Jeanne was content. Or at the very least, she thought she was. It had already been more than a year since the La Vie Parisienne fiasco. Thankfully, with Victor’s sponsorship, all the repairs were done in no time. The Moulin Rouge was back into shape after just a few months of renovations, maybe even better than before. Charles Zidler was busier than ever, but this time he had a beautiful secretary by his side.
As Jeanne was sorting out the many scripts and scattered papers in Charles’s office, her eye spotted something new. Charles, who had just exited the room to get them some snacks as they worked, left a sheet of paper on his desk with only the words, “A New Revue” encircled in red ink.
Since La Vie Parisienne, Charles only restaged his old revues to keep the cabaret afloat amidst the growing competition, giving them a new flair and some new choreography just to spice things up. He did not have any inspiration to create an entirely new revue but it surprised her to see that maybe… he wanted that again.
Jeanne smiled to herself. She wanted to see her man chipper again, bouncing off of walls with how excited he was about a show. Maybe she’ll get to see that Charles again this time.
There was a knock on the office door and Jeanne went to get it, expecting her man.
What she saw instead were two familiar faces.
“Gabrielle! Big brother!” Jeanne exclaimed.
The two visitors quickly pulled Jeanne into a tight embrace and Jeanne returned the hug. It had been a year since they saw each other after Victor and Gabrielle left to start their life in Brussels. Every now and then, Jeanne would exchange letters with Gabrielle or Victor and ask them about their lives.
“You didn't tell me you were coming!” Jeanne said after they pulled away from the hug. Victor ruffled his sister's hair, smiling.
“We wanted it to be a surprise,” he turned to Gabrielle, “please tell her, my love.”
Gabrielle was trying very hard to hold back a giggle, her mouth turning into a small v-shape. Jeanne’s eyes scanned Gabrielle’s body and noticed that she was holding her stomach. She gasped.
“Gabrielle, are you—” Jeanne rubbed her stomach to complete the sentence.
To that, Gabrielle just giggled, covering her hand with her mouth.
She revealed a book from her purse — a new one Jeanne had never seen before. The book was red with gold decorative linings along the edges. In the middle of the book cover was a drawing of a familiar red mill. The title read: “A Farce at the Moulin Rouge”.
“My new book!” Gabrielle said, beaming, “it took me more than a year to finally publish it, but it’s here. The very first book under my name…”
First, Jeanne gasped, unable to take her eyes off the ornate cover of the book, then she finally took in what Gabrielle said. She quickly threw her arms around the other girl in a rush of joy.
“Oh, Gabrielle! I’m so proud of you,” Jeanne said, nearly in tears.
“We wrote to Monsieur Zidler to ask him if he could create a new revue promoting the book, since it is about his institution. I will sponsor everything, of course!” Victor added.
The good news just kept coming. But when things are this good, there must be a catch somewhere —
Charles entered the room carrying two bottles of champagne along with Edmond who was carrying a tray of pastries from the nearby bakery. They set the items down on Charles’s desk, then Edmond left after being prompted by Charles.
Charles greeted the visitors warmly. He gave Gabrielle a polite bow and shook Victor’s hand.
“Welcome back to the Moulin Rouge!” Charles said, arms wide open. “Congratulations on your book, dearest Gabrielle. It is such an honor that you named it after our little cabaret.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Monsieur Zidler.” Gabrielle turned to look at Jeanne while she spoke to Charles. “The inspiration of my novel was what happened at that time last year after all. A girl disguising herself as a handsome man… the men and the women who loved her… the cabaret owner who caught her heart… everything was so inspiring!”
Charles’s lips curled into a small smile. He clasped his hands behind him, the way he usually does when he’s planning to negotiate something with people.
“And so you want my Jeanne to be the model of the promotional revue?”
… Not again! Jeanne thought.
She turned to Charles with her nose scrunched up and her eyebrows knitted together. Jeanne always made this face when she was upset, but Charles told her once before that it made her look like a frustrated puppy.
“Didn’t I tell you I do not want to stand on stage anymore?” Jeanne pleaded. “If you could recall the last time I stood on that stage, it was a disaster!”
“Well… it was not entirely your fault,” Gabrielle said, “the reason why it became such a mess was because of me…” (Victor then assured her by saying that it was Willy’s fault, and not hers at all.) “But this time! This time I will not attempt any kissing of the sort! I will not be in it, even~”
“Yes, because Jeanne will be the star in this revue,” said Charles.
