The Art of French Kissing
Author:Kristin Harmel

That afternoon, I finally picked up the damaged (but still functioning) phone to call my three best friends, the girls who were supposed to be my bridesmaids. They hadn’t called since I’d split from Brett, but I hadn’t called them, either. I hadn’t wanted to talk about it. I knew they’d be shocked to hear that he’d left me, and I was looking forward to being consoled by them.

At least they’ll stand by me, I said to myself before I dialed Lesley’s number. At least I can count on them not to hurt me.

Wrong again.

“I feel terrible telling you this,” Lesley said after she’d mentioned casually that she’d known about the dissolution of my engagement since last week, “but I thought you’d want to know.”

“Okay . . .” I waited for her to go on, wondering why she hadn’t called or come by if she’d known for a week that Brett and I had split.

“Well . . . maybe I shouldn’t tell you,” she said quickly, her breath heavy on the other end.

I sighed. I didn’t have the energy to play games.

“Whatever it is, Lesley, I’m sure it pales in comparison with everything else in my life right now.” After all, what could be worse than having your engagement broken off and then being fired the next morning?

“Well, if you’re sure . . . ,” Lesley said, her voice trailing off. She paused. “All right then. I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’m just going to say it. Amanda has been sleeping with Brett.”

Okay. So clearly that could be worse than having your engagement broken off and then being fired the next morning.

I opened my mouth to say something but no words came out. I suddenly felt like my whole chest had been hollowed out. I couldn’t breathe.

After a moment, Lesley spoke again. “Emma?” she said. “Are you there?”

“Urghrhgrgh,” I gurgled.

“Are you okay?”

“Uhrhghrh.” I couldn’t seem to formulate words.

“Listen, Emma, it’s not like you two were still together when it happened,” Lesley said quickly. “Amanda says the first time they hooked up was three nights after Brett moved out. I think he just needed a place to stay, you know? And one thing led to another.”

I felt sick. For a moment, I really thought I might throw up.

“You knew about this?” I asked in a whisper after swallowing hard a few times. “Did Anne know, too?”

“Well . . . yes.”

“How long have you known?”

Silence.

“Lesley, how long?”

“Since last week.”

“I’m going to kill her,” I breathed, suddenly hating Amanda with every bone in my body.

“Emma, don’t say that,” Lesley said sweetly. “After all, you have to admit, it was over between you and Brett.”

I couldn’t even find the words to respond. I gagged on the sour taste that had risen in the back of my throat.

“You’re defending her?” I whispered once my vocal chords worked again.

“No, no, not exactly,” Lesley said quickly. “I’m just saying to look at it logically. It’s not like Brett cheated on you with her or anything.”

“But—” I started to say.

“Really, Emma,” Lesley interrupted. “Anne and I have talked about it, and we don’t think Amanda has done anything wrong. I mean, it’s a sticky situation, but I’m sure you’ll feel better about it in a week or two, once you’ve had some time to think about it. Let’s all meet for dinner this week, and we can talk about it. I know Amanda would love to see you.”

I was aghast. “I have to go.” I hung up before Lesley could hear me cry.

I called my sister, Jeannie, next, illogically hoping for some sort of consolation. Six years earlier, our father had moved to Atlanta with his twenty-years-younger new wife, and three years ago, our mother had moved to California with her twenty-years-older new husband, so Jeannie was the only family member I had close by. Unfortunately, we were as different as night and day, and Jeannie’s idea of a good conversation was one in which I was nearly reduced to tears thinking of all my shortcomings.

Perhaps this time, though, she’ll comfort me, I thought. After all, isn’t that what sisters were for?

“Seriously, Emma,” she said instead after I’d explained everything. I could hear her three-year-old son, Odysseus, yelling something in the background, and she sighed loudly. “Brett’s just going through a thing. It’s perfectly natural before a guy gets married. It’s just cold feet.”

“Jeannie, did you hear what I told you?” I said slowly, not quite sure that she was understanding me. “He’s sleeping with one of my best friends!”

“Emma, you’re overreacting.” She sighed. “You always overreact. Robert got cold feet before our wedding, too, but I talked some sense into him. Men just need a little persuading sometimes.”

“But, Jeannie—”

“Emma, really, you need to stop being so high-maintenance,” interrupted my sister, the most high-maintenance person in the world. “And do your best to persuade him to take you back. You’re almost thirty, for goodness’ sake. You’re running out of options. I was married at twenty-three, you know.”

“Yes, you keep reminding me.” Disgusted, I hung up and picked up the phone again to call the only remaining close friend I had—Poppy, whom I’d roomed with in London during a summer internship eight years earlier. She had relocated to Paris three years ago to work for Colin-Mitterand, an international entertainment PR company based in France, and last year she had gone freelance and opened her own boutique firm. Now, I knew, she had been hired to do PR for KMG, an international record label based in Paris.

I crossed my fingers before dialing the last digit of her phone number. If she couldn’t be supportive, I didn’t know where else to turn.

“Your friend Amanda did what? That horrid little tart!” she exclaimed in her clipped British accent after I had explained everything.

I breathed an enormous sigh of relief, and the beginnings of a smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. “You have no idea how relieved I am to hear you say that.”

“You don’t need a friend like that!” Poppy said hotly. “Nor the others, for that matter. How dare they stand up for her?”

I felt a surge of relief. “You’re right,” I said.

“And frankly, sweetie, Brett never sounded like much of a winner, either,” she continued. “He always was a bit of a spoiled mummy’s boy. Good riddance! Now you can focus on your work!”