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Authors: Lucy Foley

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Jess

I wake in darkness. There's a heavy weight on my chest, a horrible taste in my mouth, my tongue dry and heavy like it doesn't
belong to me. For a few long moments, everything that happened to me before now is a total blank. It feels like peering forward
and staring into a black hole.

I grope around, trying to make out my surroundings. I seem to be lying on a bed. But which bed? Whose?

Fuck. What happened to me?

Gradually I remember: the party. That disgusting drink. Victor the vampire.

And then I see something I recognize. Some little green digits, glowing in the blackness. It's Ben's alarm clock. Somehow
I'm back here, in the apartment. I blink at the numbers. 17:38. But that can't be right. That's the afternoon. That would
mean I've been asleep for—Jesus Christ—the whole day.

I try to sit up. I make out two huge, glowing, slit-pupiled eyes a few inches from my nose. The cat is sitting on me—so that's
the weight on my chest. It starts kneading its claws into my throat in painful little darts. I push it away: it hops off the
bed. I look down at myself. I'm fully clothed, thank God. And I remember now, in flashes of memory: Victor was the one who
got me down here after I blacked out in Mimi's apartment. Not the date-raping predator I suddenly thought he might be. In
fact he'd seemed scared by the state I was in—left as quick as he could. I suppose at least he tried to help.

A flicker of memory. I found something last night. Something that felt important. But at first everything that happened only comes back to me in hazy, disjointed fragments. There are big missing patches like holes in a jigsaw. I know my dreams were really trippy. I recall an image of Ben shouting at me through a pane of glass; but I couldn't see his face clearly, the glass seemed warped. He was trying to warn me of something—but I couldn't hear what he was saying. And then suddenly I could see his face clearly but that was much, much worse. Because he didn't have any eyes. Someone had scratched them out.

Now I remember the paintings under Mimi's bed. Jesus Christ. That's what I found last night. Those tears in the canvas, like
she'd ripped them all apart in some kind of frenzy. The slashes, the holes where the eyes should have been. And Ben's T-shirt,
wrapped around them.

I haul myself out of bed, stumble into the main room. My head throbs. I might be small, but I'm not a cheap date—one drink
is not enough to get me in that much of a state. It might not have been Victor, but I'm pretty sure of one thing: someone
did this to me.

A loud trilling, so loud in the silence it makes me jump. My phone. Theo's name flashes up on the screen.

I pick up. “Hello?”

“I know what that card is.” No niceties, no preamble.

“What?” I ask. “What are you talking about?”

“The card you gave me. The metal one, with the firework on it. I know what it is. Look, can you meet me at quarter to seven?
So—in about an hour? The Palais Royal Metro station; we can walk from there. Oh, and try and look as smart as possible.”

“I don't—”

But he's already hung up.

Mimi

Fourth floor

I put the stuff in her drink last night. It was so easy. There was ketamine going around and I got hold of some, shook the
powder into her glass until it dissolved and asked one of Camille's friends to give it to the British girl with the red hair.
He seemed only too pleased to do it: she's quite pretty, I suppose.

I had to do it. I couldn't have her there. But that doesn't mean I don't feel bad about it . . . I've been so careful my whole
life about drugs—apart from that night in the park. And then to inflict them on someone else without them even knowing. That
wasn't cool. It's not her fault she made the mistake of coming to this place. That's the worst part. She's probably not even
a bad person.

But I know I am.

Camille comes out of her room wearing a silk slip, black rings of smudged makeup around her eyes. This is the first time she's
surfaced all day.

“Hey. Last night was craaaazy. People really enjoyed it, don't you think?” She looks at me closely. “
Putain
, Mimi, you look like shit. What happened to your knees?” They still hurt from where I hit the tarmac in front of that van;
the concierge insisted on dabbing some antiseptic onto the grazes. She grins. “Someone had a good night,
non
?”

I shrug. “
Oui
. I suppose so.” Actually it was probably one of the worst nights of my life. “But I didn't . . . sleep well.” I didn't sleep
at all.

She looks at me more closely. “Ohhh. Was it
that
kind of no sleep?”

“What do you mean?” I wish she'd stop looking at me so intently.

