Quite an extensive excerpt from the next book.
My son went home to school at the end of July because he was still wait-listed for our school of choice in Hong Kong. It was less than ideal, and I made the more than 15-hour journey monthly to see him, but I was divorced and by far the major bread winner in our family, so doing just that took priority, and especially when paid at the level I was. Having been born myself into the most supportive family on earth, I knew quite well that he was as loved and safe and coddled and adored in my parents’ care as any one child could ever be, and in fact probably better off there in any case, at least for now.
Andreas and I had arranged to meet in Paris the day before my birthday, and spend three nights together there. In the same room. For most women on their 36th, this might not have been a stretch, but for me, it was a knowing leap into an unknown abyss. It’s not just the pall that hangs over the entire event, e.g. the inevitability of sex, but also the immediate familiarity of showering, toilet habits, changing – like the express train to knowing far too much about someone you’d very possibly prefer to just adore from a distance.
We were staying at Le Meurice, my Paris habit that somewhat parallels my London one, though not to the same extent of frequency or familiarity, and when there I often arranged a special pedicure that is anathema elsewhere in the world. Andreas wasn’t due to arrive until that evening after work, so I did some light shopping, had the pedicure, took a long, hot bath and settled in for the wait. And wait. I do not remember exactly what time it was, except that it was about ten minutes after his flight was meant to have departed from Munich when he called. He had arrived at the Air France counter to be told that though his ticket had been purchased, an e-ticket had never been issued. As such, they had to call the ticketing center in France to manually issue it. From what he said – and from the near outraged tone of his voice – he truly lost his temper. They dawdled about for long enough that he had missed the last flight to Paris that evening. He had texted me when he arrived at the airport, so I knew he had arrived there in plenty of time and had wondered why I never heard back before the scheduled departure. Now I knew.
He toyed with the notion of renting a car and driving, but I told him that I would stay awake worrying as it would be the well into the wee hours of the morning before he would arrive. He retorted that he did not want me to wake up alone on my birthday. In the end, instead of going back into town, he checked into an airport hotel in Munich and took the first flight out the next morning.
By the time he arrived, I was understandably more anxious than I might otherwise have been, but when I opened the door to our opulent room, all I could see was a gigantic bouquet of flowers consuming my view. I giggled aloud and he moved them to one side so I could see his face, which was looking me up and down in an intentionally mischievous, almost mock-seductive manner. He kissed me on both cheeks and came inside. Never one to rest on his laurels, he immediately announced, after putting his bags in the dressing room, that he had berated the staff for not sending a bottle of champagne on my birthday, and that it was on its way up along with plastic cups, a satchel, and other goodies. It arrived far more quickly than I anticipated, leaving me with the notion that he had arranged this prior to his arrival, and within minutes we were making our way across the Rue de Rivoli, past the Tuileries and down towards the Seine.
Despite the signs which said no eating or drinking, we set ourselves up on a cement bench on the path right next to the river and opened our champagne. It was a divine, clear, not too hot August day, and this was the stuff of dreams.
We talked and people watched and waved at the large hydro boats as they went past, and before we knew it had finished the champagne and nibbles and were sitting closer to one another than we ever had.
From there we walked along the river until we were perpendicular to Avenue Montaigne, where I took a knowing right and headed towards the Louis Vuitton store for my own special birthday treat. I suppose there is something about a sun-kissed, young and attractive couple (even if 65% of that attractiveness is carried by the male, or in this case perhaps all of it), because as soon as we entered, unlike the legions of others around us, we were offered champagne and large, comfy chairs where Andreas sat as I sought out a very specific bag. Small, epi, brown, no monogram – it was something I had wanted for a while and this was one of the few stores that had one remaining. As I sat down in the chair across from Andreas while I waited for the bill to be brought to me, I heard him exchanging joking pleasantries with a male staff member about needing champagne to “put up with this one” as he gestured in my direction, But rather than saying it in a negative tone, it was said in one of endearing and couple-like familiarity. Our eyes met and we smiled reflexively; if the evening ended half as well as the day had been spent, it was going to be one spectacular night.
