Chapter Six (See Ch. 5)
Paris, Day 2
The next morning, Gemma woke up earlier than she’d wished. She felt groggy thanks to Harvey’s late-night call, but she showered and dressed quickly. She wanted to get to breakfast the same time as yesterday and increase her odds of running into Daniel again.
She did even better than that. When she emerged from her room, Daniel and his sons were waiting at the elevator in her hall.
“I didn’t know we were on the same floor,” Finn said. “Cool.”
As the elevator doors glided open Gemma asked them how their day was yesterday.
“The Louvre was okay I guess,” Finn said. “Too big.”
“I’ve heard,” Gemma said.
“The best part was we took a boat ride on the Seine river after lunch,” Aidan said.
When Gemma had stood on the banks of the river late yesterday afternoon she’d gazed longingly at the tourist boats. They were full of families, couples, and student groups. She didn’t belong. She ended up walking along the water instead and tried to console herself with the thought that she wouldn’t have enjoyed the boat ride as much as her walk anyway. She wasn’t consoled.
“What did you do after we left you in the cemetery?” Daniel asked.
Gemma started to tell him about Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle and the dreary dungeon in the Conciergerie where Marie Antoinette spent her last days before her beheading, when a video monitor on the wall of the tiny elevator lit up.
A French acting troupe was performing slapstick comedy on the screen. Daniel picked Finn up to put him at eye level with the action. They all watched enrapt as the actors flung whipped cream pies into faces, slipped on banana peels placed on a diving board, and raced toward each other, bashing heads and knocking themselves to the floor.
The boys’ giggling was contagious, and Gemma and Daniel couldn’t help breaking down in laughter with them.
Daniel leaned toward Gemma’s ear and whispered, “Maybe I should cancel the museums and stay in the elevator.”
Gemma’s face flushed. She was imagining the same thing, but without the boys.
When they reached the lobby they split up at the breakfast buffet. Gemma gathered up the same high-carb, high-fat, high-protein food as yesterday and sat at the same long table she’d met Daniel at. She wanted to leave room for his family but didn’t want to look too obvious about it. She opened up her guidebook and pretended to read.
A few minutes later Daniel stared down at her. “If you prefer to have a quiet breakfast by yourself we’ll sit somewhere else.”
“No, please.” She gestured to the chair beside her. “Where are you going today?”
“To see the water lilies,” Finn said. “There are giant rooms of those paintings.”
“Ah, the Orangerie,” Gemma said. “I thought I’d go to the Musee D’Dorsay first and then see if I can fit in the Water Lilies after lunch.”
“Are you going with your boyfriend?” Aidan asked shyly.
Gemma was confused for a moment until she remembered her lie. Daniel and Finn looked up from their food and gazed at Gemma, waiting.
“My boyfriend has to…he has work,” she said, stumbling over her words. “At his conference. I’m on my own again today.”
“Boys,” Daniel said. “Want to go to the Orsay Museum first, like Gemma?” He turned to her. “That is, if you want company.”
“Yay,” Finn said. “I want to.”
Aidan shrugged. “Okay.”
“I’d love to,” Gemma said.
“I will warn you, we move pretty fast through museums,” Daniel said. “I won’t take it personally if you decide to separate from us.”
“I love moving fast,” Gemma said, then rolled her eyes at the awkward phrase. “In museums, I mean.”
Daniel grinned. “I figured that’s what you meant.”
They shared a cab and spent a good amount of time getting acquainted with each other during the drive and on the long line for the security check. Once inside, the boys lit off, powerwalking through the museum, obediently following instructions to walk, not run. Daniel kept up with them and Gemma hung back, meandering through the sculptures at her own pace and occasionally running into them during their game of hide and seek around the statues.
Gemma stood over a balcony and savored the way the light filtered in through the vaulted glass ceiling of the former train station the museum was. She paused at the statue of Aurora, the goddess of dawn, and stood entranced. Carved in marble was a beautiful nude, young girl. Long curtains of wavy hair cascaded over her body. She wore a faint smile as if basking in youth and life. Gemma sighed.
