Henri smiles, white teeth gleaming from the citadel of his cocoa lips. In his strong yet warm voice he sings, “Bonjour,” and enters the sleek black “petit Cadillac”. Behind him follows a tall slender woman in a blue and white polka dot summer dress. She removes her shades to expose round hazel eyes and tiny freckles dotted perfectly around the outskirts of her olive nose. She smiles and nods, luscious brown hair falling over her shoulders. Henri, in his jeans and blue buttoned down shirt, laughs at the way her hair frames her face; and reaching for her hand, he says, “Galeries Lafayette, s’il vous plait.”
The windows are rolled down to let in the cool crisp spring air. Henri laughs and takes pictures of a very embarrassed Antoinette, who fails at taming her curls from the wind. Laughter is heard as the couple are chauffeured; and somewhere between picking them up from Henri’s chateau and to the mall, their fingers remain interlinked.
The mall is filled to the brink with locals and tourists shopping to their hearts’ content. Tourists take pictures of the many floors in the mall while others try their luck at the delicious French cuisine outlets. Antoinette runs, like a child in a candy store, to the square, eyes aglow, teeth brimming with joy as she points to several dessert stands. Henri laughs at her blissful, pig hearted innocence as he translates her order to the cashier. She skips away with a shaved ice dessert in hand while Henri tries to catch up.
“I can’t believe I have never been here before,” Antoinette squeals as she is taken floor to floor.
“That is because you never allow yourself to venture beyond the countryside of your grandfather’s home. But today, I will show you another side of Paris that you have never seen before.” He grabs her hand and takes her into several shops, acting as translator for the American girl. Antoinette tries on dress after dress, her body fitting perfectly in every outfit worn. Several hours later she skips from the gallery, washed with glee as Henri follows behind with a pleased smile on his face.
The next stop is the Fontaines de la Concorde where Henri spins a tale of the Greek gods faceted to the statue in its teal and gold glory. Antoinette marvels at the magnitude of the fountain as it hovers over her, Poseidon piercing through her while two other goddesses sit at each side. Awestruck, Antoinette doesn’t even notice when Henri slips a coin in her palm and asks her to make a wish. She smiles, whispers something into her closed palms and throws the coin into the fountain. He comes behind her, his broad arms around her small frame, and asks, “What is it that you wished for?”
She quickly turns around and says, “C’est un secret,” and puts her fingers to her lips. Impressed by her French, Henri laughs heartedly into the air.
“It’s fine, you will tell me before the night ends.” They walk, hand in hand to the Cadillac petit.
The remainder of the drive is filled with silence, long passionate stares, light kisses on the cheeks and hands and stealth like photos from phones. Antoinette jumps as she passes the Eiffel Tower, eyes pleading for Henri to stop but he dismisses the idea. “You’ve seen that before. I want to take you places you’ve never seen.”
They take pictures at the Jardin Luxembourg, Antoinette plays hide and seek between the perfectly aligned trees. Henri runs to the center and poses, his perfectly sculpted body on display, resembling a fierce demigod, or warrior from the plains of Africa. Antoinette whips out her phone to capture him in his splendor and he suddenly picks her up and spins her around. She squeals, an entertaining fusion of fear and fun, as he effortlessly twirls her in the air. He lets her down gently and gazes deeply into her eyes, looking as if he would whisk her away with his eyes alone; but suddenly notices the time; “Nous sommes en retard!” He pulls her by her hands and shouts, “Restaurant La Cour Jardin rapidement s’il te plait.”
The couple sit under red umbrellas among small foliage of ferns and other plants. They sit in the corner, watching other couples enjoying their meals and taking in light conversations. Henri laughs as Antoinette tries to order in French; only managing to get french fries right, he completes her order with wine, chicken and an eclair for dessert. The couple sit in silence, Antoinette’s knee gently bumps and rubs against his. His eyes get smoky and their gaze is almost interrupted by the waiter who comes to their table to light the red candles sitting on the table’s center. The shadows of the tiny flames bounce off of their faces in a mesmerizing luminance. Henri leans over to take Antoinette’s hand and kisses it, his lips lingering on her delicate skin before letting out a sigh. “It is so unfortunate that you have to leave tomorrow. I wish you didn’t have to go.”
