Futile Resistance Ch. 10byquintessentialquill©
French had slept poorly and was grateful when the sky outside turned pearly gray with the light of dawn. She got out of bed and dressed quickly in her running clothes. It felt good to be up and about after a night of tossing and turning; at some point during the night, the bed had begun to feel like a prison. Had she been in her own home, she would have gotten out of bed and found something to occupy her mind until she felt sleepy again. She had been loathe to do that while visiting Marie-Josée, especially in light of the mystery lover she had discovered stealing into her cousin's room.
She crept out of the apartment and once on the street, began to warm up with a brisk walk. The streets were free of traffic, the only people about were street cleaners and shop owners going to work baking bread and pastries, readying their stores for the morning's influx of customers. She walked down Rue des Pyramides, crossed Rue de Rivoli and entered Jardin des Tuileries where she began to jog.
It felt good to move after several days of no activity. Though the morning was misty and chilly, French was enjoying her run. As she ran through the garden, she blanked her mind, purposely steering her thoughts away from Aidan. For French, running was akin to meditation; she had learned to focus her mind on her body and how it felt as she put it through the paces. When she was successful, she felt oddly rested, calm and peaceful afterwards.
Leaving the garden, she ran down the Avenue des Champs Élysées toward the Arc de Triomphe. The store window displays along the way glittered with glamour and opulence; she found herself window-shopping. She relaxed her focus on the meditative run and her mind wandered. Its journey was short and led directly to the one subject she had purposely avoided thinking about: Aidan.
She couldn't help but wonder what he had been doing to pass the time since she had left. She hoped that he missed her at least a little bit and that he had had trouble finding 'normal' without her. She certainly hadn't felt normal. Her world seemed a few shades dimmer without him in it; even Paris, her favorite place on the planet, had lost its luster.
Her mindset vis à vis Aidan had changed this morning. She had begun to entertain the idea that she might try to convince him to continue their relationship when she got back to Boston. She hoped to persuade him that they could endure the strain that had been placed on them by the Patrick Hurst quagmire if they were smart about it. She would promise to keep her feelings about Hurst to herself and that she would never force Aidan to choose between her or Hurst. She would advise him to compartmentalize his life: her in one section, his family, including Hurst, in another. She knew it would be difficult for them both, but the alternative seemed worse. Not being with him in any capacity would be more awful than bore thinking about.
She was unaccustomed to being the person appealing to another for a second chance. Usually, she was the one who created distance in relationships, distance that left the other person feeling unsettled. Aidan had been in just that position for most of their time together and he had always pursued her and urged her to see that they had something special. Now it was her turn. She hoped that he had not forgotten the very persuasive arguments he had presented; it would be much easier for her to win him back if he remembered how hopeful he had previously been.
It would not be easy for her to follow through on her plan. Objective as always, even when she would be shown in a bad light, she knew that her pride would take a heavy blow. But I would rather lose face than lose Aidan, she told herself. If the way she had felt the last couple of days was any indication, she would be miserable without him. Maybe the hurt would fade in time, but she knew she would always want him. Anybody she met and became involved with would be compared to Aidan and, she was sure, be found wanting. French just didn't think she would achieve anything close to happiness without Aidan.
Being with him, but set aside from his family would be difficult. She had liked his parents and his brother immensely and she was sure they had liked her equally as much. She acknowledged that it would be strange to be involved with Aidan but not see his family. They meant a lot to him. Staying away from them seemed the best thing to do, though, because who knew when Hurst would show up? If Iain and Maggie were around, Aidan had told her, Hurst and his wife were never far behind. So, the best thing to do would be to avoid seeing his parents. She would of course tell Aidan that he should feel free to spend time with them as he normally would, that she would gladly occupy herself with something else when he visited them.
The one thing that would complicate her self-imposed prohibition on mingling with his family would be children. French didn't know what would happen if they married and had children. She was certain that she wanted a child with Aidan somewhere down the line and he had once told her that children were a part of his vision of the future, too. She knew that Maggie and Iain would be enthusiastic, doting grandparents. She also knew that she would have a hard time with being excluded from family events that Aidan and their child attended.
