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|Publisher:||Kids Can Press, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
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Friday, December 21, 9:15 A.M.
This has to be what being dead feels like!
Even though I managed to sleep a little on my red-eye flight from New York, I'm still jet-lagged enough that my body feels far away. The street (or rue) in Paris's 7th arrondissement, where my big sister, Lara, is staying, looks like a faded photocopy of itself. But that might just be the December fog, which is so thick I didn't see any of the sights that Google Maps said my taxi was driving past — not even the Eiffel Tower!
I stumble out of the taxi and try not to face-plant on the sidewalk. Wouldn't that be a perfectly pathetic start to this trip — a two-day family adventure I dubbed "the Romance Tour." Some tour! Mom had to bail at the last minute, and Lara ignored all my "Can you pick me up from the airport?" emails, so right now, this is beginning to feel like the exact opposite of a "family trip."
I look left and right (my stiff neck screaming at me not to move so fast), scoping out as much of the street as the fog will allow. A cobblestoned road crawls away. The black awning of a café sits on top of the fog like a mud stain.
Maybe I shouldn't have spent so much time doing Google Image searches of Paris in the run-up to coming here. Everything looked so perfect on my laptop screen back home — all golden-hued street scenes and cafés dripping with flowers — that I'm starting to feel a little irked about how the real Paris looks: cold, dark and angry, just like any other city.
Then I look at the apartment building. The vintage brickwork and the way the wrought-iron balconies disappear into the fog makes everything feel so ... foreign. In this moment, I feel every one of the 3,624 miles Google told me there were between here and home. I kind of wish I was in familiar old Brooklyn right now and not on some strange street in some strange city wondering why I'm looking at a black front door with a silver wreath, when Lara had told me the door would be red with a holly berry wreath. Please don't tell me that I somehow managed to direct the taxi to the wrong address. I can't even check my phone (of course I paid for a data roaming add-on), because it's in the left side pocket of my parka, which is currently barricaded by the tote bag that's hooked over my left shoulder. I'd have to set my bag down to free my arm — and honestly, I'm way too exhausted for that to be worth it.
Great idea to come in on a red-eye, Serena.
At least I'm in the right arrondissement, which is the fancy French word for Parisian neighborhood. The 7th might be one of the fanciest, because my guidebooks tell me that the Eiffel Tower is in this neighborhood, and so is the Musée d'Orsay, a few other Musées and the resting place of Napoleon. It would normally have been way beyond my accommodation budget for the Romance Tour, thanks to being centrally located on the Left Bank of the Seine River, but Lara au pairs for a family here in the city. A part of me is a little envious of how she found a part-time job she can easily fit around her studies, in Paris. But this is also the first time in history Lara has actually made something easier so ... can't complain.
There is a flight of six stone steps up from the sidewalk, and I'm not only lugging my tote bag but a suitcase that weighs exactly fifty pounds (I know because I weighed it at home, on the scales in both my bathroom and Mom's, before I set off for JFK, maxing out the airline's allowance for checked luggage). After an eight-hour red-eye, these fifty pounds feel more like two hundred, and these six steps might as well be Mount Everest.
Get a hold of yourself, Fuentes, I think, trying to give myself a pep talk. You've run half marathons! You can carry these fifty pounds up a few more steps.
Besides ... remember why you're here.
I shake out my hands, trying to de-cramp them. Then I hold my tote bag tighter to my ribs, grab the handle of my suitcase, grit my teeth and give a grunt that I am too tired to be embarrassed about — not that there's anyone on this rue to hear it.
At the top of Everest, I push the buzzer for Apartment 15. The voice on the intercom is crackly and speaking a rapid French that I don't understand at all, but it's still a voice I'd know anywhere.
"Lara, it's me," I tell my sister.
"Serena?" I wonder if she's just woken up because she sounds surprised. She didn't seriously forget about the Romance Tour, did she?
Lara tells me to come to the fourth floor. Awesome. I drag my exactly-fifty-pound suitcase up the stairs — because of course there's no elevator, and of course Lara hasn't thought to come and help me — and I look at the numbers on the apartments on the fourth floor: 10, 11, 12 ... There are three apartments on each floor, so Apartment 15 is not here. I have to schlep up another flight of stairs, because I've just remembered the ground floor isn't considered the first floor over here.
Why? Whyyyyyy, Europeans?
"So, wha ... What are you doing here?" Lara's standing in the doorway of Apartment 15, waiting for me. I'd have been relieved to see her if she didn't look so completely confused. She's in sweats, and her hair (she got the lustrous waves, while I got the wild, frizzy curls) is kind of all over the place, supporting my just-woke-up theory. She's still got her signature bright-red lipstick on, though. I'm not sure I've seen her without it since she started high school.
