Maurice started shaking his head. “Arabella, enough.”
But I ignored him, too. “My father will be turning sixty-five this summer, sir. Sixty-five! Is it truly an act of justice to sentence him to imprisonment for a single lapse of judgment for just one moment of weakness? He will not survive prison. We all know this—-”
The hard note in the security chief’s voice was impossible for me to disobey, and I reluctantly fell silent.
“Your words are moving, and yes, I do also see a point, but there are rules that even I must follow, at the risk of losing my job. However—-”
I held my breath.
“I am willing to give your father the benefit of the doubt. I will even go as far as say I suspect that someone has lied, convinced, or even blackmailed him to attempt this crime. But as long as he does not talk…“
His words hung painfully in the air like an axe about to fall.
I turned to my father one last time, but he only shook his head at me.
No, he would not speak.
AS WE WALKED OUT OF Maison de Sauvage, I told my father with determined cheer, “We must look at the brighter side of things.” I flicked one finger out, saying, “Consider, Papa. They could’ve detained you, but they let you walk out freely. Doesn’t that mean they think well enough of you?”
When my father remained silent, I curled an arm around his, saying, “Point number two: I have finally joined you in France, and you didn’t even have to spend a single penny for my flight!”
As we crossed the road, I peered at his face, asking suspiciously, “Or perhaps that was your plan all along? Not to speak until they flew me over?”
A smile slowly broke over Maurice’s face, and my heart squeezed painfully. Oh, thank God! Wanting to see the smile remain, I returned his smile and asked, “What do you say we forget our troubles for a while, Papa?”
His brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“We’re here, in France, like we’ve always dreamed of. So may we not be tourists for a day?”
There was a moment of silence, and then my father said, “You’re right.” He ruffled my hair. “Tourists we will be.”
“Great. Where’s our first stop?”
And so off we went to Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and oh, it was beyond my wildest imagination. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine my father and I had a different life. We had all the books in the world to read, all the art we could enjoy, and we were happy and safe.
I opened my eyes and saw Maurice, a book already in his hand. “Perhaps you would like to read this?” he asked cheerfully.
“Of course, Papa. I’ll do my best.” We found a table to share, and I opened the book and started reading. When I managed to read a couple of lines perfectly, my father patted my head, just like he did when I was a little girl. “Very good, Bella. You make me proud.”
I nodded and ducked my head, not wanting him to accidentally glimpse my tear-brightened eyes. Me, too, Papa, I thought fiercely. I was proud of him, had always been, always will be. He might not be a perfect father in other people’s eyes, but he had always done his very best for me, and he had never once acted like I was a burden on him – not even when Mama left us.
We continued with the tourist trail for the rest of the day, snacking on bread and cheese while we talked about history and the arts, books and music, and all the things we loved. With every attraction we visited, we would find a quiet corner to sit and sketch en plein air. The Arc de Triomphe, the Notre Dame, Palais Garnier, and even Cimitière du Père Lachaise, where Oscar Wilde was buried – we used whatever scraps of paper we could find scattered around us. The backs of leaflets, discarded receipts, anything was fine, as long as we could use them to make these moments last forever.
It was glorious and fun, but by the time dusk fell and we were standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, my heart was close to breaking and I had to busy myself taking photos to avoid my father’s gaze.
I quickly wiped the tears away before turning to look at him. “Yes, Papa?” I even managed to smile, but then I saw the look in his eyes.
Ah. He knew. He knew I had been crying.
And Maurice said gently, “There are things you cannot hide from a father.”
I bit my lip hard. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
He patted my head. “You are as bad a liar as you were when you were a child.”
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about.” But I dared not meet his gaze this time, knowing that I would break down if I did. I turned to face the Eiffel Tower again, and so did Maurice.