Twentieth Century

I don't belong here. The thought crossed Beth's mind as she stood in the chill November dusk, gazing into the shop window. Warm light glinted off the glittering treasures from another age and reflected in her face. The jewels were mostly fake, colored glass and rhinestones. Still, their whispers of the past drew Beth like magnets, made her heart beat a little faster, her eyes shine.

The awning offered some protection from the sleet that was the weather's latest unpleasant phase, but the slush had already seeped under the soles of her boots. At home there would be snow, pure glistening white blanketing the fields as far as the horizon. Here the days were dank and soot-gray, the dampness streaking the old buildings like tears.

A dark figure bundled in wool pushed past her, nearly impaling her with his umbrella. He didn't stop to apologize. She heard the shrill cry of his cell phone as he hurried off down the sidewalk. She sighed.

A different place. A different time. Her novel, the one she had come here to write, was set in medieval Provence. Perhaps she should have gone to France instead, but Greenwich Village was quite far enough away from home.

Her English teacher had raved about New York, told her that anyone serious about becoming an author just had to be there. He had kindled her imagination with his tales of Art Deco towers and stately brownstone mansions. A far cry from her dingy one-room apartment, with its cracked washbasin and stained ceiling.

Beth turned her attention back to the window. She passed this little shop on Morton Street every day on her way home from the cafe. "Twentieth Century" read the awning. "Vintage and Costume Jewelry". The store itself was tucked away below street level in a time-worn nineteenth century townhouse. She had never been inside, but she often paused to admire the arrangements behind the plate glass.

The displays changed every week. Whoever was responsible for them had an exquisite sense of taste. In someone else's hands, the merchandise, miscellaneous in the extreme, might have looked like a collection of junk. Instead, each window arrangement was a work of art. Beads, broaches, bracelets, jewel-encrusted hatpins and earrings dripping with pearls, heavy plastic bangles from the fifties and delicate Edwardian filigree, all mingled harmoniously, arrayed on crumpled velvet or spread against a backdrop of chiffon.

To offset the jewels, the designer might add a hat, a satin cloche or fur pillbox or wide-brimmed felt with an ostrich feather. There might be a pair of elbow-length kid gloves, carelessly draped over a beaded evening bag, as if in preparation for an evening on the town. Or a silver brush and hand mirror, the tarnished monogram unreadable but suggesting long-vanished luxury.

Each window arrangement used a different range of colors. Last week, Beth remembered, roses and purples had dominated, amethyst and garnet and perhaps even some rubies. This week the display was in shades of green, from citrine to emerald.

All at once Beth noticed the necklace. The chain flowed like liquid light over its black velour background. The rectangular pendant had a simple geometric design, brushed silver inlaid with some intricately patterned, green-veined stone. Inside her gloves, her palms tingled. She had an almost overwhelming urge to touch the lovely piece, to hold it in her hands.

It would make a perfect Christmas gift for Mom, she thought, making her way down the steps to the basement level. She knew that this did not explain her excitement. Her hand trembled a bit as she pulled open the heavy wooden door. A bell jingled, seemingly far away. She closed the door behind her, shutting out the wind and the damp. Inside, it was dim, warm, very still. There was a faint, comforting odor: lavender, rose petals, old leather. Beth looked around her. The crowded, low-ceilinged room appeared to be empty.

Several sconces with etched glass shades lit the interior of the shop. The golden light flickered on the cases lining the walls, shelf after shelf of out-moded finery.

Beth wandered from one display to the next, aching to touch the beauty locked inside them. She felt uncomfortably warm. Shrugging off her bulky parka, she laid it over the ladder-back of a chair piled with old fur pieces.

"Lovely piece, isn't it?" The softness of the voice did not hide its intensity.

Lost in admiration of a many-stranded choker of creamy pearl, Beth didn't realize that she was not alone. She whirled around, startled.

"It's from the fifties, a copy of a necklace worn by Bette Davis in 'All About Eve'."

Beth found herself looking into a pair of pale blue eyes behind wire-framed spectacles. Something flickered briefly in those eyes, some passion incongruous with the narrow face, the thinning, sandy hair, the old-fashioned black suit and bow tie. She blushed, as though she had been caught gazing at something forbidden.

The man had a fleshy mouth, partly hidden under a dandified little mustache. He smiled at her, politeness masking the strangeness she had glimpsed in those sapphire eyes.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. That's one of my favorite items; I'm afraid I sometimes allow myself to get carried away."

