By: Cara McKenna

Didier nodded. “Very much.”

“A friend of mine said your father’s Spanish.”

He shook his head. “Portuguese.”

“Oh, sorry. Does he live in France now?”

“No, he never lived here. I used to visit him in the summers, when I was a child, but not for years and years now. My parents never married. Though I don’t think my mother ever stopped loving him. I think he’s the only man, maybe the only person, she ever loved, aside from her own mother. But I do not think he ever loved her back.”

It was interesting to me, how freely Didier spoke of such things. Then again, surely no part of him is off-limits, not his anatomy or his past, his views on sex and love. I was reminded then how differently Europeans—and in particular the French—view love compared to Americans. When I first moved here I found it bleak, borderline nihilistic, but I can understand now how our version must seem to them—delusional and sloppy and grasping. As I sat staring at Didier’s near-naked body, I ached to learn how to be blasé about the whole affair, how to be French about it. I ached to be a woman who, when viciously dumped or informed her boyfriend was cheating, could merely curse and spit at the ground and shake her delicate fist, then move on.

Though if I were really so unaffected, I’d surely have gotten laid long ago. So no, I’m no more fluent in France’s romantic pragmatism than I am its language. Though perhaps in time, with practice.

“I’d like to watch you,” I said quietly.

Didier offered me a subtle, genuine smile. “I would like for you to watch. Where? Right here?”

“Where do you usually…”

“On my bed.”

His bed. Shiver. “Is that okay?”

“That’s perfectly okay. Come.” He stood and lifted the table from behind the couch, carrying it, lit candles and all, to the far end of the flat. I followed, fear and curiosity tightening my belly, eyes torn between his ass and shoulders and the black threshold of his room.

His bedroom is dark, even more so than the rest of the apartment, its lone window obscured by a curtain. He set the candles by the wall so they illuminated the head of his bed. It’s a fascinating piece of furniture, and I bet it’s been in this flat for decades, too cumbersome to bother removing. Dark wood, with a canopy—curling, carved posts draped with the same red chiffony fabric as the curtain. Sensual without being feminine, antique without stodginess. His bedspread is black and I hope one day to be able to report on the color of his sheets. Beside the bed is a small side table displaying a half-dozen bottles with glass stoppers, massage oil or lube or both, I could only assume.

He waited patiently while I took in the room, as I imagined him fucking on that bed to the noise and flash of a thunderstorm, rain hammering the window. Note—I did not say I imagined him fucking me on that bed. I really need to get better at participating in my own fantasies.

“It’s a lovely room,” I told him.

“Thank you.”

“It’s very…relaxing. I was worried before I got here that there was no chance I’d be able to relax.”

He pulled a chair from the corner to the center of the room for me and took a seat on the bed. “You have a lot of worries about all this.”

“I have a lot of worries about most things,” I admitted with a sheepish smile. “Though hardly anything’s ever as bad I let myself expect.”

“And me? I’m not as bad as you feared?”

I grinned down at my hands. “No, not at all. You’re very disarming.”

“I’m glad.”

Seeing him nearly naked on his bed had me coursing with heat all over again. This was where he lay when he touched himself for real, without an audience.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“I think so. I’ve never watched a man before. In person.”

“Does it intimidate you, to feel like a voyeur?”

“Kind of.”

“That’s fine. Here is what we do.” He stood and got the setup going. A dark wicker changing screen from the corner of the room was arranged between the bed and the chair, all of the light on the bed’s side. I took a seat and could see him quite clearly through the gaps in the weave, sitting on the edge of the mattress. He could surely see only firelit lattice.

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