Evangeline dressed in the closet, tiptoed out of the room, and put her shoes on in the hallway after holding the latch down, thus avoiding a loud clank when she pulled the door shut. She heard Michel’s muffled snoring through the thick apartment door as she wiggled her feet into her loafers. The marble-floored hallway was much cooler than the apartment. Evangeline buttoned her sweater and exited the building. Sunlight, diffused with morning mist, induced thoughts of stepping onto a movie set as she strolled up Rue du Chêrche Midi. A brisk pace did little to hold off the chill, and she folded her arms across her chest.
Evangeline arrived early enough at the brasserie to secure a seat in the front row. Galarie Lafayette, situated on the opposing side of the street from the brasserie, cast a tall shadow. She chose a table set out far enough from under the awning for her to warm up when the sun peered over the department store. Earlier, when she stared out the apartment window, a deceptive blue sky and impending sunrise gave the impression of a sweater-weather day. Had she thought to crack open the balcony window and put her hand out, she would have known to pull her wool overcoat from the hook. An adjacent empty table to her left had two fleece blankets folded on one chair, and since they were within reach, she picked up the top one, unfolded it, and wrapped it around her legs and mid-section. Her wood-frame chair squawked on the concrete. With the blanket forming a barrier to hold in her body heat, the chill subsided, and Evangeline moved into observing her fellow morning diners. Satisfied with her choice of table, she delighted in having an unobstructed channel for people watching.
Evangeline stared at a woman across the street who allowed her tiny Yorkshire Terrier to deposit a pile of brown pellets at the curb’s edge.
A waitress wearing a much too long black apron and thick-soled shoes startled her.
“Bonjour,” said the waitress, breaking Evangeline’s fixation on the little dog and its owner who picked up the diminutive animal, but left the droppings, and strode off. The waitress handed Evangeline a menu and said nothing more, holding her pad and pen ready.
“Un café au lait, s’il vous plait.”
After years of studying French and living in Paris, Evangeline could not disguise the American accent, despite her French-sounding name and her impeccable command of the language. Summers in Aix-en-Provence with her grandparents did not make up for the grammar school years spent in Brookline, Mass.
“I need a minute.” Evangeline caved with ease into English.
The waitress gave her a rapid, closed-lip smirk and stepped away.
Evangeline’s stomach rumbled under the blanket, but taking precedence over choosing breakfast, was the chance to take in and eavesdrop on two nice-looking young men engaged in amorous flirtation at the neighboring table. Awkward quips and gestures led Evangeline to believe this was their first night-after meal together. It had first morning together vibes all over it. Watching them brought back her own first overnight with Michel. Four years prior. On their first morning of bliss, when it was still bliss, there was no way she would have left the house, let alone the bedroom. Oily croissant flake splotches and coffee drips from that morning left permanent stains on the sheets. The same sheets where, less than an hour earlier, she had left Michel sleeping with his mouth agape with a string of spittle trailing from the left corner.
The young men gazed at one another over their sizeable bowls of steaming, frothy golden milk. They do not leave watery pillow drool, Evangeline concluded, noting their meticulous unstained sneakers. She had a side view of the young man closest to her, but a full view of the other. The vantage point was close enough to pay attention to the couple, but far enough away to not infringe too much in their moment.
She and Michel went out together often, but seldom at breakfast. Mornings had become their own time, and dinners were when they reconvened most days. By six or seven o’clock, they were both worn from work or errands, and their conversation revolved around recaps of each one’s day, something political, or a broken sink stopper. Long gone were the spontaneous subjects about their life philosophies and dreams.
The young men’s conversation captivated Evangeline. She removed herself from the pings, thunks, and clamor of city noise, concentrating on what they were saying, but so far had only caught their names, which she mulled over. Geoffrey and Seamus. Definitely “G” and not Jeffrey. There was something rhythmic sounding. Evangeline and Michel. She found her name long and disruptive to her romantic coupling, but they’d been an item for some time, and the names rolled out of her without force.
“Geoffrey. Seamus,” whispered Evangeline. The names felt melodic and gentle.
