Jeffrey is a poor laborer on the Eiffel Tower, he works to feed his little sister, and the girl who sells flowers on the corner is pretty.
It was winter of 1889 and the Eiffel Tower was to be complete by spring.
Jeffrey hung in the air, dangling a distance from the ground that had long ceased to frighten him. He’d lied, of course, to get the job, by telling them he wasn’t afraid of heights, but he’d needed the money more than anything and a fear could be beaten out of anyone, he’d learned.
He glanced out at the Paris that lay sprawled out before him, a magnificent sea of buildings and monuments and church towers that didn’t come close to the height he hung from. He stared out above them all. Before coming to work on the tower, he’d never dreamed a view like this existed, a million shades of sprawling landscape.
Jeffrey turned his eyes away. Of course, he wasn’t being paid to enjoy the view. He had a job to finish. For Paris.
“I don’t know if I like the look of it,” his mother said thoughtfully, when he came home in time to eat a late supper. “All that iron- it looks like a giant skeleton in the middle of Paris.”
“I know, Maman,” Jeffrey said over his bowl of onion soup. She shared the view of countless Parisians he’d endured the comments from for the past three years. “It’s nearly finished though, it’s too late now.”
“I’m not complaining,” she said gently, kissing him on the top of his head despite his grimy workday hair. “It puts food on our table.”
When he slipped into the tiny room he shared with his little sister, he wasn’t surprised to find her still awake, eyes glowing in the moonlight from the open window. “I like it,” she whispered. She grinned in the darkness.
“Thanks, Mae,” he said, giving her a smile. He walked over and tucked her in and kissed her on the cheek. She was ten, but a small, thin thing.
“You’ll take me up in it, won’t you?” she said, like always did, as if he might back out on his promise when he’d never backed out on one before.
“You know I will,” he said. He settled into his own bed, and they went to sleep.
Jeffrey often tried not to think of her. More often, it was too hard not to.
She was out there every morning, by the corner with her cart of flowers, rain or shine. If Jeffrey were to ever find himself in the unimaginable situation where he had money to spear, he would spend it on one of her flowers.
She had them in every color, every kind, her little cart overflowing with life, even in the bleak winter months. She always stood beside it, her hair a mess of long honey colored curls that hung down her back, round brown eyes and cinnamon freckles dotted across her cream face. She was the most beautiful girl Jeffrey had ever seen, and he may be able to suspend hundreds of feet above the ground, but he would never, ever be able to find the courage to talk to her.
He was a poor laborer who lived with his mother and sister in a tiny apartment in the more unsavory district of Paris. He was awkward and gangly, his hair was thin and straw colored, his skin pale. Who was he to talk to her, anyway?
So he didn’t. But if there was ever a lucky morning when her eyes happened to stray to his for a brief quarter of a second, he would take the days’ worth of happiness it filled him with.
Toward the end of January, Jeffrey’s mother had fallen ill.
She was a strong woman, his mother, and while Jeffrey’s father had succumbed to illness shortly after the birth of Maelle, Jeffrey had always seen her as invincible. She’d worked as a housecleaner, and raised two children with her meager wages. Eager to help her out, always, Jeffrey had begun work as soon as he possibly could.
He was seven when he first found a way to earn money. He would wander, while his mother was at home with the baby, along the streets and to the river, where he liked to watch the water rush by. It was there he first met the artists.
Felix, Remy, Adrien…others who came and went. Jeffrey would stand behind their easels, watching them turn shapes and colors into the city before them, too shy to say anything, but too transfixed to move away. The artists were kind to him. They beckoned him forward, took joy in showing him how they did their work.
Felix showed him how to mix the right colors together to make new ones, that one shade of blue didn’t make up the entire sky, that the river water needed green, or yellow, or white or red. Remy demonstrated the differences between brushes, that a thin tipped brush could mean all the difference when it came to texture and detail, and a fat brush was good for bigger shapes, for clouds, if you applied a gentle hand. Adrien helped him understand ‘perspective,’ a word he’d never heard before, but came to learn with serious diligence meant all the difference between a good painting and a bad one.
Other words were thrown around, like ‘impressionism,’ ‘realism,’ things that went over Jeffrey’s head but he wanted so badly to try himself. They would let him, sometimes, refill their water or wash out their brushes, but Jeffrey longed to feel the smooth glide of a paintbrush beneath his fingertips.
The artists were not rich, not by any means. In fact, they were most likely poor by societal standards, but in the eyes of Jeffrey, whose mother could barely afford enough food to fill his plate every evening, they had everything he could never even dream of. They could afford paints and canvases and to sit outside for hours in the Parisian sunshine, doing something so immensely pleasurable. They even shared some of their lunch with him, sometimes, just pieces of baguette and cheese. To Jeffrey, they had all the wealth in the world.
It was the best day of his life when, one warm day in the spring when the trees were just beginning to blossom along the Seine and leaves left branches canopied over sidewalks, they presented him with a small pad of canvas paper.
They each gave him a bit of paint and a paintbrush of his very own, and Jeffrey stared, speechless. Felix laughed and patted him on his thin shoulders, and, with a wink, Remy told him to make a masterpiece, but not to forget who taught him everything he knew. Jeffrey vowed that he would. It was the best – the only – gift he’d ever been given.
The first blank page was daunting. One wrong stroke of the brush, and the entire painting could be ruined.
“No, no, my boy,” Adrien said, smiling, white hair ruffled by the breeze. “A painting can never be ruined, as long as you know how to blend the colors, and you do not give up.”
Jeffrey’s first painting was of a tree. He stared, taking in the colors of the leaves, of the way the sun glinted white and the how deep the shadows became. The colors of the bark and the clouds in the sky. A bird on its branches.
Adrien payed him a centime for it. Jeffrey stared at the tiny coin in his hand, amazed. He brought it home to his mother, and since then had vowed to make as much money for her as he could.
But now she was ill, and Jeffrey was working on the Eiffel Tower which, admittedly, was not enough to support his family alone.
“Maman will get better, won’t she?” Maelle said, eyes full of fear, her blonde hair stringy and unbrushed. A blanket hung from her shoulders; they could no longer afford heat. Jeffrey had brought home a meager baguette that day. “Won’t she?”
“Of course,” Jeffrey said, but he was unable to meet her eyes.
He’d sold those little paintings he did alongside the artists, to kind folks in passing, who could not resist the proud eyes and big heart of a child, who, quite truly, was showing a burgeoning talent. He never earned much, but the artists were proud, they’d declared him a “paid artist” which, they said wisely, not even some of the best could claim.
That had been ten years ago, and while Jeffrey had to leave his stint as a paid artist for “real work,” he never quite let go. Instead, he’d settled for sketching little cartoons for Maelle to make her laugh, little drawings on whatever scraps of paper he could find. He couldn’t dream of affording paint.
“You work so well with your hands,” his mother had said, gazing down at the pieces of paper strewn across the tiny desk in the room he and Maelle shared. “You have a talent, my dear.”
Jeffrey said nothing, but he glowed with pride.
When February came, it was clear that she would make no recovery, but Jeffrey could not bring himself to admit it. On his way to work that morning, beneath a heavy gray sky, it felt as if the clouds may just descend upon the city and swallow him up. He would not oppose.
