This is the fourth and final instalment of New beginnings.
Jean-Claude looked around the table at all the happy warm faces, chattering and calling across to each other to join in each others' conversations. Ricky was sitting next to him, his hand on his arm and one finger tracing the scar. He still couldn't believe he'd told Ricky how he got the scar. He'd been laying pipes in Mexico and one of the girls had invited him for a swim in the nearby river. She had jumped in first and he was enjoying the view of her sensuous moves in the water when there was a shout from one of the men.
'Crocodile! Get out!.
Without hesitating Jean-Claude grabbed a liana and swung into the water where she was frozen in horror..
What he did next was legendary in the village and he was treated as a hero for the rest of his stay. He still felt a bit embarrassed about it though. After all the really heroic adventures he'd had the crocodile fight was probably the most ridiculous.
Jean-Claude had just made Ricky laugh by telling him how he learned to speak a language called Dong. He had been working in China and was enthralled at how two of his workers would sing together while they worked. Jean-Claude had picked up quite a bit of the language and as he sang gently in Dong, Ricky closed his eyes and tapped out the rhythm.
Next to Ricky was his sister Polly talking animatedly in perfect French to the handsome young man on her right. This was Alexandre. His mother was Amelie, Madeleine's daughter by her second husband, she was here with her husband Florian because Madeleine had invited them to come from London where they had been for New Year's eve. Then there was Paul, Madeleine's son from her first marriage and his adorable wife Greta, her dear kind sister Joyce and husband Martin. Next to Madeleine was Anne, Joyce and Greta's mother and then their father Malcolm. They all looked so happy to be together. He had never dared hope he would find a family like this.
Jean-Claude looked across at Madeleine and as he caught her eye he winked at her, causing a blush to spread up from her neck. He loved watching the effect he had on her. He raised his glass and winked again. She giggled and he saw the amazing young girl she must have been. Part of him wished he'd known her then, but he felt so grateful to know her now.
Jean-_Claude had spent forty years travelling to exotic locations, laying pipes, at least that's how he saw it. The people in the places he worked saw him more as a life-saver, a brilliant engineer linking them to the rest of the world. In the evenings the local girls would pass him notes, thrilled that such a handsome stranger had appeared. The men were always in awe of his expertise and eager to learn all they could.
All his memories of the women he'd met were sweet. Aromas of spice and frangipan, exotic scents and ointments, but he had never met anyone who had made him want to stay, and he'd never met anyone he wanted to take back to his beloved France.
Then he had met her, in the most unlikely place, at the dentist in Paris. Just after his sixtieth birthday he'd gone to Paris to catch up with an old friend, Olivier a pilot who had accompanied him around the remotest parts of China. While staying with him Jean-Claude had broken a tooth chewing on a bit of nougat. Olivier had taken him to his dentist and as soon as they entered the waiting room he'd seen her. He felt like he had found all the women he'd ever loved in one person. He felt the gentle passion and devotion of the women of the East, the sultriness of the dark-eyed beauties of South America, the sweet warm perfumes of Africa, the pragmatism of Mittel Europe, it was all there in her. She was with two tired-looking men. She stood up and faced him like a cowboy from a Western facing his adversary. She had looked straight at him.
'These are my two ex husbands. I am paying for their teeth to be made perfect for my daughter's wedding. I am very fond of both of them, but they are useless with money and young women.'
Jean-Claude and Olivier had both thrown back their heads and laughed loudly. It was her way of telling him she was free.
There was a scraping of chairs and Paul stood up.
'It is wonderful to be together today and we have to thank Jean-Claude and his friend Olivier for making it possible.'
There was a lot of cheering and glasses raised.
' It is especially wonderful because Greta and I have some news that we would like to share with you.'
He glanced towards Greta and she subconsciously caressed her stomach.
Madeleine and Anne gasped and clutched each other, tears in their eyes, Polly ran round the table and hugged her auntie. Joyce and Amelie beamed at each other across the table.
Paul cleared his throat loudly.
'Hey I haven't said what it is yet? What is it with you women?'
The waiter came in with a tray of glasses and a bottle of champagne.
Jean-Claude squeezed Ricky's arm and leaned down to whisper in his ear.
' There's so much love in this room young man, we're both in the very best place.'