The Way She Looked That Night

Call me Matthew. I speak French with a British accent for some reason, so the locals over here are always asking me what part of England I’m from. When they find out I’m really from Colorado, that always goes over well. I guess the Ugly American stereotype has faded in favor of the British who are buying up all the real estate in France for retirement homes, so they’re pleased to learn I’m not one of those at least.

That was on my mind on the rainy January afternoon that found me driving my rented Citroën from Paris back to Luxembourg to pack up my flat there. Just before I’d gone to pick up the car, a woman who overheard me in a restaurant had asked “Vous êtes Anglais? “, and had been as close to happy as Parisians ever look when I’d said no, I was American.

I needed all the pick-me-ups like that I could get right then. Of course I was thrilled to be moving back to Paris, but the reason why I was moving back stung something awful. Complete and total failure, professionally and romantically, that was all I had to show for six months in Luxembourg. I won’t depress you with the details. The point is, as I finally made my escape from the Paris traffic, my mood was just as gray and rainy as the landscape laid out before me for the drive back to Luxembourg.

I guess that’s why Rachel came knocking in the back doors of my mind, when I hadn’t seen her in forever.

Rachel wasn’t the girl next door — she lived six doors down the hill from us — but she’d always fit that role perfectly. When most of the boys in our neighborhood were playing road hockey on Loudon Street and trying out the latest four-letter words they’d learned, while

the girls were busy with their sticker books on Mandy Danelli’s back porch around the corner and verbally abusing any boy who came into view, Rachel and I wanted nothing to do with either group. We were the neighborhood explorers, the first to get to know the far-flung streets of our suburb where none of the stay at home moms knew who we were. We rode our bikes together as far as we dared through those streets, ignoring the calls of “Matthew’s got a girlfriend!” from the backyards of our own block.

“Yeah, right!” I muttered under my breath as we pedaled off out of our neighborhood as fast as we could. I told myself I didn’t even want that.

I told myself.

“My mom says they’re just jealous, you know,” Rachel said.

“Jealous of what? They could join us if they wanted.” I never wanted her to know how happy I was to be alone with her, of course.

“I don’t know either,” Rachel said. “Does your mom push you to play hockey with the other boys?”

“Yeah! How’d you know?”

“Mine is always after me to join Mandy’s gang. I mean, I like stickers fine, but who wants to do that all the time?”

I, of course, was fine with riding my bike with her all the time.

I should’ve been flattered when she told me why she liked me. “You’re nice. You’re not noise like all the other boys.” I should’ve been, but I wasn’t. Who wants to be told you’re not like the cool kids when you’re already reminded of it a dozen times a day? Childhood would’ve been a lot happier if I’d been a year or two more mature for my age.

Of course, I never gave her a chance to be flattered. I never told her how I loved her musical laughter or her long dark hair, never mind what fun it was to be friends with an actual girl all on its own. But I loved all that and more, even if I was at the age when you steered well clear of the L-word.

Someone told me once that the A4 is sometimes called the Autoroute de l’Est – the motorway of the east. I’ve never actually heard it called that, but I like it. All the promise of Asia out there somewhere beyond the beautiful hills that were spreading out before me in the rainy twilight. Some of my friends from Paris were off to Hong Kong and Singapore for work now. I’d given serious thought to jumping on a plane out there too — back before Christmas, before word had come to me in Luxembourg that I needed to retake that damn class.

As I pulled off to get gas, I wondered what my friends were up to right now. Did any of them know I was still stuck here? And I reminded myself — yet again — that I could join them in just a few more months, once I finished that last class. But that felt like a lifetime away right then.

I pulled on my coat against the rain when I ran inside to pay for my gas. While I was bathed in the dry warmth of the fluorescent-lit shop, I helped myself to a black coffee, and told the woman behind the counter I was at pump 4.

She looked out at my car. “La C3 verte?

Oui.” Green — my favorite color. At least I’d been lucky in that regard today.

As she rang me up, I was pleased at another interaction I’d made it through without resorting to English. But I also found myself trying not to think of how late it’d be when I got back to Luxembourg. It was nearly dark already and I’d only just outrun the last of the murderous Paris traffic.

Some things are the same anywhere you go, and gas station coffee is one of those. But that first sip when I was back in the car was manna from heaven. I turned the radio up with my Springsteen playlist on the iPod and wondered what the poor car would say if it could talk — “Just how crassly American are you, anyway?!”, perhaps — and put the car in gear.