He couldn’t afford it, he knew, but when his eyes fell upon the flower cart, he reached into his pocket for a coin.
As the customer ahead of him made off with a stunning bouquet of flowers, the girl’s eyes feel on him. She had a yellow knitted hat on over her curls to protect from the cold, and she smiled.
He held out the coin in his hand. “What can this get me?”
Her smile faded. “Erm…perhaps one flower.”
Jeffrey could tell by her voice that this coin could hardly afford a petal. He reached into his pocket to see what else he had. If he used it, then Maelle may go without dinner.
Before he could mutter a pathetic “never mind” and slump away, the girl gestured to the flowers and said, “Which would you like?”
“I…” Jeffrey’s eyes scanned the cart, overflowing with color. He pointed to a pink one. “That one, please.”
She smiled again and plucked the flower with a careful hand and wrapped it in a thin sheet of white paper. He handed her the coin.
“Thank you,” he said, meaning it very much.
“You’re welcome.” She looked into his eyes. Perhaps it was the yellow of her hat that drew out the hint of gold he found in her gaze. Her smile was fading again. “Pardon my question, but…are you alright?”
Jeffrey shrugged, summoning a tiny smile. He held up the flower. “This is for my mother.”
She seemed to understand, perhaps by the tone of his voice or the sadness in his eyes, because she nodded, but said no more.
“Thank you,” he said again, and set off to work.
By the time he got home, it was slightly wilted, but his mother summoned a smile and held it to her nose.
She died two weeks later.
Maelle was inconsolable, and Jeffrey was barely hanging on, having tried the best as he could to swallow his own grief. He seemed to be in a constant daze, unsure how to go on, but somehow arrangements were made with their church and his mother was buried in a modest grave, and suddenly he and Maelle were a family of two. He stood there, his sister’s tiny hand in his, and he hated how cold the ground was beneath his feet.
“I don’t want to go home,” she said, face frozen over with tears. Jeffrey didn’t either.
So they walked by their apartment and kept going. The sky was white and it could snow, maybe, but Jeffrey really hoped it wouldn’t. Soon enough, they found themselves along the river, but it was too cold for anyone to be painting, and Jeffrey hadn’t seen Felix, or Remy or Adrien in years. Not that he would know what to say if he did.
“What will I do, Jeffrey?” Maelle said, clinging to his hand. Her hand was freezing in his, and he rubbed it with his thumb to find some warmth.
What would she do? Jeffrey had been dumb, and stupidly hopeful that his mother might live, because making arrangements for Maelle meant accepting her death. But he’d arranged nothing, and while Maelle had been preoccupied with taking care of their mother while he had been at work every day, and might accompany her mother on her cleaning before her illness, he wasn’t sure what he could fill her days with while he was working on the tower for these last few months.
And what would he do once the Eiffel Tower was finished? Hopefully he would be able to find work fast. Perhaps Monsieur Eiffel would give him a recommendation. He was pretty sure the man knew who he was. He had been kind enough to grant him this day off work for his mother.
“I’ll talk to Maman’s cleaning service,” he said. “Maybe they’ll let you work for them.”
“I’ve never gone without Maman,” Maelle said, shaking her head.
They turned the corner and Jeffrey’s eyes settled on a cart full of color. He reached into his pocket. He couldn’t afford it, not at all.
“Over here, Maelle,” he murmured, leading her across the street. “I want you to pick one.”
Maelle’s eyes went round as they approached. “They’re so pretty, but Jeffrey-”
The flower stand girl had spotted them. “Hi,” she said, smiling. She was wearing her yellow hat again.
“Hi,” Jeffrey said, feeling his face color slightly. He was going to cheat her for a flower again, but in that moment he decided he’d pay her back for it one day. Now that he didn’t have Maman to provide for, perhaps it would be easier.
The thought struck his heart, and to his horror, he felt his eyes welling. He looked away, pretending to cough. When he looked back up, the girl was watching him. Her eyes were quiet, soft. He cleared his throat again. “We’ll take whatever she wants,” he said, gesturing to Maelle.
“Whatever you want, Maelle,” he said firmly. She went quiet, and after a moment, pointed to a flower of deep blue.
“A lily,” the girl said, taking it. “Those are some of my favorites.”
“How do you grow them?” Maelle asked. “It’s winter.”
“My family a greenhouse,” she said, handing Maelle the flower. “We grow them there and I sell them.”
“A greenhouse?” Maelle asked.
“A kind of glass house, it absorbs sunlight and keeps things warm and wet for flowers to grow,” the girl said. “Kind of like spring preserved in a house.”
“That sounds nice,” Maelle said, a spark of wonder in her eyes. “Can you live in it?”
The girl laughed. “No, it’s just for plants.”
Maelle looked disappointed. Jeffrey knew exactly what she was thinking, that perhaps they could move into one, then they would never be cold again.The thought made Jeffrey want to cry again.
He felt Maelle nudge his side, and he looked down at her. He hadn’t realized he’d lost track of the conversation. “Oh, um.” He handed the girl the coin.
“Thank you,” the girl said, slipping into her pocket without complaint.
“Thank you for the flower,” Maelle said. And, not quite wanting to leave the company of another person, they set back off toward home. On their way, it began to snow, little white flakes in Maelle’s pale hair.
The days passed in a haze and Jeffrey hadn’t succeeded in finding anything for Maelle.
Every day he left, leaving her at home and telling her study her books, locked the door tightly before he went to work, and returned home with enough food for a small dinner and her meals the following day.
“I just don’t want anything to happen to you,” he said when she asked if she could leave the house during the day.
“Nothing’s going to happen,” she said moodily. “I’m almost eleven, I can take care of myself.”
Of course she could, but Jeffrey was terrified. Without Maelle, he would have no one, but if he didn’t do something soon, she would come to resent him.
He walked to work at the beginning of March, mind churning. A pale sun was peeking through the sky, the first beginnings of spring. Work on the tower was to be complete soon, and the thought sent a jolt of panic through him.
He looked up, startled. Who knew his name? Apart from the men he worked alongside, he didn’t have any friends. He’d never had time for any friends, what with taking care of his family.
It came as a shock when he realized it was the girl with the flower cart. He turned around, retracing his steps.
She was looking at him, her face the slightest bit sheepish.
“How do you know my name?” he asked her.
“I heard your sister call you that,” she said, looking a bit embarrassed, “when you bought her a flower a few weeks ago. That was your sister?”
“Yes,” he said. He didn’t know what else to say.
“I’m Juliette,” she said.
Juliette. Jeffrey would write a poem using that name, if he wrote poems.
She hesitated. “I…forgive me, but I see you walking by every day, and I’ve noticed…you’ve looked sad.”
Jeffrey opened his mouth. He closed it again. He didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t deny it, but to confirm it almost felt like admitting a weakness.
“It is none of my business,” she said quickly. “Of course not, but I…here,” she grabbed a pink flower and wrapped it in a piece of paper. “For your mother.”
Jeffrey looked at the flower in his hand. “My mother died.”
The girl looked sad, but not surprised. “I…I’m so sorry.”
