Sweet Filthy Boy: Chapter 7


I WAKE TO THE feeling of lips pressed carefully to my forehead, and force my eyes open.

The sky directly above me isn’t an illusion I’ve been imagining all week. Ansel’s bedroom is on the very top floor of the apartment building, and a skylight over the bed lets in the early morning sun. It curls across the footboard, bright but not yet warm.

The far wall slants down from a lofted ceiling of about fifteen feet, and along the low wall of his bedroom are two French doors that Ansel has left open to a small balcony outside. A warm breeze stirs through the room, carrying the sounds of the street below.

I turn my head, my stiff neck protesting.

“Hey.” My voice sounds like sandpaper rubbed across metal.

His smile makes my chest do a fluttery, flipping thing. “I’m glad your fever has finally broken.”

I groan, covering my eyes with a shaking hand as my memory of the past few days returns to me. Throwing up everywhere, including on myself. Ansel carrying me into the shower to clean me up, and later, to cool me down. “Oh my God,” I mumble. “And the mortification sets in.”

He laughs quietly into another kiss, this one to my temple. “I worried. You were very sick.”

“Is there any surface of your apartment that remained untouched by my vomit?”

He lifts his chin, eyes shining in amusement, and nods to the corner. “Over there, the far side of the bedroom is clear.”

I cover my face again, my apology muffled by my hand.

“Cerise,” he says, reaching out to touch my face. Instinctively I shrink away, feeling revolting. I immediately want to correct the flash of hurt in his eyes, but it clears before I’m sure I believe it was really there. “I need to work today,” he says. “I want to explain, before I leave.”

“Okay.” This sounds ominous, and I take a moment to look lower than his face. He’s wearing a dress shirt. After a quick mental calculation, I realize he’s feeling the need to explain because it’s Saturday.

“When I ran into the office on Thursday to retrieve some files to bring home, the senior partner I work most closely with saw my wedding ring. She was . . . displeased.”

My stomach drops, and this is the moment the reality of what we’re doing hits me like an enormous wave. Yes, he invited me here, but I’ve crashed directly into his life. Once again I’m reminded how little I know about him. “Are you two . . . involved?”

He freezes, looking mildly horrified. “Oh, no. God, no.” His green eyes narrow as he studies me. “You think I would have slept with you, married you, and invited you here if I had a girlfriend?”

My answering laugh comes out more like a cough. “I guess not, sorry.”

“I’ve been her little slave boy these past few months,” he explains. “And now that I’m married, she’s convinced I’ll lose focus.”

I wince. What we’ve done is so rash. So stupid. Not only is he married now, but soon he’ll be divorced. Why didn’t he bother to hide our Vegas mishap at his job? Does he approach anything with caution? “I don’t need you to change your work schedule while I’m here.”

He’s already shaking his head. “I only need to work this weekend. It will be fine. She’ll get over her panic. I think she got used to having me in the office whenever she wanted.”

I bet she did. I feel my frown deepen as I look him over, and I’m not so ill that a hot slide of jealousy doesn’t slip through my bloodstream. With the sunlight streaming down from the ceiling and lighting up the sharp angles of his jaw and cheekbones, I’m struck all over again by how amazing his face is.

He continues, “I’m almost done with this enormous case and then I’ll have more flexibility. I’m sorry I’m not really here for your first weekend.”

God, this is so, so weird.

I wave him off, unable to say more than “Please don’t worry.” He’s practically been serving me since I arrived, and the mortification and guilt commingle into a sour mix in my stomach. For all I know, he’s seen enough of me at my worst to put him off this game we’re playing entirely. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if, after I’ve fully recovered, he suggests a few hotels I might find fitting for the remainder of my stay.

What a horrible start to our . . . whatever this is.

Since the opportunities might eventually be limited, when he walks across the room I ogle the hell out of him. He’s so long, thin but toned. Suits were made for exactly his type of body. His light brown hair is combed neatly off his face, his tan neck disappearing beneath the collar of his shirt. He no longer looks like the casual and playful man I met in Vegas; he looks like a young, badass lawyer and he’s eminently more fuckable. How is it even possible?

