Sonya sat at the elegantly dressed table. Her legs casually crossed at the ankle, her wispy floral maxi dress brushing the floor, she reflected on the authentic ambiance of the bistro’s interior. A little slice of Paris, tucked into the corner of her up and coming trendy neighborhood. It was opening night, but the place was empty.
“Here you go,” the waiter said placing a wooden bowl overflowing with salad and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc down in front of her. When her face broke into a broad smile, it punctuated her liquid blue eyes, pale pink lips and high cheek bones. He smiled appreciatively.
“I’ve tasted everything on the menu. Chef’s a genius. Legit talented.” Looking around at all the empty tables. “Hope he makes it.”
“Not sure the neighborhood is ready for nouveau riche French cuisine, but I certainly am.”
The waiter was dressed in black jeans, a crisp white shirt and red tie. He looked mid-twenties, was tall with gray eyes and cropped black hair. He winked. “Me too.”
Sonya hadn’t been hungry when she sat down. Her only intent was to welcome the restaurant to the area. Looking over the warm bowl of vibrant greens, saffron colored roasted chickpeas, rustic cut roasted sweet potato chunks, caramelized onions and fluffy kernels of quinoa, made her mouth water. She was suddenly starved.
“My compliments to the chef. I’d love to meet him if he has the time.”
“I’ll let him know. Bon appetite,” the waiter said as he withdrew.
After her second glass of wine, Sonya leaned back in her seat like a satisfied cat. She’d emptied the entire bowl and uncharacteristically, had an almond tart for dessert. She heard footsteps approaching and assumed it was the waiter.
“That was fabulous. Who knew a salad could taste that delicious?”
A voice replied, “Merci,” but it wasn’t the waiter’s voice. It was a voice she knew — very well. Like a scene from a movie, the room receded, and Sonya was transported back in time to the streets and cafes of Paris. Long walks, her hand and arms entwined in his. Passionate kisses on their tiny balcony perched above his family’s charcuterie. She could smell the ever-present aroma of smoke and cured meats even now.
When they faced each other, his eyes widened as he was jolted back in time then whiplashed forward to today. “Suh-nya?” He said half asked. Half whispered, his voice thick with his Parisian accent.
Was she happy or angry? She wasn’t sure as she stammered a reply. “Hh-hi Alex.”
“Mon Dieu – my god, what ‘re you doing ‘ere?” He pulled out the chair across from her and sat down, half tripping backward into it.”
Working to recover her equilibrium she said, “Me? Trying out the new restaurant in my neighborhood. What are you doing here?!” Emphasizing the ‘you’ in her question.
“I’m the chef own’r. We open today.”
Sonya cocked her to the side and raised an eyebrow. “No shit!” They both laughed at the obviousness of his statement. “I mean, what are you doing here! America? My neighborhood??”
His cheeks flushed against the dark olive tone of his complexion. He ran a hand through his dense curly black hair. “I’ve been in America four years. Chicago for two.”
Sonya’s heart clenched hearing his words. Six years. He’d been stateside for six years. Two years after they broke up because she couldn’t stay, and he couldn’t come, he’d moved here and hadn’t tried to contact her.
“I see,” was all she could think to say.
“How are you? You look — great,” he said trying to meet her eyes, but she looked away.”
“Good. I’m the senior curator at an art gallery downtown. Renaissance. You may have heard of it.”
He laughed. “Of course, it’s only the best in the city. Should have guessed that’s where you’d be. It was your dream, oui?”
“Yes, it was and,” she hesitated, “you could have known where I was if you’d written back. You stopped so I stopped.”
He looked down at his hands, now folded in his lap. “I know. I know. I regret.” He glanced around the room thinking how best to reply. “It seemed très impossible,” his French coming through, “very impossible then. You had to go home to your scholarship. I had to stay. Papa was too sick for me to leave.”
Sonya interrupted him. “How is he? Your mom?”
“Better thanks. Très bien. Uncle Armand is part owner now to help. Things are good.”
Sonya smiled, and it was genuine. “Good. I’m glad.”
“Look. I didn’t want us carrying this…” He struggled for the words and settled for what he knew. “This impossible love. Neither of us had money for a long-distance affair.”
“I thought cutting it cold was better and quicker.”
“Goodbye would have been nice.” There was a tinge of resentment in her voice. She dipped her head down letting red waves of hair shield her face from him.
“Truth? Didn’t think I was strong enough for that. When I came here, figured why the hell would you want to hear from me after that?” Sonya was silent, so he continued. “Too beautiful and talented to be alone. I didn’t need hear you were with someone. So — I left it be.” She brushed the hair out of her face and looked at him in that intense way that used to ignite his desire. He was unsettled to find his body still reacted to her mannerisms.
“Of course, I moved on. After a while. Wasn’t easy.”
“As you should. Happy for you.” He sighed hearing the confirmation. If her reply had been different, he would have told her he hadn’t really moved on. Sure, he’d been with other women but nothing long term or real. The tension released from his shoulders. He sat back more relaxed.
“Nothing committed for a long while. I’m married to my career, I’ve been told.” She rolled her eyes and smirked.
Alex watched her throw her head back slightly as she did, remembering how he adored slipping in to nuzzle and nip her neck. He licked his lips. Hesitantly, he reached his hand across the table. “Friends?”
Sonya leaned on the table, propping up her chin on her clasped hands. “Hrm, let me think about that.”
Alex was encouraged by her sultry tone. He reached up and traced her cheek with the back of his hand. His heart leapt in his chest when she leaned into it. He put his hands palms up on the table in front of her and asked again. “Copains? Friends?”
Sonya curled her hands inside of his. “Oui, copains.” She tousled his hair. “Maybe more.”
Alex took the hint. He rushed to her side, lifted her off her feet, crushing her to his chest. When she tipped her face up to his, he kissed her slowly and gently, rocking her side to side.