"It's beautiful," Beth managed to say. "Actually, though, I was interested in the geometric pendant in the window."

"The malachite and silver? An Art Deco masterpiece. Fashioned some time in late 'teens, probably for the daughter of some baron of industry. Would you like a closer look? Allow me get it for you."

No, never mind, Beth wanted to tell him, I'm sure it's too expensive. Somehow she couldn't get the words out. Some odd nervousness gripped her. Her heart slammed against her ribs. She was hot and cold simultaneously, sweat trickling down between her breasts while chills ran up her spine.

She watched his slight figure as he reached into the window and retrieved the necklace. He could have been anywhere between forty and sixty. He moved with a kind of grace that men didn't seem to have anymore. She could imagine him waltzing, bowing from the waist, kissing a woman's hand. Her cheeks were burning, her earlobes swollen with blood. Perhaps she was coming down with a fever.

"Here you are, my dear." She extended her hand, open, and he draped the chain across her fingers. The pendant nestled in her palm, gleaming, perfect. A pang of longing shot through her.

"Would you like to try it on?" the shopkeeper asked softly. "I'm sure it would suit you."

She met his eyes again for a moment, then looked away embarrassed. Her nod was almost imperceptible.

"Come with me into the back room. There's a mirror there, and more - privacy." When he took the necklace from her and led the way through dusty brocade curtains, she couldn't help but follow.

The back room was even more crowded than the front. There was an old chaise upholstered in blue velvet that had seen better days, an upright piano, a grandfather clock. Against the back wall was a full-length oval pier glass in a carved mahogany frame. Beth stared at her reflection, amazed at how flushed she looked. Her brown eyes were so dilated that she could hardly see the iris. A brief wave of dizziness took her. Must be the flu, she thought. I should get home.

The proprietor was standing behind her, watching her watch herself. Now he reached forward, positioning the chain around her neck. Just as he was about to fasten the clasp, he stopped.

"You know," he said, "your neck and shoulders should really be bare. To get the full effect. The girl for whom this was made would have been wearing a dress with spaghetti straps."

He took the necklace away, and Beth ached with loss. She was wearing a black turtleneck and black jeans, the neo-bohemian uniform of Moretti's Cafe where she spent her afternoons dispensing espresso and pastries. The jeweler's eyes locked with hers in the mirror. He smiled, encouraging her, a kind, cultured smile completely at odds with the danger she saw flickering in his eyes. He raised the necklace so that she could see it in the mirror, dangling it so that it caught the light. Tempting her.

Beth pulled her jersey up over her head and tossed it onto the chaise. She felt reckless and giddy. Beneath her shirt, she wore a plain white cotton bra.

The air stirred as the shopkeeper came closer, once again arranging the necklace at her throat. The silver was cool and heavy against her bare skin. His fingers were cool and delicate as he fastened the clasp at the back of her neck. Her body flared in response to the coolness, a heat that began between her thighs and traveled to her modestly-hidden breasts. Her nipples tightened into rigid beads of aching flesh. She could see it happen, even through the cotton, and the shameless fact of it made her hotter still.

"Exquisite," the man murmured, close enough that his breath stirred the strands of hair that had strayed from her barrette. His hands hovered above her shoulders, tracing their shape without touching her. The silver chain gleamed against her paleness; the malachite winked like a green eye in the hollow of her throat. "Too lovely for words." His palms drifted down along her bare arms, a fraction of an inch from her skin. Beth stood transfixed, holding her breath. If she moved, those long, graceful fingers might brush against her. Now he shaped his hands around her breasts, modeling their shape. She felt his presence, the ghost of a caress, in the pressure of the air, in some vibration of energy that seemed to flow from his fingers to her flesh across that brief gap.

She wanted more, wanted his skin on hers, wanted to experience the fire he hid behind those glasses. But he was very careful, and she did not dare make the first move herself.

This was so different from anything she had known. At the cafe, Carlos the cook flirted with her, patting her behind, letting his arm brush against her chest when they passed in the narrow kitchen doorway. He made her nervous and angry. When she objected, he just grinned at her, arrogantly assuming that she'd give in to him eventually. He even teased her about being a virgin.

Carlos had no grace, no finesse. He was a product of his time.

This man was a different story. Yes, that was it, Beth was sure that this man could tell some rich tales, stories of passion and tragedy and heart-breaking beauty.

