Darby doesn’t know it yet, but she’s about to meet the love of her life.

*** She couldn’t contain her excitement. She was here! She was finally here! After entering for the Paris Prize 3 times, and she had never even got shortlisted once, Darby was determined to make this one count. And along with her determination, luck was probably on her side too, they do say fourth time’s the charm. Actually, they didn’t. But she was saying it! I’m going to make you proud Dad, you’ll see. She promised silently, rubbing the Eiffel tower pendant lying between her breasts. *** “carve all 72 names on your Eiffel Tower model” “Wow, isn’t this fun?”, Darby practically sang, her eyes darting between her partners. They were both tall, black eyed, dark-haired dudes. They both gave off brooding vampire vibes. They could pass off as brothers if not for the obvious dislike oozing from both of them. Darby felt like she was in the middle of a war and she didn’t even know the details. And so help her God, she wasn’t going to let her two gorgeous, somber-eyed partners affect that. When they didn’t reply, she gripped one arm each in one hand each of hers. They were both strong and she had to use all her strength to push them towards the Eiffel Tower model assigned to them. She felt a shock ripple up her arm. She didn’t know where it came from.

They had been carving for two hours now, and they had barely spoken to each other. Darby didn’t do well in loaded silence, so she tried to break the ice, “So, Adam, where are you from?”, she looked to her right and met a blank stare. Okay, so not much of a talker, Darby thought to herself. She turned to her left, Isaac was bent over his side of the Eiffel Tower, eyes intent on his carving. Definitely not much of a talker either. Darby sighed inwardly. They were definitely not her kind of people, because she was a talker and her Dad had always said she could talk a room full of snobs to life. “This trip was actually my Dad’s wish to win. Before he died, it was all he talked about, how he would make sure he got shortlisted and how he would do all he could to win the trip”, she carved ‘Sauvage’ on her side of the model, “but before he could do that, cancer took him. Fucking cancer. My Dad was too vibrant for that. I didn’t believe it till he was gone”. Motion had stopped on both sides of her. She looked from Isaac, to Adam; their eyes locked a little longer. She blinked, “I didn’t mean to bum you out, sorry. I guess I have just gotten used to talking about it”. She chuckled lightly, trying to ease the serious look in his eyes. As she went back to carving, her hand lightly brushed Isaac’s hand. Well, at least she knew where the ripple came from now, she thought. *** “climb 555 steps in the simulator before you” “Well, an upside, there is some exercise in this one, my legs are all cramped from sitting for 6 hours yesterday”, Darby complained, already stretching her legs in preparation for the climb. Adam touched her arm lightly, “Are you okay?”, he asked. Darby looked into his oh-so-black eyes, at least he didn’t give her shock waves, she thought. Isaac couldn’t touch her like that and she would still be able to look into his eyes, if she was the fainting type, she would have swayed. Isaac made her dizzy, but Adam’s eyes were kind of a maze to her. She got lost in them every time. Ever since the day before, when she had talked about her Dad, Adam had been more tuned to her, hovering around her, concern in his eyes. Was it because he felt sorry for her? Or was it something else? Darby wasn’t sure. She blinked, “Uh? Sure, sure I’m fine. I am peachy. Ready to climb 555 steps. Let’s go!”, she marched into the simulator, taking the lead. The boys followed. They were in the simulator and had climbed 200 steps, according to the wristwatch they had been given, it counted the stairs they had climbed. Adam broke the amiable silence that was between them as they climbed the stairs by saying, “This is ridiculous though, how would these help them figure out who gets to go to Paris”, he indicated the stairs as he spoke. Before she could reply, Isaac did, shocking her, “No competition has ever made sense. They are just scams to take people’s money”, he concluded in his deep subdued voice. The disbelief that the two guys were talking and the shock that they were agreeing on a topic, well, not exactly agreeing, but still, it was enough to leave Darby dumbfounded for a full minute. And then she recovered, “It’s sad that the first real words you two will say to each other since the beginning of this contest are slams against contest, which you’re currently in one, might I add”, she paused, looking from one to the other, “why did you enter the contest if you didn’t believe in contests to begin with?”, silence, “and besides 555 steps is the steps you’ll get if you divide the actual number of steps to get to the top of the real Eiffel Tower, by three”, she concluded, looking smug. They had the decency to look uncomfortable. Adam shifted on his feet, a sign Darby was starting to take as his nervous gesture. He looked like he was going to say something, but then he changed his mind and just cleared his throat and continued up the simulated stairs. Isaac hesitated, he looked like he wanted to say something too, but then he too just continued up the stairs, saying nothing. What was up with them? Darby wondered, why wouldn’t they talk? They were at 500 steps when Adam slowed his steps to fit hers, so now they were walking with the same tandem. He cleared his throat, shifted on his feet, “The reason I entered this contest was for my Mom. She wants to go to Paris, and she wants it to be through this contest but, she got sick”, he stopped climbing, Darby too stopped, a silent part of her already aching for him because she knew what was coming next, it was in his eyes, “cancer”, he confirmed, his face unreadable, but Darby read between the blank lines and read pain. His lips tipped upward ruefully as he said, “Fucking cancer. My Mom is too vibrant for that. Still don’t believe it.” But you will when she’s gone. They didn’t say it, but they both knew it. Their eyes stayed locked in, seconds that felt like minutes passed. He broke the contact, “So, I’m here to win it for her. I can buy the tickets for her, but she wants the experience, so I’m here to live it for her”. He tapped the camera that had been on his neck since day one of the contest.

