Anna and the french kiss, p.21
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       Anna and the French Kiss, p.21
 

         Part #1 of Anna and the French Kiss series by Stephanie Perkins
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“Liar. So are you getting up today or what? You need sustenance.”

  I agree to meet her in the cafeteria in half an hour, but I have no idea why, because the moment I’m out of bed, I want to crawl back in. I’m nauseous, and my head feels like someone smacked it with a Wiffle ball bat. And speaking of whiffs, that’s when I catch a smell of myself. My pores are boozy and sour. My hair reeks of stale cigarettes. And my clothes. Oh, gross. I run to my sink, dry-heaving.

  And that’s when I discover last night’s vomit. And I puke for real. Again.

  In the shower, I find weird bruises on my legs and feet. I have no idea what they’re from. I slump in my tiny tiled corner and let the hot water run. And run. And run. I’m twenty minutes late for breakfast. Lunch. Whatever it is. Paris is blanketed in several inches of snow.When did that happen? How could I sleep through the first snowfall? The white glare makes me shade my eyes.

  Thankfully, Rashmi is alone at our table when I stumble in. I couldn’t face anyone else right now. “Morning, sunshine.” She smirks at my wet hair and puffy eyes.

  “What I don’t understand is how people actually think drinking is fun.”

  “You were having fun when you were dancing last night.”

  “Too bad I can’t remember.”

  Rashmi slides a plate of dry toast toward me. “Eat this. And drink some water, but not too much. You might throw up again.”

  “I already did.”

  “Well.You’re off to a good start.”

  “Where’s Josh?” I take a small bite of toast. Yuck. I’m not hungry.

  “You’ll feel better if you eat it.” She nods at my plate. “He’s still asleep. We don’t spend every minute together, you know.”

  “Yeah. Right. That’s why you and I hang out all the time.”

  Whoops.

  Rashmi’s brown skin reddens. “I know this’ll be a shock to you, Anna, but you aren’t the only one with problems. Josh and I aren’t exactly on the best of terms right now.”

  I slink down in my seat. “I’m sorry.”

  She fiddles with her juice lid. “Whatever.”

  “So . . . what’s going on?” It takes a minute of prodding, but once she starts, it’s as if a dam has burst. It turns out they’re fighting more often than I’d thought. Over Josh skipping school. Over her pushing him. She thinks he’s upset because she’s leaving next year, and he’s not.We’re all leaving for college, and he’s not.

  I hadn’t thought of that before.

  And she’s upset about her younger sister, Sanjita, who’s hanging out with Amanda’s crowd, and worried about her brother, Nikhil, who’s getting bullied, and angry with her parents, who won’t stop comparing her to her older sister, Leela, who was the School of America’s valedictorian two years ago. And Mer is always too busy with soccer to hang out, and Étienne and I are always buddy-buddy, and . . . she lost her best friend.

  Ellie still hasn’t called her.

  And the whole time she’s spilling her guts, I feel so ashamed. I never realized she didn’t have anyone to talk with. I mean, I know Ellie was her best friend, and she wasn’t around anymore, but somehow I forgot that meant Rashmi didn’t have anyone else. Or maybe I assumed Josh was enough.

  “But we’ll work through it,” she says about him. She’s trying not to cry. “We always do. It’s just hard.” I hand her a napkin, and she blows her nose. “Thanks.”

  “Of course. Thanks for the toast.”

  She gives me half a smile, but it disappears as she notices something behind me. I turn in my seat to follow her gaze.

  And there he is.

  His hair is completely disheveled, and he’s wearing his Napoleon shirt, which is more wrinkled than ever. He shuffles toward Monsieur Boutin with a plate of . . . dry toast. It looks like he hasn’t slept in a week. And he’s still beautiful. My heart shatters. “What do I say? What am I supposed to say to him?”

  “Deep breath,” Rashmi says. “Take a deep breath.”

  Breathing is impossible. “What if he won’t talk to me? I told him not to talk to me anymore.”

  She reaches out and squeezes my hand. “You’re fine. And he’s coming over, so I’m letting go now. Act natural.You’re fine.”

  Right. I’m fine. Right.

