Your father insisted on driving you to the cinema tonight. If you were going to go out it had to be under his conditions, and this was one of them. It’s embarrassing that after three years of living alone at university your father has to chauffeur you around, especially for a date, but you know that you deserve it after what had happened.
The last time your father had seemed this on edge was the day you returned from Paris. That day you rued that you couldn’t read in the car without getting sick and didn’t dare turn on the radio. He hadn’t spoken to you since he picked you up from the airport, his disapproval was silent and still, but it seeped through his pores and polluted the air so you felt like you were inhaling it with every breath.
You watched the last digit on the dashboard turn from a two to a three, and then a three to a four, wondering how much longer the silence would continue. He seemed fairly composed, but you knew your father well, you could see the giveaway signs that he was angry. You could tell by the way his fingers stiffly gripped the steering wheel and by his eyes, which seemed to be unblinking as he focused a little too hard on the road ahead of him. He jumped three amber lights and had driven at least 5mph over the speed limit the entire way home. He seemed to be trying to rush you home so he could shout at you under his own roof.
They told you not to go to France. ‘They’ being your housemates, Clare, Ellie and Hannah. The last time you fell out with your father you turned up at your little, dingy student house with a bottle of pink hair dye and told them to do whatever they wanted. They couldn’t wait to get their hands on your hair. They sat you down in front of a mirror and crowded around you with crusted paint brushes and kitchen foil. You squeezed your eyes shut not wanting to ruin the surprise. The thrill of the unknown made your heart race. You ended up with a cotton candy dip-dye at the end of your long blonde hair. He would hate it, and you were ecstatic.
But, when you came to them with this idea, things were different. When you ushered them into your student living room and relayed your crazy plan, they looked at you incredulously. There was a chorus of you can’t do that followed by you barely know him. But that wasn’t the point: it would piss off your dad. You called them boring and they left the room, threatening to dob you in. Alice was the only one who stayed. She hated her parents and was on your side. She sat beside you on your battered leather sofa with your laptop balanced between your thighs searching Skyscanner for the cheapest tickets to Paris.
Your father pulls into a parking space opposite the cinema. You cringe as you realise that he will not be discretely tucked away somewhere out of view like you’d hoped. You’re directly under a street light and your date will definitely know that you are somewhat supervised tonight. Beyond your father’s stout belly, you see a newspaper tucked into the pocket of the driver’s door and know that this is his prop. He will be pretending to read it later but will secretly be keeping a close watch of the Odeon door.
‘I’m going to get out and wait,’ you say.
He looks at you intently and reaches over to give you a kiss on the cheek. His mouth says ‘have a nice time.’ His eyes say I’m here if you need me.
Your father is a retired police officer and you knew that he, more than anyone, thinks what you did was utterly idiotic. You later tried to explain to him that everyone uses Tinder but you think that he knew you were just trying to get back at him.
Jean Paul was probably not even his real name. You now realise that adding the surname ‘Gaultier’ would make his name identical to that on a bottle of perfume you own. Your father had been trying to track him down, but with no real information about him, it had proven impossible. For some reason, the fact he didn’t have Facebook seemed carefree and exotic to you at the time. His Tinder profile enticed you, made it all seem believable. At least the photo of him topless on a beach suggested that to you. The sunglasses, tousled brown hair and easy smile were enough to make you do anything he wanted. It now scares you that you had no real idea of who he was.
When you met him in your local Costa on your first date, he was enticing in a way so unlike any of the boys you had met before. He told you stories of all the places he had travelled and about the secret treasures of Paris, the hidden book coves and little coffee shops. You were drawn in by his accent and the easy-going life he seemed to lead. He complimented the pink in your hair and told you were different to any girl he had met. Brown eyes were something you had only ever considered as looking like muddy puddles until he complimented yours. He even wrote a short poem about them that evening and texted it to you.
His semester abroad ended and he cooked you a meal in your apartment, lit the place up with candles and bought you twelve white roses. Jean looked into your special brown eyes and said, you should come and visit me in Paris sometime, I’d like to show you around. You nodded like a bobble head.
You scan your outfit as you wait outside the cinema for your date. It’s warm for autumn and you changed your outfit multiple times to find the perfect effortless combination for the weather. You ended up wearing an off the shoulder top with jeans and a denim jacket. You nervously brush your hand through your hair and your fingers run longer than the strands, forgetting you’d gotten the pink cut out. It now stops below your shoulders and is your natural blonde.
David is the name of your date tonight. His name is a little boring, he doesn’t write poetry or look into your eyes like they are anything but muddy brown. You admit he’s not your usual type but he’s nice. You met him at the pub last week, he bought you a drink and you spoke about your favourite movies. You appreciated his confidence in coming over to you whilst you were with a group of girls who were wooing and gawking as he had the audacity to ask for your number. You’re not sure about David, the cinema was not the most inventive idea but you thought you would give him a chance when he called you.
