Anna and the french kiss, p.15
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       Anna and the French Kiss, p.15
 

         Part #1 of Anna and the French Kiss series by Stephanie Perkins
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  chapter twenty-two

  Saturday is another day of wandering, food, and movies, followed by an awkward conversation in the stairwell. Followed by a warm body in my bed. Followed by hesitant touches. Followed by sleep.

  Even with the uncomfortable bits, I’ve never had a better school break.

  But Sunday morning, things change. When we wake up, St. Clair stretches and accidentally smacks my boobs. Which not only hurts but also mortifies us both equally. Then at breakfast, he grows distant again. Checks his phone for messages while I’m talking. Stares out the café windows. And instead of exploring Paris, he says he has homework to do in the dorm.

  And I’m sure he does. He hasn’t exactly kept up with it. But his tone strikes me as off, and I know the real reason for his departure. Students are arriving back. Josh and Rashmi and Mer will be here this evening.

  And so will Ellie.

  I try not to take it personally, but it hurts. I consider going to the movies, but I work on my history homework instead. At least that’s what I tell myself I’m doing. My ears are tuned to the movements above me in his room, tuned to distraction. He’s so close, yet so far away.As students arrive back, Résidence Lambert gets louder, and it becomes difficult to pick out individual noises. I’m not even sure if he’s there anymore.

  Meredith bursts in around eight, and we go to dinner. She chatters about her holiday in Boston, but my mind is elsewhere. He’s probably with her right now. I remember the first time I saw them together—their kiss, her hands tangled in his hair—and I lose my appetite.

  “You’re awfully quiet,” Mer says. “How was your break? Did you get St. Clair out of his room?”

  “A little.” I can’t tell her about our nights, but for some reason, I don’t want to tell her about our days either. I want to keep the memories for myself, hidden. They’re mine.

  Their kiss. Her hands tangled in his hair. My stomach churns.

  She sighs. “And I was hoping he might come back out of his shell. Take a walk, get some fresh air. You know, something craa-zy like that.”

  Their kiss. Her hands tangled—

  “Hey,” she says. “You guys didn’t do anything crazy while we were gone, did you?”

  I nearly choke on my coffee.

  The next few weeks are a blur. Classes pick up with the professeurs anxious to get to the halfway point in their lesson plans. We pull all-nighters to keep up, and we cram to prepare for their finals. For the first time, it strikes me how competitive this school is. Students here take studying seriously, and the dormitory is almost as quiet as it was when they were gone for Thanksgiving.

  Letters arrive from universities. I’ve been accepted into all of the schools I applied to, but there’s hardly time to celebrate. Rashmi gets into Brown, and Meredith gets into her top picks, too—one in London, one in Rome. St. Clair doesn’t talk about college. None of us know where he’s applied or if he’s applied, and he changes the subject whenever we bring it up.

  His mother is done with chemo, and it’s her last week of external radiation. Next week, when we’re home, she’ll have her first internal radiation treatment. It requires a three-day hospital stay, and I’m thankful St. Clair will be there for it. He says her spirits are up, and she claims she’s doing well—as well as can be expected under the circumstances—but he’s impatient to see it with his own eyes.

  Today is the first day of Hanukkah and, in its honor, the school has given us a break from homework assignments and tests.

  Well, in honor of Josh.

  “The only Jew in SOAP,” he says, rolling his eyes. He’s understandably annoyed, because jerks like Steve Carver were punching his arm and thanking him at breakfast.

  My friends and I are in a department store, trying to get some shopping done while we have an actual afternoon off. The store is beautiful in a familiar way. Shiny red and gold ribbons hang from dangling wreaths. Green garlands and white twinkle lights are draped down the escalator and across the perfume counters. And American musicians sing from the speakers.

  “Speaking of,” Mer says to Josh. “Should you even be here?”

  “Sundown, my little Catholic friend, sundown. But actually”—he looks at Rashmi—“we need to go, if we want to catch dinner in the Marais in time. I’m craving latkes like no one’s business.”

  She glances at the clock on her phone. “You’re right. We better scoot.”

