Didier raised his creaky and stiff body from the bed, opting not for a stretch but a scratch to the belly instead. Craving a smoke, he got up, lumbered outside to the balcony, and turned to see in the creeping sunlight his former workplace. “Pfft,” he spit out in his morning ritual of disdain.
“Didier, comment ça va?”
“Ed. Bonjour. I didn’t see you there.”
A willowy and pasty man stepped close to the edge of the shadows. “Is it jour already?”
“Yes. Can’t you see the sun? I would have thought you’d be back in your room by now. Do you have a cigarette?”
Ed took a pair of sunglasses from his pocket and put them on. “Sorry. Not today. I’ve given them up for the last time.”
“Not that girlfriend again.”
“Bella? Mais non.” He drew in a breath as if he had a cigarette perched on his lower lip. “I haven’t talked with her in months. Or has it been a year?” His face slackened into his infinitely ruminating expression.
“Too bad. So, how’s your roommate?” The image came into Didier’s mind of the elderly canine, incontinent one minute, farting the next. Hard to believe that there was a time that those two actually had to fight off the ladies.
“He had a bad night. Lots of skin discomfort, I guess. I requested an ointment from the attendant, but Jacob refused to use it.”
“Why would he do that?” Didier looked around for a stray butt.
“He wants to suffer.”
“Oh, I see.” Mon dieu. For the months that he’d known them, he’d never understood l’angoisse existentielle of those two.
Didier peered over the side of the balcony to look at the gargantuan Notre Dame de Paris where he’d spent the first 700 years of his life perched on its roof, fending off challenges from the elements, torch-bearing head choppers, and ambitious rivals who’d lusted after his job. After all that time, he was forced out by mandatory retirement rules.
Ed had moved along the waning shadow to stand closer to Didier who startled at the sound of his voice. “At least you don’t have to do that anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t imagine centuries spent as a drain pipe.”
Didier resisted his urge to strike the papery chauve-souris, largely because he didn’t have the energy. “I realize that my life wasn’t as romantic as yours. Although I did get more than my share of female attention.”
“I hate to say it, Didier, but having hundreds of disposable cameras take your photo does not really constitute female attention. What?”
Didier felt the steam rise from his hunched back. “Why are you out here, Ed?” He reached into a crevice between the bricks and discovered a half-smoked Gauloise Blonde. The find took the edge off of his growing annoyance.
“Waiting for Roger. He promised me he’d bring me breakfast. Ouch!” Didier glanced over to see Ed pressing his palm against his forehead. He’d moved a little too far out of the shadow again and the sun had singed his scalp under his thinning hair.
Didier leaned over further to look down at the street. “That’s Roger there, and he’s brought someone with him. Now she’s a looker. Not that I’ve ever paid attention to that sort.”
Ed showed some definite interest. “A red head. She appears imported.”
“Um, c’est posible. “ Didier slapped a hand on Ed’s shoulder. “Come, my friend, let’s get you back to your room. You have a busy day ahead of you.”
Ed pulled a match from his pocket, struck it against the brick wall, lit Didier’s cigarette, and smiled. “Something to look forward to.”
* * * * *
Madolyn pulled the catalog from the seat pocket and thumbed through it, waiting for the final few people to board the plane. She grew impatient for the electronic devices announcement so that she could get back to the book on her e-reader, one of several books she’d planned to finish over her time in Paris. Who would have known the trip would have been so eventful? Find love, lose love, find love again, then realize that she had nothing in common with the museum ticket-taker and finally getting creeped out at his insistence that she meet his elderly uncle in some retirement home. The latter put an end to the doomed love affair before she ever went inside.
The tarmac glistened from the glaze of rain that fell all afternoon. Madolyn watched the ground crew prepare in the dark for the plane’s departure and decided that she was truly happy to finally be going home. Not so happy when the credit card bills finally arrive, but she already had an email evite from friends for happy hour at Dave and Buster’s later that week to distract her.
“Excuse me, Miss?”
“Of course. I’m sorry.” Madolyn pulled her purse from the seat next to hers.
“No problem.” A very debonair man took his seat beside her. He seemed to notice where her gaze had settled. “A little too much sun this morning.” He arranged his hair to cover the red spot on his forehead.
Madolyn shifted nervously. “I’m sorry, that was rude…”
“Are you going home or leaving?”
The man’s English accent mesmerized her. As she watched him now, he seemed to be much younger than she’d originally thought. “Going home. Back to Texas.”
“Texas.” He said the word as if it was the first time he’d realized where he was going. “Yes. I hear it’s a very nice place.”
Madolyn thumbed through the magazine without paying attention to what was on the page. “Very nice. I like it there.” She extended her hand. “My name is Madolyn.”
The man hesitated for only a moment as his ears detected the muffled sound of canine claws frantically scratching that came from the cargo hold of the plane. “Edward,” he said, extending his own hand. “My name is Edward. Enchanté.”