She had let herself become so engrossed in the young men that she missed the waitress placing the cup in front of her. She peered at the coffee bowl. Between sitting too long and the spring chill, the porcelain felt lukewarm. Nonetheless, Evangeline raised it and sipped the cooled drink. With the pretense of the cup blocking her stare, she watched Geoffrey raise his leg and rest his right ankle on his left knee. He dug his finger inside the cuff of his pants. It struck Evangeline as an uneasy, involuntary action. His thin leg looked toned through the jeans, which led her to imaging taut six-pack abs. As lustful as she imagined herself being wedged between them, disrobed, there was something comforting in not having nervous moments in a relationship anymore. She pictured Michel with his red wine-belly paunch jiggling while he brushed his teeth, bent over, and spat into the basin. She lowered her cup.
They were definitely a couple and one that would have no interest in a woman approaching middle-age, but it was a fun thought.
“Seamus, what does fancy dress mean? I’ve heard it before, but am unsure what it really means.” Geoffrey’s flat American accent hit Evangeline as odd when he stressed the word ‘really.’ At first, she thought he might be English, but now that had clearly heard him, his voice having raised from the previous whispers of conversation, she realized he too might be trying to blend in.
Geoffrey rolled a lint ball out from the cuff, twirled it between two fingers, and flicked it to the ground. He sat back, awaiting Seamus’ answer. Evangeline also awaited the answer in Seamus’ deep Irish brogue. It was so thick. Lusciously thick.
Michel had flirted in English with Evangeline at their first meeting, a dinner party, but her immediate reply in French set the precedent. From that point on, she and Michel spoke French during calm moments and lapsed into her native tongue and Michel’s broken English and fully pronounced French words, that Evangeline did not know, when they fought.
“Geoffrey, really? You don’t know what that is?”
Evangeline melted with each enunciated word.
“Fancy Dress?” Seamus repeated Geoffrey’s question.
“Yes, I’ve heard it used, but am not sure of the meaning.”
At first Evangeline speculated about how such a common expression was unknown by someone sitting in a café on the other side of the pond. She’d heard it in many British movies. But when the men bent their heads together, lapsing back into their inaudible conversation, she realized it was playful banter. Seamus nodded. Then Geoffrey. Then they both threw their heads back and laughed. Evangeline envied the rawness in their laughter. She missed those carefree moments with Michel. He was loveable and cozy, but the discovering of new things about each other had a worn patina. She rubbed her forehead, imagining herself and Michel seated together, leaning in close.
The stealth waitress reappeared at Geoffrey and Seamus’ table. “Avez vous choisi?” A page flipped over on her pad as she shook it and held the pen at an angle.
“Oui, je voudrai des Pancakes Amèricaines.” Geoffrey folded the menu.
“Oh, vous etês American. English is better?” asked the waitress between scribbles.
“Non, non, je peux parler en Français s’il vous plâit.” The three of them shared a jovial laugh. Evangeline covered her mouth with her hand and whispered, ‘cute.’
“Bien sûr,” said the waitress, turning towards Seamus.
He closed the menu and held up two fingers.
“Sirop Maple, aussi?” Geoffrey batted his eyes at the waitress, and she nodded.
Evangeline caught the waitress’ attention and pointed to her cup. She raised her hand with her thumb and finger slightly apart, indicating she wanted a smaller one this time. Espresso, water, and a croissant, she mouthed. The waitress left and Evangeline looked at her phone, scrolled through her email, and fell back into what bits of conversation she could overhear from Geoffrey and Seamus.
With each little quip and laugh, she thought more about why one would go out for coffee when the new relationship morning activities would include interludes between shots of espresso and erotic romps. Both young men had little puffs under their eyes. There had been little sleep for those two. Evangeline wondered if they drank cocktails or simply finished the dinner bottle of wine. Michel had been quite energetic in their first few months, but once he’d moved into her apartment on a permanent basis, the lack of sleep, and excess of wine caught up with them and they went to bed based on what each had to do the next day. She also recalled lots of food in the early days, thinking about the stacks of pancakes that would arrive soon. Physical exertion and endorphin production built up an appetite. Pizza was their favorite meal with which to replenish themselves. They could have it delivered. Evangeline recalled the three kilos she’d gained back then.
Engrossed in her thoughts but not as deeply as before, Evangeline watched the waitress place the small tray with her new order on her table.
When she looked over at her neighbors, a waiter was delivering the double order of pancakes. He balanced two large platters and had a bottle of syrup tucked under one arm. Geoffrey and Seamus thanked him as he set the plates down.
“Pancakes American.” They said in unison, giving one another ear-spanning grins.