  They say goodbye, and then it’s just the three of us. I’m glad Meredith is still here. Since Thanksgiving, things have regressed between St. Clair and me. Ellie is his girlfriend, and I’m his friend-who-is-a-girl, and I think he feels guilty for overstepping those boundaries. I feel guilty for encouraging him. Neither of us has mentioned anything about that weekend, and even though we still sit next to each other at meals, there’s now this thing between us. The ease of our friendship is gone.

  Thankfully, no one has noticed. I think. Once I caught Josh mouthing something to St. Clair and then motioning toward me. I don’t know what he said, but it made St. Clair shake his head in a “shut up” manner. But it could have been about anything.

  Something catches my attention. “Is that . . . the Looney Tunes theme?”

  Mer and St. Clair cock their ears.

  “Why, yes. I believe it is,” St. Clair says.

  “I heard ‘Love Shack’ a few minutes ago,” Mer says.

  “It’s official,” I say. “America has finally ruined France.”

  “So can we go now?” St. Clair holds up a small bag. “I’m done.”

  “Ooo, what’d you get?” Mer asks. She takes his bag and pulls out a delicate, shimmery scarf. “Is it for Ellie?”

  “Shite.”

  Mer pauses. “You didn’t get anything for Ellie?”

  “No, it’s for Mum. Arrrgh.” He rakes a hand through his hair. “Would you mind if we pop over to Sennelier before we go home?” Sennelier is a gorgeous little art supply store, the kind that makes me wish I had an excuse to buy oil paints and pastels. Mer and I went with Rashmi last weekend. She bought Josh a new sketchbook for Hanukkah.

  “Wow. Congratulations, St. Clair,” I say. “Winner of today’s Sucky Boyfriend award. And I thought Steve was bad—did you see what happened in calc?”

  “You mean when Amanda caught him dirty-texting Nicole?” Mer asks. “I thought she was gonna stab him in the neck with her pencil.”

  “I’ve been busy,” St. Clair says.

  I glance at him. “I was just teasing.”

  “Well, you don’t have to be such a bloody git about it.”

  “I wasn’t being a git. I wasn’t even being a twat, or a wanker, or any of your other bleeding Briticisms—”

  “Piss off.” He snatches his bag back from Mer and scowls at me.

  “HEY!” Mer says. “It’s Christmas. Ho-ho-ho. Deck the halls. Stop fighting.”

  “We weren’t fighting,” he and I say together.

  She shakes her head. “Come on, St. Clair’s right. Let’s get out of here. This place gives me the creeps.”

  “I think it’s pretty,” I say. “Besides, I’d rather look at ribbons than dead rabbits.”

  “Not the hares again,” St. Clair says. “You’re as bad as Rashmi.”

  We wrestle through the Christmas crowds. “I can see why she was upset! The way they’re hung up, like they’d died of nosebleeds. It’s horrible. Poor Isis.” All of the shops in Paris have outdone themselves with elaborate window displays, and the butcher is no exception. I pass the dead bunnies every time I go to the movies.

  “In case you hadn’t noticed,” he says. “Isis is perfectly alive and well on the sixth floor.”

  We burst through the glass doors and onto the street. Shoppers rush by, and for a moment, it feels like I’m visiting my father in Manhattan. But the familiar lampposts and benches and boulevards appear, and the illusion disappears. The sky is white gray. It looks like it’s about to snow, but it never does. We pick our way through the throngs and toward the métro. The a
ir is cold, but not bitter, and tinged with chimney smoke.

  St. Clair and I continue bickering about the rabbits. I know he doesn’t like the display either, but for whatever reason, he wants to argue. Mer is exasperated. “Will you guys cut it out? You’re killing my holiday buzz.”

  “Speaking of buzzkills.” I look pointedly at St. Clair before addressing Mer. “I still want to ride one of those Ferris wheels they set up along the Champs-Élysées. Or that big one at the Place de la Concorde with all the pretty lights.”

  St. Clair glares at me.

  “I’d ask you,” I say to him, “but I know what your answer would be.”

  It’s like I slapped him. Oh God. What’s wrong with me?

  “Anna,” Mer says.

  “I’m sorry.” I look down at my shoes in horror. “I don’t know why I said that.”

  A red-cheeked man in front of a supermarket swears loudly. He’s selling baskets filled with oysters on ice. His hands must be freezing, but I’d trade places with him in a second. Please, St. Clair. Please say something.