I push up onto an elbow, wanting a sharper memory of how it felt to draw my tongue down his chin and over his Adam’s apple. I want to remember him unhinged and desperate, rumpled and sweaty, so I can relish knowing that the women he sees today will only know this put-together, clothed side of him.

The pants are deep blue, the shirt a crisp white, and he stands in front of a slim mirror, knotting a beautiful silk blue and green tie.

“Eat something today, hmm?” he says, smoothing his hand down his front before reaching for a blue suit jacket hanging on a small stand in the corner.

For once, I want to be the woman who climbs up on her knees, beckons him to the bed, and pretends his tie needs to be fixed before using it to pull him back under the covers.

Unfortunately for this seduction plan, I was already slim but I feel skeletal now. My legs are shaky and weak when I push myself out of bed. Not sexy. Not even a little. And before I shower, before I even approach a mirror—and definitely before I attempt to seduce this hot husband/stranger/person-I’d-like-to-be-naked-with-again—I do need something to eat. I smell bread, and fruit, and the sweet nectar of the gods: I haven’t had coffee in days.

Ansel walks back over and his eyes make the circuit of my face and down over my entire body, hidden to mid-thigh beneath one of his T-shirts. I forgot to pack pajamas, apparently. He confirms my suspicion that I look like death barely warmed over when he says, “There’s food in the kitchen.”

I nod and hold on to the lapels of his jacket, needing him to linger just a second longer. Other than Ansel, I know no one here, and I’ve barely been able to process my decision to get on that plane nearly four days ago. I’m struck with a confusing mix of elation and panic. “This is the weirdest situation of my life.”

His laugh is deep, and he bends so it rumbles past my ear as he kisses my neck. “I know. It’s easy to do, harder to follow through. But it’s fine, okay, Mia?”

Well, that was cryptic.

When I let him go, he turns to pack his computer into a leather messenger tote. I follow him out of the bedroom, freezing as I watch him grab a motorcycle helmet from where it rested on a table near the door.

“You drive a motorcycle?” I ask.

His smile stretches from one side of his face to the other as he nods, slowly. I’ve seen how cars drive in this city. I’m really not all that confident he’ll return in one piece.

“Don’t make that face,” he says, lips pouting out the quiet words and then curling into a panty-dropping smile. “Once you ride with me, you’ll never get in a car again.”

I’ve never been on a motorcycle in my life—never wanted to—and I’ve sworn off two-wheeled vehicles forever in general. But something about the way he says it, the way he comfortably tucks the helmet under his arm and hitches his bag over his shoulder, makes me think maybe he’s right. With a wink, he turns and leaves. The door closes with a quiet, perfunctory click.

And that’s it. I’ve been in a haze of stomach flu for days, and now that I’m better, Ansel is gone and it’s not even eight in the morning.

Outside the bedroom the apartment spreads before me with a continuous kitchen, living room, and dining room. Everything feels so European. The furniture is sparse—a black leather couch, two armless, modern red chairs, a low coffee table. On the other side of the room is a dining room table with four matching seats. The walls bear an eclectic mix of framed photographs and colorful paintings. For a bachelor pad, the apartment is impressive.

The space is open, but not very big, and the same slanted ceiling is present here. But instead of French doors, the far wall is lined with windows. I walk to the one closest to me, press my hands to the glass, and look down. On the street, I watch Ansel climb onto a shiny black bike, put on his helmet, kick the bike into gear, and pull away from the curb. Even from this vantage, he looks ridiculously hot. I wait until I can no longer see him in the blur of traffic before looking away.

My breath catches and I close my eyes, weaving a little. It isn’t the residual memory of the gripping nausea or even the hunger that makes me a tiny bit dizzy. It’s the fact that I’m here, and I can’t just walk a few blocks and get home. I can’t just pick up the phone and make everything okay with a quick call to my family. I can’t find an apartment or a job in Boston while I’m living in Paris.

