Categories
Creative Writing

The Rooftop

This is another excerpt from my unnamed novel! If you’re interested, you can read The Redemption and The Genius from the Gutter at the attached links!           

Tears stung Jaelyn’s eyes as she stared out over the skyline of the city. Her insides felt like rocks, clogging up her organs so she couldn’t move. So she couldn’t breathe.

            Everything she worked for months was starting to vanish before her eyes. All because she couldn’t lie to her mother.

            She hid her face in her hands, letting out a sob. When she needed to be strong, she wasn’t. She couldn’t tell her mother that she wasn’t hiding something from her. Jaelyn was disappointed in herself for the fact that she invited her mother to come with her to the Donor’s Gala, and that there wasn’t a chance in the world that anyone would talk to Jaelyn with an ounce of respect again.

            Jaelyn looked up  from her hands and saw the lights ahead of her wash out in a sea of her tears. All before her were blobs of buildings and lights. She didn’t want to go back downstairs, and she didn’t want to go back home.

            “Jaelyn, hey,” she heard Mars say from behind her. “Do you need to talk?”

            She spun around on her heels and wiped her face with the sleeve of her dress, stammering “Don’t come closer I’m fine, please I’m fine.” The last thing she wanted was her hero to see her crumbling in on herself.

            “You aren’t fine.” His voice didn’t change. It stayed the calm and loving tone it had always been when he talked to her.
            Another sob let out and she found herself running to him, hugging him tightly and burying her face against his expensive blue suit. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…” she begged.

            Mars hugged her tightly, saying “You have nothing to apologize for.”

            “Are you kidding?” Jaelyn looked up and said, wiping her eyes “I just wasted all of your time. I am not going to win. My mom is down there drinking every ounce of champagne there is and telling everyone how horrible of a person I am. I’m a failure, I can’t even make her happy by getting close to winning.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “I won’t matter to her if I win. I won’t matter to her if I lose. I’ve wanted her to love me for so long and I was so stupid to think that if I won this she would love me! Nothing I will ever do will make her love me… I am a failure.”

            Mars looked down at her for a few moments, brushing her black fringe out of her amber eyes, and he said after a few moments “You are not a failure.”

            “But I am, I always have been. She’s telling everyone how much of a disappointment I’ve always been, how the hell can you stand there and tell me that I’m not a failure?” Jaelyn stepped away from him, wiped her eyes and said, “If someone should know a failure when they see one, it would be you.”

            “You aren’t a failure, Jaelyn,” Mars reached his hand out to her. “Let’s sit down and talk, okay? Just me and you. No Mrs. Beyer. Just me and you.”

            Jaelyn hesitated, but slowly nodded and put her hand in his. Mars led her over to a set of benches overlooking the skyline. They sat down next to each other in silence. Mars leaned his elbows on his knees. After a moment, he asked her a question.

            “Why did you enter this competition?”

            “It was for a school assignment.”

            “I mean why did you continue? You could’ve pulled out at any moment. You could’ve stopped and said ‘I’m done’ whenever you wanted. But you kept going. Why?”

            Jaelyn didn’t have to think about her answer. “Because I want to be better.”

            “Better than who?” Mars didn’t look at her.

            “Better than-“ She paused. She didn’t know. “Myself?”

            “You shouldn’t be answering my question with another question, you know.” Mars leaned back on the bench and continued “Better than who?”

            “Better than what I was.”

            “And what was that?”

            “A picker. A good for nothing picker on a scholarship to go to school. I wanted to be better than the picker everyone saw me as.” Jaelyn rubbed her arms as a breeze blew past them. She never realized it was colder on the top of a building.

            Mars slid his suit jacket off of his shoulder and put it around Jaelyn. He asked her after a moment “Is that how you saw yourself too?”

            She wrapped the jacket closer around her, looking down at how it overflowed over her frail body. She couldn’t lie to her mother, but she couldn’t lie to Mars either. “Yeah.”

            “Why?”

            “It’s where I’m from. It’s who I am… everyone from the slums is a Picker. No one ever gets out of there. If I don’t win this… If I didn’t push myself, to try and win this… I would be there forever. I don’t want to be there anymore. I hate it there.”

            “Because of your mom?”

            “Yeah… and my brother.” Jaelyn blinked a few times when she realized what she had said. Not once had she ever uttered the words ‘I hate my mom and brother’.

            “Can I tell you a story?” Mars looked over at her, and when he received a nod, he leaned back on his knees and said “When I was your age, actually, probably older, is when I got my first taste of what true city life is. Sure, I lived here my entire life – my father had a great penthouse, my mom and I were happy. I was always curious about what else was out there. When I was home from university for a break, I decided to take that chance.

            “I snuck out, which wasn’t very hard to do. A smile will get you further than you think it will. But, anyways, that’s not the point. I decided that I wanted to go to one of the clubs on the other side of town. Rumtown was the last stop on the monorail before it crossed over the bridge to the Island. Honestly, I don’t know why I wanted to go there, but I did.

            “I couldn’t tell you a thing about what the club was like – what it looked like, where anything was, how many people were there… but there was one person there that I can’t ever forget. It was as if we spoke the same language, she knew exactly what I meant by everything I said. She was one of the prettiest women I have ever met in my life.

            “We walked up to the roof top together, and laid out under the stars and talked. We talked about everything: from the sky to our home lives to even the foods we refused to eat. When I tell you I fell in love with that woman that day, I’m telling you the truth.”

            Mars rubbed his head, looking up and over at the horizon before them. He didn’t speak for a few moments, and then said “Everything isn’t perfect here. No matter what the billboards or those shows say – this city can eat you alive.

            “I was dating Terra at the time… and I love her. When I tell you I love Terra, it’s true. But, I had a lapse of judgement that night…” he looked at Jaelyn and says “I’m not perfect. I know you think I am, but I’m not.”
            Jaelyn looked at him for a few moments, asking quietly “Did you cheat…?”

