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First of all for the fans of Forest of Dreams don’t worry. Part five is underway and will be up soon.
Thank you as always to my proofreaders, Eyehawk, Angel, Jen, Suzy and Jill.
And of course, I dedicate this story to Jill.
I was in Paris for a week, taking in some of my favourite sights and haunts but with one specific destination in mind. I was close to my thirty third birthday, single, and just enjoying one of my favourite cities.
I had had a wonderful morning walking in the warm, late spring air through the Tuileries and Carousel gardens. Given the mild weather I was wearing a long sleeved, mid thigh length, light cable knit dress. I had knee length cream boots with three inch heels. My long red hair was tied back in a ponytail and I had my purple, long strapped bag over my right shoulder, the strap going between my breasts with the bag resting on my left hip.
I had then headed for Musée du Louvre with just one object in mind, to see the painting that I hadn’t known existed until a couple of weeks before.
I was now standing in the long gallery staring up at Madame Récamier with a smile on my face. I had finally got the joke.
I let out a little laugh and was surprised when I felt a gentle touch on my arm. I turned to see an attractive woman who looked to be in her late twenties with long, wavy blond hair and blue eyes. She was dressed in skinny jeans, a cream coloured, cable knit sweater, which coincidentally matched the weave, and almost the shade of, my dress, and open toed heels.
She had an enquiring look on her face and said, “Um.. parlez-vous anglais?”
I could tell from her accent that she was clearly unused to speaking French. I thought I detected a slight American edge to her pronunciation.
I smiled at her, “Yes, I do as it happens. I’m actually English.”
“Oh wonderful! I was beginning to think I was the only English speaker in the whole country.”
I smiled, her accent was delightful. “So, how may I help you?” I asked.
“Um, well two things really. I was a little intrigued as to why you were laughing at the painting. I don’t see the joke…” I was about to answer when she carried on, “and I’m kinda lost. Do you know where the Mona Lisa is?”
“Well, I’m happy to explain the small joke and I’ll happily guide you to La Gioconda,” she looked confused, “the real name for the Mona Lisa,” I explained, “but you’re going to be disappointed I suspect. I was quite let down the first time I saw it.”
A small frown creased her brow, “Really? But it’s such an iconic painting. Okay well I can’t go home and tell my family I came here and didn’t see it. So… why the laugh?”
She was disarming and so friendly. I already felt a connection with her and said, “Well, if I’m going to be your art guide to the Louvre we should be formally introduced. I’m Anna,” and held out my hand.
She took mine in hers, her soft skin was warm and we shook a little awkwardly.
“Hi Anna… I’m Jill.”
“Nice to meet you Jill,” I said, “So… I laughed because one of my favourite artists is Renée Magritte and he did a painting called ‘Madame Récamier by David’ and I always wondered what it was about. I didn’t get the joke. Then I heard that the original was here in the Louvre and so I sought it out and… well, now I get the joke.”
She stared into my eyes and laughed gently, which made me go a little weak in the knees. She had such an infectious way about her. “Well, perhaps as you lead me to the Mona Lisa you can explain a little more?”
I said, “Gladly, follow me.”
As we walked I explained the joke that Magritte had made in that his painting was essentially the same but instead of the society beauty on the chaise longue there was a coffin in the same pose. A sort of joke on the superficiality of beauty and the true meaning of immortality. It could be achieved through art but not in the traditional sense of living forever.
We got to the room and I led Jill in. The usual crowd of tourists was ten deep and Jill finally said, “Where is it?”
I laughed and pointed over the heads of the gawking onlookers. “Just over there.”
From where we were you could just make out the top of the environmentally controlled case that contained La Gioconda.
“How big is it?” She asked.
“That’s the disappointment, I’m afraid,” I said, “It’s tiny. I swear it was supposed to be an oversized postage stamp.”
She giggled and said, “Okay, but I still have to see it.”
We waited as the crowd slowly thinned in front of us. As we had some time I said, “Hey, do you like good coffee?”
She grinned into my eyes and said, “No. I love good coffee. Why, do you know a good café nearby?”
“As it happens I do. One of my favourites. It’s only a ten minute walk from here. Once we’ve finished how about we go and get one?”
She seemed genuinely thrilled, “I’d love to! It’s so wonderful to find someone who knows their way around Paris who also speaks English. You must have spent casino oyna quite a bit of time here.”
“Oh, I come here every opportunity I get. My friend Agnes, spelled a-g-n-e-s but pronounced ann-yes, has an apartment just off the Rue de-Rivoli and lets me use it any time I want.”
