This was the first time Francoeur had ever set foot inside of Lucille's home.
Unbeknownst to her, he had visited her apartment many times. Occasionally, he would sneak out of the cabaret and explore the streets of Paris despite her wishes for him to stay hidden. As hard as he tried, he couldn't suppress the anxiety that gathered from the long days and the lonely nights. Lucille knew what was best for him and he would do his best to conceal himself from any of the late night human wanderers, layering on as much attire as he could.
One winter's night, he was feeling especially wound up from their final performance of the day. He didn't feel like being confined to the tiny room for the evening yet, so making sure Lucille had left the building, he snuck out of the back door and ascended into the night sky in a single bound. Landing roughly on a rooftop, he was about to take off when he heard a familiar sound. His senses kicked into overdrive as he quickly crouched down, barely peeking his head over the edge of the roof. Had he been discovered?
Peering down onto the dimly lit street, he saw the Catherine II making its way down the cobble stone path. Raoul must have been heading to his home after the last performance. At just the right angle he saw Lucille's profile through the window staring straight ahead. He made the connection in his mind instantly when he remembered Raoul saying something to her, about taking her home that night. Something about " …a thug wandering the streets at night," and "…stole Emile's camera once."
Out of sheer curiosity (and the fact that he had nothing better to do), he decided to follow them. He kept just enough distance behind them to see where they were going and to stay out of Raoul's line of sight. It wasn't long before they stopped in front of a building with many windows. Francoeur stood on the ledge of a tall tower, hanging off of it with two hands and trying his hardest to see into the windows of the Catherine II. Why hadn't they exited the contraption yet? Francoeur leaped stealthily and landed on the rooftop of the building they had parked in front of.
Francoeur crouched in the shadow of a large statue that stood at the corner of the building's rooftop. Peering through the statues gapes and holes, he could finally see through the front window of the Catherine II. Lucille and Raoul were sitting there, she had a faint smile on her face and his hands were rested on the steering wheel. Raoul's mouth was moving quickly and every couple of moments Lucille would look up at him and smile, her mouth moving when his wasn't. Francoeur continued to watch their exchange, he would talk, then she, then he, then she. After about 20 minutes of their back and forth antics, Francoeur noticed they had both stopped talking. Leaning forward, he finally saw why both their mouths had stopped moving.
Raoul was facing her now, his hands no longer resting on the steering wheel. He had one under Lucille's chin and the other he could not see, but he assumed it was resting next to his side. Raoul moved his face closer to Lucille's and in turn, Francoeur leaned closer to get a better look. What exactly was he doing to her-…
Raoul had closed the gap between him and Lucille and their lips were pressed against one another's. Francoeur peered down in wonder. He had never seen this act done in person, but knew what it was from the pamphlets in Lucille's room and in some of the paintings that were hung around the cabaret. He had been curious about this act and how the images had depicted it. It was as if it was glorified in their society. He could see why now though, the closeness of one another, to imagine the softness of the other ones skin, feeling their warm blood rush underneath it… Francoeur was leaning in so far forward now that he lost his gripping against the stone statue, causing him to fly forward out of his concealed hiding place. Fortunately he caught himself quickly, pulling himself back into the embrace of the statues protective shadow.
Looking down again, he saw Lucille had gotten out of the Catherine II and was now scurrying towards the door of the building. She had left the door open and Francoeur could see Raoul's hand reaching out to her, a look of disappointment was apparent on his features. It was strange, but Francoeur felt a pang of satisfaction by it. Raoul shook his head and slammed his fist against the steering wheel before he stretched over the passenger seat and slammed the door shut. The Catherine II roared to life, it's lights flickering in the darkness and circled the street. Francoeur watched it fly off down the road until it turned a sharp corner and disappeared.
Curiosity got the best of Francoeur that night. He closed his eyes and listened in the darkness. He could hear each step she made as Lucille traveled through the building. When she finally stopped on the Fourth floor, he could hear the sound of a key being inserted into a lock, then the one of a door creaking open. He scaled the side of the building, taking mindful steps along the outer rimming until he came to a window. It was hard to see into the darkness of the apartment but after a few moments he spotted her. She was curled up on the floor, her hat and jacket in a heap at her sides. Francoeur wanted to tap on the window and have her let him in. He knew how livid she would be and contained himself. Why was she crying? Was it something that Raoul did? He relayed what had happened in the past couple of minutes and came to no conclusion. She stood back up, gathering her coat and hat and then wiped her tear stained face.
