Sandals reached into his bag and gave me a piece of raw broccoli wrapped in basil.
Karisma, “What are you going to do with that?”
Me, “Eat it.”
A student next to me turned to watch as I bit off the head. My mouth was filled with French soil, sunshine and God. Why was the food so delicious? It’s not just how the French cook, it’s their food on a cellular level. The flavor is alive, as if fresh out of Genesis. I have never tasted anything like it.
Moments before, Sandals informed Portland and I that we were both married in our past for the same length of time: One year and four months. How fated.
I asked him, “How long ago was the divorce?”
He said, “November.”
I exhaled, “That’s recent. You shouldn’t date for a year, at least that’s what they say.”
He was silent.
Later I texted him, teasing for a flirtation or asking what dress to wear.
He wrote back, “Thinking about divorce.”
I wrote, “Save it for Portland. You are in France with pretty girls and me.”
He wrote back, “Trying.”
Dear God, I was losing him.
I liked Portland, a lot. When I stood next to him, I could feel my skin rub against the air and heat flush my cheeks and inner thighs.
Something else was happening around me, I was noticing how God damn beautiful everyone was in Cannes. The waiters, the security guards, the men on the bus, the women serving coffee . . . they looked healthy, happy and weren’t afraid to look at me.
I have been forced to articulate why I prefer the way European men look at me as opposed to the way American men do:
When an American man looks at you, he puts emphasis on your parts; your ass, your tits, your legs. They also make it a performance in a way, looking at you so others can see they are looking at you. American men like to posture, fluff their feathers and show how puffy their cocks can get.
When European men look at you, they look at your eyes. They hold your gaze. You smile, look down, blush and then see they are still looking at you, unashamed and frozen in time. Its a private moment, between you and him.
I have never felt so beautiful in my life.
Now, there is also a difference between American and European women. American women thrive on making you uncomfortable if you are getting male attention. They get competitive, catty and often start to over-perform.
European women are kind, they smile, deliver flirtatious messages from their male friends, kiss your cheek and laugh. There isn’t the same tension or sexual competition. They are happier and more attractive.
Somewhere, on the day between arriving and the festival, my libido exploded. I really don’t know how it happened or why it happened, I don’t consider myself all that physically attractive. Somehow, Cannes locked into my sexuality and accelerated my identity as a woman.
Obviously, I was a sexual person before, but filled with neurosis and diagnosis. Insecurities about my posture and hair completely vanish. And . . . I . . . was . . . realized.
A man passed by to look at me, Ralph said, “You have some kind of primal thing going on.”
I raised my eyebrow and smiled.
“I know. It is weird.”
After the students were assigned jobs and were sent off on their way to work the festival, my co-workers and I stopped at a bar for a drink.
It was a nice bar with a happy hour. Some things are universal.
Martinis were served in large glasses with fresh lemon and, was it, peppermint leaves?
The ice gave the liquor body, and we all relaxed in the late afternoon knowing the bulk of our responsibilities for the festival were now done.
I was taking pictures of an older gentleman across the bar. Something about the silver in his wavy hair, the cigarette smoke spilling out of his nostrils like a steamboat, the lines on his face . . . he was interesting. I was curious if I could capture him on the camera Jerry loaned me.
I remember the mood being light, and Ralph started in about a relationship that tore him apart the year before. We listened and I thought how nice it was to hear a man talk about being hurt by a relationship, as opposed to the stone walled apathy of my last two boyfriends.
My camera lens returned to the table across the bar, with the middle-aged gentleman and his cigarette. A young man, with black wavy hair joined him. He had a round forehead, Mediterranean cocoa skin and a wrist tattoo that said, ‘To Live and To Love New York’. I started taking pictures of him and the cigarette smoke rising off his arms and table like fog.
Karisma saw my photos of him and said, “I just want to run my fingers through that hair.”
I exhaled an “I know”.
Portland chimed into the conversation describing his ex-wife. They were living in an old house where the embers from the fireplace escaped the steel and stone and caught hold of wood. They were asleep, his wife woke him up and they carried their two dogs (on his back) out of the burning house.
He choked up, “She saved my life.”
. . . shit.
Tears welled up and Ralph put his hand on Portland’s back as I saw him try to quietly swallow a large, but quickly fragmenting, sob.
I pulled over the waitress and asked for a shot of whiskey to be sent over to that end of the table.
After Portland started his story about the ex-wife and the fire, I tossed a glance over to smoking table and my eyes collided with the young man’s across the bar once, then twice.
Jesus Christ, Portland was a mess. An attractive mess.
My first reaction was to step away entirely. The second wave of thought was, you can’t hurt him.
How do I not hurt him?