            Mars nodded a bit, rubbing his forehead and looking away from her. “I regret it. I love Terra with my whole heart. I don’t know what happened to me that night – but something about that woman just drew me in, and I lost control of myself. I think I blacked out, honestly, because I can’t remember a single thing that happened that night after knowing what I wanted to do with her…”

            “Did you tell her you had a girlfriend..?” Jaelyn asked.

            “The morning after, like an asshole,” Mars chuckled sadly. “I told her I didn’t want anything serious, that it was a one-time thing, and that nothing would come of this. But she didn’t like that. I don’t blame her, I mean, I was a huge asshole.

            “And I left. I went home, showered, and called Terra and told her how much I loved her. I proposed to her a month later. I had this city to hide in. I ran away from my mistake and got away. I don’t know what happened to her. I know she was from the Islands. What did she have to fall back on? Working? Selling garbage to pay the bills?” Mars looked at Jaelyn and said after a moment “Everyone’s got that moment in life where they screw up. Where they think that it’s all their fault and that nothing they can do can change their actions… I know I messed up, and that it was my fault, and now I do everything in my power to help people like her… I donate to women’s shelters constantly, provide whatever extra resources I can to the Islands. Once… I even threw away one of Terra’s diamond earrings in hopes that someone would find it while working and be able to feed their family.”

            Jaelyn looked out over the horizon and said quietly “But you’ve changed. You’re the ideal, perfect person.”

            “No one is perfect. I’m still learning,” Mars said. “I want to make up for the wrongs that I’ve done in my past.” He placed a hand on her shoulder, lightly, and asked her “I still don’t understand why you think all of those wonderful things about me.”

            “Because…” she thought back to when she sat alone in her room, at the beginning of all of this. Where she stared at the minimalist portrait poster on the back of the broken wood door. “Because you’re my hero.”

            Mars didn’t speak. He kept his hand on her shoulder, and asked after a moment “Do you want a hug?”

            Jaelyn hugged him as tight as she could. She was shaking, her eyes hot and welling up with tears. Her mind flashed to when she ruined Delta’s dress with cake. How she ran outside because she couldn’t breathe. Mars was the only one that came out after her. The only one that saw as she was moments away from breaking down. He didn’t even know her then. He barely knew her now – yet he was doing the same thing. He wasn’t going to let her suffer alone.

            She wasn’t going to suffer alone anymore.

            “I don’t know why you’re my hero… but…” Jaelyn sat up and wiped her eyes. She could feel the mascara washing away on her red face. “I don’t have a dad. I don’t know who he is, anyways… and mom doesn’t know either. She just said that he was probably a fling she had whilst in a fight with Rex…”

            “Rex?” Mars asked.

            “That’s Cade’s dad. My brother, Cade.”

            “That’s… an interesting name, for sure.” Mars chuckled. Jaelyn thought she heard his breath hitch, but when she looked back at him he did nothing but smile at her.

            “I guess I just look up to you so much because I don’t… you know, have a dad. You are so dedicated to the ISA and everything that you do, I want to be just like you.” Jaelyn rubbed her hands over her wine colored dress “I remember you saying that Dr. Snow was one of the smartest people you’d ever met. I guess I hoped you’d say that one day about me.”

            “It’s interesting, you know,” Mars began quietly, “That you’re so sure of yourself as a student and academic, but you aren’t sure of what you think personally.”

            “I hadn’t thought about it that way.” Jaelyn replied.

            They sat in silence for a while. Jaelyn gnawed at the inside of her cheek. She knew that the winner would be announced soon. But she didn’t want to get up. She didn’t want to see her mother or brother down there. She didn’t want to see Delta’s perfect family. She didn’t want to know if she won. Jaelyn, for once, wanted to run away from everything she had ever worked towards. She wanted to run away from her dreams. In a perfect world, Jaelyn would never leave that spot on the rooftop with Mars.

            “Jaelyn,” Mars said, “We should head back downstairs.”

            She stood up slowly, following him back to the elevator. As she stepped inside, she said “Thank you, for everything you’ve done for me.”

            Mars smiled in the reflection of the metal elevator doors. Jaelyn didn’t notice the tears in his eyes.

Categories
Creative Writing

The Corruptibles

The cool morning breeze caused the lilac curtains of the Labelle’s home to sway, blowing back into the bedroom where Monsieur Julien Labelle lied asleep. He had been away, meeting at the Salle du Manège with the Legislative Assembly until the early hours of the morning.

His wife, Alouette Labelle, waited patiently downstairs to hear the verdict of the meeting. Unfortunately, she had fallen asleep while waiting for her husband to come home. She had awoken just an hour ago, tucked into bed with Julien’s arm wrapped around her waist.

    Though patient, she couldn’t sit still. Her hands shook, she paced back and forth in the kitchen, and she continuously glanced towards the staircase. She wasn’t going to wake Julien up, but she craved the answer to her burning question. What was the verdict?

    She couldn’t stop thinking. All of the possible outcomes turning and twisting her mind over. What if he’s guilty? What if he’s innocent? What if he’s put to death?

    Alouette knew better than to hope. The past 10 years she had been hoping, all to be let down in the end. 

    She was happy with her new life. She was happy that the republic had been achieved after years of struggling with the monarchy. She was happy to have her loving husband. But, she wasn’t happy with herself. 

    Oncle Max for a long time had been the most important person in her life, even after she married Julien. She considered Oncle like a second father. Her father and Oncle Max were close, and both cared deeply for Alouette’s success. However, the two treated her differently alone.

    Her father, Gabriel Robespierre, allowed Alouette to have a tutor. Gabriel had the motivation to educate his daughters to the same level as his son. If they couldn’t have the same rights as him according to the government, they could at least learn the same things. 

    Oncle Max offered to be Alouette’s tutor. To young Alouette’s delight, Gabriel agreed. 

    The two studied the moon and the stars, how plants grow, and how the Americans had just recently won their revolution and were becoming their own nation. Oncle had always gotten excited when they learned about revolutions. 

