She! - Part 2

Twenty minutes later, I'd read the letter and knew the bad news. It made me feel rotten to the core and angry at the same time. My past had indeed caught up with me. What’s made it worse that it opened up a side of me that I was trying my hardest not to remember. After reading it twice, I decided that I needed to speak to Marcel.

Thankfully, his car was parked outside his home so I went inside looking for him.

“I’m in the back Jean, come on through,” he called to me when I spoke his name.

Marcel was sitting at his kitchen reading the newspaper.

“What can I do for you? I saw her leave earlier. From what I saw of her in the car, she’s a looker all right,” he said cheerily but only serving to rub salt in the open wound that was my past.

“I think you had better read this. It is from her. Her parting gift,” I said grittily.

Marcel read the letter and nodded his head.

When he’d finished, it he handed it back to me and said,

“It answers some questions all right but…. I guess you are feeling a bit sick inside at the moment eh?”

“Yes, sick is the right word for it.”

“Perhaps it is time to open up to the world?”

I sat silently for a while.

“Then I’d have to leave here and I rather like it here.”

“And the locals like you. That is a rare thing in this part of the world for them to take to a ‘les Rostbif’ like that.”

“But… coming out like that would make a few people hurt if not downright angry with me.”

“Fuck the feelings of others. It is you and how you are mentally that matters. She has really screwed you up with this letter. Why she could not just have left without this,” he said rapping his finger at the letter,” is beyond me. She probably has no idea about what is happening here and now.”

“I know all that but… I feel so… exposed,” I replied with more than a tinge of sadness in my voice.
Marcel sighed and smiled all in the same breath.

“Look at it this way, at least you know where you met her before. Isn’t that a positive?”

“Really? You think standing by while he was bullied and beaten to within an inch of his life at school for being a bit odd a positive?” I retorted.

“Yes, yes I do. Think about it, you were trying your hardest at simply fitting in, going with the flow and not making waves. That was self-preservation at its finest. Classic ‘text-book’ self-preservation 101’,” replied Marcel with a perfectly straight face.

“But I let them beat the shit out of him!”

“And in turn saved yourself. As you told me in London, you were in denial about who you really are. Nothing has really changed, has it?”

Then Marcel added,

“Look at her now? Who would have thought that even she admits was decidedly chubby as well as very effeminate which combined together to get him bullied at school would look like she does now? She’s effing gorgeous if you don’t mind me saying so. If I was not gay, I’d be… well, you know what.”

“That’s not the point, I should not have let them do it. It was wrong. It felt wrong at the time and it still does all these years later.”

“Yet, she specifically says that she does not blame you. The letter is perfectly clear about that, isn’t it? She goes on to say that being forced to move away like they were, was the best thing that could have happened to her and her family. As she says, the injuries she received forced the family to come to terms with what he was and what she should be in the future even though it didn’t last beyond her childhood.”

“It still does not feel right though,” I replied.

“Self-preservation kicks in again,” replied Marcel with a sigh.

I felt like I could throttle him. I loved him all the same. I should do because he saved my life and stopped me from killing myself in London.

“Don’t you think it is time?” asked Marcel.

This was the question that I had dreaded him asking.

“You are in a good state physically now and aside from this episode, you are mentally in a very good state of mind. Relaxed and in tune with your surroundings.”

He was right and the question he was not asking was the one that I’d been putting off asking myself for far too long already.

“You are right. It is time to move on with my life. As it is, it is stagnating and has been for a few months now.”

What I didn’t say was that I didn’t give a toss about my life stagnating. I was alive and living in a wonderful part of the world and there was no stress in my life any more. Yes, having someone to share it with would be nice but that was the icing on the cake. Perhaps it was time to do something about it?

Marcel gave me that look that only Doctors seemed to be able to do. A look that says, “I’m sorry that I don’t believe a word of what you just said but I am going to let it go this time.”

That evening I reread her letter not once but several times. The letter described the events that changed her life. That led me to think again about the events that changed my life and ultimately brought me to this little bit of heaven.

When I was first taken to the hospital, I was seen by so many people, it all became a blur. The last thing I remembered was scrawling my signature on a form before I passed out with the first of three or was it four heart stoppages I had that night.

When I woke up again, Marcel was sitting at my bedside all gowned up and holding my hand. I remembered smiling at him. He simply smiled back at me.

