Anna and the french kiss, p.8
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       Anna and the French Kiss, p.8
 

         Part #1 of Anna and the French Kiss series by Stephanie Perkins  

  Not that that’s what’s happening to me.

  Like I said. It’s a relief to know it won’t happen. It makes things easier. Most girls laugh too hard at his jokes and find excuses to gently press his arm. To touch him. Instead, I argue and roll my eyes and act indifferent. And when I touch his arm, I shove it. Because that’s what friends do.

  Besides, I have more important things on my mind: movies.

  I’ve been in France for a month, and though I have ridden the elevators to the top of La Tour Eiffel (Mer took me while St. Clair and Rashmi waited below on the lawn—St. Clair because he’s afraid of falling and Rashmi because she refuses to do anything touristy), and though I have walked the viewing platform of L’Arc de Triomphe (Mer took me again, of course, while St. Clair stayed below and threatened to push Josh and Rashmi into the insane traffic circle), I still haven’t been to the movies.

  Actually, I have yet to leave campus alone. Kind of embarrassing.

  But I have a plan. First, I’ll convince someone to go to a theater with me. Shouldn’t be too difficult; everyone likes the movies. And then I’ll take notes on everything they say and do, and then I’ll be comfortable going back to that theater alone. And one theater is better than no theaters.

  “Rashmi. What are you doing tonight?”

  We’re waiting for La Vie to begin. Last week we learned about the importance of eating locally grown food, and before that, how to write a college application essay.Who knows what they’ll drag out today? Meredith and Josh are the only ones not here, Josh because he’s a junior, and Mer because she’s taking that extra language class, advanced Spanish. For fun. Craziness.

  Rashmi taps her pen against her notebook. She’s been working on her essay to Brown for two weeks now. It’s one of the only universities to offer an Egyptology degree, and the only one she wants to attend. “You don’t understand,” she said, when I’d asked why she hadn’t finished it yet. “Brown turns away eighty percent of its applicants.”

  But I doubt she’ll have any problems. She hasn’t received less than an A on anything this year, and the majority were perfect scores. I’ve already mailed in my college applications. It’ll be a while before I hear back, but I’m not worried. They weren’t Ivy League.

  I’m trying to be friendly, but it’s tricky. Last night, while I was petting her rabbit, Isis, Rashmi reminded me twice not to tell anyone about her, because animals are against dorm rules. As if I’d tattle. Besides, it’s not like Isis is a secret. The smell of bunny pee outside her door is unmistakable.

  “Nothing, I guess,” she says, in response to my question about her evening.

  I take a deep breath to steady my nerves. It’s ridiculous how difficult a question can be when the answer means so much. “Wanna go to the movies? They’re showing It Happened One Night at Le Champo.” Just because I haven’t gone out doesn’t mean I haven’t pored over the glorious Pariscope.

  “They’re showing what? And I’m not gonna tell you how badly you just butchered that theater’s name.”

  “It Happened One Night. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Won five Academy Awards. It was a big deal.”

  “In what century?”

  “Ha ha. Honestly, you’ll like it. I hear it’s great.”

  Rashmi rubs her temples. “I don’t know. I don’t really like old movies. The acting is so, ‘Hey buddy, ol’ pal. Let’s go wear our hats and have a big misunderstanding.’”

  “Aw, come off it.” St. Clair looks up from a thick book about the American Revolution. He sits on my other side. It’s weird to think he knows more American history than I do. “Isn’t that the charm? The hats and the misunderstandings?”

  “So why don’t you go with her?” Rashmi asks.

  “Because he’s going out with Ellie,” I say.

  “How do you know what I’m doing tonight?” he asks.

  “Please?” I beg her. “Pretty please? You’ll like it, I swear. So will Josh and Mer.”

  Rashmi opens her mouth to protest just as the teacher arrives. Every week it’s someone new—sometimes administration, sometimes a professeur. This time, I’m surprised to see Nate. I guess all staff members are forced to take a turn. He rubs his shaved head and smiles pleasantly at our class.

  “How do you know what I’m doing tonight?” St. Clair repeats.

  “Pleeeeease,” I say to her.

  She gives a resigned grimace. “Fine. But I’m picking the next movie.”

  Yippee!