    Alouette snapped out of her day dream as she heard the stairs creek. She looked over as Julien came down the stairs. His hair was disheveled, though he was dressed for the day. The dark bags under his eyes had become more prominent since the day before. 

    “Good morning,” She said, turning her attention back to the mixing bowl she had taken out when she first came downstairs. She had forgotten in all of her worrying that she was going to bake fresh bread. 

    Julien slowly walked over to his wife. He wrapped his arms around her waist from behind, his chin resting on her shoulder. He lied his cheek against her dark golden curls.

    Alouette smiled, wrapping her arms around herself and placing her hands on his biceps, “How did you sleep?”

    “You wake up so early, my libellule,” he said, placing a gentle kiss on her collarbone, “I wish you stayed with me longer.”

    “Well someone had to wake up and make breakfast,” she teased, leaning her back against his chest.

    Julien smirked gently, glancing around them, “I don’t see any breakfast, libellule.”

    “Well, I was trying to make my wonderful husband a delicious meal…” Alouette trailed off,  leaning against her husband as he held her close. 

    After a few moments of silence, Julien could feel Alouette’s tense shoulders leaning against his chest.

“What’s wrong, Alouette?” he asked.

She hesitated, tightening her grip on his arms, “I… What was the verdict, Julien? What is going to happen to Oncle Max?”

Julien’s body became rigid for a moment, but he relaxed and continued to hold his wife. They had debated the answer for hours, but it became clear what they had to do. 

“Julien?”

“He’s going to be executed in 3 days, Alouette.” His voice was cold. 

Alouette stepped out of his arms, turning towards Julien and reaching her arms to his shoulders, “Executed? Couldn’t he just be imprisoned?”

“Alouette, it had to be done. He’s a menace. Thousands of people have died at his hand-”

“I need to see him.” She interjected. She stepped away from Julien and walked towards the front door. 

Julien followed her, reaching for her arm, “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Alouette. I think that you should stay here.”

She continued towards the door, grabbing her black flats off the floor and sliding them onto her feet, “He’s probably wondering where I’ve been, Julien. You don’t understand, I need to-”

“Alouette,” Julien reached for her and grabbed her arm, “I don’t want you to see him.”

She turned towards him, taken aback by his strong grip on her arm, “What? Julien… He’s my-”

“I know he’s your ‘Oncle Max’, Alouette. But I told the Assembly that you cut ties with him.” 

“You what?” Alouette pulled her arm out of his hand and looked into his eyes, “Why the hell would you tell them that?!”

“Because ever since we got married they’ve been suspicious of us! Of you and your family! For god’s sake, Alouette, your uncle is a psychopath! He’s had 25,000 people killed because they were his enemies! I’m trying to help you! It’s not a good idea for you to go and see him,” Julien pleaded, “Please, for the love of god just listen to me for once. He is not a good man, Alouette. He’s never been a good man.”

Alouette stared at him for a moment, then turned away and pulled the handle on the door, “Don’t you dare talk about Oncle Max like that, Julien. He was a good man.”

“Alouette, get back in this house, I am your husband-”

“I don’t care, Julien!”

“Alouette! Listen to me, I am your husband!”

“I. Don’t. Care!” She shrieked. She left her husband standing in the doorway as she marched down the steps. She ignored him calling her name as she walked towards Place de la Revolution. It was the quickest path to Oncle Max’s house. 

Oncle Max had worked day and night for years to make the revolution as widespread and powerful as he could. Julien had seen how hard he was working. How could he change his mind so quickly? Her mind moved faster than her feet did. How could Julien be so wrong? Alouette would never marry someone who thought so poorly of her dear Oncle. Why did she even marry him in the first place?

As Alouette walked, she thought about Julien and the words he had said. Had Oncle Max been a good man at one point? Or was Julien right, that all of this time, he was putting on a show for her?

As she neared the Place de la Revolution, she passed the Salle du Manège. She stopped and looked up towards the building, and she was reminded of how she met Julien there. 

Her thoughts faded back to January of 1793, when the trial of King Louis XVI had come to an end. The King was to be executed by guillotine.

Alouette waited outside of the Salle du Manège for father and Oncle Max. Snow was falling slowly over the darkening city, the cold nipping at her fingers through her wool lilac gloves. She stood underneath a street lamp, the oil burning brightly. She hugged her books to her chest. Her hands beginning to warm underneath her arms. Snow stuck to her golden hair.

She watched as the front doors opened, and slowly men began to walk out of their meeting. Some were putting on their coats as they were exiting, eager to finally be leaving. Some worried glances were shared between men, but Alouette’s eyes only noticed as she scanned for her family.

She saw Oncle Max’s powdered wig before she saw anyone else. He stood out among the crowd, the only man in the meeting to still wear that type of wig. He was talking to a man that Alouette didn’t recognize –  a man with bold words and a smile plastered across his face.

Alouette smiled as she saw her Oncle, and she walked towards him as he stood with the man, the two still under the cover of the overhang. 

“Oncle,” Alouette said cheerfully as she approached him, “How was the meeting?”

He turned to her and smiled, “Hello, my dear. My, how long have you been waiting out here? Your face is all red.”

“Only a few minutes. How was the meeting?”

“The traitor will be executed in 2 days time.” Oncle Max was smiling wide “Finally, we’ll get the republic that the people of France deserve! No more monarch to push us around!” He turned back towards the man he was speaking to before, “Daniel, I’d like you to meet my niece. Alouette, this is Monsieur Daniel Labelle. We’ve been working together now for some time now.”

Alouette curtsied and smiled politely at him, “Bonjour Monsieur Labelle.”

Daniel nodded to her, taking her hand and kissing it gently, “Bonjour, Mademoiselle Robespierre. You’re just as lovely as your uncle said you were.”

“Thank you very much,” she smiled.

“There you are Maximillien. It’s not like you to rush out so quickly.” Alouette heard her father say. When he noticed her, he smiled and approached her. “Alouette, you’re never late, are you?”

“Bonjour Papa. I heard the good news!” Alouette smiled at her father and kissed his cheek, “The traitor will really be executed? The Jacobians succeeded?”

