Work Header

dancing with your ghost

Work Text:

It is not until Lemony is ten or so that he begins to question the story of his birth.

It’s a tricky and troubling thing to investigate, the circumstances of his own birth, because he was not there to witness it and has little to no memory of the occasion. There are no notes, no documentation, no leftover trinkets that would prove his siblings’ story true or false. There are only his siblings’ stories, and Lemony’s doubts.

Jacques either truly believes the story or is a very good actor. The story shows remarkable consistency between tellings, even when Lemony quizzes him about tiny details. He was born thirteen minutes after midnight. Their mother was craving Swiss chocolate. Their father was not present; he was delivering lumber from the mill. If Jacques were his only sibling (and Lemony believes he would be a very different person if Jacques were his only sibling), Lemony would have far fewer doubts.

Instead, it is Kit who makes him doubt. He sees the way her eyebrows furrow when Jacques tells the story, and how she nervously plays with the pencils in her hair. He sees Kit’s doubt, and it sows the seeds of his own.

“They’ve written a poem about you, you know,” R tells him one day, while walking back to the dorms together after class. “I heard the younger recruits singing it this morning.”

“How does it go?” Lemony asks.

R recites the song—she has always had an exceptionally good memory—to a tune that sounds familiar to Lemony but he can’t quite place. He is quiet for several moments after she finishes.

“They got it all wrong,” he says finally, when they arrive at the eye-shaped door. “It was a dairy farm, not a cattle farm. We raised the cows for milk, not slaughter.”

He fakes an illness and goes to bed early that night. Neither Jacques nor Kit argues. They can see that he’s troubled, and that he wants to keep his troubles to himself.

It’s just a nursery rhyme, Lemony thinks to himself in bed, staring at a crack on his bedroom ceiling. A bunch of kids made it up. It’s hardly even a poem. And maybe R remembered it wrong. It doesn’t mean anything.

He also knows that R doesn’t remember things wrong, and that poetry is a well-known vehicle for codes, and that children know a lot more than they let on.

Lemony lies on his back in the dark, mouthing the words of the rhyme over and over and frantically, desperately trying to remember.

Lemony informs no one of his arrival when he returns to the city. Jacques meets him at the train station nonetheless.

He is so tired of asking the wrong questions that he doesn’t even ask how his brother knew he was coming, only vaguely notices that at some point he must have grown several inches because he is almost as tall as Jacques now. His ankles suddenly feel very cold.

The city somehow feels older than Lemony remembers. In many ways, the city is the same as it was when he left—the same gardens and synagogues, the same glow coming from inside coffee shops. In many other ways, the city is completely different.

It’s all a matter of perspective, Lemony thinks to himself. Five years before, he was the boy sneaking through the darkest alleyways, following strangers for hours. Now he is stumbling down the sidewalk, Jacques’s arm around his shoulders, and neither of them have the energy to glance behind them to make sure they’re not being followed.

It takes a moment for Lemony to realize Jacques isn’t taking him back to the dice-shaped building, where he has assumed his dorm would be waiting for him, but to an apartment building several blocks away. The buildings here are taller, and the streetlamps are brighter, and Lemony feels very far away from V.F.D. as he enters the lobby.

The receptionist is gone for the night, and Lemony steals a handful of peppermints from the glass bowl on the desk.

He loses count of how many stairs they climb. Finally, Jacques turns a corner, stops at the fourth door, and inserts a key into the lock. The door creaks open, and Lemony’s vision is flooded with light.

“J?” a voice calls out from inside. “Is that you?”

Lemony hardly knows what he is doing. His legs still numb from the climb, he pushes past Jacques and into the apartment. There’s a small kitchenette, warm yellow lights set into the ceiling, patterned wallpaper and matching curtains. And Kit Snicket at the linoleum counter, her face five years older and her hair several shades darker, yet still wholly and unashamedly Kit.

“L?” she whispers, and for once, Lemony doesn’t mind the abbreviation.