“Welcome back to the land of the living,” he said after a bit. I didn’t feel like I was living but at least I wasn’t seeing the pearly gates closing in front of me.

Some hours later, the consultant heart surgeon who’d been in charge of my operation came to see me.
“Well, Mr Archibald, I am happy see you are back with us once more. It was a bit touch and go at times but here you are on the mend. Now that you are compos mentis again, I will say this just the once, you need to change your life totally as the next time? Well, you probably won’t make it. No more working as a trader or anything in the City. Certainly, no more uppers and downers just to keep going at work and absolutely no more cocaine at the weekend to get you to relax before the next week at work. Sadly, you are not the first person from your line of work I’ve seen through here and you won’t be the last. My last words on the subject are, ‘get out of town now, not next week, next month or next year, now. When you get discharged, go home, pack your stuff up and terminate your lease or put your home on the market. Don’t spend any more than two or three days maximum at home and you need to be gone. Any more and the temptation to get back into your old life will become too great. Don’t even go back to your job. Phone them up and quit over the phone.”

Then he said with a smile on his face,

“You were lucky that Marcel here was on hand when you collapsed. We got you here just in time. Next time? Well, the odds are that you won’t even get into the Ambulance. We have two new valves in your ticker. The old ones were well and truly clapped out. You need to make them last until you reach a ripe old age, understand?”

I was left speechless buy his talking to. Even in my pretty well drugged up state, I knew what he’d said was true but I didn’t like hearing it.

When I was able to properly understand what they’d done to me, Marcel told me about the heart and how it works and why working valves are needed to keep on living.

It didn’t take a genius to realise that I was lucky, very lucky and that I’d probably used up eight of my nine lives. I was definitely in the last chance saloon.

It was dark outside when I’d sorted myself out mentally. She’d breezed into my life, thrown it into total chaos and breezed out again leaving me in a state of abject confusion.

In the end, I did nothing but get on with life. As time went by, ‘she’ and the disruption she’d cause faded from my mind.

~o~O~o~

[15 months after ‘she’ had appeared in my life again]

As they say, time heals a lot of things and her visit was largely forgotten when she returned.

It was a Sunday afternoon and my alter-ego Kiera was making an appearance. I’d been a cross dresser for years and as Marcel surmised, I didn’t help out when she was being beaten up because I needed to not let myself from being the next person to get a beating.

Marcel knew about Kiera because when he took me home from the hospital he could not miss several of her outfits that were hanging up in plain sight when we entered my apartment. He soon put two and two together but never criticised me for what at the time, I’d done only in the privacy of my home.

Since I’d settled here, Kiera made an appearance more regularly than before. Hardly a Sunday went by without her cooking Lunch for her and Marcel. It wasn’t special but just something we did together. Marcel didn’t judge me and that was the most important thing.

This particular Sunday, Marcel had been around as usual for lunch. We’d had ‘Poulet Roti’ and vegetables from my garden, followed by a homemade ‘Tarte au Pommes’.  The fine weather had allowed us to eat out on my patio.

The idyllic afternoon had been partially ruined by a call that took Marcel off to the next Valley to help with a difficult birth.

That was a fact of life for a rural Doctor. However, that left me alone sitting in the sun on my terrace. The combination of that sun, a full stomach and some very good wine sent me off to sleep.

A sleep that was rudely interrupted by a banging on my front door.

Still half asleep, I answered it forgetting that I was wearing a dress, makeup and a wig.

I opened the door and went “Oh”.

‘She’ was standing there and also went “Oh”.

After a few seconds, I recovered enough to say,

“You had better come in then,”

I let her into my domain once more. As I did so, I saw that she wasn’t driving the old Toyota any longer. Instead, it looked like that she was in a BMW X3 with French plates. The plates indicated that it was registered in the Department of Provence. My first thought was that she’d come up in the world in the past year.

“Please come upstairs.”

I followed her up the wooden stairs and into my domain. As before, she was immaculately dressed and made up. There was something new though, she’d completed the set and had another rose tattooed on the other ankle.

“Please take a seat. I’m sorry for looking like this.”

She didn’t sit down but smiled at me.

“I think I understand now.”

I couldn’t stop myself. I nodded.

“Yes. It could have been me taking that beating at school. For…” then the words dried up.

“I understand. Self-preservation is human nature.”

By now, I’d sort of recovered.

“Can I get you a drink of something?”

She smiled.

