I watched from the window as Gabriel walked away and slowly descended from my view. It was Cook’s voice that we had heard and he must not have realized that I hadn’t left. When he threw the door open and walked back in I started towards him with the intention of handing him the recipe Gabriel had left. Before I could utter the first syllable of explanation, though, I noticed that he was not alone. There was a strange man with him and based on my father’s description I immediately knew who it was. My heart caught in my chest and I frantically tried to calm myself as Gavin smiled at me from where he stood. His eyes locked with mine and I could not find the will to look away.
Cook managed to check his surprise at seeing me still there and gave a little bow, “Mademoiselle Vivienne,” he said snapping me back to my senses.
“Oui, I brought you the recipe we had talked about,” I hurriedly tucked it into his hand,” I managed a faint curtsey and pivoted on my heel intending to leave.
“Non. Stay. Please.” Gavin stepped into my path, “It’s a happy circumstance that we should meet now and we can introduce ourselves without all the formality and reserve of an audience.”
His voice froze my insides; it sounded so familiar. I looked helplessly at Cook, hoping he would find some words to help me escape. He misread my expression though and took a step forward then with a significant look at Gavin, “Mr. Delacroix, this is Mademoiselle Vivienne Rousseau, daughter of your hosts Monsieur and Madame Rousseau.”
Mr. Delacroix extended his hand, “It is such a pleasure to meet you Ms. Rousseau.”
“Merci, Monsieur, I have been looking forward to welcoming you to our home,” the words tumbled out and I smiled timidly as I took his hand. It was cool and smooth and…my mind wandered away for a few seconds as I stood staring blankly at the fingers that were wrapped around mine.
The moment seemed to stretch itself out until finally Mr. Delacroix released my hand, “I was just speaking with your chef about our plans for dinner. My cousin, Ms. Claire, has not yet recovered from the rigors of our journey from Paris and I am afraid she will not be able to join you and your family for lunch today. I had hoped to persuade Cook to prepare her favorite dish this evening and that the enticement would help coax her from the exhausted state she is in.”
“That is very thoughtful of you Mr. Delacroix,” I replied.
He tilted his head at me, “Thank you…Vivienne, may I call you Vivienne?”
“Oh…” I wasn’t sure how to respond.
He carefully studied my expression and I could see that he understood how uncomfortable he had made me, “I’m sorry; I know we have only just met. Forgive me if I have caused you any distress. It was not my intention to be so forward; I assure you." He sighed and looked away, "Vivienne...." he flashed a quick grin and turned back to me, "it is such a lovely name and I have heard it so often since we left Paris that I cannot seem to think of you any other way. It suits you quite well.” I began to blush uncontrollably, unaccustomed as I was to compliments, “And there, I have done it again,” he chuckled and it was so full of warmth and good will that I couldn’t help forgiving him.
Cook shuffled anxiously and Gavin turned toward him, “Ah, yes, dinner.”
I seized upon the distraction and made my departure, “I’ll let you make your plans.”
Before either could object I hastily strode from the room. I gathered my skirts and fled to my room locking the door behind me. I was breathless and so discomfited that I buried my face in my hands and sunk to the floor. I pictured the scene that had just taken place. It had not gone at all like I had imagined it would.
I wanted very much to dislike Mr. Delacroix but he was…
“He was nice,” I admitted.
And handsome, and…and there was something about him. His voice, his touch, it was so…
“Familiar,” my mind found the word.
There was something though, a hint of wrongness about him that I could not put my finger on. The minutes ticked by and I slowly regained my composure. When I heard the bell calling us to lunch I forced myself to my feet and checked myself in the mirror. After making a few adjustments I took a deep breath and slowly descended to the dining room. My mother, father and Jean were just taking their seats.
As I made my way toward my usual place my father interjected, “Ah, Vivienne, here,” he pulled the chair to his right for me and motioned me to sit.
I did as he suggested though somewhat hesitantly. Moments later Philippe and Gavin grinning and chatting animatedly walked in together. We all stood up to welcome them, Philippe took his regular seat beside Jean and Gavin moved to the only open setting which was next to me.
“Please,” my father beamed, “let me introduce you, Mr. Delacroix, to my family.”
My father turned to his left, “My son who has journeyed with you these past few days, Philippe, his brother Jean.” Gavin reached across the table to take their hands one then the other. Then my father gestured toward my mother, “My wife Hélène,” Gavin brushed a kiss across her wrist as she extended her fingertips towards him. Lastly my father looked at me, his eyes full of pride, “My daughter, Mr. Delacroix, my daughter Vivienne.”
“An honor,” he took my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze as he bowed his head to me.
My father nodded for us to resume our seats and Gavin held my chair for me then lightly urged it closer both to himself and to the table. As lunch was served Gavin took the initiative to strike up a number of conversations – first with my father, then my mother afterwards turning his attention to Jean. I sat quietly and listened though only with half my attention. I felt Philippe’s eyes on me while my parents and Jean were distracted by Gavin’s conversation.
