Dog-eared travel magazines and airline quotes lay next to the oversized coffee table book of Paris. Magazine articles on the left–airline quotes on the right. I rearranged and straightened them so that they faced Dave’s chair.
No. That’s not right. Quotes on the left and articles on the right.
I sat in his chair for a better perspective, tapped my cheek, eyes shifted back and forth.
No. It looked better the other way.
Dave slammed the front door causing the line of family photos to misalign. His leather chair groaned under his weight, as he raked his shoes across the coffee table, scattering my neatly arranged presentation. “Phew, what a day, what’s for dinner?”
“I thought maybe we could go…”
He leaned to the side and clicked the remote control.
I started again. “I thought we could go out for dinner. I have something I want to talk to you about.” Conscious of wringing my hands, something I seemed to do whenever Dave was home, I busied myself fidgeting with the travel information.
His eyes focused on the TV. “You know I don’t like to go out to eat. If you don’t want to cook, just throw a pizza in the oven–again.”
My shoulders slumped as I sat on the edge of the coffee table and placed my hand on his thigh. “I’ve been doing some research and I thought it might be fun for us to fly to Paris for our anniversary.” I picked up one of the magazine articles, “Look, honey.”
He leaned in the opposite direction to watch a ballgame. “Yeah, about that–our anniversary–Bill’s brother-in-law bought a new boat and they’ve set up a deep-sea fishing trip for that weekend. I knew you wouldn’t mind if I went, so I told them to count me in.”
“Talk one of your friends into going with you. Take that hag you work with.”
“You mean Sara?”
Dave slid his leg from under my hand and shifted his weight, “Yeah, whatever, or, your friend down the street who you pick up and take to your book club.”
“Mrs. Ringer is eighty-five and walks with a cane. You know I’ve always dreamed of going to Paris. It’s our anniversary; I wanted the two of us to go.”
He pointed his finger in my face. “Kate, you’re being selfish. We’ll have other anniversaries but I don’t know when I’ll get the opportunity to go deep-sea fishing again.”
I pressed my hand against my chest. “Selfish?”
“I swear Kate, do you always have to start an argument when I come home? Do you ever think about anyone but yourself?” He threw the remote across the room. “You wonder why I work late so often. It’s so I don’t have to listen to your constant bitching.” With a self-satisfied smirk, Dave grabbed his keys and turned to the door. “Don’t wait up.”
Distant headlights reflected on the bedroom wall; a glance at the clock stated 2 AM.
Is it him?
The walls of the room brightened at the approach of a car. I draw my breath and wait in anticipation.
Is it him?
Bitter disappointment welled up for a moment; I pushed it away as the car passed by and pulled the blanket over my shoulders–the only source of warmth in this big cold bed, and waited.
Self-deprecating questions of worth replaced sleep as I watched the numbers on the clock climb.
This is my entire fault. It has to be because he’s–I should try harder, lose some weight, and make myself more attractive, more interesting whatever it takes to make him–want me–love me again–the way he used to.
With equal portions of shame and hurt, I squirmed deeper under the covers and cringed.
Ugh, just listen to yourself whine.
At 4:30 headlights flickered off, but the corner streetlight exposed his car as he coasted into the driveway. The clink of his keys as he fumbled to make contact with the lock, drifted through the open window followed with inaudible curses.
I tracked his silhouette cross the dark room in whisper-soft movements as he ghosted through to the bathroom. Unable and unwilling to confront him, I turned to face the wall and pretended to sleep. Moments later the mattress tilted with his weight as he gently slipped between the sheets, the faint heat of his body a few inches from where I lay smelled of cigarettes, beer, and shame. I waited until his soft snores increased in volume before I released the hot flood of tears that slid across my face, pooled on my hair and pillow, and left a hint of salt on my lips.
“You look like hell. Let me guess, Mr. wonderful didn’t come home last night.”
My cheeks warmed. “He came home, it was late but he came home.”
“Humph,” Sara scrunched her face and rummaged through her bag. “Here,” she pressed a small tube in my hand. “This is the best concealer on the market, I should know, I use enough of it. Go hide those circles under your eyes.” She arched an eyebrow and shot me a look over the top of her glasses, “I still stand by my offer to help bury his body.”
She was right, the dark circles only added to age my face. I studied my silhouette in her ornate full-length mirror and screwed my eyes shut.
Ugh. What happened to my body? When did it change from hot to not?
Sara finished with a customer before giving me the once over, “Much better.”
I lowered my eyes and picked at a piece of lint on my skirt. “So, I was wondering…I’ve been thinking about getting one of those around the world tummy tucks and a boob job like you did a while back.” I sucked in my stomach and puffed out my chest. “What do you think?”