I can’t call my best friends.

I find my purse across the room and frantically dig around in it for my phone. Stuck to the screen is a sticky note with Ansel’s neat script telling me he’s set me up on his international cellular plan. It actually makes me laugh—maybe a little maniacally in my relief—because that really was the thought that sent my heart hammering into near-panic mode: How will I call my girls from France? I mean, it’s so indicative of my absurd priorities. Who cares if I don’t speak French, I’m married, I’m going to have to dip into my savings, and my stranger-husband seems to work constantly? At least I won’t get charged my firstborn child in AT&T minutes.

I wander the flat as Harlow’s phone rings thousands of miles away through the line. In the kitchen, I see Ansel has left me breakfast: a fresh baguette, butter, jam, and fruit. A carafe of coffee sits on the stove. He is a saint and deserves some kind of ridiculous award for the past few days. Maybe just a constant offering of blowjobs and beer. He’s apologizing for working, when I really should be apologizing that he had to clean up my vomit and go buy me tampons.

The lingering memory is so horrifying that I’m pretty sure I can never let him see me naked again without wanting to throw up.

The phone rings and rings. I do a blurry calculation, knowing only that when it’s mid-morning here, it must be really late there. Finally, Harlow answers with only a groan.

“I have the most embarrassing story in the history of embarrassing stories,” I tell her.

“It’s middle-of-the-night-thirty here, Mia.”

“Do you or do you not want to hear the greatest humiliation of my life?”

I hear her sit up, clear her throat. “Just realizing you’re still married?”

I pause, the weight of that panic settling in a little more each minute. “It’s worse.”

“And you flew to Paris to be this guy’s sex toy all summer?”

I laugh. If only. “Yes, we’ll discuss the insanity of all of this, but first, I need to tell you about the trip here. It’s so bad, I want someone to drug my coffee so I’ll forget.”

“You could just have some gin,” she quips, and I laugh before my stomach turns with nausea.

“I got my period on the plane,” I whisper.

“Oh no!” she says, sarcastically. “Not that.”

“But I had nothing with me, Harlow. And I was wearing white jeans. Any other time I’d be like, ‘Yep, I menstruate.’ But this? We just met and I can think of about fifteen hundred conversations I’d rather have with a hot semi-stranger other than ‘I just started my period and I’m an idiot so let me just tie my sweatshirt around my waist to be really obvious about what’s going on. Also, you being a dude, I realize it’s unlikely but do you happen to have a spare tampon?’”

This seems to sink in because she falls quiet for a beat before saying a quiet, “Oh.”

I nod, my stomach twisting as I reel through the remaining memories. “And layered all throughout that, I was barfing on just about everything thanks to the stomach flu.”

“Lola has it, too,” she says through a yawn.

“That explains a few things,” I say. “I threw up on the plane. Getting off the plane. In the terminal . . .”

“Are you okay?” The concern rises in her voice, and I can tell she’s about five minutes from booking a flight and coming to me.

“I’m fine now,” I reassure her. “But we got back to his apartment after this cab ride that was . . .” I close my eyes when the floor weaves in front of me at the memory. “I swear crazy Broc as a toddler would be a better driver. And as soon as we got here I threw up in Ansel’s umbrella bucket.”

She seems to miss the most important piece of information here when she asks, “He keeps a bucket for his umbrella? Men do that?”

“Maybe he put it there for guests to puke in,” I suggest. “And I’ve been sick since Tuesday night and I’m pretty sure he’s seen me throw up about seven hundred times. He had to help me shower. Twice. And not the sexy kind, either.”

“Yikes.”

“Yeah.”

“By the way, you can thank me for covering for you with your dad,” she says, and I can practically hear the venom in her voice. “He called, and I confirmed everything from your little story while I plucked each and every hair from my Dave Holland voodoo doll. You’re in Paris working as an intern for one of my dad’s movie-finance colleagues. But play dumb when you come home to your father’s sudden male pattern baldness.”