We finally got to the painting and Jill stared at it.
“Oh. Yes. I see what you mean. It’s still an enigmatic smile though,” she said, turning to me, “but yes. Not that great. Now, how about showing me this amazing café”
I was a little taken aback. I was getting very mixed signals from her. There was a mixture of a certain aloofness combined with a clear desire to spend time with me. Perhaps it was nerves and the sudden relief at finding someone she could communicate with.
I smiled and said, “Have you seen everything you want to see here, then?”
“Oh, pretty much,” she replied, “I mainly came to see this,” she pointed at the Mona Lisa, “and I saw a painting that made you laugh too so I call that a win.”
“Come on then,” I said, turning and allowing an asian couple into our slots, “let’s get a coffee.”
We walked down the hallways and stairs towards the entrance and out into the mid afternoon air. I led us out onto the street and across, then down to the café. As we walked we chatted. Jill asked me about the apartment I was using.
“Oh, it’s just a one bedroom apartment but it’s so close to the centre that it’s perfect for me.”
“And how does… ann…”
I smiled, “Agnes.”
“Yeah, her,” she said, laughing, “how does she feel about you staying with her. Must be cosy.”
I laughed with her, “Agnes lives out near Versailles most of the time. She has a glorious country house, a husband and three children along with dogs and horses. This is just her pied-å-terre for when she needs a break. I get lucky because she rarely uses it.”
“Oh god… sorry.. A pee-ed…?”
“Stop apologising, Jill!” I said, “It’s okay to not speak French. Not everyone does. It literally means ‘foot on the earth’ but is a common phrase taken to mean a small apartment.”
“Wow, lucky you,” she said, “having almost your own place in Paris. I’m jealous.”
“Well, it’s not exactly a mansion but yes, I am blessed to have such a friend.”
We had arrived at the café and there was a small circular sidewalk table available so I gestured and we sat.
A garçon came out and smiled and said, “Anna, mon amie! Que désirez-vous?”
I gestured at Jill and said, “Um, Anton, Est-ce que ça va si nous parlons anglais?” I switched to English, “my friend Jill isn’t up to speed yet.”
I knew Anton spoke excellent English, as do most waiting staff in Paris even if they sometimes pretend they don’t, and he smiled engagingly at her and took her hand and kissed the back and said, “Enchanté, Jill. A friend of Anna’s is a friend of mine.”
I watched as Jill blushed at the intimate touch and said, “Um, thank you… Anton? Merci… lovely to meet you.”
She looked at me in a fluster and I took over, “Anton, two of your lovely,” I looked at Jill, “milk?” She nodded, “milky coffees please.”
“Of course, Anna… he looked at Jill admiringly, “and of course Mademoiselle Jill.”
He pronounced Jill with a soft ‘J’ and I said, “Oh come on, Anton! Quit with the overly French accent!” He laughed and I laughed with him.
He scurried off into the café and Jill said, “So you know everybody in Paris then, Anna?”
I blushed, “No, I just know everyone in the places I regularly visit. So, what do you think? Isn’t this the best place to sit in the whole world?”
I gestured to my right and pointed out the top of the Eiffel Tower just above the skyline opposite, in front of us the cars all racing around the corners and the long shadows of the buildings around us.
Almost immediately Anton brought out two big bowls of coffee. Well, they look like bowls but they’re just really wide cups but Jill looked at them and said, “That’s a lot of coffee.”
I picked mine up in both hands and held it out to her. “Salut, and welcome to Paris.”
She picked hers up and we touched our coffee cups together. I felt a small thrill as our fingers brushed against each other. I tried to hide it.
We both took a long sip and Jill smacked her lips together, “Oh… my… god… that is perfect! I have to come here for breakfast. I don’t usually drink coffee quite this late in the afternoon.”
“Oh! You must try their morning coffee. With some French bread and marmalade. Heavenly. I come here for breakfast every day that I’m here.”
She smiled and said, “I might join you for breakfast tomorrow… if I can find the place again!”
I laughed, “Well, if you tell me which hotel you’re staying at, I’ll come and collect you.”
She raised an eyebrow, “You’d do that?”
I didn’t tell her how I really felt, that I would jump at the chance. I knew it would probably scare her so instead I just said, “Sure. If you’d like?”
We were both getting close to the end of our coffees and slot oyna I decided to see if she’d like to hang out a little more. “Um… hey… do you have plans for dinner tonight?”