He didn’t know what to say again. He pushed the flower back at her. “I can’t keep stealing your flowers.”
“You don’t steal them,” the girl said. She pushed his hand back. “Give it to your sister, she was sweet.”
Jeffrey nodded, opening his mouth to thank her but instead hearing himself say, “I’m afraid she’ll hate me.”
The girl frowned. “What?”
Jeffrey looked up and met her eyes, aware of his heart beating in his chest, suddenly. “I leave her home every day, because there is no one to take anywhere, no one to watch after her, and I go to work on the tower, the Eiffel Tower, and I come home and feed her.” His chest felt tight. “I feel as if I am keeping her imprisoned.”
The girl’s eyes were soft. “You don’t want anything to happen to her.”
Jeffrey wanted to cry, but he could not. Would not, especially in front of this girl. He swallowed, looking away. “You’re nice, to give me flowers.”
The girl was quiet, and Jeffrey was about to take his leave, he’d be late for work soon, when she spoke again. “Sometimes I think it’s cheating, to sell things the earth gives so freely.”
Jeffrey met her eyes again. “Well,” he said slowly. “There are far less honest ways to make money, I think. And you’re making people happy.” He looked at her. “I don’t think you’re cheating, Juliette.”
He went off to work, and he felt a bit lighter.
“It’s from the girl with the flower cart,” Jeff said, giving Maelle the flower. She rushed to grab a glass to fill with water.
“It so nice,” she said. “I’ve almost forgotten what nature smells like.”
“We’ve lived in the city our entire lives, we don’t know nature.”
Maelle glared at him.
He sighed. “Tomorrow is Friday, I will bring you out Sunday, okay?” he said. “The whole day, until it is dark.”
Maelle look a little happier. “Promise?”
Jeffrey didn’t quite know what to do as he walked to work the next day. Should he stop and talk to Juliette? Wave? Ignore her altogether? If he stopped to talk, what would he talk about?
He didn’t have to worry, though, because she called out to him again.
“Yesterday,” she said, “you were telling me about your sister. I have a question.”
“Would she like to help me sell flowers? You can walk her here every morning, and I can walk her home in the evenings.”
Jeffrey stared at her. It was his impulse to say “oh no, you don’t have to do that,” but how could he turn it down?
Juliette nodded. It was beginning to get warmer, and she’d forgone her yellow hat. Her curls fluttered in the wind. “Of course. It gets boring, sometimes, doing this alone.”
“Alright,” he said, nodding. “Yes, thank you, Juliette.”
“I’ll even pay her some.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
Juliette smiled at him, earnest. “I want to.”
Jeffrey could kiss her.
Maelle practically skipped beside him the next morning. When he’d told her about Juliette’s offer the night before, she’d almost cried with joy.
“This is going to be great, I love flowers, and that girl was so nice,” she chattered. Jeffrey had hardly gotten any sleep the night before with her excited tossing and turning.
“The sun is so bright!” she said as they walked along. It was cloudy, but Jeffrey wasn’t going to say anything.
When they saw Juliette’s cart on the corner, Maelle ran ahead. By the time Jeffrey got there, she was already asking Juliette for instructions.
“Thank you so much, Juliette,” he managed to say to her before he continued his way to work. “I owe you.”
She waved her hand. “You don’t. Now go to work and let Maelle and I start our business.”
Grinning, and feeling better than he had in weeks, Jeffrey set off towards to the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower was completed by the end of the month.
There were still minor things to be done, but on the 31st a group of government officials and representatives were lead to the top of the tower for the grand opening. It was the tallest structure in the entire world. For generations, people from around the world would come to see it, to climb it for the views Jeffrey had seen every day.
Jeffrey was immensely proud to be able to say that he had worked on it, so much so it nearly tore his heart apart that his mother couldn’t be there to see it. He had been convinced, upon its completion, that she might change her mind when she saw just how grand it was. It rose up in front of him, over a thousand feet above the ground, and Jeffrey could say he’d helped build it.
The general public was not allowed up yet, but he’d brought Maelle along for the opening, with permission to miss a day of work from Juliette. She stood beside him, mouth agape.
“You still promise to take me up in it?” she said.
It would be a long trek, unless they got the elevators working in time for the public. The representatives would take at least an hour to climb to the top today. Jeffrey hoped they were fit.
They turned around, and Jeffrey felt a grin tug on his lips. He’d been disappointed earlier when Juliette had said she couldn’t accompany them to the tower that day, but had to stay were her flowers.
“Change your mind?” he said when she caught up to them.
“I can spare a day,” she said, waving a hand. She looked up at the tower and assumed the same expression Maelle had just been wearing. “Oh wow, I’ve never been this close to it before.”
“Jeffrey promised he’d take me up it,” Maelle said proudly.
“I take it you’re not afraid of heights,” Juliette said.
“Of course not,” Maelle scoffed. “Are you?”
“I don’t know,” Juliette said. “I’ve never been up high enough to find out.”
“You could come up, too,” Jeffrey said without thinking.
Juliette smiled at him. “Thanks.”
They stood there, in the increasing crowd beneath the Eiffel Tower, looking up, watching, taking it in.
“Do you know,” Juliette said suddenly. “I used to think it was ugly.”
Jeffrey rolled his eyes. “You’re part of them, are you?”
“Part of who, excuse me?” Juliette raised an eyebrow.
“The protesters, the one who think it’ll ruin Paris.”
“Did you not hear me?” Juliette said. “I said, used to think. I think all that wind up there damaged ears.”
“Right,” Jeffrey said, smiling sheepishly.
“I don’t think it’s ugly anymore.” She paused. “Do you know what changed my mind? The way you’d talk about it.”
“You make it sound like a work of art.”
He felt his face going red. “It was just my job.”
“It’s good to be proud of your work,” Juliette said.
“Maman was proud,” Maelle spoke up, “she said the same the same thing about you.”
Jeffrey looked at her. “She always talked about how ugly it was.”
Maelle shook her head. “No, she didn’t. She liked to complain about it but that was just Maman being Maman. She was proud of you, Jeffrey, she told me.”
Jeffrey stared at his sister. “She did?”
“She said she trusted you,” Maelle said, “because you have an artist’s hands. She said you’d make it beautiful. She couldn’t trust Paris to do anything but she could always trust you.”
Jeffrey didn’t know what to say. Had his mother really said that?
Something stronger than pride glowed within him, suddenly, as well as a wave of grief. He wished, so fiercely, his mother could have been here to see it. His eyes began to burn.
“I didn’t know you actually were an artist, Jeffrey,” Juliette said after a moment, her voice soft.
Jeffrey swallowed. “Oh- I’m not, not really-”
“He is, he always draws,” Maelle said. “He’s always draws me funny cartoons. Maman loved them too. And he used to paint.”
Jeffrey couldn’t do this, not in front of Juliette, not here. All this talk of their mother- his voice was stuck in his throat.
“She couldn’t trust Paris to do anything but she could always trust you.”
Could he live up to that? Did he?
He looked back up at the monstrous tower before him.
For Maelle’s birthday at the beginning of April, Juliette invited the two of them for lunch at her house. Maelle had accepted before Jeffrey could get a word in, but there wouldn’t have been any reason for him to decline, anyway.