“You know what I mean! Your mystery guy?”

My heart's suddenly beating too fast in my chest. “Oh. No. It wasn't anything like that.”

“Wait,” she grins at me. “You never told me. Did it work?”

“What do you mean, did it work?” I feel like she's crowding me, the smell of Miss Dior and stale cigarette smoke suddenly
overpowering. I need her out of my space.

“The stuff we picked out. Mimi!” She raises her eyebrows. “You can't have forgotten? It was only, like, two weeks ago!”

 

Already it feels like it happened to someone else. I see myself like a character in a film, knocking on the door to Camille's
room. Camille sitting on the bed painting her toenails, the room stinking of nail polish and weed.

“I want to buy some lingerie,” I told her.

Maman always bought all my underwear. We went together, every season, to Eres and she would buy me three simple sets: black,
white, nude. But I wanted something different. Something I had picked myself. Only I didn't have any idea where to go. I knew
Camille would.

Camille's eyebrows shot up. “Mimi! What's happened to you? That new look and now . . .
lingerie
? Who is he?” She smiled slyly. “Or she?
Merde
, you're so mysterious I don't even know if you
actually prefer girls.” A smirk. “Or maybe you're like me and it depends what mood you're in?”

Could she really not know who it was? To me it seemed so obvious. Not just that I was into him, but that he and I had a special
connection. It felt like it was obvious to the outside world, to everyone who saw us.

“Come,” she said, jumping up, throwing her foam toe dividers to one side. “We're going now.”

She dragged me into Passage du Desir in Châtelet. It's a sex shop—one of a chain—on a big busy shopping street alongside shoe
and clothes shops because, I guess, this is France and screwing is, like, a thing of national pride. You see couples coming
out carrying bags over their arms, smiling secret smiles at each other, women striding in there on their lunch breaks to buy
vibrators. I'd never gone into one before. In fact every time I'd passed one of their stores I'd blushed at the window displays
and looked away.

I felt like everyone in there was looking at me, wondering what this blushing loser virgin was doing among all that latex
fetish wear and lube. I lowered my head, trying to hide behind my new fringe. I had horrific images of Papa walking past and
somehow spotting me inside, dragging me out by my hair: calling me
une petite salope
in front of the whole street.

Camille dug out boxes with things called “love kits” in: whole lingerie and suspender sets for ten euros. But I shook my head;
they weren't sophisticated enough. She grabbed a huge, bright pink dildo with obscene protruding veins, waved it in front
of me. “Maybe you should get one of
these
while we're here.”

“Put it back,” I hissed, ready to die of shame. Yeah, we have that expression in French too:
mourir de honte
.

“Masturbating is healthy
, chérie
,” Camille said, way louder than she needed to. She was enjoying this, I could tell. “You
know what's not healthy?
Not
masturbating. I bet that school your papa sent you to told you it's a sin.”

I've told Camille about the school, just not why I had to leave. “
Va te faire foutre
,” I said, giving her a shove.

“Ah, but that's exactly what you need to do. Go fuck
yourself
.”

I dragged her out of there. We went into a classier place where the shop assistants with their chignons and their perfect
red lipstick looked at me sideways. My men's shirts, my big boots, my home-cut fringe. A security guard tailed us. That would
be enough normally. I'd leave. But I needed to do this. For him.

“I want to pick out something too,” Camille told me, holding a silk harness up against herself.

“You own more stuff than this entire shop.”


Oui
. But I want something more sophisticated, you know?”

“Who's it for?” I asked her.

“Someone new.” She gave a secretive smile. That was weird. Camille's never mysterious about anything. If she has a new fuck-buddy
on the scene the whole world has normally heard about it about thirty minutes after their first screw.

“Tell me,” I said. But still she refused to say. I didn't like this new, mysterious Camille. But I felt too high with the
thrill of my purchase to think much about it. I couldn't wait.

Next to shelves of designer sex toys we browsed through racks of lace and silk, felt the fabric between our fingers. The lingerie
had to be perfect. Some of it was too much: crotchless, buckles and straps, leather. Some of it Camille rejected as “stuff
your maman would buy”: flowers and silk in pastel colors—pink, pistachio, lavender.