  His walk to our table is excruciatingly slow. I close my eyes. I’m worried he won’t sit with us, that he really WILL never speak to me again, when his tray clatters down across from me. I don’t remember the last time he didn’t sit beside me, but that’s okay. As long as he’s here.

  “Hey,” he says.

  I open my eyes. “Hey.”

  “Shoot!” Rashmi says. “I gotta call Josh. I said I’d wake him before I ate, and I totally forgot. Seeyouguyslater.” And she scurries away as if we’re contagious.

  I push my toast around my plate. Try another bite. Gag.

  Étienne coughs. “You all right?”

  “No.You?”

  “Feel like hell.”

  “You look like hell.”

  “Says the girl with hair dripping like a wet beastie.”

  I sort of laugh. He kind of shrugs.

  “Thanks a lot, Étienne.”

  He prods his toast but doesn’t pick it up. “So I’m ‘Étienne’ again?”

  “You have too many names.”

  “I have one name. People just split it oddly.”

  “Whatever.Yeah.You’re Étienne again.”

  “Good.”

  I wonder if this interaction counts as an apology. “How was she?” I don’t want to say her name.

  “Vicious.”

  “I’m sorry.” And I’m not, but I have an overwhelming urge to prove we can still be friends. There’s an actual ache inside of me that needs him. “I didn’t mean to mess things up, I don’t know what got into me—”

  He rubs his temples. “Please don’t apologize. It’s not your fault.”

  “But if I hadn’t dragged you out to dance—”

  “Anna.” Étienne speaks slowly. “You didn’t make me do anything I didn’t want to do.”

  My face grows hot as the knowledge explodes inside of me like dynamite.

  He likes me. Étienne really does like me.

  But as soon as the information hits, it’s replaced by confusion, by a notion so sickening it thrusts my emotions to the opposite end of the spectrum. “But . . . you’re still with her?”

  He shuts his eyes in pain.

  I can’t control my voice. “You spent the night with her!”

  “No!” Étienne’s eyes jerk back open. “No, I didn’t. Anna, I haven’t . . . spent the night with Ellie in a long time.” He looks at me beseechingly. “Since before Christmas.”

  “I don’t understand why you won’t break up with her.” I’m crying. The anguish of being so close to what I want, and it still being so far away.

  He looks panicked. “I’ve been with her for a long time.We’ve been through loads together, it’s complicated—”

  “It’s not complicated.” I stand and shove my tray across the table.The toast bounces off the plate and hits the floor. “I put myself out there, and you rejected me. I won’t make that mistake again.”

  I storm away.

  “Anna! Anna, wait!”

  “Oliphant! Feeling better?” I jump back, having nearly run into Dave. He’s smiling. His friends Mike and Emily Middlestone, aka the Girl with the Pink Stripe, wait behind him with lunch trays.

  “Um. What?” I look over, and Étienne is on his feet. He was about to follow me, but now that he’s seen Dave, he isn’t sure anymore.

  Dave laughs. “I saw you in the lobby last night. Guess you don’t remember.Your friends were struggling to get you in the elevator, so I helped them carry you.”

  Rashmi didn’t mention this.

  “You yakked something fierce in your sink.”

  Dave was in my room?

  “You okay today?” He tucks a shaggy lock of hair behind an ear.

  Another glance at Étienne. He steps forwar
d but then hesitates again. I turn back to Dave, something new and ugly hardening inside of me. “I’m fine.”

  “Cool. So we’re going to this Irish pub in Montmartre tonight. Wanna come?”

  I’ve had enough drinking for a while. “Thanks, but I’d rather stay in.”

  “That’s cool. Maybe some other time?” He grins and nudges me. “When you’re feeling better?”

  I want to punish Étienne, hurt him in the way that he hurt me. “Yeah. I’d like that.”

  Dave’s eyebrows lift, perhaps in surprise. “Cool. See you around, then.” He smiles again, shyly this time, and then follows his friends to their usual table across the room.

  “Cool,” Étienne says behind me. “It was really cool talking to you, too.”

  I whirl around. “What’s your problem? So you can keep dating Ellie, but I can’t even talk to Dave?”

  Étienne looks shamed. He stares at his boots. “I’m sorry.”

  I don’t even know what to do with his apology.

