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Authors: Rebecca Serle

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Chapter Seven

Martin, three days.

I was racing down the steps to catch the metro and already late for set in the first arrondissement—a full thirty-minute commute from the portion of Paris I had been stashed away in. I'd been there for three weeks, assisting on a shoot for my brand-new boss, Irina. I had replaced Kendra just ten days before we'd left for France, and now I was playing catch-up, halfway around the world.

“What are your thoughts on living in a foreign country for a month at very short notice?” Irina had asked me in our interview.

I looked at her razor-sharp black hair, perfect cigarette pants with crisp creases down the middle, and starched white button-down, collar slightly popped. If this artfully constructed woman could be spontaneous, so could I.

“They are excellent,” I'd told her. I thought about Murph, but he loved my parents, so I knew it would be OK.

And now, here we were.

“Excusez-moi! Excusez-moi!” I stopped short to see a fiftysomething woman with a manicured bob pointing to a letter on the floor. God, French women really did know how to pull it together.

“C'est le tien!” she continued.

I picked up the envelope. Inside was a note:
Martin, three days.

Normally I'd be intrigued. Three days in a foreign country sounded like a prospect, but unfortunately, I was still late, and I had no idea who Martin was.

I slid into the metro car just as the doors shut. Because the film was on a tight budget (films are always on tight budgets, even when those budgets are two hundred million dollars) they'd put me up in the sixteenth arrondissement, far away from where the rest of the cast and important crew members were staying. I didn't mind. I'd never been to Paris before, and I've always been a quick study with maps. I've had a sense of direction since the second grade—call it my perennial need to get out of the Palisades. My father helped me turn it into an adventure, and as he drove me to a beach past Point Dume, or a new ice cream shop, I would unfurl the map onto my lap and just stare at all of Los Angeles laid out before me.

I got off the metro at the Tuileries/Pyramides stop and raced across the street. Today we were filming by the Ritz Paris, in the Place Vendôme right in front of the storied hotel with the same name. Iconic. Every time I looked around at the smooth gray stone and the chic French people and listened to the beautiful whispered language, I couldn't believe my luck. Here I was on a movie set in the city that was already the most famous movie set in the world.

The movie was a remake of
Paris When It Sizzles
, a 1964 film starring Audrey Hepburn. The studio had wanted to use a hologram of Audrey, but Irina had convinced them it would be better with a real-life starlet: “You need someone for the publicity tour. What are you going to do, project smoke in a room and have
Variety
fire away with their questions?” But as it so often goes, the starlet wasn't living up to Audrey's ghost. If they'd have asked me (which, of course, no one did), I'd have said, “Le duh.”

I made my way rapidly down Rue de Rivoli, and ducked into the Starbucks six streets over. Everyone on set wanted coffee, and everyone wanted Starbucks. Paris is a city that despises Americans but loves American chains. I think Parisians secretly like all the choices—oat milk with cinnamon and stevia? Perfect.

I made it to the front of the line and handed over my list. One of the assistants typed it out in French, and I brought it with me daily. Before we developed this system it took me half an hour to order.

As the cashier rung me up, I used the time to check my phone. There were two texts from Irina inquiring about my whereabouts, and one from Marguerite, the director's assistant, asking if I could add a triple espresso to the order. I flagged down the barista and made it happen.

By the time I got to set Irina was annoyed. She tended to sit when she was relaxed and stand when she wanted to throw something at you, I had learned. When I got there, she was pacing.

“Finally,” she said. She made a
Gimme
motion with her hands, and I handed her the oat milk misto from the stack.
Marguerite, a pale French girl who did not look a day over eighteen but was actually thirty-one, took the rest out of my hands and distributed them accordingly.

“What time is it?” Irina asked me.

I flipped over my phone to read the display. “Eight thirty-five.”

“And what time was call?”

I stared at her; it seemed redundant to answer.

“I'm sorry,” I said. “I'll start leaving earlier.”

I could see her appraising me and her demeanor shifting from punishing to empathetic.

“All right,” she said. “Go get yourself a glass of water, or something. I don't like seeing you flushed; it's unsightly.”

I deposited my own coffee in the empty chair behind her and made my way to “crafty,” a few long tables where all the snacks and food for the day are stationed. Because we were shooting outside, they had erected a small tent to cover the area, about fifty feet over from village, or command central—where all the bigwigs, including Irina and the director, watched the scenes for the day. Irina had arranged for me to have a chair as well, and whenever they set up hers they set up mine, right behind her.

