SNEAK peak – Paris in a Day

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Julie

The square was crowded so they took a narrow side street. Leaving the market-lined square, she hoped the quiet lane would bring them back around to a street with more people. Or witnesses, she joked to her latest travelling companion. They’d met on the train. He was a man of few words, but it felt safe to have a tall, bearded guy with her, even if he didn’t laugh at her jokes. Despite the company, the quiet street made her nervous and her buddy seemed unsure whether to follow, constantly looking from his ever-present cell-phone back to the crowded marketplace.

Neither of them could understand anything that was coming out of the man’s mouth but still they tagged along as he spoke, smiling, as he animatedly described their surroundings. She held tight to her back-pack and felt safer to have company. The best thing about travelling solo was meeting new people. The worst thing? Not knowing who to trust.

The man in the red coat was really friendly, she had to give him that. They had broken the law of backpacking; standing, obviously lost, in front of the metro. He’d been sitting at the otherwise deserted café across the road and wandered over to offer his help, obviously recognising the brochure the tall guy held and nodding profusely. Decidedly predatory behaviour, she had decided immediately, keeping a bit of distance between them. The fact that the jacket was modelled on Michael Jackson’s Thriller costume only added to his air of potential serial killer.

As they walked along the quiet laneway that ran behind the busy main square, he would point at this building or that sign and pause his stream-of-consciousness verbal diarrhoea, eyebrows arched.

“Humm.” She would reply, nodding as though in complete agreement.

Reaching a flight of steep stone stairs, he stopped to tell them a little about them. Possibly. He could have been reciting poetry for all she knew. Tall guy seemed engrossed in his phone, although all he had was a white screen with a little circle searching for service. Red-jacket kept talking. To his credit he didn’t seem worried in the slightest that they couldn’t understand him, although when his hand reached for hers, she smiled and gave a little shake of the head.

She was sure it was just a cultural thing and not a come on, and he hadn’t looked at all disappointed when she’d refused to take his hand. She’d experienced her share of extended hands throughout Europe, her acquaintances on the road breezily dismissing the gesture as cultural. They were so well-travelled, blasé and mature, she thought, hoping that she would be that way by the end of her trip. She didn’t even like holding her boyfriend’s hand, she had said, to laughter. The joke was, though, that she didn’t have a boyfriend.

Perhaps he was offering to take her heavy backpack, she thought. Either way, hand or pack, she wasn’t giving him an inch. Tall Guy just kept his eyes on his feet. He seemed nervous, more nervous than she felt. Why would a guy be nervous with a stranger, she wondered? Guys have it easy, she thought.

They reached the top of the stairs and continued walking. She could hear the noise of the market again, getting closer. It was a beautiful day; seems they had left the cold and rain behind in Amsterdam. Relieved to finally be in Paris after the weeks she’d spent on the road, she couldn’t really relax and enjoy the impromptu tour through what looked like very pretty Parisian streets. Anxious to find the hostel and get the pack off her back she felt a trickle of sweat run down her back and into her jeans where a little bit of chafe had started. Not for the first time, she wondered what the big deal was about travelling.

They stopped, the sound of people enjoying the sunny morning louder.

“La!” the man was saying, pointing at the sign across a small tree-lined square. ‘Yout Hostel’ the sign read, just like the brochure in the tall guy’s hand. Julie couldn’t tell if the ‘h’ had been left off intentionally. She could just make out the larger, busier square down a small alley way. He pointed at the brochure and smiled.

“Oh, merci.” She said, while her travel buddy of unknown origin simply made his way across the street without even a thank you or a goodbye. She reached for the note in her pocket and offered it to Red Jacket. He looked a little amused and started again to speak in rapid-fire French. Was it French? It seemed very unfamiliar but it could have been his accent.

“Je ne comprends pas.” She said finally.

“Oh.” He said, “You are Anglaise?”

He was smiling. He was actually very nice looking now that the panic and adrenalin had abated.

“Anglaise. English, Oui.”