“I know. But I’ll be back I promise. I just need to go back home to take care of a few things. I’ll be back in three months and it will be like I never left.”
“Can the same be said for the sun when it leaves the sky,” Henri asks with a half-hearted laugh, “three months may be nothing to you, but it is an eternity for me.”
Antoinette takes Henri’s hand and brings it to her face, “Well, allow me an eternity to make up for your suffering.”
Henri laughs, cups her face, and says, “I shall hold you to it.”
The night ends and they walk along the Pont Alexandre bridge, arm in arm, Antoinette’s head and curls falling on Henri’s shoulder. The sun makes its final dip and Henri laughs, pointing at the sunset and then at his chest, “This is how you’re leaving my heart.”
Antoinette playfully pushes him and he falters back as if fatally wounded. They share a laugh, and then a kiss.
After saying his last good bye’s to Antoinette, at her grandfather’s cottage he slumps back into the car, truly wounded. For hours he is silent, save few occasions when a soft saddened sigh would escape his lips, from scrolling through the pictures of his phone. Suddenly, he speaks, his voice bringing new life into the Cadillac petit. “Thank you for today.”
I smile and say, “Pas de probleme.”
“You know, Antoinette has a few American friends who are supposed to be coming down to France with her and her company. Maybe she can set you up with someone. Not everything they say about Americans are true.”
We share a laugh and I shrug, my short black hair staying in place. I try to maintain the smile on my face, at least until I’m able to drop him off. But between my aching heart and his sullen face, I can’t help but frown. He spots my frown and says, “You’re probably tired from driving us around all day. Let me drive. You can stay by me for tonight. I’d hate to have something happen to you on the ride home.” I nod.
We continue the drive in silence. A light hearted song from Stacy Kent is heard faintly in the background and I fight the urge to put my head on Henri’s shoulder. As if reading my mind, he pats his shoulder and ushers me to him with his head. I blush and lean over, my head falling perfectly on his shoulders. I gaze down at his hand that sits on his lap, tapping away to the music on the radio. I imagine what it would look like, what it would feel like, to have his fingers interlaced with mine in a crisscross of mahogany and cocoa. If he’s still reading my mind, I guess he chose to ignore my last few thoughts. I sigh to myself, breathe him in and then fall asleep.
I get a gentle nudge and look to see my love staring back at me with a smile on his face. “We’re here. You can sleep in my room tonight, I’ll sleep on the couch.” He helps me up and I clumsily fall into his chest. I can feel his chest heave up and down as he laughs and ruffles his thick hands into my short hair, “I swear you have two left feet, Laney.”
“Well, you know me,” I whisper as I try my best to control the rapid beating of my heart. The deafening sound of it blurs out Henri’s voice. “Huh,” I asked.
“What do you think Antoinette wished for? I wanted to ask but I honestly forgot.”
I stare into the night sky with all its stars sewn perfectly around the radiant glow of the full moon.
“She probably wished to be with you forever.”
Henri stands in front of me, his tall frame replacing my view with an equally mesmerizing one.
“Thank you Elaine. This is why you’re my best friend, you always know what to say. The next time we go by the fountain, I’m going to wish that you find the man of your dreams, someone to always be kind to you, the way you are to me.”
Henri walks into the house and I follow slowly behind. Right before we slip into the door, I notice my shadow engulfed in his and swallow a bitter laugh. From the moment I met Henri, I’ve made that same exact wish about him. Yet, five years later, here I am, stuck in the shadows, my feelings for him forever hidden from him, blending in the guise of our eternal friendship.
“If I should be so lucky.” The words foolishly slip from my lips and Henri gives me warm smile, his arms wrapping around me. This is the most I can do. This is all I can ask for. I close my eyes, savouring this intimacy, opening myself to his love, allowing my feelings to touch the surface before burying them again once more. He lets me go and the cold air assaults me, bringing me back to reality.
“Let’s get you inside,” he says; and I follow shutting the door behind me. The door to his home and to my aching heart.