The blonde woman swirled a tasteful but enormous glass of red wine in one hand, a cigarette dangling languidly from the graceful fingers of the other. Behind her the bustle of a typical Paris evening went about its way. The French did as the French did, no matter who might think otherwise. If there was anything that never changed, it was the French, thank god. Though she was quintessentially and elegantly French in appearance, she was Canadian by citizenship, a fact that only became apparent when she spoke.
“What do you know of passion, of the chemistry between a man and a woman?” she asked.
It was a teasing question and she knew it. He was a deeply passionate man, who poured his feelings into everything he did. It was this that first made her fall in love with him so long ago.
He leaned back from the small café table with a smile. The adjustment was flattering, his broad shoulders clearly defined by the crisp linen shirt he wore. What did he know of passion? Of chemistry? After toying with his own wine glass and pondering the question, he answered her.
“Ma belle, let me tell you a story about men and women.”
She settled back, a coy half-smile on her red lips. She loved his stories, loved the way he told them. She loved the way his eyes sparkled when he was remembering something from his past. From hist stories she had learned far more about him over the years they had been meeting at this café than she ever had by searching for information about him online. “Please, do tell. I am aflutter with anticipation,” she said.
“I was, in my youth as I am today, a musician,” he said, beginning his tale.
She nodded acknowledgement of his musicianship. He was in fact quite a well known musical artist in many parts of Europe and Canada. Not a star, by any means, but certainly no penniless unknown either.
“There was a time early in my performing career, when I regularly played music in a student-frequented bar in a university town. Covers of popular music. I did this with my good friend and talented musician Gareth. I think you’ve met him once. He’s quite tall, which always made for comedy while we were on stage. People liked this contrast between him and I, his height, my lack of it. I think I was maybe 27 years old.”
He paused to sip his wine and think.
“I was still married to my first wife at the time. Back then I was still young and beautiful,” he said, then smiled, “I was also in the band, a fact that often seems to have an intoxicating effect on young women.”
She smiled at this. He was still quite handsome, and the fact that he was a musician had an intoxicating effect on not-so-young women too. He caught the glint in her eye and continued.
“At this bar, a student bar I believe I mentioned, was a bartender named Lisa. She was a beautiful woman, which helped when it came to collecting tips at the bar. The boys who frequented the bar loved her. Many speculated about her relationship to me as we were close and easy, they assumed that Lisa and I were having an illicit affair, but they were wrong. Lisa and I were close, in the way of brothers and sisters, not as man and woman. There was no attraction between us, just mutual support and well-wishing.”
As he told this story, the sun slid across the divide between evening and night, lighting the buildings across the way and colouring the clouds above like a Monet painting. He took his sunglasses off his head and placed them on the table. Then he leaned forward, so he could look more deeply into her eyes, her beautiful eyes. He remembered the first time he had gazed into those clear pools. The memory brought a smile to his face.
“But you asked about passion and chemistry, not of filial love. Lisa’s best friend and roommate was a young woman named Cordelia. She was maybe four years younger than I was at the time. Certainly no more than that. The first time her eyes and mine met I was thunderstruck. People talk about their heart skipping a beat. Mine didn’t. Mine stopped cold in my chest. I felt like I was dying, but what a happy death!”
A pang of envy raced through her but she scolded herself. This relationship had spanned more than a decade, and was as solid as the foundations of the earth. She had nothing to fear from this spectre of the past.
“From that moment on, whenever Cordelia and I were in the same room, it was as if there was an invisible bolt of lightning between us, connecting us to each other. A thing of raw energy and chemistry, almost a magical thing. When Gareth and I played our music, she danced. When we were on break between sets, her and I sat and talked, or danced if the music was good. When we sat, sometimes she sat on my lap and held my hands. There was no doubt she could feel how she aroused me. There was no doubt she was enjoying it.”
“When we danced, nothing but our clothes separated us from each other. When we danced, those dancing around us became more aroused, desperate for the attentions and affections of their partners, almost as if they could feel the wild magnetism that joined Cordelia and I. Like they were infected by it. This was very intense.”