“Charles?!” The girl in question protested. “I am not a star—”
Noticing that Jeanne was getting anxious, Charles stepped towards her and took her hand, as an act of assurance, squeezed it. Charles gazed at her with his big, beady eyes that always seemed to be pleading. His arm then slid down to her waist, holding her near.
“—You will not make me say yes by being on your knees or holding your breath this time, Charles,” Jeanne interjected before Charles had the chance to say anything. All of them laughed in response.
“Hey! It was an act of desperation.” Charles tapped the tip of her nose playfully. “Then I won’t. But will you please dance for me? You already are the most popular staff member in the cabaret, with men and women alike. People will flock in to see you dance. And Gabrielle would not want anyone but you to promote her novel.”
“And the sponsor also does not want anyone but his sister in top billing,” said Victor. The visitors grinned at each other, smiling to each other as if they were of one mind.
Jeanne bit her lip, her heart racing. She placed a hand on her chest. She remembered the anxiety. She remembered the large crowd watching her from their seats. She remembered being with Gabrielle. Then, she remembered her promise to Charles.
All eyes were on her, waiting for her to say something.
“Agh, fine! Fine.” Jeanne conceded.
Gabrielle rushed gleefully to give her a hug, something that Jeanne, as Jacques, would have never allowed her to do. But now that the truth was out, all Jeanne wanted was the warmth of other people. Jeanne returned the hug, patting Gabrielle on the back of her head.
After all, there was no more Marcel bothering her anymore. She was safe to be onstage. If they thought she would need more dancing lessons, then they would have to help her. They all saw how Jeanne was during the rehearsals for La Vie Parisienne, and she was not really any better.
“Thank you, Jeanne,” Gabrielle said after letting go of her. “There is no one else but you who should be representing my novel!”
Jeanne gave her a shy smile, still mostly unsure about everything. What if she messes everything up again… how will the revue even go… will she be dancing solo, or will she just be standing there?
After the note on Charles’s table, Jeanne knew that there was something about to occur but she didn't think she would be actually involved in it, on stage.
When the conversation ended, Charles led the group to the rehearsal room where Michel was already concocting the choreography for the other dancers. As soon as the dancers saw the guests, however, they came flocking toward them like pigeons being fed bread crumbs.
Victor and Gabrielle smiled at them. The dancers asked them many questions about Belgium, and their life together. Victor let Gabrielle answer their questions for he believed that women should be listened to rather than spoken over. Jeanne thought they were absolutely perfect for one another with the right amount of class and elegance. In the same way she thought she and Charles were perfect together as well.
When Michel had finally run out of patience, everyone went back to their formation on the dance floor. Charles had requested for the grandest, most intricate choreography that has ever graced the stage since La Vie Parisienne and after a little bit of complaining, Michel agreed.
Once the dancers were finished with their practice, Michel then called out Boris to come to the center of the dance floor.
Boris, Willie’s ex-lawyer, was offered a place to work in the cabaret. He was both the legal consultant of the Moulin Rouge and a dancer when he had time as well. Charles liked Boris’s strength and adaptability, so he thought of hiring him. Boris, having little to no choice after losing Willie, simply agreed. As long as he got to wear a wig sometimes.
“As per our beautiful Madame Writer’s request, Jeanne will perform a duet dance,” Michel began, looking right at Jeanne, “but this time you will be blindfolded.”
Jeanne blinked. … And then blinked once more.
“Excuse me?” she asked, “I can hardly dance with my eyes open—”
“Which is why Boris is here!” Michel put a hand on Boris’s shoulder. “He will guide you!”
Boris grinned from cheek to cheek. “Leave it to me! Unfortunately, Leo is much too busy preparing the—” (He was abruptly interrupted by Michel elbowing him in the gut. Boris murmured a “sorry!”) “—S-so I will be your duet dance partner and I will not be blindfolded. You are safe with me, Mademoiselle!”
For many valid reasons, Jeanne did not think she should trust whatever was coming out of Boris’s mouth, especially since everyone seemed to be on watch in case he would say something he was not supposed to. She sighed, thinking she had no choice.
