean to do?"
"Make literary history, I guess."
"Gee," I said, impressed all over again by his confidence and conviction. You couldn't fake that. "What are you working on now?"
Excerpted from The Paris Wife by Paula McLain Copyright © 2011 by Paula McLain. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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