We sat in your kitchen for longer than it really took to eat our soup and drink the tea you prepared. In truth both had gone quite cold by the time we had reached the last sip. There is some benefit to being naked on a first encounter in that no conversation could possibly be as awkward as the moment of unexpectedly shared nudity. We had a long conversation about where we were at in life, and what had brought us to this point. You grilled me on the stupidity of driving in a winter storm without proper shoes or jacket. I mockingly grilled you on the silliness of a woman taking in a stranger in the middle of the night, and how that’s how many horror movies start. You retorted with a quick quip about how that is how a lot of porno movies start as well, much to my amusement.
“You’ll have to wait out the storm.” you told me abruptly.
“To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about leaving.” I chuckled nervously, “I mean you’re such a gracious host.” to which you laughed as well.
“Well being that your car is in a ditch and we’re supposed to be getting even more snow throughout the night. No tow truck driver in his right mind would come and get you tonight. Besides, your clothes are completely soaked.” You continued, “No you’ll have to stay the night at least.”
“I’m surprisingly comfortable with that.” I say to you with a smirk on my face.
You realize all at once that we’re still sitting here, naked but for two small towels. One around my waist, and the other around your torso which was barely long enough to reach mid-thigh. “Ah, yes. Well I’m going to go get dressed now. I’ll see if I’ve got any of my dad’s old things left. He wasn’t exactly your size though.” Your dad was a typical Canadian farmer. Barrel chested, over 6 feet tall, and thick with years of farm work.
“Well, something is better than nothing.” I smile and then follow you out of the kitchen and down the hall. As I do so I look at the hallway pictures. Most are of your parents. Some are of your brothers and you as youngsters, but one picture stands out. “You have to tell me the story behind this picture Alcina.”
You stop in your tracks and turn to see the picture I’m looking at. “Oh goodness. That picture……” you pause for a moment, biting your lip and I catch you pushing back unwelcomed emotion. “That was in Paris……”
We are currently looking for good looking Male and Female for fashion magazines and catalogues. No experience necessary but it will be appreciated.
You’ll be taught how to pose, to change different emotions and work in front of the camera.
You do not need to have experience but you have to be a confident person. A fashion model is required to have strong work ethic and positive attitude.
Putting the paper down you sighed to yourself. It wasn’t the first choice, but a girl that worked at the restaurant with you said she made 150 euros in a single 2 hour photo shoot and you knew you needed the cash. Picking up the phone you slowly dialed the number at the bottom of the ad, being sure to key in each number correctly while your hand slightly shuddered in nervous anticipation. A big breath in, a big sigh out. Calm. Cool. Collected…
“Bonjour?” a woman answered in a smooth Parisian accent, “comment puis-je vous aider?”
Shit. “Um, je parle only a petit peu de la francaise.” you manage to blubber out in very poor french.
“Ah. D’accord. Vous êtes un Américain?” the woman replied, the disdain dripping through the language barrier.
“Non, Non.” you quickly blurt, “Je suis Canadien. I’m sorry. Je suis désolé. I’ve somehow forgotten all of my French.” you admit, exasperated and disappointed in your failure.
“No problem. We can’t all be perfect you know. This is ok. We may talk in English then.”
“Thank you. I actually called because of your ad in the paper.”
“Which ad, we have many.”
“The one looking for models?”
“Ah les modèles. Oui. You want Léon then. Une minute s’il vous plaît.” You could hear shuffling on the other end of the phone as it was covered, the message was delivered, then the rough hand off to the next person. “Bonjour c’est Léon.”
“Hi…I…I’m calling about your ad in the paper…the one for models for fashion magazines?”
“Ah oui. Ok you come down. We see you. We see if you are good at the job. If yes, then job. If no so sorry but no. This is ok, yes?” Léon stated matter of factly.
“Yes. Ah I mean oui. C’est bien.” you stammer.
“Oh you speak some French?”
“A little. I’m rusty. Uh…I.. J’ai oublié l’essentiel.”
“Ah. Yes. Well maybe we talk more tomorrow and you remember.” Léon chuckled. “D’accord. Tomorrow you come to my studio. Jeanne will do your make-up and hair. You’ll have outfits to wear. We see how you do yes? Maybe you are good? If so, we keep you. ok? This is fair, no?”
“Yes…no…uh…it’s fair. Where do I meet you? I mean, where is the studio?”
“Ok you come to 18th arrondissement. You know it? La Butte Montmartre. We meet at Chez Toinette at 3pm. Have un café. We talk. You like me, I like you, then we go to my studio. I walk you there. Yes?”
