Then, one day, it all came to an end. In the morning my dad decided that we should go to Cannes that evening to visit the casinos and clubs. I remember how excited Elsa was. She thrived in casinos and wanted to feel sexy again, after all the sunburn. And also see some other people for a change. I figured Anne would object to such a basic night out, but to my surprise she didn’t – she even seemed happy to be going. So I wasn’t particularly worried when I went to my room to get ready. I put on the evening dress I’d brought along. It was the only one I had, made of a quite strange, thin fabric. Probably a bit too revealing for me, but my dad chose it, and because he had a particular taste, or because he just thought that was what all women wore, he bought me quite seductive clothes. I found him downstairs in a shiny new jacket, and draped my arm around his shoulder.
– You’re the most beautiful man I know.
– What about Sal? he said, half-heartedly. But you, you are the prettiest girl I know.
– What about Elsa and Anne? I said, without really believing it either.
– They aren’t here yet, they’re going to make us wait. Come on, let’s dance. If I still can, with all my aches. I’m old.
Like every time before we went out, I was almost euphoric. He really didn’t seem old at all. While we danced to the radio I laughed, breathing in his familiar cologne, his heat, and the smell of his cigarettes. He danced in time, eyes half closed, with a small, happy smile, as constant as mine, on his lips.
– You have to teach me how to two-step, he said, forgetting his aches and pains.
He stopped dancing when Elsa came down, and he murmured an automatic compliment. She came slowly down the stairs in her green dress, with her social butterfly smile, her casino smile. She’d made the most of her dry hair and sunburned skin, and she looked pretty happy with it. I thought she looked great.
– Are we heading out?
– No, Anne’s not down yet, I said.
– Hey, go see if she’s ready, said dad. Or we won’t be setting off until midnight.
I clumsily climbed the steps in my dress and knocked on Anne’s door. She shouted at me to come in. I stopped in the doorway. She was wearing a grey dress, an incredible grey, almost white, and the light clung to it. The only thing I could think to compare it to was the slowly changing sea at dawn. Everything about her was mature, and she hung together, complete, in the early evening.
– Wow, Anne, I said. I love your dress!
She smiled an icy smile, like you would smile at someone you were about to abandon.
– Yes, this grey really works, I think, she said.
– Your whole look is just perfect, I replied.
She walked over to me, and cupped my head with one hand, and looked at me. Her eyes were deep blue. They suddenly cleared, and she began to smile.
– You are a sweet little girl, even if you can be a bit of a pain.
She walked past me without really looking at my dress. I wasn’t sure about it, I loved it and it mortified me at the same time. She went down the stairs before me, and I watched as my dad came to meet her. He stopped at the bottom step with one foot on it, his face raised towards her. Elsa also watched her as she came. I can remember this scene exactly – Anne’s tanned neck and perfect shoulders, then lower, my dad’s face, completely captivated, holding out his hand. Then, in the background, the silhouette of Elsa.
– Anne, said my father. You look extraordinary.
She smiled at him as she passed, and took her coat.
– Let’s meet once we’re there, she said. Cécile, are you coming with me?
She let me drive. The road was so beautiful in the evening that I took my time, cruising slowly. Anne said nothing. She didn’t seem to notice when Childish Gambino came on, streaming through the car’s stereo. When my dad’s convertible sped past us on a bend, she didn’t even bat an eyelid. I already felt like I was flying out of control in front of something impossible to stop.
At the casino, we were quickly separated thanks to my dad’s random movements. I found myself at the bar with Elsa and one of her south-american friends, who was half drunk already. He worked at a local theatre, and even though he was drunk, he was actually pretty interesting because of how enthusiastic he was about it. I spent an hour with him, listening, but Elsa soon got bored. She knew one or two celebrities who sometimes came to the casino, but wasn’t really interested in looking for them. She asked me where my dad was, as if I would know, and then disappeared. The south american guy seemed to lose steam for a moment, but after another whisky he soon perked up again. I had a few drinks with him, it would have been rude not to. I felt great, my head was completely clear. It quickly became hilarious when he said he wanted to dance. I ended up having to grab his arm and stop him from careening into people, which was pretty difficult. But we had a great time laughing and, when Elsa came back and tapped me on the shoulder, I was about to tell her to get lost.
