Riding back to the Moulin Rouge with Madeline was filled with more tension than when she debuted for the world. Usually, Madeline was wont to chat about where they would be going or what they had seen, but she was silent as the grave. Aria knew exactly why and yet found she didn’t particularly care. For the first time, Aria didn’t care what someone thought of her. Nothing serious had transpired and Pierre would understand that. She knew it.
When the carriage stopped, Madeline didn’t even offer to escort her back to her room. She simply watched Aria clear the gate before the carriage pulled away.
“Good,” Aria muttered before entering her home. There was so much activity through the halls, Aria opted to travel through some of the other corridors winding around the outskirts of the brothel. She and Philip spent so many days wandering these halls as much to be familiar with them as to get away from prying eyes. Growing up here always meant having little to no privacy, but there were ways of minimizing the spread of information. There were always ways to lose a nosy maid or a busy parent or avoid Zidler’s ever-wandering eye.
Aria returned to the sanctity of her room. With no clients to worry about she could have space when she wanted it. There were many unspoken rules Aria suddenly appreciated. No men would disturb her so late, except Pierre, but he wouldn’t return until the next morning at the soonest. And the maids that might see her would have come much earlier, while she was out, to organize and tidy her space. She had no company, so she would have no tea to replenish.
Learning to undress alone from clothing that increasingly required a maid had taken practice, but it had been worth it. Aria returned the dress to her armoire, dressed in a nightgown, and wrapped blankets around herself before heading to the roof. Even if Philip couldn’t make it, she would enjoy the scenery. The door opened as easily as ever and Aria stepped through and closed it behind her. Philip was waiting for her, already sitting in their favorite spot.
“I thought you had to work tonight?” Aria said.
“I did.” Philip rubbed the back of his neck. “Gerald’s feeling better, so he agreed to cover part of my shift so he could recover the wages he lost. So here I am.”
Aria draped a blanket around them both, piling another on top. “I’m glad Gerald’s better. How has the night been?”
“Busy as usual. Ever since your debut we’ve had more and more men showing up. Wouldn’t surprise me if—” Philip shot a glance to his friend and shook his head. “Uh, never mind.”
Aria smiled. “It’s okay. I wouldn’t be surprised either.”
Philip let his head hang back to watch the skies. It would rain soon enough. Dark clouds already hovered over the city, it was just a matter of time. “So. Where did you go tonight?”
“I saw an opera. Oh, Philip, someday I want to take you. It was so wonderful!”
Philip shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know…”
“Even if all you cared to see was the architecture or the woodworking, it would be worth it. And the paintings were spectacular, too.”
“If it were purely to see art and those types of things, I think I’d like it. I’m not sure about the singing part.”
Aria laughed. “I promise you, the singing is outstanding. The entire room stood and clapped for them when they were done. That’s a very big deal.”
Philip knew that as much as she did. The “performances” they had been accustomed to didn’t usually get a standing ovation. But many dreamed of it happening some day in the far off future when they were both long gone from here.
“I even got to see an acquaintance of mine, too, though Monsieur Andreu’s maid wasn’t too happy about it.”
“Why were you with his maid?” Philip turned to face her more fully, clearly interesting in this part of the story.
“He’s out of town. His maid has been accompanying me to various outings in his absence. She was nice the first day or so, but tonight I believe I pushed her too far by inviting said acquaintance to sit with us.” She waved her hand as if it could wave away the topic. “What’s done is done. I have no regrets over it.”
They fell silent again, letting the ambient noise of Paris fill the space between them.
“Aria…about last time…I, uh…” His mouth opened and closed several times, but he still didn’t know how to say what he thought.
“Don’t worry about it. I never said anything to Pierre. We didn’t…we didn’t do anything to feel ashamed of, so…”
“Maybe it would be best if we didn’t meet alone anymore.”
Aria snapped her head to look at him. “What did you say?” Her voice wavered just slightly.
“I’m just saying that maybe it would be a better idea to visit at the bakery or something like we used to.”
“We used to meet up here more.” Aria shook her head. “Why?”
You know why…
Philip raked his hand through his hair. “Did the maid get pissy about an acquaintance because she has no manners? Or because that acquaintance happened to be a man?”
“I never said—”
“You didn’t have to.” Philip sighed. “I know I’ve met him and everything, and he seems really nice, but…I still don’t want him to get the wrong impression.”
Aria sat back and looked away. “The wrong impression,” she muttered. The feeling of Philip’s lips so close to hers came back for a moment. “I’ve been open and honest with him, just as I have with you. He knows we meet here to talk and as far as I know he doesn’t care.”
“You said naught three minutes ago you never told him I tried to kiss you. So what if he finds out that nearly happened while we met here to talk. He would care. A lot.”
“He would never hurt me,” Aria said.
“You don’t know that,” Philip countered. “You’ve known him, what, ten days?”
“Fine.” Aria stood and wrapped a blanket around herself again. “I get it, Philip.”
“Aria,” Philip called after her. “Come back!”
Aria slammed the door behind her as she went back to her room. She could hear it open and close behind her, Philip hot on her heels. She didn’t bother closing her bedroom door because he would have just barged in anyway.
“Why do you do that, Aria? Why do you run away whenever you get upset? You’ve never let me do that, so why should I let you?” He shut the door, but didn’t take another step inside.
Aria tossed the blanket onto her bed before spinning around to face him. “Leave me alone, Philip. I heard you, loud and clear, that you don’t want to meet on the roof anymore. So fine. We won’t. Maybe we shouldn’t worry about meeting at the bakery, either, so no one gets the wrong impression. I’d hate to ruin your reputation.”
The words were out before she could stop them. And once they were out she couldn’t put them back. All she could do was stare at Philip as her words registered; watch as their implications nestled deep into his mind. His eyes started to water just slightly as the damage of her words fully registered.
Aria shook her head. “I didn’t mean that,” she whispered. “Philip I—”
Philip held up a hand so she could see his palm. “Don’t.” The word was as clipped as his aching heart. “Just don’t.” He turned to the door and pulled it open. “I hope he makes you happy.” Philip slipped out of the room and silently closed the door behind him.
Aria sank to the floor and cried.