“Ok. I’ll see you tomorrow at Chez Toinette at 3pm. Thank you Léon. À demain.”
With that you hung up the phone. Your heart finally slowing down it’s rapid pace and your nerves start to settle.
“So? When do you meet him?”
You turn to look at your friend, “3pm tomorrow.” You take a big breath in. “I don’t know Céline. I’m nervous. I don’t know if I can go through with it.”
“Oh don’t be silly. He’s a professional. He’s good at his job. He makes it easy. I was nervous too, but after 15 minutes with him, I didn’t feel so naked.”
“What? What…..what do you mean…naked?”
She paused, obviously carefully choosing her next words so as to not startle you, “Well not really naked but it’s close to it you know?”
“No….no actually I don’t know. What am I in for here Céline?”
“It’s an expression. I said it wrong. You feel naked. You feel exposed because he has the camera and you’re being investigated. You’re being watched.” Céline smiled a gentle sisterly smile and you felt at ease immediately.
“Oh. Ok. Well, that makes sense then.” you smile, “it would be weird if he was the first man I’d be naked in front of.” as you stifle a giggle.
You were eighteen years old now. A young woman. Here you were in Paris, the city of lovers. It exuded sexuality and sensuality with every brick, every cobble, every couple hand in hand walking down it’s many cozy streets and romantic avenues. Here you were, alone. Free.
It had taken all of your charms to convince your parents to let you come to Paris for the summer. Even though it was for a 3 month internship at an international aid organization they, like so many other parents, had imagined all the horrible possibilities that this excursion could entail. Everything from meeting a boy and simply being heartbroken, all the way up to being abducted and held for ransom by crazed French terrorists. Letting you go was probably the bravest single action your parents had taken in the last 30 years.
The internship itself was definitely a challenge, but the language barrier was the hardest part. Having only being taught french in Canada it took a few weeks to get used to the speedy but silky smooth Parisian accent. It also took quite a bit of effort to round off your own Quebecois influenced accent. To the French hearing a Quebecois accent is like a Londoner hearing someone from Louisiana speak. No matter how intelligent the individual from Louisiana may be, the Londoner can’t help but think they have suffered a traumatic brain injury or stroke. Similarly the first reaction of most Parisians upon hearing you was to lean in with a puzzled look on their face as if it seemed to be that you were slow in the head. The other more common reaction was much worse, where they winced and recoiled in horror as the sound of her french grated against their ears like salt in an open wound. It struck you as ironic that individuals that worked at an international aid organization could be so darn snooty.
The job itself wasn’t even a job. Being that it was an internship, the organization only paid for a small room and modest expenses to take care of food and transportation. The room they had rented for you was a bit of a dump, and the money for expenses barely covered your daily subway ticket and one meal a day. At first you joked with yourself that the lack of money for food would help you get rid of the extra winter pounds that had accumulate. That stopped being funny by the second week when it was possible to hear your stomach grumbling over the regular precision of the subway while it clicked across it’s subterranean rails.
By week three you had decided that enough was enough. Pocketing the expenses set aside for your individual room you hitched up with a co-worker and became her room-mate. You then took her advice and got a job in a small café down the street that was almost always full of businessmen on the weekday evenings, and tourists on the weekends. Céline was a great girl and a good friend. She quickly taught you the ins and outs of restaurant work. She taught you how a well placed slightly flirtatious smile could really open the wallets of most french businessmen. As well as speaking english to tourists in a well crafted parisian accent would make them believe you’re going the extra mile just for them. Within no time you had gotten the hang of it and with the tip money had actually been able to eat more than once in a day.
Céline was a natural Parisian though. She was exotic to your prarie soaked Canadian eyes. Her accent was sensual and you caught yourself on more than one occasion just staring at her lips as she spoke. There was nothing particularly special about the way Céline looked. She was not especially beautiful, nor was she especially plain. She was in the grey middle area that most women fit. The girl next door. A sweet face and average looks. But to you, she was beautiful in everyway. If you were ever going to be interested in a girl, it would be Céline.
The great thing about her, what was certainly the most intoxicating feature of her personality was that she was absolutely fearless. She didn’t appear to worry about what others thought of her. With touches of punk and goth her style was both abrasive and attractive. Often she would go to work with a 5inch mohawk, dark eyeliner, and tall laced up combat boots. The manager never said a word. He just let her finish her shift dressed like that. It likely kept the café interesting to the patrons. “What will Céline wear today?” they probably wondered, then were greeted with fishnet stockings, black mini skirt, and a torn sweatshirt from some ivy league american university. No doubt a trophy from a tourist patron, turned bedfellow.
