Saturday, March 5, 2011
My feet hit the pavement and I cried out. Then I lost my balance. Crumpling in a heap I tried to remember what had happened to me and where I was. Lights shone in my eyes from streetlamps and rushing cars. Sounds bombarded me from every direction: car horns, music, people talking, laughing, singing.
I looked down and saw a long, dark skirt, pointed black ankle boots, and a long-sleeved, high-necked blouse that scratched my skin and made me sweat in the heat. Why was I in these totally unsummery clothes? Where were my shorts and flip flops?
My head pounded. I put my hand up to my temple and groaned.
"Est-ce que tout va bien, mademoiselle? Avez-vous besoin d'aide?" a man asked, kneeling at my side.
Why did he speak to me in French? Was everything okay, as he asked? Did I need help?
My gaze darted around and I recognized the Place de l'Opéra in Paris.
Okay, so now I knew where I was.
My hand reached for the neck of my blouse and felt a chain. I pulled it out and stared at the attached medallion. Memories washed over me, making me shiver in fear, despite the heat.
What year was this?
* * *
“He asked you out?” Abby, my best friend, squeaked after dance class.
My left cheek twisted into a smirk.
“Why did you wait until now to tell me?”she asked.
We left the building where we took our dance classes and entered the Port-Royal metro station. Only a few people waited on our side of the platform, but the opposite platform was crowded.
“Because I’m so nervous I can barely talk,” I said in a rush.
Abby laughed and the excited trill bounced off the tiled walls behind and above us.
“You're so lucky to have a hot boy in your host family. So where are you going?” she asked.
“I think he’s taking me to a party at a friend’s house,” I responded, pulling at the medallion on a chain around my neck. Which reminded me of my mother. Would she approve of Vincent? I shook my head to clear it. Did I care?
“He said it’s to celebrate the start of the holiday weekend, before all his friends head out of the city.”
“Ooh, that’s so cool,” Abby gushed. “You have to call me first thing in the morning to tell me all about your date. Especially if he kisses you.”
“Abby!” I swatted her arm.
“What? I bet he’s an awesome kisser.” She got lost in a reverie so I turned away.
The train pulled in and we boarded. We chatted about lots of nothing until we reached the huge, sprawling Chatelet-Les Halles station. Once there, however, we needed all our energy to push through the thick crowd of waiting travelers.
I held my bag tight against my body and ducked my head, trying to ignore the body odor swirling around me and the sheer crush of bodies. I peeked over my shoulder at Abby and noticed her nose scrunched a bit.
We arrived at our next platform without talking, but not in silence. Wind rushed down the platforms, stealing our breath and trying to steal our bags. I wished the wind would steal away the smell.
Our train arrived and we squeezed on. There was nowhere to sit, barely anywhere to stand. I held onto the pole, swaying and dancing with the movement of the train, struggling to stay upright, my dance bag crushed under my arm.
Working hard not to inhale through my nose, I didn’t notice the pressure on my jeans at first. Until the pressure on my jeans became a scrabbling toward my zipper.
I knocked the hand away, but it came back. I pushed my arm down to protect my zipper. Looking around at the bored, sweaty faces, I saw nothing suspicious. No one seemed the least bit interested in me.
“What’s wrong?” Abby asked.
I shook my head, fast. I didn’t want to talk about it. Not here. I needed to concentrate on keeping that hand away from my crotch.
Sweat beaded on my temples and under my arms. I gripped the pole like a life boat, still crushing my bag against my side. The other arm stayed in front of my zipper.
I looked above everyone’s head, checked out the metro map and counted the number of stops until my own. A woman standing at the next set of doors caught my attention with her gaze that never wavered from my face.
She had spiky black hair barely noticeable above the crowd. She was too far away to have tried to get into my pants, and too far away for me to tell whether her eyes harbored hostility or a question.
Her intense eyes veered downward and I wanted to touch my necklace, for protection, for comfort, but I didn’t dare move either of my arms.
I again checked the faces around and above me. Nothing. Not a flicker. Not a glance. Not a smirk.
My eyes cut back to the spiky-haired woman. Her gaze drilled into me and I couldn’t stand it. I glanced at Abby, oblivious Abby. A pang of jealousy hit my gut then quickly frittered away. It wasn’t her fault a pervert found me enticing.
We finally reached my stop and I forced my way through the throng of people blocking the exit.
Abby got out, too, even though this wasn’t her stop. “Sophie?”
I ignored her until we were on the street. I kept moving, not caring if she was behind me, yet grateful at the same time.
“These holiday weekend crowds are crazy, huh?” she asked.
I stood on the street and rubbed my lower lip with frantic fingers. Anger started as a knot in my stomach and built up and out, pushing into my throat, pulsing in my head and chest.
“Sophie, please tell me what’s wrong,” Abby said. “What happened? Are you okay?”
I finally found my words. “A man, or someone, tried to undo my zipper on the train.”
She gasped. “Oh my gosh! Sophie, are you okay? Geez, I didn’t know, I didn’t see anything.”
“I know, it’s okay, it’s not your fault.” I even meant it.
I shrugged and wrapped my arms around myself. “I couldn’t tell. The only person looking at me was some woman standing too far away.”
I felt her blue eyes on me again and shivered.
“Geez, Sophie, I’m so sorry,” Abby said, her face a mask of confusion and sympathy. “Let’s get you home.”
We walked against the pedestrians heading in the opposite direction. Any time a man looked at me, or pushed against me, I flinched. Abby put an arm around me to protect me or comfort me, I guess, but I couldn’t stand anyone’s touch. I shrugged her off.
“I’m sorry, Abs, I’m just too mad.”
A spasm rocked my shoulders and neck. “I mean, this isn’t what I came to Paris for. I swear, if any man so much as talks to me right now I might bite his head off.”
Her eyebrows rose but she kept quiet and kept her distance.
The walk to the Picard apartment helped focus my anger.
“Well,” Abby said, looking lost, “Have a good time tonight with Vincent.”
“Oh, I won’t be going out with Vincent tonight,” I answered, words clipped and precise.
She tilted her head.
“Because if he tries to kiss me, I’ll probably slap him,” I explained. “Then where will I live?”
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