“I don't know about that, but…”
“Trust me!” Boris said, with his arms spread out.
Michel clapped his hands once, in strict choreographer fashion. “Let’s learn it. Leo, La Goulue, teach them.”
Leo and La Goulue stepped up to the center of the dance floor as soon as they were called. Leo, who at first seemed like a diva, was actually a sweet boy who would protect his friends at any opportunity. La Goulue was La Goulue, sweeter than any candy in Paris. They demonstrated how the pair dance was supposed to go, with Leo as Boris and with La Goulue as Jeanne.
The dance itself did not look complicated, at least while Leo and La Goulue were doing it, but those two could make anything look easy. La Goulue was given a blindfold, so she could show Jeanne how it would look.
“Michel, you’ve outdone yourself with this one,” Charles said, as he watched the dance.
The dance had a narrative about two lost souls finding each other again. There were dips, catches, spins and everything, but they wove together to create the perfect story. In the end, the girl’s blindfold is taken off and she would read what was written there. Jeanne was moved to tears and applauded when the dance ended.
“Beautiful!” She praised them, tears still in her eyes.
“Now, let’s see you and Boris do the same,” Michel quipped.
A dance is beautiful only if the performers are able to give justice to it. No matter how beautiful the choreography was, if the dancers are not good, then the dance would only look like two pairs of flailing limbs twirling out of rhythm.
Jeanne knew her abilities were far from La Goulue but Victor, Gabrielle and Charles were counting on her — she could not let them down.
With that, Jeanne shook Boris’s hand and they started learning the dance. Leo taught Boris and La Goulue, ever so patiently, taught Jeanne. Individually, the learning seemed to be going well, until it was time for Boris and Jeanne to come together.
Every time Jeanne and Boris held hands, she would miss the sensation of Charles’s, so she would glance up at him sometimes, hoping that their eyes would meet. To her disappointment, Charles was busy talking to Victor to notice her. After the second time she tried to sneak a failed glance at Charles, who was still busily talking to Victor, Boris stepped on her foot.
“Ow!” She exclaimed. Boris promptly apologized.
When she glanced at Charles again, he did not even glance at her. His eyes were on Victor. With that, Jeanne felt her heart get tugged. She turned to Michel and asked for a break to check if her foot was alright. Boris, meanwhile, kept apologizing. Jeanne sighed, wondering why Charles was not looking at her.
Michel concluded the practice after Boris and Jeanne finished learning the first half of the choreography. Boris slumped to the floor exhausted, then rose after a while to work on legal files in his office. Jeanne approached Charles and the others.
“Good work, love,” Charles told her. “Your dancing has improved.”
“You were watching?” she asked, trying not to sound upset.
“Of course I was! We all were.”
Jeanne gave a small, tired smile. Charles reached out to her and squeezed her hand.
“Are you alright?” He asked.
Jeanne only nodded, then proceeded to put her head on his shoulder. She did not want to be upset with him — maybe her anxieties were unfounded. And yet…
“How about we have dinner?” Victor piped up, interrupting Jeanne’s train of thought.
“Great idea, Victor,” Charles beamed.
Jeanne thinned her lips. She nodded. “Dinner would be great.”
Her brother blinked. “Are you alright, sister?”
“Yes! Yes… just tired from all the dancing…” She reasoned.
Charles squeezed her hand. “Dinner will make you feel all better!”
Jeanne linked arms with Charles, feigning exhaustion. Charles tapped Jeanne on the nose playfully. She pulled on his arm slightly, almost as if to draw him away from Victor. In fact, there was no reason for her to be jealous! They were just talking!
But… Victor was basically Jeanne in shape, form, and voice… but male. And Charles… he told her before that he liked men too.
She tried to brush that thought away. There was absolutely no need to doubt Charles.
They walked to a nearby restaurant that Gabrielle frequented, so the workers there all knew who she was and what she wanted. They quickly accommodated them into a nice balcony table, overlooking the city. Paris was so beautiful , Jeanne thought.
The waiter asked them for their orders. Jeanne wanted something small, but Victor insisted that she get herself something nice. (He was paying, after all.) Victor said the same thing to Charles too and for some reason, she wanted to pull Charles as far away from Victor as possible. It’s the way Charles looks at Victor that makes her worry.
After they ordered the food, they had a few moments to speak to each other.
