Carol Anne Vick
to my husband, Ray
Other Books by the Author:
of Gerard's Cliff
The Summer of Gauguin
(Sequel to The Village of
An Obscure Haven
A Pale Paradise
(Sequel to An Obscure Haven)
"To know one thing, you must know the opposite."
Henry Moore, Sculptor
all heard that well-known phrase, "Look before you leap,"
which in French would be "Il
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
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.
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."
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
"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,
"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
"All right. I'll be ready at
eight, Laura. 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
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
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
"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
"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.
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
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.
you having a fabulous time?" Laura smiled at me and took a bite
of her chicken crêpe.
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
"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
"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.
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."
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.
What is that other one? Michelangelo's David?
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
"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
"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
"Hmm, perhaps." I tilted
my head at her as she stood up.
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
Her voice was wistful and she sighed again.
"Thanks, Laura. I'll see you
She waved as she exited the
enclosure and headed down the street. I could hear the sound of her
black heels clicking on the cobblestones above the low chatter of the
other diners. I slanted my eyes over to the man again, thinking about
what Laura had said.
you care for dessert, madame?"
I jumped slightly as the waiter's
voice interrupted my thoughts.
yes, I think I'll have the crème
coffee - café."
The black-clad waiter quickly gathered up the plates and glasses and
headed back through the front door of the restaurant.
I sipped the last of my wine,
closed my eyes for a brief moment, and then let my gaze roam over the
flowers and then the diners, all chatting happily, mostly in French,
from what I could hear, of which I understood very little, and I
immediately regretted having taken Spanish in high school. I smiled
to myself, and set down my wine glass, and that's when I caught the
dark-haired man watching me. As quickly as I'd seen his blue eyes
narrowed at me from three tables down, he'd turned his head back to
his companion and engaged her in conversation, gesturing expressively
with his right hand. Hmm. I could just barely hear his deep voice, as
he spoke to the girl in French. I couldn't deny it. I'd seen several
very attractive men in just the two days we'd been in Old Quebec.
But, in all honesty, I had no interest in men right now. I was taking
my time getting back into life, but it didn't hurt to look, I
suppose. Hmm. I slanted my eyes back over to him.
you are, madame."
turned and peered up at the waiter as he placed the black napkin and
white fluted ramekin in front of me, and I sighed happily as he set
the small white cup of cafè
to my left.
you so much. Merci."
nodded seriously and left me to enjoy my dessert. I picked up the
ornate dessert spoon and punched it carefully through the hard, thin
layer of caramelized sugar, scooping up a mound of the creamy
custard. As I savored the richness of the crème
I noticed that the man with the blue eyes and his companion were no
longer at their table, and I casually scanned the street. Oh well.
Returning my attention to the heavenly dessert before me, I
contentedly sipped the strong, black coffee, then scooped another
spoonful of the luscious custard, wondering how difficult it would be
to learn a new language at my age. I sighed, totally enjoying the
moment, and peered up just in time to see the man and his companion
walk out of the restaurant door. The dark-haired young woman walked
ahead of him, chatting back to him in French, and I noticed that she
was carrying a small, white bakery bag. She looked to be in her upper
teens or early twenties, and as they passed me, she continued to the
gate, but the man, to my surprise, paused in front of my table. He
nodded down to me, arched one dark eyebrow and gave me a very slight
smile as he lowered his gaze and set a rectangular white card on my
table. He tapped the card with his index finger and I stared at his
hand, then looked at him and smiled ever so slightly, but with a
tinge of puzzlement.
His voice was low as he gave me another quick glance through narrowed
I squinted up at his face, and
could see a light tinge of silver in the hint of stubble on his
angular jaw. I blinked as I eyed him, then peered down at the card as
he lifted his hand and I picked it up and held it in front of me.
Before I could say anything, they'd left the patio enclosure and were
walking down the street behind me. I turned just in time to see them
disappear around the corner to the right, down another narrow street,
one of many in this maze-like labyrinth of quaint avenues.
was a business card, and I sipped my coffee and tilted my head as I
looked at the ornate black scrolling around the perimeter, and the
line drawings of old books, and Chambre
des Livres printed
in fancy script diagonally across the card. Well, livre
is book, I did know that much and the drawing made it pretty clear,
so obviously, it was a business card for a book store. Chambre.