As he put on his best shirt and wiped off his boots, Jeffrey found himself nervous. Juliette was obviously not poor, and he’d hardly ever been invited to visit someone’s house, never mind a girl’s.
“Behave, Maelle,” he said as they walked to the address Juliette had given them.
Maelle scoffed. She was in her best dress, a pale blue. “Of course I’ll behave, I’m not five, Jeffrey.”
He knew that. He was just anxious.
It was only when they’d arrived at her door and rung the bell did he realize they hadn’t brought anything, a gift for her parents, something for Juliette for inviting them to her home. He was on the verge of panic when the door opened and Juliette stood before them, grinning.
“Come in,” she said, stepping aside. “Lunch is just about ready.”
The apartment was much bigger than his and Maelle’s. It had a dining room and a sitting room, a staircase leading up to the second floor. Everything was beautifully arranged, the colors rich and lively, like autumn captured in in fabric and paint. Lovelier than any place Jeff had been in before.
“Oh, this place is beautiful, Juliette,” Maelle said, clasping her hands together.
“Thanks,” Juliette said. “You’ll want to tell my Maman that, she’s the one who does the decorating.”
It was all too soon that Jeffrey found himself around a table laden with a choice of delicious looking foods on a rose colored table cloth, with Maelle, Juliette, and Juliette’s parents.
“And what do you do, young man?” her father asked him as Juliette began to dish out food onto each other their plates. He was a tall man, his brown hair graying around the edges. He had Juliette’s wide brown eyes.
Jeffrey’s hands were already sweating where they lay clasped tightly in his lap. He knew he and Maelle had been invited here as guests for Maelle’s birthday, but it was obvious that if a young man was invited to meet a young woman’s family, he would undoubtedly be sized up.
“I work on the Eiffel Tower, Monsieur,” he said. He prayed Juliette’s parents weren’t the in the group of Parisians who saw the tower as a stain upon Paris.
He breathed an internal sigh of relief when he looked impressed. “Since the beginning?”
“That’s quite a project to be a part of.’
“He would dangle hundreds of feet above the ground, Papa,” Juliette said as she took her chair.
“How daring,” her mother said over her soup.
“It was part of the job,” Jeffrey said, feeling himself going slightly red.
“Gabriel would be jealous,” her father said. “Juliette’s brother,” he added at the blank looks on Jeffrey’s face. “Jules, did you not tell your friends about your brothers?”
Now it was Juliette’s turn to go red. “I may have forgotten,” she mumbled.
“Is this why you didn’t invite them for dinner?” her mother asked, a wry smile on her face.
Jeffrey wasn’t quite sure he understood. Juliette’s father turned back to him. “Juliette’s older brothers had been known to get up to mischief. They’d love a chance to, what was it? ‘Dangle hundreds of feet above the ground.’”
Three mischievous older brothers. Jeffrey was suddenly relieved they weren’t there.
“They’re not nearly as brave as they like to think they are,” Juliette muttered. Maelle giggled.
“Ah, yes, the birthday girl,” Juliette’s mother said. She winked at her. Her hair was the same honey color as Juliette’s, if a bit less curly and a bit shinier. “Have we got a cake for you.”
After three courses and a delicious sponge cake beautifully decorated with an assortment of fruit and powdered sugar, Juliette asked Maelle and Jeffrey if they’d like to see the greenhouse.
“Ooh, yes!” Maelle said. Jeffrey nodded.
He welcomed the cool as Juliette led them into her small backyard. Juliette’s parents were wonderfully kind, and he’d relaxed as the meal had progressed, but it was nice to be out from under what he still felt to be a scrutinizing eye.
“Wow!” Maelle said, stopping short.
Jeffrey looked up. The little greenhouse was like an explosion of color against the gray afternoon. Flowers pressed against the glass, pinks and greens and blues and reds. Juliette opened the door.
It was, indeed, like “spring preserved in a house,” the way Juliette had described it all those weeks ago. It was warm and sweet smelling and bright, an overload of the senses. It would be wonderful to come in here in the cold winter.
“This is beautiful,” Maelle said, her hands on her cheeks.
“Have a look around,” Juliette said, and Maelle needed no further pushing to disappear down the tiny path into a patch of blue and purple flowers.
Juliette didn’t move, and Jeffrey stood beside the door, gazing around, until his eyes finally landed on her face. She was already looking at him.
“Sorry my parents were so prodding,” she said. Her face was oddly flushed, perhaps by sudden heat of the greenhouse. Jeffrey thought he might feel it too.
“They weren’t,” he said quickly. “They were very nice.”
“You’ll understand why I didn’t tell you about my brothers?” she said, biting on her lip. “They’d have been worse.”
Yes, that. “They did sound quite…”
“Devilish,” Juliette said. She rolled her eyes. “They’re all big softies, really, but I didn’t want them putting you through that. Not that you wouldn’t have been able to take it, of course.” She smirked.
Jeffrey felt his lips twitch. “Of course.”
“They’ll be home by dinner, which is why I invited you for lunch,” she said. “I’ve got three of them. Gabriel, Luc, and Noah.”
“And they’re all older?”
Jeffrey was suddenly very relieved they weren’t there.
“Noah and Luc are married, so they’ll be here for dinner with their families, anyway,” she said.
Jeffrey only nodded. Would she want him to meet them eventually? What did that mean?
“I’m not very impressive, Juliette,” he said without thinking.
Her eyebrows flew up.
“Jeffrey, come see this!” Maelle suddenly said from behind a row of bushes. Jeffrey gave Juliette a small smile, and went to answer his sister’s summons.
When the time came for them to leave, Jeffrey was reminded of how he hadn’t brought a gift when Juliette pressed something into his hands. It was a set of watercolor paints.
He looked up at her. “Juliette, I didn’t bring anything for you or your parent, you shouldn’t-
“That doesn’t matter, and I can,” she said firmly. “Maelle said you used to paint.”
“I did, but-”
“I believe you’re very impressive, Jeffrey,” she said. “Paint something.” She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek, and Jeffrey felt as if the world had been turned on its head.
Walking home beside Maelle and her giant bouquet of flowers that Juliette had told her to pick in the greenhouse, everything looked bright, composed of a million colors.
By the end of April, Jeffrey’s hours at the tower didn’t run nearly as late as they used to, now that they were nearly finished getting the elevators running for the public.
“When are you going to take me up there?” Maelle asked on morning. “I don’t mind climbing, really.”
“Soon, Mae,” he said, kissing her on the head. “Soon. Now come on, you don’t want to be late for Juliette.”
They’d been doing quite well, Jeffrey thought, on their own. It was still a struggle making ends meet, but with Maelle’s small wages from Juliette and only two mouths to feed, they got along alright.
Maelle accompanied him until they got to Juliette’s flower cart. There was something new there. The way she smiled at him, the way he felt his heart leap and the way they let their eyes linger. Since that afternoon at her house when she’d kissed him on the cheek. He wanted to kiss her again. He wanted to kiss her for real.
It was thoughts of Juliette that carried him through the day, and he hoped that he might be let off early enough to see her on his way home. The elevators were nearly complete.
