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Shopping day

That day I found myself in Paris shops I had never dreamed of entering. It was clear to me from Hildegarde's assertive manner toward my future that I was by no means to be a separate entity from herself and her household.

When she insisted on purchasing a couple of dresses for me I acquiesced, because the clothes I wore were ragged and scarcely decent, and I knew I would be consulting often with her and her family. I knew I was an offense to the eyes of anyone.

Over my tattered garments I wore an extra riding coat of Hildegarde's. It was a rich plum-colored wool, and my fingers traveled over the soft, firm pile continually. I felt warm and suddenly very, very tired, as though something within myself was giving itself up after a long stretch of diffidence and solidarity.

After our initial selections, Hildegarde softly touched my arm. "You are tired. Of course neither of us has had our breakfast. This cafe looks promising."

Hildegarde was aware I had no money. I knew she would never miss the minimal coins my breakfast pastry would cost, but somewhere a warning executed itself in my mind, in the far-back recesses, that I was grown beholden to a stranger, and I was not able to give myself over completely to the novelty and pleasure of this elegant breakfast with a beautiful woman.

Life had taught me nothing was never, ever this easy.

As we savored cafe au lait, buttered croissants and madeleines (Hildegarde found cookies fair breakfast game) on the streetside terrace, I noticed a mother and daughter inside the cafe near the window.

The girl might have been around my age. Her honey-colored hair was wound at her nape. Her high-collared dress was olive-green and set her complexion admirably, full, cherubic cheeks, and slanted green eyes. Her refined brows were clearly groomed.

My own dun-colored hair was braided down my back. I owned no mirror, but I knew my face was gaunt, aged before my time, and colorless.

She looked so very comfortable, this girl. I must have stared hard, for she looked at me, and embarrassed, I glanced away quickly. Her eyes were cold, nearly hostile.

I was a different creature from these other girls. My life had made me so. I knew my relations with others would never be easy. I knew also that the woman opposite me was of singular character. Her action toward me were deeply benevolent, and yet when I fully considered her it was not without trepidation.

There was a sense in my lungs that since she had taken me into her custody, I had not drawn even a full measure of air. I felt trapped. Yet escape her?

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