Someone once pointed out to me, “One day when you were a kid, you went out to play with your friends, and you didn’t know it at the time but it was the last time you ever did.” I have ever since been wondering, did that day feel any different from all the other times? Was there a reason why it happened to be that day and not the previous time, or why there wasn’t one more time the next day or a week later?

I don’t remember if the day Rachel and I dared ride all the way out to the I-70 interchange was the last of our bike trips. But it would be fitting if it were, in any event. “Where’d you go if you were allowed on the freeway with our bikes?” I asked her that blistering summer afternoon, while we were watching all the cars set off for parts unknown. How I wished I could join them!

“Oh, California!” she said immediately. “I have cousins in Glendale, right by Los Angeles. Every time we visit them I feel like begging my mom to let me stay out there. Someday…how about you, Matt?”

“East coast, I guess,” I said. “My mom wants me to go to college out there, ‘if you ever grow up and start applying yourself!’“, I mimicked, and Rachel laughed so hard she had to put her kickstand down and stand on both feet. “Who wants four more years of school when you don’t have to go?”

“Oh, I can’t wait for college!” Rachel answered. “It’s not like our school, Matthew. Kids like us, we’re popular there, and it’s okay to care about learning. You don’t have to be afraid to look interested or anything.”

I wish I could say that conversation was an epiphany for me. It wasn’t. Not for a couple of years anyway.

It was nice of Rachel to say “kids like us”, but I wasn’t like her. She was a straight-A student, adored by the teachers and most of the kids alike. I…well, I wasn’t. As my mother reminded me all too frequently through middle school, Rachel won this award or that medal or she was taking PSATs in seventh grade, and what had I accomplished lately?

Sometime in eighth grade, I finally had to admit that was a good question. After yet another teacher belittled me for being unprepared and never saying anything in class, I decided to turn over a new leaf. Instead of goofing off in my room when I got home, I did all my homework for a change. Next day at school, I forced myself to raise my hand and braved the resultant teasing (“Matt! You do have a voice!”), and I found I liked it better than just sitting there.

My grades got better right away — except in algebra. I was hopeless with polynomials. Rachel, whom I hadn’t taken a bike ride with in ages, was not. She sat on the other side of the room, far enough to avoid taking any notice of little old me but close enough for me to hear every time someone congratulated her on another A on a test. So one day after I got a 46 on a quiz, I approached her after class. “Say, Rachel,” I said.

“Hi Matthew! How’d you do on the quiz?”

“Really bad. That’s why I’m here, I could use some help. Think we can study together?”

“That’d be great!” she said, to my surprise and relief. “But can we do it at your house? My brother’s got his friends over after school and they make such a racket, you can’t concentrate on anything.”

“Oh, that’s why you said yes,” I joked.

“Well, not just that, Matthew! Remember our exploring? I miss that!”

“Me too,” I admitted. “I guess this won’t be that much fun, but remember what you said about college.”

“And what you said! You didn’t want to go!”

“I do now. But I’ve got to pass math, haven’t I?”

My mother, perfectly delighted that I had finally decided to take school more seriously, set out brownies and milk for us both and let us have the dining room to ourselves to study. As we were enjoying the snack before getting down to business, I asked, “Do you like music when you study?”

“Yes,” Rachel said. “But don’t worry, I won’t make you listen to the Spice Girls or anything.”

I laughed and opened the stereo cabinet, and found one of my mother’s classic jazz CDs sitting on top of the receiver. “Oh, this is great for studying to!” I said, and I slipped it into the player. “Like jazz?” I asked Rachel.

“My parents do,” she said, as I pressed play and a lush arrangement of “The Way You Look Tonight” came on. “I don’t really know anything about it.”

“Oh, this song is beautiful,” I said, retaking my seat at the table.

As the singer — I hadn’t looked to see who it was — began, I could see Rachel wasn’t impressed. “Someday when I’m all alone,” she repeated, “When the world is cold? What kind of love song is that?”

“She’s saying someday when times are hard, remembering tonight will be comforting,” I said. “Isn’t that beautiful? She knows they’re not going to live happily ever after, but at least she’ll have a wonderful memory.”

“I don’t see why you’d even bother thinking about bad times to come if you’re so happy right now,” Rachel said. “But this is good for studying to. It won’t be distracting.”