The sun had casted the tower into a long shadow when he and the other men were let off for the day, and Jeffrey was halfway to Juliette’s when he sensed something strange.
It was a presence close behind him that at first he simply thought was one of his fellow workmen. When he turned and found that a stranger’s hand was suddenly clasped around his elbow, he realized too late that he was wrong.
“Hey, man, stop it-” he said, struggling, but the stranger only gripped him harder. Jeffrey was thinking that perhaps he should yell out when the man turned down a dark, deserted street and pushed him against a wall.
“Are you Jeffrey Sauveterre?” The man asked, his face hidden by shadows. Jeffrey could feel himself beginning to shake. Had he done something, offended someone somewhere? Was it wise to answer? If he didn’t get home, Maelle would be alone-
“Are you!” The man said, giving him a shake.
“Oui,” Jeffrey gasped. “Please, I don’t have much money-”
“I don’t care about your money,” the man said. “Do you know Juliette Duval?”
Jeffrey remained silent. Was it safe to answer that question? Could it somehow bring harm to Juliette? Or was this just some sort of jealous ex-lover?
The thought brought a twist of pain to Jeffrey’s heart at the same moment the man shoved him harder up against the wall. “Do you?”
“What’s it to you?” Jeffrey said, wincing.
All at once, the man let go of him. “I only want to know,” he said, voice suddenly calmer, almost genial, “because she’s my sister, and I hear she’s got a new boyfriend.”
Jeffrey blinked into the darkness in shock. “What?”
“Come along, my dear Jeffrey,” the man said, and Jeffrey felt a hand on his arm again, only this time it was much gentler. “Let me buy you a drink.”
In the light of the bar, Jeffrey saw that the face of his attacker was much younger than he’d expected. Perhaps around his own age.
“I’ve been waiting forever to do that,” he said, taking a long sip from his glass and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Ages. I came up with that plan when I was twelve. It’s taken Juliette forever to find a boyfriend. Not that I’m complaining, either,” he added hastily, giving Jeffrey a look.
“Of course not,” Jeffrey was careful to agree, but kept his voice cool. The boy had humiliated him.
“I can see you’re not impressed,” the guy said. He shrugged. “But I had to do what I had to do. You have a sister? Maybe you’ll understand.”
Jeffrey didn’t like to think of the prospect of a boy pursuing Maelle, but he would never do that to him.
“I prefer to treat people with dignity, thanks,” Jeffrey said.
His companion merely shrugged. “I prefer people to earn it, especially when it comes to my sister.” He held out his hand. “I’m Gabriel, by the way.”
Almost unwillingly, Jeffrey shook it. His resemblance to Juliette was uncanny, now that he saw him in the light- his hair was a mess of untamed, honey colored curls, albeit much shorter than his sister’s, and he had the same wide eyes and freckled face.
“Juliette’s my twin,” he said, and Jeffrey did a double take.
“She never said she had a twin,” Jeffrey said, surprised.
“No, she wouldn’t, would she?” Gabriel said. “Didn’t want to scare you off, probably. Any girl that’s got a twin would know he’s the most protective brother of them all.” He winked.
“You truly made sure to live up to the part, then,” Jeffrey said dryly.
“Of course,” Gabriel said. He leaned back in his chair, looking at him under hooded eyes. “Do you know, though, that wasn’t all for laughs. I was impressed. You didn’t give her up when I asked if you knew her.”
Jeffrey didn’t say anything.
“You don’t have enough money for her, though.”
Stronger shame than he had felt all evening hit Jeffrey right in the chest. Still, he didn’t let his face give him away.
“Well luckily, I’ve never been foolish enough to make any advance on her.”
Gabriel looked at him for a long moment. “She brought you to meet my parents. She speaks highly of you.”
Jeffrey looked back at him. “She helped out me and my sister after our mother died. She was kind to us. I try to return the favor.”
“I think you do.”
“What do you want of me, then?”
Gabriel was silent for a moment. He took a last long swig of his drink and stood up from his chair. “You’re a good man, Jeffrey Sauveterre,” he said, patting him on the shoulder as he made his way out.
Jeffrey didn’t know how to compose himself around her.
After the meeting with her brother, he had no idea of how much farther he could let this friendship go. As long as Maelle sold flowers with Juliette, he supposed they would remain acquaintances. Until that time came to an end, he would have to contend with the brief conversation they had each morning as he passed on his way to work. The tower was open to the public. He would need a new job soon. Perhaps he and Maelle would search, start an new life altogether.
It was a bright, sunny morning that she sought him out. Never, not since their mother died, had Jeffrey and Maelle received a knock at the door of their tiny apartment.
“Juliette!” Jeffrey nearly pulled the door right off its hinges in surprise. “I mean- Juliette, what are you doing here?” He closed the door slightly, so that she might not see inside. It was nothing compared to her parents’ lovely apartment.
“I have come to ask you,” she said, shoulders quite still, looking at him, “if you would spend the day with me. There is a fair at the Tuileries, I was hoping you’d like to come along.”
Jeffrey stared at her, heart pounding in his chest. He couldn’t do this – shouldn’t do this – but he heard his mouth moving, heard himself saying, “Okay.”
Juliette’s face bloomed into a smile, like something of relief. Jeffrey moved to turn away, “Let me just wake Maelle.”
Jeffrey turned back around. Juliette’s face was pink. “I mean- let the girl sleep. I was,” she hesitated and met his eyes again. “I was hoping it would be just the two of us.”
Jeffrey stared. “Oh.” A beat of silence. “Er- just let me leave a note, then.” And, figuring it was incredibly rude to leave her in the hall, he stepped aside so she could walk in.
He felt his face burn as she took it in, and he found he couldn’t look her in the face as he moved around searching for a scrap piece of paper. The place was a mess of clothes left to dry on the backs of chairs, dirty glasses in the water basin, and-
“Your paintings,” Juliette said, walking around the table. There was still one, half dry, on the table, where he’d been working on it before she’d knocked. Others hung along the whitewashed walls, wherever Maelle liked to put them.
Jeffrey felt his face burn. “Yeah, they’re just-”
“They’re beautiful,” she said, gazing around, eyes round.
“They’re just from the paints you gave me,” he said, scratching the back of his head.
Juliette looked at him, a look of amusement on her face. “I suppose I’ll take credit, then.” She pointed to the one on the table, the one he’d woken up early that morning to work on. “What’s this?”
“It’s, ah,” Jeffrey said, feeling foolish all of the sudden. He hadn’t thought he could accomplish it; he’d just wanted to see if perhaps he could. “It’s the view from the Eiffel Tower, just, you know, what I can remember.”
“You must have a fantastic memory.” She gazed at it.
“Erm,” Jeffrey said, feeling supremely uncomfortable. He didn’t know what else to say, so he scratched out the tiny note for Maelle and left it where she would find it.
Jeffrey led Juliette out of the apartment, palms sweating.
It was warm that day, early May, and the sun beat down on Jeffrey’s skin as they walked to the Tuileries Gardens. It was a bit of a distance, so Jeffrey didn’t go there often, but it was always worth a visit in the spring.
“How did you know where I lived?” he asked Juliette.
“I asked Maelle,” she said.
Right, of course. “But why?” he couldn’t help ask.
