C'est Samedi and I'm staring directly at Arthur Kirkland who stubbornly refuses to turn away from his pint. We are in an English pub; it's barely eight o'clock and we are already struggling to ease the tension between us having only been in each other's presence for an hour.
This always seems to happen when I am with Arthur. He is a brash, silly Englishman who pretends to dislike me when in reality he enjoys my company. I have always teased him – ever since we met at school (I transferred to London to go to an international school when I was eleven). But it doesn't seem to bother him. Of course, his feathers get ruffled in that strange way of his but really, Arthur has had plenty of chances to stop being friends with me.
I should mention that 'friends' is a very polite way of putting our relationship. Friends with benefits would be more fitting. But 'friends' is still too kind – which leaves us with enemies with benefits, which is probably about right.
We are constantly at each others throats, always arguing about something or other. It is surprising to me that we even attempt to be in one another's company for anything other than "a shag". Arthur has not quite caved in to my good looks and French charm yet tonight. But I'm working on it, right now actually.
I shift closer to Arthur but, as if by reflex, he pushes me back and out of his personal space.
"Piss off, frog," he says primly, somewhat slurred; he is on his third pint.
"Oh, how you wound me so," I roll my eyes, taking a sip from my own drink. Unlike Arthur I prefer the finer things in life such as wine over Guinness. "You are no fun, Arthur. Lighten up, uh?"
He glares at me and pointedly continues to do so whilst taking his next sip. Merde alors, sometimes it is like talking to a wall. I expect I could probably get better conversation out of a wall, and persuade it to have sex with me, all in less time than it takes for Arthur to say one nice thing to me. Mais non, Arthur is the only sensible option. We both know that this charade will end once Arthur thinks that he is suitably drunk enough to say I am taking advantage rather than admitting that he actually wants to have 'relations' with me.
"No," his teeth are gritted together as he grinds out the words: "get stuffed, you cheeky bastard."
"It is not my fault that you will not accept that you like spending time with me," I shrug.
"Fucking hell, Francis!" Arthur is suddenly on his feet, scowling abhorrently at me. I quirk an eyebrow, being the adult as per usual.
"Don't you bloody 'wee' me. I don't want you here. I want to be alone. I told you that before you invited yourself along and all you've done since is insult me and wind me up! You are truly the most moronic, twat-ish, fucking git that I have ever met in my life!" he bellows at me.
We are both silent for a moment. Other people in the pub are beginning to stare openly at us and Arthur looks like he's going to burst with anger.
"I'm assuming that you want me to go?"
I leave without another word as he continues to shout, swearing at me within an inch of his life. I ignore him. It's hardly shocking behaviour to me – he had done exactly the same thing last week when we went drinking. Although unlike before, I don't think that he's going to come running after me and bum a cigarette.
Arthur calls smoking his "dirty habit" and insists every time that it will be his last one and that I shouldn't give them to him but he begs in such a humiliating way that I can hardly resist. I think we both secretly know that this ambition of his is like every New Year's resolution he has ever made; pointless. One year, he even promised himself that he would never eat chocolate again. That, of course, didn't happen.
Not to say that he isn't determined in some aspects of life. His job, par example. He works hard every day, which is more than I can say for myself. Arthur works in publishing and is almost constantly reading a new manuscript, in meetings, or writing on his laptop. It is the perfect excuse for me to curl up in bed beside him and make all of the troubles of the world disappear on those frequent, exhausting nights… when I am not kicked out of his house, of course.
I, on the other hand, am an artist but I work as a waiter in a local restaurant. I have two nights off every week but when I do work, it's for long hours. It's very different to in France. There, being a waiter is a career and you can earn a fair amount of money from just working a lunchtime shift on the Champs-Élysée, but it's not the same in London. I am barely earning minimum wage, and I sometimes can barely afford to pay the rent for my flat in Brixton that I share with my two friends.
Alors, He missed France sometimes, like when he was on the Tube and could hear French tourists chattering away. The women always looked so pretty, and so neat. They, like him, stood out against the English. Their way of speaking, their manner, their voices -everything.
It was a huge shock coming to London as a Frenchman, having grown up on a farm. Luckily enough for me, we lived just outside Versailles and that enabled me to visit Paris frequently. My parents were hugely encouraging for my love of art, seeing as it a large part of French culture. But they wanted me and my sister to stay on the farm, which wasn't something I wanted to do (and still don't). I can remember begging them for months on end to get them to let me go to school in Britain until I was eighteen so that I could experience the world. Looking back, I can understand their hesitance. I have never gone back. At least I'm not as far away as my sister, Marianne has gone. She moved all the way to Canada when she was barely eighteen and got married to some American. We haven't really heard from her since.
