Futile Resistance Ch. 09byquintessentialquill©
I apologize to those of you who have waited so long for this to be posted. I broke my arm while on vacation in September and then I had hand surgery (unrelated to the broken arm) in late October. I'm not 100% yet but I was bored stiff! It's good to be back. ~ Quint
French arrived at her cousin's Paris apartment mid-afternoon the following day. She was utterly exhausted after the overnight flight and navigating from Charles de Gaulle Airport to central Paris. She had opted to take the commuter train from the airport in order to economize. Unfortunately, her choice of transport didn't save time. She had then switched over to the Metró once she reached Paris proper and made her way to her cousin's apartment in the 1st Arrondissement. Marie-Josée's apartment was in a perfect location -- easy access to the Bourse, the French stock exchange where she worked, but also near museums, shopping and other attractions. But as far as French was concerned, there simply were no bad locations in Paris.
The day was cold and gray with a little drizzle. The drizzle didn't bother her because it was Paris drizzle and to her mind, that could never be bad. She had walked the few blocks from the Metro station to Marie-Josée's flat in order to get her bearings and capture the feel of Paris. She had washed her sleeping pill down with a glass of wine on the plane the night before and had slept the entire Boston to London leg of the trip. In spite of that, she was exhausted. And she didn't think it was jet lag. More likely, it was stress and anxiety with a little depression thrown in to round out the mix, caused by the knowledge that she had run away from a problem that would still be there when she went home.
Marie-Josée was working that day, but had left a key to her apartment with the building's superintendent as arranged when they had spoken the night before. French greeted the man and told him who she was. He surrendered the key and French used the red-carpeted spiral staircase to access Marie-Josée's third-floor apartment rather than the old-fashioned cage-style elevator. She knew that the old relic took forever to get moving and was in no mood to deal with cranky antique machinery.
She was glad that her cousin was at work. It gave her a chance to collect herself before she had to offer explanations for her out of character behavior in making the sudden trip to France. All she wanted to do was sink into the big old tub that was the only luxury in the small bathroom. Maybe after a long soak, she would feel more in the mood for talking and explaining. And for thinking. She had kept true to her word and not devoted any time or energy into thinking about the situation with Aidan and Hurst. She tried to convince herself that the dullness of her thoughts and feelings were attributable to fatigue, not depression. She was only moderately successful.
Marie-Josée had left a 'welcome to Paris' note alongside a big bouquet of flowers whose scent had been detectable the moment French walked into the apartment. She took her bags to the tiny guest-bedroom-cum-office, then went to the equally tiny kitchen to prepare a cup of tea to take with her into the bathtub. As she filled the tub, French stripped down and examined herself in the mirror. She looked awful. Her normally fine-textured complexion was grainy and she had bags underneath bloodshot eyes. Even her hair was dull and lank. She rolled her eyes and shook her head; her appearance mirrored her emotional state.
She scanned the rest of her body, feeling a pang of longing and a fleeting quiver of arousal when she noted the bruises and whisker burn on the most intimate parts of her body. She allowed her fingertips to trace over the faint bruise on her neck, to slide down to the night-beard-abraded curve of her breast. She grazed a still-sensitive, swollen nipple, then followed the curve of her waist and hip to the juncture of her thighs and on to her inner thigh, where Aidan had placed a love bite.
Her hand lingered there as she remembered what it had felt like to be possessed by, consumed by, Aidan. He had been fierce in his lovemaking, forcing her to feel, know, accept and love him with every fiber of her being. She had had no choice but to respond to his demands, could not help but to love him as he loved her. French's bottom lip quivered and her eyes filled with tears as she abruptly turned away from her image.