“So, Charles,” Victor began, “are you planning on settling down with my baby sister anytime soon?”
Charles, who was drinking a glass of water at the time, nearly choked on his drink. “What?”
Jeanne looked at his every expression, fearing the answer. Naturally, in the year they’ve been lovers, the topic of marriage and family had come up multiple times. They had plans… how soon? She wanted to settle down with Charles one day too and have a happy life with him. Didn’t he want the same?
Charles gave her a reassuring squeeze on the hand.
“When the time comes,” he said, looking at her, his eyes so gentle.
“Well, come to Brussels on your honeymoon so we can all be together again!”
Victor laughed and Gabrielle followed. Charles, too. Jeanne was the last to laugh, still unable to process the confusing and irrational emotions she was feeling.
To be jealous of Victor, truly?
After the dinner, they parted ways. Victor and Gabrielle went to their hotel and Charles and Jeanne walked back to Charles’s little apartment. Charles offered his arm to her, and they walked like that, arms linked, Jeanne’s head on his shoulder. She had nothing to worry about, yes? Charles treated her like he always did.
Absolutely nothing to worry about…
The next few days were rehearsals of the dance. The choreography was harder than any dance Jeanne had ever danced in her life. Boris was also trying his very best. When Michel thought they were ready for it, he pulled out the blindfold for Jacques.
“W-wait,” she protested but Michel had already put it around her eyes. She couldn’t see anything.
“Just trust your gut, alright? Boris will be here to guide you,”
Then, they start the dance from the top again. This time, almost disastrously. Jeanne might have stepped on Boris’s toes maybe more than three times. The lack of visual cues made it even more difficult than what she was used to.
“Stop!” Michel called.
Jeanne pulled the blindfold from her eyes. “Are you really sure about this, Michel? What if I mess up on stage or worse?”
The choreographer nodded, relentless. “We still have time to rehearse. You will do well, Jeanne.”
She nodded, not entirely believing in what he said. When Michel left, she approached Boris, who was tending to his poor foot that was trampled on upwards of three times.
“My apologies,” she told him.
“It’s nothing! You should have seen me during the opening night of La Vie Parisienne! I was flailing around, getting stepped on, breaking my bones, getting tied up-” he stopped after he saw Jeanne’s confused expression. “It really is no problem.”
She sat beside Boris with a big sigh.
“What’s wrong, Mademoiselle?”
“Have you ever had someone you love fall for someone else?”
Boris blinked. “Well, I was a divorce lawyer so I have witnessed it many times but… for myself, not at all. Why do you ask?”
“I… it’s nothing.”
“Your relationship with the manager is going well, I hope?”
“Yes, of course…”
Boris shifted himself to face her. “I have been trained to say this phrase over and over to prevent divorces, but I think the manager loves you more than anything. Truly.”
Jeanne gave Boris a small smile, thanking him. Then, Boris beamed back. Before they knew it, Michel had returned.
The exhausted Jeanne was exempt from all her secretarial activities that day, so she headed straight home after rehearsals. Since it was still early, she thought she had the time to cook some dinner for the both of them. Charles usually went home at night, so she would have enough time to cook them something nice.
She took some tomatoes, carrots, and other ingredients and began to make a stew. Then as she was doing that, she started to cook some chicken for the main course. Charles was going to love this.
The food was done, so she waited…
She looked at the clock from across their living room. It was already eight in the evening, and Charles had not arrived home yet. She began to worry but as she was about to put her scarf on to go to the cabaret, the lock clicked.
“Where have you been?” Jeanne threw her arms around him.
“My girl,” Charles pulled her close to take in her scent after a long, exhausting day. “I had some errands to do, my apologies for not telling you earlier.”
Jeanne looked up at him. “I made you dinner…”
“Oh, you did?! You are an angel, Jeanne. Have you eaten?”
“...No… I was waiting.”
He kissed her on the forehead, unable to resist her charms. “Let’s dig in then.”
Jeanne began to take off his coat for comfort when she noticed a new scarf around Charles’s neck. When she whiffed a scent of it, it smelled strangely of… Victor. Her heartstrings felt like they were being yanked. Charles… with Victor? This late?
She tried to ignore it. Surely, it must have been nothing. Victor is with Gabrielle -- surely he would not cheat on Gabrielle like that Willy did?
