Vive la France

The night we arrived in France I started my period. I hadn’t had many before, I wasn’t clued in to the warning signs. My knickers were stained with blood despite the wadges of toilet paper I had stuffed inside. My exchange partner was a boy. There was no way I could explain to him what was going on, and when we got to his house, I declined dinner and went straight upstairs to my room. Once there I changed my clothes, but I had no pads and I burst into tears with the stress of it all. The mum asked me if I wanted to call home. They couldn’t figure out why I was so distraught and I didn’t have the words to tell them, or any inclination to share my stained underwear.

The next day we went ice-skating. I awkwardly hugged the edge of the rink, the gigantic sanitary towel I had found in the bathroom cabinet lodged between my thighs as though I was riding a thoroughbred. Then I saw the most beautiful boy. His hair was dark and glossy and flopped over his tanned forehead. He wore a rollneck sweater – they all did – and blue denim jeans. His skin was clear of teenage acne, but it was his eyes that compelled me across the ice. They were a light aquamarine, a pool I wanted to dive into and never come up again.

I’ve no idea now how I summoned the nerve or found the words, but within minutes we were kissing and we spent the rest of the hour at the rink together, pressed up against the damp wall or skating round holding hands. He skated backwards, his fingers linked with mine, our eyes locked together. My exchange partner, Davide, seemed sour. My new love was his cousin, and so we saw each other again during the holiday, but never repeated our passionate embraces. Patrick gave me a ring before I left, a light tinny circle indented with stars.

I wore it on my thumb and for many years it was like a talisman, a sign that good things had happened to me. I had been the girl who kissed the boy.

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