One of an occasional series of fiction stories in Blast.

You were never too needy, and I was never too safe.

We were in Cannes, for the festival.  And we were interns!  We ruled the world from scrounging it.  We were coffee-gophers; we were street-teamers, the hit-men of advertising.  We were young and drank French merlot, maybe cultivated in Burgundy, maybe expensive and cultivated somewhere else, like, another country, but we drank it for the same price.  And you had that freckle on your nose, the right nostril, which sometimes you mistook for a speck of something — perhaps a renegade flake of ash from your cigarette, perhaps a daub from a frugal piece of p¢t©, the one which you would try to rub off, but to no avail.

But that summer!  Those two weeks, at the cuff of the season, we were young and you were beautiful.  And me?  Not quite so much.  Though I pretended to be one of those people, those people like you.  We were in Cannes, after all.  We were housed in this picturesque apartment.  I would say that the walls were stucco, except I don’t know exactly what stucco looks like.  I like to think of the interiors of unopened tropical caves, with stalactites and stalagmites like stunted canine teeth.  And the best part was that the apartment was in the old part of Cannes, the part that still felt like it had been untouched by the greasy finger of the film industry, or as most said, show biznesss, and it made me feel untainted, in a way.

My best friend from home had said that she only wanted French cigarettes, the particular brand that started with a "G", a brand that I could never pronounce, because I had learned Spanish in school instead of French.  So I bought her those cigarettes, or what I thought were the kind she wanted, a silver souvenir film canister with the palm d’or slapped across the front, an ashtray with an etching of the Parisian skyline, a cheap butane lighter (though she would never know that it was cheap), and a cigarette case with a lacquered picture of Marilyn Monroe splayed on the front, that infamous scene from that infamous movie wherein she pushes her skirt down over a steaming sidewalk grill, a subway throttling underneath her feet.  So maybe I’m too generous.

But I purchased all of these things, and you said I was just so nice.  And I didn’t want you to think that I was too nice.

And oh, wow!  How can you explain away that town?  Cannes?  I think I saw a lot of celebrities, but I didn’t know what color their eyes were.  I had never seen an endless body of water like that before — lapping against the shore like a relentless tongue — that certain ratio of blue-grey to fish-tank green.  It was an ocean, I reminded myself, it ended, as do all things.  The sand, in a perverse moment, reminded me of harvested Astro-Turf.  But that little alcove of history we nested in — with the sloping staircases that you said reminded you of steep escalators — it was a piece of authenticity, like a Boy Scout badge.  I had told you, after all, that once in my life I had won the Pinewood Derby.

So that’s how we met, during that internship, assigned respective, adjacent rooms in that apartment complex.  And maybe it was a quietness about me that you mistook for confidence, or French aloofness — or maybe because of my shy nature, you thought I was French to begin with?   We began talking, and talking, and talking, but not necessarily listening.  We spoke to each other like we were waiting at crossroads, waiting for a traffic light to fade from red to green.  But you knew too little about me, and I knew too little about you, and we pranced around with these artifices in our pockets, gallivanting about as if they were truths.  And we liked it this way, we really did.  You wanted to be a filmmaker, but not really, and so did I, but really.  And so maybe I had a crush, and maybe you didn’t, because my luck falls like that a lot.  Because I nod and smile in odd patterns.  Because you don’t scrutinize anyone but the shadow of yourself.


You wore new dresses every day, in colors I can’t quite name, but can only think of equitable estimations to them.  A dolphin’s skin.  The canvass sail of a dinghy at a clear sunset.  The bright beige of champagne nestling in a flute.  And, hey, they made me think of cringe-worthy scenarios, of bad poetic verse.  I wore the same tuxedo every time, as we went off to the premieres (for most of them, we left after ten minutes), only hoping to be photographed on the unfurled red carpet in front of the respective theatre, with captions like So-And-So was seen with So-And-So, and you should really, really care!  You snatched tickets for the both of us because you could finagle them better than I could.

