The first day of getting to know someone is always the most fascinating. They peel back the covers and reveal little by little the inner workings of who they are. Its like a burlesque feather dance. Slow, sensual, and stimulating. As you told me about your time in Paris I found myself wanting to know what happened next. What would the next revelation be. Where will the story go from there. What is the path you took to get you from where you were to where you are. Then you turn the tables and I share my own story. The exposing of my own secrets and truths. Exciting and thrilling in it’s own way. How will you react to my saga. How will you react to my past, my actions, what I say and have done. Will you smile, will you be sympathetic or be bored. The nervousness and butterflies scare me but it’s been so long since I’ve felt them I can’t help but want a little more.
“What’s on your mind?” you ask, interrupting my introspective train of thought.
“Well you hadn’t finished telling me about when you went back to Paris.”
“Oh,” you respond quietly, “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share that yet.” Intrigued, but cautious I stay silent, not wanting to push the boundaries just yet. “It’s not that it’s bad.” you continue, “it’s just…..personal.”
“I see.” I respond. Which seems to be our common response to our little revelations. I’m definitely curious as to what happened though. The first story of Paris seemed quite personal. How could this return be even more so? “Well I’d love to hear it whenever you’re ready to share.”
“Thanks.” you reply. “I’ll keep that in mind.” You eyes drift off for a moment and an almost imperceptible smirk crosses your face then vanishes again. “Let’s get something to eat.” you say and immediately stand and walk to the kitchen. I follow you again, and just as last time, admire your cute ass in the tight jeans.
We go about the process of making a small but tasty lunch. Working in the kitchen with you is surprisingly easy. It’s as if we are in a unique culinary dance. Passing behind one another seamlessly. Handing a pan over just as you need it. Supplying ingredients just before you request them. It’s an odd feeling to be unconsciously connected so easily. You feel it as well and can’t help but smile. Your eyes reveal how much you’re enjoying my company. You’ve made meals by yourself for what seems like ages. It’s a treat to be able to cook for a man. To cook with a man. No worries. No expectations. Just enjoying the moment, the tastes, the aroma, the sounds of food sizzling in the pan. Before long the moment is over, and the meal is completed. We sit down at the table together. This time with far more clothes than last time. After serving each other we sit silently looking into each others eyes. A smile on both of our faces. There is more to this than simple company, and we can both feel it. I take a bite and savor the joining of our culinary coupling. You smile and then say, “So when I went back to Paris….”
The sudden jolt of the plane landing woke you with a start. Somehow you had managed to sleep through the entire flight from Heathrow and managed to make it to Charles De Gaulle in one piece and well rested, despite the kink in your neck. You had made the decision to come very lightly packed. Your carry on bag was all you carried, and even that was only half full. The last time you were in France it was difficult to find space in your bag to take back gifts for your parents and siblings, but this time you had planned ahead. It was more important than ever that you came back with something French for them as this was their gift to you for Christmas.
For the first year since you were born your family was not going to be together for the holidays. With your older brother and older sister out of the province and out of the country respectively, both busy with their own family life, it was going to be just you and your parents. Since this was already an aberration of normal Christmas tradition your parents had made the decision to send you back to Paris as your gift. Your gift to them, though you didn’t realize it at the time, was giving them time to themselves. What both your mom and dad had discovered, or perhaps rediscovered, while you were away was that the daily chores of taking care of the kids were no longer a concern. The worries and frets of any parent had diminished. They had realized they had raised three wonderful self sufficient intelligent children to adulthood and in essence the bulk of their parenting work had been completed. When faced with this parents often look at their spouse through new eyes. The way they look at each other could be either positive or negative. Often a couple will look at each other and be surprised that they tolerated each other for this long. The opposite was true of your parents. No longer was your dad just the man your mom knew and met back in highschool. He was strong, rugged, honest, persevering and a fantastic father to his children. No longer was your mom the bright eyed high kicking cutie your dad met in high school. She was strong willed, gutsy, tough, loving, and sensational mother she to her children. They found in each other more reasons to love each other, and now had the time and energy to express it. So as difficult as it appeared on the surface, the decision to send you away for Christmas was clear.
