The Alice Network - Kate Quinn Page 0,1

I was carrying. I couldn’t feel that at all, or manage to have a single clear emotion about it. I wasn’t sick in the mornings, or craving split pea soup with peanut butter, or feeling any of the other things you were supposed to feel when you were knocked up. I was just numb. I couldn’t believe in this baby, because it had changed nothing. Only my whole life.

The boys rose from the next table, tossing a few pennies down. I could see the waitress coming back with milk, walking as if her feet hurt, and I looked up at the three English boys as they turned away. “Excuse me,” I said, and waited until they turned back. “Five shillings each for tea—a bill of fifteen shillings gives a total five percent tip of ninepence. Ten percent tip would be a shilling and sixpence.”

They looked startled. I was used to that look. No one thought girls could do figures at all, much less in their heads, even easy figures like this. But I’d been a math major at Bennington—numbers made sense to me; they were orderly and rational and easy to figure out, unlike people—and there wasn’t a bill anywhere I couldn’t tot up faster than an adding machine could do it for me. “Ninepence, or one and six,” I repeated wearily for the staring boys. “Be gentlemen. Leave the one and six.”

“Charlotte,” my mother hissed as the boys left with sour looks. “That was very impolite.”

“Why? I said ‘Excuse me.’”

“Not everyone tips. And you should not have inserted yourself that way. No one likes pushy girls.”

Or girls who major in math, or girls who get knocked up, or— But I let the words go unspoken, too tired to fight. We’d been six days crossing the Atlantic in a single stateroom, longer than expected because of rough seas, and those six days had passed in a series of tense squabbles lapsing into even more uncomfortable civility. Everything underlain by my shame-filled silences, her incandescent silent rage. It was why we’d seized the opportunity to get off the boat for a single night—if we didn’t get out of that close-confined stateroom, we were going to fly at each other.

“Your mother’s always ready to fly at someone.” My French cousin Rose had said that years ago, when Maman had subjected us to a ten-minute tirade for listening to Edith Piaf. That’s not music for little girls, it’s indecent!

Well, I’d done something a lot more indecent now than listen to French jazz. All I could do was turn my emotions away until I stopped feeling them, fend people off with a sharp-jutted chin tilted at an angle that said, I don’t care. It worked well enough on rude boys who didn’t tip their waitress, but my mother could get behind that shell anytime she liked.

She was chattering away now, complaining about our passage. “—knew we should have taken the later boat. That would have brought us direct to Calais without this silly roundabout stop in England.”

I remained silent. One night in Southampton and then tomorrow straight on to Calais, where a train would take us to Switzerland. There was a clinic in Vevey where my mother had scheduled me for a certain discreet appointment. Be grateful, Charlie, I told myself for the thousandth time. She didn’t have to come with you at all. I could have been packed off to Switzerland with my father’s secretary or some other indifferent paid handler. My mother didn’t have to miss her usual vacation in Palm Beach just to bring me to my appointment herself. She’s here with you. She’s trying. I could appreciate that even in my stew of fogged, angry shame. It wasn’t as if she was wrong to be so furious with me, to think I was a troublemaking slut. That’s what girls were, if they got themselves in the fix I was in. I’d better get used to the label.

Maman was still talking, determinedly cheerful. “I thought we’d go to Paris after your Appointment.” Every time she said it, I heard the capital letter. “Get you some proper clothes, ma p’tite. Do something with your hair.”

What she was really saying was, You’ll come back to school in the fall with a chic new look, and no one will know about your Little Problem. “I really don’t see that equation balancing out, Maman.”

“What on earth do you mean?”

I sighed. “One college sophomore minus one small encumbrance, divided by six months’ passage of time, multiplied