He finds her unassumingly. She's just standing there, cheeks ruddy, bundled in a forest green jacket lined with fake—he thinks—fur. He finds her, hands in pockets, feet atop the grass. The light that floods the panes of her face casts dark shadows beneath her eyes and along her jaw and he thinks for a moment that she might be kind of beautiful.
"Why are you standing before the Eiffel Tower and looking so sad?"
Her head snaps. He counts, one, two, three, seconds, and then she turns her face upward toward the monument in front of the two. They are alone. She doesn't say anything and then she's saying something and he has to turn his attention from the angles of her face to her brown, brown, brown eyes.
"Do you think it's lonely?" Of course not, he thinks. Of course not.
But all he can utter is no as he stares up at it. When she asks him why he sputters and turns to face her again, and she quakes. He flexes his hand and shrugs because she's really pretty and it's the first time in a long time that he isn't thinking about having a smoke since he quit and he's sure that she's the reason why.
"Because so many people look at her. They adore her. How can she ever be lonely when she is never left alone?"
But she's so big and all the people, they are so little—
He laughs, running fingers through his blonde hair. "I understand now. I understand. It must be so lonely." She stills before him, fingers clenching and disappearing into the sleeve of her coat. He thinks he can hear her teeth as they grind against one another.
And then she folds, he's reaching out and catching her tiny body in his arms. He can feel her shaking as sobs rack her body. All he can do as her knees buckle is pull her down onto the wet grass beneath them, letting her body collapse into itself as she cries. Her chestnut hair becomes a veil between herself and the world outside his arms, because he tries to brush it away to wipe her tears but she jerks her head reflexively and he just wraps the arm around her waist instead.
She's different this time, he decides.
Somehow he untangles her limbs from one another and picks her up off the ground and she gurgles some form of address—Le Meurice, 343—it just happens to be a miracle that he's lived here all his life.
(Miracles, she'll tell him one day, lying in her bed, facing away from him, don't exist. Spit in one hand, wish in the other, see which one fills up faster.)
He drags her into the lobby, then up the elevator, then down the red-carpeted hallway to her room. He wonders how she could afford such a lavish hotel and then stops himself because who is he to wonder about such things, he doesn't even know this girl's name. She stumbles into the door frame, shoulder against the door as she searches for her key and when she finally unlocks the door he's not sure if he should come in or not. So he stands outside, toes still touching the red of the hallway and not the cream of her room, his hand against the heavy door. She doesn't bother to turn the lights on.
"What's your name?"
"I'd love to show you around Paris. If that's—if that's okay with—"
Suddenly. a hand shoots out of the darkness that is her room and she grabs his wrist within her small, bony fingers. She writes one, two, three, five, seven digits upon his hand, then laughs. But it's not a happy laugh, nor a funny laugh. It's dry and nervous and reminds him of his dad when he would try to assure his wife that no, he wasn't cheating.
And then she shuts the door and he hears the lock click into place.
He calls her in the morning. Ten, for brunch, maybe. She answers on the fourth ring when he's just considering giving up.
"Is this Meredith?" There's a laugh from the other end.
"Is this Damien?" Now, he laughs in return, breathing a yes into the receiver.
"I was wondering if you'd like to get something from a nearby cafe with me. And then I could show you around, give you the tour and all." His words are messier than he would've liked because her voice sounds different when she's not choking on sadness and something bitter that he wasn't sure he could name. His fingers fumbled together as he holds his cellphone between his ear and shoulder.
"I'd love that."
His finger taps against the dark oak table he has in his living room. His fingers itch for a cigarette.
"So tell me about you." He smiles down at her, blue eyes drinking in the sight of her. She's smiling, too, boots slapping against the pavement with a bounce he didn't see last night—in fact, he pretends last night didn't happen.
She laughs aloud, but he sees her teeth sink into her bottom lip.
"Well, obviously I'm Meredith. I'm twenty-two, and I don't really know what I'm doing with my life."
He ends up paying for her hot chocolate and caramel biscotti, along with his own hot black coffee. What do you mean by that, he asks.
