"Uh, hi..." she starts.
"How are you? You look well."
"I am." Silence. I know I should ask how she is, but I don't want to. Jean hovers in the background, not knowing whether to stick with the plan and interrupt or leave us to it. I glance over her shoulder towards him. "Jean," I say quietly, cocking my head towards the Seine. He wanders back to our friends, shaking his head. We're alone now, and the situation strikes me as… unusual. I'm in Paris, in the Louvre Gardens, facing a beautiful woman (whose neck I would gladly wring until her eyes pop out). The sun's setting in the background, tinting everything orange. A gentle breeze ruffles her long loose hair. If this were a film we'd set aside our differences and run into each other's arms, sobbing and saying sorry, amidst a symphony of theatrical violin music.
But this isn't a film, and I'm beginning to get very annoyed with the situation. I was having a laugh until she showed up. The ice cream I had earlier is swirling around in my stomach, and I hope her innards are in a similar situation.
We've been silent for a long time. I should say something.
"Cow." She looks at me, startled.
"You should be!" I take a step closer, invading her personal space. She pushes me back. I fancy she looks quite scared.
"John, John, John, stop it stop it stop it," she gabbles.
"So, why are you here? Came to look for me? Trying to win me back?"
"No… I came to visit my sister. She lives around here. I hoped I'd run into you… I admit it didn't seem likely, but I'm…" she trails off.
"Well, now you have, and now I'd like to push off." I start to take the path Jean took, but she grabs my arm and stops me.
"Can't we take a little walk first?"
Why did I say yes? I think as we stroll round the gardens. As we pass the fountains I wish I could jump in and drown myself, to save me this torture. Rosa's babbling away like a brook, saying how she's been and how her new job's awful and the kids don't respect her. She doesn't ask me anything, nor does she refer to The Incident With The Dolls.
Once she shuts up, I cut in and start boring her with information concerning my books. I boast about the piles of money I've made, and the friends I've met, and basically how I've prospered since we last spoke. I'm in the middle of describing my three bank accounts when she cuts me short.
"You've grown more conceited since then," she says quietly. I pause. I don't want to appear conceited; I want to make her feel small.
"What? OK, I admit that was a bit of an act, but all I said was true. Life is swell." I sit down on a nearby bench and talk to my shoes. "It's been better than swell. Since we split up, I've just had a ball."
"You can't fool me," she smiles, sitting beside me. "I know you too well, my little John the Bon-Bon." I squirm at the old nickname.
"Look, Rosa, I'm not quite ready to be 'John the Bon-Bon' yet. Are you forgetting that you fucked up my life? Let me tell you what really happened. After we split up, I didn't date for a year. I couldn't face it. I was miserable, and on anti-depressants. I was lucky that I had four wonderful friends who stood by me, and forced me to take my pills, and drove me to doctor appointments. They gave me an idea for a book, which I wrote in record time and which topped the bestseller list. After that, I finally got back on track. And for the past year I've been ok, there haven't been too many lapses. Occasionally I had nights where I sat in bed to sob and shake, wondering if you have more of those pissing dolls and whether you were still sticking pins in them! And occasionally I stay in for days at a time, just moping around. And occasionally I think I can't take it anymore, the endless cycles – cry, recover, move on, back-pedal, cry, recover, move on, back-pedal. And occasionally I think of meeting up with you and bashing your face in until it oozes with all manner of bodily fluids. But most of the time, I do actually get on with my life, but those little moments make it seem pointless! So there! That's how fantastic my life's been! And how about you?"
"Oh, you finally ask! You've been jabbering on and on about how YOU have hurt, YOUR life has stopped! Well, what about mine? I've been guilt-ridden for three years! I never meant to hurt you; it wasn't in a Master Plan or anything. I was just trying to control my life when it seemed to be spiraling out of control. You were the only solid thing I had to hold onto." She lifts her head and looks at me with wide, bleary eyes. Suddenly I do feel like I'm in a film, and any moment the world will turn black and the winds will howl, and we'll have to duck for cover under this flimsy metal bench. Or – "I just wanted a little bit of happiness. I wanted – oh, I wanted a lot of things. But I felt as though I was finally going somewhere, not just drifting. And then when you left me, I too had sleepless nights! I too needed good friends! I too had an absolutely frightful time! I was so scared; especially Ginger stopped speaking to me after I told her the voodoo thing was disgusting. Then she turned all my other friends against me, and I ended up receiving a letter telling me that I was a whore and a twat, and I should never contact them again! My mother died as a result of those voodoo injuries, not directly, but a few weeks later when I told her what happened she went into a state of shock and had a stroke. I had that on my hands, and I ended up attempting suicide. So don't you tell me how you've had an awful time because you're not the only fucking one!"
I know we've said too much. She didn't need to know how I managed to pick myself back up, and I didn't need to know that her mother's death was partly caused by me. We need to sort ourselves out, and one night's not going to do it.
"Follow me," I order monotonously. I stand up and walk briskly back to my friends, not looking back once in the five minute walk. When we reach them, they look up, surprised. Jean's eyes turn to saucers.
"Guys, this is Rosa." She's greeted with a stunned silence, and a glare from Mia. "Rosa, this is George, Jean, Tobais, Sophie and Mia. Tobias, Sophie – can we talk with you for a second?"
"What? What ees going on?" Sophie asks as soon as we're out of earshot.
"Can Rosa come with us?"
"To zee cottage? I do not see why not."
"Will there be enough room?"
"Plenty," she says, with a wink at Tobais.
"You don't have to stay for the whole month," I say to Rosa, realizing she has no idea what I'm on about. "Tobais and Sophie invited me on holiday with them for a month. To their cottage in Menton. You're welcome to come with us." She looks at me and Tobais and Sophie, thinking.
"I'll meet you back here in an hour," she mumbles and runs off. Sophie looks at me, while Tobais watches Rosa risk life and limb sprinting across the busy road.
"What happened?" he asks.
"Long, long story." I don't feel like going into the whole thing. "Let's just forget about her until she comes back."
"Oh, no," Sophie says as we make our way back to the others. "You tell us everyzing."