I tap on the door to the suite. I don’t have a key, after all. In fact, I’m not sure he’s there. He could be out and about in Paris with young René. But I hear footsteps.

         Bill fills the doorway. “You’re back! How was your day?” Is he going to let me in? Maybe little René is naked on the couch. And then he steps back to let me in and shuts the door behind me. I look into the salon, and there he is, the young guy from Antwerp, pretty much as I remembered him. I have a good memory for faces. He jumps up and stands in front of the couch. I approach. He holds out his hand. “Bonjour,” he says. He speaks French? And then he grins at me. I say it’s nice to see him again. Could I care less? It’s a formality. In fact, I don’t know whether I’m happy that René has indeed popped up in Paris or not.

         “So, how was Versailles?” Bill comes in behind me, and then we all sit down on the couch. “This won’t work.” Bill gets up and sits down on the armchair cattycorner to the couch. It’s a rather regal chair, lion’s claws feet, the back upholstered in scarlet with off-white flowers: one of the Louis’s, maybe Fourteenth? “Better. So?” Of course, I have plenty I can tell him, Serges, for starters, but, no, I’m not going there. I ask him a question: When were you in the Hall of Mirrors last? He goes pensive. “Maybe never? No, I must have gone back when I was a student.” It’s changed, I inform him. It’s been much restored. “Is that good?” Very good, I say like some architectural historian. “René, have you ever been to Versailles?”

         “No.” He says that in a very perky way. He’s a puppy, I’m thinking. How old is he? In his twenties, probably. I don’t dare ask him what he does for a living. Anyway, that would be too gauche American. I stopped doing that years ago. Still, in René’s case, that might prove, what, embarrassing? Why do I think he’s a little hustler? He’s blond. Short hair. Looks like he’s nicely built. He’s shorter than Bill or myself. I suppose he’s very Flemish looking. He’s dressed like Serges was: all in black. Funny. Nice black shirt tails hanging out, no collar. Black trousers: no jeans and not cargo pants. I’d say he knew what the Meurice meant. He’s dressed perfectly for a chic dinner. Bill, less so. He’s got a black sweatshirt on, and he’s wearing jeans. I suppose there’s no strict dress code where we had dinner last night, which is where they had lunch. Frankly, I didn’t notice. I have no memory of what people were wearing. If it wasn’t the décor and grandeur of the place, I was transfixed by the discovery of the relationship between Bill and Janine. Do I know how they met? Yes, as students. A class. Years ago. But I never met her back then. Wonder why. Oh well.

         “Then we should go. Tomorrow?” René nods excitedly. I immediately think: What am I going to do? And then I rejoice. I have a “free” day. “You don’t mind, do you?” Please! I can entertain myself. “I bet.” He says that with a slutty tone. René grins. At first, I’m insulted and then realize it’s too stupid. I laugh.

         Bill jumps up. “I’ve made reservations for eight-thirty. This time it’s the Alain Ducasse. The website says it mirrors Versailles. Appropriate, right?” We share a laugh. “So, I better get out of these jeans. René, you look perfect.” He looks at me. I stand up and announce I’m going to freshen up. “But you look fine. Perfect. You stay here and entertain René while I change.” I sit back down. I’m to act as co-host? Odd.

         Not only odd, but what am I going to say to this kid? I hear a beep. René pulls his smartphone out of his pants pocket. He’s been messaged. His face has lit up with silent laughter. Immediately he starts answering: thumbs. He types in his answer with both thumbs. This, for me, is the sign of a kid. I know that some people my age do that, but most don’t, most can’t. I hunt and peck. Index finger. So does Bill. Our breed will die out, eventually. René looks up: “Sorry. SMS from the friend I came to Paris with. My bestie. You might have seen him at the bar in Antwerp. Real tall.” I have no recollection. I was mostly having a pee. “Bill has invited me to stay here, so…” So, the “bestie” has been stiffed with paying for the hotel room on his own? “We’re sharing a room. I’ll still pay my half.” Up René goes in my esteem. But now I have no clue as to who or what he is. And he talks like an American his age. I ask him where he learned such great English. “Thanks. TV. Mostly. I’ve never been to the US. Bill talked about bopping over to New York to show me around.” His face is wreathed in smiles, his eyes dazed by the possibility. I grin. “Yeah, wow!” Is this real? And when is it going to happen? What about Biarritz? “Maybe next week. He says three days is plenty. I get the feeling he doesn’t like New York much. He used to live there, right?”

         How much should I tell him? I tell him Bill lived in Manhattan for around ten years. I give no details: nothing about the UN, Studio 54, nothing. These are Bill’s stories to tell René or not.