She looked at him. The sun revealed highlights in her curls and her freckles had grown browner from the sun. “So I could visit.”
“Jeffrey.” She put a hand on his arm. “Let me spend the day with you.”
His heart was about to beat right out of his chest. He nodded.
The fair was a mess of games, of petting zoos, of food stands and carnival rides. Small children dragged their parents by the hand, and older ones ran freely, eating giant sugared lollies and dangling them in front of sheep when no one was looking.
Juliette walked closely beside him, the soft skin of her arm bumping into his, the sweet smell of her perfume tickling his nose when her curls got too close. It was wonderful, it was stupid, there was sunshine running through his veins and Jeff felt himself beginning to relax.
“Come on,” she said, after they’d finished a round of throwing balls at a stack of pins, which neither of them succeeded. “Let’s go on the ferris wheel.” She grabbed his hand.
It was almost easy, not letting go once they found themselves standing in line, and then still not letting go when they sat down in their little compartment. The sun was high in the sky but the air was cooler as the ride lifted them up, and Juliette’s hand was soft in his.
Suddenly, he felt every bit the seventeen year old he was, and he almost wished he was younger, because at seventeen marriage was on the minds of mothers, and fathers, and society itself, and he couldn’t marry this girl who sat next to him, no matter how much he wanted to.
“You don’t have enough money for her.”
He didn’t. He never would. He was a poor laborer who had to take care of his sister and made useless art.
“Jeffrey,” she said, so close beside him. She squeezed his hand the tiniest bit. “Are you alright?”
He looked at her, met the same eyes he’d found under the yellow hat when she’d asked that exact question the day he’d bought that first flower for his mother.
He smiled, forcing it.
Shadows had grown longer, and once they’d exhausted the fair, they decided to go for some cheaper food at a small café nearby. Juliette had to be home for supper with her family, and Jeffrey did need to get back to Maelle, and these forces of responsibility and the utter joy the day had brought him tugged at him fiercely in opposing directions.
“Why the frown?” Juliette kicked at him gently beneath the table, tearing a piece of bread apart with her fingers, empty soup bowl in front of her.
He immediately smiled. “I’m not.”
She set the bread on her plate. “Do you know,” she said, looking across the table at him. “I asked you to come with me today because, first of all, I really wanted to go to that fair.”
“It was a good fair,” he said.
She smiled. “Second of all,” her smile faded somewhat, “you’ve not really been talking to me.”
His insides twisted. “I-” Jeffrey wanted to deny it, he felt it on the tip of his tongue. “I- Juliette-”
She looked at him, her eyes wide and attentive. Framed by dark, full lashes that looked so pretty, he wanted to touch them with the tips of his fingers and watch them flutter shut as he-
Oh, Lord. He couldn’t do this. He wasn’t supposed to be doing this. He looked down.
His eyes fell upon her fingers, gripping the edge of the table, so tightly they made her nails white.
His chest twisted tighter, little spirals and twizzles. He swallowed. “I met your brother.”
Juliette frowned. “What?”
“He…ambushed me, I suppose, as I was walking home from work one night. I wasn’t sure he wanted me to…” Jeffrey trailed off, not able to meet her in the eye.
“Was it Gabe?” Juliette was scowling. She curled her hands into fists now. “I told him- he likes to think he’s a jokester, but he’s just an idiot.” She looked at him, her face beginning to go red. “What did he say? That you’re not- good enough for me, or something?”
Jeffrey looked back at her. “Juliette-”
“Because that’s not true, you know, not true at all, Gabe just thinks he’s in control of me because he’s older than me by ten minutes, and because I’m a girl, but he’s not-”
“Juliette.” His voice was quiet.
She froze. Her face was beat red, but she was staring at him.
“It’s not true, Jeffrey.”
“You know I can hardly support Maella, I can’t-”
Juliette slammed her fist down on the table. Other diners looked around at them.
She stood up and reached for her purse, dropped the money onto the table and grabbed Jeffrey by the arm and yanked him to his feet.
She dragged him down the crowded sidewalk, filled with people looking for evening entertainment, and he nearly tripped over a small child carrying a balloon. Finally, she pulled him into a tiny alleyway between two cafés.
Before he had time to say anything, or catch his breath, before he had time to think, she was kissing him full on the mouth.
It was with such force that Jeffrey felt himself actually go weak in the knees, but he kept himself up, brick wall cold and damp against his back but her lips so warm against his mouth. It was the single most pleasurable thing he had ever experienced, and he would like it to never, ever stop.
It was only when she pulled away, breathing deeply, that he felt her hands on his shoulders, and realized that his own were on her waist. His heart was pounding so hard in his chest he might fear it would break.
She looked up at him. He looked at her.
They should discuss things, he knew it, but then her lips were back on his.
They had only stopped kissing after a waiter from the restaurant stepped out for a smoke and shooed them away. But Jeffrey was a new man. He could do anything, he was on top of the world. Juliette had grabbed his hand and they’d run, laughing.
It was lucky that Juliette lived so far from the Tuileries, because Jeffrey didn’t want to part quite yet, and Juliette truly had a knack for finding secluded alleyways that nearly doubled their time getting there, but Jeffrey didn’t mind.
“Wait,” he said, stopping just as her apartment came into view. He pulled her aside.
She tugged on his hand. “Jeffrey, you don’t need to be afraid-”
“I’m not,” he said. The sun had gone down, and just a layer of orange light touched the topmost windows of the buildings around them. “I think your brother liked me. He just made it clear that I can’t…afford you.”
Juliette scowled. “I’m not something to be bought.”
“I know you’re not,” he said, giving her hand a squeeze. It was still exhilarating, holding her hand, touching her skin. “It’s just, he had a point.”
Juliette was frowning deeply. He wanted to kiss the crease between her eyebrows, but he couldn’t be so bold, not yet. “I don’t care.”
“You don’t now.”
She sighed and dragged her free hand through her hair before looking back at him. “Just let me have this day, please? Just this one day.”
Jeffrey would have personally constructed a second Eiffel Tower for her if she’d asked. “Sorry,” he said. “Of course.”
She leaned up and kissed him once more. “I care,” she said, quietly, once she’d pulled away. “I mean, I care enough to find a solution.”
Jeffrey felt himself smile. Where she’d find one, he had no idea, but perhaps that was for another day.
“You were gone all day,” Maelle said, arms crossed, when he came home. The sun was well gone from the sky then, and Maelle was back in the pajamas she’d had on that morning. Perhaps she’d never taken them off.
“Sorry, Mae,” he said. “But look, I’ve brought you dinner, and a present.” He put the bit of meat and cheese he’d picked up on his way home on the table, and reached into his pocket. “It’s a fortune teller,” he said, handing her the folded up bit of paper. “I won it at a fair.”
“You went to a fair?” Maelle said. “Without me?”
“Sorry, Juliette had come over and-”
“And with Juliette?” Maelle said. She crossed her arms more tightly. “I can’t believe this. Do you guys not like me anymore?”
Jeffrey rolled his eyes and grabbed his sister and pulled her against him. She resisted, but he didn’t let her go. “Of course not. But you know how you and Juliette are always together, one on one? Juliette and I wanted that today.”
