Sweet Filthy Boy: Chapter 18

“SO WHAT TIME is this party?” I mumble into my pillow. Ansel rests heavily on top of me, his front to my back, the fabric of his suit pressed against my bare skin, his hair tickling the side of my face. I start to laugh, struggling to get away, but this only encourages him. “Mmpf. You’re so heavy. Do you have bricks in your pocket? Get off me.”

“But you’re so warm,” he whines. “And soft. And you smell so good. Like woman and sex and me.” His fingers find my sides and curl, tickling me relentlessly until he rolls me to my back and then he’s there, hovering above me, his thumb tracing my mouth. “The party’s at seven,” he says, eyes mossy green and filled with a weight that tells me he’d much rather take off the suit than get out of this bed. “I’ll meet you here and we’ll go together. I promise not to be late.”

He leans down and kisses me, making a sound that’s somewhere between contentment and longing, and I know he’s telling himself not to get carried away, that as good as this is, there will be time for more later. After work.

I push my hand beneath his jacket and tug his shirt free from where it’s tucked into the waistband of his pants, as I unapologetically search for skin.

“I can hear you thinking,” I say, repeating the line he’s used on me at least a dozen times. “Wondering how much time you have?”

He groans and lets his head fall to my neck. “I can’t believe there was a time when I used to be up and practically out the door before my alarm even went off. Now I don’t want to leave.”

I push my hands through his hair, scratching lightly against his scalp. He works to keep the majority of his weight off me, but I can feel him relax more every second.

“Je ne veux pas partir,” he repeats, voice a little rough now. “Et je ne veux pas que tu partes.”

And I don’t want you to leave.

I blink up to the ceiling, wanting to commit every detail of this moment to memory.

“I can’t wait to show you off tonight,” he says, brighter now, pushing up onto his elbow and looking down at me. “I can’t wait to tell everyone how I tricked you into proposing to me. We’ll ignore the pesky detail that you’re leaving me soon.”

“Hide my passport and I’m here for good.”

“You think I haven’t already thought of that? Don’t be surprised if you come home one day and it’s gone.” He leans in, kisses me before pulling back. “Okay, that’s creepy; it’s in the top of the dresser where it belongs.”

I laugh, swatting him away. “Go to work.”

He groans and rolls off me, lying on his back on the bed. “If I didn’t have a meeting today with a client I’ve been waiting months to talk to, I’d call and say I’m feeling sick.”

I prop my chin on his chest, looking up at him. “It’s a big one?”

“Very big. What happens today could mean the difference between this case ending in the next six weeks, and dragging on for months and months.”

“Then you should get started.”

“I know,” he says on an exhale.

“And I’ll be here, waiting for you at seven.” I haven’t even finished the sentence and he’s turned to me, smiling again. “And you won’t be late.”

He sits up, takes my face in his hands before kissing me deeply, tongues and teeth, fingers that slip down my body to brush over my nipple.

Standing abruptly, he does the world’s most hilarious version of the robot beside the bed. He bleats out the words in an automaton voice: “I won’t be late.”

“Did you just do that so I’d think you’re adorable even if you’re late tonight?”

“I won’t be late!” But he robots again anyway, sandy hair falling over his forehead, and then moonwalks out of the room.

“Worst dancer ever!” I yell after him. But it’s a total lie. He has rhythm and an ease in his skin that can’t be taught. A true dancer is fun to watch, whether or not they’re dancing, and I could watch Ansel for hours.

He laughs, calling out, “Be good, Wife!” and then the door clicks behind him.

BUT OF COURSE he’s late.

At seven thirty Ansel bursts into the flat, and becomes a whirlwind of activity: tossing off his work clothes, pulling on jeans and a casual button-down shirt. He kisses me quickly as he sprints to the kitchen to grab a bottle of wine and then pulls my hand, guiding me out of the apartment and into the elevator.

“Hi,” he says breathlessly, pressing me against the wall as he reaches to push the button for the ground floor.

“Hi.” I barely get the sound out before he’s kissing me, lips hungry and searching, sucking at my bottom lip, my jaw, my neck.

