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A not so traditional Christmas Carol, except her name is not Carol.... Part 7
The stop in Winchester took less than an hour, as anticipated, so we reached the outskirts of London around 5.00 PM. Needless to say, the legendary traffic lived up to its world famous reputation, so we didn't get to the hotel until 6.00. Berner Street, the seat of our lodging establishment, is an offshoot of Oxford Street, which is probably London's mosty famous shopping area. I had arranged with the hotel to have a parking space in their garage, so we didn't have to worry about finding an outside spot, which would have proved to be been mission impossible anyway.
I had reserved a suite, which turned out to be nothing more than two adjacent bedrooms separated by a common bathroom. But everything was nice, spacious and clean. In any case a major improvement over the previous night on the ferry. Chantal got priority in using the bathroom, and later, while she was in her room getting dressed, I myself took a hot shower and shaved off two days worth of beard. Then I got dressed in five minutes : grey pants, very light grey oxford shirt, burgundy silk tie and the hounds tooth jacket I had promised myself not to wear. Once ready, I walked through the bathroom separating our bedrooms to see if Chantal was ready too. The door between the bathroom and her room was half open, so I knocked once and pushed it open. I shouldn't have done that! I closed it back immediately. But the split second look inside her room was long enough to memorize what I had seen. Amazing what an eye can register in less than a second! When I opened the door, she was putting on stockings, leaning forward, her foot resting on the edge of a chair. She wasn't wearing much so I guess that's why I din't miss anything. Not the garter belt, not the lacy panties, and certainly not the gravity defying matching bra! Everything in black! Her dress, black also, was laying on the bed, with an ironing board nearby. I went through a mixture of feelings. I was embarrassed and I felt stupid, angry at myself for not knowing better. But I liked what I saw and the little devils in my head were exchanging happy high-fives while congratulating one another : "way to go, man!" However, I had no idea on how to extricate myself from the embarrassing part so I sat on my bed, racking my brain helplessly.
A knock of the communicating door brought me back to reality :
- "Come in!" She popped her head first and when she realized I was dressed, the rest of her entered the room as well.
- "Look at you!" she said, "You clean up pretty good! Who needs Brad Pitt of George Clooney when you're around. You look great!"
- "Thank you! You look pretty amazing yourself!" And she was. The short, but not too short dress showcased her already long and beautifully shaped legs, a notion still accentuated by the three inch high heels pumps in black suede. Only one piece of jewelry, a very modern, large enough not to be missed asymmetric choker around her neck, made of silver. I had to face the obvious : the woman knows how to dress, and when she does, she goes for the kill! Negligently thrown over her left arm was a silver faux fur jacket, looking deliciously warm, not to mention extremely elegant. She was wearing a very pale colored make-up with just a hint of red lipstick, the whole package draped in this discreet haze of quality perfume. By my standards, she was the epitome of elegance. Working, even part-time as I did, for a fashion magazine had given me a sense of appreciation of female fashion, something that had never bothered me before. But now, I was used to work with women whose favorite pastime is to compete with each other in terms of fashion, an activity elevated to a science by some. So I was appreciative for a reason : Countess Chantal was way above the lot! There, I said it!
- "I'm sorry about walking into your room..."
- "Don't worry, my fault anyway, I should have closed the door". And that was the end of it. At least on the surface. Because that vision of her would probably keep me awake for a long, long time!
On our way down, I asked the concierge to remind me where "Giorgio's", the Italian restaurant was located. I knew it was within a ten minutes walking distance somewhere near Soho Square. He gave me directions and I asked my beautiful and so elegant date :
- "Do you feel like walking a little or should we take a cab?"
- "No, let's walk, I would love to look a some of the Christmas decorations". I helped her put her jacket on and missed another heartbeat when I looked at her wearing it. We got out of the hotel lobby and she grabbed my arm, leaning cosily towards me as we started walking. I hate to admit it but I loved it, and it made me feel very special !
