May 12 The sun shone down on the palms of Monte Carlo as a shiny black Bentley pulled up in front of the Café de Paris. The back door opened with a pop and a young man in white trousers and a blue blazer stepped out. His fedora was tilted back on his blond head and his sunglasses were mirrored, showing the crowd of natives and tourists alike rather than the expression in his eyes as he scanned the terrace. A dark haired young man waved lazily from a perfectly placed table. The young man from the car then turned and spoke softly to a person still seated in the back of the car. He closed the door and the Bentley pulled away as he walked towards his friend. “Long time, no see,” said the young man at the table. “Ahoy, mon capitaine.” “Let me see, what was that English word again? Ah, yes. Fuck you,” the first young man said as he took his seat across from his friend. He spoke with a French accent that was just strong enough to be distinctive and which contrasted neatly with his friend’s strongly posh London accent. “Has it grown a sense of humour while I was away?” the other young man laughed. “Mummy take you sailing?” “Tais-toi, I have a headache,” the first young man grumbled. “Aw, Sasha, it’s your birthday. You should at least pretend to be happy.” “Don’t bother. My birthday is one of my least favourite days of the year,” Sasha answered. “Tonight I have to go to that stupid fête mechante. Je veux pas aller. Je veux pas aller.” “Well, I think I know something that will cheer you up,” his friend said. “A cigarette? I could really use a smoke right about now.” Sasha didn’t miss the glance from the passing waiter who looked very eager for a chance to rat on one of the rich brats he was forced to serve and get them a fine for smoking in a prohibited area, not that a fine would mean much to Sasha or his friend. “No, but you can have a cigarette once we leave, I’m about ready to go.” He grinned as he waved down the waiter and asked for his check. “Matt…” Sasha said warily, “this isn’t another one of your…” “Of my what?” Matt asked, signing the receipt then looking up at his French friend. “Oh, you don’t have to worry. I’m not planning anything illegal or defaming. I promise.” “You promised before.” “Mummy dearest isn’t going to get her knickers in a twist over this. Come on.” Matt walked out of the café with a purposeful stride with Sasha following warily behind. He stopped just before a sleek red convertible Ferrari with its top down. “What do you think?” “Une cabriolet. Elle est belle. Elle est magnifique. Elle est parfait,” Sasha said. “Elle est à toi,” Matt told his friend and grinned even wider at Sasha’s dumbstruck expression. “Mine?” he asked, forcing himself back into English. “All yours. I saw her and I thought of you. She’s not new or anything but I thought that was better. You can feel less guilty about accepting her because she’s already a 2012.” “I was expecting a watch.” “You already have a watch.” “I already have a car.” “But not this one.” “Fine, how much?” “What?” “I’ll buy her from you.” “You’ll buy your birthday present from me?” “How much?” “Not that much.” “How much?” “I won’t let you buy it.” “But…” “It’s just a car and I want you to have it. Why don’t we take it out for a drive and then you can decide?” “Connard,” Sasha muttered, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to let go of the car the moment he got behind the wheel. ***** August 25 “So, what do you think?” Matt asked. “It’s a nice view,” Sasha answered. “I did good, finding this place, didn’t I?” Matt continued, not expecting any further comments from Sasha. “I could get used to it. I think we should keep this place until we graduate.” “Euh, ouais,” Sasha agreed distractedly, caught in the view he’d had so little to say about. “I’ll have to have Cindy come and take a look at the place sometime next week.” “Cindy?” “My cousin, she’s an interior decorator and she made me promise to let her take a look every time I move somewhere new. She says men have no sense of style. In my case, she might be right.” Matt laughed. Sasha started to laugh as well when the vibration of his phone in his pocket cut him short. He glanced briefly at the caller ID before answering it—the caller ID read Nathalie Meunier. “Bonjour,” he said. “Bonjour,” came his mother’s voice on the other end. For a while, she’d insisted on speaking to him in English because English was the way of the future but she’d since given up because her own English was not as good as she thought it should be and she defaulted back to French more than she liked. “Es-tu à l’appartement avec Matthew?” “Euh, oui. Je suis là.” “Bon. D’accord. Bon. Alors, tu sais que ta fiancée assistera l’université où tu assistes maintenant?” “Euh, non. Je sais pas ça.” “Alors, c’est vrai, et toi, tu habiteras avec elle.” “Comment? J’habite avec Matthew.” “Pas plus.” “Mais…” “Pas mais. Maintenant, tu habites avec ta fiancée à cette adresse.” Sasha’s mother gave him an address and told him that he had better have moved in by the end of the week and then hung up before he could protest. “What was that?” Matthew asked. “My fiancée is going to be attending this university with us,” Sasha answered. “Your mum is really determined with that, isn’t she?” “She wants me to live with her.” “Huh, I thought she would be more conservative about that…wait. What?” “I’m going to be moving into an apartment of my mother’s choosing to live with my fiancée.” “Do you even know the girl’s name?” “Marietta.” “Okay, so you know her name, but you haven’t met her before. Are you okay with this?” “It’s not worth it to fight with my mother about this. She’ll win. She always wins. I’d better start packing.” It would have been easy for Matt to fall into the trap of believing that he was more worked up over Nathalie Meunier’s insane level of control over her son’s life than Sasha was but a good hard look at those distant blue eyes told Matt that such an assumption would be false. ***** September 1 “P’tain.” Sasha pulled the second to last cigarette out of the pack with an air of resignation and a mental note to order more Gauloises Yellows. He was going through his supply more rapidly than he’d expected. He’d smoked more in the past week than he normally did in a month. He leaned against the railing of his balcony as he placed the cigarette on his lip. His fiancée apparently had asthma, so he was forbidden to smoke in the apartment but that wasn’t going to stop him, even if it was a ploy by his mother to get him to quit smoking and he wouldn’t put it past her to do something like that. It had been three days since Sasha had gotten the last of his things moved into his new penthouse apartment. He hated to admit it, but this building and apartment were nicer than what Matt had found. He had just gotten his room arranged the way he liked it and was starting to settle in and get used to the Portuguese maid who came to clean and restock the pantry but things were about to be upset again tomorrow. His fiancée would be arriving tomorrow, one o’clock sharp, or so he’d been told, and she would be invading the space he was just beginning to feel could possibly be his. Sasha had long been aware of his engagement to Miss Marietta Nicoliya Dulviar-Kiepersol Rosewood and he’d accepted it…but only so long as she was far away and unknowable, it seemed. Intellectually, Sasha always knew that he would have to meet and spend time with Marietta, that was a requirement for marriage, after all, though one wouldn’t know it by looking at the Meuniers because Sasha had not seen his parents spend more than an hour together at a time and it had apparently been that way ever since he’d been born, but he didn’t actually want to meet and spend time with Marietta. He didn’t want to marry her. He wanted nothing to do with her. It was all in vain, of course, his agitation. He would meet her, spend time with her, marry her, and have children with her. After that, they could perhaps go their separate ways. Worrying about what would happen up to that point was meaningless, there wasn’t anything he could do about it. There was no such thing as choice in matters such as these. Bloodlines, marriage, and money were all far too important to be left in the hands of someone who wasn’t even twenty and had no idea what he was about yet. Sasha stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray on the small round table beside him and then headed back inside, a better method for reorganising his CDs forming in his head as he walked. He wasn’t completely distracted from the prospect of his fiancée arriving on the next day but he was temporarily pacified.