The bar to which Claudia and Margrite led Michael was on a narrow street lined with small cafés and family-run restaurants. The inside was crowded and dark. The walls were covered with large abstract paintings and colored neon lights. Cigarette smoke thickly hung in the air.
“Come Michael, I’ll introduce you to my friends,” Claudia said as they threaded their way between tables. There was a large group clustered around some tables near the back and, upon reaching it, Claudia and Margrite began to circle the group, giving everyone a kiss on each cheek. Michael awkwardly followed suit. A waitress came by, Claudia and Margrite both asked for wine; in stilted French Michael said, “un verre d’eau, s’il vous plait.”
Watching him squeeze self-consciously into one of the chairs around the table, Claudia regretted brining her cousin along. She felt like she was 16 again and he was her chaperone, checking to make sure she didn’t drink too much or go home with someone. The longer she watched him, the more annoyed she felt.
When her glass of wine arrived she downed half of it at once and plucked a cigarette from Margrite’s pack. “I’ll give you one of mine tomorrow,” she said and kissed her full on the lips. Through the corner of her eye she saw Michael look, then turn away. “Do you want one?” she sang out to him, but he kept his head turned. Claudia sighed and leaned over so Margrite could light her cigarette. “He wouldn’t even want to know,” she said.
Blowing smoke into the hanging cloud above the table, she stared at her cousin with heavy eyes. He wasn't talking to anyone and was sitting as he had at the café with her the other day – facing away from the table and staring blindly into the room. She sensed his guardedness and even his discomfort, but at the moment she wasn't feeling very charitable. He didn’t have to come here, she told herself.
Finishing her wine she went to the bar and ordered another. She could feel Michael’s eyes as she came back to the table, but when she turned to meet them, he had already turned away.