Saturday, February 11, 2017

Chapter One: The Romantic Streets of Paris

   This is the first chapter of Alone in Paris. Enjoy!

Chapter One: The Romantic Streets of Paris

 The streets of Paris are crowded. Because of this, I don’t want to stay long. People surround the marketplace on the corner as I walk by. I dodge and weave through the horde of tourists, careful not to touch, or bump anyone as I walk by. The owner of the market is yelling in French. I don’t understand most of what he shouts, only catching the words fruit, vegetables, and fresh.
   Being so confined around all these people is making my heart race. There is barely enough space between the bodies for me to get through. People are talking over each other as they try to push their way closer to the market. I flinch away whenever someone gets too close to knocking into me.
   Just one more block, I tell myself. My hands are twitching at my sides, tempted to push and shoulder my way through the crowd just to reach the other side. It’s nearly impossible to see beyond the cluster to know where it ends. I just want to make it through before I have a panic attack.
   I finally break through the last of the people, thankfully without being touched or shoved. I let out a long, shaky sigh and run my sweaty hands down my jeans. I hate leaving my apartment. Always have, and always will.
   It’s another block before I reach my destination, but when I push open the door to the bookstore, I’m filled with relief. The bell above the door chimes, announcing the arrival of a customer as I step inside. A woman looks up from behind a heavy, wooden desk that is off to the side of the shop. She smiles at me before making her way to me. I smile back weakly.
   “Are you looking for anything in particular?” she asks when she reaches me.
   “No, just browsing,” I tell her, lying through my forced smile. We stand there in awkward silence for a long moment until I finally walk away. Once I’m out of sight, I let the fake smile fall from my lips.
   The store is empty of anyone else but the owner and me, giving me full-range to wander. I take in the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, walking until I come to the CLASSICS shelf. I begin scanning the spines of the books, quickly reading their titles before letting my eyes continue to wander.
   My search ends when the title, Jane Eyre, stares back at me. I pick it off the shelf and flip through the pages. I was obsessed with the book in high school, reading it several times to grasp every detail. Every word added to the mystery of the plot. I missed reading it.
   But I can’t have it.
   I may never get to read every word the book holds in its pages again.
   “Have a good day,” the lady calls from behind her desk as I make my way to the exit, only to be overwhelmed by the crowd again.
   “Thank you,” I answer in a small voice.
   After pushing my way back through the crowd, I make a sharp right to walk down an alley. When I come to the end of the alley, I make a left and then pass three iron staircases before walking up the fourth. I glance around before opening the door.
   Once inside, I turn and immediately lock the door. With a sigh, I close my eyes and lean against it. I made it.
   Pushing off the door, I walk into the main entrance and up the creaking staircase. The banisters are crooked with cobwebs in between the balusters. The paint is cracked and chipped away in numerous places here and there. A thick coating of dust also covers the railing. My nose wrinkles at just the thought of running my hand over it.
   The old complex has five floors, and my apartment is at the very top. Though there is an elevator, I never dared to trust it. I’m willing to take my chances with the creaky stairs, even though the steps are rotten, old, and rickety.
   I turn left when I reach the top and walk to the end of the hallway—to the last door on the right. I head straight for my bedroom when I walk in, passing right by the kitchen and the bathroom right across from it, without so much as glancing inside. I have a tiny living room, too, with a beat-up sofa.
   I push my bedroom door open and head straight for my window seat, where I intend to stay for the next few hours; settled into the old, dusty cushions as I read. I did not have anything new to read or Jane Eyre, but I will gladly read what I have because it is better than nothing. I glance out the window and down at the street, where I had just come from. People still clutter the sidewalks, chatting and walking, barely taking in their surroundings.
   I go to my collection of books that I have piled beside the rocking chair, analyzing each one as I think about what I’m in the mood to read. I have read each one front-to-back more than once. Though I am grateful to have found them, knowing each one by heart took away the excitement and wonderment of the story they held.
   I settle on Tuck Everlasting before going back to my bench seat. The old book smell hits me when I open the pages.
   I read the words slowly as I sink into the story. I become part of the book. I become part of every book I read, making it seem like I belong in every reality, not just my own.
    I can sink into a story like I belong in it—like I’m meant to be part of it. Since I’m alone, there isn’t much else to do but slip into another reality.

