It's strange, setting foot back on France, but I'm glad to be here. Seven weeks I spent in South-Africa, with little to no contact with the outside world. On the weekends, I called Eschieve and Brie, but no more than that. It's been… liberating. Life going back to normal seems impossible
Eschieve doesn't know I'm coming back today, which I planned that way; I can't wait to surprise her once she comes home from uni. Her Christmas break starts soon and I fully plan on making up for lost time. 
Paris is dusted in a thin layer of snow. It's only still there on the grass, on tree branches, on all the places the humans can't reach, but it still makes for quite the magical sight. It's good to be back. Even in South-Africa, surrounded by heat and the most wonderful flora and fauna, I was homesick for France  which made me realise that Scotland was never the issue in itself. It wasn't the rain, or the gloomy weather - it just wasn't France. It wasn't home. France is where all my roots are, both good and bad, and in my unstable life it was always the one stable factor. 
I can't say that the seven weeks at the retreat fixed all my problems, because in the end mindfulness isn't that powerful, but it did help me come to term with a lot of things that have been haunting me for a while. Then again, the retreat was quiet and secluded. Using what I learned in the real world that never stops long enough to think is going to be the next challenge. But at least I learned to be alone again, and while Emma is almost always there, I no longer feel the need to drown her in alcohol.
In the end, I think that no amount of mindfulness or other therapy is going to ease the pain that comes with the thought of Emma. I will never be able to forget her, or think of her without a sharp pain through my heart, but in the first week in the retreat, Matthew told me that it isn't always about healing. Sometimes it's about making peace with the pain, so you can move on from it without it destroying you. And I'm slowly learning to do that. 

Eschieve is chatting in a rapid tone, which I hear from a distance. I hear no one replying though, so she must be on the phone. I know from experience that her first stop when coming home is the kitchen, which is exactly where I am. And I'm baking, just like the almost-tradition we built before I left. 
"I know!" She exclaims from somewhere in the hallway. "That's what I told him, but he wouldn't listen. So instead-" Her voice cuts off for a second. "I'm sorry Em, I'm going to have to call you back later." A pause. "Yes! Yes, I'm fine, I promise! Just an unexpected guest. Talk to you tonight, okay? This story isn't done!" Hearing her say 'Em' immediately makes me wonder if she's talking to my Emma, who isn't really mine anymore, but I shrug it off. Even if it was, I have no business being opposed to it. If they're becoming friends, I'll be nothing but happy for them. Besides, it might be a completely different person. Lots of names can be shortened to 'Em'. 
I don't have much time to think about it though, because she appears in the doorway of the kitchen. She stares at me for a second. "I saw your suitcases in the hallway."
I smile. "Yeah, sorry. I haven't had time yet to - oof." She's knocked the wind out of me with her tight embrace. I chuckle, wrapping my arms around her. 
"You could've told me you were coming!" She says in an accusing tone. 
"And miss out on this? No way." I kiss the top of her head. She's not much shorter than I am, despite her being ten years younger, but still shorter. 
"I'm glad you're back." She pulls out of the embrace. "How are you feeling?"
"Exhausted. You know how I get with travel." 
"You look exhausted." She touches below my eye, where I'm sure a blue colour is shining through. "You should have gone to bed."
I shake my head. "I wanted to be up when you came home. I missed you, Es. And I-"
"Stop right there." She interrupts, smiling. "You're not allowed to apologise."
"Excuse me?"
"You heard me. You already apologised before you left. You did it again the first three times you called. I have forgiven you the moment I saw how hurt you were. I'm not holding it against you. Yes, you were an absolute idiot, but I understand where it came from. You and I… we're okay. You're back now, and I want to enjoy that." 
I look down on her with a warm smile. "You know, I think you might be the smartest Du Castellon yet."
She beams, and then heads straight for the oven as it beeps. "Funnily enough, you're not the first to tell me that."

That night, I stay at home. There's no urge to go out, to get so drunk or high that I forget everything around me. I am able to genuinely able to enjoy the time I spend with Eschieve in our home theatre, where we watch the entire Toy Story saga. Or we make a start, anyway, because after two movies I am barely able to keep my eyes open. I try to pretend I'm okay, but Eschieve kicks me towards the bathroom with a laugh. 
In my bedroom, I suddenly feel a heavy urge to unpack, so that's what I do. Most of it goes into the laundry, but some items go back where they belong. Eschieve comes in halfway through, heavily rolling her eyes. 
"Are you even more of a neat freak now?"
I smile, but don't reply. I'm nearly done anyway, just checking all the compartments. In the front pocket, my fingers brush over something paper-y and I pull it out. My heart drops, skips a beat and does a somersault all at the same time. Eschieve, on the one lounge chair in the room with her legs pulled up, tips her head. 
"What's that?"
"Our entry tickets to the Notre Dame." 
"The Notre Dame? We haven't been in years! And why would they be in your suitcase?" 
"No, no, not ours ours. Mine and Emma's, from our trip last year."
"Oh." She sounds a lot less excited now. "Are you okay?"
I can't stop staring at the tickets, folded at the corners and the picture has rubbed off a bit. I smile, and look at the wall behind my bed. There's an empty spot right that's right above my side, a few inches above the headboard. I take one of the push pins I keep at the side, and hang the tickets. The sight of them is bittersweet, but I'm determined to focus on the sweet.
"Yeah. I'm okay. Will you sleep here tonight?"

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