“I remember one night,” he said, the memory bringing the smile to his face that melted her heart and made her fall in love with him all over again,” after Gareth and I had finished playing and the bar had closed. This was maybe three or four in the morning. Gareth and I, Lisa and Cordelia, we had climbed onto the top of a bus shelter, where we sat smoking cigarettes and talking. It was a warm autumn evening and the stars were blazing in the sky above us.”
“Being near Cordelia was as easy as drinking cool water on a hot summer day. Not having Cordelia was hell.”
By now the sun had set and night had come to the City of Lights, and the cafe began to fill up for the dinner hour. The magic of his story wrapped them in calmness so the two of them became an island in the river of revellers and tourists that plied the street behind her. She could tell by the sparkle in his eyes that he was close to the heart of this story, close to the kernel of truth he had carried with him since he was young.
“One night, during the break between our second and third sets, Cordelia and I were dancing along with many of the patrons of the bar. It was a slow song, something meant for lovers. I had my arms around Cordelia’s waist, and she had wrapped her arms around my neck. Her cheeks were flushed and her breath ragged. She ground against me gently, and I held her tight to me. Her eyes glistened with intensity. The sexual energy between us was almost unbearable.”
“She put her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes. We danced, and there was nothing in the universe but us. I shivered with her every exhale, feeling her warm soft breath against my neck. Then she pressed her lips against the soft skin at the curve of my shoulder. Her kiss was like an electric shock that ran through my body. For the first time, one of us had crossed the line between desperately wanting to do a thing and doing the thing.”
The blonde woman smiled and said “It’s a wonder you didn’t climax right there, with that much sexual tension built up between you.”
He laughed and answered “Indeed. It is a wonder. I don’t know how I didn’t. In my memory, the feeling of her lips against my skin is as intense as an orgasm. But I digress. With that kiss, Cordelia had changed the nature of our relationship. From longing friends to potential lovers, and then she changed it further. She lifted her head and whispered into my ear ‘Will you come home with me tonight?’ The war inside me in the aftermath of that question was fierce. My mind, my body, wanted to be with Cordelia. But you see, I was a married man.”
He looked across the street at the river, seeing the lights of the city dance across its surface. She had seen him like this only once before, when he told her about the death of his best childhood friend. Her heart ached to see that look on his face. Then he regained his composure and looked into her eyes.
“It took every fibre of my being to disappoint Cordelia when she asked me that question, every shred of energy in me. To this day I do not know how I said no. When I whispered it, she didn’t answer. She tipped her head back up and smiled at me, still looking at me with those beautiful eyes, those beautiful fuck-me-please eyes.”
The sudden harshness of his language didn’t surprise her. She had heard it before, was indeed capable of the same level of crass talk. Nonetheless she shook her head in mock reproach and waited for him to continue.
“She put her head back down on my shoulder, and we stood there for some time, perhaps forever, saying nothing. Then she bit me.”
“She… bit you?” Her incredulity was palpable.
“Yes. She bit me. Right here,” he indicated the junction between his shoulder and neck, “Very hard. It left an incredible bruise that took weeks to fade. And then she flipped her hair, her beautiful, wonderful hair, turned on her heel, and left the bar.”
He paused for a sip of wine. She could see he was digging deep to tell this story, and loved him all the more for sharing it with her, opening himself to her. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples for a moment.
“I never saw her again. The next day she had left, moved to Vancouver with no forwarding address. If Lisa knew where she had gone, she never shared that information with me. The bruise was hard to explain, so hard in fact, I didn’t even bother trying. What was even harder was not knowing what Cordelia had wanted from me that night. A one night stand? Did she want me to leave with her? I’ll never know. Can never know.”
He sat back and looked into her eyes, as he had a hundred times before.
“What do I know of passion, ma belle? Of the chemistry between a man and a woman? Maybe nothing. Maybe nothing at all.”
It was closing time. Even though the story he told was short, time seemed to have slipped away from them. He rose and circled the table to pull her chair out like a true gentleman should. She stood, excited and flushed from the story he told and her love for him. He took her arm and they stepped into the river of bustle that was typical of a Paris street on a summer evening.