March 13, 2009
My freshman year at Paris College of Arts was nearly finished. Our time in Paris was almost over. It was crazy to think how many things were going to change. But I still had a lot to get done before we left. Cecile was going to sit for my Black and White photography class that day, which was my favorite class ever, but she canceled on me the second I arrived at school. I tried calling Sophie, but she didn’t answer my call. She was probably busy at school too.
Nearing panic with no other choices, I turned around and asked my security detail for help. “Could one of you sit for a portrait?” Aaron and Caleb looked at each other with raised brows. “Please? I don’t have anyone else to ask, and the class starts in five minutes.”
Aaron refused right away, deeming it inappropriate, so I shifted my attention to Caleb.
“Caleb, please? You have to help me.” I looked in Aaron’s direction because I knew he was the one objecting to my request. I knew Caleb would gladly do it, but Aaron had to agree to it first. “Aaron.” I widened my eyes at him—a silent plea.
“Okay, Miss Murphy. Just this once,” Aaron replied with hesitation. “I’ll park the car, and Caleb will walk you to class.” Aaron said something to Caleb in Hebrew afterward, which sounded more like a warning than anything else.
“Could you at least take your earpiece off once we’re in the classroom?” I whispered to Caleb as we made our way to the main entrance.
“Sure,” he replied with a wink. “Aaron won’t like the idea, but I don’t feel like arguing with you when you always get your way.” Caleb was a smart guy. He was right every time, but I always got my way with him.
The suit, the tie, the fancy shoes—he didn’t need any of it to attract anyone’s attention, but it made him stand out even more. Caleb could easily blend in with the college crowd if it wasn’t for his elegant outfit.
A small group of girls swooned as we flew down the corridor. Welcome to the Caleb Fan Club. And who are we kidding? He loved the attention, and I enjoyed teasing him nonstop about it. At least with Caleb by my side, I could count on feeling invisible—all eyes focused on him. Thank you, Caleb.
Portraits were the theme of the week in today’s class. And what better face than Caleb’s going through my lens? I made a mental note to thank Cecile for ditching me because her understudy turned out to be an excellent choice.
We walked inside the studio classroom and took a seat at one of the high tables. It was surreal having Caleb sitting beside me during class. They usually waited outside.
Our instructor, Miss Genaurdi, finished setting up the lighting equipment and backdrop for the different stations as the rest of my classmates walked in with their models. We were six students in total in that group.
Everyone arrived, and Miss Genaurdi explained the purpose of the day’s lesson and how we would take turns with the provided set for the photoshoot. She offered guidance on lighting and camera configuration as each student stepped forward to use the set.
“I’m next after he’s done,” I whispered to Caleb. “I need you to take your jacket off,” I said as I prepared my camera. He raised a brow. “Please?”
“That’s not possible, and you know why,” he said as he leaned against the table, arms crossed at his chest, legs crossed at his ankles, looking my way.
Of course. Caleb had to conceal his gun. And just reminding myself that he carried one all the time made me shudder. I sometimes forgot that Caleb wasn’t just a friend following me around everywhere. He was there for protection—my protection. And I wanted the portrait to be as casual as possible, but I didn’t have a choice.
“Um—right,” I said, pressing my lips together. “Take your earpiece off, then.”
“Aaron's gonna be pissed,” he replied, keeping his posture in place and showing no intention of removing his earpiece.
“Good. That way, you'll have a real reason to argue instead of the usual UFC fight nights and such,” I said, standing on tiptoes to pull the earpiece out of his ear. “This looks really uncomfortable and not at all inconspicuous, by the way.”
“That’s the point, actually. Security should be obvious,” he replied, putting the earpiece back on. “Wait.” He clicked on it, said something in Hebrew, and took it off again.
“We agreed you'd take it off for the shoot, so don't look at me like that.”
He smiled, amused. “Okay, what else?”
