Home > Paris for One and Other Stories(14)

Paris for One and Other Stories(14)
Jojo Moyes

‘It’s the worst name ever,’ she says. ‘My mother named me after someone in one of Charles Dickens’s books.’

‘It could have been worse. You could have been – what is her name? – Miss Havisham.’

‘Mercy Pecksniff.’

‘Fanny Dorrit.’ They are all laughing.

She claps a hand over her mouth, giggling. ‘How do you all know so much about Dickens?’

‘We studied together. English literature. Fabien reads all the time. It’s terrible. We have to fight to get him to come out.’ Émile lifts a glass. ‘He is like a … a … how do you say it? A hermit. He is a hermit. I have no idea how you got him out tonight, but I am very happy. Salut!’

‘Salut!’ she says, and then she reaches into her pocket for her phone and stares at it. She looks shocked and peers closer, as if checking she has read correctly.

Are you OK?????

It is from Trish.

‘Everything is okay?’ Fabien says when she says nothing.

‘Fine,’ she says. ‘Just my friends being weird. So … where are we going?’

It is two thirty in the morning. Fabien has drunk more than he has drunk in weeks. His sides hurt from laughing. The Wildcat is packed. One of Fabien’s favourite tracks comes on, which he always played in the restaurant during cleanup time until the boss banned it. Émile, who is in crazy party mode, leaps on to the bar and starts dancing, pointing at his chest and grinning at the people below him. A cheer goes up.

Fabien feels Nell’s fingers resting on his arm and takes her hand. She is laughing, her hair sweaty, with strands stuck to her face. She took off her coat sometime ago, and he suspects they may not find it again. They have been dancing for hours.

The redheaded girl gets up on the bar beside Émile, helped by a sea of hands, and starts dancing. They shimmy together, swigging from bottles of beer. The barmen stand back, watching and occasionally moving a glass out of the way of a stray foot. It is not the first time the bar of the Wildcat has become a dance floor, and it will not be the last.

Nell is trying to say something to him.

He stoops lower to hear her, catching a faint trace of her scent.

‘I’ve never danced on a bar,’ she says.

‘No? Do it!’ he says.

She laughs, shakes her head, and he holds her gaze. And it is as if she remembers something. She reaches a hand to his shoulder, and he helps her up, and there she is, above him, righting herself and then, suddenly, dancing. Émile lifts a bottle in salute, and she is off, locked into the rhythm, her eyes closed, hair swinging. She wipes sweat from her face and swigs from a bottle. Two, then three more people join them up there.

Fabien is not tempted. He just wants to stand here, feeling the music vibrate through him, part of the crowd, watching her, enjoying her pleasure, knowing he is part of it.

She opens her eyes then, searching him out among the sea of faces. She spots him and smiles, and Fabien realizes he is feeling something he thought he had forgotten how to feel.

He is happy.

It is 4 a.m. Or maybe 5 a.m. She has long since stopped caring. She and Fabien are walking side by side down a silent street, her feet uneven on the cobbles, her calves aching from the dancing. She gives a small shiver, and Fabien slows, removing his jacket and placing it over her shoulders.

‘I will call the Wildcat tomorrow,’ Fabien says, ‘and ask if anyone found your coat.’

‘Oh, don’t worry,’ says Nell, enjoying the weight of his jacket, the faint male scent it gives off as she moves. ‘It was an old coat. Oh – damn. It had the code in it.’

‘Code?’

‘To the hotel. I won’t be able to get in.’

Fabien doesn’t look at her as he speaks. ‘Well … you could … stay … at my apartment.’ He says it casually, like it’s no big deal.

‘Oh. No,’ says Nell quickly. ‘You’re very sweet, but –’

‘But –’

‘I don’t know you. Thank you, though.’

Fabien looks at his watch. ‘Well … the hotel doors will open in an hour and forty minutes. We can look for an all-night café. Or we can walk. Or …’

Nell waits as he thinks. Fabien smiles suddenly, holds out his arm, and after the smallest hesitation she links hers through it and they set off down the street.

There is a moment, just as Fabien starts heading down the slope that leads to the quayside, when Nell’s courage briefly fails her. There is no way she cannot end up as a cautionary headline, surely, she thinks as she gazes at the inky black of the river, the shadows of the trees, and the utter emptiness of the quay below. And yet something – perhaps an English predisposition not to appear rude, not to make a fuss, even if it does end up in your untimely murder – propels her forward. Fabien walks ahead with the easy stride of someone who has been here a million times before. Not a serial killer’s walk, she thinks as she picks her way down. Not that she has a clear idea of how a serial killer walks. Just not like that. He turns and motions to her to follow and then stops beside a small wooden boat lined with bench seats and tethered to a huge iron ring. Nell slows and stares at it.

‘Whose is this?’

‘My father’s. He takes tourists along the river.’

He holds out his hand, and she takes it, climbing aboard. Fabien motions to the bench beside him, then reaches into a chest, from which he hauls a wool blanket. He hands it to Nell, waiting as she adjusts it over her lap, and then he starts the boat and they’re off, chugging gently against the tide into the center.

Nell looks up as they head into the dark waters, gazing out at the silent Parisian streets, the glitter of streetlamps on the water, and thinks she must now be in a dream. This cannot be her, drifting along in the Parisian waters with a stranger in the middle of the night. But she no longer feels afraid. She feels elated, giddy. Fabien looks back at her, perhaps seeing her smile, and motions to her to stand. He hands her the tiller, and she takes it, feeling the little boat break the waters beneath her.

‘Where are we going?’ she says, and realizes she doesn’t entirely care.

‘Just keep steering,’ says Fabien. ‘I have something to show you.’

They chug quietly upstream. Paris is illuminated around them, its sounds distant and beautiful, as if they are alone here in its epicenter, a dark, glittering bubble.

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