Alice Maisonneuve was tossing and turning in her bed. These dreams always woke her up in the middle of the night, and she'd spend hours trying to get back to sleep. It had all started a few months after meeting a red-headed woman at the Lyon airport, on her way back to Australia. Just a few times at first, Alice had dreamt about her old life in Lyon, her friends, and some of her former students. One student in particular, actually and it had been easy to push those dreams away at first.
But then the dreams kept coming back. Every. Single. Night. And this time her friends were gone. It was just her. Only her, all the time. Maya...Why now, after six years of not thinking about her? Was it only because she had spent twenty minutes with that woman, and talked about her former student? The red-headed woman's name was Ariane, and she was Maya's best friend...or was she her sister? Heart Sisters felt right, so it had to be it. And because of her, she was back in Lyon every night. And every single night she dreamed of a different reunion. Or sometimes she'd be back at the airport with Ariane. Sometimes they would talk more, but no matter what, she'd always board the plane, leaving for Australia…
Until one dream in which she doesn't. In this particular dream, Alice forgot her passport. She couldn't board, there's nothing she could do but go home at the time. Australia was going to have to wait.
That night, Alice woke up in a start, almost falling off of her bed. She got up, breathing heavily. She had never been a "sign-of the universe" kind of girl, but those dreams were too vivid to ignore. She felt restless and spent the whole day wandering around Sydney. And then when she came back home, without even thinking about it, she had started packing. Three hours later, she was on a plane on her way to France. She hadn't said good-bye to anyone, didn't water the plants, she might even had forgotten to turn off the lights.
At the airport, she had looked everywhere to see if someone was waiting for her, but no one was there. Alice had really packed and left, like nothing mattered more than getting the hell out of Australia. The journey from Sydney was exhausting and when Alice arrived in Lyon she felt drained and hollow. Then right here, she realized that she had no idea where to go. She put down her luggage in the middle of the big hall and started…laughing at loud. What had she been thinking? She must have gone completely mad. Twenty hours of flying and she didn't even know where to go? She had set her mind on the only place she could think of and hailed a cab "To Ecully please".
It was the middle of the day right then, and Alice knew she would be welcomed at the school. "Shit, it's so odd to be back there." It always had been. So much of her life had happened here. She got to the castle and looked around, but not much had changed since she was last here. She's greeted by familiar faces as she walks around and she's about to call an old friend when she sees the poster announcing an "Alumni meeting". The guest speaker is no other than the girl she's chasing after. Maya. Her heart missed a beat when she saw her bright smile on the poster. And realized how much she missed it. Can you miss someone without realizing it? The sight of her immediately brought tons of memories back. Classes, meetings in their favorite bar, drunk gala nights, and the way her ex-student used to look at her.
The meeting was scheduled for the next day and the date made her realize that she hadn't slept for about two days, and that she was about to collapse. She called Matthew, one of the of her colleague left working here. Alice was zoning out, waiting for him on a chair, when she heard a faraway voice telling her that she could come back later, that she should rest.
It was Matthew looking at her, a bit concerned. Had he been talking for long? She accepted the keys to his place and left, hoping to catch at least a few hours of sleep. She passed before a familiar bar on her way to Lyon, and asked the cab to stop. She got out, thinking she saw a familiar figure inside but stopped, her hand on the door handle. She shook her head, clearly too tired to think straight. She'd have to come back the following day.
When Alice got to her colleague's place, she didn't bother unpacking and avoided looking at her face. She knew she looked sleep deprived. She got in bed and stared at the ceiling for a long time before giving up to slumber.
She woke up early the next day, having slept almost twelve hours. She stayed still for a little while, waiting for the events of the last two days to settle in her mind. Then spoke aloud in the room "What. The Fuck. Alice?". She spent the afternoon unpacking and calling friends to say hello. They were all quite baffled with her sudden return but didn't ask for further details. She had the distinctive feeling that everyone was expecting it, and she didn't want to linger on that thought. At six, she had started to get dressed. She put on some jeans but then her eyes fell on a beautiful black dress, which she knew showed her back beautifully. She put it on, then stayed still, watching herself in the mirror. "What?" she asked her reflection.