Coming from the quiet reserved Canadian prairies she was a welcomed shock to your system. As the weeks passed you started to develop your own brand of rebellious streak. Of course it didn’t start out like that immediately. Like any 18 year old under the influence of a charismatic peer, you unconsciously began to mimic her. You didn’t likely realize that you were doing it at the time. First you started borrowing her makeup since yours ran out. Then you started mimicking her style of makeup, then her style of dress borrowing a shirt here, or a pair of shorts there. Before long it wasn’t uncommon for people to ask for you by asking “Where is Céline’s sister?” Secretly, you didn’t mind the association at all. After all, Céline was gorgeous, she was sexy. If you were her sister, wouldn’t that mean you’re gorgeous too?
The modeling gig was another Céline moment. She had said that a few months back she modeled for this man and he paid her 150 euros for only 2 hours of work. Your internship was rapidly coming to an end and having 150 euros to spend on gifts and trinkets to remind you of your time would be a great way of ending your time in Paris. Céline stood behind this man. She trusted him and liked him, so of course you knew you could too.
Tonight turned into tomorrow and immediately upon opening your eyes in the morning butterflies shot into your stomach. You turned in your bed to look across the room and see if Céline was still in bed. To your relief, she was, but the moment the duvet moved you realized it wasn’t only Céline in her bed. The extra lump in the bed shifted and you swiftly raised your own duvet to cover up so only your eyes were visible. Céline’s bed shifted again and you saw her look over at you and smile with an almost evil twinkle. She slowly pulled down the cover to reveal…..another girl? “Oh?” you blurted before you could contain yourself, quickly covering your mouth again. Céline just shook her head and smiled at you. Her bed mate pushed the covers back and pulled Céline down into a sweet good morning kiss. Awkwardly you slipped out of bed, into your slippers and shuffled out of the room to go make breakfast for all three.
About half an hour later, and after quite a bit of giggling and moving about, the two other women emerged from your shared bedroom. Céline was already perky, and beautiful as ever. Her friend had an interesting androgynous but somehow still sexy look. Her jet black hair was cut very short, much like a pixie cut and her clothes, or maybe they were Céline’s, hung off her in a ragged but attractive way.
“Al, this is my friend Michelle.” Céline moved her hand as if presenting two choices of food groups. “Michelle, this is Al. She’s the Canadian I told you about.”
“Enchanté.” Michelle responded, and before you realized she had given you a kiss on both cheeks. This wasn’t the first time you’d been kissed on the cheek as a greeting, but for some reason it was completely different to your body. There was a jolt of electricity that shot down your body from your face, down your neck, and on through your legs and fingers.
“Pareillement.” you manage to croak. Surprising yourself with your odd feelings. Céline looked you over with a bit of a twinkle in her eye and then continued as if it was just a normal day, walking over to the kettle to start it on a boil.
“Al, is heading back to Canada in a week.” Céline revealed to Michelle.
“Oh? C’est con.” Michelle responded, her face translating her sympathies automatically.
“Yes. But before she goes she’s going to pose for Léon to make money and buy gifts for her family.”
“Ohhhhh.” Michelle looked at Céline and smirked. “She’s looking to have memories for home yes?” Michelle continued, turning her head to you as she finished.
“Yes?” you respond, not quite sure about what is happening. You have the sense there is an inside joke that you might be missing but you can’t be completely sure.
“Léon Beaulac is magnifique; he’s uh great. He make some perfect memories for you.” Michelle oozed. Her thick accent rolling off her tongue and hypnotising you as she spoke. “He made perfect memories for Céline too. You know?”
“Yes, she told me she had worked for him before.”
“Oh! So you know. Ok this is good. You’ll like Léon. He’s good to be work for.” Michelle stated cooly. “When do you see ‘im?”
“Today. I’m meeting him in a café in La Butte Montmartre.”
“Do you want us to come with you? For the support?”
“Oh Michelle that is so perfect. Yes Al, we come with you yes? For the support. ok?” Céline agreed.
Without a delay except to put down your tea you respond, “Oh you would? That would be fantastic! I’ve been so nervous it will be nice to have to more women there.”
“Ok you meet at 3pm yes? In the café? Ok. We leave in an hour. Then there’s time to browse the shops. You’ll like it. Very pretty. Like you!” Céline bubbled with enthusiasm and kissed you on the cheek, whisking Michelle into the bedroom in a wave of giggles.
