(From Chapter Three)
They hadn’t heard the gradual rise of the buzz of engines as they drew closer, so caught up in the scratch of music. The sound broke on the room in a liquid rush. Jeanne twitched a little, cocking her head. What were planes doing so far out here? She hadn’t heard the sound for a long time; actually, she could not even place how she recognized the sound, only that she did. It had been a long time since they flew over the tiny village in the foothills of these mountains.
Most of the students reacted the way that Jeanne did, stopping their movements and staring up at the blank ceiling in a bemused sort of interest. Jedrick clapped his hands over his ears.
Armand stiffened. “Children, move away from the window,” he ordered tightly. “Come on, move.”
Reluctantly, the students who were closest to the window inched away. Buzzing, deep rumbling… then it began to fade. Slowly, the noise of engines leeched away. The room was dead silent, but for the continuous tinny musings of the record player.
Finally, Armand let out a sigh. “Yes. Well. Good.” He strode to the player and took the needle off, turning off the machine. “I – do you all know what to do, in case of a drill, or planes, or…”
A dozen voices clamored.
“Move away from the windows!”
“Duck under our desks!”
“Lock all the doors!”
Armand nodded tightly. “Yes, yes, all good. I’m glad you know. Just remember that, alright?”
“Yes, Mr. DeGaul,” they chorused.
“Though I haven’t the faintest how any of that will help you…” Jeanne heard him mutter under his breath. She stepped away from Charles.
“I suppose that this concludes our lesson,” Armand continued. “I expect that you do not forget this next week, and commend yourselves to Madame Bonnefoy for me, lest it reflect badly on my own teaching. Go. Shoo, I’m done with you, I hope to never see you again.”
“Same to you,” Jedrick replied in an undertone.
It wasn’t long before the classroom was cleared and Jeanne was skipping down the streets with her face to the sky. She fancied she could still see a speck on the clear horizon where the plane might be.
When she arrived home, she dropped her books on the stairs and threaded her way back to the bathroom that she shared with the rest of the family. There was a single, small mirror above the sink and she surveyed her hair in there incredulously, pulling on a braid and making a face. She was getting spots, she could see, though when she started getting monthlies, Maman had warned that such a thing might happen. She wanted someone to call her pretty. Thought about Jericho. Jericho was always – no she wasn’t pretty. That wasn’t the right word at all. Jericho was another being altogether, and there was nothing about her that was human or ordinary. She was stunning. Jeanne, quite frankly, was not.
She splashed some water on her face and went to greet her mother and grandmother in the kitchen.
That night there were no dreams.
Neither were there any the night after.
By the third day, she had again grown despondent, and began to scan the sky at every opportunity, daydreaming out the classroom window for hours while Ms. Milovskaya rattled on about graphing and planar geometry. The days were clear and flat.
Fourth day, Thursday, and her mind was quiet again and she had to fight down the sense of loneliness. Jericho had told her to have faith. Jericho had promised her return. That was enough.
Friday, there was wind.
When she and Jedrick and Paris settled themselves on the school steps at lunch on Friday, she felt it. It was so subtle, at first, just a gentle brush against her cheek, as if warm fingers rested there and were fixing the errant strands of her hair. She didn’t notice, the first time, nor the second, but when a chill ran up her spine from the sudden pocket of cold she had to bite her lip to keep from gasping because here was the wind she had been waiting for.
It was a dry air, a warm and dangerous sort. She smelled burning leaves and ash and there was something so malicious about the wind that it dug fingers into the sides of her mind, clawing at her skin. She didn’t care. These, the mistrals, were the most powerful winds she had known. If any could carry her message to heaven, then…
She wasn’t the only one who had felt the mistral, either; she noticed that the rest of her classmates had gotten snappish, that Paris and Jedrick were bickering more than usual, but she let it go, let everything go and she sat at her desk and wrote a letter.
Hello. I’ve been thinking about a lot of things, this week. I wonder what it would be like to have someone to talk to as I stood at the stove cooking lima beans and coffee. I wonder what it would be like to have someone to walk by the river with, or who would pick me up at the bus station. I want to have someone who would live right next door to me, and I could walk over and sit in their kitchens every day and eat grilled cheese sandwiches.
I want that more than anything.