“Tell me you really, really want to meet my friends, or else I’m taking you back there to undress and fuck until you’re hoarse.”

I laugh, pushing him away slightly and kissing him one more time squarely on the lips before saying, “I want to meet your friends. You can undress me later.”

“Then tell me a story about Madame Allard, because that’s the only way I’m going to quickly lose this erection.”

MARIE AND CHRISTOPHE’S building is only a few blocks away from where we emerge from the métro and when it comes into view I stop and stare. Ansel’s apartment manages to be both small and airy. There’s nothing over-the-top or pretentious about any of it: it’s an older building, and as easygoing and comfortable as he is. This place . . . is not.

The façade is stone, and while it has an aged look about it—easily blending with the surrounding construction—it’s clearly been renovated, and at no small cost. The apartments on the bottom floor are each anchored by a set of wide steps, capped with red doors and gleaming brass knockers. The second and third floor apartments boast arched windows leading to individual balconies with ornate ironwork of tiny metal blossoms erupting from intricate molded vines.

Trees line the busy street, and beneath the welcome shadow they provide I take a moment to gather myself and prepare for a room of strangers and conversations I probably won’t understand. Ansel presses his palm to my lower back, whispering, “Ready?”

Weeks ago the very idea of doing this—without Lola or Harlow to carry the conversation if I lost Ansel in the crowd and went mute—would have made me shudder in horror. I don’t know what it will be like upstairs, but if the roaring laughter coming from the window is any indication, the party is already in full swing, even this early in the evening. I just hope everyone up there is as nice as Ansel promises me they will be. I catch a glimpse of our reflection and startle slightly. I look at myself every morning, but it’s different in the windows of this place somehow. My hair is longer, bangs swept to the side instead of cutting a straight line across my forehead. I’ve gained a little weight and feel less boyish, more like a woman. My skirt is from a small shop near Montmartre, my face is bare of all but the slightest hint of makeup, but still glowing. It’s fitting that I look different; I feel different. And beside me, Ansel towers above, his arm protectively curled around my waist, and I see in the reflection when he bends to catch my attention. “Hey.”

“I was looking at that cute couple.” I nod to the window.

After studying us for a long, quiet beat, he plants a sweet kiss on my lips. “Come on, Cerise.”

Marie answers the door with a happy yelp, and pulls us into the melee, kissing my cheeks before passing me off to Christophe’s open arms.

“It is Ansel’s Mia!” he yells in English to everyone, and a roomful of people turn and look at me with wide, curious eyes as Ansel hands the bottle of wine to Marie.

“Hi.” I raise my hand, waving lamely, sinking into Ansel as his arm finds my waist again.

“We are so glad to finally meet you!” she says, kissing each of my cheeks again. “You are even more beautiful than your photo.” My eyes widen and Marie laughs, curling her arm through mine and pulling me farther into the apartment, away from my husband, who is nearly immediately swallowed by a circle of his friends. He lifts his chin, watching as Marie leads me down the hall.

“I’ll be fine,” I yell over my shoulder, even if it’s only half true. I really didn’t expect to be separated from him only seconds after walking in the door.

Inside, it’s every bit as elaborate as I had guessed it would be from the street. The walls are papered in muted gold damask and from where I stand I can see two marble fireplaces, each framed with delicate molding. Bookcases bursting with books and small, beautiful vases border one wall; the opposite is lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, all overlooking a lush courtyard. Despite the amount of stuff inside, the apartment is charming and large enough that even with the number of people currently milling about, there’s plenty of space to mingle with some degree of privacy.

We pass a small library, wander down a hall lined with people drinking and talking, who all seem to quiet as I pass—maybe I’m being paranoid but I really don’t think so—and into a wide, brilliant white kitchen.

“I will take you back out there, but they are like wolves. Excited to see him, excited to meet you. Let them accost him first.” Marie pours me a generous glass of wine before curling my hand around it, laughing. “How do you say . . . ‘strength in a glass’?”

“Liquid courage?” I offer.