Sitting alone in the dining room with your tea you smile to yourself and think about what you could get your parents to thank them for trusting you to come to Paris.
An hour later the three of you were at the door. Three musketeers with varying degrees of individualistic style. Céline had punked her hair to it’s full 5” mohawk, worn her combat boots, fishnet stockings and short shorts. You had borrowed Céline’s 4” heels, a ruby red pencil skirt, and a tight lightly torn t-shirt with some french slogan that still didn’t make sense to you. Michelle was the most normal of the bunch, wearing skin tight jeans that managed to show off her feminine qualities, and the ivy league sweat shirt from Céline’s tourist “friend”. You made your way down to the subway and off to 18th arrondissement. The passengers of the subway car were a mixed bag of Parisians and tourists but all of them looked at the three musketeers; either with disdain, admiration, or attraction. The look of confusion on some men’s faces as the looked at Michelle was mildly amusing. You could tell they weren’t sure if they were supposed to be attracted to her or not. She did have a certain sexual quality that emanated from her, but you couldn’t quite nail it down if it was masculine or feminine. On more than one occasion you caught her winking at both men and women, sometimes at the same time. You could tell how her and Céline would have a connection. They both didn’t really care about the judgements of others. Secretly, deep inside, you wished that you could have more of their courage.
Watching the passengers of the subway car was somehow soothing. Seeing each person in their own space, quiet with their own thoughts. All of them going about their day one minute at a time. There were a few times when you caught people looking at you. A couple of times it was an older man clearly ogling but pretending to be unimpressed. But what was most interesting was when you caught a guy looking at you who was clearly holding the hand of his girlfriend. He just smiled at you and winked. You couldn’t help but smile back. He was, after all, quite a handsome guy. What was strange though is the feeling it gave you. Simultaneously you felt powerful for being able to attract his attention, and dirty for attracting that same attention. Why couldn’t you be more like Céline? Why couldn’t you just take the compliment and enjoy the moment? After all you didn’t do anything wrong so why should you feel bad. You watch his girlfriend look up at him and then trace his gaze to you. Startled you sit as still as a statue. He leans over to whisper something in her ear and she smiles at you then winks just like him. Not expecting this you have no clue how to react and can’t help but smile back. Paris really is for lovers.
After 40 minutes or so, the subway ride was over and the three musketeers stood as one and sauntered out of the car. Making your way up to the surface and after your eyes adjusted to the light, Michelle grabbed your left hand, and Céline your right. They both smile at you, kissed you simultaneously on both cheeks then the three of you walked hand in hand into the busy tight streets of La Butte Montmartre. The district was awash with all manner of people but unlike the bustling of a busy city filled with skyscrapers, the intimate and artsy surroundings caused a tremor of excitement to be exuded from each individual. The air was electric and it pulsed through all three of you as you bounded down the street with careless abandonment.
The few hours of shopping with Céline and Michelle were the most free, the most enchanting, and the most like a French movie that you had ever experienced. Whisking through shops selling hats then off to street vendors selling artistic charcoal nudes. The atmosphere was so open and accepting. Couples of every kind walked hand in hand or arm and arm. The passers by just looked at the three of you as if to say c’est la vie but in the most amicable way possible. Céline’s harsh exterior melted as you watched her thumb through dresses and Michelle looked radiant trying out a bright red lipstick. This was the type of atmosphere you wanted to live in. These were the type of people you wanted to be with. These girls were the type of girls you would want to be lifelong friends with. Paris was the new home for your heart. Your shoulders then collapsed in and you slouched with the realization, you only had a week left. Only a week then it was back to the prairies. Back to Canadian summers and harsh Canadian winters. Back to reserved, close minded, and overly polite people. Where would you ever find a Céline back home? Your family house was on a farm. The nearest town had less people in it than the square block of cafés you just passed by. The thought weighed you down. Pulling you from the delightful highs of a grand day out on the town, into the doldrum and cultural desert that you were destined to return to. What an utterly depressing thought. Looking up from the sidewalk you had tears in your eyes. You looked to your side to Céline and she turned to you with a knowing look. Taking your sniffling face in both of her gentle soft and feminine hands she looked deep into your eyes and said softly, “Paris will always be here for you. We will always be here for you.” then kissed you gently on your tear soaked lips as Michelle wrapped her arms around both of you, squeezing tight.
