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The Interview: Chapter 37

MIMI

Despite what Whit says, the way to my heart is not through my stomach. And whatever his assertion, he’s embedded himself in there.

My heart, not my stomach.

He is the best of men, and not because he brought me to Paris, but because he pays attention. Because he listens and he watches, and then he offers not just material things and experiences but thoughts and ideas. Conversation and silliness. It’s all so subtle; the way he treats people is almost by sleight of hand. What you see on the outside is this quite upright, slightly austere, successful man, and I’d bet that’s where most people’s observations end. Maybe my history with him makes me see beyond this facade. I’m not sure what it is because it’s hard to see past all this love.

I’m so doomed.

We eat flaky croissants in a tiny café away from the tourist track, as recommended by the driver, Jacques, who has nerves of steel because driving in the center of Paris is not for the fainthearted! See a space and squeeze into it is how I’d describe the Parisienne driving style.

Anyhoo, at the café, I order, “deux cafés au lait et deux pains au chocolat, s’il vous plait,” in my best (but still terrible) French.

“You want lattes?” the unimpressed bearded hipster answers from behind the counter, but he doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm.

“No thanks, when in Rome!” I say, but he’s already turned.

I’ve read that French people dip their croissant in coffee for breakfast, but after trying, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a perfect way to ruin a perfectly good breakfast. But the experience provides the perfect excuse for us to stop at one of the more traditional cafés an hour or so later, where the waiters wear long white aprons and are old, grouchy, and rude. It’s exactly the experience I imagined it would be!

And then? Well, Paris is my oyster.

“Twenty-four hours,” Whit tells me. “One whole day and night to make Paris your own.”

“We’re staying overnight? But I haven’t packed a bag.”

“Don’t sweat it. It’s all been taken care of. All that’s left for you to do is decide what you want to do.” He presses a guidebook in my hand, and I start to laugh.

“They still make these? Google is everyone’s go to these days.”

“Don’t be a smart arse,” he says, spinning me around and swatting my smart arse. “Get choosing before we waste the day.”

“Are the touristy places open in the evening, too?”

“It’s like this,” he says, lifting his wrist to see his watch better. “I should’ve said you’ve a whole seven hours to fill with what you’d like to do because there are a couple of places I’d like you to see this evening.”

“Would that be… things inside of a hotel room?”

“What do you take me for?”

“The best,” I say, throwing myself at him, sliding my hands around his waist to hug him.

I’m so glad Whit suggested I wear tennis shoes because we walk everywhere for the rest of the day! We walk hand in hand along the Seine and take a million photographs with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop. When we make it to the base, I decide I prefer looking at the structure over visiting it. I’m not a fan of crowds, and the queues are huge. Instead, we munch on an unimpressive yet overpriced crepe from a vendor on the other side of the road, then I insist on haggling with the guys selling cheap touristy knickknacks. No way I’m overpaying for that Eiffel Tower on a keychain! A man tries to sell us cigarettes, another champagne from a bucket, and the third a poorly made I LOVE PARIS hat. Refusing all of the above, I splash out a few Euros (withdrawn from an ATM) on a cartoon caricature of us on our day in Paris.

“I’ll treasure it forever,” I say, hugging it to my chest.

“Is my chin really that big?”

In answer, I tip up onto my toes and press my lips there. “It’s perfect.” Just like the rest of him. My head does a double take. “Look, Whit! It’s a Soiree Bus!” I watch in delight as the sleek vehicle passes by.

“I’d rather queue three hours to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower,” Whit grumbles, unimpressed. “I’m a bit long in the tooth for disco buses and cheap shots of vodka.”

“I don’t want to go on it. I just think the name is amazing. Party Bus is so lame. The Soiree Bus? That’s where it’s at.”