She shoved the thought from her mind. She was getting way ahead of herself. She needed to talk to Aidan first, see if he would even be willing to resume seeing her. If he agreed to her terms, she would gladly adhere to the rules she had put in force. Not being part of every aspect of Aidan's life would be a sacrifice, but she would take what she could get. French hoped -- prayed -- that he would see the reason behind her plan and that he still thought she was worthy of his affection.
When she arrived back at Marie-Josée's apartment, she found her cousin in the kitchen making breakfast. The women greeted each other and French noticed that her cousin had difficulty meeting her eyes. The mystery lover was nowhere to be seen, but judging from the amount of food Marie-Josée was preparing, he must still be in the apartment. They chatted briefly and Marie-Josée's nervousness seemed to increase. French finally excused herself, telling her cousin she was going to hit the shower before breakfast.
When she joined her cousin in the kitchen after her shower, the mystery man had risen from bed and was sitting at the tiny table near the window drinking a cup of coffee. French gasped when she registered who it was sitting there.
"Nicolàs?!" she asked, shock, surprise and pleasure mingling in her voice. She was across the room in a flash, throwing her arms around him when she reached him. He squeezed her tightly, laughing and exclaiming his own delight at seeing her.
They disengaged and French took a step back to get a good look at him. Only as she did, did she realize he was only partially dressed. He was barefoot and wore an unbuttoned shirt and jeans. Realization hit her with the force of a freight train. Nicolàs was Marie-Josée's mystery lover!
She turned toward Marie-Josée and narrowed her eyes. "Nicolàs was the man in your bed last night?"
"Yes," her cousin answered, concentrating far too hard on whisking the eggs in the bowl she held.
"And how long has this been going on?"
Nicolàs answered in a clipped tone, clearly on the defensive, "Almost a year."
"Almost a year and neither of you told me? This is unbelievable!"
Nicolàs's family lived in the house next door to Marie-Josée's family in Martinique. The two families had been very close and were even related in some convoluted way. Marie-Josée and Nicolàs were the same age and had been inseparable as children. People had always said how they seemed more like brother and sister than friends and neighbors. Both Nicolàs and Marie-Josée had attended university in Paris and had shared an apartment for most of the time they lived there.
French could remember Marie-Josée complaining about Nicolàs's womanizing. He was quite a gorgeous-looking man -- tall, with milk chocolate skin, a brilliant white smile and a physique to die for -- and women constantly threw themselves at him. He had gone through a phase where he caught as many of them as he could. It had driven Marie-Josée crazy and she had moved out of the flat they had shared. The two had continued their friendship, still seeing each other frequently and occasionally double dating. Neither of them had ever liked anyone the other dated. French had always thought it odd that Nicolàs and Marie-Josée would each call her and espouse in voluble detail the numerous negative qualities of whomever the other was dating.
She had never paired them as a romantic couple, but now that she was forced to contemplate it, she could see that it made sense. They were already best friends, had all of the important things in common and were just different enough to keep things interesting. Based on what she had heard last night, they were also compatible as lovers.
"No one knows," Marie-Josée explained. "We thought everyone would think we were too closely related to condone our relationship."
"Closely related? That's ridiculous! There are so many layers of 3rd cousins and once-removeds between the two of you it'd probably be impossible to figure out just how you're related in the first place," French said.
"That's what I've been telling her all along," Nicolàs said, going into the kitchen and taking the bowl of eggs from Marie-Josée. He set it on the counter, gave her a kiss, then shooed her out of the kitchen. He heated the skillet and prepared it to receive the eggs.
"I just didn't want to alarm the family. We don't know where this is going, anyway," Marie-Josée said, shrugging.
Nicolàs glared at her from the kitchen and French had the suspicion that he knew exactly where he wanted the relationship to go.
