The war is over and Paris is alive again with artists, writers and musicians. Rosalie Hale has come abroad to study in this exciting and romantic city, but instead she vanishes without a trace. Now her best friend, Bella has come on her own to find her. She teams up with Rose's spunky roommate, and they are joined in the search by an American businessman, a battle-scarred reporter, and a handsome painter with his own mysterious past. Following a trail of clues left behind by Rose's letters, they plunge into the dark side of the City of Lights. Who is Royce? What secrets is he hiding? Why did Rose really leave? The search for Rose and life in Paris just might change Bella in ways she never imagined.
Welcome to Girl with a Red Umbrella, co-written by justaskalice and spanglemaker. For the most part, justaskalice is writing Bella's POV and spanglemaker is writing Edward's POV, although we may switch over a little to help out on later chapters.
The story takes place in France and as such, there is some French in the dialogue. For the most part, it's just there for atmosphere, you can skip it entirely and you won't miss any plot points. If we feel that what's said in French impacts your understanding of the scene, we'll include a translation at the end of the chapter. Neither of us is fluent, however, so please be kind if you spot our errors!
We've done quite a bit of research for this story and we'd love to share it with the readers. We're working on setting up a livejournal page for the story with photographs, artwork and music that are inspiring and informing us along the way. We'll let you know when it's up and running.
Stephenie Meyer owns any Twilight characters that may appear in this story. The remainder is our original work. Copyright 2009 by spanglemaker9 and justaskalice. No copying or reproduction of this work is permitted without our express written authorization.
I was meant to live in Paris, Bella. From the second I stepped onto its busy streets, I felt as if the part of me that has always been missing was found. I can't even explain it, except to say that everything is so colorful here, so loud, so vibrant. Even after the horrors of occupation, the Parisians go about their business, breathing new life into crumbling buildings and picking up where they left off years ago. They call it joie de vivre. I feel truly alive here, for the first time since Aunt Helen died. I'm home.
The train let out a bellowing shriek as I jumped to the platform, clutching my small case to my chest. Smoke filled the station and cast my surroundings in a ghostly light. People budged around me, jostling me this way and that as I struggled to get my keep on my feet. After just over a month of solid travel, I was exhausted and disoriented, not to mention completely alone. I had never even traveled as far as Seattle by myself before, let alone across the globe. It was an experience I was not in a hurry to relive.
Standing in the middle of the train station wouldn't make me less alone, though, so I summoned my last ounce of courage and set out for the street, using my elbows to maneuver when necessary. I found a clear piece of pavement and set my suitcase down, using it as a seat as I dug through my pockets for the letter I had been re-reading compulsively since New Year's Day.
The sender, a young woman by the name of Alice Brandon, had written to me urgently. Her roommate and my best friend, Rosalie Hale, had gone missing. Alice had searched for Rose's family, but of course she had none, only me. My address was among the things Rose left behind, and with no other leads, Alice had contacted me.
It was the first news I'd heard from Paris since October.
Rose's sudden drop in correspondence had worried me, of course, but we were half a world apart, and my mother assured me that such things sometimes happen. She was living the life she was always meant to live, one that a small town girl like me would never understand. Rose had always been bigger than me, bigger than Forks. The easy way she had settled into her new French life was proof of that. Despite it all, I had been hurt at the thought of Rose outgrowing our friendship and leaving me behind.
When I received Alice's letter, my fears came rushing back. The thought of Rose alone and frightened somewhere in Paris was too much to bear, so I had quietly made travel arrangements. I withdrew all my savings and obtained a passport, and one cold night in early February I set off, leaving a letter for my parents explaining where I had gone and promising to write when I arrived in Paris. Asking permission was out of the question, so I would simply beg forgiveness.
I scanned the familiar words again, seeking out the address Alice had given me. I would have to ask directions and pray that Alice was home when I got there. Steeling myself once again, I looked around for a friendly face. A middle-aged woman with ash blonde hair stood near me, and I approached her timidly.
"Please, ma'am, could you tell me how to get to the sixth arr-arron-disse-ment?" The French fell awkwardly from my lips, and the woman merely stared blankly at me.
"Je ne comprends pas. Parlez-vous français?" she fired back rapidly.
"I don't… English?" I stuttered. She shook her head and strode away. I felt tears pricking my eyes and my shoulders started to shake.