"It's hard to explain," she chews on her lip, but he tells her he'll listen and try to understand. "It's..." she trails off, but he encourages her to go on. Her lashes rest against the hollows of her eyes as she sighs. He takes a sip of his coffee and wishes that he could take her hand and comfort her but he's not really sure why since he's never wanted to do that before for anyone.
"I've just never really done anything for myself," she says. She looks away, out the window, frowning softly. "Whenever I do things I just... never take myself into consideration. So trying to decide on something to do for myself my whole life is hard." With that, she sips her drink, and pursues him instead. Tell me about you, she repeats.
"I'm twenty-five and I've lived here all my life. That's about it." He laughs because it's so true and he feels boring.
I'm sure that's not it. What do you do for a living?
"I do a lot of assorted stuff. But what I do as a source of income isn't what I've always wanted to do. I wanted to own a restaurant." Again, he laughs and he thinks that so much of their time is spent filled with nervous laughter.
So what do you do?
He cracks. "I model."
And then she laughs. It sounds so harsh against the soft murmur of French in the cafe. It sounds like her teeth ripping against one another, clashing like she's gnawing on last night's dinner's bone and it makes him shudder. When he looks inside her mouth all he sees is sores, red like blood, against the inside of her cheeks.
And when she is finally done laughing she is wiping reflex tears from her brown, brown, brown eyes. He frowns.
"I didn't mean to laugh. It's great that you can make money off just being beautiful. Are you famous or anything?"
He shakes the feeling off and smiles again, looking down at his cup of coffee. "I'm not famous, no. Well-known, maybe. And it's not the best job, but it's something."
Again, she makes the sound of her teeth scraping marrow from the bone. Of course you see it that way—
You're beautiful. People adore you because you're beautiful and then people like us who have never been beautiful and never will be would jump at the chance to be adored because of something like that. It's fascinating. But we're two different people—
"You don't think you're beautiful?"
Laughter. I know I'm not beautiful.
He counts. One, two, three. And then she stands up and walks out the door and in some kind of rush he follows because he's sorry and she shakes it off and smiles and laughs again and he's happy as long as she's smiling and he can't describe this feeling. He wants to give her the world, but he wants to shield her from it, all at the same time.
(I don't want it to sound like I'm the most selfless girl out there, she tells him, because I'm not. I'm selfish.
Do you ever wish you could fly away? Fly, fly away, like a bird. She reaches up and pulls a leaf from a nearby tree. But to fly you have to be a leaf on the wind. Weightless. It floats away from her grasp.)
That night he calls his best friend.
("I met him in America after my mom died. He gave me a place to stay."
"I'm sorry," she says, and he tells her not to be.)
It picks up after one ring and his eardrum explodes with a loud greeting, something he was expecting but still came as unexpected, just as a lot of things in his life he thinks.
"Hey John, hey. I need to talk to you about something."
"If it's going to cost me a plane ticket to France I'm hanging up."
He laughs. "I promise it won't."
He counts the silence in two's before he decides to break it.
"I met a girl." And that's when he realizes that he can't even remember where he put his emergency pack anymore, because the lighter isn't in the front pocket of his jeans anymore.
It's a week into it when he finds himself in front of that damned Eiffel Tower with her again. But this time, she's looking at him instead and her chestnut hair is windblown and beautiful and her eyes are bright with the reflection of the lights and he thinks she's so gorgeous. And then he takes her face in his two hands and leans her head back so that he can kiss her.
And he does. And when their lips touch it turns into a frenzy—he's not sure what she wants but her hands are roaming up and over his shoulders and suddenly he's so hungry for her—with his hand bunching in her long locks and her teeth nipping, like a puppy, at his bottom lip and for a moment he thinks about the sores on the inside of her cheeks and then—
Just like that, she's gone. She pushes him away, muttering I can't, I can't, I can't. She turns to run but he grabs her hands. They are so much smaller than his. He is so large and she is so small like predator and prey. But she is no prey.
"For once in your life, let yourself have something."
I can't, she chants like she's bewitched and her fingers are flexing, trying to get away from his grasp.