“In 2 days,” her father said, his teeth resembling the snow as he smiled, “Daniel, where is your son?”

“He’s coming, don’t worry. He forgot his gloves underneath his seat.” Daniel responded, his voice low and strong. He chuckled, “I told him not to make me wait too long.” 

The doors opened as if a strong gust of wind had pushed them. The last person to leave the hall was a flustered boy, his hair disheveled and his dark eyes wide.

“There you are,” Daniel teased, “Took you long enough.”

“I’m sorry, Papa… I went as fast as I could, our seats were rather far away,” The boy said, out of breath and pulling his gloves over his hands.

“It’s alright, my boy,” Daniel smiled, throwing his arm around his son and turning towards Alouette, “This is my son, Julien. Julien, this is Gabriel’s daughter, Mademoiselle Alouette Robespierre.”

Oncle Max smiled, “My lovely niece. She’s the girl I was telling you about, Julien.” He took Alouette’s hand in his own and brought her towards Julien. He was proud of Alouette and showing her off to a potential suitor was his way of showing it.  

Alouette could remember the other times that Oncle Max had tried to pair her with other gentlemen. He had always tried to play matchmaker for her, but he never quite succeeded in choosing the perfect match. Nevertheless, he continued to try and find the one for her. Alouette felt this was because he never found his match, and he didn’t want her to suffer the same fate. 

Oncle Max had always said he couldn’t find the one because no one could understand him when he spoke – that he was much more intelligent and women couldn’t understand what he would try and explain to them. 

Julien looked into Alouette’s bright blue eyes, and suddenly the flustered boy had become much more confident. He stood up with his shoulders pushed back, and smiled, “No, I haven’t had the pleasure,” He replied coolly. He took Alouette’s hand and kissed it, smirking gently up where she could only see, “and my, what a pleasure it is…”

Alouette’s blushed, smiling politely at Julien and quickly glanced over him.

He was taller than his father, but shorter than Oncle Max. He was pale but his cheeks were rosy from the cold. His dark hair was falling around his face, concealing his dark brown eyes that had many bags under them, much like he had been awake for days. But there was something about him that Alouette felt drawn too. Was it the dimples that appeared on the corners of his mouth when he smiled? Was it the spark of motivation she saw in his eyes as they were introduced? Whatever it was, Alouette enjoyed it.

“The pleasure is all mine, Julien.” She said, smiling up at him. She liked the confidence that filled him when he looked at her.

“Julien is one of the newest members to the legislative assembly,” Oncle Max began to explain, “He quite a bright young fellow. His father tells me that he is constantly studying his books when he isn’t out trying to make a change in our society.”

“I wouldn’t say that I’m that bright, sir,” Julien said with a chuckle. He hadn’t let go of Alouette’s hand.

“Oh hush,” Daniel replied, smiling at his son, “You’re a wonderful boy, Julien. I raised you to be so.”

“Especially becoming a Jacobian, my boy, it’s one of the brightest things you’ve done.” Oncle Max smiled between Julien and Daniel, “One day, you could be a leader in the new republic we’ll create. I’m sure of it.”

Alouette glanced up towards the large gold clock that sat at the top of the building. “It’s getting rather late, and the snow is becoming heavier..”

“Let’s get you home, Alouette,” her father said, looking to his brother, “Would you like to join us, Maximillien?”

“Please?” Alouette pleaded, looking up at him.

Oncle Max smiled, looking at Gabriel, “How could I refuse?”

Now, over a year later, she stared up at the same golden clock. She stood where Julien had kissed her hand. Alouette looked at her palms, smiling gently at the thought of when Julien first held them. 

Alouette loved her husband dearly. But sometimes he could be so stubborn. 

She pulled herself away from the building and began to walk down the sidewalks of the cobblestone streets. She took the same path that she walked when she and Julien were walking to the execution of Louis together just two days after they had met. 

His hand kept hers warm as they walked. The two had been inseparable since they had met. They joked together that Daniel and Oncle Max had planned all of this beforehand, but they didn’t mind. Alouette liked the bubbly feeling in her stomach whenever she was near Julien. She couldn’t keep herself away. 

The two entered the Place de la Revolution, where the massive crowds had already gathered. Though they were behind many people, they could see the guillotine from where they stood. 

Julien had Alouette stand in front of him so she could see better. He had an easier time seeing over the heads of the people in front of them. 

“Louis Capet, you have been found guilty of treason. Your sentence: execution by guillotine.” This echoed through the now silent square.

The two had watched Louis walk up to the guillotine. They listened to the blade fall on the monarchs neck. They watched Louis die – the monarch had been executed. They cheered when the world around them cheered.

The Jacobians, and the republic, had finally won.

Julien walked Alouette home from the execution, he was giddy with excitement. 

At the house, they met with Gabriel and Oncle Max. Both were excited, but Oncle Max was much more so.

    “This is a wonderful day,” He said, drinking the glass of wine Gabriel had given him, “The monarch is dead. The crown is dead. The republic is alive!” He laughed to himself and looked at Julien and Alouette, smiling, “Your love can flourish under a government that the people want!”

    Alouette smiled, blushing as well, “It is wonderful, Oncle..”

    Julien nodded in agreement, sipping his wine as well, “When shall the assembly create the new government?”

    “Oh, very soon, my boy,” Oncle Max was smiling wide and laughing. Alouette had never seen him like this before.

But now, Alouette stood staring. There were no people surrounding the guillotine.

For the first time in over a year, no one was there. The guillotine was empty. 

She took a deep breath, and she stepped into the square. She walked towards the guillotine. 

The Committee of Public Safety had been created after the death of Louis. Now that the republic had been achieved, someone had to take charge in the beginning. Oncle Max had become the leader of the Committee of Public Safety. Daniel had also become a member. 

This group had control over all of revolutionary France. Alouette listened silently as the revolutionaries cheered. They didn’t care anymore – France had a republic, and it didn’t matter who was in charge of it. 

