I knew it was just a matter of time, and on the ninth day the text campaign starts.
“Rosie, I’m sorry for what I did. I was stoned and didn’t mean it. Please come back. Sid.”
“Rosie, I came by Chantal’s to see you. She must have told you how sorry I am. Come back please. Sid.”
“Why are you ignoring me? I think we need to talk. Call me or come by. Sid.”
“You’ve made your point, Rosie. Time to come home. Sid.”
“Don’t make me have to come get you. You know I will. Sid.”
And that’s just in the first two hours. The barrage of texts gets more insistent, more tiresome, and more threatening. Sorry? Fuck that sorry. That’s Sid sorry. Worth what you pay for it.
Chantal told me I should get my own phone and forget Sid’s. She said if I didn’t come back to him he’d just cancel the service, anyway, which probably is true. But his phone is kind of a lifeline. Just not sure if it’s more his lifeline to me, or mine to him. Either way, I’m not ready to ditch the phone.
I put it on vibrate in my pocket when I’m working in the kitchen or I’m on the Metro, and I turn it off when I’m at the piano or with a customer. It’s been silent until now, but today it’s vibrating insistently like a pain-in-the-ass kitchen timer the whole time I’m prepping. This is Sid’s way of tormenting me until I give up and respond or come back to him, but to tell you the truth, I’ve had bigger torments than this since I split.
“I’ve got a surprise for you, baby. Come get it. Sid.”
I bet you do. Well, I’ve got a surprise for you, too, baby. Fuck off. How’s that for a surprise?
“I’m going on another trip. It will be a lot of fun. I want you to go with me, Rosie. Sid.”
Oh, good. Go on another trip, Sid. Maybe then I can get back in the apartment and get more of my things. Take one of your other girlfriends this time and see if you can get her almost killed like you did me.
That’s how it goes, all afternoon and into the evening. I don’t even see half the messages since I turn the phone off the minute I get to Chantal’s.
The other thing that’s going on is that Chantal has been setting me up with more customers. I’ve got one tonight, and another in two days. And next weekend she’s set me up with a couple who want to be dominated. She figures my experience with Sid qualifies me, and I suppose she’s right. I know how to be a sadistic bitch when that’s called for. This pair don’t know what they bargained for. Be careful what you wish for, and all that.
I’m loving the money, it’s more than I’ve ever had of my own in my entire life, and the novelty is kind of fun in a way, but I’m still having trouble with the whole whore thing. I know it’s in my mind, easy to say, only what’s left of my mind is most of what I have left, so it’s bugging me. I don’t know how long I want to keep doing this but I don’t think it’s much longer.
I’ve kind of lowered my fund-raising goal, cut it in half, really, but that will still leave me with lots. What I need along with the bucks is that plan I mentioned. Money by itself isn’t enough since it can be gone as fast as it came in. Even I know that. But a plan, well, a good plan has legs.
My current term is over in mid-September and, if I don’t go back to Sid, I know the gravy train reaches the end of the line with it. I’ll be an ex-culinary school student, and unless someone offers me a job, which I can’t count on and I don’t even have a work permit, I’ll either need my plan by then or keep working for Chantal. Call me a wuss, but me, I prefer the plan.
I know it would be easy to stay with Chantal. I mean, here we are lovers and now sisters and all the rest, and she means so much to me. But do I want to be another of her girls? Dependent on Chantal and her generosity? That’s what gets me thinking about my options. I like options. Like the numbers in my journal.
I can’t forget Chantal’s ruse to teach me the lesson of those scribbled customer phone numbers, but neither can I forget the numbers. Maybe four out of five of them, even nine out of ten of them, are the same deal as with Roger. But there is always that one. That one that might be golden. That’s the gambler in me, playing the odds. I know they’re against me, but what the hell. That one, just that one win, might make up for all the losses. It’s just a matter of taking the chance to find out. And what does it cost me? A few phone calls? A little embarrassment? Hell, that’s nothing.
Of all the numbers I have, there is just one that stands out to me as different from all the rest. It’s like that shiny penny, the lucky silver dollar, the way it beckons to me.
“Call me! Call me!”
That’s what it says to me. And as much as I tell it to be quiet and sit back down, it’s the one with its hand in the air.
“Call me! Call me!”
It’s the end of the first week of September and I know I’m getting close to my deadline. If I keep procrastinating, I’ll run past it. My work experience is over, Marcel sending me off with a toast of the restaurant’s best cognac and a lovely two-cheek kiss and an embrace, all to the applause of my co-workers in the kitchen, and I’m back with my student colleagues in the school’s kitchen for the morning line up.
My Lithuanian friend is back, too, and we give each other warm welcome-back hugs. Her husband has returned to Vilnius, where he’s back teaching his classes, and my friend is back on her own in Paris. More on her own than I am, come to think of it. In a way, anyway. Everyone else has returned as well, and it seems they’ve survived their work experiences, looking maybe a bit more jaded and battle-worn with a few more burns and scrapes than when we parted ways a month ago. I seem to be the only one with a busted nose, but it’s healed up and not even noticeable any more. At least that.
