It’s been years since she’s stepped foot in front of this place and it almost feels like around her remembers too.
The vines, ever swaying in the scattered breezes, had suddenly stilled, as if they could sense the air being sucked out of her as her eyes trace the peeling yellow and white paint, as well as the brown patches through the rusted fence and gates where the lawn has been worn away by several feet, maybe even her own at one time.
It feels so much more different than it was when she was small. So brave. Fearless, even. If she closes her eyes, she can picture her Mama and Mère here still, if she concentrates.
Her Mère would be in the kitchen as always, so busy working away in the smoke that tumbled out the back door and across the top windows on their way towards the Eiffel, something delicious being simmered or chopped or baked under her hard gaze. Her Mama would be in her office, toying away on a new lesson, her foot tapping on the creaky wooden floors and pen scratching as she wrote notes in fluent French. She missed those days.
Her Mama and Mère are still around, she had only just seen them the week before at the house they have lived in for years that she wrote to almost weekly, but only finally came to visit once she’d left the clutches of Aggie, who had taken her on vacation with herself and her husband, as well as their son. It had been a wonderful seaside trip, but she knew she couldn’t stay forever despite Aggie not so cleverly dropping hints she was welcome.
She didn’t know what to think when her Mama opened the door to see her, but the emotions that crossed her now unveiled face was enough to bring her to tears, folding into her arms like she was 10 years old again, her Mère quickly following and both muttering French to her that her then heavy head didn’t understand, but bathed it like it was the purest water.
She had stayed for only a few days, given that she was attending higher education at that time, when curiosity got the better of her and she had to ask “Mama, is the school still standing? Or did Lord Covington finally tear it down?”
“No, my sweet one. I don’t think it is. Hélène and I have visited it and as far as we know, it is used as a house now instead of a different place. Why?”
‘I wondered if he was back there…’ “I just wondered, I thought Genevieve might be lonely.”
“Ah, oui.” Her Mama had nodded, though she knew deep down that she knew she had a different answer. Her Mama had always been someone who knew things. Always.
She had been 12 when he’d first kissed her. It had been about a year since their adventure and she’d just come back from the theatre while he’d just come back from a ride on his Vespa under the sunset and the growing night sky. His parents still hadn’t allowed him a motorcycle just yet, though she knew when they did, he’d most likely never come back until night time or she privately feared, ever again should he manage it.
She’d just changed into her nightgown and was about to cross the stairwell from the bathroom to the beds when pebbles tapped at a nearby window and alerted her to his presence. Stumbling down the stairs as quietly as she could, tiptoeing past Hélène and Miss Clavel before going out the ajar back door and climbing the lip of the garden wall to meet him, smiling.
“I want to give you something, before you go to bed.”
“What is it? It better not be one of your mice again.”
“Por supuesto no! You have to close your eyes though, cause I can’t let you see it.”
“Oh, alright.” As soon as her eyes closed, his lips were on hers and quick as a whip, it was suddenly gone and she opened her eyes in shock only to see nothing in front of her anymore.
Quietly, she called out his name several times before she silently started to cry and padded back inside to suddenly come face to face with Miss Clavel, who escorted her up to bed without a word.
Thankfully, despite her ability to hold grudges against people, she didn’t hold a grudge against him for very long, as he gave her flowers over the wall when he finally came back and apologised before he kissed her again and this time, she reciprocated.
She would have to say that the summers between 12 - 17 had been some of the best of her life, with and without her friends around. While most were sent back to their families come Christmas or holiday time, she lived with her Mama and Mère all the time and she couldn’t care less that the girls had to go home. While there was always tears, there was also anticipation, given that she was growing up and so were her feelings, give or take.
It was the best time then. True to her word, his parents gave him a proper motorcycle on his 14th birthday and she could still hear its engine roar out of the driveway as she ran to chase it, her gloved hand holding her hat to her head as best one could while the other gripped his shoulder as they sped through the dusty and sometimes almost too unnerving Paris streets and cobblestone, weaving though alleyways and narrow corners before they’d stop somewhere and have ice cream or beignets or just sit on a bench, her head on his shoulder and his arm around her shoulders or waist as they watched life go by.
She didn’t know if her Mama and Mère really knew what she was doing truly, but it seems that they knew when to step in and she thankfully learned from them as she got older. She knew they worried, given that as soon as she left the school she was to be on her own, but she tried not to think about it much as she knew they did, preferring to enjoy the time she had left.
“Mi querida?” He’d called her one day while Hélène and Miss Clavel were inside and she snuck away from the other girls to see him, now able to stand in front of the wall instead of having to climb up it like when she was younger. “Oui, mon amour?”
“Would you come over and stay, with me, tonight?”
“I can find a way to trick Miss Clavel I guess, but what about your parents?”
“They will be at another ambassadors house for dinner and bridge, confía en mí. Please?”
“Okay. Then I will. We have to be quiet however and you have to help me over the wall.”
“Deal. Ahora, shoo. Rápido.”
She didn’t know that night would be the last time she saw him.
She didn’t know that night would be the last time she saw him. It wasn’t even in her mind. She’d woken up to an early sunrise through his curtains and scampered after leaving him a kiss, only having her nightgown to protect her modesty from the second-story window to the ground and back into her own bed before Mama had come to wake them. Aggie knew she’d gone somewhere and had questioned her, but she’d just smiled and shrugged.
That smile she’d had on her face all day at that moment turned into a horrible “O” when she noticed his house had people moving in and out with boxes of his belongings, him standing with his parents that seemed to be arguing with him and he looked close to tears.