“Hmph,” Maelle said against his shirt. She shifted slightly. “You smell like her perfume.”
Jeffrey felt his face going red.
Maelle gazed up at him, a tiny smirk on her face all of the sudden. “You were kissing, weren’t you?”
“What? Of course not-”
“You were kissing,” Maelle said in a singsong voice, and like flipping a switch, she was unbearably cheerful. “I knew you were in love with her.”
Jeffrey sputtered. “Maelle-”
She unraveled her arms and hugged him. “I was hoping you were.”
Jeffrey was frozen, just for a moment, then he softened and hugged her back. “What’s my fortune, then?”
She pulled away, grabbing her new fortune teller and folding it correctly. After she’d asked him all the questions, her eyes lit up. “You will come upon great romance.”
Jeffrey raised his eyebrows, amused. “You made that up.”
“Did not! Says it right there!” she held it out for him to see. “Perhaps it’s running a bit late on time, seeing as you already have. Okay, now do me.” She shoved the fortune teller into his hand.
“Four – five – six,” Jeffrey finished counting, and opened the tiny flap. “One day, everyone will know your name.”
Maelle looked delighted. “Oh, do you think I’ll be famous? I hope I’ll be famous.”
“Famous for what?” Jeffrey said, setting the fortune teller on the table.
“Selling flowers, of course,” Maelle said, dancing around the room. She came to a halt in front of Jeffrey’s painting, left long forgotten on the table. “Was this your view from the tower?”
Jeffrey nodded. “Oui.”
Maelle looked at him. “You’re going to take me up there soon, right? So I can see the real thing? It looks so pretty.”
“You know I am.”
“You promise, right? I don’t care how in love you and Juliette are, if you go up there without me-”
Jeffrey rolled his eyes. “I’m not. I promise. Now eat your dinner before it goes bad.”
It was a Sunday afternoon at the beginning of June and Jeffrey and Juliette found themselves on the grass by the Eiffel Tower.
“I can’t believe you helped build that,” Juliette said. Their hands were tangled between them as they gazed up at the tower. The sun was warm and pleasant against their faces.
Jeffrey shrugged. He never quite knew what to say when people said that. He knew he was scrawny, but, well, it was true.
Juliette turned her head to look at him. “Have you finished that painting?”
“Nearly,” he said. The truth was, he was running out of paint, but he was so close to finishing he hoped he might manage.
“I’d like to see it when it’s done,” she said. “I want to show my parents.”
“Why not?” She said. “You’re talented, Jeffrey.”
Jeffrey bit the inside of his cheek. Art wasn’t considered a stable, or noble, skill that may help to persuade a parent to let him marry their daughter.
Not that marrying Juliette seemed any more realistic than it had before. It was just that these last weeks with Juliette made him want it, crave it so badly, he was starting to think he would do just about anything.
“I was thinking of expanding my flower cart,” Juliette said when he didn’t answer, and he was glad for the change of subject.
“To what?” He asked. “A second cart?”
“A shop, I think,” she said thoughtfully. “Gabriel said he might help me.”
Jeffrey smiled. “That would be lovely, Juliette.”
“Maelle would be my official assistant,” she said. “If you’ll let me keep her.”
“Sure,” Jeffrey said. “She loves it, you know. Selling flowers.”
“It’s a noble profession,” Juliette grinned.
“She wants to be a famous flower seller,” he said, remembering the night with the fortune teller suddenly. “She wants everyone in Paris to know her name.”
“Of course they will,” Juliette said. “Half of them probably already do. I’d never sold so many flowers than after she’d started helping me.
Jeffrey smiled, feeling a giant sense of pride welling within him.
Juliette nudged his hand and glanced back up at the tower. “Are you ever going to take me up there?” She was smirking.
“Oh, stop,” he said. “You know Maelle would murder me if I took you up there without her.”
Juliette laughed, and the sound matched the sunshine.
Jeffrey had just dropped Maelle off with Juliette at her flower cart when it happened.
It seemed to ensue in slow motion, right before his eyes, the way the horse and carriage came around the corner far, far too fast.
Screams. Yells. And suddenly, flowers everywhere, in the street, on the sidewalk, petals floating so delicately, so slowly and gently in the air. Like snow.
Jeffrey’s feet were numb beneath him as he felt them carry him, unsteady, to the scene.
Flowers everywhere. Petals in his hair, like snow. Blood beneath his feet. Another yell, a shout of otherworldly pain, perhaps, from his own mouth.
“No- no- Maelle!”
There were petals on her small, lovely face.
Juliette’s family arranged the entire funeral. Jeffrey would feel guilty, if he had any more capacity for feeling.
He’d thought he’d known grief when his mother died, but this, this was something else entirely. She was the tiny pink baby that had come into his life when he was seven and didn’t quite want her to, but hadn’t taken long to win his heart. She was the child he’d make laugh with his cartoons, who he’d tuck into bed every night. She was the girl who’d helped their sick mother, who had made her smile when she was in so much pain. She was the young woman who’d make him laugh with her theatrics, he stories and her cheek. She was the loveliest thing he’d ever known, and now she was gone.
It was like smoke, slipping through his fingers, the way his family members disappeared.
Juliette reached for his hand as they stood in the small cemetery, the same one that held his mother. This one thing Jeffrey had requested; she be buried near their parents.
She got a proper funeral, unlike their mother had, and more people than Jeffrey ever knew had known her came, most of them loyal customers of Juliette’s flower cart, who would dearly miss the lively little girl who’d sold them more flowers than they could afford, but couldn’t deny.
Jeffrey knew the feeling.
Juliette’s entire family was there, including Gabriel and her other brothers he’d never met. Jeffrey was grateful, and they were kind. They clapped him on the shoulder as the service ended, and her mother hugged him tightly.
Jeffrey couldn’t move, not for a long time, long after everyone else had gone, and it was just him and Juliette in the small, quiet graveyard. Finally, unable to bare it any longer, Jeffrey sunk to his knees, choking on a sob on his sister’s grave.
Why would God do this to him? Take the life of the sweetest little girl in Paris?
Juliette had gotten to her knees beside him, holding him closely, tightly, keeping him from tearing his own skin off. He held his arms tightly around his middle, his insides burning with grief.
He’d never even taken her up the Eiffel Tower.
“She couldn’t trust Paris, but she could always trust you.”
“I’d promised,” he gasped, over and over, into Juliette’s chest. He bit his lip so hard it bled, but he felt nothing. Flower petals dusted the ground at his knees, fallen from the blooming trees overhead.
Jeffrey lived in a daze.
Juliette’s parents insisted he stay with them, for a little while, because it was quite obvious to Juliette and her mother that he would forget to feed himself if he was left on his own. He listened to their gentle suggestions, to eat this, and sleep now, and put on your socks, and Juliette’s brothers didn’t give him any trouble, not even Gabriel. Whenever he met their eyes, he always knew what they were thinking.
It could have been their sister.
If there was one thing Jeffrey was grateful to God for, it was that he hadn’t taken Juliette, too. She’d gotten away without a scratch. It had been Maelle standing in the exact wrong place at the exact wrong time, reaching forward to rearrange some lilies so customers might see them better.
