Three nights down and into the fourth day, and I can’t get Chantal’s words out of my head as I chop onions back at the restaurant. She was so open with me, I can say raw in her honesty, and her story, even with its differences, so closely mirrors my own, I’m trying to figure out what it means to me. And to my decision.
I’d love to put off that decision, but I know I can hide from it only so long and sooner or later – probably sooner – it’s going to find me and make me confront it and deal with it. I’m enough of a realist, as Chantal urged me to be, to know that.
Marcel notices I’m distracted, perhaps the onions are coming out a tad too chunky, and he comes behind me and puts his hand on my shoulder.
“Mademoiselle Rosie, you seem distracted today. The onions have noticed, and since they speak to me, so have I. Do you wish to tell me why this is and what we might do about it so our dishes do not suffer from crudely chopped onions? Few sins are more mortal, as I am sure you must know.”
I’m embarrassed to Marcel. It’s such an amateur error, and he’s not supposed to know anything more is amiss with me.
“I’m sorry, Marcel. I’ve been trying to decide what I should do about Sid, and I guess it’s affecting my performance. If you want me to go away for the day, I will.”
“And leave me short a member of the kitchen staff? You are mad, une fille complètement folle, are you not? No. I do not want you to go away. I want you to concentrate on your work and perform as I know you are able. You no longer can fool Marcel that you are a clumsy young culinary student.”
I’m both honored and chagrined by Marcel’s words. I think he just paid me a huge compliment, as back-handed as it might be.
“Merci, Marcel. I appreciate your confidence in me, which is what I think you’re expressing. I won’t go away and will concentrate more on the chopping.”
“Rosie, you wish to be a professional, do you not? A professional does not permit the trials of the day become obstacles to performing to the highest standard. Tu comprends?”
“Je comprends, chef. I will chop as a professional, and Mr. Sid can go fuck his royal self. Which he should do, anyway.”
“That is what I expect to hear from you. Now carry on.”
A professional. How I want to be that. How I want to live up to the expectation of what got me into culinary school, and the expectation of some of the best chefs anywhere. Rosie, the pro.
It may not be perfect, but I do a pretty passable job of chopping the rest of the day. I wish I was as good at making up my own mind as chopping defenseless vegetables. It continues to run out and back and forth and back again in the allegorical field, like an over-excited terrier, and I’m not a whole lot more decided when I haul my ass back to Chantal’s and take my place at the piano than I was in Marcel’s kitchen.
Is the tiresome repetition of my life becoming tedious to you? Don’t feel bad. It’s become tedious to me, too. I wish I could just be the decisive Rosie, decisive as I was when I packed and left Sid and the apartment the other day. But wishing doesn’t make it so, so I continue to go around in these mental circles, which have become very tedious to me, indeed.
The tedium suddenly is broken when I look up from the keyboard and see Chantal’s first customer walk through the door. I can hardly believe my eyes. It’s Roger. Yup, that Roger.
I think the volume of my playing goes up a notch or two, just as my heartbeat accelerates. What is he doing here? Why didn’t Chantal give me a heads-up? Of course she didn’t have to, but given our recent conversations, it would have been nice.
I can see Roger engaging in the usual light conversation with which Chantal greets her customers. And I see him smile as he looks in my direction. By now he knows the look-but-don’t touch rule, but damn, he’s headed straight for me.
“Bonjour, chère Rosie. Do you remember me?”
Roger is standing next to the bench and gazing down at me, looking as proper and dignified and well coiffed as the first time I met him. Which seems almost ages ago, though it’s been less than two months on the calendar. I know I’m turning as crimson as the plush, and I feel my nipples growing. I can’t very well hide them, and there’s that throaty way he says my name, “Hrozie,” that way that struck me so when I first met Roger, “Hrojzay,” and it just has an effect on me. Down lower than my nipples, too, in my belly and between my thighs, though those effects are less noticeable, other than to me.
“Bonjour, Roger. Comment allez-vous aujourd’hui?”
“Très bien, merci. Very well, indeed. So you do remember me. Excellent! May I sit beside you, as before?”
“Mais oui, of course, please sit, Roger. Have you come to play a duet with me today?”
Roger sits down beside me on the bench. The smooth fabric of his trousers touches my thigh. He can’t help but brush against me, with me in the bench’s center and him taking most of the part that extends past me. I feel so exposed to him.
“Of course, a duet. A very special duet, Rosie, one I have wanted to play since first I laid my eyes on you.”
“Whatever do you mean, Roger? What duet is that?”
My fingers continue to move across the keys and I avoid Roger’s eyes, which I sense are devouring my nakedness.
“You know the rules, I’m sure. For me, that is.”