Suddenly, he moved his hands away. Her form still vibrated with memories of his non-touch. Mortified, she realized that there was a damp stain visible in the crotch of her jeans. The shopkeeper, though, was still looking into her eyes.

"I believe that I have some earrings that match the necklace. Shall I go get them?" Beth did not move, hardly breathed, but he saw her answer in her eyes. He disappeared between the curtains. Beth was immobile. It was as if he had bound her there, enchanted, with some glamour compounded of nostalgia and desire.

I should be getting home, Beth thought shakily, just as the shopkeeper returned, holding two silver and green rectangles suspended on short silver chains. She wanted them immediately, wanted to reach for them, but his voice held her still.

"Allow me, my dear." Now his sensitive fingers were on her earlobe, the wire probing the hole there, a sliver of pain transformed into shimmering arousal as he slightly misjudged the angle. He was generally skillful, though. In a few moments, the earrings swung from her ears like sparks of green fire.

She looked gorgeous, glamorous, someone other than her everyday, practical midwestern self. If I saw this woman, she thought, I would want her. Her nipples throbbed, painfully constrained by the fabric of her brassiere, and she realized that the mundane garment really spoiled the effect.

Almost as if he had read her thoughts, she felt the shopkeeper working at the hooks behind her back. "With your permission..." he murmured. But he did not wait for her agreement. In the space of a half-dozen heartbeats, her breasts were naked to her eyes, and to his.

He licked those full lips of his. She silently prayed for his hands again, for him to bring those elegant fingers closer to her flesh, even if he would not touch her. Instead, he stood there gazing at her, hands clenched into fists as though he was fighting with himself.

"Something is lacking, I think," he finally whispered. Rummaging in an armoire against one wall, he came up with a headband of beaded black satin. Gently, he slipped it onto Beth's forehead. He allowed himself to stroke her hair briefly, before pulling himself away.

A scarlet feather hovered rakishly above her brow. It changed her look from elegant to mischievously seductive. Beth suddenly felt brave. She turned to face him, her bare breasts swelling inches from his chest. "What do you think?" she asked. He was silent. She raised her arms above her head, offering him her achingly hard nipples. Do you want me? she longed to say. Will you take me? But even now, she didn't dare.

He leaned toward her, and for a moment she thought he would give her what she desired. Instead, he brushed his lips against her cheek. They were as cool as his fingers. "I think that it's time for you to go home, miss. It's late, and I have to close the shop."

Crushed, Beth searched his eyes, trying to understand why he didn't want her. He wouldn't meet her gaze, though. He turned and handed back her bra, then made his way to the front of the store. Beth dressed slowly, aroused and confused, trying to understand what had happened.

When she emerged into the front room, all the lights but one were out. He was wearing a rusty black wool topcoat. He held the door for her, still the consummate gentleman, then locked up the shop behind them. "Have a good evening, miss," he murmured. Then he turned and strode off toward MacDougall Street, leaving Beth marooned on the sidewalk, aching and alone.

She stayed awake until four AM that night, writing. Her heroine, a nobleman's daughter who flees her home dressed as a boy in order to avoid being sent to a convent, seemed to have a mind of her own. When she finally slept, her dreams were laced with jazz, shimmering fringe, and pale bare skin.

For the next ten days, she took a different route home, avoiding Morton Street. However, she thought about the shopkeeper constantly. Carlos kidded her about her distracted state, asking her if she had fallen in love. There was an edge in his voice, though, that made her wonder if he was jealous.

Thanksgiving came and went. Beth didn't have nearly enough money to go home for the holiday. I'll see the family at Christmas, she told herself. She realized that she had never asked the cost of the Art Deco pendant, then tried to put the thought out of her mind. More than I can afford, she assured herself. At least until my book is published and I'm rich and famous. That reminded her of Twentieth Century, too, the repository of the glories of other gilded ages. She dreamed of faceless men in black suits and white gloves. She dreamed she waltzed at a grand ball, naked but for the diamonds at her throat, in her ears, bound into her hair.

Finally, she could stand it no longer. On a Tuesday night, she headed down the slippery sidewalk toward Morton Street. It had snowed that afternoon, a dusting that was already hardening into gray, gritty ice.

The window was blue: sapphire and lapis, aquamarine glass and powderblue porcelain. A wedgewood cameo and matching earrings held the center of the display, replicas, most likely, of Victorian pieces. Beth caught her breath at the sight. Yes, she thought, those will do nicely. Her heart pounding, she pulled open the door and stepped into the dim, welcoming interior.

