Saint- Tropez Sketch
2019-07-12 second draft
The midmorning sun in Saint-Tropez was always a shock to Giselle. She was a northern European to her core, though she loved it here. She took her sunglasses out and quickly put them on, stepped lightly to the quay from the zodiac tender, “Adonis, I’ll be at Sénéquier for tea. I’ll call when I’m ready.”
It wasn’t her favorite restaurant in the Old Port area when it came to the food, but it was good for watching the tourists strolling Quai Jean Jaurès. They were always agog pointing at the boats tied off beside the way. “Oh, my god! Would you look at that one!” The Americans were easily impressed. “How’d they get that all the way from London?”
Her own yacht was anchored outside the small harbor. No need to bother maneuvering into the crowded harbor; she wasn’t planning to stay more than a few days. Adonis needed to take on supplies and then they’d be off again.
Another cloudless summer day in Saint-Tropez.
Generations in the past, Giselle’s family had owned entire islands in the Caribbean. Had owned coke mines in Wales and steel mills in Yorkshire. Old money only touched the outer edges of the family’s story. Her great grandfather, Sir Edmund was one of the first to receive his OBE grand cross from King George V himself. She knew the family history and valued the outcome, particularly the significant portion that was about to become hers.
A week before, arriving in Saint-Tropez, she’d only brought on board her clothes for the summer. Since she was alone in the yacht’s master suite, it wasn’t a question of space, just discipline. She could always wander the shops in the old town.
What was the weather in Paris these days? Breathing the cool Mediterranean air, Paris seemed a lifetime away.
She dodged the crowd gathered at the ferry landing. She hid behind her sunglasses, wide planter’s hat, dress off her shoulders. With such fair skin, she used her wrap to shield her shoulders from the southern sun. Even disguised as one more tourist, she still stood out, and several turned to watch her stroll past, white princess among the commoners.
Earlier that April, the crew had launched the yacht and brought it over from Marseille where it had been wintering in a shipyard. Engines refurbished, the yacht’s hull thoroughly cleaned, decks polished. Adonis had pushed the shipyard crew to put it back in the water. Giselle felt lucky to have found the Greek captain available. It had been several years since the yacht was laid up by her father. Several years since her father had last spent time on her.
“Mademoiselle, he was a good man, your father. I miss our talks.”
She wondered would they ever be as close as Adonis and her father had been?
With her father passed on, Giselle was free to do with the yacht as she pleased. She should probably update it. His tastes tended to the baroque and nothing like her own. But her father’s presence still haunted the yacht, and she found comfort in that. She missed him.
She had the name of a Milanese yacht designer, an Italian who claimed he knew Ferdinand Porsche, but she wasn’t in a hurry.
She glanced back across the breakwater, watching Adonis return the tender. Whenever he could he insisted on taking her ashore himself. She smiled at the thought. Adonis was getting on in years, probably sixty something by now. Memories of summers skipping toward the quay ahead of her father, laughing to be free of the boarding school and free of all the discipline. Summers with her father were tugging powerfully at her.
She hurried past the tour guide and her charges, speaking to them in Spanish, flag above her head, describing the port’s history. Did she lose many tourists? Ahead, quayside the shops and restaurants were all open for business. She could see the red Sénéquier canopy amid the rest, maître de standing just outside holding his menus.
Earlier that morning, sipping coffee on the top deck she’d idly watched the two young boys boxing on the wide upper deck of the largest yacht at anchor not far off, a nannie for referee, and she wondered what lay ahead for them? After the rambunctious times of youthful privilege where could one go? Enormous wealth could crush someone not prepared to take it on. She had lived that childhood, so she understood.
Her yacht wasn’t the largest. Anchored beyond the quay were several that dwarfed hers, including the one she was watching. It made her feel less conspicuous, less of a target. But there was such a thing as too much. She was her father’s daughter in that opinion.
The yacht had a curious collection of plants, a profusion of greenery like the owners were pretending to practice environmentally friendly yachting. It was such a behemoth it would be an awkward fit in one of the slips, so it rode at anchor. Hers wouldn’t fit too much better, but she wasn’t pretending either. She was young and free to live as she chose. So she vowed that she would.
As she approached, the maître d’ did a small bow to her, smiling broadly. He seated her at a prime table, “Today is beautiful weather, Mademoiselle.”
Indeed it was. She smiled and removed her hat.
The scrum of tourists moving slowly past her table were gregarious and boisterous, and she let some of their enthusiasm become her own.
She promised herself that going forward her life would be divided between necessary winters in Paris and liberated time on the yacht. Her father had dreamed of sailing the entire Mediterranean, but never got past the French Riviera; she hoped to do better. Friends in Paris thought it was an eccentricity, this need to live on the water. Sometimes Giselle thought life in the city was what unbalanced her. She was her father’s child in that regard.
However, next month a driver needed to whisk her to Paris to meet with the attorneys and finally settle her father’s will. It had been over a year now. She wondered whether to sell the estate in Saint-Émilion, though she did like knowing the vineyard was prospering. The house in Grimaud she meant to keep; too many memories. She hated the thought of hours spent with the stuffy French lawyers and their British counterparts, but she did look forward to getting with friends from her college days.
The cucumber and smoked salmon finger sandwiches were delicious, she knew, but she left them untouched on the plate while her tea continued to steep and she watched the parade. Most were tourists, though here and there she spied villagers. It was a small enough place that she expected she’d shortly know them by name.
The tourists fascinated her, like aliens, their casual unconcern, the uninhibited way they went about taking pictures of each other near the most inappropriate places, posing one or another in front of and mostly obscuring what they presumably were there to admire. Taking a selfie in front of Michelangelo’s David, did that mean they were as great?
For her fourteenth birthday, her father had arranged a private tour of Chateau Grimaldi in the old town of Antibes where Picasso had spent a year. Her father recognized her passion for art wasn’t a passing fancy. She considered remaking the cottage in Grimaud into her own art studio.
But first, she needed to get this summer’s cruise underway. Tomorrow she’d speak to Adonis about setting out for Italy and Portofino. Saint-Tropez would remain her home port, but she’d taken to the yacht with a purpose in mind.
“Madame, may I get more hot water for your tea?
She waved a hand. “I like strong tea. It needn’t be so hot.”
“Ah well, it will be strong, madame!”
At that, spoken so emphatically, she glanced up.
It occurred to her now that the busboy had been paying close attention, almost hovering, always smiling. How old was he? Shouldn’t he be in school?
She noted the stainless steel name bracelet and a long, pink scar running the inside of his forearm. He seemed to realize what she studied and shrugged.
“So may I pour your tea?” His English was practiced.
She’d come here several times and the waiters didn’t normally do this, though she didn’t protest. She peered into the pot, and nodded, curious to see how far he would go.
He was very easy on the eyes. Piercing eyes, black hair, olive skin. Strongly built for a youth. And when he smiled his gaze made it seem quite intimate. How old was he?
“What happened?” Giselle gestured toward his arm.
“If I said it was a motorbike accident, you’d think I was a poor rider!”
“So if it’s not that, what is it?”
“Shrapnel. We were escaping Damascus when Assad’s jets attacked our caravan.”
He said it so matter-of-factly. Another refugee.
“My name is Edward,” in sotto voce.
Of course she could see that on his server’s nametag. But his brilliant blue eyes were smiling at her, and she was charmed.
“Giselle,” she replied holding out her hand, silver bracelets sliding down her slender wrist.
From across the patio, the maître de held up a finger, wagging it at the busboy. Edward flushed, bowed to Giselle, and moved to clear off a nearby table.
Returned to the yacht later, she recalled the busboy. Sitting on the deck enjoying the late sun and the wine the young cabin boy had delivered. Sounds from the other boats mixed with shouts and laughter coming from shore. Overhead the seagulls were doing a slow circle, looking for handouts.
What would it be like to flee from strafing jets screaming in from nowhere in a nightmarish roar? He and his mother had barely survived, he’d said. They’d been forced into the dry country away from the highway. Others in the caravan hadn’t been as lucky. He was a teen, and yet he’d seen violence she could only imagine. So she’d said that, and he smiled to hear she even cared that much.
