Frenched Series Bundle(4)

By: Melanie Harlow



“What a wonderful gift! I’m Anneke, by the way.”

“Mia.”

“Nice to meet you, Mia. And don’t be scared; I travel alone quite often. I think every woman should take a trip just for herself, by herself, at least once in her lifetime. Just be careful and smart and enjoy yourself.” Her smile widened. “Paris is magical.”

“Good.” I swallowed some more champagne. “I could use a little magic.”

#

Arriving with a hangover was so not on the Paris list.

Neither was an argument with my mother.

She picked up the phone on the first ring and shrieked hello. “Mia? Is that you? What’s wrong? Are you OK?” She thought my decision to travel to Europe by myself was ludicrous and she was positive I was going to be attacked, kidnapped, and sold into sex slavery.

I held the phone away from my ear. “I’m fine, Mom. You said to call when I arrived, and I did.”

“You don’t sound fine at all.”

“I’m just tired, OK? I’m tired and hungry and I have to unpack.” And cry. There was definitely crying ahead. Maybe throwing things.

“How’s the room?”

I looked around the gorgeously appointed Junior Deluxe Suite at the Plaza Athenee. Tucker knew how to travel in style, I’ll say that much. The king-sized bed was laden with pillows, the seating area was spacious and elegant with its Louis XIV style furniture, and the view into the quiet inner courtyard was charming. Goddamn birds were chirping right outside the window.

In French, no less. C’est magni-fucking-fique.

“The room’s amazing. But Mom, I have to go, OK? I’m exhausted.”

“OK, darling. But don’t take a nap, remember, otherwise your body won’t adjust to the time difference and you’ll be miserable for days. I learned that lesson the hard way. And I don’t think you should go wandering the streets alone at night so maybe do some sight-seeing now. Or go get a massage at the spa or something. You sound so tense.”

My head threatened to burst. I couldn’t even speak. Stop talking, Mother.

She sighed. “This was a bad idea. You’re not well. I wish you’d have let me come with you. Maybe I should meet you in Paris. We can do some shopping, or—”

I found my voice, fast. “NO! No, Mom. I’m fine. Seriously.”

“Well, I just don’t feel right about this.”

I forced myself to sound cheerful. “Listen, the sun is shining, my suite is beautiful, and I can even see the Eiffel Tower out my window,” I lied. “I’m dying to get out in the air. I’m going to unpack a few things and take a stroll.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure. And I need the alone time, OK? So I’m not going to be calling you every five minutes.”

“Don’t be silly, dear. Once a day is fine.”

I gritted my teeth. “Fine. Once a day.”

“I’m just worried about you, Mia. You’ve never traveled this far alone before. You’ve always had me or the girls or Tucker with you. And you’re not in your right frame of mind, either. Women make poor decisions when they’re stressed and heartbroken. Did you pack those pills I gave you?”

“I have them, Mom.” No sense telling her I planned on self-medicating with wine, not Prozac. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“All right. Love you.”

“Love you too.

Finally, we said goodbye and I flopped in a heap on the bed. I’d promised Coco and Erin I’d call one of them and let them know I’d arrived without mishap but I didn’t think I could hold back tears if I heard their voices. Jet lag and loneliness overwhelmed me, and my eyes filled. This was not the way I’d planned to start off my trip, with a pounding headache and a sinking feeling that coming here by myself was a mistake. I was too tired to unpack my bags, too cranky to pull out my Paris guidebooks and get excited, and too miserable to write in the travel journal Coco and Erin had given me.

Everywhere I looked there were reminders that this was supposed to be a romantic trip for two: the twin closets, the bottle of champagne and two glasses on the desk, the vase of beautiful peach roses on the coffee table. My chest tightened at the sight of those flowers as I recalled the 1500 Felicity roses that had been sacrificed for my nonexistent wedding.

Even the incredible white marble bathroom depressed me with its fluffy his and hers robes and side-by-side sinks in the vanity. I returned to the bed, crawled in, and lay my cheek on a striped satin pillow. My eyelids felt heavier than my suitcase. I wanted a nap, and goddammit, I was going to take a nap, no matter what my mother said about jet lag. As I drifted off to sleep, I made a list.



Things and People That Can Fuck Off



1) Jet Lag, for obvious reasons.

