Suddenly, Paris

1. Wednesday

The phone rang again, and the vibration sent it skidding even farther down the muddy slope. It hit a branch and snapped open.

“Jo!” It was Mom. I’m sure the other five times it rang, it was her as well. Unfortunately the phone was now way out of reach. I watched as it finally tipped over the edge and tumbled down to the rocks below, taking my house keys with it.

“Mom!” I screamed as loud as I could, but there was no way she could hear me.

My heart was beating very fast. I was lying on my side in the mud. I must have tripped on something, but I didn’t remember tripping. I looked down to where my phone had disappeared over the cliff. My skin tingled with fear. I need to climb back up to the path. I turned my head to see how to best inch my way back, and I saw a quick movement just at the edge of my peripheral vision.

“Who’s that?” I asked stupidly, and then I cried out, “Help! Down here! Help me! Please!”

There was no response. I was sure I had seen someone. I was twisting around to get a better look when I felt a shove on my left shoulder. There was a loud snap, and the branch that had arrested my fall gave way. I started to slide. I tried desperately to clutch at the dirt and the weeds, but nothing stopped my terrifying slide down the muddy embankment toward the cliff’s edge.

Looking back at the path, I saw a man watching me. Our eyes met, and I knew he wasn’t going to help me. I felt the scream stick in my throat, making it difficult to breathe. My arms were flailing. Grab something, anything!

My hand brushed against a root. I grabbed it. Salvation.

I heard a loud crack and felt white-hot pain in my left leg. My vision tunneled, and all I could see was the man’s green eyes. Why? I wanted to scream. Those eyes lasered into my soul — so sharp, so unforgiving. Unforgiving of what?

He broke his drilling stare. What now?

Someone had appeared next to him on the path. It was Babushka Bo! Here? The man’s eyes dilated in palpable fear — he was scared of my grandmother! I felt relief wash over me. My family knew where I was. My grandmother had saved me.

***

Had I blacked out? At first, there was just the color of the pain — brilliant white with sharp sparks pulsating through it. That was different. Most of the time, pain is deep red. I remembered a few times when it was pink. Like when I hurt my knee falling from a bike, when Dad was teaching me to ride. The pain then had been a soft pink. But now, the pain was bright white. The leg must be broken.

I tried to move, and the sparks got more intense. Well, at least I’m not dead.

I slowly opened my eyes. I was spread out on the edge of a cliff, still clutching a root. Big plus though — I wasn’t lying on the rocks below. I looked back up to the path again. The man with the green eyes was gone — and so was my grandmother. Why would Babushka Bo just leave me like this? How could she possibly have been there in the first place? Had she really been there? Had either of them been there? All of a sudden, I wasn’t at all sure. Dad had talked about strange things people conjure up during a crisis.

And why would someone want me dead? It made more sense that my mind was playing tricks on me. My mind is weird anyway — I don’t know of anyone else who remembers pain by its color. Well, except perhaps Babushka Bo.

But if Babushka Bo hadn’t really been there, then my family had no idea where I was. They would be freaked out by now. It was getting dark, so I’d been gone for at least several hours. I’d left a note on the kitchen table saying I was going for a long walk; Babushka Bo would have found it. In retrospect, it was stupid not to mention where I was going, but I didn’t want them looking for me. I’d needed time to think. A big all-family discussion of my social life was not something I relished even at the best of times.

The first couple of times Mom called, I just didn’t feel like answering. It was an altogether awful day, and discussing it with my mother wouldn’t have improved it. She must have found out what had happened at school. The whole school either saw or heard about it. Lowell is a large high school, but it’s not that big. Tomorrow, everyone would either try to comfort me or stare me down.

If I even go to school tomorrow, I thought. Waves of white were washing over my left leg. I was pretty sure that school was out for a while.