She was right, even if I didn’t share her low opinion of the song. Mom made lots more brownies that winter, and I ended up with a B in algebra.

I’d been in Europe for a year and a half, but I’d never been to a rest area there before that night. So when I stopped for dinner just a bit after dark, I discovered the latest of a million little differences with back home. Actually it wasn’t a “little” difference at all, more like something you wouldn’t see in a million years in America.

They had wine at the restaurant.

I found I liked the gesture — passengers could partake with no danger at all, after all, and presumably this meant they trusted drivers to say no. In that spirit, I stuck with Perrier to drink with my steak, frites et salade. But I got a kick out of just knowing the option was there. I promised myself if it wasn’t ungodly late when I got back to Luxembourg, I would have a glass myself. Maybe even if it was ungodly late, I decided. Even one last night in that wretched flat and the horrible memories associated with it would be tough go get through sober.

I had another coffee and a pear with chocolate sauce for dessert, and then it was back out in the rain.

I managed to get into the same honors classes Rachel took in high school. She got A’s easily, I struggled and sometimes got A’s, but there were no more complaints from Mom anyway. When Rachel’s conservative mother let her start dating, she went out with the jocks, naturally. At least until word got out among them that she wouldn’t even let anyone to second base. I dated the bad girls from the remedial classes I’d been stuck in back in junior high, and lost my virginity with Debbie Marlyn from three blocks down, who soon dumped me for Mike Tsoupas.

Rachel had gone out with Mike a couple of times, and she comforted me one afternoon by her family’s backyard pool while our mothers were gossiping on the other side. “If he treats her anything like he treated me, she’ll be sorry real soon,” she said. “He’s a creep.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Sorry for what?”

“For whatever he did to you. It’s none of my business, but I’m sure it was out of line.” She was looking adorable in a rainbow-patterned swimsuit and I couldn’t help imagining the worst.

She laughed just a bit. “Thanks, Matthew. He could learn a thing or two from you, about how to treat a girl. Want to take a dip?”

As I was finding it harder by the second to hide how great she was looking, I readily agreed and was the first in the water. When did the girl next door blossom like that anyway? I’d seen her in a swimsuit a few times before and once in her ballet getup, and she’d always been beautiful. But she’d also been the girl next door. I reminded myself that she still was and kept my adoring gaze strictly on the water after that.

And just what did she think I knew about how to treat a girl? I couldn’t be sure, but that was nice to hear.

The TGV — that’s short for the French for “very fast train” — can get you from Paris to Luxembourg in just about three hours. The A4 can’t, even when the traffic isn’t bad, which it wasn’t that night. I was used to the TGV. They say driving while you’re very tired is just as bad as driving drunk, and I didn’t even know just how much farther I had to go. I love hotels, and what did I have to lose but one last night in the flat that held nothing but bitter memories for me anyway?

The next exit sign read “Verdun”. Perfect. Tomorrow morning I could visit the battlefield.

I’d missed the chance to thank Rachel for her kind words back when we were kids, and I’d avoided flirting with her that day at the pool when we were probably as open with each other as we’d ever been, and along the way I hadn’t even noticed how beautiful she was growing up to be. Senior year I was aware of it all right, but she was the girl next door and who had time for dating when there were AP classes and college applications?

She did, of course. She went to prom with Paul Leeds, the editor in chief of the school newspaper and a proud nerd like I’d never been able to be. In the photo that made it into our yearbook they looked born to be together. I went with Beth Parker from calculus class, and yes, we got lucky that night. I gave no thought at all to whether Rachel might have given it up to Paul, as I didn’t even see either of them at the dance that I could recall. Beth was a better lay than Debbie had been, much more responsive. The poor thing felt the need to apologize afterward for all the noise she’d made, and I was more than happy to tell her how much I loved it. I hope she’s never forgotten that, as I’ve never forgotten the things she taught me that night.

Rachel didn’t like Beth. I don’t remember why, but she definitely didn’t. She made herself scarce when Beth and I attended a graduation party at a mutual friend’s place. She wasn’t with Paul that night, she spent the whole evening in a clutch of her girlfriends.

I didn’t get to Verdun proper. I passed one hotel just off the highway and opted to explore a bit further in, and came across another one that looked a bit better-kept from what little I could see from outside in the dark. Not knowing if there was a vacancy (European hotels don’t usually have signs announcing it), I left my suitcase in the trunk and stepped into the warm dark lobby. The bar was off to the left but it was closed for the night. The attendant stood up and didn’t quite smile. It was France, after all.