And there was that one time, the middle of the second week, in which we went to that after-party for that film that never ended up getting a distributor, which never was spoken of again.  You met this film guy.  Not in the sense that I was a film guy, not in the way that it could be written off as a preoccupation, but in a serious way.  He was a lot older, in his late forties, at least.  Though his hair was thick, and though mine is already thinning.  This film guy was charismatic if not attractive; rosy, bellowing.  He gave you compliments and chivalric bows, even though they were executed at unnecessary moments.  And he told you that you had a face for acting, though you had never acted before.  The thought had never glimmered across your pupils, nor had it shown in your high school activity track record.  But that face! he said, as if you could launch a thousand — no, a million — ships.  And I think those were his words, not mine.

I was watching this, an American with a green bottle of German beer in France.  His wife was there, too.  A blonde, pretty thing, but in the way that you aren’t, a kind of gaudy, brittle beauty.  She was wearing a lot of aquamarine.  That was the color of her dress, stitched with sequins.  She was laughing and agreeing with him, and no one was talking to me.  They bought you drink after drink, the harder and more potent facsimiles.  You were laughing, too.  The three of you, in a circle, co-conspirators, cackling away at something I couldn’t imagine.

What were you talking about?  What were you conjuring?  Will you ever tell me?

Here is where the plot splinters like the shrapnel of so many landmines; or old, unpreserved, peeling film strips, the images blotted out by mildew.  Where I myself wonder whether the recounted events were marketed for my own vicious entertainment value, or whether I just wanted to doubt you in the first place.  Because if I did, I could pretend that you wanted to glamorize your relatively uninteresting background and bereft bilgundsroman, because we would eventually leave Cannes and leave the company of each other, and I didn’t want to think that you were too perfect.  So, what do I know?  I only know what you do.


You left with them, the film guy and his wife.  He wore a three-piece pinstriped seersucker suit; did I mention that I remember that?   You and the two of them walked past the marina on a listless night.  The sails were all tied down and the breeze was the slight caress of a new, tentative lover.  You were speaking in enthusiasms and small words like yeah! and crazy! and sure!  And you noticed that they gesticulated with their hands a lot; you maybe thought it was a sign of importance, those hand gestures, the passing-down of an ancient tautology.  A secret codex imparted without language.  The air smelled like a foreign tongue and salt and a bit of brut.  The hotel wasn’t far, they said, but the film guy used his hand to signal a taxi.  His minor potbelly, garnered with age and success, did not aid in keeping his white button-down shirt tucked in.

All three of you got in the cab, and you thought it was odd that you found yourself sandwiched in between the film guy and his wife, as if you had displaced a hierarchy, instituted a coup d’©tat.  A little more than a minute later, the cab driver let you out at a grand hotel.  You already knew that their room had a nice view.

All of your party of three slid out of the cab, because the cabs in Cannes seemed so much cleaner than ordinary cabs, the leather upholstery well-maintained and perfect for sliding.  You entered the hotel through the revolving doors, the clear glass panes of each large window quadrant encased in gold-colored metal that certainly wasn’t gold.  But you liked to be optimistic, you liked to believe they were even if you knew it wasn’t so.  The lobby was grand and gilded and empty, and the film guy and his wife took advantage of this and laughed loudly and boisterously for no reason, and you went along with it, laughing at empty patches in conversation, because it seemed like the right thing to do.  The concierge on duty, because it was that kind of hotel, probably disapproved, but no one cared for his Frenchly-furrowed brow.  You and the film guy and his wife broke for the elevator, and the film guy kept pressing the button for up, up, up, up.

You were in their room, nothing entirely too special.  The bed had that paisley-patterned coverlet with the same strange, synthetic, almost plasticine texture that you found on beds at less-reputable institutions like the Motel 6.  There was a mini-fridge and a big, boxy black television.  The film guy made a call downstairs, in affluent French, with the kind of air someone uses when he knows that there is a fluidity in his speech, who knows very well of his benefice.  The only thing you understood in that tangle of words was champagne.

The wife motioned for you to sit on the bed, rubbing the vacant spot beside her.  The aquamarine dress she wore slithered down on one shoulder.  Even if she was so skinny, maybe even skinnier than you, she had that maternal quality that we presuppose all older women have.  She touched the small of your back.  You thought it was comforting.  You thought of your mother, who wasn’t.


