I’m running as fast as I can, but my legs feel like marble—weighty, cumbersome, and laden with grief. Each stride is an agony of locomotion. Every attempt forward is met with a shove in the opposite direction. He is behind me. Chasing me. Hunting me.
Gravel from the dirt pathway crunches beneath my feet as I struggle to run toward the set of heavy wooden doors looming before me. They’re maybe twenty feet away, but it may as well be twenty miles. The stone staircase leading up to the entrance sways dizzily in my vision. The rhythm of my steps keeps time with the pulse of my beating heart rushing in my ears.
The knot in my belly clenches painfully, shooting a choked cry of anguish through my chest where it lodges in my throat and dies. For a moment, breathing is impossible. I open my mouth in an attempt to relieve the painful pressure, but only a silent scream escapes. My pursuer’s pace quickens. The heat from his gaze feels…possessive.
Just a few more strides and I’ll be safe.
I wake in a dead panic, a cold sweat clinging to my body. The wind outside howls as an icy gust of air sweeps through my small studio apartment; I forgot to close the large French windows before passing out. I forgot to do a lot of things. Like swap my street clothes for pajamas, wash my face, and brush my teeth—to name a few. The overhead light is still on. The bedside clock reads 3:33 a.m.
I have to get up in less than three hours, and my head is already pounding. Why did I insist on that fifth gin and tonic? You know your limit is three and then you switch to beer, I mutter to myself as I leap from the bed to slam the windows shut. Losing my balance, I grab the wall for support. Quick movements are maybe not the best idea right now.
Heading to the bathroom, I strip off my clothes, letting them fall haphazardly along the way. I pee, stand, and flush before washing my hands in the tiny white porcelain sink.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and do a double take. Who is that train wreck? Hot mess would be an accurate description—if I looked hot. The girl staring back at me is just a mess.
My curly chestnut-brown hair—the portions that aren’t matted down—flies wildly about my face in a daring attempt to escape gravity. I consider attacking it with a comb but decide to wash the angry curls in the morning instead. The dark makeup around my eyes has descended into what can only be described as “junkie.” No heroin chic here. Just junky.
Not that I do heroin. I don’t, except for once in college, but it was a brand-new needle and I never touched the stuff again. Ick. I cringe at the memory. All I remember is vomiting and passing out. The cherry on the sundae was losing my best friend, Zeke, to an overdose two weeks later. If only I’d done more for him, maybe…
Blinking back tears, I shake my head. I haven’t allowed myself to think about him in years. Why should he enter my mind now, at 3:30 a.m. on a Tuesday? Splashing warm water on my face, I scrub my eyes to remove the charcoal-colored liner.
I think I’ll give up eyeliner for a while. Anyway, why should I feed the patriarch manifesto by wearing oodles of makeup? I quickly finish the rest of my toilette and steal one last glance in the mirror. I look slightly less cracked out. Exiting the bathroom, I pad over to my armoire, pull out my biggest, comfiest, most oversized sweatshirt and slip it on. My head barely hits the pillow before I find my oblivion once again.
Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeeep. I laboriously peel open my eyes as my hand slams down on the snooze button. It’s six a.m. Dear god, why? The grey dawn of another Parisian morning shines dimly through the windows lining the front of my sixth-floor walk-up. Blech. Pulling the covers around my head, I roll over and burrow into my pillow. The hangover I began feeling in the middle of the night is in full force. My mouth is dry. A bitter taste leftover from the booze is accompanied by a harsh burn in the back of my throat.
Thirty minutes later, I hit snooze for the fourth time as hazy details of the last twenty-four hours stir in my mind. Some days are harder than others. Yesterday was catastrophic. I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to block the memory. I hope I still have a job. Anxiety takes over and I can no longer ignore my thoughts. Sitting up, I reach for my phone and switch it on. Seconds later, it’s blowing up with text messages and voicemails.
Three texts in a row from Uncle Benjen. Crap, he sounds angry. I make a mental note to call him later.
A text—a motherfucking text—from Pierre, apologizing. Jackass.
“Va te faire foutre pauvre mec!” I curse him in French, deleting his messages without replying.
I take a deep breath, forcing calm back into my body. Keep it together, Greer. Exhaling to the room at large, I continue scrolling. My friend Camille checked in to make sure I got home safely—better reply now or I’ll never hear the end of it. Next up is a text from a random dude I regrettably made out with at the bar and for some inexplicable reason, gave my real number.