Kit rushes toward him, wiping her hands on her jeans. She touches his cheek, and it is wet with tears. Jacques hangs back, watching the interaction from a respectful distance.

“You—you changed your hair,” Lemony stammers.

“They made me do it,” she says.

She doesn’t specify when, or why. The order could have come in the aftermath of an ill-advised and unsupervised burglary, or an escape from a moving prison car, or a multitude of other crimes that Lemony was not there to witness but is certain were committed.

Kit inspects him—his thin face, the dark circles under his eyes, his suit a size too small—with a critical gaze. “Where have you been?”

Lemony pulls away, just enough to make Kit frown.

“I’m so tired, Kit,” he says.

Jacques straightens. “You can take my bed tonight,” he says. “After that—well, we’ll figure that out later.”

Lemony nods in thanks. He lets Jacques lead him to his bedroom. The clothes in the half-open closet, the neatly stacked file folders, and the typewriter on the desk so clearly belong to his brother that Lemony wants to simply sit on Jacques’s bed and breathe in the air. It’s good to be home, even if this home is different from the one he left.

Quietly, he removes his shoes and socks, tiptoes across the floor, and opens the door just a crack. Light seeps into the room.

“The department will want to know about this,” Jacques is saying. “I’ll type up a report—”

“We can’t risk it,” Kit says. “Tell anyone, and it’ll end up in The Daily Punctilio, and that can’t happen until we know why L is back or what he’s been doing for the last five years.”

“Well, we can’t just hide him here,” Jacques says. “He won’t be able to stand it.”

Lemony starts to frown, then decides Jacques is probably right. He’s been alone for so long.

“So then what do we do?” Jacques asks.

There is the scraping of a chair, footsteps walking across the room. Kit picks up the phone and calls Bertrand.

Word travels fast in their circles, and within twenty-four hours of Lemony’s arrival at the train station, Beatrice appears at his door.

The doorbell rings four times before Lemony answers. When he opens the door, she is standing in front of him. Her finger is hovering in the air, prepared to ring the doorbell a fifth time.

Beatrice laughs when she sees him, then gives her head a little shake of disbelief. Several of her curls have come loose, framing her flushed face—and God, this is the first time, Lemony realizes much later, this is the first time he sees that Beatrice is beautiful. Then she speaks.

“You son of a bitch.”

She steps inside the apartment without an invitation. Her white heels are scuffed and dirty from running. She probably ran all the way from headquarters, Lemony thinks. She hasn’t changed at all.

“I can’t believe it.” Beatrice looks at him intensely, and he begins to grow uncomfortable under her stare. “I cannot fucking believe it. I thought you were gone for good.”

“I thought I was, too,” he says, and shuts the door. “It’s good to see you, Beatrice.”

“Where have you been?”

He steps around the question. “Do you want something to eat?” he asks. “I know how to make sandwiches now.”

“Anyone can make a sandwich, Lemony. It’s cold ingredients between two pieces of bread.” She glances at the refrigerator. “What kind?”

Lemony crosses the kitchen and opens the refrigerator door. “The Highsmith,” he says as he pulls jars from the shelves. “It has roasted peppers, apricots, walnuts, Stilton cheese, and—”

“Endive lettuce,” Beatrice finishes, looking at the groceries in his arms. “Where’d you learn to make a sandwich like that?”

He sets down the apricot jar onto the counter. “Bertrand came to visit,” he says. “He told me you two are in a play together.”

“An opera,” she corrects him. “And I know he came to visit. He’s nice, isn’t he?”

I don’t like him is the response that Lemony bites back. Instead, he says, “He seems… ordinary.”

“Extraordinarily so, don’t you think?” Beatrice says. “It’s almost remarkable.”

She opens the jar of walnuts and pops one into her mouth. “So when are you coming back to school?”

Lemony’s grip tightens around the apricot jar, so slightly that he almost doesn’t notice. Beatrice does, and she pretends not to.

“Preferably never,” he says. “I’m coming back to V.F.D. as an adult, Beatrice. A full member. Not a child. Those are my conditions.”

The lid is stuck. He glares at it.