“Why did you not tell me? I have just told you everything about France. In French!” He laughed, bending over, slapping his knee. It seemed such an old-man gesture from a young man.

She felt her face burning.

“I am Eric.” He said and this time she shook the hand that was offered.

“Hi, Eric.” She said, blushing the colour of his jacket.

“So get settled and if you want to have some lunch, come back and see me at my café, mmm? He said, nodding his head.

“Oh,” she said, looking back the way they had come.

“You just need to cross the market to find the metro. And me.” He said, looking away.

“Um, okay, it’s your café?”

“Well, it’s my mother’s café and my cousin, Charlie, has a bar in the square. You can just see it. We all work together.”

He replied pointing down the narrow alley way joining the square. The market stalls were being dismantled as the sun approached its zenith in the sky.

“I need to get back to the café, my mother will need help now that the market is closing. You will come, around 2?” he asked, backing away from her towards the square, rather than the way they had come through the quiet back streets.

“Yes, okay!”

Julie gave him an awkward, two-thumbs-up. She kept the smile on her face even though she was dying inside. Oh, Julie, she thought, why are you so weird?

His jacket is weird. He might like weird girls.

He laughed and punched the air, looking happier than anyone she had ever seen before.

Yes, definitely weird.

Making her way across the small square, her face still burning with a mixture of embarrassment and for some reason, joy, she gratefully put her pack down and waited at the small reception desk for someone to help her.

 

The tall guy from the train was still waiting in the gloom of the small foyer but didn’t acknowledge Julie. Now that guy is weird, she thought turning around to face the desk. She could see the silhouette of a person through the lace curtain on the door.

“Hello?” Julie called.

The guy from the train looked up at her and grimaced.

“You shouldn’t have done that.” He said.

Before Julie could ask why, the door opened and a short balding man popped his head through the opening, a scowl on his face. He looked from Julie to Train-guy and back again, rolled his eyes and shut the door again.

“He told me he has no room. All the dorms are full. I am going to another hostel but I have to wait for my friend.” Train guy announced.

Julie was unsure if he was asking her to accompany him.

“Right.”

A man’s voice echoed across the small square outside and Julie found herself hoping it would be Eric. Annoyed at herself for being a cliché, she turned to see a group of men walking towards the hostel. They were all tall, blonde and wearing various black rock band t-shirts.

“Anders?” one of them called.

He had the longest hair Julie had ever seen on a man. He looked like Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves.

Train guy jumped up and grabbed his pack, bolting through the door as the group crowded around.

Ah, German, Julie thought.

The group seemed to fill the tiny square as they took turns shaking hands with Anders. It was nice to put a name to a face. Julie smiled at her own sarcasm and watch them walk back towards the stairs they had taken with Eric.

She smiled again, but for a different reason.

Eric. No one she had met over the course of her entire 3-week holiday from Athens to Paris had shown even the slightest interest in her. At times, it was almost as if she was invisible. Now here was a handsome French man with his own café who was showing a lot of interest. Okay, she thought, there has to be something wrong with him. He must be a serial killer. Contrary to what her sister, Carla, was always telling her, not all foreign guys are perverts and serial killers. What would she know anyway? Carla was 25 and thought a hen weekend in Blackpool was the height of sophistication.

Two girls walked through the foyer and smiled at her on their way out the front door and as an old couple walked hand in hand through the square, their shopping pulled behind in a floral trolley. The market would be finished and people would be heading home for their afternoon siesta and the city would be deserted for the next couple of hours. She really had to get her accommodation sorted. Standing in an empty foyer wasn’t getting her anywhere. Just about to pick up the brochure she had laid on the small front desk, she noticed the man’s silhouette was once more approaching the lace curtained window.

The door opened and the small man once again surveyed the foyer.

“Il a quitté?” he said softly?

“Er, je ne comprends pas. Je parle Anglais.” Julie stammered.

It really was unforgiveable how little French she knew after five years of school.

“He has gone? The German?” the small man repeated.

