Sweet Filthy Boy: Chapter 10


THREE MORE DAYS pass in a blur of sightseeing, rich food, coffee, and worn-out feet, with only a few hours at home, awake with Ansel. He’s easy to be near, his goofiness returning after he’s had time to decompress from his day, and he has the rare ability to get me talking and laughing about anything: vegetables, sports, film, shoe size/penis size correlations, and my favorite places to be kissed.

But neither of us seems to know how to get the comfort of touching back. On the couch Wednesday night, he cuddles me, kisses the top of my head, translating a French crime drama in quiet whispers. He kisses my temple when he leaves for work and calls at noon and four every day.

But he seems to have put the sex in my hands . . . so to speak. And I am failing big-time. I want to tell him I’ll never be the seductive sexbomb, and he needs to unleash some of the wild Ansel to get me comfortable, but he’s too exhausted to do much more than take his shoes off when he gets home.

I pretend I’m in a movie montage, developing a new morning routine in my fabulous life in Paris. I stare out the window and sip the coffee Ansel made before he took off, deciding what I’m going to do all day and going over the small list of translations he’s left for me.

How are you? Comment allez-vous?

Thank you. Merci.

Do you speak English? Parlez-vous anglais?

Which way to the métro? Où se trouve le métro?

Where is the toilet? Où sont les toilettes?

How much? Combien ça coûte?

Why no, I’m not interested. My husband is perfect. Comment, non, ça ne m’intéresse pas. Mon mari est parfait.

Once I’ve showered and dressed, I get a pastry at the tiny patisserie two blocks from our building, where I chat with the American girl who works there, Simone, and then either walk or take the métro to a place I’ve never been before. The Latin Quarter, Montmartre, Musée d’Orsay, the Catacombs. I even plan a bike tour of Versailles, where I can see the expansive gardens and the palace.

It’s a dream life, I know this. It’s such a dream life that future-me almost hates present-me for having so much time and freedom and ever feeling lonely. It’s ridiculous. It’s just . . . I like Ansel. I’m greedy for more time with him.

At least there’s comfort in knowing I can call Lola or Harlow around the time they’re getting out of bed, and they’re both living vicariously through me. Friday afternoon I find a sunny bench outside the d’Orsay and call Harlow, to catch her up on everything Paris Adventure.

Even though Harlow has been here more times than I can remember, I tell her about our flat, about the métro, about the pastry and coffee and unending, curving streets. I tell her it’s easy to walk for miles and not realize it, that the most amazing landmarks are often tucked into the most ordinary places . . . though nothing about Paris is ordinary.

“And I’m meeting people!” I tell her. “Other than Ansel, that is.”

“Example, please. Would we approve?”

“Maybe?” I say, thinking. “There’s this American girl here, she works at the bakery where I get my breakfast. Her name is Simone, she’s from the Valley—”

“Ew.”

I laugh. “But she used the word gruesome to mean ‘cool’ and ever since then I can’t think of her as anyone other than Gruesimone.”

“This is why I would go gay for you, Mia,” Harlow says. “You hardly say anything and then shit like this comes out of your mouth. Like the time you called me Whorelow when we had that fight in seventh grade and I started laughing and couldn’t stop until I peed my pants? We are terrible fighters.”

“Listen,” I say, cracking up at the memory. “She’s not speaking to her best friend since fifth grade because she chose the same song for her first dance at her wedding.”

Harlow pauses for a beat. “Give me another example, I can maybe see that one.”

“Seriously?” I pull my phone away from my ear and look at it as if she can see my judgment through the call. “And don’t worry, Harlow, neither Lola nor I will pick anything by Celine Dion.”

“I realize you’re mocking me but the woman is amazing. And in concert? Don’t even get me started.”

I groan. “Okay, so another example.” I sort through some options. I could talk about the other barista, the nonverbal Rhea—whom I’ve started thinking of as Rheapellent—but then I remember Simone’s weirdest habit. “Gruesimone says ‘FML’ for everything. Like—”

“Wait,” she interrupts me. “What’s ‘FML’?”

“Fuck my life.”

“Wow, okay,” she says. “And people use this for reasons other than ‘I have cancer’ or ‘I am trapped under a truck’?”

“Apparently,” I say, nodding. “She drops some change, ‘FML.’ She slops some coffee on her hand: ‘FML.’ She chips a nail and, I kid you not, ‘FML.’ And outside on the street, this city is insane. Cars drive crazy here but pedestrians will just step into the street like, ‘I’ve had a nice life, it’s okay if it all ends here.’”

Harlow is cackling on the other end of the line and it warms me, makes my world feel big again. “And lunch with a bottle of wine and four espressos?” I ask, giggling. “Why not?”

“Sounds like my kind of city,” Harlow says.

“You’ve been here, why am I describing it?”

“Because you miss me?”

I slump against the back of the bench. “I do. I really do.”

She pauses for a beat before asking, “And the husband?”

Ah. There it is. “He’s good.”

“That’s it?” she asks, voice going quieter. “That’s really all I get? You’ve been gone for two weeks, living with Baby Adonis, and all you can tell me is ‘he’s good’?”

I close my eyes and tilt my head into the sun. “He’s so sweet but he works constantly. And when he’s home, I’m basically as seductive as a cardboard box.”

“Well, have you made any other friends? Hot friends. You know, for me?” she asks, and I can hear the smile in her voice.