The proprietor appeared almost immediately, summoned by the bell. His eyes flickered with recognition, but he spoke formally, pretending not to know her. "Good afternoon, miss," he said. His low, nuanced voice sent a delicious chill through her body. "How can I help you?"

Beth smiled at him, trying to be encouraging. "In the window. There's a lovely cameo set. Necklace and earrings."

"Ah yes." He smiled back, unable to disguise his enthusiasm. "Turn of the century. Last century," he added with a little laugh. "A wonderful find. It would suit you perfectly."

"May I try them on?" Beth asked. She could scarcely breathe from nervousness. A part of her was aghast at her audacity. Without waiting for answer, she sauntered toward the curtained archway.

The shopkeeper's expression was impossible to read. He nodded. "I'll bring them in."

Alone in the back room, Beth stripped out of her black skirt and blouse, panties and bra. Wearing only her boots, she stood facing the mirror, watching the reflection of the draped doorway behind her.

He made her wait. Or perhaps he was reluctant to take up her challenge. The sound of her own heart drowned out any noise she might have heard from the front of the shop. As the minutes passed, her confidence ebbed away. She gazed at her naked form, all gentle curves and creamy flesh, and wondered vaguely what she was doing here.

Her body knew, though. The swollen nubs tipping her breasts, the rapid pulse beating in her neck, the trace of dampness in the warm brown curls below her belly - the truth was obvious. Then there was the ache between her thighs, which she tried unsuccessfully to ignore. Desire and fear fought within her, the balance swinging from one to the other and back as the grandfather clock ticked off the seconds.

Finally, she saw the brocade curtains stir. The shopkeeper entered, the earrings cupped in one palm, the necklace in the other. His eyes flared when he caught sight of her, but the rest of his face remained bland and controlled as he came up beside her.

"Here you are, miss." He held out the jewels.

"Would you put them on for me, please?" Beth was shaking with excitement.

The man hesitated for several breaths. Then he nodded, an odd half-smile ghosting across his lips. "Of course, miss. It would be my pleasure." He handed her the cameo and its chain. "Hold this for me, if you would." Then he reached up to insert the first earring.

Without thinking, Beth closed her eyes. Once again she felt his delicate fingers on her earlobe. The bulb of flesh felt huge, taut, gorged with blood. His touch sent delicious chills down her spine to her sex, which was now more than just slightly damp. She kept her eyes shut as he addressed her other ear, overwhelmed by sensation, too embarrassed and aroused to meet his eyes.

"The necklace, if you please?" Beth ventured a glance at his face as she returned the pendant to him. He appeared composed, but glancing down at his trousers, she thought she detected signs that her state of deshabille was having some effect on him.

The jeweler circled behind her, draped the necklace around her neck and fastened it. Beth thought that he was especially careful not to touch her, and that thought drove her mad. She was almost ready to beg, to fall on her knees before him and offer - what? Anything. Whatever he might desire, if only he would lay those cool hands on her fevered flesh again.

"Look," he whispered in her ear. "See how lovely you are." And she was. The cameo nestled between her breasts, blue as a madonna's robe. The matching silhouettes in her ears swayed as she turned her head from side to side to evaluate the effect. She looked aristocratic, refined, despite her nudity.

Beth turned her gaze from her own form to her companions eye's, reflected in the glass. That blue fire was burning there, unrestrained. "It is unfortunate that I do not currently have a Victorian corset in stock," he murmured. "That would be so appropriate with these jewels. However, I do have something else that you might appreciate." From a wooden chest in the corner, he extracted a folded piece of fabric, intricately patterned in jewel-like colors.

He unfurled it behind Beth's back. It was a triangular silk shawl bordered with long fringe. Complex, intricate designs flowed across it, ruby, emerald, lapis, asymmetrical and compelling. "This is an original William Morris piece," he said softly as he let the silk settle over her shoulders. The edges draped down over her breasts, sheathing them in gorgeous swirls of color. Beth noticed that her erect nipples poked brazenly through the shawl. She was suddenly dizzy as a wave of desire swept through her.

His hands hovered above her shoulders again, as if he would smooth the silk over her body, but he did not move. "Do you like it?" he asked softly. There was another, more intimate question in his eyes.

Beth was silent. She reached up, grasped his hands, and brought them down to cup her silk-swathed fullness. She expected him to pull away, and so she held him there as she held his eyes in the mirror, bold and shy at once.