* * * * * * *
Andreas had already arranged dinner for both the evening of my birthday and the night following, unbeknownst to me. Upon our return to the hotel, we went upstairs to shower and change and when I showed him what I had planned to wear, he looked at me and said in that deadpan German bass, “My dear, we are not fancy people. This is too much. Jeans and that low-cut satin top and nice shoes.” I put on what he requested, but there is no bra on earth that could have hidden beneath the low plunging V neckline of that particular blouse. I asked him if it was okay. Silly me. Of course it was.
We had drinks at the snootier than thou Hotel Coste where every waitress seemed intent on shagging him and ignoring me; knowing me as he did, I didn’t have to say a word. We had one drink and were out the door, headed to dinner a bit earlier than planned. The meal was outstanding, though I cannot remember the name of the place. It is still there – I see it when I am in Paris – and it always brings a smile to my face. But at the end of the meal, Andreas said he wanted to ask a question of some of the cooks in the back. I could not imagine what it was, but this, too, would be a clue to his pattern. He was back in only a few minutes, and actually just as I returned from the ladies’ room. He told me he’d received a recommendation for a lively bar, and that’s where we were headed.
We ended up at Harry’s Bar in the 2nd Arrondissement. It was crowded and dark and sexy as hell. There was a jazz quartet playing seductively and people were dancing and carousing and enjoying life. Due to both the atmosphere and the lack of space, booth seating was communal and we ended up at a table with a slightly older American lady who immediately took a liking to us. She assumed that we were a couple of long-standing and asked probing questions of us that we never would have asked one another, or at least not so soon. She at one point grew so familiar as to tell us that we would make beautiful babies, to which he replied jokingly that I was “much older” than he, and that he wasn’t even sure what he was doing with me. We laughed out loud, but then very seriously, he looked me in the eye and said, “No, really – what are you doing with me? Do you want to kiss me? You do. Or would you like for me to kiss you?” And there in Harry’s Bar on that August night in 2006, I had what still stands today as the longest, most perfect and all-consuming kiss of my life.
When he had finished kissing me, he said, “Good, I hope you enjoyed it because that’s all you’re getting,” pecked me on the nose and descended the stairs to the men’s room below. When he returned he was animated, energetic and almost silly (which is not a word one often applies to a German). That’s when I began to understand the pattern.
We literally danced hand in hand along the streets and back to the hotel. We stopped in the bar in the lobby of our hotel and asked for absinthe – which in Paris is full strength, unlike the diluted version sold elsewhere – and headed to our room. Andreas never liked air conditioning and flung open the large French windows that face the courtyard before taking off his clothes – and mine – and crawling into bed. It was dark and I was glad. I could only imagine what he looked like naked and had no interest in him seeing me. We kissed passionately and prolongedly as we explored one another’s bodies. Even without the benefit of light, I could tell that he was even more exquisite without his clothes. And despite my somewhat schadenfreude-esque hope that perhaps he was at least of average ‘size,’ if only to make him more human, I soon found just the opposite to be the case. Was there anything physically lacking with this man? No. No.
The sex was amazing, and he was particularly delighted with my specific use for the absinthe. Surprises and such satisfaction could not come easily to someone like he, who had doubtlessly had so many before me. I fell asleep depleted, exhausted and satisfied. And after only perhaps ten minutes of rest found the first chink in his anatomic armor; the man snored like an out of control freight train.
. . . . . . . .
The next morning he woke before I and moved over to my side of the bed to match the lines of his body to mine. It was a gorgeous morning outside, we both could see, and he got out of bed and walked naked to the window to push them open a bit more. That was the first time I was able to steal a glance of him in all of his daylight shone glory. Good Lord. I had never seen anything so entirely perfect outside of a sculpture in the Louvre. He had those muscles on his abs that were just above his hip bones which looked like cut out, upside down Ls. He had those pokey ones that stuck up from his shoulders and accented the lithe, honey toned curvature of his back. How the hell did I manage this? And could I now manage to stay hidden all day beneath the covers so that we did not have to play “compare the physique?”