“Have you got any open rooms?” I asked in French.

“Yes. Your passport?”

I handed it to him and was rewarded with a look of surprise. “American? You speak very good French.”

“Thank you.” He still didn’t look happy, but it was awfully late.

The rain had turned to snow when I went outside to collect my suitcase from the car. Another reason to be stopping for the night. The stairwell was replete with photos of the Verdun battlefield. I could have lingered there for hours, but I was very eager to see my room.

Rachel got her wish: she got into UCLA. I got my mom’s wish, getting into a couple of outrageously snobby Northeastern schools. I won’t say which one I chose, as I’ve learned not to wear it on my sleeve. Suffice to say if I told you, I would then have to reassure you that I’m not a trust fund baby and I didn’t go to Andover or anything. It was a major culture shock for a kid from the suburbs of Denver, but I did all right for myself.

I didn’t think I’d ever see Rachel again, but I sure as heck didn’t forget her. Every time I walked among those stately halls of learning, I remembered how I never would have made it there without her help in algebra and without my, well, jealousy of her grades back before I was almost matching them.

I guess that’s why, even though we’d long since drifted apart, I was delighted to see her at the McQuades’ holiday party when I was home for Christmas sophomore year. I don’t think she even recognized me when I spotted her by the drink stand in the corner of the living room while our parents were gathered around the tree with the others.

To be fair, I almost didn’t recognize her. The girl next door was history in favor of a woman with a stylish short hairdo in a black floral print dress that made no effort to hide her curves. She was looking suitably bored for a party where most everyone else was either her parents’ age or little kids, but also lovely in the glow of the colored lights.

“Rachel!” My youthful reticence was history, too. Here was my one and only chance to thank her for inspiring me to shake off my lousy attitude, and I wouldn’t miss it. “Happy holidays,” I said, stepping up alongside her.

“Hi…oh, Matthew! Hi!” She hugged me, for what I think was the first time ever. “How’s New England?”

“Beautiful, thanks to you,” I said, casting a hopeful look behind me to see if I could sneak some champagne. No such luck, Mrs. McQuade was watching us.

“Thanks to me, Matthew? I’ve never even been to New England!”

“And I wouldn’t have gotten there either without you,” I said. “Listen, I’ve been wanting to say for years, thanks for setting a good example and making me want to do as well at school as you did. I never did quite as well, but, you know, I did well enough.”

“I’ll say! But I didn’t do anything, Matthew. Don’t be silly.”

“Sure you did. You were a good example when I needed one.”

“Could you do me a favor and tell my mom that?” she asked. “She was always so impressed with how scrappy you were while I was playing by all the rules.”

“You’re kidding!”

Rachel shook her head. “My mom adored how scrappy and hardworking you were.” She sighed. “I know I was a goody-goody, Matthew. My mom did, too. Honestly, I think…” she cast a wry look over at our folks by the tree. “I think she hoped you and I would…you know, get together.”

I chuckled. “I guess she didn’t have a friendship like ours when she was a kid, then, huh?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Rachel, I mean, we were never going to get together, were we? First of all, we were childhood friends. Secondly, you were one of the beautiful people and I was a nerd, and –”

“Matthew!” She sounded just like she used to when yelling at her kid brother for harassing her. I’d never made her mad before that I knew of. “If I said a thing like that, you’d call me a snob! Do you think I was a snob?”

“No! Then we wouldn’t have been friends!”

“Exactly.” She sounded a bit mollified but still not happy. “Now, look, I do remember you had your bad days when you were younger, but I always loved how honest you were about how you were feeling. And your struggles with your grades, I mean, the way you knuckled down and asked for help — asked me for help — I always admired you for that!” She smiled for the first time since before she snapped at me. “Besides, you are my fellow explorer, aren’t you?”

“You remember that?”

“Of course I do! And when we were older…” She looked around to make sure we had a modicum of privacy, and whispered in my ear. “I always wanted to explore you, Matthew!”

My room was a hotel room. A perfectly ordinary, clean but plain hotel room. Compared to where I’d been all night and where I had left ahead of me, it felt like a palace. As soon as I had my damp shoes and socks off, the carpet felt perfectly orgasmic to my toes. Or was it the memory of what Rachel had said to me that had me feeling that way?