"Hey there, kid, what are you crying about?"
I turned toward the voice and saw a tall man with an open, friendly face smiling down on me. His accent was American, and there was something about his honest brown eyes that made me trust him.
"I need directions to my friend's apartment, but I don't speak French," I explained, trying to keep the quaver out of my voice.
"Well, now, that's not so hard," he said, deep dimples appearing on either side of his wide smile. "I think we can handle that. There's a stand nearby that sells maps, why don't we head down there and you can get your bearings."
I nodded gratefully, wiping the tears from my eyes and following him across the street. A small part of me screamed that to follow a total stranger into an equally strange city was foolhardy in the extreme, but mostly I just felt relieved that someone else was making a decision.
We got to a small newsstand, and the man pulled out a few coins and traded them for a map.
"Oh, I can pay for—"
"Nonsense," he said, waving me off with a large paw. He was an imposing man, built like a quarterback. "Where did you say your friend lives?"
Snapping the map open wide, he pointed. "We're here, you see?" I nodded. "And this right here, that's where you're headed. Do you have an address?"
"Do you think you can find the place? I'd be happy to walk you there."
"No, thank you," I said quickly. I was willing to accept a map from him, but allowing him to lead me to Alice's apartment when the only thing I knew about him was his nationality was going too far. I could hear my father now.
"You're too trusting, Isabella." He'd shake his head and twitch his mustache angrily. "Men are only after one thing."
With a wave to my new friend, I walked away, map in hand. I was conscious that every moment I stared at the map I looked more and more out of place, but I wasn't so concerned about looking like a tourist that I wanted to get lost before I ever found my way to Alice's.
I found the nearest subway station and descended into the dark, holding my breath as I went. I'd never ridden the metro before. When I stopped in New York City to board my ship for France, I had stayed firmly above ground. Now that I had finally reached my destination, I was anxious to get some stability, and if the subway could get me there faster, so be it. I had never thought longingly of the uncomfortable camp bed in my dorm room before, but a month spent on trains and ships will make you appreciate even the most minimal of comforts.
Alice's apartment was in Saint-Germain, on the Rue de Seine. I had a vague idea that it must be near the river, but I was completely ignorant of the geography of the city. Luckily, there was a metro map on the flip side of the map I now held. Unluckily, the map made no sense to me. It looked like a jumble of colored yarn, the separate lines tangled in an incomprehensible snare.
I stood near the tracks as trains came and went, trying to find a path from where I was to Alice's neighborhood. Every time I thought I had it figured out, I would flip back to the city map and become hopelessly confused again.
"Mademoiselle?" A police officer approached me after about ten minutes, and his moustache and stern stare reminded me so much of my father that I almost broke down again. It was a feeling I was beginning to associate with trains. "Peux-je vous aider avec quelque chose?"
"I don't speak French," I sighed, biting my lower lip. Again, the gesture reminded me of my father. He hated when I chewed on my lip. Were my parents worried about me? Had they received my letter? It would have to wait until I could find Alice. I cleared my throat and said, very slowly and loudly, as if speaking louder would make him understand, "I need to get to Saint-Germain. Can you help me?"
"Ah, Saint-Germain!" He broke into a wide smile, and gestured to my map. "Saint-Germain-des-pres. Comprenez-vous?" He traced his finger from where we were down a red line to several stops away.
"Oui," I said, smiling for the first time in days. "Oui, merci."
"Au revoir, jolie."
I bought a second class ticket and found a seat on the next train, keeping my suitcase in my arms and my map safely tucked in my pocket with Alice's letter. The other passengers in my car gave me odd looks. One woman, her hair tucked up in an elegant knot that I could never in a million years reproduce, eyed the empty seat next to me with disgust before lowering herself into it.
"Bonjour," I murmured, glancing up at her. Her perfectly painted lips lifted in a sneer, and she turned, very deliberately, to face the other way. I hugged my suitcase tighter.
"Saint-Germain-des-pres! Saint-Germain-des-pres!" A loud, deep voice announced my stop and I stumbled out of my seat, barely avoiding stepping on my seatmate's costly looking shoes on my way to the door. I heard her snort and mutter Americans under her breath.
"Not far now," I said aloud, dropping my arm and straightening my skirt as I climbed back up to street level. "You can do this, Bella Swan."
