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Authors: Lisa Schroeder

My Secret Guide to Paris (8 page)

BOOK: My Secret Guide to Paris
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A
s we walked back to meet up with Justin and Alice, disappointment washed over me. I looked over at Phoebe. “I don’t want our day together to be over yet.”

“I know. I don’t, either.” She stopped walking. “Let’s exchange numbers. Hopefully we can find time to get together later in the week. After you’ve gathered your clues and figured out what it all means.”

I got a pen and a piece of paper out of my bag and wrote down her number, while she did the same with the number for my temporary cell phone.

“At the very least,” she said, “ring me in a couple of days and update me. I’ll be so curious to find out how things are going with you and your mum.”

“Okay. I will.”

With that, we made our way to where Justin and Alice stood waiting for us. I spotted them first. They had their arms around each other, and Justin was whispering something in Alice’s ear.

“We’re here,” I said as we walked up to them.

They turned to greet us, but neither of them looked very happy to see us.

“Aren’t you a little early?” Justin asked.

“Better than being late, right?” I said.

“Well, leave us alone for a minute. I want to say good-bye to Alice in private. They’re heading off on foot, while we’ll be taking the Métro back to the hotel.”

He gave us a little hand motion, like,
Get out of here
.

“Oh brother,” I said under my breath as we turned around and stepped away. I looked at Phoebe, who rolled her eyes and wrinkled up her little freckled nose. It made me laugh.

“Thanks again for everything,” I whispered. “I had such a good time.”

“I did as well,” she said.

“Okay, let’s go,” Justin called out.

I gave Phoebe a quick hug. “I hope I see you again soon.”

“Me too!”

We waved good-bye to each other as we went our separate ways.

“So, that was cool, huh?” Justin asked. “Running into them like that? Couldn’t have worked out better.”

For once, I couldn’t argue with my brother.

*  *  *

When we arrived at the hotel room, Mom was busy admiring the doll and case of little clothes she’d bought. We sat down on the bed and pretended to be interested in her newest addition.

“This pretty little thing,” she said, “is a French Bisque Bebe by Denamur, circa 1890. Isn’t she beautiful? She is in exquisite shape. Oh, sure, her hat is a bit faded, but look at her soft, brown hair, made with real human hair. And her big blue glass eyes. Isn’t her red sailor dress adorable?” We nodded, because what else could we do? “It’s made of silk. She even has antique undergarments on. Do you want to see?”

Mom started to pull up the doll’s dress, but that’s where Justin drew the line. He stood up. “Mom, that’s great, she’s really, uh, cute and everything, but we’re starving. Can we go find a place to eat? Please?”

“Oh, sure. Let me just put all of this away. While I do that, tell me, what did you two do today?”

As we rode the train back to the hotel, Justin and I had talked about what we’d tell our mother. We didn’t want to lie, but we also didn’t want to have to tell her every detail of what we’d done. Justin had said to let him talk when the time came, so that’s what I did.

“We met two girls from England. Alice is my age and Phoebe is Nora’s age, so we hung out with them. We had the best crêpes for lunch, Mom. You have to try one. Nutella and bananas. So good, right, Nora?”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Really good.”

“That’s funny,” Mom said, “I had a crêpe for lunch, too. But I had one with prosciutto and cheese. It was to die for. I have to be careful or I’ll gain ten pounds this week.” She smiled. “Ah, who cares? It’ll be worth it if I do, right? This has been such a fabulous trip already, and we still have the rest of the week.”

“It was nice of Grandma to do this for us, wasn’t it?” I said.

My mom put the doll boxes by her suitcase and picked up her purse. I waited for her to agree with me. I wanted Mom to appreciate Grandma’s kindness, because it showed that Grandma loved us and wanted us to be a family again. Grandma had done her part, now I wanted my mother to do hers. But she didn’t say a word.

Justin stepped into the bathroom and shut the door, probably sensing the anger that had started boiling up inside of me.

“Mom?” I asked. “Did you hear me?”

