Hide & Seek
“C’est la vie.” I think of his droopy eyelids setting into a deep coma-like sleep as he smirked and whispered those words into my ear last night in his terrible French accent. His last words to me replay in my head like a broken record, and I’m desperate to bottle them up and keep them safe for eternity because he is gone.
At first, I thought he was out for an early morning walk, perhaps to admire the remarkable, regal Parisian architecture one last time before we headed back to San Francisco tonight. Maybe he wanted to surprise me with some more of those delectable macarons I had a few days ago. Has he gone for a last-minute trip to the souvenir shop, buying those cheesy Eiffel tower keychains? I had all these thoughts of where he could be boomeranging across the walls of my head, until I realized that none of our belongings were in the hotel room: his cologne was missing from the bathroom, my clothes were no longer sitting on the wardrobe hangers, the safe was empty, the rental car keys were gone and our suitcases were nowhere to be seen. I tried calling him, fifty-three times in those four hours to be exact, but it was to no avail. My heart sank to my stomach and swelled with a sea of tears as I lied there on the hotel bed, wondering where he could be. Did he run away? We always dreamed of running away from the miseries of the world together. Except it looks like he forgot to take me away with him. Or did he run away with someone else? Probably one of those pretty Parisian girls. Is he even still out there? He didn’t even leave me a note.
There were feelings of anger and anxiousness, love and betrayal, scorn and pity. One second I’d be raging with fume over his foolish feat, and moments later I’d burst out crying, thinking about all the dreadful things that might’ve happened to him. I hastily decided that I had to go out to look for him and find closure because I could not let this erase the nine years of absolute bliss we’ve had together, so with an almost-dead mobile phone, the fifty euros that were left on his side table and no plan in mind, I checked out of our hotel room on a search for the boy that I’ve loved since I was nineteen. Did I mention I was in my pajamas?
Frank Sinatra’s heavenly voice drifted into my ears as I was walking out of the lobby and I immediately paused to listen. ‘Lovely, never, never change. Keep that breathless charm. Won’t you please arrange it? ’Cause I love you. Just the way you look tonight.’ It reminded me about all the nights we had spent dancing to this song on our balcony, being watched by the moon and a sky full of stars as we pretended to be modern-day versions of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. That’s when I decided I was going to go revisit all the places we had been together during this past week of our romantic getaway.
As I walked down the street leading away from our hotel, I listened to the sounds of the cars rushing down the road and the cheery chirping of birds soaring freely above the ground. I saw the clouds sailing across the pellucid blue sky and the gothic-style buildings casting their colossal shadows over my tiny body, however it was the smell of freshly baked goods that wafted towards me from Café Lomi that made me come to a halt. I remembered we had tucked into the most rich, thick and velvety crème brulee imaginable on our first night in Paris, so I decided to have the same thing today. As I waited for my order, I thought about our first encounter in high school. He had told me that his name was Houston and quite impulsively, I’d said “I think we have a problem.” Although I’m sure he’d heard that joke plenty of times before, his laugh had erupted like a volcano and he looked genuinely humored. It turns out that he used his middle name, Houston, just like I used mine: Hadley.
I’d only walked a couple of kilometers but my legs were already aching. map of Paris to plan my route and decided to get a rental bike, leaving me with only thirty euros to get me through the rest of the day. I implanted the scenic shot of the Seine into my mind as I cycled over the bridge, and thought about the day we’d stood here and horsed around, pretending to push one another into the river. Flashbacks of his dimpled cheeks and mousy, honey-golden hair popped up, the sound of his laughter ringed in my ears and for a moment it felt like he was there again. As I snapped back into reality, I realized that my hopes of finding him were a fragile seed.
By sunset, I’d stood outside the courtyard of the imperial Notre Dame, watched the Moulin Rouge come to life as the sun went to sleep and the people of Paris awakened and on my last stop, climbed to the top of the wrought iron lattice tower that poked the crystal sky and marveled at the magnificence below me. As I stood there, overlooking the City of Love, I thought about how life is like an ocean wave: one moment it gives you enough force to soar to fantastic heights, but moments later you come crashing down in the most unanticipated of ways, and you need to find your way back up before you drown and it’s too late. Right now, I was drowning.
