The painting is Anna Dorothea Therbusch, but I thought it would make a nice representation of Anne in this story.

“Your highness–” the proprietess of the dress shop seemed at a loss for words as Marie embraced her.

“Anne! I…” Marie gazed into her old friend’s face, trying to reconcile the wrinkles with the fresh faced young duchess she once knew.

“Madame, you look so young!”

“And you, Anne…” Marie didn’t want to insult her friend, but it was inexplicable.

Anne touched her own face. “It has been almost thirty years, as close as I can reconcile a year here.” Anne explained. “How long have you been here? When did you arrive?”

Marie felt Nyota’s gentle touch on her arm, and her new friend helped guide her to a chair. Anne pulled another chair over and sat as well. “Only a few weeks ago. My Hamlet is here, and the Petite Trianon…”

“The Petite Trianon? And the Hamlet? Here? Where?”

The old friends compared stories. Anne had apparently had the same conversation many times over the past three decades.

“And you have three sons here? You and the Duke both arrived, together?”

“We were executed together, and we arrived here together.” Anne shrugged her shoulders, as if so many details of their strange situation were simply water under the bridge. “He writes, mostly political theory. And I have this dress shop. You know how much I’ve always loved fashion… it just seemed to be the natural thing to do.”

“Sophie was waiting here for me.” Marie pronounced, watching carefully for her old friend’s reaction.

Anne’s eyes went wide. “Little Sophie? Your Sophie? Not your Aunt?”

Marie nodded, tears welling up anew at the thought. A second chance… a new life, and she had the baby whom she had once lost. Suddenly she felt a pull back to the Hamlet, to home, and to Sophie. And she knew it for the real pull that it was, not the magical, artificial pull of the place that led people to one location or another.

“And Louis? Is the King here?”

Marie straightened up. “No. Louis is dead. As soon as I arrived, I was drawn to Saint Denis in the City. I was pulled towards his crypt, as if someone wanted me to know that he is gone. I have no reason to wait for him.”

At that moment, Moose and Galen appeared at the entrance to the shop. Both men looked very out of place amidst the dainty dresses. They stood with arms held tightly against their bodies, as if afraid they might accidentally knock something over. They had chosen the same garments, albeit in different colors. Marie would have thought of their shirts as undergarments, but after living in… wherever it was for several weeks she had learned that all kinds of fashion choices were to be found.

The men wore shirts that were very form fitted and stretchy, showing that they were both heavily muscled. Galen’s shirt was a dark green, while Moose’s was black. For pants, they wore what Nyota called jeans, made of heavy denim and sturdy enough to weather any activity.

“Well…” said Anne, much more relaxed after spending twenty minutes chatting with Marie. “Louis certainly never looked at you like that.”

Marie blushed, and glanced back at the two men, then at Nyota. Her new friend’s eyes were sparkling, holding back laughter. Both men were certainly looking at her. But she couldn’t identify the intent behind their eyes. After all, they’d only met a couple of hours ago. She didn’t really know them yet. And although Moose saw her as an historical figure, Galen was from some previous century.

It was all still too strange.

“Have you been happy here? You raised a family?”

Anne brightened. “Oh, yes. As you know, even though we’d been married for several years, we’d been unable to have a child. But only a few months after we arrived, I found I was pregnant. The first of three, all boys.”

“And you don’t mind losing your title? Your lands? Your estates?”

Anne looked puzzled. “I think I should mind. I think I should feel… offended? Is that the right word? Deprived?” The older woman bit her lip, thinking. “But I’m not. The idea of having a dress shop seemed… very right. And it has been fulfilling. I love it here, even though we have no real sense of where “here” is.”

“Thirty years.” Marie shook her head. “I don’t know how to reconcile that, although we know that people somehow end up here from all times, both past and present. There seems no rhyme or reason to it.”

“Nor is there rhyme or reason to the years.” Marie’s eyebrows drew close together, regarding her friend’s odd statement. “After we had been here for several months, we realized that no one seems to mark the passage of time, although it certainly does pass.” Anne touched her own wrinkled face. “And there are no seasons. Although the weather is generally pleasant, it does rain, and even storm on occasion. But never snow, nor hail, nor any wind great enough to do any real damage.”

This was news to Marie. She hadn’t thought much of the passing of time, other than to have vague idea that several weeks had passed. In those few short weeks, she and Nyota had noticed small changes in Sophie and Lark, both girls small enough that a week could bring about momentous changes in their bodies and skills.

She wondered if she would find some change in her daughter in just the few hours she’d been away.

I must go home.

What Would Have Been

What Would Have Been is a short story (or novella… who knows?) that I am publishing one chapter at a time… as I write it. It’s a fun exercise for me, and hopefully a bit of entertaining reading for you!

This story is dedicated to the Janes. The real ones and the fictional, the ones who survived, and the ones who didn’t. For all of you.

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