Craft service in America is mostly traditional snacks—granola bars, fruit platters, popcorn and chip bags. Dependent on the budget, there are extensive lunch and dinner spreads—salads and sandwiches, but basic stuff. In France it's an entirely different enterprise altogether. On our first day shooting, lunch was poached salmon, a fresh green and herb salad, baguettes, an eight-cheese spread, and crème brûlée for dessert.

All French films have wine at craft services, but American productions don't allow it.

I found a room-temperature water bottle above a cooler and downed it appreciatively.

When I looked up, I saw the actor who was playing William Holden's character, the love interest of the Audrey Hepburn role, at the coffee station.

He nodded to me; I nodded back. His name was Jacques, a French actor who had done a Marvel movie eighteen months ago and was now looking for some upmarket clout.

And then there was his stand-in.

Every time a new scene needed to be blocked or lit, this man would become Jacques, while Jacques went to change or to hair and makeup or to argue loudly in his trailer with his Brazilian husband, Lucas.

The stand-in looked like Jacques from the side and the back, but from the front he was rounder, and his features more prominent, less organized. He also had a thick beard. His name, of course, was Martin.

I decided to let the whole thing play out. Usually when I got the paper, I felt engaged, called to action—an immediate co-conspirator. I'd been deployed. I had a role. This time I wanted to see what would happen if I did nothing—if, perhaps, I appeared even mildly antagonistic. I can't say I was particularly attracted to Martin. He didn't speak too much, but then again, he was also a stand-in.

The day passed with little ceremony. The scenes in the courtyard were beautiful. The exteriors of Paris remain unchanged over the years—there seem to be more building codes and regulations than anywhere else in the world—creating a calming, unified effect. Gray and beige stone mounted together to form a city of cool neutrality. I'd never seen anything so organized look so beautiful.

Contrasted against the gray palette, Lily, the movie's lead, wore a fuchsia suit. Cinched at the waist with a hat to match, the ensemble was supposed to be a nod to the iconic lime-green suit Audrey once wore in
Paris When It Sizzles
, the original. The remake, incidentally, was just to be called:
When It Sizzles.

Lily looked stunning.

Jacques appeared in a slim-cut Prada jacket with a fuchsia pocket square. Watching the two of them saunter through the courtyard was like seeing the first bold swipe of red paint hit a white canvas.

Art
, I thought. I'd never seen it so alive before.

The sun was descending by the time we wrapped for the day, which meant it was after nine. In the summer in France it could be light until nearly 10:00 p.m.—the city bathed itself in every pastel color before bed. A slow ritual of yellow to pink to violet to baby blue. The joke on set was that the easiest job in French cinema is the lighting department.

I saw Marguerite carrying some boxes over to a waiting car.

“Is there anything else you need?” I asked Irina. I pointed to Marguerite, who was clearly struggling. “Otherwise I think I'm going to help her.”

Irina looked over. “I don't want you lifting those,” she said. She studied me. “Suppose you hurt yourself and can't make it tomorrow?”

I glanced back at Marguerite. Martin had stepped in, they were now loading the boxes together.

“See?” Irina said. “Get a man to do it. That way, they can be good for something.”

We talked about the schedule for the next day, and then I said
good night and hooked my backpack over my shoulders, preparing to make my way to the metro. The evening was warm, and I didn't mind the walk, but calculating how many transfers (three) I'd need to make before finally getting to my door sounded a bit insufferable.

“You need a ride?”

Martin pulled up next to me on a Vespa. I thought he was French, but when I heard him speak, he didn't have an accent. He was American, just like me.

I considered the weight of my backpack, and the many, many metro steps.

“Please,” I told him, and got on.

Chapter Eight

Martin took me to a café close to my apartment, for crepes and fries and cold glasses of beer.

I learned that he had gone to the Sorbonne for acting and had stayed in Paris on a work visa. He was twenty-five, four years younger than me. When he spoke, there was a familiar warmth to him, a lumberjack transported to the streets of Paris.

“What do you want to do?” he asked me. We were a few rounds in already.

“I just started working for Irina,” I said. “So this, for now.” The truth is, when it came to my career, I felt a little like a feather in the wind. It wasn't that I wasn't ambitious—I worked hard; I was reliable and resourceful. I didn't mind long hours or menial labor. I liked to be busy. But I wasn't sure in what direction that energy should be focused. I felt like I kept sidestepping, instead of leveling up. I'd been an assistant in three different industries now, and in Hollywood, two different roles. I felt like I should be
climbing toward something, or at the very least, climbing. But I loved the job, what little I knew of it. I loved how industrious I had to be, moment to moment. I liked that it required me to be nimble and present.