“I think you’re an idiot. You look great. You don’t need any work done. What you need is to leave that SOB and find someone who loves you as you are.”
I bowed up like a rebellious child. “You had it done.”
“Yeah, well I have money to burn and an ego to match.” Her eyes narrowed, a vertical line appeared between her eyebrows. “What happened last night?” She pursed her lips, “What brought all this on?”
“You know that I’ve always wanted to go to Paris, well our anniversary is coming up, so I suggested we spend a week there. You know a chance for a little romance.”
“And he said no.”
I smiled. “He suggested I take you.”
“Ha. I’d be better company. You should go.”
“I couldn’t go without Dave.”
“Why? Why won’t he go?”
“He–he’s going deep-sea fishing with the guys.”
Sara’s face turned crimson. “You’re shitting me! He didn’t–oh; my–I cannot believe you put up with this crap. Why, Kate, why do you let him treat you like this?”
“I love him, Sara.”
“No, you don’t. You love the man you want him to be, not the man he is.”
“He’s having an affair.”
“So, what else is new?”
“I don’t want him to leave me. If I lost a few pounds and had a nip and tuck here and there, he might find me attractive again–and love me.”
“The only ass you need to lose is the one you’re married to. He is who he is, Kate and nothing you do is going to change him.” Sara raked both hands through her hair. “Come on, grab your bag. We’ll talk over lunch, there’s a new Japanese restaurant I want to try.”
I had hoped Sara would drop the subject of Dave over lunch, but no such luck.
“All jokes aside, Kate, listen to me. The kids are grown and on their own. You don’t owe Dave anything.” Sara’s face radiated an uncompromising stance. “You need to understand that some people never grow up. They never acknowledge their faults; they never admit they’re wrong.” She tapped a perfectly manicured nail on the table. “Dave is one of those people; his behavior will never change no matter what you do.”
“I don’t know, Sara. What if I gave up on him just as he was about to turn back to me.”
“And, what if you kicked his ass to the curb and chose a life where you put yourself first for a change.” She leaned forward, “One where you focus on what you want and don’t feel like you have to ask anyone’s permission.” Sara’s jaw tightened. “Sooner or later you’re going to have to make a choice because I guarantee you if you don’t, he’s going to make it for you.”
“What do you mean?”
She placed her hand over mine, “Honey, I love you but you are totally blind where Dave is concerned. In his mind, you’re aging but he isn’t. It’s a matter of time before he leaves you for a younger version.”
“I don’t think that’s true.”
“The wife never does.”
The server handed Sara back her credit card and placed a basket on the table
“This is the best part–fortune cookie time.” Sara handed one to me.
I broke it in half and read out loud, “A fresh start will put you on your way.”
“Ha, exactly what I told you.” Sara opened hers and gave me a sideways glance. “Advice when most needed is least heeded.”
“It does not say that. Let me see.”
She handed me a tiny piece of paper.
“That’s too funny. I listen to your advice I just don’t always follow it.” I grabbed another cookie and broke it open. “Change is happening in your life, so go with the flow.”
She snickered, “The gods and I are trying to tell you something.”
I pushed one toward her. “Read another one.”
“Observe all men, but most of all yourself. After three marriages I’d say I am an observer of men and as for me–“She swept her hand down her body, “What can I say.” She slid the last cookie toward me, “Your turn.”
“Every flower blooms in its own sweet time.” I wadded up the paper, threw it at her, and ate the cookie.
“We’ve only had two customers this morning; no reason for us both to stay. Why don’t you take off?”
I held up my hands. “Are you sure, Sara, because if you are, I’m out of here?”
“Go. Enjoy your afternoon.”
I grabbed my bag from the back. “I’m off. See you tomorrow.”
I made a quick dash into the grocery store to pick up a couple of steaks and wine.
Grilled steaks, chilled wine, and me; that’s what’s for dinner.
An image of our bodies entangled in the sheets flashed through my mind. I whooped unexpectantly and slapped a hand over my mouth but not before the next in line furrowed her forehead and took a step back.
I prepared a mental list as I bounced across the parking lot. I’ll light the grill, put the wine in the cooler, take a shower, and put on that red dress Dave likes so much…
BEEEEP…Watch where you’re going, lady!
“Eek! I’m sorry.” I scanned the parking lot for onlookers, ducked my head and hurried to the car.
As I rounded the curve I was surprised and anxious to see Dave’s car in the driveway this early in the day.
What’s he doing home? He never leaves work early; poor baby, he must be sick.
