In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines
lived twelve not-so-little girls in two straight lines.
In two straight lines they broke their bread and brushed their teeth and went to bed.
They smiled at the good and frowned at the bad and sometimes they were very sad.
They left the house at half past nine in two straight lines in rain or shine –
the smallest one was still Madeline.
"Do you think they know?" Helene mused, still gazing out the kitchen window.
Ms. Clavel sighed wearily in response, casting her own eyes outside. "If they don't, they will soon. It's only a matter of time."
The house was quiet –the girls had just brushed their teeth and gone to bed. Quite a bit later than their bedtime used to be, Ms. Clavel reminisced with a small smile. Yes, her girls had all grown up. Even the smallest one, Madeline, who currently was standing on tiptoes by the fence conversing with her best friend. She really should have been punished, but the kindly nun couldn't bring herself to break up the clandestine but apparently innocent meeting between friends.
Though she would have to be very observant to ensure that this... whatever it was between them didn't go too far. It was a very dangerous thing to be sixteen and around boys, and even though Madeline was far from ordinary, everyone could tell what was happening already, although the girl herself remained in the dark.
"Pepito is such a handsome garçon," the cook sighed, brushing the broom lightly as she swept the already-immaculate kitchen floor yet again.
Ms. Clavel looked slightly scandalized, although the Lord knew she had heard worse from the brazen woman. "Helene, he is barely seventeen!"
She acted as though she did not hear the nun, "I can see why young Madeline is enamored with him. He is positively Elvis!" She proceeded to giggle like a small girl, and Ms. Clavel rolled her eyes discreetly.
"Remember, I don't think she knows yet. To her, they're just friends..." she reminded.
"But the boy does not think so," Helene smirked, and the other woman sighed. No indeed, he certainly did not.
"One only has to see how he looks at her," she a
greed tiredly. "It is worrisome indeed."
The cook scoffed. "They have le flamme d'amour. They will be fine."
'The flame of love'? Ms. Clavel raised an eyebrow witch was ignored by Helene, and in comfortable silence they watched the two young people talk and laugh with the ease of years and closeness.
"Pepi, I cannot believe you did that!" Madeline was staring at her friend with outraged amusement, trying in vain to disguise the latter.
"Yet you are laughing," he observed, smirking proudly in the dark. The fence barely came up to the middle of his chest when he stood on the stepping stone, but for Madeline it swallowed all of her chin down, and he could see the dimples on her cheeks. "Come on, Maddy, it is funny."
"Setting Monsieur Le Forestier's prize-winning roses on fire? Please."
"Hey," he said defensively, "she asked for it! Nearly ran me over on my motorcycle this morning and didn't even apologize."
She giggled. "She is rather mean," Madeline allowed and was rewarded with Pepito's arrogant smile.
"Hey," he said, "let's go for a ride." Just like that, at eleven thirty at night in the heart of Paris, he wanted to go for a ride on his motorcycle?
"You're crazy," she told him. "You can't even see!"
He scoffed. "I've driven plenty of times in the dark. Let's go already."
She hovered uncertainly, glancing behind to the darkened windows of the school. "A short ride?" she asked hesitantly, looking back at Pepito.
"Just around the block," he promised, and after one last, unsure look, she climbed carefully over the fenced and dashed after Pepito, who was already astride the purring motorbike. "Hop on," he offered grinningly, holding out the helmet.
She climbed up behind him, strapping the helmet on her head like she had done it millions of time, which she had, and when he was sure she was secure, they were off.
"They're gone again," Aggie sighed, retreating from the bedroom window. "Why are they always gone?"
"It's so romantic," Chantal swooned, pretending to faint onto her bed.
"Well I think she should stop," Vicki frowned, combing her hair and looking at the other girls through her mirror. "We're going to be leaving soon," she embellished at their looks of mild confusion. "He'll be going somewhere to work or university, and we'll get married. With him as the ambassador's son, he'll probably be traveling overseas, so the chance that their relationship ever develops properly is slim," she finished gravely.
Several of the girls exchanged worried looks, and then Lucinda spoke up. "I don't think so," she said knowingly. "They'll make it, you guys." At her encouragement and optimism, the mood lightened and the topic veered to American movies and the future, and the Hero-That-Could and her bad-boy best friend were momentarily forgotten.
Paris at night was truly a remarkable sight. Everywhere Madeline looked there were bright lights, people lounging about, a languorous and relaxed mood heavy in the warm air. Le tour d'Eiffel stood proudly in the center, a loving mother, here and yet there. The motorcycle whizzed by all of this, the noise blending in with the overall bustling and catchings of speak or music. They passed arcs and empty roadways, not conversing, merely watching with admiration the sights around them.
Pepi apparently knew where he was going. He quickly zoomed down side streets, and the connected to the street just by the bridge Madeline had famously (or infamously, depending on age) fallen off when she was nine. It had already been seven years since, and even she could admit that in essentials she was very much the same mischievous girl she had been, retaining her artful and unfortunate knack for getting into trouble.
When the bike shuttered to a stop right at the edge of the moonbathed bridge, she jumped off and silently handed him the helmet. It was a bit of a ritual to drive up here on particularly boring nights and talk or watch the stars or advise artists on how to make their paintings less heinous. Sometimes she brought Genevieve with her, but mostly it was just him and her. He would occasionally dare her to jump in the river, although she never did. The memory of splashing and flailing for life was just now beginning to recede; she did not need for it to resurface. Not now.
