She isn't sure of the exact moment when she decides to leave; maybe it was the way he danced with her at the greyhound track, or the way he looks away sadly when they announce they're engaged, or the way he tries to pass of stolen gifts to her like she doesn't know where they're from.
But, at some moment, something clicks, and the next time he's on one of those business trips she leaves; a hastily written note is the only sign that she was ever there.
It feels different, to be on her own after so long.
But it also feels good.
She isn't sure where to go at first; back to her father's, or to America. She finally decides on Paris, a city that has enchanted her ever since she first went there when she was eight. It's only when she arrives at her newly bought apartment in the eighth arrondissement that she realizes she's in Paris. By herself. She unpacks on the first day, and calls her father to let him know that she's moved. And after that, she's on her own.
It's an exciting thought.
The first few weeks she spends shopping at Chanel, going to chic cafes, and drinking martinis in supper clubs. That soon becomes old, however, because those are things that she did when she was with him. It's a rainy Thursday when she decides to go to a museum. The day after, Versailles. Soon, she's attending lectures at the Sorbonne, reading Hemingway in Cafe de Flore, and going to the Opera. She's back to her old self, and it feels good. But, there's a lingering thought in her head of him, and her mother, and it sickens her.
After a few more weeks, her apartment is filled with her old books on philosophy, a grand piano, and Impressionist paintings. And as she sits on her balcony, overlooking the Seine and the Eiffel Tower and having a smoke, she smiles to herself.
She has missed her life.
She's about to go out to see a matinee of the ballet when a man knocks on her door, a stack of mail in hand.
"Hello. I think I got your mail by accident." The man smiles, and she leans on her door frame, drinking him in. He's tall, lean, but well built, with black hair and dark blue eyes, and he's wonderfully handsome, and young. But most importantly, his accent is delightfully British.
"Really?" She takes the mail, and glances down at it. It is indeed hers. "It's mine. Thank you."
"Are you new around here?" He asks, after looking her over once.
"Yes. Moved in a month ago. Funny, I haven't seen you around, though." She muses.
"I've been on a business trip. They're rare, and far apart, and I can't believe they still send me on them." He sighs. "I just love Paris, however, even if is far away from my offices."
"Sounds like you're an important man, Mr..." She lets her voice trail off.
"James Ashford." He introduces himself with a smile, sticking out his hand.
"Helen Worthington." She responds with a dazzling grin, shaking his hand gently. It feels natural, and something stirs in her stomach. She doesn't know what it is, but she doesn't forget the feeling.
"What are you doing in Paris, anyway?" James asks, sitting back on her couch. He got her mail accidently again, and brought it back to her. It's a nice day outside, and sunlight is streaming through the windows. The walls are white, and the floors are light wood, but that's where the similarities between her new home and her old place with Danny ended. Her new apartment is feminine, and sophisticated, with gold and soft pink accents. She's making them a pair of Scotch on the rocks.
"Needed a change." She says simply, walking over to him and handing him his drink. He nods a thanks. "I used to live in London. Well, born in London, then moved to Kent during the war.
"It's funny, you know. I never thought I'd find someone from England living so close to me in Paris." He laughs, and she smiles, because his laugh is so charming she can't help it. "It'll be nice to speak English with someone for once. You speak French, I'm guessing?"
She thinks back to her old life, before her mother died, and the strange looks she would give Danny, David, and Jenny when they spoke in French. "Yes," she admits. "I do. But I haven't for awhile." There's a long pause.
"You have a lot of wonderful books." He says, nodding towards her bookcases. "Rousseau, Locke, Hume. You must like philosophy."
"I have a degree in philosophy." She says, and the words feel strange in her mouth, and she realizes that she hasn't said those words out loud to anyone in years. "From Harvard." He raises an eyebrow, and she instantly thinks she made a mistake in telling him, and she thinks of her mother again.
"That's incredible." He smiles over his glass. "Not a lot of women have degrees from Ivy League universities." Now it's her turn to be surprised. "Not a lot of men value education in women, unfortunately. I want to have an intelligent conversation with a woman, though." His words hit her right in the heart, and she blinks. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." She says quietly, biting her tongue. He doesn't press further, but he can tell something is wrong. He leaves shortly after, and she spends a while just fingering her necklace, thinking about what he said.
"I'm starting to think that you're taking my mail, and saying you got it accidently just to talk to me." She laughs, and he's enchanted. James is at her apartment again, looking sharp and rugged and she can't stop staring at him.
"Actually, I was wondering if you wanted to go have drinks with me tonight." He looks a little nervous, and she's surprised.
"If you want to."
"Alright." Now he looks shocked that she said yes. "How about nine o'clock?"
"This is nice." She comments, taking a long drag of her cigarette, nursing a martini in her other hand. She's sitting close to James in a supper club, and some singer is crooning away. It oddly reminds her of Juliette's, back in London, and Danny.
"It is, isn't? There are places like this all across the world, but the fact that we're in Paris makes all the difference." He smiles slowly, looking over at her. His eyes hover on her lips for a split second.
It doesn't go unnoticed.
When they find themselves in front of her apartment around midnight, it's oddly quiet. He's about to go downstairs to his apartment when he kisses her lightly on the cheek. He smells wonderful, and it makes her heart beat faster in her chest. He starts to pull away, and he doesn't know it it's the intoxicating smell of her perfume, her sapphire eyes, or the close proximity to her in general that makes him brush his lips softly across hers.
She closes her eyes, and he's gone before she's even sure it's real. She leans against her door, and takes a while to catch her breath.
She hadn't even notice that she had been holding it until now.
She doesn't see James for the next week and a half. She spends most of her time in her apartment, looking out the window and thinking. It feels like her heart is splitting apart, but she keeps her feelings at bay until night.