The wide boulevard was almost more terrifying than the crowded train station had been, but this time I was prepared. I didn't let myself compare my surroundings with the quiet streets of my campus in Seattle, and I refused to be distracted by the way the women all seemed infinitely more sophisticated than me. I was holding myself together fairly well until I turned up the Rue de Seine and passed a leggy blonde wearing a steeply angled hat, half her face shadowed by the brim, her dress wrapped tightly around her curves.
I glanced down at my plain brown skirt and cotton blouse. No wonder the woman on the train had sneered. I looked plain and dowdy and out of place. I reached up to touch my hair. It was tied back in a neat pony tail, but it felt inadequate somehow. Maybe a braid would have been better.
For the first time, Alice seemed intimidating. She had lived in Paris for longer than Rose, and from what little Rose had told me about her roommate, she had enough personality to fill Forks and Seattle together. Her letter had seemed friendly enough, but she was a fashion reporter for French Vogue. She'd probably take one look at me and turn up her nose, just like the woman on the train.
My breaths started coming in short gasps, and I felt the telltale burning in my eyes. I stopped in front of a set of double glass doors marked with the address Alice had given me. I pulled on one handle. Locked. I tried the other, pulling with all my strength, even though I knew it wasn't going to budge.
"Gosh DARN it!" I shrieked, kicking the door. Weeks and weeks of travel, sleeping curled around my suitcase and washing my blouses in the sink of my tiny cabin at sea, warding off the advances of over-solicitous sailors, only to be stopped, practically inches from my destination, by something as insignificant as a lock? "Why won't you open?" I yelled, kicking the door again and pulling with all my might.
"Pardon me, mademoiselle." I whipped around, face burning. Behind me was a petite older woman. Her hair was a delicate shade of… could it be? Pink? I squinted, taking in the rest of her. She wore a full black skirt and a tailored ivory jacket that hugged her body in a way that was scandalous considering her age.
"Do you need to get in? Are you visiting a friend?" Her voice was lightly accented, but she was easy to understand.
"I…I… Alice Brandon?"
"Charmant! You are young Alice's friend?" She extended a black gloved hand daintily. "I am Madame Beauvais. But you can call me Estelle, eh?" She threw back her head with a throaty laugh and pulled out a key from the bulging bag that was slung over her shoulder.
"Follow me, follow me," she called over her shoulder, bumping the door open with her hip and hurrying through the lobby to the lift. "I live next door to Alice. You American girls, you know how to live, no? I am always asking Alice about her conquests and adventures."
I nodded dumbly and tried to contain my panic. What kind of girl was Alice? I barely had a moment to contemplate it, as Madame Beauvais was soon pushing me out onto whatever level the elevator had stopped at and tugging me down the hall.
"This way, ma chérie!" We had almost reached the end of the hall when a door to my left swung open, and a tiny girl came barreling out.
"Excuse me, Estelle, no time to talk," she called over her shoulder. "I'm late, late, late! Gotta make like the white rabbit and jump on down the rabbit hole, or my editor will have my head!"
The girl pulled up short and whipped around, a look of impatience clearly painted across her face. I tasted bile as I took in her appearance. Her black dress with its tiny nipped-in waist and full skirt was unquestionably real silk, and her white gloves and flyaway hat gave her the look of a Hollywood starlet. She had big grey eyes fringed with thick black lashes and cropped black hair, a soft curl worked into her short bangs. She raised one manicured and penciled eyebrow at me and then looked back at Estelle.
"Honey, I don't have time for charity cases. I'm sorry, I really am, but I just can't—"
"I'm Isabella Swan," I blurted, feeling more and more like I was going to burst into tears and desperately wanting it to be in private. Alice's eyes widened before she broke into a dazzling smile.
"Well if that isn't the best news I've heard all day! Why didn't you say so?" She opened her arms and took two quick steps toward me, enveloping me in a tight hug.
She unlocked her door and looked back into the hall. "Ta, Estelle. We'll chat later." With a wink and a wave, she pulled me into her apartment and closed the door behind her.
"Work can wait," she shrugged, unpinning her hat and setting it carefully on a table near the door. "Now, can I get you a cup of tea?"
I stared at her for about five seconds and then promptly started to sob.