The boys brought friends. French friends who, as they say, had very little English. Michel had next to none. What he did have was dark hair that flopped over his eyes, a wrestler’s body and the confidence that guys who look like that always have, no matter what the language. He reminded me of Ilie Nastase, the tennis star who I’d watched win the Wimbledon doubles championship with Jimmy Connors earlier that summer of ‘73. Nasty, they called him. Sexy, I thought.
Catching Michel watching me from under that flop of hair, I was grateful the dark hid my tell-tale blush. Laughing, he held out his arm, making a muscle, the way guys do all over the world, and gestured for me to feel his bicep. Ooh la la, I said, laughing too and making a big deal out of squeezing his muscle. I thought he was perfect.
He rattled off something to me in French but it was too fast, too many words, too many French words.
“Sorry. Je ne parle pas français.”We both turned to Peter who translated, telling me there was a dance nearby and Michel wanted to know if I would go with him. Did I? I looked at Michel, his head cocked in that charming questioning manner. He brought his hands together like a child saying his prayers.
“Go on! It’ll be fun,” my little sister urged.
“Should I? What about you? Will you be okay?”
“Yeah. I'll be fine. I just want to talk to Peter for a little while, then we’ll come too. We’ll be right behind you. You should go Simmy; he’s really cute.”
I knew Nancy was right. She’d be all right; I assumed one of the boys had a jug of wine or maybe even some pot, but there was nothing I could do about that. Nancy was the wild child, the one that caused my parents more sleepless nights in a month than I would in a lifetime. If I thought about it, Nancy probably lost her virginity before I did. I didn’t want to think about it. No, I didn’t have to worry about Nancy. I was the one I had to worry about. And she was right about Michel. He was really cute. I took her advice. I went.
It was a night much like the one we’d arrived on. A mid summer’s eve, the mediterranean air mild and balmy, quiet as we walked along a gravel road lined with homes behind rocky walls. We struggled to understand each other, speaking in simple sentences like babies learning their first words, thrilled when the most elementary meaning was understood.
“You like the dance? Oui?”
“Oui!” As if he wouldn’t understand me if I’d simply answered ‘yes’ in English. “Je t’aime bailer.” Oops, I’d dropped into high school Spanish by mistake. “I mean danser! Je t’aime danser.”He smiled, nodding. Thinking of what to say next.
“You like rock ‘n’ roll?”I forced myself not to laugh. I loved how the French asked if you liked rock ‘n’roll like it was all of a piece. In the states we broke it down into bands and genres. Do you like Black Sabbath? No, I hate heavy metal. So, like, what, are you into soft rock? Neil Diamond? Is that your speed? I like Creedence, they’re not soft rock, right? Fleetwood Mack, the Eagles, the Beatles—Okay, stop. Those are all basically soft rock bands.
To Michel I simply said. “Oui. Je t’aime rock ‘n’ roll."
We laughed a little together, awkwardly, not sure what else to do except carry on walking towards the sound of music. Of rock ‘n’ roll. I’d never danced to rock ‘n’ roll with a French boy.
When he slipped his hand in mine I kept my eyes straight ahead, like it was the most natural thing in the world to be walking down a country lane with a French boy I’d met less than an hour ago. As if I walked hand in hand with French boys on my way to dances all the time.
And then he kissed me.
[continued: Part Deux]
Image: White House at Night, Vincent Van Gogh
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