One month ago . . .
* * *
Some ex-girlfriends are like too-dark pencil lines on a sketch. Erasing them is impossible—they leave smudges or impressions on the paper that will show through anything you try to put over it. There’s nothing for it but to rip out the page and start a fresh one.
It’s time to tear out Jenny.
That’s the plan as Simon and I head out from my flat on a Friday night in June to catch the Metro to Oberkampf. Rip out the Jenny page and see what, if anything, takes shape on the next.
Maybe that’s melodramatic, but this is Paris after all. The French half of me overrules the stiff upper lip issued with my British passport. I grew up with Mum in London but spent summers in France with my dad. Now I’m experiencing everything Paris has to offer—the food, the dance clubs, the galleries, and the joy of being dumped for Christophe the sculptor.
Would I be nearly so upset if she hadn’t left to be with another artist? Simon and I slide onto the semi-crowded train, which feels like a bit of a party already, and I decide introspection can wait.
“All right, Julien,” Simon says. “On with part two of the purge of Jenny from Pittsburgh.”
“Jenny who?” I feign bewilderment. “Where is Pittsburgh? Is that near Leeds?”
He laughs and punches my shoulder. “That’s what I’m talking about.” More subtly, he lowers his voice and tips his head to indicate a pair of pretty women sitting not far from us. They’re dressed for a night out, with low-cut shirts and lots of leg showing. “We should invite them to come along,” he says.
“It’s as if you can read my mind.”
“Or I just know what’s good for you.”
“Convenient that it coincides with what you want to do.”
“The universe is telling us something, mate. And it sounds like ‘Forget what’s-her-face and do some high-quality socialization.’”
He offers a hand and we knock fists then head over to chat up the blonde and the brunette. When we find out they’re headed to the same stop as we are, Simon flashes a big smile. “What are the chances?”
That’s my cue. “We’re meeting up with friends at this club. You should come along.” I’m getting back out there.
We exchange names as the train rattles into the next stop, and when the doors open, the four of us walk down the cobbled street in search of a neon-lit door leading to an underground club. Inside, the music is so loud that I can’t hear anyone—not the women we just met, not my friends from university, not any of the people that Simon corrals into the dimly lit corner. The dancing and the music drown me in a riot of sound and motion that leaves no room for what’s-her-name from Pittsburgh.
Which is all I’m looking for from the evening. I’m not looking to hook up or get wasted or high, and I dance late into the night, surrounded by friends and strangers.
I leave by myself, well after the trains have stopped running, but I’m not ready to go home to my flat. Without really planning it, I find myself at the service entrance of the Musée d’Orsay, where I’m an intern.
I use my key card to get in and greet the security guard. “Bonsoir, Charles.”
“Working late again?” he asks, looking up from his desk.
“It’s the only time it’s quiet enough to focus,” I tell him, heading for the public galleries.
He shakes his head and shrugs as if baffled by my hours, the faculty’s demands, and why I’d put up with it.
Two reasons: my sister is the head of the museum—she didn’t help me get the internship, but she definitely makes sure I earn it—and I’m not actually here to work tonight. Tonight and a lot of nights.
Charles lays down the magazine he’s reading. “Does it ever spook you, walking through the galleries at night?”
I pause and glance back, curious what he means. “No. Why would it?”
He gives the kind of “Who can say?” shrug I’ve never seen anyone give as well as the French. “The lights are low, the portraits watch you go by . . . Some people find it eerie.”
“Maybe I just know it too well,” I tell him with a grin. He returns it as I get on my way.
I make for the stairs to visit my favorite Van Gogh. But I don’t even reach the second floor, because I catch a swish of pale fabric as someone in a skirt rushes into a nearby gallery.
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