Upon landing you took your time to disembark. You walked through terminal 1 at a slower pace than the rest of the commuters who were in a heady rush off into their own lives. You made the mistake last time of not soaking in the moments. Leon had chastised you for it. When you went home it took all of two weeks before you forgot the his lessons. Now, with your feet back in France you were determined to ensure you would make the most of your time. Instead of swiftly walking and hustling through the terminal, not looking more than ten feet ahead, you were instead taking lazy methodical steps as if walking through a park or a zoo, looking at all the exhibits in turn. Continuing through the terminal you made your way to the shuttle your eyes looking at the airport itself, looking through the expansive windows, watching planes taxiing away off to their next destination. You watched the bustling people around you, dragging their bags around looking tired and haggard. Once on the shuttle you amused yourself watching how everyone was somehow able to have their eyes open, but never look at anyone else. The only person that made eye contact with you was a teenage boy sitting next to his mom. His face looked 16yrs old or so, but his bag looked like it was for a 10yr old. Parents, they never want to see their children grow up. You looked at him and he looked up at you with a pained, almost embarassed look on his face. Without a second thought you smiled at him, and winked. His face started to flush immediately and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. For the rest of the short ride you caught him looking at you. “My my, Paris has already got to you” the thought came across your mind and you smiled inwardly.
After the shuttle you made your way to the train station, then it was on to Paris. Celine was no longer at the apartment you shared with her. Instead she had moved in with Leon at the studio. Leon’s girlfriend / receptionist had moved on to work at a magazine in Spain so he had an opening in both positions. Celine didn’t have an interest in the former but enjoyed the pay of the latter, as well as the free room and board. Michelle and Celine were no longer together. In fact she had been pulled out of Celine’s arms by a couple of stout sweaty gendarme no less. As it turned out, Michelle was only 15 years old and had run away from home the summer that she and Celine were together. Her parents had gone nearly insane trying to find her and were more than happy to have Michelle back in their home. Just as you were, Michelle was attracted to Celine’s rebellious streak. She had just wanted to feel the dangerous excitement of doing everything wrong for once. In the end she was welcomed home with open arms and took to her studies with renewed vigor.
The train reached Paris and the Gare du Nord in about 30 minutes. You enjoyed the ride. The atmosphere was dull, but seeing Paris in the winter was just as beautiful as you pictured it. There was fresh hoarfrost on the trees and snow was falling in big fluffy flakes. It wasn’t that you were a virgin to the simple delight of soft white snow, after all you were Canadian. But the fact that it was snow in Paris, that was the difference. You disembarked from the train and made your way through the cavernous building. Leon’s studio was walking distance from the station. Even though it was lightly snowing at the time, you had no problem dealing with the temperature. Tossing your bag over one shoulder you sauntered down Rue du Dunkerque breathing deeply, a smile flashing across your face for the first time in quite a while. The twenty minutes of walking passed by in a flash and before you realized it, you were standing at Leon’s door again. Raising your hand up to push the buzzer you paused for a moment. Your heart was pounding, you felt butterflies in your stomach and you caught yourself worrying about what you’d say. Then reacting on pure instinct your hand shot up and forward pressing the buzzer hard for a couple of seconds before releasing it.
“Oui?!” came a shout from inside, “Qui est-ce?” it was Leon’s voice sounding gruff and angry as usual.
You replied in a shout, “Leon!! It’s me…uh…C’est ……c’est moi…. Je suis ton ami….. Alcina!”
“Merd! Alcina!?” Leon bellowed, his voice becoming closer and clearer as he made his way toward the door. There was some muttering that you couldn’t hear followed by a shriek.
The door clicked and was flung open as Celine shot through the doorway nearly taking you off your feet. Celine shrieked again, shaking her head side to side in joy, “Al! My sweet dear Al!”
“You knew about this?” Leon asked in confusion, “You knew she was to be coming?” he questioned, his accent thick and delicious as ever.
“This was your Christmas surprise I told you about.” Celine cooed, holding your arm and handing your bag to Leon. “Merry Christmas you lughead.” she continued, leaning over and kissing him on the cheek.