"Pepi," she asked, head tipped back to watch the sky, "what do you think you'll be doing in five years?"
He looked at her. He did this often- mostly when she wouldn't notice. Nobody knew he was in love with her; it was his best kept secret, including the time when he had accidentally stolen Ms. Clavel's habit. He had been too afraid of her anger to give it back, and to this day was hidden in the back of his closet, along with his old cast, many old clothes, and several pictures of the girl next to him.
Over the years, her light hair had gradually darkened slightly, and was now longer, curling to an end several inches below her shoulder. Although she was still the shortest in the house, her figure was slim, almost boyish, but certainly pleasing. Her quick wit, bravery, daring, sense of humor - all of these things he loved about her. And she would leave without knowing it.
Or no. No she wouldn't. Not after tonight. He was finally, after years of denying feelings and ignoring them and then pining for her after denial and ignorance became too much, she would become aware of his regard for her. He must have truly hidden it well, for she seemed to have no idea.
It occurred to him that his palms were annoyingly sweaty. Tonight at dinner he had been drumming his fingers distractedly on the table, and his mother had asked, "Tu-as ennerve, Pepito?"
He had flushed - was it really that obvious that his mother would notice? He replied in the negative, "Non, maman, je suis fatigue, c'est tout." She had not replied, but a strange glint remain in her eyes, and he had to avert his to keep from going further red.
"Um..." He was silent, thinking it through. "Okay, I got it. In five years I want to be driving my motorcycle around Paris at night, watching stars on the bridge." With you, he wanted to add, but that timing was off and he did not. "You?"
She paused, apparently also pondering her options, before she hesitantly replied, "Would it be cheating if I said the same thing?"
"No. No, definitely not," he muttered back. His heart was hammering. This is it. Do it now. Now. He had to tell her tonight. He knew himself, was aware that he would inevitably chicken out by the morrow, and then soon she would leave without ever knowing of his feelings. It had to be now. He opened his mouth to say something – anything – but she spoke first.
"Come on, we'd better go back," she said quietly, slowly standing, "Ms. Clavel checks on us at one."
She paused on her way back to the bike and turned around curiously. He almost never used her full name. Maddy was preferred, Mad-Hatter when she was acting ridiculous, and Linny to tease her. "Yes? What is--?"
His eyes were screwed shut, and mentally he was banging his head against a hard brick wall. Dios mio. Why had he done that? He had had a plan: go for the "You're my best friend in the world but there's more to it for me" routine. Girls liked that! They did not like someone blurting their feelings like a nervous puppy peeing when he meets new people.
There were a few tense minutes of silence, and then he gingerly peeked an eye open. Madeline was standing right in front of him, separated by perhaps a foot, just looking, waiting. He immediately blushed, and began to stammer some way to make up for it. "I- I don't know why I said that," he blustered, and she finally showed some emotion: she frowned slightly, her brow puckering.
"Don't do that, Pepi. You can't take something like that back," she whispered, almost reproachfully. "Do you love me?"
He wanted to curl up under a rock and die. "Yes..."
"Good." She was closer now, chin tipped and so close.
He didn't dare to breathe, to hope. "I- what?"
"Remember what you said when we were kidnapped? 'Don't worry, Madeline, I won't leave without you'? Well, that goes both ways."
Could that mean...
She playfully rolled her eyes. "Stop acting confused and come down here and kiss me, Pepi."
He certainly didn't need telling twice.
"Frances!" the cook called, retreating from the curtain. "They are back!"
Several thumping footsteps were heard, and then Ms. Clavel burst into the room. "It's about time!" she groused, slumping down onto a kitchen chair. "Is she coming back in?"
Helene checked outside again. Her mouth immediately dropped open, and then she was shooting nervous looks at the nun. "You... you should see this," she muttered, backing away.
Ms. Clavel approached the window facing the yard curiously, and when she looked out, was as shocked as the other woman. Her little Madeline was... was...
"My little Madeline is being attacked by that boy!" she shrieked indignantly. But the more she looked, the more she realized that her 'little Madeline' was giving as much as she received, if the vigorous kissing the pair of them was occupied with.
Madeline was wrapped in the arms of Pepito, and in the darkness it looked like they were one entity.
"C'est la vie," Helene gently reminded the torn nun. "People fall in love."
Ms. Clavel sighed and glanced outside again.
Kissing was delightful. Madeline wished she had kissed Pepito years ago, though they certainly seemed to be trying to make up for lost time.
He was holding her very close, pulling her forward each time she slightly moved. He wasn't letting her wiggle at all. She thought vaguely about how forceful he could be, but it wasn't unpleasant. It felt very... safe. And real. She liked that.
Too soon, however, she had to pull away. "Pepi." He released her mouth with a small sigh, resting his forehead gently on hers. "I'm sorry, but I really must go..."
"I know," he murmured regretfully. After a pause he said, "Come over to my house tomorrow, I need to think of some ways to get back at Professor Sardansky for forcing me to write lines just because I accidentally popped all his car tires last week."
She laughed. "Okay." Life-changing confessions or not, he was still the best friend she knew and loved.
After another few moments, one last lingering kiss, and promises to see each other tomorrow, they parted and she stood and watched him gracefully climb the fence that separated their two yards. After he had disappeared, she immediately looked up to the middle window of the second floor which eleven girls were hanging out of, some giggling or talking excitedly, others waving at her. They all looked very pleased with themselves for successfully spying, and she sent them a playfully reproving glare.
"Go back to bed, you ninnies! That's it, there isn't any more!"