“Did I say anything peculiar to you? That night?”

Uh-oh. “Peculiar?”

“It’s just ... I only vaguely remember being in your room. But I could have sworn we had a conversation about . . . something.”

My heart beats faster, and it’s hard to breathe. He remembers. Sort of. What does that mean? What should I say? As anxious as I am for answers, I’m

not prepared for this conversation. I bide for more time. “About what?”

He’s uncomfortable. “Did I say anything odd about . . . our friendship?”

And there it is.

“Or my girlfriend?”

And there that is. I take a long look at him. Dark undereye circles. Unwashed hair. Defeated shoulders. He’s so unhappy, so unlike himself. I won’t be

the one to add to his misery, no matter how badly I want the truth. I can’t ask him. Because if he likes me, he’s not in any state to begin a relationship. Or deal with the breakup of an old one. And if he doesn’t like me, then I’d probably lose his friendship. Things would be too weird.


And right now St. Clair needs friendship.

I keep my face blank but sincere. “No. We talked about your mom. That’s all.”

It’s the right answer. He looks relieved.

Chapter seventeen

The pâtisserie has thick planks of creaky hardwood and a chandelier draped with tinkly strings of topaz crystals. They glow like drops of honey. The women behind the counter lay extravagant cakes into brown-and-white-striped boxes and tie each package with turquoise ribbon and a silver bel .There’s

a long line, but everyone here is patiently basking in the ambience.

Mer and I wait between tiered displays as tal as we are. One is a tree made from macarons, round sandwich cookies with crusts as fragile as

eggshel s and fil ings so moist and flavorful that I swoon on sight. The other is an arrangement of miniature cakes, gâteaux, glazed with almond frosting and pressed with sugared pansies.

Our conversation is back on St. Clair. He’s all we talk about anymore. “I’m just afraid they’l kick him out,” I say, on tiptoe. I’m trying to peek inside the glass case at the front of the line, but a man in pinstripes carrying a wiggling puppy blocks my view. There are several dogs inside the shop today, which isn’t unusual for Paris.

Mer shakes her head, and her curls bounce from underneath her knitted hat. Unlike St. Clair’s, hers is robin’s egg blue and very respectable.

I like St. Clair’s better.

“He won’t be kicked out,” she says. “Josh hasn’t been expel ed, and he’s been skipping classes for a lot longer. And the head would never expel

someone whose mother is . . . you know.”

She’s not doing well . Cervical cancer. Stage 2B. An advanced stage.

Words I never want to hear associated with someone I love—external radiation therapy, chemotherapy—are now a daily part of St. Clair’s life. Susan,

his mother, started treatments one week after Hal oween. His father is in California, driving her five days a week to radiation therapy and once a week to chemo.

St. Clair is here.

I want to kil his father. His parents have lived separately for years, but his father won’t let his mother get a divorce. And he keeps mistresses in Paris and in London, while Susan lives alone in San Francisco. Every few months, his father will visit her. Stay for a few nights. Reestablish dominance or

whatever it is he holds over her. And then he leaves again.

But now he’s the one watching her, while St. Clair suffers six thousand miles away. The whole situation makes me so sick I can hardly bear to think about it. Obviously, St. Clair hasn’t been himself these last few weeks. He’s ditching school, and his grades are dropping. He doesn’t come to breakfast

anymore, and he eats every dinner with El ie. Apart from class and lunch, where he sits cold and stonelike beside me, the only times I see him are the

mornings I wake him up for school.

Meredith and I take turns. If we don’t pound on his door, he won’t show up at all.

The pâtisserie door opens and a chil y wind whips through the shop. The chandelier sways like gelatin. “I feel so helpless,” I say. “I wish there was something I could do.”

Mer shivers and rubs her arms. Her rings are made of fine glass today.They look like spun sugar. “I know. Me too. And I stil can’t believe his dad isn’t letting him visit her for Thanksgiving.”

“He’s not?” I’m shocked. “When did this happen?” And why did Mer know about it and not me?

“Since his dad heard about his dropping grades. Josh told me the head cal ed his father—because she was concerned about him—and instead of

letting him go home, he said St. Clair couldn’t fly out there until he started ‘acting responsibly’ again.”

“But there’s no way he’l be able to focus on anything until he sees her! And she needs him there; she needs his support. They should be together!”

“This is so typical of his dad to use a situation like this against him.”

Gnawing curiosity gets the best of me again. “Have you ever met him? His father?” I know he lives near SOAP, but I’ve never seen him. And St. Clair

certainly doesn’t own a framed portrait.

“Yeah,” she says cautiously. “I have.”


“He was . . . nice.”

“NICE? How can he be nice? The man is a monster!”

“I know, I know, but he has these . . . impeccable manners in person. Smiles a lot. Very handsome.” She changes the subject suddenly. “Do you think

Josh is a bad influence on St. Clair?”

“Josh? No. I mean, maybe. I don’t know. No.” I shake my head, and the line inches forward.We’re almost in viewing range of the display case. I see a

hint of golden apple tarte tatins. The edge of a glossy chocolate-and-raspberry gâteau.

At first everything seemed too sophisticated for my tastes, but three months into this, and I understand why the French are famous for their cuisine.

Meals here are savored. Restaurant dinners are measured in hours, not minutes. It’s so different from America. Parisians swing by the markets every day

for the ripest fruit and vegetables, and they frequent specialty shops for cheese, fish, meat, poultry, and wine. And cake.

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