Eden 26:4

BethBette looked around Eleanor’s parlor as Marie climbed the stairs to fetch Eden. Eleanor had promised to be out all afternoon so that Bette could visit alone.

Bette had not yet seen Eleanor’s house in Paris. It was a fine one to her eyes. The parlor ended in a tall pair of doors filled with glass panes that opened onto a surprisingly spacious garden. Bette imagined painting the scene from where she sat, doors slightly ajar, leaking light into the room.

She shook off the thought. It was too cold for such a picture. Perhaps in the spring…

Eden arrived in the doorway from the hall. “Bette—” She stepped across the room holding out a hand. “Will you have something? A drink? Some tea?”

“Just a cigarette, I think,” Bette told her, squeezing, then releasing her hand.

“I’m sorry I haven’t answered your letters.” Eden ran a hand through her hair, reminding Bette of someone she couldn’t quite recall.

“Never mind, Eden, but what is the matter?” Bette asked.  “You’re thin as a rail and you look like you haven’t slept in days—if you will pardon my honesty.”

“It’s nothing. I’ve just been tired.” Eden lit a cigarette and handed it to her guest, then lit another to smoke. Bette silently cursed herself for not asking Eden for tea and food. Maybe she would have eaten something too, in Bette’s company.

“Listen,” Bette sat down without being asked. “Eleanor came to see me. She told me about Sophia and asked me to talk to you.”

Eden scowled at the fire and slumped into a chair across from Bette’s. “It’s not her business to talk about it to everyone.”

“I don’t believe she has talked to ‘everyone.’ In fact, I am fairly certain she has talked to no one but me.”

“Why you?” Eden asked, suddenly curious. Eleanor had always seemed annoyed when Eden brought up Bette. Eden had finally stopped speaking of her to Eleanor. And at Liz’s parties, Eleanor always scanned the room for Bette, the better to avoid her, though Eden guessed Eleanor didn’t know she had noticed these things.

“She wanted me to talk to you,” Bette said.

Eden said nothing, but sat quite still now, waiting.

“When I was not so much older than you are now—when I first came to Paris to attend the Academie—I met someone.” Bette stopped and smoked quietly for a moment.

“She was another American. She was in Paris for some business, but stayed on after it was finished, because—I believed at the time—she was in love with me.” Eden looked up at this. “But whatever I believed she felt, I knew I was in love with her.”

Bette looked back at Eden now, but when their eyes met, Eden turned away.  “She didn’t really love you?” Eden asked.

“Maybe she did. But not the way I hoped. And in a few months she had to choose between me and…something more important, I suppose. She left, telling me she’d come back, but she never did—not then, anyway—not for me. Instead she sent me a letter apologizing and…returning a ring I’d given her.”

Eden looked up now. “Eleanor wanted you to tell me this?”

“This is what I wanted to tell you.”

Eden stood and walked to a table in the corner that held a decanter of clear fluid.  “Gin?” she asked Bette now.

“No.”

Eden poured herself a drink but didn’t return to her chair. She stood by the glass doors, gazing into the grey garden.

“I thought at the time that the day I got that letter was the worst day of my life. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t by far. I worked my way through it. And I worked my way through the worse days too. And you can do the same. You can work your way through this, Eden. It’s the only way, really.”  Bette fell quiet and watched Eden watch herself in the reflecting window glass.

“What was the worst?” Eden asked.

When Bette didn’t answer her, she asked again. “What was the worst day of your life?”

Bette looked at the stub of the cigarette in her hand and pressed it out in a little marble tray on the table by her elbow. She sighed and looked up, “the day Adelaide died. That was the worst day—anyway, God forbid I should live to see a harder one.”

“Adelaide?” Eden asked.

“My sister—my twin,” Bette finished simply.

Eden’s eyes were riveted to Bette now. “Your twin sister. What happened?”

Bette just shook her head and took Eden’s hand. “Never mind,” she said, “I just don’t want to see you throw away your career over this thing with Sophia, darling. That is all I really came to say.”

Bette rose, reaching down as she did and taking Eden’s hand.

“You’ll come by this week? We will go to your studio and look over what you’ve been doing…”

“I haven’t been doing anything,” Eden said.

“You will. We’ll talk it over. We’ll get you painting.” Bette paused, waiting for Eden to agree. When she did not, Bette tried again. “Eleanor says there’s a great deal of interest already from people wanting portraits from you. You cannot ignore that. You must seize the moment.”

Eden still said nothing.

“You will come by this week.”

Eden was still silent.

Bette looked at her a moment longer, sighed and showed herself out.

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