I pull out my key to the flat that I share with my two closest friends: Antonio and Gilbert. Antonio is what one might describe as a Latin lover – he is Spanish and is studying at university (something I wish I had gone to, really). Gilbert, on the other hand, is from the east of Germany. He's a bit older than Toni and I but we didn't really have much of a choice but to live with him. Gilbert came with the flat. He had already made a deal with the landlord that he would move in here, but he couldn't afford it on his own – which is where Antonio and I came in.
When I enter the flat, they have both gone to bed already. Antonio has lectures in the morning and Gilbert, work. I toe off my shoes and sit down on the sofa, contemplating opening the bottle of wine that I bought a few days prior. I've managed to store it safely under my bed so that the other two won't find it. Although that doesn't mean that it wouldn't surprise me if I found Gilbert had gone through my belongings and taken it. He seems to have a sixth sense for finding alcohol.
We live in quite a small flat for three people. There are only six rooms, which sounds like a lot until you work out that three of them are box-sized bedrooms and the other three are a living area, kitchen/dining room and a tiny bathroom. Each room has unappealing décor and is far too small to have three people in at the same time.
My phone begins to vibrate in my pocket. At first, I assume it will be Arthur calling to abuse me verbally via telephone but then I see a number that I don't recognise, with a foreign area code at the beginning. I answer tentatively.
"'Allo?" I adopt my 'I'm French, please don't assume I'm English' act.
"Hello, sir. Is this Mr. Francis Bonnefoy?" his accent is strange. It sounds French but has an American lilt to it. And he seems to be unwilling to speak French, irritatingly enough.
"Yes, that's me. Who am I speaking to?"
"My name is Augustin Tremblay. I am from the Québec police; I am calling about your sister." That explains the accent – he is Canadian. I don't like the sound of this… surely he should be able to speak French if he is from Québec?
"My sister?" Marianne.
"Yes, sir. I regret to inform you that your sister has passed away."
My chest feels tight, like there's a huge weight pressing down on me, preventing me from breathing. I feel numb, I can't think of anything else other than the last time I saw her beautiful, smiling face. She was so happy, so perfect. My sister, my Marianne is dead.
Tears begin to prick my eyes.
"How…? When…?" I can barely speak, my voice is wavering. "Do my parents know?" My Mother, my poor Mother.
"She was involved in a car accident today. At about six o'clock in, uh, GMT… It wasn't her fault." The car accident wasn't her fault. Merde. "We were not aware that she had any parents."
So whilst I had been pestering Arthur, Marianne had been dying. All I can picture in my head is her lying in her car, body broken; her brown-blonde hair matted with blood, eyes wide as if she had screamed in agony. I hope she didn't scream, that she didn't feel pain. But it is wistful thinking, I know.
Mon amour, ma petite soeur, ma vie…
I have obviously been quiet for too long, as Augustin coughs down the phone, reminding me either that he is still there or the sheer amount of money this is costing him per second.
"There is a child, sir." A child. Non, non, non… "He's called Mathieu."
Mon Dieu. Mathieu. I have a nephew – why didn't she tell me? She could have written, emailed, phoned. Marianne could have told me. I look up at the ceiling, trying to restrain the soft sobs that rattle through my body.
"And her husband?" I bet that he was in the car crash too. That poor child.
"Marianne has been divorced for two years now."
Connard. I can't believe that he ran out on her. Anger swells in my gut, along with the combination of other emotions.
"I see… then, how old is Mathieu?"
"Three." Three. I can barely conceal the hiccup that escapes my lips. "I'm sorry, sir. Mathieu does not have a guardian and you are his next of kin. What would you like us to do with him?"
"I will look after him," I say without thinking. It's what Marianne would want although I can't help but wonder why they don't contact his father.
"Okay, sir. I will phone you tomorrow to discuss arrangements. I suggest that you get some rest."
"Et le enf – Mathieu?"
"Mathieu will stay in a children's home until arrangements are made."
"O-okay. Thank you, sir. Good bye."
I end the call and drop the phone on to the floor. It seems as though my life is about to get much more complicated. I stare at the gross purple carpet for a few minutes, numb before I make myself move. I go to my room and pick up my bottle of wine.
I drink all of it in less then twenty minutes.