“If I can crash here tonight then yes. I don’t want to see Madame Le Mayor. She will not stop asking questions and I think that you will agree with me that not every detail of our lives should be out in the open.”

“I…I… Yes you can. I’ll make up the spare room.”

“No,” she said sternly.

“We’ll make up the spare room,” she added.

I poured her a glass of the same Red wine that Marcel and I had been drinking at Lunch.

Madelaine tasted it and smiled.

“This isn’t bad. Where it is from?”

“The Corbieres.”

“Oh! I didn’t expect that. Well, that is a surprise, just as much as like seeing you like that.”

“I know. A combination of lunch, some wine and the sun and I was half asleep when I opened the door. Well, the damage is done now.”

I took a sip of my wine.

“So, why did you come back? Really?”

Madelaine didn’t reply immediately. When she did, I was shocked by what she said.

“Originally, I wanted to say sorry and try to make amends for putting you on the spot like that. I was a coward when we were at school and still am. I should have told you face to face but couldn’t do it. For that, I’m truly sorry.”

“Then?”

“I felt that even an apology would not be enough. I wanted to invite you to my wedding.”

If I’d been drinking anything at that very moment, I’m sure that it would have been sprayed everywhere.

“Your wedding?”

“Yes,” she replied smiling.

Then I noticed her engagement ring.

“How long have… have you been dressing like that?” she asked changing the subject.

“Like this? Oh, my French Chic look?”

She nodded and laughed at the same time.

“Since I left home to go to University but only in private. This place gives me the sort of privacy that I’ve never had before. My garden is not overlooked at all unlike my old place in London’s Docklands.”

“Only you?”

I looked at her strangely.

“I thought I saw two sets of plates on the table and two glasses.”

She’d got me bang to rights.

“Yes, Marcel, the local Doctor. He lives just along the street. Yes, he knows. He knew when we were in London. He was… He is the reason that I’m alive today. Without him being there when I keeled over, I’d be dead and buried a long time ago.”

“Are… are you two… a couple?”

I laughed.

“No. He’s Gay and I fancy women. As I said, he saved my life and I’m here thanks to him. I needed somewhere to recover after my surgery and he suggested here. Been here ever since. This is my home now. There is no way I’m going back to London except in a coffin and as I’m going to be cremated… Well, I think you get what I mean.”

Now it was my turn to change the subject.

“Who is the lucky man then? I take it is a man?”

She smiled coyly at me.

“Yes, it is a man. His name is Philippe. He runs a vineyard in Provence, to the North East of Avignon.”

“He’s a lucky man indeed. You deserve happiness in your life.”

“Thank you. It means a lot to me to hear you say that after all… Well the past.”

“Look John or do you prefer Jean? I won’t have anyone to support me at the wedding. None of my Family want anything to do with me and haven’t done for years. I was simply too much of an embarrassment to them. You were the only person

I could think of...”

She looked me right in the eye before continuing,

“I know that I did you wrong when I was here before. The coward that I am regretted what I did from the very moment I left here. I wanted to let you know how I felt and that I wanted to make amends.”

“I really had no idea about your other side until I remembered something Madame Le Mayor said after you’d left us after showing us your chest. She said that you were a sensitive person and that you had a delicate touch. I should have pressed her further but I didn’t realise what she’d said until after I’d left here.”

She paused for a second.

“I was hoping that by coming here today I could appeal to your softer side but I really had no idea…”
She smiled at me.

“Sorry, I am rabbiting on a bit,” said Madelaine as she ran out of steam.

I smiled. At least she was trying.

“Look, Madelaine, I do appreciate what you are saying and thanks for the invitation to your wedding. I do need to have some time to think about things.”

Then I smiled.

“As for this?” I said pointing at my outfit.

“I’m not going anywhere outside here in this. There is no way I’d pass as a woman in a month of Sundays so don’t even think of trying to get me into a dress even if I said yes and came to your wedding. Understand?”

She smiled back at me before saying,

“Understood. I happen to think that you could pass but that is clearly off the menu at Chez Jean.”
The following morning, Madelaine left quite early. She needed to be in Apt for a late morning appointment. I still hadn’t made up my mind about going to her wedding. She accepted that and left me her phone number. I promised to call her before the end of the week.

As I stood outside my ‘garage’ watching her drive away, I felt the presence of someone else. I turned around and saw

Marcel.

“That was her again wasn’t it?”