As Darby watched him climb the stairs, for the second time in her life, she wished she could take away another human being’s pain. She ached for him. *** “wade through real live mud. it’s in honor of Paris first name, ‘Lutetia’. Do it for Paris” “Yeah, right”, Adam scoffed. It was the third day and the task for the day was to wade through mud. Even Darby found that extreme. Peppy, enthusiastic Darby. But, “We don’t have a choice though, we all have reasons we want to go to Paris”, she paused a beat, glanced at Isaac on her left, “though we still don’t know yours”. At her comment, his black eyes zeroed on her, and Darby felt that sinking feeling she always felt whenever their eyes connected. A minute passed, his face unreadable, he blinked and walked towards the mud hole that was their task. Darby sighed inwardly. He was like a wall. “I didn’t know we were going to have to wade through the mud while being tied together!”, Darby exclaimed thirty minutes later, as they waded through the mud. Thirty minutes ago, when they had gotten to the edge of the mud, they had realized two things; one, the mud was thicker that they expected, two, there was a rope attached to a post with a note that read: triples has to be tied together while wading through mud. 45 minutes later, and they were still wading. “Is there no end to this task?”, Darby asked, exasperation clear in her tone. “This is just nuts!”, Adam exclaimed. And then everything happened fast and all at once. Adam tripped, his weight crashing into Darby, whose weight crashed into Isaac, making Isaac fall flat on his back in the mud, Darby, face down on top of Isaac, and Adam on Darby, face to back. “Oh man, I’m so sorry. I don’t even know what I tripped on, but hey, the rope’s loose!”, Darby felt, in a far, far part of mind, Adam’s weight lift off her, but she couldn’t have for the life of her, moved. She was once again lost in Isaac’s eyes, but this time, she wasn’t just drowning, she was-swimming? This time, she was sure a century passed as they stared into each other. Adam nudged her with his foot, “Hey, are you guys going to get up or what? You’re embarrassing yourselves, you know?” Darby finally snapped out of it. But as she made to move off Isaac, she felt his hand tighten on hers. She looked at their joined hands, stared at it, was afraid to look into his eyes because she was scared-or excited? -about what she would find there. He tugged on her hand, and she knew he wouldn’t let go until she looked him in the eye. So she did. She was not prepared though; she didn’t think she would ever be prepared for the heat in his gaze. It seared her body; she was almost sure it tore through her clothes and entered into her body. It lit her everywhere. Something had changed. *** “say what Paris means to you in a short film. It will be screened in front of others, tonight, in the yard” “Okay, this is pretty easy. We just have to say what Paris means to us. It’s easy, easy peesy, lemon squeezy”, she couldn’t stop babbling. Somehow, deep down, Darby knew this was the most important part. She had to make this right, for her Dad. She had to. She felt a hand on hers, and looked into Isaac’s eyes, and instantly she felt calm settle in her. He was her calm and her havoc, and she had known this since the first day, but she had only just stopped fighting it yesterday ago. “It’s going to be okay. You’ve got this”, he whispered.