“Yes!” She snaps her fingers and kisses my cheek again. “There are many nice people here and they all love your husband so they will love you. Look around, I will introduce you to everyone in just a minute!”

She jogs off when the doorbell rings again and, after waiting a beat to see if it’s Ansel who has walked into the kitchen—it isn’t—I turn to look out the tall, narrow kitchen windows with a stunning view of Montmartre.

“I bet that view never gets old.”

I turn to find a beautiful, redheaded woman looking out the adjoining set of French doors. She’s maybe a few years older than I am, and her accent is heavy, so thick it takes me several beats to translate what she’s said.

“It’s gorgeous,” I agree.

“You’re American?” When I nod, she asks, “You live here? Or are visiting?”

“I live here,” I answer, and then pause. “Well . . . for now. It’s sort of complicated.”

“And married,” she says, pointing to my ring.

“I am.” Absently, I twist the gold band around my finger. If she didn’t hear Christophe’s boisterous announcement when we entered only five minutes ago, it strikes me as a little weird that this is one of the first things she says.

“What is his name?”

“Ansel,” I say. “Ansel Guillaume.”

“I know him!” she exclaims, smiling widely. “I have known him for many years.” Leaning in conspiratorially, she adds, “Very handsome and the most charming man.”

Pride mingles with unease in my chest. The woman seems nice enough, but a little pushy. It feels as though we’ve skipped a smoother entrée into conversation. “He is.”

“So you are here as a student? Or for work?” she asks, sipping from her glass of red wine.

“I’m just here visiting this summer,” I explain, relaxing a little. My shyness can come off as aloof, I reason. Maybe people often misinterpret her intensity as aggression. “I start school in the fall.”

“Then you are leaving soon,” she says, frowning.

“Yes . . . still trying to figure out the timing.”

“And what about your husband? His job is very important, no? He cannot just leave Paris and go with you?” Her expression shows nothing but polite interest, but her stream of questions has me back on edge. When I don’t answer for a long beat, she presses. “Haven’t you talked about any of this?”

“Um . . .” I begin, but I have no idea how to respond. Her blue eyes are wide and penetrating, and behind them I see something larger there. Hurt. Restrained anger. I look past her and see that there are a few people in the kitchen now, and they are all watching us: fascinated, eyes wide in sympathy, as if observing a car crash in slow motion.

I turn back to her, growing anxiously suspicious. “Sorry . . . I don’t think I got your name.”

“I didn’t give it to you,” she says, with a small tilt of her head. “Maybe I am misleading you by pretending I’m not familiar with your situation. You see, I know Ansel very, very well.”

Understanding clicks like a lock in my mind.

“Are you Minuit?”

Her smile is elated, in an eerily wicked way. “Minuit! Yes, perfect, I’m Minuit.”

“I assumed you had black hair. I don’t know why,” I mumble, more to myself than anything. I have the sense of being balanced on a teeter-totter: I’m still not sure whether I’ll land on my feet in this conversation. I want to turn and look desperately around for Ansel, or Marie, but Minuit is watching me like a hawk, seeming to feed on my discomfort.

Somewhere behind me, I hear Ansel’s deep laugh coming toward us down the hall, hear him sing a few lines of the crazy French rap song he’s played the past couple of weeks as he shaves in the morning.

“I sh-should go,” I say, placing my drink on a table next to me. I want to find Ansel. I want to pull him aside and tell him about this conversation. I want him to take me home and erase her thunderous expression from my memory.

Minuit reaches for my arm, stopping me. “But tell me, how are you enjoying my apartment, Mia? My bed? My fiancé?”

My heart literally stops, my vision blurs. “Your fiancé?”

“We were going to be married before you came along. Imagine my surprise when he came back from a silly American vacation with a wife.”

“I don’t . . .” I whisper, looking around the room as if anyone there would help me. A few people look on with sympathy, but no one seems brave enough to interrupt.

“He only called me Minuit, you see,” she explains, her red hair sliding over her shoulder as she leans forward, “because I could never fall asleep. We got a new bed for our beautiful flat. We tried everything to wear me out.” Tilting her head, she asks, “How do you like sleeping in our fancy new bed in our beautiful flat?”