I tried to move again, but the pain was blinding. The whiteness obscured my vision and invaded my mind like a thick fog. My left leg was obviously broken. I couldn’t get back up to the coastal trail on my own. I should start screaming for help again. There was a golf course up above somewhere, and the view of the Golden Gate Bridge usually attracted tourists as well as locals, even at dusk. I had been on the closed part of the trail; a landslide a few years ago had taken out a chunk, but Dad and I still walked on it all the same. There was just this one bad spot, and the rest was as wide and flat as a street. But the warning sign did turn most people away, and with the fog rolling in in full force now, there wouldn’t be that many hikers…

No, it was stupid to think like that.

I had slid quite a bit down the hill and wondered how visible I was from the path. Unfortunately, I was quite close to the sheer cliff that dropped at least a hundred feet to jagged rocks and the ocean below.

“Julie?”

Someone was calling my name. It didn’t sound like my dad. The green-eyed man? My skin prickled again as if I were being rolled in millions of tiny needles. I decided to ignore my skin’s warning.

“I’m here!” I put as much force into it as I could. I had been crying all afternoon, and my throat refused to give my scream the power I was looking for. “Here!” I shouted again. I stretched the “e” sound, hoping it would carry over the sounds of the crashing waves below.

“Mr. Vorov, your daughter is here,” said the man’s voice. I heard running footsteps just above.
“Jo? Are you all right?” My dad’s voice. Thank God. He sounded hoarse.

I looked up. Through the broken branches and bushes I could make out Dad, several yards above me on the path, but I couldn’t see the owner of the other voice. I had crashed through some tall plants on my slide toward the edge of the cliff, and while my path of destruction was clearly visible, I was probably not. I was lucky they had found me so fast. I could have easily spent the night here — alone, cold, in pain, and very freaked out.

“I think my leg is broken,” I said. “But I’m fine. Sorry, Dad.”

“Why didn’t you answer your phone? Why didn’t you call for help?”

“My phone fell out of my pocket. It’s down there somewhere.”

“Mr. Vorov?” said the other man. His voice was calm and businesslike. “It’s getting dark. I think we need to call the fire department.”

“Jo, don’t move.” Dad had a hysterical edge to his voice. “Don’t move!”

“I was just trying–”

“Jo, stay absolutely still. We don’t want you slipping any farther, okay?”

“Is Babushka Bo with you?” I asked.

“No, she’s at home with Peter. They’re holding down the fort,” Dad explained. That settled it. If Babushka Bo was a hallucination, the man she had chased away was too.

I tried to justify myself. “I’m sorry, Dad. I was just going to take a walk.”

“I’ll run and meet them up the path,” said an unfamiliar female voice. It was high-pitched and sweet-sounding.

“Who’s that?” I asked. I wondered how many more people were searching for me. Was Sam?

“I’m Angie Urt. This is my dad.” I couldn’t see who she was pointing at, but it must have been the guy who found me first. “We’re your new upstairs neighbors. I’ll run and lead the firemen here. See you in a sec,” she promised.

I heard her footsteps disappearing fast. The fog really dampens sounds. Even if Angie’s father, Mr. Urt, had known that I was at Lands End, he couldn’t have heard my calls for help from the main road. He must have just guessed where to look for me.

“Are you in a lot of pain?” Mr. Urt inquired.

“Only when I move.” There was no need to further flip out Dad. Right now, he was probably less okay than me.

“What color is it?” Mr. Urt asked. That got my attention. How did he know about that?

“White, sort of,” I stammered out.

“Hmm. Must be broken,” Mr. Urt mumbled. “I’m going to lower a tree branch. Grab on to the tip and hold on,” he instructed. “Just in case,” he added.

A giant, craggy tree slid past me. How had he managed to move that? I grabbed hold of a branch with one hand. I wasn’t going to let go of my root. “Got it.”

“Jo, hold on as tight as you can, all right?” Dad was leaning over, trying to assess my position below him.

“I will, Dad. But I don’t think I’m sliding. It feels pretty secure over here.” But holding on to the tree made me feel better all the same.

“Julie will be fine, Mr. Vorov. I don’t think she’ll slide any farther,” Mr. Urt said. He had a very reassuring voice. You just couldn’t help but trust him.

A few minutes passed, and suddenly there were a lot of voices and movement up above.

