The train arrived at Gard Du Nord and Jack thought he was going to be sick. He hadn’t slept on the plane and during the train journey he’d had snatches of sleep but kept waking with a start with his heart pounding in case they had arrived. This felt like a thousand first dates.
He stepped off the train and walked down the platform on legs that weren’t his. There she was: Sally. He was almost next to her before she saw him.
“Jack! I didn’t see you! I’ve missed you!” Jack said nothing and only half committed to the awkward hug; like a shy child. He hadn’t seen her in three months and this wasn’t the reunion he had in mind. He tried hard not to break into tears and stammered,
“I’ve missed you too.”
“Come on, let’s get out of here.”
They left the station and headed to Rue LaMartine. Jack hadn’t been in Paris in two years and yet it all seemed so familiar. There was no chance for this familiarity to grow, his memories of this street or that corner would be the only memories he was to have. Everywhere Parisians were getting on with their lives: going to work, having a drink at a cafe. They all seemed to be members of an exclusive club.
They arrived at the familiar apartment, the same one where they had stayed together two years earlier. Jack put his rucksack down and Sally broke the silence,
“See, I’ve tided up for you and I’ve bought lots of food you like and…”
Jack couldn’t take any of this in; he was straining to hold back the tears. Sally took his hand and guided him to the sofa.
“Come on” She smiled, “I know it’s hard but it’ll make it harder if we cry, can’t we just be happy to see each other again?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t be upset? I’ve missed you so much for the past three months and we were going to have a perfect life in Paris together and now it’s not going to happen.”
Now Sally was crying. “I know, I’m sorry, but, it just wouldn’t work, I can’t support you, it’s too hard.” Jack tried to interrupt but she kept talking. “No, you couldn’t have got a job, it’s too complicated and you’d have to go back to go to university in September anyway!”
He knew these were all valid points but he didn’t want them to be; he wanted everything to go away and just be left with Sally so they could have the perfect life he wanted.
“While I was travelling, I wanted so much to be here with you, I missed you everyday, I can’t even describe it. I just wanted to get any rubbish job here to help contribute, I would’ve done anything.”
“But Jack, you left, you went travelling, and I know I left to come and be a dancer here but if you’d stayed in England at least it’d have been nearer.”
She looked at him with big wet eyes and Jack put his arm around her and she rested her head on his chest.
For a few minutes neither spoke and they were both shaken by each other’s sobs. “I’ve missed this Jack, I didn’t know how we’d act together but I’m glad we can be like this. When I said… When I said I didn’t want to be with you, I’m sorry, I do, I love you but it’s just too difficult.”
Jack stroked her hair. “I know, I know.”
They took a walk around Paris, down through the Louvre in the may sun. They talked happily together, just enjoying each other’s company. At first they didn’t hold hands but after a while they were walking with their arms around each other. They stopped to buy ice cream from a busy stall and stood awhile to eat it in the sun. Jack’s lips were covered in melted ice cream and Sally leaned in quickly to kiss it away, then she jumped back in surprise. “Oh, I’m sorry! I forgot, your lips just looked really nice.” Jack laughed, “You don’t have to apologise for kissing me.”
They continued walking and made their way up through Montmartre as the sun was kissing the horizon. “Hey look, there’s that restaurant where you gave me my ring for my birthday last time we were here.”
“I know.” It was difficult for Jack to be back in this area they had visited so frequently together two years ago. The lights of the cafes and the cheque tablecloths held too many memories.
As the evening set in they found themselves sitting on the steps of the Sacre Coeur, looking out over the whole city. Parisians sat around them, passing bottles, playing guitar and laughing. “I think this view could be the reason why I wanted to travel in the first place, it’s so beautiful.”
“I know, there’s such a good atmosphere here. I’ve not really been here since I moved to Paris.”
They looked out over the lights of the city in silence. Jack didn’t want to leave. He was here with her looking out over Paris; everything was perfect for a few minutes.
“Jack, you’re my best friend, do you know that? Better than all my girl friends in England, you know me better than anyone; I always want us to be able to say anything to each other.” Jack smiled, blinking back tears. “Thanks Sal, you’re my best friend too. No matter what happens we’ll always keep in touch and be close won’t we?” His voice cracked and it sounded as though he were begging. She smiled up at him, “Yeah, of course. I’m cold, do you mind if we go?”
Jack took a last look over Paris, “No, let’s go.”
They set off down the steps and Sally suddenly pushed her body into his and rested her head on his shoulder, they stopped walking and just held each other for a minute. “I’ve missed this so much Sal, all the time I just thought about holding you like this.”
“I know, me too.” She replied through tears.
They walked on. “Does Paris remind you of The Beatles?” he asked.
“Because it’s artistic and special and you can just imagine people here in the 1960s listening to the Beatles and painting and writing.”