Oh, please. Please, no. She didn’t know what came over her that moment, she could have been seeing it all wrong for all she knew, but her body felt like it was about to fall apart and she raced, her skirt and petticoat flying beneath her like the ocean would make waves as she dashed out of the house and gates before digging her heeled shoes in the ground to stop herself from falling or going further, tears already falling when she realized she was seeing exactly what she’d thought she was.
He was leaving. The only person in the world that loved her almost as much as her Mama and Mère did, was leaving her. She’d wanted to stop him, scream at him, beg him to stay, but Mama had gotten there first and dragged her away, even as she called out for him and he tried to call back, only to collapse into Aggie’s arms weeping when they passed the threshold of the door and she was let go.
A year later and after a very long and lonely summer, she was gone too. Gone up to a residential college to become a teacher herself, like her Mama was. Only she wasn’t going to veil herself as she had so long ago, it was just not her “calling”, as she phrased it.
She wondered if he even thought of her. If he cared. If he would come back.
She’d visited the school once or twice, halfway through her college stay and found herself entertaining a new group of girls as she had been once before, her Mama and Mère hovering at the door as she told them wonderful stories about what she and the other girls used to do, but knowing they could see her heartache at being back there. It was no wonder she stopped visiting after that. It was just too much seeing his house without him inside of it.
The only time she came back after that was when Genevieve passed away. Mère had written her in the beautiful dog’s last days and she’d made it just in time to see her wag her tail once more, lick her face and then, leave in a breath of spring. They buried her in the grounds of the school, near the garden shed and she could have sworn she saw him, if only for a moment.
She had been crying all day nearly, it seemed, as Hélène wept before helping Miss Clavel, who had also shed a few tears, dispose of Genevieve’s remains. Wrapped nearly in a tableclothed box that was covered in handmade pictures and cards, Genevieve was lowered into the hole that Hélène had dug the day before, while she and the other girls who’d come to know the stray as the school’s pet, dropped flowers in afterwards before Miss Clavel muttered a prayer under her breath as took the other girls inside while she stayed out, watching as Hélène started to fill in Genevieve’s final resting place in the ground she loved.
She could have sworn that someone had been watching her and she turned her head, only to see the curtains still drawn on his house, like they had been since he left. It made her so angry and it bubbled up inside until finally, when Hélène left her alone, she exploded.
“Je te deteste! Je te hais tellement!” She screamed in the direction of the house, chest heaving and fists clenched. “Tu as dit que tu m'aimais! Pourquoi m'as-tu quitté!?” She fell to her knees, staring up at his bedroom window, arms wrapped around herself.
“Pourquoi m'as-tu quitté…?”
The house didn’t respond, of course. She didn’t expect it to, given if houses could talk they would never be so silent in their lifetimes but she’d almost wanted it to do so. To give her an answer that she still sought. It was the very last time she visited the school again.
Now, back in the present, the school still stood, only now it had a ‘For Sale’ sign picketed in front of it and had obviously been turned into the house her Mama alluded to, given it’s new curtains and shutters stood out from the paint that was wasting away like it was.
She hadn’t meant to, but in touching the gates just to get a closer look, they squeaked open and against her better judgement, she walked in along the path she’d trodden so many times with worn shoes, spinning as she did so to capture everything like a memory.
The bushes needed trimming, it needed paint, the vines needed shortening, but it was still the same place that raised her from the ground up and shaped her into the person she was meant to be and she thanked it for that.
She spied Genevieve’s gave from her vantage point and nodded to it in acknowledgement, taking a deep breath in as she peered up at the upper levels before she flinched, hearing a car pulling in next door and turning her head as she saw the taillights of some model of transportation passing by. She should really leave now. She might just be absorbed into the woodwork of the place if she didn’t.
Quietly, she headed out on her heels and closed the gates gently back to their state before, the squeak of the hinges making her smile for a moment and then, sadly letting it fall as she turned away from them and moved towards her Mama’s car, of which she had borrowed to make the trip, planning to drop it back off again on her way back to her teaching college.
She had just stepped onto the road and was pulling the keys out of her handbag, gloved hand on the handle (Mama had told her to do that as it kept sticking shut from being slightly older than the newer cars around now) when suddenly she heard it and it stopped her in her tracks like she’d been frozen.
Shaking, it was several moments of silence that passed before she turned and she couldn’t find her breath as her eyes took in what she saw. Him, standing there, so grown up now, but almost the same, like the house.
He’s taller now, looking almost dishevelled and desperate, wearing nothing but a white tank top and a half on, half off leather jacket that is become to become fully off as he doesn’t move to fix it, almost too afraid to by his face, his eyes dazed as if he was seeing a dream.
The tables had been reversed and the realization almost killed her. He’d finally returned and now that he did, along with all the unanswered questions and anger and sadness and heartbraak she’d had, she was the one leaving him alone. Exactly as he did to her.
Only, she couldn’t.
Hastily re-pocketing the keys, she stands tall and she knows he feels the anger raging through her as she stalks over to him, tears in her eyes again.
Before he knows it, he’s slapped across the face like someone’s punched up and despite her want to give him a lot more than just a piece of her mind, she desperately dives forward in the confusion, kissing him as dust from his driveway flies up from his stumble and somehow, he grabs her and holds her close, a hand under her chin and an arm around her waist to prevent her from leaving and closes the gap, leaving them standing there together.
She wants to say so many things to him (not all of them good), but right now, most of them are like embers burning on a fireplace situated in the back of her mind as she hums, letting go of his lips to stare up his almost tearful eyes as he smiles.