It was a beautiful summer day in Saint Denis. The wind was blowing softly giving a chill to a young lady, who was standing on her balcony, focusing on finishing her latest painting. There was a buzz in the streets, but she was too busy to notice. It was her moment. Only she and the canvas while nothing else mattered to her.
A strand of blond hair fell on her face as she turned around suddenly when she heard the sound of a firing weapon. Another day in Saint Denis she thought, returning to work and ignoring the sounds of the fight. But with a name like mine, I will be just fine.
However, after a long while, the street noise started to upset her. Annoyed, she put down the brush and went inside, closing the door behind her. It was very hot, even though she was only wearing a thin, embroidered dress. She laid down on the bed and tried to relax when her peace was interrupted by someone knocking at the door.
“Miss Valerie?” A male voice asked when the doors were opened. “Your uncle told me to tell you that he wants to see you tonight. È importante.”
“Mr Jones, you know how much I hate when you talk to me in Italian.” She said without getting up from the bed. “And according to you, everything my uncle says is important… Anyway, just tell him I will be there.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The man disappeared, leaving the door ajar.
Valerie sighed grimly. She was tired of constantly following orders from her uncle. However, that was the price for the protection he provided. And whether she liked it or not there was no other way, but accept it. She closed her eyes almost immediately fell asleep, temporarily shutting off all the problems she had.
The rest of the day passed calmly. The sun was setting when she left the residence and went to the park near her house as she still had some time before meeting her uncle. There were a few people strolling around out there, but it was much quieter than in the morning when the city was full of merchants, passengers and criminals who were just waiting for their opportunity to rob someone. In the afternoon, Saint Denis was getting calmer, preparing itself for another exciting night. This city never slept and at night it became extremely vivid.
She walked along the path when she noticed a man sitting under a tree. He stood out among the men present in the park. He sat there focused, sketching something in his journal without taking his eyes off the page. At the same time, Valerie’s eyes were drawn to the blue plaid shirt he was wearing and the hat that was covering the upper part of his face. What an unusual view. She approached him uncertainly, guided by curiosity and glanced at what he was drawing. The stranger raised his head unexpectedly and looked at her, laughing under his breath.
“Do you know that it’s rude to watch someone like that?“ He asked.
“I-I’m sorry, I–.” Valerie managed to say before her cheeks turned red. “I didn’t mean to offend you, I… You have a great talent.”
“And how can you possibly know that?” The man chuckled, took off his hat then looked at her with his blue eyes.
“I’m interested in art, and sometimes… I paint myself. It calms me down a lot.”
“Oh, I see.” He replied. “What’s your name, miss?”
“Valerie.” She smiled at him. “Valerie Bronte.”
“I’m Arthur. Arthur Morgan.” He said smiling back at her. “Pleasure to meet you, miss Valerie.”
There was something extraordinary about Valerie that instantly brought Arthur’s attention to her. He couldn’t have thought exactly what it was. At first, he wanted to tell her off but as soon as she started speaking, everything has changed. The gentle beauty of the girl was captivating, making him suddenly forget about the whole world. It has been a long time since he felt like this. It’s been a long time since he actually felt something different than anger and grief.
Arthur closed his journal and moved aside, making a free spot beside him.
“Wanna sit down, miss?” He asked, his hand pointing at the place next to him.
“Oh, sure…” She replied, sitting down and leaning her back against the tree. “But please, don’t call me miss. I’m just Valerie.”
“Valerie, it is.” He looked at her and then ahead, scratching his neck. “So what are you doing in Saint Denis?”
“I live here. But from what I can see you’re not from here, right?”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’m not.”
“So what are you doing here, Arthur?”
“Well, I can just say I’m new to this place.” He said. “But clearly I don’t belong here.”
“Me neither.” She sighed, pulling her knees to herself and leaning her head against it. “This place overwhelms me. Makes me feel like I was in a cage. I didn’t choose to live here, but here I am. Living the life I’ve never wanted to have.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a long story. A story that is not worth ruining a beautiful evening like this one, for sure. But to satisfy your curiosity, let me just say that the life you see here, in that city… It’s an illusion. All those perfect people, dressed in exclusive dresses and suits… Oh, those people… And their beautiful lies.”
“Aren’t you one of them?” Arthur pointed out, making his partner smile shyly.
“I am. That’s why I see it’s all just one big game.” She agreed. “And it scares me. Makes me feel like an incredibly lonely person, Arthur.”
“I’m so sorry you feel this way.” It was the only thing that came to Arthur’s mind. He didn’t expect that such a beautiful girl could feel lonely, even though she was surrounded by so many people. And probably even more suitors.
“You don’t need to.” She shrugged. “I guess… That’s the way things are.”
The sun has already gone down, leaving the darkness behind, illuminated only by the street lights. Out of sudden, she reminded herself of her uncle who was probably already waiting for her.
“Oh, crap.” She murmured out of sudden, quickly getting up from the ground and smoothing her skirt in a rush. “I’m sorry I completely forgot about something important. I have to go…”
“Hey, wait up!” Arthur stood up right after her and managed to grab her hand, stopping her from running away without even saying goodbye. “You shouldn’t walk alone after dark.”
“I will be okay.” Valerie was getting nervous with every second passing, knowing her uncle would not be pleased that she made him wait for her. “I live in this big house around the corner, you must’ve seen in on your way here.”
“Okay.” Arthur smirked. “Then I guess I'll see you later?”
“Yes, sure.” She had said before her hand slipped out of his and walked away, leaving Arthur alone under the tree. “I will see you.”
A few seconds later she disappeared from his sight, her silhouette slowly fading away in the darkness of the streets of Saint Denis. Arthur picked up a journal from the ground and went to his horse, which stood in front of the entrance to the park. Suddenly the streets became quieter, a few people rushed by trying to get home after a long day of work or other duties.
He stood there for a moment and a small laugh escaped his mouth when he realized he couldn’t wait for the next time he sees that mysterious girl. Indeed, she was a mystery, a puzzle he would intend to solve. But not today, he thought. And with that in mind, he mounted his horse and rode away, leaving the city lights behind.