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A not so traditional Christmas Carol, except her name is not Carol....Part 8
Sunday was to be the most enchanting day of our trip! We took the open top tour bus as we said, and rode on the upper deck, well protected from the chilling wind by half a roof over our heads. We saw pretty much the same locations as the night before, but everything felt like a different place in the daylight. We got off the bus whenever we wanted to take a close look at a particular place, and take photographs. It was freezing cold but to our surprise, by 11.00, a pale sun shyly pierced through the cotton blanket of clouds. I even saw a brief patch of blue sky. We took a break for lunch at the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen restaurant in the middle of Hyde Park, on the edge of the water, watching the swans glide on the lake as we ate. We had fish and chips and a glass of French Chablis. It was a lot of fun and we both took a lot of photographs.We took snapshots of the monuments and the busy London life, of course, but also of each other. On occasion, we even asked complete strangers to photograph the two of us together.
Even though she remained very pleasant, I noticed Chantal was a little more distant than the night before, and she was avoiding any physical contact very carefully. I guess my giving her the cold shoulder the previous night had something to do with it. I was getting to like her, but I didn't want to consider more than friendship with her, in any case a major progress over the way I felt about her just a day earlier. And I found her extremely attractive. Dangerously attractive, I should say! But after all, I didn't know when she would have her next bout of unpleasantness and I was in no hurry to be on the receiving end of that!
By early afternoon, we got off the bus in front of Big Ben, and climbed down the stairs to the Thames River bank, where we boarded the sightseing boat for our little cruise. Seing Londion from the river has always been my favorite. Chantal took countless pictures. I asked to borrow her massive Canon for just one picture of her. I didn't know at the time this would probably be the best photograph I ever took of anybody. I shot a rather close portrait of her, just her head surrounded by the fluffy collar of her fur jacket. By some sort of beginner's luck, I unwillingly managed to incorporate a somewhat blurry view of Tower Bridge to be seen in the background of the picture. The natural lighting couldn't have been better and the clarity of the photo was amazing. But most importantly, and that was pure luck, I managed to capture a beautiful facial expression of her. A smile with maybe a hint of sadness, her hair slightly messed up by the wind, and the redness of her cheeks from the bitter cold, everything was there to contribute to my little work of art. She later confided to me in a joking tone that she was jealous I could get such a good shot of her, even though I always insisted it was pure luck.
By the time the cruise was over, it was getting dark already. We had tea and scones in a wonderful tiny tea shop nearby Westminster Abbey. We chatted for a while before catching a cab back to the hotel. We got in our respective rooms after deciding to meet a 6.30 in the lobby. We were both exhausted by our full day of sightseeing so we planned on a quiet dinner at the restaurant of the hotel. Later, we would decide whether we wanted to go to a nice pub for a drink or heading straight to bed...separately.
- "Holy Mother of God!" That was me, upon seeing her walking down the three steps leading to the lobby. I tried to keep breathing while looking at her but it felt like my body couldn't handle both tasks simultaneously. She was wearing a knee length frilled black skirt, a collar less red silk blouse with a row of buttons aligned with her left breast, and a pair of red leather ballerinas. Purse to match of course! And one row of black pearls around the neck and around the right forearm. And suddenly, I knew how a knocked out boxer feels after being hit for the count! She had done her hair with numerous spikes pointing up in the air, not unlike the Statue of Liberty. Old fashioned me would have never thought of such a daring fashion, but considering that all conversations suddenly came to a halt, everybody gasping for air, she had obviously done the right thing. Everything carrying male hormones within fifty feet was drooling with envy.
- "You look marvelous" is all I could manage to articulate.
- "Good, because it's all for you, you know", she said with a smile. I wasn't sure I correctly understood what she meant.
_ "Thank you, but you didn't have to".
_ "I know, but I wanted to!" I decided to play dumb, something I'm usually pretty good at, often an easy way to steer clear of a touchy situation.
- "And why exactly would you be suddenly so eager to try to please me?"