I ignore her for a moment, heaving my suitcase into the apartment, straight into a bright and spacious living room, where I prop it against a couch. "Give me a minute," I tell her. Then I point to one of the doors leading off the living room. "Bathroom?"
"Yeah," she says, looking like she thinks this is a weird dream she's going to wake up from any second.
When I come back from the bathroom, I walk by her and collapse onto the tan couch. It's so soft and squishy I nearly bounce off. I notice a small Christmas tree in a corner. It's decorated with black-and-gold bows. So chic, so French. I get myself together and give Lara my best glare. "Soooo ... what happened this morning? You forgot to check your phone for an email from your sister? You forgot about our plan to see all the sights our parents saw on their honeymoon? You forgot about the Romance Tour?"
"I didn't forget ..." She sits on the arm of the couch, looking at me like I'm the flaky one. "But you know ... once Mom got called away on that conference, I kind of assumed we'd be calling off the whole Paris thing, and that you and I would fly separately to London to meet Mom on Christmas Eve."
Jet lag has not only made my eyes go a little weird, it seems to be scrambling my brain. Because that's the only reason I could be imagining my sister forgetting about our carefully thought-out plans to travel through Paris, seeing all the places our parents did when they honeymooned here almost exactly twenty-five years ago. I spent a weekend's worth of hours — time I could've spent studying for finals, which, believe me, are no joke at Columbia — coming up with our itinerary. I'd emailed it to Lara and asked for her thoughts. Not that I ever heard anything back.
Oh, God. It's all making a terrible kind of sense.
I stare at her, hoping to win her back with facts. "Counterpoint. I told you I was still coming to Paris."
"You did? When?"
I sit up, as much as I can — it's not easy. The couch is trying to swallow me, and I'm tired enough to let it. "In every email I've sent you this week. I said, three times, 'Can't wait to see you in Paris, sis!' I told you the flight number, my arrival time ... I told you how much money to set aside for food and Metro fares. Literally the only thing you had to take care of was meeting me at the airport!"
"I thought the tour was called off," she says weakly. "I ... I've been really busy. I haven't been checking email that often."
Meaning you haven't been reading my emails. "Just because Mom can't make it, that doesn't mean we can't do the tour and put together a scrapbook to give her on New Year's Day" — I'm telling her this even though I've said exactly these things in all the emails she obviously didn't read — "while we're all together in London, for their twenty-fifth anniversary. You know New Year's Day has been hard for Mom since ..."
I don't finish that sentence. I can't.
Then my sister gives me what the family calls the Lara Look — wide-eyed, her expression frozen like her brain's a computer that has eighty-four tabs open, all of them trying to download something and a couple of them troubled by adware. It's the look she always gives when she knows she's screwed up. She mumbles something about being really sorry. "I thought you were emailing to remind me to get Mom a Christmas gift."
"Did you even do that?" The words are out before I can stop them. I know Lara well enough to know that when she's giving the Look, she's also beating herself up. I shouldn't make it worse, but I can't help it this morning — I've traveled 3,624 miles with a suitcase that weighs one-third of me!
"I was going to pick something up in Madrid."
I pinch the bridge of my nose, feeling a stress headache coming on. "Madrid? What are you talking about? Madrid has never been a stop on the tour!"
A sheepish look crosses her face. "Well, I ... wasn't talking about you and me."
It's only now that I notice her red lipstick is slightly smeared, in addition to the messy hair, only now that my nose twitches at the scent of cologne that has been present this whole time.
Lara has company.
I look around, like he might be standing perfectly still in a corner or something, but he must be hiding in another room. If only I knew the French for "Come out, come out, wherever you are!"
Then I notice ... other suitcases. None as big as mine, but there are three of them, surrounding the fancy coffee table in the middle of the room.
"What's going on?"
Lara tucks her hair behind her ears, then crosses her arms over her chest. Looks at the floor. "Damn it, this is a total disaster."
"You're seriously going to Madrid? What are you going to Madrid for?"
Then, the reason Lara has been too busy to read any of my emails comes strolling out of one of the doors. He's a tall dude who is (of course) model handsome even while wearing a jersey of what I figure is some French soccer team. High cheekbones, sun-kissed skin, dark wavy hair that's a bit long but somehow perfectly swept back. He smiles at me, then mumbles something to Lara, in French. She mumbles back, "Tout va bien," a couple times.
Then the guy looks at me and moves forward, holding out his hand and nodding. "Bonjour."
I accept his handshake, hoping he's not going to try to pull me in for a double-cheek kiss, because I suck at those even when I'm well rested. (Right cheek first? Left cheek first? Oh, sorry, we totally misread each other and now my nose is in your mouth.) I'm so annoyed with Lara, I don't say "Bonjour" back to him — I say, "Hey, what's up?" in the broadest, flattest-A, most American accent that I can manage. I actually get a bit of a Southern twang in there, even though I've never been south of Philadelphia at any point in my life.
