When Vincent came home that afternoon, Lilia wasn’t unpacking as she had said she would. He felt a pang of annoyance when he found her in the living room, sitting on the edge of the sofa, the remote in hand, her whole body leaning toward the television. She didn’t even notice him approaching.
He had been working a lot lately and hadn’t been able to help much with the unpacking. Lilia didn’t really have better things to do with her days and could have finished already, but she was taking her time. He knew what it was about, of course. She always gave him the cold shoulder when he worked a lot - too much, as she said. It wasn’t worth arguing about.
“The cable guy showed up, then?” he said coolly.
She didn’t move, didn’t reply, didn’t even look at him.
She blinked and finally glanced to him. Her eyes and cheeks were gleaming with tears. She turned back to the television at once.
Every last bit of frustration Vincent felt disappeared. Lilia crying felt so unnatural that his throat closed. Leaving his jacket on a half-unpacked box, he went to the sofa, sat next to her and wrapped his arms around her.
“What’s wrong?” he murmured.
She shook her head. “Rien.”
Vincent had taken three years of French in high school; he didn’t remember enough of it to sustain a conversation, but a few words remained in his memory.
“Yes, something is wrong,” he insisted quietly. “You’re crying. And speaking French.”
She jerked a little in his arms. “Je ne pleure…”
Her hand rose to her face almost absently. She looked at her wet fingers, frowned, but her gaze soon returned to the screen.
“I’m fine. Something in my eye.”
She was a terrible liar.
Vincent looked at the television, and at first he couldn’t understand what might be so upsetting. There was no sound, but it seemed she was watching some kind of documentary. The camera explored carefully maintained gardens; someone on screen talked while gesturing at a rose bush, then the same person was in front of a fireplace, indicating the ten-foot long white marble mantelpiece.
Frowning lightly, Vincent glanced at the fireplace on their right. The details on the mantelpiece were different, and the size was much less imposing, but the resemblance was unmistakable. When he looked back at the television, the view had shifted again, and now showed the exterior of a castle; at the bottom of the screen, a banner labeled it ‘Château Saint-Simon.’ The connection flashed in Vincent’s mind, bright enough to be blinding.
“Did you ever go back?” he asked, holding Lilia a little closer.
“Why would I?” She almost choked on the words. “It hasn’t been my home for a long time.”
Vincent didn’t push, or point out that, if she hadn’t felt attached to that castle anymore, if she hadn’t thought of it as ‘home’, she wouldn’t have been crying. He simply held her, watched with her, and tried to imagine a young woman named Hélène in those perfect gardens and elegant rooms.
As soon as the credits rolled, Lilia turned off the television and pulled out of Vincent’s arms. For a few seconds, as she stood with her back to him and wiped her cheeks, Vincent’s stomach twisted. He wished she could have accepted comfort from him.
But soon, she turned back and held her hand out. Vincent took it and squeezed gently.
“Help me unpack?” she asked, her voice still a little croaky. “We’ve still got a lot to do before this can be our castle.”