I nodded.

“She’s come up in the world since she was here last year?”

“Yes, she has. She’s getting married in a month.”

Marcel smiled,

“Don’t tell me, she wants you to go?”

I nodded.

“Well?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I need to think so don’t pester me ok?”

Marcel reached into his jacket and pulled out his wallet and extracted a single note and handed it to me.

“Here is a twenty euro note. That says that you will go. It will get you away from here for a bit if nothing else.”

I knew that he was right. Marcel could read me like a book. That alone was enough to make ‘us’ becoming a couple impossible. We were just good friends and neither of us wanted that to change.

Despite a lot of dithering on my part I relented and made the call to Provence two days later. Marcel was right, I needed to get away from my idyllic hideout a little more often.

~o~O~o~

Some four weeks later, I drove down the A7 Autoroute towards Avignon and the wedding. The groom’s family were from North East of Avignon so the ceremony was being held in the local village ‘Marie’ (Town Hall) in Sarrians. I did debate renting a car for the weekend but in the end, it was just too much of a faff so here I was in my tatty Peugeot Pick-up going to a wedding where the bride drives a new BMW. Talk about contrasts… Oh well, this car is more me than a Porsche or anything sporty could ever be. I smiled as I thought back to my old life in London. Most of my colleagues spent much of their bank bonuses on cars. The more expensive and impractical the better for them. I’d never really bothered about cars and using their car as symbol for their manhood always amazed me but that was just me.

The shabbiness of my car was evident when I pulled into the Chateau where the reception was being held. There were lots of Porsche’s, Ferrari’s, the odd Maserati and even a couple of Lambo’s. Well, being dayglow green, they were hard to miss.

I was made welcome by someone thrusting a glass of champagne into my hand as I entered the house. I found Madelaine having a few words with an older woman. I guessed that the other woman was the Groom’s Mother.

Madelaine welcomed me as if I was her long-lost brother. However that did very little to allay my feeling of being very much in the wrong place.

Together, we marched into the huge dining room where the reception was being setup.

I’d arrived just in time for a briefing where I was told my duties by the Groom’s mother. When that was over, I managed to get a few minutes with Madelaine.

“I’m so glad you came. ‘The Witch’ is organising the hell out of everyone.”

I knew that she was referring to Madam Mergault, Phillipe’s Mother.

“She did lay it down a bit thick, in there,” I replied.

“Never mind, I’m glad you are here,” she replied and gave my hand a little squeeze.

“We wanted a small wedding. This is what she calls a small wedding. Not our doing I hasten to add.”

Part of me felt a bit sorry for her but I didn’t reply because I was still feeling very much like a fish out of water. I clearly didn’t belong at the same event as those Lambo drivers. The looks down a lot of noses I’d received during the briefing made that very clear. I shrugged my shoulders and decided to grin and bear it and do the best job I could given the circumstances.

When everything for the day was done, I retreated to Avignon and a cheap hotel on the far side of the Rhone. There was only so much being looked down at one can take. Well, that’s what it felt like when they found out where I was from and what I did for a living. That I was someone who did things with their hands was clearly beneath them. I didn’t mind. I was long past caring about my job and how much or how little it paid. I was happy. Some of them by the look of them were clearly destined for an early grave. More than once that day I’d said to myself, ‘there but for the grace of god and Marcel go I’.

Precisely at 2pm the following day, I walked Madelaine into the main chamber of the Town Hall. There were at least sixty guests present. Most of the women were straining to see her dress. I had to admit, that she looked stunning. Simple yet refined and dignified.

I was wearing one of the two suits that I still had from my time in London. It just about fitted but as it cost me £1600 around five years ago, I wasn’t going to throw it away just yet. That was just as well as I needed it now. While my car is a tad shabby, my suit was anything but and was as good as what any of the men were wearing to the ceremony. My shoes were also a relic from those heady days in London. They were as good as any that other male guests were wearing as mine had been hand made specifically for me.

I don’t remember much about the Ceremony itself. It was all a bit of a blur of emotion to me. But I managed to keep things together and I, along with the Groom’s sister Celine followed the happy couple out of the town hall where an open carriage was waiting to take them to the reception.

Before I knew it, I was alone in the town square. It seemed that everyone else had organised a lift back to the ‘chateau’ for the reception. Well everyone apart from me that is.

