Jacques and Gillian were one pasta shell away from being married for 22 years. Jack had already reserved their chef’s table at “Bellarosas French Cuisine” for their anniversary dinner. It was here that he had proposed to her 22 years to the day.
Jacques had been a young French interpreter for a large New York City architectural firm, when they had first met, and she a burgeoning NYU film student. They had encountered one another on his lunch break in Central Park, where she was stealing street scenes, without a permit, for her upcoming thesis film.
The way she carried herself had immediately grabbed his attention. She managed to direct people in the chaos, even strangers, all while looking damn hot while doing it. He had forgotten all about his tuna sandwich, sliced ill, and weekly copy of “Architectural Digest”. She on the other hand hadn’t even noticed him, until she needed an extra.
She walked up to him, her loose fitting blouse full of perspiration, breast clinging to the sheer shirt, while two of the other students showed a cop dummy papers form their professors.
“Hey, you got a minute”, she bellowed. He nearly choked, as he pointed to his chest in an “are you talking to me” gesture.
“Sure”, was all he had managed to get out.
“Alright here’s the scene…”, she coached. “I’m going have to play the pedestrian guys, we don’t have time!”, she yelled to her skeleton crew, over her shoulder. Now she turned back to Jacques “I have just been mugged and fallen off of my bike. All I need you to say is ‘Ma’am, are you alright, you look hurt’. Think you can do that?”
“I don’t know”, said Jacques. He was already a timid guy, and the hustle and bustle of the cameras and the questioning NYPD cops wasn’t helping any.
“Please? Look, when we’re done, I’ll buy you drinks tonight. OK? Please. I’m running out of time.”
“I’m your man”, he retuned with a wink and a smile that melted even her overworked and quick-paced heart.
“Oh nice, a French accent. That’s perfect.”, she replied. “Roll Camera, Roll Sound!”, she again belted to the crew of film students. The cops had luckily lost interest and had moved on.
They did a take, before she called “cut” halfway through the action. She pulled Jacques in close to her, and he could see the sweat glistening on her full lips, and the curves of her half unbuttoned shirt, as they created enticing cleavage. “Look, don’t be nervous. I’m shooting on film, so I really can’t afford to this more than one more time. Get in close. Real close. Look in my eyes, and deliver the line like you mean it.”
He did, and the two shared a moment that would far outlast any memories of her thesis board, or his interpreter career. A spark had been born, and an unquenchable fire had been lit.
That night she broke her golden rule of sex on the first date, and a year later, he had proposed. Right here, on this very spot, at Bellarosas.
Gillian, now in her mid 40s, was seated at the table by the Maître d’. She slid side-saddled into her chair, looking every bit as beautiful, and confident, as a movie star. One button on her cream-colored blouse was unbuttoned at just the right titillating spot. Jacques didn’t know if it was strategic or not, nor did he care. He always was a sucker for some good eye candy, planned or serendipitous.
“You look great.”, he said in his smooth French accent. He had aged well too, and his salt and pepper goatee, and tailored suits, gave him an exotic and distinguished air.
He had already ordered a ’64 port, their go-to for special occasions like this one, and raised a glass in a toast. “Here’s to 22 years!”
She answered the toast, but spoke her words out of the side of her teeth. “22 years.” she whispered, but it felt more like a proclamation of time served, rather, than celebratory.
“Is something wrong?”, he enquired. After a pregnant pause, he raised his glass again, “And here’s to 22 more!”
She raised her glass again, but this time refused to clink glasses with him. She downed the bittersweet aged ‘Vinho do Porto’ in one solid gulp. She swallowed so hard, her head began to buzz. It was at that moment, that Jacques realized that this evening wouldn’t go so well for him.
There was a long moment of silence, as the waiter brought out the salads and bread. Jacques had already taken the liberty of ordering the meal, as it was the same one they had every year, on their anniversary.
“You know I’m a strong woman, right Jacques?”. He blinked knowing the wrong answer here could be lethal.
“Of course, sweetheart. I have always admir….”
“…I have won screenwriting competitions and awards for directing, in a field dominated by men.”, she began as she cut him off. “I’ve made distribution deals, and shot indie films in slums and studio pics with crews of over 400 people.”
“Those are some of the things I most…”
She cut him off again “…I am a member of the Producer’s Council of the Producer’s Guild of America and have managed to get 30 year old projects greenlit, and rights acquired for legacy projects that seem completely unattainable.”
At this point he simply kept his mouth shut.
“I dealt, for 22 years, with everything. The 6 to 8 month trips to France, on ‘Ambassador trips’. The countless receipts for ‘health spas’ and credit card charges in Thai-town. I even gave you leeway in your social life. I never, NEVER, said you could not have a life outside of us, nor did I stalk your numerous chats and picture swapping with God knows who… but this, Jacques? How could you?!”
Jacques could hear the deflation in her voice. It was an inflection of clear disappointment with a subtle underline of bitter anger. Just like the faint tang of fish at the bottom of the bowl of Marseille Bouillabaisse they had moved on to. He chose to eat a while, before he would engage her. His mind was doing somersaults. Perhaps this night was still salvageable. He wasn’t sure what infraction she was referring to, but knew the best practice in his web of infidelities was to “deny, deny, deny”. He had side-stepped and talked his way out of 22 years of infractions, and there was no doubt in his mind that he could pull it off again, tonight. After all, it was their anniversary, so he had that going for him.
After they finished their soup and a few more rounds of wine, in silence, Gillian again spoke up. She wasn’t just going to let go this time.
“Aren’t you going to grow a pair and say anything?”, she implored.