As if this recounting has not already nauseated you quite enough, he then went into the dressing room and came back out with a CD and proceeded to fiddle with the player in our room until the music began to emanate from the speakers. It was very romantic blues that he had brought with him, no doubt for a presumptive moment such as this. He climbed back into bed, got as close to me as he could and said simply, “I like you,” to which I replied, in the most naive (but I’m certain bitchy sounding) manner possible, “I know.” He rephrased it for emphasis and said, “No, I REALLY like you,” to which I said nothing. Of course I really liked him. Animals of the forest, people who have not yet been born and aliens from other planets like him, but why could I not say it out loud?
. . . . . . . .
We did not make love that morning (wonder why), but instead showered and dressed and decided to head to the Marais for the day. He had heard of one particular bistro we should try, and finding it proved more of a chore than we anticipated. We walked for quite a long way and the playful side of him — the part of him I knew in London that attracted me to him most – began to emerge. The line to get into the Louvre was wrapped around the block but was so long that there was no way people in the line could have actually had any idea what or where it actually ended in inevitable entry to the museum itself. As it was Summer and high tourist season, buses were parked all along the street alongside the corresponding queues of people. Andreas saw a bullhorn hanging on the door of a tourist bus and decided to take it, without warning, and announce to the crowd in English that they were queuing on the wrong street, and that they should follow him around the corner to the correct place for gaining entrance to the museum. And they did. I was incredulous. At least a hundred people (conservatively) turned around and followed this strange German man around the corner to a place of no consequence, and formed a perfect line. He told them to wait there and we walked away, I at something of a distance to him, as we returned to the tour bus where he had taken the bullhorn. But therein he found another temptation as the bus was now full of Japanese tourists. Again not being able to resist, he climbed aboard and began to tell them all to get off, because they were on the wrong bus. Chaos ensued, loud mutterings were heard, and then the actual leader of the tour group returned and snatched the bullhorn from his hand and raised it as if to hit him (though that was clearly not going to happen given that she was five foot nothing and was six feet, two). He ran from the bus, hands over his head, giggling and we quickly scooted away and down the street, still intent on the Marais.
Andreas had said that he wanted to see Notre Dame, so we took a slight, though linear detour to do so. When we reached the cathedral, Andreas wanted to linger for a bit, which I admittedly found odd. He was not Catholic, or even religious, and was adamant when I asked him that he did not wish to go inside. He wanted to sit and think, which he did for a somewhat uncomfortable span of time. When he was ready, it was as though he had been snapped back from someplace far away and into the current moment. The playfulness was gone and had been replaced by a subdued tension of sorts.
We wandered into the Marais about two hours after we had left behind self-amusement induced debacle at the Louvre, and off and on held hands as we passed by eclectic shops, bars, and restaurants. We walked around the large square, but eventually settled for a bar just off of it and nearer to where we believed this illusive bistro to reside. It was warm and we had been walking for ages, so we each had a large, cold beer and rested our feet. There was little discourse during this break, and whereas I had hoped that his subdued state would have by now subsided, he seemed to be moving more towards the darkness than emerging into the light. I am not naive; I had seen glimpses of this in him before and suspected he had the ability to dwell for quite long periods of time shrouded by the clouds in his mind. I was just hoping to avoid it for any protracted period during what had begun as an ideal break in Paris.
He asked the waiter in the bar if he knew of the bistro for which we searched, and indeed he said that he believed it to be only about two doors down from the now more famous than then Salon de The. We had to walk only about 10 minutes more to come upon it, whereupon we examined the menu that was presented in a small glass case next to the door. I had been craving a genuine French cassoulet to absorb some of the alcohol we had imbibed in the last 36 hour and quickly located it among the entrees on offer. Andreas saw some beef dish that he fancied, so we went inside and took a seat.