Francoeur watched as she placed her coat and hat on the rack next to the door and then disappeared into another room. Francoeur peered inside her house for most of that night, waiting to see when she would reemerge from the room she vanished in to. After awhile it had began to grow rather chilly and she did not appear again. He shivered and decided it was time to head back to the cabaret. After that night, he visited her apartment a few more times, watching Raoul drop her off and then leave in an angered rush. Each night like clockwork, she would enter her house and hang her belongings on the coat rack and cry,
and then watch her sink down slowly again,
and cry some more.
After a few times, it was becoming increasingly hard to not open the window and rush in to console her, let alone tap on it to get her attention.
Here he was now though, after the many nights of watching her come in and break down, he stood in the very spot where she had sunk down into a broken heap several times before. She routinely hung her coat and hat on the rack without looking and began ridding herself of her jewelry. Francoeur walked up to her window, peering out of it now. It looked a lot higher up than it really was.
"What's so interesting out there tonight?" she whispered. He turned towards her when she walked up and stood next to him, looking out of the window as well. She pressed one of her hands against the glass causing it to fog up from the heat she produced. Francoeur watched in wonder, he knew his own hands didn't hold the capacity to do something so amazing.
She retreated from the window, making her way to the room she always disappeared into at night. His curiosity compelled him to follow her, but he stood where he was. He was unsure of what would be appropriate for him to do in her home. His eyes scaled the flower-patterned walls until something caught his attention. He walked towards it to reveal an oval shaped picture frame. In it was an image of Lucille and Raoul, but they looked different. Like they were shrunk down to half their normal size.
Francoeur touched the frame. It moved with the slightest force, rocking back and forth against the wall, then coming to a complete stop once it lost its momentum. He pushed it again, this time the light from the dimly lit lamp catching something he didn't notice before. In her hand, she held what looked like a smaller version of the Catherine II. What an odd picture, it was like everything was shrunken down. Something was strangely different about their expressions too, never had he seen her with a smile that…bright. He moved his finger across her face in the image.
"Francoeur?" the sound of her voice startled him. His hand whipped the picture frame off of the nail ,sending it to its doom as it crash landed onto the floor. The glass splayed into a million little pieces. Lucille rushed over and grabbed one of Francoeur's arms, pulling him back from the mess.
"Oh no, don't step on any of the glass, you'll track it." She bent down carefully and began to pile up the larger pieces onto the broken picture frame. Taking it with her, she went to the kitchen and returned with a hand broom and dust pan.
"Here take this, sweep up what you can for me. I need to turn on the lights so we can see where all of the pieces flew off to." He mechanically took the dust pan and broom from her as she scurried off into the darkness, clutching her robe tightly around her. Just as she had promised, moments later the house was fully illuminated. He had managed to gather most of the little shards of glass into a neat pile and swept them up into the rusty metal pan.
"Merci, Mon cher." She took the broom and pan from his hands. After disposing of the glass, she returned to the room. He no longer trusted his own curiosity and decided to take a seat on her couch, staring at the small fire place that was tucked into the corner. The improved lighting revealed plenty for him to look at this time. Much like herself, her house had many hues and shades of pink. The air resounded with her scent- roses and lilac. Secretly, he liked the smell of flowers so much because it smelled just like she always did, minus the key ingredient: her warmth. It was euphoric.
He looked towards the room she had disappeared into when he heard a peculiar sound. He approached her door and gently placed his cheek against it. She was singing now, he pressed further against the door trying to make out the words she whispered so quietly.
"Hmmm…my pain inside a melody…set me free…" Instantly he knew. He would have to make a note of singing that song for her again sometime soon. Before he realized it, her hurried steps amplified and the door swung open. He had pressed his weight so heavily against the door that the second it moved he flew forwards, toppling onto Lucille. Bracing his hands on either side so he wouldn't crush her, he looked down revealing her eyes as wide as saucers. He didn't know how he had managed it, but his face was inches from hers.
