Sometimes Claire looked at Carlos and wondered how they’d managed to find each other. If he hadn’t happened to become her temporary neighbor by apartment-sitting for the Dupont's, they probably would have never met. And now, a few months later, Carlos had finished his graduate degree and was heading back to Argentina. She watched him take his suitcase from her closet, where it had been stowed these past few weeks. “I think you will love Argentina,” he said. She nodded, a little nervous, though the thrill of a new adventure ran through her. “I know I will,” she agreed, “and even if I don’t, things will be fine. I love you.”
“I love you” wasn’t the right thing to say to her. Not just yet. But Philippe had been in love with Claire for three years now. Day after day at work they goofed off and shared their life stories. When the weather was nice, on their lunch break they sometimes took the Métro a few stops to the Parc Monceau, where they sat on a bench near the little pyramid and ate sandwiches. Three years. He’d fallen for her almost from the day they’d met. But it had never felt like the right time to tell her. Now, the autumn was warmer than any he’d ever known in Paris, and he took that as a sign. He took a deep breath and picked up his phone.
Mélodie picked up the phone. “Hey!” she called out to the couple a few meters in front of her. They continued walking, looking only at each other. Mélodie tried to push wistful thoughts from her mind. It wasn’t her fault she’d never had a boyfriend. It wasn’t her fault she’d been proclaimed Queen of First Dates by all of her friends. It just always got to a point on those first dates where she’d realize the guy she was sitting with wouldn’t laugh at the same things she did. Her friends thought it was a stupid thing to get caught up in, but that was all Mélodie wanted. She didn’t care about money or security or that kind of thing – if you couldn’t laugh together, you could forget any chance of future happiness, as far as she was concerned. No, she didn’t regret her choice. But it would be nice to have someone – but nevermind, she angrily told herself, that couple is getting away! “Hey!” she called more loudly. Finally, they turned. Mélodie ran up to them. “You dropped this.” “Oh! Thank you!” The girl was a bombshell, could have been a model. “It is a good thing she found it.” The guy with her was just as gorgeous. “Thank you,” he said in a charmingly accented voice, flashing her a dashing smile. “It’s no problem,” Mélodie said, ducking away from his gaze. “Thank you,” the girl told her again, then: “but it’s not important. In fact, you can keep the phone.” “What?!” Mélodie blurted out. “I don’t need it anymore,” the girl went on. She looked up at her gorgeous man. “I’m moving abroad.” Mélodie had to admit her own phone wasn’t really working too well at the moment. The other day, while lying on her desk, it had inexplicably made a call to her grandmother. Her poor grandma had stayed on the phone for twenty minutes while Mélodie had passionately sung and yelled along with a number of Izia songs. She’d been interrupted by someone pounding on the door. It was her brother: after their grandmother had hung up and called him to say she’d gotten a call from Mélodie and had only heard noises and screams, he’d made the fifteen-minute bus ride to see if she was being attacked. Then again, it might not have been the phone. Strange coincidences like this always happened to Mélodie. It was like she stumbled into them somehow. Even so, it wasn’t too hard to accept the girl’s offer. “I don’t have a plan to cancel or anything,” the girl said, erasing her contacts. “I did that months ago, so you can just add credit to it when you need it, or get a plan for it,” she drifted off, staring up again at the gorgeous man who was staring down at her. “Thanks,” Mélodie said. The happy couple drifted off, as if on a cloud. Mélodie got home with her own two earthbound feet, and turned on her computer. She’d just emailed her friends and family with her new number, when she looked up at the clock and said “Merde!”: She was supposed to be at a job interview in fifteen minutes. Hastily she dropped the new phone into her bag, and ran out the door.
Philippe ran out the door and headed down the street towards the Métro stop. The boss had taken the afternoon off, which meant he could sneak away a few minutes earlier than usual and beat the crammed rush hour trains. He just couldn’t get distracted. Of course, something caught his eye. The bakery had added a new pastry to its repertoire: two rows of éclairs covered in pink icing, with a sugar-sculpted pink pig’s head stuck to one end stared up at him. He stopped in his tracks, took out his phone, and took a picture. Then he hurried on. In the train, he took out his phone.
In the train, Mélodie took out her phone, and saw that she’d received a message. It was probably her mother texting from work to see how the interview went. Mélodie sighed. It wasn’t that she didn’t want a job. She just didn’t want the kind of job everyone expected her to have. She’d leave an interview hoping never to get called back. She wanted to act, to draw, to sing. But she’d never be able to make money that way, at least that’s what everyone had always told her. And it was just easier to believe them than to struggle. But she was starting to wonder about that. She opened the message – and a photo of pig-shaped pastries flashed onto her screen. Mélodie laughed. “We’ve got to try these one day,” the text said underneath it. It was signed “Philippe”. Her heart gave a flutter. Philippe? The guy who was friends with Hélène’s brother? She’d always thought he seemed so charming – but they never got to talk. There was always something that had kept them from exchanging more than a few words - him helping a drunk friend at a party, her having to leave Hélène’s early because her grandmother had called saying she’d lost her glasses. How had Philippe gotten her number? And why now? Maybe her email about the new phone had inspired Hélène? She leaned back in her seat and took a picture.
Philippe leaned back in his seat in surprise. Claire had never sent him a picture before. She’d always just laughed at the things he sent her. He looked at the image: Claire’s shoe posed so that it looked like it was human-sized and sitting on the Métro beside an oblivious old man. He liked it. Claire really had talent. She was perfect.