Hmm. I thought perhaps it was French for chamber,
that made sense. A name written in the lower corner caught my eye.
Hmm, an interesting name. I was curious about the book store, to be
sure, but, if I were really honest with myself, slightly even more
curious about this man named Theo Marchand. I continued to hold the
card in my left hand as I finished my crème
peered down at the card in my hand and reread the address. This was
the correct street, Rue
I looked around me at the various businesses, looking for a store
sign or number six, eighty-five. Honestly, I was feeling more than a
slight bit of trepidation, not sure at all if this was a good idea.
Curiosity killed the cat, right? And, unfortunately, I was indeed,
more than a little curious. I adjusted my large, square sunglasses on
the bridge of my nose and stopped short. There it was. Chambre
des Livres clearly
visible in black cursive on the white wood sign above the narrow
took a deep breath and pulled my white windbreaker more tightly
across my chest as I stared at the three story stone structure across
the steeply-sloped, narrow street from where I stood. On its right
was an impressive looking flower shop, with a magenta awning and
masses of every kind of bloom imaginable propped up in colorful
buckets in front of the multi-pane windows on either side of the
bright blue door. Several people were milling around, checking out
the flowers as the owner, an older woman with gray hair piled up in a
loose bun atop her head, and wearing a yellow bib apron stood by the
door. To the book store's left was a small bistro, with three small
white wrought iron tables and chairs in front of the windows. That
building had been painted a pale blue-gray and sported a striped blue
and white awning over the windows and white door. Two of the tables
were occupied with a couple of patrons each, all absorbed in their
conversations as they ate their meals and sipped their wine.
I brushed a strand of hair off my
cheek and let my gaze return to the book store. Why had I felt the
urge to check it out? Was it because a very attractive man had
dropped his card on my table as he passed? Did he drop off a card at
every table? Of course, he probably did, in all likelihood. I
continued to stare at the book store, with the multi-pane windows,
the sashes painted the same brown as the door, and the nondescript
beige awning. So why did I feel a slight nervousness well up in my
chest? As if there had been an ulterior motive in his leaving the
Deciding that I was over-thinking
at that point, a trait that I knew was one of the least favorable in
my repertoire of short-comings, in my mind, I was determined to just
do it. I was just so curious, so very curious. What could it hurt? I
would just go in and browse through the books, just stay a minute,
and see what they had to offer. I hadn't been shopping in Old Quebec
as of yet, and a book store was just as good as any other place to
begin. I tucked the card in my shoulder bag and crossed the
cobblestoned street and stared into the small window display. Several
books were propped up on ornate gold easels. One on birds of Canada,
another very colorful large book on local species of flowers, and
another, a very antiquated-looking novel. A pale gold swath of
material curled around the easels upon which several other books were
nestled. I smiled as I peered at the large book on flowers, and
decided that I would enjoy milling through the assortment of books
and I took a deep breath and pushed open the door and immediately
heard the jangle of a small bell above my head.
I heard her voice before I could
actually see her and I shut the door behind me and removed my
sunglasses as my eyes adjusted to the slight dimness of the shop. I
nodded at the young woman behind the counter, the same one from the
restaurant, as I placed my shades in my shoulder bag. I felt an
immediate sense of relief.
I smiled at her, then let my eyes roam around the narrow space, taken
up by floor to ceiling dark wood shelves on either side and several
rectangular wood tables down the middle and I noticed the pleasant
musty smell of the place. This was how a bookstore should smell, I
thought, and now I couldn't wait to look around. The walls were
painted a pale gray-green tone and everything else was dark wood trim
or wainscoting, which gave it a very cozy feel. I looked up and
noticed the dark wood beams spanning the white plastered ceiling of
the narrow shop, and the antique-looking chandeliers that hung evenly
over the neat table displays of new best-sellers mixed with old
texts. This had been a good decision to check the place out. The man
from the cafe was not here, so I felt a little more at ease. I
noticed that there was an elderly white-haired woman in a blue,
checked dress, sitting in a floral, overstuffed chair situated near
the desk, and I watched her for a moment as she pored over one of the
several books piled high on her lap.
"Let me know if I may be of
assistance." The young woman behind the counter spoke with a
soft accent and she smiled at me pleasantly, then returned to her
I responded, and I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, and
adjusted my shoulder bag to a more comfortable position as I craned
my neck, eyeing the various shelves, trying to decide where to begin.