He did not resist her, though. Instead he squeezed her breasts, kneaded them gently, rolled the swollen tips between his slender fingers until Beth moaned aloud. The silk slithered over her skin, teasing and sensual.

She closed her eyes again and leaned against him, letting the wonderful sensations wash over her. Slight as he was, he had no trouble supporting her weight. She felt the rough wool of his trousers against her buttocks, and sensed the hardness beneath.

Fear stabbed briefly through her. She knew so little of men. Would it be painful? Would she disappoint him? Then her doubts dissolved into new moans as he slid his arms around her waist and brushed his fingertips across her pubic fur.

The lightest of pressures, the briefest of touches, but it sent tremors through her sex. Instinctively, Beth parted her legs and rocked her pelvis forward, seeking more solid contact. The shopkeeper obliged, slipping one slender finger into the mass of moist curls to her center. Sparks leapt from that finger, raced through her, leaving her weak and breathless.

"Please..." she tried to say, not really knowing what she was asking for but wanting it more than anything. She had no voice, though, no will. She could barely stand.

The proprietor smiled at her reflection, kind, encouraging. "Come here, my dear." He led her to the velvet chaise. "Lie back. Relax."

Beth's mind flailed wildly, even as her body obeyed the man's suggestions. She searched his mild, middle-aged face, seeking reassurance. In response, he knelt in front of her, gently but firmly pushing her thighs apart. Then he removed his glasses, and his eyes were unveiled. Beth thought of the ocean, of the sky, of a gas flame, azure bright, almost transparent. And then of a star sapphire, ever-changing light sparkling in blue depths.

Then he bent his mouth to her sex, and Beth forgot to think.

Sensation and emotion, velvet wetness and diamond sharpness, his tongue a feather and a sword. She writhed and shook, keening like a madwoman. The shawl slipped away from her body. The velour upholstery grew damp beneath her. Beth did not notice. He licked, nibbled, probed her depths, breathed her, drank her, buried himself in her, swallowed her whole. She did not know what it was that he did, only that it brought near-unbearable ecstasy. The world shattered and fell away as pleasure drowned her.

When she floated back to consciousness, she was lying on the chaise, the gorgeous silk draped over her. The shopkeeper perched on a chair beside her. The fire in his eyes was banked. Instead, Beth read concern in his expression, and some kind of sadness.

"I should not have done that," he said softly. "But I could not resist."

Beth reached for his hand. It lay coldly in her own. "No, that was right. That was good. It was what I wanted. Thank you." She was about to bring it to her lips, but he shook his head.

"No, I took advantage. I'm not the one for you."

"But you want me," Beth said. She glanced down at the tell-tale bulge in his lap. She had a wild desire to touch it, but he seemed so skittish now that she didn't dare.

"Of course I want you. But I can't have you."

"Why not?" Beth asked. "Are you married?"

There was a trace of bitterness in his laugh. "No, I never did manage to marry."

"Well then. There's nothing to come between us."

"If you only knew..." A distant look crossed the man's face, and his strange eyes sparked again, briefly. "You remind me so much of her. The one who should have been my wife."

Beth sat silent, full of excitement. She knew that he had stories to tell. He did not continue, however.

"What happened to her?" Beth asked finally. Still he was silent, lost in some reverie.

Finally he spoke. "Would you like to see her picture?" Without waiting for Beth's nod, he made his way through the arch. In a moment he returned, with a miniature in an intricate silver frame. He handed it to Beth. "This is Lucy Foster, my betrothed."

Beth examined the painted likeness. The resemblance was indeed uncanny. Lucy had the same deep brown eyes, the same slightly upturned nose, the same dimple. Her hair was cropped into a shoulder-length bob, while Beth wore hers long, usually pinned back or piled atop her head, but the chestnut color was identical. Beth looked at the portrait for a long time before giving it back to the jeweler.

"Astonishing," she said. She was desperate to know what had become of this woman who was practically her twin. It was clear, though, that her companion did not want to speak further on the subject.

"You should go now," he said, offering Beth her discarded clothing. "It's late."

"I'd rather stay," Beth murmured, but he shook his head.

"That's just not possible, my dear."

"May I come tomorrow?" she asked. Suddenly playful, she grabbed a mink boa from the coat rack in the corner and twisted it around her neck. "I could wear this. And perhaps I could try on that rhinestone tiara in the window...?"

The shopkeeper smiled despite himself. "Perhaps."

