Tiffani's mom lets her buy a new watch for the trip. It's a big deal, getting to dip into money that's supposed to be set aside for college or, like, investments, or a time that isn't right now.
Even if right now is a couple of weeks working in Paris with one of her best friends.
She settles on a watch that's got some dark red and white, a shiny black band, and if she squints hard enough, she can imagine a little Bayside Tiger right there, in the center of the dial. It costs $10 more than the allowance her mom had cleared, but Tiffani smiles at the guy in the store, and somehow it's cheaper.
She thinks maybe she could mention him in an interview, Peter from Watch World, and how she just loves it when people are nice and happy and helpful, because that's what she tries to be -- nice and happy and helpful, and it's not always as easy as it should be.
For all the watch's expense though, it doesn't have the date, and with the jet lag and the language she doesn't speak and the upside-down-ness of non-stop interviews, it's easy to forget what day it is.
They tell time by Mark-Paul's roots instead.
Paris is probably great. Well, she thinks, it is great, but not because it's Paris. Not yet, anyway. They haven't seen anything in the first three days that makes it clear they're in France (except for all the French being spoken, of course).
Instead it's the bright, hot lights of interviews, the smell of cigarette smoke, and so much food they're going to have to refit the cheerleader outfit when they get back.
Mark-Paul is only just beginning to show the brown creeping up from his skull, like the slow transformation into someone she's seen around, but doesn't know so well yet.
An interviewer, one that speaks to them in English accented so heavily that she still wishes for the translator, asks them what Zack and Kelly would do in the City of Love.
She laughs, and has been through this just enough times to know it'll be written as something like, "giggles sweetly," as Mark-Paul leans forward to take the question.
"I think they'd go to the Eiffel Tower," he says. "And Zack would try to sell it off to buy Kelly something. A beret. Yeah, a jewel-encrusted beret."
The interviewer turns to her, "And what would Kelly think of that?"
It's automatic, the way she answers. One of her friends back home works at McDonald's and she said once that she sometimes doesn't even know how the food gets into the oil. That she'll have to stop and think about whether she put ketchup on the hamburger she just sent out. And that's having a job, getting so used to the same thing over and over, that you can do it without thinking.
"I think Kelly wouldn't need the beret, she would just want to spend time with Zack, and he'd spend so much time selling the Eiffel Tower, that they'd miss going to the top."
It unravels in her head then, the way Zack would try to make it up to her, recreating the Eiffel Tower in the Bayside gym or The Max, and having Screech speak made-up French while serving them French fries and French bread.
It's sweet in a way that isn't reality and when Mark-Paul puts his hand on her knee before standing up at the end of the interview, she feels warm enough to ask that they put her hair up for the next spot.
After four straight days of press, they finally get two days off to see the city. Tiffani watches the handlers and the tutor and some network executive talk in a huddle, looking over at her and Mark-Paul every so often.
Mark-Paul twists the top from a bottle of fancy French water and gestures with it toward the group, "They're deciding whether we need a chaperone."
Tiffani's shocked, why would they need a chaperone? Back home she's allowed to go around by herself. Sometimes. For the most part. As long as she's in by midnight.
"We don't need a chaperone," she tells him. Like he doesn't know or something.
"I don't know, we could get into some trouble, if we wanted. Remember last month with the beer?" He grins, wide and charming, and Tiffani has never doubted Mark-Paul as Zack, not for one minute.
And of course she remembers last month, she'll always remember it, the way Mario had snuck into a wrap party the next studio over, and carefully smuggled out some alcohol in the pockets of his Bayside letter jacket. Wardrobe had come looking for the jacket shortly after, and all of the sudden the table in the girls' trailer was full of warm beer and a crumpled paper cup of something fruity.
They'd stolen sips throughout the day, just enough for Tiffani's head to feel hot and tingly, although whether it was the small amounts of alcohol ingested over long periods of time, or the rush of doing something they weren't supposed to do, she wasn't sure. Her first sip was standing on opposite sides of the table with Mark-Paul, while everyone else was filming.
