To get back to the series of events that brought me together with Francis (way before I somehow managed to launch a boutique tour company and started holding my breath and working frantically in hopes that it would succeed)…
I often hung out with the gang of Irish “lads” but Leah was the only one I ever did things with alone. So, it struck me as very strange when the girl who was seeing Francis started inviting me to join the two of them on dates. But, as usual, I figured there was the language factor to explain it
You’ll recall that I’d played translator for Leah and her boyfriend many times before their relationship started getting really serious. So, daft as I might sound, it was a highly plausible scenario. With the passage of time, I came to realize I had probably just imagined that he was looking at me when he shouldn’t have been that afternoon when I had sat alone on the wall with him looking over the city.
Still, something made me hesitant to tag along on these outings. Something felt a little awkward, whereas it never had felt that way when Leah had dragged me along on a meet up with her man. So, I declined. Many times.
My Irish friend’s invitations became more insistent and imploring and when declining wasn’t enough, I made up polite excuses.
One day she simply wouldn’t accept no as an answer. But I didn’t want to go. It didn’t feel right so I resisted adamantly until in her desperation she begged me saying she was afraid he was going to break up with her if I didn’t come. Of course, I went.
There is nothing quite like being the third wheel.
I remember how it started…
She and I took the bus into the city center (our student housing was in a suburb on the outskirts of the city). I hated wasting money on the ticket, I usually walked the 45 minutes into town, but she wasn’t in very good shape… not that that kept her from showing off her voluminous curves with tight fitting clothes and low neck lines that showed off her generous cleavage. It is fair to say that if she and I were put on a scale measuring the effort we put into showing off our femininity I would have fallen on the opposite extreme. I wore my combat boots and formless workman’s clothes with my “lucky sweater” –a grey thing with white and sky-blue stripes across the bust that I’d found at a thrift store back in Cleveland: it wasn’t really “lucky” but it seemed like the kind of big baggy old thing that might have been someone else’s lucky sweater, so that is what I called it.
We arrived at the Café du Theatre before Francis and waited awkwardly in the doorway for a table to free up. The café was located near the humanities department of the university in the theater district of the city.
That day it was packed, as usual, with students sharing a coffee and cigarette between classes.
I usually avoided this place like the plague precisely because it was always so hard to get a table. My friend Leif dragged me there occasionally because it was, according to him, one of the best gay “pick up” spots in town.
While we waited for either a table or Francis, whichever came first, I spotted a few tables occupied by couples engaged in romantic encounters screened by the hazy smoke screen produced by the neighboring tiny tables surrounded by too many chairs filled by too many students. Our only hope of getting a table was that one of the couples would leave. I knew from experience that if a student left one of the congested tables some of their classmates and friends would stay behind and new friends and classmates would pop in the café to occupy the recently emptied chairs… if they hadn’t already been dragged to another table where someone had been standing.
Basically if you wanted a table you probably had to send a martyr to the café at opening time. Or have lots of friends at the university. Leif usually flirted us into some chairs at a table of strangers. No flirting today. We’d have to be furtive and fleet; this was survival of the fittest.
We got a table. Don’t try to tell me there are no miracles.
The couple seated closest to us, two handsome and chicly dressed men, decided to leave. I no more than pointed it out that they were about to leave and my friend rushed the table like a rugby player. She was amazing!
She probably had a Guinness. I’m only guessing because I remember that there were several bars in town where we could no longer go because my Irish “lads” had stolen all the pint glasses, which the French call “Serieux” (which literally means “serious”) as souvenirs and the bar tenders were on to them because the French usually ordered their beers in a more “civilized” (less “serious”) half sized glass called “half” or “demi” in French (even if they had every intention of having two “halves” from the moment they first ordered). I probably ordered an espresso because it was one of the cheapest menu items, not because I liked them, because I didn’t. But, one did have to order a drink in order to monopolize a table.
When Francis joined us, conversation was difficult because of the buoyant clientele.
My friend probably had to wait in line a long time to go to the bathroom. Francis probably took advantage of the opportunity to ask me my class schedule. I’m trying to recreate the events because I don’t remember. All I know is that…
The next day when I left my 11:00 class, Francis was waiting outside the French Foreign Language Institute. (And we all know that, he wasn’t taking classes there). He was sitting on one of the short cement street posts. He was sitting there carefully watching the students stream out the door. He was sitting there watching for someone in particular with what appeared to be great intensity.
I saw him before he saw me and a little thrill of panic and excitement rushed over me. The Irish girls didn’t study there; they were all enrolled at the school of commerce!
He could only be there for one reason.
It wasn’t me who was the third wheel after all.