Either way, I was safe in my own little palace somewhere near Verdun, and it had a bathtub. I was feeling strung out from the road and it wasn’t even eleven o’clock yet. No use trying to go to sleep this early, ever since that phone call back in October when my latest love had told me her boss was getting a divorce and she was going back to him. Some nights I was lucky to sleep at all.

As I undressed for the bath, I resolved that tonight would not be one of those nights. Luxembourg was over, and after tomorrow I’d never have to go back there.

Anyway, a much nicer memory was bubbling up, and it had me hard as a rock as I unzipped my jeans.

No one noticed Rachel and me as we collected our coats and slipped out the McQuades’ rarely-used front door — at least I didn’t think so. But Rachel caught me looking over my shoulder as we crossed the street to my house. “Don’t worry, if they did notice, they’re probably happy we’re finally getting together!” she teased.

“Are we?” I asked. “I mean, you’re going back to LA and I’m going back to Massachusetts…”

“Not tonight we’re not, silly! Just think of this as the rite of passage we should have had together years ago.” She laughed. “God, that’s melodramatic, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but I like it,” I admitted as we climbed the steps to my house, which was dark and quiet. As I unlocked the front door, I asked, “Have you ever been in my room?”

“Your mom wouldn’t let us study up there, remember?” Rachel asked. “Guess she was afraid even then I was going to jump your bones.”

“Well, you could’ve done that on the dining room table,” I pointed out. “I wouldn’t have told.”

Rachel’s laugh was nothing like the girlish titter I remembered from years ago. Thank heavens. I could only hope I’d grown up as much as she had.

She took but a moment to admire the lingering hints of childhood that my room betrayed (“Love the antique car wallpaper, Matthew!” she enthused) before she turned out the light. I turned on the little Snoopy lamp on my dresser, at the far corner of the room from my bed. “You like to do it with the lights on, do you?”

“The first time with a partner, anyway,” I said.

“Oh, of course. Guys always want to see you naked first and foremost.”


“Matthew, it’s okay! I read about it in psychology, the primary male stimulus is visual. God, that sounds so clinical, doesn’t it?” So far she’d only kicked her shoes off, but she looked ready to rip her dress off if I didn’t get there first.

“Well, it’s not much more romantic to say ‘I want to see you naked,’ is it?” I asked.

“I guess not, but do you?” She gave me a saucy grin and turned around and held her hair out of the way to reveal the clasp of her dress. “And does it help if I say I want to see you that way?”

“Since when?” I stepped up and undid the clasp and unzipped her, enjoying the tantalizing view of her bra clasp, which I left intact for the moment.

“At least since the algebra days,” she said, turning back around to embrace me. “I didn’t really notice boys at all until right around that time, and I loved how quiet and studious you were compared to most of them. And of course I knew what a nice guy you were because of our bike rides.”

“And all these years you’d rather have been riding me,” I quipped, drawing an uproarious laugh just before we kissed.

I turned on the water tap and put the plug in the tub, and got a wad of toilet paper, and stepped back out into the room and did my best to remember as I stroked myself. Just how did she undress me? Was that before or after I got her dress off? I couldn’t remember for sure. I did remember how beautiful she looked in her lavender bra and panties, and that was what I pictured now.

“You’re cute,” she said as I traced the edges of her bra along the tops and sides of her breasts. “Most guys just want to rip it out of the way.”

“I’d never rip your bra. Don’t you think I know how expensive they are?”

There was that laugh again. “Matt, you can stop joking! Don’t you want to make love to me?”

“Doesn’t it look like I do?”

She must have already had my clothes off by then, because I remember her grabbing at my erection and saying, “Feels like it, too!”

Remembering that sensation now, I took a deep breath and rubbed harder, standing between the bed and the window (with the curtains drawn — I’m no exhibitionist) and did my best to remember the first feel of her breasts once I’d freed them.

Rachel had always been slightly on the heavy side, and she had breasts to match. Probably at least a D-cup, but I was too much the gentleman to look at the tag. I much preferred to look at her breasts anyway. They stood out proudly, with big dark nipples that demanded my attention. My lips were drawn to them like a magnet, and I leaned down and kissed them one by one, bringing out the first moan from her as I reached down and pulled her panties out of the way.