A day isn’t long enough to see all that Paris has to offer, and while I’d love to wander around Le Louvre, the queue wait times aren’t the best use of our time. Instead, we call Jacque, and he takes us to the Montmartre area of Paris, where we eat lunch in a tiny café where the decor looks unchanged since the nineteen thirties. When Whit orders escargot and I pull a face, he and the server laugh. And he points out when I place my order (mussels in white wine) that we basically ordered the same, the only difference being he’ll eat snails from the land and I’ll eat snails from the sea. I get over myself when the food arrives, and the aromas hit my olfactory system.

“This is the best bread ever,” I say around a hunk of heavenly bread that’s crispy on the outside and oh-so fluffy in the middle. The food is delicious, and the champagne is sold by the glass. And when we leave the café, I realize why Parisiennes are not overweight. It’s all the walking they do. But, oh my gosh, is Montmartre perfect! We wander through cobblestone streets, each corner turned revealing a pretty vista or a piece of historic statuary. We find ourselves in the Place du Tetre and watch the oh-so talented street artists before taking in the Sacré Coeur Basilica vista. Before the evening begins, we stumble across a blue-tiled piece of wall art called Le Mur des Je T’aime. The wall of I love you’s.

We stand for a while, each of us lost to our own thoughts as our eyes scan the many ways to say I love you. The wall speaks of language. Je t’aime. Te amo. Rakastan sinua. Aroha i a koutou. But the language of love is more than words. As we stand, holding hands, I think of Whit and the ways he shows his affection. His family is so lucky, and I hope they know that. I think of how he’d stepped up to fill his father’s shoes when so many men in his place would’ve been consumed with their own grief. I think of the time he devotes and how his loved one’s needs are his priority. I think of his thoughtfulness, and I think about the person he is.

Whit tugs on my hand, and as I turn, he’s wearing this expression that I find really hard to place.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” he says softly. “You?”

I glance back at the wall. Je t’aime, I think to myself. “It’s just really lovely, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. He nods, gaze dipping to his shoes. His phone buzzes as he slides it out of his pocket. “Jacques is at the end of the street. Are you ready?”

“Where shall we go next?”

“Well, this is that part of the day that isn’t up to you.” He fights a smile and loses, and as though he doesn’t want to admit it, he pulls me in and presses a kiss to the top of my head. I take the opportunity to breathe him in.

“So we’re off to the hotel?” I glance up at him, and wiggle my brows suggestively.

“You know what I’m going to say, don’t you?”

“Get my mind out of the gutter?”

Whit slides his arm over my shoulder, and we turn from the wall of love. “I feel like I’ve created a monster.”

“And what would that make you?”

“What kind of a question is that?”

“A reasonable one,” I retort.

“Amelia, whether in London, Paris, or whatever, I will always be your daddy!” And with that, his hand slips down my back, his fingers digging into my (recently discovered) sensitive sides. I squeal and jump from his reach, not wanting to be tickled as adrenaline begins to pump through my bloodstream. I might not be a fan of tickling, but being chased by Daddy gives me the shivers.


“This looks exactly like the exact kind of place you arrive with no luggage,” I whisper as we follow a twentysomething woman up a grand staircase, feeling very conspicuous about our lack of bags.

“You think this looks like the kind of place that rents rooms by the hour?” Whit angles his amused gaze my way.

“More like the kind of place I couldn’t afford to rent an hour in.” When we’d arrived at the hotel, I almost walked by the entrance because it was so unassuming. It looked like a house, though the hanging Moroccan lanterns on either side of the door seemed a bit odd. Once the door opened, we moved into a space of such fabulousness. The color scheme is dark and sensual, the decor opulent, all marble floors and crystal chandeliers. To put it another way, I felt like Alice in Wonderland, stepping into another world.

“It’s a good thing you’ve got a wealthy patron then, isn’t it?”

“Patron?”

“A better title than a john, I think.”

“What?” If the first explanation had poked at me, the second stopped me in my tracks, my steps grinding to a halt at a small landing. My ears must be playing up because there is no way he just insinuated that.