“Yes,” she said, looking anywhere but at me. “I suppose it was. Though I don’t want to talk about her and bring us all down. I’m happy to be on this trip with the two of you. That’s what’s important now.”

I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at her. “Well, maybe
I
like talking about her. She was my grandma, and I’m so sad she isn’t here. But it’s like you’re actually glad it worked out like this. You almost seem happy that she died. Are you?”

Now my mom glared at me. “Stop it. You know that’s not true.”

“No, I don’t,” I said, tears pricking my eyes. “I don’t understand why you act like you hate her so much.”

“I don’t hate her,” she said softly. “But it’s complicated. And I’m not going to discuss it with you now. Justin? Hurry up. We’re ready to go.”

Justin came out as soon as the words were out of her mouth, like he’d been waiting for the storm to pass.

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s go.”

“I’m not very hungry,” I said, taking a seat on my bed. “I think I’ll just stay here.”

“Nora,” Justin said. “Come on. Don’t be like that.”

“No,” Mom said. “It’s fine. She can stay here if she wants to.”

Justin gave me a look that said, “Are you kidding me?” But I was totally serious. I was too angry to be hungry.

After they left, I lay on my bed, hugging Hedwig, thinking about the adventures Grandma had prepared for my mom and me. Grandma Sylvia had acted so lovingly toward my mom, even after the way Mom had treated her, and I couldn’t understand why.

I let the tears fall, wishing hard that my grandma was with me instead of my mom. If Grandma were here, I thought, she’d take me to her favorite restaurants and tell me all about the fashion shows she’d watched that day or the fascinating people she’d had meetings with. She’d teach me things that would actually be helpful to me in life, like how to put together outfits and how to tie a scarf. It seemed like the only thing my mom wanted to do was talk about dolls.

Tired of thinking about it all, I got up and turned on the television, hoping I could find something to take my mind off of everything. But there was only one channel in English, a news channel, and that was the last thing I wanted to watch. I finally settled on a cartoon, even though the characters were talking in French.

“I wish I could understand,” I said to myself. But it wasn’t really the television show I was talking about.

T
he next day, we woke up and got ourselves ready, and I tried to forget about the disagreement Mom and I had the day before. I didn’t want her to ruin the trip for me.

Mom and Justin had brought me a baguette and a little fruit tart from a bakery they’d visited on their way back to the hotel after dinner. It seemed like she was trying to say she was sorry without actually saying the words. So I accepted the food, which was delicious, of course. By then, I was starving, and probably couldn’t have said no even if I’d wanted to.

Over breakfast, Mom told us that she’d been too busy shopping the day before, so she hadn’t made it to the doll museum, and wondered if it would be all right if we started our day there. After we toured the museum, she said Justin and I could choose a place to go. So off to Le Musée de la Poupée we went.

I enjoyed myself more than I thought I would. The owners had done a fantastic job arranging the dolls in scenes that were fun to look at. Each exhibit included doll-sized furniture, accessories, and even toys to make the scenes realistic.

One of the scenes was an old schoolhouse, with dolls seated at little wooden desks. The desks had teeny-tiny little books on top, many of them open so it actually looked like some of the dolls were reading. A map of the world was hung at the front of the room, behind the teacher doll. The room even had a tiny little chalkboard.

Mom was in doll heaven. After a couple of hours, Justin and I were ready to go, and we had to practically drag our mother out of there.

“Oh, that was wonderful,” Mom said. “I feel inspired to do some different things with my dolls when I get home.”

I didn’t ask her to explain what she meant by that. Unless she was planning to move them all to the attic, I really didn’t want to know.

“Okay, where to next?” she asked. “Whatever you kids want to do, I’m game.”

“How about a boat ride down the river?” Justin said.

“Ooh,” I said. “I’d love to do that.”

Mom pulled out her guidebook. “I think there’s a section in here that talks about trips down the river. Let me see what I can find. Maybe we can do that, and then have lunch somewhere? And I’d really like to take you two to the Louvre this afternoon.”

I thought of Lindy back home, who’d asked me to wave at Mona Lisa for her. I knew a trip to Paris wasn’t complete without a visit to the most famous museum in the world. I just didn’t want to have to spend hours and hours there.