It was when Jeffrey was able to help her brother Noah rebuild her cart that he figured he might be alright enough to face going home. Juliette walked him there, and her mother had sent them with an enormous basket of food, and Juliette helped unpack it for him in his kitchen, exactly how he and Maelle had left it that morning.
If only he’d woken up earlier that morning, ate a longer breakfast with her, spent a little more time with her, left late enough that the carriage may have overturned before they got there.
Juliette kissed his hair, his face, over and over once he’d calmed down again, sitting in one of the kitchen chairs. Slowly, she let go of him and pulled one more thing out of the basket.
“For something to do,” she said, kissing him on the temple one more time.
When she left, he set them on the table, untouched. His view from the Eiffel Tower still lay unfinished, as it had been that morning.
He had to find new work. He painted now, all hours of the day and all hours of the night when he couldn’t sleep and when his thoughts came at him the worst.
That, and Juliette, were the only things that made life bearable.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said one afternoon at the end of June when Juliette had taken him out of his apartment. He was pale. He’d lost what little weight he had to begin with. He knew Juliette was worried about him. “I’m sorry to be a burden.”
“Never,” Juliette said, raising his hand to her lips and kissing his knuckles. It made him want to cry.
“She was the only thing my mother had left me,” he said. “I was supposed to protect her. She was the last good thing I had in me.”
“Oh, Jeffrey,” Juliette said, and tears sparkled in her own eyes. “You’re full of so many good things.”
It was nearly August. Fall would come soon, but right now the sun in the sky dictated the weather, and it was hot, humid, and very much summer.
There was a fair, a festival, at the Eiffel Tower. The elevators were working and several restaurants had opened on the second level, and Monsieur Eiffel thought they must celebrate with a second grand opening, of sorts.
Jeffrey’s heart jumped around in his chest, every part of him fighting what he was about to do. Finally, Juliette squeezed his hand and pulled him forward, though children with balloons, teenagers eating crepes, people laughing. He would get nowhere without her.
They’d been in line for what felt like hours, and finally they stepped forward into the giant elevator. It was hot and stuffy inside, and unfortunately the ascent was slow, and his hand was sweating, but Juliette didn’t let go of it, or move away.
When they got off on the first level, they walked up to the second, waited in another line and boarded another elevator. When they got out this time, they were at the very top. It was much chillier up here, and Jeffrey felt goosebumps rise on his arms.
They walked to the railing. All of Paris lay sprawled out before them, a dizzying map of buildings and colors. Millions of people lay beneath their feet. It made Jeffrey feel small.
He let go of Juliette’s hand and reached into his pocket. Keeping his grip tight so that the wind wouldn’t blow it away, he pulled out his painting.
It was the one of this very view, perhaps from a bit farther down the tower. One morning when he hadn’t slept all night, just before the sun had risen and the sky was a dim, glowing blue and purple outside his window, he’d managed to finish it.
It hardly managed to compare to the real thing, he thought, looking between the two, but it wasn’t all that bad.
“It’s beautiful,” Maelle had said the morning before they’d left on that day. “Is that really how it looks?”
Jeffrey had shrugged. “Something like that.”
Which was, of course, followed by another demand for him to take her up the tower, at which he’d assured her he would. Jeffrey could feel the sting of tears behind his eyes. Juliette touched his shoulder.
He took the painting in both of his hands and ripped it straight in half.
He ripped it into fourths, then sixths, gave some to Juliette and they ripped and ripped and ripped. Finally, they held tight handfuls of tiny, torn pieces of his painting.
“Ready?” he said quietly to Juliet, just loud enough for her to hear over the wind. She nodded.
Distantly, as if from another life, came to Jeffrey the words of an artist he’d met along the side of a river.
“A painting can never be ruined, as long as you know how to blend the colors.”
They held their fists out over the railing, over the city beneath them, and opened their hands. The tiny pieces of paper floated, taken by the strong wind, away, away, and away, like snowflakes onto the city, into the sky.
“And,” Adrien said, smiling at him. “you do not give up.”
Or flower petals.
The air smelled like spring and sunshine and a little bit like the pastries from the bakery next door.
“Come on, you lazy rat, you can’t live off those paintings,” Gabriel said, thumping Jeffrey on the shoulder so hard he nearly dropped his brush.
“Don’t hit him, Gabe.”
“He can’t be relying on a girl to defend his honor all the time.”
“You say that as if you wouldn’t give your right arm to have a girl of your own speak up for you.”
“I need this arm,” Gabriel said, grinning. “And you wouldn’t have your shop without it, so don’t complain, dear sister.”
Jeffrey bit back a smile. Juliette rolled her eyes and moved back through the doorway. Gabriel gave him a look and simply said, “Women.”
“And stop stealing my flowers so you can try and woo them!” Juliette shouted from inside the shop. Gabriel grinned and stuck a pansy into his coat pocket.
The shop had opened not two months ago, after a year’s hard work and a generous allowance from Juliette’s father. It was a daring investment, a flower shop, but seeing as Juliette had always done so well with her cart, and that all her brothers had agreed to help with the business and construction, it was a worthy risk.
And it was flourishing.
“Jeffrey, get a move on,” Gabriel said. “Another minute and I’ll be late.”
Jeffrey’s father had also been kind enough to employ Jeffrey in the construction of the shop, but now that it was open and he couldn’t very well live off of flowers, Jeffrey had managed to secure work in the construction of the world’s latest fad- department stores. Gabriel worked at a business nearby, and they often walked together in the mornings.
Department stores were no Eiffel Tower, but they paid well, and Jeffrey was happy. That, and while he made little more than a pittance off of them, Juliette sold his paintings at the shop.
“Work a little less hard and I may not let you marry my sister,” Gabriel said impatiently as Jeffrey quickly packed his paints away.
That, too, was a risk in stability. But Jeffrey was getting there.He was working, and he was saving, and Juliette was a smart girl. The Eiffel Tower wasn’t built in a day.
“You don’t have to wait for me.” Jeffrey gave him a wry grin. “And I’d like to see you try.”
It was the spring of 1890 and the world was changing.
Gabriel thumped him on the back again and started down the street. Jeffrey stood up and smiled, glancing up at the sign before the doorway.
Les Fleurs de Maelle.
He pulled on his coat and started down the sidewalk, knowing that despite Gabriel’s complaints, he would get to work on time. The Juliette and the flower shop would be there when he got back.
I’m mad that I was able to write all 11,000 words of this story in two days but can hardly write 700 words of my book in two weeks. But I enjoyed it, and I finally have something good to post!!
This story was inspired by the book “Paris” by Edward Rutherford. It’s 800 pages long and it’s a history lover’s dream. So, if you love historical fiction, READ IT. I’m only half way through and I love it so much I’ve written 11,000 words of my own.
Also historical accuracy disclaimer. Especially regarding the marriage thing heheheh. Juliette’s parents are too kind.
Also, all the pictures at the top are mine.
EDIT: I had someone point out to me that the ferris wheel hadn’t been invented yet (only five years later SO CLOSE) so…………………I’ll fix it eventually (and then erase this comment heh)
One thought on “Cost of a Flower”
Pingback: Review: Paris | Lost: purple quill