I'm still living with them. I did find a nice apartment that I could rent, just on the outskirts of the city, but they suddenly insisted that I stay with them. The rent's cheaper with them, they said. I could help with the bills. So I said yes. I still have to sleep on a sofa, but it's one that folds out into a bed, so I'm happy. I don't exactly have my own room, but after living on my own for three years I'm grateful for the company.
"Rome ees so beautiful," Sophie whines. "Well, I have never been there but I am sure eet ees."
"Ah, but Alicante we know well. Why don't we go back to that nice hotel we saw last year?"
"Can I interrupt?" I ask. They look at me quizzically. "Why have left it so late? It's nearly August."
"We're planning this for October," Tobais says. "It's cheaper, and less tourists about. Less hot as well." It makes sense, so I drop the matter. "Do you want some say, John? Seeing as you're coming this year?"
"No, no, I'll go wherever."
"Ok then. Alicante."
* * *
Sophie wins in the end. We're going to Rome, twentieth of October to the thirty-first. Staying in a nice hotel whose name always escapes me. But this month we're going to Sophie's dead parent's cottage just outside of Menton, and hopefully spending the whole month there. I briefly wondered how they could keep the shop running without them, but the thought quickly floated away.
It's the night before we leave for the cottage. We're sitting on the banks of the Seine, on the Paris Plage. It's like a riverside beach – they have large boxes full of sand and water fountains, and various entertainers. I saw a genuine Paris mime! And little kids running through the fountains, buskers playing steel drums… the atmosphere is brilliant. Once a week we come down here to meet with Tobais and Sophie's friends. They're a strange bunch. Mia, very tall and dark-haired, didn't take to me at all at first, but now she can't keep herself away. George is painfully English, with his prematurely grey hair, moustache and brown waistcoat he wears day in, day out. He brings out a black one for special occasions. Jean is a bit like me, looks-wise, but blonde. He's a journalist and is very jokey, and a bit of a womaniser. He likes to pick up foreign girls during the tourist season. And Yves is very quiet, very reserved. He doesn't say much and kind of blends into the background. He's very short and pale, with grey hair.
We're all sitting in a circle, listening to some steel drummers a little away from us.
"You'll adore the cottage," George pipes up suddenly. "Middle of nowhere, simply spiffing views." I try not to laugh at his use of the quaint English phrase. "Ah yes, I remember when you took me there. Does it still have the pool?"
"Ssh!" Sophie hushes him. "We haven't told him anything about it; it's supposed to be a surprise."
"Terribly sorry." George gets out a pipe and lights it up. I can't bear it; I have to get away before I laugh and offend him. "Anyone want an ice cream?" I ask, standing up. They all ask for a vanilla cone, so I slope off to the nearest ice cream stand. It's closed though, but I know that if I cut across the gardens outside the Louvre, there's a supermarket that could still be open.
It's dusk and the gardens look brilliant. Tourists are milling all over the place, some complaining of the heat. I'm sweating myself. I dip my wrists in the fountain ahead of me, and as I look up I see an ice cream stand not twenty yards away. A very pretty woman is buying a strawberry cone. She's got long dark hair that reaches the small of her back, and her skirt is knee-length. She has great legs… she turns round and her hair swishes like a black curtain. I look at the face and start sweating even more.
I should have guessed she might come looking for me.
* * *
"Rosa? In the gardens? Are you quite sure?" George asks, after I've handed out the ice creams and told them about her.
"Are you planning to talk to her?" This from Tobais.
"Did she see you?" Mia asks.
"I don't know." We sit in silence, licking our melting ice creams.
"I am thinking you should," Jean pipes up.
"Were you not listening to the whole story?"
"Oui… but she sounds… hot, man. Hot."
"Typical you… wait. Jean, I have an idea. Come with me."
* * *
We creep across the gardens. I strain my eyes and crane my neck, but I can't see her. Jean keeps asking me what my plan is, but I can't tell him until we see her. Yes, yes! There she is, eating her damned ice cream, licking it like it's the last one on earth. "There," I grab Jean's arm and point.
"Ah… ees zat Rosa?" he pants.
"Yep. What do you think of her?"
"I am thinking 'ow could you ever dump her?!"
"Leave that for a minute. Now… would you ever go out with her?"
"Just answer the question, Jean," I demand irritably.
"Oui, oui! Ah oui…" He's practically drooling. "So wat ees your plan?"
"Ok… you know I'm going away for the month?"
"Oui." He's watching her like a hawk.
"Well, chat her up. Seduce her. Keep her for a month. And then," I add, my eyes gleaming. "Hurt her so badly she has to go back to England." He looks stunned, and I'm thinking it's not because of the sheer brilliance of my plan.
"Zat is mean."
"Well, ok, forget that last bit. But can you keep her busy while I'm away? So she can't spoil my holiday?"
"Done and done again!" he says, strutting up to her. I pick up a newspaper conveniently left on a nearby bench and hide my face behind it. I can hear him now… "…Aah, you are zee most bootiful woman in zees park." I sigh, annoyed, but hoping at the same time she'll fall for it.
"Excusez-moi, monsieur, cet est mon journal que vous lisez!" an angry French man growls.
"Donnez-moi mon journal, vous merde!" I have no idea what he is saying, but it's probably something to do with the paper. "Jean!" I call. He looks over at me, and Rosa does too. Oops! I hide behind the paper again, which enrages the French guy. He attempts to grab the paper off me, and thankfully Jean comes to rescue me.
"Quel est le problème?" he asks.
"Cette merde a volé mon journal. Je voudrais qu'elle me soit retournée s'il pas, je le poinçonnerai jusqu'à ce qu'il se trouve sans connaissance!" Jean looks at me worriedly.
"Ee says: this shit has stolen my newspaper. Ee would like eet to be returned to him. If you does not, ee will punch you until you lie unconscious." I give the guy his newspaper back, and he practically snatches it off me. "Merci, baiseur," he spits as he walks off.
"Ee says: thanks, fucker."
"Go back to your bitch, Jean." Rosa walks up to us, her mouth open, a smear of ice cream left on her tongue.
"John? Jean, do you know John?" This was making my head hurt.
"Yes, he does," I reply for him. Here comes the showdown. "Rosa."
"Well, this has been fun but I have to go! Jean –" I whisk him away for a second. "Don't tell her anything about me and stick with the plan!" I run off, leaving Jean with the woman of his dreams.