You knew something was wrong when you arrived in Paris and Jean wasn’t at the arrivals gate. He didn’t pick up your calls but you remember him saying he lived in an apartment in the suburbs of Montreuil. You tried to remember your GCSE French and managed to ask directions to the metro. When you got off at your stop you were utterly lost. You had no GPS on your phone, no internet, a dying phone battery. You carried your luggage down street after street looking for this invisible block of flats before you started to cry. How could he forget you? You were tired and hungry; it was getting darker and you knew no one in this city. It started to rain then, the suitcase was too heavy and you gave up looking.
The sixteenth time you called him, he picked up the phone. You sobbed your whereabouts and he apologised continually, saying he’d just gotten the time wrong. You wondered how he could have possibly mixed up 3pm and 6pm.
The rain had seeped through to your underwear by the time he arrived in a taxi. He huddled you into the cab and said he was going to take you out for dinner to apologise. You asked if you could freshen up at his first but he insisted that you looked great, you couldn’t miss the reservation. You tried to protest, you couldn’t go out like this surely? And why hadn’t he picked up the phone? He combed a hand through your hair, your pink rat tails, and kissed you. You are so beautiful. It sounded good in his accent.
David greets you with a hug and over his shoulder you see a final glance of your father, peering behind a newspaper, before you disappear into the building.
As you stand in line for theatre tickets, you notice that he is more attractive than you remember, conventionally attractive no doubt. He’s made an effort tonight: his brown hair is neatly styled and he’s dressed nicely. He looks tame and is perhaps exactly what you need.
‘So, what are we going to watch?’, you ask.
He smiles broadly, ‘Midnight in Paris.’
You felt instantly underdressed at the restaurant in your t-shirt dress and converse, and felt ridiculous turning up soaking wet, but you didn’t want to complain. Jean had made an effort to make your first evening special. The maître d’ took your coats and offered to put your suitcase in the cloak room; it would be in the way in the restaurant. The way he looked at you down his long nose made you think he wanted to put you in the cloak room too, you and your suitcase both an eyesore.
Jean ordered a bottle of red wine for you both and said to get anything you wanted off the menu, it was on him. You mumbled that you were worried about it being too expensive and were feeling uncomfortable in your wet clothes as the waiter filled up your long-stemmed wine glass.
After a few sips, you were starting to relax a bit more, and you were starving. You ordered soupe au pistou and pieds paquets and crème brûlée. Each thing you tasted was completely refined, the saltiness of the soup, the creaminess of the crème brûlée, even down to the delicately placed vegetables. Jean ordered another bottle of wine. You were giddy already but you had another glass, then another. He said that he couldn’t wait to take you to his apartment, he had a surprise waiting there, and why don’t you go and freshen up in the little girl’s room whilst he sorted out the cheque.
As you walked to the bathroom you realised how drunk you were. The room seemed to tilt as you made your way through the maze of white clothed tables. You stumbled as you dodged a waiter carrying a silver platter and your ring chinked against the wine glass of the man sat down to a meal next to you. In the bathroom mirror you looked awful. Mascara had smudged under your eyes; your nose was bright red and your hair had dried into crispy waves. You wanted to touch up your makeup but you left your bag behind and you were leaving soon anyway, back to Jean’s apartment.
When you returned to the table Jean was not there. A silver dish was sitting in the middle of the table, empty except for the bill.
At the snack counter, you offer to pay for the popcorn but David insists, even though he paid for your ticket. He even gets salted which is your favourite. You start talking about Woody Allen and speculate about the movie. You tell him you’ve been to Paris before; he asks about it but you’re vague and change the subject. He doesn’t go over the top with flattery but you don’t want that anyway. He makes you laugh, and you enjoy his company. He takes your hand in the dark and guides you to your seats.
A waiter hovered over your table and pointed to the dish. You couldn’t catch your breath through your tears, forgot that you were in France and started speaking to him in English. He went to get another waiter to help make sense of your gibberish as you tried to explain what had happened. They fetched the maître d’ and discuss the matter on the edge of the restaurant. The couple sat next to you glanced over at you in pity. You feel the eyes of the whole dining room on the back of your head.
The waiter returned and asked you to follow him to the manager’s office. The CCTV footage shows a black and white image of Jean Paul leaving the restaurant with your bag in hand. You don’t have any money. You don’t have your phone. You get the feeling that the maître d’ thinks this is all some scam to get out of paying the bill.
The manager was sympathetic; he asked if you would like to make a phone call. You had no choice but to ring your father. His voice boomed down the line. How could you be so stupid? How dare you go behind my back? His voice cracked as he tried to compose himself; you knew he was trying not to cry.
He transferred money to the restaurant for the bill, plus extra to give you in cash so you could take the next flight home. By a stroke of luck, your suitcase was left in the cloak room with your coat which had your passport tucked safely in the inside pocket. The restaurant had become busier and they quickly sent you on your way with fragmented directions to the airport. Your father has barely let you out of his sight since you touched down in England.
The picture starts as you settle into your seats; you loop your bag strap over your knee as a precaution. The opening scenes depict the streets of Paris and you wonder if any of them are the same ones that you walked down six months ago.
You can feel David’s gaze on you and turn to look back at him and smile before taking a handful of popcorn. You don’t know how tonight is going to go but what you do know is that your Dad will be there at the end of the night to take you home. You can rely on that.
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