Celine

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two people have been stood up, strangers, have been stood up. He invites her to join him, but can he rid himself of his sadness at being stood up?

Submitted: August 11, 2016

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Submitted: August 11, 2016

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Céline

 

It was 7 o'clock and the evening was still fine. I find that September evenings are so often mild; warm with the expectation of a fecund autumn; a rich bounty, a promise of good things to store up for winter, and that was exactly what I was hoping for. Strangely, I had some weird idea in my head that everything that was wrong with this relationship would suddenly come right; that the loneliness, the waiting, and those few happy times, would be stirred together like the figs and sugar that my mother would cook slowly in the copper preserving pan until they formed the delicious confit of figs that she would put into little pots, and keep for the winter, something that is, even now, one of my favourite foods.

I stood on the steps and watched the crowd enter the portico of the Opera Garnier; the men wore expensive suits or un smoking, and the women were beautifully dressed in long gowns or cocktail dresses, their hair upswept, diamonds and sapphires glinting in their ears. I sighed – one of those long sighs that seems to advertise your state of hopelessness to the world – and the man standing beside me looked me up and down. A sardonic smile graced his lips for but a moment as he wondered what a man like me was doing there. I glanced down at my shoes (old shoes that needed replacing) and hoped that I did not look as poor as I felt.

I glanced up at the first faint sliver of the new moon hanging above the statue on the domed roof of that most beautiful of buildings, and thrust my hand into my trouser pocket, letting the few coins that I had run through my fingers, and sighed again. I was not a happy man, and I wished that this hole-in-corner-affair could be resolved, so that I could be loved as I felt I deserved to be loved.

At quarter past seven I caught sight of the woman. The crowd had thinned as it was nearly time for the performance to begin. Strangely, she reminded me of the moon, for she wore a long black velvet evening coat beneath which I could just see a white dress and she clutched a small, jewelled bag as she stood, looking around, examining the faces. Just as I looked expectantly among the faces for the woman for whom I was waiting.

So I watched the crowd; glanced at couples holding hands, pursed my lips at the sight of a man casually kissing a woman on the cheek or on the lips, and felt a pain in my gut as an elegant man took the hand of a beautiful woman and kissed it. And then I looked up at the moon again and just asked why couldn't it be me who wore un smoking and took the arm of a beautiful woman?

There was laughter, excitement, the anticipation of the performance to come. The crowd thinned even more. It was only then that I realised how tightly I was clutching the mobile phone that lay amongst the coins in my pocket. Slowly I took it out, looked at it for a moment - the display said 19.20 - then scrolled down the list of contacts till I reached her name and pressed the call button. Her mobile was turned off. For a moment I thought, hoped, wished, wanted her to be on the metro unable to get a signal - but I knew her mobile was turned off. I knew she wasn't coming.

But it was not sadness that washed over me – it was anger, cold fury. I turned and took a couple of steps, placed the phone back in my pocket, then, almost ruthlessly pulled it out again, scrolled through the list of contacts and rang the apartment. The phone rang five times before it was answered.

“Oui, allo,” a man's voice said, his New York accent immediately recognisable.

The sound of feet in high heels running up the steps made me turn for a moment, but it was not her. I looked again at my mobile, listened to the sounds of the man's voice, her husband's voice, demanding the identity of the caller, and then disconnected the call. She'd obviously taken him back. After everything she had said, the crying and the screaming, after all the declarations of love and the promise of future happiness, she had taken her husband back.

Two people walked arm in arm up the steps towards him. Middle-aged, obviously still in love, or even newly in love, smiling, happy, glowing with a happiness I knew I would now never have.

I looked up, more to keep the tears from my eyes than anything else, and I caught sight of the moon again. That little sliver of a moon peeked out from behind the shadow of the earth, like a child wanting to tell you a secret, and suddenly some words ran through my brain; “If she had ever really left him”.

And then I saw the woman again.

She still stood, watching the last people climbing the broad steps to the Opera, waiting, willing, her companion to arrive, but I knew from the disappointment in her eyes that she also waited in vain.

I looked again at the mobile phone in my hand - the display said 19.24 - sighed and walked slowly across to her.

“Excuse me, Madame.”

She turned and looked directly into my eyes. I was surprised at how beautiful she was. As old as me and yet still young, still desirable, still sensual.