“She reminds me of you.”
Gemma jumped, startled, not noticing that Daniel had crept up beside her. He stood so close, their shoulders almost touched.
“Me?” she said. Her stomach dropped. Was he going to ruin things by saying something suggestive and embarrassing, like comparing this naked statue to her own body?
Daniel grinned as if he were teasing her. “It’s the dreamy smile you have sometimes when you think no one’s looking,” he said. “But your real smile is brighter and warmer than hers.”
“Oh. Thanks. I guess.”
“I’ve made you uncomfortable,” Daniel said. “I’m good at that. Sorry.”
“No. That’s okay.” Gemma was anxious to take the focus off herself. “It’s a romantic sculpture, isn’t it?” she said. “It reminds you to be fully alive right now.”
“The way Paris does.”
“They say Paris is a city that makes you fall in love,” she said. She immediately regretted her words. When would she learn to rein in her out-loud stream of consciousness?
Daniel laughed. Was he laughing at her sappy sentimentalism?
“That’s an illusion, of course,” Gemma added quickly.
“Love, or Paris?”
“Falling in love in a strange city. It’s a known phenomenon that people fall in love effortlessly on vacation. There’s a scientific reason for it.” Now she sounded like a pretentious schoolmarm. The hell with it. She needed to put up this wall to give her some emotional distance. This was not flirting.
Daniel put his hands to his ears. “Are you about to spoil the romance?”
“Should I stop?” Now this was flirting.
Daniel dropped his hands and gave a little bow. “Maybe I need to hear this,” he said. “Go ahead. Educate me.”
Gemma smiled. “When you’re on vacation, all the new experiences and sensations bathe your brain in dopamine and oxytocin. That’s what’s heightening your emotions.”
“You sound like an expert.” He tilted his head and gazed at her intently, looking honestly interested in what she had to say.
“I guess I am a little bit of an expert,” she said. “Not on love or Paris. I’m a psychotherapist. It means I spend my days trying to convince my clients I’m an expert on their lives.”
Daniel laughed. “Do you believe that love is always a chemical illusion when you experience it on vacation?”
“Yes,” she said firmly. “But it helps to have an exciting start to a relationship. It could propel a couple into staying together long enough for the illusion to grow into real love.” She was sounding more didactic by the minute. She could tell she’d finally turned Daniel off completely when he didn’t reply. A shadow of disappointment darkened his face.
Who had started this whole star-crossed conversation about love? “That illusion of love is the way Titania felt in A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” she said, continuing to dig herself deeper into the hole.
“Queen of the fairies,” Daniel said, brightening.
“Yes.” She was impressed. He’d recognized her Shakespeare reference. “I always loved the part where Titania’s husband, Oberon, sprinkles fairy dust into her eyes while she sleeps. I couldn’t wait to see her fall in love with –”
“An ass,” Daniel finished for her.
“Exactly,” Gemma said, laughing. “I’ve always identified with her in that moment.”
Daniel winced. “Too bad. For you, I mean.”
“Don’t feel bad for me. I’m still an optimist about love. I think.” Gemma couldn’t remember the last time she had so enjoyed a conversation with a man.
“Me too,” he said. “My theme song is La Vie en Rose.”
Gemma felt a swooping feeling in her stomach. She glanced around, pretending to search for the next piece of art to look at.
Daniel leaned toward her and began to sing in a pleasant voice, barely audible. His breath tickled her cheek. “Hold me close and hold me fast, this magic spell you cast, this is la vie en rose.”
She jokingly fanned herself with her hand. “Is it hot in here?”
“I apologize,” he said. “I’m too much of a romantic.”
That was an understatement. Gemma was rendered speechless by the delicious thrill that pumped through her body.
Suddenly, Daniel was bumped hard from behind. He fell against Gemma and knocked her sideways. She groped for him and he caught her by the waist. For a moment, they stood like that, frozen. Their faces almost touching. She thought wildly that he might kiss her, and tipped her face up to him expectantly.