He'd shoved over the cup with the fruity drink, "This is a daiquiri, you'll like it." And she'd drank it like it she'd seen in the movies, a quick gulp, a shot.
Mark-Paul had laughed and told her it wasn't the kind of drink, but instead of feeling embarrassed, she'd felt like they were sharing a secret, learning how to do these adult things, just the two of them.
She remembers the way Mark-Paul kept guiding Dustin away from the trailer, because if anyone would tell on them, it'd be Dustin. She remembers Dennis knocking on the door, just to ask if anyone had an extra copy of the script, but how it still felt like the principal had come calling.
But what she remembers most clearly, is the game of Truth or Dare they'd played after wrapping for the day, all huddled in the trailer waiting for the nighttime tutor. Elizabeth had gotten Mark-Paul on a Truth and asked him to say who the best kisser was.
He was still sort of on-again, off-again with Lark right then (and probably was right now, if the phone call she'd overheard yesterday was any clue), but he'd looked at Elizabeth, puffed his chest out, and said, like some grown up thing, all Method Acting and stuff, "Zack would have to say Kelly, right? It's always Kelly for him."
And then he'd looked right at Tiffani, and arched his eyebrows just a bit, and she'd suddenly thought (hoped) that maybe he was saying something more.
They decide against a chaperone 20 minutes later. Mark-Paul and Tiffani are to go back to the hotel for the night, and in the morning, they could do what they liked in Paris, so long as they found pay phones and checked in every few hours.
They're handed a per diem for two days, just plain white envelopes full of money Tiffani doesn't recognize. She hopes it's enough.
Mark-Paul counts the money quickly and decides it's not.
"Shouldn't we have the per diems for the four day we've already been here? Not our fault we couldn't leave the studios," he says, standing tall enough to loom over the women in the group, but still shorter than the men.
The adults huddle again, and come back with more money. Just looking at the bills they already have, with the ones they're being handed, Tiffani can tell it's not a full four days' worth, but it's more than they had a few minutes ago.
Zack Morris rides again.
They're not supposed to be in each others' hotel rooms. There's a very strict policy of keeping girls and boys separate on stuff like this, overnights and trailers and sometimes, if someone had been acting especially troublesome lately (usually Mark-Paul or Mario going after one of them with a squirt gun or something), they even keep make-up split by gender.
Tiffani doesn't usually mind, not really, it gives her time to catch up with Lark and Elizabeth and sometimes even Tori, depending on the episode. And depending on whether or not her dad had organized some huge, special, private trailer for her.
And her friends back home, in normal school more than just once in a blue moon, they tell her the boys and girls are split up sometimes there, too. For sex talks or gym class or whatever.
So, really, Tiffani doesn't mind. (She also wouldn't mind the sex talk. It's not that she's some blushing 12-year-old or anything, it's just, like, who do you even ask on stuff like that? Her friends would tease her and her parents would lecture her and, oh god, she'd die. Just totally mortified.)
Anyway, right now, an ocean away from her parents and everyone else, it seems like a good idea to try and sneak into Mark-Paul's room. She'd been so frustrated just trying to order dinner from room service -- had eventually ended up with a pack of crackers and an uncooked carrot -- and all the working non-stop and, ugh, it doesn't even matter, she'd decided to go and here she was, knocking with just the tip of her fingernail on his door.
When he answers, he's in work-out shorts and his shirt is off. Tiffani's been to the pool, and Tiffani's been around sets, and Tiffani knows what a guy's chest looks like, but it's just -- this is Mark-Paul's chest and sometimes she gets so confused. She spends her days being chased by him, dating him, all that stuff, and it can really mix you up, she thinks.
It's not like she can't tell the show from her life, it's just sometimes she likes one more than the other.
She's busy staring at the mole on his leg (not the one on his chest, still super visible under the very small amount of dark hair there), when Mark Paul speaks.
"You wanna watch TV?"