“Well, we can honor your countrymen at dinner or perhaps we can do beer and banger mid-afternoon,” said Geoffrey, pouring the Sirop Maple over his stack of steaming pancakes.
Geoffrey, Seamus, and Evangeline broke into fitful giggles at Geoffrey’s double entendre. The two men paid no attention to her until she chortled after they had gone quiet and were forkfuls into their breakfast. They looked over. Evangeline raised her espresso cup and said, ‘Cherrio,’ in a fake British accent. One more round of light giggles passed between the two tables. Geoffrey and Seamus raised their respective cups and returned the gesture before turning away. The men went back to consuming their breakfast, and Evangeline reverted her observation.
She broke a piece of croissant, slathered it with creamy butter, and took a bite. The crumbs stuck to her sweater and the blanket covering her lap.
Evangeline picked at her croissant and pretended to scroll through her messages with a clean pinky while she kept the men in her peripheral vision. Movements were elongated and deliberate, as if they calculated each motion; she pined for a second, regretting how far removed she was from the honeymoon phase. The falling in love part was enviable. She adored Michel, but the stomach intrusion of butterflies was long gone. Michel was like her favorite pair of Dansk clogs, no matter how out of fashion they might be. They were always in the closet waiting for her to slip them on. Evangeline had a pang of missing Michel, drool and all. Why it took seeing fresh love for her to appreciate what she had with Michel caused her to wonder if she was too complacent about their situation.
They had discussed marriage. Once. One conversation was all they had needed to confer it being an antiquated institution in which neither wished to participate. She wondered if she had made a mistake. Permanency was not a such a bad thing. She’d woken up next to Michel for four years. A lifetime seemed manageable. Evangeline pictured herself in a white eyelet lace dress with a ring of daisies crowning her head. Marriage seemed too big of a spark to bring some life back to her and Michel. Maybe turning thirty-five makes regrets come to life. Evangeline gulped, took another sip of water, and raised her head from her phone.
The men had finished their pancakes, and Seamus rested his hand over Geoffrey’s at the table’s edge. Hand holding led Evangeline to picturing the two men bare chested, wrapped in damp matching Turkish burgundy towels, after getting out of a steam filled shower. New towels and a steamy shower would be more Michel’s speed than suggesting a wedding to reignite their passion.
How long would it be before Geoffrey and Seamus moved in together and stopped making goo-goo eyes at one another? A vision of Michel snoring with his legs half out from under the duvet, zipped through her. She wanted to giggle at the thought of the bare leg, but felt a pit in her gut about how much she missed the careless throwing of kisses to one another.
She sipped the double espresso and continued picturing the two men in their towels, but now they lived together; the sink held blobs of shaving cream, whisker cuttings, and hardened toothpaste. And rather than six-pack abs, each sported a soft bulge in the front and muffin top protrusions on the sides. When was the last time she’d showered with Michel or made love on the living room floor? Those moments ended for Evangeline and Michel shortly after the weight gain and his razor residing in a cup on the side of her bathroom sink. The razor was a fixed object at six months and within a year Michel had turned his apartment into an Airbnb. They moved anything personal or cherished of Michel’s that Evangeline had pre-approved into her vacuous apartment.
Geoffrey and Seamus signaled for the check.
“Nice to dine with you.” Geoffrey said to Evangeline.
They all exchanged smiles.
Evangeline remained seated as they walked away, but she kept her eyes on the pair as they walked down the street, leaning in towards one another. Every few steps their shoulders bumped. The sidewalk filled in with morning shoppers, walkers, and tourists. The men blended into the crowd and disappeared from her view.
Evangeline raised her hand, “L’addition.”
The waitress arrived with the bill and a small chocolate.
“Tout était bein?”
“Oui, merci,” Evangeline replied, smiling.
She unwrapped the blanket, folded it, and returned it to the chair next to her. After a final swig of cold coffee, Evangeline stood up and brushed the croissant crumbs from her chest. She shoved her phone into her purse, pulled out her sunglasses, pushed them to the top of her head to hold her hair back, and stepped to the curb, avoiding the clumped dog mess when she got to the other side.
Inside the vestibule of the Galerie Lafayette, she ran her finger down the directory for the houseware floor. When she found it under the list of third floor departments, she uttered ah-ha, and made a single, solid nod. As the escalator pushed to the third level, she stepped off the metal platform, hoping to find two thick Turkish burgundy bath-sized towels.