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.


2. CH2

Sorry. I had to stop. I didn’t think this would be so hard. Or maybe I did, which is why I’ve avoided talking about it. Either way, I hope you can read my writing. It isn’t the neatest, but it’s been a while since I’ve used a pen and paper to write anything other than a list. I wonder what the woman at the table next to mine thinks I’m writing. 

She keeps glancing at me so maybe she’s seen my nose stud and black nail varnish and thinks I’m a writer. Every-one in Paris is a writer, a writer or a poet. I don’t know what it is about this city, whether it’s the coffee or that when it rains everything looks slightly smudged, like a watercolour, but everyone here has a story they want to tell. I’m no different, I suppose, even if you’re the only one who’s going to hear it.

I’m going to assume that you don’t remember much about that morning, but you must remember how hot it was, the hottest day on record since 1976. It was horrendous, had been for months. It started Easter weekend and got steadily hotter so that by the time I arrived in Paris in June, the makeshift beach on the banks of the Seine was already open, a month earlier than usual. It was raining when I left London so I was startled to step off the train and feel the sun spilling through the glass roof. Startled then furious, its brightness in direct defiance of my mood.I won’t bore you with the saga that is me and my father. 

Here are the CliffsNotes: My mother died on Christmas Eve and in the New Year Dad said that he wanted to move home to France and accepted a job at Hôpital Lariboisière. Three months after that, at the end of March to be precise, he married Agatha. I don’t know what more to say. I don’t understand it and I probably never will. I’ll try to watch what I say about Agatha, though, because you need to make up your own mind about her, but I’m not her biggest fan. But that was the deal: I could stay in London with my grandmother and finish my A-levels on the proviso that I spend the summer with Dad. I didn’t want to, but I was so desperate to stay at home that I would have agreed to anything. Besides, I assumed he’d be too distracted with his new job and new wife to remember, but he did, and as cross as I was I must admit, I was quietly relieved not to be forgotten.

The weather was a blessing at first; the perfect excuse to escape the apartment and the stiff pleasantries Dad, Agatha and I exchanged every morning between sips of tea. ‘A proper summer for a change,’ he kept saying with a knowing smile, as though the city was a second-hand car he was trying to sell me. I should have known then what he was up to, but I was too busy gorging on the sunshine to question his motives.

This is your first time in Paris, right? Before the summer I’d only been here a few times myself. My father’s from Carcassonne, in the South, so I’ve only been here for the odd weekend, usually when I’ve charmed Dad into letting me tag along to whatever medical conference he’s speaking at. This is the first time I’ve been here in the summer, though. The city looks so different. It usually has a greyish hue, but in the sun, the buildings look scrubbed white and the sky’s huge, this bright, unbroken blue that reminds me how tiny I am.

At first, I loved it. I ate ice cream and drank pastis and sat in parks reading magazines until I fell asleep (probably because of the pastis, which, no matter how much I water it down, is still lethal). It was so perfect that I almost forgot that I didn’t want to be here. When the sun was at its hottest it reminded me of Barbados, of ambling around Brighton Farmer’s Market, my dress sticking to my back as my grandmother sniffed mangoes and chatted to the woman filleting fish. It’s a heat you can’t fight, that you just have to give in to, and Paris did. The whole city slowed, everyone surrendering to the weight of the sun. There wasn’t a bus worth running for, an occasion worth venturing out at midday for. The roads became sluggish, scooters not darting up and down them with the same urgency. I know there wasn’t one in London, but by July there was a water shortage here, which left the city smelling like the inside of a broken fridge. The fountains and sprinklers were turned off, leaving window boxes to wither and lawns to scorch.

Before long it was too hot to sit outside, which is the only joy of such vicious weather, so people began to lose their patience. I did, too. I had no idea it would get to me so much. After all, I usually divide my summers between my family in Carcassonne and Barbados, so it’s not like I’m not used to the heat. But there’s a vast difference between falling asleep on a beach and having to get the Metro when it’s so hot you can’t summon the energy to hold onto the handrail.

It made the city feel even more unwelcoming, but in the end, the heat was what united me with the Parisians. I’d roll my eyes at the person sitting opposite me on the bus as I fanned myself with the copy of 20 minutes I’d found on my seat or agree with the waiter that the weather was insufferable when he brought my pastis. ‘Il pleuvra bientôt,’ everyone kept saying. But it didn’t rain and the heat got thicker and thicker until it seemed to inhabit the city. I could feel it curling around me, licking at my skin when I walked down the street. Even inside you could feel the nearness of it, following you from room to room like a cat demanding to be fed.

At least in Barbados, in the shade of my aunt’s porch, the breeze soothed the sting of the sun. But here, I feel hemmed in, the buildings inching closer and closer every day. And there’s always someone in the way, a kid spilling Coke onto the already sticky pavement or someone trying to jump the queue at Carrefour. I get it now, why much of Paris is on les vacances from mid-July, but then I was surprised when some of the cafés began to close as well, tired of the complaints about the lack of air conditioning and the people who took up tables for hours so they could take off their shoes and rub sun cream into their burnt arms until the sun began its retreat.

Those who could headed South. We usually do, too, but even there it was unbearable. It was too hot for my grandparents, who headed to Toronto to spend the summer with my uncle and his family. So Dad suggested that when my boyfriend, Pan, got here (a condition he was forced to agree to if he wanted me to come) we go to Marseille instead. He said we could rent a boat and sail to Cassis, which sounded blissful until I realised ‘we’ included Agatha and I refused, reasoning that Paris in the summer couldn’t be more claustrophobic than being stuck on a boat with her for five days.

It got even hotter after that, as if to spite me, so by the end of July, the city began to wilt, the news reporting melting roads and fights in supermarkets over the last bag of ice. I started to walk everywhere. Not that it was easier, but it was better than enduring the stuffiness of the Metro or the white and turquoise buses that chug around the city belching out even more heat. So when July melted into August – not long before I got in touch with you, actually – I was tired of it, exhausted by the perpetual stickiness that cold showers only offered a brief respite from.

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