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She had sat there, in that very chair. It was a summer afternoon. We just gazed at whatever, half nervous ... half bored.
I spoke in a desperately playful tone, "Whatever happened? We used to be able to talk to each other."
She glanced at me.
"It's really hard to talk to you when I know you're in love with me, but I don't love you."
She didn't actually say it. She didn't need to. It was written all over her. Her eyes, lips, nose ... everything but her mouth spoke the words.
I was now staring in the window of the cafe ... at the table ... at the chair ... at memories long past. Memories of the only girl I ever really cared about.
I remember it well. We were both spending junior year abroad here in France. We were just good friends, but here I fell in love with her. It was terrible, the whole thing. If there was a good memory I had, it was of -
"Alex? C'est tu? Alex!"
I whirled and it all came back in vivid detail. That French student next door, Fran!ois.
I remember the crazy tour of Paris he took me on. Hanging off the rail of le Tour l'Eiffel, running through the halls of le Louvre. We went to une petite cafe where he hit on a waitress, then pelted her with croissants when she eschewed. We mixed coffee and wine and who knows what and completely ran amuck. Ah, the good old days.
Of course, it wasn't always fun and games. Fran!ois didn't believe in owning anything and felt free to share (steal) my money, my food, my girlfriends, my clothes, and an occasional bag of gourmet coffee beans, which I guess isn't such a crime in Paris. I really didn't mind too much, and Fran!ois was really casual about that sort of thing.
I remember that she and Fran!ois got along pretty well. Fran!ois was a little wild for her at times, but we all knew that deep down, Fran!ois had a heart of pure gourmet coffee. What she liked best about Fran!ois was his painting. She thought the true Fran!ois was constantly quietly revealed to us in his skilled brush strokes. I agree. In fact, I've never seen any amateur paint with the zeal Fran!ois did, especially after several cups of coffee.
She and Fran!ois had dated early on, and she pegged him as a Parisian clich". They became good friends later, and I wonder if in the end she could talk to him more easily than to me. That sort of hurt. I, of course, couldn't hold anything against them. The problem was me. I just wish that you could turn off your feelings for someone. It's weird; I really didn't want to love her, I just did. It sounds corny, maybe even silly, but ...
"Alex. C'est moi! Fran!ois! Tu ne me souviens pas? Buddy!"
He invited me to lunch and I said it was the least he could do for all the money he owed me. We drank coffee, played with the croissants, laughed at awful jokes, and contemplated the various uses and pelting power of different cheeses. It was almost, but not quite, like old times.
"Now, I think we've got you licked in cheddar. We, you know, like, have these, you know, vats, in like, Michigan, where we have all the Valley people, er ... sort of, fermenting. And - "
"How is she?" Fran!ois interrupted. I knew exactly which she he meant, of course.
"Tu sais. Her."
"Oui, how is she?"
I pretended to be very involved in the Brownian motion occurring within my coffee cup.
"Oh, er ... she ... - I mean, uh, her? I mean, yeah, she's -"
I swirled the cup. The coffee swirled, around and -
"Right. That is nice to hear. I have been thinking of her. And you."
I ripped a croissant. He went on.
"She was a nice girl. Tres interesant. I miss her."
I drowned the croissant in coffee.
"What is she doing now?"
I took a big bite and munched. Slosh, slosh, slosh.
"Are you... feeling well?"
Munch. I had forgotten the simple pleasure of eating food from une petite cafe in France. The coffee-dampened croissant sloshed around in my mouth. I remembered one regular patron of the restaurant. He thought dipping croissants in coffee was about the rudest, most impudent thing you could do without getting arrested and/or causing major property damage. Fran!ois started dipping his croissants shortly afterward.
I sort of wished just then that I could be home. During the exchange, I had been homesick for a while. We really helped each other through it. She and me, I mean. Fran!ois helped, too. He helped a lot. I wonder what it would have been like without someone so willing to help. 1