Alouette was reminded of this as she walked deeper into the square. She could see Oncle Max’s house in the distance; all she had to do was get through the square. 

Her father didn’t like the Committee. 

“I love Maximillien, don’t get me wrong…” he had said, “But there’s something about power… it always goes to people’s heads.”

She looked at her father in disbelief, “I don’t think that’s true, father. I think Oncle Max will make the committee what it needs to be. He’ll be a wonderful leader.”

“I’m not saying that he won’t, Alouette, I’m just worried about him.” Gabriel looked towards Alouette, who was sitting at the dinner table reading one of the textbooks that Oncle Max had brought her, “I’ve already seen him begin to change.”

“What do you mean?” Alouette asked.

Gabriel sat down across from his daughter, looking at the textbook, “When I asked Max to become your tutor, he was more than willing. I wanted you to have a tutor so that you could expand that wonderfully bright mind that you have.” He smiled nostalgically at his daughter, “You’ve always been so smart, you know…”

“I don’t see what that has to do with Oncle Max and power going to his head, father,” She looked up from her book and into her fathers nostalgic gaze, “How does him being my tutor have to do with anything you’re saying? With power?”

“I’m giving you an example, darling. As your tutor, you two spent much of your childhood and your teenage years together. He always talked with me about your discussions that you had. All of those wonderful ideas you would share with him. He loved every session you would have together,” Gabriel’s smile faded to a frown, “But he took this as a chance to control you.”

“Papa, that isn’t true at all-” 

Gabriel interrupted her, looking into his daughters eyes, “You consider him more of a father figure that you do me.”

Alouette was taken aback by this statement, “Father, that is not true.”

“Max’s first power trip was taking the reins on your life, Alouette. He’s the one that taught you just about everything you know,” He gestured towards the book, “He took control of trying to find you a husband, to marry you off.”

Alouette down at her wrist, where the bracelet Julien had bought her rested. 

Gabriel stood up and walked to the other side of the table, sitting down next to Alouette. He took her hands in his and looked into her eyes, “I know, I should’ve stepped in sooner. I should’ve gained control of your life back sooner, and let you make the decisions you wanted too on your own. But don’t you see? You were his first power trip, Alouette, you were his first project.. and France, I’m afraid, is going to be his next.” He squeezed her hands in his, “I don’t want to lose my brother to the republic.”

She was silent, looking into her father’s eyes. 

She was silent to Julien during this time as well. He was enthusiastic about the Committee and what they could bring to France. Daniel was part of it, and one day he hoped to be too.

As Alouette walked towards her Oncle’s home, she looked to her right. Passing her was a group of soldiers. They marched in unison, with the same haunting beat. 

Alouette’s beloved Julien was drafted nine months prior to this day.

The Committee of Public Safety in August of 1793 made it mandatory for able-bodied, unmarried men between 18 and 25 to serve in the largest citizen army in Europe. The levée en masse, it was called.

Alouette could feel her eyes sting with tears, much like the day Julien broke the news to her. 

“They want to send me to the borders…” Julien had said, holding Alouette’s small hands in his, “I don’t want to leave you, Alouette, I love you…”

“Please… let me talk to Oncle, I’m sure I could do something for you…” She had been whispering. If she spoke any louder she would’ve erupted with tears. 

“There isn’t anything you can do… I’ve tried everything. I’ve begged Papa, I pleaded with your uncle… But, your father said there is one thing that you could do, my love…” Julien was looking into Alouette’s eyes, his hand gently caressing her cheek.

Alouette met her eyes with his. “What is it..?” She asked.

Julien kept hold of her hands, getting down onto his knee, “Marry me.”

As the soldiers marched past, Alouette gazed down at the small diamond ring on her finger, and the wedding band next to it. Her hands were shaking and her head was spinning as she stood in the square. 

Alouette watched the soldiers march past her. A few looked to her, to what she felt like were threatening glances. She was scared of them.

She was scared of them calling her out in the streets, scared of them arresting her just for being related to Oncle Max, and she was scared of what would happen to her after the execution of her Oncle.

Julien was right – the assembly had been suspicious of Alouette’s relationship with her Oncle. She could recall times where Julien’s friends gave her odd looks. Once Julien had told her to stop coming to the assemblies and waiting outside for them to finish.

“It’s because of Max, my love,” Julien had told her, “They believe that you may tell him who is untrustworthy, and perhaps that’s how he decides who goes on his ‘list’”. He held her hands in his when she looked away from him, “It wasn’t my idea. I told them that you had nothing to do with his decisions. But they would feel safer if you stopped coming..”

Alouette agreed to stay home and wait for Julien to return. It was the least that she could do for him – he never asked much of her. She could follow this one request that he had. 

She pressed on, however, staring straight ahead towards her Oncle’s home on the hill. She had to see him. She had to say her goodbye to him. No matter what he had done, she needed to see him. 

The shadow of the guillotine covered her face. She looked up towards the guillotine, and her heart stopped. 

The blade shimmered in the sunlight, the blood stains prominent  against the cold steel. 

And Alouette remembered why her Oncle deserved death.

“There are only two parties in France: the people and its enemies. We must exterminate those miserable villains who are eternally conspiring against the rights of man…We must exterminate all our enemies.”

Oncle Max caused thousands of people to die. Thousands of innocent lives were ruined. Thousands of innocent lives were gone because of the man Alouette loved so much.  

Because they were his ‘enemies’.

“Virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent.”

The Reign of Terror lasted for eleven months. It began a month after the draft.

Everyone was scared. Maximillien Robespierre, during the assemblies of the Committee of Public Safety and the National Assembly, would call out the names those who were his enemies. He demanded to have them put on trial, “There are only two parties in France: the people and its enemies. We must exterminate those miserable villains who are eternally conspiring against the rights of man. We must exterminate all our enemies!” He would call out. 

Alouette feared for what had happened to her Oncle, and why he was so afraid of the republic falling apart. 

At first, the members of the Assembly were excited to execute the enemies of the revolution. They changed their opinions of their fellow members, they changed their minds on their votes. 

