If it’s Friday, it’s Paris, I thought with a grin as I looked at the two open bottles of champagne clutched in my hands. Man, I loved my job. My personal life was nonexistent, but my job? Yeah, I could put a nice big green check mark in that box. I sat crossed-legged next to my sister Anna on the floor of the nicest kitchen this side of the Seine’s left bank, swilling French bubbly.
Our view of the rest of the apartment spanned out in front of us like something from a celebrity magazine feature. Pastel-blue drapes in duchesse satin. White cane armchairs. Cream-colored marble and gold-leaf accents. My handiwork. I traveled the world buying and decorating upscale vacation rentals for my employer, Brooks Property. Until I was out of town and the property went on the market, it was mine to do with what I liked.
This time I was throwing a twenty-fifth birthday bash for Anna. Usually, I’d just sun on the private decks or take a lot of hot baths in the ever-present “spa tubs” these tony places inevitably featured. Frankly, it was much more fun having someone to share it with. I just wished the other people Anna had invited to share it with hadn’t included the Marchand brothers. That was the funny thing about saying, “Do whatever you want.” People do. And now, after ten years of dodging, I was going to have to open my door to Jack Marchand with a smile on my face.
“We probably should have bought a baguette and some cheese,” Anna said, also double-fisting bottles. She took a gulp from the left, a gulp from the right, squinted and then finally put the bottles on the floor. “Is it wrong that I just want to go with the pretty pink stuff because it matches my dress?”
“It’s your birthday,” I said, looking with some amusement at my sister, all peaches-and-cream complexion, plump curves and pink fuzzy sweater. Of course she wanted pink champagne. Apart from our matching blue eyes, we were opposites. I had a closet full of slim little black dresses, black leggings and black sweaters to go with dark hair that I sometimes dyed darker. We had six different bottles of the finest champagne Paris had to offer in front of us, and she just wanted the pretty pink stuff.
But for the first time in my life I had plenty of money, and if my little sister wanted two thousand bottles of the pretty pink stuff, that was what she was gonna get for her special day.
Anna came back from the refrigerator with a massive brick of butter, a knife and a box of crackers we’d bought earlier in the day at the Monoprix. “Maybe I’ll meet someone at the party,” she said, handing me a slathered round.
“You know everybody. They’re your guests.”
“Yes, but people change. And people bring dates they won’t leave with. And people also get divorced. God, this butter is good.”
“You’re the only person I know who can make that sound not entirely as awful as it should.”
“I just wish I understood men a little bit better. They can be so—”
“Disappointing?” I suggested.
“Confusing. Remember, I saw Jack at the five-year reunion. He was lovely. I mean, all the Marchand boys are still…sort of…bad. But we’ve all grown up.”
I rolled my eyes, annoyed that the thought of a wealthy French bad boy still appealed to some shallow part of my soul. Some shallow, shallow, shallow part of my soul. I groaned. “Tell me again that he was unattractive and charmless.”
Anna raised an eyebrow. “Um, no. You know I never said that. He was as handsome and charming as ever.”
I grimaced. “He always was a smooth talker.”
“You used to call it a talent with words.”
“You called it charismatic.”
“And those stupid leather sneakers.”
“The ones that used to make you swoon? I didn’t notice.” Anna brightened. “I did notice his sense of humor.”
“The joke was on me. Hey, you’re supposed to be on my side.”
“I am on your side!” Anna said, flailing the butter knife around. “Why do you think I invited him? I think he’s a good man who once did a bad thing, not a bad man who once did a good thing. Remember the business with the keg stand?”
I winced. I remembered Jack as a brilliantly fun, even-keeled guy, but he had a line. A line that was not to be crossed. And when that line was crossed, he had a temper. And someone had crossed that line with Anna, and he’d used that temper to good purpose that day. But that didn’t excuse what he did to me.
“Besides, I know he wants to see you. And you need closure!”
“Did you forget how he basically made the second half of high school a complete misery?” I asked.
Anna put down the butter knife with great ceremony and turned to me. “What is it you always say to me?”
“Living well is the best revenge.”
She gestured grandly to the gorgeous apartment and then to me. She said something else about how seeing me now would make him realize what he’d lost out on, and described some bizarre theory about how men needed to experience with all of their senses what they were missing in order to have regrets. I was busy wondering what else about grown-up Jack might be the same as the things I’d adored in high-school Jack.
“Not that I really understand men,” Anna said, punctuating her final words with the last cracker.
I grunted. “If you want to understand men, just remember that every man has a tell.”
Anna laughed, her fingers covering a bulging mouth. She swallowed and said, “I never noticed. I mean, beyond losing the ability for intelligent thought when confronted by a woman’s naked body.”
“That’s a universal to all men. I’m talking about something way more individual. I’m talking about the sort of tell that points out a man’s vulnerability. The almost imperceptible evidence of a man’s Achilles’ heel.”
My sister considered that and then shook her head. “I really can’t think of an example.”
“You’re not the keen observer I am,” I said. “You’re the great big golden retriever romping in the middle of everything. You’re too much in it. I’m on the side, watching. And I can say with great certainty, that every man has his tell.”
“Maybe it’s time you stopped standing on the side. No reason you should. Look at all you’ve done. And did you just call me a dog?”
I giggled. “Pass the champagne.”
“Is it wrong if I say I don’t care? Whichever’s closer.”
“So what are you going to do when you see him?” Anna asked. “You can’t run. You’re the host.”
“There’s nothing to be done. Standing on the side observing doesn’t automatically make you a wallflower. It makes you capable of making well-informed decisions. Like my decision to ignore Jack Marchand. I will greet him pleasantly, like the good host that I am. I will make sure he has a glass of pretty pink stuff, and then I will go host someone else. He’s not going to expect anything else. He’s zero to me, and I’m zero to him.” I demonstrated the absolute zero-ness of it all by vigorously brushing the crumbs off my leggings onto the floor. You are the crumbs I am brushing onto the floor, Marchand. The particles of the pieces of the crumbs I am brushing onto the floor. The microscopic dust on the particles—
“I think this is a grand opportunity for closure,” Anna said, eyeing the way I appeared to be rubbing a hole in the thighs of my leggings.
“Closure? Hell, this door has been closed to him for a decade already.”
“And yet you still get all hot and bothered whenever his name comes up.”
“Bothered. Just bothered. It’s not my fault he’s a bad memory that lingers.”
Anna licked the butter off her fingers and rewrapped the much-diminished cube. “You might only be bothered, but I’m willing to bet he’s still hot.”