Lara was supposed to have breakfast with Selin, a friend from middle school who had a long layover in Paris. It was eight thirty, and Lara was frustrated not to have the morning to herself before teaching in the afternoon. She loved the early, luxurious hours when she was free to do anything she wanted, which often meant making coffee and going back to bed to read.
She hadn’t seen Selin in more than fifteen years, though they’d kept in touch a little over Facebook. Selin sometimes wrote out of the blue, having remembered an episode from their school years, or to ask how Lara was doing. Lara had moved to Boston for university, then to New York, before coming to France. Selin would write that she dreamed of visiting Lara in these places.
Lara didn’t see Selin when she went back to Istanbul. Her trips were short, barely enough time to see her parents and closest friends. She had nonetheless kept track of the general shape of Selin’s life: she still lived in Istanbul; she had a boyfriend who resembled her, with a thick mop of hair and a cartoonish smile; she posted photographs of her handicrafts, which received enthusiastic comments from other crafters.
At the last minute, Lara decided to put on lipstick. She walked down the stairs of her building and stepped outside. Sunlight lay bright and jagged on the scaffolded building across the street, where work had already started for the day. There was the clang of metal, a rhythmic thudding of sacks thrown on the pavement. The wind was sharp on her face and neck. She buttoned up her long coat, a bit thin for the season, and turned to walk to the bistro at the end of the street. She went there several times a week, mostly in the evenings after teaching. Recently, she’d had a date there with a man she met online. For a week or two afterward, they sent each other text messages. When Lara suggested meeting up again, the man stopped responding.
Selin would have to take the fast train from the airport, then switch to line 4. Lara had assured her over email that this was an easy trip, though she could certainly have suggested something more direct. Selin would be tired after her flight from the United States. She was on her way home from a craft workshop—she’d explained the technique in her message, which Lara could no longer recall. She was bewildered that Selin would bother coming all the way from the airport to see her, rather than walking the city alone for a few hours, maybe treating herself to a nice lunch, a souvenir.
The bistro had green mosaic floors and an old-fashioned zinc counter, cluttered with baskets of bread, an orange press, newspapers. Behind the counter, a waiter was drying glasses with a tea towel. Selin would be enchanted by this place, Lara thought; she might even think Lara had picked it because it was so charming.
As far as Lara knew, Selin had only been to Paris once, with her mother, when they were in school. She came back from the trip with two pink Breton hats, for herself and for Lara, and stories of the boat ride on the Seine, the view from the tower, the trip to Disneyland. For the rest of the year, she talked about moving to Paris for university. But she’d stayed in Istanbul, saying that she didn’t want her mother to be alone.
Lara took the table by the window and brought her book out of her bag. It was a history of an artists’ commune in Paris in the sixties. The general subject interested her more than the specifics: letters documenting arrivals and departures, correspondence with suppliers, requests for funding from the Ministry of Culture. As she was leafing through the book, she saw Selin from the corner of her eye, crossing the street in a large duffle coat.
“Lala!” Selin shouted, entering the café. “La la la!”
Her hair puffed out in every direction. Her face, too, was puffy, as if she’d just woken up from a nap. She threw her hands in the air and scrunched her nose—her expression, Lara remembered, for anything happy or puzzling.
They hugged. Then they hugged again.
To Lara’s relief, Selin didn’t have her luggage with her. She’d imagined they might be scolded by the waiter for taking up too much space.
“Should we get the breakfast menu?” Lara asked, showing Selin the blackboard propped against the counter. “It’s all the usual stuff, and an egg.”
“I can’t believe I’m here,” Selin said. “Just like we always imagined.”
Their breakfasts arrived on two pewter trays. Besides the egg, there was coffee and juice, glistening croissants, a pot of jam, and butter. Selin took a photo of Lara and the trays.
“Look at you,” she said. “The Parisian.”
“How was the trip?” Lara asked. “How was your workshop?”
She’d only found out about it by chance, she told Lara. The instructor was a woman in West Virginia who ran workshops out of her home. She and Selin had become friends online. Last summer, the woman invited Selin to join one of her fall workshops, at a discounted rate.
“That’s a pretty long trip for handicrafts,” Lara said.
“That’s what the others said! They couldn’t believe it.”
Selin rarely took offense, Lara remembered. She used to delight in people making fun of her, as if it were a sign of their affection.