Then: “I've found it, the one for you.” She held it up to me. It was the most expensive set of all the ones we'd looked at.
Black lace and silk so fine you could hardly feel it between your fingers. Chic but still sexy. Grown-up.

In a changing room with velvet drapes I tried the set on. I held up my hair and half closed my eyes. I was feeling less embarrassed now. I'd never looked at myself like this before. I thought I'd feel stupid, gauche. I thought I'd worry about my small tits, my slight pot belly, my bow legs.

But I didn't. Instead I imagined revealing myself to him. I pictured the look on his face. Saw him sliding it off me.

Je suis ta petite pute.

After I'd changed I took it over to the desk and told the shop assistant to ring it up. I liked how she tried to hide her
surprise as I took out my credit card.
Yeah: fuck you, bitch. I could buy everything in here if I wanted.

All the way back to the apartment I thought about the bag over my arm. It weighed nothing, but suddenly it was everything.

For the next few nights I watched him through the windows. They'd got later and later, these writing sessions: fueled by the
pots of coffee he'd make on his stove and drink looking out of the windows onto the courtyard. It was something important,
I could tell. I could see how fast he typed, hunched over the keyboard. Maybe he'd let me read it one day soon. I'd be the
first person he shared it with. I watched him bend down and stroke the cat's head and I imagined I was that cat. I imagined
one day I would lie there on his sofa with my head in his lap and he would stroke my hair like he did that cat's fur. And
we'd listen to records and we'd talk about all the plans we'd make. I saw the image of us there together in his apartment
so clearly it was like I was watching it. So clearly that it felt like a premonition.

Nick

Second floor

A hammering on the door of my apartment. I jump with shock.

“Who is it?”


Laissez-moi entrer
.”
Let me in.
More hammering. The door shudders on its hinges.

I go to open it. Antoine shoves his way past me into the room in a cloud of booze and stale sweat. I take a step back.

He pushed his way in here like this only two weeks ago: “Dominique's cheating on me. I know she is. The little slut. She comes
back smelling of a different scent. I called her yesterday in the stairwell and I heard her ringtone coming from somewhere
in this building. Second time I rang she'd switched it off. She'd told me she was having a pedicure in Saint-Germain. It's
him, I know it. It's that English
connard
you invited to live here . . .”

And me thinking: could it be true? Ben and Dominique? Yes, there had been flirtation at that drinks, on the roof terrace.
I hadn't read anything into it. Ben flirted with everyone. But could this be an explanation for why he had been avoiding my
eye, avoiding my calls? Why he had been
so busy
?

Now Antoine snaps his fingers in front of my face. “Wakey wakey,
petit frère
!” He doesn't say it affectionately. His eyes are bloodshot, breath rank with wine. I couldn't believe the change when I came back after those years away. When I left, my brother
was a happy newlywed. Now he's an alcoholic mess whose wife has left him. That's what working for our father does to you. “What are we going to do about her?” he demands. “The girl?”

“Just calm down—”


Calm down
?” He stabs the air in front of me with a finger. I take another step back. He may be a mess but I'll always be the younger
brother, ready to duck a punch. And he's so like Papa when he's angry. “You know this is all your fault, don't you? All your
mess? If you hadn't invited that cunt to live here. Coming here and thinking he could just . . . just help himself. You know
he used you, right? But you couldn't see that, could you? You couldn't see any of it.” He frowns, mock-thoughtful. “In fact,
now I think about it, the way you looked at him—”


Ferme ta gueule.

Shut your mouth.
I take a step toward him. The anger is sudden, blinding. And when I'm next aware of what I'm doing I realize my hand is around
his throat and his eyes are bulging. I loosen my fingers—but with an effort, as though some part of me resists the instruction.

Antoine puts up a hand, rubs at his neck. “Hit a nerve there, didn't I, little bro?” His voice is hoarse, his eyes a little
frightened, his tone not as flippant as he'd probably like it. “Papa wouldn't like that, would he? No, he wouldn't like that
at all.”

“I'm sorry,” I say. Ashamed. My hand aches. “Shit, I'm sorry. This isn't helping anything, us fighting like this.”