“This is a big surprise,” Leon admitted, “but it’s a good surprise.” He took your bag from Celine and placed it on the chair next to him, then looked you in the eye and opened his arms wide, “Oh Alcina, mon cherie. We missed you terribly.” Celine released you from her grip and tossed you into his arms. He encircled your body and squeezed kissing you two or three times on each cheek then forehead, then your cheeks again.
“Hey, she’s not all yours you know.” Celine said wagging her finger at the much larger Leon who just winked, grasped you by the shoulders and turned you to Celine. Once more you were squeezed tightly and your face peppered in kisses. “I missed you!” she exclaims, the true emotion of the moment causing her normally sturdy voice to waver slightly.
“I missed you too, very much.” you admit your eyes welling up slightly as you smile.
“No no no Non! This is not the time for tears my dear.” Leon lectures Celine and you. “We have been joined again. We are together as friends again. This is time for happiness, yes?”
“Yes.” you and Celine answer simultaneously.
“Ok then, let’s get you settled here and then we will go out and have some delicious french cuisine.” Leon dictated, puffing his chest out in pride.
Leon grabbed your small bag lifting it several times to emphasize how light it was, then shrugged and led the way up the stairs to the rooms in the mezzanine space of the warehouse studio. You and Celine followed suit and you did your best not to stare at Leon’s strong backside as he climbed the stairs in front of you. “So did you enjoy the view?” Leon suddenly asks. You stop in your tracks momentarily, unsure if he was talking about you looking at his ass. He turned to look at you and clarified the question “On the train? You took the train from the airport yes?”
“Oh….” you stammered, trying to recover any dignity that may have been accidently lost, “…yes…it was quite pretty. The people on the train were a little dull but Paris covered in snow is quite beautiful.”
Leon laughed heartily and turned in the hallway, “A lot of people do not think so. A lot of people wish it to be like California all year.” he chuckled and winked at Celine behind you. Turning around you looked at her face and she shrugged. Who could blame her for wish it was warmer. Celine was quite petite and certainly not designed for long bouts of cold weather.
“It’s warmer here than it is back home right now.” you offer as condolence.
“This is true? How do you survive?” Leon asks with a hint of sarcasm which was clearly for Celine’s consumption.
“We bundle up or we stay inside. Mostly stay inside though. It can get quite boring. You end up reading a lot of books or watching a lot of TV.” you explain to the to Parisians.
“Ah, no wonder your parents let you go so easily this time.” Leon chuckles again.
“Oh Alcina, come now. You must realize that your parents would like to spends some, how do you say this, quality time?” Leon scoffs. You roll your eyes and your entire head in response. The thought hadn’t actually crossed your mind at all.
“Leon!” you exclaim “That’s….that’s….” you stutter trying to find the words.
“L’amour my sweet. That’s love.” he places his large hand on your shoulder looking into your eyes, “They loved each other long before you came along. They love each other still. This is good. You gave them time together. You’re….you are….you are the…who is…” he stops and turns to Celine, “Qui est le garçon peu ridicule avec les ailes et les flèches?”
Celine cocks her head to the side and then nods in the universal “Ah I get it” body language. “Cupidon. Cupid. Cupid is the silly boy with the arrows you oaf.” she jokes, her accent making the insult sound almost sensual.
“Yes yes…this is him. Cupid. You are now the Cupid for your parents. You have left them to give them their space and now they can spend that time together. You see?” Leon explains.
“I guess.” you admit “I just….I guess I thought they would have wanted me there..that’s all.”
“Of course they would,” Celine chimed in, “but they also want you to live your life, as they have already been able to live theirs.” Celine pats you on the back in an act of reassurance as Leon picks up your bag and continues down the short hall stopping at the second door on the right.
“I don’t have a lot of rooms, so you don’t mind staying with this one? I think you two get along yes?” Leon laughs at his own joke and walks through the doorway into Celine’s room.