I gathered the grocery bags from the trunk and unloaded them on the kitchen table. A quick search through living room and study showed no signs of Dave.
If he’s in bed, he really is sick. I’ll have to call Dr. Brennon.
Halfway down the hall, I caught sounds coming from the open door of our bedroom.
He must be watching TV in bed. Maybe I’ll join him.
Dave wasn’t in the bed but his clothes and suitcases were scattered over it. Soft murmuring followed by giggles emanated from our walk-in closet. I stopped. I didn’t want to believe what I heard. Dave had promised it wouldn’t happen again. It couldn’t be–not in our house–our home. Even he wouldn’t do that. Would he? I crossed my arms over my queasy stomach and inched closer. I turned and looked at the bed jumbled with his clothes. He assured me he would never–I forced myself to take another step. I glanced back at the bedroom door. I could turn around and leave, never know the truth. I paused at the closet door, and laid my hand over the cold metal doorknob. The grandfather clock ticked loudly in the hallway, consistent the thumping in my chest. I stepped in and flipped the light switch. A squeal revealed golden-brown curls and wide eyes. She snatched my housecoat from the hook over the door and covered her bare breasts.
Dave’s face darkened as he scurried to zip his pants. “What are you doing home this time of day?”
The world fell away, drained of all color but him, standing there red-faced and angry. Fire rose from the pit of my stomach–a wave of all-consuming anger. “I would ask you the same thing but I can see what you were doing and who you’re doing it with. In OUR house Dave?” I poked his chest. “In OUR BEDROOM?” I poked harder. “IN OUR CLOSET?” In all our years of marriage, I had never raised my voice to Dave–until now. Thirty-seven years of pent up emotions spewed from my mouth–like lava from a volcano, I let it flow.
The wide-eyed girl bit her lip; eyes darted about as if she were searching for a place to hide.
Dave slapped my hand away, “Get a grip, Kate. You’re embarrassing Carrie and making a fool of yourself.”
“You bastard,” My nails dug into my palms, “You…”
His nostrils flared, “Watch your mouth!”
“Watch my mouth?” A muscle in my jaw twitched. “Why? Is there a lady in the house?”
Goosebumps dappled my arms and bile rose in my throat as his voice softened and he touched her face. “Get dressed Baby while I discuss a few things with Kate.”
His dark eyes turned to me. “Listen, Kate, I’m sorry you saw that. I hadn’t intended for this to happen here, but things kind of…well, you know.” The corner of his mouth quirked up and he winked. “I had planned to be packed and gone before you came home.”
My stomach twisted. “I don’t understand. Packed and gone; where?”
He rolled his eyes and looked heavenward, “Sometimes you can be so dense. Look, I’ve filled out divorce papers, all you have to do is stop by my attorney’s office and sign them. I was generous with the settlement; you’ll be pleased.”
“Divorce?” My hands squeezed into fists as I loomed forward, daring him to repeat the word. “YOU are going to DIVORCE ME?”
Impassive, Dave shoved his hair back away from his face and continued. “I listed the house with Coastal Realty yesterday. They’ll be here at 8:00 in the morning for a walkthrough, in case you want to straighten up a little.” He grabbed a suitcase, placed his hand of the small of wide-eye’s back, and guided her out into the hall. “I’ll send someone by later this afternoon to pick up my leather recliner and the rest of my things. You can pack my clothes in the other two suitcases.” He snapped his fingers, “By the way the realtor, will be placing a for sale sign in the yard tomorrow. You might want to pull the weeds along the walk-way.” He headed down the hall. “Come on Baby.”
I extended my middle finger.
Did this really happen? I stumbled to the sofa and plopped down before I fell. Just like that, without a trace of remorse, Dave had dashed all hope of ‘happy ever after’. The weird thing was I didn’t crumble or dissolve into a puddle of tears. I didn’t curl up on the couch and wonder what I had done to cause him to leave. I held out my hand, it trembled but not from nerves; it trembled from the emotional outburst of anger I had just experienced for the first time. I smiled to myself. “Dave, you son of a bitch, you did it. You finally pushed the limit one too many times.”
I pulled my cell from my pocket and called Sara. “I’m celebrating. How would you like a steak for dinner?”
“Um, from the tone of your voice I have to ask, what you are celebrating.”
“I just lost that hundred and seventy-five pounds you’ve been telling me I needed to lose.”
“Get out!” She shirked. “Are you serious?” Sara’s tone softened, “Are you okay?”
“Humph . . . it might be the adrenaline talking, but right now, I’m better than okay. Get over here . . . um; do you think it’s cold enough for a bonfire?”