“That didn’t come out very well.” He pulls a face, kind of abashed. “This place,” he adds with a flick of his fingers. “It used to be a high-class brothel a hundred years or so ago.”

“I guess they haven’t changed the decor,” I answer, staring up at a life-sized nude on the wall in front of us. A painting on canvas, old or made to look so. The model faces away, her head turned coyly over her shoulder as though startled but not unhappy at being caught in a state of undress.

C’est magnifique, non?” The hotel employee showing up to our room pauses from a few steps away. I don’t need to speak French to understand what she’s referring to, especially the way she’s staring up at the painting.

“Yes, it’s very beautiful. She’s very beautiful.”

“We think this is one of the women who worked here when the ’otel was a bordello,” she continues. “Her patron would’ve been very rich to have commissioned something of this scale.

“So you don’t know her name?”

“Non,” she says sadly. “The women would want to keep their anonymity, hoping to move onto better or different things.”

“That makes sense.”

“But each of our suites is named for a famous courtesan,” she adds. “Come, let me show you to La Pompadour. I think you’ll be very happy there.”

I turn to Whit as the door to the room closes, not quite believing what I’m seeing. It’s beautiful, and though quite spacious for a city hotel, there’s something cocoon-like about the whole suite. Dark silk in a beautiful shade of blue I can’t even name covers the walls. The bed is huge and ornate, the four posts drawing up toward the ceiling like an Arabian-style tent. A velvet chaise in front of a working fireplace, ornate gilt mirrors, and sensual artwork adorn the walls. Heavily fringed lamps provide the suite with a sultry glow and vases of orchids its heady scent. There’s a small lounge where I can totally see a courtesan serving her gentleman champagne before bringing him into the bedroom for a small slide of heaven.

In short, it looks like a suite built for the purpose of pleasure.

“It’s a bit over the top, isn’t it?” Whit murmurs as I make my way to the French windows. French windows in France. Fancy that.

“Not if you were planning on seducing me.” I turn my head over my shoulder in some semblance of the painting in the stairwell. “Oh, monsieur,” I say, fluttering my lashes. “’Av brought me ’ere to have your wicked way wiz me?”

“Who seduces who in a brothel, do you think?”

“You want me to work for it?” I ask, pulling back the heavy voiles. I gasp. Beyond the doors is a tiny terrace with views all the way to the Eiffel Tower. “Come look at the view.”

“Do you like it?” His question is a purr in my ears, his broad palms sliding around my waist, pulling me against his chest.

“It’s so perfect.”

“Next time, we’ll come for longer.” My heart gives a little pang. I could almost kid myself that we have a future when he says things like this. “I’m sorry this visit has to be so short.”

“Perfect doesn’t have a timeframe,” I whisper, dropping the voile curtain and turning in his arms. It doesn’t have to last a lifetime. “No need to ask what our plans are for this evening.” I keep my lashes lowered, not wanting to reveal my pained thoughts as I slowly walk my fingers up his right bicep.

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“Good. I wouldn’t like to lose my air of mystery.”

My chuckle sounds kind of dirty because there really is no mystery about the thing growing hard against my stomach. But before I can make a smart reply, a rap of knuckles sounds against the door.

“Best answer that.”

“Or we could just ignore it.”

“But it’s for you.”

“How can you tell?” I ask, pulling slightly away.

“I can’t.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Go open the door,” he whispers, pressing his lips to my head. And then a smack to my butt as I slide around him.

“Hey, watch the merchandise.”

“Don’t worry, darling.” His words stroke like a caress. “I’ve paid madame extra for my unnatural tastes.”

“Unnatural?” I reply, matching his tone.

“She said you were the best. I can’t wait to discover that for myself.”

My sultry laughter sounds all the way to the door.

“Mademoiselle Valente?” a chicly dressed woman of indeterminable age asks from the hallway. Her stature is small, her features bird-like, but there’s something masculine and strong about her.