Daniel broke away from her and glanced down at Finn, the miniature juggernaut who had slammed into them.
“Whoa,” Daniel said, grabbing his son. “No running. Where’s Aiden?”
“He’s hiding,” Finn said, pointing. Aidan was peeking out from behind another sculpture. “We’re starving.”
“Let’s eat,” Daniel said, glancing at Gemma.
“Definitely,” she said. “But I have to find the bathroom first.” She also had to find her equanimity.
Daniel set out for the museum restaurant to wait in the long line they’d passed earlier. Gemma turned in the opposite direction and asked the first uniformed worker she saw, where the toilette was.
The instructions were in French, and complicated. She made several turns, descended a long staircase, and had to ask at least two more guards where the bathroom was.
Finally, she stopped at the end of a staircase and searched around her, totally lost. Her skin was still tingling from the conversation with Daniel and the way he’d grabbed her to prevent her fall. Damn that dopamine theory. There was something different about this man. Would it be so terrible if she let herself get swept up in his charm? Yes. It would. Her mind screamed rebound.
A museum guard noticed her confusion and asked if he could help.
He was staring at her appreciatively and smiling. In French, she asked him where the bathroom was, and he answered her in heavily accented English.
“It’s a little difficult,” he said. “You will get lost. Let me show you.” His smile was broad and flirty, but he was wearing a museum uniform so she felt safe following him through a winding path between different exhibits. They arrived at a Ladies’ room with a snaking line.
The guard clicked his tongue and shook his head. “A lovely woman like you shouldn’t wait. I’ll show you my secret bathroom.”
“Don’t worry,” he said, winking. “It’s for staff. No wait.”
She followed him down another hall to an unmarked door in a dark corner. He punched in a code on a keypad, opened the door, and bowed. “I will wait for you and escort you back.”
“Thank you,” she said. “That’s not necessary.”
He smiled, showing all his teeth. “My pleasure.”
She felt a ripple of unease. He was nice looking and looked fifteen years younger than she was. Was she being set up for a scam? But he worked here. This was his job, wasn’t it? Her mind was overstimulated. She walked through the door and bolted it quickly. He didn’t try to follow her in.
Once inside, she used the bathroom and washed her hands slowly, gazing at the mirror and trying to calm herself. She was seeing flirtation everywhere. She’d always had an over-active imagination. But as she looked at her reflection, she wondered if some men still found her attractive. She’d never appreciated her slim figure, long, shiny hair, and laughing green eyes when she was younger. Could it be that the guard’s attention was merely delight in a pretty woman? She rolled her eyes at her painful vulnerability.
When she finished and left, she gazed around, wondering if the guard had kept his word. There he was, standing a few feet away and giving directions to a man.
He looked up and strode to her side with another wide smile. “May I show you around? Do you like Gaugin? That is my section today. I can give you a private tour.”
Now she couldn’t deny it. He was flirting with her. He must have picked up on the excitement that Daniel had kindled in her. It had probably given a glow to her face and a bounce to her step. Neurotransmitters, with a dash of pheromones.
“Merci beaucoup,” she said. “But I’m meeting friends for lunch. Can you tell me how to get to the restaurant?”
He pouted and made an exaggeratedly sad face. “Would you like me to show you and your friends around Paris later? When I get off from work?”
“Thank you so much, but I can’t,” she said. Frenchmen were definitely more forward than American men. She wasn’t that irresistible.
The guard nodded and gallantly escorted her back to the staircase where he directed her to the café.
She walked briskly and arrived just as Daniel and the boys reached the head of the line.
“We’re next,” Finn said when she joined them.
Daniel greeted her with a smile of pure joy.
She leaned into his ear and whispered, “Miss me?” She bit her lip. Now she’d definitely gone too far.
But he beamed at her and nodded. Then his mood seemed to take a dive.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
He sighed. “Timing is everything.”
She tilted her head and braced herself for the I-Like-You-But-I’m-Not-Available talk. “What do you mean?”
“I’m enjoying myself too much,” Daniel said, his shoulders sagging. “With a woman who’s in Paris with another man.”