Leaving for Paris

I went to see James in New York before I left. When I wrote him I was leaving for Paris, he was the only one who didn’t ask why.

I wore a summer dress and cowboy boots, the way I’d used to, back in high school.

I took the train to the city and it rained the whole way. Trains could be time machines for me. I remembered when we were teenagers, how he would come over after class and we would lay in my bed and listen to the Doors or Dylan or anything else moody and rich with words.

And he would drag his finger along my arm slowly back and forth. Maybe I was naive, but I never even thought to kiss him, until that one day. His finger on the smooth skin of my inner arm and a low bass line making me drowsy. Rain against the window, just like on the train. Slowly almost asleep as his hand moved up, past some imaginary point, up to my shoulder and just under the sleeve of my dress.

I remember my eyes fluttering open just as he stopped. He was a good boy and he was going to stop if I was asleep. The weight of that crushed my chest.

Everything was so weighted back then. Everything had tension and longing. I took his hand and put it on my leg, just under my dress. It felt like I was jumping out of a plane. His fingers made figure eights slowly moving up as my heart raced and raced. Then he teased and traced the edge of my panties for what seemed like forever.

I opened my eyes again when I felt him move forward, move over me, and I saw his handsome face for a moment before I closed my eyes again and we kissed for the first time.

But that was high school and forever ago.

I had only ever been to his apartment in the city once, with a bunch of friends, after some gallery opening or something. I didn’t get to talk to him much, but I looked at his bookshelf. All those Beat poets and a surprising number of books about Buddhism.

Walking up the stairs alone I wondered what awaited me. It was stupid to think he would kiss me. Or was it stupid to think we could be alone in a room together and not touch each other?

He opened the door and I saw the adult version of the boy I fell in love with once. Settled into his skin. Better hair. Soft jeans and a black t-shirt. Frye boots and a crooked smile. His hug in the doorway filling me with warmth and the smell of him, old and new, clean clothes and soap and a little sweat and some hint of cologne. Absent was the smell of smoke and I wasn’t sure if I missed it or not.

His apartment reminded me of all the things I loved about New York. The place was painfully small. A third floor walk up studio in Harlem. The paint was 20 layers thick on the walls and in the spots where it chipped and cracked you could see the whites and light blues and pale greens of bygone eras, like the rings of a tree.

His bookshelf was bigger than last time, with annexes on the floor around it, neat piles of Dostoevsky and political essays. The two windows faced the busy intersection of three streets and it was picturesque and cosmopolitan.

He made us coffee in a little metal pot on his stove.

“I’ve never been to Paris,” he said, as we sat on either side of the couch version of his folded up futon.

I was surprised, since I knew he’d been all over Europe at one point in his mid twenties, when that sort of thing is possible.

“I went to Europe broke and while I was fine doing that in Prague and Budapest and all through Italy, I just couldn’t bear going to Paris and not being able to eat and shop and luxuriate.”

That was James.

I explained how I sold off my company and I figured out how to make it work and I already had a place to live and a job and I knew people and I’d re-learned French.

He nodded and looked down at his coffee. I wondered if he was sad he couldn’t do the same. He didn’t look at me like I was stupid or childish the way my sisters did and my best friend had. He didn’t pat me on the knee and tell me I would get over it.

“On the train I remembered lying in my bed with you and your fingers on my arm,” I said, finishing the coffee.

The coffee was good. I don’t know why it surprised me, but maybe I was just used to shitty coffee. It had a tartness and a thickness to it. It made my tongue tingle.

I put the cup down on one of the piles of books near the futon.

“Is it because of a man?” he asked with a little apology in his eyes.

I shook my head, no.

“A woman?”

No.

“Good,” he said and finished his coffee.

And then there was high school weight in the air and it made me smile.

“You and me on my bed, listening to the Doors,” I said, with a laugh.

“Right, playing with the edge of your underwear for an hour while we worked up the courage to kiss each other,” he laughed. 

His face had laugh lines. I wondered if he could see mine.

I sat back and looked at the cracking ceiling paint. I was leaving for Paris in a few days. I was sitting on James’ futon and he was looking at me in that way. I felt powerful and beautiful and brave.

“Good thing we’re old now and don’t have to wait to kiss,” I said and crawled over to him.

Then I was in his arms, not kissing, but he was holding me. He looked sad.

“You’ve always been leaving for Paris,” he said.

It was stupid and cliche. What kind of thing was that to say? It was a line from a movie or something. Ridiculous. But I was crying.

“And you’re always taking too long to kiss me,” I said, holding him tighter, but not looking him in the eyes.

“Then what? Play with your underwear for an hour?” he said with a sad little laugh.

I pushed him away and laid back on the cushion and looked up at him. It was stupid to come to his place. Maybe I needed to see the only thing I’d miss.

“You could come and visit me,” I whispered.

He looked very hurt.

I looked away and squirmed on the folded up futon. I squirmed and wormed until my panties were off and I laid there in my thin dress and my boots in James’ apartment.

“You can’t play with them now. You just have to go for it, Jimmy,” I said, my heart no longer racing because the bravery had taken seed.

It was like I could see the lust overcome the sadness. The flicker of a fight and then the resignation and then finally the need. And then stubble on my thighs and my hands in his hair and reality mixing with memories and fuck he got much better at it in fifteen years.

We fucked on his folded up futon with his jeans around his ankles and my dress hiked up, fast and wild, like my father was going to be home any minute and he was rough the way I remembered, but with some new intensity and skill. I wondered what he thought of me, how I pushed back at his every thrust and kissed him while he came and how I’d grown into my body and knew how to take what I wanted.

That was the silly part about seeing an old lover. Wanting to know they think you’ve become better. Wanting them to know in that moment of primal action that you’ve grown up, that you are a better person. It was stupid. It was true.

We took off our clothes after we both came and he got us whiskey and we laid in the futon, proper.

And his fingered made lazy figure eights on my skin and I laughed and kissed him and he whispered into my belly that he was proud of me for moving to Paris and he couldn’t miss me anymore than he already did and my James was all blurry again and I kissed him again.

He asked me to stay the night, but I had to be back home. I had to finish things and ship things across the ocean and ready my new life. He hugged me so hard it hurt and I thought he arms might become too addictive to ever leave again, but then I was at the door and he was sniffling.

“Is this where I ask you to come with me?” I said with a sigh.

“New York has always been my Paris,” he shrugged.

“You can still come and visit,” I said, wondering how hopeful I sounded.

He kissed my forehead. I kissed his lips. We stood there for too long and then we both took a deep breath and said goodbye.

Goodbye Jimmy.

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