hat are you doing out here?” she heard her father say, in French.
It was so comforting, to hear that language all around her again, that she felt herself nestle more deeply into her bed, lulled by the sound and ignoring the words.
“I’m just going to the bathroom.”
Hugo. Right outside her bedroom door. She was fully alert again.
“The bathroom is behind you, man.”
“Oh, yeah, right.”
“I’m right here, listening,” her father said. “Don’t let me hear you creeping around anyplace you’re not supposed to be. Hear?”
Hugo mumbled something and then retreated back down the stairs, to where he was sleeping on the couch. After a minute, her father went back into her mother’s room and firmly shut the door. Juliette sincerely hoped she would not hear any funky noises coming through the wall again. What did this mean? Were her parents getting back together? Would they all be moving back to Paris? That idea was almost too wonderful to believe. And too terrifying.
And what about Hugo? Had he been trying to come to her room? Her heart was flying around in her chest now like a trapped bird. It was crazy, all the weeks and months she’d been desperately trying to call him, to text him, receiving so little response, wondering constantly where he was and what he was doing and thinking, and now he was right here, right below her, and forces were still keeping them apart.
Should she go down to him? She wanted to go down. But then her father would hear her and stop her. Shit.
She couldn’t stand it, couldn’t let this night pass with him so close, and yet so far away.
Her phone. It was ridiculous, that he was a few meters and not thousands of miles away, and still she could only resort to texting him.
R u awake?, she wrote. And waited.
What if her father hadn’t heard him? What if he’d gotten into her room? Would she have done it with him again? Did she want to? Did she want to do that with anyone, after what happened?
The branch snaps and then, as she falls, another bigger branch breaks under her foot. For one dizzying moment she sees herself falling down through the plumage of branches, hears the crack of wood and feels the scratch of pine needles against skin. And then, miraculously, she catches herself, only to look down and see the man climbing closer than she would have thought possible.
Her phone purred. Je te veux, came his message.
Me 2, she wrote, stubbornly in English.
Next door, she heard them again, talking now. If only they’d start making love again, she could sneak out without them hearing. Oh no no, she didn’t want that. But wait, she did want that.
His hand closes hot on her ankle and he tugs. ‘I’m gonna break you in two,’ he growls. His face is slick with sweat and he seems to be drooling. She kicks at him, succeeds in shaking off his hand, which makes him madder. ‘Bitch,’ he says. ‘I’ll show you.’ His hand grabs again, closes tighter this time, fingernails into flesh. She tries kicking, but she’s as trapped as an animal in a metal vise.
She had an idea.
Wait, she texted Hugo.
Then she marched right out in the hallway. Wasn’t worried about making noise. Banged directly on her mother’s, her parent’s door. Smiled when she heard her mother’s nervous voice.
“Mommy?” Juliette said. “Can I come in?”
She opened the door. There was no sign of her father, though there was a suspiciously large lump under the covers.
“What is it?” her mother asked, her voice layered with solicitation and anxiety.
“I thought I heard some noises. Is everything all right?”
“Yes, everything’s fine. Are you all right?”
“I woke up because I was thirsty. And then I thought I heard something.”
“Okay,” said Juliette reluctantly. “I’m just going to get some water and then go back to bed. Okay?”
“Sure, of course, sweetie. Good night.”
“Good night, Mommy. I’ll shut the door.”
She couldn’t help grinning as she headed for the stairs. She still wasn’t certain she wanted to be with Hugo. But she was sure she wanted to be free.