s soon as Juliette was outside, she wished she were back in. It was so cold, nearly as cold as Paris, and her coat was upstairs.
But she was not going to go back up there, no way, not now. That doctor and her mother would have to get the old man to a hospital or something, and then they’d have to call one of those extreme cleaning crews that wore the gas masks and total rubber body suits to come in and hose the place off. There was no way she was going back in there again, not even for a minute. She was even going to burn her coat, her lovely coat from APC that she’d lined up at dawn practically to grab at the sale, and the entire contents of her suitcase.
The first thing she did was try to call Hugo, in Paris, but of course he didn’t pick up. Who even knew what time it was there? He was in school, or he was asleep, she could never keep the time difference straight. Or he hated her. That was probably it.
Then she dialed her father, heart in her throat as she listened to the phone ring, thinking about how totally pissed her mom would be if she knew Juliette was doing this. Well, who cared, fuck her, it was her own fault. “Daddy,” Juliette sobbed into the voice mail. “You’ve got to come take me away from this place.”
Immediately she felt like a complete fool. What did she think was going to happen, that one of them was going to swoop in from across the ocean to save her? That was so idiotic. And even if Hugo or her father did care enough to get her out of this god-forsaken hole, it would take them at least a day or something to get here. And she was on the street now.
She started walking fast, to get away, to keep warm, past the shuttered storefronts and the darkened bath houses, past the church like a temple and the scary buzz of the Exquisite A Go Go, the only place where anyone seemed awake in the entire town. In Paris, at this hour of the night, the streets would still be full of people, the cafes alive. But here, in this godforsaken hole, everything was dark and empty and dead.
Before she knew it, she reached the end of the main street. Beyond this, she knew because they’d just driven into town this way, was only highway and chain restaurants and then only hills until you got back to Little Rock.
Across the street, on the edge of the darkness of the park, stood a white gazebo, so pure looking, so inviting. Juliette thought she could sit there, maybe even curl up and sleep there, and then in the morning find a way out of this place. She imagined Hugo racing into town, happening up on her in the gazebo, thinking how beautiful she looked, realizing how much he truly loved her, lifting her in his arms, carrying her away….
She ran across the street, looking to her left and then to her right, spooked by how alone she was. She hurried toward the gazebo, where she could sink down below the railing and hide from whoever might be lurking in the shadows.
She didn’t see him until she was almost inside. He was sitting on the floor, dressed in dark clothes, his hair dark too, and his skin, nearly invisible. In fact, it was the glint of the instrument he held that she saw first, before she really saw him.
She must have gasped aloud — she felt terrified, and wanted to scream, or run — because he smiled, teeth gleaming white as the gazebo itself, and reached out toward her.
“Don’t be scared,” he said. “It’s just me. Darrell.”
“I don’t know you.”
“Oh,” he said. “Aren’t you in my lunch period?”
What was a “lunch period”? She was not sure she wanted to know.
“No. I’m just…visiting.” She willed herself to relax so that her voice wouldn’t give her away. When she relaxed, when she forgot about it, she knew she could speak English so that she sounded like anybody else here. Maybe they’d guess she was a Yankee, but they’d never think she wasn’t American. It was only when she got nervous that she sounded French.
This boy, this Darrell, looked a little bit like her father, who she suddenly missed with a pang that made her want to sob.
“Are you….Morroccan?” she asked him.
“Moroccan?” he laughed. “No, I’m not fucking Moroccan. Why would you think that?”
She felt herself blush. At least, in the dark, he couldn’t see that.
“Oh,” she said. “Then, you must be a black American.”
“A black American,” he repeated, laughing even louder. “Where you from, anyway?”
“I’m from,” she said, waving her hand in the direction of Little Rock, “out there.”
“I thought so,” he said, strumming a chord on his banjo. “You seem like the college girl type.”
“What are you doing here in this….” She couldn’t think of the word for gazebo, so she left that dangling. At least her accent was starting to sound all right.
“Just getting away from home for a little bit. You?”
“Same.” She shivered, rubbing her arms.
“I know another place,” he said. “Warmer than here. You want to go?”
He could be a murderer. Or a vampire. On the other hand, she told herself, he hadn’t exactly hunted her down with any evil intentions. She’d come to him.
Her mother would be horrified if she went anywhere with a stranger. But it was all her mother’s fault that she was here to begin with. And her father hadn’t done a very good job of taking care of her either. Hugo might be jealous, but more likely, he might not.
“Sure,” she said, exactly like an American girl.