Anna and the french kiss, p.11
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       Anna and the French Kiss, p.11
 

         Part #1 of Anna and the French Kiss series by Stephanie Perkins
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  “What happened?” I ask.

  “She’s dying.”

  chapter fifteen

  St. Clair is drunk.

  His face is buried between my thighs. Under favorable circumstances, this would be quite exciting. Considering he’s minutes away from vomiting, it’s less than attractive. I push his head toward my knees into a slightly less awkward position, and he moans. It’s the first time I’ve touched his hair. It’s soft, like Seany’s when he was a baby.

  Josh and St. Clair showed up fifteen minutes ago, stinking of cigarettes and alcohol. Since neither of them smoke, they’d obviously been to a bar. “Sorry. He said wehadtuh comeup ’ere.” Josh dragged his friend’s limp body inside my room. “Wouldn’t shuttup about tit. Tit. Ha ha.”

  St. Clair burbled in heavy, slurred British. “Me dad issa bastard. I’m gonna kill ’im. Gonna kill ’im, I’m sooo pissed.” Then his head rolled, and his chin smacked violently against his chest. Alarmed, I guided him to my bed and propped him up against the side for support.

  Josh stared at the picture of Seany on my wall. “Tit,” he said.

  “Ahhh-nuhhh, he’s an arse. I’m serious.” St. Clair widened his eyes for emphasis.

  “I know, I know he is.” Even though I didn’t know. “Will you stop that?” I snapped at Josh. He stood on my bed with his nose pressed against Sean’s picture. “Is he okay?”

  “His mom is dying. I dontthinkhe’s OKAY.” Josh stumbled down and reached for my phone. “Told Rashmi I’d call her.”

  “His mother is not you-know-what. How can you say that?” I turned back to St. Clair. “She’ll be fine. Your mom is fine, you hear me?”

  St. Clair belched.

  “Jesus.” I was so not equipped for this type of situation.

  “Cancer.” He hung his head. “She can’t have cancer.”

  “Rashmi iss me,” Josh said into my phone. “Mer? Put Rashmi on. Iss emergency.”

  “It’s not an emergency!” I yelled. “They’re just drunk.”

  Seconds later, Meredith pounded on my door, and I let her in. “How’d you know we’re here?” Josh’s forehead creased in bewilderment. “Where’s Rashmi?”

  “I heard you through the wall, idiot. And you called my phone, not hers.” She held up her cell and then dialed Rashmi, who arrived a minute later. They just stood there staring, while St. Clair babbled and Josh continued to look shocked by their sudden appearance. My small room felt even smaller stuffed with five bodies.

  Finally, Mer knelt down. “Is he okay?” She felt St. Clair’s forehead, but he smacked her hand away. She looked hurt.

  “I’m fine. My father’s an arse, and my mum is dying and—oh my God, I’m so pissed.” St. Clair looked at me again. His eyes were glassy like black marbles. “Pissed. Pissed. Pissed.”

  “We know you’re pissed at your dad,” I said. “It’s okay.You’re right, he’s a jerk.” I mean what was I supposed to say? He just found out his mother has cancer.

  “Pissed is British for ‘drunk,’” Mer said.

  “Oh,” I said. “Well.You’re definitely that, too.”

  Meanwhile, The Couple was fighting. “Where have you been?” Rashmi asked. “You said you’d be home three hours ago!”

  Josh rolled his eyes. “Out. We’ve been out. Someone had to help him—”

  “And you call that helping? He’s completely wasted. Catatonic. And you! God, you smell like car exhaust and armpits—”

  “He couldn’t drink alone.”

  “You were supposed to be watching out for him! What if something happened?”

  “Beer. Liquor. Thatsswhat happened. Don’t be such a prude, Rash.”

  “Fuck you,” Rashmi said. “Seriously, Josh. Go fuck yourself.”

  He lunged, and Mer shoved him back onto my bed.The weight of his body hitting the mattress rattled St. Clair, and his head fell forward again, chin hitting chest with another disturbing smack. Rashmi stormed out. A small crowd had gathered outside in the hallway, and she shouted further obscenities as she fought her way through them. Mer chased behind—“Rashmi! RASHMI!”—and my door slammed shut.

  And that was the moment St. Clair’s head landed between my thighs.