"I'm sorry!" It was apparent in his voice that he was mortified for being caught. Too many times had he messed up tonight, driven by impulse. He wouldn't be surprised if she decided to throw him out now. Squeezing his eyes shut, he braced for the impact of her reprimand. He was surprised when he heard the exact opposite, as she began to snicker. The snicker bloomed into a hardy laugh as she bellowed beneath him, clutching her stomach. His eyes were wide now in disbelief as he watched her turn pink. Was this normal? He didn't really think this fell under the category of humorous situations, according to Raoul. After a few moments her laughs had subsided. She cracked one of her eyes open, and a tear escaped falling down the side of her face. Francoeur caught the tear on the tip of his finger before it traveled any farther.
"Please, don't cry, I didn't mean to hurt you." He whispered. Lucille's smile was wiped clean off of her face. She sat up and he backed off of her, sitting in front of her now.
"What are you-… I wasn't actually crying." She smiled and wiped the corners of her eyes, unable to meet his gaze. He did not looked convinced in the slightest. She brought her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them.
"What were you doing up against my door like that? You already broke my picture frame, now you want to finish the job?" she playfully nudged his arm. This time he laughed with her, rubbing the area where she had touched him.
"Why were there tears coming out of your eyes if you were laughing?" Francoeur asked.
"Oh. Sometimes laughing makes people cry. I don't really know why it happens, but usually when someone finds something really hilarious the tears just…come out… by themselves. It's nothing to worry about." He rubbed his chin in understanding.
"Why were you laughing? Did I not hurt you?" he inspected her lightly as he said this. She smiled and shook her head.
"Well… my bottom is kind of sore, but you scared me mostly. I don't know why I laughed…it just was funny to me that I wasn't more frightened being trampled by a 7 foot flea man." Never would she reveal that the real reason she laughed was due to their sudden proximity at such an unexpected moment. Those same chained emotions raged against their shackles telling her to pull him down for a passionate embrace. Francoeur looked almost hurt by her statement, his whole body leaned back in obvious rejection. She panicked, how could she be so careless with her words?
"No, Francoeur, vous vous meprenez…" she held out her hand, reaching out to comfort him. "I'm not laughing at you, I just…" her hand fell and she looked down in embarrassment.
"I'm confused about how I should feel about things lately, and after today… After what has happened… I feel like I have to second guess a lot of things I was so sure about before." By this time, her voice had grown quiet, as if she didn't want anyone else to hear. She wasn't looking at him anymore, she wasn't really looking at anything. She gazed into the open space, looking so fragile, like she would break at the slightest touch. Something in his stomach twisted uncomfortably at the sight of her in such a state.
"I'm so tired Francoeur, I think it's time for me to retire." She rubbed her temple and without another word she picked herself up from the floor, making her way back into her room.
"If you need anything, don't hesitate to knock. Bonne Nuit.". Francoeur was still seated in front of her door, unsure of what to do. Everything she had told him had shed a little light on why she cried at night, but at the same time he was grasping even further at answers he didn't have. She was hurting, and that was all he needed to know for the time being.
Francoeur leaned his head against her door, concentrating on anything out of the ordinary. He picked up the sound of whistling as the wind passed through the unintentionally cracked window. There was the muffled ruffle of the bed sheets and after a few more moments of listening he finally found what he sought after. The soft cries were barely audible to those who weren't looking for them, but now they became more apparent. If he walked in surely she would throw him out. He had to think of a way to sooth her without being in the room. An almost impossible feat.
He braced one of his hands against the door and began to hum. Her cries were silenced almost immediately and he assumed she could hear him clearly enough.
"Doux Ange, do not cry. I am here to guide you. In your dreams, you fly. A little lullaby for your heart to rest. A little song for your dreams to take flight…"
The sound of his voice traveled through the door, as it did the first rainy night they met. She was now sitting upright in her bed, staring at the direction of where his voice was emanating. The chained feelings once again raged against their confines. She tried to hold herself from rushing to the door but she was losing the battle. She crawled out of bed as quietly as she could and padded across the wooden floor.