Our food came quickly and they brought with it very hot, fresh baguette, which they threw onto paper on top of the weathered wooden table, along with creamy, hand-churned butter in small ramekins. My cassoulet was massive – more than twice the size of his chosen beef entree – and was absolutely divine. I have asked this question of myself many times since: was it the hangover affecting my taste buds and judgement, or was it really the best cassoulet in Paris, and I remain stedfast that it was the latter. Andreas must have agreed, because he took one bite of my dish and all but forgot his own. I’m not certain how much of it he had in the end, but at least of much of mine as I had myself.
By the end of the meal it was also the end of the day. Tired and full, we headed towards the nearest metro stop and got on a train that we believed would take us back near Opera, and near our hotel. Instead we somehow stumbled our way onto a train going in the entirely wrong direction, and added more than an hour to what should have been a less than 30 minute journey. We had bought a large bottle of water in the station and we continued to pass it back and forth to one another on the train. Neither of us, for some reason, had removed our sunglasses despite being underground, which is a habit I usually greatly question in others, but barely registered in this instance. We spoke less than 10 words all the way back to the hotel, and when we got there, both collapsed on the bed for a brief nap.
Andreas did make some amorous overtones – or at least I think that’s what they were meant to be – but I felt disgusting, sweaty and tired. We napped for a bit, he more than I given his super sonic sounding snores, and we awoke around 7.
We roused slowly from our slumber, all of the walking and heat and alcohol and food of the last two days having taken its toll. Andreas told me to shower first, and as I washed my hair, I felt a cold breeze enter the room and moved my shampoo heavy hair out of the way to see him coming through the bathroom door, entirely naked and motioning as to ask if it was okay to join me in the shower. So much for not being seen naked. It was one of the most sensual experiences of my life. He’s considerably taller than I, and took the handheld shower nozzle from its stand, stood behind me and began gently rinsing my hair. In between stroking the shampoo to the ends and eventually down my back, he would gently kiss the tops of my shoulders.
As he finished rinsing me off, he pressed himself against me from behind and wrapped his arms around me. I felt the unmistakable, generous hardness of him in my lower back, and realizing such he said, “Ignore him. He always wants the same thing. I just want to hold you.” We stood there for a few blissful moments before he lowered his head down towards my left ear and said, “Thank you.” I asked him quietly for what, and he simply replied that this was the most relaxed he had been in years, and then again ended with “Thank you.”
. . . . . . . .
Dinner itself as an event was immediately remarkable because of the reason for the choice in restaurant. I do not know how many years it had been since we had first had the conversation, or how many years had passed since he had last seen me enjoy it, but Andreas had asked the concierge to call all over Paris looking for an appropriate restaurant that was serving pan seared foie gras at the height of their Summer holiday season. The restaurant itself was very new and very trendy, located on the ground floor of an even trendier new hotel in a fast gentrifying part of the city. Months later, I would see in fancy magazine somewhere about how it was one of the top, hot new places to see and be seen in Paris. But none of that mattered to me that night. Andreas remembered that once a year, on my birthday, I allow myself a foie gras treat. He explained to me that we could not get a reservation the night of my actual birthday, but that he was still determined to make it a part of the weekend.
We were both extremely tired, but indulged in a bottle of champagne and the deepest conversation we had ever had. I suppose by this time, there was nothing left left to share but honesty and substance. He told me about his family. On this, I will not go into detail because I do not know of his fate and even were he no longer here, I would never disrespect his memory by exploiting the accounts he shared that painted a picture of the most disturbing level of familial dysfunction of which I have ever personally had knowledge. His darkness, his by now obvious pain that he tried so hard to mask, was borne of an even darker reality.