I didn’t look down below just yet. I was enjoying her breasts too much, and apparently they were enjoying me as well, for she rubbed my head playfully but with a firmness that made it clear I was not to pull back.

Once I had her panties off, she pulled me back down onto the bed on top of her. I settled on her left breast for my kisses and went to town on the right one with my hand. “Oh, Matthew, don’t stop!” she said, as if I could have done any such thing if I’d wanted to! I hadn’t seen her pussy yet, but with one hand at loose ends, I was now free to touch it.

Gazing at the hotel wall, I was nearly overcome as I remembered both the feel of her soft, wet flesh and her gasp of joy as I caressed it. Was this what I wanted to come to? The tub was filling up.

“Two fingers!” she ordered. Nothing like a woman who knows just what she likes, and I more than willingly obliged. In no time she was thrusting her hips up in a wonderful rhythm with the pattern I made with my fingers inside her. “Gonna come!” She barely had time to get the words out before she did come, loud enough to make me glad my parents were still across the street.

I went to check the bathtub, still only half full and I wasn’t done.

She got me pinned sitting up against the headboard of my bed, and was right at my eye level as she took me inside her. “Ohhhhh, Matthew, that feels so good, doesn’t it?” The girl next door was a woman now, all right!

“So good!” I agreed. I wrapped one arm tightly around her, and reached down between us with the other one to tease her clit. That had her howling before she even began rocking on me.

As she was soon flailing with abandon, I made to pull my hand away, but she placed both her hands on it. “More of that!” I went on flicking at her clit as best I could.

Now, standing just inside the room door, I looked at the evacuation plan but I saw her breasts bouncing in a wonderful rhythm as she humped me, and I felt our intermingling pubic hair tickling my fingers as I tickled her clit, and I heard her screeching. For years afterward I’d remembered just what she’d said between her many gasps and moans — something like “Fuck me harder, I’m not the girl down the street anymore!” — but now I couldn’t recall for sure just what she’d said.

I did remember her coming, hard and loud, and throwing herself at me as she did. And I remembered hugging her back and wriggling as hard as I could to come just after her, and I remember letting her know nice and loud myself when I succeeded. Was that what I wanted to come to now?

No, there was one more vivid memory.

I went back to the bathroom and saw the tub was full, and turned the water off. As I wandered back out into the room, I conjured up that one last memory. I didn’t remember how long she’d stayed perched on me and clutched me inside her after we’d come — it had been a pleasantly long moment. But I did remember what she said next. “Should I be sorry you didn’t get a good long look at my body before?”

“You shouldn’t be sorry for anything,” I gushed.

“Still and all, this is probably it for us,” she said, sliding off me. “I mean, you’re not coming back to Denver after college, are you? I’m not.”

“Haven’t decided,” I said. “But probably not.”

“What was that song you played for me that day? The first time we studied?” She slid off the bed and stepped over to the dresser, where the Snoopy lamp cast a warm glow on her beautiful body. “About remembering the way you look tonight? I hope you want to remember this,” she added, looking down at herself.

Standing over by the curtains again, I closed my eyes, and there she was. That welcoming smile and big dark eyes that I’d loved half my life, heavy breasts with big pert nipples that surpassed my greatest imagination of what they might look like, curvy hips framing a lovely dark triangle, whose hidden charms I had just partaken of completely for the first and only time. And she hoped I would want to remember it?

I came hard with a quiet grunt, and my beloved hotel room came back into focus.

I hadn’t kept in touch with Rachel. I’d seen her once or twice from a distance while visiting my parents over the next couple of years, but we’d never approached one another again. Couldn’t top our last encounter, after all. I didn’t know where she was now — probably not France, anyway, but I couldn’t help thinking she was probably a successful professional something or other with a couple of kids by now and a husband straight out of a GQ spread. I’d have bet she’d never fallen flat on her face like I had in Luxembourg, or with that class I had to repeat now.

But I remembered. Oh, how I remembered.

I’d be off to Asia too in a few months, and in the meantime I would enjoy my lingering time in Paris, which would end with me getting my degree at last. I didn’t know that for sure as I eased myself into the hot bath that night, of course. But with the happy memory of Rachel’s beautiful body, I resolved not to let that bother me. No matter how cold the winds were blowing outside, I was safe in my little room, and I would be getting some sleep that night.

Sure enough, I got the best sleep I’d had in months, with Rachel striking a pose on the ceiling as I drifted off.