“Uh-oh, don’t do anything rash . . . I’ll be right there.”
By the time Sara arrived, I had the steaks on the grill, wine chilled to a perfect fifty-five degrees, and the fire pit blazing.
Panting she darted across the backyard. “A customer came in at the last minute. I got here as fast as I could.” She bent with her hands on her thighs and took a second to catch her breath. “First of all, are you okay?”
I nodded and handed her a glass of wine.
“What on earth happened, and don’t leave out a thing.”
I faked a smile and filled her in on all the nasty details.
Sara took a step back and placed her hand over her heart, “That low-life son of a bitch.” Her brows rose in that crooked kind of way that always makes me laugh. This time I didn’t laugh.
“He’s divorcing you? After putting up with all his crap, he’s divorcing you? Please tell me you didn’t pack his clothes for him.”
“I stuffed them in garbage bags and threw them out.”
“I would have burned them and drank a glass of champagne while they went up in flames.”
“I thought about it but someone picked them up along with his precious leather recliner before I had the chance.” I gave a lopsided grin. “I may have inadvertently dropped an open bottle of his cheap cologne in one.”
“Boo-ya!” She gave me an elbow bump. “That’s my girl.”
I drew in a deep sigh. “What now?”
“Now you get on with your life. Have some fun. Take the time to learn about you again, read–paint—take that trip to Paris.”
“I can’t go to Paris by myself.”
“And why not?”
“Well for one thing, I can’t speak French.”
“You know a little; you took French in high school. Take an online course while you wait for the house to sell.”
“I’ve been thinking about that, about the house selling. I could take out a loan and buy Dave’s half. That way I wouldn’t have to leave; I could stay here.”
“Why? Why on earth would you want to stay here? Every place you look would remind you of him. You would relive years of painful memories over and over. Why would you put yourself through that?”
“What if—what if Dave wanted to come back?” I took a sip of wine, more like a gulp and waited for Sara’s reaction.
“Damn! You wouldn’t take him back would you?” Her voice raised an octave. “I’ll tell you what, every time that asinine thought enters your mind, walk into your bedroom and take a look at the closet. Burn into your memory what you came home to today!”
“Ugh. Thanks for the reminder.”
“That’s why you love me.” Ting-ting sang our glasses. “Cheers!”
We sat in comfortable silence for a while watching the stars.
“I dread telling the kids, they won’t understand. I shielded them from Dave’s affairs. How can I tell them Dave left me for another woman?”
“You might be surprised, Kate. Kids are smarter than we give them credit. Do you really think they never noticed your puffy eyes from a night of crying—never heard Dave come home late if at all? Think about it.”
I slumped in my chair. “What happens next?”
“I’ll give you the number of my attorney. He’s the best-I should know.”
“I don’t need an attorney; Dave’s already filed for divorce.”
“You’ll need someone to go over the papers. You know good and well, Dave only looks out for himself.”
“At this point, I don’t care. I’m drained-I’m tired and I don’ have it in me to fight. I just want it over.”
“That’s the shock talking. You haven’t had time to process everything yet. Trust me on this, you need you own attorney.”
I masked my pretense with a half-smile and said I’d think about it.
“Look, hon, you’ve gone through hell today—a hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone, well maybe a couple of people. You’re exhausted. I’ll leave, and you try to put this mess out of your mind and get some sleep. Things won’t look as bad in the morning.” She gave me a quick peck on my cheek. “You’re stronger than you think. I’ll call you tomorrow, early.”
I locked the door behind Sara and switched off the lights. The house went quiet. Had it always been this quiet at night or was it because I knew Dave wouldn’t be coming home–ever.
I made myself a pot of tea and carried it into the den. Like an old familiar lover, cushions snuggled my weary body as I sank into my favorite armchair. My mind a kaleidoscope of shifting thoughts fired questions at random: What now? What happens next? How will I survive?
I laid my head back, closed my eyes and rubbed my temples.
I so don’t want to think about anything.
I had to hand it to the realtor; she knew her business. The house sold the house in less than a week.
Twenty-four years of marriage had ended and soon strangers would sleep in my bedroom and prepare meals in my kitchen. Their children would play in the back yard. Squeals of delight would resonate from the trees that had played the music of my own children’s laughter.
Sara came to help finish packing up the house. “Where do you want to start?”
“The kid’s bedrooms, I guess.” I gathered boxes and led the way. “You’re the tallest, grab the stuff on the closet shelves, and put them on the floor. I’ll go through and pack the things I think Jack and Emma would want to keep.