The temperature was below freezing for sure, but walking close to each other as we did, it didn't feel like it. We looked at the decorated windows of some stores on Oxford Street before crossing the road and entering Soho. Chantal seemed pretty excited at the prospect of going out. As for me, I was way up on a cloud. Against all odds, Giorgio's is located in a part of Soho called Chinatown. Probably because it was already established before the Chinese people moved in. We had to wait a few minutes before we could get a table, but it was worth the wait since we got a quiet corner table in the second floor dining room, by the window overlooking Wardour Street. We were both hungry by now and Chantal ordered the veal piccata while I chose the vegetable lasagna. For good measure, I also requested a bottle of Chianti to accompany our meal. Who's counting when the boss is footing the bill, right?
While waiting for our food, we talked. She asked me questions about my previous travels to London and enquired about my family. I asked about hers too, only to find out that she was not joking when she said she was a Countess, because she really is. Actually, if France were still a monarchy, her first cousin would be the king, if I understood well. Pretty impressive for a commoner like me. I also learned that she lived in an appartment Rue saint-Dominique in Paris and that most every week-end, she goes to see her mother who still lives in the 17th Century family castle where Chantal grew up, near Orleans. Hard to believe, but she did invite me to go spend a week-end there, promising I would love it. You bet I would. I didn't say no! The food arrived to the table and our conversation slowed down some. I would glance at her quickly but repeatedly. She looked adorable. All trace of anger or nastiness had disappeared from her beautiful face. What a difference a day makes!
I recommended the home made tiramisu for dessert and she agreed. Somehow, we had managed to kill the bottle of Chianti between the two of us. Oh well, what are vacations for if not to have a good time. And having a good time I sure was, hoping she did too. None of us seemed to be in a hurry to leave, so we ordered coffee, giving us an excuse to spend another half hour in the warm cocoon of the restaurant.
And then I had an idea :
- "Listen, why don't we get a cab and ask the driver to show us around London. We'll see everything again tomorrow in the daylight, but it's completely different at night, especially with all the Christmas decorations?" She actually clapped her hands in agreement, with the excitement of a little girl. Would it be bragging if I said I was proud of myself ? So, we bundled up to brave the cold and called for a cab from the restaurant, not having to wait outside. It was only my second time in a London taxi,as I usually come with my own car or travel by bus, so the idea was appealing to me too.
Balbir, our Indian taxi driver, gave us a fabulous tour around the City of London by night. He took us to any possible place of interest : Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, a drive around Hyde Park, Victoria Station, Piccadilly Circus, St Paul's Cathedral, Houses of Parliament. You name it, Balbir took us there. The wole time Chantal was pressed against my side grabbing my arm while looking out the windows on both sides and on a couple of occasions, she even got a hold of my hand. I didn't move. I couldn't possibly if I had wanted to. I was wondering if she was aware of what she was doing. I mean, was I attracted to her? Rethorical question anyway since I already knew the answer. More importantly, maybe : was she attracted to me ? She couldn't possibly be. I mean she had treated me like a door mat even before we left Paris. I will never understand women, I know it now.
It was past eleven when Balbir dropped us off in front of our hotel on Berner Street. We thanked him profusely and I gave him a royal tip (well, we were in England, so it was appropriate) and he gave me a card with his cell phone number in case we needed more transportation while in London.
Chantal shivered when she got out of the cab and cuddled against me. What was I supposed to do, push her back? We got inside very quickly and nothing was said in the elevator. Out of nervousness, I guess. She was possibly expecting me to make a move that I knew I wouldn't make tonight. The way I saw things, Audrey and I had a relationship. Not a great one, maybe, based on a little work together and a lot of sex, but to me, we were a couple and until one of us broke it off face to face, my loyalty to her wouldn't be questionable. Call me old fashioned but that's the way I was raised. So, when we got to our doors, I gave Chantal a hug, thanked her for her lovely company and said goodnight. Of course, if I had known then what I know now, maybe things would have been different...
To be continued...
Copyright 2012 by Austinhealy, his heirs and assigns.
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