Walking through the 12th arrondissement, I find the café on the Rue de Charenton. She’s usually late so I settle in.
I resist the urge to look at my phone and instead order a coffee in broken French and watch a series of small dogs walk up and pee on the same small tree.
I turn in my chair and see beautiful tan skin. I take it all in quickly: long black hair, dark circular eyes, almond shaped mouth, in a small frame.
“I thought you’d be late,” I blurt out.
She smiles and pulls out the other chair. “Is that how you remember me?”
She has the same rich-kid Lebanese accent, a mix of French, Arabic and British English.
“Amongst other things,” I say.
I lurch forward to hug her, and then pause. She watches me and leans forward. We kiss on both cheeks.
“It’s really good to see you,” I tell her.
“You too,” she echoes.
“You look exactly the same.”
“A little heavier…” she says, putting her hand to her stomach.
“You haven’t changed at all,” she says.
“A few more stress lines,” I say, running my finger across my forehead. Then my eyes go wide. “Oh wait! Are you pregnant?”
A corner of her mouth turns upwards.
“How did that happen?”
“Stupid question. Who, uh, who’s the lucky guy?”
“My husband. Seb.” I glance down at the wedding ring that’s been there the whole time.
“Husband. Wow.” I force myself to smile. “I had no idea.”
“We eloped a couple months ago.”
“Eloped? I always imagined you having a massive wedding.”
“I don’t know… Lebanese thing, I guess.”
“It was more of a practical decision.”
“Parisian. So one of the families was going to have to travel.”
“How’d you meet him?”
“We were sitting next to each other on a flight.”
“I wouldn’t say that. It was kind of a mess. I was in the middle of a massive breakup.”
“The Italian guy?”
“Yeah. No, wait. A different Italian guy. Not the one you knew.”
“What’s with you and Southern Europeans?”
“Similar cultures,” she says without pause.
“They care about family. And you know, they’re a little more fiery.”
“Are you fiery?”
“I can be,” she says, flashing an unfamiliar smile.
“I don’t remember that side of you.”
“We were smoking a lot of weed back then.”
I laugh and then she joins in. I take a sip of my coffee.
“How’s Francesca?” she asks.
“I wouldn’t know.”
“It ended a couple of years ago.”
“So you lasted a while.”
“Four years. Not bad.”
“Do you mind if I ask what happened?”
“I work too much and she’s an Italian ballerina, so like… it wasn’t a very copacetic home life.”
“Similar cultures…” she says.
“I think it can work if you want it bad enough.”
“If both of you want it bad enough.”
I take another sip.
“What are you doing now?” she asks.
“Some cliché hedge fund bullshit.”
“No, I meant in Paris.”
“Yeah, that’s why I’m here.”
“Oh… are you going to be living here?
“I’m thinking about it.”
“American guy in Paris,” she says smiling. “Such a cliché.”
“Oh come on, I’m not going to go to Jim Morrison’s grave or anything.”
“No, I meant for the French girls.”
“Ah. Then that’s ok,” I say, smiling.
Her hand moves to her stomach and rests there. It’s so inherent that she doesn’t seem to notice.
“Can I ask you something?”
“You remember that night when we were studying really late at your flat? It was like 3 or 4 in the morning.”
“Yeah,” she says. “I remember.”
“What would have happened if I had tried to kiss you?”
“I probably would have stopped you.”
“Well, we were a lot younger.”
I smile and look at my cup.
“Thanks. I’ve been wondering about that for a long time, and not knowing is so much worse than rejection.”
She laughs at me.
The waiter comes to the table and she orders a cappuccino, and then leans forward onto the table. We talk about the best neighborhoods in Paris to raise children as we wait for her coffee to arrive.