Paris in Pearls

Bonjour Paris!

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.

Paris in Pearls

First Act:

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.”

“But…”

“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.”

“You’re drunk.”

“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.”

“Paris.”

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.

“T-shirts—sweater—shoes.”

I double check how many ounces of liquid are allowed.

I’ve already researched all of this, calm down and chill.

“Jewelry—pajamas—sunglasses.”

 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.

Paris in Pearls

PIP Train Station

What is it about train stations that make them undeniably romantic? As I walked from the platform to the lobby, I pictured decades of families and lovers, tears of joy and sorrow glistening on their cheeks, calling out greetings or farewells to their loved ones—new brides meeting in-laws for the first time—visiting relatives from afar–hugs and kisses for soldiers going off to war—many to never return. 

Giddy with anticipation of an evening in Paris with Kevin, I quickened my steps and searched for his face among the crowd. After a failed marriage that I had thought would last forever, could it be that I had fallen in love again? Love—the one thing that shares space in poems, songs, and movies, yet can strike fear in the most hardened heart.

            So many faces to search. I jostled my way through the mass of strangers, my thoughts danced in infinite directions.

How am I going to tell Kevin not only is Dave in town but staying at my place? How will he take it?

            I thought I spotted him by the escalator.

 No not him.

I puffed out my hair as I walked.

With Kevin I can completely open up and share my feelings; something I couldn’t do with Dave.  It’s scary giving someone a map of all your flaws and imperfections and trusting that they can accept them.

There, is that him? Over there?

 I craned my neck and spotted him working his way toward me.

 Yes—yes–yes! There he is.

His eyes found mine and excitement warmed my cheeks; I lowered my gaze and looked away.

 Kevin let out a low whistle.

I pulled at my dress, which suddenly seemed to overflow with my curves, the good ones, and the not so good ones.

“Kate, tu es splendide ce soir. ” His smile was infectious.

In that split second before he touched me, every nerve in my body ignited. He folded me in his arms and kissed me. “You look absolutely gorgeous tonight.”

There’s nothing like a man’s eyebrows raised in approval. My inhibitions vanished and I pulled him back for one more kiss.

It was one of those magical moonlit October nights where the air is crisp but not cold. I hadn’t thought to bring a jacket. Kevin draped his across my shoulders. “Thank you,” I said as I pulled it tight.

He didn’t reply, just smiled and pulled me close as we walked across the Pont Alexandre Bridge. The streetlamps cast a romantic glow on the river Seine.

We wandered into a little bistro and the evening turned to hours of effortless conversation, where one story begot another. Over pizza and red wine, we shared our lives’ stories, dreams, and desires.

  I rested an elbow on the table, propped my chin, and listened as he talked, enjoying the quiet contentment that spread through me.

He reached across the table and took my other hand, curling his fingers around mine. The corners of his eyes crinkled as a sheepish grin lifted the corners of his lips. “You’re so easy to talk to; I don’t know when to shut up.”

I squeezed his hand. “Are you kidding? I could listen to you talk all night.”

“Toute la nuit? ” His eyes gleamed. “All the night; I like the sound of that.”

A slow, languid smile crossed his features, one that made my body flush. “It’s getting warm in here; let’s walk.”

The sidewalks were crowded with people living in the moment.

A slow melodious tune spilled onto the sidewalk. Kevin stopped–extended his arms. “Dance with me.”

“Here?     

“Oui.” He swayed to the music and held out his arms. “Dance with me.” He wrapped his arms around my waist and pressed his cheek against mine. He tilted his head and kissed my neck—his breath warm on my skin, and then again a little lower—and again sending slivers of desire up my spine.

Still swaying, Kevin ran his hands up my back and pressed me to his chest, his forehead rested on mine. He stilled and took my face in his hands; a gentle kiss—and then a deep and passionate one. He tasted of pizza, red wine, and lust. The tips of our tongues continued the dance our feet had abandoned.

A group of people walked past and someone whistled. Another called out, “Amour passionné,” evoking a round of laughter.