“I think perhaps we have both been stood up.” I reached into my pocket for the tickets and held them out. “I have hired a box. Perhaps you would like to take my ticket.”

“Well, thank you, but I must pay you for it.”

"Madame, please take it as a gift."

“Could we not see it together? Surely you want to watch the performance?”

I looked down at the floor. Saw my old shoes beside her fine shoes. These tickets would have bought me several pairs of good shoes. But I had wasted my money, just as I had wasted many months of my life, on a woman who simply did not care for me.

I shook my head. “I don't care for opera.”

She looked at the tickets in my hand. "Really? You spent a 180 euros each on these tickets! And the bitch stood you up."

I nodded slowly. “Yes, the bitch stood me up.”

“So we've both been stood up. Right, put your arm in mine and plaster a smile on your face, because you and I are going in to enjoy this performance.” She smiled at me. “By the way, my name is Céline.”

Then she placed her arm in mine and swept me towards the doors. “I'm so sorry we are late,” she gushed to the usher as she laid her hand on his arm, “it's entirely my fault.”

“Madame, had I known, I would have held the curtain for you,” the usher replied, bowing slightly as he looked at the tickets.

“We must hurry, so as not to spoil the overture for the others,” she said pulling me towards the grand staircase.

I had never been a fan of classical music and a performance of The Marriage of Figaro was probably the last thing I would have chosen to spend my money on. But She had wanted it. She . . How quickly she had lost her name. As quickly as I had spent 360 euros on these tickets.

And yet I was entranced. Whether by the performance, or because Céline so obviously enjoyed it, and her enjoyment seemed to spill over to me. It was as if I had entered another world; a place far removed from that tawdry, secret affair with a woman who was still married; this was not the usual assignation in a cheap bar and shady nook so that we should not be seen together; I was suddenly free of the stress of hoping the divorce could be finalised so that we could stand in front of the world and confess our love – something that now seemed to have disappeared as she had obviously taken her wealthy husband back. And then I wondered if she had ever been serious about me or whether she had just used me as a means of paying her husband back for his infidelity, or was I just someone with whom she could pass the time until she was divorced – a divorce that would cost her American husband a great deal of money - and I wondered what she had been promised to make her drop it.

As the curtain fell at the end of the first act, Céline turned to me. “Do you see any empty seats?”

I shook my head.

He probably never even bought the tickets. Why ask me out? Why promise something that you have no intention of fulfilling?”

It was a question that I had asked myself. And so the sadness that had initially eluded me finally cooled the anger, and a deep depression overcame me. I was aware of a conversation during the interval which consisted of Céline talking and me simply nodding, smiling and uttering a word or two to give the impression that I was interested but, in truth, I heard little of what she said as I really just wanted to be alone to nurse my broken heart and indulge myself in memories that simply showed me what a fool I had been. When the opera was finally over and the last notes had faded away, the noise of applause briefly roused me from that dull trough of self-pity, I stood up and we followed the audience downstairs. Céline smiled and took my arm, and when we reached the foyer I noticed several men who looked at her and then at me, and I could almost hear them asking themselves what she saw in me. Was I something she had dragged in from the gutter? Perhaps if I wore un smoking that would not have looked at me with such disdain. And yet her hand remained upon my arm, almost as if I belonged to her.

Then we stood amongst the crowd near to the metro station and I felt that I should say something but words would not come – I just wanted to be alone, to sink into misery as a diver sinks beneath the water.

"Come on," she said, "I know a good place for a drink."

“Yes,” I replied and smiled, a drink wouldn't cost too much - unless she asked for champagne.

"We can get to know each other better," and with that, she took me to by the wrist and led me docilely down the street towards a small bar.

I noticed that Céline wore a wedding ring. She had never worn a wedding ring, swearing that she would never wear the ring of a man who had been unfaithful – except for that one day when I saw her coming from the metro and she had suddenly stopped, pulled a ring from her finger and placed it in her handbag - she had obviously forgotten she was still wearing it. Perhaps that was when I should have realised that She was not as honest as I thought - but then they say that love is blind and there is no man so blind as one that will not see.

“Inside or out,” Céline asked as we reached a small bar.

I shrugged.

“Outside.” She steered me towards a table. “What would you like?”