The Reign of Terror started with a few dozen executions. 

As Alouette stared up at the guillotine, frozen in thought, she thought of the only execution that mattered to her. The last man to be executed by her Oncle’s hand.

Gabriel Robespierre. Her father.

The argument that night was one that Alouette would never forget. 

She had come to visit her father just about a month before. Oncle Max came to visit as well. It was the first time Alouette had seen him in months. 

His eyes were wide. His hands shook. He ate slowly. He was cautious.

He wasn’t Oncle Max.

Her father was silent as well. The three ate their meal as such. Alouette was the first to speak.

“Can you pass the pepper, Papa?”

Her father passed it slowly to her. He glanced towards Oncle Max.

“Why are you looking at me, Gabriel?”

“Because you’re my brother, Maximillien. I can look at you.”

“I don’t want you to.”

“Then why did you come to my house?”

“To see my niece, Gabriel.”

They sat in silence again. Alouette could feel the tension between them. 

As her father took a breath, Oncle Max looked towards him, “What? What is it now?”

“I think you need to take a break, brother.” Her father said. His voice was calm. He spoke slowly. 

“A break? Why would I need a break?” Maximillien barked. He spoke quickly. 

Alouette watched the two. She watched their body language, not listening to the words they were saying. Please, don’t escalate.

Her father didn’t move his hands. His body stayed in the same position, his eyes were fixed on his brothers face. He wanted to help his brother.

Maximillien stood up from his chair, the force knocking it down behind him, “You’re a traitor!”

Alouette snapped out of her trance and stared at her Oncle, shocked at his outburst.

“Excuse me?” her father stood up from his chair slowly, “Max – I want to help you. I just think that you’re getting a little excessive with the executions-”

“Of all people I thought I could trust… And now you’re turning on me! You’re turning on the revolution!”
    “No, Max, I’m not! I want to help you!”

Oncle Max turned towards the front door and began walking towards it, screaming obscenities. His whole body was shaking. His face was red. His eyes were angry. 

Alouette was scared of her Oncle. 

He opened the front door and turned back towards the two in the dining room. 

“You’re next, Gabriel! You’re next!” he yelled. He stepped out and slammed the door shut. The lilac flower wreath on the back of the door fell to the floor.

Alouette looked towards her father, who was still staring at the doorway. “Papa…?”

His hands were shaking, “Dear god…”

Alouette could hear the last words her father said to her echoing in her mind.

Dear God.

Dear God.

The guillotine never looked so threatening. 

The tears escaped Alouette’s eyes and fell down her face. 

Alouette fell to her knees, staring up at the guillotine and cursing at it. 

“Why did you change? Why?!”

She sobbed into her hands. Her body shook.

Dear God.

“Why did you have to kill him…” Her voice shook, and citizens walking by stared at her. 

Though some were concerned, they did not stop for her.

Alouette couldn’t recall how long she sat there. Her fingers began to prune from the tears. Her face was red. 

Alouette took a deep breath, her voice was quivering and she felt herself gasping for breath between the tears. Slowly, she forced herself to her feet. She felt paralyzed. 

She turned around and looked towards the homes outside of Paris. She wanted to go home. She wanted to go home to her husband and cry to him. He was right. He was right about her Oncle. He was right. 

Her feet were heavy, but slowly began to turn back on  her path and walk towards her home. Oncle Max didn’t deserve to see her. He didn’t deserve to see the girl who had loved him unconditionally until that day where he murdered her father with his words.

The further she walked from the guillotine, the heavier she felt herself become. 

She could hear her father in her ears. His voice was echoing.

Dear God.
    Dear God. 

Dear God.

Alouette stopped in her tracks and stared at the shops in front of her. It was her duty to her father to see Oncle Max. No matter how close Oncle Max had been with Alouette, she owed it to her father to tell her oncle how she felt.

 It was her duty to tell him that she was saying goodbye for the final time. 

It was her job to officially cut ties with one of the worst men in Paris. 

Alouette, now filled with this new found motivation to avenge her father, turned back towards the guillotine and ran past it. She ran as far as she could from the guillotine. 

She passed dozens of shops in the Place de la Revolution. She passed more the further she ran into Paris. 

The only shop she took into account was Mademoiselle Ethel’s Jewelry Emporium.

Oncle Max had bought Alouette a gift there when Alouette had married Julien. He had presented  his niece with a gorgeous amethyst and diamond necklace. Her favorite gems, and her favorite colors: Lilac and crystal. 

It was the last good deed he had done for her. 

Even now, as she ran through the streets of Paris towards Oncle’s, the necklace bounced against her collarbone, hidden underneath her dress. 

She saw his building approach in the distance. The gray bricks were cracked and falling apart. The windows were covered with white curtains. The black bars on the windows kept that seemed to shut the world out. His house was bleak. 

She slowed down as she approached. She took her time walking towards the large grim white door. The glass had been broken in that door for years. As she stood on the steps, she stared at the lion paw door knocker. The gold paint was chipping.

Alouette took a deep breath, and with her eyes closed, she picked up the knocker and slammed it against the white door three times. 

She waited, with her eyes shut. 

She felt as if an hour passed, with no response coming to the door. 

Alouette knocked on the door again and waited, this time with her eyes open. 

“Oncle?” She whispered to herself.

After waiting another few minutes, she knocked louder, and leaned into the door as she did.

“It’s me. It’s Alouette. Please, let me in. I need to see you.”

After a few moments, she heard the door click on the other side. Alouette looked down to the handle of the door and placed her hand on the fading gold paint. Slowly, she pushed the door open. 

The lights were off inside the house. When Alouette shut the heavy front door behind her, she had difficulty seeing. There was a faint candle glow in the room at the back of the house.

“Oncle?” Alouette called, glancing around the rooms around her. There were papers scattered across the floor. The large bookcase that stood in the front foyer of the home was empty now. All the novels, encyclopedias, and journals that filled it were scattered across the floor. Some were ripped, while others were tossed carelessly to the next room.