  Nate clears his throat, and Rashmi and St. Clair look up. That’s one thing I like about my new friends. They respect the teachers. It drives me nuts to see students talk back or ignore them, because my mom is a teacher. I wouldn’t want anyone being rude to her. “All right, people, enough. Amanda, enough.” In his quiet but firm way, Nate shuts her up. She flips her hair and sighs, with a glance toward St. Clair.

  He ignores her. Ha.

  “I have a surprise for you,” Nate says. “Since the weather is turning, and there aren’t many warm days left, I’ve arranged for you guys to spend the week outdoors.”

  We’re going outside for class credit. I love Paris!

  “I’ve organized a scavenger hunt.” Nate holds up a stack of papers. “There are two hundred items on this list.You’ll be able to find them all in our neighborhood, but you may have to ask the locals for help.”

  Oh hell no.

  “You’ll be taking pictures of the items, and you’ll be working in two teams.”

  Phew! Someone else can talk to the locals.

  “The winning team will be determined by the total number of items found, but I’ll need to find photos on everyone’s phone or camera, if you expect to earn credit.”

  NOOOOOOOOOOO.

  “There’s a prize.” Nate smiles again, now that he finally has everyone’s attention. “The team that finds the most items by the end of Thursday’s class . . . gets to skip class on Friday.”

  Now that might be worth it. The classroom erupts in whistles and clapping. Nate picks captains based on who begs for it the loudest. Steve Carver—the guy with the faux-surfer hair—and Amanda’s best friend, Nicole, are chosen. Rashmi and I groan in a rare moment of camaraderie. Steve pumps a fist in the air. What a meathead.

  The selecting begins, and Amanda is chosen first. Of course. And then Steve’s best friend. Of course. Rashmi elbows me. “Bet you five euros I’m picked last.”

  “I’ll take that bet. Because it’s totally me.”

  Amanda turns in her seat toward me and lowers her voice. “That’s a safe bet, Skunk Girl. Who’d want you on their team?”

  My jaw unhinges stupidly.

  “St. Clair!” Steve’s voice startles me. It figures that St. Clair would be picked early. Everyone looks at him, but he’s staring down Amanda. “Me,” he says, in answer to her question. “I want Anna on my team, and you’d be lucky to have her.”

  She flushes and quickly turns back around, but not before shooting me another dagger. What have I ever done to her?

  More names are called. More names that are NOT mine. St. Clair tries to get my attention, but I pretend I don’t notice. I can’t bear to look at him. I’m too humiliated. Soon the selection is down to me, Rashmi, and a skinny dude who, for whatever reason, is called Cheeseburger. Cheeseburger is always wearing this expression of surprise, like someone’s just called his name, and he can’t figure out where the voice is coming from.

  “Rashmi,” Nicole says without hesitation.

  My heart sinks. Now it’s between me and someone named Cheeseburger. I focus my attention down on my desk, at the picture of me that Josh drew earlier today in history. I’m dressed like a medieval peasant (we’re studying the Black Plague), and I have a fierce scowl and a dead rat dangling from one hand.

  Amanda whispers into Steve’s ear. I feel her smirking at me, and my face burns.

  Steve clears his throat. “Cheeseburger.”

  chapter eleven

  You owe me five bucks,” I say.

/>   Rashmi smiles. “I’ll buy your movie ticket.”

  At least we’re on the same team. Nicole divided up Nate’s list, so Rashmi and I went out on our own. The week shouldn’t be too bad. Because of Rashmi, I’ll actually earn class credit. She let me take some of the pictures—a statue of some guy named Budé and a group of kids playing football in the street—even though she was the one who found both items.

  “I miss football.” Meredith pouts as we tell her our story. Even her springy curls look limp and sad tonight.

  A breeze whips down the broad avenue, and we hold our jackets tight and shiver. A dusting of brown leaves crunches underneath our feet as Paris hovers on the edge of autumn. “Isn’t there some league you can join or something?” Josh asks, putting his arm around Rashmi. She burrows into him. “I see people playing around here all the time.”

  “Boo!” A familiar disheveled head pops between Mer and me, and we jump like startled cats.

  “Jeez,” Mer says. “Give me a heart attack.What are you doing here?”

  “It Happened One Night,” St. Clair says. “Le Champo, right?”