We had a quiet ride back to the hotel in our taxi, holding hands, but looking out of each of our respective windows. When we arrived home, we stripped to our underwear and climbed into bed, but were too tired to do anything other than intertwine our legs and fall asleep.
. . . . . . . .
The next morning, we both awoke with a certain sadness. He had to fly back to Munich at 3, but I was there until the flight back to Hong Kong at almost midnight. Either way, it was our last morning together and our last respite from reality. I may have been born to a slightly eccentric version of the Cleavers compared to his upbringing, but each of us still had our reasons for preferring to just stay here, cocooned in escapism.
As he began to stir, he looked at me and said a heavy, quiet good morning, and then climbed atop me and began to kiss me. We said nothing more and made love quietly and finally. Afterwards he showered first, then went to a cafe just outside the front door of the hotel to have an espresso and a cigarette while I showered and dressed. When I found him at the table outside of the cafe, he was again the subdued version of himself that he had been at and after Notre Dame.
We made our way again across the Rue di Rivoli and towards the Champs Elysees, and up to L’Avenue for lunch. We had a reliably good meal, though each of us was far less talkative than the evening before. When the meal was finished, he ordered an aperitif; I did the same. He took one sip and then took my hand, looked me in the eye and told me, blankly, matter of factly and as much without emotion as he could that he did not want to leave; that he never wanted to leave. But that he had to. I knew he had to return to work, but there was something much more. And again without any intonation or hesitation, he said “I like you, I like you very much. And when I like someone very much, I fall in love with them. And when I fall in love with them, I want to be with them all the time. We cannot be together all the time.”
. . . . . . . .
He left the hotel a bit later than planned. Our kiss goodbye was more tender and final than passionate and expectant. He texted me one last time before he boarded the plane, and to distract myself from his departure, I decided to take the long walk all the way up the Champs Elysees. Catamini had a store there, and Jacadi wasn’t far, and I had been spoiling my goddaughter with clothes from there since she was born. As I walked, I remembered that I had ignored several texts from Number One in the last few days. It had been my birthday, after all, and the least he could do was text. So in response to the uncertainty and void left by the end of my weekend with Andreas, I did the same thing I always did (do): I called Number One.
He was glad to hear from me – “happy” to hear from me is a phrase that has only ever been appropriate once in our long, tangled history – and he wished me happy birthday and asked me where I was. When I told him, he hesitated a bit and said, “Right,” in his tense, snobbish, nasal British way. The way that implied ‘I don’t think I don’t want to know anymore because I don’t think I’ll like what I hear,’ and he was right, of course. He usually was. He would be back in Hong Kong in a few weeks time, and we would see each other then. We bade farewell until such time and I continued on my way.
I wasted as much time as I could and eventually could do no more. I headed over to Hotel Plaza Athenee, the sister hotel of Le Meurice, to see if I could catch a ride via one of the hotel cars. I was successful and was back in my room in no time.
I did not have anything to eat at the hotel or before I left for the airport, which was foolish given how late my flight was to be and how much we had drunk both at lunch and in aggregate. Instead I headed to the airport and made my way to the AF first class lounge where I had a makeshift meal of pitas, hummus and vodka. Sometime between 10 and 11, I had sunk into that drink induced depressive state that anyone who drinks with any degree of frequency has experienced. I had not heard from Andreas since he left and wanted to know that he was back safely. Or at least that’s what I told myself. The truth was that I just wanted to hear his voice, know if he was thinking of me, and know if this had all been an aberration. This is one of those teachable moments in life when someone like me says, “Do as I say and not as I do,” and you would do well to heed such. He answered right away, but his voice was different. He wasn’t at work, that was for certain. He was slurring, but even after copious amounts of alcohol, I had never known him to lose the ability to articulate. I asked him questions, but his answers made no sense; he began talking in circles. I hated myself for calling, because I did not want to know. I did not want confirmation of what I had suspected was his pattern, but there was no denying it now: he was high, and not on anything as simple as pot.