Beth came close to him, then, and brushed her lips against his. He did not resist, but he did not kiss her back either. The hint of ocean flavor on his mouth made her heart beat suddenly faster. Deliberately, she laid her hand over the bulk of his erection. The lust in his eyes mingled with pain.

"And perhaps," she whispered, "perhaps you'll make me a woman?"

"You are already a woman, my dear. A delicious, desirable woman. Now get dressed, please, and go home."

They did not speak again until she stood beside him in dusk, watching him lock the shop. "Till tomorrow," she said.

"Tomorrow," he nodded. "Fare well until then."

Beth slept deep and dreamlessly that night. The next day was slow, delicious torture. She would be waiting on a customer and suddenly remember - his eyes, his hands, his mouth. She was in a state of constant arousal, her panties damp and bunched between her thighs, her nipples hard and sensitive under her jersey.

Everyone she met seemed to be aroused, too. She would lock eyes for a moment with a customer in the cafe, and feel that he was undressing her in his mind. Somehow, this did not bother her. Carlos caught her in the corridor that led to the unisex bathroom, daydreaming and idly strumming her thumb over her nipple. He pulled her to him and kissed her deeply. Beth allowed him to continue, opened her mouth and returned the kiss. She needed the stimulation, to keep her from exploding. To help her survive until that evening.

Promptly at five PM, she fled the cafe, racing down the few blocks to Morton Street. Her pulse and her sex were pounding in time. Turning the corner, she looked ahead for the glow lighting the shop window. Strangely, the street was dark.

She stopped in front of the townhouse that housed Twentieth Century, confused. The awning was gone. The window was covered from the inside with newsprint, and sealed outside with a cantilevered steel security gate. The stairwell leading down to the door was littered with soda cans and other trash.

Beth pushed her way through the refuse and tried the door. It was locked. She knocked, then pounded on its wooden surface. No one answered. Becoming more and more desperate, she considered breaking the glass in order to get inside. She searched the sidewalk for a rock or a brick, something that she could use as a tool but found nothing except a withered tree branch that cracked in her hand when she swung it.

Tears streamed down her face. "Please," she pleaded, knowing that there was no one to hear. "Please, let me in..." She leaned against the door, clutching herself, rocking back and forth and sobbing.

A passing policeman noticed her. "Are you all right, miss?"

Beth looked up, startled. The young man had startling blue eyes, so similar... She fought down her sobs. "Yes, I'm fine, thank you. I recently lost someone I love, but I'll be ok."

"Do you want me to walk you home?"

"No, thank you, I'll be fine, it's just a few blocks away."

Well, if you're sure. Good evening, then. And Merry Christmas."

"The same to you, officer."

Christmas? As she trudged back to her apartment, Beth realized that the holiday was only a week away. She had planned to take the bus home, to see her family. Now she wasn't sure that she really wanted to leave New York. Something held her here, even though it appeared that her lover was gone.

Her studio apartment was uncharacteristically welcoming, a sanctuary of privacy and silence. Beth shrugged off her coat and threw herself on the bed. She was going to cry again. At the same time, her body was strangely alive, still burning with desire and anticipation. "He's gone," she whispered to herself. "Gone."

She drifted into uneasy sleep, only to waken at the sound of a knock on her door. Startled, she tiptoed over and peered through the peephole. There did not appear to be anyone there. Puzzled, she unlocked it and opened it cautiously, leaving on the chain.

The hallway was empty. There was something on the threshold, though, a silver-colored box tied with a purple ribbon. Her heart slammed against her ribs as she picked it up and brought it inside. The label on the box read "Twentieth Century".

She was a bit afraid to open it. When she did, she gasped in astonishment.

The box contained three items:

The miniature portrait of her doppelganger, Lucy.

A yellowed clipping from the 1912 New York Times, listing the casualties of the Titanic disaster. She knew even before she looked that the name Lucinda Foster would be among them.

The lapis and silver Art Deco pendant.

Beth raced back to the door and flung it open, ran down three flights of stairs to the street, frantically gazed up and down the quiet block. No one was there. Somehow, that was what she expected.

A calm descended on her heart, quieting her fever. She stood on the sidewalk, shivering without her coat, looking around her as if seeing the place for the first time.

Thoughtfully, she returned to her room. She took the necklace from the box and strung it around her neck. Then she pulled out her laptop and began to write. Before long, she was lost among the woods and towns of ancient France.

Sometime around two A.M. she looked up from her work to find that it was snowing, luxurious fluffy flakes that looked, finally, as though they would stick.

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