The tears stain her pillow, and she can't help but think about Danny. At some moments, she wants to run right back to London and into his arms, back to what she has known for the past two years. Even though she's left, something still ties her to him, and she can't explain it.
Maybe it's the fact that part of her still loves him. But then she remembers Jenny, who he was enchanted with last time she was with him, and it makes her feel sick.
But still, kissing James felt so right, even though the thought of Danny was still in the back of her mind.
They finally meet again at the ballet. Swan Lake is playing, and they end up in boxes next to each other. There isn't a chance for them to speak at the Palais Garnier, but when it's over, he takes her easily by the arm, leading her towards the banks of the Seine, near the Tuilieries. They don't speak, but the silence is comfortable. She squeezes his arm gently as they reach the river. Street lamps and twinkling lights illuminate the night, and it's quiet and romantic.
"I haven't seen you in awhile." He comments, looking a little nervous as they begin to walk along.
"I know. I've been busy." She lies easily, and huddles closer to him as a cool breeze brushes by. He leans a little closer to her.
"The ballet was good." He says, trying to make conversation to ease the obvious tension.
"You kissed me." She says bluntly, stopping, and looking up at him.
"I know." He shrugs, and she doesn't know what to say. "Why? Did you not want me to?"
"Of course not-" She stumbles over her words. "It was just surprising, that's all."
"So you wouldn't mind if I did it again?" He asks, facing her.
"Not at all." She says innocently. He grins, and before she can even comprehend what she has said, his lips are on hers once again. Her mouth cracks open in surprise, and his tongue pushes smoothly into her mouth, easily twirling with hers. She notices that he tastes like old, expensive Scotch and rich cigarettes, and slightly minty. Her hands claw at his back almost instinctively. James places a hand on the small of her back, pushing her against him. Another hand winds her way into her hair, pulling her lips even harder against his. This elicits a moan deep in her throat.
She forgets about Danny almost instantly.
After all is said and done, they lay awake in his apartment, breathing heavily. It's different than it was with Danny; sweeter, maybe; sensual, but not rough. She can see the lights of Paris outside of the open window, and the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and she doesn't know it she just feels nostalgic or if she just trusts him, but she decides to speak.
"When I was about four, there were rumors the Germans were going to invade London." She whispers, her face buried in his chest. He looks down at her, interested. "Of course, we had a country house in Kent, an ocean house in Dover, and a hunting lodge in Northumberland, but my parents were too stubborn to leave London. I suppose they thought they were too wealthy, too important to be bothered with the war.
"Anyway, we would wait for days, and nothing would happen, but thousands of people were leaving the city. I kind of thought that nothing would ever happen, but finally, on one summer night quite like this, my windows were open, and I woke up to bright lights outside of my window. I got up, and looked up, out of my window. It was a gorgeous night, but all I could notice were the dozens of German fighter pilots against the clear sky.
"One of the maids burst in, and she was hysterical. I didn't quite know what was going on, and she was dragging me downstairs. And that's when I first heard the bombs going off, quite close, actually. We didn't have a yard, so we didn't have a bomb shelter. My parents, the staff, and I had to run over to the St. James Park Underground Station.
"It was packed, and dark, and damp. The barriers of social class were immediately broken, because we were all in the same boat, you know? Even though we were hundreds of feet underground, we could still hear the bombs going off, and the screams." Her voice drops, and it seems far off when she continues to speak. "My whole family lived in London, and in the morning, it was horrifying, not knowing what had happened to them. Buildings that I passed ever day were gone, and you could hear cries of people finding hurt, or dead loved ones.
"So, it was like that for a really, really long time. My mum went to be a nurse in France after, and my father and I moved to the country house in Kent." He notes the sadness in her voice.
"Did she come back?"
"Yes, but she died after I finished university. Weakened immune system from being around some many sick and infected people, they said. She caught pneumonia. I try to forget all the horrible things about those couple of months. I remember, however, when we would be camped out in the underground, next to people we never would have given the time of day before, my father would sing to me, to calm me down.
"We'll Meet Again" by Vera Lynn."
There is a long silence, and Helen looks up at James. He's looking down at her, and she feels like she can dive into his eyes and swim forever. To her surprise, he starts to sing, and she soon finds herself singing along softly with him.
"We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again"
Weeks go by, but it is like time stopped. She finds out he is the owner and chairman of an extremely successful publishing house, and he rarely has to go into the office. His business trips are long, but far apart, so they spend every moment together. It's a wonderful summer.
They spend days wandering Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre. They take weekend trips to Mont Saint Michel and the Champagne region. They read Fitzgerald and Verne is quiet, smoky cafes in Marais. They go to see operas, and wander around Montparnasse. They discuss art, and politics, and she finds out he studied Economics at Cambridge.
He brings her across the world with him; to Spain, Greece, Germany, Turkey. They go to Mexico, and South America, and spend two weeks in the British Virgin Islands. It's finally when they are lying on the grass, champagne discarded next to him, watching the stars over Montmartre that she asks him the question.
"Do you know who my father is?" She whispers, snuggling closer to him. It's mid August, and their magical summer is coming to a close.
"What do you mean?" He wonders, running a hand through her soft blonde hair.
"Do you know who he is?" She reiterates.
"No." He murmured, turning his head to look at her.
"He's Phillip Worthington." She replies, looking up at the perfect, inky sky.
"The shipping mogul?" He says, surprised. She nods.
"My mum was the great great granddaughter of some long lost duke. Old money. So, it's just been me and my father since she's died, you know. She was always the one into high society and propriety." She knows that he knows who her father is. And she no doubt knows that he knows she's sitting on millions of dollars in the shipping business. She tells him because most people know who her father is already when they meet her, and date her for the money (and to have someone pretty on their arm at functions, of course)
So maybe she tells him because she loves him. She can't believe she's even thinking this, but she's fallen in love that summer, and she can't stop thinking about him whenever they're apart.