“Of course, that probably won’t happen,” he goes on. “They’ll never let me. I should have just finished my apprenticeship and—”

She blinks. “If that’s really what you want,” she says, “I can circumvent bureaucracy for you. I have connections now, and I’m sure R would like to see you nonetheless.”

The lid pops off and clatters onto the counter.

Beatrice leaves as abruptly as she came, without taking her half of the sandwich, and Lemony doesn’t go looking for her afterward. Instead, he goes looking for R. She is easy enough to find, sitting at the same booth she has sat in every Thursday since the age of six, with her nose in a book and her hand over a cup of tea, preventing the steam from escaping.

Lemony slides in across from her and slides half a sandwich across the table. She looks up, her face betraying only a hint of mild surprise at his sudden appearance.

“You didn’t tell me you came back,” she says calmly.

“You didn’t tell me you were dating B,” he replies.

Her eyebrows raise. She glances back down at her book, then closes it and sets it aside. It’s a novel, a well-worn copy of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Lemony has never read it.

“I would say that’s none of your business,” R says, “but since you tend to make everything your business, I suppose that wouldn’t be quite true.”

“Point taken,” Lemony says. “But what happened?”

“A lot happened while you were gone, Snicket. My love life being the least of it.”

R takes a long sip of her tea, then places it carefully back onto its coaster. “Anyway, it’ll only be for a little while,” she says. “B doesn’t want a long-distance relationship, and I expect to be going home soon for good. My mother’s taken ill.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” she says. “But I’ll be very busy. Our lives will be very different soon, yours and mine. I’m afraid our halcyon days are nearly over, and I’m sorry you had to miss the best of them.”

“But you’re not leaving the organization.”

“Oh, Snicket,” R says. “You of all people should know how hard it is to truly leave.”

Their conversation transitions to other topics after that, of Mediterranean architecture and the weather and other inconsequential things. When it comes time to pay the bill, they are talking with the ease of close friends again. Together, they step outside into the early morning mist.

The night at the opera goes off without a hitch. Lemony doesn’t attend the performance; he doesn’t have to. He knows the fragments will fall into place just as he intends them to, just as a well-aimed pair of poison darts will always hit their correct targets (and they do).

That’s not to say he doesn’t worry about Beatrice (and Bertrand too, although that’s something he’s more reluctant to admit). And when Beatrice returns to their apartment with a bandaged arm, the brief thought of God, what have I done? flashes through Lemony’s mind. It’s the wrong question. He files it away in his mind and does his best to forget it.

He doesn’t concern himself with the fallout. He has acted against orders and expects to face the consequences, but whatever mess V.F.D. decides to drag itself into on his account isn’t his problem.

Instead, he buys a typewriter.

Life falls into a routine. He sees Beatrice more and Jacques less. His hours at The Daily Punctilio drag by, and he spends most of the day waiting for it to end. Each new obituary comes with rumors of retribution from the other side, disguised neatly as misspellings. Lemony marks them with a red pen. How little, he thinks every once in a while (usually when he is alone and rain is pouring outside), how curiously little things seem to have changed.

Then one evening, between the office and Café Kafka, one of the Denouement brothers corners him.

“It was you, wasn’t it?” he says. “At the opera. You orchestrated the entire goddamn thing.”

Lemony doesn’t deny the accusation. He doesn’t confess, either.

“How many people did you rope into it?” Ernest asks. “Was my brother part of this?”

“Which brother?” Lemony asks, and Ernest’s eyes widen in shock. Lemony has the upper hand now, and Ernest knows it. They both do.

“You’re not supposed to know that,” Ernest says.

“I know a lot of things I’m not supposed to know, E.” Lemony gives a tight-lipped smile. “And I’d appreciate it if you stepped out of the way.”

He shifts his grip on the handle of his typewriter case. It’s in the wrong hand. He doesn’t even know where to aim, or how heavy is heavy enough, or if he can even swing it at all. But that doesn’t matter. No, the trick is to make it look like he could, if he so desired, cause some damage.

