ugo leaned in close. “All these people,” he said, “they are absolute morons, no?”
Juliette was about to laugh and agree, but then she looked around. Darrell, whose gaze she’d been trying to avoid: He was weak, maybe. But he definitely was not a moron. Darrell’s mom, working to put herself through college and get into medical school: not a moron. The vet, the fortune teller, even her mom: not morons, any of them.
“They may not be as sophisticated as Parisians,” she told Hugo, hearing the prissiness in her own voice, “but they’re smart, and they’re all good people.”
Smart? Good people? Had she been brainwashed, out there in the pine tree? This was Hugo in front of her, her dream come true! Shouldn’t she be telling him how miserable she was here and how much she hated everyone? Shouldn’t she be begging him to take her away?
“I think this place is terrible,” said Hugo. “I hate it here.”
He was trying to speak English, so with his heavy accent, it sounded like he said “I ate it ear.” Juliette felt a giggle bubble from her lips.
“I don’t know what is the matter with you, Juliette,” said Hugo. “It seems as if you are not the girl I kissed goodbye on the Boulevard St. Germain.”
“That’s right!” Juliette said. “I am not that girl! I’ve changed, Hugo. I’ve been through a lot.”
She was afraid for just a second there that she was going to start sobbing. This was the first time she’d let on to anybody that what had happened out in the woods had affected her. To the rest of them, even her mother, even Darrell, she’d pretended that it was no big deal, fun even. But she’d been having these visions, these dark thoughts.
“You should come back to Paris,” said Hugo. “We’ll go to the cafes, to the clubs, and this will all seem like a bad dream.”
“I don’t think I can walk away from this and act like it never happened. Any more than I was able to leave you and Paris and forget you existed.”
“Yes, but Paris, me, we are something worth remembering,” said Hugo. “Whereas this….” He waved his hand as if to shoo away a fly.
“This is not nothing, Hugo,” Juliette said, standing up and taking a step back from him.
She is in the tree, looking down. The man spots her, roars. The woman wants to shoot. No, the man says, starting to climb. I’m going to go up and get her.
Hugo made a dismissive sound with his lips. “You are always, how do they say on Gossip Girl? Such a drama queen.”
“Something real happened to me, Hugo,” she said.
She turned now. There was Darrell. She’d barely spoken to him since all this had happened. But now their eyes met. He looked scared, wounded, haunted. Exactly as she felt.
She moved toward him, sat beside him, took his hand.
“Are you all right?” she said into his ear.
He looked at her, his eyes wide, and shook his head no.
The man starts climbing the tree, faster than Juliette would have thought possible. She tries to climb up, but the branches are too thin to hold her, snap beneath her hand. I’m going to fuck you, the man calls up to her, And then I’m going to fucking kill you.
“Neither am I,” she told Darrell.