She’d brought everyone gifts from Istanbul, Selin said, cute little evil eye bracelets—blue and green and silver, she chirped.
“Ozan keeps joking that West Virginia will talk about the arrival of the Turk for years to come.”
“Ozan’s your boyfriend?”
“Lala!” She’d been meaning to write: she and Ozan had gotten engaged a few months ago and would get married the following autumn, in Ozan’s grandparents’ garden on the Aegean. Lara noticed the gold ring on Selin’s finger, with a small green stone.
“You’ll get a proper invitation, obviously. I worked on a few ideas during the workshop. By the way, my mother sends a big hello.”
“How’s my role model?”
“Always the same,” Selin said. “Set on having things her way.”
She swirled the coffee in her cup.
“That sounds mean,” she added. They’d had a small argument recently, about the wedding. She knew that her mother was just being protective, but she was bothered nonetheless that her mother continued to ask whether she wouldn’t rather wait.
“Wait for what?” Lara asked.
“For someone she likes better.” She laughed, scrunching up her nose.
Lara and Selin became friends in seventh grade, after Lara’s family returned to Istanbul from Geneva. Selin had befriended Lara in the first week of school. Selin wasn’t one of the of girls who sat in a pack—their voices rising and falling from whispers to hysterical laughter and back again—but she wasn’t picked on, either. She shared her homework with anyone who asked, warning them cheerfully that she might have gotten it all wrong. And there was her mother, who came to school for board meetings. She wasn’t like the mothers of the other girls, frilled and perfumed, dressed in the style of their own daughters and too eager to prove their youth. Selin’s mother was tall and thin and radiant. She wore high-waisted trousers and vests and smiled at everyone as if she were a movie star. Selin didn’t seem to notice her mother’s charm—another point in her favor, as if her nonchalance toward her mother was in fact a sign of her own charisma.
Lara and Selin had nicknames for one another—Lala, Solo—and a secret handshake. At lunchtime, they stayed in the classroom making drawings. They had sleepovers every week, mostly at Selin’s. Lara’s mother was a fussy host, strict about bedtimes, whereas Selin’s mother didn’t need prior notice for Lara to come over. She would ask the girls what they felt like eating, and cook something on the spot or order in. She sat across from them at the table, drinking wine. Sometimes she asked the girls if they’d like a sip as well.
“Mom!” Selin would protest. “We’re thirteen!”
Selin’s parents had separated the previous year and her father remarried soon thereafter. A perfect housewife, Selin’s mother said of the other woman. One time at dinner, when she’d ordered a bucket of fried calamari for the girls, she told them to count their blessings. “If I were a perfect housewife,” she said, “I’d make you stewed beans.”
Before Lara, Selin had been friends with the twin sisters from 7B, who were quiet, hardworking, and unopinionated. “Those poor girls,” Selin’s mother called them, for no apparent reason. She was delighted in her daughter’s new friendship, said that Selin had finally met her soul sister. She believed in such things—souls and the will of the universe.
“You were meant to find us, Lala,” she said. “The three of us are a gang.” At dinner, she would ask the girls questions: What sort of boutique hotel would they like to own? What pastries would they serve if they had a café? Which celebrity would they go on holiday with? Afterward, she told the girls her preferences, which Lara memorized, determined to one day make them her own: a hotel with a courtyard and blue mosaics; almond crostata; Daniel Day-Lewis.
Selin’s answers exasperated her mother, or made her laugh: a Mary Poppins–themed hotel, frosted cupcakes. “Oh, sweetheart,” her mother said, “don’t you think you’ll grow out of all that?”
The summer before ninth grade, Lara went to a language school in the Loire Valley. Selin’s mother had wanted Selin to go as well, but Selin spent the vacation with her father and his wife at a resort. “A sure way,” Selin’s mother said, “to kill every last brain cell.”
At the summer school, Lara joined the other students after class to go to the village bar and drink lagers. In a matter of weeks, she’d grown tall and skinny. Her tanned shoulders were sculpted beneath the straps of her tank tops. One of the English girls showed her how to line her eyes. On her last evening, she and a boy from Spain kissed on the riverbank.
In the fall, the class split up for science and social studies tracks. Lara and Selin were only together for French and geography. Lara had become friendly with Defne, a member of the pack, and often joined her for lunch. She still slept over at Selin’s from time to time. At home, the girls reverted to the way they were before, making up songs, drawing fictional maps.