"So that explains why you don't work." He isn't criticizing her; he's just making an observation.
"I got a scholarship to Harvard, though. Daddy doesn't pay for everything." She sighs. "Actually, he didn't particularly support my education. Neither did my mum."
"Didn't they?" He asks as she rests her head on his shoulder.
"No; it wasn't proper for women to get an education. I was there to look pretty; to be charming, so they could marry me off to someone in a respectable family." She pauses. "Not many people know that."
"Not many people know I ran away from home when I was twelve." He tells her. "Actually, no one knows that, except my parents, who are now deceased."
"Why'd you run away?" She asks him, and when she breathes, he smells like expensive cologne and a little bit like her perfume.
"Too much pressure to become the perfect gentlemen, and run the company some day." He says. "I went to rural Romania. The people there barely make ends meet, and are starving. It put a lot of things into perspective."
"We are very lucky, James." She murmurs, closing her eyes so she can better hear his heartbeat. They are both growing tired, and her legs shift against his easily.
"I am very lucky to have you, Helen." James whispers gently into her hair. She smiles into his chest.
"I love you." She doesn't even know she says it until she realizes her mouth is open, and she tenses. Why on earth did she tell him so soon? He must thinks she's crazy. He smiles, and holds her closer.
"I love you, too."
Autumn arrives, and fall in Paris is like magic. It's still sunny, but it's cooling down, and there's a fresh, almost winter breeze in the air that makes everything crisp and clear. Their days are spent wandering the banks of the Seine, coffees in hand, wrapped in jackets and cheeks flushed. Most of the season goes uninterrupted, but then December arrives. Snow is starting to fall outside, and there is frost on the windows of his apartment.
"I have to go to Toronto on business." He tells her, an arm wrapped around her.
"For how long?" She muses, leaning against him comfortably.
"I'll be back before the new year. Do you want to come?" James asks, and she shifts closer to him on the couch. She likes Toronto, but she's been fighting a nasty cold for awhile.
"I'm still feeling under the weather, and I don't want to put a damper on the trip." She whispers, closing her eyes.
"I don't want you to get worse." There is genuine concern in his voice. "I'll be back before you know it."
When he's about to leave, she throws her arms around his neck and gives him a long, passionate kiss in the middle of the airport. He is ushered onto the plane, and the Pan Am flight attendants give her jealous glances. As she walks away, she feels empty, like a part of her is missing. But she tells herself it's only a few weeks. She supposes she'll go back to her father's for Christmas.
She could have never guessed what was going to happen in the coming weeks.
In a few days, she feels better, and goes to an Opera ball. It's exclusive, and she turns heads easily. Most of the people run in the same circles as her, and they've seen her around with a man. And they noticed that he isn't there tonight.
The foyer of the Palais Garnier is decorated with a beautiful Christmas trees, and garlands and wreathes. It's festive, and she takes in the decorations as she walks around the room. She can't wait for Christmas to come, because the quicker Christmas comes, the quicker James will come back.
"Helen?" She pauses, and she recognizes the voice. She turns around slowly, taking a deep breath, and he's standing a few feet in front of her, a champagne flute in hand.
"Danny." She nods in response. He looks the same, but a little sadder, a little more worn. He looks wonderful in his expertly tailored suit. Somehow, it reminds her of the night she met him. It was after her mother passed, and she was attending a gala at the National Gallery with her father. She was standing in front of a Monet, and the herd of young bachelors were trying to teach her about the artist. It was quickly evident that they knew nothing.
"He was the founder of cubism, you know." One said smartly. She just smiled, even though her mind was screaming, 'IMPRESSIONISM!'
"Really?" She breathed, and the man nodded in response. The others around her started spitting out completely false facts in order to impress her, but she just pretended to be interested.
"Helen, dear, there you are." Her father had walked over to her. "Sorry, boys, but I'm going to have to steal her away." She put on a pout, but internally smiled. Her father, a tall, prestigious looking man was leading her towards the foyer. "There's someone I want you to meet. A member of the Hayes family, you know the one from Northamptonshire?" She nodded. The Hayes' were a respectable family. When they reached the bustling foyer, he led her over to two men dressed smartly in suits who were standing in a corner. "Helen, this is Daniel Hayes, and his business partner, David."
"Danny," The young man corrected, grinning. Helen smiled gracefully back; she was trained to have perfect manners, but her smile wasn't fake this time. This man, Danny, was very handsome. She barely regarded his business partner, who nodded at her.
"Mr. Hayes, Mr. Goldman, this is my daughter, Helen." She shook David's hand easily, before turning to Danny.
"A pleasure." She commented, before slipping her hand into Danny's.
"I'll leave you." Her father nodded, and walked back into the crowd.
"I'm going to look at that Manet." David grinned slyly, leaving Helen and Danny alone. Danny offered his arm.
"Do you want to go look at those Degas?" He asked, and she easily slipped her arm into his. The rest of the night, no other man bothered her. She was engrossed in Danny. Besides being handsome, he was funny, and smart. She, of course, acted like she didn't know what he was saying, but she longed to break her promise, and actually have an intelligent conversation with him.
It was towards the end of the night when they found themselves in a dark, deserted hallway far away from everyone else. It was cold, and they were standing in front of a Van Gogh.
"Van Gogh was a genius; too bad he went mad." Danny murmured. Helen nodded, shivering, and inched a little bit closer to him.
"HELEN!" She closed her eyes. Her father was calling her. It was time to go.
"I should get going." She whispered, looking up at him. "It was wonderful to meet you, Danny." She started to walk away, but he grabbed her hand, pulling her into a hot kiss.
"It's wonderful to see you." She says, smiling slightly. He looks her up and down, and sighs.