“Oh yes, he left, he said you had no room?”

“No room for Germans, no, but you can’t print that in a brochure can you?”

“Um, no…”

There was an awkward silence.

“Is it just you? You want a dorm bed? Only women in that part of the hotel, okay?”

“Yes!”

Julie startled the elderly man with her enthusiasm.

“This is turning out to be an excellent day! And to think I wasn’t even going to come to Paris. I’ve been here a few times and it’s not really my cup of tea.”

The man handed her the key but looked as though he wanted to snatch it back.

“Mademoiselle, Paris is the best city in the world.”

Julie couldn’t believe she had just offended the old man, only the second person who had shown her any kindness in the last three weeks. The first being Eric, but he was possibly only after one thing, or he was a serial killer.

“No, I love Paris, really, I just don’t know it well. I haven’t been here since I was twelve. It’s boring for a little kid.”

The smile that had been inching across his face fell into a frown again.

“I’m sorry, I am being so rude. It was a school trip and I was homesick. I am going to enjoy Paris this time. I promise!” she said.

“You are going to fall in love!” he announced.

***

Julie had hoped the bar would be more crowded but she was fairly sure Eric would not be able to see her from her vantage point. Her heart was still pounding from the altercation with the strange girls in the hostel and she was praying her belongings would be safe with them. It was all a blur. She could recall the key in her hand. She could recall trailing after Agnethe, the statuesque woman who seemed to materialise at the doorway seemingly at the rattle of the keys. Then suddenly it seemed like Julie was standing in the messy dorm room surrounded by angry women shouting at each other in a language she couldn’t understand. The group of equally statuesque blondes seemed unimpressed to have another room-mate but Julie could only glean this information from the daggers they were shooting her and one woman’s apparent reluctance to take her belongings from the only spare bunk in the room.

Agnethe simply stood and pulled the gear from the bunk, dumping it in the middle of the card game the girls had been playing. Unlike the other girls in the room, Julie was terrified of Agnethe but grateful she was on her side in the exchange.

“Your bed, dear.” Agnethe said, waving her hand like she was on New Price is Right.

“Thanks”

Julie smiled weakly and dumped her pack on the lower bunk. Agnethe said something to the group of women and made a chopping action with her hand. Julie gulped and tried to smile in their direction. She’d felt like she was going to wet herself right in front of them. Turning her back, she slipped the padlocks on the zippers and quietly slipped the bike-lock around the timber bed post and through the straps. They would have to use a knife if they wanted to go through her pack. There was nothing of any value but she didn’t fancy coming back to the room to find her dirty underwear strewn everywhere. Again. After pulling the blanket over her pack, she studiously avoided their gaze and left them to their cards. What was it with people? Julie felt as though she was zigzagging from one frustrating encounter to another on this trip and frankly couldn’t wait to get back to London. She didn’t want to think about the new job she was starting in less than 48 hours, where no doubt, she would have a new group of people to navigate. When would she be able to just fit in without first putting her foot in her mouth and tripping up in every new encounter?

Perhaps she was being a little hard on herself though. Agnethe was – helpful, and Olivier, the elderly man at reception had been nice to her, eventually. He’d turned out to be a sheep in wolf’s clothing, even if he was a racist. When were the old people going to realise the war was long over and the Germans weren’t their enemy anymore? It was the 80s for crying out aloud. And then there was Eric. Julie watched him as he expertly traversed his mother’s crowded café, tray held aloft, skilfully placing the large, white china plates in front of the diners on one table, then deftly retrieving his notebook to take orders at the next table. He was like a dancer in his black pants and long white apron, his hair slicked back, as he wound his way between the tables as though he was doing the Paso Doble.

