Paris. Finally. I was in Paris.
Leaving my home in London had been the most difficult thing in the world to do, but it was worth it. Birds swooped and swirled above me. The Eiffel Tower was silhouetted against the sunlight sky much farther along the Seine. Clear and blue, the Seine was rushing down the river bank in a comforting rhythm where shopkeepers with bright banners and flags were selling their merchandise. The wind was whispering through the bright green leaves of the trees. Further down, I could see the landscape of the Luxembourg Gardens with its perfectly mowed lawns, rippling ponds and park benches.
I felt someone grab my arm. “Look, Emma,” my twin sister gasped in awe. She was pointing farther down the Seine.
I followed her finger and saw a big boat full of passengers gliding across the shimmering water. It split through the river like a knife in a cake. I waved to the boat as it docked. A mob of people swarmed off and they dotted the landscape like an ink blob, growing bigger and bigger by the second.
“Maia, we should probably get back to the hotel,” I said, tugging on my sister’s sleeve. Maia had the same long and vibrant red hair as I did, and the same sparkling bright blue eyes.
“Wait, this is what we came for. Look at the light! There won’t be another time of day like this,” she replied, and lifted her camera from her bag.
I couldn’t argue, so I did the same. After snapping a few pictures, we agreed to come back tomorrow at break.
Maia and I were 14 years old and both quite the shutterbug. It was only this past year that we were accepted into the Parisian School of Arts even though we had been submitting work since we were ten. The lessons were to begin tomorrow. We had gone to a fine school back in London, but nothing compared to this. Some of the most famous photographers had gone here, and about ten years ago, they began taking in students from the ages of ten to nineteen.
Maia and I headed back to our hotel in silence, snapping a few more photos on the way. We each flopped on our beds, tired from a long day’s flight. It was only a one hour time difference from London to Paris — thank God, what if we had been flying to the United States — but we were still exhausted. Soon we were fast asleep.
The next day when I opened my eyes, I was groggy and sprawled in tangled sheets. It took me a few moments to realize where I was, but when I did, I took no matter hesitating in waking my sister.
“Maia!” I cried, shaking her. “Maia, wake up!”
“What?” Maia groaned as I flung open the curtains. “Oh no, Em, too bright.”
I grinned. “Lessons!” I said. “Up! Up!” I felt like a five year old trying to wake her parents on Christmas.
Maia flung off the covers. That tactic worked, I thought as I got dressed.
Sooner than you could say photography, Maia and I were out the door on on the streets. We quickly rented bikes and sped off towards the school. It was a giant building, located just to the right of the Luxembourg Gardens.
A crowd of kids was joined at the door and they were all chatting excitedly to one another. As Maia and I approached, we made out the excited faces of some, and the calm ones of others. Nobody seemed sad.
“Alright everybody!” a voice called, echoing over the chatter. Everyone stopped talking at once. “Hi guys. I’m Lauren, and I’ll be your counselor for today. Ten to 13-year-olds on the left. 14 to 17, you’re on the right. Eighteen and nineteen in the middle,” Lauren said, and Maia and I took the middle. “Right then. Stay in your groups and follow me!”
Maia and I obeyed and passed through the courtyard and into the building. It was all spacious and marble and–whoa! Ice statues! A diamond chandelier hung from the ceiling.
Everyone was oohing and aahing, especially the new students. The only person that didn’t seem surprised was a blonde haired girl who was sighing and saying loudly to anyone who would listen, “Oh please. My mansion at home looks like this. And besides, I’ve been here since I was ten, I’m so talented. Yeah. They took me on my first try.”
I glanced at Maia and we rolled our eyes in unison. In twin language, that pretty much means, Seriously? And I know, right?
A boy nearby ran his hands stupidly through his hair. What was wrong with these people??
“I’m Shelby Moore, by the way,” the blonde said shrilly.
There was a chorus of “no way’s” and “oh my God’s” throughout the room. Shelby Moore was probably the all-time most famous child photographer in all of Europe. The only thing was, she was kind of a diva.
Before Shelby could say anything else, Lauren ushered the fourteen to seventeen year olds into a room filled with film and cameras.
“Okay guys,” Lauren said. “I’m the mentor for your age group as well as Jia and Saio.” She motioned to a brown haired girl and a Korean boy. They both looked about 25 years old.
“Your goal for this term is to take wonderful photos and enter them in the art exhibit that we have — open to the public — at the end of each term.
“But this year, we have an extra special treat.” Everyone’s ears perked up. “You will have the option to submit five photographs that you took to The Traveler.”
There was a murmur of excitement floating around the room. I looked at Maia and we both grinned. The Traveler was a magazine that went from city to city all over Europe displaying prize-winning photos.
“You will have the chance,” Lauren continued, “to win 50,000 euros if you win first prize.” There were some cheers and a couple of whoops at this. “For second place, 30,000 euros. For third, 10,000 euros.
“But beware,” Lauren continued. “Only three of you will get these prizes, and there are 25 of you. Work as hard as you can and you can do it. Now. For the lesson.”