  He shrugs, but it’s forced. “’S all right.”

  “Anna, have you heard from Toph lately?” Mer asks, desperate for a subject change.

  “Yeah. Actually, I got an email last night.” To be honest, for a while I’d stopped thinking about Toph. But since St. Clair has moved clearly, definitively out of the picture again, my thoughts have drifted back to Christmas break. I haven’t heard much from Toph or Bridge, because they’ve been so busy with the band, and we’ve all been busy with finals, so it was surprising—and exciting—to get yesterday’s email.

  “So what’d it say?” Mer asks.

  sorry i haven’t written. its been insane with the practicing. that was funny about the french pigeons being fed contraceptive seeds. those crazy parisians. they should put it in the school pizza here, there’ve been at least six preggos this year. bridge says ur coming to our show. lookin forward to it, annabel lee. later. toph.

  “Not much. But he’s looking forward to seeing me,” I add.

  Mer grins. “You must be so psyched.”

  We startle at the sound of breaking glass. St. Clair has kicked a bottle into the gutter.

  “You okay?” she asks him.

  But he turns to me. “Have you had a chance to look at that poetry book I got you?”

  I’m so surprised, it takes a moment to answer. “Uh, no. We don’t have to read it until next semester, right?” I turn to Mer and explain. “He bought me the Neruda book.”

  She whips her head toward St. Clair, who adjusts his face away from her scrutiny. “Yeah, well. I was just wondering. Since you hadn’t mentioned it ...” He trails off, dejected.

  I give him a funny look and return to Mer. She’s upset, too, and I’m afraid I’ve missed something. No, I know I’ve missed something. I babble to cover the peculiar silence. “I’m so happy to be going home. My flight leaves at, like, six in the morning this Saturday, so I have to get up insanely early, but it’s worth it. I should make it in plenty of time to see the Penny Dreadfuls.

  “Their show is that night,” I add.

  St. Clair’s head shoots up. “When does your flight leave?”

  “Six a.m.,” I repeat.

  “So does mine,” he says. “My connecting flight is through Atlanta. I bet we’re on the same plane.We ought to share a taxi.”

  Something twinges inside me. I don’t know if I want to. It’s all so weird with the fighting and the not-fighting. I’m searching for an excuse when we pass a homeless man with a scraggly beard. He’s lying in front of the métro, cardboard propped around him for warmth. St. Clair roots around his pockets and places all of his euros into the man’s cup. “Joyeux Noël.” He turns back to me. “So? A taxi?”

  I glance back at the homeless man before replying. He’s marveling, dumbfounded, at the amount in his hands. The frost coating my heart cracks.

  “What time should we meet?”

  chapter twenty-three

  A fist pounds against my door. My eyes jolt open, and my first coherent thought is this: -ai, -as, -a, -âmes, -âtes, -èrent. Why am I dreaming about past-tense -er verb endings? I’m exhausted. So tired. Sooo sle—WHAT WHAT WHAT? Another round of rapid-fire knocking jerks me awake, and I squint at my clock. Who the heck is beating down my door at four in the morning?

  Wait. Four o’clock? Wasn’t there something I was supposed to—?

  Oh, no. NO NO NO.

  “Anna? Anna, are you there? I’ve been waiting in the lobby for fifteen minutes.” A scrambling noise, and St. Clair curses from the floorboards. “And I see your light’s off. Brilliant. Could’ve mentioned you’d decided to go on without me.”

  I explode out of bed. I overslept! I can’t believe I overslept! How could this happen?

  St. Clair’s boots clomp away, and his suitcase drags heavily behind him. I throw open my door. Even though they’re dimmed this time of night, the crystal sconces in the hall make me blink and shade my eyes.

  St. Clair twists into focus. He’s stunned. “Anna?”

  “Help,” I gasp. “Help me.”

  He drops his suitcase and runs to me. “Are you all right? What happened?”

  I pull him in and flick on my light. The room is illuminated in its disheveled entirety. My luggage with its zippers open and clothes piled on top like acrobats. Toiletries scattered around my sink. Bedsheets twined into ropes. And me. Belatedly, I remember that not only is my hair crazy and my face smeared with zit cream, but I’m also wearing matching flannel Batman pajamas.