This is a pretense that Lemony tries to avoid whenever possible. It always leaves a bad taste in his mouth afterward, like a strawberry that’s been left out too long in the sun.

Ernest stares at him. He glances at the typewriter case, sizing up his opposition. There is a tense moment, then two. And then he takes a step backward, scowling.

“I never trusted you, Snicket.”

“The feeling is mutual, Denouement.” Lemony neatly sidesteps Ernest and starts off down the sidewalk. “Keep track of your matches.”

Ernest’s hand instinctively goes to his coat pocket. His matchbox is gone and Lemony is already too far down the street for Ernest to catch up. He only watches, shaken to the core, as Lemony slips something small and square (and stolen) into a pocket of his own.

The time Lemony and Beatrice spent together seems longer in retrospect. In reality, it was less than five years. And although it defies Lemony’s own peculiar brand of logic, he knows that the sliver of time they were in love—the sunsets, the smoke, the whispers, the wings, the music heard through a closed door—was all that there was. Nothing existed before, and even less existed after.

He proposes to her by dropping a ring into her root beer float while she isn’t looking. Beatrice takes her time drinking that night, and by the time he hears her straw hit metal, he is beside herself with impatience and anxiety. It takes an unbearably long time for her to notice the sound, and an eternity for her to look into the glass to see what’s inside.

It’s all worth it in the end.

“You were meant for each other,” Bertrand tells him, as they wait together for Beatrice at the stage door. “She always talks about you, you know. Even when you had disappeared, she talked about you. By the time we met, I felt like I knew you already.”

“That’s kind of you to say,” Lemony replies, knowing that everything Bertrand says to anyone is kind.

Bertrand shrugs. He fiddles with the cuff of his shirt.

“You know, you’re the first person who’s come to say congratulations,” Lemony says.

“Everyone loves Bea,” Bertrand says. “Even the ones who want to kill her. I think they’re a bit sore. They’ll get over it, though. Everyone does, at some point.”

Lemony raises an eyebrow. “Everyone?”

“Well.” Bertrand glances away, just for a moment. “I’m not sore.”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

“You didn’t ask me one.”

Lemony is about to ask him a proper question when Beatrice appears at the door. They say their goodbyes to Bertrand and start to walk arm in arm back to their apartment. How terribly inconvenient, Lemony thinks as he breathes in Beatrice’s perfume, how beautifully inconvenient it must be to love someone who loves someone else. And in an uncharacteristic moment of spontaneity (perhaps it’s Beatrice’s influence), he stops and turns around.

Bertrand is still at the stage door, leaning under the awning with a lit cigarette between his fingers. There is something less polished about him now, less perfect. As if Bertrand has been caught with his mask off.

“Were you going to say something?” he asks Lemony.

“I—I don’t know.”

“You can tell me tomorrow.” Bertrand smiles. “I’ll always be here.”

Five years. Fewer than that, really. It’s not nearly enough time to fit a lifetime into.

Lemony returns to the city just once, because he loves Beatrice and Bertrand too much to stay away.

Even late at night, it’s easy to find directions to the Baudelaire mansion, but it’s not until he is actually standing at the gates that he realizes he doesn’t have a plan. Knocking on the door is not an option.

There’s a light coming from a first-floor window and Lemony imagines what must be going on inside. Bertrand is lying on his stomach on the carpet, his chin resting on his hands, playing a board game with his daughter (and although Lemony thinks as hard as he can, he cannot remember what Beatrice and Bertrand’s daughter is named or if he ever found out her name at all). They’re playing chess—no, checkers. Bertrand always liked checkers better. Something about all the pieces having equal value.

And then there is Beatrice—at the piano, perhaps, or reading a novel on the sofa, her legs and ankles tucked beneath her. She would have combed her hair out for the night. It falls in waves over her shoulders and to her waist, longer than it had been before but perfect as always. She looks up at Bertrand’s surprised shout and watches as he pretends to flip the checkerboard over. She smiles and calls him a sore loser.

