The metro came to a stop and so did my reveries. I was at my destination: the Place Charles de Gaulle. After visiting the Arc de Triomphe, I climbed up all 234 steps to get to the Sacré-Coeur. From the top, I stared at the city of lights, feeling the breeze stir my hair free from my ponytail. Then I went shopping on the Champs-Elysées, mostly window-shopping, though I was drawn to the glittering storefront of a perfume shop like a moth to a flame. There I spent a ridiculous sum on a perfume whose name I couldn’t even pronounce.
While I was eating lunch at an outside café, taking more pleasure in cracking the surface of my crème brûlée than in actually eating it, I allowed my brain to turn to him finally. I’d been avoiding the thought of him all day the way one tries hard not to scratch at an itch. It doesn’t make the itch go way, of course – it only prolongs it.
I wondered what he was doing. If he missed me. I decided to go and find out. Why not? my brain asked. I wasn’t able to come up with a response.
I found my way easily back to the Musée d’Orsay, despite the fact that I’d only been there once before, my first day in Paris. The first day I’d met Sebastian.
I’d always been good with directions, able to find my way no matter where I was. My friends used to joke that I had an internal compass built into my brain.
At the entrance, I asked the gentleman at the booth whether Sebastian was inside.
“He’s in the Cezanne hall, to your right.”
I went to hand him the payment for my ticket but he waved it away.
“No payment for a friend of Sebastian,” he said.
I thanked him and entered the museum, blinking at the sudden change from bright sun to dim lighting.
As I turned into the Cezanne hall, looking past the throngs of people, I caught a glimpse of someone who looked like Sebastian. But no, that couldn’t be him. The man I saw held a small child in his arms, a girl with golden curls. A blond woman had her arm around his waist.
Suddenly the man turned and looked right at me. It was him, it was Sebastian.
I ran blindly, not seeing where I was going. Not caring. I was dimly aware of people scattering to the left and to the right of me. Hot tears flew out of my eyes, blurring my vision.
Outside, I ran headlong into a security guard and dropped my shopping bag. I heard glass shattering and smelled the sudden, intense scent of my new perfume now soaking the concrete and permeating the air. The guard began scolding me in heavily punctuated French, shaking his fists at me. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. The only thing that mattered was putting as much distance between myself and Sebastian as quickly as possible. I kept running.
I ran until I got a stitch in my side that sucked the breath clean out of me. Stopping, I looked around me as I struggled to catch my breath. I was surrounded by unfamiliar buildings. I tried to figure out where I was, but my internal compass seemed to be malfunctioning.
“Emily? Is it you?”
I turned around, ready to start running again. And saw Victoire standing behind me.