  Breathe, Anna. Breathe.

  Josh appears to be passed out. Fine. Good. One less boy for me to deal with.

  I should probably get St. Clair some water. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to give drunk people? So they don’t get alcohol poisoning or something? I ease him off my legs, and he grabs my feet. “I’ll be right back,” I say. “I promise.”

  He snuffles. Oh, no. He’s not going to cry, is he? Because even though it’s sweet when guys cry, I am so not prepared for this. Girl Scouts didn’t teach me what to do with emotionally unstable drunk boys. I grab a bottle of water from my fridge and squat down. I hold up his head—the second time I’ve touched his hair—and angle the bottle in front of his lips. “Drink.”

  He shakes his head slowly. “If I drink any more, I’ll puke.”

  “It’s not alcohol. It’s water.” I tilt the bottle, and it spills into his mouth and dribbles down his chin. He takes the bottle and then drops it. Water pours across my floor.

  “Ohhh no,” he whispers. “I’m sorry, Anna. I’m sorry.”

  “It’s okay.” And he looks so sad that I lie down next to him. The puddle soaks into the butt of my jeans. Ack. “What happened?”

  St. Clair sighs. It’s deep and exhausted. “He’s not letting me visit my mum.”

  “What? What do you mean?”

  “It’s what my father does, what he’s always done. It’s his way of staying in control.”

  “I don’t und—”

  “He’s jealous. That she loves me more than she loves him. So he’s not letting me visit her.”

  My mind spins. That doesn’t make any sense, none at all. “How can he do that?Your mom is sick. She’ll need chemo, she needs you there.”

  “He doesn’t want me to see her until Thanksgiving break.”

  “But that’s a month away! She could be—” I stop myself.The moment I finish the sentence in my head, I feel sick. But there’s no way. People my age do not have parents who die. She’ll have chemotherapy, and of course it’ll work. She’ll be fine. “So what are you gonna do? Fly to San Francisco anyway?”

  “My father would murder me.”

  “So?” I’m outraged. “You’d still get to see her!”

  “You don’t understand. My father would be very, very angry.” The deliberate way he says this sends a chill down my spine.

  “But . . . wouldn’t she ask your dad to send for you? I mean, he couldn’t say no to her, could he? Not when she’s . . . sick?”

  “She won’t disobey my father.”

  Disobey. Like she’s a child. It’s rapidly becoming clear why St.Clair never talks about his father. Mine might be self-absorbed, but he’d never keep me away from Mom. I feel awful. Guilty. My problems are so insignificant in comparison. I mean, my dad sent me to France. Boo-freaking-hoo.

  “Anna?”

  “Yeah?”

  He pauses. “Never mind.”

  “What?”

  “Nothing.”

  But his tone is definitely not nothing. I turn to him, and his eyes are closed. His skin is pale and tired. “What?” I ask again, sitting up. St. Clair opens his eyes, noticing I’ve moved. He struggles, trying to sit up, too, and I help him.When I pull away, he clutches my hand to stop me.

  “I like you,” he says.

  My body is rigid.

  “And I don’t mean as a friend.”

  It feels like I’m swallowing my tongue. “Uh. Um. What about—?” I pull my hand away from his. The weight of her name hangs heavy and unspoken.

  “It’s not right. It hasn’t been right, not since I met you.” His eyes close again, and his body sways.

  He’s drunk. He’s just drunk.

  Calm down, Anna. He’s drunk, and he’s going through a crisis. There is NO WAY he knows what he’s ta
lking about right now. So what do I do? Oh my God, what am I supposed to do?

  “Do you like me?” St. Clair asks. And he looks at me with those big brown eyes—which, okay, are a bit red from the drinking and maybe from some crying—and my heart breaks.

  Yes, St. Clair. I like you.

  But I can’t say it aloud, because he’s my friend. And friends don’t let other friends make drunken declarations and expect them to act upon them the next day.

  Then again . . . it’s St. Clair. Beautiful, perfect, wonderful—

  And great. That’s just great.

  He threw up on me.

  chapter sixteen

  I’m mopping up his mess with a towel when there’s a knock on my door. I open it with my elbows to keep the vomit from touching my doorknob.

  It’s Ellie. I nearly drop my towel. “Oh.”