“Ugh, sorry about that.” The idea of talking to my father right now makes me feel sick all over again. “He talked to Ansel, too. Actually, ‘screamed’ would be a more accurate description. It didn’t even seem to faze Ansel, though.”

She laughs, and at the familiar sound I miss her so it squeezes my ribs together painfully. “Mia, you’re going to need to really up your game in order to bring sexy back.”

“I know. I can’t imagine he’ll ever want to touch me again. I don’t want to touch me again. Even that enormous battery-powered rabbit sex toy you got me for my twenty-first birthday probably won’t ever want to touch me again.”

But the humor evaporates and my fear returns, roaring through my veins, heart pounding and limbs shaking. I haven’t just tipped my world. I’ve propelled myself into a completely new orbit. “Harlow? What am I doing here? Was this a horrible mistake?”

It’s a long time before she answers, and I pray she hasn’t fallen asleep on the other end of the line. When she does speak, though, her voice is more awake, stronger and thoughtful . . . just the way I need her. “It’s funny you’re asking me this now, Mia. And what’s even funnier, is you’re wondering if it’s a mistake, and I’m over here mentally high-fiving you all over the place.”

“What?” I ask, sliding down onto the couch.

“When you didn’t want to annul the stupid fucking marriage, I was pissed. When you got all schmoopy over Ansel, I thought you’d lost your mind and would be better off just banging the dimples off him for a couple of nights. But then you took off to Paris for the summer. You don’t do crazy things, Mia, so I just have to assume you found some wild oats, and you’re sowing them.” She pauses, adding, “I assume you have fun with him.”

“I do,” I admit. “Or, I did. Before the bleeding on planes and vomiting in buckets.”

“You’ve found your adventure, and are going to chase it,” she says, and I hear sheets rustling in the background, the familiar sounds of Harlow curling onto her side on her bed. “And why not? I’m super proud of you, and I hope you have the time of your life out there.”

“I’m terrified,” I admit in a small voice.

She reminds me I have savings, she reminds me I’m twenty-three. She reminds me there is nothing I have to be doing here other than enjoying myself, for the first time in . . . ever.

“It doesn’t really have to be about fucking Ansel all summer,” she says. “I mean it totally could but there’s more to do than worry about what he’s thinking. Get out of the house. Eat some macarons. Drink some wine—just not yet because you are officially banned from barfing until September. Go stock up on experiences.”

“I don’t know where to start,” I admit, looking out the window. Beyond our narrow street the world outside is an almost blinding intrusion of greens and blues. I can see for miles: a cathedral, a hill, the top of a building I know I’ve seen in pictures. Rooftops are tile and copper, gilded golden and stone. Even from the window of Ansel’s little flat, I’m convinced I’ve just stepped into the most beautiful city in the world.

“Today?” she says, thinking. “It’s Saturday in June, so the crowds will be ridiculous; skip the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. Hit Luxembourg Gardens.” She yawns loudly. “Report in tomorrow. I’m going back to sleep.”

She hangs up.

NOTHING IS MORE surreal than this, I swear it. I eat at the window, staring out at the view, and then move into the small, tiled shower, where I shave and wash and shampoo until I feel like every inch of me has been sufficiently scrubbed. When I step out, the steam begins to clear and in a rush, it hits me that I can’t just go home and grab the things I forgot to pack. I have no blow-dryer, no flatiron. I can’t meet up with the girls tonight to tell them everything. Ansel is gone for the day and I have no idea when he’ll be back. I’m alone, and for the first time in five years I’m going to have to dip into the savings account I’ve watched grow with pride. Every one of my paychecks from the coffee shop I worked in throughout college went directly into that account; Mom insisted on it. And now, it’s going to allow me to have a summer in France.

A summer. In France.

My reflection in the mirror whispers, What the fuck are you doing? I blink my eyes closed, pushing myself into autopilot mode.