Alouette slowly walked towards the faint candle light. She was taken by surprise when her Oncle began to speak. 

“Alouette? You came to visit?”

“Yes, Oncle,” Alouette said, “I came to visit you. I need to talk to you.”

She watched as her Oncle stepped out from the candle lit room. His hair was dark and disheveled, as he was not wearing his beloved powdered wig. He was still in his night robe. His hands were still shaking and his eyes were still wide.

“Alouette, it’s been so long…” He approached her slowly as he spoke. He took her hands in his and looked down at her, smiling, “How are you? How is Julien?”

“He’s good, Oncle, I’m fine as well…” She allowed him to hold her hands, but she didn’t squeeze back when he did. 

“What brings you to come visit me?” He asked her, “Why now?”

“Because you’re going to be executed, Oncle. I needed to see you before…” Alouette looked up to him, her voice broke, “I needed to say goodbye.”

“Goodbye? Alouette, I still have a few days until they-”
    “I need to say goodbye now. Julien… I… I told the assembly I cut ties with you.”

Oncle Max’s eyes softened, the anger fleeting for a moment, “You what? Alouette…”

Alouette squeezed his hands for a moment, then let them go and took a step away from him, “I can’t be associated with you anymore. The assembly has been suspicious since Julien and I got married that I would influence him with your ideals…”

“But Alouette-”

“Please, Oncle,” Alouette pleaded. “I love you. I have always loved you. Since the day I was born you were my favorite. You were so good to me; I was your little prodigy. But… the revolution… The revolution changed you, Oncle.”

“It has not changed me, Alouette. I am still the same person I’ve always been. I don’t know why you’re-”

“The old Oncle Max would never have his brother executed!”

He looked at his niece, he tried to defend himself, “He was an enemy! He was going to-”

“He was not an enemy! He wanted to help you! He wanted you to do better!” Alouette could feel the tears pooling in her eyes. “You had him killed because he loved you. He only wanted to help you… That’s what he always taught me. To help those you care about. To help those who love you.”

“Alouette. You’re too young. You don’t understand.” He said, reaching for her hand, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She pulled her hand away, “I do know what I’m talking about. I know what my father taught me.” She took a deep breath and turned away, “I didn’t want this to go like this, Oncle. I love you. But I need to take care of myself now. I stayed up all night worrying about you. I haven’t slept for days. I defended your every movement and idea… And you… You just… Changed. You changed. You’re not the Oncle I loved.”

“Alouette, please don’t do this…” He started to beg, walking after her as she walked towards the door, “Please, stay. Talk to me. Talk to me, please, Alouette, you’re all I have left!”

Alouette opened the front door, looking into the bright sunny world outside of the dark house, “I’m sorry, Oncle. I can’t stay.”

She stepped into the light and turned to face him, and said her final words to him. “Goodbye, Oncle. I loved you.”

***

While this story is based on real historical events, all characters are to remain fictional for the integrity and preservation on the real world events.

Categories
Reflections

I Don’t Sound Like a Whiny Bitch

January, 2020:

I have no idea how to express the emotions that I have inside of my head.

            This essay has been written now a total of four times. Each time, I have attempted to write the same story of self-discovery and finding the word that describes me. Each time I delete the essay (well, not delete. But I delete it from my mind) and open up a new, blank document. I try to find the words to describe how I’m feeling again. As if the new, empty white landscape will somehow stir the correct word out of the hibernation happening in my brain. Each time, I’m shocked it doesn’t work.

            In the first attempt at writing this essay, I wrote about the label I put on myself in the first sentence. I use this word as an act of defiance of my fingers. They don’t want to type the word out. They want to type anything but that word. I wrote it in order to see the word written out in front of me and know that it describes me, but yet I am still so scared to say it aloud. I am scared to say it to the wrong group of people. I am scared that I will have to change my mind.

            I think that’s the worst part about putting this down in words. That I’ll be wrong and I’ll have to change my mind, yet again. The warring sides of my brain violently tear each other apart as I try to decide whether I want this label. The thought of writing it down in words is the worst part, I think. Writing it down on paper makes it permanent.

            Speaking it out into the world is different. When I speak them to myself alone in my room, they dissipate into the air as if they were never there are all. The hit the walls around me and reflect back on myself like a gleaming spotlight. I can be proud of knowing who I am in my room. I can walk up to the microphone and say with the prestige and poise of the Queen of England. In reality, my hairbrush suffices as a microphone and my crowd of applauding audience members is just my collection of Funko Pop figures.

            When I said it to the small group of people that know – not at the same time, of course – it was different too. Wrapped in the confined space of their endless support and appreciation. As the words fall out of my unprepared mind and into the shared space, their eyes light up with joy as I finally tell them one of the many secret aspects of my confined mind.

***

April, 2020:

I stopped scrolling. It’s May now. I am not afraid of the words anymore. I have come out to not only my family, but myself.

            There are a lot of things to unpack. Not only in this first section, but rather throughout the whole essay. I was in an insecure spot in my life in these days leading up to writing this piece. Thinking back to when my fingers flew over the keyboard, I think I was trying to reason with myself in this piece.

            I learned a lot after this. A now good friend taught me how to become comfortable with myself. I want to thank her for all of the support and love she’s given me after finally coming out.

            I know now that my feelings are valid, and I am not alone. I don’t need everyone to know and accept it. All it matters is how I’m feeling now. That’s what this text should represent.

***

I told my father first before anyone else. Before I even admitted it to myself, actually. Lying on the couch, listening to him make a comment about how one day he’ll be able to walk me down the aisle to my husband.

            “I don’t like guys, dad.”

            “Really? Not even a little bit?” He asked me with his full attention taken away from the television.

            “Not really.” I expected him to tell me that it was a phase, that it wasn’t right, or that he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t like guys. I had been raised that way. Actually, conditioned would be a better word for it.

            To my surprise, he only said “You can love who you want to love. As long as you aren’t lonely.”