Ah, there was a section on the
arts, and I maneuvered around the first table and stood in front of
rows and rows of every sort of book possible on various artists from
every period of time and every country you could imagine. I eagerly
pulled down a large book on Vincent Van Gogh and held the hefty book
as I flipped through the pages adorned with prints of his colorful
Post-Impressionistic paintings. This was what I loved, and I
definitely could be very happy here for several hours. I slid the
book back into its space, and pulled down another on Henry Moore, the
English sculptor. I had two books on his work at home, but this one
was outstanding. I turned and set the oversized book on the table,
and flipped slowly through the volume, admiring the color prints of
his large bronze castings. The undulating, abstract figures he was
known for had always been fascinating to me, and just looking at the
simplicity of form he'd achieved was a source of inspiration, and I
vowed to incorporate some of his stylization in my next casting. As I
scanned the pages, I could hear the girl and the elderly woman
converse in French at the counter, and I smiled at the coziness of
this book store. What a great decision to come here. I must get this
book on Moore, and, perhaps one other. I lifted up and scanned the
shop. My eye had been drawn to the book on flowers in the window
display, and I spied the section on horticulture, and I shifted my
shoulder bag and closed the book and carried it with me to that
section, around the center table, and a little closer to the counter.
As their soothing conversation wafted through the small shop, I
happily scanned the shelves for just the right book, and reached up
on tip-toe to pull down a large, thin book with the most beautiful
jacket cover I'd ever seen. I turned and set down both books on the
table behind me, being careful not to knock over the display and
started to look through the colorful photographs of purple larkspur
and pink gladiolus, thinking how beautiful they would look in my
garden at home.
I swung around to see the elderly
lady smiling at me, her warm eyes crinkling as she held onto her
purchase and tried to maneuver around me to get to the door.
I'm sorry. Pardon."
I smiled back at her and scooted as close to the table as I could to
let her pass. I returned to looking through my book, then sighed and
decided that it was time to leave. Why had I felt such trepidation?
This had been a pleasant diversion, and now I had two great books to
take back to the hotel with me. The idea of propping up in the
comfortable bed with a cup of coffee and studying my new Henry Moore
book seemed really appealing. I stacked the two books and set them
across my left arm as I shifted my shoulder bag and made my way to
the back of the shop, toward the large dark wood counter, at which
the young woman was apparently cataloging some new arrivals. She
turned as I approached.
"Have you made your choice?"
She smiled at me and I laid the books on the counter and she picked
up the Moore book. "Ah, I see you like sculpture?"
"Yes, I'm a sculptor by
profession," I smiled at her as I rummaged in my shoulder bag
for my wallet. "And I've always loved Henry Moore's work."
And that's when I heard the deep voice call out in French from the
viens ici, veuillez."
she called back lightly in response. "Excuse me," she
smiled at me. "I'll be right back." I nodded and rested my
hands on the counter, holding my wallet. The girl walked into the
back room, and I could hear a low conversation in rapid French, of
which I understood nothing.
I chewed the inside of my lip as I
waited, and tilted my head to look down at the various books she'd
been working on. I turned to look at the nearby display, and took a
deep breath as I waited. The conversation ended and I turned back
around when I heard her return. Except that it wasn't the girl.
I'll finish the transaction for you." His warm voice matched his
dark good looks and my eyes widened as he stood in front of me.
"Nicolette has an errand to run."
His voice was startling in its
deepness, his accent was intriguing, and I looked up into his blue
eyes and all I could do was nod in silent acquiescence. He was no
longer wearing the black sports coat, and the sleeves of his white
shirt were rolled up to his mid forearms. I cleared my throat and
reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear as I tilted my
head and eyed him warily.
thank you. Merci."
I murmured. I watched as he inspected each of my books, then turned
to the cash register. He was probably six, three in my estimation,
and much to my chagrin, slightly intimidating at this close range. I
cleared my throat again, and raised my chin as I observed him.
Despite his smile, which creased the corner of his mouth as he hummed
slightly while he rang up my items, he seemed serious, almost stern.