  “Don’t you have plans with Ellie?” Rashmi asks.

  “Am I not invited?” He wedges his way between Meredith and me.

  “Of course you’re invited,” Mer says. “We just assumed you’d be busy.”

  “You’re always busy,” Rashmi says.

  “I’m not always busy.”

  “You are,” she says. “And you know what’s weird? Mer’s the only one who’s even seen Ellen this year. Is she too good for us now?”

  “Aw, get off it. Not this again.”

  She shrugs. “I’m just saying.”

  St. Clair shakes his head, but it doesn’t escape our notice that he doesn’t deny it. Ellie may be friendly enough in person, but it’s clear she no longer needs her SOAP friends. Even I can see that.

  “What do you guys even do every night?” The words slip out before I can stop them.

  “It,” Rashmi says. “They do it. He’s ditching us to screw.”

  St. Clair blushes. “You know, Rash, you’re as crude as those stupid juniors on my floor. Dave what’s-his-name and Mike Reynard. God, they’re arses.”

  Mike Reynard is Dave-from-French-and-history’s best friend. I didn’t know they lived next to him.

  “Watch it, St. Clair,” Josh says.There’s an edge in his normally relaxed demeanor.

  Rashmi whips into St. Clair’s face. “Are you calling me an ass?”

  “No, but if you don’t back off, I bloody might.”

  Their bodies are tense, like they’re about to bash antlers in a nature documentary. Josh tries to pull Rashmi back, but she shakes him away. “God, St. Clair, you can’t be all chummy during the day and blow us off every night!You can’t come back whenever you feel like it and pretend like everything’s fine.”

  Mer tries to cut them off. “Hey, hey, hey—”

  “Everything is fine! What the hell is wrong with you?”

  “HEY!” Mer uses her considerable height and strength to force her way between them.To my surprise, she begins pleading with Rashmi. “I know you miss Ellie. I know she was your best friend, and it stinks that she’s moved on, but you still have us. And St. Clair . . . she’s right. It hurts not to see you anymore. I mean, away from school.” She sounds like she’s about to cry. “We used to be so close.”

  Josh puts his arm around her, and she hugs him tightly. He glares at St. Clair through her curls. This is your fault. Fix it.

  St. Clair deflates. “Yeah. Okay.You’re right.”

  It’s not quite an apology, but Rashmi nods. Mer exhales in relief. Josh delicately pries her off and moves beside his girlfriend again. We tread in awkward silence. So Rashmi and Ellie used to be best friends. It’s hard enough being temporarily separated from Bridge, but I can’t imagine how awful it would be if she ditched me completely. I feel guilty. No wonder Rashmi’s bitter.

  “Sorry, Anna,” St. Clair says after another muted block. “I know you were excited about the film.”

  “It’s okay. It’s not my business. My friends fight, too. I mean . . . my friends back home. Not that you guys aren’t my friends. I’m just saying . . . all friends fight.”

  Argh. How distressing.

  Gloom cloaks us like a thick fog. We resume silence, and my thoughts circle around. I wish Bridge were here. I wish St. Clair wasn’t with Ellie, and Ellie hadn’t hurt Rashmi, and Rashmi were more like Bridge. I wish Bridge were here.

  “Hey,” Josh says. “You. Check it out.”

  And then the darkness gives way to white neon. An Art Deco font, burning into the night, announces our arrival at the CINEMA LE CHAMPO. The letters dwarf me. Cinema. Has there ever been a more beautiful word? My heart soars as we pass the colorful film posters and walk through the gleaming glass doors. The lobby is smaller than what I’m used to, and though it’s missing the tang of artificially buttered popcorn, there’s something in the air I recognize, something both musty and comforting.

  True to her word, Rashmi pays for my ticket. I take the opportunity to slip out a scrap of paper and a pen that I’d hidden in my jacket for this very purpose. Mer is next in line, and I transcribe her speech phonetically.

  Oon ploss see voo play.

  St. Clair leans over my shoulder and whispers. “You’ve spelled it wrong.”

  My head jerks up in embarrassment, but he’s smiling. I drop my face, so that my hair shields my cheeks. They blush more for his smile than anything else.

  We follow blue rope lights down the aisle of the theater. I wonder if they’re blue everywhere here, rather than the golden glow of American cinemas. My heart beats faster. Everything else is the same.