“She’s down there, Officer Gary,” said Angie. Like her dad, she had a reassuring quality to her voice. “I think her left leg is broken.”

It was my left leg. But how did she know that?

“Ms. Julie Vorov? We’ll lower a rescue sled and strap you in,” Officer Gary said. He sounded nice. I had expected to be scolded. “Does it hurt to move?”

“Yes.” The answer came as a chorus from Mr. Urt and Angie.

“We’ll get you up and out in no time. Gentlemen, would you please move over there? We need some room here. Angie, if you don’t mind?”

It sounded like there was a whole brigade of firemen now. They shone high-powered lights on me, and for the first time, I could clearly see how close to the edge of the cliff I really was. Someone up above was still holding on to Mr. Urt’s tree. I was clutching my end and my root. I heard a helicopter approaching in the distance—Coast Guard?

The firemen worked very fast, but still, the next half hour wasn’t pleasant. It hurt a lot to be strapped into the sled and pulled back up to the trail. Then I was transferred to a stretcher. The ambulance was by the trailhead to Lands End. It felt like miles, and I had to be carried all the way there. The whole thing would have been totally embarrassing if I weren’t in blinding white pain.
Dad tried to hold my hand when the trail was wide enough. I never saw Mr. Urt. Dad said he went ahead to get his car. Angie hung around, though. I could hear her talking and laughing with the firemen ahead of me, but I couldn’t get a clear view of her.

***

Mom, Babushka Bo, and Peter met us at the emergency room. Mr. Urt drove them. I’m not sure how Angie got there. Dad rode with me in the ambulance. Suddenly, I had an entourage.

“Angie said the firemen had to rappel down the cliff!” Peter reported. He was ten and thought the whole evening was one grand adventure, although he was bummed that he had missed the rescue. “And you’ll need screws in your leg. And the cast will have to stay on forever. Through New Year’s, anyway. Mom and Dad were really freaked, you know.”

“I know,” I replied. I was starting to feel the painkillers now. Everything felt too bright and too loud, but the pain had eased down into the reds.

“Why did you do it?” asked Peter.

“Do what?” I asked.

“Jump.”

“I didn’t jump. I slipped,” I corrected him. Pushed, I thought, but I quickly shook the thought away.
“Mom said you jumped. And we’re not supposed to walk on that path without Dad. You’re in so much trouble.” Peter practically danced around my bed as he talked; this was clearly all too exciting. He was sure to be the center of attention when he talked about this at school tomorrow.

“Hi, there. How are you holding up?” Angie peeked around the open door. She had shocking pink hair and seemed to be about my age. She was very good-looking even under all the black and pink layers of anime-type clothing. But it was her eyes that grabbed my attention. They were even more intensely green than mine. They were Babushka Bo’s eyes. A vision of the green-eyed man on the cliff flicked into my mind again. I pushed it away.

Angie must have noticed me staring at her eyes, because she said, “I told your grandmother that she and I were twins separated at birth, but she didn’t like that.”

“You talked with my grandmother?”

“Well, I talked, and she was in the same room. Does that count? She doesn’t talk much, does she?” Angie said. There was genuine concern in those remarkable eyes.

“No, she doesn’t, but she listens well,” I replied. Babushka Bo had spoken a total of about a dozen words in the last year. I didn’t like that Angie might have bothered her. Somehow it made me feel insecure. I tried to stop that train of thought, too. I had felt enough emotion today. I could feel my tears start to return.

“Are you in pain, dear?” asked a nurse. She was trying to rotate my bed to take me somewhere. Mom and Dad were still dealing with all the hospital’s paperwork. “You’re lucky. Dr. Gordon had an unexpected cancellation, and nobody ever cancels on him! You’re in very good hands. In a few months, your leg will be as good as new.”

“Yes, lucky,” I replied. I didn’t feel lucky.

“You’ll get to stay home from school for a long time. Definitely lucky,” Peter pouted.

“Peter? Angie? Do you mind giving us a bit of privacy?” Mom asked. She hardly made a sound as she entered the room and walked to my bedside. She sounded better than I expected.

