The rain patters quietly on the roof, a lulling song of nourishment and life. I lift my glass of wine and smile, my eyes crinkling at the young woman across from me. Her fingers, graceful in their nervousness, pick at her tight fitting green skirt. "Cheers," she murmurs.
"To us," I reply, hoping she laughs. Praying that she will laugh.
Being the charming cynic the world has made her, Amanda grins broadly. "Here's looking at you, kid," she winks.
"And here's hoping Paris won't get invaded while we're visiting."
"Here's hoping," she agrees. Our glasses clink, the clear sound tangling in the drapes of the four poster bed we sit upon. A flickering candle provides our only light.
Amanda watches me sip at my wine. "That's no way to drink anything," she says derisively. With a tilt of her head and a flick of her wrist, the pale golden contents of the wine glass vanish down her elegant throat.
I laugh, my eyes crinkling even more. I look at this beautiful creature and wonder why she is spending an evening with me. I know the answer, and my mind shies away from that road.
"You don't happen to have something stronger around, do you Lillian?" Amanda asks, picking nervously at her green skirt again with her free hand. Her very short, tight green skirt.
"I didn't know you drank," I say cautiously.
"I don't," she tells me with a wry twist of her lips.
"There's some whiskey somewhere in my suitcase," I say after a moment. Amanda smiles at me, white teeth flashing in a dark face. With a lithe motion she twists and slithers from the bed. I watch her, trying not to stare - staring all the same.
"Like the view?" she asks with a laugh. She opens my suitcase and shuffles through its contents in search of peace of mind, her long legs stretched out behind her, her figure clearly defined by the skirt, her small waist swaying as she tosses clothing on the floor.
"It's not a bad view," I say thoughtfully.
Amanda throws a skirt at me, my red and black striped mini that I have never worn. I'm not sure why I even brought it to Paris. I catch the flying skirt and sip at my chablis, nicely aged and sharp. "Found the whiskey yet?" I ask idly.
"Yes, that's why I'm still looking," Amanda tells me with a hint of asperity.
"What's wrong, honey?" I ask seriously, switching my attention from the wine to the girl in green.
"I want to get smashed is all," Amanda says lightly. I wish suddenly to see her face. I can always tell when she's lying, but it is easier when I watch the flicker of her pale grey eyes than when I have only her voice to rely on.
"And you want a hangover tomorrow morning too, I'm sure," I say critically.
"So long as I get smashed -"
"You don't care what else happens. What's eating you, Amanda darling?"
"Why are you in Paris?" she suddenly asks, turning to look me in the eyes. I'm startled to see anger burning in her face, in the set of her lips, in the furrow of her beautiful brows.
"To see the sights," I reply. Worry flickers through my mind. She sees it.
"You're not just here to pick up stray girls? To seduce the first pretty creature you see into your bed?"
"Whatever gave you that idea?" I ask, surprised at the angle she has chosen to play.
"We've been seeing each other for a week," Amanda says rhetorically. I nod, a slight smile at the corner of my lips. It has been a very nice week. A very, very nice week. "One of the girls at the bakery this afternoon told me you'd spent last week with a girl from Trinidad and the week before that with a little thing visiting from China. You don't know Chinese, so I figured the girl at the bakery was mixing you up with someone else."
"Of course," I say with a sinking heart and a relieved voice. "I've never been with a chinese girl in my life, and I'm not the least bit interested in chinese men." I laugh. Amanda frowns.
"That's what I thought," she says, disenchantment on her tongue. "At least that's what I thought until this evening at the restaurant. You remember that drunk man at the bar? He was chinese, and you may not speak any of the language but my mother made sure I learned it. Apparently she felt that if I was going to waste my time learning English, I should learn something useful too." Amanda pauses, her pale eyes dark with some emotion I can not determine. Is it worry, fear, sadness? She waits a moment, perhaps hoping I will convince her it is all a lie. That I don't pick out the lonely tourists and treat them to a week - or more, or less - of heaven. I smile at her encouragingly.
"He was yelling at you. He didn't say your name, but he was sobbing and weeping and screaming about some woman who had stolen his little girl away. He had spent days searching the streets of Paris for his daughter but she was nowhere to be found. And I knew."
"Knew what?" I asked, refusing to give any ground without a fight.
"I knew that my week was up. That you were going to kill me or worse tonight. I decided not to go to the gendarmes because I don't really care anymore. I won't mind dying, so long as it's quick."
I looked at this brave little creature, dark skinned and lovely. Her eyes were so pale in her dark face, her long artificially red hair a shock against her chocolate back. "Did you ever travel anywhere before coming to Paris?" I ask gently.
"Yes - well, no actually. I guess not," Amanda says, puzzled briefly.
"And wasn't Paris the one place you always wanted to visit?" I press.
"How did you know that?" the girl asks, a flicker of surprise crossing her worried, afraid, sad eyes.
"This is your transition from life to death, your farewell to the world, Amanda darling. I've been helping you along the way, but I have no more need to kill you than I would need to kill a corpse. You are dead my sweet, it has just taken some time for you to realize it."
"Lillian, you're insane," Amanda tells me firmly.
"Perhaps. I am someone who cannot live, so I help those that cannot die. Until I figure out why people cling so to life I won't be able to live myself. So we met for a brief, merry week in the streets and alleys and hotel rooms of Paris. Now you may move on."
"How do you intend to make sure of that?" Amanda inquires.
"If you left this room, you wouldn't be able to find many people. The ones you could see would mostly be old men and women, perhaps a few terminally ill youngsters. The only people who exist for you at the moment are those who linger on the very outermost edges of life. Eventually you'll step across the boundary of life and death."
"What then?" Amanda asks, fascinated. Repulsed. Disbelieving.
"I haven't died," I laugh gently. "If you ever come back, you'll have to tell me what it's like."
"Now I really need to get drunk."
"The whiskey's in your hand," I inform her.
"So it is," she says with a sudden grin. She smiles up at me as if discovering a fantastic secret. "What about one more night, Lillian? Care to send me off to death - whether you kill me or I'm dead already - with a grand party?"
"Come up to the bed, sweetheart. We'll see what happens from there."
Amanda takes off the lid of the whiskey and drinks a mouthful. She coughs, her eyes watering from the shock of the toxin on her system. "Care for a drink?" she asks politely.
"No thanks," I reassure her, taking another sip of chablis.
"Alright then." Amanda sets down the bottle and slips back onto the bed. Her skirt slithers up her thigh and my breath catches at the beauty of the dead girl. I wonder for a moment if I am in love with death, but as Amanda kisses me I realize that I am in love with life, and with those who cannot let it go.