A Friend in Paris by Jennie Goutet
Friendship between a talented young artist and her handsome French neighbor is a promising start—until it’s not enough.
April promised her dying father she would study painting in Paris, but friends are few, her budget is tight, and her landlord increasingly won’t take “no” for an answer. Then she meets Victor.
Victor is as chivalrous as he is wealthy, and if it weren’t for him, April would have already left the City of Light behind. Too bad Victor still has eyes for his ex-girlfriend, who is now back on the scene and wants to get married.
Although April and Victor swore to remain just friends, magical Paris seems to weave a different spell. The more their connection deepens, the more it becomes difficult to keep a proper distance. Or to remember why they should.
Penelope peeked into the hallway. “We’re about to play poker. Who wants in?”
“Me,” April said. “But I need a refresher for the rules. It’s not for money, right?”
“Nope, just for chips. Hey, Victor,” Penelope said, “Are you able to take April back to your grandmother’s apartment tonight after you bring Margaux home? She probably won’t ask for help, but we’re afraid Lucas is following her, and we want to make sure she doesn’t get stalked.”
“Sure.” Victor turned to her in consternation. “Another thing you’re not telling me, April. Please tell me these things.”
A flash of anger came over April, and she replied without thinking. “Don’t expect me to tell you everything. It’s not like I’m your girlfriend. I don’t owe you explanations, or details, or anything.”
“Er…let me see how the game is going.” Penelope turned, whisking away a smile.
“What are you talking about, April. We’re friends. Friends talk.”
“Victor,” April hissed. “It’s like you expect things from me you don’t even expect of your own fiancée. You want me to come to you for help and tell you everything. But you don’t even know what Margaux was doing that whole year in Monaco. You don’t know what brought her back or…or whether the baby is even yours.” There. I said it. April’s pulse pounded in her temple.
“Victor doesn’t ask me these things, because he already knows the answer.” Margaux’s cool voice came from where the living room joined the hallway. “And, since he is satisfied, I don’t see what business it is of yours.” Margaux managed to communicate all her disdain in two sentences.
April’s face was crimson. She could feel the heat of shame emanating from her. She’d let everyone know how she felt about Victor as plain as if she’d announced she was in love with him at the dinner table. It’s not like I’m your girlfriend. And what was even worse was that she was completely in the wrong attempting to sow seeds of doubt. She was not the type of person to try to break people up. She was not “the other woman”. It was not her style. If a man wasn’t free to love her, she had absolutely no interest in him.
So what had happened? How had she gone so wrong?
Victor’s eyes were fixed on hers. He hadn’t answered, but now he looked toward Margaux and the crowd that was gathering behind her. “Hey guys, could you give us a minute? Margaux, I’ll be right there to take you home. I imagine the baby needs you.”
Margaux folded her arms and planted her feet. So Victor took April’s arm and pulled her into the first room he saw. It was the toilet, and they had only enough room to stand face to face. He fumbled for the light, and when it went on, April wouldn’t look at him. He grabbed her by the arms.
“April, I need to say this fast so no one gets the wrong idea about us being in here together.”
They were standing in a tiny cubicle, nose to nose, and his words brought on an insane desire to laugh. She needed to get a hold of her emotions. He’s not available.
“I think one of the biggest regrets of my life,” Victor said, “will end up being that I wasn’t free to follow my feelings in this instance. But I’m not. I’m a father, and that comes first.”
I am a great fool, April thought, and any wisp of humor over the situation fled. To complete her shame, her eyes filled with tears.
“If I could’ve followed my feelings…” He stopped short, looking at her eyes, her lips…They heard only the sound of their breath.
Then Victor dropped his arms, turned in the tight space, and opened the bathroom door. “Margaux and I need to get going. Penelope, do you think one of you could see April home safely?”
“Sure,” Penelope said. She handed the pack of cards to Auriane and slid past Victor to where April was. “You guys go ahead and play.”