She sank into the tubful of hot, deliciously scented water. Leaning back against the rim of the tub, she sighed and drew in deep, calming breaths. She willed her body to relax, tried to force the tension she carried to melt away. She took another deep breath and on the exhale, she choked and was surprised when great gut-wrenching sobs erupted from her throat. The grief and despair that had filled her for the past forty-eight hours came pouring out. She grieved the loss of Aidan. She mourned the loss of that glimpse of happiness she had so briefly experienced. Her lip quirked with a bitter smile, How could she have ever dared think she was cut out for the white picket fence life? Married, with 2.5 children and a grinning yellow Labrador? She had always known that that world wasn't for her. But, with Aidan, for one tiny moment, she had thought it was possible. She was such a fool. There was no way things between them could be salvaged. The specter of Patrick Hurst would always be between them. Even if they tried to carry on as though things were normal, they would always know, each of them would always remember exactly what set French apart from Aidan. Her history, and his, were facts of life and wouldn't change just because they wished them to.
Seeing Patrick Hurst had brought the insecurities she had thought long-buried roaring to the surface of her consciousness. He had treated her with a cruel disdain that was all too familiar. While she knew it was undeserved, it was hurtful nonetheless. As a child, French had wondered what was wrong with her that her father could have abandoned her. Her schoolmates were, for the most part, from intact families and she hadn't understood why she had a mother but not a father. She had once asked her mother why she didn't have a daddy. Marcheline had told her the unvarnished truth: Patrick Hurst hadn't loved or wanted her. He had walked away from her without looking back.
French realized many years later exactly how cruel her mother had been to tell her, at the tender age she had been, that her father hadn't wanted her. Learning that her father had thrown her away had confused her, especially when Marcheline had maliciously told her that her father had three children that lived with him and were loved by him. French had been plagued with feelings of inadequacy. Her father's other children must be very special to have earned their father's love. She spent the years of her childhood struggling to discover what defect she possessed, what offense she hadcommitted that was so egregious that her father would abandon her forever. She had never been able to find anything to explain her abandonment and had never been able to make up for any supposed shortcomings. Marcheline was the farthest thing from an attentive mother and French took her mother's indifference and absenteeism as further proof that she was truly unlovable.
Coupled with the utter confusion about her parents' behavior toward her, French was subjected to the viciousness of her classmates. She was the only Black girl in her class and some of the kids were merciless. They picked on her for being a bastard and for being of mixed race. And most confounding of all, they said nasty things about her mother, things she wouldn't be capable of understanding until later, because despite being Marcheline's daughter, French was a naïf.
French coped with these things the only way she could: she withdrew behind a wall, pretended that none of what was said to her or about her penetrated the boundary she'd erected. Eventually, when her tormentors stopped receiving the pay-off -- the tears, the anger - they were looking for, they left her alone. But not before pieces of her had been chipped away. Through those initial encounters with her peers and under the cruel care of her mother, French learned that hiding behind walls, not showing a response, not allowing things or people to mean too much to her was the safest way to exist.
As she grew older, her self-esteem improved. She excelled musically and possessed a rapier-sharp intellect that was manifest in the superior marks she earned in school. She had also become aware that she possessed physical beauty. Teachers and the one or two close friends she had, had pointed out her many positive attributes. Having adopted an affinity for logic and honesty, she could only agree that she did possess them. Nonetheless, the broken little girl remained inside her. French was plagued with self-doubt whenever anything bad happened. If good things happened, she always wondered if she was trying to live someone else's life, someone who deserved to have good things happen to her. Part of her always thought that she wasn't quite good enough.
Sighing, French's thoughts returned to Aidan. Falling in love with him had been a most foolish thing to do. Crazily enough, she thought, I had actually begun to see myself as Aidan saw me and being with him made me feel like a better person, a person deserving of good things. She had shared her most hidden self with him, had told him all the things she was ashamed of and afraid of. He had always told her that none of it mattered anymore, that none of it changed the way he felt about her. That is, until she told him that Hurst was her father.
She kept telling herself not to be angry with Aidan, that everyone had their limits. Apparently, she had heaped one too many of her imperfections on him and he had been unwilling to bear the burden. But try as she might to keep it at bay, her sense of indignation would not be denied. She was furious that he would withdraw from her and blame her for her parentage when she had obviously had nothing to do with it. She had thought Aidan's character was such that he would not recoil from this latest unpleasantness. Maybe he wasn't all I'd imagined him to be, she thought, maybe he'd been leading me on throughout our whole relationship.
