Home > Paris for One(4)

Paris for One(4)
Jojo Moyes

It was not just that Pete was an unreliable boyfriend – in fact, he often disappeared without telling her where he was going. If she was honest with herself, he hadn’t actually invited her.

They had been talking about places they had been and she had admitted that she had never been to Paris, and he’d said, vaguely, ‘Really? Oh, it’s awesome. You’d love it.’

It was the only truly impulsive thing she’d ever done in her life. Two nights later, she had been looking at the website and seen the Eurostar special offer. Her finger had hovered over the book button on her computer and, before she knew what she was doing, she had bought two return tickets. She had presented him with them, glowing half with embarrassment, half with pleasure, the next night when they had gone back to his place.

‘You did what?’ He had been drunk, she remembered now, and he had blinked slowly, as if in disbelief. ‘You bought me a ticket to Paris?’

‘Us,’ she had said, as he fumbled with the buttons of her dress. ‘A weekend in Paris. I thought it would be … fun.’

‘You bought me a ticket to Paris!’ He had shaken his head, his hair flopping over one eye. And then he said, ‘Sure, babe. Why not? Nice one.’ She couldn’t remember what else he’d said, as they’d collapsed onto his bed.

Now she will have to go back to the station, and back to England and tell Magda, Trish and Sue that they were right. That Pete was exactly who they said he was. That she had been a fool and wasted her money. She had blown out the Girls’ Trip to Brighton for nothing.

She screws her eyes shut, until she is sure that she will not cry, then pushes herself upright. She looks at her suitcase. She wonders where to find a taxi, and whether her ticket can be changed. What if she gets to the station and they will not let her on the train? She wonders whether to ask the receptionist downstairs if she will ring Eurostar for her, but she is afraid of the woman’s icy gaze. She has no idea what to do.

Her phone beeps again. She snatches it up, her heart suddenly racing. He is coming after all! It will be all right! But it is Magda.

Having fun, you filthy mare?

She blinks at it, and suddenly feels horribly homesick. She wishes she was there, in Magda’s hotel room, a plastic cup of cheap fizz on the bathroom sink as they fight for mirror space to put on their make-up. England is an hour behind. They will still be getting ready, their suitcases spilling new outfits onto the carpet, the music turned up loud enough to cause complaints.

She thinks, briefly, that she has never felt so lonely in her life.

All great, thanks. Have fun!

She types slowly and presses SEND, waiting for the whooshing sound that tells her it has flown across the English Channel. And then she turns off her phone so that she will not have to lie any more.

Nell examines the Eurostar timetable, pulls her notebook from her bag and writes a list, working out her options. It is a quarter to nine. Even if she makes it back to the station, she is unlikely to get a train that will take her back to England early enough for her to get home. She will have to stay here tonight.

In the harsh light of the bathroom mirror, she looks tired and fed up. She looks exactly like the kind of girl who has just travelled all the way to Paris to be stood up by her boyfriend. She rests her hands on the sink, takes a long, shaky breath, and tries to think clearly.

She will find something to eat, get some sleep, and then she will feel better. Tomorrow she will catch the early train home. It is not what she had hoped, but it is a plan, and Nell always feels better with a plan.

She shuts the door, locks it and goes downstairs. She tries to look carefree and confident, like a woman who often finds herself alone in strange cities.

‘Do you know anywhere nice I could get a bite to eat?’ she asks the receptionist.

The woman looks at her. ‘You want a restaurant?’

‘Or café. Anything. Somewhere I could walk to. Oh, and – um – if the other lady comes back, will you tell her I’ll be staying this evening?’

The Frenchwoman raises an eyebrow a fraction, and Nell imagines her thinking: So your boyfriend never turned up, mousy English girl? That’s no surprise. ‘There is Café des Bastides,’ she says, handing over a small tourist map. ‘You turn right outside, and it’s two streets down on the left. It’s very nice. Fine to …’ she pauses ‘… eat alone.’

‘Thank you.’ Nell, her cheeks flaming, grabs the map, slides it into her handbag, and walks briskly from the hotel lobby.

The café is busy, but Nell finds a small table and chair in a corner by the window and slides in. There is a steamy fug on the inside of the windows, and around her people chat in French. She feels self-conscious, as if she is wearing a sign that says, PITY ME. I HAVE NOBODY TO EAT WITH. She gazes up at the blackboard, saying the words in her head several times before she has to speak them aloud.

‘Bonsoir.’ The waiter, who has a shaven head and a long white apron, puts a jug of water in front of her. ‘Qu’est-ce –’

‘Je voudrais le steak frites s’il vous plaît,’ she says in a rush. Her meal – steak and chips – is expensive, but it is the only thing she thinks she can pronounce without sounding silly.

The waiter gives a small nod and glances behind him, as if distracted. ‘The steak? And to drink, Mam’selle?’ he says, in perfect English. ‘Some wine?’

She was going to have Coke. But she whispers, ‘Yes, please.’

‘Bon,’ he says. In minutes he is back with a basket of bread and a jug of wine. He puts them down as if it is normal for a woman to be sitting there on a Friday evening by herself, and then he is gone.

Nell doesn’t think she has ever seen a woman sitting alone in a restaurant, apart from that time when she went on a sales trip to Corby and that woman sat alone with her book by the Ladies and ate two desserts instead of a main course. Where she lives, girls eat out in groups, mostly curry at the end of a long night’s drinking. Older women might go alone to bingo, or to a family event. But women don’t just go out and eat alone.

But, as she looks around her now and chews a piece of crusty French bread, she sees that she is not the only single diner. There is a woman on the other side of the window, a jug of red wine on her table, smoking a cigarette as she watches the people of Paris bustle by. There is a man in the corner reading his paper, spooning forkfuls of something into his mouth. Another woman, long hair, a gap in her teeth, is chatting to a waiter, her collar high around her neck. Nobody is paying them any attention. Nell relaxes a little, unwinding her scarf.

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