Getting up to leave, she’d handed him a hundred euro note. When he protested, she smiled and folded her hands around his that held the note. The light in his eyes coming back made her feel like she’d made a difference, though she knew she hadn’t, other than to show another human sympathy.
She took up her charcoal pencil and sketchpad and began to outline the harbor scene, sailboats in the foreground framed by the centuries-old buildings beside the quay. The masts and lines rising vertically, the long lines of the hulls in single strokes across the page, the straight line of the quay running behind them. She drew a single serpentine line representing the hills above the village. All of this was so familiar to her, she could draw it blindfolded, and she took comfort in the familiarity. Her father would have so enjoyed this sunset.
In the morning, the sun pouring through the windows woke her earlier than she’d intended, but she stretched, letting the linen sheet be drawn across her naked body. Only on the boat would she sleep naked; it was the place she felt free enough to be so casual. She loved the feel of the linen on her skin.
The knock on the door announced the cabin boy. She slid down, and a moment later he entered, carrying her morning tea and scone, along with a copy of The Times. He set them down, said good morning and departed as quickly as he’d come. Adonis had recruited him in Saint-Tropez, the same as the rest of the crew.
Giselle found her robe and took the tray over to the table by the windows. The morning promised another clear sky day. Opening the paper, she flipped past the front page blurb about Boris Johnson, Boring Boris. She hated what was happening in her home country. She was Euro to her bones, as her father had been. High time to adopt to the present age. This ridiculous Brexit fuss was making Britain the laughingstock of Europe.
She picked up the note Adonis had sent. He’d left the yacht for one more trip of supplies, so he’d delegated his second mate, surprisingly a woman named Vanessa to serve in his stead. Giselle would need to call for a water taxi if she was going ashore. She refolded the note and set it to one side. She should probably check on the cottage in Grimaud at some point before leaving Saint-Tropez.
Was she going ashore?
Crossing from the yacht, the wind blew back in her face. The water sparkled and slapped at the small tender. The weather had picked up a bit since yesterday. She couldn’t tell if rain was coming.
“Is that your boat?” The small boy pointed back at her yacht. He looked no older than six or seven. His mother, camera in hand, was smiling behind him.
Proud of her child?
Giselle smiled but didn’t answer. Hardly a threat, but she wanted nothing to do with an extended conversation attracting attention. She hated the idea of a bodyguard always shadowing her, but still she was cautious. She hurried to join a crowd moving forward on the quay.
It didn’t appear that the busboy was working today. She hadn’t seen him. Then she did.
“Madame!” He came hurriedly to her table, smiling like she was the best thing he’d seen.
He nodded, seeming thrilled she remembered.
“Edward, may I correct you?”
“It’s mademoiselle, not madame. I’m not married. But really, you can call me Giselle.”
He blushed, “Forgive me!”
“Nothing to forgive. I just thought you should know.”
A smile lit his face.
“Did the maître d give you a lecture?”
He shrugged. “Not so much. We’re not supposed to be so open with the guests, I suppose But my mother was shocked when I showed her your tip–your very generous one.”
What was it about this boy? He was handsome to be sure and poised. His manners were quaint, old world. She knew nothing about his past, yet his warmth was genuine and she felt no discomfort in his presence. She trusted her instincts, and she trusted him.
He returned with a plate of sweet breads. “On the house!” he declared. “The manager says I should give you attention.”
“Did he really? And why is that, pray?”
“I told him! I said you were a famous movie star. I saw your boat out past the breakers.”
Her frown gave him pause.
“Edward, if we are to be friends, please don’t talk about me to others.”
His perplexed expression made her reach to touch his arm. “Please don’t, is all. I’m nobody important, whatever you might think.”
Did she still trust him?
“So I shouldn’t brag, knowing a beautiful woman?”
His flattery came as a surprise. “I live a private life, Edward.” She recovered her humor. “Besides, you don’t think I’m a bit too old for you?”
The famous smile returned. “Never!”
“I finish in an hour. I can show you Saint-Tropez if you like.”
“I live in Saint-Tropez.” Now she did.
“Very well, Mademoiselle Giselle. Perhaps you’d like to visit the hill villages?”
His boldness was his charm.
“You have a car?”
“No. Much better, I have a motorbike. I am an excellent rider. I can show you Grimaud if you like.”
If you like. Should she tell him she owned a house in Grimaud?
“Would you like to come?” His eyes were expectant, eager and very young.
The wind flowing from the ocean stiffened her hair in a blonde stream from behind the helmet.
Edward had insisted on the helmet. “For the insurance.”
And she smiled. She’d be shocked if he actually carried insurance. The point of doing something daring didn’t include trivial protections.
He was dressed in sandals, shorts and a loose fitting flowered shirt. A small cross hung from the leather choker.
Edward drove like he’d learned in Rome, all machismo and dare. Like the brazen boys of Italy, he emulated their disregard for traffic rules and mortality. Lanes and traffic didn’t faze him. So she clung to him, pressed tight against his back, fingers locked at his chest. She could feel his heartbeat through the shirt‘s thin material.
Grimaud was smaller than she remembered. It was Saturday late afternoon, and the villagers had emerged for an evening finally free of tour buses. Wonderful. They could play at two more. She was tempted to show him her house, to see his reaction.
They climbed on foot to the ruins of the citadel, another Grimaldi fortress. She lightly touched the wildflowers growing from the porous stone as she passed. Stones that had been laid in what century? They peered through the window of the broken tower, empty but still framed by a cross of carved stone. Both silent, they studied the land stretched below, and she wondered aloud about living in a time when pirates plied the sea.
“Pirates are just thieves with boats.”
Edward spoke so softly, Giselle reached to touch his arm and smiled.
As a young girl reenacting the story of Rapunzel, she spent afternoons in the ruined citadel, pretending she was an imprisoned princess. So she told him she’d spent her summers in Grimaud and that this place was special.
“I may as well have been a prisoner, for all my mother cared.” Ever so slowly she found he was drawing her out.
He studied her face. “My mother is all I have.”
She nodded; something she knew well, a missing parent.
In that wind-swept place, her long hair caught in the breeze, he leaned to kiss her. His kiss was strong, and his unshaven beard felt rough, but it also signaled he was a man.
“You are a goddess!” And his eyes told the same story.
They returned to Saint-Tropez in the same torrid fashion, following the twisting lane now propelled by gravity and his swelling hope. Fading light accompanied their trip down the hills.
She was out of breath by the time they arrived back at the quay. The afternoon had been the adventure he’d promised. She’d watched him gaze out from the high tower over Grimaud. She’d watched the cloud formations descending the hills, wondering what his life must be like. Wondering about his passion.
At the quay, instinctively she reached for her purse, then stopped herself. Surely he’d meant this as something more, didn’t he? But she felt she had to ask. “Can I give you something for today?”
Edward indeed looked surprised. “You already did, Mademoiselle. I should be paying you!” then laughed.
She loved his smile. Nothing but joy and hope in his eyes.
“Will you be coming tomorrow, Mademoiselle?”
“Edward, I don’t even know your last name.”
“Said. Edward Said, like the Palestinian philosopher. My mother named me for him.”
“Yes, of course.” A name from her Middle Eastern studies course. “But you are Syrian, are you not?”
“Lebanese. My family is Maronite.”
His statement was proud as his gaze.
Edward took her moment of distraction to kiss her a second time, and this time she returned it.
Taking a deep breath after, “You are a goddess!”
She stood by as he started the motorbike and drove so slowly away, expecting him at any time to turn around, then walked the last short distance to where Adonis helped her back on the tender.
The sun was off somewhere hiding, though it sent shooting rays of color through breaks in the clouds.
The bus boy–Edward said he was a refugee–from Syria. His Lebanese father had fought for his people in Beirut only to be drilled through the head by a sniper. In Damascus his mother and he stumbled into the start of that country’s civil war. After, they’d had fled Damascus only to encounter Assad’s jet fighters. Their present safety was as fragile as a flower’s petals.
