Thursday, 28 April 2022

A Change of Heart


The Perfume counter was right in front of the revolving doors. Customers, on entering the store, were hit by a tantalizing mix of exotic spices and floral aromas to lure them towards the counter. Once there,  they were surrounded by  a dazzling array of posters showing beautiful women on the arms of handsome elegant men. 

The perfumes were displayed like potions with the  promise that whoever wore this or that perfume  would be transported to a magical kingdom of seduction and elegance. 

Gemma raised her wrist to her nose and breathed in the heady mix of vanilla and patchouli that Max had chosen for her.  It was an early birthday present. She thought back to the conversation she'd had with her friend Marsha at lunch time. They were sharing a croissant and as Marsha brushed the crumbs away she had leaned forward and  whispered;-

' Gemma have you ever noticed how many men buy two bottles of the same perfume.? Don't you think it's funny? Maybe it's one for the wife and one for the lover, so as not to get caught out.'

Gemma felt herself redden. Was it possible that Marsha knew Max was married? She shrugged in response to Marsha's question and dabbed at her mouth with a napkin.

She pushed back her chair and stood up and turned back to Marsha.

'If a man has a lover then he wouldn't be in love with his wife any more would he? He wouldn't care what she thought.'

'Oh don't you believe it Gemma. It's all about having your cake and eating it with them isn't it?  Some of them are full of  baloney, just like the perfume ads, they have the gift of the gab all right.We watched 'Love Actually' last night for the umpteenth time and I told Mike that if he'd better not ever buy me a CD, poor Emma Thompson, I cry every time I watch that scene. It doesn't take much to tempt a man you know. I've seen so much heartache caused by broken relationships. Personally I can't understand why a woman would want to steal someone else's man, but there you are.'

Gemma felt very uncomfortable. She'd watched 'Love Actually last night too, wrapped in Max's arms. He'd kissed her long and hard and promised he'd leave his wife straight after his son's birthday.  gemma had been seeing Max for almost two years now. A weekend away once a month and snatched evenings when he told his wife he was working late. He'd promised to take gemma to Scotland for her birthday and he would tell his wife he wanted a divorce.

Gemma realized that Marsha was still talking.

'How are you getting on with your course? I think you'll be a great Nursery teacher. My little Sam adores you. It's Auntie Gemma this and Auntie Gemma that. He'll be going to Nursery school in September.  If you hurry up you'll be in time to teach him.'

Gemma noticed an elegant couple approach and went to serve them. The man was very tall and had thick dark curly hair, a bit like Max. How she loved running her fingers through his hair and looking at the way it curled over at the base of his neck. She shivered with excitement just thinking about it. The young woman was tall and blond with a very low cut top and a white fur wrap. Just as she was about to serve them, a very handsome man  pushing a baby and holding on to two little boys  collided into a large poster of a beautiful woman. Gemma went to help and then served the man who looked quite relieved. As he walked away she thought how lucky his wife was and how she would love a family like that.

When she'd finished serving the couple she thought about Marsha's advice. It was true that she'd been really enjoying the  Childcare and Nursery teaching course. She had always loved being around little children. Her sister was ten years younger than her   and she had  looked after her while her mother went out to work.  Gemma had  taken the job at the Perfume counter to help finance her studies and that's where she had met Max. He had looked so lost and helpless trying to find  a perfume for his grandmother.  When Gemma had suggested Old English Lavender he had been so grateful and asked  if he could take her out for a drink to show his appreciation.

The next thing she knew she was inviting him in to the flat which she shared with two other girls. It had all been so exciting. He was so much more sophisticated than the other boys she'd dated. He knew how to order the right wine in the fancy restaurants they went to, and he took her to the opera and the ballet in London.  By the time Gemma had  found out that Max was married she was completely obsessed with him. He reassured her immediately saying how his wife only thought about their two small boys and her job in the hospital. He was on his own all the time and it was over between them.  Gemma believed him and was determined to make up for all the neglect he had suffered from his wife. 

Marsha walked by and helped herself to a free spray of J.Lo's new perfume from the bottle on the display.

'Would you like to come to us this evening Gemma? I've made a cake and  Mike's going out to watch the match in his brother's new man-cave.. We could watch a  film and maybe let Sam stay up a bit as a treat.'