“Just coffee,” I said quietly, and mentally pictured those few euros I had in my pocket. If she wanted anything else I would have to pay by card which would leave me short for the rest of the month.

“Coffee, that sounds a good idea. I need the ladies, so I'll order.”

So I sat down on the chair and watched the people walking up and down the street. Well-dressed couples leaving restaurants, going home or going on to night clubs. Couples who were happy together, while I would go home alone to nurse my newly-broken heart. And at some point, I would have to work out exactly how much this episode had cost me and how long it would take me to put myself straight financially.

“So, where do you live?” Céline came out of the bar and sat opposite me. She smiled at me, a beautiful, warm smile as if she was really interested.

“Rue André Antoine, I have a small flat.”

“André Antoine?”

“Just off Place des Abbesses.”

“You live in Montmartre, oh how wonderful.”

I swallowed hard and wondered if she was hinting at something.

“I did think of moving after my husband died, as it is such a very large flat, but it's so convenient for my shop. And the Rue du Commerce is such a good shopping area.”

The door opened and the waiter came out carrying a tray which he placed on the table. “Madame,” he said politely.

“Thank you,” Céline said as he placed a toasted sandwich in front of her.

A cup of coffee was placed in front of each of us, followed by a large glass of brandy for me and a crème de menthe for her.

“I'm famished,” Céline said after biting off one corner. “ I don't normally close till six thirty as I like to stay open for people who want to buy something after work. You've no idea how many people run in to buy new table linen at quarter past six. I assume they are having a dinner party and want to impress their guests.” She took another bite and then wiped the corner of her mouth with the paper napkin. “I only had time for a quick snack as I dressed. And I thought that that swine would take me to supper.” She patted my hand. “I thought you could do with the brandy. It must be a real bummer to be stood up after you've spent that sort of money. Some people are real shits, aren't they?” She took a mouthful of sandwich and added sugar to her coffee. “Were you ever married?”

I shook my head. That was something else I had never managed.

“27 years for me, and it was awful when he died.”

I looked at her and then looked away trying to work out how much this would cost and what I might have to do without next week.

“I was grateful I had the shop, it kept me sane, gave me a reason to get up in the morning.”

Céline talked on, and I listened half-heartedly, nodding my head or grunting an acknowledgement until her voice was just a background drone to the thoughts of betrayal and misery that went through my mind.

“I'm sorry if I am boring you,” she said suddenly, and her sharp tone brought me back from that grey, dream world. “I just asked you to have lunch with me tomorrow and you didn't even have the courtesy to say you had something else planned. I'm sorry you were stood up, I am sorry we were both let down and I thought perhaps, as we met so fortuitously, that we might get to know each other better. It seems that we are both on our own and as you were so kind. I thought . . . “

I looked up at her; at her beautiful face, her well-styled hair, the expensive clothes and could find nothing to say.

“I also invited you to the Comedie Française to see the new production of The Miser next week,” she looked me straight in the eye and then I realised she was close to tears. “But I appear to bore you almost to death. Or perhaps you want someone younger." And with that, she took hold of her handbag, got up and left.

I watched her march down the street towards the metro and then ate the remains of the toasted sandwich, as I, too, was hungry. Finally, I stood up, looked down at the glasses and coffee cups and went into the bar, frightened of how much this was going to cost.

I stepped up to the bar and when I finally caught the barman's his eye, he reached for the most expensive bottle of brandy. "Another, Monsieur?"

I shook my head. “I'll just pay.”

“You're wife has already paid.”

“My,” I said faintly even as my voice trailed into silence. How could anyone think that such a beautiful, elegant, cultured woman could be married to me? This man did. And perhaps other people at the Opera had thought so too.

“Even for the second brandy. She said you might want two glasses,” the barman continued.

I shook my head, more to clear it than refuse the drink, as I suddenly realised what a fool I was.

The barman put his hand towards the cash register. “Let me give you back the money.”

“No, no, you keep it. As a tip.” I started to walk backwards towards the door because I just wanted to get out there and find her.

“She has already given me a tip.”

“Well, drink it yourself, ” I riposted, as I opened the door.

“A very lovely woman, your wife.”

“Yes, yes,” I said, shutting the door and looking up and down the street. But the street was empty, so I broke into a trot and headed for the metro station, only she was nowhere to be seen.