Céline lovingly wiped the tears from your cheeks, making sure to avoid smudging your makeup. “Come. We go to see Léon now.” she directed as Michelle nodded enthusiastically.
“I…I don’t know. I don’t know if I can. If I’m able to right now.” you sobbed openly. The flood gates open now feeling each tender embrace from your fellow musketeers.
“Non. Non cherie. Now is the perfect time. You’ll see. Léon will take care of you. And when you are done you will have many more beautiful memories to hold in our heart.” Michelle cooed graciously.
You look up at her and nod in submission to their will. Taking a moment to straighten yourself up you casually look at the window of a nearby shop to check your reflection in the glass. Inside you can see the many tiny sculptures displayed with care. Clowns, and mimes, soldiers and revolutionists, and of course ballet dancers in perfect posture. The were so elegant. So austere. But their faces held no emotion. Perhaps it was the person looking at her who was responsible for carrying her emotions. You sigh to yourself and shake off the dreary thoughts of home. If anything Céline and now Michelle have taught you, is to live in the moment. Experience life as it comes. No fear for the future. No fear for what may be, or what may be thought. Just enjoy the ride. “Ok.” you say with new found conviction, “Let’s go. Let’s go meet this famous Léon, the memory maker.” you chuckle.
“Oui.” Céline agrees.
“Oui. Let us go.” Michelle echoes. Taking your hand and then Céline’s as the three of you saunter down the block to Chez Toinette.
As you round the block Chez Toinette comes into sight, but before it does the smells of the quaint café waft across your senses. The distinctly inviting aroma of fresh espresso, mixed with perfectly seasoned cooked meats and salty garlic oil for surprisingly delicious escargots. The volume of conversation notably increased as you approached as well. As mixed conversations usually go, as the volume of one table increases the volume of another increases to compensate, creating a series of crescendos of conversation washing across your ears. The café was almost completely full and it was apparent that 3pm, for some odd reason, was a busy time for this café. All of the tables were filled with loud wildly gesticulating men too engrossed in their debates to notice the waitresses ducking in and out refilling coffees and politely inquiring if the patrons would like to see the dessert menu. Watching the waitresses in action was a cathartic experience. Seeing them bob and weave like a championship boxer, dodging wild gestures from each table in random succession. The entire time they would be balancing either a newly filled cup of coffee or a recently collected empty cup. You smile to yourself, impressed with the waitresses’ abilities but also at the self realization that you and Céline must look like this to the patrons your restaurant. No wonder they tip so well.
Out of the corner of your eye you notice there is one table that is not full. At that small table sits a single man, his eyes are on the paper in his hand as he’s clearly engrossed in whatever the news story of the day is. Momentarily he looks up and his face becomes awash with glee. “Céline!” he exclaims, jumping up from his seat causing the chair to squeak on the tiled floor; abruptly pausing nearly all the conversations going on in the café at the time. He was a relatively handsome man. You would guess he was perhaps in his mid-thirties. Average build, average weight, certainly not a model himself. His eyes were a different story. They were a hypnotic grey which when combined with his dark brown wavy hair and deceptively captivating smile made him surprisingly attractive the more you looked at him. Céline and Léon talked rapidly in French and you allowed your mind to wander, not bothering to do the translation in your head. Instead you looked the man over with a quiet intensity. If these were different circumstances you might have asked yourself why a mid-30 year old would hang out with and request modeling shots from girls that were only recently of age. But this was France. The country that has parents giving their children wine while they’re only 12 years old. Caught up in the moment of gazing through this man you abruptly realized that Léon and Céline had stopped talking and Léon’s hand was currently thrust outwards towards your midsection. Mindlessly you look at his hand, then back to his face and those piercing grey eyes. “Léon,” he says for the second time though it’s the first time you’ve heard it. “It is pleasurable to meet you.” his thick Parisian accent dripping off each word. You look back to his hand and quickly grab it, shaking it once and blurting “Al, nice to meet you too.” Oh why do you have to be so awkward you shudder internally.
“Would you like anything to eat or drink Al?” Léon asks, as any gentleman would. Seeing you shake your head no he smiles knowing that you’re only being polite. “Non non. This can’t be. You will all have a small glass with me to toast this little reunion.” he motions to the waitress and quickly orders something in a hushed voice. Moments later she returns with a bottle of red wine and four glasses. Placing the glasses down she uncorks the bottle and slowly fills each glass halfway then places the bottle on the table and walks away. With that Léon takes his glass into his hand and raises it, “Santé! To life and l’amour!” and in the usual French manner everyone individually clinks their glass to everyone else repeating “Santé!” smiling and then sipping on their wine.
