Sophia and George are in Paris for Christmas, she the artistic young woman, in love with the romance of France, he the sharp business man, willing to offer anything money can buy to the woman in his life.
The Second part of my Christmas Tale. If you missed the first part you are welcome to catch up HERE.
They had three days to enjoy until the opening at the gallery on Christmas Eve. George had only ever visited the capital on business trips; Sophia decided to educate him, to teach him a little French and show him a side of the city that he had never experienced. Each morning saw them leaving the hotel early. First stop a tiny little café. When the garçon came to their table she just smiled and winked at George. To begin with he hesitated but by the third day he turned confidently to the waiter and said “deux grands crèmes et deux croissants, s’il vous plait”
Each day they walked for miles in the snow, down the Champs Elysées, across Concorde, through the Tuilerie gardens and past the Louvre. They ice-skated outside the town hall, went to see the huge christmas tree in front of the Notre Dame. When they were hungry they stopped to eat wherever they wished; crepes in the Marais; white wine and seafood at Bofinger at la Bastille.
The third day was christmas eve, they crossed the river and headed to La Palette in the latin quarter, hoping to grab a table and eat a simple lunch of bread and cured ham, before the gallery event that evening.
It was cold outside and they lingered over their lunch, enjoying the warmth of the little bistro, watching the parisians popping in and out, talking loudly, kissing hello and goodbye. Some had Christmas parcels with them, others a dog on the end of a lead dangling from their chair. At the end of the meal George ordered coffees, then some more, and before they knew it they had whiled away a couple of hours.
Sophia glanced at her watch. “What time is it? Five o’clock?! Come on George we have to go to the gallery, it’s not far from here” She reached into her bag, and pulled out the sleek invitation bristol card. ‘Vernissage, rue de Seine, le soir de Noel, à partir de 17h’.
George bowed his head, “Madame, your wish is my command”, he caught the waiters eye, and mouthed discreetly “L’addition s’il vous plait”. Sophia smiled to herself, George had mellowed over the past few days. Away from his home turf he was less brash, more attentive, more eager to fit in rather than just impress.
They paid the bill, thanked the waiter and donned their coats and scarves before stepping out of the restaurant and onto the little street. Sophia slipped her arm into the crook of Georges elbow, and they walked their way, ever so slowly, down the rue de Seine towards the gallery.
They felt like they were in a little bubble together, still cosy from the bistrot atmosphere, walking so close they could feel each others warmth through their coats. They were alone in the world.
As they reached the gallery they were surprised to see that it was already packed and busy. The music was loud, clients were chatting and laughing, trays of champagne were circulating and the walls were adorned with large bright street-art style canvases.
George looked at Sophia “You sure we wanna do do this?”, Sophia puckered her lips, “I know George, but this is the reason that brought us to Paris. I won’t be long, I just need to find the gallery owner and make the contact, we don’t need to stay longer than half an hour”. George smiled, “OK baby, half an hour then we get back to the hotel and relax before dinner”
The eased their way through the crowded gallery, stopping occasionally in front of a canvas. In the far corner of the room, Sophia could see a small group of journalists gathered around a tall man who was obviously explaining the theme of the show to them, pointing to different canvases and answering their questions.
She turned to George “That must be the guy. He’ll soon have finished, then I can go and introduce myself”. Sure enough, the journalists seemed to be saying goodbye, packing away their notepads and microphones.
“Sophia smoothed down her coat lapels, moistened her lips and turned to George “I’ll make this quick, promise!” George watched her walk confidently across the gallery , he loved to see her in her professional capacity. She took on an air of self confidence and authority that reminded him of what first drew him to her.
As she reached the gallery director George saw her lean forward slightly, smiling, to say bonjour. The director turned around, but instead of her usual firm handshake and quick presentation, George saw Sophia’s jaw drop. The director looked at her, surprised, and George could see him mouth her name “Sophia, qu’est ce que tu fais la??” George watched more closely. Evidently she knew this man, and evidently she was as pleased as him about this chance encounter. George observed them as they chatted for a few minutes. Their body language was limpid; they knew each other well, and were both happy to meet up again.
The man was very french looking, with slightly longer hair, swept back. He was well dressed, tall and slim. The archetype of the elegant French man. George hated him.
He had no time to observe longer, as Sophia and the man were now walking towards him. Sophia turned , laughing, “George, let me introduce you to Sébastien ”
The three of them chatted briefly, then Sophia said “I’m sorry Sébastien, but we have to go back to the hotel. It’s been lovely seeing you again, here is my card” she leaned forward, kissed Sébastien on the cheek, and turned to George “Shall we go?”
They were quiet in the taxi back to the hotel. Sophia was lost in her thoughts, it had been a shock to see Sébastien again after over two years. She had no idea the gallery belonged to him. He looked well, just as she remembered him, but although he seemed pleased to see her she saw no sign of rekindled affection. No, all that was behind them now, he probably had dozens of women running around paris after him, young artists, beautiful french women …. she was certainly long forgotten.
George was thoughtful too. He had been surprised to see Sophia so comfortable with another man, but she didn’t seem to mind saying goodbye so quickly, so he assumed it was just an acquaintance from back when she had lived here in paris
What was more pressing on him mind, were his plans for the dinner table that night
He had booked at the Jules Verne, the gourmet restaurant on the upper floor of the eiffel tower, a view to die for; champagne, a divine meal. Surely there could be no better moment to pop his question and present Sophia with the diamond ring.
They returned to the hotel where champagne was waiting for them in their room. Sophia ran a bath, then dressed carefully in the long black backless dress and high heeled pumps that George had insisted on buying for her when they walked down the Faubourg st Honoré the day before.
The chauffered car whisked them across Paris, there was light snow falling, and as they drove down to the river at 8pm, the Eiffel Tower lit up in its flickering on-the-hour diamond lights. Pure magic.
Sophia was glad for her warm coat as they stepped into the lift and rose swiftly up to the second floor of the tower, Paris at their feet. The doors of the restaurant were opened to them and they were engulfed in the discreet elegance of the warm restaurant.
From their table they had a view over the Trocadero, and as they sipped their first glass of champagne, they picked out the places they had walked to over the past couple of days.
George reached across the table and took Sophia’s hand, “This has been a wonderful trip baby. Visiting this beautiful city with you at my side has made everything quite magical.”
Sophia giggled, “Well thank you George, but I think Paris will always be magical, especially at Christmas, and so pretty in the snow, we are blessed”
George looked a little more serious now. “What I mean Sophia, is that you have brought magic into my life. I don’t want that to stop.” He lifted his hand to reveal a small box on the table between them. With his fingertips he gently slid the box a few inches towards her. Sophia froze, she swallowed hard.
“What is this George?”
George took her hand again, and smiled as he looked into her eyes:
“Sophia, will you marry me?”
So what will she say?!
The third and last installment will be with you for the New Year.
Thank you for reading me.
All that money could buy – a christmas tale