  “I’m sorry,” he says again. And this time, he’s looking at me. Begging me. “And I know it’s not fair to ask you, but I need more time. To sort things out.”

  “You’ve had the entire year.” My voice is cold.

  “Please, Anna. Please be my friend.”

  “Your friend.” I give a bitter laugh. “Right. Of course.”

  Étienne looks at me helplessly. I want to tell him no, but I’ve NEVER been able to tell him no. “Please,” he says again.

  I cross my arms, protecting myself. “Sure, St. Clair. Friends.”

  chapter thirty-six

  I can’t believe you bad lunch with David.“ Mer watches him swagger down the hall and shakes her head. We’re headed in the opposite direction from him, toward physics.

  “Dave,” I correct. “What? He’s a nice guy.”

  “If you like rodents,” St. Clair says. “You’d think with those big bucked teeth, it’d be hard for him to chew.”

  “I know you don’t like him, but you could at least try to be civil.” I refrain from pointing out we’ve already had a conversation about our own less-than-perfect chompers. The last few weeks have been terrible. St. Clair and I are still friends—in theory—but now that thing is back, even larger and nastier than it was after Thanksgiving. It’s so huge it feels physical, an actual weight and body keeping us from getting close.

  “Why?” His voice is suspicious. “Are you two going out now?”

  “Yeah, we set up our first date right after he asked me to marry him. Please. We’re just friends.”

  Mer grins. “Dave doesn’t want to be just friends.”

  “Hey, did you catch what our assignment was in English?” I ask.

  “Subject-changer, thy name is Anna,” Rashmi says. But in a friendly way. Since my postbirthday breakfast, things have been easier between us.

  “I’m not changing the subject. I just didn’t hear what our homework was.”

  “That’s odd,” St. Clair says. “Because I saw you write it down.”

  “I did?”

  “Yes,” he says. It’s a challenge.

  “Oh, come on, you guys,” Mer says. Our friends are sick of us fighting, even though they still don’t know the details of our current situation. Which is how I prefer it. “Anna, it’s a comparative essay between the two stories in Kitchen. Remember?”

  Of course I remember. I’m actually looking forward to this assignment. We just finished reading a book by Banana Yoshimoto, a Japanese author, and it’s my favorite so far. Both of her stories are about heartache and mourning, but they’re tinged with this . . . simplicity and romance. I can’t help but think of my father’s work.

  He writes about love and death, too. But while his books are filled with sappy melodrama, Yoshimoto reflects on the healing process. Her characters are also suffering, but they’re putting their lives back together. Learning to love again. Her stories are harder, but they’re also more rewarding.The characters suffer in the beginning and the middle, but not the end. There’s positive resolution.

  I should mail my dad a copy. Circle the happy endings in red.

  “Er,” St. Clair says. “Shall we work on the paper together, then? Tonight?”

  He’s making an effort to be friendly. It sounds painful. He keeps trying, and I keep shooting him down. “I don’t know,” I say. “I have to get measured for my wedding dress.”

  St. Clair’s face flickers with frustration, but for some reason this doesn’t make me feel as satisfied as it should. Argh, fine. “Sure,” I say. “That’d be . . . nice.”

  “Yeah, I need to borrow your calculus notes,” Mer says. “I must have missed something. It just wasn’t clicking for me today.”

  “Oh,” St. Clair says. Like he just noticed she’s standing here. “Yeah.You can borrow them. When you join us.”

  Rashmi smirks but doesn’t say anything.

  He turns back to me. “So did you enjoy the book?”

  “I did.” Discomfort lingers between us. “Did you?”

  St. Clair considers it for a moment. “I like the author’s name the best,” he finally says. “Ba-nah-na.”

  “You’re pronouncing it wrong,” I say.

  He nudges me gently. “I still like it best.”

  “Oliphant, what’d you get for number nine?” Dave whispers.

  We’re taking a pop quiz. I’m not doing so hot, because conjugating verbs isn’t my strong point. Nouns I can handle—boat, shoelace, rainbow. Le bateau, le lacet, l’arc-en-ciel. But verbs? If only everything could be said in the present tense.

  I go to store yesterday for milk!

  Last night he ride bus for two hours!

  A week ago, I sing to your cat at beach!