Justin must have read my mind. “As long as we don’t have to spend all day in that gigantic place, I’m fine with that.”

“Me too,” I chimed in.

We ended up finding a riverboat that served lunch, so while we dined on pasta, we got to see some of the great sights of Paris in a whole different way. It was amazing. We were a little cold, but it could have been worse. Like, at least it wasn’t raining.

Then, just as we’d agreed, we spent a few hours at the Louvre. Mom suggested we try to find the fourteen or fifteen most famous paintings that were listed in the brochure. Both Justin and I liked that idea, so that’s what we did.

The
Mona Lisa
was nothing like I’d expected it to be. I didn’t know if it was because it was so much smaller than I’d expected, or because of the bulletproof glass around it (I wondered who would even want to shoot at a painting), but it was nothing like the spectacular painting I’d had in my mind. As I stood there and watched the circles of people snapping photos with their phones, I thought of how the
Mona Lisa
was kind of like my trip to Paris. Originally, I had thought Grandma’s notes would lead me to clues so I could find the key, but now, it didn’t seem like this trip was about the box at all. It seemed like maybe the notes and the map were about something bigger than that, if only I could figure out what it was.

I think my favorite painting was the one called
Le Jeune Mendiant
, which means “The Young Beggar.” It’s a painting of a boy sitting on the ground, sunlight streaming through a window and onto his body. His feet are dirty and his clothes have holes in them. Next to him is a straw bag with half-eaten apples, like maybe he had just come back from picking them up off the ground somewhere.

What caused me to stop and stare for a long time, though, was the look on the boy’s face. The artist had done an incredible job capturing his sadness. The longer I stared, the more my heart broke for him. I wished I could reach into the painting and help him somehow. Now that is good art!

After we found all the paintings in the brochure, we spent some time in the Egyptian section, which Justin really liked, because mummies are cool, I guess. My favorite part was when we visited Napoleon’s apartments. I’d never seen anything like that! Who would have guessed they once made chandeliers the size of small cars? The crowns and jeweled goblets were gorgeous, too.

Before we headed out, we stopped at the souvenir shop for postcards. I picked out three, one of them with a picture of the
Mona Lisa
to send to Lindy. Mom chose a stack of postcards, so I asked her who they were for.

“I want to send them to people I work with,” she said. “They were all so jealous of me going on this trip. It’ll be nice to let them know I was thinking of them.”

“Do they know why you were able to go on the trip?” I asked. As soon as the words were out, I wanted to snatch them back. We’d actually been getting along really well all day, and I didn’t want to get into another argument about Grandma, especially in the middle of a souvenir shop.

“Yes, Nora,” she said sternly. “They know my mother died and that she left us the airline tickets. I needed time off for her memorial service, after all, so I had to tell them. I couldn’t keep her death a secret.”

The way she said it, it seemed she would have liked to keep it a secret if she could. Was she really that ashamed of her mother, a mother who clearly loved her and wanted to fix things between them?

“Why do you have to sound so angry when you talk about her?” I asked. “She wasn’t a bad person. She was exactly the opposite, I think. Even though you treated her the way you did, she wanted to try and make up with you. I think that’s why she bought you the airplane ticket. But it’s like you don’t even care.”

“I’m not discussing this here, Nora,” she said. “As I said last night, it’s complicated and you don’t understand.”

“Why don’t you explain it to me?” I asked. “Jeez, I’m not a baby.”

Before she could answer, it was our turn at the register, so we didn’t say anything more.

As we walked outside, Mom asked, “Where to next, kids?” like everything was fine and the conversation three minutes before had never happened.

How was I going to tell her about Grandma’s notes when she didn’t seem to want to talk about her
at all
?

“I don’t care,” I said softly.

“Cheer up, Nora,” Mom said, putting her arm around me. “We’re in the most beautiful city in the world, and we have the whole evening ahead of us to enjoy it.”

And all I could think was,
If only Grandma was here to enjoy it with us.

BOOK: My Secret Guide to Paris
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