We should’ve stayed in Venice. For once, Kassie kept her thoughts to herself and planted both feet on the bottom of the private water taxi Chris had arranged to take them to Marco Polo Airport. Quite the balancing act for a woman with a reputation for opening her mouth and inserting her foot without much forethought.
The challenge of booking a hotel room should’ve been the first clue that going to Paris in July was a bad idea. The second should have been how difficult it was to get there in the first place. Kassie suggested they take a Thello night train, but trains from Venice to Paris at any hour that Saturday were filled to overcapacity. When she checked flights, she stumbled on two seats on a late morning flight that would land them midafternoon. Perfect timing. The goal was to get to the hotel by dark. They had fireworks on their minds.
“Sei fortunato. La domando ha guidato l’offerta,” the fellow at the airline ticket counter said.
Kassie’s eyes begged Chris to translate.
“We’re fortunate. Demand drove supply.” Chris fed her the words, as usual. “They’ve added flights.” When he smiled at her, she melted as she did in their early years.
After landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport, they grabbed their carry-ons and found the Uber driver Chris had scheduled. That was the easy part. The ride into the center of the city was ten times as tedious as normal as the driver meandered through the narrow cobblestoned alleyways, avoiding as much as possible the gridlocked thoroughfares and army of traffic cops, who battled to instill calm among chaos.
“What a cluster,” Kassie said under her breath not wanting to annoy the Frenchman, be branded an ugly American, or have Chris accidentally hear what she’d said and interpret it for what she really meant.
If he had, she’d blame the sea of raucous Parisians and wine-fueled tourists that swarmed the boulevards and sidewalks or the rank smell of diesel fuel and car exhaust as the final proof that Paris wasn’t always the best idea.
“Vous êtes courageux,” the driver said. “Coupe du monde demain!”
“World Cup tomorrow!” Kassie and Chris shouted in unison. That explained it. Had they been so into each other the night before they’d forgotten what else was happening in the world? Seemed so.
In any normal year, Paris in July was mayhem but manageable, with the Tour de France and Bastille Day celebrations. Add France playing in the World Cup finals? Mon Dieu.
Chris wrapped his arm around Kassie’s shoulder. “I don’t know, I think being fortunate and brave in one day is a good thing.” He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “A sign, wouldn’t you say?”
“Perhaps you were fortunate to have found me alone last night,” Kassie said with a slight shove of her shoulder into his chest.
“And you’re the brave one to take another chance on me,” Chris whispered in her ear.
Kassie turned and gazed out the car window. The squabble that ensued between her heart and her mind prevented her from noticing the quaint and bustling neighborhood bars, cafés, bookstores, and wine shops they passed. Preoccupied, she wondered whether their time in Paris would launch Kassie and Chris 2.0, or would it be a summer pilot that would be canceled once they returned to Boston and their attempt at reconciliation became a reality shitshow.
Paris was easy. Three thousand four hundred and thirty-five miles away from home, they were free to take up where they’d left off a year ago with no ramifications. Lovers, albeit with a past. A past they’d swept aside the night before in her hotel room in Venice. But second chance? Not so sure. Not so fast.
Chris had caught her off guard. She’d had no time to assess the situation, to make a list of the pros and cons of going round two with him. He didn’t even ask. She didn’t say no. Would she have if he had?
Once the driver pulled up to Hotel de Fais de Beaux Rêves, Chris jumped out and ran to open the car door for her. She interlaced her fingers with his, as she had in bed last night, and stepped out of her comfort zone and into unforeseen territory. Before her trip to Venice, she’d taken the year to demonstrate her total commitment to the company, to her boss, and to the board. No more distractions, she’d promised herself. Achieving the gold ring at the top of the corporate ladder had replaced the possibility of a lifetime with Chris.
And then he showed up uninvited. In St. Mark’s Square of all places. Pandemonium exploded inside of her. Maybe if she hadn’t been sitting in the same café where she’d met him six years before, she would’ve had the strength to rebuff him. Flashbacks blurred her ability to think logically. His piercing blue eyes fixed on hers dismantled any strength she had to tell him this, whatever this was, would not be a good idea. She feared if she blinked he’d be gone. And truth was, she didn’t want it to be a dream and had touched his hand, almost pinching him.
