It was a rare, perfect summer day, full of light and shadow and the nearly irrepressible urge to drink cool white wine on a patio somewhere. Of course I had to be in French class, catching up on extra credits and sweating my ass off in a sticky classroom. The one ceiling fan swirled the air like a Southern lady swirling her drink, unhurried and lackadaisical. It did nothing to fight the effects of the sun beating down through the skylight.
It also didn't help that this was the first French class I'd had since my mother had passed away two weeks ago. People were looking at me like I might burst into tears at any moment, like I was a grenade, unpredictable and half-wild. Whispers erupted through the classroom when I'd walked in, wearing my signature black Converse and black rubber bracelets. I was back to my regularly scheduled full goth wear, which conveniently doubled as orphans' weeds (did orphans have weeds, or was it just widows? I had wondered as I had gotten ready this morning). Bonnie Glass had come up to me as I settled into my desk, lip quivering on my behalf, and gave me a gentle, almost terrified hug. "I'm sorry," she had whispered. "I can't imagine what it's like to lose your mom."
"Nor should you have to," I replied. "You've still got yours." And she stared at me before slowly sitting down. Everything about her was the word "gingerly."Of course she and I had exchanged about five words in the history of ever before that very moment.
Now we were going through and saying how we were. "Nicole, ca va?" asked Mme. Dauphinoise when she got to me. For a woman with such a ridiculous name, she made up with for it with her hair and demeanor, which both were no-nonsense and eminently practical.
"La meme-chose," I replied without thinking. Same as always.
She narrowed her steel gray eyes and said, "La meme-chose? Vraiment?" Really?
"Oui, vraiment," I said, nodding. "Je suis un peu triste, ma je suis..." I'm a little sad, but I'm... how do you say "dealing" in French? It never really struck me that French people deal with anything; they're all so melodramatic and fatalistic in French movies. "Je suis d'accord." I'm okay. I couldn't say, 'I mostly want to be left alone with my mother's papers and diaries because they make me think she's not dead', could I? Let's face it, I didn't know that much French. More whispers and worried looks came my way after I'd said this, but I didn't much care. I was drifting away to the journal my mother had kept during her college years, the one I was only halfway through and of which I was desperate to read more.
Mme. Dauphinoise continued to give me the hairy eyeball during class, but finally class reached its interminable conclusion, and then I got the "come hither" motion that every student hates. "Are you okay? Really?" she asked in a low voice I hadn't thought she possessed.
"I really am," I said. "My mother had been sick a long time. We had said our goodbyes to each other plenty of times over, and I'm ready to be back at school."
She pressed her hand into mine briefly, and my hand came away faintly greasy and smelling like cheap lavender. "Solo aujourd'hi," she said. Only today. The room felt suffocating. I nodded awkwardly and did my best to scurry away with my backpack dangling from one shoulder. The sauvignon blanc in my fridge was calling my name louder and louder, and I could see the black leather journal with my mom's messy scrawl on my bedside table. Both of those were more useful than the false shine of strangers' concern.