Of course, her reflection didn't answer. Alice sighed and felt like an idiot for a second. Matthew knocked on her door, asking if she was ready. He peeked in and raised an eyebrow at her. "Too much?" she asked. He just chuckled and said something along the lines of "just enough". She felt nervous and like she could've slept for another twelve hours. Her concealer didn't do much to the dark circles under her eyes and she was fidgeting with the ring on her thumb as they approached the castle in Matthew's car.
Her friend put a hand on her shoulder "Calm down, I've never seen you so nervous" which made her let out a strangled laugh. Everyone was there. So many known faces which were followed by kisses on the cheeks, hugs and pats on the back. Everyone seemed so happy to see her and she wondered why she had left. She was only half present, as she was busy scanning the crowd for a tall figure, complete with dark hair. In fact, she was so focused that she smashed into someone as she was walking. Alice started apologizing before realizing it was Ariane, who was looking at her with a wide yet slightly sarcastic smile.
Alice choked a little before trying and failing miserably to put on her poker face. Ariane's smirk deepened but she turned around and walked away, heading for the bar. Paused. Looked back and sat on a high stool. Alice followed suit and sat next to her. The woman slid a drink over to her as she said "Deja-vu, right?"
Alice sipped from her drink to try and get her composure back. The red-head still looked directly at her, gauging. Silence grew, just like during their last meeting. "Say something Alice..." she urged herself silently. But she didn't have to, the redhead beat her to the punch.
" So…you're back…
- Yes, I guess I am…It wasn't really planned to be honest.
- Hmmm. Well how great that it's just the day Maya is back too right? Almost like a perfect coincidence…"
She could have sworn that Ariane's smile looked like the Cheshire Cat's. It felt like she was toying with her. Alice drained her drink, feeling exposed. She hated to be played with. Ariane was sipping calmly on an apricot drink, and suddenly turned her head to the stage. Alice followed her gaze but didn't see anyone.
As she went to order another drink, the Cheshire lady told her "You're going to want to remember tonight, I think". Alice scoffed because she could handle her liquor just fine, thank you. She ordered something non-alcoholic anyway. Ariane laughed silently, as if she knew exactly what was about to happen.
The lights started to dim a bit and they both looked at the stage. Alice's heart was pounding, her palms sweating. Just before everything went dark, she heard Ariane whisper "If you make her happy, God knows I'll be the first to cheer for you. But if you chicken out again…" She looked at the Cheshire girl. She looked deadly serious but then relaxed and smiled "Well I'm afraid I'd have to break your knees so…Woman up, girl! Ta ta!" and with a wink, she left the stool and headed towards the stage, clapping with the others. The room was finally pitch dark with only one bright light on stage.
Alice heard clapping, a thunderous amount of it, actually. It was muffled in her head though, she knew it was happening but couldn't really grasp reality. And then, Alice saw Maya. Her face looked softer, somehow. Less angry. She smiled and waved at the crowd, as if she had done this a thousand times before. Alice then realized she didn't really knew who the woman on the stage was anymore. She felt her legs shake a little, and almost bolted out of the door, but remembered the advice she had just received.
And the presentation had started. She couldn't believe it had been six years since they said goodbye. The woman in front of her wasn't her student anymore, she was beaming with pride and accomplishment. She was wrapping her audience around her finger so easily, pausing for jokes she delivered with a witty smile. Alice laughed with the others. She began to move towards the stage, not really listening, but drawn to Maya like a butterfly to the light. She was standing in the middle of the crowd when the speech ended.
The lights went on again and Maya's eyes fell directly on her. She was mid sip of a glass of water and choked on her drink when she saw her, turning a little pale. Alice smiled because while the woman in front of her had aged, she also didn't seem to have changed much. She could feel the gaze of the people around them and tried to erase the amused smile she was sporting. The woman on stage was now taking questions from people in the crowd, and she was almost tempted to mess with her a little, but refrained from doing so when she saw her former student darting semi panicked looks at her sister.