By the time she had reached the door, he had stopped humming. She reached out and hovered over the door knob. It was so tempting, all she had to do was open it…
The door was serving as a symbol of something familiar, she mused the idea that it was the door to her very soul and she had two choices. Lock it shut and throw away the key, or open it and let come the tide.
The door handle turned on its own accord, the choice was being made for her.
Before the door knob could turn completely, she grasped the handle hard and in that split second a scenario flashed in her mind. She imagined herself rushing to his embrace, her heart ripping free of any doubt that was holding her back. Francoeur's arms would entwine around her tiny form and scoop her up. Her hands would cling to his coat and everything else would be left to their hearts to guide them. She felt her pulse quicken and the blood rush to her cheeks and fingertips, warming her to an intense degree.
She stepped backwards and opened the door with so much force that the breeze made her night gown and loose curls flutter. She had no idea how crazed the expression on her face looked until she saw the absolute bewilderment on Raoul's own.
"…Lucille?" The fire and passion quickly drained from her being and was replaced with ice. It traveled quickly through her veins and extinguished anything left of what she had felt before. She folded her arms in front of her chest, she felt uncomfortably vulnerable at the moment.
"Raoul…How did you-"
"He let me in." she peered over his shoulder to see Francoeur sitting on her sofa. If the sheer surprise of almost accidently jumping Raoul wasn't enough, Francoeur was staring at her, eyes wide and as full of alarm as her own. His posture seemed more rigid than usual, Raoul's voice filling the air broke her from there exchange.
"I'm sorry Lucille, I had to know if you got home safely or not. The main streets are all flooded over and Carlotta couldn't find Francoeur or recall you leaving for the night. I got worried and took the long way here to see if you were home..." He snatched her hand that was clad around her arm and rubbed it in his own. His boney fingers were alarmingly cold. At once, she felt the guilt weigh down on her conscious.
"Mon dieu, Raoul you're freezing. You're going to get sick if you don't get another coat soon." She quickly rushed over to the fire place and tended to it. Striking a match and throwing it in, the fire came to life. She looked up from where she was bent over and motioned Raoul to come forward.
"You should know better than risking your health for me." She mumbled. Raoul let out an exasperated sigh as he plopped down as close as he could in front of the flames.
"Excuse me for caring, just wanted to make sure you weren't dead or anything. I should have known better though, seeing as Francoeur wasn't there either." His eyes wandered to the giant flea behind him and he smiled slightly.
"How did you guys get here anyways? I was there as soon as the Cabaret was closed." Lucille met eyes with Francoeur, half expecting him to answer.
"We left early, Carlotta was asleep over her desk as usual so I didn't bother waking her." She didn't really know if that was the case for tonight, but she was willing to bet that she was right.
"Yes, but how? All the streets are flooded over. I'm assuming you guys didn't walk." The lights from the fire flickered against the both of them as she stared into the open flames.
"Well…we jumped home, for lack of a better term." It sounded silly but essentially it was the truth. Raoul's expression went from composed to doubtful as his eyes quickly darted over to Francoeur, then her, and then back to Francoeur again.
" Did you really need to get home that badly? I'm surprised you were up for something like that. I'm not even sure I could do something like that and keep my dinner down." Lucille let out a little growl and Raoul snickered.
"Well how was it? Hey Francoeur, one of these days your going have to give me a ride, huh?" Raoul rubbed his hands and held them further towards the fire as he laughed lightly. Francoeur chirped in delighted agreement. Half of the story would have to be kept from Raoul, she decided. She wasn't sure how he would respond if he knew she wasn't the one who made the decision for them to go home.
For the rest of that night the three of them enjoyed each other's company. She finally gave Raoul a formal tour of her small apartment and eventually Francoeur curled up on the sofa and dozed off. Lucille began to head back to her bedroom and noticed Raoul was following her. They both stopped right before they reached her door and she looked at him puzzled. Raoul looked down at her and made the saddest looking puppy-eyes he could muster.
"Where am I supposed to sleep?" He cooed. She entered the room quickly and he rubbed his hands together, snickering evilly. Before he realized it a pillow crashed into his face, knocking him off balance and sent him flat on his bottom. He ripped the pillow from his face and looked up in utter confusion at a now livid Lucille, towering above him.