The room was quite small but it was distinctively Celine. The walls were not a single shade, but a mix of colors and wild shapes. There was an ebb and flow to the colors that gave it the look of a painters palette in the midst of discovering a new variation of hues and shades. There were shelves above the headboard filled with books spaced with framed pictures. The books were older with thick covers, some leather bound some textured with some sort of textile perhaps cotton. The pictures on the shelf were mostly black and white shots of people you didn’t know. Likely friends of Celine’s that you didn’t have the time to meet when you were in Paris the last time. On the walls there were several charcoal paintings, one of which was immediately recognizable as Leon. Even though the charcoal obscured the finer detail of his features it was evident just in the shape and posture of the figure that it was Leon. Next to that was another smaller charcoal painting of Celine. It was quite stunning. The detail and the shading were expertly applied and it was if Celine was frozen in time with her spiked mohawk and punk inspired makeup. She was gorgeous. In the bottom right corner you could make out a tiny heart shaped ‘M’. Turning to Celine for confirmation she nods. This was Michelle’s art. Stunning, and shockingly good for such a young artist. Michelle definitely had tallent. On the other side of the room there was an old resurfaced dresser with a large rectangular mirror on it. The mirror was slightly distorted and had a crack on one of the top corners. Clearly it was a recycling project of Celine’s. You smiled at the drawer pull for the top drawer. It was bullhead door knocker. You chuckled to yourself. Celine always put her underwear in the top drawer, having a bull guarding it was a cute play on her undefinable sexuality.
At the base of the bed was a military style foot locker. It was a faded olive green with large brass latches and brass protecting the corners. On the top there were the words, “Boîte de Friandises” stenciled in bold white military styled letters. You looked at Celine briefly and she just smirked at you. Leon placed your bag down on top of the locker with a thud. “Ok, you two figure out….this,” as he motions to Celine and you then the bed, and your bag, “I will find us a place to eat.” He smiles and leans over, kissing you on the cheek again, “So nice to have you here again.” and then saunters out the door nearly skipping down the hallway. You turn back to Celine and you both laugh heartily.
“Celine,” you say in almost a whisper, “this room is…..”
“Tiny I know but….”
“…no…it’s…it’s perfect. Oh Celine it’s perfect.” you blubber and hug her. For the next few minutes you go through the room looking at all the pieces of her that have been put up for consumption. It’s as if she was able to take a picture of her soul and then project that picture onto these four walls. Her essence was in each detail and each corner of the room. Compared to the dry boring faded blue walls of your room back home, this was a decidedly wonderful change of pace. You looked closely at one of Michelle’s drawings, marveling at how you could see each individual stroke of the pencil but when you pulled back the simple lines revealed themselves to be Celine and Michelle arm in arm walking down one of the many cobbled streets of Paris. You turned to Celine and asked the question you didn’t know how to in your letters, “What happened with Michelle Celine?”
Celine wagged her head from side to side as if trying to decide whether or not she wanted to open up this wound again. Deciding that you deserved to know what happened she shrugged and explained, “They took her from me. Those bastard police. They came to our apartment and broke the door down. They thought she was kidnapped. Kidnapped!” Celine raises her hands to the sky in exasperation. Her anger just as fresh now as it was on that day. “They come in and they point their guns at me yelling and shouting. They scared the shit out of us. They woke us up in the middle of the night to do this. Like crazy people!” Celine shook her head and continued, “And you know how we sleep Al, you know it right? How awful for them to do that to us. It’s very bad.” Celine and Michelle always slept naked together. Celine had said to put clothes between them was to put walls between them. She said that there is no better sleep a woman can get than with her skin next to another woman. You had yet to test her theory, but she seemed quite convinced.
“So they just broke the door down and took her?”
“Well they broke it down and pulled us out of bed with the guns because they didn’t know who was who, you know?” Celine continued, grabbing for her cigarettes and lighting one. The acrid smoke stinging your nostrils but simultaneously giving you a feeling of warm comfortable nostalgia. “Once they figured out it was just two little women in an apartment they felt pretty stupid.” she puffed a big drag on the cigarette and blew the smoke out the side of her mouth. “All of these big burly men in full uniform pinning down a couple of naked girls. Shameful.” she took another drag and continued, “They got us to dress ourselves then took us to the police station, but in separate cars.” she rolled her eyes and mutters under her breath, “We may have just as well been al Qaeda.”