Though Giselle would never have guessed such a past by his unselfconscious beauty and bold suavity.Levant lovers, she’s read in a torch novel, were hot and passionate.
The restaurant was jammed with locals and tourists, retreating inside for the spring downpour. The cold rain hadn’t deterred the tourists, Giselle thought. The change of weather from Saint-Tropez was a rude shock. She handed off her umbrella and raincoat and stepped into the bar. She saw her college crew at the far end and waved.
“So Saint-Tropez let you escape?” Nigel was ready to rib her choice of summer locales. Next to Monte Carlo, Saint-Tropez was high on his list of disdainable places. Being from London, the whole idea of a southern clime seemed traitorous even genetically weak.
“I come and go as I please, Nigel,” she touched him lightly. “Where is Stephanie?”
“Powdering her nose, I believe, but do you girls still do that?”
A polite peck was enough of a greeting, she judged.
“Giselle! You came! I didn’t believe Nigel when he said you were coming!” Stephanie pushed through the crowd.
“Yet here I am!” Giselle grinned.
“Woman, I need a hug! Get your skinny butt over here!”
Dinner was fish and chips. It was what the café was known for: dreary pub food in the heart of Paris. Giselle endured the fare for the time with her ex-college roommate, and the gaggle that was now around her. It had been what, two years since she’d seen her last?
Giselle glanced at Nigel, who was beaming, watching his favorite ballerina.
Stephanie was still gorgeous, and still a professional ballet dancer, so the gaggle had grown since they’d graduated. Still reed slender, still vivacious and her eyes as alive as when they’d been girls.
How many years had they known each other? Giselle no longer cared to count. Thirty was a looming mountain just ahead.
“I followed your tour with the Bolshoi.”
“We did your favorite, lots!”
“I have a favorite?”
“Your namesake, ‘Giselle’?”
“Of course. And I expect you danced the lead?”
Stephanie shrugged no biggie, then grinned.
Stephanie studied her friend as she sipped her wine. She seemed to listen to the surrounding chatter, but her eyes stayed on Giselle.
Others watched Giselle as well. A surprising addition to the crowd around Stephanie. Her anonymous friend was stunning, blonde to her roots, sleek as a model. What they didn’t know–other than Stephanie and possibly Nigel–was her slashing wit and her wealth of more than most nations.
At six-years old, Giselle resolved she should be a dancer, having the name for it, and her father enthusiastically agreed. So she began ballet classes in grade school. Which was how she and Stephanie first met. With typical focus even that young, Giselle became one of the best in their small ballet school.
The only girl who could out-dance her was Stephanie, which drove her even harder. Was their fierce competition the reason they were best friends?
Giselle’s only dilemma was she couldn’t accept her instructor’s authority. He was a former dancer who still did the lifts of a young dancer, and most of the girls in the class were in love with him. Even Stephanie had a crush on him. But not Giselle; he was not of her own class, and she remained aloof from him.
Later in college she tried explaining this to Stephanie, but it couldn’t convey. Giselle’s family trust had paid her full tuition to Oxford while Stephanie was dancing hard as she could to maintain her scholarship. Yet they’d grown closer in those college years, the bookworm art major and the one who dreamed of dancing on stage.
Giselle envied her friend’s casual way with people. Strange how life turned out.
Later the crowd thinned down to the four of them, Giselle, Stephanie, Nigel and his boyfriend, Andres.
“What pulled you away from your yachting life? You keep it stored during the winter, I take it?”
“Don’t be silly, Nigel. You can’t haul a yacht that size out of the water. Even I know that!” Stephanie said.
“Father had it in dry dock for work. Then he was hauled off to his own dry dock.”
“Oh shit, Giselle. That was–”
“Don’t worry. It was his time, you know?” Though she took some satisfaction in delivering the news like that.
Stephanie quickly changed the subject. “What brings you to Paris? I was shocked to hear you were even here.” She continued to frown at Nigel–was he always this clueless?
“Business. I needed to meet with the trustees face to face to sort out things,” Giselle waved a hand. ‘Things’ was about as vague as she could make it.
Saint-Tropez had been her summer vacation for Giselle since she was a tiny child. The house in Grimaud was their tradition every August, like any proper French family, only they were English.
From the first time her father brought her to the yard, Giselle loved the yacht. “Black Beauty” as Giselle named her after a favorite book.
It shocked her when her father said he’d put a bid on the yacht.
She was a sleek, sixty meter cruising yacht, twin Caterpillar engines, with over the top accommodations. As her father would eloquantly go on about the boat, Giselle dreamed of powering ‘Black Beauty’ out into forever.
Though Giselle came to realize her father loved more the knowledge he owned it than actually cruising. Sundays in the summer he’d head down to the quay, go aboard and sit on the top deck drink his cappuccino and read The Times.
She knew his time was short when he no longer asked her to charter the flight to Saint-Tropez for the summer. Through his illness and for the year after, she herself stayed away. It took resolve to return.
“Summer’s not the time to be in Saint-Tropez if you ask me.” Nigel again. “Too many tourists.”
“Like there are none in Paris?”
He shrugged. “It’s easier to get away from them here. Me, I go to the Bastille.”
“So you’d rather be with the French drunks than the tourists?”
“Each to his own–or her own.” He was constantly on alert against sexist language.
“Oh, Nigel, you just like pretending you’re French!” Stephanie teased.
“What possibly do you mean, simple peasant?” Nigel was frowning, aghast.
Stephanie smiled. All this time, Nigel was still looking for the revolution. She loved him in spite of his wild dreams of world freedom.
“Read Rousseau, dear,” Giselle replied.
“Bien au contraire! Rousseau didn’t say that! What Rousseau was saying was that we should live more simply.”
Giselle shrugged no matter.
“Rousseau distrusted the influence of society–high society–on the weak minded. ‘That man is naturally good, and that it is from these institutions alone that men become wicked.’ “
A general groan of protest arose around him.
“So this ‘boy’ Edward is happy in his simplicity?” Stephanie leaned toward Giselle.
“I have no idea. Yes, he seems to be.”
“And he’s a busboy? On slave’s wages, no doubt.” Nigel was a diehard socialist.
“That’s hardly my problem.”
“From the Levant, as you say?”
Giselle nodded, winking at Stephanie to tell her she wouldn’t let this go much further.
“Where did he come from?”
“Lebanon. They ended up in Syria after the Lebanese civil war.”
The conversation at the table paused. The stories, along with the refugees who were pouring into Europe out of Syria, their tragic stories were metastasizing before their eyes.
“Syria?” Andres asked.
“So he said.”
“And you call him a peasant? Even for you, that’s harsh.” Andres felt the need to join Nigel. Angela Merkel was letting the refugees pour in, something he supported intellectually, if not in fact.
Giselle surveyed the table and saw her only supporter was Stephanie. But she was seasoned by the best Oxford debaters and smiled ‘game on.’
“I have more responsibilities than a busboy. Will you concede that?”
“You mean you have more money!” Nigel exclaimed.
Giselle held up an exquisitely manicured hand. “Edward puts in his time at the quay clearing tables. And yes he hustles between tables, and is exceedingly gracious, but when he’s done, he rushes off to his parties and girlfriends and boyfriends and dances til dawn. Life should be so simple!”
“How do you know?” Nigel demanded.
“He’s told me.”
“But Giselle, dear, you go to parties!” Stephanie loved teasing her.
“Life is just more complicated for you and I. Look at you–you don’t say your life is simple. Or requires no more intellect than being a waitress–or a busboy. You’re an actor as much as an incredible athlete. I’ve seen you!”
“Putting it that way.” As always Giselle was ahead of her at word play. Instead of continuing, she took Giselle’s hand and kissed it, laughing. “My goddess!”
Nigel and Andres were being left far afield.
The day after Edward had taken her to Grimaud, she had returned to the quayside restaurant, but when she asked for Edward, the maître d' told her this was his day off, and when he questioned her with his eyes, she became embarrassed and fled.
She hurried through the crush of tourists who’d just landed from the ferry, dialing Adonis on the phone as she went.