As wonderful as being with him had felt for a short time, it wasn't worth the pain she felt now. Aidan had rejected her, had chosen loyalty to Hurst over loyalty to her. She had been making a groundless jab at Aidan when, during their argument, she had told him he was just like Hurst, but in light of the present circumstances, there was almost no distinguishing between Aidan and Hurst. Patrick Hurst had walked away from the problem her conception and birth had presented. Aidan had essentially done the same thing.
Aidan was up early, determined to find and speak with French as soon as possible. He needed to know what the hell she was thinking that she would secret herself away from him. He had gotten precious little sleep the previous night and he was edgy, wired from the coffee he had drunk in order to jumpstart his brain. He walked to French's apartment, hoping that he would get there early enough that she hadn't left for the day. If she was even there, the grim thought lingered at the back of his mind.
As he neared the front of her building, he saw someone sitting on the stoop, surrounded by a ridiculous amount of luggage. He drew closer and realized the person was a woman, huddled deep in a fur coat and hat to ward off the cold of a late-December morning in Boston. The woman looked at him appraisingly, stood up from her crouched position, smoothing a hand down her sides and straightening her hat.
"Good morning," Aidan said politely, sidling past her to the door.
"Bonjour, cher," the woman said, her voice sexily hoarse.
Recognition and remembrance slammed into Aidan. French's mother, Marcheline Delauney, was here in the flesh. With all the upheaval, he had forgotten that she was due to arrive. Apparently, French had forgotten as well, seeing as her mother sat on the stoop in the cold rather than inside French's warm apartment. Aidan decided not to identify himself to her just yet.
"Bonjour, comment ca va?" he replied.
"Ah, vous parlez francais," Marcheline purred coquettishly, fluttering her long lashes and darting a fetching gaze up at him.
Wow, this woman is a master, Aidan thought.
"Actually, I don't speak much beyond what I just said," Aidan prevaricated. He spoke enough to get along, but wasn't quite up to parsing words with this woman in a language other than his own.
"Alors, we speak in English. You live here?" she asked.
"Nope, just visiting someone. Why are you sitting in the cold?"
"I visit my daughter. She know I am coming, mais she is no here," Marcheline replied in charmingly broken English, shrugging and gesturing with typical gallicisms. "I know not where she is," she finished, shivering and moving closer to him, seeking warmth and protection from the handsome man who stood before her.
Aidan could immediately understand why she appealed to men. She was tiny and very beautiful, with rich cocoa colored skin and fine features. French had inherited her wonderfully mobile, kissably soft lips from her mother. Marcheline was well preserved: nearing fifty with no wrinkles or lines to mar her face. She had led a cosseted life. She so consummately played the role of damsel in distress that he imagined most men would immediately want to be the knight on a white charger who rescued her. Even knowing what she was all about, he was inclined to help her.
"Well, madame, I'll see if my friend is home and if she is, you can come up and wait with us until your daughter returns."
"Ah, oui. C'est parfait! Merci, cher," she said with an overabundance of gratefulness, laying her leather-glove clad hand on his arm. "J'ai très froid!" she finished, shivering dramatically.
Aidan held the door open for her and they proceeded into the vestibule. He went to the bank of buzzers and pushed the one that rang French's apartment.
"Mais, chér, this is my daughter's apartment," Marcheline exclaimed.
"What a coincidence! French is your daughter?"
"Oh -- that nickname," she tut-tutted, then confirmed. "Oui, Francoise est ma fille. Who are you?"
"A friend," Aidan replied.
Marcheline looked at him, as though hoping to divine his true identity through his appearance. He withstood the scrutiny, not batting an eyelash at the questions he saw in her eyes. He didn't intend to answer any of them. Rather, he hoped to turn this situation to his advantage by having her answer a few questions.
There had been no answer from French's apartment. He rang the buzzer again and they waited in silence for the answer they knew would not be forthcoming. Aidan decided to ring one of French's neighbors, the stereotypical old lady who had lived in the building for decades and made note of everyone's comings and goings.
She, of course, answered immediately.
