At precisely seven minutes past nine Josephine Dubois walked along the stretch of worn footpath that followed the Seine like a child clinging to its mother. She had found that it was most indefinitely the best time for a walk, for the river caught the sun perfectly, creating a glittering haze that floated lazily in the air, and the city was filled with star-crossed lovers and enthused dreamers. At this time, everything felt like a fairy-tale so everyone felt content. Besides, this was the only time she could escape the stifling house and collect herself.
Dusk was settling but the warmth of the day still hung heavily in the air, fragranced with colognes and perfumes but still rich with the heavy scent of roses, which decorated the jet-black lamppost that stood sentinel on every corner, and the unnameable smell of the river. The sky was a velvet blue that slowly turned to a delicate purple and flushed with candyfloss pink. Stars dotted above like pinpricks and the moon seemed so large, you could reach up and touch it. Trees lined the river, their black silhouettes standing out starkly against their pastel background. Occasionally, a bridge crossed over the water, ornately decorated and rusted around the edges. The water itself was almost still, undisturbed in the peaceful night. A perfect reflection of the moon bounced back into the sky. Every now and then, a fish broke the stillness with a graceful leap and a quiet splash. The leaves of the trees whispered; their secrets lost to the otherwise occupied world.
On her other side, Josephine passed the quaint little cafes lining the footpath, warm light and joyous clattering spilling onto the street. Occasionally there was a raucous cheer or defeated groan that narrated whatever card game or pool match that was taking place inside. A smile fluttered across her face, fading as quickly as their joy would.
As she wandered, the sky began to darken and there was a gentle breeze that ruffled the leaves. Their whispers began to feel more sinister, voicing Josephine’s doubts. Squeezing her eyes shut, she reassured herself; this act would mean their freedom. Surely that was worth the cost? Subconsciously, her fingers circled her wrists, like manacles.
Beneath her cloak she could feel her heart speeding up, no matter how hard she tried to focus on the world around her. Ahead of her, a bridge arched over the murky water, larger than the rest. It was built of stone long before the rest and wore the signs of its age proudly, like medals. Everything about it was cliché, from its location to the names carved into the stone so it seemed fitting that it was to be used in a cliché manner too.
In the shadow of the approaching night, a man stood stoically beneath the bridge, wearing a silky black shirt tucked into a pair of black trousers. His hair was a rich black, looking as though he had run his fingers through it too many times. When he stepped out of the gap he had been hiding in, the hazy light from a nearby street lamp caught his shirt and made it glint seductively. This highlighted his sharp features and his slanted eyes the colour of melted chocolate. His face was too drawn and tired for someone who looked so young but as Josephine approached, he relaxed, softening his appearance slightly. When he spoke, his voice was like honey.
“Josephine! Lovely to see you,” They exchanged kisses in the customary way old friends greeted each other, “I wasn’t sure you would come.”
Josephine laughed, “Charming as ever. My dearest friend, you think I would miss a chance to see you? How else would I persuade you to run away with me?” Her tone was teasing and flirtatious but Josephine could feel her heart pounding furiously. A faint smile flitted over his face but it vanished swiftly.
“As much as I wish to continue this conversation, I do believe we came for business? I have to say, you are a terrible cliché Josephine.”
“Oh darling, do you not know me at all? Yes, I wished to discuss certain matters with you which are, unfortunately, too delicate for a bar.”
“What a shame,” he said bitterly. Josephine could not tell if it was sarcasm. “What is it you want?”
Josephine took a deep breath; this was the moment. Sweat slickened her palms and she could feel bile rising in her throat.
Neither of them could place the exact point when it happened but there was a change in their attitudes, a sudden tangible tension that hadn’t been there when they had first greeted each other. Josephine’s left hand strayed to the locket that lay over her collarbone and she turned it over in her fingertips.
“Josephine?” The man’s voice was anxious and his gaze kept straying to the bustling bars then darting back to her face.
“No one’s coming,” she murmured, her voice cracking slightly. Her head whipped around to him and, when he met her eyes, he was startled by their sudden intensity. “I need it. I need to start again. I’m… I’m not sure I can carry on like this.” It came out so low it could have just been the mutterings of the wind. Only the slight movement of her lips gave away she had spoken at all.
The man’s jaw tightened. His hand slid into the pocket of his trousers. Normally, Josephine wold have noted how mundane it was of him to keep something so valuable in his pocket but terror had placed its heavy hands around her heart, making her unobservant. The future suddenly seemed too vast, and she so small.
The man swallowed, “Good luck, Josephine. I dare say we shan’t meet again.”
She reached out a white-gloved hand and took the thing from him. The slip of yellowed paper seemed too insignificant. But it wasn’t the paper that held the power, it was the words; they always did. `