She nearly gained the quay. “Giselle!”
She turned at his voice. He stood surrounded by the crowd, one hand holding a picnic basket, the other a bottle of wine. The look in his eyes, expectations crushed, and she stopped.
“Why did you leave?”
This was insanity. As foreign as Edward was to her world, she was to his. If she stopped this now, they both could go on with their lives, perhaps with a sweet memory. And she wouldn’t be plagued with the guilt she expected to feel if they continued.
His liquid eyes were an agony to see. “Edward,” was as far as she could get.
“How did I offend you? I–”
“Edward, forgive me!”
“My god, that’s where you left him, Giselle?”
It was just the two of them now, sitting in Nigel’s spare bedroom passing a bottle of wine. Nigel had picked up the tab at the English pub, to everyone’s surprise.
Stephanie hadn’t seen Giselle this stricken since her last failed episode with Cedric, the equally failed bartender. Or the one before that, William the psycho stockbroker. Her story with men was on an ever descending glide path.
Stephanie understood Giselle had a precise image of the men she wanted in her life, if not the best at attracting them. Judging from what she told her, there was no room for a refugee boy named Edward Said.
“Edward is so charming and smooth, Steph, even if he’s only a teenager. I had no idea he was a refugee. God! I feel terrible!”
“But you didn’t lead him on, Giselle.”
“He wanted me to.” Holding up the near empty bottle with a questioning look.
“You need it more than I do. I have to tell you, I don’t get Saint-Tropez.”
Giselle brightened. “You need to come down! The yacht’s beautiful, the weather’s gorgeous,” she paused, “and I can introduce you to the most beautiful boy in the world!” As she spoke, her eyes sparkled with tears.
“You can’t seriously say he’s a simple peasant, dear, or you wouldn’t be going on like this!” Stephanie was shaking her head as Giselle began to cry.
“Good lord, girl drink up!”
“When you get back, you need to visit him and tell him you’re sorry.” Stephanie resolved to send Giselle off fortified. “First thing!”
“I don’t know where he lives. And I can’t go back to that restaurant again.”
“Don’t be so weak-wristed. That’s not the girl I know!”
So she walked into Sénéquier and again approached the maître d. “Bon jour, Monsieur. I need Edward Said’s phone number, please.”
“Mademoiselle, he doesn’t have one.” Without blinking.
Even if his sniff wasn’t audible, she could read the Frenchman’s eyes.
“His house phone, then if you will.”
“They don’t have one.”
She was stuck in place and beginning to wilt. He had to be enjoying this! “Then you must give me the address. This is important.”
The maître d’ glanced out at the waiting limo and shook his head, “We can’t–”
“Monsieur, yes you can!” She was now employing her best voice of authority.
He turned away, and she thought he’d just leave her, but then he turned back. “118 Rue Dauphin, Apartment 10.”
Giselle touched his arm, “Thank you!” and hurried back to her waiting car.
Edward’s apartment was at the top of the building. The narrow, winding staircase seemed never ending in its spiral. At each landing, through the open doors she saw into the small apartments, heard the lives of the tenants going on in a clutter of languages.
Arriving, there was only one door, also opened. She was here; she was doing this. Her stomach protested and her hand shook.
A small woman of indeterminant age answered her knock. Dressed in black, her black hair undone. She stiffened, looking puzzled. “Nem fielaan?”
Her face bore the lines of a hard life.
“I’m so sorry to bother you. Is Edward–”
Then he came to the door behind his mother, shock on his face. “Giselle!” then quickly correcting himself in front of his mother, “Mademoiselle!” He turned to his mother, then back to Giselle. “Please, Mademoiselle come in!”
She entered a world very foreign to her own. One room with a small kitchen alcove. One sofa and a day bed wedged beside it, linens in a neat stack on the bed. In the corner near the balcony door, a birdcage with two doves perched close together, close by the small dining table draped by a floor-length embroidered tablecloth. The doves she focused on.
“They sing us awake in the morning,” Edward said of the birds. “Mademoiselle, may I make you tea,?”
She nodded. What she’d planned to say flew away. She watched him fill the small kettle from the tap, turn on the burner and deftly fill the tea ball. He took down old cups from a shelf, inspected them carefully. Glancing back at her, he grinned. “I was heading to the restaurant. The manager called.”
“He told me you didn’t have a phone.”
Edward laughed. “True, but our neighbor downstairs has one.”
So the maître d’ had lied. Now that she was here did it matter?
“I’ve come to make a proposition,” she began, “but only if your mother approves.”
His mother nodded. Her English was poor, but she seemed to understand. Giselle wanted her to see this as a business proposition. Giselle was trying to explain it to herself the same way.
“Edward, I want you to travel with me. On the yacht. As one of the crew. We are a man short at present, and Adonis–my captain has found no one. Lots of day trippers and hippies in Saint-Tropez, but no one he trusts.”
His eyes were wide.
“Normally, Adonis–my captain–would expect to pay you at the end of the cruise, but under the circumstances,” which she could hardly specify, “it might be better if you were paid in advance.”
All very impersonal; she was straining to sound business like.
“We’ll be gone for May, perhaps June as well, so eight weeks?” What did she know of their financial situation, other than what she saw in front of her?
Edward turned to his mother, question in his eyes. She in turn was studying Giselle. “How do you know my son?”
“From the restaurant, Sénéquier, madame. He’s waited on me there.” And he took me for a ride on his motorbike. Surely his mother could see past the pretense. Giselle was panicking.
“You, as you say, trust him?”
Her eyes didn’t seem unkindly. “Well–” groping for a response, “you trust him, do you not?”
“Of course! He’s my son.”
“Then I do too.”
For Giselle this was reckless. But she did trust Edward, and she believed his mother–more than she would her own.
Where Edward was dark and young, she was pale and worn, but past the lines of her face there was a younger woman, possibly less sad and more hopeful.
“We know nothing of boats such as yours, Mademoiselle Giselle.”
“Then he’s told you about me?” Giselle smiled, peering at Edward. He surprised her again.
His mother nodded. “He says you’re famous.”
Giselle laughed. “Edward exaggerates!”
His mother nodded, “He’s a dreamer, my son.”
“Well he’ll be doing mostly cabin service. Adonis doesn’t even like it when I steer, and it’s my yacht.”
“My girlfriend and I will be the only passengers, so we won’t keep him terribly busy. We’re sailing for Portofino, and from there to Capri.” She turned to face him, “Edward, can I make arrangements with the restaurant?”
He walked her down the several flights to the street. “You shouldn’t have come by yourself.” He nodded toward the cluster of lean boys lounging hawk eyed and bored.
“I have a driver,” she pointed at the black limo.
“Edward, I’m so sorry I hurt you last week. I don’t think I can explain–”
“Then you shouldn’t. I’ll be your best cabin boy; you’ll see!”
“It was Stephanie’s idea to invite you. And you’re my guest, not a cabin boy. I just couldn’t expect you to walk away from your job.” What went unremarked was how she’d handed his mother more cash than he had ever seen. Eight weeks of what she paid Adonis himself.
“Stephanie is your girlfriend?”
When she nodded, he said, “She too will see, Mademoiselle. I’ll be the best cabin boy you’ve ever had!” smiling his wide open best.
The royal blue water the yacht cut through was calling her. Engines thrumming, the yacht was alive, effortlessly slicing each wave it hit. The shoreline was just a hazy outline now miles away.
To live on the water and never return was her dream. Since a small child when her father first showed her punts on the River Thames. “But where are they going?” she’d asked in her little girl lisp.
The cabin boy delivered her drinks as often as she wanted them. She needed to slow down before she became shitfaced. The deck boy delivered Edward’s as well, falling to understand how another boy no older than himself had been so elevated. Where she’d consumed several, Edward was still sipping his first. His eyes never left her.
She was wearing her smallest bikini, and her top lay beside her chair so it was no wonder. She smiled to herself. Let him look. It made her feel special, his constant gaze, like she was the only woman in the world and he the only man. Boy.
