More Than Words
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Charlène stood in the doorway, her arms crossed under her small, round breasts, one eyebrow raised and a sardonic tilt to her shiny red lips. “If you’re done feeling up the help, can we leave now? You did ask me to come home with you, oui?”
I cringed internally as the girl’s shoulders drooped. Jesus Christ. I’d said those exact words to her. She glanced at me—her pretty mouth swollen, her hair hanging loosely around her shoulders—and I saw deep disappointment in her expression. For the first time in a long while, I saw myself through someone else’s eyes, and I hated what I saw. She pulled her shoulders back and stepped away from me, past Charlène and through the door. Just like that, she was gone.
“How’d it go?” my roommate, Francesca, asked as I came in the door.
I threw my purse down and went straight to the refrigerator directly off the living room, removing a bottle of water and taking a long sip. “Fine if being officially unemployed is a good thing.” I offered Frankie a rueful smile, taking another sip of the cool water. The apartment was stifling, and I felt a bead of sweat roll down my back.
“I’m going to change and then I’ll be right back.” I went to my tiny room and began peeling off my skirt and blouse, hanging them both carefully in my closet. I didn’t have many professional work clothes, and I needed to treat the ones I had gently, given I now needed to apply for a new job.
Throwing on a pair of cotton shorts and a loose tank top and gathering my hair into a high ponytail helped cool me off before I headed back to the living room.
A pop startled me, and I laughed when I saw that Frankie had just opened a bottle of champagne and was pouring it into two champagne flutes.
“Santé, mon amie,” she sang as she handed me one of the flutes and raised her own glass. I grinned and took a sip of the cheap bubbly. “This is the first step on the road to a wonderful career.”
“Merci.” I plopped down on the couch, putting my flute on the coffee table and bringing my legs under me. Frankie sat down on the other end of the couch, taking another sip of champagne and screwing up her face.
“The best I could afford,” she said.
“As soon as I find a job, the champagne is on me. Let’s hope I’ll finally be able to afford something decent.”
She smiled. “You will. I’m proud of you for taking this leap.”
“Yeah, yeah. But if I end up in the poorhouse, I’m blaming you.”
“Fair enough. Although I don’t think there are poorhouses anymore. It’s the cold, lonely street you’ll end up on, my little cabbage.”
“Great.” I smiled at the term of endearment, our familiar joke. She’d heard the term ma choupette somewhere and asked me what it meant, and I’d translated it literally. It was now Frankie’s favorite nickname. Despite her Italian first name, Frankie wasn’t fluent in any of the romance languages, and when we’d met she’d spoken only a few words of French. I’d met her at an Internet café when I’d first arrived in Paris, heard her fumbling her way through an order for coffee and a croissant and helped her out. We’d struck up a conversation after that and hit it off. We’d both been looking for a roommate, and it felt like it was meant to be. Thankfully, simply living and working in France had improved her French. Frankie worked at the fashion house of a hip new designer named Clémence Maillard. She loved her job, but her salary wasn’t much better than mine.
Actually, I reminded myself, everyone’s salary was now officially better than mine. I no longer had a salary.
“How’d Vincenzo take you quitting?”
I sighed. “Fine. He’ll have no trouble replacing me.” I picked up my glass and took a sip. Vincenzo had probably already filled the spot. Lounge La Vue was one of the most popular, swankiest hotel bars in Paris, and the tips were usually great. But I’d spent enough time as a part-time cocktail waitress.
A year ago, I’d graduated from Cornell University with a major in French and a minor in French medieval history, moved to Paris, and started applying for jobs. When the only offer I received was from a small newspaper that didn’t pay enough for me to eat three meals a day, I’d taken the serving job at Lounge La Vue and fed my brain with short (unpaid) internships in museums. My most recent internship had just ended, and quitting Lounge La Vue was going to force me to get out there and find something in my field that paid real money. Frankie was right—it was time to take a leap of faith.
Through my studies I’d found that I had a particular talent—and affinity—for translating old French. If I managed to find a job where I could put that skill to use, it would be a dream come true.
I could have asked my father for help, which would have allowed me to get started on my career faster, but I was bound and determined not to ask him for anything. He had decided the French school in my hometown offered the best education, and it’s where I had first discovered my love for the study of language and all things French. For that I was grateful to him, though there was little else. My mother had passed away from cancer when I was twenty, and given that the diagnosis had come when she was already stage four, it seemed she was there one day and gone the next. Four years later, I still mourned the loss of her, but I was also sad about the life she had accepted for herself. She’d lived for only forty-eight years and had spent more than half that life living with a man who treated her like she was no one special. I wanted more for myself. I would never accept a life like that. My father had promptly remarried, to a girl only a year older than me. I was sure he was already cheating on her, too. It’s not as if I would ask. Or care. We’d never been close to begin with, and now we barely talked.
Thank goodness for Frankie. I had a small circle of friends in Paris—girls I’d met at Lounge La Vue mostly—but Frankie was more like the sister I’d never had. I’d created a family of my choosing here in France.
I leaned my head back on the couch. I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, and the champagne was already causing me to feel sleepy and languorous.
“He never came in to the lounge again, did he?” Frankie asked, eyeing me. I almost pretended I didn’t comprehend who “he” was, but she’d know very well I was just being bitter and purposefully dismissive.
“No.” I’d returned to the tiny apartment I shared with Frankie after the night two months ago when Callen Hayes had come into Lounge La Vue, kissed me senseless, and then left with another woman. Not that he shouldn’t have … He had clearly arrived with her. I’d seen her sitting close to him at the crowded table, but he’d been staring at me, and I’d hoped …
Well, I had hoped he would recognize me at the very least. But he hadn’t. He had no idea who I was, other than a barmaid who he probably thought had been making googly eyes at him all night. Which I had been, sort of, but it was more a case of disbelief. After all those years, my Callen had walked back into my life. Although, he had never really been my Callen. And, well … he never would be.
But at the time I hadn’t been able to help the low-simmering thrill that had sparked inside me at the possibility he would remember me as the little girl he’d sat with in a boxcar on a deserted stretch of train track long, long ago. The little girl he used to go on adventures with, play games with, and indulge her overactive imagination.
He’d kissed me on the patio, and he hadn’t tasted like warmth and hope, not like I’d remembered. He’d tasted like alcohol and sin. He wasn’t the boy I’d known—not even close—and it had broken my heart just a little bit. I’d come home and cried on Frankie’s shoulder, telling her the whole story from the beginning. It was the second time in my life he’d kissed me and left. And never returned.