I leaned against the railing around the steps that lead down to the station and caught my breath. Then I turned away and looked up at the roof of the opera house as if that might give me inspiration. I couldn't follow her as I had no idea where she lived, I had been so frightened that the things she was suggesting would cost me money that I had ignored her invitations and yet all she wanted to do was be nice to me. If I had been a woman, I would have cried.

Then I turned and looked up at the slim crescent moon now shining brightly in the dark sky and I suddenly realised that I had been offered everything I had asked for earlier that evening and I was so stupid that I had never realised it.

“Where is she,” I whispered to the moon. But the sliver of a moon just stared back at me and my blank mind. I sighed and descended the steps into the metro. And to think that some people believed that the moon was a god!

The next evening, the moon rose right opposite my window. That little crescent of light stared through the window at me while I ate my poor meal and every time I glanced up at it, it seemed to be looking straight at me, just like my old teacher would look at me when I got my sums wrong. But it was a different moon that night, I could see the shadow of the earth lying upon it, and, as I was the worse for a whole bottle of cheap wine, I wondered if the moon could feel the shadow of the earth upon it, and whether if felt like me, overburdened by the bitter memories of the last few months.

Just at that moment my mobile phone rang and someone from the H R department told me that my boss had broken his leg and I would have to fill in for him. I would have to go to the home of a millionaire and update the managed access control system for his art collection. I would have to pick up a hire car the next morning, and they would book me into a hotel for the next three days. Someone from H.R. would meet me at the garage with a company credit card. As I hung up, I noticed the moon had risen above the roof tops, and it may have been my imagination but it seemed that it was smiling at me.

When I drove through the gates that Monday morning and saw Darius Papandreyou's house I was not sure if it was a small castle or a just a large house. The old man greeted me cordially, placed his arm around my shoulder and led me inside. Coffee was brought, and sweet cakes; the baklavas that Mr Papandreyou told me were the basis of his fortune. And then he led me, past white marble statues of gods and heroes, through to a room hung with pictures, and there, in pride of place on a wall that was already home to three pictures, was a huge study of a woman gazing down upon a young man who lay sleeping at the mouth of a cave.”

“Selene and Endymion,” Papandreyou said proudly.

“Céline?” I looked at him,just a little surprised to hear that name again, a name that was uncommon.

“Selene, the goddess of the moon, of the full moon to be exact. This picture has cost me 3 million euros, I expect you to protect it for me.”

I stepped up to the picture and gazed up into the face of the goddess, a beautiful face, calm and yet sensual.

The old man stepped up beside me. “According to legend, Selene was driving her chariot across the sky when she saw this young shepherd, Endymion, asleep in a cave, and she fell in love with him at that moment.” A clock chimed 12 times somewhere in the huge house and Papandreyou turned to me, placed his hand on my arm and led me away. “Come, it is time for lunch.”

“I can eat at the hotel,” I replied.

“Hotel,” he said dismissively. “You can stay here. I enjoy talking with people. And I can watch you work. The installation of these alarms is fascinating.”

That evening, after an interesting dinner of lamb stifado, Darius poured me a glass of Greek brandy and took me out onto the terrace. The moon had risen and hung high over the tops of the trees in the large garden.

Darius raised his glass to the shining crescent that was growing bigger each night. “I owe everything to her.” and he spoke as if the moon was a real woman. “I was born in Alexandria, in Egypt. There was still a large Greek community there. My father worked in the cigarette factory and my mother's family had a small shop where they made baklava. My father was killed in the war and my mother took what we had, which was mostly in here,” he tapped his forehead, “and moved to Algiers. From there we went to Marseilles. My mother used to make a special baklava that was shaped like a crescent moon, they were well-known in Alexandria. Then my dear mother died, there in Marseilles, and I did not know what to do. I was only 17 and I could not do anything but help make baklava. On the day that my mother was buried, I climbed the great hill and I stood in front of the church of Notre Dame de la Garde and looked out over the great Mediterranean Sea, the sea that was at one time the centre of the world; the sea that the great Alexander crossed to conquer Egypt. I saw the crescent moon hanging so brightly in the sky. And I asked myself what could a young man like me do, and it was as if the moon answered me. Go and make baklava. Be another Alexander, conquer the world with your baklava.”