“So this is where you two are,” Stephanie stepped carefully across the threshold onto the deck. Looking from Giselle to Edward, she had to smile. They were a pair.
“How’s your stomach?” Giselle rolled onto her back, one leg in the air like a flag.
“Better. I think last night’s scallops did me in. I’m usually fine on the water.” She wore a light linen dressing gown over her bathing suit, not ready to go native like Giselle. It was Giselle’s boat so she could do as she pleased. And except for the cabin boy–and Edward, of course–this was her private place.
Stephanie waved the cabin boy away. “Too early, dear!”
“It’s never too early when you’re on the water!” Giselle laughed. “We have the whole day to kill before Portofino.”
“I don’t know how you talked me into this,” Stephanie began to apply lotion to her calves. Here she’d expected to spend the weekend in Paris with Nigel and Andres, a far more dreary, rainy prospect.
“May I do that?” Edward asked.
Stephanie glanced from him to Giselle who just shrugged.
“You’re so kind.” She slipped the dressing gown off, draping it over the back of the lounge chair. She would keep her top on though.
His fingers were strong and acted as if he’d done this professionally. Maybe he had. “Hmm, that feels good.”
“You need a massage?”
“Oh no,” she laughed. Though she was sorely tempted; the life of a dancer was painful glamor.
Yet he kneaded his way down from her shoulders, her back, over her butt, then her legs, not at all shy at touching her. How old was he?
“The weather’s supposed to turn chilly tonight. There’s a storm front coming in, or so Adonis says. So we may as well enjoy the deck time while we can.”
“Adonis is you captain? How appropriate!”
Stephanie studied Edward’s face, all serious and attentive to his task–if it was indeed a task for him. Did she catch a slight smile when he saw her looking at him?
From her several years in a touring dance troop she was comfortable around half naked men, though most played for the opposing team. They were fine physical specimens. She could look but not touch. On a private yacht cruising the Mediterranean, together with her lover, this was how Giselle lived?
They arrived in Portofino on toward sunset, setting anchors fore and aft as the winds were picking up and the sun disappeared behind a gathering cloud bank. The zodiac tender was soon lowered from the aft deck into the water, and the three of them headed for shore. If they were lucky, the storm would hold off until after dinner. If not, the return could be interesting. Giselle had insisted they leave weather gear on the tender in case it did.
Portofino was postcard pretty, captured in its small valley at the foot of the surrounding hills rising to wrap the old village in green. As the zodiac approached the quay, Adonis dropped the speed to lessen the wake.
Ahead on the piazza, incandescent lights were strung like glass beads, already lit for the evening. Clusters of people moved in cross currents, some with cameras searching for sunset, others posing by the quay with the water behind them. Restaurant tables closest to the piazza were all occupied, seeing and being seen a time honored entertainment.
They were first noticed by the lounging lotharios watching the launch leaving the sleek black yacht anchored offshore. Stepping from the zodiac onto the quay, Giselle, then Stephanie were helped ashore by smiling Italians, standing by for just such gallantries.
A boatload of tourists standing to board the ferry watched them disembark. Were they famous? In such a fabulously foreign place, who knew? Stephanie smiled, even waved at several in line.
One young girl, maybe teen, ran over, “Will you let me take a picture with you?”
“Of course, darling! What’s your name?” Stephanie was an old pro at this. Soon she was signing autographs. In the world of dance, Stephanie was already a star, and some in the crowd gathering around them recognized her. Some were just curiosity seekers.
It was the one thing Giselle expected, being seen in public with her, but Edward hung back, unsure of where he belonged. With Stephanie she was never quite sure herself. So Giselle stepped back to take Edward’s arm, then brought Stephanie close on the other side. As they strolled away across the piazza, they made a show of it and the line of tourists cheered.
The church’s plain exterior belied its dark baroque interior, though they didn’t stay longer than it took to light a votive candle.
“Edward, you lit a candle?”
He nodded, swallowing hard. “For my father–and my mother.”
Stephanie took his hand and kissed it, then touched his cheek. In the dim light Giselle couldn’t see his reaction.
Giselle directed them to a small café perched by the only street directly fronting the water. Immediately above them, the bells of the Church of San Martino rang the hour. Across the cove, the small chapel on the hill, catching the last of the sun on its face, began to answer.
“This is beautiful!” Stephanie proclaimed, wine glass raised in salute. “If I were you, I’d anchor the boat right here for the summer and the hell with Saint-Tropez!”
Giselle had considered it. The Italian Riviera still slept in past centuries, and if all she planned for the summer was to escape to the yacht, this would be a splendid place for it.
The chef’s menu began with a light seafood broth, a plate of bruschetta followed by a salad of tomatoes and mozzarella marinating in basil and olive oil.
“If it’s raining tomorrow, we can either hire a driver to Rapallo or just stay on the boat and watch the rain.”
“Hmm. Boat in the rain sounds sweet for reading, doesn’t it?
“It’s your weekend, Steph. We’ll do what you like.”
“I just need to be back to Nice by Tuesday.”
Their fish course was an excellent branzino al cartoccio, served on a bed of fennel and sprinkled with capers, garlic and lemon slices. It was deceptively simple fare, fresh and subtly spiced.
As the course was served, the wine changed from a light, pale Pinot Grigio to a more robust Pigato that the chef insisted was his favorite with white fish. It was a small place, and he’d heard about the fuss on the piazza.
“Giselle says you are–raqisat bialyah–how do you say danseuse?”
“Ballerina.” Stephanie replied. “You speak such sweet French, Edward!”
“Très peu. Worse than my English.”
“But your English is fantastic, and yes, I am a ballerina.”
“And she’s famous.”
“Depending on whose review you read.”
“Don’t be so modest, Stephanie. Yes, she’s famous, Edward.”
“I thought so. All those people by the boats were staring.”
“Agog. The word’s agog,” Stephanie teased him. “But they just wanted to know who the handsome man with two women was!”
He blushed as she smiled at him.
Dessert was a traditional almond biscuit, cantuccini accompanied by Vin Santo, a sweet, musty wine that again the chef proclaimed was the best in Italy.
“Dunk the biscuit,” he urged his skeptical audience. “We are all piesanos here!” laughing.
Edward sipped his slowly. “I remember a wine in Damascus that tastes like this.”
“You remember Damascus?” Stephanie was curious. “How old were you?”
“So that was how many years ago?”
“Four. I’m nineteen.” He answered her unasked question directly.
“Giselle said they murdered your father. I’m so, so sorry, Edward.”
There were no better words, so he nodded. “Hamas. We were still in Beirut. Then my mother took me to Damascus. We escaped into Turkey before they closed the border.”
“I’m not political, but what’s happening in Syria is tragic.”
“No, mademoiselle, it is genocide.”
Stephanie glanced at Giselle. For all that he was a teenager, his mind and manners were a much older man’s. Giselle just smiled See?
Her bedroom spanned the width of the yacht. When she touched the control, the window shades slowly rose from the sill, stopping halfway as programmed, not to spoil the night view of the harbor, the boats and the seaside village asleep beyond.
Edward stood at the foot of her bed, eyes wide either from taking in the beautiful cabin, the coffered wood ceiling, silk walls and Victorian torchieres, else his surprise at even being there. He watched Giselle shed shoes and her wrap, then his gaze focused on her. If she didn’t have the physical conditioning Stephanie did, she was toned and gracefully slender, her blond hair in loose waves about her like gold silk.
She’d been a gangly child and a late bloomer, and it stayed with her, a certain shy reticence around men. She thought of her previous lover, fleetingly wondered where he’d gone to, then laughed at herself. With him it had seemed the emptiness never left her. With Edward, she no longer felt empty.
When Giselle came to him and began unbuttoning his shirt, he suddenly stiffened. Had the man become a boy again? She touched the second long scar across his shoulder with gentle fingers, surprised at seeing it, then kissed it. “Love.”
She was stopped from undoing his belt when he raised her hands to his lips.
When she dropped her camisole to the deck and became naked, he no longer hesitated.