Julie lifted her glass to her lips and took a sip, her eyes not leaving Eric as he walked back towards what she guessed was the kitchen. He stopped and seemed to be talking to another staff member. He suddenly turned on his heel and looked directly at her, lifting his hand in a friendly wave, the same huge smile he had shown her earlier plastered across his face. Julie spat her mouthful of liquid back into the glass to the thinly-veiled disgust of the woman behind the bar. Julie smiled weakly at the woman’s back as she went to serve someone at the Tabac counter. Eric was still looking in her direction so she lifted her hand to wave back. To her horror, he left the café and walked into the sunny square. Wiping his hands across his elegant apron, he smiled at two women who seemed to be asking a question.

“Oh. Silly.” She said under her breath.

How could she have thought he’d been looking at her, waving at her. She felt a little silly and pushed her drink away. He hadn’t been smiling and waving at her at all. At least he wouldn’t have seen her spit her coke back in the glass. With the sun drenched square between them she would have been invisible to him in the dark bar.

Eric stood in the bright sunshine, talking to the women before directing them into the restaurant. Watching them go into the café, he smoothed his hair down and turned again towards the bar Julie was sitting in. Holding her breath, she looked down, panicking again. She turned her back, studying the wood panelled wall covered in advertising for the lotto and scratch tickets they sold at the tiny tabac counter at the rear of the bar as Faith started playing softly on the radio. Julie tapped her foot along with the music. She loved George Michael. Eric’s face was reflected in the mirrored Hennessey sign on the back wall as he stood on the threshold of the bar. He smiled when he saw her and she took a deep breath. He was far more handsome without the red Thriller jacket.

“You should come and have some lunch at a decent place.” He said.

He smiled at the young woman behind the bar who stuck her tongue out at him. She said a few words in French to him and he held his hands over his ears. Julie watched the exchange between them, hoping the gorgeous, reed thin woman in the ripped jeans wasn’t his girlfriend. Her cropped leather jacket was like a tiny version of the one George had worn in the Faith video, her midriff was toned and tanned and, was that a piercing Julie could see in her navel? And she had a pixie cut, not a desperately-in-need of a wash attempt to look like Demi Moore in St Elmo’s Fire, sans crimping of course! Julie felt her face begin to burn again. Impossibly cool chicks had a way of being intimidating and completely ignoring you at the same time.

Eric walked behind the bar and gave the girl a peck on each cheek. Oh no, girlfriend or ex or something, coming right up, Julie groaned inwardly but kept the smile plastered across her face.

“My cousin, Charlotte.” He said.

“Julie. Nice to meet you.”

Charlotte tilted her head at Julie and said something in French.

“I love your hair.” Julie replied and Charlotte laughed.

“Do you want another coke? This one is warm, I think.”

Charlotte placed a tall, fresh glass of Coke on the bar and took the other away, winking at Julie as she poured in down the drain.

“Thank you, Charlotte. Oh yes, Eric mentioned his cousin. Charlie…” Julie said.

“You were expecting a boy?” Charlotte swatted Eric with the dish-towel and said something in French that wasn’t very kind, judging by the look on his face.

Julie laughed at the pair, hoping the relief wasn’t too apparent on her face. She had no idea why she suddenly cared if this guy had a girlfriend, ex or otherwise. College crushes and unrequited lust for pop-stars aside, Julie had never been terribly into boys. Carla always had boyfriends and where did that get her? Knocked up and engaged, living in a pebbledash-semi near Leeds, that’s where. Julie couldn’t remember swearing off boys but that seemed to be the opinion in the family. Imagine what they’ll say when Eric rocks up at the door.

Whoa, Julie. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Finishing his play fight with his cousin, Eric picked up a tray of glasses and headed back towards the doorway.

“Please come for lunch, Julie. Bring your Coke.” Eric said, tilting his head towards the café Julie looked across the square at the café that had all but emptied in past twenty minutes and then at Eric. His hands were full but he gestured with head again. What was that look on his face. It was the same face her sister made when she wanted to borrow money from their mother; big eyes and a goofy smile. Why was he so keen to get her to his café, anyway? Julie looked at Charlotte who was looking at Eric as though he was a stranger.

“Julie, I have never, in all the years this guy has annoyed the hell out of me, seen him make that face.”
“What face?” he protested.