I was at the bar at the same after-party for the same film I could have made much, much better, knowing that you weren’t going to come back.  And waiting for you.

You, he said, are going to be the next big thing.

You liked his words, because you liked the way they inflected believability.

You’re in L.A., right?

You were.

Great!  That takes care of some of the logistical stuff.  Kid, you’re gonna be it, know what I’m saying?  You think actresses get famous for crying in a movie while wearing a corset or something?  For acting?  Not how it works.  It’s all about P.R., Kid, and a pretty face.  And…charisma.

He thought he was so sly, looking briefly at the things he had mentioned, but still looking.

And Kid, for you?  We’re gonna do it up to the nines.

You didn’t think that the axiom was the one he meant it to be.

And so what, if you’re worried about actually acting?  It’s easy.  We all do it.  Don’t you smile at the cashier at the convenience store when you buy a pack of gum or whatever?  Don’t you act like you give a shit, but really…?  See?  It’s like that.  You’re probably a really great actress, and you have no idea.  Shit, I’ve never acted in front of a freaking camera, but I already know that I’m great at it.

You realized that you couldn’t recall the wife’s voice, the precise cadence, even though you could remember it sounded like tinking crystal wine glasses.  The champagne arrived.  The film guy went to the door and completed his transaction in a secretive way that reminded you of a speakeasy in a gangster movie.  He closed the door behind him, bottle in hand, the liquid hallowed in the yellowish light of the hotel room.  The film guy popped the cork without ceremony and took a big swig of it, like a deep kiss.

And then the wife got up, walked over to the bottle more so than her husband, and took it from him.  You could hear the stuff gurgling down her throat.  And then again.  She went to the television and turned it on.  The screen popped to life, set on a channel for music videos.  French electro-techno-whatever-pop.  She began to dance.  You were surprised to remember that before, at the after-party for that film, she had drunk a lot.  You forgot that you had, as well, and felt a painful hot pulsating in your veins, an alcoholic burn.

She danced, she danced, she danced, in a way that a dandelion catching the wind in its petals persuades poetry.  Or like a woman with a lot of practice.  She made the synthesizer pummeling away at the ambient electronica look natural, despite its lack of humanity.  You didn’t notice, at first, as one sleeve of her aquamarine dress shimmered down her shoulder, down her arm, like shower water.  And then the other side.  She wasn’t wearing a brassiere, or underwear.  You didn’t notice that she was naked until you realized you were critiquing the off-white stretch-marks that accentuated the twin axes of her hips.


I was still waiting, always waiting.


You felt his thick hands kneading the spot between your shoulder blades, as sharp as wings.

Your first audition, he said.


The first and last call I received on my disposable European cell phone.  You were crying, wracked with all those hysteric overtures.  You were unintelligible and I felt wanted.  You told me an address, nowhere near Old Cannes.  I was trying to be quiet, regaling you with hushed tones, because the other two interns were sleeping and hadn’t been drunk.  It was four in the morning.  It took me forever to track down a cab, and I walked halfway there before I did.  The streets were bare.  Your un-glossed mouth.

You were sitting, crumpled, on the steps of the hotel.  I can’t recall what you were wearing, though I had thought it pretty when the evening had started, when you had stood on the red carpet, in the dappled sunlight, wrapped in my arms, but not really.  That happened only in my head.  You were still crying, but your make-up wasn’t streaking, wasn’t running in minor tributaries down your face like Audrey Hepburn or Deborah Kerr.

I didn’t hold you on those steps, though your fragility tempted me.

I never knew the ending to the story.


And we were right, we were very, very right.  Because after we kissed — later, when you visited me in Valencia after I moved there, to California, to that stark suburban dreamscape — you were never too needy, and I was never too safe.  We had short-circuited our prophecies; it was the other way around.  I was the lovelorn, love-struck, love-hungry hero, and you could never be happy with surety, with my ecclesiastic declarations.

You were always a really great actress.

About The Author

J.E. Reich is a Pittsburgh native and Emerson College graduate. She was nominated for an EVVY Award in "Outstanding Prose: Fiction" in 2009.

One Response

  1. Liz F

    Exciting, sincere and unpredictable. I couldn’t put this story down! I hope to read more by JE in Blast!


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