It was perfect. She and Philippe spent the next few days sending silly photos to each other. Things like this had always been part of her private world. All the silly pictures she might have taken had only been in her mind or on her sketchpad. She knew she was right about liking Philippe. She’d never had a week like this before.
He’d never had a week like this before with Claire. She was out of work on vacation, and she spent the days sending him back photos. Maybe that was all she’d needed to open up. Things were going so well that on Friday, he finally decided to stop flirting and have that talk with her he’d been meaning to have. And so, shaking a little, he texted “I have something important to talk to you about. Are you free tomorrow? Can we meet at the Parc Monceau at noon?”
“I have something important to talk to you about. Are you free tomorrow? Can we meet at the Parc Monceau at noon?” Mélodie’s stomach fluttered. “Yes!” she wrote back.
“Yes!” she wrote back. And so, the next day, Philippe woke up from a blissfully sleepless night. He’d planned it all out perfectly. He got dressed in a sophisticated-looking sweater his sister had bought him last Christmas, a pair of khakis, and a long, high collared coat “just like something out of Quantum of Solace” that his sister had bought him for the Christmas before that. He walked out of his building and headed to the trendy new bakery that had opened two streets away, where he bought two overpriced sandwiches. Then he went to the Nicolas, where he brooded over a choice of wine. Finally, he decided to have a little fun and choose the new Beaujolais, which actually wasn’t too bad. “But we can’t drink out of the bottle,” he groaned just as he reached the Métro. He ran back to his apartment and grabbed two small souvenir wineglasses from a work trip to a conference in Lyon last year. They were still in their box, taped together at their thick stems. He hastily tore them out of the packaging. The mischievous piece of tape flew into the air and settled surreptitiously on his left temple. Philippe ran out of the apartment again and raced to the Métro. Twenty minutes later, he exited the Métro and raced through the park’s gates and along the winding paths until he reached the bench in front of the little pyramid. Claire was there and – he staggered and stopped – she was sitting on some guy’s lap, kissing him deeply.
Claire was kissing Carlos deeply. They had only a few hours to go before their flight to Argentina, but she’d wanted to bring him here, to her favorite park. She wondered if she’d miss it. Then again, she laughed slightly to herself as she continued to kiss him, it wasn’t as if she was looking at the park too much. All that she loved was right there in front of her.
All that he loved was right there in front of him – kissing someone else. “Claire?” Philippe managed to get out. She turned around, then gave a start and slid off the guy’s lap. “Philippe?” He stared, not sure what to say. “This is Carlos. We met a few months ago, and…today we’re leaving for Argentina! I didn’t want to say anything to anyone at work, maybe because I didn’t want to jinx it!” She gave a giddy laugh. Philippe couldn’t close his mouth, or move, or speak. But Claire didn’t seem bothered. “Anyway, the boss knows all about it. I’m glad I got to see you, though! How have you been?” “How have I been,” he managed, “I’ve been sending you messages all week!” She didn’t seem to notice he was mad. Instead, she gave a little laugh. “Oh no!” She turned to this Carlos, and he laughed, too and said, “I told you it was not a good idea to give your phone away like that!” After what seemed like an interminable amount of staring deeply into Carlos’s eyes, Claire turned back to him. “I dropped my phone the other day and this girl ran up to give it back to me, but I told her to keep it. I won’t need it in Argentina! Hey,” she said, “why do you have wine?” “To celebrate,” he choked out. And as if in a nightmare, he was uncorking the wine, and pouring it into the glasses and offering the glasses to the smiling couple. “This is very nice,” Carlos said, “but what about you?” “It’s not my day,” and that was the only thing he understood completely at the time out of the whole episode. An hour later, the couple had finished the bottle, and they handed him back the glasses. There was still a small circle of red in each glass, tiny and fading, the way his heart felt. He wished them well, and they laughed and thanked him. Then, propelled by some inner force, he turned and walked down the winding paths, out of the park, and back into the Métro. Back home, he slumped down into a chair, dazed. He put his head in his hands, felt something, and pulled the strip of tape from his forehead. What the hell? He put his head back down again.
She put her head back down again. Mélodie had been scanning the park in all directions, she’d walked through it about ten times, but she couldn’t find Philippe. She’d wanted this to be a cinematic meeting, like something in a movie. She’d pictured it so many times since yesterday: suddenly, the lovers bump into each other, then laugh. But it was now 2:30. She’d have to be practical, even if Philippe wasn’t. She sat down and took a picture. Then she typed, “Where are you?”
“Where are you?” he read, after his phone’s “ping” had shaken him out of his stupor. He scrolled down and saw a photo of a girl with short dark hair, a little bow over her left ear. Her big brown eyes laughed, but there was also a very slight glimmer of uncertainty. She was sitting on an empty bench near the entrance of the Parc Monceau.
This week's Fiction Weekend prompt was inspired by something that actually happened to me last weekend: On a Metro ride home from the movies, the boyfriend and I saw a man sitting near the door. He was fairly young - maybe in his late twenties or early thirties - and smartly dressed in slacks and dress shoes. The strange thing was, in his hand, he held two small wine glasses with red wine residue still at the bottoms. When I glanced at him as we left the train, I saw that he had a piece of white bandage tape on one side of his forehead. But he didn't seem to be injured or bleeding, or even ill. Though I'd tried to look at him discreetly, his eyes met mine, and he looked a little annoyed that I'd been looking.
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