YA Historical Fantasy by Vickie Tremper
My feet hit the pavement and I cry out. I lose my balance. Crumpling in a heap, I try to remember what happened to me. 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 throbs. 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.
Why is he speaking French? Is everything okay, as he asked? My whole body hurts. I can’t seem to remember anything, except French.
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?
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.
I push myself to standing and a pendant thuds against my chest. I grab the gold medallion hanging around my neck. I just barely make out the pattern of a woman with flowing hair and flowing clothes in the lamplight from above the plaza. Memories wash over me. No! I nearly lose my balance again. I shiver in fear, despite the heat.
“Maman,” I choke out. I need my mom.
But...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 and sun dresses and sneakers and sandals. That sparks another memory and I feel something scratching against my arms inside my sleeves. I smile and pull my sandals from my sleeves. I peek inside my blouse and see my cami. I tear off the skirt, kick off the shoes with a sigh of deep relief, and unbutton the horrid blouse. 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 the man who tried to help me earlier 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. Should I run or talk my way out of it?
Old Sophie would either wait to see if he’s cute or run away.
But the new Me isn’t afraid to stick up for myself anymore.
* * *
17 DAYS EARLIER
I held my bag tight against my side and ducked my head, trying to ignore the body odor swirling around me and the sheer crush of strangers. I peeked at my best friend Abby who scrunched her nose a bit.
Wind rushed down the metro platform, stealing our breath and trying to steal our dance bags. While wishing the wind would steal away the smell, I hummed the adagio from the second act of Giselle, my favorite ballet. I could almost hear the mournful cello echoing off the arched tile walls.
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 held onto the pole, swaying and dancing with the movement of the train, struggling to stay upright. I ignore the elbow pushing at my neck and the briefcase banging against my knee and the heat of someone's body right up against my back.
“Sophie, you are so lucky to have a hot boy in your host family,” Abby said from the other side of the pole.
Her green eyes glinted under her thick bangs. “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 between us like a life boat. I imagined letting go of the pole, losing my balance, and ending up on the floor under all these feet, some wearing stiletto heels or steel-toed boots, 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 jeans at first. It could have been a shopping bag or an accident. Until fingers tickled around my zipper.
I pushed a hand off my pants 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 an elbow jab to my 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 kept up 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 and I couldn’t stand it. 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.
“Please tell me what’s wrong,” Abby said. “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.
“Shit, Sophie, 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 back. 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 pushed against me, I flinched. Abby rolled her eyes.
I had taken enough for one day. “What’s your problem, Abs?
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 tonight with Vincent. Don’t forget to call me. I still 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.
“I can't stand the thought of anyone touching me right now and if he tries to kiss me, I’ll probably slap him,” I explained. “Then where will I live?”