“The puppy dog face! Like a little doggie, begging for a treat.” She shook her head.

Julie felt her face redden again, but was happy to see Eric blushing too. The two older ladies drinking wine in the corner watched with rapt attention. Eric placed the tray of glasses back on the bar and walked over to Julie.

“Julie, would you please join me for lunch?” he asked.

A low ‘oh la la’ could be heard from the ladies in unison, their wine glasses raised partly to their mouths.

Julie softly cleared her throat. She was not used to that kind of attention.

“I’d love to, but you have to tell me why first.”

Each was holding the other’s attention, only marginally aware of the other women in the bar.

“Why? Because I’d like to get to know you. I think you are beautiful and intriguing.”

“Well that’s as good a reason as any. I would have just been happy to know you’re not a serial killer.”

Julie could her cheeks burning with what she hoped was a pretty shade of pink. She wasn’t sure why she always had to make a joke if someone said something nice, and that was just about the nicest thing anyone had ever said to her.

“Ha! Eric a serial killer. Oh no, he’s harmless.” Charlotte laughed, then turned to her cousin and said “I told you not to wear that red leather jacket.”

Julie nodded and Charlotte looked at her for agreement. Had she really just made a connection with someone? Someone cool who owned a bar in Paris? It felt great to be her right now, not to mention the butterflies that erupted in her stomach when she looked at Eric.

She hopped down off the stool and carrying her Coke, reached into her pocket and retrieved the Franc notes.

“Non. Eric will pay.” Charlotte said.

Was that a genuine smile? It sure looked like one. Julie looked over at Eric, who smiled, nodding at his cousin.

“Allons‘y.” Julie said.

Eric jumped to attention and held his arm out for Julie.

“Haven’t you forgotten something?” she said, pointing at the tray of glasses.

“I will bring them.” Charlotte interrupted. “Go.”

She slipped her arm into his and they walked out into the bright sunshine. The light really was different in Paris. Summer afternoons never looked like this in Leeds, but then she had never been asked to lunch by a gorgeous young man in Leeds. After asking where she would like to sit, Eric made sure Julie was seated comfortably and went through to the kitchen. The café was traditional and very pretty, the chestnut trees shading the cobblestones of the now deserted square. A lone pigeon strutted back and forth across the empty entrance to the metro as the two ladies who had been enjoying a drink in the bar wandered past, dragging their market haul behind them in colourful trolleys. They must be heading home for siesta, Julie guess, everyone else in Paris seemed to have disappeared, leaving just her and a couple of other diners in the café.

Charlotte came across the square carrying the tray of glasses as Eric reappeared from the kitchen with a two plates. He was talking to a beautiful older woman who, judging by the colour of her hair and her wide set eyes, had to be Eric’s mother. He stopped at the table, smiling down at Julie.

“My mother’s famous onion soup, to start.” Eric said, placing the shallow dishes on the table, the aroma rising up to meet Julie’s nostrils. Suddenly famished, she closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Almost involuntarily reaching for her spoon she stopped herself to look up to see the three of them looking at her; Eric smiling, the two women regarding her as if she was a rare bird.

“Er, thank you.” She stammered, replacing the spoon on the white tablecloth. She stood up and extended her hand towards the stunning dark haired beauty that was almost certainly Eric’s mother.

“Maman, this is Julie. Julie, this is my mother, Madame Cher.”

“L’Anglaise?” she said, reaching forward to shake Julie’s hand.

“Enchanté.” Julie said nervously. She had never actually used that phrase in a conversation with a real French Person before and hoped she didn’t sound like a complete idiot.

“Enchanté.” Charlotte repeated softly, a sweet smile on her face, as though it was the cutest thing she had ever heard. Julie could feel the heat rising in her cheeks again.

Eric’s mother said something to him in rapid French, a fixed smile on her face that was slightly unsettling. Julies stomach growled so loud she was convinced they all heard it.

