It was a dark and stormy night.
Except it wasn’t. It was actually quite sunny, with a hint of clouds and the smell of fresh coffee in the air. I sat in front of a pleasant Parisien cafe, wearing my favorite summer dress and earrings, and desperately wished for it to be dark and stormy. That would have been easier to deal with, instead of the whole world being happy just to spite me.
The waiter was sympathetic, when he saw my red eyes. He left the coffee and croissant on my table with a few extra napkins. I just kept staring at the screen of my phone, reading the words over and over again. ‘I want a divorce.’
Why did he want a divorce? This was supposed to be a second honeymoon. We’d had some arguments. It was nothing serious. Even this was supposed to be a date, of sorts. But I was here, and he was late, and all I had was one stupid fucking text message.
Maybe things hadn’t been as good as I thought they were.
I wasn’t all that hungry. It’s hard to be hungry when you’re crying. I managed to drink the coffee, if only to avoid drawing too much attention from the nice older couple sitting at another table. Contrary to everything I’d been told, I’d met few people who knew much English, and I didn’t feel like being consoled by a stranger who couldn’t understand me. Every thought I had seemed to pull me back to Seattle – the house, the car, the dog. Who was going to get the nice couch in the den. Thank god we didn’t have any kids yet. Thank god I still had a chance to rejoin the dating scene at the matronly age of thirty-five, and get disappointed all over again.
Seven years, all gone. I started crying again.
A shadow crossed the table, and at first I ignored it. Then a hand reached into my field of view with a handkerchief.
I looked up. The man was tall – taller than him, anyway – and he had kind eyes. All the French dressed well, and he was no exception. A light suit, white shirt open at the neck, no tie; but dark hair peppered with grey. Blue eyes.
I took the handkerchief. “Don’t cry,” he said gently. His voice was deep, with a lilting French accent that softened every harsh sound. “May I join you?”
I didn’t have the energy, or the heart, to say no. He took the seat across from me, and took my hand as I wiped my eyes. “Is it very bad news?” he asked.
“My husband left me,” I croaked. “He – he told me he wants a divorce.”
“Ahh, that is so sad! And you are here, in the City of Love. This must be very hard for you.”
I nodded, and sniffed. “He sent me a text message,” I said, and showed him.
He tutted. “A cowardly way to say something that causes so much pain.” He squeezed my hand. “It will pass. Such things always do. Believe me, the French know all the ways that love can fail, and yet – here we are.”
He smiled, and I half-smiled back. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“I mean your real name.”
“I am not joking,” he said with a chuckle. “My mother had a strange sense of humor. What is yours?”
“Julia,” I said. “I’m from America.”
“I can tell. Only American women sit alone in cafes and cry over the silliness of men. And now, there you are – you smile a little more! If you stay another month or two, you will laugh like a French woman at every man.”
I actually did laugh at that. “You know, every young girl back home hopes that someday she’ll meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger someday,” I said jokingly. “I just never thought I’d meet one like this.”
“Paris is also the city of serendipity,” he said. “…Would you like me to stay a while?”
I thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “Maybe just a little while?” Maybe I could stop crying, and find my way back to the hotel without feeling like a total wreck.
He smiled, and flagged down the waiter. The French was quick-fire and too much for me to catch, but the waiter gave me a big grin as he scooted back to the kitchen.
“What did you ask for?” I said.
“You call them ‘cream puffs’, I believe. A perfect dessert for the mending of a broken heart, along with some fine coffee, a nice day, and good company. Now…” He reached out, and brushed a tear from my cheek. “…Don’t cry, Julia. You will feel better soon.”
I squeezed his hand back. “Thank you,” I whispered.
He lifted my hand, and kissed my fingers. He was actually right.