  I make sure Professeur Gillet is distracted before replying to Dave. “No idea,” I whisper. Though I actually do know the answer. I just hate cheating. He holds up six fingers, and I shake my head. And I don’t know the answer to that one.

  “Number six?” he hisses, not sure if I’ve understood him.

  “Monsieur Higgenbaum!”

  Dave tenses as Madame Guillotine advances. She rips the quiz from his hands, and I don’t need to speak French to understand what she says. Busted. “And you, Mademoiselle Oliphant.” She snatches my quiz as well.

  That’s so unfair! “But—”

  “I do not tolerate chee-ting.” And her frown is so severe I want to hide underneath my desk. She marches back toward the front of the classroom.

  “What the hell?” Dave whispers.

  I shush him, but she jerks back around. “Monsieur! Mademoiselle! I zought I made eet clear—zere iz no talking during tests.”

  “Sorry, professeur,” I say as Dave protests he wasn’t saying anything. Which is dumb, because everyone heard him.

  And then . . . Professeur Gillet kicks us out.

  I don’t believe it. I’ve never been kicked out of a class.We’re instructed to wait in the hall until the period is over, but Dave has other plans. He tiptoes away and motions for me to follow. “Come on. Let’s just go in the stairwell so we can talk.”

  But I don’t want to go. We’re in enough trouble as it is.

  “She’ll never know. We’ll be back before the hour is up,” he says. “I promise.”

  Dave winks, and I shake my head but follow him anyway. Why can’t I say no to cute boys? I expect him to stop once we’re in the stairwell, but he descends the entire way. We go outside and onto the street. “Better, right?” he asks. “Who wants to be stuck inside on a day like today?”

  It’s freezing out, and I would rather be in school, but I hold my tongue. We sit on a chilly bench, and Dave is prattling about snowboarding or skiing or something. I’m distracted. I wonder if Professeur Gillet will let me make up the quiz points. I wonder if she’s checking the hallway. I wonder if I’m about to get in more trouble.

  “You know, I’m kinda glad we got kicked out,” Dave says.

  “Huh?” I turn my attention back to him.
“Why?”

  He smiles. “I never get to see you alone.”

  And then—just like that—Dave leans over, and we’re kissing.

  I. Am kissing. Dave Higgenbaum.

  And it’s . . . nice.

  A shadow falls over us, and I break apart from his lips, which have already grown overactive. “Crap, did we miss the bell?” he asks.

  “No,” St. Clair says. “You have five more minutes of teeth gnashing to enjoy.”

  I shrink back in mortification. “What are you doing here?”

  Meredith stands behind him, holding a stack of newspapers. She grins. “We should be asking you that question. But we’re running an errand for Professeur Hansen.”

  “Oh,” I say.

  “Hiii, Dave,” Mer says.

  He nods at her, but he’s watching St. Clair, whose face is cold and hard.

  “Anyway! We’ll let you get back to ... what you were doing.” Mer’s eyes twinkle as she tugs on St. Clair’s arm. “See you, Anna. Bye, Dave!”

  St. Clair shoves his hands in his pockets. He won’t meet my gaze as he stalks away, and my stomach turns over. “What’s that guy’s problem?” Dave asks.

  “Who? Étienne?” I’m surprised when this name rolls out of my mouth.

  “Étienne?” He raises his eyebrows. “I thought his name was St. Clair.”

  I want to ask, Then why did you call him that guy? But that’s rude. I shrug.

  “Why do you hang out with him, anyway? Girls are always going on and on about him, but I don’t see what’s so great.”

  “Because he’s funny,” I say. “He’s a really nice guy.”

  Nice.That was how I described Dave to St. Clair the other day. What’s wrong with me? As if Dave is anything like St. Clair. But he looks disgruntled, and I feel bad. It’s not fair to compliment St. Clair to Dave’s face. Not after kissing him.

  Dave shoves his hands into his pockets. “We should get back.”

  We shlump upstairs, and I imagine Professeur Gillet waiting for us, smoke pouring from her nostrils like an incensed dragon. But when we get there, the hall is empty. I peek into her classroom window as she finishes up her lecture. She sees me and nods.

  I don’t believe it.

  Dave was right. She never knew we were gone.

 
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