Jacques wiped the wine stains from his mouth, leaned in to the candlelight, and then began his plea with the sexiest French “Je ne sais quoi” he could muster. “Sweetheart, please. It’s our anniversary. Whatever this about, I’m sure we can…”
This time it was Gillian’s cell that interrupted him. She raised a finger, in protest, that immediately silenced him. “You know normally, I wouldn’t be this rude, but tonight I’ll make an exception.” She answered the phone, immediately rambling into an animated and prolonged business call, which was full of industry lingo and expressive hand gestures.
Jacques sat in silence like a scolded schoolboy with a dunce cap, as she walked away to finish the call. With an audible gulp, a realization hit him like a wayward cement truck with no bnreaks. His eyes glassed over, and his lips went dry. He was hoping this night would never come. For 22 long years he had dreaded it, and, undeniably, here it finally was, on his doorstep.
Between the savings, the two houses in NYC and LA, the Chinese gold, the massive stock portfolio and his retirement pension, there simply was too much at stake. This was all his fault. He had brought it upon himself.
The waiter arrived with the main course; A round of Boeuf Bourguignon and Potatoes Dauphinoise with all the complimentary fixings. Jacques remembered when his Grand-mere used to cook the same dish from scratch in her quaint hamlet in La Guerche-sur-l’Aubois, when he was a child. It was such simpler times then. He had grown up admidst castles like the Château de Sagonne and Apremont-sur-Allier. His life was like a fairy tale back then, before his libido had taken over. His love of girls, and eventually women, was a blessing and a curse. There was no other greater pleasure then the warm sensational touch of the fullness of a curve, or the daintiness of a femme petite. It was irresistible, and no matter how hard he tried, to would always remain his Achilles heel. But even his aging father had once warned him “Son, it never gets better.”
He dusted her food with a fine veneer of powder from his picket, mere moments before she returned to her seat.
“That was the studio. They want to shoot revisions and legal and clearance haven’t even seen them. They were just written, and the scene shoots tomorrow. Splits. I’ll be damned if I am going to waste this expensive-ass meal on you. If you don’t have the balls to admit it, this is the last time I speak of it, and it’s over for us. Understand?”.
He did, but couldn’t bring himself to retort. His world was falling-out from underneath him, and fast.
She began to angrily shovel spoonfuls of food into her mouth, like it was from a unlicensed taco truck rather than a Zagat-rated restaurant. The waiter popped a fourth bottle of wine and poured each of them a glass. “No need for pomp and circumstance. Leave the bottle, and we’ll take the check.”, she somehow managed to say through large mouthfuls of food, before draining the bottle. She couldn’t even stand to look Jacques in the eye anymore.
She had ordered a car service on the studio’s dime, for what was supposed to be a romantic evening, before her lawyer had called, just minutes before she had arrived at the bistro and bar. She had asked him to do some digging, on a hunch, before executing an extremely robust life insurance plan, with herself as the sole beneficiary. It turned out, that her hunches were right.
Gillian made herself small on the other side of the Lincoln Town-car. She refused to hold Jacques’ hand, and began to break out in a cold sweat. She felt a piecing pain, that seemed to originate in her eyes, and stretch all the way to the base of her skull. Her body heaved in torrents now as 22 years of bottled memories, and the pain of being wounded by her best friend, washed over her body in droves. Jacques was crestfallen. He too, finally, sensed that the end was near. He stretched his hand towards her, like a life preserver, hoping somehow, someway, he could still salvage the relationship. But he knew he was much too late for that. It would be less than an hour before her heart would seize inside her, and he would book a flight to Paris, with an exclusive and confidential traveling service.
“I did love you.”, he managed to croak out in between sobs. “In my own way, I did. But you know what they say about us French guys…” he tried a last minute attempt at justifying his actions, but his words fell flat, even to his own ears.
The car dropped them off curbside, and Jacques walked his wife of 22 years, arm-in-arm to the house. He gently bore her over the threshold, as he had once done on their very wedding night, twenty-two year to the day. This time, her breathing was labored, and her face was pale. It was clear the end would be soon.
“Jacques….”, she struggled to get the words out on a barely audible whisper, as they leaned on each other in the foyer.
“My love, my love… I’m so sorry.” His face contorted in a torrent of sloppy sobs, as salty tears pelted her face.
““Look, don’t be nervous. I really can’t afford to do this more than one more time. Get in close. Real close. Look in my eyes, and look at me like you mean it.” She had mirrored nearly the exact words, she had said on the first day they had met, over decades ago. Words which she had never forgotten since she had spoken to the handsome foreigner, that had been in the right place at the right time. Words she had said when his accent melted her heart, when his willingness to help a complete stranger had broken her facade, and when his fiery brown eyes had bore deep into her.
His face was a mere inches away now. “Tell me mon chéri.”, he implored tearfully. It was the sincerest moment of their entire relationship.
She sucked in air and locked her eyes with his. “You know I’m a strong woman, right Jacques? I can forgive a lot of things, but another wife and kids! Another family across the world I never even knew about!! I thought I knew you, but I never really did!”
Guns were messy and loud, and other than firing triple blank rounds on camera, she didn’t have much experience with them. But she was as shocked as he was, with what ease the dagger she had carried in her purse, slid into the base of the back of his skull.
His lips, near inches from hers, began to trickle blood in a solid stream. She could taste the warm iron on her tongue, as she gave her knife a thrust to the hilt, followed by a vigorous turn to the right. Her lips turned blue as their eyes met for a final time. Her lids locked open, unblinking.
Jack fell down and broke his crown And Jill came tumbling after; the couple of twenty-three plus years held each other, silently, in the sweet embrace of death.