"Out here, with him!" She huffed and slammed the door. Raoul grumbled and took refuge in front of the fireplace once again. She desperately needed her beauty sleep and didn't posses anymore patience for his lecherous shenanigans.
Francoeur's dreams consisted of many sensations that seemed anomalous.
There was fire, but it didn't hurt him. There was ice, but it wasn't cold. The things that weren't supposed to hurt him, did. The caress of the fabric from his human attire felt wrong and uncomfortable against his skin. He shed his clothes and watched them turn into dust before they could hit the ground. He looked down at his unclothed form and noticed something was not right. His skin that was once as blue as the night sky was now pale as the moon that lay against it. He stumbled back in shock and ran into an stable obstacle. He turned sharply and a mirror stood before him, much like the one is Lucille's dressing room. It was caked in thick grime and dust, like it hadn't been touched in ages.
He reached out to wipe it clean and as soon as he did he saw Raoul's own face staring back at him. Francoeur stared in utter confusion and Raoul did the same. What was he doing there? He reached forward and Raoul followed suit. He smiled and so did Raoul. He was so elated to see his friend with a smile on his face, he had forgotten he was staring into a mirror in the first place. When he was about to finally make contact with Raoul's hand, he was stopped by the glass. Realization quickly hit him as soon as he jumped back and saw Raoul do the same. Francoeur gasped and quickly felt at his own face, his once round head was now elongated. His mandibles were missing and for that matter, he couldn't feel his second set of arms either. Francoeur looked into the mirror once again and saw the face of a frightened Raoul staring back at him. A whirlpool of terror and anger mixed inside of him causing him to combust. He screamed with all his might at the direction of the mirror and it shattered, the shards shooting towards him. He braced for the impact.
"Why am I so clumsy?" Lucille cursed quietly to herself. She stepped around the shattered remains of the tea cup she dropped to reach her rusty dust pan and broom. She began to pile up the larger pieces on top of each other and place them in the dust pan when she caught movement in her peripheral vision. Looking up, there was Francoeur, peering his head over the back of the couch. One hand was braced against the edge while another was close to his face.
"Oh, Bonjour Francoeur. Did I wake you? I'm sorry… I was trying to make myself some tea while being half asleep." She smiled and then continued sweeping the little shards of broken ceramic into the pan. Francoeur sat up straight and pointed his gaze towards the window. The sun was not as bright as it usually was, but it illuminated most of the apartment that morning.
Francoeur looked about and saw no sign of Raoul. He was put at ease a bit by this, but that didn't mean his curiosity was sated. Lucille emerged from the kitchen, still in her rose colored robe. She set her tea cup down and nestled closely next to Francoeur. As she did the night before, she lifted her feet off the floor and tucked them against herself. She sighed as she nestled against him, curled up tightly. He smiled tenderly and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. He had always enjoyed this part about their friendship, taking warmth and refuge in one another. It was all he ever could have asked for.
"We don't have to go to the cabaret tonight. The storm did some damage to the roof last night and it needs to be worked on today, Aunty told us to enjoy our day off." She looked up at him and smiled a tired smile.
"What luck, hmm?" she let out a noncommittal laugh.
"Where is Raoul?" he asked. The expression on her face changed from genuine happiness to something he couldn't identify.
"He went to the Professor's today. He wanted to enquire about his idea for the growth hormone and sunflower oil. He told me he would be gone most of the day but he was kind enough to leave some scones for breakfast." She looked back towards the kitchen where a paper sack sat on the counter.
"What would you say about going out for a stroll today?" He chirped questioningly, cocking his head to the side. Perhaps she had experienced a change of heart about letting him out in public.
"We need to pick up more disguises for you anyways and I have a friend I have been meaning to visit for the past couple of weeks. If the streets aren't too flooded she will be on the way." He looked uncertain.
"It'll be alright." She got up and retrieved his blue scarf and chapeau that hung on the coat rack next to the door. She returned to him, placing the broad white hat on his head and wrapped his scarf firmly around his face.
"Today will be a test." He looked up from his now narrowed view sight. He couldn't help but recall that unnerving twist in his gut as he watched her face light up in one of her infamous smiles.
R&R fuels the tired writer :)