"Do you feel anything for me?" he shouts, and she stops thrashing. Her hands fall on his chest, above his stomach. She's shivering and shaking her head but then she stutters out a yes and the world stops for just a second. "For once in your life," he repeats weakly, "do something for you."
I am! She rips herself away from him, raggedly crying out as she stumbles away and he tries to catch her, but she doesn't let him. I'm doing this for me. I'm protecting myself. I'm saving myself. She caves in on herself like she's trying to hide her heart away. She sobs.
"You think—You think I'm going to hurt you? That I can't protect you?" She keeps saying no, no, no, like it will change something. Her knees hit the grass, hair hiding her face like it did the first time they met.
"I would never intentionally hurt you," he roars. "I'll protect you!"
That's what they all said.
"I'm not like them, I swear—"
You don't know me.
And then she's really gone. He blinks, and she's gone. And maybe he can't catch her. But he knows her hotel, and he knows what room she's staying in, and he knows that he's got to fix this.
He goes after her.
Not halfway to her room, he can hear her sobs. He knocks, one, two, three times, but knows she won't answer. So instead he sits against the door, and swear he can feel her heat from the other side.
"Please, Meredith, let me in. Or at least—at least listen to what I have to say." She doesn't say anything, but she quiets her sobs and sniffles a few times, and he takes that as a sign that she's there and she's going to hear him out and maybe he can fix the mess he's made. He lets his head hit the door, sighing.
"You're right. I don't know you. But you know what I do know?"
His hand flexes, the skin stretching taut. There are lines running deep through the skin and his veins are colored blue and crisscrossed and he clenches it into a fist again because he's not sure what else to do.
"I know you're selfless. Incredibly so. I know you're brave and smart and charming. I know you hate coffee and love sweets. I know you can't speak French." She sniffles again and he thinks maybe he's making some progress and maybe she'll open the door.
"And I also know you're beautiful. Gorgeous. And it doesn't matter if you feel so small in comparison to those who you love. Because I'll adore you even if you're larger than me or smaller than me. I'll adore you because of your beauty and your brains and everything in between.
"You don't have to be lonely."
"You don't get it," her voice comes through the cracks of the door so weakly he wants to rip it off the frame and just take her into his arms.
"Then explain it."
"The wolf," she cries. "There's a wolf inside me. It's threatening to eat me, to consume me in every way, you just don't understand." She's sobbing now, beating her head against the door.
"The wolf! The wolf, he'll tear my insides apart, you don't understand. He's consuming my every being. I can't control it. I can't."
"Meredith, I don't care about any of that. You're still beautiful, so beautiful to me. And, if it's okay with you, I'm in love with you. With every part of you."
She cries and cries and he sits at her door until she stops crying and then he still sits until finally, someone from the staff comes up and kicks him out and he goes home and wonders how long he should let her sleep. How long it will take her.
(What's it like being beautiful? Her hand ghosts over his forehead.
You should know.)
He's called in as a suspect.
They let him go an hour later because he mumbles through all the questions, tears leaking out of his blue eyes, because when they show him the pictures from the crime scene he is livid because her brown, brown, brown eyes are so dead that he punches the wall in the interrogation room and they threaten to call security.
When he gets home he calls his best friend but all he can do is sob quietly, and when John asks if he should buy a ticket to Paris he can only hiccup and hope John forgets about the promise he made.
He asks him to bring him a pack of Marlboros. Please.
He collects every single paper that has her name in it. They litter his floor like a minefield.
"Twenty-two year old American woman: Suicide or wild animal attack? What kind of shit is that..." He watches John pick a newspaper off the floor and thumb through it. "The picture is horrifying. She looks like she was—"
Half-eaten. Gnawed through. Take your pick, he thinks.
"What do they think attacked her? Oh, here it says that the police confirm it was suicide... But that doesn't explain how-"
"A wolf." His eyes are empty when he looks up from the floor to his best friend. "A wolf," he repeats.
"You think a wolf could've done that? How? She was on the third floor." But he shakes his head because John doesn't understand.