She folded it up into an airplane and then squished it flat and stuck it in her notebook for the rest of the day and fidgeted fidgeted fidgeted until she could get home and once she did she crawled all the way out of her window and stood on the roof in her sensible loafers and flung the airplane as hard as she could. It caught, so easily – but the wind was going the wrong way. It blew it backwards, in a spiral past her head because it had caught the airplane in its broadest point, but it was still airborne as it fluttered and flickered out of sight. So Jeanne was alright with that.
Friday night, she closed her eyes in her bedroom and when she opened them again she was still in her bedroom but it was lit with silvery-grey and she realized that Jericho was lying beside her. She smiled gently and Jericho smiled back but the smile seemed strange and tense. Jeanne frowned.
Jericho put a hand over Jeanne’s heart, on top of her night shirt. “You were troubled.”
Jeanne looked down at the long, slim fingers against fabric and wished they were warmer. “No, not at all.”
“Do not lie to me.”
It was an order and Jeanne knew Jericho was angry and annoyed but –
“You’ll get angrier if I tell you the truth.”
Jericho didn’t argue. “Tell me anyway.”
“I-I…” Jeanne didn’t look up from the hand on her breast. She couldn’t. There was no way she’d meet Jericho’s eyes because, even if she could feel everything the creature was feeling, even now, if she saw it reflected in that glass blackness she felt that she’d … implode, perhaps. Something. Something violent and messy.
“I hate when you leave me,” she finally gasped out. “I don’t want you to go even though I know you say you will come back and you always do but you’re just here when I’m dreaming and so maybe my whole life is a dream and I’m just waiting for the day when I wake up-”
Jeanne’s eyes were squeezed shut, as if she were expecting a blow or a sudden rush of expletives but she was met with only tense silence and an ugly brown swirl of a billion emotions, leaking from the one next to her. After a long, long moment in which no reply was forthcoming, Jeanne’s eyes inched open again.
She was lying on her back, eyes glaring determinedly at the ceiling. Her lips were moving, and after a long moment, Jeanne realized that she was saying a prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
“Damn it Jeanne…” she murmured, eyes still on the ceiling. “Damn it, I don’t know what else I can do.”
Jeanne felt guilty. It wasn’t Jericho’s fault, not really. She always came back, always. Jeanne was just… she wasn’t sure. She felt so on-edge lately, as if some vital part of her was lost, as if she were walking around with a missing piece, off balance.
Jericho shook her head. “Don’t apologize. Just tell me what I can do.”
“…why can’t I see you, every night?”
The moment the question left her lips, Jeanne felt like she had broken something, some sort of taboo. She had never asked the question before, only waited, patiently. She had always wondered, but never questioned her good fortune. Maybe Jericho wouldn’t return; the fear was always on her mind. But wasn’t that fitting? Jericho didn’t belong here, and Jeanne wasn’t sure what she had done to get her attention – that in itself was a forbidden thought, but – but she was waiting for life to go back to what she deserved; walking around in the shadowed mortal plane.
She was asking too much, she realized.
“Forgive me.” Jericho interrupted
“I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to come more often and I’m sorry I haven’t told you why. I suppose that I was… caught up in what we were. It didn’t matter much, the details, but it is different for you, isn’t it? I forget that it is different when you don’t know the answers.”
Jeanne stayed quiet, tense. So Jericho would tell her –
“I’m not supposed to be here.”
And there was the bullet, Jeanne thought absently, as Jericho continued to speak.
“I’m not supposed to be here. I can’t leave my home so easily.”
“So why did you?”
Jericho shifted uncomfortably. Jeanne almost laughed, despite everything, at the sight – oh, she had never understood what age Jericho was; she was ageless it seemed, something altogether impossible and wise beyond everything but the way she looked changed from moment to moment in the dim darkness – yet, at that moment, Jericho looked no more than a guilty child, caught in a lie or a prank.
“I… couldn’t help it,” she said, fidgeting. “We were warned – never to contact the person we were to watch over, but I saw you and I thought, if I could just speak to you once…”
“You’re supposed to be watching over me?”
“Yes. I’ve known since I was born, since you were born; I was supposed to be your guardian and you were mine to look after. I never understood it though – the rules are so complicated. I could not speak to you or touch you or intervene, there were things that I could say but I could only speak when spoken to, and…”
“What are you?”
