For Holly

Lola Durand hates her stepmother. It's a cliché but it's true.

Lola Durand can't get through to her father. He never wants to talk about the things that matter: why they had to move to Paris, why he had to marry evil Agatha, and how they can get through the heartache of her mother's death together.

If he won't listen, she'll show him. She'll show him the truth about his new wife and then her life can go back to normal, just the way she likes it.

Lola Durand knows a secret about her stepmother. She's going to share it.

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1. CH1

There are only four people who know this story. Five including me.

You’re the sixth.

As always, there are two sides to this: the one everyone knows and ours.

The one everyone knows is well documented so if you don’t believe me, and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, then you’re welcome to find out for yourself. But either way you’re not going to be able to avoid it because that’s how you’ll be defined from now on, as the girl who was at Gare du Nord. People will tell you how brave you are – that you’re a fighter – and you’ll have to just thank them with a smile and agree that you’re lucky, even though you feel anything but.

That’s why I don’t tell anyone I was there, because I don’t want to hear them say how glad they are that they weren’t. I overhear people talking about it sometimes, about how they should have been there but slept through their alarm. I don’t know why you’d want to lie about something like that, but I guess that’s what people do when these things happen. They want to be a part of it, sign their name to it. If I believed half the stuff I’ve heard then most of Paris was there. I doubt they’re all lying, but even so, it’s the way they say it that makes me want to be sick, like they’re special. Not lucky but special, as though they were spared because they’re a good wife or brother or friend. That’s rubbish. I need you to know that. Don’t think for a second that you were there because you’re none of those things. Sometimes you just sleep through your alarm. That’s it. You can call it luck or fate or whatever helps you sleep at night, but no one is that special.

No one.

Then there’s what happened to us. I hear the date all the time – 31 August – but I don’t think about what happened at Gare du Nord, I think about you. About what I did. That’s why I don’t talk about it, because I can’t, because you shouldn’t have been there and that’s my fault. I don’t even know how to begin to say sorry for that, but I’m going to try.

I don’t know how much you remember about that morning. Not much, probably. I don’t remember all of it, either, just pieces. It’s a bit like when you break a glass and you think you’ve swept it all up, but weeks later, you step on a shard and cut yourself. I remember the big bits that everyone knows, the stuff that was on the news, but it’s the little things that hurt, the things no one knows. The email I almost sent at 4 a.m. telling you not to come. How much I worried about what to wear as if I cared what you thought of me. That’s why I was running late, not because I’m special, but because I didn’t know what to wear. So I wasn’t even there when it happened – I was in a cab waiting to turn onto rue de Dunkerque – and while I was close enough to Gare du Nord to see it all play out, I didn’t see enough to be of interest to the pack of journalists who descended on the city soon after, picking through the debris with wolfish hunger as they tried to find the right angle to secure the next day’s front page.

I hope I don’t sound disappointed about that because I’m not. I have thought about it, though, because I should have been there. If I got my shit together that morning I would have been standing under the Arrivals board when it happened, waiting for your train to pull in. That would have made the front page, I’m sure. Young, sweet Lola Durand, only seventeen and still smarting from the loss of my mother. You know what it’s like to lose someone you love so I think you get how much I hate referring to my mother’s death as a loss, as though she was a pair of sunglasses I left in the back of a cab. Taken is more apt. Stolen. Not that there’s a word big enough – or loud enough – to describe it. But that’s what the newspapers would have said, I’m sure. I’ve even thought about which photograph they would have used. Probably the one my father keeps in his wallet, me smiling loosely, potential burning through my school uniform.

But I wasn’t there that morning. I’m lucky, Dad says. 

Maybe in a few years, when I don’t have to fly to Paris because I’m too scared to get the train or when I can sleep through the night without being woken by the sudden snap of smashing glass I’ll be able to smile when he says that.

Until then I don’t feel lucky at all.

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