Three girls, so many secrets...
Three American girls from very different backgrounds arrive in Paris in the autumn of 1967 for a college year abroad: shy but brainy little Charity, from a Boston Brahmin family; gorgeous Amaleen, West Virginia nouveau-riche man-killer; politically-committed Josie, from a prominent African-American family near Chicago.
Unlikely roommates, their prejudices fall away as they grow into friendship, but May 1968 shatters their cozy world: the Sorbonne explodes in riots as millions of students and workers revolt and France hurtles toward chaos.
The girls flee their Latin Quarter apartment, one to explore-and risk death-in the Dordogne's prehistoric caves; one to a lavish life in a Loire chateau where hidden terror lurks; one to dangerous exhilaration on the barricades.
Along the way they stumble into love: tender, lustful, perverse, and sublime.
In only a month they learn far more about who they are and who they want to be. For the Paris Girls Secret Society, life and love will never be the same.
Charity Cabot picked up her warm croissant, broke off a morsel, popped it in her mouth, lifted her cup of café au lait and took a sip as she listened to her two apartment mates reminisce about their soon-to-end college year abroad in Paris. They were sitting in the morning sun at a sidewalk table of the Café Aux Tours de Notre-Dame on a warm late April day in 1968.
Charity—shortish and slight, with regular features, a straight nose, thin lips, a sprinkling of light freckles, fine straight brown hair nearly down to her waist—was from Massachusetts, scion of an old Boston family whose young members, since the late 19th century, had always gone off on the Grand Tour of Europe as part of their education, then returned home, married into other Boston Brahmin families, and raised the next generation to go off on the Grand Tour. Her branch of the family was no longer Boston Brahmin-wealthy, but her father’s job as majority owner of an electronics plant in North Adams made them wealthy by rural Massachusetts standards. Her mother raised her to be worthy of the status of the famous family name. In Massachusetts the name still opened doors.
“Well, if learning French is the yardstick to measure our year abroad, Charity gets the prize,” Josie said.
“Oh c’mon, Josie. Your French is great! Besides, when you do your Josephine Baker impersonation, when you fix your hair and make-up her way, people think you’re her daughter! You’re beautiful! You just glide through French society.”
Josephine—Josie for short—was the daughter of a federal judge and a prominent civil rights lawyer in Chicago. Her father, the judge, had urged her to take a college year abroad in France to experience a country and culture where racial prejudice was not endemic, where people were judged more on their character and cultural accomplishments than on the color of their skin.
“Charity, your French is perfect!” Josie said. “People think you’re French, even here in Paris! You get the idioms right, you even know all that Parisian slang! You can pass for French, or American, whatever you want.”
“Only until about five minutes into a conversation,” Charity said matter-of-factly, wiping her buttery fingers on a napkin. “After about five minutes I guess I make some little mistake, or I don’t get the idiom or the argot just right, and they look at me oddly and they say ‘You’re not Parisian, are you?’”
“And you think that means your French is bad?” Amaleen exclaimed. “Good lord, when I try to speak French they act like I smacked ‘em upside the head!”
“No surprise!” Josie said. “They never heard Hillbilly French before!”
They all laughed.
Amaleen was from Charleston, West Virginia, where her father’s business success had taken the family to the top of the social pyramid—big fish in a small pond—but since his passing, Amaleen’s mother had lost her inner compass. When her mother proposed that Amaleen go to Paris for her junior year of college “to get some travel experience and culture,” Amaleen wasn’t sure if her mother was thinking of her daughter or herself. With Amaleen in Paris, her mother could have all the affairs she wanted, and disappear on “nights out” without worrying her daughter would hear about it.
Amaleen wore her redneck country culture proudly. To treat her like a hillbilly was to pay her a compliment because in her mind West Virginians were God’s People, hard-working, hard-living, authentic, no-nonsense, down-to-earth folks that no stilted status-seeker or city slicker could fool.
“So my French is pretty good,” Charity said. “I’d rather be a little bit worse at French and a little bit better at what you’re so good at, Amaleen.”
Charity looked at Josie and they both smiled knowingly.
“Aw, c’mon you two! I just like to have some fun, that’s all. We’re in Paris, France, aren’t we?”
“A little fun!” Josie exclaimed, her eyes wide. “The whole first term with Noireau and the second with Roussel! And both of them married!”
“Ici, c’est la France!” Charity said slyly. “Students sleeping with professors is comme il faut.”
“I swear I didn’t do anything to encourage them. They just wouldn’t let me be! So I decided to have a little fun.”
Amaleen got along well in Paris because she had a beautiful strong-featured face, long wavy light brown almost blonde hair, nearly six feet of an opulently feminine figure, a sassy walk, and a brash but knowing attitude that kept those around her wondering what she’d do next. She dressed as a hippy, but a well-heeled hippy—Hippy Couture, if you could call it that. The finest clothes embellished with hippy-like accents. It was a brash affectation, and Parisians loved it—particularly the men.
“A fling, yeah, maybe,” Josie said, “and they like American girls—no commitment, we don’t hang around. But you got those guys to take you everywhere! Weekends at châteaus in the Loire! Vacations on the Riviera! Dinners at Le Train Bleu, Le Tour d’Argent, Fouquet!”
Foucké indeed, Charity murmured to herself, making an obscene Franglish pun.
Charity thought Amaleen was a little too ‘loose,’ but actually, she didn’t understand how a girl could do that. She herself had little experience of romance, and none during nearly a year in France. She was not good at putting herself forward, and was old fashioned when it came to sex, but secretly she envied Amaleen’s man-killer ability…at least a little.
“When did those guys even have time to see their wives?”
“Not my problem!” Amaleen said, and jammed half a croissant in her mouth, blowing out her cheeks and bugging her big blue eyes at them.
Charity and Josie burst out laughing, making Amaleen laugh and spray croissant fragments across the table and onto the sidewalk.
“Remember orientation? And that first week together in the apartment? Amaleen, you haven’t changed!”
Haven’t changed? The three young women lapsed into silence, sipping their coffee and remembering how it had all begun, and how indeed they had changed.
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