“Bon appetite.” Charlotte and Madame Cher said in unison, before giggling like school girls and heading back over to the bar.

“Okay, that was…fun.” Julie said. “Thanks for the soup, it smells divine.”

“My pleasure.” Eric said, sitting down at the second bowl.

Julie wondered if that exchange had seemed completely normal to Eric, because she had certainly felt it was a little awkward. He seemed perfectly content, she thought. Eating in silence for a few minutes Julie allowed herself to get lost in the salty, cheesy goodness of definitely the best soup she had ever eaten.

“Have some bread. It is the best in Paris.” He said.

Julie laughed, taking the bread and following his lead, wiping the remains of the soup and devouring it.

“My mother said you are very pretty. Do you want salad with your chicken, or frites? Er chips?”

Julie blushed again, momentarily lost for words. This was easily the strangest day she had ever experienced. She had arrived in Paris, feeling lost and ignored by her traveling companion and here she was just hours later, being told she was pretty by a cute waiter. Although he had just said it was his mother who thought she was pretty, not him. Eric took her empty dish and saying “I’ll be back” Terminator style and heading back towards the kitchen. Julie couldn’t help but laugh.

“Chips, please.” She said to his back.

Eric turned and flashed that smile again and Julie felt the butterflies in her belly take flight. She watched him place the plates on the empty servery, exchange a few words and a laugh with the unseen person in the kitchen, and turn to look back towards her. He winked.

Did a guy just wink at me, Julie asked herself. She wasn’t really sure how to take a wink. The only other man who winked at her was her Great Uncle Edward and he was 82. Julie felt a smile creep across her mouth as she looked down. Was she pretending she hadn’t seen the wink?

Eric walked across the nearly-empty restaurant. The only other remaining diners were deep in conversation, their heads bent towards one another. The older couple were very well dressed; the woman’s jewellery was understated but even at that distance Julie could see it was beautiful. Her dress was the latest style but lacked the wide shoulder pads that most women were sporting in Leeds. Eric interrupted them, shaking hands with the man, kissing the lady on both cheeks. They spoke for a few moments, as Eric refilled their wine glasses. Suddenly, all three turned and looked at Julie, Eric giving her a little wave.

For the second time in an hour, Julie found herself waving at this good-looking guy who seemed really interested in her. She couldn’t help but wonder what he found so interesting about her and she wasn’t proud to admit she started to wonder if he was actually going to lure her to his under-ground bunker and chain her to the wall. She had never had anyone express this kind of interest in her, or any kind of interest for that matter.

She decided to turn her interest to the empty square, rather than be caught watching him again. Not even the pigeons were out and about on that hot afternoon but something about the shadows on the cobblestones mesmerised her and she didn’t hear Eric approaching with their meal.

“Hello? Are you dreaming? Cocorico! Wake up and smell the chicken!” he said softly as he placed the plate in front of her.

Almost jumping out of her skin, she closed her eyes and laughed. The interest he was paying her might have felt unusual to someone who was used to being invisible to the opposite sex, but it wasn’t creepy. As naïve as she was about boys, Julie knew the difference between interested and sleazy. Deciding to stop feeling as though he was a murderer waiting to get her alone, she giggled at his little joke.

“Thank you. This looks amazing!”

The thin fries were golden and the rotisserie chicken was the perfect colour and the smell was divine. The fact that she had been trying to be a vegetarian for a year was at the forefront of her mind as she bit into the flesh. Her mother’s voice, telling her she looked anaemic, how she needed iron and protein, bounced around in her head as she chewed. A vision of her mother’s face swam into view, triumphant smile on her face. She hated the idea of her mother being right about anything, but hated the idea of offending Eric more.

Julie watched Eric expertly cutting the meat, knife and fork poised in his elegant hands. At home, she would be picking at this meal with her fingers, elbows on the table, grease running down her chin.

“Vous aimez? Do you like it?” Eric asked between mouthfuls.

“Mmm, yes. It’s er, délicieux.” She said.

