My dear cousin, who is called Olivia, who I call “my dear cousin,” for there is no hope for us ever settling down – no matter how, in the past, I would sit her gently beside me and say, “Really, now, my dear, you must believe I love you madly… or else what shall I tell the boys?” – so she is my dear cousin, you see; she was the one to stop me in the entrance hall and draw me to the coat rack. She pressed an icy finger to my lips.

“You mustn’t go in there, Leslie,” she said. “Dominique is only collecting a few things, and Boris and Ylsa are with her in the kitchen.”

She took my coat as I struggled to remove it from my shoulders. “Now see here,” I said, raising my voice, “I’ve come to see Boris about just this type of thing. I won’t pretend his infidelities are his business alone, and if poor Ylsa’s in there with him, Dominique will need a second.”

My dear cousin pressed her hands to my chest. “You will quiet down,” she said. “That’s none of our business. I was sitting down with them for tea when she called. It was very unexpected. But I would have left if I hadn’t know you were coming. Do leave them be.”

“That rat Boris will already be snarling at the both of them,” I told Olivia. “Don’t hold me back so, woman – I won’t have it.”

“But it is none of our affair,” she said. “Be my dear cousin and fetch my coat, and we’ll take a stroll. Take me for cakes.”

“I shan’t,” I said.

“Will you let them settle themselves, and leave us out of it?” she said. Her white-blue eyes bit into me like sudden frost. In her pale face, slender form, was the hard distaste for all behind her, the lies – especially the tea, I could tell. She hooked her hands on her bony hips and awaited my reply.

Like the glum survivor of another’s doomed ship, I pulled Olivia’s jacket from the hook, and slid it dutifully over her neck. She removed my jacket from the rack in elegant reverse of her previous officious act.

When I had my hands in the sleeves she smoothed my front and whiskers to her satisfaction. “We’ll away to the park first, I think.”

I took her arm, and the door, in hand. “And shall I abstain from cursing the rain too, my dear cousin? Natural weather beyond my skill to defy?”

She buttoned her jacket. The door shut snugly behind us and she molded herself into the warm crevice between my chest and arm. “As you like,” she said. And we left, our heels hard on the round cobbled stones, off the stained brown stairway, loud and quiet in the early, misty evening.

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