Kassie thought she’d buried the memories. Damn it. Where was Bad Kassie when she needed her alter ego to stand firm, or sit firm as it were, and reject the game Chris and her best friend, Annie, conspired to play?
“Let it be,” he’d said. So she gave in, letting the magic of Venice reawaken her desire and longing for him.
Last night under the covers, Chris had suggested moving their reunion from Venice to Paris. A fresh start, he proclaimed. Kassie agreed, though sensing she was losing control. Fast. Of herself and the situation. She’d surrendered to Chris, to Annie—co-conspirators at the top of their game—when her plan was to be on top of hers.
That’s how she found herself in Paris.
As Chris grabbed their roller bags and slapped the driver on the back, Kassie stood like a statue gawking at the faded green splintered doorway and sorrowful facade of the hotel.
“Doesn’t look like they’ve painted since the Revolution.” Kassie bit her lip.
“Beggars can’t be choosers.” Chris nudged her toward the entryway.
“Less than twenty-four?”
“What’s less than—”
“Spouting proverbs already?”
“That’s your gig, Kassie, not mine. Just saying, we’re lucky again. Lucky, we’ve snagged a place to stay at all. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try somewhere else.”
Kassie had called her assistant, Vicki, late Friday night and didn’t have to beg her for help finding a place to stay in Paris. Always the resourceful one, Vicki phoned her counterpart in the local office of Calibri Marketing Group. Didn’t matter it was in the middle of the night, global partners ignored time zones. Vicki’s contact found a room for them at a centrally located Saint-Germain hotel.
Vicki peppered Kassie with questions about the change in her vacation plans.
“You’re with Chris? How’d that happen?”
“A setup. Between him and Annie. What are friends for?”
“You okay with that?”
“What? Their grand plan, or being here with Chris?”
“They gave me no choice. It is what it is.”
“A new beginning maybe? And Paris, the City of Love, Kassie. Ooo la la!”
“We’ll see. Nothing’s changed. I’m just taking one day at a time.”
“Ciao,” Kassie said.
“It’ll be au revoir in France. Don’t be confused. Think before you speak. Remember where you are.”
Kassie signed off knowing exactly where she was. And who she was. Neither time nor country would change the past. Twenty-four hours ago, a future with Chris appeared inconceivable. Now, that impossibility faded like the doorway of the Sweet Dreams Hotel.
“This is a first, you know?” Kassie said turning toward Chris.
“We’ve never checked into a hotel together as a couple before,” Kassie whispered as her eyes widened, yet blind to the vaulted ceiling and rich antique interior of the lobby.
“Passports, si’l vous plaît.”
The clerk opened their passports and announced Kassandra O’Callaghan, Christopher Gaines aloud.
Kassie swiped her damp forehead and tapped her fingers on the mahogany reception desk. Oh, God. They weren’t married. Would that be a problem?
“We’re in France. Relax,” Chris mumbled, standing to her left and giving her a reassuring squeeze around her waist.
I’m having an affair with my husband’s son, and he’s telling me to relax. Kassie hoped the clerk wasn’t a mind reader.
She reached for the gondola necklace Chris had a jeweler craft for her more than a year ago, pressing her lips together as she remembered she’d left it home, swapping it for her Moissanite solitaire pendant when the gondola came to symbolize a wish she’d assumed would never come true.
I’m having an affair with my husband’s son. Kassie continued praying the clerk didn’t have Superman powers and couldn’t see the invisible crown of thorns she’d worn for more than a year bearing those words. A mere scarlet letter would’ve fallen far short of describing what she had done. And what letter would it be? A for adulteress? C for cougar? S for stepmother?
Oh, no. The clerk looked at her and then at her passport. Had she said the words out loud?
“Is something wrong?” The saliva in Kassie’s mouth vanished like the onset of a tsunami. She tried to lick her lips. Nothing. She rummaged in her purse for ChapStick.
“No, no, Madame. Or is it Mademoiselle?”
“Madame,” Chris interjected, saving Kassie from having to answer.