She said, “Well, I’m supposed to have an authentic French experience in the hotel… they’re laying on dinner and some music… but… why? You have a better idea?”
I could tell she was now far more at ease than earlier and her smiles and warmth came much more quickly so I felt reasonably confident when I said, “Uh, well… sort of. I know a lovely little place we can get dinner… completely authentic… and then a couple of truly Parisian bars we can visit… but if you have plans…”
She almost leapt up and said, “What, you mean I should trade a night out with someone who is practically a local for a sterile idea of what French is? No, I’m in. Do I have to get dolled up?”
I laughed, “Hardly, babe. I’m not taking you to the Ritz,” I suddenly realised I’d called her babe, “oh god. Sorry. Way too familiar. I mean no. You can go in jeans and a sweater. Nobody will notice. This is Paris. The home of shabby chic.”
She ignored my pet name and just moved on. “Yeah, well, if I’m going out I want to get dressed for the occasion. Maybe I should head back and just get changed…”
“If you want to, of course, but this is just a lovely little auberge, family run. It will be okay, I promise,” I said, almost willing her not to leave. It was so wonderful to be in Paris with someone who I seemed to connect so well with. I didn’t want her to go.
Do I sound like I was desperate? Well, sort of. Not for company. I’ve learned to enjoy my own company over the years but somehow this felt different.
Now I needed to dip a toe in the water, “So, back home. You have family?”
She smiled and said, “Yes. Don’t you? Like a mom and dad?”
I laughed, “Well yes.” I realised she didn’t want to talk more about that so I left it and moved on, “So we can go and walk a little, if you’d like? There’s a few places I can show you. Be the tourist guide.”
“I’d love that. Yes, let’s walk.”
I picked up the tab that Anton had left and fished out some Euro notes, placing them on the table and, as always, leaving a handsome tip.
“Can I help with that?” Jill asked.
I smiled at her, “No, really. It’s not that expensive and I would have come here anyway. Come on, let’s walk. I fancy heading for Place Pigalle but maybe you won’t approve.”
I got a blank look, “I have no idea what that is. Why wouldn’t I approve?”
“Uh, because it’s the sort of hippy area of Paris? Seedy bars, dens of iniquity, that sort of thing…”
She giggled as we stood and started walking once again, “Oh! That sounds fun. The Paris they never show the tourists.”
I laughed with her and automatically linked my arm through hers as we walked. She didn’t seem to object so I carried on, “Oh, they do. You’ve heard of the Moulin Rouge?”
“Well, yes. Sort of. I saw the movie. Like a high class strip club?”
I smiled, “Yeah, sort of. Well it’s a tourist destination. I’ve been but it really is horrible. No, I’m thinking of some much more fun bars. Come on. Let’s go see the real Paris.”
We got to Place Pigalle and I guided us down into the Quartier Pigalle, heading for a nice little place I knew. I suddenly realised we were going to pass a bar I didn’t want her to know about, but it was too late.
Giselle was standing outside the door, in her familiar pushed back hoodie and short jeans. Her buzz cut black hair glistening under the encroaching twilight.
“Anna! Qui est la beauté?
I needed to move on but decided I also needed to speak English for Jill’s sake.
“Hi Giselle. Uh, this is Jill. She doesn’t speak French. We’re just heading down to the Water Hole. Pas maintenant d’accord?”
Giselle winked at me, “Yeah, sure. See you later maybe?”
“Uh yeah. Maybe,” and guided Jill away.
She said, “Wow, you know everyone here. Is that a bar that you go to regularly?”
I blushed and thanked the twilight for hiding my sin.
“Yes. Sometimes. It’s a fun place and I like the regulars.”
“So… why don’t we go there?”
Now we got to the part that was going to be difficult. I didn’t want to lose my new friend quite so quickly but I needed to explain, at least in part.
“Well, because it’s probably an acquired taste… the people are lovely but can be a little… pushy… until you know them.”
She stopped in the street and I was pulled to a halt. She turned to me, “Look, I can see somehow you’re trying to protect me but they’re your friends there right?”
I was quite surprised by just how forceful she was being, “Well… yeah. They are. But… you have to understand…”
“What? That the guys hit on you? Oh, come on Anna. I’ve been going to bars like that all my adult life and I’m with you. They know you. Surely…”
I stopped her mid flow, “The guys won’t hit on you, Jill…”
“So what is the problem?” I saw the confusion on her face.
“Well… canlı casino siteleri there aren’t any guys in there.”
I watched and saw her say, “What… you’re saying… it’s like a women only club?”