Chef also is back from his summer holidays and his mission of getting me and the other sweet young things into the walk-in remains unchanged. I’m content to leave him to the other girls, and now I have the excuse that the hours of my afternoon job have changed and I have to go straight to it after class. Of course it’s a made-up excuse, which I deliver with as much visual remorse as I can muster, and as disappointed as he is, chef can’t argue with my reason and he bows to me as he bids me go. He has the other two tasty cream puffs to assist him in the cooler, which helps soften the blow. But I mean, really, how many times can a girl get screwed in a day? Even I have my limit. Guess that means I’m still an amateur, after all.
Getting back to that number. That special number. I think it’s time to give that particular one-armed bandit a pull.
I don’t breathe a word of it to Chantal, and I decide not to call from Sid’s phone. Like Chantal leaving Lyon, or me leaving home, I won’t leave any tracks for Sid to follow. I count up my money and buy a phone card and find a pay phone in a kind of quiet place on a side street, and that’s where I call from after class one day. I’m so nervous I’m almost crapping my pants, but sometimes it’s good to be nervous. Reminds me that life is moving on, one way or another. And that’s big.
The phone at the other end rings and rings. Maybe he’s not there. Maybe it’s a bogus number. I half expect it to be a sex line in some unknown language. And as I remind myself, if a woman answers, hang up. I do wish my voice wasn’t set on quiver, but it is when someone finally picks up.
“Mario? Is that you, Mario? This is Rosie. You know, the girl playing the piano in the nude at Chantal’s in Paris? Remember me? You gave me your number?”
There is silence on the line. My heart falls, thinking the next thing I’ll hear is a click. But no, the voice returns.
“Rosie? Yes, of course I remember you. I don’t give my number to many girls, not written on a 100 euro note. In fact, you are the only one. And you are calling me. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Mario, thank you. Really I am. I’m still at Chantal’s, but I think I might need a change. I’ve thought of you so much these past months since we met. I wondered if you were real, or just a figment of my imagination.”
“You thought of me, Rosie? I’m surprised. You must meet many men at Chantal’s. Men more memorable than me. Of course I am real. I’ve thought of you, too, Rosie, but in my heart I really did not think I would hear from you. Especially after so long.”
“Well, Mario, I have thought of you. You seemed special to me, and when I looked in my journal and saw your number it was like it was calling out to me. I’m not kidding.”
“Well, I am honored. I’m afraid I am not planning any trips to Paris now, though. Unless you come to Italia, I don’t know when I can see you.”
“Well, I’m thinking of coming to Italy. I’ve never been there. I’ve always wanted to, though. It sounds neat. Real good food, too. But Mario, I’ve got to ask you something. Something important. Please tell me the truth, okay? Please?”
“Of course, Rosie. The truth. What do you want to know?”
“Mario, are you married? Or are you with someone? A girlfriend, or someone like that? I don’t want to come there and find out I’m a dirty little secret and you have to hide me away somewhere. And I don’t want to cause you any trouble.”
“No, no, Rosie. I am a bachelor. I have no wife, no girlfriend. Not even a dog. Are you really thinking of coming to Italy? Will you come to see me?”
That’s when the little screen on the phone tells me I’m almost out of time. Damn it.
“Mario, this phone card is almost out.”
“Quickly, Rosie, give me the number on the phone and I will call you back. You are calling from a public telephone?”
“Yes, yes, Mario. I am.”
I run my eyes over the phone and find the number and give it to him. He reads it back to me, digit by digit. I hang up just as the screen tells me time’s up. I only half expect him to call back. I’ve gotten kind of used to people not doing what they say they’re going to do. Or some damned thing intervening, like the phone doesn’t work. But in a minute it’s ringing, and damn, he actually did it. Mario called me back. All the way from Italy.
You might think I’m a rash girl and I’ll hop on the next train south but, sorry, that’s not happening. I’m in my pre-planning stage, and I’m not about to jump into anyone’s lap. Not yet. But I got my first two questions answered. Mario’s number is real and, assuming he’s not bullshitting me, and he sure doesn’t sound like he is, he’s not married or attached. And as near as I can tell, he might actually want to see me. Okay, that’s a third question, but kind of an important one. I think.
I’m hyperventilating and grinning when I get off the phone. I’m so excited, I wish I could just run to Chantal and make mad crazy love to her like there’s no tomorrow. Mario agreed to call me back at the same phone at the same time in a day, and we’ll take it little by little and see how it goes. Maybe my odds are looking up. Finally.
When I turn Sid’s phone back on there are five more texts from him. He’s gone totally whack-o, it seems, and for once I’m happy to be the source of his insanity. It actually gives me a sense of satisfaction. Apparently I’m slouching toward a decision, can you believe, since I don’t feel any compunction to text him back, much less go back to him. Let him steam in his own juices. That’s what I’m thinking.
I’ve got to show this to Chantal, all these texts, and how I haven’t returned them. She’ll be proud of me. I also know, with certainty, she won’t approve of me calling Mario, so that won’t be part of the disclosure. Not now. Not yet. And there’s still tomorrow and I have to see how that call goes. And the ones after it. For now, though, it seems I’m onto a good plan and, looking at things like a culinary student, I think my soufflé might be rising, just as it should. I must not jar the oven.