“Yes, of course, I know the rules, ma fille. But . . . ”
“But what, Roger? There are no ‘buts,’ I don’t think.”
Roger leans in my direction and I think he’s going to kiss me. Instead, he whispers into my ear.
“But today, my sweet young girl, Chantal is making an exception for me, and she is letting me have you. As I have wanted from the first. That is the duet I will play with you.”
I can hardly believe what I hear, thinking without any real reason that perhaps I’m mishearing Roger’s whisper, that perhaps the loud notes of the piano have scrambled the words as they reach my inner ear.
My eyes are open wide now, and I train them on Chantal, who stands by the apartment door observing Roger and me. The subtle Chantal smile she gives me and, more, the clear nod of her head, tells me I have not misheard Roger’s whisper in my ear.
“But, but . . . ”
Now it’s my turn to use the word, which comes out all spluttery, not with the authority of when Roger used it.
“But what, chère Rosie? Chantal tells me you thought of calling me. That is very touching. So you do not have to call me. I’m here now, for you.”
At this moment, I’m more than pissed at Chantal. I’m furious. How could she betray my confidence like this? She knew damned well why I thought to call Roger. And this wasn’t it. Now the red of my cheeks has taken on a glow of anger. I keep playing, but Chantal can’t mistake the glare I give her across the room. It doesn’t have the least effect on that smile of hers. If anything, it just grows bigger, less subtle, more sly.
“Shall we go now, Rosie? It is time to give your fingers a rest on the keys. There are better ways to employ them.”
I don’t have words to respond to Roger. I play the last few notes on the page and stop, the final chord echoing briefly in the sudden quiet of the salon. I’ve been promised to Roger, that’s clear now, and I can’t refuse him. It’s not his fault that Chantal set this up, and besides, I feel maybe this is a way to get back at her. A revenge fuck. Screw her.
Roger stands. He reaches out a hand and I take it and rise from the bench. As I stand, Roger openly admires my bare sex, the lips and all the rest prominently displayed to his gaze, a smile of approval on his face as he looks up from it. Unlike the other girls, who have their lingerie to shield their nakedness, I have none of it. I’m the naked girl being led by the clothed man. It’s like a scene in an ancient painting. I feel utterly defenseless.
We have to pass by Chantal, and when we approach her she whispers something in Roger’s ear, something I can’t hear. He smiles. And then she reaches across, in front of Roger, and bends down and whispers in my ear. All this whispering, damn it.
“You are getting your wish, mon oiseau. And as surely you must know, always be careful what you wish for, since you just may get it.”
I turn my head quickly and whisper back into Chantal’s ear.
“Fuck you, Chantal. That’s what I wish for.”
It’s infuriating, but all she does is smile at me.
“Enjoy your time together, my darlings. Rosie, bring Roger to the second bedroom, and be sure to please him. And take as long as you like, Roger. I am sure you won’t be disappointed.”
No, Roger won’t be disappointed. I’ll see to that, though just getting his wish to have me, to have the little bird at the piano, goes a long way toward cementing his enjoyment. He’s already tenting his pants in anticipation by the time we’re in the bedroom and I’ve closed and locked the door behind us. He doesn’t have to ask, and I undress him, slowly, piece by piece, placing his tailored clothes on the back of the chair in the room, until we’re both naked, and it’s not a Coke bottle I take in my hands and my mouth, making him groan with pleasure.
For the next three hours Roger makes use of me in every way he can, showing himself to be almost tireless, as he enjoys me, as I please him, as he tells me over and over how he so desired a young girl like me, how much I remind him of his first, how wonderful she was, all those many years ago. And yes, how wonderful I am.
It’s nice to hear, of course. And it’s nice I can make him feel so good. Good enough, in fact, that Roger tells me how he would make me his regular, if Chantal agreed. If I agreed.
For my part, I don’t answer him when he says this. I’m not ready to agree to anything, much less becoming his regular. What an idea. Though I have to say, he’s pretty damned good himself, and he satisfies that craving that’s been building up in me for male flesh. Roger provides me with plenty of that, as actually I might expect from a much younger stud.
My parts get pretty sensitive after awhile and we finally take a break. That’s when I have to ask Roger the question that’s been burning on my mind the whole time.
“Did Chantal tell you why I thought to call you, Roger?”
“Pourquoi? Pas exactement. I assumed it was because you found me attractive. And I invited you to call me. She said your boyfriend struck you and you ran off and you missed being with a man. Was there another reason?”
“Yeah, I guess you can say there was. Roger, tell me the truth. Why did you give me your number? And are you married?”
“The truth. Is it not obvious? I wanted to spend time with you, Rosie. I wanted to do with you what we’re doing. And yes, oui, I am married. Sûrement, I am not looking for another wife. And I do not think my wife would approve of you. Pas du tout.”
