The bottle of Chanel was a hand-me-down; her favorite Versace? A cheap knock-off. But the pert breasts, womanly enough to hint at her lack of bra, were agonizingly authentic. At seventeen she was every bit as existentialist as pretentious, a debutante cum ex-pat stuck in the hideous confines of American suburbia. She did what any good frog lover would do--threw herself into her French and the minds of The Greats: Camus, Voltaire, and Sartre, the holy trinity of teenage angst and budding neopostmodernclassicalistisms.
She smoked because it gave her just the hint of death she was going for, secretly admiring the tendrils of smoke as they climbed past well-manicured fingernails. Practicing her pout in the mirror before bed, reciting train dialogues and café situationals from her French primer, she pretended to be 1920s glam, or 1960s chic, or 1990s waif. Classic. That was what she wanted to be.
Her tastes, however, gave her away. Thick-neck jocks with pick-em-up trucks and cluttered Varsity jackets warmed her thoughts all too often. She discovered this one after French class. She'd been hanging around to wax europolitical avec le prof. When they were matched for tutoring she tried to look taxed, but found it difficult to contain her inner cheerleader, the post-adolescent voice that wanted to squeal with joy.
They met after school in the cafeteria that first day, mingling awkwardly under the oppressive smell of greasy fries and bleach water. She writhed this way and that on the rigid bench, wondering how she could stretch out her bare legs so that he could see them. Ultimately she opted to throw them off to the side, leaning back on one hand like a 1950s Playboy bunny. Anyone looking in on this scene could've called it in a moment: thick-headed jock who can't keep his eyes on his paper, a sprawling sexpot daring him to sneak another glance.
"So how do I know which one to use? They both mean the same thing, don't they?" He glanced sideways at her slender calf, the way it slid gracefully into a clunky dress shoe. He let his eyes move back up the way they'd came until he could find the hem of her skirt.
"C'est facile, Jacques. Tu is used when talking to someone you're familiar with, like a friend or a close relative or someone younger than you. It's informal. Casual. You'd use it with like, your best friend or your cousin or the kid you babysit or, your um, girlfriend." This final word came out more as a question than an answer. Embarassment is like paint thinner to a well-tableaued pretension, and aloof was melting off of her in streams. In less than thirty seconds she went from self-assured sex kitten to self-conscious tabby cat.
The change was lost on him. Jake's thoughts were always basic, and now they chanted together like a platoon on a morning jog: girlfriend, sex, football, lesson. She wasn't bad looking, even for such a bitch. He knew she liked him. He couldn't take her to prom or anything, but a few after school sessions couldn't hurt. Lost in his deliberation, he missed his prompt about the girlfriend part. She picked up the slack, embarassed.
"Of course if you don't know someone well or if they're your superior, it's always better to use vous. It's more polite." Her hair had fallen into her face. Time had slowed to a crawl. Sitting up, fidgeting awkwardly with a Bic pen, her cheeks flushed. She could feel the pungent sting of bile in her throat, so sick with herself for ever thinking--
"So, um, what would I use with you?"
It was a simple, honest question from a guy who needed to pass French to play football. But in her Truffaut-tinted world, she saw varying layers of complexity; it never occurred to her that the question might be so basic. She saw a glint of future romance, a hint at deeper lust, and all the symbolism of Mallarmé.
Crossing her legs, one rounded shoe brushing back and forth against his leg, she twirls her pen slowly. She leans forward, eyes lidded with sensual mystery, lips pouty and full just like she's practiced for untold evenings.
She whispers in a French silk voice, "Cela dépend..."