The Art of French Kissing
Author:Kristin Harmel

Poppy laughed. “That’s the spirit! Give the tosser what he deserves, then!”

I smiled wanly, wishing that I felt as resentful toward Brett as Poppy evidently did. Clearly I had lost my self-respect, along with my job and fiancé.

As Poppy and I piled into a sleek black taxi and began to make our way toward the city center, I began to relax, soothed by the rhythm of her chirpy cadence. Somehow, being here with someone so familiar made the whole experience feel that much less foreign, even as everything around me was entirely unfamiliar. Gone were the Fords and Hondas and Toyotas I was used to back home. Instead the highway was a confused and honking mass of tiny smart cars, compact Peugeots, and boxy Renaults as it wove through suburbs that didn’t resemble anything I remembered about Paris.

Instead of quaint neighborhoods, rooftops with flowerpot chimney stacks, and windowsills framed by flowers, there were factories with smokestacks and enormous, characterless modern apartments with tiny balconies. Clotheslines hung with brightly colored T-shirts and jeans dotted the landscape, interspersed with hundreds of makeshift antennas. This wasn’t quite the charming France I had envisioned.

“We’re not into the city yet,” Poppy whispered, perhaps catching my worried expression.

“Oh. Right.” I felt moderately appeased.

But then our cabbie, who was mumbling to himself and driving at what seemed like the speed of light, shot off the highway, and the industrial skyline of the eastern suburbs suddenly gave way to my first glimpse of the Gothic towers of Notre Dame off in the distance.

It was the first time it had hit me—really hit me—that I was in Paris, a continent away from the only life I’d ever known.

I gasped. “It’s beautiful,” I said softly. Poppy squeezed my hand and smiled.

A few minutes later, as we emerged from a crowded thoroughfare, the rest of the Parisian skyline came into view, and my breath caught in my throat. In the evening light, with the sky streaked with rich shades of sunset pink, the Eiffel Tower was a soft outline against the horizon. I could feel my heart thudding against my rib cage as our taxi wove its way farther into the city, around pedestrians, past stop signs, through streets soaked with history and tradition.

As we crossed the Seine, I could see the sprawling Louvre museum, the looming Conciergerie, the stately H?tel de Ville. The fading sunlight melted into the river and reflected back a muted blend of pastels that seemed to glow from beneath the surface. It was, I thought, the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

“Welcome to Paris,” Poppy said softly.

Already, I felt a bit like I was coming home.

“So what’s Guillaume Riche actually like?” I asked once I had settled my bags into the tiny second bedroom of Poppy’s small apartment, where I’d be staying for the next several weeks. She had misled me slightly when she’d said that her place was a “spacious two-bedroom flat.” In fact, it couldn’t have been more than five hundred square feet, and in the room that would be mine, I could stretch my arms out to the sides and touch both walls at once. Its one saving grace—and it was a huge saving grace—was that it was a mere two blocks from the Eiffel Tower; if you looked out the living room window, you could see the graceful iron structure rising upward behind the apartments across the courtyard. My throat felt strangely constricted each time I caught a glimpse of it.

“Oh, Guillaume? He has quite a lovely voice,” Poppy said vaguely. “Would you like a café au lait?”

“I’d love one,” I said with a smile. Poppy walked over to her tiny, crowded kitchen area and busied herself with a bright red espresso maker that hissed and spewed steam when she pressed down on the handle. “So he’s talented? Guillaume Riche?” I tried again. “I’ve never heard him sing.”

“Oh, yes, he’s quite good, really,” Poppy said hurriedly. “Would you like cinnamon on top? Or whipped cream perhaps?”

I had a nagging feeling that she was purposely avoiding my questions. “I think it’s really cool that you’re working with him. He’s huge right now,” I said, making a third attempt to bring him up. “I heard a rumor he was dating Jennifer Aniston.”

“Just a rumor,” Poppy said promptly.

“How can you be so sure?”

Poppy shot me a sly grin. “Because I’m the one who started it. It’s all about building buzz.”

I stared at her, incredulous. “And the rumor that he wanted to adopt a baby from Ethiopia, like Angelina and Brad?”

Poppy smiled sheepishly. “I started that one, too,” she admitted.

“But that’s why the press have started calling him Saint Guillaume!” I exclaimed. “It’s not even true?”

“Not at all,” Poppy said, winking at me.

“So what can you tell me about him?” I asked as we walked into the living room and settled side by side onto the sofa with steaming mugs in our hands. “Is he as perfect as he always seems in the magazines? Or have you made that up, too?” The sofa was lumpy, and I could see water stains on the ceiling, but there was something about the window box of yellow daisies and the quaint rooftops across the miniature courtyard outside that made the apartment seem much more luxurious than it probably was. I took a sip of the café au lait Poppy had made.

“Er . . .” Poppy seemed to be at a loss for words, quite a rare condition for her. “Yes, he’s wonderful,” she said finally. “Do you fancy a croissant with that café au lait? I picked some up this morning from the patisserie on the corner.”