I hum. “Not really. I mean, it’s been a week and a half, and I was sick for a lot of that. I met the woman downstairs, and she barely speaks English but we make it work.”

“Have Ansel introduce you to some people for when he’s gone.”

“Yeah, I haven’t even heard about any of his friends.” My thoughts trip on this a little. “I mean don’t get me wrong, we get so little time together that I’m not really sure I want to share him. But . . . is that weird? Do you think it’s strange that he hasn’t mentioned getting together with some people here?”

“Hmm, well . . . either he has a stack of dead girlfriends somewhere that he’s trying to keep hidden—”

“Ha ha.”

“—or it’s like you said and he’s just busy. There were literally weeks at a time where we barely saw my mom growing up because she was on set.”

I pull at a thread on my T-shirt, wondering if she could be on to something. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“Orrrrr,” she starts, “he’s a boy and therefore likes to pretend you’re happy just walking around his apartment naked all day. That’s the hypothesis that gets my vote.”

“I’ll take it.”

“You’ll be on a plane in a few weeks. Enjoy the freedom. Fill your days with sun and wine. Naked times with hot French boys. One in particular.”

“We had the most awkward sex in the history of the world the other night. I couldn’t stop overthinking everything. And nothing else for the past three days and I want to touch him constantly. It’s torture.” And it is. As soon as I say it, I think of the smooth skin of his neck, the gentle bite of his teeth, the clean lines of his chest and stomach.

“So get out of your head,” she says in a dramatic Russian accent, “and give his head some attention, if you catch my drift.”

“I don’t, Whorelow. Can you explain that to me? His . . . ‘head’? Do you mean his penis? I wish you would stop speaking in riddles.”

“Well, tell me something. Why was it easy in Vegas, and not easy there?”

“I don’t know . . .” I wrinkle my nose, thinking. “I just pretended to be the kind of girl who would do something like that. One-night stand and sexy and blah blah.”

Laughing, she asks, “So be that girl again.”

“It’s not really that easy. It’s weirder here. Like, everything is loaded. ‘We should have sex because I am very attracted to you and also we are married. Married people have sex. Beep boop boop, system reboot failure.’”

“You’re doing the robot right now, aren’t you?”

I look at my hand raised at my side, fingers pointed and pressed together. “Maybe.”

Her laugh gets louder and she pushes the words out: “Then be someone less neurotic, you troll.”

“Oh, dude, I should have thought of that, Whorelow. I could totally just be someone less neurotic. Thanks so much, my problems are solved.”

“Okay, fine,” she says, and I can just see her face, can just see the way she would lean in and grow serious about her favorite topic ever: sex. “Here’s a suggestion just for you, Sugarcube: get a costume.”

I feel like the sky has just opened up and the universe has dropped an anvil on my head.

Or a gauntlet.

I close my eyes and remember Vegas, how easy it was to be playful rather than earnest. To pretend to be someone braver than I am. And the morning I used his hand as a sex toy. It worked then, too. Being someone else, getting lost in the part.

I feel the idea tickling in my thoughts before it spreads, wings expanding with a rush.

Play.

What did you love most about dancing, he’d asked me.

The ability to be anyone up onstage, I told him. I want a different life tonight.

And then I chose a different life but it sits here, wilting.

“Do I know you or what?” Harlow asks, her smiling pushing all the way across the ocean through the phone line.

EVEN AFTER MY epiphany that it helps me relax when I’m pretending, I’m still not really sure how to tackle this. A costume . . . like sexy underwear to get me in the right headspace? Or is Harlow really suggesting I pull out all the stops and go full-on, jazz-hands, showtime? My phone continually buzzes with texts from her, all of them filled with links and addresses within an area known as Place Pigalle.

And of course they’re all in the neighborhood near our apartment, lending even greater sense of destiny to this plan. Make it easy on me why don’t you, Harlow?

But none is exactly what I’m looking for: they’re either dark and cavelike, or advertised with bright neon lights and posed mannequins dressed in scraps of frightening lingerie in the window. I continue to walk, following the last address Harlow sent and wandering down one narrow alley and then another. In the shadows it’s quiet, nearly damp, and I continue for what feels like blocks before the sky appears in a tiny courtyard. And only about ten yards down, there is a little, understated shop with lace and velvet and leather in the window.

I feel like I’ve been transported to Diagon Alley.

I open the door and am hit with the smell of iris and sage, a scent so warm and earthy, I immediately feel myself relaxing. A woman inside steps out from behind the counter and somehow knows to give me a “Hello,” and not a “Bonjour.”

She wears a leather corset, her breasts pushing up enviably. Dark denim wraps around her legs and her heels have to be at least five inches of screaming, fire engine red.

All around me there are cases of toys—dildos and vibrators, rubber fists and handcuffs. Near the back of the store are shelves of books and videos, and along the side walls are racks of costumes of every color and for nearly every fantasy.

“You are looking for a costume to wear or play?” she asks, noticing where I’ve turned my attention. Even though her question, as phrased, is a little confusing, and even though my brain wants to linger on the sweetness of her accent curling around “costume,” I know what she meant. Because it’s exactly why I walked in here.

“Play,” I say.

Her eyes turn up in a warm smile. A real smile in a tiny store buried in an enormous city.

“We start you out easy, okay?” She walks over to a rack with costumes I recognize: nurse, maid, schoolgirl, cat. I run my hand over the rack, feeling excitement bloom beneath my ribs. “And then you come back when he will like some more.”


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