– I can’t find him anywhere, she said.
She looked concerned. Sweat had made her foundation run, and most of it was gone. She looked really tired, and I felt sorry for her. I was suddenly very angry with my dad. He was being a real dick.
– Oh, I know where they are! I said, smiling as if everything was fine, trying to put her at ease. I’ll go get them, I’ll be back!
As soon as I let go of my friend he tripped into Elsa’s arms with a big smile on his face. I looked jealously at her, and it made me sad that I would never have a body like hers. But I wasn’t annoyed at her for it. The casino was massive – I walked around it twice and couldn’t see them anywhere. I went back along the terraces again, then finally thought of the car.
It took me a moment to find it in the car park. They were sitting inside. I came around behind and looked at them through the rear windscreen. I saw their faces turned towards each other, very close, very serious, strangely beautiful under the light from a streetlamp. They gazed at each other and they must have been speaking in low tones because I watched their lips moving. I felt like leaving them to it, but the thought of Elsa made me open the door.
My dad had his hand on Anne’s arm. They hardly looked at me.
– Are you enjoying yourselves? I said politely.
– What’s the matter? Said my father, his voice irritated. What are you doing here?
– And what about you? Elsa’s been looking for you for over an hour.
Anne turned her head towards me, slowly, regretfully.
– We’re going back to the villa. You can say to her that I felt tired and your dad took me home. When you’ve had enough you can come back in my car.
I was speechless. I began to tremble.
– When I’ve had enough! Do you realise how fucking disgusting you’re being?
– Excuse me, said my father. Just what is disgusting here?
– You bring a redhead to the coast, away from everyone in Paris, knowing full well she’ll roast here. Then when she starts to peel from it you abandon her! You’re a bastard. What am I supposed to say to Elsa!?
Anne had turned back towards him, as if bored. She smiled at him, ignoring me. I began to shout.
– I’ll tell her! I’ll tell her that my dad has found another fuck buddy and that she’s done with, shall I?
My dad’s shout and Anne’s slap hit me at about the same time. I jerked my head out from the car, banging it on the door frame. She really hurt me.
– Leave. Now, said my dad.
I stood by the door in a whirlwind of thought. I could never control myself. Second thoughts always came too late.
– Come here, Cécile, said Anne, holding out her hand.
She didn’t seem threatening. I walked stiffly towards her. She put a hand on my cheek, and spoke to me slowly and clearly as if I was a bit stupid.
– Don’t be so nasty. I’m sorry about Elsa. But you’re perfectly capable of sorting her out tonight. Tomorrow, we’ll explain ourselves. Did I really hurt you?
– What do you think? I said, politely. Her sudden calmness after the violence of that smack made me want to cry. I watched them leave with tears in my eyes, feeling completely spent. I knew I was in the right, but it was pretty difficult to feel good about it. I dragged my feet back to the casino where I found Elsa grappled onto the south american’s arm. I’ve forgotten his name.
– Anne threw up, I said, in as light a voice as I could manage. Dad’s had to take her home. Who wants a drink?
She looked at me without responding, swaying slightly. I tried my best to come up with something a bit more convincing.
– She was really nauseous, I shouted over the music, it was terrible. Her dress is completely ruined!
This detail seemed to me to ring with something like truth, but she began to cry, gently, with real sadness. I watched her, feeling completely stranded.
– Cécile, she said, Oh Cécile I was so happy…
She started to sob. The south american also burst into tears, just repeating ‘I was so happy… so happy…’ I stood there, and I hated Anne and my dad. I would have done literally anything to stop poor Elsa from crying, her mascara from melting, this guy from weeping uncontrollably.
– Elsa! It isn’t over yet. Come back with me.
– God, I can’t believe I left my fucking phone at the villa. I’ll come back in the morning to get my suitcase, she said, sobbing. Bye Cécile, I liked you a lot…
She turned away. I’d never really talked to her, just about the weather or fashion. But I still felt like I’d lost an old friend. I span around and ran toward the car.