Five Nights in Paris

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Chapter Four

Holly, Present day


The days after my fight with Mya passed with agonizing slowness, I spent most of my time either running around the production floor or in Ian’s office trying to keep him on schedule, and the rest of it avoiding being at the apartment. This didn’t work well, as I found out, it had me paying for dinners out and way too many trips to Starbucks. But I had no idea how to get out of it now, I had nothing to apologize for but I also didn’t care if she apologized - I just wanted to pretend nothing had happened. It went on for two and a half weeks and if I was being honest with myself, it was only because I had put off doing any packing and now needed to do it all in three days that I decided to call a truce without accepting any blame.

When I stepped into the apartment with my peace offering of lattes and bagels it didn’t feel so much like a war zone - it was downright serene. The balcony doors were open with a nice summer breeze blowing through the living room, every corner of the light gray walls was touched with sunlight, and each piece of oddly colored furniture was cleaner than ever. I set my offering on the kitchen table and trotted off to my room, Bowie trailing behind me. When I opened my bedroom door I groaned, I hadn’t done any tidying up and now I needed to sort through piles of clothes to find ones that were nice enough to take with me. What do you wear to a fashion show anyway? Most of my designer stuff was back in Orange County and the stuff that I did have on hand was mostly lingerie, obviously, that wasn’t something I would be flaunting around, or handbags and shoes. I set to going through the stuff on the floor first, seeing as it was likely to have the stuff I actually wanted to wear. By the time I heard the front door open I had about half of my wardrobe sorted out; three dresses, one skirt and blouse combo, dress pants and tunic, along with several pairs of heels, flats, belts and two jackets. I was paranoid that I would be underdressed and was trying to make up for that with accessories. I faintly heard Mya padding down the hall as I stood in front of the mirror with one of the dresses, trying to gauge whether or not the color washed me out.

My door creaked open. “What are you wearing?” Mya asked in horror.

I dropped the dress on the bed and turned to face her, glancing down at myself in confusion. “My laundry day clothes, what’s wrong with it?”

“It’s not 2003, I’m pretty sure Paris Hilton wants her Juicy Couture sweatsuit back.”

I scoffed. “Well, she’ll have to fight me for it since this is a classic, and totally vintage.” I zipped the front of the baby blue velour suit up in mock defiance.

Mya stood against the wall; arms crossed in front of her. She looked tired, curls hung limp around her shoulders, and she was wearing an army green jumpsuit that she usually saved for lazy days. But she smiled at me anyway, and my heart leapt. I smiled back at her and reached out, the hug was comforting - warm and forgiving. Her 5′3 to my 5′9 made the hug somewhat awkward as I tried not to rub my tits in her face but, somehow, we managed. I was relieved that we could move on, that I had someone beyond my parents and boss to talk to, and that I could finally walk around the apartment without tiptoeing.

“I was an ass.” She mumbled against my shoulder.

“Yes, you were,” I agreed solemnly.

“And I was needlessly mean.” She continued.

“Again - yes.”

“But I wasn’t entirely wrong--”

“Mya Walker, do not ruin this,” I warned half-heartedly.

She started to laugh, and I couldn’t stop myself from joining her. This felt good, even if she was only biting her tongue, it felt good to laugh with her again. She sat on the bed and let me parade around in the outfits I had chosen, and actually loaned me several pieces from her closet - which I had to swear on my life to protect. But it was easy to fall back into our routines; I would cook dinner, Mya would list the countless wrongs her clients committed, and we would spend the evening on the couch watching weird cooking shows. We had basically been married since we moved in together, and I wasn’t ready to let her frustration with my behavior damage or ruin our friendship. She even seemed excited for me, enthusiastic about sightseeing and things she wanted me to bring back for her. I tried to rope her into coming with me, but Mya was insistent that if she was going back to Europe then she was not going back to Paris. I didn’t blame her; she didn’t particularly enjoy the first trip.

Everything was calm around the house until Ian went into full-on psycho boss mode on the fly-out day, calling me repeatedly until I finally answered - after six missed calls.

“I already emailed your itinerary and sent editing confirmation about the prints. There is absolutely nothing else that needs to be done,” I said, while I tried to forcibly zip my last suitcase.