  Same seats. Same screen. Same walls.

  For the first time in Paris, I feel at home.

  I smile at my friends, but Mer and Rashmi and Josh are distracted, arguing about something that happened over dinner. St. Clair sees me and smiles back. “Good?”

  I nod. He looks pleased and ducks into the row after me. I always sit four rows up from the center, and we have perfect seats tonight. The chairs are classic red. The movie begins, and the title screen flashes up. “Ugh, we have to sit through the credits?” Rashmi asks. They roll first, like in all old films.

  I read them happily. I love credits. I love everything about movies.

  The theater is dark except for the flicker of blacks and whites and grays on-screen. Clark Gable pretends to sleep and places his hand in the center of an empty bus seat. After a moment of irritation, Claudette Colbert gingerly plucks it aside and sits down. Gable smiles to himself, and St. Clair laughs.

  It’s odd, but I keep finding myself distracted. By the white of his teeth through the darkness. By a wavy bit of his hair that sticks straight out to the side. By the soft aroma of his laundry detergent. He nudges me to silently offer the armrest, but I decline and he takes it. His arm is close to mine, slightly elevated. I glance at his hands. Mine are tiny compared to his large, knuckly boy hands.

  And, suddenly, I want to touch him.

  Not a push, or a shove, or even a friendly hug. I want to feel the creases in his skin, connect his freckles with invisible lines, brush my fingers across the inside of his wrist. He shifts. I have the strangest feeling that he’s as aware of me as I am of him. I can’t concentrate. The characters on the screen are squabbling, but for the life of me, I don’t know what about. How long have I not been paying attention?

  St. Clair coughs and shifts again. His leg brushes against mine. It stays there. I’m paralyzed. I should move it; it feels too unnatural. How can he not notice his leg is touching my leg? From the corner of my eye, I see the profile of his chin and nose, and—oh, dear God—the curve of his lips.

  There. He glanced at me. I know he did.

  I bore my eyes into the screen, trying my best to prove that I am Really Interested in this movie. St. Clair stiffens but doesn’t move his leg. Is he holding his breath? I think he is. I’m holding mi
ne. I exhale and cringe—it’s so loud and unnatural.

  Again. Another glance. This time I turn, automatically, just as he’s turning away. It’s a dance, and now there’s a feeling in the air like one of us should say something. Focus, Anna. Focus. “Do you like it?” I whisper.

  He pauses. “The film?”

  I’m thankful the shadows hide my blush.

  “I like it very much,” he says.

  I risk a glance, and St. Clair stares back. Deeply. He has not looked at me like this before. I turn away first, then feel him turn a few beats later.

  I know he is smiling, and my heart races.

  chapter twelve

  To: Anna Oliphant

  From: James Ashley

  Subject: Gentle Reminder

  Hello, honey. It’s been a while since we’ve spoken. Have you checked your voice mail? I’ve called several times, but I assume you’re busy exploring Paree. Well, this is just a gentle reminder to call your dear old dad and tell him how your studies are going. Have you mastered French yet? Tasted foie gras? What exciting museums have you visited? Speaking of exciting, I’m sure you’ve heard the good news. The Incident debuted at number one on the NY Times! Looks like I’ve still got the magic touch. I’m leaving for a southeastern tour next week, so I’ll see your brother soon and give him your best. Keep laser-focused on school, and I’ll see YOU at Christmas.

  Josh leans his lanky body over my shoulder and peers at my laptop. “Is it just me, or is that ‘YOU’ sort of threatening?”

  “No. It’s not just YOU,” I say.

  “I thought your dad was a writer. What’s with the ‘laser-focused’ ‘gentle reminder’ shit?”

  “My father is fluent in cliché. Obviously, you’ve never read one of his novels.” I pause. “I can’t believe he has the nerve to say he’ll ‘give Seany my best.’”

  Josh shakes his head in disgust. My friends and I are spending the weekend in the lounge because it’s raining again. No one ever mentions this, but it turns out Paris is as drizzly as London. According to St. Clair, that is, our only absent member. He went to some photography show at Ellie’s school. Actually, he was supposed to be back by now.

 
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STEPHANIE PERKINS SERIES:

Anna and the French Kiss

 

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