Home > Paris for One and Other Stories(5)

Paris for One and Other Stories(5)
Jojo Moyes

‘You did what?’ He’d been drunk, she remembered now, and had blinked slowly, as if in disbelief. ‘You bought me a ticket to Paris?’

‘Us,’ she’d said as he fumbled with the buttons of her dress. ‘A long weekend in Paris. I thought it would be … fun. We should, you know, go crazy!’

That girl has never had a wild moment in her life.

‘I checked out hotels, and I’ve found one just behind rue de Rivoli. It’s three-star, but it has a ninety-four-per cent satisfaction rating, and it’s a low-crime area – I mean, the only thing they say to worry about is bag snatchers, so I’ll get one of those bu—’

‘You bought me a ticket to Paris!’ He’d shaken his head, his hair flopping over one eye. And then he said, ‘Sure, babe. Why not? Nice one.’ She couldn’t remember what else he’d said, as at that point they’d collapsed on to his bed.

Now she would have to go back to England and tell Magda, Trish, and Sue that they were right. That Pete was exactly who they said he was. That she’d been a fool and wasted her money. She had blown off the Girls’ Trip to Brighton for nothing.

She screws her eyes shut until she is sure that she will not cry, then pushes herself upright. She looks at her suitcase. She wonders where to find a taxi and whether her ticket can be changed. What if she gets to the station and they won’t let her on the train? She wonders whether to ask the receptionist downstairs if she will ring Eurostar for her, but she is afraid of the woman’s icy gaze. She has no idea what to do. Paris suddenly feels huge and unknown and unfriendly and a million miles from home.

Her phone beeps again. She snatches it up, her heart suddenly racing. He is coming after all! It will be all right! But it’s Magda.

Having fun, you filthy mare?

She blinks at it and suddenly feels horribly homesick. She wishes she were there, in Magda’s hotel room, a plastic cup of cheap fizz on the bathroom sink as they fight for mirror space to put on their makeup. England is an hour behind. They will still be getting ready, their suitcases spilling new outfits on to the carpet, the music turned up loud enough to cause complaints.

She thinks, briefly, that she has never felt so lonely in her life.

All great, thanks. Have fun!

She types slowly and presses SEND, waiting for the whooshing sound that tells her it has flown across the English Channel. And then she turns off her phone so that she won’t have to lie anymore.

Nell examines the Eurostar timetable, pulls her notebook from her bag, and writes a list, working out her options. It is a quarter to nine. Even if she makes it to the station, she is unlikely to get a train that will take her back to England early enough for her to get home. She will have to stay here tonight.

In the harsh light of the bathroom mirror, she looks tired and fed up, her mascara blurred with tears. She looks exactly like the kind of girl who has just travelled all the way to Paris to be stood up by her unreliable boyfriend. She rests her hands on the sink, takes a long, shaky breath, and tries to think clearly.

She will find something to eat, get some sleep, and then she will feel better. Tomorrow she will catch the early train home. It is not what she’d hoped, but it is a plan, and Nell always feels better with a plan.

She shuts the door, locks it, and goes downstairs. She tries to look carefree and confident, like a woman who often finds herself alone in strange cities.

‘Um. Do you have a room-service menu? I couldn’t find one in my room,’ she asks the receptionist.

‘Room service? Mademoiselle, you are in the gastronomic capital of the world. We do not do room service here.’

‘Okay, well, then do you know anywhere nice I could get a bite to eat?’

The woman looks at her. ‘You want a restaurant?’

‘Or café. Anything. Somewhere I could walk to. Oh, and … um … if the other lady comes back, will you tell her I’ll be staying this evening?’

The Frenchwoman raises an eyebrow a fraction, and Nell imagines her thinking, So your boyfriend never turned up, mousy English girl? That’s no surprise. ‘There is Café des Bastides,’ she says, handing over a small tourist map. ‘You turn right outside, and it’s two streets down on the left. It’s very nice. Fine to’ – she pauses – ‘eat alone.’

‘Thank you.’

‘I will call Michel and make sure he has a table for you. Name?’

‘Nell.’

‘Nell.’ The woman pronounces it as if it is an affliction.

Her cheeks flaming, Nell grabs the map, slides it into her handbag, and walks briskly from the hotel lobby.

The café is busy, the tiny round tables outside bulging with couples or groups sitting shoulder to shoulder in thick coats, smoking, drinking, chatting as they look out over the busy street. Nell hesitates and glances up, checking the name on the billboard, and wonders briefly if she can really face sitting in here alone. Perhaps she could just nip into a supermarket and buy a sandwich. Yes, that would probably be the safer option. A huge man with a beard stands in the doorway, and his gaze lands on her. ‘The Englishwoman? Yes?’ his voice booms out over the tables.

Nell flinches. ‘You are NELL? Table for one?’ A handful of heads swivel to look at her. Nell ponders whether it is possible to die spontaneously of embarrassment.

‘Um. Yes,’ she mutters into her chest. He gestures her inside, finds her a small table and chair in a corner by the window, and she slides in. There is a steamy fug on the inside of the windows, and around her the tables hum with well-dressed women in their fifties exclaiming in words she cannot understand, young couples gazing at each other over glasses of wine. She feels self-conscious, as if she is wearing a sign that says PITY ME. I HAVE NOBODY TO EAT WITH. She gazes up at the blackboard, repeating the unfamiliar words in her head several times before she has to speak them aloud.

‘Bonsoir.’ The waiter, who has a shaven head and wears a long white apron, puts a jug of water in front of her. ‘Qu’est-ce –’

‘Je voudrais le steak frites, s’il vous plaît,’ she says in a rush. The meal – steak and chips – is expensive, but it is the only thing she thinks she can pronounce.

The waiter gives a small nod and glances behind him, as if distracted. ‘The steak? And to drink, mam’selle?’ he says in perfect English. ‘Some wine?’

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