“It’s the recipe given to us by my Grandmother. That’s my uncle. Charlie is his daughter. He owns the restaurant with my mother. It has been in our family since just after the war. They were just teenagers when they started. They were the only two left, after the war.”

Eric seemed a little emotional sharing this information. Julie was constantly amazed at how fresh the memory of the war seemed to be for many Europeans. It seemed very different in England, at least to her generation. Great Uncle Edward had fought in both World Wars and seemed quite content to pretend none of it had ever happened, even refusing to accept his medals. His son John had collected the little boxes from the local council and placed them on his father’s mantel piece, only to find them in the dust-bin the next morning.

The sun had begun its descent towards the west as Julie finished the meal, as contented smile on her face. A group of ten or fifteen people had entered the picturesque little square, snapping photos of the ornate Metro entrance, the art-deco facade of the buildings and the rows of typically woven seats and small round tables in the café. After a few minutes the men in the group drifted towards the bar, obviously tourists in their shorts and tank tops, colourful day-packs and bum-bags like flags heralding their status as ambassadors from their home countries.

“Canadians!” Eric said out the corner of his mouth.

Not for the first time that afternoon, Julie was startled out of her reverie.

“We love Canadians; they are so polite and they spend up big!”

They both laughed as Charlotte gave them a grin as the group of tourists found shaded seats around a table and sent a volunteer to the bar to order the first round.

“I need to get a few things done, and perhaps help Charlie, then dinner service and then I will show you Paris?” Eric said in a rush of words.

Worried she had overstayed her welcome, Julie grabbed her purse, ready to pay for her meal.

“Sure yes, how much do I owe you for lunch, for the Cokes?” she smiled.

“No, it’s my gift to say welcome to my city. I don’t want you to leave, I just have work to do. If I could get you to stay right here all afternoon I would be so happy.”

His eyes were shining, his right hand covered hers gently. Her skin tingled at his touch.

“I am not sending you away, I… I just…” His eyes seemed to be pleading with her to understand that he wasn’t sending her away.

“Oh, yes. Of course you have work to do. I am going to take a look around.”

They stood and Eric looked towards the kitchen, then back towards the bar. His Uncle had gone across and was currently standing behind the bar pouring beers. Julie felt a strange surge of warmth for this family who seemed so close, so kind to one another, so unlike her own dysfunctional home life. The warmth was followed by a more familiar emotion, guilt. She didn’t know these people; it was unfair of her to compare them to her own family who had struggled under so much bad luck.

“Would you like to come back for dinner? Please say yes.”

“I er, have to meet my friend. She is staying with her family near the Louvre.” Julie wasn’t sure why she had lied about having a friend in Paris but there it lay between them and she was convinced he knew she was lying.

“Okay, I can meet you? I will be finished here at…10. Can I come by and collect you at the hostel? I don’t have a car, just my bike, but if your friend wants to join us we can just catch the metro. Perhaps Charlotte will come too. Her boyfriend works in the Marais; we can go to his bar.”

He gestured towards the entrance of the station, where they had met only a few hours before.

“My friend, um, is busy tonight, I will meet her for, er a drink, then we, yes, er…” Julie stammered.

“I will meet you at the hostel. A few minutes after ten. Tonight.” He said, taking charge of the situation.

He leaned across and kissed both her cheeks. Not exactly kisses, just his cheek gently touching hers, a small tingle from the shadow of stubble running up her spine.

“Yes.” She replied when no other words seemed to come.

“Go and see some of Paris and say hello to your friend for me, and I will pick you up tonight.”

“Okay, yes. See you at ten.”

Julie turned away and walked across the square in a daze.  This is why she never seemed to go out with the boys at college. Even when they asked, they never seemed to mind taking no for an answer. Or not even a no, they always took her lack of certainty as a no, when really she wasn’t really sure what to say. Now here was a boy, a man, who had been quite sure he wanted to spend time with her. It felt weird. And nice.

Now to rescue her pack from the card players in the hostel and go have a drink with her imaginary friend.

***

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