He paused for breath, or recollection, and poured out another glass of brandy for each of us.

“So I packed up what I had and walked to Paris. I slept in fields and under hedges, as so many men have done before me, and when I arrived I sought out the Greek community and made baklava. Soon I had enough backers to rent a shop in the rue du Commerce. And now I am a millionaire as my baklava are sold in every supermarket in Europe.” He laughed and raised his glass to the moon.

The rue du Commerce! I suddenly remembered that somewhere in that long monologue in which Céline had indulged as we sat outside the cafe, she had said that she owned a shop somewhere near the rue du Commerce and that she stayed open till 6.30 each night and, although the rue du Commerce might be a long street, it was not so long as the road from Marseilles to Paris. So I, too, smiled and raised my glass to the moon.

The next day, after a very comfortable sleep, I ate my breakfast on the terrace and got on with my job. Various security devices had to be moved in accordance with Mr Papandreyou's wishes, as he wanted to give his new picture pride of place. At about 11.30 the housekeeper asked me to attend the old man in his dressing room.

I found him standing there, hands on hips, in the middle of what could have been a small gentleman's outfitters.

“I have grown so thin,” he said, his voice weary with age. “Once I was strong and virile, now I am shrinking.” He indicated his jacket which hung from his shoulders and looked about two sizes too big for him.

“Perhaps you should eat more of your own baklava,” I suggested.

He laughed, ran his hands over the rails of expensive, probably made-to-measure suits and looked at me, at my shabby jeans and old shirt. “I know you are in your working clothes, but you are the size I was ten years ago, would you be offended if I offered them to you?”

I shook my head slowly.

“Some people are offended if you offer them old clothes, but if I can't give them away I shall have to throw them away, and they are too good for that.” He pulled out un smoking and held it up. “Look, hand-made in London. I wore it to a performance of Rigoletto at Covent Garden. My companion was a Duchess.” He laughed. “Did this grand lady ever think she would go to the Opera with a poor boy from the back streets of Alexandria? Here, try it on.”

He held it out to me and I slipped by arms into the sleeves. He adjusted it across my shoulders, as the tailor who had made it adjusted it across Darius' own shoulders. He turned me towards the mirror and smiled. “A perfect fit. I'll get the housekeeper to pack them up.

“Thank you, but can I give you . . . .”

“Wear them, and enjoy them. Don't let them hang in the wardrobe, put this on when you eat at home.”

I took the jacket off and handed it to him.

“Are you married?”

I shook my head. “Never found the right one.” I really did not want to tell him I had always been too poor to even contemplate marriage.

“Ah women. They can be heaven or they can be hell. Find the right one you will be a king, find the wrong one . . . “ he shook his head slowly and I sensed there was deep sadness there.

After a couple of days I finally finished the work to his satisfaction, although I had come to the conclusion that his interruptions were a way of keeping me there because he enjoyed telling me his life story. At about half past three I told him I was ready to leave, but he insisted I stay for dinner, which meant that I would again have to stay the night, for how could I refuse one so kind as Darius? We both dressed; he in a beautifully-cut suit of black cashmere, I in my smoking which, Darius informed me, the English call a dinner jacket and the Americans a Tuxedo. The housekeeper had also packed a dozen assorted shirts and fifteen ties, including a bow tie, which Darius had to show me how to tie; and so I was well turned out for our final dinner together.

After a fine meal of roast beef, brandies were poured and I followed him out onto the terrace again. The moon was still a crescent – but larger, and she filled the terrace with bright, white light. I watched him as he gazed up at the moon, raised his glass and took a sip. Then he turned to me, looked me straight in the eye. “Do you believe in the old gods?”

I shook my head. Life had been too hard and I didn't believe in anything except what I could hold in my hand. The old gods were just marble statues displayed in the Louvre, or expensive pictures hung in the homes of men like Darius. And yet Darius seemed to believe in them, but had it been the old gods that had brought this Greek boy from poverty in Alexandria to untold wealth in Versailles? Or had it been his own motivation?

He turned to me. “That dress shirt is made from the finest Irish linen. Be sure to add some starch when you iron it. I am told you can buy it in an aerosol now.”