"It's been awhile." He notes, and she takes a sip of her champagne to hide the uncomfortable silence.
"How long are you in Paris for?" She wonders.
"A few weeks." She nods. They slip into another awkward silence. "Do you want to grab drinks or something on Friday, maybe?"
"Alright." She shrugs. She needs to do something until James comes back from Canada.
She meets Danny at Le Caveau de la Huchette, a jazz club in the Latin Quarter on Friday. She hasn't been there in months, but the bartenders and waiters still know her name. He's sitting in a corner booth in a smart suit, sipping a drink and watching the jazz musicians. She nods as a bouncer calls out her name in acknowledgement, before slipping into the seat across from Danny.
"I like this place." He says, taking a drag of his cigarette. "Kind of like Juliette's." She smiles a little, but she likes it because it is unlike Juliette's. It's a sort of underground Paris, where poor Bohemians come, and discuss art and literature. She lights an expensive cigarette, and gazes at him through the smoke.
"Why are you in Paris?" She asks, ignoring his comment.
"Needed a break from London." He shrugs. A waiter, Pierre, comes over.
"Bonsoir, Helen." He grins.
"Bonsoir, ça va?" She looks up at him.
"Oui, ça va. Et toi?"
"Ça va bien. Je te presente mon ami, Danny." Pierre nods at Danny, who looks confused.
"Nous ne t'avons pas vu ici au mois." Pierre notes, raising an eyebrow. Helen sighs, and laughs in exasperation.
"Je sais, je sais. J'ai été occupé." She replies.
"Avec lui?" He suggests, and Helen shakes her head.
"Ne pas forcer." She smirks.
"Que voulez-vous?" He sighs in defeat with a grin.
"Nous voulons le Moet, s'il vous plaît." He nods, scribbling down the order, and walking away though the tables.
"Your French certainly got better." Danny murmured, taking a sip of his drink.
"J'ai toujours su parler français." She whispers. He's about to ask another question, but he sees the look on her face and stops short.
"Do you like living here, in Paris?" He wonders, looking across the table at her. She looks a little nervous, and jumpy.
"Yes." She replies, and she doesn't know how she feels about being here, with Danny. She's always thinking about James, but he's a distant thought when Danny's around. He stirs up some emotion in her stomach, and she can't describe it. It's odd, seeing him again after all this time. "How's London?"
"The usual." He says.
"I don't know. We don't talk anymore." Danny looks down. She doesn't say anything. The night goes by slowly, but she doesn't mind. They make easy conversation, and laugh occasionally about old memories. He watches her throughout the night, and he finds that he loves her just as much as he did when he last saw her. The jazz club is emptying, and the smoke is heavy.
"Let's dance." He insists, grabbing her hand before she can protest. The band is playing "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" by Louis Armstrong, and he takes her into his arms easily. She holds her breath as he pulls her into his embrace. She rests her hands on his chest, and her head is buried into his shoulder. They sway gently, and she closes her eyes, and just breathes him in. "Why'd you leave, Helen?" It's a question she used to ask herself often.
"Because..." she can't come up with an adequate answer. Maybe it was Jenny, or his 'business', or the fact that she loved him more than anything but she made a promise that kept her from him. "I needed a change. And I thought maybe you and Jenny..."
"After you left, there was a brief period over her summer break." He admits. "I didn't know what to do with myself when you left, and she was there to pick up the pieces. It didn't work out."
"Why not?" She says, believing the words he is saying because she just knows him that well.
"She wasn't you." She sighs.
"There's someone." She admits, swallowing hard, not quite believing she's dancing so closely with her ex boyfriend, but he has some strange power of her she can't explain. "His name is James."
"And where is he?" He murmurs, his lips next to her ear.
"Canada. Until the new year." She says, looking up at him.
"Do you love him?" His eyes are locked with hers. She knows she loves James, but she can't form the words when Danny's looking at her like that, so she tries to nod instead. He keeps looking at her like that, and then he does what she knew in heart was coming:
He kisses her.
With his lips pressed against hers, she has to decide; will she kiss him back, or push him away? He tastes familiar, like rich smoke and champagne. His hand cups her jaw, pulling her lips closer to hers, and subconsciously, she kisses him back, not quite realizing what she's doing. And before she knows it, she is dragging him back to her apartment, lips locked, and he's slamming her against the wall, ripping her clothes off.
She doesn't think of James once.
The next morning, he's not there when she wakes up. Cool winter light is streaming through the windows, and she squints as she finds a chemise, and a robe. She's not that surprised to smell coffee coming from her kitchen, and Danny curled up in a chair with a cup in her living room, looking at a paper that looks like it hasn't seen daylight in ages. She doesn't say anything as she slips into the chair across from him, after grabbing her own coffee.
"I don't understand." Danny says, running a hand through his disheveled hair. Helen raises an eyebrow, and takes a sip of her coffee. "You had a degree from Harvard all this time-"
"Yet I was still daft?" Helen smirks over her cup of coffee, looking down at her diploma. "Dumber than a box of rocks?"
"Last night, you said you always knew how to speak French, but..." Danny sighs in exasperation.
"I always understood what you were saying, but I never told you I could. I started taking French when I was four." Helen clarifies.
"Why did you act like you were so...dumb, if you weren't?" He wonders, looking up at her, and she bites her lip, smiling slightly.
"I made a promise to my mother." It's the first time she's ever mentioned this to anyone, but she has a feeling Danny is the right person to tell. "Growing up, my parents never supported my education, which made me want to pursue my education further. They just wanted me to get married to some rich, respectable man and uphold the family name, so you can imagine how shocked they were when I said I was going to university.
