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"Ive given up on men," Roni announces. She slides out of her Crocs, and rests her long legs on Sheli's wrought-iron coffee table topped with a slab of glass, nearly knocking over a bowl of potpourri in the process.
"Is that why you look so good?" Sheli asks doubtfully, taking note of Roni's perfect pedicure as she moves other items on the table out of the way of her friend's feet - among them her husband's pipe and tobacco, an aromatic oil burner and a dish of dried fruit and nuts.
"I lost 15 kilos," Roni says, slightly annoyed that Sheli didn't notice her slim physique - and new wardrobe to match - the minute she walked through the door. "And my daughter told me to stop cloaking myself in potato sacks."
"She's absolutely right," Sheli asserts, taking a seat on a large rubber ball and beginning to bounce as she speaks. "It's a big mistake to wear loose clothing, no matter how heavy you are."
"I envy your ability to stick to that principle," Roni responds, referring to Sheli's full figure - stuffed into a low-cut leotard and clinging stretch pants. But she doesn't really mean it. In fact, she thinks her friend looks a touch ridiculous. Like all those French women who descended on Tel Aviv this summer. Traipsing around half-naked. Even the fat ones. Even the ones whose husbands have kippot on their heads.
The key word here, of course, is husband. Sheli has one, too. Not that he wears a kippa or anything. Being Israeli, if he did wear one, he'd never allow his wife to walk around in such revealing outfits. The point is that Sheli doesn't have to take such care with her looks. Not being on display in the dating scene, that is. Not preening herself for the prowl. Not grooming to gear up for the second chapter of coupling. Or, in her own case, the third. Fourth, if you count the schmuck who promised to leave his wife.
SHELI SLIDES onto her side, while remaining on the ball, and begins counting as she lifts and lowers her left leg.
"Yeah, well, all you have to do is look at all those French women on the beach to realize that sex appeal is not exclusive to skinny women," Sheli says, her voice quaking from exertion.
"Why are you playing around with that Pilates ball, then?" Roni asks, looking up at the sound of Sheli's husband talking on the phone in the next room. "Why not help yourself to a handful of cashews and figs instead?"
"Shai teased me this week about being chubby," Sheli answers, now rolling over and repeating her exercise, this time with her right leg.
"I did not!" Sheli's husband calls out, laughing with feigned indignation. Sheli blows loud kisses in the air in the direction of the bedroom, as if to apologize for having misrepresented her husband's part in the conversation in question. The one in which he told her she was a pleasure to cuddle.
That's the thing about men - Roni thinks bitterly - they don't listen to a word you say when you talk to them, yet eavesdrop mercilessly whenever you're trying to chat with somebody else. Especially if it's one of your girlfriends. Thank God - she reminds herself - that she's never getting married again. Come hell or high water. Or the prince of Monaco.
"I love that he's so in tune to me," Sheli mouths melodramatically, as though in cahoots with Roni, while actually taking the opportunity to savor the intimacy she shares with Shai.
For this, Roni feels she could have skipped the visit. If there's one thing she can't stomach, it's when one of her remaining few normal friends goes all Stepford Wife on her. Thank God she herself is no longer buying into that fantasy. That virtual reality characteristic of French films. Love expressed in meaningful silences and pregnant pauses. With bowls of potpourri and pipes on wrought-iron coffee tables. Placed there oh-so-carefully - ooh la la - to look as though they just happened to fall any old way: Mon Dieu, what a mess.
"NOW THAT you mention it," Sheli says, steadying the ball, sitting upright and scooping up a fistful of raisins. "How did you lose all that weight?"
"Acupuncture, Atkins and Pilates," Roni recites, as she has been doing since starting her regimen seriously. "Why do you think I recognize the ball?"
"I thought Atkins was out," Sheli says, pensively.
"As far as I'm concerned, only carbs are out," Roni retorts, almost defensively. Well, carbs and men, she thinks, sour grapes intact. As though anybody is listening. Other than God, that is. Or her fairy godmother. Neither of whom ever listens to a word she says when she talks to them, but who are hopefully eavesdropping when she chats with somebody else. Especially one of her girlfriends.
"The French know how to eat," Sheli says, wistfully. "Rich food; all categories; small quantities."
"Judging by the pudgy Francoises flitting around the marina," Roni responds, "I'll go for huge portions of protein over bite-sized petit-fours any day."
"Well, you know, they're Jews, those ones," Sheli giggles, shrugging.
"Yeah," Roni agrees, suddenly wondering if there are any eligible bachelors among the tourists-cum-prospective immigrants who came here this summer en masse to check out real estate options while catching some rays. "More like the French toast and French fries set than the French kiss circuit."
"Speaking of kisses," Sheli says, mischievously, "What's his name?"
"Who's name?" Roni asks, well aware of where her friend is leading.
"The guy behind your shrinking derriere," Sheli answers, unfazed by Roni's playing innocent.
"I told you: I've given up on men," Roni insists.
"Excellent," Sheli says, jumping to her feet and raising her voice to enable her husband to hear.
"And why, exactly, is this a source of pleasure to you?" Roni asks, ready to take offense.
"Because," Sheli begins, eyes sparkling like French champagne, "Shai has someone fabulous to fix you up with, but he didn't know if you were available."
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Roni gasps, her heart beating. "Give him my number, tout de suite."