2) Anneke, for suggesting champagne on the flight.

3) Air France, for turbulence that made me drink suggested champagne.

4) My mother, for telling me to take drugs instead of a nap.

5) Tucker. For everything. Repeatedly.

#

After a four-hour nap, I felt revived, my head clearer. I splashed some water on my face, drank a giant bottle of Vittel, and heaved my suitcase on a stand in order to unpack it.

Living out of a suitcase is impossible for me, even if it’s just for a week or so. I can’t stand the way everything gets unfolded and jumbled up inside, and it’s too hard to keep clean and dirty clothes separated. Plus, unpacking and organizing gives me a ridiculous kick. I love it so much that Coco sometimes says I should have been a professional closet organizer, but who wants to spend their career in people’s closets?

I plugged my iPod into the dock on the desk and scrolled to my Paris playlist. As Frank Sinatra crooned April in Paris, I actually hummed along while I unzipped my garment bag and hung dresses, blouses and two skirts. From my suitcase pouches I pulled out sneakers, flats, and two pairs of heels, and set them in the closet. I placed lingerie, pajamas, jeans, tops, and socks in drawers, scowling only once at the sexy black Aubade bra and panties I’d purchased for this trip. They’d cost me roughly the same as a car payment but I’d wanted to surprise Tucker, who appreciated luxury items. Vowing to put them on at least once during the next ten days, even if I just pranced around my hotel room in them by myself, I tucked them in alongside my usual cotton underwear and basic bras.

By the time I pulled my toiletries from my bag and began setting them up in the gorgeous white marble bathroom, my steps were light and bouncey, the way they are when something makes me truly happy.

The last thing I did was take out my guidebooks and set them up on the desk. Coco and Erin hadn’t let me have my iPad back, but they had let me print the daily itineraries I’d created and take a few books with me. I spread them out and stared at them before sweeping them all back into my suitcase and stowing it in the closet. Fuck it, I’m going to wander tonight, like Anneke said. I’m going to change my clothes, walk out the door, and just see where my feet take me.

But first I had to check my outfit calendar to see what I’d planned to wear this evening.

One step at a time, right?





My first evening alone in Paris started out fine. Since I hadn’t eaten and was getting hungry, I thought about ordering room service but then decided to brave eating alone in a restaurant—something I’d never done before. Wearing a sweet little strapless flowered dress with a denim jacket and flats, I slung my bag over my shoulder with only my wallet, bottle of water, a street map of Paris, and my camera inside. I had no plan whatsoever and surprised myself by adoring the little kick of freedom it gave me.

Heading down Avenue Montaigne with a spring in my step, I gravitated toward the Eiffel Tower, crossing over the Seine on the Pont de l’Alma and trying not to grin like an idiot while I’m crossing over the Seine! ran through my mind. I felt like shouting it. On the other side, I followed the river toward the tower, and even if I’d wanted to hide my smile, I couldn’t do it.

It was just so incredible! The actual Eiffel Tower, right there, huge and monstrous and beautiful, looming above me bigger and bigger as I got closer. No matter how impressive it looks in photographs or movies, nothing compares to actually seeing it in person, watching the sun set behind it. I felt a quick tug of regret that I was seeing it by myself, but only because I knew that later on, no words would ever be enough to describe how gorgeous the light was, how small I felt beneath the arches, how my heart raced when I thought, I’m really in Paris.

I wanted to climb to the top, but my stomach was growling so fiercely that I couldn’t ignore it. Unwilling to spend any more time indoors, I found a sandwich stand, ordered ham and cheese on half a baguette, and ate it as I walked back toward the tower.

When I was done, I took a few pictures from the ground before climbing the seven hundred steps to the second floor and taking a lift up to the top. I exited the elevator wild with anticipation and went straight for the railing. When I looked out, I couldn’t help gasping. The guidebooks hadn’t lied—the view of Paris at twilight was breathtaking. And even if I was on my own in the most romantic city in the world, it was still full of beauty and history and culture. I’d take it all in, as much as I could in one week, and I wouldn’t have to worry about what anyone else wanted to do at any moment. There would be no Tucker to rush me through museums because he doesn’t like art, or roll his eyes at seeing yet another cathedral, or yawn his way through an opera. The entire city was at my feet, and it had plenty to offer. To hell with romance!

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