Gemma picked up a glass bottle and dusted it with a cloth.

'I think Max is coming to pick me up and then we were going to....'

She stopped, not really wanting to say what they were going to do.  Just lately they'd done nothing but go back to her room. A strange feeling came over her, she felt cheap and used. It wasn't a nice feeling at all. She looked at Marsha and took a deep breath.

'That sounds nice Marsha, thank you. Maybe I could give Sam his bath and read him a bedtime story. It would be good for my training.' She smiled  at Marsha as she moved away and then started to tidy up the  counter. She didn't see Marsha 's grin and victory sign.

A voice whispered in her ear, low and deep. Yesterday it would have sent a shiver of excitement down her spine but today it made her feel sad and lonely.

'Hello young lady, could you please help me choose a perfume for my poor old grandmother. I' d be ever so grateful.'

Gemma turned to Max with a bright smile.

'Sorry Sir but it's closing time.' His brow furrowed and he looked puzzled at her brisk tone. He put his arms out and she stepped back

' By the way which  is your wife's favourite perfume ?''

The silence that followed and the embarrassed look on Max's face told her all that she needed to know.

Sunday, 23 January 2022

New Beginnings, Madeleine

The restaurant was just perfect,like everything that Jean-Claude took care of. It was warm and welcoming and their table was in an alcove so they could chatter and laugh without disturbing anyone.

Madeleine glanced round the table. As always her heart leapt as she caught Jean-Claude's eye. Young Ricky was gazing at him with adoration and laughing with delight at Jean-Claude's tales.

Here round this table were the people she loved with all her heart. Her dear children Amelia and Paul, their families and her dearly loved Jean-Claude. She never thought she would be rewarded in later life with such love.

She had been blessed with natural beauty, and thanks to her grandmother Estelle she had learned from a young age to be groomed and chic and had given all her energy to her studies. Maths and Latin had been her passion. There were no surprises there, either you were right or wrong, there was a logic which gave harmony to her mind. She developed a passion for Finance and had a rare instinct.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Anne, her son's mother-in-law who was sitting on her right,

'Madeleine, we can never thank you enough. This is so wonderful for us to be together. You are so generous and Jean-Claude  has such a gift for communicating, we have never seen Ricky so animated, and now the sanctuary and coming here like this on a plane, we are so happy.' Anne stopped and wiped a tear from her eye.

Madeleine patted her hand,

'The pleasure is all mine chère Anne. I have always wanted a family and now 'voilà '. The same goes for Jean-Claude. '

The waiter passed and filled their glasses and the two women raised them smiling and their eyes locked, deep warm smiles spreading across their faces.

Generosity is often misunderstood, Madeleine's father used to tell her. You must be discerning and discrete. Not everyone understands it.  For a long time Madeleine had struggled with this, both husbands taking advantage of her but she had now learned to be generous in many ways and knew she had helped many people who would never know she was the one to thank for their good fortune. the word her grandmother used was 'grace', 'You have grace Madeleine and everything comes from your heart.'

Paul was standing up as if to make an announcement. She saw Greta caress her stomach and turned to Anne, they grasped hands under the table.

Saturday, 15 January 2022

New Beginnings, Jean-Claude

 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. 

 Twelve year old 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. It was a tale he had always kept to himself. 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 the girl 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 had 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 older 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 Philippe. Amelie 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 Francis her first husband, and his adorable wife Greta. Then Greta's 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. Part of him never believed such kind uncomplicated people existed.

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. Oh how he 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. All the women he had ever dreamed of were there in her.

. She was with two tired-looking men.  She looked up at Olivier and Jean-Claude as they entered the room and it felt as though a streak of electricity passed around the room. Madeleine had stood up and faced them like a cowboy from a Western facing an adversary.  Then she had looked straight at Jean-Claude..

'These are my two ex husbands, Philippe and Francis.  I am here to pay 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.'

Then she had sat down and smiled broadly at Jean-Claude.

Jean-Claude and Olivier had both thrown back their heads and laughed loudly. It was her way of telling him she was free. They had hardly been apart since then.

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?' He laughed and put his arm round Greta.

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.'