“Charles…” She started, but she did not know if she wanted to finish.
“Yes? Oh this thing,” he lifted the scarf. “It’s Victor’s. He lent me this because mine got blown away by the wind.” He leaned in to look at her face. “Jeanne…?”
“You’ve… gotten quite close, huh?”
“Well, he is the sponsor of our show so I thought we needed to have a shared vision about the new revue.”
Jeanne tried very hard not to pout but her face betrayed her.
“Jeanne?” Charles cupped her face with his hands. “Are you afraid I might betray you and run away with Victor?”
“No? That’s silly…” Jeanne could not look him in the eye.
“Is it because of my… past with men?” His voice was so soft and gentle.
“Jeanne… my angel…” He led her to the dining table and let her sit on his lap. “Whether you are a man or a woman or whoever you wish to be, it is still you that I want… not Victor, not Gabrielle… but you.”
She hid her face in Charles’s shoulder, trying to hold back tears. “Then why are you always around Victor then?”
Charles put his hand on top of hers. “You will know soon…”
“Why can’t I know now?”
“Patience, mon ange . Just trust me?”
She laced their fingers together. “Your stew’s gone cold…”
Charles gave her the biggest grin. “Then it will be the best cold stew I have ever tasted!”
The manager of the Moulin Rouge had his ways of making Jeanne’s heart melt and one was being the most sincere person she had ever met. She picked up a spoon and began feeding Charles the stew while on his lap.
“And I was right,” he said.
Jeanne could not stop smiling. As she wiped away a stain of stray stew on Charles’s lip with a napkin, Charles took her wrist and gazed at her. She sighed, wistfully, looking right back. There was something about Charles’s eyes, that once you look into them, you can never look away…
Her eyes found themselves on Charles’s mouth and they leaned in together at the same time, lips finding lips.
“You taste like stew,” Jeanne teased.
“So now you know how delicious it was,”
She adjusted herself better on Charles’s lap so she would not fall to the floor. Charles pulled her closer to prevent her from falling, his hands on her back. They kept kissing. Soon, Jeanne’s hands were on Charles’s hair, pulling on it slightly. Charles groaned against her mouth.
“Jeanne,” he breathed.
“Charles,” she replied, pulling on the lapels of his vest.
He bit his bottom lip slightly, unable to resist her. “Do you want to-”
Without a second thought, Jeanne answered, “Yes—”
“Take out the…”
Jeanne knew immediately. She headed over to their secret drawer where she and Charles kept their intimate contraptions. One of which was Charles’s favorite.
One thing she loved about Charles was that he communicated every worry he had about himself in bed: namely that he mostly had experience with men, that he liked to be taken from behind and that he cannot be as active as he was in his youth. Jeanne had no objections. As long as Charles loved her, she would do anything for him, and Charles would do the same (if his stamina allowed it.)
Tonight, Jeanne wanted to satisfy him.
She fastened the strap around her hips (as Gabrielle, ever so knowledgeable, had taught her in one of their letters) so she could take Charles on the bed. The sight of Jeanne wearing the toy always made Charles feel so excited.
She climbed up on top of him, watching his face. Charles breathed heavily.
“My Jeanne,” he sighed, wrapping his legs around her.
“My Charles.” She arranged herself in front of him. “Only mine…”
One thing that Charles loved about Jeanne was that, even if she was taking him from behind, even if she was the one dominating in bed, she was always so, so adorable. Charles could not resist her. Even if his bones and muscles were complaining from soreness, he wanted to keep on going, for her. She deserved the world and nothing less.
When she thrust into him, Charles saw stars. He always did.
“Jeanne, Jeanne, Jeanne-”
He hugged her closer with his legs to feel her better. She was so beautiful… so, so beautiful.
Just as he was about to finish, he flipped them over so Jeanne would have her fill too. He watched her, the way her body moved, the way her mouth would fall open and make sounds just for him.
When Jeanne finally reached her climax, Charles collapsed on the bed beside her after he reached his shortly after. She moved closer to him to kiss the small beads of sweat off his face. Their sweaty, naked limbs tangled together like inseparable vines.
“I love you,” Charles said, his eyes half-lidded.
Jeanne pressed a soft kiss on his lips. “I love you too…”
They fell asleep like that under the warm blanket.