            “I wouldn’t mind being alone. I’ll just have cats for the rest of my life,” I replied with a chuckle.

            He didn’t laugh but smiled wearily at me “That’s what you say now. But it sucks to be alone.”

I was left looking at him, having a newfound understanding of my father. The man who called himself a ‘Florida Cracker’ really did understand me. He wanted me to be happy. All of the offensive jokes he makes or the brutal slurs he yells while driving may start to define his surface, but deep down he cared. He always had.

As I smiled at him, my father, lovingly said as a Subaru commercial came on the tv “Do we have to get rid of the jeep and get you one of those now? Subaru’s are lesbian cars, you know.”

***

I had, and continue to be, worried about labeling myself. What if I changed my mind again? I thought at first that I just wasn’t attracted to anyone and that I never would be. I was okay with the idea of being alone because I thought that’s what my label wanted me to be, which is entirely not true. I focused myself on doing research to find out that the word didn’t mean ‘alone forever’ or ‘crazy cat lady for life.’ It just meant that I felt the way that I did when it came to relationships, and that I could still be loved and feel love.

***

            The first, and only, boy I dated – we’ll call him Al. We had been friends all of middle school. I never thought before him that I would ever have that moment where someone would have a crush on me. At the end of eighth grade, he texted me saying that if I didn’t feel the same way that he did, he wasn’t going to be upset. He still wanted to be friends with me. He liked me and wanted me to be his girlfriend.

            My fingers went in circles around the keyboard buttons of my iPod touch. I eventually came up with the response: “My parents won’t let me date until high school.”

            In ninth grade, I thought that he had forgotten about that comment. I didn’t feel “butterflies” in my stomach, or my thoughts always revolving around the idea of being with him. I never wrote my name down repeatedly in my notebook with his last name plastered next to it. Besides, Johnson just didn’t roll off the tongue quite right.

            In the middle of the summer leading up to our sophomore year, he texted me again. It was practically the same message. He wanted to be with me.

            It took me a long time to type out the simple message. I wanted him to know that I cared about him and that I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I had worked so hard on it, I wanted it to sound like I was saying the words. I wanted it to come from the heart. I told him I thought that I liked him too.

***

            It’s easy to look back at the time in my life and understand that this wasn’t just me wanting to please everyone. Being able to look at this situation four years after the fact makes it so easy for me to point out every single thing I did wrong in that moment. I confused what friendship and a crush were. Even then, I find that to feel like an excuse because I’m giving a reason as to why I wanted to please him. I honestly think that I did it because I truly thought I liked him, and because it was drilled into my head starting at a young age to please a man.

            He made me happy. He made me feel appreciated. We had the same sense of humor and we both got along with each other’s friends. Al volunteered to build care packages for soldiers overseas. His family helped out with the local elections. He lived on a farm, and he took care of horses. He never said a negative thing about me or my friends. Every step of the way in our friendship, and relationship, he was kind, considerate, and thoughtful.

            I learned a lot about what a crush meant to me in that relationship. I knew that it had to have similar feelings as being in a friendship. You had to have similar interests to them, be able to spend time together consistently and be able to respect one another. Romantically, I still question what my personal definition of a crush is. I know that you have to be attracted to the person in some sense and that you want to be willing to learn and grow. That sounds cliché, but it’s the truth.

***

            Sometimes I wish I had that stereotypical coming-of-age movie moment, where I’m sitting in my car crying because my boyfriend cheated on me with the girl that I thought was my best friend. I wish I had the moment when I realized that my real best friend was in love with me and that I loved them too. I wish I had the moment where everything felt okay in the end. I want the credits to roll and I want to have my life figured out.

            I desperately want to label myself in the hopes that having this community around me will suddenly make me feel like those end credits are rolling by. The community would give me a place to feel safe, and to be able to express myself to the fullest extent. I see people around me who consider this part of their identity and envelop themselves in its warmth. They don’t label themselves with it, they make the word become theirs within their own personal definition.

            I want it to become my own word. I don’t want it to just mean what it means generally, but rather what it means in my life, in my experiences, and in my standards. I want it to become a part of my identity. I am aching to have this sense of embracing this word and connecting myself with it at a spiritual level. To have it collide within myself and soul. There is a desire within me to pull this word close and wrap it around my fingertips and write this word out.

            I can’t do it yet. I can’t write it down. I don’t trust myself at this point to not change my mind. The fear of being wrong about my label, again, drags me deeper and deeper down into wanting to keep it out of my writing. I know that it is who I really am, but it is difficult to embrace the thought when I am covered in cactus pricklers. It’s as if there’s a piece of my brain that never wants me to make up my mind and make a concrete decision. I’ve changed my major several times, thought about changing schools, and most of all thought about changing who I am so that I can fit into the general norms surrounding me.

***

            The heteronormative lifestyle around me within my hometown suffocates me at every turn. There is no obvious representation, but rather that the prom king and queen get the most attention for the year. The theatre departments never do shows involving the communities outside of what we see as ‘normal.’ These ideals were pushed upon me beginning with the simple cartoons I watched as a child, to my parents pressuring me into calling my boy friends my boyfriends in elementary school. Just a little space in between the words caused change within my mind as well as many others who feel a similar way.

***

I have told numerous people about my confusion in writing this. I have told people that this essay has changed four times. I have told people what this is really about. What I haven’t told people is that this is the way for me to actively get these feelings out of my brain and into the light. It gives me a chance to read out what my brain really means. It gives me a chance to talk about the word that I long for and strive to avoid labeling myself with. It gives my brain a chance to breathe.

***

            Since writing this piece, I have become much more comfortable with the uncomfortable. Not only within myself, but with other areas within myself. I want to tell my past self, though it is only four months later, that she is valid. Even now, sometimes I wake up in the morning and wonder if I’m going to have to come out again. If I’m going to have to tell everyone that I was wrong, again.

Well, self, that’s okay. Past Colleen, you are a strong and brave woman. Your feelings and anxiety of the situation is valid. You can change your mind in the morning. It’s okay.