“Yes,” I answer hesitantly.

“Bon.” One word and her attention swings away, her hands a flutter of movement.

“Can I help you?” She shakes her head, and I find myself stepping back from the door as she ushers a pair of girls about my age ahead, girls laden with all manner of garment bags and each pulling behind them a suitcase. “What is this all about?” I’m unsure if my question is meant for her or Whit, who, when I turn, is lowering himself into a chair. I also notice he is doing a pretty good impersonation of the Cheshire cat. No so much in the grinning sense but the knowing.

“We have come to dress you,” the tiny woman states imperiously, shooing me farther into the room. “Vite!”

It turns out Whit has no plans to give up his air of mystery this evening as he lounges in the armchair with a crystal flute of champagne dangling from between his fingers. I have a glass, too, but I’ve barely managed a mouthful of it thanks to Madame—no other name given—having the command of a drill sergeant.

“I like this one,” Whit says as Madame instructs her assistant to straighten the hem on the third dress I’ve tried on this evening. It’s cuts across my arms and chest, Bardot style, the fabric pink and diaphanous. And the label Chanel. There’s no price tag, and for that I’m grateful because I also love this dress, and I really don’t want to take it off.

I also really don’t want to try another on.

“You have a good eye, Monsieur.” Madame’s tone is approving. “This dress complements Mademoiselle’s skin tone perfectly.”

“It’s so pretty,” I say, glancing at myself in the full-length rococo-style mirror, swishing it this way and that.

“Made all the more pretty by you.”

Madame beams at Whit’s approval, and the two younger women with her cluck like little hens.

“Yes, this one,” he affirms, rising gracefully from the armchair. He’s so good at appearing impassive, I realize. It’s a wonder to me that no one else in the room seems to realize the heat in those tiger eyes of his.

“And the shoes?” she asks, her eyes appreciative as he draws closer.

“I’ll leave that to you, darling,” he says, pressing a kiss to my temple. “I’m going to hop into the shower.” Madame’s assistants giggle, but he pays them no heed as he saunters off in the direction of the bedroom.

I choose a pair of Valentino heels before it becomes apparent that the assistants aren’t here to stroke Madame’s ego when one of them produces a long roll of makeup brushes like a magician and the other, who’s arms are covered in a sleeve of tattoos, begins to lift curling wands and straightening irons out of a Mary Poppin’s style bag. I’m hurried to take a seat at the dressing table where the duo proceed to primp, paint, poke, and preen me, all three women conversing in a flurry of French. The spare the occasional word for me, but mostly communicate with each other. While I love this dress, this experience isn’t exactly relaxing and not nearly as much fun, I contemplate, as being Whit’s Sunday afternoon boutique Barbie Doll…

I jolt back to myself as the door to the bathroom opens, and in the mirror, Whit steps out. Dressed only in a towel. The girl with the tattoos blushes and ducks her head, intent on tidying a loose stand of my hair. The other woman is much bolder in her appraisal, no that it matters as he has eyes only for me as the fall of light plays across the muscles of his shoulders and chest, the crest of his hip bones rendered a smudge of shadow. He strolls to the ornate armoire and pulls out a leather washbag I’ve seen in his bathroom at him. Home. The word causes me a tiny pang of longing, though I’m distracted by the sound of the armoire closing. Whit turns and shoots me a wink before he saunters back the way he came, though I’m surprised he can move through the thick estrogen cloud. The bathroom door closes once again.

“Beau cul.” In the mirror, I note how the makeup artist purses her lips appreciatively.

I feel myself frowning. Beaucoup? Like merci beaucoup? Is she thanking him for the show?

“She says you are a very lucky woman.” The old woman catches my eye, her words diplomatic.

“Yeah,” I reply doubtfully.

“He has, how do you say?” She frowns a little as though grasping for the words. “A backside like two boiled eyes in a handkerchief.”

Words from the same school of thought as Aunt Doreen, apparently.


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