         “Bill told me he went to Studio 54.” I laugh. And I confirm it. So, Bill has been feeding René those New-York-in-the-seventies anecdotes that people are so eager to hear these days. “Did you go?” I’m not going to lie: No. I can see what little interest he had in me fade and vanish.

         Silence. I can put on some music, but I’m not quite sure how. I can kill time fiddling around, though. “You are Bill’s best friend.”

         René stops me dead with that one. Am I? Is that what Bill has told him? Seems so. If I’m Bill’s best friend, this is a bit sad. I’m not regularly in touch with him, or have not been in the past. Since his parents died, he has been in touch at least monthly. WhatsApp.

         And then of course I know he’s right. I am Bill’s best friend. At least, his best male friend. René knows nothing about Janine. What about Bill’s friends in London? He must have friends in London. He’s lived there long enough. But, true, he never talks about friends in London except in generalities. No one person, no name, has ever been mentioned to me.

         “Did you miss me?” Bill is standing in the door to his room. What is this? Are we a brigade? He’s also dressed in black from head to toe. Black cashmere-looking turtleneck, what looks like British-tailored bespoke trousers. He’s spent some money in London then. “I texted Jean-Pierre to pick us up at eleven-thirty. The concierge downstairs has made reservations for us at the other Ducasse restaurant, Le Grand Contrôle. Sounds a bit S&M.” He chuckles. Both René and I grin at him. “And that’s not all. I asked the concierge about getting to New York for a couple of days. I thought, why not a private jet? So, that’s being investigated. We could go day after tomorrow. Why not?” He’s looking directly at me this time. “You’ll come with us, won’t you? When was the last time you were in Manhattan?” I blurt our ten years ago and start to say that I’m not that interested, but he interrupts: “Then you’ve got to come. Things. Have. Changed.”

         He’s serious.

         I can see that René is blown away. I’m not sure how I feel, probably much the same but for different reasons. I have never flown in a private jet. Is it faster? I think the days of Concorde speeds are over. At least for now. And then it hits me that Bill is testing his limits or his lack of limits. “First things first,” he grins, “dinner. I’m starving.” René laughs at that. What did they eat at lunch? Luckily my lunch was not too rich, but I’m hardly starving. You’re joking, I tell him. He winks. “No, seriously. And we shouldn’t be late.”

         He hasn’t asked me anything about my day with Janine. I’m thinking he doesn’t want to know.

         “Vosne-Romanée 1er cru ‘Les Chaumes’” rattles off Bill to the sommelier. We’ve all ordered the three-and-a-half course menu, called “Découverte.” A nod of acquiescence, and the sommelier is gone. “I have a thirst for Burgundy, and it goes with everything.” He hasn’t asked us. I happen to agree with him. René is admirative but silent. What must it be like to be a twenty-year-old kid from Antwerp set down in this foodie opulence? He seems to be taking it in his stride.

         I ask him how his lunch was. “Amazing and very delicious.” He replies and gives a nod toward Bill. “And now this.” He’s deciding whether to add something. “You live in Rotterdam, right? The Dutch aren’t foodies like we Belgians are.” I just smile. Of course, he’s right. And I’m not sure how many Rotterdam guys his age would appreciate all this, but I know they would be open to it. So, that’s what I say to him. “Oh, I wasn’t putting Rotterdam down. I like Rotterdam.” He doesn’t elaborate. The cities are only about an hour apart. I suppose he’s visited, if for nothing more than to smoke weed. I jump on that idea and ask him if you can buy weed in Antwerp. His first reaction is suspicion, of me, I see that, and then he just says, “We’re getting there.” He winks at me. That’s unexpected. Bill looks amused.

         The sommelier arrives with the bottle, shows it to Bill, Bill nods, and he pops the cork. Bill gets first taste, of course. His face lights up. “Gentlemen, you are in for a very nice treat.” The sommelier smiles charmingly at us all. Glasses are filled. The sommelier departs, and Bill raises his glass. “I’m going to steal a toast from Janine: ‘à nos amours!’” Is he looking at René? No. He’s looking at the gorgeous crimson color of the wine. We sniff and then we taste. René knows his wine, I’d say.

         René raises his glass then: “Thank you, Bill.” I mutter my own thanks. Bill smiles modestly. The wine is startling, because I haven’t drunk a burgundy this good in decades, at least. I can’t afford wine this good. I’m tempted to say something like we used to be able to afford to drink wine like this, but I shut up. What’s the point? Enjoy the moment.

