|29| - "Marie messaged me last night." - 

"What did your first time with Nathan feel like?"

I almost spat out my coffee. Jess had asked far more intrusive questions in the past, but she'd built up to them. This came out of the blue during breakfast in a quirky Parisian café, the morning after Jack's Valentine's party.

Placing my mug back onto the safety of the mosaic table top, I lifted my gaze to meet hers. Rather than twinkling with the mischievous glint that normally accompanied a lewd topic of conversation, Jess' eyes conveyed uncertainty.

"Why are you asking me about something that happened three years ago?"

She shrugged and lifted her own mug to her lips, blowing on it gently, then casting her gaze across the café.

Jess had sent me a text an hour earlier, suggesting we find something to eat. I'd left Nathan dozing in the Airbnb, having kissed him goodbye on his forehead only to receive a grumble in return.

At first, I'd assumed Jess wanted to grab breakfast in order to catch up. Maybe that was still the case—we hadn't had much chance to talk the previous night—but I got the impression that something else occupied her mind. Or, rather, someone else.

"You slept with Jack."

Her eyes snapped back onto mine, mouth paused at the edge of her cup.

"I mean, if you had," I continued, not wanting to put her in an awkward position if she didn't want to talk about it, "then I might not be much help. I'd obviously only been with Matt before Nathan, and it wasn't like we had a particularly intimate relationship..."

Sighing, Jess lowered her mug back onto the table and then crossed her arms in front of her.

"I still feel guilty. I know I shouldn't. I know I should move on. There was always going to come a point when I slept with someone new. But I can't help feeling guilty."

"Do you feel guilty because it's not Alex, or because it's Jack?"

"Both."

In times of need, Jess always came through for me. She was a voice of reason, a logical head on wise shoulders. I wanted to do the same for her. But not only did I have little to no experience in the matter, I was also very much aware that she didn't feel comfortable discussing Jack with me.

"It had to happen at some point, Jess," I said, considering my words carefully. "It's been a few months now. Not a few days. And as for Jack... I get that you might feel guilty because he played a part in your break-up, but it's not like he was the sole reason."

Jess shrugged, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Moulding her hands around the mug, she stared at me, as if waiting for more. So I powered on.

"And maybe you should look at it the other way around. If you did break up due to Jack, then at least it wasn't for nothing." I forced a smile, but her face remained expressionless. "It proves there was something there and you've allowed yourself to explore it."

"I doubt Alex would feel the same."

"Probably not, but that's no longer your concern. You can only be sensitive about it to a certain extent. It's not like you slept with Jack the day after you broke up."

A group of schoolchildren burst through the doors of the café, chattering away in raucous English, until the teacher shushed them. My conversation with Jess died down as we both watched each student walk up to the counter, one by one, and order a croissant.

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