I stifled a laugh, “Well, sort of. There’s no official house rules but… yes. Only women tend to go in there.”
She looked and said, “So, you have friends in there? I don’t want to stop you from seeing your friends, Anna. If you want me to go back to the hotel I’m sure I can still…”
I surprised myself and her by leaning forward and kissing her.
She almost jumped as if she’d received an electric shock.
“What… what are you doing?”
I stared at her. I wasn’t going to be judged. “Okay Jill. Here’s the truth,” I pointed behind me, “that is a lesbian bar and I like to go there. I don’t just randomly have sex with people but it is a place I feel comfortable. If that offends you, I’m sorry and I’ll happily escort you home to your hotel, or put you in a cab…”
I saw a range of conflicting emotions on her face, which surprised me. I was half expecting her to just storm off into the gathering dark and I’d never see her again.
She finally found words and haltingly said, “So… you’re like… okay… I sort of get it. But you should have warned me before you kissed me.”
What was important here? It was clear and needed to be said, “So, if I warned you… it would be okay?”
Her face clouded and cleared, “Look… I’m not… you know… a… well…”
“Can I help you? You don’t want to say lesbian right?”
She coloured and said, “Yeah. I’m not a… lesbian… Okay. But… I like your company. Okay? And… I quite enjoyed your kiss.”
I felt a little of the tension in me drain away, and I managed a wry smile, “So, Jill… would it be okay if I kissed you again?”
I saw her eyes staring straight into mine and she didn’t say a word, just nodded and then surprised me when she leaned forward and started kissing me far more passionately than I had experienced in a long time, right there, in the street. I heard a wolf whistle from behind me and Giselle’s shout, “Je la savais!”
Jill pulled back, “What did your friend just say?”
I smiled, my insides all mush and excitement, “She said, ‘I knew it.'”
I watched Jill’s features as she swallowed, “Really? What did she know?”
There were equal measures of hardness and insecurity in Jill, I could see that, and I said, “Well, I suppose she thought I was saying we weren’t something and now she’s seen that we… might be.”
“Anna… I don’t know. I’m… I’ve never… this is new. Very new.”
I took one of her hands in both of mine, “Jill, it’s okay. Really. I’m not pressuring you into anything. I can see you’re scared. I was. I will take you back to your hotel now, like I said, and we can forget all this. I’ll meet you for breakfast tomorrow, or you can just forget everything and disappear.”
She swallowed again and said, “What do you mean, you were scared?”
Her eyes were staring deep into me, and I felt such a strong empathy for where she was in that moment.
“I mean, the first time I was with another woman. I know the fear. The fight, flight or…” I giggled, “fuck imperitive.”
She giggled with me and suddenly the two of us were in uncontrollable fits. She pointed at me and said, “F…f… fight… F…f… flight… or f… fuck! Hahahaha!”
Somehow the barrier was broken and we fell into each other’s arms, just laughing and holding and once we’d both calmed a little she whispered in my ear, “I don’t want to fight you, Anna.”
I pulled back and looked at her, “So you want to fly from me?”
Her mouth went into a crooked grin that I so wanted to kiss at that moment, “Well, no. Let’s go into your favourite bar and see if we can’t turn a few heads?”
I knew exactly how she felt. “You’re scared but also intrigued, right?” I said.
She just nodded.
“So let’s go and show Giselle how together we are. Come on, babe.”
She laughed, “Okay, babe but… before we go in there… I need you to know… whatever happens, don’t let me run away. I want this. Okay?”
I just nodded, grabbed her hand and we ran together, giggling, to the bar. Giselle greeted us with, “Well, someone didn’t have much will power, did they?”
Jill poked her tongue out at her as we went past and we got into the bar. It was light and airy. There was the usual crowd of everyone from the high femmes to the ultra butch. As I walked with Jill through them up to the bar I got a few calls out, “Anna! Comment allez-vous?”
I called out variously on the theme of, “Bien, et tu?”
When we got to the bar I said, “So, what’s it to be, gorgeous new, pretend almost girlfriend?”
Jill laughed and said, “I don’t suppose they have tequila do they?”
Patricia was behind the bar and so I called out, “Patricia, as-tu de la tequila?”
She smiled over and said, “Oue! Deux?”
Jill put a hand on my arm and said, “Um.. will they be able to do a tequila mule do you think?”
Patricia smiled and replied in English, “You bet! Coming right up.”
Pattrica mixed our drinks and I handed over a twenty Euro note and took the change, dropping it in my shoulder bag.
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