         Our entrées arrive. I ordered the scallops with leek, herring, and smoked tripe sausage. Ducasse. Ever since I’ve been in Paris, I’ve been eating only under the auspices of Monsieur Ducasse. This room is meant to echo Versailles, and it does, spectacularly. I don’t see any trace of Dalí. It’s brighter than the Hall of Mirrors, though it does have its mirrors. Creamy white with lots of tiny pastel flowers, with what looks like a Bouchard aristocratic couple on a picnic in an oval frame over the black-veined gray-white marble fireplace. Doesn’t Ducasse have a hotel at Versailles? I googled and landed on it: with its own restaurant, separate from where I had lunch with Janine and Jean-Pierre.

Not that I’m complaining. Please feed me, Monsieur Ducasse.

         What did Bill order? Oh! The same as I have. And René? The same. Of course, he echoed Bill. So, with a choice of four starters, we all are eating the same thing. I take a sip of my wine and start in. The combination is something I could reproduce, sort of, if I bought andouille in France. I ask René whether he can get andouille in Antwerp. “Oui, Monsieur, bien sûr.” He’s being cute. Okay. But I doubt if it’s this quality. “Maybe. Maybe not.” I wonder where? I’m tempted to ask him but decide to google it when I’m back home.

         Could René be studying culinary things, to be a chef, for instance? Again, I’m tempted to ask but don’t. I don’t even know that he’s a student of some kind. Back to the “hustler scenario.” Somehow, that’s more comfortable. I’m loathe to take René seriously as a potential new lover for Bill, despite this “à nos amours” toasting. I’ve never known Bill to have a lover, plenty of sex but no relationship, at least that he told me about.

         I can hear Janine say that that person, the relationship person, will be me. She never said it, of course.

That is just out of the question.

         I take a sip of the burgundy. Can I be seduced by a future of such burgundy?

         Let’s see how Bill behaves.

         Meantime, maybe it is all about René. Maybe René is Bill’s future. Good luck.

         This burgundy is a trip down memory lane. Another sip, and I am in my twenties again. Didn’t all burgundies used to taste like this? Rich and full-bodied? Or is it my imagination? “This is how a burgundy should taste,” states Bill. I rest my case.

         “It’s very delicious,” says René, cleaning his plate with a bit of bread. He is beaming at Bill. He is close to what I would call worshipful.

         I am going to enjoy being on my own tomorrow.

         And then I remember the day after is the private jet to New York. Did I agree to that? I did.

         I am curious. I haven’t been to New York in over a decade. I know billionaires have triumphed in Manhattan. Bill lived there; I did not. I wonder how he will react to the changes? Especially since he counts himself now among the American billionaires. At least, without seeing his bank account, he would seem to be a billionaire. Why else splurge on a private jet? He’s showing off. A first-class scheduled flight should be plenty luxurious enough.

         René is speaking to Bill: “Are we really going to New York the day after tomorrow?”

         “That’s the plan. The concierge here is organizing that as we eat.” Bill chuckles. René looks like a comic-strip character with stars as eyes. A Belgian can travel to France without a passport, only his national ID card. I guess René has a passport on him?

         I ask him if he has his passport with him. It’s none of my business. But, justifying myself, I could save everyone a lot of disappointment if he doesn’t.

         He laughs at me. “Of course I do. I always leave Belgium with my passport on me.” He may be laughing, but his eyes are daggers at me. I’ve insulted him. I say, as humbly and sincerely as I can muster: Sorry.

         Our main courses arrive. What did the others order? I ordered the lobster. “Homard bleu croustillant / capucine / main de Bouddha.” Not quite sure what constitutes a blue lobster, but I liked the idea of crispy, with nasturtium flowers, and something called Buddha’s hand. Buddha’s hand is a fist of yellow fingers. I am delighted. I giggle to myself. I can’t wait to taste the funny-looking thing. The plate looks like pure art. Ah, René has ordered the same thing. What’s that on Bill’s plate? Hard to tell.

         “I ordered the venison. ‘Chevreuil rôti / seiche / oseille / caviar Kristal’, because, what can a combination of venison, octopus, and caviar be like?” I grin back. “So, let’s eat, and I’ll tell you. Bon appétit!” He replenishes our burgundy. Out of the corner of my eyes, I can see a waiter jump toward the table, but it’s too late, and he withdraws. I suppose he’s supposed to be keeping an eye on our glasses, and he probably has. They were not empty. But Bill is topping us all off, more symbolically than anything, to accompany the toast.