I shrugged my shoulders and set off to walk the three and a bit klicks to the house. It was looking like I was becoming a ‘persona non grata’. I didn’t mind that much. I’d done what I promised to do so I felt that I could leave at any time I wanted with a clear conscience.

I’d covered almost two klicks when a car came hurtling round the bend in the road that I was approaching. I had to take evasive action. The only place for me to go as the ditch and I duly ended up on my backside in the ditch. That was ok but the ditch had at least 8cm of water in it. I got wet, very wet. My suit was ruined.

As I got out of the ditch, there was no sign of the car. It hadn’t stopped. I shrugged my shoulder and carried on walking.

My only hope now was to get to the house and get into my car and escape before anyone saw me.

My hopes of doing that were soon dashed when the same car that had caused me to dive into the ditch came back. This time it was going a lot slower. It drew up alongside me and the passenger side window went down. I glanced at the driver and to my horror, I saw that it was Celine.

I just carried on walking. She slowly kept pace with me and shouted,

“I was sent to find you. We didn’t realise you were missing until everyone sat down to eat.”

“Well, you found me. And you have ruined my suit with that reckless driving. So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to walk to the house, get in my car and leave you to enjoy the reception.”

I sped up a little. Celine matched my pace.

“Your car isn’t there.”

I stopped dead.

“Where is it? I clearly remember parking it at the house earlier.”

“My mother had it towed away. She said that it destroyed the perfect ambience of the wedding.”

“But where is it?”

“Probably on its way to being crushed if I know my Mother.”

That was the last thing I needed. Now I had no transport and no way of getting home.

I patted my jacket and yes, I still had my wallet.

There I was standing beside a road with Mt Ventoux in the far distance and just dithering. In the end, I just turned around and started walking back towards the village. My only hope was to get a bus or a taxi back to Avignon or somewhere civilised. At least then I can get a train to Valence.

I heard the door of the car slam shut and a pair of expensive heels running along the road towards me.

Celine grabbed my hand and said,

“Where are you going?”

I took a deep breath and sighed

“I am going Home. My suit is ruined and my car towed away. There is not a lot to hang around for now is there? How I’ll get home, I don’t have a clue but that’s where I’m going. So, if you don’t mind, please leave me alone and go back to the party. Give my apologies to Madelaine and Philippe and that I wish them well for the future.”

Celine came after me again and gripped my arm again. This time, she didn’t let go.
“Madelaine was right, you are a stubborn person. Come with me to the house and after the reception is over, I’ll take you to find your car. If we can’t find it, I’ll take you home.”

“Celine, it is Saturday afternoon. Everywhere will be shut until Monday. My car has seen better days so let it die here. I’ll get to Valence and book into a Hotel. There is a train that goes close to my village. The next service leaves early on Monday. I intend to be on it. So, thanks for the offer but what is done is done.”

I freed her hand from my arm and carried on walking. This time, Celine didn’t follow me. I heard the car drive away a few minutes later.

My feet were feeling a bit sore by the time I reached the village. To my surprise, Celine was waiting for me.
“The next bus to Avignon is not until late Monday morning,” she said slightly triumphantly.

I felt defeated no, the right word is deflated.

“Come on Jean, come back to the reception and get cleaned up. Then when it is over, I’ll take you home. Madelaine is always going about your home and the workshop that I’d love to see it.”

At that point in time, there really seemed no way out. No way to avoid going home with Celine. She was not bad looking in a sort of bedraggled way. She could never do that thing that seems to come naturally to French women, and look ‘chic’.

If she was a boy, she’d be the one with the always unruly hair and a tie that would never look straight no matter how much fiddling was done to it. 

I shrugged my shoulders and got in her car.

A few minutes later, we were back at the house. It was all quiet out the front. I looked for but didn’t find see my pickup. I felt rather sad because I’d put a lot of work into the thing since I bought it.

“It isn’t here is it?” asked Celine.

“No, I think you were right.”

“Don’t worry, she’ll pay for it to be replaced,”

“She?”

“My Mother. I’m her accountant. I’ll make sure you get a decent replacement.”

I didn’t react but trudged towards the front door of the house. Celine raced ahead and opened it in front of me.

“Come on upstairs. I’m sure that there is something of Phillippe’s will fit you.”

I didn’t say anything but followed her up the semi-circular staircase to the 1st floor. I really didn’t want to be here a moment longer than I had to be.

Celine noticed this.

“You seem like a bit of a fish out of water.”

