Home > Just One Day (Just One Day #1)(14)

Just One Day (Just One Day #1)(14)
Gayle Forman

We stand there, our bodies pressed together, barely an inch of space separating us. I can feel the fast, steady thud of his heart, the sharp in-out of his breath. I can see the rivulet of perspiration trickling down his neck. I feel my blood, thrumming, like a river about to spill over its banks. It’s as if my body can no longer contain me. I have become too big for it somehow.

“Willem,” I begin. There is so much I need to say to him.

He puts a finger up to my neck, and I fall silent, his touch at once calming and electrifying. But then he removes his finger and it’s red with blood. I reach up to touch my neck. My blood.

“Godverdomme!” he swears under his breath. With one hand, he reaches into his backpack for a bandanna, and with the other, he licks the blood on his finger clean.

He holds the bandanna against the side of my neck. I’m definitely bleeding, but not badly. I’m not even sure what happened.

“They threw a broken bottle at you.” Willem’s voice is pure fury.

But it doesn’t hurt. I’m not hurt. Not really. It’s just a little nick.

He’s standing so close to me now, gently pressing the bandanna against my neck. And then the cut on my neck is not the point of exit for blood, but the point of entry for this weird line of electricity that is surging between us.

I want him, all of him. I want to taste his mouth, his mouth that just tasted my blood. I lean into him.

But he pushes me away, pulls himself back. His hand drops from my neck. The bandanna, now clotted with blood, hangs there limply.

I look up then, into his eyes. All the color has drained out of them, so they just seem black. But more disconcerting is what I see in them, something instantly recognizable: fear. And more than anything, I want to do something, to take that away. Because I should be scared. But today, I’m not.

“It’s okay,” I begin. “I’m okay.”

“What were you thinking?” he interrupts, his voice icy as a stranger’s. And maybe it’s that or maybe it’s just relief, but now I feel like I might cry.

“They were going to hurt you,” I say. My voice breaks. I look at him, to see if he understands, but his expression has only hardened, fear having been joined by its twin brother, anger. “And I promised.”

“Promised what?”

An instant replay runs through my head: No punches had been exchanged. I hadn’t even been able to understand what they’d been saying. But they were going to hurt him. I could feel it in my bones.

“That I’d take care of you.” My voice goes quiet as the certainty drains out of me.

“Take care of me? How does this take care of me?” He opens his hand, which is stained with my blood.

He takes a step away from me, and with the twilight blinking between us now, it hits me how utterly wrong I have gotten this. I haven’t just skied onto the diamond run; I’ve flown off the face of the cliff. It was a joke, this request to take care of him. When have I ever taken care of anybody? And he certainly never said he needed taking care of.

We stand there, the silence curdling around us. The last of the sunlight slips away, and then, almost as if waiting for cover of darkness to sneak in, the rain starts to fall. Willem looks at the sky and then looks at his watch—my watch—still snug around his wrist.

I think of those forty pounds I have left. I imagine a quiet, clean hotel room. I think of us in it, not as I imagined it an hour before in that Paris park, but just quiet, listening to the rain. Please, I silently implore. Let’s just go somewhere and make this better.

But then Willem is reaching into his bag for the Eurostar schedule. And then he’s unclasping my watch. And then I realize, he’s giving time back to me. Which really means he’s taking it away.

Eleven

There are two more trains back to London tonight. Willem tells me it’s after nine, so there’s probably not enough time for me to exchange my ticket and get on the next one, but I can definitely catch the last train. Because I gain an hour back going to England, I should get to London just before the Tube stops running. Willem tells me all this in a friendly helpful way, like I’m a stranger on the street who stopped him for directions. And I nod along, like I’m the kind of person who actually takes the Tube alone, day or night.

He is oddly formal as he opens the door to the apartment courtyard for me, like he’s letting the dog out for its nightly pee. It’s late, the night edge of the long summer twilight, and the Paris I walk out into seems wholly changed from the one I left a half hour ago, though once again, I know that it’s not the rain or all the lights that have come on. Something has shifted. Or maybe shifted back. Or maybe it never shifted in the first place and I was just fooling myself.

Still, seeing this new Paris, it brings tears to my eyes that turn all the lights into a big red scar. I wipe my face with my dampening cardigan, my returned watch still grasped in my hand. Somehow I cannot bear to put it back on. It feels like it would hurt me, far more than the cut on my neck. I attempt to walk ahead of Willem, to put space between us.

“Lulu,” he calls after me.

I don’t answer. That’s not me. It never was.

He jogs to catch up. “I think Gare du Nord is that way.” He takes me by the elbow, and I steel myself against the zing, but, like tensing against a doctor’s shot, that only makes it worse.

“Just tell me how to get there.”

“I think you follow this street for a few blocks and then turn left. But first we have to go to Céline’s club.”

Right. Céline. He’s acting so normal now, not normal like Willem, but normal compared to how he was twenty minutes ago, the fear gone out of his eyes, replaced with some kind of relief. The relief of unloading me. I wonder if this was always the plan. Drop me off and circle back for Céline for the evening shift. Or maybe it’s the other girl, the one whose number is sitting snugly in his hip pocket. With so many options, why would he choose me?

