Hi folks! It’s our last day in Brittany, and then we head back home in a whirlwind two days before I leave again (on my own) to visit my sister and go to BlogHer. So I’m not online much these days. I also feel like I should state that I know my little story here needs some work. In my efforts at consistency, I’m losing out in having smooth transitions, well-developed characters and dialogue. All of that will have to be fixed before I publish the book, and in the meantime, it’s a little like walking around in public in nothing but your underwear. But since my biggest problem is plot and seeing the story through from start to finish, I forge ahead, knickers and all.
(If it’s your first time here, why not start at Chapter One?)
THE VISCOUNT OF MAISONS LAFFITTE
The Viscount stepped off the Eurostar with his hand on Manon’s back in order to guide her through the crowds. He signaled to a porter to come and help with their bags and led the way to get a taxi. Manon was relatively unknown in London and it was a pleasure to be able to move about freely without fear of being recognized.
Nevertheless, she kept her sunglass on and moved furtively, which perhaps drew more attention to her than it might otherwise have had she acted more naturally. They jumped in a taxi and headed to the newly opened Shangri-la hotel on St Thomas Street. The Viscount relaxed on the leather seat, despite the fact that it smelled of body odor, and meditated as they drove past the streets teeming with people.
When they arrived at the hotel, the Viscount looked around at the sparse pieces of artwork, bare marble floors and isolated settees, and decided that the lobby was a bit austere for his taste. He was vaguely aware of the irony in judging it so as he lived in a rambling château that was decorated very similarly. They walked up to the reception desk and asked for their suites. Manon Duprey was booked in the Shangri-la Suite, and the Viscount was staying in the smaller Westminster Suite. As they rode up in the elevator behind two bellhops, she leaned into him and whispered in his ear. “I still don’t know why we can’t stay in the same suite.”
He smiled, showing two dimples, but only patted her arm, draped around his waist, by way of an answer. She was not used to men remaining immune to her charms, and this little gesture made her simultaneously want to seduce him, and scratch his eyes out. He followed one of the bellhop out of the elevator and promised Manon he would be by to pick her up for dinner at eight. They were eating at Berners Tavern and had reservations to dine there at nine o’clock.
The Viscount went into his suite and watched the bellhop place his suitcase on the foldable stand with elastic bands across it. After he had tipped the bellhop, who let himself discreetly out, the Viscount was alone. He walked over to the window
It had begun to rain outside and grow dark, and he watched the people below scurrying for shelter. His spirits sank as the rain fell from the dark, grey skies, and he couldn’t help but wonder why he had bothered to come to London after all. Sometimes it felt like the longer he spent in Manon’s company, the more of a foreign presence she became. Instead of her growing more dear with the increasing time they spent together, he was only more aware of her differences.
A perfect example occurred on the way over. They had bought first class tickets on the train, but through a mix-up, another couple had been assigned the same seats on the fully-booked train. The Viscount was prepared to let it go, but she refused to be downgraded, and he was discomfited as the conductor removed the couple from the seats they had a legitimate right to and ushered him and Manon into their place.
The Viscount had spent his entire life with a family who expected to be honored. More specifically, he had walked in the shadow of a mother who expected to be recognized and given her due. The older he got, the more he wanted to escape that and lead a simpler life. The more Manon Duprey tasted the fame and glamor that was attached to her career, the more she was drawn to a pampered life. The Viscount, naturally elegant, was walking downwards towards simplicity in life; the actress, naturally simple, was climbing towards elegance. Their relationship seemed to be heading towards a draw.
He wasn’t used to indulging in such morose reflections so he shook it off and walked over to his suitcase to take out his suit for the evening. On his way across the room, he suddenly paused, struck by a thought. He picked up his cell phone.
“Bonsoir Sylvie, it’s your uncle,” he said when he heard a young woman answer the phone.
“Oncle!” she squealed, dropping her heavily accented English for her mother tongue. “Where are you calling me from?”