“Oh look at you. So grown-up. Embarrassed about your little hissy fit because you like pretending that you're sorted, don't
you? But you're just as fucked-up as I am.” When he says the word “fucked”—a harsh
foutu
in French—a huge gob of spit lands on my cheek. I put my hand up, wipe it off. I want to go and wash my face, scrub at it
with hot water and soap. I feel
infected
by him.

When Jess spoke about Antoine last night I saw him through a stranger's eyes. I was ashamed of him. She's right. He is a mess.
But I hated her saying it. Because he's also my brother. We can do our family members down as much as we like. But the second an outsider insults them our blood seethes. At the end of the day I don't like him—but I love him. And I see my own failures in him. For Antoine it's the booze, for me it's the pills, the self-punishing exercise. I might be a little more in control of my addictions. I might be less of a mess—in public anyway. But is that really something to boast about?

Antoine's grinning at me. “Bet you wish you'd never come back here, huh?” He takes another step closer. “Tell me, if it was
all so great rubbing shoulders with the high-flyers in Silicon Valley, why did you come back? Ah,
oui 
. . . because you're no better than the rest of us. You try and pretend you are, that you don't need him, his money. But then
you came crawling back here, like we all do, wanting to suck a little more from the paternal teat—”

“Just shut the fuck up!” I shout, hands forming fists.

I take a long breath: in for four, out for eight, like my mindfulness app tells me. I'm not proud of myself losing my temper
like this. I'm better than this. I am not this guy. But no one can get under my skin like Antoine. No one else knows exactly
what to say and how to say it for maximum impact. Except my father, of course.

But the worst part is that my brother's right. I came back. Back to the paterfamilias like some seasonal bird returning to
the same poisoned lake.

“You've come home, son,” Papa told me, as we sat together up on the roof terrace on my first night back. “I always knew you
would. We'll have to make a trip to the Île de Ré, take the boat out one weekend.”

Maybe he'd changed. Mellowed. He didn't taunt me over the money I'd lost on the investment—not yet. He even offered me
a cigar, which I smoked, though I loathe the taste. Maybe he'd missed me.

It was only later that I realized it wasn't that at all. It was just more proof of his power. I had failed at finding a life
apart from him.

“If you want any more of my money,” he told me, “you can come back under my roof so I can keep an eye on you. There'll be
no more gallivanting around the world. I want a return on my investment. I want to know you're not pissing it all up the wall.
Tu comprends?
Do you understand?”

Antoine is pacing up and down in front of me. “So what are we going to do about her?” he asks, with drunken belligerence.

“Keep your voice down,” I say. “She might understand something.” The walls have ears in this place.

“Well what the fuck is she still doing here?” He kicks at the doorframe. “What if she goes to the police?”

“I've handled that.”

“What do you mean?”

“It helps to have friends in high places.”

He understands. “But she needs to go.” He's muttering to himself now: “We could lock her out. It would be so easy. All we'd
need to do is change the combination on the front gate—she wouldn't be able to get in then.”

“No,” I say, “that wouldn't—”

“Or we could make her leave. Little girl like that? Wouldn't be hard.”

“No. If anything we'd just force her into going to the police again on her own . . .”

Antoine lets out something between a roar and a groan. He's a total liability. Family, huh? Because blood is always thicker
than water, in the end. Or, as we say in French:
la voix du sang est la plus forte
. The voice of blood is the strongest. Summoning me back here to this place.

“It's better that she stays here,” I say, sharply. “You must see that. It's better that we can keep an eye on her. For the
time being we simply have to hold our nerve. Papa will know what to do.”

“Have you heard from him?” Antoine says. “Papa?” His tone has changed. Something needy in it. When he said “Papa” for a second
he sounded like the little boy he once was, the little boy who sat outside his mother's bedroom as Paris' best physicians
came and went, unable to make sense of the illness eating away at her.

I nod. “He got in touch this morning.”

I hope you're holding the fort there, son. Keep Antoine under control. I'll be back as soon as I can.

Antoine scowls. He's Papa's right-hand man in the family business. But right now, for the time being, I'm the trusted one.
That must hurt. But that's the way it's always been, our father pitting the two of us against each other in a struggle for
scraps of parental affection. Except on the few occasions we unite against a common enemy.

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