"Mrs. Hirschbaum, it's Aidan Conal, French's friend. I'm here with her mother and we can't find French. Have you seen her?"
She buzzed them in and they went to her first floor apartment whose door was tucked behind the stairs. She opened the door the merest crack and peered at them shrewdly. Apparently, it had belatedly occurred to her that perhaps she shouldn't have opened the door to strangers. Recognizing Aidan for who he said he was, she opened the door wider and gestured them across the threshold.
"Good morning, Mrs. Hirschbaum. How are you today?" Aidan asked politely.
"This cold weather is making my bones ache," she complained the way she always did. "I should have moved to Florida years ago. I'm just getting too old for these Boston winters."
"You don't look or act a day over fifty," Aidan responded, the way he always did when Mrs. Hirschbaum fished for compliments. "Mrs. H, this is French's mother, Marcheline Delauney. She's here to visit her daughter, but French isn't answering her buzzer. Have you seen her?"
"Why, yes, I have. She left last evening at around 6-ish; looked like she was going on a trip. She had a little suitcase with wheels on it when she got into the cab out front." Mrs. H could always be counted on to have noticed the details. "I can't imagine that you didn't know she was going on a trip..." she finished speaking, her painted-on eyebrows arched in question as she waited for an explanation.
"We had a bit of a disagreement," Aidan said, his heart in his throat, reeling from the news that French had really left him. "I left to get some fresh air and when I came back she was gone."
Marcheline listened intently, but didn't comment. Aidan glanced at her and could see the wheels turning in her mind. He guessed correctly that she intended to use everything she learned to her own advantage.
"Tch," Mrs. H sucked her teeth. "You kids and your passions. My late husband and I learned the hard way never to walk out on an argument. We were divorced because of just that and the day we met to sign the divorce papers was when we realized the whole thing had been a big misunderstanding. Our pride had kept us apart," she mused. "We got remarried the same day of our divorce!"
Aidan had heard the story before and he wholeheartedly understood what Mrs. Hirschbaum was trying to tell him: Don't let pride stop you from communicating with the ones you love. He was champing at the bit to communicate with French. In fact, he had a choice bit of communicating to do with regard to her disappearing act, but of course, he'd need to find her first.
"Mrs. H, I was wondering if you still had French's spare apartment key?"
"Of course I do."
"I think Madame Delauney would be more comfortable waiting for French in her apartment. Do you mind if I let her in?"
"Not at all dear. Let me get the key."
They followed Mrs. H up the two flights of stairs to French's apartment. In spite of her claims of old age, Mrs. H was as spry and agile as anyone Aidan knew. She let them in and handed the key to Aidan.
"Please be sure to return it, won't you dear?"
"Yes, Mrs. H. Thank you for your help."
Marcheline stepped over the threshold and gracefully swept the fur hat from her head. She turned her back to him and unbuttoned her coat, clearly expecting Aidan to assist her in its removal. He was amused by her high-handed behavior, but he complied, because he was always a gentleman. As he hung the coat and hat in the closet, Marcheline dug around in her purse for her cigarettes. Aidan heard the click of her lighter and turned around.
"French wouldn't approve of smoking in her apartment," Aidan observed.
"You are correct, she would not approve. She does not approve of anything, especially not anything I do," Marcheline said, with a dismissive gesture of her hand. Cocking her head, she looked him in the eye and asked, "Are you and my daughter lovers?"
Without blinking, Aidan replied, "With all due respect, Madame, I don't think that's any of your business."
Marcheline laughed seductively. "Touché, cher. But I will tell you what I think. I think that you and Francoise are not lovers. You and she would never suit. I can tell that you are a man of passion," she said as she sashayed around French's living room, picking up and discarding knickknacks and mementoes, depositing ashes from her cigarette in potted plants. "Francoise sees the world in black and white. If you deal in shades of gray, she is a harsh, exacting judge. She is a one dimensional woman, cold and unfeeling," she finished with an exaggerated shudder.
Marcheline clearly did not know her daughter, Aidan thought, the woman had no idea how deeply French felt, how passionate she was when she felt safe enough. He also noticed that her English was quite good, her accent was not so pronounced now.