You’re a good kid. That’s what my crush, Shane Michaels, had told me when I’d come as close as I ever would to admitting my feelings for him. You’re a good kid. That’s me. Shane used to hold my hand and say flirty, sweet things. I’d always thought it meant something. And then he went off with some other girl and did things that actually did mean something.

We follow a large boulevard back toward the station, but after a few blocks, we turn back off into the smaller streets. I look for the club, but this isn’t an industrial neighborhood. It’s residential, full of apartment houses, their flowering window boxes soaking up the rain, their fat cats happily dozing inside closed windows. There’s a restaurant on the corner, its fogged-up windows glowing. Even from across the street, I can make out the sound of laughter and silverware clanking against plates. People, dry and warm, enjoying a Thursday-night dinner in Paris.

The rain is coming down harder now. My sweater is soaking through to my T-shirt. I pull the sleeves down over my fists. My teeth start to chatter; I clench my jaw to keep it from showing, but that just detours the shivering to the rest of my body. I pull the bandanna off my neck. The bleeding has stopped, but my neck is now grimy with blood and sweat.

Willem looks at me with dismay, or maybe it’s disgust. “We need to clean you up.”

“I have clean clothes in my suitcase.”

Willem peers at my neck and winces. Then he takes my elbow and crosses the street and opens the door to the restaurant. Inside, candlelight flickers, illuminating the wine bottles lined up against a zinc bar and the menus scribbled on little chalkboards. I stop at the threshold. We don’t belong in here.

“We can clean your cut here. See if they have an emergency kit.”

“I’ll do it on the train.” Mom packed me a first-aid kit, naturally.

We just stand there, facing off. A waiter appears. I expect him to ream us out for letting in the chilly air, or for looking like dirty, bloodied riffraff. But he ushers me inside like he’s the host to a party, and I’m the guest of honor. He sees my neck, and his eyes go wide. Willem says something in French, and he nods at once, gesturing to a corner table.

The restaurant is warm, the air tangy with onions and sweet with vanilla, and I am too defeated to resist. I slump down into a chair, covering my cut with one hand. My other hand relaxes and releases my watch onto the white cloth, where it ticks malevolently.

The waiter returns with a small, white first-aid box and a blackboard menu. Willem opens the kit and pulls out a medicated wipe, but I snatch it from him.

“I can do it myself!” I say.

I dab the wound with ointment and cover it with an oversize bandage. The waiter returns to check my work. He nods approvingly. Then he says something to me in French. “He’s asking if you want to hang your sweater in the kitchen so it can dry,” Willem says.

I have to fight the urge to bury my face into his long, crisp, white apron and weep with gratitude for his kindness. Instead, I hand over my soaked sweater. Underneath, my damp T-shirt clings to me; there are bloodstains on the collar. I have the T-shirt Céline gave me, the same obscure, too-cool-for-school band T-shirt Willem is wearing, but I’d rather parade around in my bra than put that on. Willem says something else in French, and moments later, a large carafe of red wine is delivered to our table.

“I thought I had a train to catch.”

“You have time to eat a little something.” Willem pours a glass of wine and hands it to me.

I am technically of age to drink all over Europe, but I haven’t, not even when, at some of the prepaid lunches, wine was offered as a matter of course and some of the kids sneaked glasses when Ms. Foley wasn’t looking. Tonight, I don’t hesitate. The wine glints shades of blood in the candlelight, and drinking it is like receiving a transfusion. The warmth goes from my throat to my stomach before setting to work on the chill that has settled in my bones. I drain half a glass in one go.

“Easy there,” Willem cautions.

I gulp the rest of it and thrust out my glass like a middle finger. Willem appraises me for a second, then fills the glass to the rim.

The waiter returns and makes a formal show of handing us a chalkboard menu and a basket of bread with a small silver ramekin.

“Et pour vous, le pâté.”

“Thank you,” I say. “I mean, merci.”

He smiles. “De rien.”

Willem breaks off a piece of bread and spreads it with the brown paste and offers it to me. I just glare at him.

“Better than Nutella,” he teases in an almost singsong voice.

Maybe it is the wine or the prospect of getting rid of me, but Willem, the Willem I’ve been with all day, is back. And somehow, this makes me furious. “I’m not hungry,” I say, even though I am, in fact, famished. I haven’t eaten anything since that crêpe. “And it looks like dog food,” I add for good measure.

“Just try.” He holds the bread and pâté up to my mouth. I snatch it from his hands, take a tiny sample. The flavor is both delicate and intense, like meat butter. But I refuse to give him the satisfaction of seeing me enjoy it. I nibble a bite and make a face. Then I put the bread back down again.

The waiter returns, sees our emptying wine carafe, gestures to it. Willem nods. He returns with a full one. “The sole is . . . it is finis,” he says in English, wiping the entry off the chalkboard. He looks at me. “You are cold and have lost blood,” he says, as if I hemorrhaged or something. “I recommend something with force.” He makes a fist. “The beef bourguignon is excellent. We also have a fish pot au feu, very good.”

“Just keep it coming,” I say, gesturing to the wine.

The waiter frowns slightly and looks to me, then Willem, like I am somehow their joint responsibility. “May I suggest to start, a salad with some asparagus and smoked salmon.”

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