"Anyway, on the day I came back, after my graduation, which they did not, of course, attend, I found tons of people at our house in Kent, and my father notified me that my mother was dying, and wished to see me. She went to France during the war, and she was weaker when she came back; more frail. Anyway, I went up to see my mother, and she was awful. I could tell she wasn't doing well." She looked into her mug, and took a deep breath. "She took me by the hand and said that she just wanted me to get married, and no man in their right mind would want a smart girl, so I should keep my intellect to myself. She died a few moments later, and that's what I've done ever since." Danny didn't say anything, so she felt the need to continue. "She made me promise with her dying breath, and I wasn't going to break that."
"...So, this whole time...you understood everything that we were talking about, but you acted like you didn't." Danny laughs in exasperation.
"Yes." She shrugs, resting her elbows on the table. "But, I didn't think you deserved me to be fake anymore, and I couldn't stand being fake any longer, either. So maybe that's why I left. I thought you'd be happier with Jenny." He shakes his head.
"I'd be happier with you." She can't look into his eyes, because she knows how he's looking at her.
"Danny, about what happened last night..." She can't form the words, because she doesn't know what happened the previous night, either. She wants to say it meant nothing, but it's like she can't. She puts her face in her hands in frustration. She says, I love James over and over in her head, convincing herself its true. "I'm in a relationship, and I don't plan on being like David."
"Why don't you show me what the real Helen is like after all?" He ignores her previous remarks, leaning forward and brushing her hair out of her face gently. "I bet she's lovely."
"And I wasn't lovely before?" She jokes, grinning softly, and he laughs.
"You're just as lovely, if not more so." He corrects himself.
"Alright." She says finally, and she nudges his knee with her toes. "You want to see what the real Helen is like?" He grins, and takes a sip of her coffee. "Be ready in an hour."
That day, she brings him to Musee d'Orsay, her favorite, then to Maxim's for dinner. She points out the wonderful Belle Epoche pieces, and he's in awe of her. He never knew this side of Helen could ever exist: She can talk about Vermeer, and knows more about the Pre Raphaelites than he does, actually. She tells him about Bach, and Pachelbel, and talks about communism and social Darwinism, and she can discuss laissez-faire economics. She muses about Confucius, and Plato, and Hobbes.
Days go by, and nothing happens between them. She brings him all around Paris; her Paris; underground jazz clubs, Cafe de Flore, old record shops in Montmartre, secluded banks along the Seine, antique stores, museums, the opera, lectures at the Sorbonne. She talks with him about Tolstoy, and Milton, and teaches him about Brahms, and plays the piano for him. They browse book stalls, and watch French twentysomethings set up record players, and play Ella Fitzgerald, and dance.
Finally, Danny breaks his silence when they have just finished eating at Le Jules Verne, in the Eiffel Tower. It's a crisp, clear winter night, and they can see for miles. His jacket is draped around her shoulders.
"So, tell me about this James character." It's the first time he's mentioned him, and, truth be told, it's the first time she's thought about him in awhile. It sickens her. She loves James, yet she slept with Danny, and is now gallivanting around Paris with him. Nothing romantic has gone on between them since that Friday days ago, but she still feels awful.
"We're two of a kind." She says simply. "We like the same things, the same music, the same films. We like the same foods, the same books." She notices Danny smirking at her. "What?"
"But isn't that boring? Don't you argue, about anything?" He wonders, and now that she thinks of it, they really have never fought. Her eyes narrow up at him.
"No. Why?" Danny laughs.
"He must be dull in the sack, then." Helen shoves him, harder than she meant to. He rubs his arm.
"He is wonderful in the sack, actually."
"Not as good as me, I bet." She rolls her eyes.
"Different, that's all." Danny moves closer to her.
"He won't be back in Paris until the New Year. You might as well have some fun until he comes back." He murmurs, intertwining his hands with hers, and pulling her closer.
"Danny..." She whispers nervously. What was it about this man that was so intoxicating? He made her forget everything else, and only think about him.
"Don't think about it, Helen. Just do what you feel. Let your heart lead you." He utters, inching closer to her until their breathes converge in the air before disappearing. She closes her eyes. Her mind is yelling at her to run, and fly to Canada to be with James. But her heart is tugging her forward with all its might. With her eyes still shut, she finds his lips with hers in the darkness, placing a soft kiss on his lips.
"I knew you'd come around." He murmurs into her lips, a smirk forming.
"Shut up." She moans, re-locking his lips to hers. And she remembers when she first came to Paris as a child, looking up at the Eiffel Tower at night from her hotel room, and dreaming of princesses and Prince Charming, and wanting to be kissed on top of the Eiffel Tower.
So, her childhood dream came true. And Danny was her own dysfunctional Prince Charming.
It's two days before Christmas, and she talks to James on the phone from Canada. He'll be back on the 2nd of January. She feels upset after talking to him, but Danny brings her shopping for a Christmas tree, which she hasn't yet gotten. She's always spent Christmas with her father, who had a tree imported from Vermont, or with Danny, who somehow magically got a tree in the flat in the middle of the night, fully decorated, for her to wake up to on the morning of Christmas Eve.
"This one looks good." Danny says, stopping in front of a tree. They're in a random, small square somewhere in the 4th arrondissemont, and the snow is falling out of the perfect sky. The buildings are
decorated with twinkling lights, and it’s absolutely perfect.
"It looks sort of lop sided." She observes, circling the tree in the makeshift lot. Danny groaned.
"You'll only have it for a few days." He insists, and she shakes her head, and sighs. She can see her breath.
"How about this one?" She suggests, pointing out a glorious fir tree. "It's perfect!"
"Alright, alright." He laughs, calling over the worker to wrap the tree up for them, and put it on a taxi for them. He wraps an arm around her, pulling her tightly to him. Ever since that night at the Eiffel Tower, he's been staying at her place, and it's been a lovely week and a half. They decorate the tree the night before, and on Christmas Eve, they stroll along the Champs Elysees, taking in the lights on the trees, the Arc de Triomphe all lit up, and the Christmas displays in the windows. Snow is falling on them, and she can't think of anything more perfect, until he pulls him into his arms, and a kiss.