“I’m in London,” he replied smiling. “Your mother asked me to look in on you to see what mischief you’re getting up to.”
“Je suis sage comme une image,” she retorted pertly. “Innocent as you please.”
“Well, I thought I might come to Cambridge tomorrow afternoon for a visit if you’re free.”
“Oh!” She was clearly taken aback. She stalled for time, “I, um . . . I’m free, but I promised to work in the soup kitchen all afternoon. I don’t suppose you would want to join me for that?
“That sounds like a perfect way to spend the afternoon, my goddaughter. I’m so pleased that you are getting involved in such a noble undertaking. I think I’ll come.” He smiled – waiting for more.
“Oooh. Uncle Charles, you called my bluff,” she said with her usual gaiety. “If you must know, I am going along with a new . . . friend. We know each other from class and he goes every week. He’s invited me to go with him. And to be perfectly frank with you, I don’t wish to scare him off right from the beginning by having my imposing godfather come along.”
“Ah, so I’m imposing, am I?” he said laughing. His niece brought out his playfulness more than anyone else, including his sister. “Don’t worry. I won’t come and frighten him away. So he’s English then, I’m assuming?”
“Actually, um, he’s . . . Nigerian,” she said. It sounded like she was cringing over the phone. “I don’t suppose you approve.”
“Why do you need my approval?” he asked. “You’re a grown woman – or very nearly so – and you can make your own choices. Plus,” he added, “I am not nearly so archaic as you think.”
“You still don’t let me call you Charlie,” she retorted.
“No one is allowed to call me Charlie,” he said calmly.
“Except Maman.” He could hear the mischievous grin in her voice.
The Viscount said, “Well, your mother only thinks she can because she’s older than me, but that doesn’t make it true.”
There was a pause, and then Sylvie’s voice turned serious, “But grand-mère is archaic, isn’t she?”
“Grand-mère is,” he confirmed.
“So you won’t tell her or my mother just yet,” she pleaded, “not until I’m more sure of my feelings?”
“Of course I won’t, silly creature,” her uncle retorted. “When have I ever been a snitch?” He always made her laugh when he used childhood slang. It was so anomalous coming out of his mouth.
“Well, I suppose I should get going,” he continued. “I just wanted to check in with you. I’ll tell Camille you send kisses.
“If you want,” she said. “But we text all the time, you know.” He hadn’t known, and was very surprised, since he and his son never communicated that way. In fact, they rarely communicated at all.
“Alright then. I’ll send grand-mère your kisses then.” He paused, then added dryly. “Unless you text her too.”
Sylvie just giggled.
“And now I can tell your mother that I have faithfully discharged my duty to look in on you,” he said.
“Of course you would never call me on your own volition,” Sylvie said, teasing, but petulant.
“I’m hurt” the Viscount teased back. “How can you accuse me of such a thing when I was willing to come work the soup kitchen with you?” He thought for a minute before saying, “Come to think of it, this must be an exceptional young man to drive you to altruism.
Instead of retorting in jest as he expected, her voice turned pensive. “He is. And, actually . . . before you go, there is a favor I’d like to ask of you . . . if you don’t mind.”
“Sure,” he replied. “Go ahead.” And she started laying out her idea.
After they hung up, the Viscount felt lighter for having talked to Sylvie. He shook his head, thinking how nineteen years ago he had made such a fuss when his sister asked him to stand in as godfather to his niece. He was finishing up his undergrad degree, and was still a bachelor at the time. It was hard to imagine being in fatherly advisor role. But her innocently joyful presence had been one of the things that saved him when Miriam died. His sister came over often – deliberately so, he realized in retrospect – and his niece, who knew nothing of grief and sadness, loved playing with her baby cousin.
He selected a pink and white checked Alain Figaret shirt and a muted purple silk tie, and lay them on the bed. Then he slowly began peeling off his jeans and shirt from the day’s trip, as he considered Sylvie’s request. The phone on the nightstand rang, interrupting his thoughts, and he went over to pick it up.