In the morning, Jeanne felt a pang of worry when she woke and saw that Charles was not beside her but was then relieved to find that Charles was in the kitchen, making breakfast. She snaked her arms behind him as he flipped the sunny side eggs.
“Cooking for me?” she asked, face pressing into his shoulder.
“Only the best eggs for my lovely girl.” He tilted his face so his cheek would touch her nose. She kissed his cheek. “You sit back and I will cook, alright?”
“Mm… no…” Jeanne nuzzled into his neck, refusing to let him go.
“I want to stay like this—”
Charles chuckled at that. He cooked the eggs with one hand as he squeezed Jeanne’s hands with the other. He began swaying as he cooked, and Jeanne followed along with his silly little dance, giggling.
She looked up at him, smiling. “What are you doing?”
“Just a little dance.” He kept swaying them left to right as they waited for the eggs to cook.
When breakfast was finally cooked, Jeanne and Charles sat close together, their legs entwined under the table. Jeanne put her head on his shoulder as they enjoyed the silence. Charles sliced a piece of his egg and fed it to Jeanne, affectionately.
Jeanne leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth. She found herself on his lap again - her favorite seat in the world. Charles smiled at her and brushed her hair with his fingers. They leaned in and kissed, almost forgetting they had work that day.
She wished they could stay like this forever…
But alas, duty called.
The next few days were increasingly hectic as the opening night drew closer and closer. Florence was once spotted running around with three rolls of fabric on his arm because Charles wanted changes to the design. Michel was getting stricter and stricter with his choreography. As the opening night drew closer and closer, he wanted everything to be perfect.
Promotional posters, once again designed by Lautrec, were strewn around Paris. Everyone wanted to know what Gabrielle Colette, the actual writer of the Claudine novels, had in store for her new book. Of course, there were skeptics who still did not believe that Gabrielle was the one writing the books and yet they would still come to see the show.
Because everything was so busy, Jeanne and Charles barely had time to see each other. Jeanne missed him, dearly. They could not even exchange their secret kisses behind the curtain because Charles was running around doing business. Jeanne understood, of course.
Jeanne also tried to ignore the increasing jealousy she felt whenever she saw Victor leaving Charles’s office when she barely had the time to see her lover. It was probably nothing.
Absolutely nothing. She tried to rationalize with herself that everything is totally fine. But as she was walking past Charles’s office to get to the rehearsal room, she saw them dancing together. Hand in hand, with Victor’s head on Charles’s chest. Victor had his eyes closed and Charles had his back to the window. They would not be able to see her. She felt like her heart could burst, so she ran away from the scene.
What was that?! Did she have any reason to believe Charles anymore? To be dancing so intimately with Victor… when Victor had a wife…
She wanted to speak to Gabrielle about it but the girl was constantly surrounded by reporters who wanted to know about her new book.
Everyone was busy. Jeanne hoped the busyness would help her forget about what she saw in Charles’s office. She did not sleep in the apartment that night, making the excuse that she would be up all night rehearsing, because tomorrow night was opening night.
It was almost midnight. Boris was with her in the rehearsal room too. They had finally mastered the dance with Jeanne blindfolded, so Boris thought they could both rest easy for the night. He began to stand up when he noticed that Jeanne was still on the floor, hugging her knees.
“Is there something the matter, Mademoiselle?” Boris asked, sitting down next to her.
Jeanne was preoccupied, watching the moon for some sort of comfort. Charles and Victor were dancing together in his office earlier. Were all her doubts… true? She hugged her legs closer to herself, sighing. She nearly jumped at the sight of Boris, thinking he had left.
“Boris!” Jeanne exclaimed. “You can go home now…”
“I could , or I could also listen to what’s bothering you,” Boris prodded with a gentle smile. “I’m very good at listening to problems.”
Jeanne sighed again. “I just… think that my doubts have now become reality…”
“Like… what if the person I love does not love me anymore? And all…”
Boris put his figurative thinking cap on and held his chin. “I may not know much about love but… I know that the manager loves you and no one else.”
“Is that so?” She pouted.
“I know what fake love looks like! And I know what true love looks like…” He smiled at Jeanne again. “You have nothing to worry about.”
Jeanne smiled back, weakly. Boris does not know a single thing, she thought.
“Well then, we better rest up for the big day,” he said, standing up first.
