Desiree needed a cigarette and wanted a guy. Or maybe it was the other way around, she couldn’t decide. Not that it mattered as she slid along the sidewalks in Paris’s Latin Quarter like a scotch glass on a mahogany bar. Paris at night for most was an unkempt promise. For a student, the City of Light after dark was a dare.
“Give me a cigarette and a man,” she told her friend, Giselle. “Long, hot and smokin’ for both, please.”
Giselle’s laugh splashed into the night just as a young stranger stopped in their path. Touching her arm to tether her, he told Desiree he needed her phone number in ways they hadn’t yet invented words for.
Surprised by the outsider and leaning on Giselle she said, “Show me yours first,” in a voice spiked with more confidence than she contained.
He patted down his pockets for a pen. “Do you have any paper?” She shook her head and, after thinking a moment, he pulled out a pack of Marlboro Lights—her brand—and wrote his telephone number along the side of the cigarette.
“My name’s Nicolas,” he said, scuttling off, calling after her to call him.
Just like that she had everything she wanted and all that she needed but could not have both together. Unsure for now which tonic was the strongest, she placed (like a bet) the cigarette behind her ear.
Friday night in the Latin Quarter crashed around her like a tipped tray of drinks. Laughter burst about Giselle and Desiree like champagne bubbles, headlights washed over them like spilled beer. The bars she sloshed into and out of were awash in conversation while various friends poured in and mixed like cocktails before evaporating. Their roar rose like waves of volume or the music drowning her like the cacophony of drinks blinding her while the moon floated above them like an ice cube that wouldn’t melt for hours as she tumbled deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, from bar to bar, arm to arm and hand to hand, man to man like the half pints of panaché she clutched desperately with Giselle there like a coaster, absorbing Desiree’s excesses and keeping her reputation from becoming stained.
Then, in an instant, the evening dissipated like foam from a pint of Guinness. The blue light of a sun waiting to rise waded through the streets and Desiree found herself abandoned like a purse on a chair she didn’t know where, with a drink she didn’t recognize and friends she didn’t have.
“Giselle,” she gasped as if coming up for air and reaching for her friend there beside her, where she’d been all the time.
The girls apologized their goodbyes to the dregs that remained and trickled out the door like the leaking shadows seeping through the crack of dawn. Alone together on a bench below in the Metro tunnels, Carole took stock of what she had not lost. Bag—check. Coat—check. The cigarette and the number on it were a loss she learned, fingering behind her ear where she’d tucked it.
She sighed and slumped a little deeper, then saw the cigarette with the number hanging before her eyes, pinched between the tips of Giselle’s fingers.
“You dropped it at the second place we went to.”
Too drunk to lie down, she lit the cigarette and gave it to Giselle.
Sometimes it just takes a sunrise to show you what you really want and all you really need.