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i. She holds his hand the whole way back to her apartment; his hands are cold and clammy and soft, and her’s are warm and steady. He looks around dreamily, lost in thought, and, if it wasn’t for their locked hands and her confident guidance, she’s sure he would have tripped off the curb or been run down by a car or the bakery cart. Yet, he looks at each passing stranger warmly and studiously, like he knows their whole life stories from first glance. Her heart swells affectionately, because she can’t even begin to understand the way his mind works, and it’s usually the other way around.

He’s beautiful— so, so beautiful—his striking brown eyes that look like sunlight shining through fresh-pressed coffee, even unilluminated; when the light hits them, they’re copper. And that thin face, those cheekbones, the mole on the right side of his face, the two on the left side, in a vertical line. The way his short, messy hair is starting to curl at the top. He’s beautiful, but she’s known beauty before. His copper-coffee eyes makes the blood rush to her cheeks, but that doesn't mean anything, because it could be any boy with pretty eyes—it doesn’t have to be him, but that doesn’t mean that she’s willing to let go of his hand.

ii. His hands make their way to her cheeks, and his thumb ghosts over her cheek, heartbreakingly fond.

“I’ve never really loved someone before,” she says softly. “I don’t know if I love you.” Because part of her wants him to run away right then and there, and spare them both the heartbreak, but mostly, she wants him to stay, stay, stay.

“I don’t think I have, either,” he says, and in that moment, she hates him, because he’s so perfect and so gentle with her and he stays.“I’ll kiss you, and you kiss me, and maybe halfway through we’ll fall in love.”

iii. Nino may not be a lighthouse or a shoreline—he’s not something she has to reach (he’ll meet her halfway). He’s a rope, reeling her in; a seagull, such kind and beautiful company, and then he flies away, but it doesn’t matter to her, because there are 400 million birds in the world and it doesn’t have to be this one. She doesn’t need him. She doesn’t need this boy.

The paradox was a fault within herself; any other boy in Paris could have solved it. He’s no different than any other boy she’s been with. She says that to herself until she almost believes it.

iv. It’s late and the city’s all lit up and she’s drunk on ecstacy and the tired flush on Nino’s cheeks. She’s taken off his shirt, revealing an expanse of milky white skin, and she’s halfway done undoing his belt and he’s already breathing heavily. She lets his jeans slip to the floor and pushes him down onto her bed feverishly.

She barely hears him say: “wait,” in her hungry daze. Her hands find the elastic waistband of his boxers, but she freezes when she hears him say, “stop,” sharply. And then, “I don’t think I want to do this.”

She feels like there’s blood filling up her lungs, hot and bitter and metallic. “Is it something I did?”

Nino’s head shakes frantically and his hand is placed over her’s. “No, of course not. I know I must be crazy; I don’t think there’s a guy in Paris that would turn you down, but I just don’t think I’ve ever...wanted that.

She looks at him, this beautiful boy, with focused eyes, studying him, absorbing every bit of information that she can; his nervous ticks and fidgets, the perfect distribution of pink along his cheeks and the bridge of his nose when he blushes, the hurt in his eyes when he says, “sorry…” lying there, propped up on his elbows, bare-chested—and then, “I’ve never...done that before. I’m sorry.”

She allows her lips to be pulled into a smile. She doesn’t have to stay with him, she doesn’t owe him anything. But, then, he doesn’t owe her anything, he doesn’t owe her this. He’s by her side, his hand on her’s, and she’s looking in those eyes. Isn’t that enough? He’s on her bed, with damp eyes, apologizing, like he doesn’t know that he’s enough.

“You don't have to apologize, mon beau garçon,” she says ever-so-softly. “We don't have to do anything that you don’t want to do.”

She spends the rest of the night slowly, tenderly, studiously running her hands along his body, intimate, but comfortable. Across smooth, pale, freckled skin, over rib cages and messy hair, concave stomachs, full, rough lips, sharp hip bones, she counts each rib, connects every mole and freckle and scar with an invisible line from her finger. (She’s always tried to swallow the stars, never considered that a boy whose hands always have that metallic scent of fixer and developer liquid could be enough).

v. When she kisses him, she closes her eyes and imagines that it could be any other boy and it’d feel the same, wonders how long it’ll be until he’s gone—but he just grins, takes her picture, brings her yellow flowers in his bicycle basket. He stays.

vi. She has his lips mapped out, knows then so well; the feeling, the taste. She stops closing her eyes, stops imagining anyone else.

vii. It’s a Sunday night when she finally realizes. He’s riding back to his house on his bike—and it’s when she watches his figure grow smaller and smaller, until it disappears into the city’s dimly-lit streets, and her hand is empty, and her heart is too—that’s when she realizes that she somehow came to need him, depend on his presence, his hand in her’s. She feels drunk on the way this boy makes her feel and the horrible, agonizing ache. Her body feels light as air, but her heart feels unbearably heavy.

She imagines Nino riding his bicycle down the streets of Paris, smiling, his hands off the handlebars, wind rushing through his hair, and the whole world whispering to him: “You. It’s you. It’s all for you. The whole world, it was all made for you,” and Nino, with his camera and bike and eyes and that pure, kind heart, blissfully unaware of the universe’s hushed musings.

It’s him. It’s him and only him. How could she ever think that he’s the same as all the others? She loves him, loves him, loves him, loves him. Him. Him. Only this boy. Only Nino Quincampoix. Only her Nino. And she holds the wilting, yellow flowers close to her chest, like the makeshift bouquet is her escaped heart, and she’s trying to keep it from leaving (but her heart’s halfway across Paris on his bike, without a care in the world). She holds them and she cries and she smiles.

viii. The sun kisses her awake, gently, through her curtains. The early morning sunlight is as yellow and wilting as the flowers on her bed.

She is drawn to the kitchen, where Nino is cooking breakfast, wearing a thick, baggy cardigan, those too-big jeans that have the ankles rolled up to fit him better, and knitted argyle socks. His Converse are left abandoned at the door, his key to her apartment sitting in his right shoe.

She comes up behind him and wraps her arms around him; and, by god, she’s holding the only thing that matters in the world in her arms (and she’s the only one who gets to hold him).

He turns around to face her, but she pushes him against the counter and kisses him hard, roughly, desperately, yet lovingly. She feels him smile into her lips and then kisses her back.

He’s no bird or dock or lighthouse, and she’s not a little boat; he’s Nino Quincampoix and she’s Amélie Poulain and she can go however far she wants.They’re Nino and Amélie and she loves him, and he loves her. And it’s so different than loving any other boy in Paris.He’s so different (so is she).

“I need you,” she whispers onto his lips, and he takes her hand in his (cold and clammy and soft).

And he stays.