He held his hand out to pull her up as well. Jeanne took it and stood up. Without his shoes on, it was very obvious that Jeanne was taller than Boris, which made him feel less intimidating and more like a reliable friend.
Jeanne did not go home that night but instead slept in the sleeping quarters for the dancers. She hoped Charles would not worry that night.
When she woke up the next morning, she noticed that she was covered by a blanket, when there weren't any blankets available when she looked for one last night. She sank further into the warmth of her blanket because it smelled faintly of Charles's perfume.
She missed Charles.
Before she could open the door of the sleeping quarters, Mistinguett burst in to tell her to get ready.
And get ready she did.
Everyone was frantically getting ready for the show, rehearsing, doing a final fitting. Florence had prepared the most beautiful spring-themed costumes for the dancers. Jeanne was brought into a fitting room so she could try on her costume. It was a sparkly lavender jacket lined with sequins paired with black pants, reminiscent of her La Vie Parisienne costume but this time with a different color scheme and… grander.
“You’re the star,” Florence told her.
And for once, she felt like it. Florence handed her a lace mask that she would use later for the dance. It was not as opaque as the blindfold she used during rehearsals, but she still would not be able to see a lot. She thanked Florence and headed to the main dressing room, where the other dancers would be preparing.
She still had no sign of Charles anywhere. She asked people, but everyone told her that they had no idea.
Where was Charles, she thought, worried. She just wanted to see him again before the show. Her heart was racing and she was afraid she would not remember the dance steps.
Gabrielle met her backstage, instead.
“Jeanne?” She murmured, entering quietly through the back door. “Are you alright?”
“Y-yes,” she lied. “I—”
“You’re nervous, aren’t you,” Gabrielle asked her. She held her hands out. Jeanne smiled weakly and took them.
“Like last time, eh…” Jeanne said, squeezing Gabrielle’s hands.
“Your hands are still so warm…”
Boris ran into the room in his costume that contrasted Jeanne’s, a sparkly green costume.
“Hello, madame,” Boris greeted, sheepishly, “Jeanne… it’s almost time for curtain.”
Jeanne thinned her lips, determined to give Charles the best show ever, even if she hadn’t seen him in twelve long hours… where was he…
Soon, the curtains were up. The dancers danced another elaborate can-can, sans the interruption of Boris. Miss was sure she would not miss this revue for the world, so she made sure she was of pristine health. The male dancers soon entered the stage, with Leo at the forefront, as usual.
After that was the duet dance with Jeanne and Boris. Jeanne and her partner would enter from different sides of the stage. Jeanne was already blindfolded, so she had to memorize and count the steps she had to make in order to get into the right position.
The person who was dancing with her did not feel like Boris. Not one bit. For one, they had a lighter touch, and they felt more sure with her movements than Boris ever did in their tens of hours of rehearsals. Maybe Jeanne was just delusional, maybe she missed Charles so much she imagined Boris’s touch would feel much like Charles’s.
As they spun around together, her head on her partner’s chest, she became more and more sure. The person she was dancing with was not Boris. She remembered having to crouch a little bit more with Boris.
Finally, the dance was almost over and it was time for the penultimate choreography. The partner swiftly removed her blindfold before replacing it quickly with a soft, cotton one.
The dance would end as soon as Jeanne pulled the blindfold off of her eyes. She stood there in the middle of the stage, the piece of cloth in hand. She ran backstage, wondering what had just happened. As soon as she was out of sight, she saw something written on the blindfold.
“Meet me on the balcony”
She looked up and saw that Boris was backstage. He did not look like he broke a sweat. He did not look like he danced with her at all.
“Shall I escort you, Mademoiselle?” He gestured to the exit, bowing slightly. Everyone had their eyes peeled. What was happening?
Gabrielle playfully pushed her forward, excited about something. Suddenly, Victor appeared and ushered her up the stairs as well. The other dancers were cheering. Cheering for what? Jeanne was so confused and yet her heart was racing. She went up the stairs to the balcony, where a man wearing the same costume as Boris was waiting.
“Charles?” she asked.
Charles seemed to be hiding something behind him.
“Why did you call me out here?”
“Well, I—” he gulped, turning away from Jeanne a little to collect himself. “I have a question to ask you,”
“How was the dance?” Charles asked, facing her.