"I overheard you guys last night," she began, blushing. She paused, then cleared her throat before continuing. "I had no idea you were seeing anyone and I was going to tell you not to hide it, that you should grab for happiness while it's within your reach. It's what you're always telling me to do, so it's only right that you take your own advice..."
"That's a low blow, French, throwing my own words at me."
"Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," French said smugly. "I really meant what I said, though. I don't think the families will be too surprised at the two of you, actually. It took me about thirty seconds to see how much sense the two of you make. I think it's great and I'm so happy for you!"
"Thanks. I'll think about what you said."
Nicolàs came out of the kitchen with their plates and they sat down to breakfast. French demanded they tell her how they had first realized they were in love with one another and a lively retelling of the tale ensued. Watching the two of them together, French felt a little jealous. They were obviously in love and unafraid to admit it to one another. They exchanged loving glances and touched each other often, giving their affection freely. Once Marie-Josée got over her silly reservations about telling their families, they would go on to have a brilliant future together.
If she managed to reconcile with Aidan, she would seize what happiness that was on offer to her. Their situation presented its own set of problems, but she would deal with each one on an individual basis. Her future may not be as certain or as bright as that of Marie-Josée and Nicolàs, but she thought she would find some happiness if Aidan would take her back.
After breakfast, Marie-Josée did the dishes while French brought Nicolàs up to speed on why she had made the sudden trip to Paris. Marie-Josée received a call on her cell phone and rushed out to open the door for the delivery that had apparently arrived. French began to cry and, ever one to console, Nicolàs pulled her on to his lap and let her cry on his shoulder. He had been her shoulder to cry on many times during their childhood and French always felt better once Nicolàs had provided his peculiar methods of dealing with whatever was bothering her.
Aidan had gone straight to Marie-Josée's apartment from the airport. He called her once he'd arrived at the building and told her not to tell French he was there for fear that she would refuse to see him. He was the 'package' that Marie-Josée left the apartment to retrieve.
When he walked into the apartment, he could hardly control the spike of jealousy that ripped into him when he saw French sitting on some gorgeous guy's lap. The guy whispered something in her ear and she giggled and pulled away from him. The guy smoothed her hair back from her face and cupped her cheek tenderly. From the look on his face, the guy definitely had feelings for French.
Aidan cleared his throat noisily and the two turned toward the source of the sound, somewhat guiltily, Aidan thought.
French leapt off of the guy's lap. "Aidan! What are you doing here?"
Her heart was hammering like crazy. She was ecstatic to see him, but nervous at the same time. It suddenly occurred to her that she must look like hell from crying and she groaned inwardly.
"I came to see you, obviously," Aidan replied from where he stood just inside the door. His hands were shoved deep into the pockets of his pea-coat and his face was set in an inscrutable expression. If she had had to hazard a guess, French would have said he was angry.
"Oh." Oh? God, how lame, she berated herself silently. Now was not the time to have nothing to say.
Marie-Josée beckoned Nicolàs to her side with not-so-subtle motions of her head. Aidan watched the other man's approach, coolly assessing him. He had never been jealous in his life, but seeing French all cuddled up with this man had immediately pissed him off. His jaw tightened as he restrained the urge to say something he'd probably regret later.
"Aidan, this is Nicolàs. His family lives next door to my parents in Martinique," Marie-Josée said nervously, having caught the murderous look in Aidan's eye. Confused, she chattered on, "He's a very close friend of the family. French has known him her whole life."
Nicolàs held out his hand to Aidan. As they shook hands, the two men sized each other up, not even bothering to utter the obligatory niceties such as 'How do you do?' They stopped short of glaring at each other, but only barely. French and Marie-Josée exchanged a startled glance and then both began talking at the same time,
"Um, Aidan, let's go -- " French began, while her cousin said,
"Nicolàs, we have to -- "
There were a few seconds of confusion while the women struggled to end the men's standoff gracefully. It was finally decided that Marie-Josée and Nicolàs would run the 'errands' that she suddenly remembered and urgently needed to see finished. She bustled around, gathering up coats, scarves and gloves. Nicolàs gave French another hug, kissing her forehead, the tip of her nose and ended the embrace with a reassuring murmur and a soft kiss on the lips. As they left, Marie-Josée casually mentioned where they would be and when they might have lunch, thus letting French and Aidan know how much time they had to be alone in the apartment.