“Hello to you too, Mitchell. Thank you for sending my schedule, but that’s not why I’m calling.” He was extra chipper, and it made want to hang up on him.

“You do know the flight isn’t until eight, right? That’s rhetorical, don’t answer.” I paused as I heard shouting in the background. “Where are you?”

“Waiting for the car, you better get your butt in gear because it’s going to be here any minute now, and then we’re coming to pick you up.”

That gave me pause. “Why are you coming to pick me up now?”

“Is that also rhetorical?” he teased.

“The pinnacle of humor, seriously we have like five hours.” I wanted to have a bath.

“I’m in the mood to have breakfast for dinner, or lunch, I don’t know what this meal is called but it’s breakfast foods either way.”

Okay, that actually sounded pretty good. “You’re buying breakfast.”

I hung up before he could say anything else and dragged myself to the bathroom, I stared at the jacuzzi tub in longing, but I didn’t have the time to soak now. I took what was probably the fastest shower of my life, had no time for makeup, and couldn’t fully dry my hair. I’m going to shake some sense into that man when I get my hands on him. I pulled on my leggings and my baggy, maroon GAP sweater before I tied my still-damp hair into a loose bun. My phone lit up to tell me that the car was out front, and I quickly scribbled a goodbye note on the kitchen whiteboard before hauling my luggage to the elevator. Once outside I noticed the sky was overcast and it was uncharacteristically cool for June, but I welcomed it anyway. Ian stood beside a black Audi sedan and rushed over to help with my bags when he saw me struggling at the front steps.

“What’s with the car?” I asked, spotting the driver up front.

“Company provided it and I wanted to get the companies money worth,” he said, as he loaded the last of my bags into the trunk.

I shook my head and pulled open the door. I felt somewhat awkward having a conversation in front of a driver that was hired by the company, so we spent most of the ride in silence. I leaned my head back as I watched buildings fly past and closed my eyes, vowing to only rest them for a moment, as I was trying to put off sleeping until the flight. Ian suddenly nudged me, and I jolted realizing I had dozed off on to his shoulder, he chuckled and informed me we were there. I had no idea where “there” was, it certainly didn’t look like the city.

“Where are we?” I asked slowly. Was I just kidnapped, what the fuck?

“Staten Island, there’s this great diner I used to go to all the time, and I thought it would be nice to treat us before we left.” He looked like a little boy getting excited about presents.

So, sort of kidnapped. Maybe it was because his unruly curls were still flat on one side, where he had clearly slept on it, or the unusually casual jeans and a graphic tee that made me think he looked like that though. The diner was pretty cute, a short red brick building with large pane glass windows declaring twenty-four-hour breakfast, and a large garden surrounding the walkway. Inside it was like a step back in time, white paneled walls and pale blue linens seemed to be the theme. We ordered and I found myself perking up considerably when I had a good look at the menu. I couldn’t be irritated; he was just trying to make the trip fun.

“Alright, you win. Thank you for harassing me.” I said as I took a long sip of my cappuccino.

Ian smiled as he reached for the sugar and dumped nearly half the container in his coffee. “See, I knew you would like it. Plus, I wanted to thank you for keeping me sane throughout this process.”

“That is my job, but it feels nice to be recognized.” I paused. “Are you at least a bit excited?” I was thinking back to our earlier conversation, where he seemed to be dreading the idea of going to Paris.

He shrugged. “Not particularly, I don’t enjoy traveling - especially to places where I can’t speak the language.”

Oh shit. I had known a few phrases in French on my first trip, but I was severely out of practice and I doubted I could get too far by only knowing the translations for ‘asshole’, and ‘my dear’. I made a mental note to purchase a phrasebook at the airport for the flight, not that I would be awake for it, but I could brush up on my French when we got to the hotel. I had spent days worrying about what I would wear and none about the actually practical stuff. I can’t let mom know how ill-prepared I was. Again.

“That being said, I wanted the trip to be good, so I got us a damn nice hotel, and plenty of little amenities courtesy of NEXT. What about you Mitchell, are you excited?” His question caught me off guard and I felt my face getting hot.

