The Art of French Kissing
Author:Kristin Harmel

We’d met three years ago during a Saturday ’80s night at Antigua, a club in downtown Orlando’s Church Street district. I’d been vogueing to Madonna with Lesley and Anne when a tall, dark-haired guy leaning against the bar caught my eye. He was cute, he had an enticing smile, and he was staring right at me. When “Vogue” faded and “Livin’ on a Prayer” began pumping from the speakers, I’d mumbled an excuse to the girls and made my way casually to the bar.

“Hey!” Brett had shouted over the din as I landed next to him, pretending, of course, that I’d randomly chosen that very spot to order my vodka tonic.

“Hey,” I’d responded casually, my heart thudding as I noticed for the first time what beautiful hazel eyes he had. Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear, Jon Bon Jovi belted out in the background, his chiseled face giant on the video screens around the room.

“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked. I hesitated and nodded. He smiled, his cheeks dimpling. “I’m Brett,” he said.

“Emma,” I said, taking his hand.

He shook my hand up and down slowly, never breaking eye contact. “You’re beautiful, Emma,” he’d said. There was something about the way he said it that made me believe he meant it.

After we talked for half an hour and he met Lesley, Anne, and Amanda, he’d asked me if I’d come next door with him to the rooftop bar Lattitudes. We had stayed there, at a table under the moonlight, sipping vodka tonics (we had the same favorite drink), discussing movies (we both thought Shawshank Redemption and the indie film Primer were two of the best films we’d ever seen), swapping concert stories (we’d both been to the last three Sister Hazel shows at House of Blues), and talking about what we wanted in our futures. We seemed to have so much in common, and the way he gazed intently into my eyes and then smiled slowly made my heart flutter. By the end of the night, I was smitten. We went out on our first date the next night, and a month later, he called me his girlfriend for the first time. It felt perfect.

He was everything I thought I wanted—cute, successful, funny, good with people. My family loved him, and his parents grudgingly seemed to accept me. I thought we went together like peanut butter and jelly. Evidently, I hadn’t considered that one of my best friends would one day worm her way into the sandwich.

“Passeport, s’il vous pla?t.” The gruff voice of the stern-looking customs agent behind the glass cut into my thoughts. Somehow reminiscing about Brett had carried me off the plane and toward the immigration control area, like flotsam on the sea of arriving passengers.

“Um, yes, of course,” I stammered, fumbling in my bag, past the two unopened Paris books, past my pink iPod loaded with Five for Fighting, Courtney Jaye, and the Beatles, past the laptop computer I’d purchased with my holiday bonus last year. Finally, my fingers closed around the thick navy jacket of my gold-embossed American passport, and I pulled it out triumphantly. “Voilà!” I exclaimed happily, hoping the agent would appreciate the use of my limited French vocabulary.

He didn’t look impressed. He simply grunted, opened my passport, and studied it closely. My hair was shorter in the photo, just above my shoulders instead of just below, and since the picture had been taken in the winter, the blond strands were a few shades darker than they were now, in early May, which in Florida meant I’d already had two good months of sun. My current tan was a bit deeper and my freckles were a bit more pronounced. And of course, thanks to four weeks of unlimited cartons of mint chocolate chip (hey, it’s how I cope, okay?), I was a good ten pounds heavier than I’d been when the photo was taken. But my general dishevelment was the same. In the picture, I knew, my lipstick had worn off, my lips were cracked, and my hair looked like I’d been caught in a wind tunnel. I suspected I didn’t look much better today, having just stepped off a transatlantic flight.

“You are visiting?” the guard asked after a moment, his voice so thick with a French accent that it took me a full ten seconds to decipher what he’d said.

“Oui,” I said firmly, although it occurred to me a moment after the word was out of my mouth that I wasn’t, in fact, a visitor. I was here to work. I wondered if I should tell him.

“For how long?” he asked, remaining stubbornly English speaking.

“Five weeks,” I replied. Suddenly the length of time sounded very long to me, and I had a strong urge to turn back around and make a dash for the departure gates.

The French guard muttered something unintelligible, stamped my passport, and handed it back to me.

“You may enter,” he said. “Enjoy your visit to France.”

And then I was in, being swept along in another tide of people into a country I hadn’t seen in years, to start a new life I wasn’t prepared for at all.

“Emma! Emma! Over here!”

I spotted Poppy the moment I passed through the doors on the far side of baggage claim, dragging my two giant purple suitcases behind me.

“Hi!” I exclaimed, feeling even more relieved to see her than I’d expected. I hoisted my laptop case and handbag up on my shoulder and dragged my enormous load of luggage toward her in what felt like slow motion. She was grinning widely and waving like a maniac.

“Welcome, welcome!” she said, clapping her hands excitedly before rushing forward to embrace me. Her shoulder-length, red-streaked dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she was wearing a little too much makeup—which was pretty much how Poppy always looked. Three inches taller than me, she had a wide, ear-to-ear smile, rosy cheeks, enormous sea-green eyes, and curves she liked to describe as “voluptuous.”

Today she was dressed in a bright purple blouse, a black skirt that looked several inches too short and a size too small, and a pair of forest-green ribbed tights. She was currently giving me the signature Poppy grin, and I couldn’t help but smile back, despite my exhaustion.

“Let me help you with your bags, yeah?” she said.

With relief, I gave up one of the giant purple rollers to Poppy, who began lugging it toward the airport exit, her face promptly turning beet red from the strain.

“Emma, what on earth do you have in here?” she exclaimed after a moment. “A body?”

“Yep,” I said. “I’ve stuffed Brett into my luggage to dispose of him properly over here.”

previous 1.. 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 ..82 next