Alone with Aidan, French didn't know what to do or say. It seemed as if all the air had been sucked out of the room with the departure of her cousin and Nicolàs. French could hear her heartbeat, the blood rushing through her ears. She felt breathless, but not in a good way, like when she was jogging. This was more of a panicked 'I'm fleeing an axe-murderer' breathlessness.
Take a deep breath, she told herself, stay calm. She willed her facial muscles to relax, purposefully forced her shoulders into a more relaxed position. She smiled coolly,
"Let me take your coat."
Aidan surrendered the coat without saying a word. French did more deep breathing as she hung up it up. She thought she might hyperventilate soon if she didn't calm down.
"Would you like some coffee? Or how about some juice? Marie-Josée has some absolutely wonderful freshly juiced mango-orange from the organic market," she said, inwardly cringing at the inanity of her remarks. Her hands moved of their own accord, alternating between nervously straightening her sweater and trying to tie themselves in knots.
Aidan cocked his head to the side and regarded her for a long moment. He didn't know what to make of her nervousness. Had he made a mistake in coming here? Had she really been trying to dump him when she left town? Was she trying to figure out a way to break up with him even now? He'd come here feeling confident that he had handled things with Hurst and Marcheline back in Boston the best way possible and that he knew exactly how to handle French. Now he didn't know. She'd been canoodling with the hunky guy on the sofa, then the guy had kissed her in a way that seemed way too familiar for Aidan's preference. She had seemed slightly underwhelmed to see him and now she was chattering and flitting around as if she was trying to avoid talking to him about anything of substance. He didn't have a clue what to make of her behavior.
"Aidan? Coffee?" she asked softly, calling him out of his reverie.
"No. Thanks, though."
French walked to the living room window and gazed unseeing at the rooftops of the nearby buildings. This is agonizing, she thought, I wish I could just go to him and wrap my arms around him. Tell him how much I love him. She longed to do it, but something stopped her. She was too afraid of what he might do or say in response. She had sworn to herself that when she saw him again, she would tell him how she felt, but she had thought that she had a week or so to get used to the idea, to prepare what she wanted to say and to practice it. But he was here now. And she had no idea why. She turned around to ask him just that, but before she could, he said,
"So. Is Nicolàs someone special to you?"
"No! Well, yes, he is. Like Marie-Josée said, our families are very close and related in some crazy way that barely counts anymore."
"Does he always hold you on his lap, whisper in your ear and give you kisses?" His tone of voice had lost all traces of cordiality.
"Actually, yes he does and he has for as long as I can remember," French's own voice was laced with asperity. "Not that I see how that's any of your business."
Judging by his behavior, whatever had brought him to Paris apparently didn't entail a reconciliation. Angry all over again because of her gullible hopefulness, she vowed not to embarrass herself by groveling.
"I see. You could have done me the courtesy of telling me about him. All this time, I thought we'd been exclusive. And here you are snuggling up with another man in Paris."
A beat of silence passed as French absorbed what he said. What is he talking about? she wondered. Of course they had been exclusive. And snuggling up? What was that all about?
"I wasn't 'snuggling up' with anyone. Now, would you like to tell me whatever it is you came to Paris to tell me before you leave?" she prepared to dismiss him.
This encounter wasn't going as planned. Aidan felt the lid he'd kept on his anger loosen; he was going to explode like a pressure cooker. He wanted to strangle French. He was tired and hungry and he kept envisioning what had probably happened between French and Nicolàs before he'd arrived or what might have happened if he hadn't showed up when he did. It was nearly impossible to clear his mind of the image of her cozying up with the good-looking man. He didn't like it one bit that she felt so comfortable having physical contact with any other guy than him.
"Yeah, I would like to tell you: It was shitty of you to leave town -- the country - like that without telling anyone where you would be."