“That’s me, the drowning fish. I really don’t know anyone here. I really don’t know why I accepted the invitation to come here today.”

Celine laughed.

“What would you be doing now if you had not come?”

“Me? I’d probably be out on my bike up in the hills of the northern Ardeche.”

“Want to try Mt Ventoux sometime?”

I wasn’t expecting that.

“One day maybe but not at the moment,” I replied trying to deflect her.

“Well, when you are ready let me know and I’ll ride up with you.”

I didn’t know what to say. If my mind had not been so confused I would have realised that Celine was gently coming on to me. This was the last thing I needed given my present state of mind.

“Look Celine, the only thing I am interested in is getting out of this hell hole. I was a total idiot to accept the invitation. I never should have come. Madelaine has got to me again. I am not going to let that happen again. Understood?”

Celine looked shocked.

“What are you saying?”

“Madelaine and I have history. It goes way, way back to when we were children. It didn’t end well. I foolishly thought that we could put it behind us but no. Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been fucked around by your Mother and her so called friends and I’m done with letting that happen to me. No more. I want out and for good. So, if you would find me some clothes and then you can take me to the TGV Station in Avignon and then I’ll be gone from here for good and you can say good riddance to bad rubbish.”

Celine still looked shocked but opened a wardrobe.

“There should be something there that you can wear.”

“Thanks. Why don’t you go back to the reception? I’m sure that some of the guests will be wondering where the sister of the Groom is?”

To my surprise, she took the hint and left me alone.

I sat down on the bed and cried. I thought that I was done with stress in my life. Now I had it back again. So far, my ‘dicky ticker’ had not missed a beat.

After god knows how long, I stopped whimpering and feeling sorry for myself.

It was time to get dressed and get the hell out of ‘Dodge’.
It didn't take me long to found a pair of trousers, a shirt and a casual jacket. That would have to do.

Once I’d got rid of my torn and muddy jacket and trousers, I slipped the new ones on. They were a little large but they’d do for now. I found a pad and wrote a quick note to Phillippe.

I took a deep breath and opened the door to the bedroom just a little. There was no one around so I made good my escape from the house. I could hear Music coming from the Ballroom that was at the rear of the building. I thought to myself, ‘at least some people are enjoying themselves’.

Once outside, I headed for Celines’ car. I’d remembered that she’d left the keys in it when we arrived. I didn’t hesitate and got in, started her up and drove away hoping that I would not attract the attention of the Gendarmerie between here and Avignon.

Twenty-five minutes later, I was at the Avignon TGV Station in the banks of the Durance close to where it meets the Rhone. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

To my dismay, I found that I’d missed a Paris train by a matter of a few minutes. The next train was for Lille and was due in thirty-three minutes. That would do for me as it stopped at Valence.

I’d bought a ticket and had been sitting, waiting on the platform for the train for nearly thirty minutes when a movement caught my attention. I turned towards it with a sense of foreboding. That feeling was justified when I saw Madelaine and Phillipe walking along the Platform and both of them were pulling a wheeled case.

“Why aren’t you off to Martinique?” I asked when they reached me. Phillipe’s Mother had lost no opportunity to tell anyone would listen that the newly married couple would be spending their Honeymoon at her friends Villa on the island of Martinique.

The couple looked lovingly at each other before Phillipe answered,

“We are not going to Martinique. We found out that my Mother is going there in a few days. Guess how much time alone we would get? She would insist in showing us off to her society friends. That isn’t us so, are going to England to be sure of getting away from her. Let her think that we are obeying her but our answer is No and we are off to England.”
I smiled back at the couple,

“She won’t like that. From the little I have seen of her, she does not like people not following her orders. Did you know that she had my Pickup towed away?”

“Yes, she is like that. Celine told us about your car and what she did to your suit. Please keep those clothes, it is the least we can do for messing you around so much. My mother… I guess that some of her cronies started complaining that it lowered the tone of the place so she got it removed. That is how my mother works I am afraid.”

“I kind of liked the old girl. The car that is,” I responded.

“Don’t worry, I’ve asked Eric, my best man to find it and get it to you. Sometimes, my Mother is a real piece of work. She uses people and spits them out when they are of no further use to her. That’s why we are going to England,” said Phillipe.

“We are going to look at a Vineyard that is for sale in Kent,” added Madelaine.

I was shocked by what I’d just heard.