We made pretty good headway until Sara pulled down the two plastic containers that held things the kids had made over the years. One by one I turned them over in my hands. I held a piece of paper scribbled in red crayon. “Jackson was three when he drew this.” I studied the squiggly lines and circles. “Look mommy, I drew a horse. He had said.” There were popsicle stick airplanes, plaster of paris molds of their hands, glittered decorations, dolls, and trucks.
Through tears, I looked at Sara. “What do I do with these? I can’t keep them. I won’t have a home anymore.”
My shoulders caved and my reserve crumbled. On the floor surrounded by years of precious memories I sobbed. Great drops of hot salty tears rolled down my cheeks; I couldn’t have stopped them if I’d tried.
Sara cradled me in her arms. “Let it out, hon. let it out.”
And I did. I cried until I gagged, snot bubbled from my nose and my head throbbed. Finally, I pulled away. “Why?” Anger rose slow and steady. “Why would Dave just up and leave me – us. Twenty-four years—twenty-four bloody years pissed away like they never happened.”
“Because he’s an ass—a selfish, lowlife, sanctimonious ass,” Sara stood and held out a hand. “Come on, you’ve had enough for today. Go wash your face and change your blouse. And get me another shirt while you’re at it.” She smiled, “We’re both soaked and you got snot on mine.”
“Pack a bag. You’re staying at my place for the night.” She yelled down the hall.
I didn’t argue. I wanted to be anywhere but here. I threw a few things together and turned off the lights. “Let’s go.”
On the way to her house, Sara stopped and picked up Japanese food and a bottle of Honjozo sake. “You remember how to use chopsticks don’t you?” It was the same question she asked every time we ate Asian food.
I laughed. “Keep picking on me and I’ll stab you and then wear the chopsticks in my hair.” I gave her a half-smile, “Thanks for being there for me, Sara.”
“Shut-up and don’t drop the food.” She quipped.
I sat in reflective silence by the fire. Amber flames curl and sway, casting shadows across the floor. Each sip of sake spread like a warm breath through my body. Something had changed inside after my breakdown this afternoon.
Sara threw a pillow on the floor and sat beside me. She didn’t speak—just sat there waiting, giving me time and space alone with my thoughts.
I leaned my head against the wall and smiled.
“What?” She arched a brow.
“You’re a good friend, Sara Jane McMullen.”
“Far from it.” I turned my glass bottoms-up waiting for the last drop of liquid to make it way to my tongue. “I can’t explain it but something’s changed. The weight is gone—the dread—the–.”
“The ass you were married to.”
“Yeah, that too.” I set the glass down, pulled a chopstick from my hair, and let it fall around my shoulders. “I’m not sad anymore-I’m not angry, either. I can’t explain it. It’s like I’m excited but cautious at the same time, you know.”
“I know. I’ve been there. It’s like you’re a kid and you walk into the classroom, excited about the new year but afraid Bobby-Joe might jump out and put a frog down your pants.”
I guffawed. “What?”
“Never mind.” She shook her head. “You’ve rounded the corner of hell and found your way out. You’re free from a prison you didn’t even know existed.”
“Free from a prison I didn’t even know existed,” I pondered that for a moment. “So what now, do I move away–do I stay?” I pulled out the folded brochure of Paris I had tucked in my pocket. “I found this under the coffee table when we were at my house. Do you really think I could manage Paris on my own?”
Sara pulled a face. “Of course you can. Remember what I told you-that you are stronger than you think.”
“It’s scary though, you know, traveling to another country alone.” I tapped my head. “I’ve just had a thought. Why don’t you come with me?”
“I would love to but I can’t. I have a store to run. Besides, if I went you would rely on me to do all the talking because I speak French and you’d walk in my shadow instead of take the lead.”
I sat straighter. “I don’t know about that.”
Sara tilted her head and pursed her lips.
“Okay, you’re right—as always,” I admitted.
“It’s late, I’m going to bed.” Sara stopped at the doorway. “Think about this, as long as I can remember, and that’s a long time, you’ve talked about going to Paris. Now is your chance-you may never get another one. You’ll have money from the sale of the house, you’re kids are grown and gone, so you’re free to do as you please. What’s the worst that could happen?” She palmed her forehead. “Forget I said that.” She headed down the hall. “Sleep on it.”
“Good night.” I turned back to the fireplace. “Paris on my own, could I do it-do I dare?” hmm.
Sara found me seated in the kitchen by the window, the first rays of sun appearing over my shoulder.
She covered a yawn and stretched. “What are you doing up so early?”
I had to smile at her cantankerous tone. “Good morning to you too, sunshine.”