When Kassie’s eyes hit the floor she noticed the exquisite Persian rug she’d been standing on, shifting from one foot to the other.
“We have a message for you, Madame. An envelope.” The clerk disappeared.
“What’s wrong?” Chris said.
“You have to ask? What if he knows?” She gulped.
“Who you are. Who we are. I don’t even know if I’m a mademoiselle or a madame.”
“Standing here you’re madame, upstairs you’re my mademoiselle.” He winked.
The clerk handed Kassie a light green envelope. She stared at it and stuffed it in her purse.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” Chris accepted the room key from the clerk and led Kassie to the stairs.
“Later. Probably a snarky welcome note from Vicki. She’s the only one who knows I’m here.”
“I emailed her. She wanted to know about Venice. If the flamingo had landed.”
“Really? You two have become rather chummy.”
“I needed someone to talk to. You don’t have a problem with that, do you?”
“I’ll think about it. But a flamingo? Am I a code word now?”
“It’s her idea. She feared someone had kidnapped Bad Kassie. Have you been keeping your head in the sand lately?”
“Don’t believe everything you hear. Bad Kassie is on hiatus. Keeping her head down, but not out. She’ll be back when the time is right.”
They gasped for breath and laughed as they reached the fifth floor, neither willing to admit how they’d struggled to get there.
“Wow. If this is the last room they had available, I’d like to see the others,” Chris said.
Kassie flipped on the antique chandelier, tossed her purse on the floral slipcovered Queen Anne chair, and twirled. “It’s beautiful.”
She flung open a door to a modern full-size bathroom. “Look! A shower and a tub. Imagine that!”
“But is there a toilet?”
“Ah, yes! And toilet paper, too!”
Chris ran his hand across the light blue French provincial drop-leaf desk in the far corner of the room.
“Don’t get any ideas. No work while we’re here, you hear?” Kassie walked up behind Chris and wrapped her arms around him.
“You’re right. This week is about you and me. No distractions from me, I promise.” Chris turned and kissed her forehead.
“We have a great view. Look.” Kassie pulled away, opened the French doors, and walked onto a small deck with a round wrought iron table and two chairs. The aroma of freshly baked bread wrestled with the box of pink, purple, and white geraniums on the railing of the deck. The bread won.
“Me too, Mademoiselle.”
An hour later, Kassie was sure she’d died and gone to heaven. The boulangerie across the street, not Chris, was the source of her desire. Confident Kassie was onto something before they were otherwise occupied, they followed her nose and discovered croissants of every variety imaginable. Baguettes to die for. And melt-in-your-mouth chocolate bread, reminding her of the bread she and Annie pigged out on every day when they’d vacationed in Saint-Martin.
A few doors down, the distinctive smell of fresh cheese was too delicious to ignore. A quick stop at the fromagerie and then the wine shop was all they needed for the perfect late lunch on the intimate porch off their hotel room.
Chris found a corkscrew in the desk and poured the chardonnay in wine glasses also provided by the hotel.
“To us,” he said. “May today be the first day of the rest of our lives. Together.”
Kassie sliced the brie and fed Chris, followed by a kiss.
“Reminds me of Meg Ryan in French Kiss.”
“Hope not. We have plans for the night.” Chris laughed.
“Hold that thought.” Kassie went inside to find her purse. “Time for a selfie.” She returned with her iPhone and the light green envelope the clerk had given her.
She sat on Chris’s lap, took a picture and a sip of her wine. “It’s not Italian, but it’ll do.” She giggled and settled in her chair.
Kassie delicately unsealed the envelope, planning to add it to her cherished souvenir box at home. Her eyes widened and her cheeks flushed as she read it to herself.
“What’s French for oh, crap?” She covered her mouth.
She handed the letter to Chris. He read it aloud.
Kassie, Sorry to intrude on your vacation, but your timing couldn’t be better. I need you to swing by the Paris office. Since you’re in town, Mimi wants to bounce an idea off you. She’s expecting you Tuesday at 10. I know I can count on you. Merci et bonne chance, Tom.
“Maybe we should’ve stayed in Venice,” Chris said.