Linen! Céline owned a shop that sold linen in the rue du Commerce. I smiled, nodded and raised my glass to him. And then I looked up to the moon, and what I could see of the craters on the surface made it look as though it was smiling, almost saying, I told you so.

I returned to Paris the next day, and that morning I dressed in one of the suits Darius had given me. He was truly delighted for, like many careful businessmen, he did not like waste, and to have thrown away those clothes would have amounted to a sin.

“My word,” he said, as I had gone down to breakfast. “You look like a very successful man. But that tie is wrong.” And, taking me by the arm, he had dragged me up to his dressing room, and selected another tie.

Later, he walked me to the car, shook my hand warmly and thanked me for doing such a good job. And then I realised why the penniless youth who could only make baklava had become a millionaire – it was not just his kindness, but it was his genuine interest in other people.

Back in Paris, my first job was to remove the five boxes of clothes Darius' housekeeper had put in the boot of the hire car. Only when those were piled on the floor of my bedroom in that small flat in the Rue André Antoine could I return the car to the garage and go back to the office. And there I was in for another surprise. HR called me and told me the CEO wanted to see me immediately.

My heart fluttered like a butterfly as I went up in the lift, and I just noticed , as I was waved straight in, that the CEO's secretary actually looked at me. I sat down in front of the great man, who smiled at me and told me that my boss had discovered that the break to his leg was more serious than he had thought, he would be out of action for at least six months and was, therefore, being transferred to a desk job. I was being promoted to his job as of that moment. Then the CEO pushed a file across the desk and told me that I must be in Monte Carlo by tomorrow morning.

I took the file and stood up. He smiled up at me. “You've been highly recommended. It is because of you that this job has come through.” He paused for a moment. “Keep this up and your bonus will be doubled. Now, go straight to HR, they are making all the reservations.”

Should I be happy or sad? Here I was wearing a suit that probably cost over 500 Euros, I had gone half a week without spending any money and I would spend no money for the time I was in Monte Carlo planning a new alarm systems for another millionaire - but it would be a week before I could find the linen shop on the rue de Commerce. And yet my dream seemed to be coming true. I had un smoking, and not a cheap one either. I rushed home, pulled a few things out of the boxes and put them in my suitcase before the taxi arrived to take me to the airport. That night I sat on the balcony of my hotel room, and waited for the moon to rise. It looked down on me and, I could not help myself, but I raised my glass and smiled. And it may seem very strange, but it seemed that the moon smiled back.

The next morning I presented myself at the home of another millionaire. The property was modern but just as luxurious at that of Darius. I was shown around by the owner, who pointed out just how expensive his art collection now was. He had a child, a son, who had some sort of disability and who sat, glumly, in his wheelchair and I was reminded that there are, perhaps, some things that money cannot buy. When I was ready to begin inspection, the child wheeled himself up to me and I noticed that a light had come into his eyes, he was keen to watch me, to see, perhaps, something different.

“Sigi,” he father said, “come you must not bother this gentleman.”

I stood there, my hand deep in the pocket of one of the suits Darius had given me, and I remembered again why he had become a millionaire. “Oh no”, I said, bending down to the child. “He is no bother at all. Tell me, Sigi, if you were a burglar, how would you get into this house?”

He looked up at me and smiled and then pointed to the large tortoiseshell cat who sat on the window sill.

“And do you know how the cat gets in?”

He nodded.

“Would you like to show me how he gets in?”

He nodded again and so I took hold of the wheelchair and the boy pointed forward.

That evening, when I returned to the hotel, I ordered my dinner to be sent up to the room as I had start the paperwork, costings and begin my report. I turned on my laptop, logged in and the first email I found was from HR informing me that my salary would now double. It was one of the moments that remind you just how alone you are; you have a cause for celebration, and you have no one to share it with. But I was not alone, for I had the moon. And, filling my glass with good wine, (better than I could normally afford) I went out onto the balcony and looked up. It was getting fuller every night and, although I just wanted to go back to Paris and find that shop on rue du Commerce, I began to realise that I had asked for something and the moon was giving it to me, but I had to trust it. To be honest, people had let me down so often, that I wondered how I could trust the moon! And yet . . . I slid my hand into the pocket of my expensive suit and remembered that night at the opera, when I looked at the first sliver of the moon and wished that I had so many of the things that I did not have and now I was standing here in Monte Carlo, dressed like a Lord and earning twice as much. Some may have said it was coincidence, but not me. I raised my glass to the moon and said “Thank you.”