Sara rested a hand on her hip. “Ugh, it’s too early to be cheery.” She gave a dismissive wave and shuffled to the counter. “I need coffee.”
“Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love. That’s an old Turkish proverb my nana taught me when I was a girl and she’d sneak me a cup behind my father’s back.” She leaned against the wall inhaling the steam rising from her cup. “What time did you get up?”
“I’ve been up all night.” I rolled my shoulders, easing the tension.
Mussy hair fell across her face at the tilt of her head. “You okay? I know yesterday was tough.”
I avoided her eyes and picked at a blueberry muffin. “I spent the night thinking about what you said.”
She pulled out a chair and sat. “Oh, lawd, I said a lot of things. Remind me which one kept you up all night.”
She paused with the cup of coffee halfway to her lips, “And?”
“As hard as I’ve tried to think of reasons why I can’t go–there are none. Other than fear, there isn’t a reason in the world why I shouldn’t go.”
With the wide eyes of an optimist, a cautious smile played at Sara’s lips. “Does this mean you’re going?”
“I think it does.” The words slipped through my fingers pressed against my lips.
Sara jumped to her feet, sending her cup crashing. “Crap!”
We stood transfixed for a moment watching as the coffee spread across the floor.
“Hell’s bells—who cares about spilled coffee,” she threw her arms in the air, “you’re going to Paris!”
I buried my hands in my hair, my heart pulsed in my throat as my breath quickened. “I’m going to Paris.” I looked at Sara. “I’m—going—to—Paris!”
She nodded. “Yes!”
The next couple of weeks were filled with packing, last-minute details, and closing on the house. The divorce would not be finalized before I left for Paris but my attorney assured me everything was under control and there wouldn’t be any problems.
The night before my flight Sara treated me to dinner at one of the new posh restaurants on the river.
“Good evening, Mrs. Riles.” The maître d’ took our coats. “Your favorite table is ready; this way ladies.”
It never failed to amaze me at the number of people Sara knew by name.
“Thank you, Gary. If I remember correctly, you have an anniversary coming up soon and your wife collects vintage compacts. I have the perfect one for her. Come by one day next week and I’ll wrap it up for you.”
“Yes mam, I’ll do that. Thank you. I’ll send your server over with your usual drink.” He shot me a look over the top of his glasses, “Anything for you?”
“I’ll have what she’s having.”
Sara nodded. “Good choice.”
I laughed, “What did I order?”
“Shh, listen. I love this song.” She hummed and tapped her bejeweled fingers in time with the rhythmic tune playing over hidden speakers.
Over the second round of pink-fizzy drinks, Sara pulled a gift from her bag wrapped in her shop’s signature paper. “This is a little something to remember me by.”
I rubbed my hands together. “Sara–wow, you shouldn’t have. I’m coming back you know, and anyway I don’t think I would forget you in six months.”
She propped her elbows on the table, steeple her fingers, and grinned. “No one ever forgets me; now open your present.”
I pulled the ribbon, unfolded the paper, and lifted a vintage pearl necklace from the rose-scented tissue; the soft luster equaled that of a satin wedding gown.
My eyes welled up. “Ooh, Sara.”
“I’ve observed you admiring this necklace many times over the years and I want you to have it.” She rose from her seat, took it from my hands, and hung it around my neck. “Perfect.”
I caressed the three strands at my throat before I unclasped the ruby and diamond closure and replaced it in the box. I bit my lower lip and swallowed hard. “I can’t keep this. I’ve seen the price tag and it’s too expensive.”
Sara leaned forward and held up a finger. “First of all, you know I can afford it and second you know how my business works. I buy from auctions, estate sales, and people who come into my shop wanting to sell their dead grandmother’s possessions because they have no use for them.” The corner of her mouth quirked up. “I didn’t pay a third of the price written on the tag and, even if I did, you’d be worth it.”
Once again she clasped the necklace around my neck. “Since I can’t go, I want you to find the most handsome, sexy Frenchman, wear a classy black dress, and see Paris in pearls.” She scrunched up her lips in a phony pout. “Do it for me.”
Sara promised to visit me in Paris as soon as she could get away. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways–she home and I to an airport hotel.
I stood in the middle of my hotel room, looking at the suitcase on my bed, a pleasant but slightly sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Embossed letters on a blue passport stare back at me.
I’m going to Paris–it’s really happening.
I went over my checklist for the hundredth time: “Brush—toothpaste—favorite shampoo, just the basics.”
I’ll pick up anything else I need when I get there.
I picked up my guidebook to Paris and fliped through it, relishing every photograph.
You can look at this on the plane; get back to work, Kate.
