Long Lost Page 9

’’I see. How long do you plan on staying in France?’’

’’I\'m not sure. Two, three nights.’’

Berleand looked at Lefebvre. Lefebvre nodded, peeled himself off the wall, headed for the door. Berleand followed.

’’Sorry for any inconvenience,’’ Berleand said. ’’I hope you have a pleasant stay.’’

5

TERESE Collins was waiting for me in the lobby.

She hugged me but not too hard. Her body leaned against mine for support, but again not that much, not a total collapse or anything. We were both reserved in our first greeting in eight years. Still, as we held each other, I closed my eyes and thought I could smell the cocoa butter.

My mind flashed to the Caribbean island, but mostly it flashed let\'s be honest here to the thing that truly defined us: the soul-piercing se*. That desperate clawing and shredding that makes you understand, in a totally non-sadomasochistic way, how pain emotional pain and pleasure not only intermingle but amplify each other. Neither of us had an interest in words or feelings or false comforts or hand-holding or even, well, reserved hugs as if all that stuff were too tender, as if a gentle caress might pop this fragile bubble that temporarily protected us both.

Terese pulled back. She was still knee-knockingly beautiful. There had been aging, but on some women maybe most women in this era of too much facial tucking a little aging works.

’’So what\'s wrong?’’ I asked.

’’That\'s your opening line after all these years?’’

I shrugged.

’’I opened with \'Come to Paris,\' ’’ Terese said.

’’I\'m working on dialing back the charm,’’ I said, ’’at least until I know what\'s wrong.’’

’’You must be exhausted.’’

’’I\'m fine.’’

’’I got a room for us. A duplex. Separate sleeping areas so we can have that option.’’

I said nothing.

’’Man.’’ Terese managed a smile. ’’It\'s so good to see you.’’

I felt the same. Maybe it had never been love, but it was there, strong and true and special. Ali said we weren\'t forever. With Terese, well, maybe we weren\'t everyday, but it was something, something hard to define, something you could put on a nearby shelf for years and forget about and take for granted and maybe that was how it should be.

’’You knew I\'d come,’’ I said.

’’Yes. And you know the same is true if you\'d been the one to call.’’

I did. ’’You look great,’’ I said.

’’Come on. Let\'s get something to eat.’’

The doorman took my suitcase and sneaked an admiring glance at Terese before giving me the universal man-to-man smirk that said, Lucky bastard.

The Rue Dauphine is a narrow road. A white van had double-parked next to a taxi, taking up nearly the entire street. The driver of the taxi was screaming what I could only assume were French obscenities but it might have just been a particularly aggressive way of asking for directions.

We turned right. It was nine in the morning. New York City might be in full swing by that hour, but strolling Parisians were still rousing themselves from their beds. We reached the Seine River at the Pont Neuf. In the distance on our right, I could see the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral. Terese started down the river walk in that direction, past the green boxes that were famous for selling antique books but seemed more intent on pushing chintzy souvenirs. Across the river, a giant fortress with a gorgeous mansard roof rose, to quote Springsteen, bold and stark.

As we got closer to Notre Dame, I said, ’’Would you be embarrassed if I rounded my shoulders, dragged my left leg, and shouted, \'Sanctuary!\'’’

’’Some might mistake you for a tourist,’’ Terese said.

’’Good point. Maybe I should buy a beret with my name stenciled on the front.’’

’’Yeah, then you\'d blend right in.’’

Terese still had that incredible walk, head held high, shoulders back, perfect posture. One more thing I just realized about all the women in my life: They all have great walks. I find confident walks se*y, the near prowl-like way certain women enter a room as if they already own it. You can tell a lot by the way a woman walks.

We stopped at an outdoor bistro on Saint Michel. The sky was still gray but you could see the sun fighting to take control. Terese sat and studied my face for a very long time.

’’Uh, do I have something stuck in my teeth?’’ I asked.

Terese managed a smile. ’’God, I\'ve missed you.’’

Her words hung in the air. I didn\'t know if she was doing the talking now or this city. Paris was like that. Much has been written about its beauty and splendors, and sure, that was true. Every building was a mini architectural wonder, a feast for the eyes. Paris was like the beautiful woman who knew she was beautiful, liked the fact that she was beautiful and, ergo, didn\'t have to try so hard. She was fabulous and you both knew it.

But more than that, Paris makes you feel for lack of a better term alive. Check that. Paris makes you want to feel alive. You want to do and be and savor when you are here. You want to feel, simply feel, and it doesn\'t matter what. All sensation is heightened. Paris makes you want to cry and laugh and fall in love and write a poem and make love and compose a symphony.

Terese reached her hand across the table and took mine.

’’You could have called,’’ I said. ’’You could have let me know you were okay.’’

’’I know.’’

’’I haven\'t moved,’’ I said. ’’My office is still on Park Avenue. I still share Win\'s apartment at the Dakota.’’

’’And you bought your parents\' house in Livingston,’’ she added.

It wasn\'t a slip of the tongue. Terese knew about the house. She knew about Ali. Terese wanted me to know that she\'d been keeping tabs on me.

’’You just disappeared,’’ I said.

’’I know.’’

’’I tried to find you.’’

’’I know that too.’’

’’Can you stop saying \'I know\'?’’

’’Okay.’’

’’So what happened?’’ I asked.

She took back her hand. Her eyes drifted toward the Seine. A young couple walked by us. They were fighting in French. The woman was outraged. She picked up a crushed soda can and hurled it at her boyfriend\'s head.

’’You wouldn\'t understand,’’ Terese said.

’’That\'s worse than \'I know.\' ’’

Her smile was so sad. ’’I\'m damaged goods. I would have taken you down with me. I cared too much about you to let that happen.’’


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