She hasn't heard from Hugo since April, though with the German occupation that's hardly surprising. Isabelle spares a moment as she hovers outside what used to be the boulangerie to be glad that Papa George and Mama Jeanne didn't live to see this happen again. She would have hated to see them broken again after so much effort to rebuild them.
Hugo is safe and I will see him once the Allies come, she tells herself like a prayer. Anything else just wouldn't be right, the thought of Hugo broken and bleeding like the soldiers who tore through town ahead of the Nazi approach breaks her heart. So she dismisses it. Hugo is a survivor, he needs other people less than anyone she's ever met, he'll be all right. He has to be.
For now, she has a mission to perform, and she has to hide a grin at the thought.
Joining the Resistance is almost an accident, her lifelong love of adventure leading her down the Rue Abel after a furtive man in a poorly-mended coat, hastily reassuring him and the knife lying against her throat that she wants to help, begging him to let her.
He huffs, an unhappy scowl writing its way across his features, and relents.
She's twenty-one; she's not a child anymore, but the thrill runs down her spine with the same force it had ten years ago, running from Inspector DuBois and certain that they would die if he caught them.
Isabelle knows it's not for play this time; these monsters tearing through Europe like a plague from the Old Testament. This is real, and serious, and deadly. But she can't help the way her eyes light at every chance to help. Every message entrusted to her, the way the lamplight glints on her fellow patriots' eyes. It's like being inside a Victor Hugo novel (though with a happier ending, she tells herself forcefully. They will win, and Hugo will come home to her).
She ignores the reports of flattened battalions, men scattered in pieces across the field. That hasn't happened to Hugo, that won't happen to Hugo.
The Nazis ignore her, for the most part, with her hair boud up in a dirty scarf when she goes to her designated work site, eyes cast down to keep her traitorous face from showing how uncowed she remains. They're happy with a showing of submission, like wild dogs, she spits in her mind. Bullies and cowards, and if the history of France has shown anything, it's that bullies and cowards will be torn down.
The first time one of the filthy cowards crowds her against a wall, dragging her away from the work detail, she doesn't realise what's going on at first. She just registers his predatory grin, the sweat-and-gunpowder smell of him, his gutteral mutterings incomprehensible.
It's not until his hand snakes under her blouse that she even thinks to fight back, too angry for the fear to get a hold of her. He laughs, leaning harder against her for a moment before stepping back. She glares at him, tears stinging at her eyes and breath heaving as he grins down at her.
'Go on, then, little sparrow,' he says in passable French. 'Run away.'
This is not how she had pictured it when she first decided to stay in Paris. She thinks perhaps she ought to have listened to some of the warnings the old women had given.
She runs all the way to Monsieur Labisse's bookshop, clambering through the broken window and curling up in the back, at the bottom of the bookshelves that used to hold Voltaire and Diderot and all manner of reminders that history is full of terrible people making horrible decisions and she cries.
She lets the tears stream down her face, trying to imagine that the shop still smells of Monsieur Labisse's tobacco and two hundred years of ideas instead of dust and mould.
Isabelle stays there until the following evening, straightening her clothes and scrubbing her face as clean as she can without water before she steps out into the cool evening.
It was a horrible shock, but now that she knows it's a possibility she can guard against it. She's French, and she will not be cowed.
She won't let Hugo down. She's going to keep Paris in trust for him until he comes home.