“Rolling” “Hi, my name is Darcy, and this is what Paris means to me. When I was 5 years old, I went into my Dad’s study; I wanted him to play with me. When I entered, I saw my Dad bent over something on his desk; he was staring intently at it; I called his name 3 times and my Dad didn’t hear. I moved closer to him to see what held his presence so strongly. As I got closer, I realized it was a Paris Prize brochure. I asked him what it was. He didn’t hear me at first, so I nudged him, and he finally realized my presence. He looked up at me, and I had never seen my Dad’s eyes shine so brightly before. I asked him the question again, and this time, he gave me an answer; he said, “It’s a prize for the most priceless city in the world, the most beautiful place. And you know what makes it so? The Berkeley Bookstore.” From that day till the day he had to go, that place was the only place he wished to go. And now, I wish to go for him, with him, in spirit” *** “in any form, apart from a movie, describe what Paris means for you” “Thought we did that yesterday”, Adam said, looking perplexed. “No, what we did yesterday was to say what Paris meant to us. Today, we’re to show it”, Isaac replied, tone somber. “Okay, Einstein”, Adam jibed, rolling his eyes. Darby looked up from reading their task on the tablet assigned to them, at the two of them. Well, at least they were talking now, she thought. “It says here that we’re to do this task separately. So, I guess they want us to show what it means to us separately, as individuals”, Darby said. “Fine by me”, Adam shrugged, walked out. Isaac gave her one of his somber looks, walked out too. Darby raised her hands in exasperation. It was 5pm in the evening, and they (the contestants) had just been called out to the studio yard. It was time to show what Paris meant to them. Darby looked around, wondering where Adam and Isaac were, as she sat Indian-style on the grass. Contestants were called out; paintings were made (of Paris), drawings were drawn (of Paris), poems were read (of Paris). Darby cried, laughed, choked when a guy said he had heard they were lot of beautiful girls in Paris and that he had had no luck where he was living. Brutally honest, but dude, come on. And then it was her turn. Darby stood up and went to the front where she was to show and explain her reason for wanting to go to Paris. Earlier that day, she had racked her head for what to present. Nothing had come up, so she had decided to just be simple. She brought out the Paris necklace around her neck, “As I said yesterday in my video, it was my Dad’s life dream to go to Paris. Before he died, he gave me this necklace and told me to live. He told me to live, and that one has never really lived until one has been to Paris. So, I want to go to Paris. To live.” Darby looked up, and across the room, the Royal lady’s eyes were once again kind, and was that, tears?

*** Adam played the guitar, he sang a song, all the while locking his eyes with hers; Mom wanted to go to Paris, but she got sick. Mom told me sincerity is in the eyes, and I saw it in yours. When you talked about your dad, who got sick. I saw it in you, how much you loved. And I knew, Paris would be lucky to have you.

*** Isaac walked to the front, a blue book in his hand. His eyes zeroed on Darby’s. She felt herself, once again, drowning, and then he talked, “This book in my hand contains only one picture”, he held up the book, showing the crowd the lone picture in the book. It was a picture of the Berkeley Bookstore. Darby’s eyes filled, and as the crowd murmured in confusion, she felt herself finally land. She realized she wasn’t drowning in his eyes anymore; she was living in it.

*** “This year’s Paris Prize goes to the group of three who, total strangers when they came, are now forever linked by their selfless thoughts”, the royal lady looked at Adam, paused, looked at Darby’s and Isaac’s linked hands, “and love of one”

*** “Now, I can finally get my Mom the tickets. She wanted me to live through the experience, and I have. Maybe she’ll finally accept the tickets”, Adam said, his dark eyes lit with amusement, “you kids be good now”. He turned to leave. Darby touched a hand to his, “Thank you”, their eyes locked, “and I’m here, just a phone call away” His eyes darkened with emotion, “I know”, his eyes went from Darby’s to Isaac’s, “Love ‘n’ Live”, he whispered. He gave a small salute and turned around, and left.

*** “So, I guess you get to live in Paris for your Dad now, uh?”, Isaac said, looking into her eyes. That was all they did now, looked into each other’s eyes. Darby just couldn’t help herself; I mean, the guy was just too gorgeous not to. “Well, the truth is he didn’t say I should live for him, he said I should live”. She paused, her eyes steady on his, she asked “can you keep a secret?” With that, she took those lips she had been craving between hers. With unsteady breaths and so many feelings in his beautiful black eyes, he asked, “What was that?”

She smiled sheepishly, “Living”.

August 20, 2020 08:27

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Testimony Odey
06:39 Sep 20, 2020

OMg!!! This is sooo good. I love the last part where she kissed him and said 'living'. 💕💕💕


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Abigail Slimzy
21:45 Aug 26, 2020

Good job. Keep writing


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