At five o’clock Odette returned the day’s keys to Don Carlo and made what she hoped to be her last nightly climb to the attic. She could make the trip without stopping to rest now, a point of pride in her recovery.
“Not so long ago you would have flitted up and down these stairs half a dozen times before lunch,” nagged a voice in the back of her head. As always, she pushed it away.
At the top, the last door in the hall stood ajar. Odette frowned. Surely she’d closed it that morning - she always did. Taking care to silence her footsteps, she crept towards the wedge of late afternoon sun spilling into the hall.
From within, she heard soft scuffling, and saw a figure hunched over the ancient steamer trunk she’d been using as a table.
“Can I help you?” she said loudly, swinging the door open wide. The figure jumped, either at Odette’s voice or the screech of unoiled hinges. Its head thudded against the low sloped ceiling.
“Odette,” it said, turning.
“Rochelle,” greeted Odette, surprised and suddenly apprehensive. “Can I help you?” she repeated.
“You’ve had a letter,” said Rochelle, holding out a thin envelope.
“You deliver mail now?” asked Odette with a raised eyebrow. “It seems I’m not the only one in the midst of a career change.”
“It was addressed to the dormitory, delivered with the rest of our mail. They told me you could be found up here; I thought I’d ensure it get to you safely.”
“How thoughtful.” Odette took the envelope, and her heart skipped a beat when she saw the sender’s name. Then she noticed the broken seal, inexpertly resealed with a differently textured wax.
“You opened it?” she asked.
“Not me. One of the coryphées. You know how they are. They saw it was from Louis, and, well, it’s no secret half of them write him love notes. You can’t blame them.”
Just watch me.
“You’ve read it?” Odette couldn’t stop herself asking, despite not wanting to know the answer.
“No.” Deliberate, careful, even.
Odette waited out the silence that followed, trying to make out Rochelle’s backlit face.
“He’s a genius, you know. A virtuoso. I know, we tell ourselves we all are – or were – at this level, but he understands it on a whole separate level. He had no trouble securing a place in Moscow.”
“Moscow? Louis is in Moscow?”
“With the Bolshoi, didn’t you know? He left barely a week after the fire. Where did you think he was, taking a holiday?” She snorted. “He was a wreck after the fire, couldn’t walk across the stage without shaking like an arthritic ostrich on a high wire tightrope. His words, not mine. I hope the Moscow winter will chill his nerves back to normal. It’d be a shame for all that talent to go to waste.” Her face contorted for an instant. “Well. I don’t suppose I have to tell you that.”
Odette barely caught the dig. So that was what had happened to Louis. She’d looked for him ever since her return to the Opera without working up the courage to ask someone outright.
“Thank you,” murmured Odette. That was that mystery solved then. She ran her fingers along the edge of the envelope absentmindedly.
“Oh, before I forget,” said Rochelle, stepping around the attic clutter to leave, “One of the coryphées threw up in the back stairwell. We told Don Carlo, and when he found out I was coming to see you, he said to tell you to take care of it.”
“I can’t, I need to go meet-“
“Don’t shoot the messenger. Your problems are yours. À plus tard.” She was out the door before Odette could respond.
Odette kicked the doorframe, accidentally crumpled the letter in her hand, and then took a deep breath.
“She’ll understand,” she told herself, smoothing out the letter. “She agreed that the Opéra comes first.”
She turned and limped back the way she had come, the letter securely tucked inside an inside pocket for later.