"Merry Christmas." He whispers in her ear, waking her up. She stretches against him, smiling, and placing a kiss on his lips before opening her eyes. They stay in bed for awhile, before wandering into the kitchen, and grabbing coffee. They curl up under the Christmas tree, which looks like magic in the cold, snowy, early morning light. She lights a fire in the fire place, and curls up next to him, and he puts an arm around her. They put on jazz Christmas music, and talk about past Christmases. Her father calls her halfway through the day.
"How's Paris, dear?" He sounds gruff, and familiar, and she smiles, twirling the telephone cord between her fingers.
"Fine, dad. Kent's still treating you well?"
"Yes, yes, it's wonderful - except for those bloody neighbors..." Helen laughs. "Helen, I hope you aren't alone on Christmas. I'm going to visit your Aunt and Uncle today, and I'd hate for you to be sitting by yourself in your apartment."
"I'm not by myself, Dad."
"Are you with James?"
"He's in Toronto into the new year."
"With whom, then?"
"Hello, Mr. Worthington!" Danny hugs her from behind, and Helen looks back, glaring at him, but her eyes are sparkling.
You're with Daniel Hayes? How are you, Daniel?"
"Wonderful, sir." Danny says, placing a kiss under her ear.
"Nothing's going on here." Helen answers her father's unspoken question, but then Danny starts placing kisses down her neck, pulling her closer to him.
"Just be careful, Helen." Her father warns stiffly. They talk only for a few more minutes, since Danny distracts her. Everything seems fine, but as the sun sets in snowy Paris, they fight. She gives him a limited edition Rolex watch; one she knows he has wanted for awhile. He leans in to kiss her, but then goes to her ear instead, burying his face in her hair.
"You know I still love you." He whispers, and she closes her eyes. "Please, come back to London with me."
"I can't live without you." He insists, breathing her in. "You have no idea what it was like without you. I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't breathe. These past few weeks have been magical."
"I can't." She says, barely audibly. She can't escape James, though. She doesn't know what she feels for Danny, but she certainly knows that she loves James. He's like a knight in shining armor; the one you read about in fairytales.
"You know you can." He pulls away from her, his hands cupping her face.
"I-I...James-" She can't form complete sentences.
"Do you love him, Helen? Really love him?" He asks, looking deep into her eyes.
"Of course." It's like she's mesmerized by him, and he rips all of her defenses down.
"More than you love me?" The silence is heavy, and she starts to cry with out even realizing it.
"Danny, don't be like this." She murmurs, but he stands up, taking a step away from her. She rises, too.
"After all we've been through, you're choosing him over me?" He scoffs in disbelief.
"You know it's not like that." She argues tiredly, stepping towards him. He turns around, looking out the window. She feels the need to fill the silence. "With James, I know things for certain; I know we'll have a happy life together; he's a constant, and...you're a variable. I never know anything when it comes to you." He turns to face her abruptly, closer to her than she thought.
"So you're staying with him because he's safe?" The bitterness in his voice upsets her. "Aren't you supposed to take risks in love?"
"I've been hurt too many times." She says, returning his coldness. There's a long moment where it's like a game of chess; each waiting for the other to make the next move.
"What did you think you would gain by having me around these past few weeks?" He wonders angrily. "Were you just stringing be along this whole time?"
"You know I love you," she sighs. "but we can never be together, Danny. We aren't good for each other." He doesn't say anything; instead, he places an aggressive, dominating kiss on her lips.
"Then goodbye." He whispers, and he leaves before she opens her eyes. The apartment is eerily silent, and empty. The jazzy Christmas music that she forgot was playing drones on sadly in the background, and she sits down next to the tree. Time goes by, and it gets darker and darker outside. She stays there for what seems like hours, because there is nothing left to do.
The doorbell rings on New Year's Eve, at about noon. She adjusts her hair in the mirror, trying to look somewhat presentable. She has been lounging around her apartment in a depressed stupor for the last few days, after all. She opens the door, and is pulled into a massive, bone crushing hug before she can understand what's happening. She blinks, and takes in the man's expensive suit. He smells familiar, feels familiar.
"James?" She whispers, in awe of what's going on.
"I was able to escape Toronto a few days early." He murmurs, pulling her closer. "Feeling better?"
"Yes - how was Canada?" She doesn't really know what to say. It's like her lungs and her heart have decided to squeeze into a big mess around her stomach, making her feel nauseous.
"Dreadful - the weather was terrible. Thank god you didn't come along, you would have gotten even more sick." He pulls away from her for a split second, his hands cupping her face. He's out of breath; he must have rushed to her apartment as soon as his flight landed. "God, I've missed you so much. Why don't we go out tonight? I don't care where; anywhere. I'll pick you up at seven?" He places a quick kiss on her lips, then rushes out. She shuts her door, and leans against it, sliding down it slowly. She finally sinks all the way to the floor, and runs her hands through her blonde hair. All she can mutter is,
"It's warm for December, isn't it?" James comments, trying to fill the odd silence that has fallen on the couple the whole evening. He doesn't understand what's been going on with her the whole evening. She's been weirdly silent the whole night. She responds when he talks to her, but rarely says anything else. He brings her to her favorite restaurant, and now they're on a bridge on the Seine, not far from the Eiffel Tower; a lovely place to view the fireworks when they went off at midnight. Yes, he thought, this is the perfect place.
