Excerpt for Validite by , available in its entirety at Smashwords







Validité





Carol Anne Vick



Copyright 2017





As always, many

thanks to my husband, Ray

Other Books by the Author:



The Village of Gerard's Cliff

Copyright 2014



The Summer of Gauguin

(Sequel to The Village of Gerard's Cliff)

Copyright 2014



An Obscure Haven

Copyright 2015



A Pale Paradise

(Sequel to An Obscure Haven)

Copyright 2016



Perilous Assurance

Copyright 2016

Validité



"To know one thing, you must know the opposite."

Henry Moore, Sculptor



Chapter I



We've all heard that well-known phrase, "Look before you leap," which in French would be "Il faut réfléchir avant d'agir," translated to mean 'One must reflect before acting.' It had always been, in my mind, a very important bit of advice to remember. Or so I'd thought.

It all began with a phone call, as I'd sat on my tall metal stool, working on the life-size plasticine clay bust of the town's mayor, Gil Gardener, a nice commission from the small town of North Branford, Connecticut, where I've resided for the past two years. I picked up the phone gingerly, being careful not to get any clay on the receiver.

"Yes?"

"Paige, you have to come with me!"

"Laura?" I held the phone between my ear and shoulder as I wiped the oily gray clay from my fingers with the well-worn kitchen towel. "Go with you where?" I laughed as I turned myself back around and eyed my work, not sure now if I'd miscalculated the space between the mayor's eyes. I pulled a strand of my short black hair behind my ear, and it immediately fell in front of my eye, and I swiped it back again, taking out the clip and re-positioning it to hold my hair back. Something just didn't look right with his eyes. I picked up one of the black and white photos of the portly man and squinted at it, then looked at my sheet of measurements again.

"My company's convention is in Old Quebec City this year. Bill refuses to accompany me on another business trip. He says they're too boring, but you know him. He has no sense of adventure," she laughed. "And now Maggie is down with the flu, or something, and can't come with me." My friend's voice sounded close to frantic. "I leave in two days - on the fourteenth, and return on the twentieth, and you know how I hate to travel alone."

"I know you do," I sympathized, and I took a deep breath and looked out the window at my lovely garden, now blooming nicely in the late afternoon May sun. "Sorry, I'd forgotten about your trip." I tilted my head as I swiveled the stand and checked out the mayor's nose. "Can't you just cancel her part of the reservations?" I pulled off a pinch of clay from the mound covered with plastic sitting on the work table and applied it to the upper cheek area, smoothing it down with my finger to match the texture of the rest of his face.

"Yes, I suppose I could," she sighed, and I stretched my neck muscles as I swiveled the bust around to its original position and waited for her to finish. "But, I'd really like for you to come, Paige. It's all paid for. Down to the meals and gratuity. You'd have your own room, of course. It would be a much needed vacation for you. Think of it. While I attend my dreary meetings in the hotel conference room, you could be basking in an outdoor cafe, drinking wine and watching the locals."

I paused at that comment, and pictured myself doing just that. Not a bad image. Hmm. Maybe I could spare a few days. Even if I were her third choice. The bust would be fine wrapped up for a week, and I was ahead of schedule as it was. The bronze casting at the foundry in Hartford was scheduled for a day that was, what? Three weeks away? I glanced at the calendar on the wall next to me and twirled the phone cord around my finger as I thought about it. I pulled my denim bib apron further down over my jean-clad legs.

"Well, what do you say, Paige?" Laura laughed. "Have I convinced you?"

"All right, I'll go with..."

"That's great! I'll pick you up Monday morning at eight sharp. The flight is out of Hartford International, and I'll drive us there. It's fifty miles to the airport, so that will give us plenty of time." Laura took a relieved breath and laughed. "Thanks, Paige. You'll love Old Quebec. This will be my second trip there."

"I've never been to Canada, actually."

"Pack long sleeve outfits and slacks with a sweater or light jacket for this time of year, and there's nothing dressy going on this year, thank goodness." I heard my friend laugh happily, and I smiled as I wiped off my wood tools, glad that I was able to help her out. "See you in two days then."

"All right. I'll be ready at eight, Laura. Bye."

"Bye."

After placing the beige receiver on it's cradle, I sat for a moment, staring at the bust of Mayor Gardener, but my mind was really on the trip ahead. Two days. Plenty of time to get more work done on the bust and pack for the trip. Seven days in Old Quebec City. I sighed and got up and tidied up my studio. Well, my studio is really the enclosed side porch of the old stone cottage I'd found, fell in love with, and rented quickly in the summer of 'eighty-one, not long after Dan's death. Leaving our home in Portland, Maine had been difficult, but necessary. As I wrapped Mayor Gardener's shoulders and head in plastic to keep the clay moist and workable, I thought about the night Dan had died. How surreal it all had seemed. My hands paused on the plastic as I conjured up the image of his gaze in my mind, his dark eyes watching me as I'd sat by his hospital bed. The determined sparkle he'd kept in his eyes throughout his many treatments, wholly for my benefit, I knew, finally became too much of an effort, and he'd closed his eyes and left this world. Our world. Our marriage of ten years had been as close to perfect as I could imagine a union being in this day and age of casual promiscuity and short term dalliances. I'd sat by his side for at least an hour more, loathe to leave, while my two sweet cousins, who'd stayed with me during my lengthy bedside vigil, packed up his things for me. I remember running my fingers softly down his arm, noticing the almost fascinating changes occurring in his body after his spirit had left, and I'd sighed heavily, as I had no more tears to shed.