“Ok,” Léon interrupts, “We get down to it now. So you, Al, you have not modeled before yes?”
The negative and affirmative words though you briefly. “Yes….I mean…no…I have not modeled before.” you manage to blubber.
“Yes ok then we start right away. We need to get you in the mood so you are to relax. Céline and her friend are coming no?’
“If that’s ok, I’d like them there, for support.” you reply tentatively.
“Yes yes. Of course. It’s good to have support.” Léon agrees. “The more pretty girls in the studio the better. Ha!” he blurts, laughing at his own joke, his beautiful grey eyes twinkling as he chuckles. You smile and laugh as well.
“Oh Léon, do you ever stop flirting?” Céline cooly inquires. Her own eyes devouring Léon while watching his every move.
“Non. Céline to stop is madness. We flirt and we play and we enjoy our time. When we stop we have but one foot already in the grave. Non. This is not the way to live.” Léon turns to each of you sipping at his wine as he continues, “Love, sex, attraction, amusement. You need these to live. If we don’t flirt we grow cold. We shrivel up like a dried mushroom.” Léon shakes his head as if truly upset. “I will never stop the flirting.” Finishing his wine with a final gulp, “Bon. Let’s go. Finish your wine, we go to the studio now.” Dutifully all three of you down the rest of your wine, as Léon grabs the bottle. He throws some cash down onto the table waving to the waitress while saying “Merci.” and winking. Always the flirt.
Now that the three has become four a natural shuffle occurred. Céline grabbed the hand of Michelle and began skipping in the direction of the studio, while Léon offered his arm to you and walked side by side with you. The merry band of three became a couple of couples. It reminded you of high school chemistry. How atoms would rearrange themselves to become the most stable molecule possible. How strange it felt though to be arm in arm with this man. Of course you trusted Céline’s judge of character, but to go from just meeting a man to being so close to him was a new experience for you. The narrow street echoed the giggles of the girls in front of you as well as the regular click of your shoes on the centuries old cobbled street. You could feel the muscle in Léon’s arm twitch under his light shirt and you turned to look at him. He was staring at you and as soon as you made eye contact he winked. You couldn’t help but blush and turn away, your stomach fluttering uncomfortably with the sensation. Léon really never did stop flirting did he?
“So why do you want to work for me?” Léon asked, abruptly cutting through the relatively quiet walk.
You turned to look at him with a blank expression on your face, “I’m leaving for home soon, and I have nothing to buy my family and friends.”
“So it is for the money then, yes?” Léon continued.
“Yes.” you admitted, almost sheepishly.
“Don’t be so upset. Everyone needs money. I have helped Céline before and everyone was happy. It’s good to help friends.” Léon stopped talking for a moment, seemingly lost in a thought. “Why are you going home? You don’t like Paris?”
“No. No it’s not like that.” you stammer. “I love Paris. I love the people. I love the…”
“…way it breathes.” Léon finishes your sentence. It wasn’t what you were going to say, but it was true. Paris was it’s own animal. A beautiful, living, breathing animal. “If you love it you should stay.” Léon stated almost fatherly.
“It’s not that easy.” you retort. “I….I’m expected to be home. My parents need me home.”
“Do they?” he turns to you and you both stop walking briefly as your eyes meet. “Do they really need you home? Or do they only want you home?” he asked coolly.
You opened your mouth to respond, but couldn’t. He asked a valid question. Your parents were self sufficient. You’ve spent nearly all of your life needing them, but it hasn’t been mutual. It is you that always needed their help, their advice, their support. Without you, your parents were still committed capable people. Did they really need you at all? “I….I don’t know.” you said honestly.
“Parents want to have children. They want them to grow up. They want them to have a beautiful life. They want them to find love, to find peace, to find security and truth, but they don’t need to. These are choices.” Léon spoke calmly, looking deep into your eyes as he did. “Your life is yours. If you want to spend it in Paris that is up to you.”
“It…it doesn’t work that way.” you retort the conviction in your voice wavering. “I’m expected to come home. I’m expected to start my life there. To go to school and find a good job.”
“A lot of expectations and not a lot of reason.” Léon quietly quips back. “It is up to you now. You need to make your own decisions and you need to make them for you, not for someone else.”
“Your parents have lived their life. They have found each other. They loved each other. They created new life with each other. It’s your turn.” Léon smiled at you, “come on. We’re almost there.” and you both continued to the studio. Your head swimming with thoughts.