Selin had finished her breakfast and ordered a cappuccino.
“This café is lovely,” she said.
“It’s not too far from where I live,” Lara told her, though she didn’t say she lived down the street. “I thought you’d like it.”
She pointed out the mosaic detail on the ceiling, the brass window knobs shaped like leaves.
“Crazy how you and my mother have the same taste,” Selin said. “She would adore this place.”
“Not so crazy,” Lara said, “given that I basically copied her style.”
She felt sudden tenderness for her friend, their familiarity. She asked for another coffee as well.
“She’s still glamorous,” Selin said. If there was anything about the wedding that excited her mother, it was the dressing up, and all the decorations she’d thought of for the garden.
“I’d want her to plan my wedding, too,” Lara said.
But Selin felt uncomfortable about interfering too much. There’d been other weddings at the family plot—Ozan’s younger sister and cousins. They’d all been modest events, occasions to host neighbors and family. Selin hadn’t yet confronted her mother about it and imagined it would cause more tension.
“But that’s my own problem,” she said. “I just have to get it over with. Anyway what about you? What happened to that handsome man in your profile pictures?”
“He was a photographer. I mean, he is. It ended on its own, nothing dramatic. Honestly, I’m enjoying being single.”
“Single in Paris,” Selin said. “That’s glamorous.”
When they finished their coffees, Lara suggested going for a walk.
“What about your class?” Selin asked. In her email, Lara had written that she would have to teach later, without specifying the time, in case she wanted an excuse to leave.
“That’s not for a few more hours,” she told Selin. She was now considering canceling the class. They could walk to the river, get drinks.
She reached across the table and held Selin’s arm. “It’s so good to see you,” she said.
Outside, two majestic clouds were suspended in the sky, framing the sun. Lara and Selin crossed the boulevard, then turned to a side street where Lara showed Selin the large blue doorway behind which was a Benedictine convent. Lara herself had only glimpsed inside, to the garden and cloisters. She’d heard that you could visit the grounds on certain days of the year, when it was open to the public, though she hadn’t been bothered to look it up. The city was full of such places. Their inaccessibility had charmed her when she first moved here, as if it were an invitation to explore, to make the city her own.
She’d come to Paris with an artist research grant and met the photographer in the final months of her visa. They admired each other’s self-sufficiency, their mutual lack of neediness. The photographer liked to tell Lara that he’d never had a partner before her who didn’t rely on him for fulfillment. After her residency ended, Lara moved into the photographer’s apartment. When her visa expired, they got married. Lara’s parents came from Istanbul, and the four of them went out for lunch after the ceremony at the municipal hall. The relationship was over by the following summer. The end crept up on them, announced itself of its own accord; they accepted it without a fight. The photographer took a project in Estonia, to document abandoned sanatoriums. He and Lara agreed to remain married until Lara got her citizenship. Lara moved to a studio apartment, found work teaching and guiding private museum tours. Her clients on the tours were mostly older, wealthy couples who liked to show off their own knowledge. Lara complimented them on this, showed enthusiastic approval in the banal, repeated facts of art history—that Michelangelo freed the human form from blocks of marble, that Rodin had taken credit for the work of his lover, that Cézanne had truly paved the way to Cubism.
They had arrived at the park of the observatory and stood watching the fountain of galloping bronze horses.
“I love seeing these places,” Selin said. “From now on, I’ll be able to picture you in your habitat.” She suggested taking a selfie to send her mother.
They huddled their heads close, both of them squinting from the sun.
Selin showed the picture to Lara before sending.
“So cute,” Lara said.
Within seconds, Selin’s mother texted a line of colorful hearts. You two haven’t changed my darlings. Kisses and hugs.
During high school, whenever she saw Selin’s mother, Lara felt uneasy, as if she’d been caught being deceitful. But she also had the sense that Selin’s mother approved of her new social circle, her matured style. It seemed that this was what Selin’s mother would have wanted for her daughter as well, and that Lara had made better use of her potential. One time, she told Lara that she reminded her of her own student years. Lara had cut her hair short and was on a drastic diet. “I had just your style,” she said. “And your spirit.”
They’d reached the end of the park.
“How did you and Ozan meet?” Lara asked. “At university, right?”
