Prior to meeting Mr Frog, one other Frenchman stole petite anglaise’s heart, a long time ago. Well, it wasn’t exactly a Frenchman, more of a Frenchboy. Or a FrenchToyBoy, to be precise.
I was twenty-one, spending a year living in Rouen while working as an assistante d’Anglais in a Lycée in a nearby town. I should add that I already had a boyfriend of two years, from university, with whom I was thoroughly smitten. Or so I had thought.
Strolling around the pedestrian centre of Rouen with a couple of girlfriends, we had paused by the famous Gros-Horloge to buy crèpes from a street vendor when I laid eyes on him for the first time. My friend Claire gave me a nudge and pointed out a tall boy striding towards us with an Alsatian on a leash, flanked by a couple of shorter friends. “That’s Mr R’s son. You know, the English teacher who invited me over for dinner with his family last week. He’s not bad looking, is he?”
I looked up, made eye contact. Then recoiled, with a sharp intake of breath. I felt as if I’d been shot, saved only by a bulletproof vest. I knew in an instant, without the palest shadow of doubt, that if he would have me, the boyfriend and I were history.
I don’t know what it is that makes a person react so physically to a complete stranger, seen but not yet spoken to. I don’t possess much in the way of spiritual beliefs, but after that violent jolt, which defied any rational explanation, notions like meeting someone known in a previous life, or having a single pre-destined soul mate suddenly seemed less far-fetched, even to a sceptic like myself.
Weeks passed and my all-consuming obsession with the boy deepened, fuelled by a few excruciating evenings in each other’s company amongst mutual friends, during which I was incapable of forming a coherent sentence whenever he looked my way. We kissed, finally, in Paris, in the dark, laid out in sleeping bags on a friend’s floor. Surrounded by other slumbering bodies.
What followed was unquestionably the most intense relationship I have ever experienced. And by far the most unhealthy, the most turbulent. Raw, jagged emotion, fated to be as damaging as it was thrilling. The boy: brooding, moody, subject to bouts of depression. Me: insanely possessive, jealous and insecure. Uncharacteristically so, in fact. The product of a vulnerability that only he seemed to awaken in me.
I was terrified that The Boy would meet a French girl of ‘his own age’ at Rouen university. Eaten alive by a corrosive jealousy when he talked (far too often) about his ex-girlfriend, or left her letters lying around his bedroom (on purpose?). Knowing all the while that I would be returning to university, in England, in a few short months’ time, and aware, on some level, that this was not the sort of relationship which would survive in long-distance mode.
We met, many years later, in a bar in Paris, and raked over the embers together. He looked different: short haired, fuller faced. No longer any trace of the pronounced cheekbones and endearing moody smudges beneath his green eyes that had once held such a power over me. That old chemistry seemed perilously intact, however, and we resolved not to meet again.
It was safer that way.