I stared at his expressive hands as he handled my books and wrapped
the flower book in brown paper. Despite myself, I took a mental
snapshot of his hands. I thought of Laura's comment at lunch, and I
imagined his hands in that exact pose sculpted in clay with the
finished product in bronze. My brows raised as I thought about
sculpting them in plasticine in my studio at home. His hands would be
exquisite in bronze.
will be thirty-two dollars, si
He'd placed his hands on the
counter and was tapping his thumb and I could tell that he was
watching me now, and I found that I couldn't look into his eyes as I
continued to stare at his hands. I nodded and opened my wallet and
pulled out the bills. I lifted my gaze to his as I handed over the
payment and I saw that his visage was indeed serious as he narrowed
his eyes at me.
"You have a lovely bookstore,
Mr. Marchand." I lifted my chin and my voice was soft as I eyed
him. His eyes were expressive, even in their seriousness as he
watched me, and I saw a slight crinkle appear on the sides.
he smiled ever so slightly and pursed his lips. "And merci."
His brows raised and he nodded as
we continued to stare at each other across the counter for what was
probably only thirty seconds or so, when the bell jangled as the
front door opened and I blinked and smiled at him, rather relieved
that something had broken the stillness. He nodded and smiled, and I
noticed again the light scruff of beard as he rubbed his jaw.
He looked past me and I turned my head to see the blurry, back-lit
silhouette of a young man who waved as he entered the book store and
shut the door behind him. "Bonjour,
the young man replied amiably.
Theo turned his attention back to
"I'll wrap the other book for
cleared my throat and took a deep breath as I watched him wrap my
Henry Moore book in brown paper and place both books in a brown tote
bag. He picked the bag up by the handles and handed it to me across
the counter. I smiled at him, and as I took the handles, he removed
his hand and ran it through his dark hair.
hope you will return to Chambre
des Livres in
the near future, mademoiselle."
He slung his hand loosely on his hip.
will. And it's madame."
I smiled at him as I turned to leave. I couldn't help but notice that
his eyes flickered down for just an instant to my left hand, and as
his gaze returned to mine, he blinked slowly, appearing slightly
puzzled. "Thank you again. Merci."
The tote bag was heavy, and I adjusted my shoulder bag as I made my
way to the door. I wondered if he was watching me. I reached the door
and pulled on the handle.
He did have a deep voice. I turned
back towards him as I was about to exit and I leaned against the edge
of the open door.
I replied in what sounded to me like the blandest enunciation of that
beautiful language to have ever been uttered. He lifted his chin and
smiled and I left the small book store and stepped out into the
bright sunshine and it almost blinded me. I had to stop and rummage
in my shoulder bag for my sunglasses, and I sighed after sliding them
on. My goodness, that was more than I'd bargained for. What was my
problem? Why had I let him get to me. I shook my head and turned to
the left, maneuvering around the diners at the small cafe, and headed
down the steep Rue
du Temple toward
A soft rap at the door caused me
to jerk my head upwards and I stretched my neck, which had become
stiff from reading for a while.
"It's me, Paige."
"I'll be right there."
I lifted the heavy Henry Moore
book off my knees and laid it on the bed, as I disentangled myself
from the blankets. I closed the small sketchbook that lay beside me
and tucked it under the blanket. I glanced at the clock on the
nightstand. Four-thirty. I pulled the hem of my loose gray sweatshirt
down over my stretchy back pants, and opened the door.
"Long day, Paige. Much too
long," Laura groaned as she entered and tossed her black
briefcase on the coverlet. She plopped herself on the edge of the bed
and removed her heels as I closed the door. She spied the book on the
bed and the brown bag on the floor. "I see you've been shopping.
I'm envious, you know."
"Well, it's been an
interesting day, to say the least," I smiled coyly, my hands on
my hips as I raised my eyebrows at her.
She squinted her eyes back at me.
"What does that mean? You're being very mysterious," she
laughed. "Sounds like you want to tell me something intriguing."
She studied my face. "All right. Spill it. Tell me everything."
I sat back down on the bed and
hugged my knees. "Well, you remember the man at the cafe that
you pointed out to me?"
course, who could forget him?
Your next bronze Adonis."
She rubbed her foot and laughed, then stopped short. "Oh, wait,"
she squinted at me. "You met
She looked at the books and bag again and gaped at me incredulously
as I nodded. "You actually met
him? In a bookstore? You're smiling, Paige. Tell me all about it."
She laughed giddily in anticipation and turned to listen as I
recounted my story.
"Well. What are you going to
do now?" Laura twisted up her mouth. "It seems the ball is
in your court, so to speak. He has no way to get in touch with you."
