Saturday, March 26, 2011
My feet thud onto the pavement and my ankles fail me. I cry out in pain and surprise. Will I still be able to dance?
I squint at the lights shining from streetlamps and rushing cars. Too bright.
Sounds bombard me from every direction: car horns blare, music blasts, people talk, laugh, sing. My head pounds. I touch my temple and groan.
"Est-ce que tout va bien, mademoiselle? Avez-vous besoin d'aide?" a man asks, kneeling at my side.
I wonder why he is speaking French. Is everything okay, as he asked? My whole body hurts. I can’t seem to remember anything except French.
Where am I?
My head whips back and forth, checking out my surroundings. I recognize the Place de l'Opéra in Paris.
Okay, deep breaths. I’m in Paris. My mother’s birth place.
In a fog, I look down at myself and frown at the long, dark skirt, pointed black ankle boots, and a long-sleeved cream blouse scratching my neck. What the hell happened to my shorts and flip flops?
I push myself to standing, vaguely wondering what happened to my good samaritan, when a pendant bounces against my chest. I grab the gold medallion hanging around my neck and stare at the pattern that causes memories to wash over me.
Each wave threatens my balance. I shiver in fear, despite the heat.
What year is this?
Another look around confirms I’m at least close to my own time period. Cars and motorcycles. People wearing shorts and tee shirts. That sparks another memory, of putting these old fashioned clothes on over my lightweight, modern gear. I smile and pull a flip flop from each sleeve. I tear off the skirt, kick off the boots, and unbutton the horrid blouse to reveal a pink tank top. I ball it all up to carry under my arm, and run toward the rue de Mogador.
My ankle throbs and I remember spraining it last week.
I turn and see my good samaritan with a gendarme in a blue uniform.
“Oh no,” I whisper. My stomach clenches. It can’t be the same policeman. He wasn’t at the Opera when I left, he couldn’t be here with me.
I try to breathe normally, calm down, and think things through. If it is him, then he doesn’t belong here and can’t hurt me. If it isn’t him then I have nothing to worry about.
Should I run or talk my way out of it?
Old Sophie would clam up and run away.
But I'm not afraid to stick up for myself anymore.
* * *
17 DAYS EARLIER
Wind rushed down the metro platform, stealing our breath and trying to steal our dance bags. I wished it would steal away the smell.
Humming the adagio from the second act of Giselle, my favorite ballet, I could almost hear the mournful cello echoing off the arched tile walls, while my best friend bounced on her toes.
Our train arrived with a great rumbling and whooshing, and we squeezed on. There was nowhere to sit, barely anywhere to stand. Silently cursing the Friday-before-Bastille-Day crowds, I struggled to stay upright. I ignored the elbow pushing at my neck and the briefcase banging against my knee.
“Sophie, you are so lucky to have a hot boy in your host family,” Abby said from the other side of the pole in front of the doors. Her green eyes glinted under her thick bangs. “I’d consider giving up dance for the chance at a French cutie under the same roof.”
I snorted. “You would not. You live to pirouette.”
“Nah, pirouettes are fun, but I live for grand jetés. It’s like flying.” She closed her eyes and nearly fell against the tall, skinny, suited man between us. “So where is he taking you?” she asked.
“I think to a party at a friend’s house.” I stared at her chunky silver rings and gripped the pole like a dance partner's hands during a recital. I imagined letting go, losing my balance, ending up on the floor under all these feet and getting trampled to death. And then Mom would say, "I told you not to go to Paris for the summer."
Working hard not to inhale through my nose, I didn’t notice the pressure on my shorts at first. It could have been a shopping bag or an accident. Until fingers tickled around my zipper.
All the people and their various accessories blocked my view. I swatted a hand off my shorts and tried to step away, but my back pushed against a wall of bodies and I stepped on someone's foot. In response, I got jabbed in the ribs. I dropped my arm down to protect my zipper. The hand pushed back.
What the hell was going on? Was this really happening?
I twisted around, but there was no space for me, so I gritted my teeth in the battle against a hand I couldn't even see. Looking around at the bored, glistening faces, I saw nothing suspicious. No one seemed the least bit interested in me.
I felt so powerless.
“What’s wrong?” Abby asked.
I shook my head, fast, and bit my lip. I didn’t want the person responsible to hear me. No words formed in my brain anyway.
A woman standing at the next set of doors caught my attention. She had spiky black hair almost lost in the crowd. Her intense blue eyes veered downward and I wanted to touch my necklace, the gold medallion my mother gave me before I left New York, 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.
The spiky-haired woman stared at me as if she could read my mind. The cello from Giselle sang in my mind again and I pictured the choreography that went along to the music, letting it distract me from the tension in my arms, the hand that had finally left me alone, and the freaky woman at the other end of the train.
We 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. I had to get away from all that ick.
“These holiday weekend crowds are crazy, huh?” she asked.
I stood on the street and rubbed my lower lip with frantic fingers.
“What happened? Are you okay?”
I finally found my words. “Someone tried to undo my zipper on the train. He--he was touching me.” I shuddered again at the memory, and at my inability to move away or even to react.
She gasped. “Whoa, that’s friggin’ weird.”
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. The two memories twisted together in my mind. If I ever saw her again, would I remember the feel of a stranger's hand on me?
“Shit, Soph, I’m sorry,” Abby said. “That’s happened to me a few times. It sucks.”
My mouth dropped open. “You’ve never said anything.”
She bit her pinkie nail. “What’s to tell? Men are pigs.”
I couldn't believe my best friend had never told me something so important. Something I found completely degrading. No one had ever touched me there before. I hadn’t had much experience yet with boys.
And I had done nothing about it. I stood there and took it. What was wrong with me?
We walked against the pedestrians heading in the opposite direction. Any time a man accidentally brushed against me, I flinched. Abby rolled her eyes.
I had taken enough for one day. “What’s your problem, Abs? I’m upset.”
She sighed. “Okay, I guess I was pretty mad the first time, too. But you get used to it.”
I shook my head. I wasn’t just going to get used to it. I felt violated. Dirty.
“Well,” Abby said, looking up at the iron gates in front of the Picard apartment. “Have a good time with Vincent tonight. Don’t forget to call me. I want all the juicy details.”
I stopped with one hand on the vertical bars of the gate. “I’m not going out with Vincent tonight.”
She tilted her head and raised her eyebrows.
“If he tries to kiss me, I’ll probably slap him,” I explained. “Then where will I live?”
See the original week one entry here.
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