“I don’t know. Nothing. Everything. Choose.”
Jeanne frowned. “No.”
“So be it then.”
Silence stretched again, but it was less tense than it had been. Jeanne’s mind was turning. Everything that Jericho had said made sense, in her head. That wasn’t what the problem was.
“Are you going to be in trouble?”
Finally, finally, Jericho met her eyes. “Why would that matter?”
Jeanne smiled. It really was that simple, with them, she thought. It never occurred to Jericho to look out for herself. Jeanne shook her head, still smiling.
“So, you broke the rules and came to talk to me anyway.”
“Yes. What else could I do? If there is someone out there who belongs to you, isn’t it only right to find them and never let them go?”
Jeanne sat up and put her hand against Jericho’s, interlocking their fingers.
“Jericho, can I ask you to do something for me?”
Jericho frowned. “Of course.”
“Would you cut my hair?”
That visibly threw the creature for a loop. “I – why – “
Jeanne flushed. “That’s an odd request. I know. I just – what – I want to do something with you. Anything. Prove to myself that you are real. Can we do something that… regular people would do?”
“Would regular people… cut hair…?”
“Maman does it for me all the time…” Jeanne trailed off, becoming more and more self conscious. “I’m sorry. That really was odd. I can’t believe – it was just something I had been thinking about –“
Jericho sat up in a single, fluid movement, putting a soft finger against Jeanne’s parted lips. “Be quiet. I’ll do it. I’m not sure how, but I’ll do it.”
Jeanne nodded, smiling quietly. “The scissors are in the cabinet in the bathroom.” She padded in bare feet across the floorboards, but Jericho stopped her with a hand on her arm.
“Wait.” Jeanne looked up. “It’s alright to be in your room like this, because it is so dark, but… I think it will be harder to see me if I’m in the light. But I won’t leave your side, alright? Trust me on that.”
Jeanne nodded. She said nothing. Jericho reached in front of her and opened the door.
Although the hallway was not lit, it was much brighter than Jeanne’s room. Soft light was glowing from the bottom of the stairs where the living room blackout curtains had not been closed all the way. She could easily shuffle down the stairs in the blueness, and turned to make sure that Jericho –
– was gone. Jeanne stopped moving, her breath catching in disappointment and slight panic but no Jericho promised that she was still there so she just had to keep moving forward –
She felt a rush of warm air against her neck, and long fingers weaving their way through her own.
Her hand was squeezed, in reassurance, and Jeanne realized that she mustn’t be able to talk, not wondering why that was the case and instead continuing her quiet descent, reassured by the solid, invisible presence beside her and the double echo of footsteps on the stair.
She slid open the door at the foot of the flight, and into the living room, turning the corner until she got to the water closet. Pulling Jericho in with her, she shut the door. All was black.
“That was… an adventure. Did anyone hear us?”
A pair of strong, smooth arms wrapped around Jeanne’s waist; the voice was buried in her hair. Jeanne smiled. “I doubt it; Papa snores like an old truck so no one else can hear anything.”
And they could see in the bathroom because Jericho brought with her that silvery, other-world sort of light. Jeanne fumbled under her sink, coming out with a thick pair of silver scissors. They gleamed white-steel.
Jericho looked at them as if they were a puzzle, then said, “Sit on the floor and put your back against the bath, alright?”
Jeanne nodded. “Why?”
“You look as if you are about to fall asleep. It’s okay to close your eyes. I won’t leave until I am done.”
“I won’t fall asleep!” Jeanne retorted. Still, she was happy. She relax with Jericho’s fingers in her hair.
Jeanne leaned back, her head over the rim of the tub. Jericho climbed inside, settling gracefully with her legs crossed. She pressed her lips to Jeanne’s scalp. “How would you like this done?”
Jeanne yawned, feeling the hour creeping up on her. “Can you do it… like yours…?”
Jericho, unseen, quirked an eyebrow. “Like… mine? I’m not sure –“
Already beginning to fuzz away, Jeanne raised a hand ineffectually. “Just… I trust you…”
And somehow, that made Jericho smile. Jeanne fell asleep to the cold shick of metal against her skin and the feeling of strong fingers knotting in her hair.