Then, there it is—my manager. He called yesterday at six p.m. and left a voicemail. My hand shakes as I raise the phone to my ear, and I know it’s not just the residual effects of alcohol.
“Bonsoir, Sophie, suite aux événements de cet après-midi…” he begins.
I cringe in anticipation. What’s he going to say? Am I fired? Do I even need to get out of bed? Part of me wishes I am so I can forget everything like a bad dream. But Philippe is a caring, kind man, even if he is my boss—and sure enough, he wants to see me in his office first thing.
Ok. That’s all right. You can do this, I repeat to myself like a mantra as I push back the sheets and get out of bed. Rising too quickly, I fall backward clumsily onto the thin mattress. Waves of nausea wash over me. Bile rises in my throat. Dizziness be damned, I’ve no choice but to make a mad dash to the toilet.
After flushing most of the alcohol from last night—and, oh yeah, I forgot about that crêpe jambon-fromage—I grip the sides of the toilet seat and inhale deeply, relishing the refreshing smell of toilet bowl. What is it about clean toilet water and cold hard porcelain that settles the stomach, soothing the pounding of a burgeoning hangover?
Standing, I turn toward the mirror to take inventory of the task before me.
Step one: look human.
As I brush my teeth, I try to plan my day. It’s useless. I’m only able to imagine getting as far as the colossal glass doors to my office building, their gilded wrought-iron curlicues woven into the framework, before my mind shuts down.
They all saw me yesterday. Everyone. I mean the whole goddamn office saw me have an emotional breakdown. And I’m supposed to go in and somehow save face? I don’t know how I’ll ever look those people in the eye again. A memory forces itself on me, swimming across my vision. Did I really throw that picture frame? I wince. Aiming for Pierre, I’d missed. The frame went flying and crashed into Clotilde’s computer monitor, cracking it. Yup. I am so totally fired.
“Whatever, Greer, it’s not like you liked your job anyway,” I say to my reflection. Maybe I’ll find a new career. Something I really love doing. Somewhere I won’t have to see Pierre and the Blonde Bitch every day, comes another thought—unbidden.
Huh…that’s actually a good idea. I could tender my resignation. It would save them the trouble of firing me and save me the added humiliation of being cheated on, dumped, and fired within a twenty-four-hour period. I am a strong, competent, independent woman of the twenty-first century. I don’t need a job or a man.
I have enough in savings to coast for a little while. Perhaps I’ll travel. “Changer les idées,” as the French say. The fantasy is pleasant, but I know Uncle Benjen would never stand for it. If only…
Shaking my head, I give myself one last look in the mirror, nodding semi-confidently before switching on the tiny, square litter box I call a shower. I let the scalding water scour away the final remnants of my hangover and, quite possibly, my sanity. All too soon the water begins to cool and I hurriedly rinse the shampoo from my hair. Damn these old French buildings. The water gets boiling hot but lasts barely ten minutes before turning ice cold. Usually I take five-minute showers and it’s no big deal, but on a day like today a girl needs a little extra time under the jets.
I quickly run through the motions of conditioning my hair, cleaning my body, and drying off. I slip stepping from the shower, but miraculously manage to catch myself on the curtain. Any hopes I may have had of my day turning around died mid-slip. Stitching the scraps of my composure back together, I stumble from the bathroom, through the foyer/kitchen into my bedroom/living room. Quickly making my bed, I fold it into a couch then push aside the curtain to the large wooden armoire in the back right corner of the room.
What does one wear to a public hanging?
Black seems appropriate, but I’m already so depressed it feels masochistic. I opt for a slim-fitting red dress. Stopping right above the knee and belted at the waist with a thin black cord, it accentuates my curves. The color of power. They might all think I’m crazy, but I don’t need to look the part as well.
Selecting a pair of black suede pumps, I set them by the front door before heading back to the bathroom to style my curls and apply makeup. When I start to put eyeliner on, I remember Zeke and instead stick to simple black mascara and blush. A little colored gloss and I’m good to go—sort of. As good as it’s going to get, really.
I fill a water bottle at the sink, grab my black leather jacket, stuff phone and keys into my purse, and clumsily slip on my heels. Plastering on a brave face, I step out the door.
Okay, world, let’s do this.