The studio was converted from a 150 year old stable. The character of the building was what you would expect from a 150 year old stable. It looked slightly run down and was so tightly jammed next to the buildings on either side of it even the painters looked like they weren’t entirely sure where one building began and the other ended. The front entrance was wide had an arched top and a thick heavy oak door. Closing your eyes for a moment you could easily imagine a team of horses pulling a carriage out to take a gentleman and lady to the ballet. Léon pulled out a key and unlocked the oversized slightly rusted padlock on the large door. He then swung it open for the girls and motioned them inside bowing as he did so.
The interior was completely different from the outside of the building. It was setup as a loft space. The high ceilings exposing the old original beams. Lights hung down from the ceiling in almost a random fashion lighting different areas of the space with varying intensity which gave the impression that the space was altered quite frequently. Over to one side there were different elements of a bedroom, a bathroom, and a living room. They were not complete, merely three sided dioramas providing the illusion of each room. On the opposite side of the building there was a small kitchen, table, and desk. Above it in the loft area there was a bedroom and a closed off area that most likely was the bathroom. The floor was all wood and creaked with every second step. “Come,” Léon commanded, “we go upstairs now and get you ready. Girls you make yourselves at home down here.” as Céline and Michelle nodded in agreement.
You follow Léon’s lead as he takes you up the spiral staircase to the loft. “Jeanne!” he shouted, “Come on you lazy girl we’re back already.” There you see, in Léon’s bed, the blonde head of his assistant.
“I thought you were coming later?” Jeanne slurred sleepily.
“Yes, well we’re here now. Come on, wake up. We have to get our guest ready!”
“Ok ok,” Jeanne waved at Léon trying to shoe him away. She pushed the covers aside and slipped out of the bed completely naked. You can’t help but open your eyes wide and then turn away.
“Oh Jeanne, come on.” Léon laughs “Try to have at least a little modesty.”
Jeanne just looked at Léon and gave him a mock kiss and a wink. “Ok dear come here let’s have a look at you.” she motioned for you to come over then reached over to pick up a sheer robe from the side of the bed, slowly putting it on and tying it as you made your way around the bed. Léon turned and started down the stairs, no doubt to get the camera and lighting equipment ready. Jeanne took you by the shoulders and looked you up and down. She gave a little nod of approval as if to silently say, “Sure, I can work with this.” Turning from you she walked to the door opposite of the bed, “Strip.” she commanded.
Looking around in concern you slowly pull the t-shirt up and over your head, then stop, holding it quietly. Jeanne opens the door to reveal a large cavernous closet of dresses, tops, bottoms, and what assuredly would be lingerie. She turns to you again and with a furrowed brow says, “Come on there’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’ve got a nice body there. Now strip! We have to get you ready.” You toss the t-shirt onto the bed, unzip your skirt and wiggle out of it, tossing it next to your t-shirt and then you stop again. Standing there in just a bra and panties you feel exposed and scared. Jeanne is pulling items out with one hand and throwing them over her free arm. She turns to look at you one more time and then slumps her head to one side clearly disappointed. Throwing the selected clothes to the bed she saunters over to meet you. “Look,” she states directly, “if Léon brings you to the studio it’s because he knows he can work with you.”
“I’m just….” you stammer.
“Scared.” she finishes, almost rolling her eyes. “You’re young. Maybe you’re naive. Maybe you’re embarrassed but you shouldn’t be.” she begins to lecture. “If Léon knows he can work with you it’s because he sees the beauty in you.” She continues, “If he sees it, then it’s there. We’ll get it out of you. Now come on, strip!”
“O….ok.” you stammer.
“Good girl.” Jeanne smiles and then quickly leans in and kisses you on the cheek sweetly. Slowly you reach behind and unclasp your bra, tossing it onto the clothes already on the bed. Then you slip out of the heels you borrowed and shimmy your baby blue boy short panties down your legs and place them on the bed next to your bra. Standing alone with Jeanne, naked you feel wary, like a deer in a clearing not sure if there are wolves on the periphery. Jeanne comes back out of the closet again and smiles. “There you are.” she states matter of factly as she nods in approval of your nakedness. “Ok,” she says looking at the pile of clothes she has collected, “We’ll start with this, this, and this. Put this on, and this.” she continues as she tosses clothes in your direction. Before long you were dolled up in a cute petticoat and corset complete with garters and nylons. Jeanne looked you over with approval and then grabbed your hand to whisk you downstairs. “Let’s go show Léon and then get your makeup and hair settled.”