I wiped down the table top and arranged the wooden tools in the jar, then turned to look out at the dusky sky above my flower bed in the backyard. Since both of us had agreed at some point that we didn't want services if anything were to happen to us, I'd gone over to the shore one evening and scattered his ashes. We would have been in love the rest of our lives, but it wasn't what life had in store for us. For him. I would always be in love with him, death or not. Dan's spirit will never leave my mind and heart. For several months after his death, in fact, I'd continued to look over at his empty chair in front of his desk as I worked on a sculpture, actually carrying on a conversation with him in my head about my progress, and if he had an opinion on how it looked. He'd nod his head, smiling at me as he ran his hand through his short, dark blonde hair, and I'd smile back at the empty chair. It was a reassuring act of denial for a while, but as the one-year anniversary of his death neared, I discovered that the pretense was just too heavy. I couldn't carry it anymore, and that was the first tiny step for me as I slowly learned to separate myself from us as a couple. I donated his desk and black leather chair to a local charity in Portland.

I checked the back door lock, and left the studio, closing the French doors behind me as I entered the living room, letting my eyes roam around the soothing room. A little over a year after his death, I'd received a commission from the small town of North Branford, Connecticut, for a large bronze statue with the theme of dancing children to be set in the town's park, and that had been the perfect opportunity to leave sadness behind for a bit, and again, by chance, on my visit here, I'd driven down this street and noticed the For Rent sign in the front yard, and the house, set back a ways, appeared private and comforting. Something had clicked and I knew this was where I needed to be. Where I would start a new life for myself and separate myself from my grief. We'd decided early on that having children was not on either of our wish lists. We were so enjoying our careers and each other. I had cousins and other relatives to console me after his death, but no one closer. My parents had passed as well, and Dan had become my only family. We were all we needed, we both thought. We were so in tune with each other. I was a thirty-seven year old widow, moving to a new town, a new state. Trying to pick up the pieces. Two years later, and no matter how busy I am, my thoughts drift to him many times during the day, but more in a reflective way now, I suppose.

I sighed and turned on a couple of table and floor lamps as I walked across the rust and tan Oriental carpet to pull the white curtains across the large picture window. As I turned back, I let my gaze fall on the wall behind the brown leather sofa. I'd painted it a deep rust with white mouldings to contrast with the taupe walls in the rest of the room, and especially to accentuate the boldness of Dan's large abstract black and white nature photographs, which I'd framed in black with large white matts. I smiled. How fortunate we'd been that we could make our living being freelance artists, with my being a sculptor and he a photographer. How many couples get to do that, I thought. I sighed and headed to the kitchen to make myself a light dinner, with plans for the upcoming trip now occupying my mind.

******

All set. I checked myself out in the mirror one last time before heading downstairs to wait for Laura's arrival. I ran the brush through my hair, pulling the longer side strands of my straight hair so they'd curl towards my chin, remembering how, before I'd moved to North Branford, I'd stood before my mirror, the scissors poised for a brief reflective moment and resolutely cut my long, black hair. Sort of a personal statement of my hopes for a new era in my life. The next day I'd gone to the hairdresser for the final layering and styling, and I'd decided that I liked the new me. I'd smiled at myself in the mirror as the hairdresser removed the plastic cape and I'd left the salon, feeling a new sense of purpose for my life moving forward.

I added a touch more of the taupe shadow to my eyelids and stared soberly at my reflection, noting that my dark eyes appeared relaxed. Yes, I planned on enjoying this time in Old Quebec. The quick blast of a car horn broke into my thoughts, and I smiled at my reflection, and headed downstairs. I reached the front door and opened it just as Laura was about to ring the bell. She laughed as I picked up my beige suitcase and shut the door and locked it.

"This is going to be fun." I saw that she'd pulled her shoulder-length blonde hair back into a practical ponytail, and that she'd worn jeans and a long sleeved, purple tee shirt for the trip. She noticed that I was eyeing her outfit and laughed. "Lucky you, Paige. You can dress like this the whole week if you like while I'm bogged down in my business attire."

"That's true." I looked down at my black pullover and lightweight black slacks. "I did pack a couple of long skirts, though. And, yes, Laura, I'm really looking forward to this trip."

We headed to the curb and and she raised the back of her baby-blue, 'seventy-nine Dodge Dart and I set my suitcase next to her red one in the cavernous trunk.

