Let’s get something straight right now. If I am anything, it’s a survivor. Been that way my whole life, and I proved it when I was 12 and ran away from home and hitchhiked all by myself, just me and my wits, all the way from Southern California to New York City. And had a pretty decent time in New York, too, short as it was, before I finally had to give up since I didn’t have a plan for staying and I called my parents and they flew me back to O.C. Do you think I could have done any of that and made it through if I wasn’t a survivor?
Sure, my Aunt Carol thinks I’m nuts and she says I was just damned lucky not to wind up dead in some ditch or in the woods or the bottom of a lake somewhere, but like I said before, I don’t much believe in luck. I could have all the luck in the world and if I didn’t know what I was doing and the signs of what to watch out for and what people to avoid, I could still have turned up dead. And with the rest of this life with Sid, the crazy screwed-up situations we get into, like that incident in Bangkok, I’m still a girl who knows what to look for and keeps her eye on the door and, well, maybe it’s a part or two of luck, but the rest is pure survivor’s instinct.
I’m starting to calm down now and finally stop baying at the invisible moon. At least I got most of the emotion out of me, which I needed to do. I make a mental note that somehow I have to get martial arts training so I can put down Sid’s ass, or anyone else who tries something nasty with me, like the bastard in the Metro who lifted my wallet, should the occasion arise. That would make me even more of a survivor.
Now it’s time to plan my next moves. That’s what I was lacking in New York, a plan, and I’m not falling into that trap again. Not here, not now. It’s easy to think that the big stuff is the part you have to deal with when you’re suddenly out on the street with a single bag, no money, no way to go back home, and a busted nose. But really it’s the little stuff you need to deal with first. Like, for instance, where do you pee.
I need to think everything through, but meanwhile I need to take a pee, bad, something I didn’t get to do when I got home from the restaurant, having my wallet stolen and getting punched by my supposed boyfriend and having my nose broken and packing to leave and sitting out on the sidewalk laughing and howling like a crazy person all unexpectedly intervening before I could. And I can’t think straight when I have to pee. So the first order of business now is dragging my ass and my bag somewhere where I can relieve my overfilled bladder, and soon, before I’m wetting my panties. Then I can work on the big stuff.
I’m a resourceful girl, so finding a little garden that affords me some privacy in the evening dark as I pull down my pants and undies and squat down and let go of a big stream of piss to water the pretty flowers isn’t such a huge challenge, even in Paris. And boy, does it ever feel good. So now with that small detail taken care of and over with, pulling up and buckling and zipping my everything, I take a deep breath and for the first time since all this went down I can think straight again. And trust me on this, thinking straight is the most important rule of the survivor.
With the passing of my urine a plan begins to form in my head. I realize I can’t go to Chantal’s, not now, not as I am. I’d just seem too much like a loser, too much like I was using her as my port of first resort, like I needed her to take me in and protect me, like some little lost girl, a little lost injured bird, not as the grown lover I want her to see me as. To be. Not to mention it would just prove her right about all that she’s said about Sid. And if Sid decides to come looking for me, which he probably won’t, not now, but who knows, Chantal’s would be the first place he’d look, and I fear for what danger that might put her in. No, I just can’t do that. Plus, if all that isn’t enough, by now it’s prime time at the whore house and not the moment to put some surprise added burden on her and maybe embarrass her to her customers.
I think of maybe calling old Roger. Remember Roger, from my Sunday afternoon at the piano? I haven’t forgotten him. Or many of the other customers who were so nice to me, like the Italian dude who gave me his number on the 100 euro note. Fortunately I saved the numbers separate from my wallet, in my journal, which I have with me in my pack, of course. Always. I can’t lose it, or the numbers. But I don’t know if Roger’s married. My guess is he could be. And I think Chantal might be really pissed if she found out I was mooching off her clients. It’s one thing if I just want to hook up with one of them. She’d probably understand that. But looking for a free place to stay, not so much.
I suppose I can find a place to spend the night on the street or in a park, but that seems more than unappetizing. It might be dangerous, too. And if les flics found me, I could wind up in jail or worse, and for sure there’d be questions I just can’t answer. So that’s the last resort, only if all else fails.
There’s also the question of money, or it’s absence, so renting a room for the night is out of the question. Unless I perform some, um, street services, if you catch my drift. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not above that – a real survivor has to consider all the options, like eating grubs and bugs and stuff in the jungle - and they helped me pay my way when I was in New York, but after all this I look like shit, maybe one or two steps above some crack whore or meth addict. And I’m really not in the mood to have some strange guy’s dick in my mouth at the moment, fifty euros or not. Really, I think I’d be tempted to bite it off, and that’s never good for business. So forget that, at least until I’m in a better frame of mind.
I’m already thinking ahead, and I know I need to be at the restaurant for my gig in the early morning. And they don’t want some skanky-looking half-asleep blood-stained girl doing the prep work. So maybe this is the plan I’m searching for, one that will kill two birds, so to speak, with one rock, and which will get me off the street and get me to work on-time and in decent form. I can figure out the rest after that. So that’s the plan I settle on.