“So what happened when you got to the station?” you prod, now completely invested in this story.
“Yes. Ok so we get to the station, in the separate cars right?” Celine stops to take a final drag of the cigarette and then stub it out on the ashtray which is shaped like a cartoonish tongue and lower jaw of a person. “So they have me in handcuffs now, and not the ones like I have in there,” she motions with her head to the foot locker my bag is sitting on. “These were the real thing and they put them on tight. As if I was going to magically escape. Bof!” she rolls her eyes again then resumes the story, “They said I was being arrested for statutory rape. Sex with a minor you know? Of course I call them everything I can think. Pigs, idiots, morons, dirt farmers. I ran out of names that made sense I was so mad.” she clenched her fists and shook her head.
“So you didn’t know at that time how old Michelle was.”
“No!” Celine exclaims in frustration, “She never told me! Of course I never asked. I assume she was like you and I. Didn’t she seem like she was our age?” I nodded my agreement and she continued justified in her annoyance. “So they tell me, no, Michelle is only turned 15 last month. She had been missing from her home and her parents thought her to be kidnapped. You see?” she said shaking both hands palms up at the ceiling. “They had hired this investigator to find her and he found us. He tracked Michelle to here, in the studio somehow. Then he had come to talk to Leon to ask about buying pictures. Of course Leon always needs to sell to keep this place so he let him in.” Celine explained. “So Leon shows him pictures here and there, and all of this and that until he gets to one with me and Michelle.” she reaches back to one of the framed pictures on the shelf above the headboard. “This one.” she says, handing the picture to you.
Looking over it you can understand why the events occurred as they did. Celine and Michelle were huddled together on a small cushion on the ground. They were both naked and grasping each other tightly. You knew of course that it was a simple artistic shot, and that just next to Leon was his assistant pouring coffee, and right next to her was yourself wearing a robe and giggling like mad. All three of you were laughing so hard that Michelle was doubled over and crying from laughing. Leon captured that moment. He captured the moment of happiness that if viewed through a different lens could easily be thought to be agony. You at once understood why there was such a rapid aggressive response. To the weary investigator that had no doubt seen his share of atrocities, he assumed the worst. In his eyes he saw two underaged women clutching each other and crying madly.
“So as I’m being led down the hallway to a room where I’m going to be interrogated, I see Leon being bullied into another room!” Celine vents angrily, “And meanwhile I can hear Michelle screaming at the police and her parents that they don’t understand that this is all wrong. It was so horrible Al…..so ..so horrible.” her angered shell begins to crack as tears begin to form at the corners of Celine’s eyes. “I really loved her Al. Oh my Michelle I loved her so, but now….now.” she stopped. Looking into a dead space in the wall she stood for a moment in silence.
You put your hand out to her shoulder and she grabbed it smiling at you. “So of course now we’re all in the shit bucket.” she laughs, the absurdity of the situation taking hold. “Leon is being accused of child pornography. I’m being accused of statutory rape of a minor. The receptionist is being accused of aiding us. It’s just…well..it’s just ridiculous.” Celine grabs for another cigarette and plays with it in her hand as if trying to decide if she should light it or not. “But we’re really in the shit. We got his hard ass of an investigator. He thinks everything we say is bullshit. He’s convinced that Leon is running some sort of depraved child sex ring and that I’ve been co-opted. They tried to get me to say that Leon did this and that. All sorts of things. They said if I didn’t testify that I’d go to a jail for perverts and crazies. That little girls like me would be torn to peices and it would be for my own benefit to say something.” she shook her head again. “and of course they don’t listen to Michelle. Her parents are convinced that she’s being hypnotized by us that we’ve programmed her brain or some sort of nonsense.” finally she stops playing with the cigarette and lights it. Looking up at your reaction she nods in supplication, “I know I know…they’re bad….” Celine takes a drag on the freshly lit cigarette and exhales slowly away from you, “Thing is Al. They don’t know the truth. They don’t know why she ran away. She thought she just kidnapped by some sadistic pervert on the internet.” Celine flicked a bud of ash into the tongue and jaw ashtray and you wait for the rest of the story.
