Zidler was waiting for Aria once she arrived for her fitting. He was a man in his mid-fifties now, but he had spent his life building up the Moulin Rouge into what it is now: a house of pleasure. His hair was now white and very curly, reminding Aria since her younger years of a sheep. It was well-kempt. His smile was genuine and small wrinkles near his eyes would appear anytime he laughed. It was a joke around the women of the Moulin Rouge that M. Zidler spent an awful amount of time around the women since he put makeup on, too. But it was only to make his face seem far more pleasant in the heavy lights around the stage of the Moulin Rouge.
Aria had been so nervous she didn’t eat much over the last week. Her fitting was quick and easy, a small mercy given to the woman. As soon as the seamstress left, Zidler motioned for her to accompany him back to her room.
"I know you must be very nervous and excited for your debut, Aria," he said, "but there is nothing to worry about. Whichever client pays for your company will already know you're...inexperienced. They will not expect much of you but to lay there and moan. That's it."
Aria blushed at the thought.
"I know this is not the life you wanted to live," Zidler continued, "but it's not a bad life. Men will be eager to meet you and give you presents. Someday you may even become a Mistress to one of the more elite gentlemen. You are young. You have life yet to live! Just endure this now and the world shall yet be your oyster." Aria and Zidler had walked to the door of her new room. "I promise this is the start of a wonderful beginning for you." Zidler kissed her forehead as the doting father he pretended to be.
"Monsieur Zidler?" Aria breathed.
"What is it?"
“May I go to the bakery? Philip offered to take me today; he wanted to treat me."
"That would be fine, my dear. Have fun, but please be back soon. You will want to rest up before your big debut."
Zidler was not a possessive man regarding the women he used as courtesans. Protective, perhaps. With the newer courtesans—the younger ones—Zidler had a strict rule about their wanderings: never go alone. Too many young women had their innocence taken against their will. Others became ridiculed and belittled. The older women experienced it all before, but not the younger ones. They could only go out during the day and only when accompanied by another person from the Moulin Rouge. Or a family member, should any of the courtesans actually have someone they could call family.
But Ariadne wasn't like most in the Moulin Rouge’s employ. She was far luckier. Though she never knew her father, she had her mother, Simone, by her side. Over the years she had become friends with maids and cooks and even the florist down the street.
Philip, too. The man walking down the street side of the lane was her best friend. He was the reason she could take no one up on the offer to be an apprentice some place. But she kept trying to deny that truth.
As children, he would treat her to a pastry, some tea or cocoa, and they would sit and talk as long as they could. As children they talked about any—and every—subject that piqued their interest, pretending they were socialites or business people.
Aria's hands rested around the porcelain cup filled with black tea. Her posture straight; rigid. Those blue gems fixated on the liquid in her cup. Philip sat across from her far more relaxed. His back sank into the chair and he rested one ankle on his knee. He sipped his coffee.
"The other stagehands wanted me to say, 'break a leg' for them. They're all excited for you," Philip said.
"That's so sweet. Send them my thanks when you see them."
"Personally, I think they're just excited because we'll get a decent meal tonight, but..."
Aria chuckled. "It's fine. I would be, too, if I were them. I hope it's a good meal."
"Me, too." Philip took another sip of coffee, falling quiet.
Aria took a sip of her tea before cupping it once more. "I should apologize, Philip. I know I haven't been a good friend recently. The debut...has consumed a lot of my thoughts. Will you forgive me?"
"You're not the only one at fault. I—" Philip eyed a couple passing them with disapproving glances. Once they passed, he continued. "I may have been avoiding you..."
"Oh," Aria dropped her eyes to her tea. "I suppose it's one thing to be friends with a maid and another thing to remain friends with—"
"That's not it. You know that." Philip's gaze was hard and once it captured her eyes Aria could not look away. "It has nothing to do with that. I..." his eyes wandered towards the street so he could collect his thoughts. "We've been friends for so long it's hard to see you becoming one of them."
"It's not like I want to be like Mother or the other women. I don't have a choice."
"You do," he said bitterly, "you're just choosing the easy way."
Anger surged into Aria's chest.
"I would expect that from Mother or even Zidler, but not from you, Philip." With what little money she had to her name, she placed enough to pay for her own items before storming off away from the bakery and Moulin Rouge.
Mingling with her own steps, Aria could hear Philip‘s behind her. It didn't matter if she tried to run away, he would follow her. Going back without her would be bad. Terrible for them both. But she put him out of her thoughts now. The outings she had with him comprised walking to the bakery and back. That was it.
Time to explore.
Turning down one street and then another nothing looked familiar at all. But it was a street full of new shops. There was a bookstore, a seamstress, someone who could repair clocks—she couldn't quite remember the term—and a stationary store, too. It was very quaint. Around the corner from that was a small park.