“Um, I need you to lose the tie too,” I said with an exaggerated grin. Caleb licked his lower lip and turned away as he loosened up his tie to pull it over his head. “And a couple of these”—he pressed his lips as I undid the top two buttons of his shirt—“because we don't want you to look like a hipster.” He searched for my gaze, and I felt how his Adam’s apple moved up and down when he swallowed. But he quickly looked away afterward. Stop making me nervous!
“Do you need me to take my shirt off, too?” he joked, lightening the mood. I laughed, releasing a bit of tension. That wouldn't have been a half-bad idea. But having his face so close to mine wasn’t something I was used to. So yeah, I was tense.
Miss Genaurdi called my name last. It was finally my turn to photograph Caleb. He took a seat on the stool and looked my way with a frown as a bunch of lights hit his face.
I adjusted the lighting, and Miss Genaurdi checked my camera settings to verify if everything looked good. I dashed toward Caleb, undid another one of his shirt’s buttons, and ran back to screw my camera to the tripod.
He snorted, and I shot an annoyed face at him, with an I heard that kind of gesture. I instructed him to keep a straight face and look into my camera.
And for some bizarre reason, my fellow female classmates gathered behind me to see me photographing Caleb. I could hear them whispering. And I had to agree to all of their spot-on observations regarding Caleb’s beauty.
Luckily, all of their remarks were said in French, so that meant he didn’t understand two shits of what they said—we wouldn’t want it to go to his head. Psh … as if he didn't already know what kind of effect he had on women.
I reviewed the photographs on my camera’s display with my instructor, and we agreed that I had achieved a favorable result. I unscrewed my camera, and everyone started packing their stuff after the class was dismissed.
Caleb walked out of the classroom, holding his tie over his arm and putting his earpiece back in place. Aaron looked sideways at his disheveled appearance with disapproval.
Caleb immediately placed his tie around his neck and fitted it into a perfect knot in record time. I mouthed “thank you” to him the second Aaron turned around. “You can thank me with a big birthday gift next week,” he whispered back with a wink. I shook my head at him. We’d never exchanged birthday gifts before, and I’d love it if we did, but I guess it felt too intimate to do so.
The photographs I shot of him were perfection. And all mine.
Caleb’s phone rang, but he muted the sound and placed it back in his jacket’s inside pocket, glancing behind his shoulders.
If everyone looked in Caleb’s direction, Aaron had the opposite effect on people. He was intimidating—the proper one, you could say—and balanced Caleb’s bold personality out pretty well. They made a good team but took their job too seriously for my liking.
I had my Introduction to Art and Design class afterward and was done for the day. And since it was Friday, that meant I had dinner plans with Sophie and Cecile. They would usually go to a bar or nightclub afterward. And I could tell you a cute story about how nightclubs aren’t my thing, but the truth is I was not allowed to go. Period.
We drove back home, and Caleb’s phone rang again while Aaron parked the car, but he didn’t take the call and rushed to open the door for me instead.
“Why don’t you take the call? It might be important.” My suggestion made him nervous.
“Nah, it isn’t. I can call the person back later.” He was trying to sound casual, but I perceived the exact opposite of that.
I marched toward the Residence’s main entrance, and Caleb walked beside me. He wasn’t paying attention to what I was telling him, which was unlike him. Why is he so distracted?
“And then Mr. Pernot took his pants off at the end of his lecture,” I said as we walked up the stairs to the front door.
“That’s nice, Red.”
I shoved his shoulder in playful protest and replied, “You think it’s nice that Mr. Pernot took his pants off?”
“Wait. What?” I now had his full attention.
“What’s gotten into you? You’re not like yourself,” I said, reaching out for the doorknob. He stood beside me and restlessly tapped his foot. “Why don’t you call whoever’s calling you back. I have an assignment to get to, anyway. I’ll see you later.”
Caleb nodded and walked back to the parking lot. I watched as he took his phone out of his pocket and wondered who was making him act that way—and why.