Reinforce his ego. Make him laugh. Give him attention.
The young man with the New York tattoo stood up and over Ralph, made a gesture with his hand and lips, “Leaving but coming back. You will be there?”
I gave a quick nod and smile. Jesus, no one notice. NO ONE NOTICE!
Karisma stopped and said, “WHAT?”
She turned her head between me and the table, “What just happened?”
Portland stopped talking to take in a breath or two.
I shook my head and tried to wipe the grin off my mouth, but it was like snapping rubber bands.
Everyone turned their attention to me.
Karisma, “Did you just-”
Me, “He is coming back, he just wanted to make sure I will be here.”
I took a sip and felt the ice cubes tap my upper lip and quickly glanced over to Portland, who was looking down. His moment shouldn’t have been interrupted, and by me, of all people, flirting with another guy.
Portland looked to Karisma, “You wanna make out.”
I texted him, “Come on, I like you.”
Portland texted back, “He was hot.”
I texted, “I just wanted to feel pretty while you were talking about this bitch who broke your heart.”
I am not happy with my wording here, but my adrenaline and troubleshooting glands were pumping fast, and that’s when I get most clumsy.
The waitress brought his shot and Portland thanked someone else for it. I said, “I ordered it for you. You’re welcome.”
He chuckled a self-conscious “Thank You” and swallowed it. She made it a double. Good.
At this point, I decide to quickly talk about Abe and how he dumped me before a wedding, before we were supposed to move in together and after buying me a $100 dress.
People tossed up words of consolation, not that I was looking for that.
Portland said, “You deserve more than $100 dress.”
It was a nice thing to say, but somehow it made me feel poor.
I just wanted to connect with them. I felt like an asshole. New York Tattoo didn’t know he picked the worst time possible to hit on me, and my natural instinct was to get swept up by it.
The silver-haired gentleman left his table and came by to offer a nod and a smile. My cohorts laughed. The performance was happening to me, I wasn’t making it happen. Everything was circumstantial, and it was so easy to be escorted into the thick, delicious musk of it.
During the second round, NY Tattoo came back.
The alcohol was smudging the windows and I was obsessed with making Karisma laugh. It wasn’t hard to make her cry while giggling, and so I always felt disappointed if I didn’t get her to that point where one tear drop fell down the bend of her nose.
So when I saw the young man with wavy black hair come back, I turned to Karisma and said, “Watch this.”
I pushed my chair out into the aisle, away from the table, right as my smoking, wavy haired stranger approached.
He introduced himself, took my hand but didn’t shake it.
He asked if I was here for the festival. I said I was.
He asked to take me out for drinks. I agreed.
He gave me his number. I gave him mine.
Then, he took my hand again, held it and smiled before leaving the restaurant again.
Sandals said, “What’s his name?”
I pulled out the notepad where he wrote his name to check. Everyone laughed.
I read aloud, “Gade”.
Yeah . . . if I were Portland, I wouldn’t want to have anything more to do with me.
The way events unfolded felt like improvisation in its greatest and most graceful form. I wasn’t really trying to show off, though part of that was the comedy. It just was so easy to make a table of people laugh and feel beautiful all in the same moment. That doesn’t happen often, at least not for me. The combination was surprisingly intoxicating.
It was a broccoli wrapped in basil.
Later that night, my phone buzzed with texts from Gade. My thoughts went from building a slow romance with Portland, to having dirty sex in a cobblestone alley way with Gade.
I wanted both.
I knew it would be impossible to keep a plate and a bowl spinning opposite each other, but I was going to try and wait to see what fell and smashed first.
Two days later, I sat next to Portland and said, “What if I asked you to have one debaucherous evening with me? After Cannes, somewhere else.”
He bent down to straighten his boot laces, blushing.
Portland, “I am flattered.”
Me, “That means no.”
Portland, “I think we work . . . better as friends.”
My heart pinched. Ow.
Me, “I am too much. If I were a man, I wouldn’t want to get involved with me either.”
Portland, “It’s not that you are too much, it’s just that you are too much for me right now.”
Me, “I know.”
I really should have stopped myself here, but I didn’t want him to feel like he was Gade.
He was special, the kiss was perfect, he was seemingly perfect and most definitely vulnerable.
My careless flirtation somehow stole gold from our moment, and I wanted him to know that just because my attention was redirected, it didn’t mean that he (or the potential we) was worth any less.
Me, “You are the kind of man I could fall in love with.”
He looked down, uncomfortably, smiled a little and said, “ . . . yeah . . .”
Despite the fact that I was throwing all my cards on the table with a slap of the hand, nothing changed the fact that, in his shoes, I would have walked away too.