I double check how many ounces of liquid are allowed.
I’ve already researched all of this, calm down and chill.
The suitcase is ready to go, now all I need to do is check my carryon bag.
“Insurance–credit card–boarding pass.” Everything is packed and I’ve called my kids and Sara to say goodbye.
The hotel shuttle drops me off at the airport. A deep breath and exit security, shoes in hand. My nerves were getting the best of me until I spotted the plane-Air France embossed on the side, a touch of red and blue along the tail. “We invite all ticketed and confirmed passengers to board through gate nineteen-A.”
By the time the announcement to load the plane sounded over the intercom, I had cried and talked myself out of going, and then rebounded and silently squealed with delight. My emotions were all over the place.
My hands gripped the arms of the seat as the engines roared and the plane raced down the runway. My stomach lurched, and body pressed into the back of the seat. Butterflies converted to anticipation as the nose turned up and we lifted into the sky–my spirits flying as high as the plane.
Dreams really do come true–Paris, here I come!
I pulled my coat tighter and stepped outside, bypassing the unofficial taxi drivers and handed my suitcases to the first cab in the Taxi Rank. Thirty minutes, and sixty Euros later, the driver sat my suitcases on the sidewalk in front of the double doors of, 5 Rue d’Abbeville.
A woman waved from a table under the blue and white awning of the café, “Kate, over here.” She walked my way, extending her hand. “I’m Renée. Welcome to Paris.”
I was surprised at how well she spoke English. “It’s so nice to finally meet you in person, Renée. I’m glad you speak English because my French is awful.”
She smiled, “You’ll get the hang of it soon enough.” Renée grabbed a suitcase. “I can’t take you up to the apartment just yet because the workers have not finished varnishing the stairs. They assure me that they’ll be done, and the stairs will be dry by 1:30, so we’ll set your suitcases inside the doorway until then.”
I followed her into the apartment building, past a wall of mailboxes and an open courtyard. The distinct order of varnish wafted through another set of dark green double doors as we stepped inside onto the tile floor. Renée rested her hand on the banister of the winding wood and iron stairs that reached to the heavens. “You can leave your bags here, beside the stairs. The workers will watch them for you. I assure you they’ll be safe.”
We walked back outside to the table where she sat when I arrived. “We can sit inside if you like, but I thought you might enjoy it more out here.” She motioned toward a chair. “You’ll be comfortable with the overhead heat lamps and the day will be much warmer by noon.”
She spoke to the waiter in French and then turned to me, “I have an appointment to get my hair cut at a shop around the corner. I told the waiter to bring you a menu. I would like to treat you to breakfast since you’ll have to wait to get into the apartment.”
“That’s very kind of you, but it’s not necessary. I’ll be fine.”
“I insist. Let me recommend pain au chocolat. It is one of the best known French pastries, served warm, and filled with delicious melted chocolate. They understand English here in case you have any questions. I shouldn’t be long. Enjoy.”
Left on my own I settled in my chair and surveyed my surroundings.
My apartment building and the café were located on the corner of a busy one-way street and intersection. Cars, scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, and people on skateboards, vied for the crowded lanes. In the distance, the melodic wailing sound of a police car ‘nee-eu-nee-eu’ echoed through the streets.
The sidewalks were lively with tourists wearing backpacks and pulling suitcases; couples holding hands; oblivious to anyone but each other, along with businessmen hurrying to work, and moms with their infants in strollers and slings.
A young couple across the terrace caught my eye.
A French Adonis sat on the bench that ran the length of the building, legs crossed with one foot over the knee–one arm spread across the back, a cigarette cradled between his fingers. He and a Catherine Deneuve look-a-like faced each other, sipping espresso and conversing in body language; the only sound–the clink of spoons against porcelain cups. He tilted his head to the side and examined her from head to toe. His finger tapped the side of his cheek as though deep in thought, a half-smile on his lips.
She returned his unspoken question with a look that said—No—yes–I don’t know.
Him–a shrug of the shoulders as if to say, so–what’s it going to be?
Apparently, a mutual decision was made, and he singled the waiter, “L’addition, s’il vous plait.”
I sighed and sank back in my chair, “Jeune amour.”
By the time Renée returned, it was the height of lunch. The staff bustled from table to table to placate the hungry crowd. The Parisians seemed oblivious to the uproar of shouts and clanking of pots and pans that spilled from the kitchen. They sipped their wine and held quiet conversations with friends and lovers. I envied the way they lived in the moment.
All of the chairs were occupied, so she squeezed into space beside me on the bench. “I’m sorry; my appointment took longer than I had expected. I hope you weren’t too bored.”
