Nice– a crowded, comfortable, homey, and sunny city. Well, usually. Today, it wasn’t as comfortable as usual, and it felt anything but homey, at least for Clára.
A convenience store was nowhere close to home, that was certain. The rows and rows of towering shelves stocked with food and useless trinkets were completely unlike sa maison. And at home, she was much more comfortable.
Four hours overtime and she could barely keep her eyes open– but only because if she did close them, the blinding florescent lights would pierce through them anyway.
She slumped herself half-way over the cash register’s neighboring table, just to rest her tired neck and aching back. At some point, she thought, I made a wrong move. Perhaps to avoid dwelling on the past too much, she settled on a recent bad decision– taking over her friend’s shift. «Oh, no, I don’t mind,» she said. «Yea, of course, take a day off,» she said.
What a stupid thing to say.
Just as she started to consider offing herself with a ballpoint pen, a familiar face soundlessly came into her weary line of sight through the automatic doors of the store’s entrance.
If Chaudia recognized Clára, she didn’t make any indication of it. Or, as Clára figured, she wasn’t in the mood to bother. Her eyes were wet– and it clearly wasn’t the mist. She’d been crying. Hard.
«I’d like this, si vous plaît.» On the counter, she placed a soda, a bag of chips, and a potted flower. With a clatter, she placed down a shovel.
«I’m doing some gardening.» She forced a smile.
«Do you always plant roses when you’re sad?»
«And what, the other times you plant cacti?»
«Yea, that’s fair.»
Chaudia looked down to get out her wallet, rummaging around to fish out a few euros…
«You know what, Chaudia? It’s on the house.»
She put her wallet up but kept her gaze down. «Merci beaucoup.»
She left the store, just as quietly as she had entered.
Wreaths and holly decorated la maison de Patrick. The vibrant colors of LED holiday lights reflect in the crisp and shiny hardwood floor. The dining table was filled with so many appetizers, pre-filled wine glasses, and a single oblong plate of turkey.
The party guests made for a light murmer that Patrick managed to ignore– after a while, it started to feel like white-noise to him. He sat at the dining table in the corner-most chair, hoping to be overshadowed by the food.
He watched the guests aimlessly wander intermittently across la maison– scuttle, chat. Scuttle, chat. Scuttle, chat, eat… it was endless and mind-numbing beyond belief.
He rested his head in his hands, slowly sliding to the table. His head lay on the cold tablecloth, cheekbone perpendicular and uncomfortable. He stopped watching the endless scuttling and instead let everything slip out of focus, trying to zone out completely. He didn’t want to think, just daze.
«Don’t confront her, Patrick.» Chaudia’s mother stared down at him, waking him from his wakeful dormancy. He was shooken, and slowly raised his head to look her in the eyes.
She had a face much like Chaudia’s, but her nose was a touch shorter, and she looked much more grave than Chaudia ever had. Patrick felt like he was being reprimanded like a naughty child.
«So, what do I do, then? Act like it’s all fine?»
He wanted to cry for his friend. She was sick, and there was nothing anyone could do, he realized.
«It’s for her own good.» Her face softened. «She could…»
«She could what, madame?»
«She could become violent, Patrick.» She paused.
«Over the past few days, I’ve seen my daughter act more aggressive and angry than ever before… Honestly, I’m scared of what she would do.»
«I do care about her, madame. She’s my friend, I don’t want her to get hurt… or to hurt anyone else…»
«Then you’ll do what I’m telling you, right?»
Patrick paused. For a moment, he averted her gaze for a moment, looking toward his dining room wall.
«Have you told the others, madame?»
«Oui, I told the rest earlier today– except for Charlotte.» She sipped her wine. «She was the one who witnessed the first incident, actually. Just a couple weeks ago after school, they went to a café. She told me almost immediately.» Another sip.
«Poor thing, she was really scared.»
She gripped his shoulder for a moment, paused, and returned to the party.
Charlotte and Jean-Charles strolled through Nice much slower now– it was necessary, with the smaller streets, sharper turns, and, well, the thick layer of fog that enshrouded everything in sight.
As they pulled toward the parking lot near the farmer’s market, Charlotte suddenly became fixed on something to their left.
«Charlotte, what is it?» Jean-Charles shifted his focus from the road ahead to Charlotte, back to the road, and back to her.
He immediately slammed on the brakes in surprise.
«What the hell was that, Charlotte?!» He asked.
She just kept fixed on something to their left; Jean-Charles’ gaze followed hers.
A figure– no, she realized, two figures– were digging in the middle of a small strip of dirt and trees. She couldn’t tell who they were, exactly, but she could tell something was being buried. She wouldn’t ever admit it to Jean-Charles, but honestly, she was scared. All of the most odious possibilites filled her mind about exactly what they were burying… but she tried not to think too much about them, or subvocalize them in the slightest. She wanted to leave.
«Jean-Charles, let’s go.»
He remained staring at the figures, before slowly turning to face the road again.
Slowly, they continued their drive.