My senses aroused and the world fell away, drained of everyone but him. My heart pounded so hard I was sure he could feel it through my chest, as an all-consuming passion I hadn’t felt in my twenty-four years of marriage to Dave surged.

“Come home with me.” Kevin whispered.

I hesitated. Every fiber in my body screamed, yes, but reality reminded me that my body was forty-two, had carried two babies, and looked like it.

“What’s wrong?” His fingers stroked my face.

“I—I’m not ready.” I fought back tears. “I’m sorry.”

His lashes fluttered. “I can’t say I’m not disappointed but—if you’re not ready–.

I took a deep breath of relief and disappointment. This guy was on a totally different level than any man I had ever dated. “What time is it?”

Kevin pushed up his sleeve, “A little after midnight.”

“Oh, no—the last train to Tours left thirty minutes ago.”

“You will sleep on the street then?” He laughed, “I’m joking. You will come home with me.”

I hesitated again.

“I have two bedrooms. Come, I’ll cook you breakfast in the morning and then take you to the station.”

“Thank you, Kevin.”

He raised my hand to his lips. ““Tout le plaisir était pour moi.”

Kevin’s flat was minimalist in style but tastefully decorated.  He held my hand as he showed me his home. He saved the guest room for last. “Do you need anything to sleep in?”

“No. I’ll be fine.”

He put a hand on the wall behind my head; his hair fell over his eye as he leaned in and kissed me. This kiss wasn’t like the earlier ones; it was more than just passion. Unhurried-sensual-warm; it was the breathing in of another’s soul.

  The fingers of his other hand trailed down my arm. “Are you sure you don’t want to sleep in my room?”

My breath quickened, but I mustered up my reserve and shook my head.

He smiled. “Is that no, I’m not sure, or no go away and leave me alone?”

I returned his smile. “It means goodnight.” I leaned against the closed door and listened as his steps faded down the hall. I closed my eyes and inhaled the woodsy fragrance of his cologne left behind on my clothes.

I draped my dress over the back of a chair along with my other pieces of clothing, and climbed into bed, shivering as the cold sheets brushed my bare skin. I snuggled down and pulled the covers to my chin. The fact that I hadn’t told Kevin about Dave nagged me. The night was so perfect I didn’t want to spoil it. Dave had screwed up much of my life; I couldn’t let him screw this up too.

Still cold, I peeked in the wardrobe to see if there was something I could sleep in. There wasn’t. I jumped back in bed and packed the covers around.

I could sneak into Kevin’s room and slip into his bed.

I warmed at the thought of his skin against mine—his lips—his hands, my hands brushing the hair from his eyes, and pulling him to me. I slipped from the bed and wrapped a sheet around my body, gasping as my feet kissed the cold tiles of the hall. I stood outside his bedroom with my hand hovered over the doorknob. I ached to turn it and open the door.

But how can I until he knows about Dave? Why didn’t I just tell him when I had the chance?

Disappointed in myself, I slunk back to the guest room.

 Damn you, Dave.

I cocooned myself in the blankets and waited. Dawn was slow in coming but by the time the first streaks of daylight shone through the window, I was already dressed. I found a tube of toothpaste in the bathroom and squeezed some on my finger, brushing my teeth as best I could; wet my hands and raked my fingers through my hair.

Kevin was preparing breakfast and didn’t notice me leaning against the doorway. I loved watching him maneuver around the kitchen, humming an unknown tune. It was the perfect soundtrack for a peaceful morning.

Paris in Pearls chapter seven (unedited)

I hadn’t been on a bike in probably twenty years, but as they say you never forget . . . “it’s like riding a bike.”

The wind in my face was almost too much to bare; the cold made my eyes water. I hope my eyes don’t freeze. Can that even happen?

I received strange looks when I laughed out loud.

A young woman on a bike passed by; she looked so graceful! How is it possible to look stylish riding a bike in winter, I don’t know, but Parisian women just seem to be elegant no matter what. She had her scarf wrapped lightly around her face and a cute hat covered her ears; she even managed to ride comfortably in a long flowing skirt.

I still had on my boots, a pair of warm pants and my coat, so I didn’t look quite as elegant. I pulled a warm hat out of my bag and wrapped a scarf around my mouth and nose. What a difference that made.  I was comfortable and rode freely through the small back streets of Paris. As long as I avoided the Toile (that crazy traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe), I’d have a nice ride.

Paris en vélo was amazing fun. I soon forgot about the cold and pedaled all over the city.  I pedaled across the bridge to the Ile aux Cygnes and paused for a minute to look back over the river at the Eiffel Tower. What a pretty sight!

 From the other side, I stayed on the landing by the river and road towards the city center. The river seemed to be the best place to ride. Some of the bridges were so beautiful and many are famous.

I soon arrived near the Jardine de Tuileries, rode up the ramp and crossed the street to the Place de la Concorde; the eastern end of the Champs Elysees. I leisurely rode my bike around the Tuileries Gardens; Très beautiful.

I continued through the gardens until I reached the famous Louvre museum. The pyramids were amazing.

 I vowed to come back when I could spend the whole day.

  I exited the Louvre through one of the great arch openings and rode back along the river until tout d’un coup; I saw the most beautiful church I had ever seen.

It was the Notre Dame Cathedral. I crossed the river once again to ride in front of the Cathedral. Even in winter, the church buzzed with tourists. I parked my bike and inquired so to when the next mass would begin. Lucky for me there was one scheduled to start in twenty minutes.

I took off my hat and entered the church.

Glorious! I could appreciate its beauty in reverence to God.

 On the other side of the island I pedaled into a fun, lively looking little neighborhood and decided to explore. Beautiful old buildings housed cafés, bookstores, lots of cool looking little shops and food stands. Music spilled out onto the streets from some of the rowdier cafés.

 I stopped and asked a young man, “Excusez-moi monsieur. Where am I?”

 “This is the Latin Quarter, Madame,” he said, “Famous for its student life and excitement.”

 This is definitely another place I will have to revisit. I can shop for old books and read at one of the hip cafés.

The sky was turning gray and I was tired.  The bike had to be back at the shop before they closed or I would be charged another day, not to mention I would have to carry the bike up to my fourth floor apartment. I made my way back toward my apartment, winding through little side streets. Totally in awe of the cute buildings and window dressings, all the things that made them just so…so French!

Paris in Pearls chapter six (unedited)

As I rounded the third flight of stairs to my apartment, a woman, balancing groceries on one knee, stood fidgeting with her keys, trying to unlock her door. 

“Here, let me help you.” I reached out and took the bags.

“Merci, Madame.” She unlocked the door and ushered me in. “Just set them on the table, s’il vous plait.” She extended her hand, I am Peggy Windsor. “You are American, Oui?”

“Yes, I am. My name is Kate Hamilton.”

“I gathered as much from your accent; I’m an expat from the UK. Stay and let me fix you a cup of tea to show my appreciation.” She gestured toward a small sofa. “Please, hand me your coat and, have a seat.”

“That sounds lovely. It’s quite chilly in the hallway.”

A furry yellow cat, lay grooming himself on the windowsill. He stopped long enough to glance my way as if to say, ‘You have my permission to sit on the sofa, just don’t forget who it belongs to,’ and then continued on with his bath.

Peggy returned with a tray ladened with everything needed for a proper tea. She carefully set it on the ornate coffee table and then sat down on one of two matching side chairs.

 “Cream and sugar,” She asked as she poured the tea into delicate bone china cups. The kinds of cups that make your hands shake for fear of dropping, and thus breaking one.

Steam rose from the cup, fogging her glasses. “Oh, my,” her blue eyes crinkled when she smiled. “Would you care for a raspberry biscuit? I bought them fresh at the Boulangeries this morning.”

“Oh yum, yes, please.”

 I make it my mission to never turn down a sweet. Life is short, eat dessert fist is my favorite motto.

We carried on with the usual banter that you do when you meet someone for the time, the trivial chitchat. The cat jumped up in my lap, rubbing his head on my stomach, and began to purr.

“Ah, Louis likes you; he doesn’t take to strangers often. Do you have pets, Kate?”

“I have two cats back home, but I left them with my daughter, Emma. I’m thinking about adopting a small dog when I find an apartment of my own.”

“Dogs are the preferred pet in Paris, but cats are my favorite. They think they are royalty, Oui?  Peggy was a rather large lady, not overweight, more like big boned. In her mid-fifties I guessed. After a time the conversation warmed and became more personal; I felt comfortable with her and knew we were going to be great friends. I told her about my divorce and why I moved to P

Paris and then she told me what brought her here from London.

“After my husband passed away, I was offered a job with the British Embassy in Paris. I accepted and moved here with my son William.”

She paused, dabbed at her lips with her napkin, and offered to refill my cup.

“That was thirty years ago. William moved back to London as a young man to go to school, and decided to make his home there. After he finished university, he went on to become a prominent antique appraiser.” Her face beamed with pride.  “My William always has had a taste for the finer things in life.”

Judging from what I observed in her apartment, I was quite sure he had inherited that love from his mother.

Not wanting to overstay my first visit, I thanked her for her hospitality, gave Louis a scratch behind his ears and agreed to meet later for coffee at the café downstairs.

Instead of going home I decided to rent a bicycle from the bike shop near my apartment, ride around Paris and try not to get hit by a car!

Paris in Pearls chapter five (unedited)

The sun peeked through the slates of the closed shutters, glazing the walls of my bedroom with morning light.

I threw back the covers, flew to the window and opened the shutters. To my delight, the city lay blanketed in white, like a cotton field back home. A late snow the weather man later called it.

I waved my arms in the air and danced in my bare feet, “I’m in Paris. I’m in Paris!”

From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a man in an apartment across the street. He shook his head and walked away mumbling to himself.

Who cares; I’m in Paris.

I found my robe and slippers and sauntered into the kitchen, looking for coffee.

The coffee maker looked a lot like my Keurig back home. Then it hit me; I had sold my house. Wow, that’s the first time I’d even thought about the fact that I didn’t have a place to call home. That felt a little unsettling, but only for a moment.

I squealed with delight, “I’m in Paris.”

 A search through the kitchen cabinets yielded a box of coffee pods. I checked the instructions on the back of the coffee maker but they were written in French, so I improvised and hoped for the best.

How different could they be? Just add water and coffee, right?

I sipped my coffee, and from my window, I watched my little Paris neighborhood come to life.

 The café downstairs bustled with patrons grabbing a quick breakfast. Laughter and bits of conversation floated up to my fourth floor window.

An employee or owner of the flower shop on one corner, carried containers of fresh flowers outside to display on the sidewalk.

 Boulangeries opened their doors and I inhaled the delightful aroma of fresh baked breads wafting through the air.

 After a quick shower, I pulled a camisole over my head, and shivered as the coolness of the silk brushed against my skin.  In contrast my sweater, jeans and boots felt warm and comfortable.

 Dressed and ready, I checked my map for the nearest metro station. What luck; it was only a block and a half away. I sauntered down the stairs, out onto the sidewalk and crossed the street, nearly being hit by a motorcycle. The driver roared by blasting his horn, pumping his fist into the air and shouting something in French. For a change, I was glad I didn’t know what he said.

Embarrassed, I avoided the eyes of the patrons at the café.

An old man sitting on a nearby bench flashed a sweet smile in empathy. He wore a dark wool coat and black hat. My father had a hat like that; he called it a driving cap. The smoke from his pipe twirled up into the thin cold air, as his dog lay on the ground beside him, warily eyeing everyone that walked by.

When I find an apartment of my own, I think I’ll adopt a dog, a small one.

The smell of urine assaulted my nose, and I was surprised at the many homeless people in sleeping bags peacefully slumbering on the sidewalks. People walked past as if they were oblivious; just part life in the city I guess.

I stopped at a Creperie for breakfast on my way to the Metro. How convenient to be able to walk out of my door and be in the midst of everything Paris had to offer any time of the day or night. An ATM stood by the entrance, so I used my debit card to purchase more euros. Unlike America it is mauvaises manières to eat while walking in France, so I settled into a booth in the corner and enjoyed a crepe stuffed with Nutella, bananas, and whipped cream. It was all I could do to keep from licking my fingers when I finished eating.

 Another block, and down a flight of stairs, I found the metro I was looking for. Lucky for me the signs were printed in French, and English. I wasn’t quite sure if I were ready to use a ticket dispenser so after deciding what I thought I needed, I opted to try and converse with a ticket agent. I took a deep breath and stepped forward.

An agent slid open the window.  “Bonjour, Madame. May I help you?”

“Bonjour, Monsieur.”

Paris in Pearls chapter four (unedited)

Beep, beep, beep, BEEP, BEEP the alarm resounded. Ugh. Make it stop. The bed was comfortable and warm and I didn’t want to get up. Ten more minutes; I’ll just lie here ten more minutes.

I sat up and swung my legs over the bed, dragged myself to the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face.

It would be much colder now than it had been this afternoon, so I dug through my bag until I found the cashmere scarf, hat and mittens set that Emma had given me for Christmas as a going away present. A little Pink Blush lipstick, a quick check in the mirror and I was off.

 I stepped out onto the busy Parisian sidewalk and buttoned my coat against the cold, crisp air and began to explore the streets of the ‘City of Lights’, wandered around, going nowhere, in particular, just wherever the whispers of the city led me.

 Like so many others I was drawn to the Eiffel Tower; it was exactly what I had expected, the sheer size of it was awe inspiring. It wasn’t tourist season yet, so the line to ride the elevator to the top wasn’t too long. Standing on the upper deck, the wind whipped down my collar despite my scarf; my teeth chattered and I’m sure my pink lips had turned blue.

 Back down in the park I sat for a while, just staring at the tower. How could anyone ever get tired of looking at this seemingly eternal symbol of France?

Anxious to see more of the city and, dying to try some of the famous Parisian cuisines I set off again.

Gilded bronze sculptures of winged horses greeted me as I strolled across the Pont Alexandre III. No wonder this is one of the most famous bridges in Paris; it’s breathtaking. This would be the perfect place to watch a sunset.

 I paused to take a selfie while a boat loaded with tourists making its way down the Seine, served as my background.

My seemingly small side street opened up into a big intersection with shops, people, and cafés all around. What this marvelous place? It wasn’t too long before my eyes fell upon a street sign that, to my delight, read “Avenue des Champs-Elysées.”

  I could not ignore the growls coming from my stomach any longer so I ducked into an attractive restaurant on the corner.

 Le maître d seated me at a booth in the back, and handed me a crisp, white, folded napkin. “The soup of the day is Cassoulet, Madame.” He poured me glass of wine, and brought a loaf of crusty bread and an assortment of cheeses to enjoy while I waited.

In the corner of the room, a young couple caught my attention, sitting both on the same side of the table, sipping their wine and laughing. There was also a table full of men in suits. They talked as though they had a lot of important things to say, all of them speaking at once and none of them listening to the others.  

The waiter brought me a bowl of steaming soup; the fragrance of which made my mouth water. He described it as a delicious combination of white beans, duck, and sausage. He poured another glass of wine and enlightened me that the wine was from the lle-de-France region, and that each little town or village since the middle ages, had its own vineyard.                

By the time I finished eating I was rested, warm, and ready to set out again.

I paid my check and left the waiter what I thought was a nice tip. With a kind smile and broken English, he said “Merci, Madame, c’est très gentil, but euh, here it is not nécessaire, euh necessary to leave a big money, only a little euh, change, you call it?”

“Merci Monsieur,” I replied. I didn’t know much more to say in French, but the look and smile we exchanged said more than either of us could have in any language.

    As I was gathering my things, a group of Americans in the front were practically shouting, “Hey, waiter, we’ve been waiting for the tab for ten minutes!”

He quickly dropped a piece of paper on the table, quietly said, “Désolé,” and walked away without ever making eye contact with them.

 As I walked out of the café, I saw him picking up the change, and the generous tip they left him. He didn’t bother to give them the same advice he so kindly shared with me.

    I pulled my coat closer, slipped on my gloves and then stepped back out into the cold. Window shopping along the beautiful Champs-Elysées was quite different than shopping in Savannah. The large bright store windows with their displays of designer dresses and shoes fueled my desire for a new wardrobe, a more Parisian look.

    As the sun was set, excitement quickened my step on the short walk back to the Champ de Mars. I joined the others who had gathered on the long grassy field that stretches out in front of the Eiffel Tower.  For years, I had watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night from my computer desktop and now I was going to see it in person.

 From that position, I watched the sky grow dim and the Tower light up for the first time. As I stood in awe of the laced-iron work of the tower; I was filled with a mix of emotions. My heart was heavy, missing my children and wished they were here. But, I was proud of myself for taking this step, for getting out and making my own dreams come true.

The sky grew dark and the Tower began to light up from the bottom all the way to the top. In just a quick second after, as if the Tower herself were welcoming me, she began to sparkle, and at the same moment I felt the tickle of something cold on my nose. I looked up and the sky had let loose a stream of white confetti. It was snowing.

 I stood in front of the Eiffel Tower, like a child seeing something for the first time. No matter how many times I see the Eiffel Tower, I will always remember the feeling of that night.

 I will always be enchanted by the beauty of her presence.

 If I had written the perfect ending to my first day in Paris, it could not have been any better. It was the right decision to come here. 

That night, I called each of the kids to tell them that I loved and missed them. Emma was excited and wanted details of my day. Jack was still angry and had little to say. I understood it would take him time and I was OK with that.

I pulled the delicate crocheted coverlet on my bed back, and slipped into threaded bliss. I was asleep before I could even reflect on all I had seen and heard in this magical city.

Paris in Pearls chapter three (unedited)

By the time Renée returned, it was the height of lunch and the café was teeming with hungry Parisians. All the chairs were occupied, so she squeezed into the space beside me on the bench.  “I’m sorry, it took longer than I had expected. I hope you weren’t too bored.”

“No, not bored at all. I’ve been eavesdropping on conversations; I know its cliché, but I love, love, love the accents. I just wish I knew what they were saying.”

 I admired the cut of her hair and gave thought to finding a style to fit my new surroundings; 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 la compliment.” Renée rifled through her bag, pulled out a pen and wrote something 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 very hungry, so I just ordered coffee, three cups to be exact, and people watched.”

“You must be ravenous then.” Renée motioned to an attractive young man. “I imagine you’ll spend a lot of time here, so let me introduce you to our waiter.” The young man approached. “Alex, this is Madame Davis. She is renting my apartment for a month, or so. Kate, this is Alex,” she smiled, “the best waiter in all of France.”

To my surprise, Alex bent and kissed me on both cheeks. “Renée is too kind. Welcome to Paris, Madame Davis.” He turned to Renée, “It is lunch time; I bring two menus, si?”

“Ouais, and two glasses of wine. Do you prefer red or white, Kate?”

“Red sounds good.”

Conversation with Renée was easy. She possessed a certain je ne sais quoi that set her apart from the average woman. 

“What brings you to Paris, Kate? A long holiday, maybe?”

“No, it’s a little more complicated than that. My youngest child recently graduated from college and moved across the state for grad school and my ex-husband basically just used our home to have somewhere to hang his clothes. I grew tired of rambling around in a big empty house and decided I would be happier alone, so, long story short; I filed for divorce. He got the condo on Tampa Bay and I got the house in Savannah. I’m not getting any younger, so I chose to step out of my comfort zone, and follow my dreams of living the Parisian life.”

“Bravo, mon cher! I’m sorry to hear that, but being divorced myself, I understand. One must move on, Oui?”

“I’m curious, Renée, you speak English so well. Did you spend time in the states?”

“Yes, actually 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 different cultures and how it affects 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 singled Alex and made a writing motion in the air. “L’addition, s’il vous plait.”

Renée paid the bill; we retrieved my suitcases and started the climb 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 my 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 thought I needed 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 usually 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.”

She handed me the keys, “Au revoir.”

The wine I had at lunch, combined with the long flight, caught up with me. I decided to take a little nap before setting out to see the city. I didn’t want to sleep too long because I would then have to battle jet lag for days. I set my alarm for four o’clock, curled up on the bed and dozed off.    

Paris in Pearls chapter two (unedited)

Tiny dust particles floated on streams of light as the rising sun shone through the airplane window.  My back pressed hard against the seat, and the engines roared upon landing.

 I’m here.

Like a drum in a rock band, my heart beat double-time.

I’m actually in Paris!

 After going through customs and collecting my bags, 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.  

I sent a text to Renée, the landlady I met through the leasing agency, to let her know I was on the way. She responded immediately and said to meet her at the café on the corner of the apartment building. 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 to me from a table under the blue and white awning of the café, “Kate, over here.” She spoke to a waiter and then 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 the handle of one of my suitcases and started walking. “I can’t take you up to the apartment just yet because the workers are 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 into an open courtyard. The strong order of varnish wafted through another set of dark green double doors. We stepped inside onto the tile floor. My eyes surveyed the winding wood and iron stairs that seemed to reach the heavens.  

Renée sat my suitcase to the side of the stairs. “You can leave your bags here. The workers will watch them for you. I assure you they’ll be safe.”

I followed her back outside to the table where she had been seated when I arrived. “We can sit inside if you like, but I thought you might like it out here.” She motioned toward the wicker-like bench that ran the length of the building. “You’ll be comfortable with the overhead heat lamps and the day will be much warmer by noon.”

She said something to the waiter in French and then turned back 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. They understand English here in case you have any questions. I shouldn’t be long. Enjoy.”

I wrapped my cold hands around a hot cup of café au lait and took in my surroundings.

The apartment building and café were located on 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.

My apartment building mirrored a striking, historical building six stories tall, with shuttered windows and black iron scrollwork. Balconies, some adorned with flowers that brightened the winter, overlooked the hectic street and café. A cobblestone pathway curved beyond my line of vision.

I will have to explore and see where that path leads.

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.

I took a sip of coffee and sank back in my chair. I’d never felt more at home in my life.

Paris in Pearls chapter one (unedited)

This was crazy — so out of character for me; old reliable Kate was actually following her heart for a change. I reread the ticket: Kathleen M. Davis – Air France flight 3236 to Paris — one way. What it didn’t say, was that I was leaving behind a twenty-eight-year marriage.

  I stashed the ticket in my bag, buckled my seatbelt and whispered a quick prayer. ”Lord, I know I vowed till death us do part, but I just can’t live a loveless life any longer”. I’d rather be single and alone than married and alone.

In college, my dorm room walls were plastered with posters of the Eiffel Tower. I watched every movie with Audrey Hepburn I could find. I wore my hair swept up in a neat French twist; copied her makeup and clad myself in black dresses, turtlenecks, and capris. I spent hours at my vanity practicing my Audrey smile; innocent yet seductive.  My shelves were stacked with books that had anything to do with France, and Edith Piaf played in the background.

 I’ll never forget the look on my kids’ faces when I told them that I had decided to move to Paris. Jack thought for sure I had finally lost it. “Don’t you think you’re a little old to be running away from home, mom?”

And, Emma, bless her heart, though she tried to be supportive, really worried that I would hate it so far away from family. “Mom, what will you do without us, without your family?

  They both attempted to talk me out of it; “And, what about dad? Did you ever think about him? He’ll be lost without you.” If they only knew how wrong they were about that. But, they didn’t.  I protected them from our marital problems. Children don’t need to know about everything that goes on between husband and wife, so I took the blame for the divorce. They were grown; they’d be fine; they didn’t need me anymore.

I sold my house, bought some clothes, renewed my passport, and said goodbye. The move wasn’t too expensive since I had decided to leave most of my stuff behind. I would have to be careful, but I should be able to live comfortably.

The butterflies I felt in my stomach as the plane thundered down the runway slowly dissipated as blue skies replaced asphalt. I closed my eyes and rested my head against the window. It was going to be a long flight.