Then the front door latch clicks open, and Lemony is jolted out of his dream.

“I’m going to see for myself,” he hears Beatrice say.

He is standing in the middle of the lawn and he doesn’t know what to do. He’s wrong to be here and he knows it, and everything is wrong and all he can do is dart behind the nearest tree and wait. He presses his back against the rough bark and tries not to breathe.

After a few tense seconds, Beatrice determines that the sound she had heard outside was probably nothing. She enters the house again and closes the door behind her.

Lemony doesn’t try to get any closer to the house. He knows now that he’s a damn coward and he might as well play the part to the best of his ability, so he leaves. He lowers the brim of his hat and walks down the street, eyes focused on the ground, thinking about how that brief glimpse of Beatrice had likely been his last. He didn’t even get a good look at her. All he saw in the darkness was that she had cut her hair.

He hails a taxi. Jacques doesn’t recognize him.

Beatrice and Bertrand die, and Lemony cannot return to the city for their funeral.

Instead, he starts to receive their belongings. They come to him piece by piece—a necklace in an envelope and a pair of charred wings in a wooden chest, an empty frame in a lockbox and a pair of house keys taped to a card. Sometimes a package gets lost in the mail and it arrives at his doorstep a few weeks too late. He wonders how much has gone missing for good.

The packages are all addressed in the same handwriting, and Lemony makes a mental note to thank Dewey should they ever see each other again.

Lemony returns to his motel one night to find a steamer trunk waiting for him at the front desk, with a note attached to it and written in that same familiar handwriting. He struggles to drag it up the stairs—elevators, apparently, have just been declared out—and when he opens it, he sees why the trunk is so heavy.

It is filled to the brim with books.

It took a while to track all these down, the note reads. It’s not all of them—some were destroyed in the fire, and my guess is that B burned a few of hers beforehand too. I only skimmed through a few of the notebooks but I think they’d have wanted you to read them. —D

There is a clear delineation between the two sets of commonplace books. Bertrand’s are bound in brown leather. They are identical, all thirty-two of them, each new journal started on the first of January without fail. Beatrice’s commonplace books are smaller but heavier, pressed flowers and ticket stubs sticking out from between the tea-stained pages. Their covers come in all different colors and styles, to the point where Lemony can determine when each book had been used based on what fashion Beatrice had liked at the time. But on the inside cover of every notebook, there is a drawing of a dragonfly.

Lemony tackles Bertrand’s books first. There is a table of contents at the beginning of each notebook, which Lemony thinks will make his job easier until he realizes a good number of pages have been left out of the table of contents. These pages contain snatches of other people’s poetry, notes passed between classmates, one-line diary entries. His handwriting is surprisingly messy. On one page is a doodle of a boa constrictor vomiting up a very annoyed-looking elephant. On another page is Bertrand’s signature, written over and over in a slightly different way each time.

Lemony spends more time with Beatrice’s commonplace books. He remembers her carrying each one, remembers the way she held a pen, remembers her tendency to slip things she didn’t want to lose between the pages and then forget which notebook she had put it in. Her lost things are scattered throughout the pages now, a museum of tiny treasures.

Her commonplace books contain some rehearsal notes and costume designs, mission instructions and carefully drawn maps, but most of the pages are filled with poetry—not copied poetry, but Beatrice’s own. Some of the poems Lemony recognizes, from impromptu dramatic readings at one o’clock in the morning, but most of them he has never seen before. They are so different from the neat, metered poetry she wrote for class assignments. These are unrhyming and messy and fly across the page in all directions. They are written in the shape of hearts and birds.

He sees her with every turn of the page. Beatrice was art, her notes a portrait of a portrait, and he hurts for her.

It is not until Lemony has read both their life stories—back to front, cover to cover, beginning to end—several times over does he realize how they fit together.

There are pages on which Bertrand has written, perhaps about topics that were a bit more intimate than usual, then suddenly stops. Sometimes in the middle of a sentence and

there are places where Beatrice starts with a word in lowercase and a fragment of an unfinished sentence. It is not avant-garde poetry but the continuation of Bertrand’s line of thinking.