In half an hour, walking fast, I’m at the back entrance to the restaurant. I cautiously pry open the door and can hear Marcel, the head chef, barking orders to the sous chefs. The dinner rush is winding up and the push is on to get the last dishes out before things settle down and are left to the waiters wheeling the dessert carts and proposing digestifs and coffees.
I slide inside the door, dragging my overnight bag behind me as quietly as I can, and stay out of the traffic pattern. One or two of the sous chefs and preppers eventually spot me, but they’re too busy to care and I don’t need them to sound the alarm. It’s Marcel I have to speak with, and I know sooner or later the frenzy will die down and he’ll notice me and ask me what I’m doing there. That’s when my plan kicks in.
Time passes much faster in a kitchen when you’re actually engaged in the process than standing around watching silently from a figurative corner, but finally, after what seems an interminable time, Marcel stops moving and barking, takes a breath, and sees me standing off to the side. His eyebrows go up in a look of surprise and he wordlessly makes a sign to me that I am to follow him to his office, which I do.
“Mademoiselle Rosie, ce qui se passe?” he demands, the second we’re inside the small room and he’s had me close the door behind me. “What are you doing here, looking like you should be at la Gare du Nord and not in my kitchen at this hour?”
“Je suis désolée, vraiment désolée, Marcel. You know about Sid, I think? My boyfriend? Well, we had a very big fight and he punched me and broke my nose, so I left. I was afraid to stay.”
Okay, it’s a small lie, why I actually left. But it’s all Marcel needs to know, and it’s something he can understand.
“Oui, your boyfriend broke your nose. Very sad. And what does that have to do with why you’re standing here in my office?”
“Marcel, I’m sorry, but I have no where else to go. I had my wallet stolen on the Metro on the way home so I have no money. That’s what got Sid so angry, that I was robbed.”
“Ton mec semble comme un vrai prince, Rosie. A true prince, indeed. And what would you like me to do about it? Are you looking for money? If so, you are in the wrong place. We are not a bank, just as we are not a train station.”
“No, Marcel, I’m not looking for money. I can get some tomorrow afternoon from my other job. It’s just that I have to be at work in the morning here, so I was hoping you’d let me stay overnight in the restaurant. I know it’s a lot to ask, but please say yes. I won’t be any trouble at all.”
“Tu as raison, it is a lot to ask. Nous ne sommes pas une auberge de jeunesse, aussi. Perhaps you did not notice. Suppose we start to let all our help sleep here? How would that work?”
“Well, all your help isn’t asking. Only me. And I’m doing it just this once, because I have to. Otherwise I’d never ask. I promise I’ll be quiet as a mouse and clean as a cat, and I’ll work twice as hard tomorrow. Please, Marcel. You know I’ve been a good worker, even if I haven’t been here long.”
He looks me up and down, clearly exasperated. He sees my bag behind me and my swollen nose and the dried blood and he knows I’m not kidding. And for all his chef-like brusqueness, I know Marcel is at heart a good guy. But he has a point, he can’t turn the restaurant into a flop house.
“Rosie, you look like hell. I suppose you’d have to wash up in the toilet? And you have clean clothes in your valise?”
“I do. And I will clean up. I just really need to wash my face and hands in the sink to get the blood and dirt off and brush my hair. My nose will take care of itself. If I can, I’ll put some ice on it, and I’ll be fine. I took a shower this morning and I have clean clothes.”
I know Marcel has already decided to let me stay and the rest is negotiation. My plan is working.
“Where will you sleep? I would put you in the oven but you’d be overdone by morning. You are already half-baked, silly girl.”
“Funny guy. That’s good, Marcel. Look, I’ll just sleep in one of the banquettes. I’m small and don’t take much room. And I’ll be up and ready before anyone gets here in the morning. Just like I was early to work. No one will know.”
He frowns as he thinks about this.
“You know there is another owner. He must not know I am letting you do this. And keep your bag here in my office, behind the desk, in the morning. I don’t want anyone seeing it.”
“Thank you, Marcel. Merci, merci tellement. I really, really appreciate it. You’d make a much better boyfriend than Sid. You really would.”
I take a chance and jump forward and give Marcel a big hug. I actually mean it, since he’s keeping me off the street for a night, as hard as it is for him. I guess he’s taken pity on me since he returns my hug, though more softly than my tight grip.
When we break the hug Marcel broaches the subject I was dreading but knew would come up.
“I am sure it is a challenge being your boyfriend, Rosie. But that does not give him a right to punch you like that. You should consider whether you wish to remain with this Sid.”
“Ho boy, you’re not alone in that thought, Marcel. And believe me, I’m thinking about it. Seriously. He might not want me back, anyway, after what happened. But you know Sid’s paying for my culinary school, so there’s that to consider, too.”
“I’m certain your term is paid. You can complete that and then decide what you will do. Anyway, this is not my affair. Stay here in the office until we close and everyone is gone. I will tell you when I go and then you can do what you need to.”
“Thank you again, Marcel. I will.”
“And don’t touch anything, s’il te plaît.”
“Not a thing. Promise. I’ll be good. For me, anyway.”
My mischievous grin causes Marcel to pause at the door, contemplating my words and what they might mean, and then he snorts quietly and heads back to the kitchen.
First night down. Rosie the survivor makes it through again.