One corner of his mouth rises in a half-smile, and I can't tell if it's a smug smirk or not. "We 'av confusion, oui?"
Lara's still looking at the carpet. "Serena, this is Henri. Henri, this is my little sister, Serena. She just got in from New York."
Henri smiles the second half of his smile — okay, he's not smug — then nods as he looks back to Lara. He says something in French; Lara replies in French. Henri says something else in French, and I wonder if it's all right for me to go in the kitchen and make myself a cup of coffee, but I can't do that because I'm slowly sinking back down into the couch. So tired. Henri's rubbing Lara's arm in what looks like a reassuring way. I can see from the soft, tender look in his eyes that this dude is super-into my sister, and I wonder — not for the first time — how she copes with her studies and her job if every week she's falling in love with a new guy.
Then I tell myself not to be bitter about people being in love, just because I've never even been in serious like.
"Hey," I interrupt all the French. Sit up straight. "Real life — no subtitles. What's going on?"
Lara looks at me, half-throwing up her hands, then running them through her hair again. "Since Henri and I won't be seeing each other for almost a month, when classes start up again, he bought tickets for us to go to Madrid for a couple of days, before flying to meet you and Mom in London."
Wow. Lara's going on a trip with a guy? She never does anything like that. It's way too much commitment.
Henri makes a show of giving a shrug that's more gallant than Gallic. "Zis is your sisterr. We can go to Madrid in Januaree. It will still be there, non? Eets okay, tout va bien."
Lara's got a pained look on her face, and I can tell that this scheduling conflict is not an accident. She's always wanted to go to Madrid — and, now that I think about it, she hasn't been all that enthusiastic about the Romance Tour. Maybe because it involves talking about Dad, and Lara never brings him up.
My sister might be scatterbrained sometimes, but now I'm wondering — have I been oblivious?
"No, you know what?" I say, making a snap decision. This whole tour was my idea. The scrapbook will be a nice gift for Mom, but there's something else I want from this trip. And maybe I can only get it if I do this by myself. "You guys should go."
"Are you sure?" Lara is still looking pained, and I'm kind of glad that she feels bad for leaving, even though it's obvious she'd rather be in Madrid.
"I'm sure. Just make sure you get Mom a great gift!"
Lara hugs me — grateful and relieved, I can tell. "Thank you, Serena. You're the best!"
She doesn't have to tell me that. "Shut up — no, I'm not. And anyway, at least I can get some sleep — I'll crash in your room."
The Lara Look is back. "Ugh. The thing is, the family I work for has gone to Zurich for Christmas, and this apartment is being deep-cleaned while they're gone. I promised them the place would be empty when the cleaners arrived — which is today."
As I sigh and briefly look up to the ceiling, she reaches out to me. "It's only one night, though — maybe you could get a hotel?"
Numbers fly through my mind, as I try to make a Paris hotel room fit my budget, not to mention my plan. I would need one hour — at least — to find a hotel, then thirty to forty-five minutes, probably, to get to said hotel and drop off my luggage, and at least ninety euros (but probably more if I want clean sheets and no bedbugs) to pay for it all ...
"I'm not sure I can afford it."
Lara turns back to Henri, apologetic. "Maybe I should stay ... I can't leave my little sister alone in a strange city."
But Henri is smiling and taking a cell phone from his back pocket. "Eets no problemm. I 'av idea." Then he dials and has a super-fast, very French conversation with someone. In less than two minutes, voilà (his word, not mine):
"Eets okay. You sleep with our friend, Jean-Luc."
I stare at him. "I'm sorry, what?"
But Lara has her hands over her face, and her shoulders are shaking from laughing. "That's not what he means! He means, you can stay in Jean-Luc's dorm. His roommate is away for the holidays, so you'll have your own bedroom, all to yourself. It'll be great."
"Um ... but I'll be staying with some strange French guy! No offense, Henri."
Henri grins at us both, although he looks as lost among our rapid English as I feel during all the French.
"Jean-Luc is a little strange," Lara says. "But he's actually really nice, once you get to know him." That last part she says under her breath. I don't know how much time she expects me to spend with him. I have an itinerary planned, after all, so I probably won't say more than a few words to this "Jean-Luc" character.
"Also," Lara goes on, "he's half-American, so he speaks English really well. You'll get along just fine. Here" — she writes something on a map of the Paris transit system, which she then hands to me — "this should help you get around."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Kiss Me In Paris"
Copyright © 2018 Working Partners Ltd..
Excerpted by permission of Kids Can Press Ltd..
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