Helen felt like she was about to vomit over the rail of the bridge, right into the river. She knew James would come back from Canada eventually, but she didn't know she would feel like this. Every time he touched her, smiled at her, said something to her, she was ridden with guilt. Why did she have to screw up her wonderful life by giving into temptation? She could never be perfectly, blissfully happy with James now; she would always be thinking about what happened with Danny, and it would slowly tear her apart. And James - James was only vaguely aware of her strange behavior; he noticed it, but was not concerned. And now they were standing on a bridge, and the new year was closing in on them. She hasn't noticed he spoke until she realizes he is staring at her expectantly.
"Oh, yes, quite warm." She agrees, stepping closer to him. There is a million things she wants to say, but she bites them all back. The sky is dark, and clear, and the air is fresh. Finally, he speaks,
"I was miserable without you, Helen." He whispers, looking at her. She lets a smile grace her lips.
"I know. I was, too." She's not lying - she was miserable without him.
"I don't want to feel like that ever again." She can barely hear him, but still, she does, and her eyes widen. Everything is a blur, and his words are just white noise in her ears as he gets down on one knee and brings out the most gorgeous Chopard engagement ring she has ever seen. She can't comprehend what he's saying, but she does hear the end: "Will you marry me?"
She hasn't seen him in a month, and now, in the same day he returns, he's proposing? She realizes he must have planned this all along; to come back early, and propose to her on New Year's Eve. She isn't particularly sure what to think; well, she does, but it's a long string of obscenities. He clears his throat, and she then remembers that he's expecting an answer. He looks so hopeful and happy, and she's cursing herself for being such an idiot.
"James..." Her voice trails off, and she has no idea what the hell she's doing when she turns and walks away. He's confused, as he should be.
"Helen...? Where are you going?" He's still down on one knee, the box with the ring in it in his hands. She can't bring herself to look back.
"I...I need to think. I'll ring you soon." She chokes out, and the tears are freezing on her face as she walks off the bridge, all the way to the Latin quarter, and the first bar she can find. She slides onto a stool. The bar is smoky, and several shady looking bohemians are hanging around, but she doesn't care. It has a good view of Paris, though, and she drinks the Scotch the bartender brings her gratefully.
"Helen?" She turns to her left to see none other than a slightly older, more serious looking Jenny Mellor. She sighs in exasperation - to run into Jenny here, of all places, was ridiculous.
"Hello, Jenny. Oxford's treating you well, I suppose?"
"Yes." Jenny nods, nursing some drink that Helen doesn't care to recognize. "How are you?"
"Awful, thanks." Helen murmurs, finishing off her drink and signaling for another.
"What happened?" Jenny asks.
"Well, I fell in love with this man named James, but then he left and I had an affair with Danny while he was gone, and he just came back from Canada and asked me to marry him." Helen shrugs, and Jenny takes a long drag from her cigarette.
"What'd you say?"
"Nothing, yet. I needed a stiff drink first." She scoffs.
"Do you love this James fellow?" Jenny wonders.
"More than anything." Helen says.
"Did your fling with Danny mean anything to you?" She doesn't say anything, but answers silently. Not as much as James does. "Then it really isn't a question, is it?"
Months later, she's back in London, at Juliette's. It still the same as she remembers, and when she walks up to a lone table in the corner it's like nothing has changed.
"Danny," She nods at him, sliding into the seat across from him, slipping off her trench coat. He looks her up and down, before glancing for a long time at her hand, and taking a long swig of his drink.
"Helen," He responds a little bitterly. She winces slightly.
"Thanks for meeting me." She smiles slightly, crossing her legs nervously. He just stares at her, indifferently. She didn't know what it would be like to see him after all this time; she certainly didn't think he would be this taciturn.
"You're getting married?" He asks flatly, and she looks down at the glittering Chopard ring on her fourth finger that he was looking at before. She nods. "To James?" She nods again, and he grins humorlessly. "Of course."
"Aren't you going to say 'congratulations'?" She raises an eyebrow, tapping her fingers on the table leisurely.
"Congratulations." There isn't a congratulatory tone in his voice, however. "You know, I stopped all the stealing; the stats and everything. I thought maybe you'd come back if I did." She doesn't say anything. She told James about the whole thing with Danny, crying like a three year old in his arms; to her surprise, he still wanted to marry her after her whole dramatic speech about how much she loved him. They live in London now; she couldn't stand another minute in Paris. "Why'd you want to see me, Helen?"
"I wanted to know if you wanted to come." She says softly.
"You want me to come to your wedding?" He repeats in disbelief.
"It's June 3rd, at the Chatsworth House." She replies.
"That big mansion up in Derbyshire?" She nods, and he laughs sadly. "No, thanks." She had a feeling he would say that. She is about to mention she's invited Jenny, and not David, but she really doesn't see the point. He knows even if he wanted to go to her wedding, he wouldn't be able to bear it; her, looking like an angel, as always, in a lovely white dress, wrapped in the arms of her husband.
"Why can't you just be happy for me, Danny?" Helen sighs.
"Are you happy?" He counters.
"Yes." She whispers breathlessly.
"Good." He murmurs, before getting up. "It was nice to see you again." He kisses her slowly on the cheek before rushing out, because he can't stand being near her anymore, knowing she's happy with him. She had his heart in her hand, and she crushed it with just one squeeze.
He avoids her for the next few years; he can't stop thinking about her, no matter what he does, though. He receives a save the date for her wedding, anyway; he doesn't go, but he sees pictures later, and she does look like an angel. She looks absolutely blissful, as well, smiling in every picture, her arms around her beaming husband. The couple share cute, soft kisses in some, and when he sees those his heart feels like it's dropped into his stomach. He also gets a notification that they had a baby; a beautiful daughter. He does not make any effort to try to meet anyone else, because he knows that the only one who could ever make him happy was already taken.