As soon as Lemony realizes this, he starts flipping through the pages of both their commonplace books. He copies down pages and pages, then switches to his typewriter when his hand tires. He stitches together conversations and confessions, sonnets and shopping lists, arguments and elegies and fifteen years of evenings spent hunched over a writing desk, swapping lines and pens between them. Lemony sits hunched over his own desk, typing furiously until the cuffs of his sleeves are stained with ink.

Yet there are still places where something catches, where the edges don’t quite line up. Where a verb doesn’t match the noun that precedes it, or the rhyme scheme of a poem suddenly changes, or the topic switches from bats to balloons. As if there was something in the middle, something that was lost or burned or never written.

Beatrice and Bertrand have left spaces between their love letters. Spaces, Lemony realizes, that have been left for him.

As summer turns into fall and fall turns into winter, he watches Beatrice and Bertrand’s children fill in the spaces between them.

He knows he shouldn’t think of them like that—the Baudelaire children are people, after all, not the frosting holding a cake together—but he can’t help himself. Violet is smart and shrewd and skeptical, and her laugh is Bertrand’s laugh. Klaus looks so much like Beatrice that it sometimes catches Lemony by surprise. And Sunny fascinates him too, perhaps even more than the others do. He wonders what stories her siblings have told her, and what they will tell her in the future.

He has always been good at following people, ever since he was a child. He remembers walking twelve steps behind any curious character for hours, stepping in their footprints so he won’t leave traces. The only difference is that this time, he doesn’t follow the Baudelaire orphans for hours. He tracks them down for months.

There are moments when he gets close, too close for comfort, and has to duck away for days or weeks, until the morning newspaper reports that the orphans have been moved to yet another guardian. These periods of time are when he writes, maintaining a paper-thin distance between the Baudelaires’ story and his own. He supposes it’s cowardly, disappearing just when the children need him the most, but he’s spent enough of his life waiting to get scared and now there are few remaining safe places to store away his fear for later. There’s little else he can do but write. Maybe, if he writes these books, someone else—his sister, perhaps, or someone who isn’t a volunteer at all—will be brave enough to rescue the Baudelaires. It’s the best that he can hope for.

He doesn’t see Kit but talks to her often, the made-up version of her who tends to visit when he’s feeling lonely. (Jacques does not make an appearance, either in person or in Lemony’s head.)

When you do catch up to the children, Kit says to him one evening, from the passenger seat of his taxi, what will you say to them?

“I’m scared to think about that,” he admits.

You’ve been scared before, she says. You’ve been scared of getting hurt, of dying, and you’ve gone on through all of that. How is being scared of a conversation any different?

“It’s different,” he says, “because the people I’m scared for have already gotten hurt.”

So you’re scared of apologies.

He can see her out of the corner of his eye. Although he can’t catch the details, he can imagine his sister with her shoes on the dashboard, making a note in the margin of a book and then scribbling it out. And in that moment he is hit by a sudden wave of sadness. He’s not sure what kind of sadness it is, and he has spent months now researching the history of sadness. It might be the sadness of hearing his sister’s voice, in the exact way he remembers it. It might be the sadness of knowing he will most likely never see her again. It might simply be the kind of sadness that comes late in the evening when you’re driving alone down a winding road, talking to a figment of your imagination. He slams the brakes, and the taxi skids to a halt in the middle of the road.

He tells Kit to go away.

The world goes on, even if Beatrice and Bertrand do not.

News of Kit’s pregnancy reaches Lemony in Paltryville. He’s truly happy for her and Dewey (at least, he’s fairly certain it’s still Dewey, but it’s been such a long time and everything has changed so much), but he sorely hopes the two of them have a plan. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to bear it if that baby grows up alone.

He considers writing to Kit, just to offer his congratulations. He toys with the idea of writing as someone else—Ike, perhaps, or Gustav—but then he remembers Ike is dead and Gustav is also dead and there are so few volunteers left to impersonate. He even briefly debates the propriety of signing a letter with “Ellington Feint.” After a moment of honest consideration, he decides that would probably cross a line.