On my way back from the Eiffel Tower, I found a payphone and I was about to use the last of my remaining cash to make a phone call home to my parents when I looked up and saw the antique bookstore he’d taken me to a few days ago- the only place we’d gone together that I hadn’t visit today. I knew it must’ve closed by now, but I couldn’t help but check it out before I’d have any regrets. Every step felt like it was sucking the energy out of my soul, beads of sweat trickled down my forehead like raindrops dripping from a roof, and my heart was a jackhammer that seemed to rattle within my ribcage. This was my last chance. Surprisingly, the door was still open, so I stepped inside with a pocketful of hope.
I wandered aimlessly through the dusty shelves, and not a soul was in sight. I was immediately disheartened but before I left, my eye caught one of the books displayed in the center of the bookshop. We’d seen it the other day and he joked how well the crimson cover would go with our living room décor. I had just enough money left to purchase it, and as I made my way to the counter, I heard a voice talking on the phone in English. Looks like there was another tourist in here too.
When the “tourist” turned around and I saw his face, my first instinct was to throw the book that was in my hand right into his chest. At the same time, I also wanted to scream from relief over the fact that he was well and alive, give him the tightest hug I could probably give, and then nestle my face into his shirt and cry a river. It took his a few seconds to register my presence, and then an expression of relief flooded over him. “What took you so long?”
I stared into his soul, trying to understand what was going on. After a moment of pin drop silence, I burst into tears. “Where were you? Do you have an idea about what I’ve been through today? I searched the city for you. Do you realize how stupid that sounds?” I screamed into his face. His countenance shifted to extreme worry as he tilted his head and asked, “You didn’t see my note, did you?” My anger was an enraged devil, fiery and deadly. I think he saw that and sighed before he started explaining. “This is one big mess, oh my goodness. I woke up early this morning to pack our suitcases and put them in the car, so I could propose to you tonight according to my plan and then we’d head straight to the airport from there. Then, I went to buy the engagement ring, the one that you saw while we strolled down the Champs-Elysee two days ago, remember? But they didn’t have your size so they told me to go to the branch which was out of town if I wanted the ring today. When I got back to the hotel, you were still sleeping, so I left you a note telling you to meet me at the antique bookstore at six pm, and left you fifty euros for the ride. I told the old guy who owns this place about my plan, and you should’ve seen him, he was so excited that he told me I could keep the shop open for as long as I wanted. I waited for you till seven, and when you didn’t pick your phone up, I came to get you from the hotel but you’d already checked out. So my last hope was to stay at the bookstore, knowing you’d end up here looking for me eventually after I told you how much I loved this place. And I was right.” He gave me a sad smile.
This was too much for me to process, and I felt the dagger of guilt piercing my heart for thinking he’d run away or cheated on me. Most importantly, I’d ruined his perfect proposal. My jumping to conclusions had lead me to my panicked state and I’d completely ignored the piece of paper next to the cash. “I’m so s-sorry.” I sobbed. “I can’t believe I actually thought that you’d left me. Maybe I wouldn’t have if you’d have left our stuff in the room, but that’s not an excuse for me to have handled the situation this way. I wish I could turn back time and live today again.” I whispered as I wiped away the hot tears that prickled down my face. This could’ve been the best day of my entire life, but it was only turning out to be the worst.
“Hey, hey. It’s okay.” He tightly gripped onto my hand as he consoled me. “At least now I know how well we know each other- we ended up here, at the same time, in a city that we don’t even belong to. You found me, and I found you.” He wiped the tears from my cheeks and chuckled. “By the way, I’m sorry, I should’ve left some clothes for you to change into this morning, I guess it was really stupid of me to pack everything. Although you do look incredible in your pajamas.” I looked down and realized how silly I must’ve seemed- the girl riding her bike though Paris in her pajamas. Now we were both standing there laughing like there was no tomorrow.
“I know we have a flight to catch, but there’s one last thing I need to do.” He flashed a smile as big as the Cheshire cat’s as he whipped out the most exquisite ring my eyes have ever laid sight on, got down on one knee and asked, “Irene Hadley Sinclair, I want to play hide and seek with you for the rest of my life. Will you marry me?”
La vie en rose, indeed.