  Slutty nurse. I don’t believe it. Tiny white button-up dress, red crosses across the nipples. Cleavage city.

  “Anna, I’m soooo sorry,” St. Clair moans behind me, and she rushes to his side.

  “Ohmygod, St. Clair! Are you okay?” Again, her husky voice startles me. As if the nurse getup weren’t enough to make me feel completely juvenile and inadequate.

  “’Course he’s not okay,” Josh grumbles from the bed. “He just puked on Anna.”

  Josh is awake?

  Ellie smacks Josh’s feet, which hang over the edge of my bed. “Get up. Help me move him to his room.”

  “I can get up by my bloody self.” St. Clair tries to push himself up, and Ellie and I reach out to steady him. She glares at me, and I back up.

  “How’d you know he was here?” I ask.

  “Meredith called, but I was already on my way. I’d just gotten his message. He called a few hours ago, but I didn’t get it, because I was getting ready for this stupid party.” She gestures at her costume, upset with herself. “I should have been here.” She brushes St. Clair’s hair from his forehead. “It’s okay, babe. I’m here now.”

  “Ellie?” St. Clair sounds confused, as if he’s just noticed her. “Anna? Why is Ellen here? She’s not supposed to be here.”

  His girlfriend shoots me a hateful look, and I shrug with embarrassment. “He’s really, really drunk,” I say.

  She thwacks Josh again, and he rolls off the bed. “All right, all right!” Amazingly, he stands and pulls St. Clair off the floor. They balance him between their shoulders. “Get the door,” she says sharply. I open it, and they stagger out.

  St. Clair looks back. “Anna. Anna, I’m sorry.”

  “It’s okay. I’ve already cleaned it up. It’s fine, it’s not a big deal.”

  “No. About everything else.”

  Ellie’s head jerks back to me, angry and confused, but I don’t care. He looks so awful. I wish they’d put him down. He could sleep in my bed tonight; I could stay with Mer. But they’re already maneuvering him into the rickety elevator. They push aside the metal grate and squish inside. St. Clair stares at me sadly as the door shuts.

  “She’ll be fine!Your mother will be fine!”

  I don’t know if he hears me. The elevator creaks upward. I watch it until it disappears.

  Sunday, November 1, All Saints’ Day. Oddly enough, this is the actual day that Parisians visit cemeteries. I’m told people are dropping by the graves of loved ones and leaving flowers and personal tokens.

  The thought makes me ill. I hope St. Clair doesn’t remember today is a holiday.

  When I wake up, I stop by Meredith’s. She’s already been to his room, and either he’s out cold or he’s not accepting visitors. Most likely both. “It’s best to let him sleep,” she says. And I’m sure she’s right, but I can’t help but tune my ear to the floor above.The first movements begin in the late afternoon, but even these are muffled. Slow shuffles and laborious thuds.

  He wouldn’t come out for dinner. Josh, who is cross and bleary, says he checked in with him on his way here—a pizza place, where we always eat on Sunday night—and St. Clair didn’t want company. Josh and Rashmi have patched things up. She looks smug to see him suffering through a hangover.

  My emotions are conflicted. I’m worried for St. Clair’s mother, and I’m worried for St. Clair, but I’m also furious with his father. And I can’t focus on anything for more than a second before my mind whirls back to this:

  St. Clair likes me. As more than a friend.

  I felt truth behind his words, but how can I overlook the fact that he was drunk? Absolutely, positively, one hundred and ten percent smashed. And as much as I want to see him, to be assured with my own eyes that he’s still alive, I don’t know what I’d say. Do we talk about it? Or do I act like it never happened?

  He needs friendship right now, not relationship drama. Which is why it’s really crappy that it’s become a lot harder to kid myself that St. Clair’s attention hasn’t been as flattering—or as welcome—as it has.

  Toph calls around midnight. We haven’t talked on the phone in weeks, but with everything happening here, I’m distracted the entire time. I just want to go back to bed. It’s too confusing. Everything is too confusing.

  St. Clair was absent again at breakfast. And I think he’s not even coming to class today (and who could blame him?), when he appears in English, fifteen minutes late. I worry that Professeur Cole will yell at him, but the faculty must have been notified of the situation, because she doesn’t say a word. She just gives him a pitying look and pushes ahead with our lesson. “So why aren’t Americans interested in translated novels? Why are so few foreign works published in English every year?”