"She mutilated herself. They said that she had scars all over her body when she was found. Her right leg, the one that hadn't been hacked to pieces, her thigh had all sorts of scars, both old and new. Her stomach, too. They said it had to have been suicide. She was depressed. She was so depressed."
"That still doesn't explain her body—"
(Hair matted with blood. Right shoulder, bone showing, skin pulled from collarbone. Right arm, chewed, pieces cut off, hand missing. Left arm, deep lacerations, fingers missing, skin stripped. Right leg, lacerations, chunks cut off, foot cut off, chewed. Left leg, severed completely, thigh missing pieces, calf chewed, toes missing. Stomach, gutted, cause of death.
Brown, brown, brown eyes, open, empty, dead.)
"She mutilated herself, John. She did that to herself."
The silence was deafening.
Two days later, there's a pounding on the door and he's so afraid that it's the police come to take him away because he knew that he doesn't make a move and John gets up to answer it.
"Are you Damien Sauveterre?" He can hear a woman's voice from where he sits on the couch.
"No, but he's a bit ill right now-"
"Ill my fucking ass." There's a thud, and then suddenly, he turns his head and she's there. Fire is alight in her eyes.
"Are you Damien Sauveterre? Of course you are."
"Yes, but I don't believe we've-"
He's on the floor before the sensors in his brain register the pain. A deep, fiery pain roots itself in his cheek where she punched him, and he rubs his jaw. He picks himself up off the ground, barely.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"Get off of me! He let my best friend die!" she screams, and suddenly, it all makes sense.
"You're right," he says monotonously. "You're right." This makes John release the woman from his grasp, and she wrenches away and steps towards him. He watches carefully.
"How could you?"
"I fought for her."
"I doubt it."
And then all of a sudden, like the day he first met Meredith, he watches as her best friend crumples in front of him into a sobbing heap. But he doesn't make a move to catch her. She shakes a fist at him, then punches the ground lamely, crying.
"My last words to her weren't I love you."
"My last words to her were."
(You know what they say. If you're afraid of wolves, don't go to the woods.)
Next winter, he finds himself a year older and lonelier and he finds himself knowing exactly how Meredith felt.
Hands in pockets, he finds himself, unassumingly, walking towards that damned Eiffel Tower. It's dark, but the lights cast the field in a warm, yet cold, cold, cold glow. He huffs, watching as water vapor forms in the air, then looks up.
Are you lonely?
One, two, three seconds is all it takes, and he glances over, and time stops.
There, a white wolf sits, staring up at the tower, and when it turns towards him, he is lost in its brown, brown, brown eyes. He takes a step towards it, then another, and suddenly, he is in front of it. Chestnut hair. The smell of hot chocolate on a cold morning. A girl who collapsed in his arms.
"Why are you standing before the Eiffel Tower and looking so sad?"
Her head turns to face him, a sad, bitter smile on her face. There's a sore on her bottom lip. A habitual sore, he thinks. How lovely.
"Do you think it's lonely?" Of course, he thinks. Of course. I'm lonely.
But before he can answer she turns her head back up to the tower, blinking slowly. The whisper of why sits on her lips, unspoken.
"Just because people adore her for being beautiful doesn't mean it isn't lonely. You can be lonely in a crowd. I—I know this now. You want to care for the person you love, but she's so big and you're so little, so insignificant." A sob racks his chest as tears surface.
She laughs, throwing her head back, hair flying. But before she can say another word, there's a tap on his shoulder.
"What?" he growls, turning his head to face whoever interrupted him. It was a stranger.
"Sir, who are you talking to?" His blue eyes widen and he turns back to Meredith, but it's just the wolf staring back at him. It shakes its white fur. The wolf pads towards him, and he reaches out a hand to it, but just like that, he blinks, and it passes him up, breaking into a run to the tree line. It disappears into the forest.
(You loved someone, she laughs. That's where you went wrong. You loved someone.
He stares at the strands of her chestnut brown hair in the sink drain. His fingers itch to open a pack.
I loved you, he protests.
You loved someone, she repeats.)