I’m excited about the potential to see the man I have been pining over for too many years. I cleared my throat before I answered, “Of course, it’s a beautiful city. I loved it there and have wanted to go back for a while now, it’s actually where I met my roommate...” The waitress brought our plates out and I thanked her, grateful that I didn’t have to answer the question with more detail. I could feel him watching me closely, I tried to hide my flush by digging into the fruit bowl.

“We should do at least a bit of sightseeing while we’re there, I hear there’s this lovely area with grottoes and a lake... I figured we could see it before we leave if you wanted anyway.” It wasn’t a question, but he made it sound like one.

I glanced up and noticed him staring at me expectantly. Oh, fuck me. My heart sank and I suddenly couldn’t stomach my meal, I didn’t want to let him down before we got on a nearly fourteen-hour flight. I told him it would be great if we had the time and once again, he looked like a boy who had just received the best gift ever. I couldn’t tell him that the well-tempered, teasing relationship we had was not something I wanted to pursue romantically. But here, in a restaurant, eating a meal he was paying for, about to spend over a week in the same hotel, and being his assistant, made me bite my tongue. Somehow, I managed to choke my way through breakfast without becoming withdrawn or rude, but I resolved to set some clear boundaries for this trip.

We stayed in Staten Island for a while longer while he loaded up on toiletries and I chided him for having barely anything in his bags. Honestly, he had less than half the amount of luggage I did, and he was the one that was actually meeting designers. By the time we were at JFK and seated in the first-class luxury, I was more than ready for an extra-long nap. I could feel him watching me as I downed two Ambien with my cola.

“I’m assuming you’re a bad flier then.” I could hear the amusement in his voice.

I shook my head as I leaned back. “You can’t be a bad flier if you sleep through the flight.”

He chuckled and I heard him flipping through the phrasebook, which he had eagerly snatched from my carry on, I didn’t mind - it wasn’t like I was going to be using it for a while. My excitement was mounting, and I was more than a little jittery by the time we were in the air. But that could have been from taking slow release pills with soda. Chill out, there’s no guarantee you’ll even see Adrien. That didn’t stop me from imagining every hallmark way we would meet while I drifted off.

***

Fourteen hours doesn’t sound that bad until you actually sit down and think about how many of those you’ll be stuck in a single spot. I only puked twice before we landed, after having woken up about an hour we touched the tarmac, and that was more than enough time to be awake thousands of miles above the ground. As the taxi carried us through the busy streets, I felt myself falling in love with the city all over again. Every small shop, old church, laughing couple, and the view of the canal, had me feeling sentimental. Ian was butchering every phrase he could with the driver, who I was certain was putting him on, but kept him entertained none the less. And I had to admit that his newfound excitement was a welcome addition, even if his terrible accent had me cringing at my own ragged reflection. The hotel came into view and my mouth fell open in shock, La Villa Haussmann hotel was a massive building with late French architecture, entirely white, with black wrought-iron balconies, the only word I could accurately describe it as was opulent. If this is the kind of thing that happens for all business trips then count me in. Check-in was a breeze, I had insisted on checking us in after he kept gesturing to the book helplessly at the clerk.

We were assigned an adjoining suite on the top floor and I damn near cried when I stepped in. Dark hardwood floors contrasted against creme walls, gold accents and modern white furniture. I found the bedroom and threw myself onto the queen size bed, letting myself sink into the plush silk duvet. I turned my head and gazed out the window longingly, the view of the canal was spectacular, the sun was only just beginning to sink low in the sky and the warm golden light danced across the water. It was such a wildly different experience from my cramped, and dingy dorm room. After I spent far too long basking in the fading sunlight, I finally forced myself to get up and put away my belongings, smoothing out my clothes as I hung them up. I wasn’t one to usually worry about it, but I was going to spend the next several days watching models strut in haute couture, I wanted to at least try and look like I belonged there. I changed out of my travel attire into a layered, purple high-low dress with a fitted top half and a pair of black wedge sandals. When I let my hair down I was pleased to see that my curls were intact and I had a decent amount of volume and lift near the roots, I teased it lightly before I applied some liner and a bit of gloss. I grabbed my bag and made my way to the adjoining door before knocking lightly.

“It’s unlocked!”