And that's it, right there, the thing that makes her feel like maybe she wants to kiss him more than on screen. The way they can just be with each other, and they don't have greetings or awkwardness or anything. It's the closest thing she's ever felt to thinking maybe she loves someone. Like, she knows she doesn't, but it's pretty romantic, to her, at least. How he just gets her, or whatever.
"Yeah, let's watch TV. Were you --" She gestures at his chest, "Gonna exercise or something?"
He scratches just above his heart, drawing her eyes there, almost like he was doing it deliberately. She sees the bone and muscle, the way he's so much broader now, and thinks how she can feel the difference when they hug.
"I was trying to. The directions the desk gave me were so damn hard to understand."
Mark-Paul swears like it doesn't mean anything sometimes. Like he's defying anyone to say anything. She remembers a take gone bad and how he'd said, "Shit!" as Dustin had dropped a pile of books off a table. She'd waited to see if the director or Dennis or anyone would comment, but no one had said anything. It's weird how they're allowed to be grown-ups in such specific ways, and are treated like kids in others.
(He'd told her once that he got away with so much at home because his siblings had broken his parents in. Tiffani is unbelievably jealous of that.)
She laughs, thinking about his directions, "I get it. I tried to order a cheeseburger from room service and ended up with a -- " she pauses, commits to it, " -- a damn carrot."
Tiffani does not speak French.
Mark-Paul does not speak French.
But things that are the same, even in France, are steamy old movies, with breathless kissing, and clutching, and just the barest hint of tongue. Tiffani's never used tongue in a screen kiss, but it looks great and she decides she'd like to try it.
Actually, she'd like to try it as a real kiss, one that comes as a result of the way Mark-Paul's hand has inched across the bed to rest near her thigh. They're leaning against the headboard, legs stretched out in front of them. They'd put on the hotel robes on a lark, and hers looks silly over her jeans, but Mark-Paul's look real. In only his shorts, which are covered by the robe, it looks like he'd maybe thrown on a robe after a shower.
It feels really hot in the room, basically.
When the movie ends and another one comes on, Mark-Paul's hand ends up on her thigh, fingers just curling around, as she leans into him. This far away from her parents, from Lark, from American kids that wave at her on the street, it doesn't feel like real life. It feels like another television show, like she's watching it all happen from the outside, and she's just as anxious as the audience to find out what happens next.
They eventually slip down the headboard, lying facing each other on overstuffed pillows. Mark-Paul's hand moves from her thigh to her hip, and she's so close to him, she has to squint to focus on his hair. It seems like there's equal parts brown and blond now and his hair must grow so fast.
In the morning, she wakes up with Mark-Paul curled around her back, breathing softly into her hair. It is the first time she's fallen asleep in a bed with a boy and not been woken up for the sake of, like, appearances.
She settles further back into him, the thick material of the hotel robes providing a cushion, and he sighs and tightens his arm. His hips buck into her just a tiny bit and she's frozen trying to figure out if that's what she thinks it is, or just a trick of the fabric.
He does it again five minutes later and Tiffani wonders if Kelly Kapowski is still a virgin.
It's awkward and weird and rad and wonderful, waking up with someone and then spending the day with them. It's almost like, you get a pass for the day, if that's how you'd started it. You get to touch them more, and speak low and secret, and laugh.
They've been recognized only a handful of times by lunch, but it's still more than Tiffani expected. French teenagers pointing or having them sign napkins, some of the girls making an effort to touch Mark-Paul.
A group in the cafe they're in offers them each a cigarette after they'd posed for a picture. Mark-Paul takes them both, sticks them in his mouth, and lights them, before handing one to Tiffani. She can hear the noise of the restaurant swelling loud in her head as she takes it from him.
Mark-Paul gives her a look like a challenge and she smiles before taking a deep drag.
And coughing, and coughing, and coughing.
It tastes horrible, and smells awful, but she gets a buzzing feeling as she watches Mark-Paul's eyebrows arch before taking a drag from his own.
(He only sputters a bit.)
This is how they end up learning to smoke French cigarettes, from French teenagers, and Tiffani swears to herself that she'll never tell anyone.