Night has settled over Paris. The streets have cleared of the crowds, and the city has been lit up. I set my book down, deciding to go for a walk. The Eiffel Tower is only a few blocks away. Now that there aren’t many people out, I can walk there without having to fight my way through mobs of gawking tourists.
   Once downstairs, I glance out the window by the door to see if anyone is in the alley. I never use the front door. The apartment complex has been abandoned for years, and it should still be abandoned. I’m trespassing, so I can’t let anyone see me walking out. I can’t let anyone find me living here.
   When I’m sure no one is around, I open the door and step out into the cool night. The barren alley is dark and intimidating as I try to find my way to the street. It isn’t until I make a right that I can see again. The light from the street is visible at the end of the alley.
   I head in the direction of the Eiffel Tower when I exit the alley, relieved to be out of the dark. I stay to the far side of the sidewalk, even though there are few people out. As I pass restaurant and café windows, I glance inside to see busy servers and chatty customers. Most people are partying or having dinner—that’s why no one else is walking the streets.
   I walk down a few more blocks until I’m standing in front of the tower. It’s lit up, brightening up the cloudy sky with its spectacular lights. No moon or stars are visible, leaving people to appreciate the tower’s beauty while the clouds hover above the nine hundred, eighty-six-foot tower.
   There are only a few people scattered around the park, most strolling under the four arches. I turn to face the nearly-empty park.
   Across the park is an overgrown vegetation that hides a small iron gate. Beyond the iron gate holds one of my most precious hiding places. There is almost never anyone here. As I push back the overgrown hedges, I think of The Secret Garden. This place is just as mysterious and magnificent, if not more special.
   I click open the gate and step into the small park.
   String lights twinkle in the trees, illuminating the small pond with gold flakes that remind me of stars. The water is flat—smooth like glass. It would be as dark as the sky if it weren’t for the lights on the trees. A bench rests under the trees, half hidden in the overgrown willows all around the park.
   I walk over to the pond and sit at the edge with my knees pulled to my chest. I look down at my reflection in the water to find my blue eyes staring back at me. My long brown hair rests on my shoulders, warm and soft. I reach up and twirl a strand around my finger.
   I sigh, letting my hand fall, tempted to touch the still water instead—to make it ripple. I stare at the small lights that shine around my reflection and at the image of the Eiffel Tower that looms above me in the pond. I turn my eyes to the illuminated structure above me. No matter how many times I look at it, I never get tired of the sight.
   I reach out, allowing a single finger to touch the surface of the water. It ripples under my touch. The lights shimmer as the tiny waves flow across the water, faintly blurring my lonely reflection in the process.
   Lonely. My heart grips as the word crosses my mind. So many different feelings come with the word, not just loneliness. The word went beyond its definition. Loneliness has a deeper meaning to those who truly know what it means to be alone.

I’m lying on my back in bed, staring up at the spider-web infested ceiling as the sound of my demanding stomach fills the room. I doubt I have enough money for food, but my stomach is not listening to reason.
   I sigh as my stomach rumbles hungrily again, before jumping up and going over to the window. It’s late afternoon; the streets are busy again, but I’m tired of being cooped up in my small apartment.
   I push away from the window and grab my worn messenger bag from the rocking chair that’s in the corner. I speed down the stairs and out of the building though I have no idea where I’m headed.
   I pause at the end of the alley, hesitating as I take in all the people. My stomach growls again, giving me the push I need to head into the crowd.
   After wandering for several blocks, I catch the beautifully sweet scent of fresh croissants. My stomach growls again, and I quietly groan for one of the pastries. I look up across the road and into the bakery’s window. The sight and scent makes my mouth water and stomach rumble.
   I touch the messenger bag at my waist, wondering if I have enough for at least one small pastry. I quickly discard the thought before my stomach can growl again.
   Doubting I have the money, I tear my eyes away from the window and force my legs to carry me away. Having no destination in mind, just knowing I have to get away from the delicious, fresh, mouthwatering pastries that call: Come back! Eat us! We’re delicious!
   I don’t know how far I walk before I decide to stop, but when I do, I’m hit with the need to sketch the scene in front of me. A little florist cart sits between an ice cream shop and a clothing store. A woman in her late fifties is tending to the flowers around her cart.
   This is what I want to sketch, I decide, taking a seat on a bench just across the street. I take my sketchbook out of my messenger bag and begin. I sit there for who knows how long as I capture the light of the sun on the flowers, and the joyful looks on little kids as they walk out with their ice cream cones.
   I can tell I’ve been sitting in one place for a long time by the stiffness in my muscles, but it doesn’t seem like all that much time has passed before my masterpiece is finished.
   “Excuse me, young lady,” an old, frail voice comes from behind me. I jump, turning to find the owner of the voice. A man in his late sixties is staring down at me with a pleasant smile. I don’t bother to force a smile as I stand with the intention to leave. He holds up a hand to stop me, then, once he has my attention, points to my sketchbook. “You are quite talented. May I?”
   I hesitate, looking down at the book in my hand, then at him again. I finally hand it over with the thought that if he wanted to steal it, the old man wouldn’t be able to get far. He looks back down at my sketch for a few long moments as I impatiently shift my weight from foot to foot. He finally looks up at me, his eyes glistening.
   “It’s my wife’s birthday today, and she loves art,” he tells me. “May I buy this from you to give to her?”
   My hand subconsciously moves to my demanding stomach. How much is he willing to pay for an amateur drawing? Right on time, my stomach quietly growls, and I decide that I don’t care. I just need enough money to buy a pastry to quiet my stomach.
   I nod in agreement. The old man rummages around in his pocket for a moment before handing me a ten. My eyes almost bulge.
   “Thank you,” he says just before walking off. I turn and watch him cross the street to speak with the florist. She hands him a single red rose before he shimmies into the ice cream shop.
   I watch through the window as he stops at a table—where a woman about his age sits, reading a book. He taps her on the shoulder before handing her the rose. A wide, happy smile spreads across her face. He hands her my sketch next. She stares down at it for a long moment, before standing to hug her husband. The whole scene is sweet.
   I watch them for a while longer before jumping up to march down to the bakery for something to eat.

 Hope you enjoyed the first chapter of Alone in Paris!

Alone in Paris is currently available for pre-order on Kindle:

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