Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence
'"Tell me what you do all day,” he said, crossing his arms under his tilted-back head, and pushing his hat forward to screen the sun-dazzle.'
I met J. in Paris. I was sitting at a small sidewalk café, trying to order a coffee in French – I was a believer of making an effort when abroad, and it was supposed to make the locals more amiable. It wasn’t working. The waiter was looking at me with that special brand of snootiness that only the French can master.
I was about to give up when the man sitting by the next table swiveled towards me and offered assistance, which I accepted with relief.
He flashed a smile at the waiter and made an order in fluent French.
He turned back to me, large hand outstretched. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. He had an American accent, and looked American, but not the way the tourists back in London did. No, he looked more like a movie star back from the days when movies came in glorious shades of gray instead of color. He was tall, well-built, cleft chin, improbably blue eyes. Impulsively I invited him to join me and he accepted.
He settled, leaned back in his chair and immediately looked comfortable. Nervously, to make conversation, I started jabbering about the economy of traveling pre-season, avoiding the crowds. He was just looking at me with a half smile.
“Tell me what you do all day,” he said, crossing his arms under his tilted-back head, and pushing his hat forward to screen the sun-dazzle. He looked decidedly cat-like, muscles lazily stretched out, half-lidded eyes sparkling amused, with a touch of hungry mixed in. I suddenly felt like something small and fuzzy, and possibly appetizing. I babbled on about the churches and museums and all that touristy stuff.
He laughed and asked if I wanted to see the real Paris.
Later I realized the strangeness of that it never occurred to me to ask how he got to know Paris so well. He showed me courtyards that must have looked the same for hundreds of years, streets that no tourist ever saw. We stopped at a bistro that had no menu, only great food.
It was twilight and we were walking down an alley that reminded me of a Brassai photograph. It was then that he pressed me against the wall with his whole body and we kissed. My knees went so weak, I had to cling to him, oh FUCK.
“I know this charming little hotel just around the corner.” He murmured into my neck.
The hotel indeed had an old world charm, a little bit worn and faded, but not quite shabby. The receptionist wordlessly handed J. a key, and made a poor effort of hiding a smirk. We entered an elevator that had an old style lattice grille.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were staying here?” I asked him somewhat peeved.
“You didn’t ask.” He replied with a wide and filthy grin, pulling me close.
Smug bastard, I thought, I’ll make him pay. And that was my last coherent thought for the night.