She saw Ariane wave a little "relax it's ok" which seemed to calm Maya down. And suddenly, the whole scene made her realize how powerful the girl's feelings must have been at the time. And how much a coward she had been. The knees threat made much more sense now. "Ok Alice, you were in Australia three days ago, you have no idea what you're going to do when she gets off that stage but don't mess this up" she muttered to herself as she went back to the bar. She sat and watched Maya as she went down in the crowd, shaking hands, smiling and posing for pictures with star struck students. Her sister hugged her and seemed to whisper something to her, then gently nudged Maya towards the bar.
Alice could see her eyeing the door and the seat next to her, back and forth, almost hearing her inner conflict. She tried to encourage her by smiling gently and tilting her head. The girl took a deep breath and came closer, now full on smiling. She stopped next to her stool and breathed out a "Hi", her voice a little hoarse from contained emotion. Alice cleared her throat, chuckled and said "Fancy meeting you here". She was looking in her brown eyes, and suddenly laughed out loud at the absurdity of the situation. She went in for a hug and saw Ariane watching them from afar, smirking. The hug lasted for a half second too long and they both avoided each other's eyes after. The barman broke the tension by sliding two glasses towards them and they couldn't take their eyes from each other as they toasted.
Silence hung between them.
"So…I see things are doing great for you? Alice asked.
- Yeah…Life between Vancouver and Lyon, coming back to school sometimes to promote it". She shrugged with a smile, playing with her glass without drinking it.
- I've been in Australia for the last five years. I…um. Well, I came here on whim, to be honest? Maya smiled.
- What a happy coincidence! And what have you been doing in Australia?"
Alice opened and closed her mouth a couple times and shrugged. She felt self-conscious, all of the sudden. She couldn't meet Maya eye's anymore. The brunette asked if she was alright but Alice said nothing for a little while.
"Yeah…I…Jetlag you know…So I was in Australia and uh…"
She was getting more and more confused
"Started thinking about everything I was missing here and uh…"
She tried to compose herself once more with a "and uh…" but failed. She was cut when the Cheshire lady put a hand on her sister's shoulder.
"Sorry to interrupt the reunion, but I'm leaving. Just wanted to say goodbye."
The two sisters hugged and shared a hushed conversation. Ariane was giving a stern look to her little sister and sighed dramatically. Maya was trying to hush her and they ended up laughing. They hugged it out and Alice almost felt like an intruder, looking at them. The oldest came up to her, squeezed her shoulder and told her that she was sure she would see her around very soon! Wasn't that right?" It left her a little bit confused and by the rosy color of Maya's cheeks, she guessed it was something they had discussed before. Ariane left with a "ta ta dears" and Alice looked back at her former student with a smug little smile.
"But tell me more about you, it's been so long!" Said Maya again, probably to try and change the subject.
And so she did. The two sisters' conversation had allowed her to breathe and regain some self-control. She told her about Australia and the job opportunity at the New South Wales Gallery she got, curating the major exhibits for them. "And...what about him?" Maya asked at one point, and Alice could hear apprehension in her voice. "Oh. Well. He's been out of the picture for good for a while now." This brought a gigantic smile on the girl's face and Alice almost gaped at it.
They kept talking about their lives, exchanging news about their families, former students and teachers while the room was emptying around them. Matthew was hovering near them, seemingly wanting to tell them something but not wanting to interrupt. Maya nodded in his direction and he hurried to tell them he was going to leave, that they could not stay for much longer because they would have to close the school. The two women, lost in their world, looked at one another and, just with a look, agreed to meet at their usual bar. The one in which Alice had almost gone in the previous day. Maya offered to drive but as soon as they got into the car, the air turned thick. It was easier with people around them…
Maya turned the ignition, started to drive but stopped suddenly. She turned to watch the woman next to her thoughtfully then asked with a little smile. "Wanna drive to the sea?" The answer came with an even bigger smile "Yes".