“Come on, Peter,” Angie said. “We’ll play hearts on my cell phone.” She led Peter away.
“I’ll come back for her in a few minutes,” said the nurse.

“Thank you.” It was just Mom and me in the small curtained partition of the emergency room. “What happened at school?” she asked.

“Sam saw me kissing Derek,” I said. It sounded like my voice.

“Hmm.” It was difficult to read Mom’s face. But she had certainly heard the whole story by now and must have figured I’d lost it.

“She saw me. The whole school saw.” Tears started to flow now. It was not how I had hoped to have this conversation.

“I didn’t even know you felt that way about him. And Derek isn’t worth breaking your leg for.” Mom sounded tired.

“Who cares about Derek?” I really wished she didn’t insist on us talking about this. It wasn’t helping.
“It’s Sam,” my mother sighed.

“We’ve been friends for ten years! I knew how much she liked Derek. But he was just… there. And before I knew what happened, we were kissing. I don’t even like him that much. I was… it just happened! I didn’t want it! And even if I liked him, I was perfectly happy to have Sam have him.”

Mom just stared at me. She didn’t interrupt.

“Really! Even if I really liked Derek… there’d be other guys. But Sam and I were going to be together forever. We were going to go to the same schools, work for the same companies, plan each other’s weddings, take care of our kids together.” I noticed that I had spoken of my relationship with Sam in the past tense. It just made me feel sicker inside. I was crying so hard now that I could barely speak. “Why did he do it?”

“He?”

“I…”

“Why do you think you did it, Jo?”

“It just happened. Just happened,” I repeated. “I can’t take it back. I don’t think Sam and I are friends anymore.”

“She’s been calling all day–” Mom said.

Oh, God. “You didn’t tell her about the accident, did you? Sam’s not coming here, is she?” I was horrified. That would be too much. I had hurt her so; I couldn’t have her worry about me in the hospital.

“For now, a clean break seemed best,” Mom said, glancing at my leg. She was very upset for me. “Not every friendship works out, Jo. We told her not to contact you. At least not until you’re ready. That’s what you wanted?”

A clean break from my ex-best friend sounded terrifying, but it was what I desperately wanted. I couldn’t bear to face her. I was just too evil. Too selfish to have friends. To deserve Sam. Or Derek. I was a bad person. Somehow, yelling at myself inside my head made feel a bit better.

2. Thursday to Sunday

I don’t like hospitals. There’s no privacy, and people constantly demand your attention. Mom was there a lot. And Babushka Bo came, brought real food, and sat quietly by my bedside for hours. Angie stopped by a few times and brought me little boxes of rice candy to “supplement my nutrition.” They were good. All the doctors and nurses seemed to know and like her. Some people are just like that, I guess.

Likable. Well, I was different.

TV helped a bit. Daytime soaps seem so contrived though. And yet how was my life any better? My best friend had caught me kissing her first real boyfriend in front of the whole school. I ran away, fell off a cliff, and broke my leg, requiring surgery and large metal screws. That’s a script for a cheesy soap opera, not real life. I deserved those screws.

I switched over to Star Trek and Stargate reruns. But like the soaps, they seemed almost realistic in comparison to my life.

The nights were worse. I couldn’t watch television at night — the noise would disturb other patients, I was told. But nights were bad for me. It was like my brain was stuck on auto-repeat. I kept reliving the moment Derek and I kissed. I saw it from different angles. I felt his lips and tasted the chocolate from that candy bar he’d eaten earlier.

But this was only half as bad as my endless imagined conversations with Sam. She kept asking me: Why? Did I really like Derek that much? What about her? About Sam? Didn’t I care about how she felt? Didn’t I understand that we were friends forever, that we loved each other much more than some guy? Was being with Derek so much better than being with her? Was she happy now? Was I? Was Derek? How did I think I was going to survive school after this? How was she?

It was a painful conversation loop. Self-torture. A fitting punishment for betrayal, perhaps.

And since my parents wouldn’t let me have access to a computer, I couldn’t read the school gossip. I could only imagine the extent of my social humiliation, the total collapse of my social life. But that was no problem; I have a good imagination.

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