Sally laughed, “Erm, I’ve not really thought that no.”
“ ‘There are places I’ll remember all my life’ ”
When they got back to the flat they changed for bed. Sally wore big baggy pyjamas instead of just underwear and a t-shirt that Jack had been used to. He tried to pretend he didn’t notice the difference as he got into the camp bed on the floor. They lay in the dark, Sally looking down on him, holding hands.
Jack had held his emotions in all afternoon and had tried to just have a good time, but now it was too much. For three months whilst he was travelling he’d missed her more than he’d ever thought was possible. Each day he’d just wanted to be back with her and hold her and just do anything to please her. Sally heard him sniffing and squeezed his hand. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry; I’ve tried not to be upset all day. I just don’t want this to end, but it’s got to. I just don’t know what I’m going to do when I go home. There’s no one there, no one to talk to, you’re the only person I can properly talk to and you’re who I need to talk about. I just need someone. You, you seem to have all the answers and I don’t even know if I’ve got questions. I don’t know what I feel. You’re a cabaret dancer at the Lido. What do I have? I’m just going to be alone while you’re living in Paris with… with all your new friends.”
It felt like Sally’s face was right next to his. She whispered. “Do, do you maybe want to come up here?” He shivered in the dark and then got up and slid into bed next to her. He could feel her warm body and they embraced and held each other tightly. “When ever I’m near to you I just want to…. I can’t… I should just do it.” Jack laughed at himself and his indecisiveness.
“This.” Jack leaned forward in the grey light and took her face in his hands and pressed his lips to hers and held them there for a few seconds. When he moved away it looked as though she had her eyes shut.
“Don’t.” She whispered. “It’ll make things harder.”
They spent the next day walking around and in the evening Jack walked Sally to the artiste’s entrance of the Lido; down a side-street off the Champs-Elysees. They walked up to the door where some of the dancers were waiting around outside. Sally said ‘Bonsoir’ to them and Jack smiled. They walked past the group to be alone for a few minutes. When they said goodbye Jack kissed her on the cheek; unsure of what to do around her friends. She shot him a look as if to ask “Why not the lips?” and then she disappeared inside and Jack was alone in Paris.
Jack began walking back to the apartment in the dusk light. When he reached Concorde he sat at the base of the Obelisk for a while and looked back down the Champs Elysees. The Louvre was behind him and he could see the Eiffel Tower off to the left. In the deep blue of evening the street lights looked golden and Paris was magical. This could be the last time he’d see Paris in he didn’t know how long. He’d wanted so much to live here with Sally and try to be a writer. Try to be Hemingway or Henry Miller. He wondered how much of his sadness was because he couldn’t be with Sally and how much was because he wouldn’t be living in Paris.
He realised now how impossible his dream was. In four months he began university, so what did he expect to happen then? Staying here until then would just be delaying the inevitable. He was only nineteen. He’d spent two years with Sally, almost a tenth of his life. A tenth. He knew now he’d been naive to expect things to still be the same when he came back; leaving to travel had been the beginning of the end for them. He loved her, there was no doubt about that; but what could they really do now? Suddenly he wanted to be home, to leave Paris and see his friends; to forget Sally and try to be happy again.
He awoke when she came in from work late that night and crawled into bed next to him. For both of them the likeness to the night before Jack had left to travel was too much, like a raw wound. They went to sleep in each other’s arms trying not to pretend it was any other night.
The next day they walked to the Gard Du Nord and tried to delay Jack’s departure as long as possible. Eventually he had to go. They hugged and he couldn’t help but cry again.
“Don’t cry, this isn’t the end. We’ll keep in touch and who knows what will happen in the future?” Jack tried to smile. “When you get through there wave at me, I’ll be looking out for you.”
“Ok… I love you.” He kissed her one last time, trying to pass on all his feeling through his lips and then he stepped through to passport control. He kept looking back at her from the queue. It felt like a load had been lifted from his shoulders. He looked back one last time and saw she was crying. He mouthed “I love you” and then stepped out of sight.
When he stepped out onto the platform he was too far away to see Sally looking out for him desperately and so he walked onto the train alone. Each step towards the train was a relief. He would soon be home where he would learn to live without feeling a stabbing pain everyday. He hadn’t seen his family or his friends for three months. As the train pulled away he felt like he’d turned the page on a chapter of his life. Paris and Sally would be there for the time being. But now he had to adapt to being alone. And he had university to look forward to. But before that, he was going home.
Thomas Ward is soon to graduate from Newcastle University with a BA in English Language and Literature. He has been published in Alliterati and awaits feedback on his first novel. As well as writing he likes to travel, play music, watch films and fantasise about fighting sharks and the inevitable zombie apocalypse. He has a tumblr at www.renegadeviper.tumblr.com
© 2012 Thomas Ward