"I'm not going to do
anything, Laura. I don't think I'm ready." I took a deep breath.
"It was just nice to find out that I was able to feel something
akin to attraction again. I'm actually just content with that right
now. I don't think I'll be running into him again. I mean, we're in
another country, right?" I hugged my knees. "I really don't
think I care to. It will just be an interesting little memory from my
"I know, honey. I
understand." She patted my knee. "It was nice to have a bit
of adventure already in such a gorgeous place as this, though."
"Have you eaten dinner?"
"No, and I can't wait to get
out of this suit and into some comfy jeans and tennis shoes."
She slipped her heels back on and eyed me. "Hmm. Let's go out
and have a great dinner."
"Sounds good to me."
"How about that restaurant we
passed on the way back to the hotel yesterday?"
"You mean the one with the
"Yes, it looked casual, so we
can wear jeans, don't you think?"
"Yes, that sounds good. In an
"Okay, I'll go to my room and
change and meet you in the lobby at..." She glanced at her
watch, "five thirty." She slid off the bed, grabbed her
briefcase and waved me off. "Stay put, I'll let myself out. See
you soon." She closed the door behind her and I rested my head
on my arms and sighed.
I changed into blue jeans, a
long-sleeve black tee-shirt and my white tennis shoes, and went into
the bathroom to brush my hair. I eyed my reflection in the ornate
gold-framed oval mirror above the white pedestal sink as I ran the
brush though my hair. Yes, it had been an interesting encounter, but
that was enough. I'd felt my heart skip a beat when I'd looked into
his eyes, I couldn't deny that, and that was a bit exhilarating in
itself. Maybe, down the road, months down the road, I'd be ready to
date again if I met someone I was attracted to, but not now. I set
the brush on the shelf, and checked the time as I slid my slender
gold watchband onto my left wrist.
I had another twenty minutes or so
to kill before meeting Laura in the lobby, so I decided to check out
my other new purchase. I got myself comfortable on the bed, and
retrieved the sketchbook from under the covers and flipped the stiff
cardboard cover over the metal spiral spine. I stared at the pencil
drawing I'd made earlier from my mental snapshot of his hands. I
studied it for a minute, imagining a larger than lifesize rendition
first in plasticine clay, then in bronze. I nodded to myself, pleased
that I'd captured the image of the book resting in his expressive,
capable-looking hands just as I'd remembered. I knew that I was
seeing him with an artist's eye, but honestly, the man had gorgeous
hands. I leaned down and put the Moore book and the sketchbook into
the tote bag, and I pulled out the other large volume and I quickly
unwrapped and stuffed the brown paper in the tote bag. I pulled up my
knees and balanced the book against my legs. After admiring the cover
again, I opened the book and a small folded sheet of blue notepaper
slid down the page. What...what was this? I picked up the notepaper
just as the phone on the nightstand rang. Without opening the note, I
picked up the phone.
"Paige, you won't believe
this, but the minute I finished getting dressed to go out to eat, the
phone rang and it was my boss."
"Oh no, that doesn't sound
good." I tapped the note against the page of the book, not
wanting to look at it, but wanting Laura to finish her conversation
quickly so I could.
"They're meeting in the
conference room in an hour to write a proposal." I could tell
she was extremely agitated. Who wouldn't be? "They'll have a
buffet for us, and you're welcome to join us for that, at least. It
sounds like I'll be there for several more hours. What a bunch
of...well, I just can't say the word. I never could curse properly,
but I'm thinking it."
"Thanks, but I think I'll
just go out to eat, Laura." I kept my gaze on anything other
than the note. "I'm so sorry you have to work. I know you're
"I am, and I'm just going to
go down in my jeans. I don't care if they don't like it, and I plan
to give them my opinion of this ridiculous night session. We're
supposed to have some time to ourselves, otherwise, why have it in a
place like Old Quebec in the first place," she sighed in
exasperation. "Well, I'm sorry I have to cancel our dinner,
Paige. I guess I'll meet you tomorrow for lunch. How's that?"
"That sounds good. And I feel
so bad for you, I do."
"You enjoy your dinner, and
I'll see you tomorrow."
"All right, Laura, try not to
work too hard."
"Ha. You guessed my plan.
Don't tell anyone," she laughed at that. "Bye, Paige."
