Everybody walks differently—nose forward, chin forward, leading with toes, with shoulders, with stomach, eyes roving, eyes straight ahead, eyes scanning the pavement, like a shark or goose or hippo—and I suppose they walk differently in different places at different times too. But Nina somehow managed to have Paris move around her.
I don’t know how she did it. I watched and could see her feet moving like everyone else’s and yet, somehow, Paris flowed around her and she was always at the center of it.
She glided straight out of the club, straight down rue des Lombards, which turned into rue de la Verrerie, then made one turn, left, on rue Vieille du Temple, and that was it. Simple. I was home.
We talked the whole way, she texting at the same time, her eyes somehow seeing cars in the fog at the cross streets. Once, without even looking up from her phone, she hooked my elbow and kept me from stepping in front of a truck that came shooting out of the fog.
Her mom worked for a financial something-or-other, her dad traveled a lot so it was a treat when he was home and when he played in Paris. She attended a lycée, hated school, loved boys—especially Gilles, Jean-Claude, Philippe, Bruno—loved clothes—specifically Chanel, Dior, Valentino, Balenciaga, though she didn’t own any of those labels—loved pizza, loved 80’s New York rap, Detroit City, her mother’s cooking, and President Obama. She loved the fact that I was being home-schooled by my aunt, wanted to visit me when I went back to New Jersey, loved that I had survived on an island and had a face-off with pirates and a shark. She announced, “You are a true nature girl, Daisy, a fauve, a femme sauvage.” I had no idea what she was talking about half the time, especially the boys and designers, but somehow it didn’t matter because it was just so fun to talk to her.
When we arrived at Aunt Mill’s carriage door, I was surprised. “Give me your phone a sec,” she said. I did. She tapped away at it, then handed it back. “I put my number in for you. Call or text when you’re lost. Day or night. Or just call and we can hang. Okay?”
“Thank you so much. You saved my life.”
“ Another week and you’ll be showing me around.” She gave me a double-cheek kiss and glided off into the fog.
“Lost it?” said Aunt Mill, with her best exasperated-teacher frown. I was sitting at the table, eating a slice of cold pizza she’d brought home from a place called Pink Flamingo.
“Yeah, it must have fallen from my pocket in the metro or something. I’m really sorry. I’ll buy you a new one. And then I couldn’t figure out how to retrieve your message and then I got all turned around in the fog and ended up at this place called Le Baiser Salé.”
“You went into the Basier Salé?”
“Is that bad?”
“They let you in?”
“I was with Nina, the girl who showed me the way home.”
“How old is Nina?”
“Like thirteen. She lives nearby. Her dad is the guy who you hear playing piano late at night.”
“What guy playing piano?”
“You don’t hear him?”
She didn’t answer, just gave me more frown. I could have gotten the same look from Principal Smootin back home and saved everybody a lot on air fare. Fine, I thought, if that’s the way you want it. I can zip my lip as well as the next girl. She could tell that’s what I was thinking and the frown sort of eased into her standard smirk. She reminded me of Clymene all of a sudden.
She shoved forward the work I did that morning. “So this is a curious approach to solving your math problems. It appears you just added the various answers until you got the combination to the safe.”
“You didn’t do the problems.”
“I got the answers.”
For a second it looked like she might laugh, or at least smile, but she was a veteran teacher and kept her face frozen. “I wish we had a third sister in Moscow, so I could just send you on. If we had a fourth sister you might make it to Beijing.”
“You can send me home if you want.”
“That’s not a valid option, Daisy. You’re so angry with your mother right now you won’t even contact her, even though I’ve asked you twice.”
“I’m not angry with her.”
“I just forgot to do it.”
I felt like barfing pizza just then, which was sad because this Pink Flamingo place made good pizza. “I’ll go do it right now if you want.”
“Why don’t you then.”
I left the room. Stormed out really. The old wooden floors creaked and thumped. I went right to my computer, fired it up, my toe tapping like a mechanical beaver while the laptop did its start-up thing. I clicked open the e-mail and wrote: Dear Mom, having a wonderful time. Rain never stops. Always dark. Rats everywhere. Food is weird. The pizza makes you want to barf.
I deleted that and wrote: Dear Mom, Aunt Mill is a Nazi. Why didn’t you warn me? She has an armband and a little mustache and everything. She’s teaching me how to goose-step. Otherwise everything is just super. Hope you are doing swell. My name is Daisy in case you’ve forgotten me already.
I deleted that, took a deep breath and wrote: Dear Mom, all good here. Sorry I haven’t written. Learning a lot of math from Aunt Millicent. Hope you are feeling better. Can’t wait to hear what’s happening at home. Tell Clymene I miss her.
I deleted the last line about Clymene. It was a dead giveaway. No way my Mom would buy that one. I hit send. Then I looked at all the e-mails waiting in the inbox for me. There was a bunch from my mom, of course—saying all the normal mom stuff really. Then there were three from Lucia. The ones from Lucia made me cry. I guess I had a lot of cry in me because they really made me low.