It was twelve o’clock on a Tuesday but Sophia was standing in the door of Eden’s studio. A model draped in classical folds of white linen lay on the prop couch, a goblet in her hand and a wreath on her head. Eden had been working all week on a commission from an English poet who wanted illustrations for his book.
The girl looked up at Sophia, not moving otherwise. But Eden dropped her brush in surprise.
Sophia stepped into the room and met the model’s eye. “Pardonez-moi,” she said, blushing as she spoke.
The girl smiled and looked at Eden who dismissed her with a nod. “Merci. Venez demain?”
“Oui,” said the model, hastily pulling together her things and stepping behind a screen to dress.
Eden eyed Sophia silently. But Sophia did not look up. She stepped idly around the airy room, pretending to investigate the props, the pictures laid against the wall, the view of the street from the windows—anything but Eden, until the model had gone.
But when she had, Sophia snapped her attention to Eden. “What have you done?” she said again.
Eden pointed to the little sofa recently vacated by the model and Sophia sat down. “Done?” Eden asked.
“Dr. Bertrand showed me some notes. He is preparing an article about your “case.” He is certain that Dr. Hall’s associate in London—yes, Dr. Hall is also involved—will want to publish it in his journal.”
Blood rose to Eden’s face. “You weren’t supposed to know. He promised me.” She ran a hand through her hair and sat heavily on the stool before her canvas.
“You know exactly why.” Eden met Sophia’s eye. Silence settled between them for a long moment.
“I never would have agreed to it if you had consulted me,” Sophia said at last.
“That is why I didn’t consult you.” Eden stood and turned to the little table behind her and found a bottle and two glasses. She poured an inch of amber liquid in each glass, immediately drained one herself, then took the other to Sophia.
Sophia accepted the glass but didn’t drink. “He says you are suffering from the delusion that I am in love with you. He finds my behavior towards you to be ‘wise from a medical perspective.’ It would shatter your nerves, he is certain, to face the truth. Now, he says, we must ‘treat’ you with a slow process of introducing you to the reality of your ‘condition.’”
Sophia finally sipped the liquid in her glass, grimaced and placed it at her feet. She put her face in her hands for a moment, then looked up again. Eden was still standing before her.
“He won’t get a chance to treat me. I’ll be gone,” Eden said.
“Gone?” Sophia looked up in concern.
“I’m going to leave Paris for a few weeks.” Eden knelt before Sophia on the dusty floor. “Listen,” she said, “I didn’t mean for you to know about any of this. But I’m leaving for a while. If I don’t tell you where, you can tell him you don’t know. Let him attribute it to my nerves—or my delusion—or whatever he’d like to call it. And when your examinations are over, and your degree is in your beautiful hands—” Eden took them and kissed them. “You can sail for Boston. The women’s hospital will have you, won’t they? Claire…”
“Eden—” Sophia’s eyes filled with tears.
“It isn’t your fault about Bertrand. Of course he fell in love with you. How could he resist?” Eden tried to smile. “I know I’ve caused you trouble with him and I thought that this way…”
“You thought by humiliating yourself you could restore me in Bertrand’s opinion? You thought I would want you to—”
“I never said I thought you wanted me to,” Eden stopped her. “Of course you wouldn’t want it. You’re too, too good and loyal. But I won’t let you make such a sacrifice for no practical reason. I’ve barely told Bertrand a word of truth about my life. He doesn’t know the difference. And he swears I’ll be anonymous in the article.”
“You knew about the article?” Sophia said.
“It doesn’t matter. I only want to make him happy so he’ll support you until you finish your work here. I’ve been stupid. I never stopped to think about what it means for you to…be with me. You could marry anyone you wanted. You could have children, grandchildren. But you choose me. You choose me and people talk about you. Your parents…all I cared about was what they thought of me—never how you felt about what they thought.”
“I don’t care what they think,” Sophia said weakly.
Eden shook her head. “I’ve been so careless of you, darling. But no more. I won’t let Bertrand say a thing against you. I won’t have him thinking there’s something wrong with you as he’s sure there is with me. I won’t have you risking your medical career before it even begins.”
Sophia looked into Eden’s eyes. “I hate it,” she said.
“I’m sorry he told you,” Eden said. And she pulled Sophia into her arms. “You are too good,” she said again.