The short trip to the airport in Hartford passed quickly, and we parked the car, checked in and were soon ensconced in our cramped seats, along with about a hundred other travelers, I estimated. The short flight to Montreal went smoothly and we had an hour stop there, then we were back on our way and continued on to Quebec where, after the total flight of three and a half hours, we landed at Jean Lasage International. We hailed a taxi and were finally on our last leg of the trip as we headed to the walled city of Le Vieux Québec.

Chapter II

I picked up my glass and laughed at my friend's droll description of her morning meeting, before taking a sip of the icy cold chardonnay.

"Aren't you having a fabulous time?" Laura smiled at me and took a bite of her chicken crêpe.

"I absolutely am, Laura." I nodded at her and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear as I gazed around me at the other diners sitting casually at the small black wrought iron tables and chairs clustered within the black railings in front of the Cafe Charlot. "It's beautiful here. It really is like being in Paris."

I sighed. Dan would have loved it here. We would have loved being here together. Our table was next to the front railing, and masses of ivy and impatiens spilled over the flower boxes set at intervals along the railing. I glanced at the facade of the narrow, stone cafe, and its bright yellow paint made me smile, and the periwinkle shutters and trim and rustic sign over the rust colored door just added to its European-inspired charm. I turned my head and gazed at the people strolling leisurely down the narrow, cobblestoned street, bordered on either side by attached, multi-storied stone structures that had been renovated and transformed into hotels, boutiques or eateries, some with the original gray and tan stone, others painted in various shades of blue, lavender, and pink. Colorful umbrellas over outdoor tables dotted the sidewalks in front of other bistros, and there were flowers absolutely everywhere - in window boxes, hanging from street lamps. I was astounded at the sheer volume of colors that energized my senses. I ate a bite of my salad.

"I have to head back in a few minutes," Laura sighed as she sipped her water. I nodded as I glanced at her rose-colored Chanel business suit, glad that I'd worn my black slacks and long-sleeved white tee shirt with my white windbreaker tied around my shoulders in case the weather turned cooler.

"A two-hour lunch break is not bad, you know," I smiled at her.

"I know. I'm certainly not complaining." She propped her chin on her hand and gazed around at the other diners.

We chatted for a while as we finished our lunch and enjoyed the gorgeous weather. Our first two days in Old Quebec City had, unfortunately, been a bit foggy and damp, but today, Wednesday, our third day was perfect. Laura had chosen this out of the way cafe for our lunch date so she'd be less likely to run into the other attendees from the conference. She'd explained that after sitting and listening to speakers for hours on end, she couldn't wait to get out on her own.

"Hmm. Now, Paige," Laura tilted her head toward a table down from us as she raised her eyebrows. "That gorgeous man over there would make a hell of a model for one of your bronze sculptures, don't you think?" She lowered her voice. "I can see it now. Maybe you could get him to pose for you while we're here." She leaned her chin on her hand and laughed as she fiddled with her earring and glanced over at him again. "He could be your version of Adonis."

"Adonis?" I laughed in feigned disdain at her ridiculous suggestion and peered in the direction of her gaze, seeing a very attractive man seated about three tables from us. Hmm. In his early forties possibly, dressed in jeans and a black sports coat over a white shirt, open at the collar. His longish black hair was slicked back from his forehead, and I noticed that the back of his hair curled up slightly against his coat collar. "I believe the mythological Adonis was supposed to have been much younger, but yes, he's very good looking, Laura," I raised my eyebrows and laughed at her as I sipped my wine. "He does have good, angular bone structure, though, and a very strong jawline." This man was the polar opposite of the model for my current project, Mayor Gardener, that was a given.

"Well, Adonis, or Thor. What is that other one? Michelangelo's David? Any of those would apply," she laughed as she placed her napkin on the table and began rummaging in her purse.

I squinted my eyes back over at the man casually, only to see him glance over in my direction, and I started a bit as we made eye contact and I saw his narrowed blue eyes glint in the glare of the sun as he lifted his chin at me and swiped a strand of dark hair back from his forehead. Embarrassed to have been caught checking him out, I quickly lowered my gaze, then took a deep breath and returned my attention to my friend as she set her napkin down beside her plate. I resisted the urge to glance over towards him.

"Well, that does it for me." She sipped her water and eyed me with a truly disappointed look in her eyes. "I have to get back for the next presentation. Are you heading back to the hotel as well?"

I thought for a moment as I sipped my wine.

"No, I think I'll order some coffee and dessert, then roam around a bit."

"Lucky you," my friend laughed. "Enjoy yourself, and I guess I'll see you later this evening. Maybe we can check out that little bar down the street from the hotel."

"Hmm, perhaps." I tilted my head at her as she stood up.

"Enjoy your afternoon, Paige." Laura patted my shoulder and set the envelope with the bills for our lunch by my plate. "Think of me while you stroll leisurely around the gorgeous streets of Le Vieux Québec." Her voice was wistful and she sighed again.


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