         I slice a bit off the Hand of Buddha. Oh, it’s this odd lemony thing, delicious. I take a bit of lobster coated crispy and add some of the Hand to it. Oh, it is amazing. The subtle melding takes a minute to mentally digest. I want to say heavenly. “So, what’s that taste like?” He’s eying the lobster plus Hand. I smile, swallow, and theatrically mouth heavenly. He grins back. And then turns his attention to his venison, slicing and combining all the ingredients into a skillfully arranged forkful. Into his mouth it goes; I’m waiting expectantly. His eye light up. “Oh. Who would have thought. Good god!” He toasts the gods and takes a sip of burgundy. “René, we’re in for a treat tomorrow at the hands of Chef Ducasse.” René has carefully started in on his lobster. He looks up at Bill and beams. Ah, true love, think I. And why not. Now I’m back to the scenario where René is an apprentice chef or something.

         As we were entering the dining room, I’d thought: I’m really not very hungry. Lunch had been ample and very satisfying. Smoked salmon and champagne from the hands of Serges only a couple of hours ago. But the starter has already woken up my palate, and now I am eating and savoring on another plane from hunger: gustatory pleasure. Food as art, as pure pleasure for all the senses.

         You pay for this, dammit. Pay a lot. Too much for my wallet. How many millionaires or billionaires really appreciate this as Bill does. Not many. So, I mentally toast Bill. I don’t envy Bill, but I do envy being able to eat and drink like this.

         A sip of the burgundy confirms what I’m thinking: It’s a period at the end of my thought.

         Bill’s eyes are on me. “You look pensive.” He does want to know what I’m thinking. I just grin back at him. Let him wonder. But that’s a bit rude of me. I say that I’m just carried away, enthralled, at the food and the wine. True. And then I thank him.

         Immediately René chimes in: “Yes, thank you, Bill. You are so kind.”

         Kind? Is Bill kind? Sort of. I’ve known Bill since we were students. I would call him fun, generous, but I don’t know if he’s kind. What does kind mean?

         “Thanks, René. I’m just so happy you’re enjoying it.” Ah, sincerity. Bill does mean this. Because part of the pleasure he has in all this no doubt lies in sharing it with us.

         Oh no! Is that why he wants me to go to Biarritz with him? Share in the unlimited life of pleasure that his new wealth brings so that he can enjoy it much more? Of course.

         René is still looking at Bill. Bill is still looking at René. Oh, gods in Hades, let this be true love. Whatever that is. Or just let René be the one who makes it possible for Bill to enjoy his good fortune. Let me just visit. From time to time. Amen.

         Yes. That’s where I am right now. I’ve solved the puzzle.

         I hope.

         “You know there’s a cheese course for all of us now. I bet they’ll wheel over that trolley over there.” His eyes point to a cheese trolley on the other side of the room, but directly opposite where he’s sitting. Cheese! Do I have room for cheese? I turn to look. And then I think of the wine. All of us are being very judicious with the wine, partly because it demands to be savored, not drunk. There’s still almost half the bottle left. So, cheese it is. Many little tastes of many kinds of cheese at their glorious perfection, of that, I’m sure. I lean back in my chair. I’ve consumed every last bit of the lobster course. We’re in heaven, I say to the table, to us. “Yes. One heaven among many. This is just the start,” Bill puts both hands, palms down, on the plush linen.

         I hear an electronic bell sound. It could be my smartphone, except that I don’t use that sound. Bill’s hands go flying. It’s Bill’s phone. He starts reading the SMS he’s gotten. A smile spreads across his face. “Gentlemen, our flight to New York leaves at one-thirty, day after tomorrow. We will be served a bit of light lunch on the flight. A nice bottle of wine. And we’ll be checked in to the Lotte New York Palace, the penthouse, in time for another lunch.” He bursts out laughing. “We’ll get a hotdog on Fifth Avenue.”

         Lotte New York Palace? What is that? “Don’t you remember the Villard Mansion? I remember when it got landmark status. The fuckers would have torn it down. Madison Avenue. You must remember.” I do vaguely now. “There’s a tower attached to it. So, you’ve got a choice between staying in the Palace or staying in the Tower. The Tower has the penthouse. The Palace is too European for us.” He goes into a long chuckle. I see his point. “I suggested the hotel to the concierge. This will be a treat, even for you!” He stares at me and then laughs outright. I grin back: Indeed, it will be. Should I say, Thanks, Bill? Yes. Thanks, Bill.

         It then sinks in. I’m going to be staying in the Billionaire Manhattan I only know about from newspapers and magazines and Netflix. I remember the shock I felt walking through the pedestrianized and sanitized Time Square. Bill is right: I don’t know this New York. Not at all.