The park only comprised a pond with a walking path around it, but there were a lot of flowers in bloom this time of year. She could see willow trees and trees she didn't know the names of. Ducks swam in the pond and she swore she could spot a turtle resting on a log in the middle. It was peaceful and serene.
Glancing over her shoulder Philip disappeared.
Good, she thought, at least I can have time alone. Nodding to herself, Aria strolled along the path circling the pond. There were other couples walking around and she could hear children off somewhere teasing the birds. The anger was dissipating from being in such a place. It felt safe. It felt like she had been here before, but she knew it wasn't true. This was her first time here.
Gentlemen tipped their hats and young women gave a small bow as Aria passed them, so she bowed back. Certainly, the gentlemen paying for her company would not care for such gestures within the Moulin Rouge.
I may not have any choice in who I am given to tonight, but I can always control how I act. Act. An act. That's all it is, isn't it? An act? I can play any part I want. So I want to play the part of the heroine; the woman who isn't afraid. The confident woman. Yes. I want to be that person. I may give my body to some complete stranger, but it will be on my own terms. And I will be discriminate of my future companions.
"Are you all right?" A man's voice broke through her thoughts so clearly, Aria jumped and gave a silent shriek. When her eyes settled on a man wearing a nice suit, she put her hand to her heart and took a deep breath to calm her nerves. "I'm so sorry for startling you," he chuckled, "I noticed you were just staring at the water. Is everything all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine, thank you. Just lost in thought." Aria gave a small chuckle of relief nodding. She gave another quick glance behind her, but Philip was still nowhere to found.
"I'm glad that's all it was, Miss...?"
"Miss Ariadne. Such a beautiful name for an equally beautiful woman. Pierre Andreu." He extended a hand towards her. Aria extended her own hand, amazed at how he kissed the back of her hand without a second thought.
Aria hadn't met many men outside the Moulin Rouge, but she thought him charming; inviting. Pierre Andreu was not an unattractive man, though Aria noticed the small, subtle streak of gray along the right side of his chestnut colored hair. He seemed to be so young, but that small bit of gray had her wondering his age.
It didn’t matter.
“Thank you." Aria smiled taking her hand back.
"What brings a young woman out here alone on a beautiful sunny day? Do you walk here often?"
"Oh goodness, no," she blurted, “I…I wanted to explore the city a little today. It's gorgeous here."
"It is." Pierre shifted his weight, spinning on the balls of his feet to face the direction she was facing. "May I join you on your walk?" Aria took another look over her shoulder. Before she could answer, Pierre added, "Or are you meeting someone here?"
"I don't mind." They walked along the trail. Aria laced her fingers together behind her as they walked. “I had an argument with a friend of mine. I stormed off, which was dumb, and I think he left. Or he's spying. Neither would surprise me."
"That's unfortunate to hear. I hope you can reconcile things with him."
They walked in silence, but it didn't bother Aria in the least. When they came to the start of the path again, they stopped.
"Thank you for walking with me," Pierre said, checking his watch. "I'm afraid I do have business to attend, but I hope to see you again soon." He gave a small kiss to her cheek. "Will you be able to find your way back?"
Aria gave a small smile and nodded, giving her thanks. Pierre walked a block down the street before turning right. Aria waited for a moment before navigating back through the streets to the bakery where Philip was impatiently pacing back and forth, checking his watch.
Philip would not let Aria alone for a moment as they walked back to the Moulin Rouge. He tried striking up a conversation, but she didn't respond to him at all. He had seen the error of his speech, but he couldn't say such harsh things and have it all forgiven so readily. Not to mention, she was contemplating what she wanted to do with her first client, other than just sleep with him, and letting her mind go back to the pleasant walk with Pierre Andreu. She, indeed, hoped their paths would cross again so she could ask him the questions that formed unspoken in her mind.
"Are you even listening?” Philip asked. “Aria!?”
Philip sighed. "Never mind then."
They were already walking through the corridors to her room. "Thank you for the outing, Philip," Aria said flatly.
Philip shoved his hands into his pockets. "You know, I was looking forward to this; to catching up with you again since we haven't done that in a long time. But...are we even friends anymore?"
“Of course we are, Philip. No matter what, we will be friends. But things are a lot different now than they've ever been before. We're not children anymore. And I don't want things to change between us, but they will; I know they will. Maybe I'm more naive than I thought, but...I have always hoped we would stay friends for life."
A pained expression came to Philip's face, but it vanished seconds later. He nodded. "Good—uh, break a leg, I guess." Before Aria could utter another word, Philip left.
A pang of loneliness came to her heart. She forced it away. "No time for that; I have a show to do."