“Hello chérie,” Manon said brightly. “I just wanted to let you know that Michael is also dining at Berner’s Tavern with the director, and he arranged to have us all seated together. I hope you don’t mind.
“Not at all,” the Viscount answered smoothly. It was widely rumored that British actor Michael Richards had been smitten with Manon ever since he had met her, and it was he who pushed the director to give her this first starring role outside of France. If this was a ploy to get him jealous, it was not going to work. “We can meet them in the Punch Room first.”
“That’s precisely what I told him,” she said. “I knew you wouldn’t mind.” If she had hoped for jealousy, she didn’t show it. She was worldly enough to know which of her sides to show men, and which sides should be kept hidden.
When they arrived at the Punch Room, Michael Richards and Guy Moss, the director, were already seated at the bar. Both of them had a whiskey in front of them. Michael stood up. “Manon!” he cried out, his fair skin already a little flushed from the whiskey. “It’s so great to see you again,” as he kissed her on one cheek.
“Hello Michael. Hello Guy,” she said, smiling as she received their kisses. “I present Charles to you,” translating directly from French.
“It’s an honor,” Michael said, shaking his hand. Guy also reached over and shook his hand with a nod.
“So you’ve made it,” Michael said, turning his attention back to Manon. “I hope you find the Shangri-la Suite to your satisfaction. I haven’t seen it myself yet, but I’m told it’s very comfortable.”
“It’s lovely,” Manon said with a gracious smile. “It will be hard to leave the bed in the morning for our five o’clock tapings.”
“That won’t start until Monday and will only last for two weeks,” Guy interjected briskly with a strong Glaswegian accent. “I find that it’s best to get the difficult scenes over quickly when everyone is still fresh and enthusiastic.” He smiled in his crooked way that was easy to mistake for a grimace. He was not known for being an easy person to work with.
“How long are you staying?” Michael asked the Viscount, lifting his drink back up to his lips.
“Only until Sunday,” Charles answered. “I will have to begin work again.”
“And he has to oversee the upcoming races. He owns the racetrack and the château at Maison Laffitte,” Manon said, tapping lightly her escort’s arm.
“Oh – where’s that then?” Michael asked, his pale eyes still on Manon.
“It’s not far from Paris,” the Viscount answered, taking a sip of his whisky, which had just been set down in front of him. Manon had ordered a newer cocktail with bright colors. She took a sip and said, “Mmm. This is good.
“I will have to come and visit the château sometime,” Michael said, not quite cognizant of the fact that he was inviting himself over to the Viscount’s principal residence.
“Certainly,” the Viscount replied, without missing a beat.
At that moment, the hostess came up to tell them their table was ready, and a fan walked up at the same time to get Michael Richards’ autograph. Manon tensed up a bit when she saw him walking over, but then looked a little comical when she realized that the young gentleman had no idea who she was. The Viscount put his arm around her slender waist and pulled her close. Michael looked up quickly from his autograph and put his brows together, but then immediately handed the signed napkin back to the young gentleman with a large smile.
The dinner did not interest the Viscount very much, and it took all of his good breeding to hide just how bored he was. The talk centered around the industry, actor gossip, details of the scenes in the movie, with Guy giving directions to both Manon and Michael in a sonorous voice, and no one apart from Manon making an attempt to include him in the conversation. When they finally stood up to leave, and the Viscount was signaling for a taxi on the corner, Manon leaned in and said in a small voice, “I’m afraid you found the evening to be terribly boring.”
“Not at all,” he responded politely. But when they reached her Suite at the hotel and she invited him in, he gave her a smile and told her he was tired and would see her in the morning. The pretty blond actress found herself in the unaccustomed position of undressing herself and sliding into bed alone on an evening in which she was sure would turn out differently.
Continued: Chapter Five