I open my mouth, and then close it again, shaking my head. My pulse is racing, my skin clammy and flushed.

I’ll get you a new ring. We’ll do it all over again. We can find a new flat with memories that are only ours . . .

I need to get out of here.

“We were together for six years. Can you even grasp how long that is? Six years ago you were only a child.”

Her accent is so thick and I’m continually falling behind, grasping on to individual words to cobble together my comprehension. But I understand six years. Ansel called it “too long,” but I never in my wildest dreams imagined it would be such a significant fraction of their lives. Or that they were going to be married. I don’t even know when they broke up—I’d assumed they broke up when he moved back here almost a year ago—but from the circles under her eyes and the way her hand is shaking around her glass, I know I’m wrong.

My heart seems to tear apart, piece by piece.

I hear Ansel enter the kitchen, hear him yell, “J’ai acheté du vin!” as he holds up two open bottles of wine to the small crowd gathered.

But his expression falls as his eyes catch mine across the room and then drift to the woman at my side.

She leans closer, whispering directly in my ear, “Six years ago you had not yet been run over by a truck, huh?”

My head whips around, back to her, and I stare up at blue eyes so full of anger it takes my breath away. “What?”

“He tells me everything. You’re a tiny spot of time,” she hisses, pinching her thumb and forefinger together. “Do you have any idea how many times he does crazy things? You’re his most ridiculous impulse, and he has no idea how to fix this mistake. My taste was still fresh on his mouth when he saw you in your trashy hotel.”

I want to vomit. The only thing I know is that I need to move, but before I can manage to put one foot in front of the other, Ansel is at my side, his hand curling tightly around my arm.

“Perry,” he hisses to the woman. “Arrête. C’est ma femme. C’est Mia. Qu’est-ce que tu fous là?”

Perry?

Wait. Perry?

I blink down to the floor as it all makes sense. His best friends in the world, the four of them. Ansel, Oliver, Finn, and Perry. Not another man . . . a woman.

A woman he was with for six years.

Four of us, together all day long . . . I don’t know that I’ll ever know anyone in the way I know those three . . . Those relationships are some of the best and . . . complicated of my life . . . We missed our families together, we comforted each other, we celebrated some of the proudest moments of our lives.

I feel my face heat, my lips part in a gasp. How many times did Ansel let me assume Perry was another man, a friend? I told him everything about myself, about my life and fears and relationships, and he spoke only in vague generalities about Minuit and their “too-long” relationship.

She looks thrilled, like a lioness that caught a gazelle. She wraps her arm around his bicep, but he shakes it off, reaching for me again.

“Mia.”

I pull out of his grasp. “I think I’ll probably leave now.”

There are a million other things I could say—a million other biting things someone like Harlow or Lola would say right now—but for once I’m glad I won’t give voice to any of them.

He calls after me but I’m already running to the stairs, tripping down the tight spiral. Behind me, his feet pound on the wood; my name echoes down along the banister.

“Mia!”

My mind bends away from understanding what just happened back at the party. Two magnets pushing apart.

The sidewalk is bare, cracked, and crooked as I turn on Rue La Bruyère, sprinting into the small curve at St.-Georges. It’s funny that I know where I’m going now, so I can properly run away.

I catch my breath between two buildings. I think he went looking for me the other way; I don’t hear him anymore.

There are too many things I have to figure out now: how fast I can pack, when I can leave, and why Ansel left me to be blindsided tonight by a woman he was planning to marry before I came along. I have no idea why he kept this from me, but I feel the shards of panic pushing deep into my lungs, making it hard to breathe.

How old this city is. The plaque on the building I’m up against states it was built in 1742. This structure alone is older than any love affair alive in this country. Ours might be the youngest, even though it always felt as though we were picking up where our souls left off on a thread much further up the line.

I know now that I love him, that what we have is real, and that I probably loved him that first second I saw him from across the room, enjoying my happiness as much as I did. For whatever Lola and Harlow say about it, I’m a true believer.

It is possible to fall that fast.

Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset