[December 20, 1963]
The next few days passed in a blur. Bill and Molly were swept up into events pertaining to their upcoming wedding. They had settled on a day – two weeks away, the 3rd of January – and confirmed it with the City Magistrate’s office. The distaff side of the Garnet household began scurrying around both in the house and out - running off in the car on odd errands. Bill volunteered to keep an eye, and ear, out for anything Alain might need. During a mid-morning lull, Alain called him into his room and asked him to sit and talk a while. Bill was secretly flattered Alain wanted to do this, so he sat attentively in the comfortable chair opposite the bed and mostly listened. Alain's English was good enough to understand, plus he spoke slowly – gathering his thoughts before each sentence. Bill thought he might be thinking in French and translating.
Alain began by telling Bill something of his family’s history. How his relatives had come from a remote village in France that didn’t exist any more. They were pretty poor, but when they immigrated to Canada they managed to build up a thriving business in the grocery field in just one generation. When he eventually passed away at the age of ninety-two, Alain said, his father had seventeen grocery stores scattered all over Montreal. Most were owned by a large chain group now, but three remained under family control.
It was Alain's hope that Molly would marry a nice local man who would be ready to take over the business when he wasn’t around any more. He paused briefly in his narration to look at Bill significantly, and then added, “I have nothing but hope that you and Molly will find your happiness, Bill, so please don’t worry that I am ungrateful to her – or you. Molly told me yesterday that finding you was the best thing to happen to her. I must agree that my impression is the same. I want to wish you both my best.”
Bill choked up a little at that statement. He had never before met anyone that had such an effect on him as Alain had. Alain meant this from his heart and Bill took it the same way. Bill looked at him solemnly. “I appreciate that, sir. I will do my very best to let Molly retain all her family ties. We have not decided yet just where we will live. If I go back to college, then for a while we will be in Missoula, Montana. After that? Who knows? We might just decide to come back up to this beautiful city and I will be ready to enter your business. I don’t know about the laws concerning work by Americans up here, but I’m sure something could be worked out. If I did, then I would have to go back to the States for thirty days each year to maintain residency. I don’t lose my citizenship, but I can lose my state residency.”
Alain allowed that he was sure that something could be worked out should that come to pass. He appeared much happier after they had spoken. He held out his hand for assistance and Bill helped pull him to a sitting position. When Bill handed him his cane, he struggled a bit, then stood. Bill was ready to help, but Alain waved him away. “See. I am getting better each day. I want to be able to stand throughout the entire ceremony. It is important to me.”
“It will be very important to Molly also, Sir. She is a very determined young woman. I wouldn’t want to cross her.”
Alain laughed at what Bill had just said. “She is that; and more. Do you suppose we could find the ingredients for two cups of tea?”
“I’m sure we could.” Bill replied.
They went out into the kitchen and located everything they needed for tea. Bill put the water on to boil while Alain sank into a chair. He looked a little grey to Bill, but once the tea was steeping in his cup he perked up some. The two of them were laughing over a funny tale Alain had just told when Molly came home.
“Père! Vous sentez-vous suffisamment bien pour être hors de son lit?” She asked if he felt well enough to be out of bed.
“Bien sûr. Bill et moi étions juste avoir tes. We are having tea.” He answered. “We have been looking at your baby pictures.” He added with a huge wink towards Bill.
She looked horrified, glancing between her father and Bill. “Non!” Bill couldn’t keep a straight face however and began to break into a smile. She caught this and began to giggle also. Soon all three of them were laughing. They were still in full cry when Suzette and Denise arrived.
“What is all this?” Suzette said with her hands on her hips. “Have you been at the wine again?” She shook her finger at Alain.
“No, my love, just telling Molly something about her baby pictures.” Replied Alain.
“Ah, je vois. Shouldn’t you be in bed?” She asked her husband.
“I feel just fine. Just a little tired, but not tired enough to go back to bed. The tea has helped.”
“Now, father," Molly said in a scolding tone. "You shouldn’t try to do too much at first. You might have a relapse. At least go sit in the big chair in the living room. Will you do that for me?” She batted her eyes at him.
“If I must. Having three clucking women in the house can be a chore at times.” He said, muttering to himself and subtly winking at Bill as he rose to his feet. He clopped slowly but steadily down the hallway with his cane and settled down in the chair. Denise brought over a small Ottoman and lifted his feet up onto it.
It was obvious to Bill that his family loved him very much and would be devastated should anything happen to him. Denise fluttered about, arranging his pillow, tucking in the blanket, and bringing him his cup of tea, freshly filled. Finally he looked up at both girls. “Why don’t you and Molly take Bill out to see Montreal? I know I could use the rest.” He said with a chuckle.
Denise thought that was a capital idea and went off to get her coat. “I get to drive!” She shouted from the hall. “You two just sit in back and make out.”
Molly colored slightly and called out to her sister. “Denise! Stop that!” Bill had to hide a smile at Molly’s discomfiture.
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Bill muttered in her ear as she passed.
“Ah. You are just as bad as she, Bill. But I will sit in back with you.”
“Wunderbar!” Bill replied. “Kommen Sie. Lassen Sie uns nun gehen.”
Alain’s eyes widened in surprise. “You speak German?” He asked. “I did not know that. I have several German friends I would like you to meet. Maybe I can set up a luncheon soon. Anyway, go now and have fun. Try to be back by dinnertime.”
Molly kissed her dad, and then took Bill's arm. They all put their jackets on and went out into the car that Denise had already started. By the time everyone got in the car, it was warm and toasty. They exited the driveway and turned back the way they had come from the airport. Bill's sense of direction was telling him that they were headed back south and into the center of town.
“Montreal seems a lot like Paris to me.” Bill commented. “All the street names are in French and a lot of the advertising signs I can see are also in French. Looks like I’d better take an intensive course in French.”
“I’ll be happy to give you extra instruction, Bill,” Denise shot back over her shoulder. “We can study in my room.”
“You just drive, sister mine. If anyone teaches him French it will be me. Comprendre, youngster? You just pay attention to the road.”
“Okay, but I still think it would be fun.” Denise said petulantly, but with a smile.
* * *
‘He does not get shared with anyone! French lessons. Humph!’
* * *
Molly and Bill looked at each other and shared a smile. She leaned towards him and whispered in his ear that Denise was quite taken by him so he was to prepare for a bit of hero worship. Bill whispered back that he would be on his best behavior towards her.
They drove down, around, and under a cloverleaf and then took the next exit. This was the huge mall that they had passed on the way from the airport. Up close it was even larger. They wandered around the parking lot for a bit and finally lucked out at a car just backing out of a spot. Denise slipped in, they all got out, and then she locked the car up. With Molly on one side of Bill, and Denise on the other they liked arms and headed inside to the warmth.
The place echoed with the sounds of hundreds of people rushing to and fro gathering up items for Christmas. The trio joined the crowd and wandered down a seemingly endless corridor lined with festively rigged shops. Denise wanted to go into a fashion jewelry store so Molly and Bill told her they’d be over in the next store, which happened to be a clothing store.
Denise pushed the door open and entered her store of choice. Molly and Bill walked to the next door down the hall and went in. The whole place smelled of wool to Bill. There were thousands of styles of woolen sweaters in all shades of color. Molly went to a table marked with a sale tag and began sorting through them. Bill watched her hesitate on a nice, light blue sweater but after looking at the price tag, she set it back down. She looked further at a few more sweaters and then moved onwards to the next table.
Bill watched her go on, intent on her shopping. He backed up a couple steps and snagged the sweater. He realized he couldn’t very well put it inside his coat to hide it from her so he just kept it down by his side. He called to Molly that he was going to use the facilities. She didn’t even look back but, instead, just waved at him over her shoulder.
Bill turned and went up to the clerk and told her that he was buying it for his fiancée but she wasn’t to know. With a knowing look, the clerk read the tag and rang up the purchase. Bill suddenly remembered that the only money he had was US dollars. Sheepishly, he tendered a bill which the clerk took with nary a ripple. The last he’d heard, the US and Canadian dollar were practically at a parity with one another so that was not really a surprise. The clerk laid the sweater down flat below the counter and did things to it. When she was done, she lifted a plain brown paper packet and put it on the counter. “Voilà, monsieur. Your fiancée, she is very beautiful.”
“Merci. I think so also.” Now, armed with the receipt, Bill pushed the packet down into the inside pocket of his coat. When he looked around the store, he couldn’t see Molly. The clerk tapped on his shoulder and pointed towards the back of the store. “There, monsieur.”
Bill smiled at the clerk and returned to Molly’s side. “What are you grinning at monsieur Cheshire cat?” She said when she looked up.
“Oh, nothing. Just watching you shop. I’d better get used to it shouldn’t I?”
“So many things we don’t know about each other. Bill, is this right for us to even think of marriage?”
* * *
‘Oh, what a time to have doubts. I do love him so very much, but in all honesty I know very little about him and his family. And his family! What must they think of me after I diverted him from his vacation? Mon dieu, I am so nervous.’
* * *
Bill put his arms around Molly, careful to not let the paper of the wrapped sweater crinkle, hugged her to him, and then kissed her forehead. “Yes, but that’s what the entire meaning of marriage is, Honey: Discovery! Discovery that I will leave shaving cream on the wash basin. Discovery that you will put your cold feet on my back at night. The whole thing is an adventure!”
“I … I suppose you’re right. I just want us to be happy together, that’s all.” She said softly.
“We will be, Molly. Trust me, we will be. I love you so much. I could never stop.”
“And I, you, my love.” She kissed him back.
When they broke apart, two women were staring at them from across the aisle. One of the women looked significantly at the engagement ring on Molly’s finger and smiled deeply back at them. Molly blushed and Bill felt his ears redden also. He smiled back at them sheepishly.
Molly eventually chose a very nice yellow scarf with a trefoil design in green. When the two of them went up to the clerk, it turned out to be the same one but she pretended to not know Bill. He paid for Molly’s scarf, but with Canadian dollars. This was not missed by Molly who gave him a strange look. He could see the mental wheels turning and asking herself 'where did he get that money? We haven’t been out of the house yet?’
So Bill decided to go proactive. “I asked Denise if she would change a twenty for me.”
Molly nodded her understanding and they left the store. In passing, Bill caught the eye of the clerk who smiled and winked; as in ‘Nice recovery, Casanova.’
Denise rejoined the two of them outside the sweater store. Bill quickly sidled up to her and filled her in on what he had just told Molly. She grinned at the conspiracy and told him his secret was safe. The seemingly endless corridor did, in fact, end. The way was blocked by metal standards with warnings strung between them. Apparently there was still construction going on so they went back and tried another branch. By the time they'd covered even a small part of the mall, Bill was dragging. His feet were tired and he wanted to sit down. Naturally, there were no places to do so except for a few scattered benches which were all taken. He reflected that mall-crawling take much more energy than just hiking.
Denise suggested that they either go somewhere else, or go back home. Molly and Bill voted to go elsewhere; maybe to a tea room or something like that. Denise said she had just the place in mind and that it was not far away. They went back, located the car, and entered traffic again. They swept inwards to the city and exited, after about two or three miles, down a ramp to city streets. Bill felt they seemed to be headed towards the river they'd taken the bridge over before. Denise turned several corners into increasingly smaller streets until they were on a definite one-way street with the river visible at its foot. She pulled over in front of a warmly lit little bistro and killed the engine.
“How about this? I come here all the time. Lots of Americans are usually here studying. There is a school for doctors nearby. This is how I taught myself to speak English so well. Besides, I like to flirt with them.”
“I thought so.” Said Molly with a knowing smirk. “Well, let’s go see how the tea is.”
[December 20, 1963]
[Teashop, Montreal, Canada – afternoon]
The trio entered, found a table, and sat down; Molly on one side of Bill and Denise on the other. Denise looked around, but Bill thought she didn’t see anyone she knew because she frowned and then verified that observation. “Darn. Nobody I know is here.”
“Aw. Too bad." Bill commiserated. "Guess you’ll just have to put up with me then as the token American.” Molly sputtered a short laugh at Denise’s face as it fell.
The waitress showed up and they ordered three pots of tea. Bill ordered Earl Grey and Molly said “the same”. Denise wanted some Oolong tea. In what seemed like seconds, the waitress was back with their order, tea bags already steeping in the pots. Bill poured his into a waiting cup.
“Somebody’s been drinking my tea,” said Denise. “And it’s all gone.”
Bill picked up on that and added “Somebody has been drinking my tea and it’s all gone.”
Molly looked from Denise to Bill and back, not getting the reference. But, then it dawned – Goldilocks and the Three Bears. “Somebody has been drinking my tea and they’re still here!” She said emphatically.
The three of them broke up into peals of laughter, causing heads to turn and smile at them. They quieted down and sipped at their tea and just watched each other. This was the calmest Bill had ever seen Denise. She always seemed to be running around with her hair on fire so seeing her in a pensive mood was rare. “What’s up, little one?” Bill asked.
She lowered her eyes and spoke softly. “I wish I could meet someone as wonderful as you are, Bill. I am so happy for Molly, but sad for myself.”
“You’ll meet someone, Denise." Bill said softly. "I guarantee it. You’re bright, funny and good looking to boot. If it weren’t for us being on the same train, Molly and I would never have met. She could have tried to complain to the porter by herself while I just sat in my compartment. Or, I might never have even been on the train. I did decide to catch it at the very last minute. Life is full of opportunities and chances and diversions. Just follow them and see where it leads you.” Bill put his hand on top of hers. She smiled up at him, and then nodded once.
“You are so very nice, Bill. It will be thrilling to have you as a brother.”
“At your service, ma petite soeur.” He lifted her hand and brushed the knuckles with his lips. “Never stop looking.”
Molly put her hand on top of the both of theirs and they paused for a moment; each with their own thoughts, until Molly spoke up. “Our tea is getting cold. Do we want more hot water?”
“I do.” Said Denise quickly.
“I do,” Bill echoed. Molly caught the waitress’s eye and pointed to the three pots. She came over and gathered them up to come back a minute later with steam coming from the spouts.
“Merci,” Said Bill. She nodded to him and walked away.
They added hot tea to their cups and sat back in reflection again. None of the three spoke at all. Molly looked at her watch and announced that they'd better be getting back home. They drank up, paid at the cashier's booth on the way out, and piled into the car. Denise retraced her route back to the huge superhighway and they went north again to the suburbs.
Dinner was almost ready when they got back. Bill went upstairs briefly to unload the wrapped package he’d hidden from Molly. He slipped it into his bag and went back downstairs. Alain was up and about, but ultimately in the way of progress so Bill escorted him over to the table and the two of them sat down. They chatted a little about Alain's grocery businesses. He found that among the three separate markets, one was set up as a general grocery and the other two were specialty stores; of the two special stores, one sold items from Great Britain and the other was more Continental. Bill mentioned that he had been in London for a while (not telling him it was only for three weeks) and that he’d spent three years in Germany. He added that he spoke colloquial German and was considered not to have an accent.
“I have need of such a person. My buyers go to places like Germany, Spain, Holland, and even France, all but one do not speak German; at least not well. I have a feeling that you would be of a great help to me.”
“Well, I guess that I could certainly give it a try Alain. Maybe when Molly and I come back from our honeymoon, we’ll see what I can do for you.”
“’Alain’ sounds so formal for someone about to become a member of my family. Could you please call me Papa? I have waited over the years for a male voice to call me that. I would be grateful.”
“My pleasure indeed – Papa.” Bill said, toasting him with his coffee cup. Alain raised his in return. They drank.
“My goodness. You two are certainly looking solemn tonight. What have you been talking about?” Molly asked, coming in from the kitchen with a load of baked chicken on a plate.
“You father has asked me to refer to him as ‘Papa’ and I told him I’d be honored.”
“Wonderful! Thank you very much.” She said, smiling down at Bill. “And to you for asking.” She pivoted and kissed her dad on the forehead. He looked embarrassed, but smiled in any case.
Dinner was swiftly brought to the table and they all started in. There was a minimum of talking at first, but as the meal wore on, they began idle chatter. Denise told everybody of her visits to the little tea room and some of the Americans she’d met. Suzette raised an eyebrow. “So this is where you go on some afternoons? To the tea room?”
“Yes, mother. It is a great place to meet people and try out my English. We went there this afternoon, but there weren’t any guys there that I knew.” Her tone added a silent ‘darn it’.
Molly said “I swear, Denise. You’re so boy crazy. You just wait. Something will turn up when you least expect it. Look what happened to me. Here I was covered in cold, wet water floundering around in my nonexistent German, when Bill showed up. One minute you’re alone and the next – poof!” She snapper her fingers in the air.
“Oh, I know something like that could happen. But I wish it would happen soon.”
“Well, don’t rush things, Denise. Finish your education first and then see what happens.” Suzette said. “Anyone want strawberry pie?”
Bill looked at Molly, who lowered her eyes and started to flush around her neck. They both knew how much he liked strawberries – and where. “I’d love some.” He decided to float trial balloon, and added “Mama.”
Suzette stopped in mid-rise from the table, looked at Bill and then to Alain, who nodded. “That certainly sounds nice to me for some reason. I like it!” She turned for the kitchen and Bill caught Molly’s misty-eyed glance at him. He winked at her.
* * *
‘Now I am going to cry. He didn’t have to do that, but I know Mama appreciated it very much. I think maybe they both miss not having a boy in their family.’
* * *
[December 20, 1963]
[Laval district, Montreal, Canada – evening]
A winter day that far north ends pretty early in the evening. Darkness fell while they were eating and both Molly and Bill excused themselves, telling everyone they were fairly tired. Bill offered to either wash or dry the dishes, but Suzette was having none of that. “Go on up and get some sleep. Molly and I have a lot of shopping to do and a short time to do it.” Molly kissed her mom and dad; Bill thanked them both for the dinner, and the two of them went upstairs to Molly’s room.
Molly closed the door behind them, turned to Bill, and stood on her tiptoes to kiss him. They stood there for a long moment, just tasting each other. Finally, Bill broke away. “I have something for you. Do you want it now, or later?”
“Now, of course.” He reached into his bag and handed her the plain, flat package. She looked at it curiously, and then ripped it open. The sweater fell out into her hands. “Oh, Bill! It’s wonderful! Thank you.” She threw her arms around him again and they did some more smooching. “But, it was so expensive.”
“Don’t worry, my love. I think I can creak by for a while on what I have. Remember, what I have is also yours in a very short time.”
“I have a little saved up myself; almost four thousand dollars.”
“I have a little more than that, Molly. Just over twenty-one thousand. And, I can get more if I want. My dad has promised me some money for, as he put it, either my education or my family, whichever comes first. Looks like family will be first doesn’t it? Every bit of it is yours.”
“Mon Dieu! That is a large amount of money isn’t it?”
“Not very. I can earn more if I want. It’s kind of dangerous fighting fires, but the pay is very good.”
“Do fires happen very often down there in Montana?” She asked, showing some concern.
“Some years none at all, but others, yes, they do happen from time to time. Usually in the late summer to early fall, when the timber is very dry. If we all follow rules, we aren’t in much danger. I get extra pay because I jump.” He realized then that he shouldn’t have said that, because Molly looked confused, then her eyes widened and she turned a bit pale.
“You mean ‘jump’ as into a fire? Mon Dieu! Un parachute?” She repeated. “I shall be very worried if you do this.”
* * *
‘Worried? I shall be petrified every time he does this thing! I must do my best to keep him from this; but, it is his choice, no?’
* * *
“Then I won’t. I can earn enough just staying on the ground. No more jumping because you don’t like it. I promise.”
* * *
‘Oh, thank you. Thank you, very much!’
* * *
“We will talk of this later then. Right now, I am very tired and ready for bed. How about you?”
“I am also. Would you like to finish our little bottle of brandy? I have maybe four shots left in it.”
“Yes, I would. I’ll go get some glasses. Be right back.”
Molly dashed from the room and Bill took the time to hit the bathroom, clean up a little, and put on his sleeping shorts. As he was turning back the cover of the bed, Molly returned, glasses clinking in her hand. He sat on the bed and held out the brandy bottle. She let him pour a largish dollop in each glass. Then, when he’d corked the bottle and set it down, she lifted her glass to him. “To our long and prosperous life together, Bill Stiles.”
“I know it may be bad luck to call you Missus Stiles now, so I’ll echo that sentiment. To our long and fruitful life, filled with love and happiness, Molly Garnet.”
They linked arms and drank, albeit a little awkwardly. At least they didn’t spill any of the amber liquid. Bill scooted backwards on the bed and stretched out on the far side, pulling the covers partially upwards. Molly looked around a little hesitantly, and then grinned sheepishly. “I feel like I’m sneaking into bed and my mother or father will come banging on the door and find me.”
Bill snickered. 'Bad move', he thought. But then Molly stopped, stared at him, and then snickered herself. Soon they were giggling like a couple of teenagers on a heavy date. She slid in beside him and threw a leg over his calf. Her lips brushed his ear, and then she kissed his earlobe. “Make love to me.”
Bill had learned that, with Molly, when she said something like that she could either mean in a physical sense, or a cerebral sense. As tired as she was, he opted for the latter. They cuddled together with her head on his shoulder and her arm lying lightly across his chest.
Bill lifted her hand to his lips, and kissed it. “Definitely, but maybe tomorrow morning though. I am now totally relaxed – and exhausted. You should be also, my love. It’s been a very long day.”
“I am. Sleep well, my love.” She kissed him on the cheek and he felt her relax against his side. Bill waited, listening to her soft exhalations until he knew she was asleep. He closed his eyes, taking a last look at her sleeping face and slept himself.