I find my clothes; he’s made room for my things in his dresser and closet.

You’re married.

I brush my hair. My toiletries are unpacked, tucked into one of the drawers in the bathroom.

You’re living with your husband in Paris.

I start to lock up the apartment using the spare key Ansel left for me right next to a small bundle of euros.

I find myself staring down at the unfamiliar paper bills, unable to quell the unease I feel at Ansel having left me money. It’s such a visceral reaction, the way my stomach tightens at the thought of living off someone else—someone other than my parents, I guess—that I have to push it aside until he’s home and we can have a conversation that doesn’t involve me with my head in the toilet.

In Las Vegas, and then in San Diego, we were on even footing. At least, it felt more even than it does now. We were both on vacation, carefree. After, I was headed to school, he was headed back here to his job, and life, and well-decorated flat. Now I’m the post-college squatter with no plans, the girl who needs directions to the métro, and snack money left by the door.

I leave the money where it is and cross the narrow hall to the elevator. It’s tiny, and with barely more than two feet on either side of me, I reach out and press the button marked with a star and the number one. The lift groans and shudders as it makes its descent, wheels and gears whirring above me until it lands with a thunk on the ground floor.

Outside the apartment it’s loud and windy, hot and chaotic. The streets are narrow, the sidewalks made of pavers and cobblestone. I start walking, stopping at the corner where the narrow road opens up into what must be a wider, main street.

There are crosswalks, but no clear pedestrian rules. People step off the curb without looking. Cars use their horns as frequently as I take a breath but they don’t seem the slightest bit annoyed. They honk, they move on. There don’t really seem to be lanes, just a steady stream of cars that stop and go and yield in a pattern I don’t understand. Street vendors offer pastries and bottles of bright, sparkling sodas, and people in suits and dresses, jeans and track pants rush past me as if I’m a stone in a river. The language is lyrical and fast . . . and completely incomprehensible to me.

It’s as if the city is spread lusciously before me, prepared to pull me fully into its intricate heart, into mischief. I’m instantly, deeply enamored. How could I not be? Everywhere I turn the streets look like the most beautiful sets I’ve ever imagined, as if the entire world here is a stage, waiting to see my story unfold. I haven’t felt this kind of buzz since I was dancing, lost in it, living for it.

I use my phone to find the métro station at Abbesses, only a few blocks from Ansel’s apartment, manage to locate the line I need to take, and then I’m left waiting for the train, struggling to take in my surroundings. I send Harlow and Lola pictures of everything I see: the French posters for a book we all loved, six-inch heels on a woman who would already be taller than most men on the platform, the train as it blows into the station, carrying hot summer air and the smell of brake dust.

It’s a short ride to the sixth arrondissement, where Luxembourg Gardens are located, and I follow a group of chattering tourists who seem to have the same destination in mind. I was prepared for a park—grass and flowers and benches—but I wasn’t prepared to find such huge stretches of open space nestled in the center of this busy, cramped city. I wasn’t expecting the wide lanes lined with perfectly manicured trees. There are flowers everywhere: row after row of seasonal blooms, cottage beds and wildflowers, hedges and lacy blossoms of every imaginable color. Fountains and statues of French queens offer contrast to the foliage, and the tops of buildings I’ve seen only in movies or pictures loom in the distance. Sunbathers stretch out on metal chairs or benches under the sun, and children push small boats across the water while Luxembourg Palace watches over it all.

I find an empty bench and take a seat, breathing in the fresh air and the scent of summer. My stomach growls at the smell of bread from a nearby cart but I ignore it, waiting to see how it handles breakfast first.

It’s then that I realize again that I’m in Paris. Five thousand miles from everything I know. This is the last chance I’ll have to relax, soak it in, create my own adventure, before I begin school and the regimented march from student to professional.

I walk every inch of the park, throw pennies into the fountain, and finish the paperback I had tucked in the bottom of my bag. For the span of an afternoon, Boston, my father, and school don’t even exist.


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