So there was my answer. Why Roger could not be my port in the storm I’m in. And certainly why Chantal set me up with him. For me to find out. To find out the truth behind a telephone number scribbled on a scrap of paper. The truth about Roger. Her way of teaching me a lesson. Be careful what I wish for? It certainly wasn’t this. Now I know.
After Roger dressed – I remained the naked one, though I pulled a sheet around me in at least a gesture of modesty – he called me to his side and placed some bills in my hand, kissing me gently on the cheek as he did.
“A little something extra to remember our time together.”
That’s actually what he said to me. A little something extra. Four hundred euros extra, to be exact.
Before I can leave the bedroom there is a knock, and Chantal sticks her head in. She has my cut to give me.
“Here, chérie, is what you earned today.”
She hands me six hundred euros. Together with Roger’s tip, I have a thousand euros. A thousand euros I didn’t have when I walked in from the restaurant. A thousand euros for a few hours of my time doing what I pretty much enjoy doing, anyway. Ten times, more than ten times, what I would have earned playing the piano for Chantal. For Roger. It doesn’t change my anger over how Chantal set this whole thing up, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
“I am quite sure, Rosie, that you hate me at this moment, and you are welcome to do so. But you have learned a valuable lesson, perhaps. Et aussi, you have the money, some of it, that you can use to buy your freedom to go, to do, whatever it is that you please. And if you wish, I will let you earn more, if you choose to stay longer. But the door to the cage is open, mon petit oiseau, should you wish to fly away.”
Okay, it’s another of those times when I’m pretty much speechless. I sit my sheet-wrapped ass down on the wreckage of the bed, staring at the ten 100 euro notes in my hand. It’s awhile before I can look up at Chantal, who just stands patiently, knowing sooner or later my silence must pass.
“Chantal, how could you do that to me? You didn’t even ask me, ask if I wanted to see Roger, much less if I wanted to screw him. And for money, like a prostitute, like I was one of your other girls. How could you do that?”
“If I asked you first, what would you have said?”
“How should I know? I would have wanted to know more about it, why you were setting it up. But that’s beside the point. It would have been my choice, not something I was thrown into.”
“That is true. But you asked to be with the clients, yes? I told you I would let you when you were ready. C’est ça.”
“Fucking-A, Chantal, who said I was ready? And with Roger, no less? It’s the kind of thing Sid would do. Do you know that?”
“Then you are used to it. Listen to me, Rosie. If you called Roger and expected him to take you in, how disappointed you would have been to find out he was married and that was impossible, that he only wanted to have sex with a young girl when it suited him. I believe this was more effective to teach you not to have faith in every man who puts his phone number in your hand. En plus, you earned some good money along with the lesson, something you also need, n’est-ce pas?”
“I suppose I’m supposed to thank you for that?”
“I don’t care if you thank me or not. I didn’t do it for thanks. And you earned the money, just as the other girls do.”
I’m silent again and look back at the bills in my hand.
“Rosie, remember what I told you about Simon, my benefactor? Do you think all was sweet cream with him? We had many fights, and he made things very hard for me. I told you how I was full of pride, yes? Stupid, youthful pride. There were times I hated him, as you hate me now. But when I learned a lesson, it was well learned, and not just something theoretical or ethereal.”
“So you’re my Simon?”
“Non, pas exactement. I am your Chantal, only her, and she can only do what she can to help you learn what she thinks you need to learn. Perhaps she is right. Perhaps not. C’est tout.”
“I don’t know, Chantal. Right now, this feels like it really sucks. Maybe I’ll feel differently later. But not now.”
“As you wish. You need not rush things, or force your feelings. If you are angry, then be angry. Later, if you feel otherwise, then let your anger go and feel whatever replaces it.”
“I don’t mind the money, that’s for sure. I can’t say I’m angry about that, though it feels weird how I got it.”
“At least that, chérie. And remember about money, something I think Sid forgot or never knew and probably didn’t teach you. It is just a tool to reach for the bigger things you wish to conquer in life. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less. In this case, perhaps the tool to buy your freedom.”
How can I be angry for long at this woman? Can you see? As much as I want to be angry with her, and as much as part of me is still pissed at her, no matter what, I look up at her and I’m sure she can see the glimmer of softness in my eyes. A glimmer, if truth be told, brought on by the tears forming in them and reflecting the dim light of the room.
“Now, chère, no more duties for the evening. Go shower in my bathroom and put something on and we’ll share some light dinner.”
She turns and opens the door, and then looks back to me.
“And if you were wondering, chérie, Roger was quite pleased with you. That pleases me, though it is no surprise.”