I couldn’t bear the pressure of his stare; it brought back all the painful feelings from the last time I had seen him. The uneasiness it caused made it a challenge for me to swallow the few bites of food that passed my lips. At one point Philippe’s gaze bothered me so much that I nervously fumbled my fork and it clattered to my plate causing everyone to turn to me.
“Are you alright?” Gavin asked full of concern.
“Oh, yes, of course, just clumsy,” I grinned awkwardly as I glanced up at him.
Gavin slowly looked away from me and his eyes went directly across the table. I followed his gaze to where it fell on Philippe who turned white as ash while all the expression was swept from his face. He bent his head over his meal and quietly resumed clearing his plate.
Gavin turned back to me and in a hushed voice asked me again, “Are you sure you are well?”
“Oui, merci, Mr. Delacroix, I am…I am just unaccustomed to company it would seem and a little nervous,” I softly replied.
“Please,” he discreetly raised his voice so that my father could hear, “call me Gavin.”
“Yes, Vivienne,” my father concurred, “you needn’t be so formal, dear, this is a…friendly visit,” he finished.
I could see the joy of this little victory in his eyes as he reached for his wine, “To friends,” Gavin toasted.
I shook my head and smiled as he chinked my glass, “To friends,” I seconded.
Though it took longer than usual, I made it through the rest of the meal with relative ease. I wondered why my father described Mr. Delacroix the way he had because Gavin did not at all seem quiet and willing to let things go as they may. He seemed assured and determined, eloquent and knowledgeable and at the moment not the least bit washed-out and pasty.
As I was reflecting on this my mother stood and called to me, “Come Vivienne, let’s give the men a moment to themselves.”
Gavin was the first to stand and graciously helped me from my seat. I was immediately thankful for the gesture because I must have unwittingly had more than a sip too much of the wine that was being so generously served and felt a little lightheaded. My mother took my hand and tucked it into the crook of her arm as she led me from the dining room across the foyer to the parlor.
We sat upon the settee together and with girl-like vivacity, my mother took my hands and anxiously asked, “So what is your opinion of Mr. Delacroix?”
“He is a very nice gentleman, Mama,” I said.
She frowned, “And that is all you have to say.”
I nodded assuredly, “Oui, Mama. I have only just met him.”
“Hmm, but I thought you would venture more than he is nice. What of his looks, his manners, do you think him pretentious or worldly…come Vivienne, share your thoughts with me,” her expression was bright and encouraging.
I knew why my mother was so persistent with her curiosity, but I had never confided in her before and had very little intention of doing it now. “Have you met Ms. Delacroix yet?” I asked instead.
“Non, Vivienne…I have not.”
I seemed to have struck the very subject to turn her attention away from my thoughts on Mr. Delacroix. I recalled my father’s description of Ms. Delacroix; that he had said she was very beautiful. I could tell that it pained my mother to wonder what Claire would actually be like especially since she was aware of the intimate friendship the two cousins and my father seemed to share.
Seeing the hurt in her eyes made me regret my choice of topic and I felt sorry for what she must have been feeling. I laid my hand over hers, “I’m sure she is nothing like Papa described, especially after meeting Gavin. Everything Papa told us about him seems very…inaccurate to me.”
“Gavin, is it?” my mother teased with a faint yet somewhat satisfied smile.
Before I could say anything to defend myself he joined us in the parlor. My mother and I stood up to welcome him, “Non, please, don’t get up on my account,” he waved us back to our seats and slowly made his way around the room while commenting on the various things he saw. He concluded his circuit then settled himself in an armchair directly across from us.
“You have a lovely home, Mrs. Rousseau. It’s very pretty and full of charm,” and though he was complimenting my mother, I knew he was looking at me.
“Thank you,” my mother replied, “it has been the pride of this family for many years.”
As she said this Jean and Philippe strode across the hall obviously engaged in a conversation about Philippe’s travels. They seated themselves at one of the small drawing tables and quietly continued their discussion. My father followed a few paces behind them and after kissing my mother’s cheek stretched out on one of the chaises and happily closed his eyes.
“Frédéric, this is no time for napping! You have company and it is your duty to entertain him during his visit.”
“Bah,” my father opened one eye, “Gavin is quite capable of entertaining himself, trust me.”
“Frédéric!” my mother persisted.
“Mrs. Rousseau, you needn’t plead my case for me. Fred is right, I can entertain myself and I would… if I were to know my way around,” he said pointedly.
My father sat upright, “Yes, yes of course,” I could see the plan formulating and before I could object my father offered me up as Gavin’s guide. “It’s a beautiful day, and hours before dinner, show our guest around.”
Gavin was on his feet and anxious to take advantage of the suggestion. I looked from my father to mother and even shot a glance at Jean and Philippe. They had paused their chatter when my father roused himself from the chaise so spiritedly and were watching with interest. Jean looked as though he meant to encourage the endeavor and Philippe just smiled his wicked little grin signifying that he knew how uncomfortable I would be and how satisfying it was to see me suffer.
My mother urged me from my seat as Gavin stood before me and extended his hand to help me up, “Shall we?” his expression was full of expectation.
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