I pushed it open and saw Ian relaxing on the sofa with his iPad. When he glanced up at me, he froze, his mouth parted slightly. I suddenly wondered if I should have held back a bit if I wasn’t trying to lead him on. “Let’s go, you got breakfast, I’ll get dinner - I know a great little pizza place.”

He nodded eagerly. “Yeah - sure, I’ll call a taxi and--”

I held my hand up to quiet him. “No, no. We’re in Paris, you won’t get to really take in the sights if you can’t stop to smell the roses. Besides, it’s like a fifteen-minute walk from here.”

He agreed happily and rushed off to get changed while I stepped out on the balcony to enjoy the breeze. It really was everything I remembered and more, when I glanced down and saw a bunch of teenagers laughing loudly as they horsed around, I felt a pang of nostalgia. I wonder if that bar is still open, I might have to stop back in if it is. The lights were starting to come up, there was muffled piano music coming from below, and my heart swelled with happiness. I had paid out my entire savings to stay here the entire year, oh so long ago, and now that’s all I wanted to do again. Unfortunately, my bank account was not prepared for it. Ian called for me from the living room, when I stepped in he had changed into dark washed jeans, a black dress shirt and blazer. He looked great and I was kind of surprised how much effort he had put in, even going so far as to comb his hair out into chin-length waves.

We walked side by side up the winding streets, and I regaled him with far too many stories about different points of interest. I had no idea how interested he was to actually hear them, but I was too excited to stop and he never butted in. I let him order for us, something he was thrilled to do, while I found a table on the patio. It was stunning, the twinkling lights, twisted iron and glass tables, flowers blooming everywhere, and a live band belting out soft and melancholic words that I didn’t understand at all. While I waited for him, I took a selfie to send Mya, I wanted to show her that it wasn’t all about chasing the past. She texted me back a picture of Bowie licking his junk and I choked on my water in front of a group of, what appeared to be, college kids. Hi, yes, I am the uncultured American - nice to meet you. Ugh. Ian came out with dinner and I bit into a slice of heaven, quietly forgetting my faux pas.

“It’s good, but it’s not religious experience good,” he said and laughed at my happy face.

“No, you don’t get it - it’s not greasy, the cheese is fully melted and even crispy, and the dough is perfectly crunchy. This is a work of art,” I declared while finishing off my slice.

He shook his head. “Untrue, I’ve had pizza in Italy - that was perfect pizza. This is mere imitation, but a decent one at least.”

“You’ve been to Italy?” Wow, I was surprised considering his stance on travel.

He nodded slowly and didn’t speak for a moment and when he did, he seemed to be trying to keep his voice even. “Yeah, I actually met my former fiancée there. I was working for my dad’s company at the time, I did rotations of four weeks in New York, four weeks in Florence.”

I tried to keep the shock off my face, and I didn’t want to pry, but I was dying to know why she was a former fiancée and not current. “If it’s not going too far, can I ask what happened?”

He shrugged but wouldn’t meet my gaze. “Nothing really, things just sort of fell apart. Shit happens I guess.”

Talk about a mood killer. That was an uncharitable thought considering he just opened up in such a vulnerable way, but I couldn’t help it. He still wouldn’t meet my gaze and for some reason, it bothered me, and I couldn’t figure out why. I tried to apologize, “I’m sorry, that was totally out of line for me to ask--”

“Don’t worry,” he interrupted, offering me a resigned smile. “It’s really not that big of a deal, it’s in the past, and I’d much rather focus on the present and the people with me now.”

I smiled back at him, but it made me uneasy the way he said that. I don’t think he really understood the fact that it would be incredibly awkward for me to outright reject him, and potentially put my job in jeopardy. I wanted to believe that it wouldn’t, but I would never be sure unless it happened. I pushed through it, getting him excited about his first set of interviews the next day. I remembered with a sudden shock that I would try and put him in touch with Mya, he seemed genuinely happy about getting in contact with a new manager, and I was pleased to secure her another big-ish name. We ended up getting drinks while we were there and staying well into the early hours of the morning. By the time we stumbled our way back into the hotel, I could barely stand upright and he passed out on the couch in my suite while I climbed into bed fully clothed. I stared up at the spinning ceiling and giggled when I heard Ian snore loudly.

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