Edward was, as advertised, a passionate lover, moving on top of her, pinning her wrists to the sheet, surprising her with how easily he handled her. With no foreplay he entered her and she grabbed him, as willing to dispense with preliminaries for the ride. Her foreplay had been impatiently watching him the several hours at the restaurant laughing and charming Stephanie and her both. Time enough for that later; she would teach him.
She watched him as he moved on her. A black lock of hair hung across his eyes, unnoticed by him, intently locked on her gaze, her boy come from the ruins of Damascus.
“Slow down, Edward!”
But he didn’t, and neither could she, swept into a bottomless well of need and touching. Thus began the whirlwind.
Rainy Day Sketch
There were so many ways, Giselle knew well, to let time escape. She’d tried them all.
She suspected artists were the most able to do that, and she was jealous. The ones in studio class who didn’t need money nor even a predictable existence. They thrived on the stress of living close to the edge, something she couldn’t fathom. Giselle envied their willingness to ignore immediate circumstances continuing their arguments with an absent deity.
After confirming with Adonis that the wet weather had locked in for the day, Giselle asked for the observation room to be cleared. In place of the sweeping, curved leather couch normally there, she placed her easel in front of the floor to ceiling glass. She closed the door and began setting out her drawing tools.
It was raining steadily outdoors with a drumbeat on the deck overhead. Though the charcoal sketch of Portofino she was working wanted sun. Making poor headway she struggled to imagine it through the streaks of rain on the glass. Focus, woman!
Her mind wasn’t on it; she was seriously distracted, remembering the night. It had gone on for hours, most of the night to be sure, and she kept replaying the images.
It had quickly become early morning and neither had slept. How was it he was so focused, so in love with her? Was he really here or was this some kind of sexual fantasy he’d invented? She could listen to him forever, his deep voice gently teasing her, then flattering her. He would bury his face in her hair and inhale as if smelling flowers.
Resting his head on one hand, stroking her breasts with the other, Edward had been teasing one nipple and then the other driving her to distraction. The years between them seemed like nothing in the early morning light.
When she touched his genitals, he was aroused on command. It frightened her, this power she held over him, yet she craved it. Giselle knew about sexual obsession; she feared she’d fallen into one without realizing it.
How could she be using him if she loved him? How long had she known him? How could this be an obsession when she wanted it to last for a lifetime?
In a calmer interlude, Edward had asked her, “Where else have you lived?”
“My family’s from Kent. We’ve lived pretty much everywhere, or traveled there.”
“I want to see Europe–the rest of it, I mean.”
“England is wet and cold. I wouldn’t go there if I were you.”
“If you’re with me, it won’t be cold.”
Was he such a man of warm climes that he would warm her wherever they were?
“I want to travel with you like this forever!”
“Grimaud reminds me of the mountain villages above Beirut.” He sounded nostalgic.
“How old were you?”
“I grew up in Beirut. My father was assassinated when I was fourteen. He said it was a stupid war. Stupid to kill each other over what God you pray to!”
“He sounds like my father.”
“You miss him, don’t you?”
Giselle nodded, touching his stomach. “Like you do.”
“But you never talk about your mother, Giselle.”
“True,” though she didn’t elaborate; she expected it was enough of a response. Edward, she was fast learning, was quite attuned to her spirit.
“You’re not afraid someone will try to hijack this beautiful boat–or hijack you?”
“Adonis served in the Greek Army. He fears nobody,” she laughed.
“You’re not afraid of me?” he asked.
“Only that you’ll break my heart,” softly spoken in a moment of clarity.
His puzzled expression made her laugh.
“I would die first.”
His flat declaration made her frown. Nothing was that certain.
“Let me prove it, Giselle!”
“You’re so beautiful.” He’d rediscovered her breasts, sizing them like small fruit he was trying to harvest.
“You haven’t had many lovers to compare, have you?” she teased him, kissing his chest.
“I don’t need to compare. I know,” working his way down her body to the place where her obsession began.
He was sincere, she knew. And to prove it, he brought her over on top of him and returned to playing with her. “Oh god, Edward!”
Ever so slowly opening the observatory door, Edward startled her out of her reverie. “So you’re hiding in here?”
As he came across the room, she set down the charcoal pencil, smiling to see him. She knew she shouldn’t tell him she’d been thinking of him; he already held such a power over her. Still she stood on tip toe to kiss him.
“I went looking for you.” He came beside her and studied the half-finished sketch. “I didn’t know you were an artist.”
Stroking her hair, a frisson from their night returned.
“It keeps me from getting into trouble.” Not always.
Barefoot, he was wearing jeans and nothing more. His smooth, lean body reminded her that she still needed to climb on her elliptical before lunch and burn off the calories, though what she wanted was to strip off his jeans right there. She made a mental resolution that one day she’d spend it with him in bed.
She reached to touch his chest with both palms. His eyes were so soft!
“Can you draw people?”
She nodded. “I’m better at people. If you capture their eyes, the rest is simple. Landscapes are harder.”
“Would you draw me?”
She regarded him more closely. Charcoal or pencil? Both, she decided.
By the time she turned from sanding her several pencils to put points to them, he had stripped and was posed naked by the glass.
“Well then.” This was going to be a life drawing session to remember. She began with his eyes, with soft, sure strokes. The shape of his head slightly cocked, looking out on the rainy day.
With the knock on the door, Giselle shouted “We don’t need anything, thank you!” Rather more forcefully than she meant.
As Stephanie entered, her mind was on autopilot until she saw Edward.
Giselle barely turned from the easel, intent on her work. Though there was a light in her eyes. Was she smiling?
Edward was a beautiful boy, Stephanie decided. Dark and lean, his chest and shoulders were well shaped, his narrow waist and proud groin, muscular glutes begging to be touched. And he held a classic pose, one she recognized, his weight shifted onto one leg, hips squared with the other leg slightly forward. A famous Renaissance statue in the flesh.
He flashed a smile at her. Not embarrassed?
“Stop smiling!” Giselle ordered. “And keep your head still.”
“What about his, ah member?” Stephanie pointed, giggling.
“Oh hell, Edward!”
But the eyes of two gorgeous women were on him, and he was in his virile youth.
“Darling Giselle!” was all she could say. Flushed, hand over her mouth, afraid she’d be overheard.
Giselle watched her down the entire glass in a gulp, then pour a next.
This was their girl’s night on the town in Portofino. Just the two of them. Stephanie almost had to drag Giselle away from Edward. She didn’t think she’d ever seen her this gaga over a man. Giselle had always been too cool for that. Tonight, did she recognize her girlfriend–her sister?
Stephanie had insisted paying for a water taxi, so the crew could take the night off. “They need to sleep, don’t they?”
Edward was left on deck, watching them depart.
“Can I take it he’s not a simple peasant, then?” Stephanie teased her. “Maybe you should share him and I’ll report back.”
Giselle wasn’t laying back from the wine any more than Stephanie. Was she serious? Strange that she wanted Stephanie to feel some part of what she was feeling.
The sketch she’d made of Edward was far superior to any she’d done before, and the high from completing it remained as intensely as memories of their night together.
Giddy, she reached for Stephanie’s hand, “You don’t know how he makes me feel!”
“Well, I can see it.”
“Oh, I know,” Giselle laughed it off, “eventually he’ll grow bored and run off.” It wouldn’t last; nothing did.
“I think you could be wrong about Edward.”
Giselle regarded her.
“In Paris when you told us Edward was just a refugee passing through. Were you playing with us?”
“Possibly,” she smiled. “I’d just met him.” She thought back to their ride up to Grimaud. It seemed simpler that day, back when she still had nothing to lose.
The water lapped lazily against the quay. A late seagull cried out, flying past, hurrying after the late sunlight.
“Edward is in love with you. You know that, right?”
Giselle stared at her, frowning momentarily, then grinned. “You’re exaggerating. He’s just infatuated. He’s a boy, Steph! Boys need to fall in love.”
Hearing her own words, was she trying to convince Stephanie or herself more?
“But he’s too young to have his heart broken.”
“And when was yours broken? First time? Fourteen? Don’t forget, I know you!”