“Can you let Celine know where her car is? The keys are on top of the front wheel on the passenger side,” I asked Phillipe when I’d recovered from what they’d just told me.

Phillipe smiled back at me.

“I’ll do that. Her bark is a lot worse than her bite you know. She means well but most of the time her well meaning ends in a disaster if you know what I mean?”

I did but I was determined not to be sucked in to anything.

“That’s as maybe. All I want to do is get home.”

Both of them laughed. I felt sad because they were obviously deeply in love with each other.

As I left them on the TGV as it stopped at Valence, Madelaine gave me an envelope.

“I was going to post this when we changed trains in Lille. Read it when you get home and feel happy. I should have told you everything before but I am too much of a coward.”

I looked at the envelope. It had my address on it as well as a stamp. Clearly, her claim that she had been intending to post it to me was true. Part of me felt sad that she couldn’t tell me whatever it was to my face. Part of me was happy for her. She’d obviously found a great man to love and get married too. Part of me was exceedingly jealous of her.

I left them to go off on their honeymoon. They looked so happy.

After the train left on its journey north, I took a Taxi into the centre of town and found a hotel for the night. There were a few ways to get home that I’d investigate the following day. A good meal with some equally good wine followed by a decent nights sleep was what I needed more than anything else at the moment.

It is amazing what a new day can do. The new day put a new perspective on the whole case. As it was a Sunday, I had a choice. It was kick my heels here, phone Marcel and… no I was not going to do that. He would never let me forget my ‘wedding adventure’. My other choice was to make my own way home but for some reason, it didn’t bother me at all, unlike the previous day. After checking out of my Hotel, I went to the bank and withdrew 400 Euros and headed for the local railway station where after a bit of negotiation, I did a deal with a taxi driver to take me home for 120 euros plus a tankful of fuel.

By Lunchtime I was home again and feeling a good deal better. I sat on my terrace with a glass of wine thinking about the weekend. The letter from Madelaine was on the table in front of me. I couldn’t decide if it was worth reading or if I should just go head and burn it and forget all about the weekend.

I still hadn’t decided what to do when Marcel arrived.

“I thought you were back but where’s your car?”

“Hi Marcel, I really have no idea where it is and to be honest, I don’t really care. The whole trip was a disaster and I should never have gone. I’m going to blame you for that. So be a love and go and raid your wine cellar for something decent to drink and we’ll call it quits.”

Marcel took the hint and disappeared to find something nice to drink.

When we both had a drink, he raised his glass,

“To lessons learnt no matter how hard they may be.”

I chinked his glass with mine.

“Is that letter from her?” asked Marcel when he put is glass down.

“It is. Why don’t you read it? I was trying to decide between reading it and burning it.”

Marcel didn’t answer but took the envelope and opened it.

As he read the letter, a smile appeared on his face.

When he’d finished it, he handed it to me with a smile on his face.

“You really need to read this. There is nothing but good news in it.”

I looked at the paper and then back at him.

“Just tell me the worst.”

“Firstly, Madelaine is pregnant.”

 I looked at him totally surprised.

“Eh? What? I… I thought…”

“Yes, she’s pregnant. She explains it all here. Apparently, the beating he took when you were young did a lot of damage to what appeared to his male bits. When they really examined him, they found that he was really intersexed. He or rather she actually had a fully working set of female bits. The male bits were removed and three months later she had her first period. Her underdeveloped testes had the potential to become cancerous if they hadn’t been removed when they were.”

I was just shaking my head in disbelief.

“That means my dear Jean that the beating she took might well have saved her life. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about. Quite the opposite really.”

I couldn’t take any more, I fled into my bedroom and burst into tears.

All I could think was, ‘why the hell did she have to come back into my life and screw it up so much!”

Much later I realised that it wasn’t all about me and after pouring myself a slug of some very nice Scotch I toasted the happy couple and wished them well.

~o~O~o~

The passing of time since I fully understood about Madelaine has allowed me to realise that we were two lost souls who were floundering around. By pure coincidence, we met again and although painful at times, it seemed to work out well for both of us in the end.

How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl,
Year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here

{Pink Floyd. Wish you were here.}

And no, I’m not going to tell you exactly where ‘here’ is. That would be unfair on my friends.

[Authors note]
There you have it. A story crafted from the idea, 'what really goes on inside that building' as I passed many like the one shown in part one. Imagination is a wonderful thing.



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