  I try to meet St. Clair’s gaze, but he stares down at his copy of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Or rather, stares through it. He’s pale, practically translucent.

  “Well,” she continues. “It’s often suggested that as a culture, we’re only interested in immediate gratification. Fast food. Self-checkout. Downloadable music, movies, books. Instant coffee, instant rebates, instant messaging. Instant weight loss! Shall I go on?”

  The class laughs, but St. Clair is quiet. I watch him nervously. Dark stubble is beginning to shadow his face. I hadn’t realized he needed to shave so often.

  “Foreign novels are less action-oriented.They have a different pace; they’re more reflective. They challenge us to look for the story, find the story within the story. Take Balzac. Whose story is this? The narrator’s? The little seamstress’s? China’s?”

  I want to reach out and squeeze his hand and tell him everything will be okay. He shouldn’t be here. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I were in his situation. His dad should have pulled him from school. He should be in California.

  Professeur Cole taps the novel’s cover. “Dai Sijie, born and raised in China. Moved to France. He wrote Balzac in French, but set the story in his homeland. And then it was translated into English. So how many steps away from us is that? Is it the one, French to English? Or do we count the first translation, the one the author only made in his mind, from Chinese to French? What do we lose each time the story is reinterpreted?”

  I’m only half listening to her. After class, Meredith and Rashmi and I walk silently with St. Clair to calculus and exchange worried glances when he’s not looking.Which I’m sure he knows we’re doing anyway. Which makes me feel worse.

  My suspicions about the faculty are confirmed when Professeur Babineaux takes him aside before class begins. I can’t follow the entire conversation, but I hear him ask if St. Clair would rather spend the hour in the nurse’s office. St. Clair accepts. As soon as he leaves, Amanda Spitterton-Watts is in my face. “What’s with St. Clair?”

  “Nothing.” Like I’d tell her.

  She flips her hair, and I notice with satisfaction that a strand gets stuck to her lip gloss. “Because Steve said he and Josh were totally wasted Saturday night. He saw them staggering through the Halloween party, and St. Clair was freaking out about his dad.”

  “Well, he heard wrong.”

  “Steve said St. Clai
r wanted to kill his father.”

  “Steve is full of shit,” Rashmi interrupts. “And where were you on Saturday, Amanda? So trashed you had to rely on Steve for the play-by-play?”

  But this shuts her up only temporarily. By lunch, it’s clear the whole school knows. I’m not sure who spilled—if it was the teachers, or if Steve or one of his bonehead friends remembered something else St. Clair said—but the entire student body is buzzing. When St. Clair finally arrives in the cafeteria, it’s like a scene from a bad teen movie. Conversation screeches to a halt. Drinks are paused halfway to lips.

  St. Clair stops in the doorway, assesses the situation, and marches back out. The four of us chase after him. We find him pushing through the school doors, heading to the courtyard. “I don’t want to talk about it.” His back is to us.

  “Then we won’t talk about it,” Josh says. “Let’s go out for lunch.”

  “Crêpes?” Mer asks. They’re St. Clair’s favorite.

  “That sounds amazing,” Rashmi chimes in.

  “I’m starving,” Josh says. “Come on.” We move forward, hoping he’ll follow. He does, and it’s all we can do not to sigh in relief. Mer and Rashmi lead the way, while Josh falls back with St. Clair. Josh talks about little nothings—a new pen he bought for their art class, the rap song his neighbor keeps blasting about sweaty rumps—and it helps. At least, St. Clair shows minimal signs of life. He mumbles something in reply.

  I hover between the groups. I know it’s goody-goody of me, but as concerned as I am about St. Clair, I’m also worried about ditching. I don’t want to get in trouble. I glance back at SOAP, and Josh shoots me a look that says, The school won’t care today.

  I hope he’s right.

  Our favorite crêperie is only minutes away, and my fear of skipping school eases as I watch the crêpe man ladle the batter onto the griddle. I order mine the way I always do here, by pointing at the picture of a banana and Nutella crêpe and saying please.The man pours the warm chocolate-hazelnut spread over the thin, pancakelike crêpe, folds the banana in, and then drizzles more Nutella on top. As a final flourish, he adds a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Real vanilla, which is tan with black flecks.

 
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