“Still. He’s so sweet, the way he looks at you.”
“Innocence isn’t all it’s chalked up to be. I should know,” Giselle sighed. She wanted to get off this topic. Was he really in love with her? Was she? Why else did she want so badly to return to the boat?
The wind was shifting, and the yacht turned on a single anchor. Lights on the other boats were like glow worms reflected in the water. Lights in the piazza they’d left hours ago would be soon enough switched off so the locals might sleep.
It was so quiet. Even the water against the boat sounded languid.
“You had a good time, yes?”
“Pass the bottle.”
“It’s beside you, dear.”
“Where is Edward?”
“In our cabin, I imagine.”
Stephanie noted the pronoun and nodded in the dark. Stupid, she can’t see you!
“I just thought we could use some time apart.”
Something she’d never shared with her girlfriend–her fantasy girlfriend–was how much she loved Giselle.
Stephanie summoned the will to distract herself. “The waiter thought you were going to demand the chef come over! That was so, so funny! We should have returned to last night’s place. I loved the chef there. Such an Italian!”
Giselle covered her laughter with a hand. “But the shrimp were reheated–and the scallops, god! I wasn’t going to let you suffer a second time. You’d never come back.”
The ensuing silence carried any number of private thoughts.
“May I join you?” His question so formal, so polite.
“Hell yes, Edward! Come out here, you dog!” Stephanie waved at him. “It’s too beautiful a night to be selfish about it. I hope you like ouzo, otherwise it’s back in the doghouse!”
He sat carefully at the foot of Giselle’s wide lounge chair. “I stole my father’s arak once. It gave me a headache. And no, please don’t send me back to your doghouse.”
“You’re not mine, honey. We could do something about that, only your girlfriend here would have a fit.” Stephanie was moving on to a higher level of consumption. The ecstasy was sending her into orbit.
Giselle reached toward him, touching his arm. Could he see she was so happy? Sloppy drunk and happy, quickly accelerating. God, this stuff was like flying! She drew herself close against him; if she didn’t, he’d vanish as fast as he’d come.
“Where did you learn to hold a pose? It was perfect!” She brushed the lock of hair from his face, kissing it.
The silence following her question made her wince. “I didn’t mean–”
“Girl, you’re so cute and polite!” Stephanie teased her.
“Sometimes I model. It pays more than shuffling tableware.”
“Well I should hope so,” Stephanie said. “A body like yours, lord! I know dancers who’d kill for it. But doesn’t it make you a wee bit uncomfortable?”
He shrugged. “I just go somewhere else in my mind. Besides, it’s not supposed to be erotic, is it?
“Well, you didn’t go so far away yesterday!”
His silence spoke for him, so she plunged ahead. Stephanie was feeling no pain. “Isadora Duncan danced practically nude. She’d drape a veil across her body and improvise free form dances. Scandalous for those times.”
“I was approached once to perform in a nude ballet. I could never do that!”
“One time in Rome I went into a strip club. The girls were–showing everything–like an anatomy class. I don’t understand Europeans.”
Stephanie was laughing. “I don’t think your girl here’s ever been to a strip club. You need to take her some time. She needs the education.”
“Speak for yourself!” was Giselle’s retort.
Though Giselle was reminded she’d paid Edward for this time with her. What did that make her? The shiver came involuntarily.
Edward moved back on the chaise lounge, bringing his arm around her, drawing her to him. “Cold, my love?”
Hearing his voice, Giselle stretched her body beside his, drawing her leg between his, her short skirt hiked immodestly. Ecstasy was coursing through her, lifting her to a higher plane. She didn’t need to hear what he was telling her; she understood him implicitly! Impulsively, she took his head in her hands and kissed him with as much passion as she could imagine.
No wonder Stephanie loved this stuff.
She doubted Stephanie had ever seen her acting this forward, but she needed to know how much she was feeling!
Hours seemed to pass. Come back to earth, girl!
“Edward, your father, was he important?” Stephanie tried distracting herself, turning the conversation. As a wilder image was building in her mind.
“He was to his people, the ones he defended.To the church he was. The Islamists are driving everyone out of Lebanon.”He spoke softly.“He was important to his family, too, but we came second.”
Giselle heard a familiar bitterness. Yet, what had her father sacrificed? Perhaps that he remained in her life after her mother took off for Morocco? Her mother had sacrificed her entire family and never looked back.
Shivering, she burrowed her face against Edward’s chest.
“When are you going to show your work, woman? Surely you have enough for a show by now, don’t you?”
Dazed, Giselle raised her head. “All the fuss, I don’t need that,” she muttered.
“Oh, Edward, what she means is she’s too shy to be famous! She wants to hide away in Saint-Tropez like a little shy girl!” laughing at Giselle’s expression.
“Well, did you ever expect to end up so famous?”
“Did you expect to end up so rich?”
“I’ve never not been who I am, Steph. I didn’t get to choose.”
“That’s where we’re different.”
“You walk into any room and heads turn. I can walk naked through a party and no one notices.”
Stephanie sat up. “Giselle!” Then, “Edward, tell her!”
Edward was sipping his ouzo judiciously, and stroking Giselle’s hair. “Tell her what, Mademoiselle?”
“Get down on your knees and fucking tell her! She’s stubborn as a goddamn donkey!”
“I did tell her. She is my goddess.”
“Well, she was mine first!” She knew he was an innocent, yet still. Stephanie reached for the bottle and gulped the sweet fire. She might just die here.
Things were out of control. Giselle could hear her heart racing, or was that Edwards? She raised up seeking his face. His eyes were deep as the night. Did he love her? Truly love her?
Without hesitating, she brought his hand to her breast. “God, yes!”
“I can just go to bed and leave you two here.”
She heard Stephanie from miles away. Giselle blushed and turned. Though she held his hand tight against her chest. What was she ashamed of? Being seen with him?
The silence teased her. But she needed Stephanie to understand! Giselle giggled.
“I love your laugh,” Stephanie finally spoke.
The silence returned, when she was trying so hard to reach her. “You know I love you, Steph.”
“Back at you, darling. The one time we went skinny dipping, your skinny little body drove me crazy!”
“But we were what, all of ten that summer?”
“My point exactly, dear.”
Giselle had never been a wild child. She’d had to be the careful one her entire life, or the small protective place she’d built around her would blow away like sand. So that one escapade had been the most daring thing she’d ever risked. And Stephanie remembered it too.
A roar in her head, and the night was racing toward morning. Giselle expected whatever followed after would be lonely and empty. Stephanie would leave her, then Edward as well. Tonight was all she clung to. So she reached for his member, barely touching it and it came alive in her hand.
Dark is where it all happens.
Stephanie stood at the foot of the chaise lounge, slowly dropping her clothes like a stripper might tease, Edward and Giselle watching her from the wide chaise lounge, moonlight pouring through all their pores. They both stared at this famous dancer, this woman so beautifully naked in front of them.
Edward said something, but the roar in her head was too loud.
Should she pray to her god, or plead with him?
She was greedy with desire. It was the drugs; she was sure it was the drugs. Giselle had never slept with a woman, but if it was anyone... had she known Stephanie was in love with her?
Stephanie overwhelmed her with her passion, touching her almost reverently. Giselle came alive with her touch.
And Giselle was still learning Edward. Was he more than her paid boy, a captive to what she wanted? Did he love her? He swore that he did, but what could he be thinking now?
She preferred Stephanie’s touch rather than see her touching Edward. Edward was hers! Yet she grew still more excited under her light, stoking fingers. Giselle was losing control–had already lost it. She rolled on top of Edward, knees against his arms, urgently in need of him. “Let me prove it, love!”
Stephanie couldn’t stop touching Giselle, like she expected she would escape in the next moment. How many lifetimes had she longed for this? Her lover from how many dreams?
And Edward? Giselle was his for as long as he wanted, waiting on the dawn. Above him, her hair in waves about her shoulders and slender body, her concentrated expression moving on him. How could anyone be so beautiful!
He was in agony, yet he couldn’t stop watching her, tears gathering in his eyes. He wanted to be far from here, and couldn’t leave her. Did she love him then?