Once downstairs you see Léon and Céline talking quite enthusiastically over another glass of wine. Michelle standing behind them and watching the exchange with a little smirk on her face. “Here she is.” Jeanne states proudly as everyone turns to see you come down the stairs. You feel so elegant. Even though you’re wearing 1920’s style underwear you feel like a movie star, all eyes are on you, wanting you, wishing they were you or wishing they were with you. Your heart started to pound in your ears and your cheeks begin to hurt from smiling so much.
“Magnifique!” Léon bursts clapping his hands together then rubbing them. “Oh Al you look…” he pauses to kiss his fingers like a patron of a restaurant when they’ve eaten something delicious. Céline and Michelle nod in agreement and you feel yourself radiating with heat as all of their praise washes over you like the first cascade of water in a hot shower. “Ok Jeanne, perfect. Get her hair and makeup ready and we start immediatement!”
Jeanne then grabs your hand and leads you across the studio to the hair and makeup area. You watch in amazement as step by step she brings out the color in your eyes, then accentuates your cheeks, then your lips. After that she takes care of your hair, putting it up into tight rollers, heating, treating, blow drying, and then releasing it from the rollers allowing it to live on it’s own. You stare at your face in the mirror surprised at what you see. You look like you could be Bridgette Bardot’s Canadian sister. For the first time in your life you no longer feel like a girl. You look at yourself in the mirror and see a woman. Without realizing it your posture straightens, your shoulders push back, your chin raises, and your eyes begin to fill with confidence. “Well?!” you hear Léon shout from across the room. “Is she ready?”
Jeanne looks at you with pride in the mirror. “Come and see for yourself.” she states coolly. Bending closer to you she whispers in your ear. “Wait till he is almost behind you, then turn and smile at him. He melts when you do that.” and you nod in understanding. From behind you the footsteps get louder and you hear the ancient hardwood floor creaking. When he gets about 6 feet away you slowly turn to him, gently swiveling in the makeup chair. You make contact with those piercing beautiful grey eyes and you smile at him. Without a thought you give him a wink and he rolls his eyes and grabs for his heart.
“Perfect!!” he bellows and quickly whips up his camera and takes 3 shots before you can even move. Walking up to you he shows you on the camera viewscreen what he just shot and you feel slightly startled at what you see. In just a few hours you’ve gone through a complete transformation. From the quiet Canadian country girl into this French movie starlet full of sex and sensuality. “Come on,” Léon orders softly, “Let’s get started.”
Over the next three hours you posed and positioned yourself at his whim. Every movement you made, every look you gave, he cooed excitedly as the camera clicked away and the flash popped. In between shots you could see behind Léon that Céline, Michelle, and Jeanne were watching sometimes open mouthed, sometimes biting their lip. The moved closer, drank more wine, but kept completely silent. You swelled with pride. Never had you felt so alive. So wanted. So desirable. It was intoxicating. With every snap of the shutter you fell deeper into the role of the sexy starlet. You posed less and instead you were just being you, captured in the moment. “Oh Al,” Léon groaned, “Why must you leave France?” The camera clicked again, “She will miss you.” another click, “We will miss you.” another few clicks and then you see Céline standing next to Léon with a small tear in her eye and you motion her over to give you a hug while Léon keeps the camera clicking, capturing each sincere unadulterated moment. You gently wipe Céline’s tears away and kiss each cheek. She looks at you and sighs, then without thinking you cup her head in your hands and give her a tender loving kiss on the lips shocking both of you. All the while the camera keeps clicking away.
A few outfits and a few hours later you’re emotionally drained. Seeing Céline so vulnerable, feeling so powerful, and simultaneously powerless you’ve drooped under the pressure. Everything in your heart tells you that you must stay in Paris, but everything that’s expected from you is pulling you away. You have so much more to have in this city. More experiences, more conversations, more tender moments. What will be waiting for you back home? A town of two hundred? A few cows, chickens, and horses? Choices about schools, majors, minors. Science, business, arts…where do you go. What do you want to do? What do you need to do?
Léon swings down the camera and calmly states “We’re done. C’est tout.” and he leans in to hug you. “Merci ma chérie.”
You submit to the embrace and respond, “Merci Léon.” then looking into his eyes, “For everything. For the memories.” and you kiss him just as you did Céline, directly on the lips with a tender passion. “Come on girls,” you continue, directing your attention to Céline and Michelle. “Time for me to change.”