Maia and I settled down into chairs and listened to Lauren, but before she began, I heard Shelby whisper, “I’m totally going to get first prize.” That made me want to get a prize even more. Beating the world’s best child photographer who also happened be the world’s biggest diva? Score! Getting first place? Bonus points!
At break, Maia and I immediately hurried back down to the Seine. We grabbed a baguette to share and settled on a bench. I set a timer on my phone to make sure we didn’t stay past one o’clock. After all, we had regular school lessons in addition to photography classes. I snapped some pictures and so did Maia, but mostly we enjoyed the view.
Just then, an earsplitting screech sliced through the air. I leapt up from the bench in unison with Maia.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
I wasn’t the only one. People were screaming and pointing. In the sky was a giant red dot zooming towards the earth. Was that…? A meteor!! Maia and I seemed to realize at the same time, because we both jumped and frantically began gathering our stuff.
“Run!” Maia screamed, and we took off.
The meteor, a big ball of burning flames and coal, was just miles away… it came closer and closer…and closer…I was losing focus…my head was swimming…then suddenly, everything went black.
“Emma!” I was shaken awake in a pile of rubble. “Em! Emma!” It was Maia.
Slowly, I opened my eyes. Maia was staring down at me, her face blurred.
“Wha-what happened?” I gasped, pumping air through my lungs.
“Oh, thank heavens you’re alive!” Maia breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, the meteor plummeted into the Seine and you fell and…well, you went unconscious.”
“Wow,” I said, sitting up. “I really reacted to that crash.”
Maia nodded. “I’m just happy that you’re alright. You could have died!”
I bit my lip. “What time is it?” I answered my own question by glancing at Maia’s watch. Two fifteen. I had been unconscious for pretty much two hours.
My eyes flitted around the scenery. Everything was buried in lumps of ash or coal. Heaps of debris like plastic bags floated around in the air like clumsy birds. There was nobody — nobody except Maia and I — around. Even the Seine was murky. There was still a faint tint of fiery orange at the bottom from the meteor. I winced as my eyes fell on the half sunken boat that had carried passengers just yesterday. So many lost lives…all those people who didn’t deserve it…
Maia seemed to know what I was thinking. Softly she said, “We’d better get back to the hotel.”
I scoffed. “Like it’ll still be up after this,” I said.
“It’s like a mile away,” Maia retorted.
I shook my head reluctantly but got up from where I was sitting. Almost at once, I buckled back down onto the ground. “Ow,” I said, clutching my ankle. “It hurts.” I closed my eyes and let the pain sink in. If I lay there long enough, maybe it would just go away.
“Oh, yeah, Emma, it’s swollen,” Maia said. “I–wait. What’s that?” I opened my eyes and followed Maia’s finger to see a stick of green poking up from the rubble.
“It’s a four leaf clover!” I gasped. I inched closer to the clover and pulled out my camera. “This is perfect for the contest!”
I snapped a few pics from different angles and grinned. This would win me the contest for sure! My caption would be This clover is different from the rest, like me and my sister. It’s been through bad times, but it’s stood strong throughout them.
“Okay,” I said to Maia. “Put your arm around my neck and we’ll get to the hotel together.” And off we went, the silhouette of two girls stumbling along a sea of ashes and coal.
It took weeks for the mess to be cleaned up, but when it was gone, life resumed as normal. My ankle got wrapped up and a was put on crutches for a few weeks. Luckily it was only a mild sprain.
Finally, the day everyone in my group in photography was waiting for arrived; the day that the prizes were given out. Everyone gather excitedly in the hall.
Maia had chosen to take her picture of me — yay! She had asked me to face away from her and she got a great shot of me silhouetted against the Eiffel Tower.
Lauren motioned us to get in a cluster and we obeyed. “Okay! Wonderful job this term guys, really excellent. Now. Third prize is…Maia Blac!”
I cheered so loudly that my twin had to scream at me before I stopped. I could tell she was happy by the way her pale cheeks were now full of color.
“Congrats, Maia,” Lauren said, motioning for her to come to the head of the group. Maia was handed a big back of clinking euros. The crowd clapped once more. “Now,” Lauren continued as Maia joined me again, “second place is to Shelby Moore!”
I heard a scream of outrage: “WHAT?” Shelby shrieked. “No!! You’ve made a mistake! I need first place!!! RAHHH!!!” And she stormed from the room.
“First prize,” Lauren said slowly goes too…” she paused… “Emma Blac!! Congrats!”
Me?? Me! I won first prize! This was like a dream. I gratefully accepted my 50,000 euros and the class was dismissed.
Maia hugged me so tight that I could barely breathe. I was so happy.
We plopped down on a bench and looked around. It was an amazing sight. Then it hit me. This is what it was all about. Paris, I mean. It wasn’t about pictures, it wasn’t about money or contests of the stores. It was this. The experience. A Parisian isn’t a just stylish person or a talented artist, they know how to live the moment in time. Whether it’s good, bad or bland as buttered pasta, they know that you only live once and you need to live every moment of that life with feeling. That’s what makes Paris Paris.
So, my last words to you are this:
YOLO like Parisians