He imagined he would die an old man with the question.
When Giselle finally sat up, she rubbed her eyes and tried to focus. Immediately she slid back onto the pillow, her head screaming. Stephanie slept the sleep of the dead beside her. Giselle attempted a second try at sitting up.
They’d retreated to her cabin sometime in the night. The one proprietous thing they’d done in a night of impropriety.
When she focused on the corner of the room, Giselle finally noticed Edward in the shadows silently watching her.
“Holy shit, Edward! You look like a ghost over there.”
“Edward, say something! PLEASE! Edward, love!” She threw off the sheet and tried to stand, but fell back, frozen by his expression, fear in her eyes.
Stephanie rolled over at her cry and sat up, as naked as Giselle. She looked from Giselle to Edward and back. She touched Giselle.
Edward’s eyes were locked on Giselle’s. Stephanie’s were on her as well.
“You betrayed us.” From his dark corner like an indictment.
Giselle pulled the sheet to cover herself. Like he didn’t already see she was naked.
“You betrayed us, Giselle.”
Us? Her nauseous stomach was making her dizzy.
“I am a simple person. Yesterday I was proud my lover was drawing me! So why should I care if she sees me?” gesturing at Stephanie, “but this? I know I don’t belong here.”
Edward stood from the shadows, fully dressed, his small bag at his feet. “I am not your toy, Giselle. I offered you all that I am, and you make me feel–” tears streaked his face, “–you make me feel cheap like a whore! And you’re breaking my heart!”
Dear Giselle. Please write! Your phone just rings and rings. I’m desolate. You said, ‘don’t go!’ I didn’t think you cared–nor Edward. I do. I always will, my love! Please go to him and beg his forgiveness. Edward will do that for you. You know he will. As I would. He loves you beyond words. As I do. Tonight is ‘Giselle’ again, and I don’t know how I will get through it!
The yacht felt empty and unfamiliar to her like she’d never spent time here. Her father’s boat was anchored, back in Saint-Tropez, Adonis and the crew gone off to find other employment. She expected it would be the last time she’d see him, so their goodbyes were sad and awkward.
She didn’t know how to deal with the overwhelming emptiness, the sadness she’d spent a lifetime trying to avoid.
She stared at the chaise lounges, still where they’d left them. She passed back into the cabin, their cabin once. The place she had wanted to spend a foreseeable future and laughed. Foreseeable! Nothing was that.
Sheets still in a ball where she’d ripped them from the bed. The empty ouzo bottle. Nothing had been touched. Though Adonis had offered to have it cleaned, his offer shamed her. Like a crime scene, she thought, though whose was the worst? She knew who the victim had been and it certainly wasn’t her.
Stephanie was gone; Edward was gone. The weekend a glorious memory of what she’d hoped for, only now it too was gone. A lost time, fragile as the hand-painted porcelain in the cupboard she’d shattered against the floor.
She stared at her image in the long mirror. Who was she? Was she really that empty?
Edward hadn’t said she was, though his accusing eyes had.
She’d climbed her own mountain by herself. No one, not even her father had done more than watch and maybe cheer. She shivered to realize how she was alone. She couldn’t remember, but thought she’d been here before. Maybe when her mother had left her. The pit she stood before was a frighteningly long way down.
She wondered where her mother was. This time of year, Bermuda or the Azores. Trying on her next husband, no doubt. They hadn’t spoken since her graduation when she’d told Giselle, “My best advice is stay in shape, darling. In this world it’s all a woman has.”
All she had? Giselle had graduated with honors from Oxford. Her work was currently being curated for a show at the Tate Museum in London, something she’d been too modest to mention to Stephanie.
She stared at Edmund’s sketch and started crying again. He should have taken it with him; she’d planned it to be his gift. It was like nothing she’d done before. She’d been inspired. He’d gifted it to her.
The sketch was beautiful. He was beautiful. Oh god, what had she done?
She knew where he lived in Saint-Tropez, but what could she say? That she was cruel? That she was as recklessly selfish as her mother?
Giselle knew with rare certainty that she was not her mother! She’d sooner kill herself. The bitch had left her–left her father–abandoned them. Weren’t mothers supposed to love and protect their children? She shivered in fear at the memory. Giselle witnessed her father shrink into a shadow of who he’d been, drifting aimlessly for years. At least he had never abandoned his daughter, and she never gave up on him. Never!
She remembered inviting Stephanie home, ten maybe twelve and her mother’s cutting comment, “She’ll need to learn to type before that one can sit on any man’s lap.” If the specifics had escaped her, the malice hadn’t. Like one day she’d be competition, so it sounded to Giselle. Her mother was a slut, so she expected other middle class girls would be the same, always chasing after men too susceptible, too weak to run away.
Stephanie was the wild child, had always been. The ecstasy was hers–Giselle knew she liked drugs and ran with a fast set. As a girl she’d imitated Stephanie’s toughness, though it was superficial. More, she envied her very loving middle class family, mother father, siblings. Giselle’s mother told her to her face that she’d ‘wrecked her down there’ during the delivery and had no desire for any more. She showed little love for the one she’d had.
Could she blame Stephanie for who she was? Giselle could blame herself.
Giselle needed to call her, apologize. Stephanie had to feel remorse; at least she wanted to believe she did. She had to be embarrassed; she was embarrassed for her. She must have encouraged her, led her on. Strange, after all the years, they’d misunderstood each other. Stephanie, it was no secret, loved women. It hadn’t occurred to her that Stephanie loved her, not in that way.
When Stephanie first kissed her on the deck, Giselle covered her surprise at her fervent touch. Was she telling her–what? Being clueless was the story of her life.
She wanted to protect Edward, she remembered thinking, even if she’d made a mess of it. She badly wanted Stephanie to see what she felt for him in the most demonstrable ways possible. Was she seeking her approval? Her blessing?
God, what had she done?
What she couldn’t shake from her mind were his eyes! Could anyone really love–love her–that completely?
Silly boy! Broken hearts happened all the time. He’d learn. She’d taught him.
Oh god, had she taught him!
The house in Grimaud she sold to an Italian who wanted the old olive grove surrounding it. The yacht was auctioned off to a Chinese diplomat. For all she knew, it was in Singapore by now. She wanted none of the heirloom china, the furniture so carefully researched and collected by her father, none of it. Christie’s of London handled the auction. The chateau in Saint-Émilion was leased as was the vineyard to a wine-making family from Libourne who promised her a case from their first year’s release. That it mattered.
Edward was gone so none of it mattered.
Paris was where she belonged. Among the polyglot of languages and cultures, the chaos of living too close. The apartment in Montmartre was larger than most houses but it hardly concerned her since she’d barely furnished it beyond the bedroom with its single bed–the one from the boat. It was there to remind her, to punish her. Why else had she brought it with her?
Edward’s portrait hung on the far wall, matted and framed. His expression she’d captured so effortlessly now seemed like one she’d seen in a thousand faces, yet she knew it wasn’t. As time passed, she increasingly realized just how handsome he was. Had she really seen that when they were together? She didn’t remember. Could she remember his laughter? His smile? She only knew the emptiness.
To offset the haunting, daily she walked the few blocks to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica where she would set up her easel to draw the faces of tourists. Some handsome, some not. When people offered to buy her sketches, she’d simply sign and hand them off. Without realizing it, she’d become part of the ‘scene’ in Montmartre, the sad, golden-haired woman who drew portraits for free.
As far as she knew, Edward remained in Saint-Tropez. She would have to return eventually, though it might not be for years. She was resolved that she’d look him up. She needed to do that much for him. It would only be fair if she found him married by then, with a wife and children. She wished that for him. She just wanted him to know how very much she loved him. She’d known if from their first night together, and if ever given the chance, she would tell him.
He would become a middle age man, gain weight, grow a mustache, all the things men did over time. She herself would remain timeless–not as a virtue but as punishment. That she could live anywhere in the world, travel where she chose, eat only in four-star restaurants, it was her curse. She was young and free to live as she chose, but would she ever know Edward again?