From downstairs you hear Leon bellow, “Come come now, you must be hungry. Let us go to eat.”
Celine shrugs and picks up her coat. You turn and walk down the hallway then back down the stairs to the main floor. Leon smiles, “Why hello there ladies. There will be time to talk, but now it’s time to eat.”
You cock your head to the side and smile at him. He is handsome as ever. His thick dark brown hair tousled and messy, his face with that perfect third day stubble, and those piercing grey eyes you fell for the first time you met. “You know I can’t say no to you Leon.” you chuckle.
“Oh? Maybe later we’ll test this yes?” he says staring straight through you smiling the whole time.
Celine tosses Leon his long black pea coat jacket and wraps herself in a scarf followed by a snow white thigh long jacket which is puffy, cute, and perfectly suits her in this non-punked form she’s currently exuding. “Lead on Monsieur Beaulac.”
As before with Celine and Michelle you find yourself walking through the streets of Paris as part of a laughing trio. This time Leon is in the center with Celine on the left and you on the right. You take a big breath in, staring into the overcast sky as the snow continues to fall in it’s gentle caressing flakes. With Leon on your arm you somehow feel more self assured. You’re walking with confidence, straight, with your shoulders back and your chin up. Unlike when you were going from class to class in University, you have no problems looking strangers in the eyes. You feel stronger verging on cocky. You look past Leon to Celine and she turns to meet your gaze and give you a wink. You could walk with these two forever, but just as you were settling into a comfortable trance you’ve arrived at the restaurant.
The restaurant was typical of the kind in this area. Small, intimate, and intriguing. The sign in the front depicted several cartoonish caricatures of famous french artists such as Van Gogh, Renoir, and Monet marching. Above this was the name of the restaurant; “Parade des Artistes” which caused you to smile and shake your head. Leon opened the door for you and Celine then followed suit.
The restaurant was dark and it took a moment to let your eyes adjust to the lack of light. This lack of illumination served to highlight the walls, as they were covered with pictures. Track lights were oriented to point at the pictures instead of the tables that they surrounded. The hostess quickly sat them down and Leon talked rapidly to her in hushed french that was too quick for you to catch. Out of the corner of your eye you see a picture that draws your attention. “Is that…” you manage to squeak out before Leon stops you.
“Good eye mon cherie.” he chuckles, looking to the same black and white 8×10 photo. It’s in framed in a classic one inch thick black frame setting it apart from the rest of the photos in it’s vicinity. “You recognize the picture yes?” he asks, already knowing the answer.
You turn to Celine who just smiles and shrugs. Then turning to Leon, “I thought you couldn’t use that picture?” you ask, not entirely sure if you’re excited to be on the wall in front of strangers, or mortified.
“I didn’t at the time.” Leon admits, “But it was too beautiful to keep to myself. You see?” Leon gestures to the walls at other points and you see your own face staring back at you. Some smiling, some like this one crying. “They are very popular you know?” he continues. “People come in all the time and want to know is this? They say they love you. They say they enjoy seeing you and wish there was more. Celine has gotten popular from just this restaurant.”
“It is true.” Celine chimes in. “I don’t have to work at the restaurant where we were anymore.” she smiles. “I just get to stay with Leon and we have fun with pictures.”
“You don’t like them to be here?” Leon asks, the concern audible.
“No….no it’s not that.” you admit. “It’s just…..unexpected.” You look at Leon directly, “They look amazing Leon I’m just surprised. I didn’t think I’d actually be…popular.”
Leon laughs, “Mon cherie I tell people you’re the one that got away. When they say, how come there’s no more, I say ‘She left me. She was whisked away like a rose clipped from the bush.’” He laughs again, “Maybe while you’re here we make some more pictures. Make some more memories. Maybe then they will stop pestering me for more of you and Celine.”
“I’d…..actually….I’d really like that.” You smile at Leon and Celine and inside you already know that leaving them for the second time will be even harder than the first.