“No,” Selin said. “Ozan didn’t go to university.”
It was, of all places, at a summer resort, where she’d gone with her father and his family.
“Your mother hated those resorts.”
She’d noticed Ozan with a sketchbook and pen at the beach bar every morning. She went up to him one day and asked to take a closer look. The drawings were so intricate, of bridges and boats.
“I can’t imagine you being so bold,” Lara said.
“A moment of folly.”
Ozan worked on a cargo ship and wanted to get a captain’s license. For years, they saw each other once a month, sometimes not even that. The previous year, Ozan had moved in with Selin. After the wedding, they would move south.
“Closer to the sea?” Lara asked.
“Actually, he doesn’t work on board anymore. But we’ll be closer to his family.”
Lara thought that she sounded evasive, and assumed that Ozan must be unemployed.
“What does your mother think about the move?”
“She thinks it’s a waste of our youth.”
She looked at her watch. “I guess I should get going.” There was some place she wanted to visit before she went back to the airport, she told Lara. “And you probably need to go to your class.”
“I could cancel that,” Lara said. “We could have a drink by the river.”
“That’s so tempting,” Selin said. “I would’ve loved that. We have to plan a proper reunion.”
Lara asked where she needed to go.
A bookstore, Selin explained, that specialized in art books. She wanted to get a few for Ozan.
“I could come along,” Lara said.
“Don’t bother, it’s across the city.”
“You should have told me,” Lara said. “We could have met around there.”
“I loved seeing your neighborhood,” Selin said.
“Can’t you order the books online?” She was sad that they would be parting so soon, when it seemed that they’d just fallen back into their old rhythm.
“I guess I could, but I’d like to see them in person.”
“I think,” Lara said, “that you’d like to go for a festive drink.”
Selin smiled. The bookshop, she explained, sold large-format books, with magnified details on every page. She spread her arms to show how big.
Two years ago, she went on, Ozan was diagnosed with early retinal deterioration. In front of his right eye was a black spot that was slowly spreading. He could still see clearly with his other eye, but it was a strain to look at things for a long time.
“But he won’t go blind?”
“He will,” Selin said. She was a step ahead of Lara now.
“I’m so sorry,” Lara said, too loudly. “That must be very difficult. But it’s so special that you stayed together. It’s really wonderful of you.”
They stood at a crossing, waiting for the green light. Selin looked at Lara but didn’t say anything. Then, she pointed to the metro entrance ahead.
“I can probably get on at this stop,” she said. “I’ll figure it out.”
As they crossed the street, she took a photo of the metro with her phone.
These metro entrances, she told Lara, with their green lamps, were among Ozan’s favorite details in the city.
“Actually,” she said, “Ozan and I came to Paris for a weekend last year.”
She hadn’t told Lara, because she wanted Ozan to do whatever he wanted in the short time. They spent a whole day in the Orsay and another walking along the river. That was also when they discovered the bookshop. At the time, Ozan protested that the books were too expensive, and, in the end, they didn’t get any.
They stood by the metro steps, the green metal stalks of the lampposts rising above them.
“I loved our morning together,” Selin said.
“Solo,” Lara said. “I’m so glad this worked out. Let’s get together when I’m in Istanbul.”
They hugged. Then they hugged again.
Lara waited as Selin went down the stairs, and waved at her before she disappeared inside. Then she turned and started walking back. It was a glorious afternoon. When she was back in the park, she sat down on a bench.
Selin would be on the metro now, counting the stops until she had to get off. Lara would send her a text in a little bit, to thank her for coming all the way. She would repeat that they should get together, the next time she was in Istanbul. Perhaps she would visit Selin and Ozan in the south.
She wondered what Selin would tell her mother about their meeting. She might describe the café, say that Lara looked like a Parisian, with her red lipstick and long coat. Selin’s mother would ask whether Lara had a boyfriend, and how she’d reacted to the news of the marriage. Selin wouldn’t tell her mother what Lara said—that it was wonderful of her to have stayed with Ozan—because she didn’t think like that, weighing and measuring kindness. That much Lara had understood, in her friend’s silent reaction.
She took out her book from her bag, flipped through the pages, then put it back. It was too cold to sit outside and her coat was too thin.
Perhaps she would cancel her class after all. She might go home and read. She could always go back to the café for lunch.