“You… it was… good. You dance… well…” Jeanne was still unsure of how to approach him after seeing him with Victor.
“You didn't come home last night…”
“I was worried sick…”
“I saw you… with him. Dancing.” Jeanne tried very hard not to cry at that very moment.
Charles’s eyes grew large like a pleading cat. “We were rehearsing—”
“I was afraid! I thought that maybe you would want Victor instead after all and not me because I don’t have a real…”
The tears started falling from her eyes without warning and she cursed them. She cursed herself for being too weak and fragile. Alas, she was too busy wiping her eyes and cheeks to notice that Charles was kneeling on one knee before her… with a ring.
“Jeanne,” he whispered, “look at me, mon ange. ”
When she finished wiping her eyes to look, she gasped. “Charles?!”
The man before her smiled, though his knees and hands were trembling.
“Last year, you told me you wanted to keep on making dreams with me. Well… I want you to make my dream come true, Jeanne. Let’s start a family together, you and I…”
Jeanne stood there stunned, unable to find the words. Charles cleared his throat.
“What I am trying to say is…” He looked up at her, eyes big and begging, “marry me?”
She nodded. Then she nodded twice, just to be sure. And again. Finally, the words came out.
“Yes, Charles Zidler, yes!”
Charles leapt to his feet, ecstatic. He slipped the ring onto her finger and held her as tight as he possibly could. She held him close as well, tears of happiness falling down her cheeks. She felt Charles sneak a kiss to her hair.
Then, they kissed, properly. Intensely. A night’s absence made their bodies long for each other… and even more so now that they were engaged. Engaged .
Charles was her fiancé now. Jeanne could not believe it…
Suddenly, the said fiancé pulled away from the kiss. He was smiling at her as their foreheads touched. Their hands were laced together. Jeanne felt safe like this.
“They're… waiting for us,” he said, after a few moments of being distracted by each other.
Jeanne giggled, thinking she should have expected this. Charles led her down the stairwell hand in hand, Jeanne followed. He opened the door to the rehearsal room which was entirely different from what Jeanne had seen just before the show. It was fully decorated from ceiling to floor.
And not only that, but everyone from the Moulin Rouge, including Gabrielle and Victor, were waiting for the news.
“Well?!” Gabrielle asked, representing everyone’s impatience and anticipation.
Charles patted her back and motioned her to tell them. Jeanne raised her hand to show her new ring off. Immediately, there was an uproar that was nearly deafening. Shouts of “Congratulations!” reverberated to all the corners of the walls and echoed from the mouths of other people. Confetti popped, Cedric was playing music, everyone was dancing and celebrating.
Gabrielle approached Jeanne and held her hands again to congratulate her. Victor followed her. Suddenly, Jeanne felt a little silly for being jealous of her brother. They all shared a warm group hug. Victor ruffled her hair affectionately then turned to speak to Charles.
“All your rehearsals paid off, monsieur,” Victor held a hand out. “Or should I say, brother?”
“It was all thanks to you, really,” Charles beamed at him, “brother.”
They shook hands firmly. Jeanne giggled at them. She called out to Boris who was trying to get a glass of punch but the girls seemed to have surrounded the bowl so he couldn't get past them. Boris hopped to her, giddy about the news.
“Thank you… for everything,” Jeanne told him. “It is a shame you couldn't dance with me onstage.”
Boris shook his head. “There will be other opportunities. The important thing is you and the manager are happy.” He grinned widely, “See! You had nothing to worry about.”
The corners of her mouth lifted up. “Maybe you do know a thing or two about love,” she said, before gently pushing Boris towards Leo, who was also trying to get a glass of punch.
Jeanne turned her attention to her future husband this time. Charles held her hand and looked at her tenderly. Unable to help herself, Jeanne leaned in and pressed her lips on Charles’s, kissing him right in front of everyone. Charles wrapped his arms around her waist and she threw her arms around his neck. They kept on kissing as they forgot about the world around them for a second.
Everyone averted their gaze, giggling to themselves.
They separated for breath. Jeanne’s face went beet red when she realized they had just lost all control and kissed in front of everyone but Charles merely squeezed her hand to assure her that everything was alright. He kissed her forehead before he let himself get lost in her eyes.
Jeanne was content. And now she was absolutely sure about it.