  “No way.” He’s gleeful. “You slept in? I woke you up?”

  I fall to the floor and frantically squish clothes into my suitcase.

  “You haven’t packed yet?”

  “I was gonna finish this morning! WOULD YOU FREAKING HELP ALREADY?” I tug on a zipper. It catches a yellow Bat symbol, and I scream in frustration.

  We’re going to miss our flight. We’re going to miss it, and it’s my fault. And who knows when the next plane will leave, and we’ll be stuck here all day, and I’ll never make it in time for Bridge and Toph’s show. And St. Clair’s mom will cry when she has to go to the hospital without him for her first round of internal radiation, because he’ll be stuck in an airport on the other side of the world, and it’s ALL. MY. FAULT.

  “Okay, okay.” He takes the zipper and wiggles it from my pajama bottoms. I make a strange sound between a moan and a squeal.The suitcase finally lets go, and St. Clair rests his arms on my shoulders to steady them. “Get dressed. Wipe your face off. I’ll take care of the rest.”

  Yes, one thing at a time. I can do this. I can do this.

  ARRRGH!

  He packs my clothes. Don’t think about him touching your underwear. Do NOT think about him touching your underwear. I grab my travel outfit—thankfully laid out the night before—and freeze. “Um.”

  St. Clair looks up and sees me holding my jeans. He sputters. “I’ll, I’ll step out—”

  “Turn around. Just turn around, there’s no time!”

  He quickly turns, and his shoulders hunch low over my suitcase to prove by posture how hard he is Not Looking. “So what happened?”

  “I don’t know.” Another glance to ensure his continued state of Not Looking, and then I rip off my clothes in one fast swoop. I am now officially stark naked in the room with the most beautiful boy I know. Funny, but this isn’t how I imagined this moment.

  No. Not funny. One hundred percent the exact opposite of funny.

  “I think I maybe, possibly, vaguely remember hitting the snooze button.” I jabber to cover my mortification. “Only I guess it was the off button. But I had the alarm on my phone set, too, so I don’t know what happened.”

  Underwear, on.

  “Did you turn the ringer back on last night?”

  “What?” I hop into my jeans, a noise he seems to determinedly ignore. His ears are apple red.

  “You went to see a film, right? Don’t you set your mobile to sile
nt at the theater?”

  He’s right. I’m so stupid. If I hadn’t taken Meredith to A Hard Day’s Night, a Beatles movie I know she loves, I would have never turned it off.We’d already be in a taxi to the airport. “The taxi!” I tug my sweater over my head and look up to find myself standing across from a mirror.

  A mirror St. Clair is facing.

  “It’s all right,” he says. “I told the driver to wait when I came up here. We’ll just have to tip him a little extra.” His head is still down. I don’t think he saw anything. I clear my throat, and he glances up. Our eyes meet in the mirror, and he jumps. “God! I didn’t . . . I mean, not until just now ...”

  “Cool. Yeah, fine.” I try to shake it off by looking away, and he does the same. His cheeks are blazing. I edge past him and rinse the white crust off my face while he throws my toothbrush and deodorant and makeup into my luggage, and then we tear downstairs and into the lobby.

  Thank goodness, the driver has waited, cigarette dangling from his mouth and annoyed expression on his face. He yammers angrily at us in French, and St. Clair says something bossy back, and soon we’re flying across the streets of Paris, whizzing through red lights and darting between cars. I grip the seat in terror and close my eyes.

  The taxi jerks to a stop and so do we. “We’re here. You all right?” St. Clair asks.

  “Yes. Great,” I lie.

  He pays the driver, who speeds off without counting. I try to hand St. Clair a few bills, but he shakes his head and says the ride is on him. For once, I’m so freaked out that I don’t argue. It’s not until we’ve raced to the correct terminal, checked our luggage, passed through security, and located our gate that he says, “So. Batman, eh?”

  Effing St. Clair.

  I cross my arms and slouch into one of the plastic seats. I am so not in the mood for this. He takes the chair next to me and drapes a relaxed arm over the back of the empty seat on his other side. The man across from us is engrossed in his laptop, and I pretend to be engrossed in his laptop, too. Well, the back of it.

  St. Clair hums under his breath. When I don’t respond, he sings quietly. “‘Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin flew away ...’”

 
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