“I was an assistant at a network before, and it was too corporate for me. My boss was cool, but I didn't totally jive with the politics of an office.”

“There are plenty of politics on a set,” Martin said. “It's crazy. Even village has a seating chart. There's a hierarchy to who can order coffee!”

“Speaking as the person who has to pick it up,” I said, “I appreciate that.”

Martin took a swig of beer. We let the moment stretch.

“I guess I like being where the action is,” I said. “And I'm not super concerned with what my job is within that. I know I'm the lowest rung, but who cares? I get to be here.” I gestured around—to the lively café, the laughing couples, the cigarette smoke, the checkerboard-print tablecloths. To the smell and heartbeat of this foreign, familiar city.

He took another sip. “That's a fair answer.”

“How long have you been in Paris?”

“Almost six years,” he said. “There was a period after I graduated where I had to leave every three months, but now it's a lot easier.”

“Did you get married or something?”

He smiles at me. “Actually, yes. To my best friend, Fiora. We don't live together, and we're not together; she has a girlfriend, but the French authorities seem to think that is perfectly reasonable.”

“Yes, I heard that about the French.”

“Does that freak you out?”

Up until then, I realized, there hadn't been a particularly romantic vibe. Because of the paper, I assumed there was, but in fact, had I not known, I'd have thought we were two coworkers out for friendly after-hours drinks.

“I don't know why it should,” I said.

Martin nodded. “Have you ever been to Paris before?”

I shook my head. “I've never even been to Europe before.”

He chuckled. “How much do you value sleep?” he asked.

“Pennies on the dollar.”

“Excellent answer.”

Over the course of one weekend, Martin took me everywhere. All the obvious places—the top of the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame, and Montparnasse to eat at a café and watch what all those artists in the 1920s found so inspiring. We explored the Gothic cathedral of Basilica Saint-Denis, and walked along the Seine until the sole of my sneaker gave up and detached from my shoe.

“I'll carry you,” Martin told me, slinging me onto his back. We made it a minute before flagging down a cab while laughing hysterically at my flapping footwear.

The sex was not awe-inspiring, but it did not need to be. It was good, and I was happy to have it, happy to have this experience, skin on skin, in this city of all cities.

I had, in the past, often found sex to be dissociative, like I became someone else, or just departed the premises when my clothes came off. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy it, it was that I enjoyed myself enjoying it more. It was like I was watching myself from a distance—the sexy part was the fact that it was happening—sex!
In Paris!—not always the actual physical act, the sensation, the hum and thump of two human bodies. I liked the narrative, the story I was going to tell—was already telling—about what was happening.

Afterward we shared a cigarette on his balcony. Martin lived on the fringes of the seventeenth, with views of Montmartre. I was wearing his shirt—blue, emblazed with
DODGERS
in white.

“Do you ever miss America?” I asked him.

He stopped and inhaled. He was wearing sweatpants and a plain white Hanes T-shirt. I wondered if he'd purchased a single clothing item in the last six years, or if everything he owned in Paris was a hand-me-down from another life.

“Sometimes,” he said. “Like if I want to go to a diner on a Sunday or just watch football or something. Maybe sometimes I miss how efficient things are in the US. Like how doors work both ways.”

I gave him a look.

“It's ridiculous to have a set of doors that only go inward and a set of doors that only go outward,” he said. He demonstrated with his hands. “I do not know why it's the standard here.”

“That's it?”

Martin exhaled. I smelled the smoke. It felt fresh and new and heady.

“No, I miss a lot. But none of it is going anywhere. I'll be back someday, and the doors will still go both ways.”

He smiled. I didn't say anything, and he continued.

“I hope I find someone like you there when I do. You make everything feel good, Daphne. Really good.”

He walked toward me and put his hands around my waist.
He leaned down, and I kissed him softly, then felt his head settle on my shoulder. I looked at his studio, the mess of sheets, our Indian takeout containers—red and green curry, mango chutney, a brochure from Musée d'Orsay. How much had occurred in just three days' time.

“I'll miss you,” I said, and meant it.

I felt his homesickness—or was it mine—pulsing through both of us like a heartbeat, and I knew I would miss that, too. The particular feeling of being twentysomething and lost in Paris, together.

BOOK: Expiration Dates: A Novel
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ads

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