"Bye," I sighed and hung
up the phone, then turned my attention to the blue notepaper. I held
it lightly in both hands and stared at it for a moment, then slid my
thumb under the flap and opened it. I held my breath as I read the
sprawling masculine cursive.
- Meet me tonight at seven o'clock at the carriage ride station in
the park on Rue de St. Louis, s'il vous plaît.
blinked in puzzlement. Why would he have written such a cryptic note
to me? Was it even meant for me? I tucked a strand of hair behind my
ear and turned the note over to check for more writing, but that was
it. Was it an old note, stuck in the book and forgotten? I reread the
note and tilted my head in frustration. No, no, it had to be meant
for me. There was no note in the book when I was flipping through the
pages in the bookstore, I was sure of it. And he'd called Nicolette,
hadn't he, and had her run an errand so he could finish ringing up my
purchases. I knew that. It was anything but subtle, now that I
thought of it. And he hadn't known my name at that point, but had
called me mademoiselle.
He must have written the note when he heard me talking to Nicolette
at the counter. My brow furrowed as I stared at his writing, totally
taken by surprise over this strange turn of events. I glanced at my
watch. Should I call Laura and tell her the latest? Hmm, no, I'd told
her enough as it was. I'll keep this to myself. Now, what to do about
it. Meet him at the carriage
Well, that was just down the street, in the opposite direction from
the restaurant Laura and I had been planning on eating at tonight.
Our hotel, Manoir
was on Rue
de St. Louis,
midway between the two, so it was a short walk. What to do.
a minute. Why was I even considering it? And why did he have to be so
secretive about all this? If he'd really wanted to see me again, why
go about it in such an odd, clandestine way. Hmm. On the other hand,
me back to his bookstore, but he probably said that to all the
customers. He'd probably figured I was married after I'd told him I
instead of mademoiselle,
and he'd already inserted the note. So he probably didn't plan on
meeting me after that. I tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear and
twisted my mouth to the side in aggravation. This made me very
uncomfortable, to say the least. Why would I want to meet a total
stranger, no matter how good looking he was, to go on a carriage ride
at night in a foreign city? Why would I do that? It wouldn't be
I decided to enjoy dinner out on
my own, and to heck with his note. It was just a little too strange.
I tossed the note into the bag and decided to ignore it. I threw on
my white windbreaker and grabbed my brown shoulder bag. A nice dinner
out alone would be relaxing. I was actually looking forward to it the
more I thought about it, and I shut the door behind me as I left my
I glanced up at the waiter as he set my entree in front of me, then I
looked down at the most lovely platter of crusted scallops, roasted
red potatoes and asparagus. I sighed and buttered a slice of the
crusty French bread, and set it on the side of the blue and white
platter. Yes, I'd made the right decision. This looked so amazing,
and I felt so bad for Laura, having to miss all of this. I sipped the
chilled white wine, then picked up my fork and speared one of the
scallops. As I enjoyed my meal, I gazed around the cozy, candle-lit
dining room from my small table in the front corner of the
restaurant, next to the large, multi-sashed window, while the lively
sounds of an accordion wafted in from an adjoining room. I
half-listened to the mix of French and English conversations and the
laughter of couples that seemed to dominate the clientele. I felt a
slight pang in my chest, somewhat jealous now of what I knew they
shared. The bond of someone else knowing you so well, of easy
companionship. The couple at the table next to me laughed as they
held their glasses of wine and leaned in towards each other, as if
they were the only two in the room. I returned my gaze to my entree
and ate a small wedge of roasted potato and chewed as my mind drifted
to the past. I missed that easy companionship. I missed Dan. I missed
the comfortable romantic relationship with someone you know so well.
But I did realize, if I were truly honest with myself, that I was
slowly evolving from that grieving widow that I'd been, and I was
finally emerging from the pervasive notion that the world had
continued to spin as I was frozen in time. That all of mankind should
have somehow halted their frenetic lives and acknowledge my loss. But
my emergence had been gradual, and I wouldn't have wanted it any
"Is the meal to your liking?"
My waiter's thick French accent made him seem all the more appealing
and I smiled up at him.
He nodded pleasantly and left me
to finish my meal, and I spent the next half hour finishing my entree
and enjoying a dessert of cheesecake and coffee as I listened to the
sounds of the accordion as the musician entered the dining room and
wove slowly around the tables. It was with reluctance that I finally
slipped on my jacket, paid my tab, and left the establishment.