The next day Sigi was waiting for me. I pushed him round the flat, allowed him to hold the tape measure while I measured the spaces between the works of art, and he watched me as I worked. Then I suggested that we take the cat with us, and I picked it up and placed it on Sigi's lap. And when my job was done, his parents came to me and thanked me for all I done for him. I raised my hands in surprise, what had I done but let the boy hold a tape measure. Then they told me that he was autistic and I had brought him out of himself. They wanted me to come down and supervise the installation of the security system, and of course, bring my wife. I opened my mouth to speak, but decided to hold my tongue. When I went to say good bye to Sigi, he handed me a box of chocolates and his mouth moved as if he was chewing the words, then he swallowed hard and slowly two words came out: “For Madame.”

I leant forward and hugged him. “Thank you, Sigi, thank you. She will be very pleased with this.” And it was only as I walked to the front door, that I noticed his mother was wiping a tear from her eye.

When I was finally back in Paris I sat at my computer and entered the words “linen shop + rue du Commerce”, and within seconds I had found her shop. There was a photograph of a double-fronted shop, a little old-fashioned looking, but I knew it was hers.

The next morning I dressed in one of Darius's suits and went to the office. I attended several high-level meetings, as befitted my new status, and finally left at 5.15. I took the chocolates from my desk drawer, rode the Metro to Commerce and approached the shop. I noted the wine merchant beside the Metro, in case I should want to buy a bottle of champagne. It was 6.05 and Céline's shop was still open. I glanced up, but the moon was hiding behind the rooftops and I knew I would have to do this alone.

I took a deep breath and opened the door.

Céline was standing behind the counter, such an elegant woman, and she looked up and smiled – just as she would smile at any customer. She looked hard into my face as I slowly walked towards the counter, and the smile faded somewhat.

“I came to apologise for my behaviour. I was very rude to you.”

She opened her lips to speak.

“But to tell the truth, my heart was breaking.”

“No, no,” she said quickly. “It was my fault entirely. I was angry at being stood up and I shouldn't have taken it out on you.”

“Will you have dinner with me?”

Her eyes lit up. “Yes.”

“I wanted to come before, but I had to go to Monte Carlo.”

She raised an eyebrow, as if she did not quite believe the story, but just at that moment the shop door was thrust open and a young man ran in. He looked around, then walked firmly up to the counter. “I need a table cloth,” he said. “My boss is coming to dinner tonight. I was so nervous I spilt the good wine all over the cloth.” He grasped something in his hand very hard. “What's the cheapest one you've got?”

“What is the shape and size of your table?”

“It's round, seats 4 people.”

Céline took a small package down from a shelf and placed it on the counter. “This is one of the sets I usually hire out. Give it a good wash and bring it back.”

He placed the jar of fig confit he was holding on the counter and dug into his pocket. “How much?”

Céline waved her hand. “No charge.”

“Fig confit?” I asked.

“My wife is cooking is cooking a duck and she spreads the fig confit over the breast.”

I took my wallet out of my breast pocket and removed a twenty euro note. “I'd recommend a Côteaux de Layon with that. The wine merchant is still open.”

The young man gazed from Céline to me, and then back again; his mouth open in astonishment.

I pushed the money into his hand. “Hurry up.”

“Thank you, thank you,” he said tucking the packet under his arm, and shoving the jar of fig confit into his pocket.

She looked at me in exactly the same way she had looked at me across the table outside the café, it was more than just a once-over, it was a close examination.

I placed the chocolates on the counter. “A little something from Monte Carlo.  Oh, and my name is Aurelien.”

She glanced at the chocolates and then looked up at me again, and I got the distinct feeling that I would not be going home that night. And if I was a really good boy and played the cards I had been dealt, I might wake up beside her every day for the rest of my life.

She fetched her coat and we closed the shop. As we stepped into the street I noticed that the moon, now almost full, was shinning over the rooftops, filling the street with a clear, crisp light. As Céline locked the door I looked up at the moon, smiled and said a silent “Thank you”.

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Balinovsky. All rights reserved.

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