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When I was 25 I spent the summer in the South of France.
Nicky was a homeless rich kid who drove an overpriced sports car and blew his allowance on other necessities (i.e. gambling and girls). We became friends because he sometimes dated my housemate Claire, and lived in her room even when she didn’t.
I lectured him on want and waste. Fed him breakfast. And told him if he ever touched my computer or my Sugar Smacks I’d throw him out the window. He said his Pappou would love me and he’d treat Claire and I to a holiday abroad if he ever got through the term.
Nicky’s grandfather was a poor man who made his millions the way most Greeks do, and swore his daughter’s only child wouldn’t see a cent (Or Drachma. Or Euro. Or whatever it was the old man was giving away.) until he went to university and made something of himself, without help or handout (living allowance not included) from the family.
Learn the value of something. Anything, really. That was the plan.
Nicky only pretended to learn. But he pretended well, and left Uni on time.
His grandfather’s home was the size of my old secondary school. When we arrived, the wrinkled old patriarch was sat by the pool. After introductions, Nicky took Claire to tour the house. I stood waiting for a blonde girl to show me to my room.
“You are good friends with NEEkolas?”
Big NEEK was an old man with a thick old accent. He couldn’t move very well, but it didn’t matter….the world moved for him.
I told him the truth.
“NEEkolas doesn’t have any friends. Just a lot of pretenders who want to get something off him. ”
“Mmmm.” The old man nodded. He sat under an umbrella. In white clothes and black shades. He lowered them to stare at me. “Like Americans?” he said.
I wanted to slink off and join the others. But I didn’t. “Listen.” He made me feel bad. Like I was a cheat or a bum or something. And I wasn’t. “I’ve been feeding junior all year, and I don’t get an allowance.” I’d never had an allowance in my life! “If it wasn’t for this American your grandson would be sleeping in a gutter.” (Ok. Sometimes he did. But that was beside the point.)
“He would have been fine.” The old man almost smiled. “I am sure.”
“Whatever.” I don’t argue with rich old Greeks. “I’m not his friend. But I like him well enough. And I deserve this vacation. OK.” I remembered my manners. “Sir” And left.
Claire and I spent the first few weeks doing a whole lot of nothing with a whole lot of wine. Nicky was home for breakfast and out for lunch. He always brought back gifts. I’d enjoy the sun and the luxury that was my strange friend’s life, but I wouldn’t take his grandfather’s money. Claire took it just fine.
What I did take was his yacht… to Monaco. With Nicky and Claire. The old man and his nurse.
A teeny French woman came to fit us for clothes that weren’t our own, and tutted and made weird clucking noises every time she measured my waist. Nicky bought Claire a necklace that she hocked the next year to pay for med school. His grandfather let me borrow a huge rock of a ring that had sat in its box since 1957.
“Pretty girls should wear pretty things.” He said. And “This is what men do,” as he put it on my finger.
It belonged to his dead wife. She never wore it. Said it didn’t sparkle.
One woman’s trash….. You know the drill.
I thanked him. And liked him.
I felt rich in Monte Carlo. With a ring like that. And an idiot dropping thirty grand on the table next to me.
I enjoyed the air and the being there and left the night young. Claire and Nicky didn’t leave it at all. They spent the week practicing indiscretion all over the principality, popping in and out to say hello and drop off bags and change clothes. I spent it on board the boat with the old Greek and his girlfriend/nurse. He taught me how to turn a phrase in MonÃgasque and I taught him how to drawl like a country boy. He told me money made good men stupid. And he worried about his grandson. I told him there were plenty of stupid poor men too. I knew a few. And his boy would get on alright.
He reminded me of Pa. With white hair. And a yacht.
He laughed and slept alot.
I drank champagne and kept my face out of the sun and thought about how momma’s never gonna believe this.
When Claire and I flew back to England a few weeks later we took Nicky with us. We fed him coffee and screened his grandfather’s calls. I told him Nicky was doing fine…even when he wasn’t.
“You should come visit. You can sleep on my floor.”
He laughed. “Ahhh. If I were young. But that country hurts my bones.”
The old man died the following Christmas.
He left Nicky his millions.
He left me the ring.
Tall Dark & Handsome had a tough act to follow.