They call the tutor to check in after lunch and Mark-Paul holds her hand while they look for a phone.
They stop for a snack, eating crepes and drinking fruity soda, and he uses his per diem to pay for both of them, telling her it's because she'd overpay anyway.
He holds doors and pulls out chairs and when she gets cold, he gives her his sweater.
It feels so much like a script she hasn't finished and all she wants is to be able to read faster.
They go to the Eiffel Tower, and it's dark out, but the Tower is lit up. They ride the elevator, crowding against each other and away from the other tourists, as they watch the skyline slip smaller behind the glass.
In the low light, Mark-Paul's hair looks almost brown.
It's there, at the top, with Bayside High School a world away, that he kisses her.
He stands right next to her, pointing at something in the distance, trying to get her to follow the line of his arm. Instead, she turns her face toward him. With only inches between them, it's hard to see his eyes and then they're slipping closed and coming closer.
His hands frame her face and hers find his hips, a finger looping through the belt loop of his jeans. She's almost used to this, to Mark-Paul's lips on hers. But on the show it's always closed-mouth and dry, barely long enough to angle her head.
Here, now, Mark-Paul kisses her like the take will never end.
He pulls her bottom lip between his and then all of the sudden his tongue is there, in her mouth, sliding wet and hot alongside hers. His hands move back into her hair before they switch, his hands on her waist, and hers in his hair, and she's trying to get closer, closer, closer.
When his mouth finally pulls back from hers, it's only so he can kiss her neck, just as wet and hot as before, but now he's sucking, too. She's not sure what it would look like from the outside, through the lens of a camera, but it feels terrific and she's definitely going to have a hickey.
He kisses her one more time, teeth and tongue and lips, and then they're back in the elevator.
They don't talk, but he way he's staring at her, it's like they're saying a million things in a language she's only beginning to learn, and it's not French.
It's not that she's going to have sex with him. But she ends up in his room anyway. Ends up letting him getting her shirt off, and unclip her bra and kiss her on her breasts, even as his hands are undoing the button to her jeans.
She's not sure how far it's going to go, but she trusts him, and, in a way, she'd prefer all this stuff with him anyway. All these firsts that Kelly probably had with Zack, Tiffani can have with Mark-Paul.
His fingers get her zipper down, and work inside her underwear, and she feels like laughing, so she does. Mark-Paul pulls back to look at her, and then he's laughing, too. Like it took a whole new continent to do something they could've been doing this whole time at home.
She doesn't get his jeans off, but ends up like he did, with her hand inside in his underwear, his fly spread wide. She grips and strokes and thinks they could get better at this with practice. Then Mark-Paul is making a noise, going rigid for a second where he lies next to her, and Tiffani thinks maybe they got it in one take.
When he comes back to himself, he takes her jeans off. He kisses down her stomach and she feels the smallest bit of stubble scrape along her skin and then he's moving her underwear to the side and kissing and licking and, oh, she wants to rehearse this forever.
They put the robes on to sleep again, and in the morning, they're almost caught when the handler calls to say their second day off has been cancelled for more interviews.
Tiffani runs back to her room and just gets in the door in time to take the phone call for herself.
On the plane ride back home days later, Mark-Paul cuddles with her under a blanket, his hair so much more brown than blond. He tells her that he'll take her out in California. That they should do more stuff just the two of them.
And they do, sometimes. But it's never like France again, it's never like all those first times.
Months later, when Lark tells her she and Mark-Paul had sex for the first time last night, she feels regret, like they should have ticked that off when they had the chance.
She'll lose her virginity four months later to a guy who wasn't her best friend, who no one gets excited to see her with in public, and who no one will want to ask her about in twenty years.
Mark-Paul's hair grows out after the end of The College Years, and it's dark enough during filming for the wedding that she sleeps with him, just once, just to say they have. He's already dating the girl that he eventually marries and Tiffani tries to make herself feel guilty, but she can't.
The day the final episode airs, she calls him and they talk about how weird it's going to be to not be on TV with each other anymore.
The reruns start the next week.