The evening air was clear and
cool, and I zipped up my windbreaker as I maneuvered around a
middle-aged couple standing together on the sidewalk, oblivious to
me, reading the restaurant's outdoor menu posted on the stone facade.
I brushed my hair back from my cheek and continued up the steep
incline toward my hotel, peering into the colorful, flower-laden
windows of the various shops I passed, and I noticed the families and
couples in the softly-lit park across the street, some sitting on the
many benches dotting the park, or roaming around the statues further
heard the leisurely clop-clop-clop of a horse and carriage on the
cobblestoned street perpendicular to Rue
de St. Louis and
I paused at the corner as the ornate open black and gold carriage,
pulled by two dappled gray horses passed by. The driver had turned
from his high perch in the front to speak to the occupants of the
carriage, two couples facing each other, a red plaid blanket tucked
across their knees, and I smiled as I watched them laugh at whatever
he'd said to them. The image of Theo, standing behind the counter,
tapping his finger, suddenly appeared in my mind, and I frowned and
lifted my chin and took a deep breath. Yes, it was a good thing I'd
decided to ignore his note. There was no point in meeting him. I
couldn't come up with one good reason to convince myself that I
should join him at the carriage station, the gold lights of which I
could now see in the distance as I neared the hotel. I didn't know
the man. The very mild flirtation at his bookstore was enough.
glanced at my watch as I neared the entrance to Manoir
It was six, fifty-five now, and I dug my hands into the pockets of my
jacket. I paused at the door to the hotel for just a second, and for
some inexplicable reason, continued walking up the street toward the
carriage station. Perhaps he wouldn't be there and I would just turn
around and come back, climb into bed, and finish reading my book on
Henry Moore. Or, it was such a beautiful night, perhaps I'd take a
carriage ride on my own. I could do that. I was used to going places
and doing things alone now. If he happened to be there, I could cut
things short, and head back to the hotel, and be done with thinking
about all of it. The more I thought about it the more I was sure that
he'd been surprised when I told him I was madame,
and even more certain that he wouldn't show up.
I was slightly winded as I reached
the top of the street, and was glad that it leveled out in front of
the carriage station, and I turned left and walked onto a brick path
and under a metal arch that served as the entrance. There were
several benches ringing a circular gravel drive, and a gazebo-type
wood structure stood in the middle of a grassy area in the center.
There was one carriage parked at the far back of the drive, and the
two black horses snorted as they pawed the ground. I didn't see
anyone, and I looked around me. There was a small building to the
left of the entrance and I walked over to it, my hands dug in my
pockets. I was glad I'd worn my jacket, as the air was starting to
cool down a bit. Just as I approached, a burly middle-aged man,
dressed in jeans and a blue plaid shirt, came out of the building and
walked towards me, holding a white mug of what I assumed was coffee
in his left hand.
am the owner. You are interested in a ride, mademoi...?"
He seemed pleasant enough, and he
spoke with a thick French accent, which I was beginning to become
accustomed to, even in my short time here.
"I'm thinking about it,"
I smiled at him and he returned the smile, then took a swig of his
coffee. "How much is it, and how long is the ride?"
"Forty-five minutes for the
tour within and around the walled city, and the cost is twenty-five
dollars. Canadian dollars." I nodded as he waved his large hand
toward the carriage at the back of the circular drive. "We have
one carriage available now, if you like. The driver will be right out
if you are interested. It would be the last ride of the night,"
he added, as an extra incentive, I'm sure. He put his left hand on
his hip and took another swig of coffee, awaiting my decision.
"Well, all right." I
took a deep breath. "I'll take that carriage, then."
He looked past me toward the
"Will you be joined by any
others?" he asked me seriously. "Our carriages seat four."
"No, no. It's just me."
I reached for my purse. "Do I pay now?"
pay when you return from your tour."
right, thank you. Merci."
I murmured, not quite sure why I was doing this. Well, Laura was
working, and I'd had my fill of reading and sketching this afternoon,
so a nice, calm ride around the city would be enjoyable. I was well
aware that there was no Theo is sight, and of that I was actually
quite relieved, and feeling a little foolish, in all honesty, for
having been concerned about that in the first place.
We both turned as we heard
footsteps on the gravel.