“Good afternoon, Miss Murphy,” Annette said as I walked inside the Residence. She was head of the house staff. “I left a treat for you in the study.” She winked at me and excused herself after I thanked her. She knew that’s where I usually spent my time after school reading or doing homework.
The study was one of my favorite places here. It had a beautiful view of the gardens—they were breathtaking. My mother would’ve loved them, especially during spring. And the Residence was practically a mini-Versailles.
I was slowly working my way on a few extra credit assignments for the six classes I took that semester because we were leaving a month shy of the last day of school. The university was informed ahead of time, so they made special accommodations for my particular case.
We were finally going back to New York City. My father knew how I dreamed of going back home. But his time as Ambassador of the United States had come to an end. At least for the next four years—hopefully forever. Culture shock became my currency after almost sixteen years of living like a nomad. We went where my father went—or better said; I did. At least for the last five years, that is. It was just him and me now.
I was tired of not having a real home, but Paris had stolen my heart. Thinking of leaving was challenging, and even though I was excited about returning to New York, I was sad about leaving Sophie and Cecile. They were my two closest friends in Paris.
My father knocked on the study’s door. “Kiddo?”
He walked in and pulled a chair to sit beside me. He usually had a hectic work schedule, so he tried to find small windows of time to talk to me whenever we were both home.
“Any news from the DSS?” I asked. “Perhaps a security detail won’t be necessary once we move back to New York.” We were waiting for the Diplomatic Security Service to determine if Aaron and Caleb would come to New York or if new agents would be assigned. Or in a crazy world, none at all.
The fact my father wouldn’t be an ambassador anymore had to help relax security protocols.
But I can’t lie. Without Aaron and Caleb, I’d feel bare. I learned to live my life with a homogeneous mixture of suffocation and safety.
“I think we should play it safe, sweetheart. The investigation about what happened in Mexico City is not finalized yet.” I cringed when I heard the word Mexico. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable having you walk around on your own in New York.”
And what about Aaron and Caleb?
If it were necessary to keep having agents following me around, I’d rather have Aaron and Caleb be the ones to do it.
“Gregory, the DSS director, agrees it’s convenient to keep things going as usual. We are going to ask Aaron and Caleb if they will move to New York.”
Suffocated again, but safe.
My father’s overprotective nature seemed to yield a bit when he said, “Let’s feel things out. Once we’re home, we’ll see what changes can be accommodated. I know it’s unconventional for you to go through life, growing up, under these—circumstances.”
My father excused himself to host some dinner event in our Residence, the Hôtel de Pontalba. The place was busier than usual, people coming and going, bringing in beautiful flower arrangements and setting up the dinner tables.
Security was tighter during special events like these since a considerable amount of people were expected to attend. The front gate was bustling with cars and agents.
Talking to my father made me lose track of time. I needed to get ready for dinner.
I jumped in the shower, got ready as fast as I could, and walked out the front door wearing a short black leather skirt with a black, tucked inside long-sleeved blouse. I paired it with nude pumps and a long, dark green trench coat—my favorite. Wearing too much makeup wasn’t my thing, but a slightly tinted lip and peachy rose blush was my usual look.
It was almost 8:00 p.m., and there was a lot of movement in the forward area before the front gate. But Aaron and Caleb weren’t on site. They would usually have the car waiting for me when they knew I had somewhere to go.
Shoot! I forgot to tell them about my dinner plans.
I sent a text to our Blackberry Messenger group chat and made my way to the west side of the front gate, where they often lingered. I sent another text and heard a distant ping! Someone had to be nearby.
The sound prompted me to ask one of the security guards to open the gate for me. I called Caleb, and I could hear his cell phone ringing. I turned right—nothing. I turned left toward the Apostrophe Boutique and ended the call abruptly.
I froze. Hell no.
Aaron texted me back, and I uselessly tried to silence the notifications when an incoming call from him startled me. I sent it to voicemail to stop the ringtone from breaking my cover. But it was too late.
The lovely couple stopped kissing and stared at me from a distance.