In the end, he doesn’t write Kit a letter at all. She’s probably busy, anyway.

He wonders if Jacques knows he is alive. There have been too many obituaries, funerals, and retractions for him not to at least have his suspicions. After several days of wondering, he plucks up the courage to write to R, one of the few people who has seen him face-to-face since he disappeared. She replies quickly, telling him that she knows nothing for certain but suspects that Jacques suspects.

J has been traveling recently, her letter reads. He tells me it’s all professional business, but he’s always gone for too long and his reports are full of holes. To be frank, Mr. Snicket, I believe he’s looking for you.

It’s all neatly ironic, Lemony thinks as he reads R’s letter for the third time. He is chasing after the Baudelaires, and his brother is chasing after him. He can only hope that whoever is chasing after Jacques is on the right side.

They are, as it turns out, not on the right side.

Reports of Jacques’s death reach Lemony underground, by way of a newspaper left discarded in a tunnel. He is grateful that he’s alone when he sees the headline. He stares at the front page and lets himself cry, long and loud, until he finally crumples up the newspaper and tosses it aside because he can’t bear to look at Jacques’s face any longer. He tries to remember the last time he spoke to his brother.

He can’t.

There are very few people left who know Lemony Snicket is alive. The ten-year-old girl sitting across the table, calmly sipping a root beer float, has now been added to that list.

“Lemony Snicket?” she says when he approaches her. He reflexively glances around the room at the sound of his own name, despite knowing it’s been long enough now that it would be unlikely for anyone in the café to recognize him.

He tells her yes, he is Lemony Snicket. He has been hiding for so long that it’s a huge relief to finally say those words out loud. She introduces herself and extends her hand for him to shake, and despite her surname, he knows immediately whose child she is.

Beatrice—the other Beatrice, Lemony calls her in his head, although he feels this does a disservice to both Beatrices at once—takes him to the shipwreck. Some of the pieces have scattered into driftwood, but more of the boat has survived than he would have expected. He opens his tattered commonplace book and begins to take notes.

The other Beatrice is small and solemn and unsmiling. She doesn’t laugh at Lemony’s attempts at wry humor, but fixes her eyes on the broken boat with laser-focused determination and an achingly familiar furrow between her eyebrows. She has stood here countless times, regarding the boat that brought the Baudelaires home—and, more recently, wondering when they will return. (It is always when and not if, because if she allows herself to think if, it’s too easy for the if to become a won’t.)

After Lemony has finished his inspection, he puts his commonplace book away and turns around to look at her. His eyes are sad, she thinks. There are other words to describe him, so many that they have filled thirteen books with some left over still, but sometimes the simplest words are the truest ones.

“What happened after?” he whispers.

The other Beatrice sits down in the sand and opens her brown leather suitcase, revealing a gingham picnic blanket. Lemony watches her curiously.

“Mr. Snicket,” she says, “we may want to discuss this over brunch. I have questions for you, too.”

He helps her spread out the picnic blanket onto the beach. She has brought her own napkins, decorated with the initials B.B. in blue, and she gives him one.

“This is just for borrowing,” she says. “So don’t sneeze into it or anything.”

He accepts the napkin and sits down cross-legged onto the blanket. He sets his satchel down beside him, and some papers peek out of the open top. The other Beatrice notices them immediately.

“Is that—”

“The last manuscript, yes.” Lemony starts to push the papers back into the satchel.

“Wait,” the other Beatrice says. She is looking at his satchel earnestly, hungrily. Her gaze is so intense that it frightens him a little.

“What did you find?” she asks quietly.

“I’m sure Violet and Klaus have already told you the story of your birth,” he says.

She nods. “Sunny, too.”

Her gaze is still focused on the satchel. Slowly, she looks up at him. He can see all the history, all the uncertainty, all the tricky and troubling questions that have danced around her eyes for the last ten years. He sees her doubt.

“Tell me anyway,” she says.