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  • She shows up in a new car, a snazzy one, a spotless dream in steel blue. She parks right in front of the bistro and emerges from the driver's seat like a movie star; legs first, stilettos and slim denim, followed by a beige trench coat and smooth, shiny blond hair, effectively contrasted by huge, black sunglasses. A Louis Vuitton clutch in one hand and car keys, cell phone, latte in the other; she's cut right out of Vogue magazine. Forget practical, the purse is probably not designed to contain more than a lipstick and a credit card anyway, and besides, it just looks better this way; the balancing act she performs does impress me, and heads are turning as she struts across the room.

    "Nice car," I say, nodding towards the window. "Thanks," she says, "a managing position may get you one of those - but I guess you would have to decide on a career first!" She laughs. "Right," I say, smiling wryly. "You know you could never pull off a car like that, anyway," she continues; "you're more of a jeep kind of girl, sort of a tomboy." She looks me over in an appraising way. I'm wearing heels, too, and a fitted dress, I don't know why she still pictures a childhood version of me. "Actually, I could see you in a Range Rover," she says; "an old model, a bit rusty, covered in mud." That image works for me, but I can tell from her tone of voice that it's not intended as a compliment.

    "So what have you been up to lately," she asks, sipping her frothy latte. I tell her about my writing, the challenges of learning a new language, busy days of studying and exploring. "Oh yeah, the rough life in Paris," she says, rolling her eyes. "You can't be a student forever, you know," she adds. I know. I've been told before. I shrug, smiling, and it annoys her, I can tell. She needs me to want what she possesses, she can't relate to the relief of a life unlimited by the restrictions of belongings. She doesn't regret becoming a mother, or a wife, or a CEO, but she's envious of my migratory existence. I know.

    "So you'll live this way until the money runs out, and then what?" she asks. "Then I'll get another job," I reply. "Doing what, exactly?" she asks. "I'll get a teaching position, or I'll work as a barmaid, whatever," I say. "And if you're unable to find work?" she asks. "Well, I guess I could always be a doorway-girl," I reply, jokingly. "Nope, you're way too opinionated to make a successful prostitute," she says, and we both laugh. She looks me over again. "You look good," she says; "you really are happy, aren't you?" I nod. "Most of the time," I say, smiling. She's not a person with whom I share the darker thoughts, my doubts and fears, I don't trust her to treat my sincerity respectfully. Not because she's a bad person, but because I fear that deep down, she wants me to fail.

    "You know," she says, slowly; "I would give anything to live your life, just for a little while." I ask her why. She leans back on her chair, drawing her breath, searching for the right words, gesturing, finally resigning with a deep sigh. "You're a free man in Paris, and that's really all I've ever wanted for myself," she says. "Unfettered and alive," I chant, not knowing how else to reply. We laugh again, but suddenly her eyes tear up and I find myself hugging her. There's no need for explanations, it's fairly obvious that I'm not the only one who's afraid of rejection.

    I look at her, she looks at me, and we're both out a bit of focus. "My cage may be bigger than yours," I say, quietly; "it's still a cage."
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