- "Oh, it's very simple, Bertrand, and if you were not the generic idiot you pretend so very hard to be, you would know. And, because you are such a dummy, I'm going to spell it out for you : I'm falling for you, B.! Big time too! A chilling tremor ran down my spine!
- "I don't know what to say!"
- "Of course you don't know what to say! Because there is nothing to say. I may just be a blue blooded bitch to you, living in her once glorious past, but that doesn't make me an idiot!"
- "I never said..."
- "you didn't have to. You don't say things anyway, you just sit there like an oil stain, with a goofy look on your face, and I guess that's part of what makes you so adorable". I needed a drink, my head was spinning. I flagged a waiter passing by with an empty tray and ordered a very spicy Bloody Mary and...
- "I'll have one too, please!" she told the ageless server. Then there was a long silence, which I felt and knew I had to break. I just didn't know how.
- " What happened, B., little kitty got your tongue?" I looked up at her and she was actually making fun of my embarrassment, a mischievous expression on her face. I kept silent. She had obviously got the upper hand in the situation. I was saved by the waiter bringing our drinks to the table.
I silently raised my glass to her and took a long sip of the potent drink.
- "So, where does that leave us?" I asked.
- "Just where we are! I know you have this...relationship with Audrey and I actually admire your loyalty to her. Most guys would act differently under similar circumstances, I know that much. And I hope for you she's worth it, because if I had a man like you in my life, I wouldn't let him out of my sight for one minute and I'd make damn sure to keep him oversexed at all times so he wouldn't even think of looking at another woman"
- "That would make him a hell of a lucky bastard!"
- "Well, I'm gald you're aware of it. Please keep me in mind if things ever change" With the droopy look of a cocker spaniel.
We had a quick dinner, halfway knocked out by the powerful drink. I wished to have a magic wand to escape this uncomfortable situation, but as hard as I looked, I couldn't find any easy way out. After our meal, I offered Chantal to take a walk down Oxford Street. Her face lit up when I asked.
- "It'll beat crying alone in my bed!" With a sad smile. I sincerely hoped she was joking.
As we walked out of the hotel, the chilling bite of the cold surprised us. I nonchalantly grabbed her left arm and placed it under my right, just the way we had done the night before.
- "Thank you, I needed that!" And as we walked along, she often leaned her head and rested it against my shoulder for a moment. At least, we now both know where we stand, I thought to myself. We almost walked as far as Hyde Park and that is a long walk from Berner Street. We looked at the beautifully decorated windows of the large stores : Selfridges, Debenhams, John Lewis. We had walked so far from the hotel that we hailed a cab to bring us back. We returned to Soho, where we had a glass of beer in one of these wonderful traditional pubs. There was a three piece band , piano, lead guitar and bass for entertaining the customers and at this time of the evening, the place was packed with joyful people. We danced together on a dance floor the size of a bathroom rug and it was a lovely experience. Because she had no heels on, she appeared to be much smaller than before, which added to her charm. We slow danced to an excellent rendition of some of the most popular Christmas songs and she let her head rest against my chest. I can't honestly say I wasn't happy to have her in my arms!
By 10.00, back to the hotel, we parted ways just the way we had done the night before. I hugged her, but this time, she tiptoed to give me a tender kiss on the cheek.
- "Good night, B., Sweet dreams!"
- "Good night, Countess, sweet dreams to you too!"
'Oh yes!" And she rushed inside her room, but I had already noticed the tears in her eyes.
I unlocked the door of my own room and got in. I decided to call Audrey. For a number of reasons. First, I needed to re-establish my connection with her. I needed to hear her voice and some of the not so funny jokes she always cracks. In short, I missed her and I wanted to feel in familiar territory and I wanted her to know that. But all I got was her answering machine, so I said all of the above and hung up. Disappointed! At this time of the year, she's always busy anyway, rushing from one Christmas party to another...
to be continued...
Copyright 2012 by Austinhealy, his heirs and assigns.
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