“No, not bored at all. I’ve been people-watching and eavesdropping; I know its cliché, but I love, love, love the accents. I just wish I knew what they were saying.”
“Ah, yes, it’s like watching a foreign movie without subtitles, non?”
I laughed, “Oui.”
I admired the cut of her hair and thought about finding a style for my own blond tresses, maybe something très jeune and less matronly. “By the way, your hair looks great; you’ll have to give me the name of your salon.”
“Merci pour le compliment.” Renée rifled through her bag, pulled out a pen and wrote on the back of a napkin, “This is the name and address of the salon. Mention my name when you make an appointment. Now tell me, did you enjoy your breakfast?”
“Actually, I wasn’t hungry, so I just drank coffee–three cups to be exact, and the pastry you suggested; très bon.”
“You must be ravenous.”
Captivated by my surroundings I hadn’t realized that I was hungry. My mouth salivated at the aromatic whiffs of garlic, cheese, roasted meat and yeasty-bread that encircled me. “Yes, I am ravenous, and I can’t wait to try my first French meal.”
Renée motioned to a young man. “I imagine you’ll spend a lot of time here, so allow me to introduce you to our waiter.”
An attractive young man approached our table with an appreciative smile. “Alex, this is Madame Davis. She is leasing my apartment for six months, or so. Kate, this is Alex,” she smiled, “the best waiter in all of France.”
“Renée is too kind. Welcome to Paris, Madame Davis.” He turned to Renée, “It is lunchtime; I bring two menus, si?”
“Ouais and two glasses of wine. Do you prefer red or white, Kate?”
“Red sounds good.”
I enjoyed my conversations with Renée. She possessed a certain je ne sais quoi that set her apart from the average woman.
“What brings you to Paris, Kate? An extended holiday, maybe?”
“No, it’s a little more complicated than that. It turns out I wasn’t my husband’s type and he filed for divorce. It’s always been my dream to visit Paris and with both of my kids moving on with their lives, Emma in grad school on the other side of the country and Jack starting a career, it seemed like time for a change. My friend Sara convinced me to follow my dreams so I renewed my passport, sold my house and contacted you.” A wave of sadness washed over me, a sense of loss. My eyes watered and threatened to spill over. I took a sip of wine and choked back the tears. I raised my glass, “To new beginnings.”
“Bravo, ma chère! I’m sorry to hear that, but being divorced myself, I understand. One must move on, non?”
“I’m intrigued, Renée, you speak English so well. Did you spend time in the states?”
“Yes, in fact, I attended the New York School of Interior Design for a time, married and lived the American dream.” She chuckled, “It wasn’t for me. I was young and impulsive.” Her finger lightly traced the rim of her glass, “Let’s just say, it was a mutual divorce. I went on to travel the world, study various cultures and its effect design.” She tilted her chin, “You’ll see part of my collections in the apartment.”
After a leisurely lunch and interesting tête-à-tête, she signaled Alex and made a writing motion in the air. “L’addition, s’il vous plait.”
Renée paid the bill; we retrieved my suitcases and worked our way to the fourth floor.
Two flights up, I leaned against the wall, my heart pounding.
Renée laughed and kept climbing, “You’ll get used to it.”
I was pleasantly surprised at the size of the apartment, considering how small the ones were that I had seen in magazines and on TV. I noted there were only two apartments on each floor; maybe that was the reason for the extra space.
Renée showed me around the apartment and explained all she anticipated I would need to know.
It was one long room, done in a contemporary, open style that she had designed herself. Floor to ceiling shuttered windows lined the front and back walls, flooding the apartment with sunlight. A small kitchen and bath were the only other walled rooms. Worn hardwood floors, loaded bookcases, art and sculptures added to the charm.
“I hope you enjoy your stay here, Kate. I will be at my house in the country if you need me. I typically come into the city once a week to check my mail and treat myself to dinner. I’ll drop off a few more towels and linens next week.”
“Très bien, Renée,” I extended my hand. “I enjoyed our chat and feel like I’ve made my first bon ami in Paris.”
Renée smiled, “You are in France now.” Her lips brushed my cheeks. “We greet and say goodbye with kisses . . . bisous. I’ll share a tip so that you don’t make a faux pas; always kiss left to right; otherwise, it can get awkward.”
She handed me the keys, “Bon courage, Kate.”
“Au revoir and thank you, Renée.”
I unpacked my French-to English dictionary. “Bon courage – Good courage – Gook luck – Hang in there.”
I set my alarm and curled up on the bed for a short nap before heading out to walk around the city.