Finally, he sees her again at the Royal Ascot during the summer. He notices that she kept her figure after her child, and she looks more gorgeous than ever. Her eyes are sparkling, and she is the epitome of chic. He grudgingly admits that James looks good, too; handsome, and fit in his suit. They are a picture perfect couple, laughing with their arms around one another, and sneaking kisses when they think no one is watching; still as much in love as on their wedding day. Jealously burns in his throat, and he feels like he is about to be sick. But then he sees her.
Vivian Ashford. Her daughter.
She's a mirror image of her mother; pale, and hair that looks like it is pure gold. She has the bright blue eyes of her father, however. She's all smiles, and wanders through the crowd with some flowers she must have nicked from some arrangement in the box, sniffing it and smiling even more at the scent. Her dress is cute, and expensive, and overall, she is the most adorable child he has ever seen. He feels attached to her already, and even though he and Helen never really talked about having children, he suddenly wishes little Vivian was his.
"Mummy!" Vivian tugs at the hem of her mother's dress, and Helen looks down, grinning. "Look! Flowers for you!" Her voice is high and joyful, full of happiness, and Danny can't help but smile. Helen lifts Vivian up into her arms, laughing.
"Thank you, Viv!" Helen chuckles, and he experiences another pang of jealously. He, at that moment, wants her more than anything. He should have married her, and then they would have the most wonderful life with their daughter. Helen brushes her daughter's hair out of her face, pulling her closer to her. James wraps an arm around his wife, a content grin on his face as he kisses his daughter on the forehead. Helen looks up, and kisses James sweetly, a loving look in her green eyes. For a second, it's as if he is about to cry, but then Helen happens to look away from her doting husband and sees him. She raises an eyebrow, but grins widely, and before he knows it, she's walking over to him, whispering something in her daughter's ear. Her walk is as intoxicating as ever, and he can almost smell her sensual, addicting perfume from where he stands.
"Hello," He murmurs, when the small beautiful family is standing right in front of him. She just smiles wider, and pulls him into an awkward, one arm hug, and he doesn't want to let her go. Vivian looks at him curiously, and he smiles gently at her.
"Vivian, this is mummy's friend, Danny." Vivian giggles softly, blushing, burying her face in her mother's shoulder. "She's shy." Helen laughs.
"James." Her husband introduces himself, shaking Danny's hand with a smile. Danny can see a twinkle of recognition in his eyes, but he says nothing.
"A pleasure." He smirks.
"I haven't seen you in a while." She says awkwardly, looking a little uncomfortable, but never losing her poise.
"I've been busy." He shrugs, even though he hasn't. Helen recognizes his lie, but says nothing.
"How long have you two known each other?" James wonders.
"Oh, years." Helen laughs. Vivian looks up, gazing at Danny with interest. She then taps her mother on the shoulder, and cranes her neck up to her mother's ear. Helen bends down a little to listen to her daughter. She grins. "Well, why don't you ask him yourself?" Vivian turns to face Danny.
"Flower?" She offers, sticking out her fist filled with daises.
"Yes, thank you. It's lovely." He says, taking one, and twirling it in his fingers. Vivian grins widely, hugging her mother tighter.
"Daddy, I want to go see the horsies!" She pleas. Most of the guests in the private boxes were now heading for to a private reception; the horses were being led off of the track.
"Alright, alright." James laughs. Helen passes her daughter to her husband; her daughter begins to wave wildly at the horses.
"Daddy, let's go!"
"Be good, Viv." Helen gives Vivian a kiss on the head, and her husband one of the lips.
"We'll meet you at the reception, alright?" James says, and she nods. He smiles at Danny. "Nice to meet you, Danny." As father and daughter walk away, Vivian looks over her dad's shoulder at Danny.
"Bye, Danny!" She calls, giggling shyly. Danny waves back, chuckling softly, before turning to Helen, who had been watching her daughter depart.
"Want to take a walk?" He suggests, nodding towards one of those labyrinth gardens that were frequently at places like this. He hadn't seen anyone go in it in awhile. She shrugs, and they begin to walk silently through the gardens until they reach a large reflecting pool. They can see stables on the far side of it, and it’s a cloudy day. "She's gorgeous." He says, filling the silence, referencing Vivian, of course.
"She's the best thing that's ever happened to me." Helen whispers. "I never thought I could love anyone as much as I love her." Once again, a pang of sadness and jealousy mixed together. "I'm very lucky, you know. I have a wonderful daughter, a wonderful husband, a wonderful home. We are very fortunate." He knows she is just trying to fill the silence, but it makes him feel worse.
"I've missed you." He says softly, leaning against the rail of the reflecting pool.
"I've missed you, too. We should've grabbed dinner, or something." She doesn't say much, but what she leaves silent is enough; he had her number all this time, and at any time he could've picked it up, and it wouldn't have had to be like this.
"Are you still happy?" He asks her, and she looks at him, and her eyes have this endless quality in them that makes his heart stop.
Happier than I've ever been." He looks down.
"I'm glad you're happy." He answers her question from Juliette's all those years ago. "But I wish you were happy with me." Their eyes meet, and she's breathing shakily in the cool England air. All of a sudden, she's collapsing into his arms, her slim form trembling. Her face is buried in his shoulder, her arms clutching him as close as she can to her. He hugs her back tightly, and they stand their for awhile in their embrace. Before he knows it, tears fill his eyes, and he's holding onto her for dear life, because she is the only thing he has left.
She tears away from him, cupping his face in her hands, their foreheads and noses touching, tears meeting. Her heart thuds against his. His hands run down her back slowly, trying to calm her down.
"I love you, Danny. I love you." She says breathlessly, and he looks right into her gorgeous eyes, and it's like he's frozen. She swallows hard. "But I love my husband, and I love my daughter, and I won't abandon them like David. I won't leave them. They mean too much to me; they mean everything to me." There's a long silence, and they both close their eyes and let time go by.
"We could've been so happy, Helen." He whispers, taking a deep breath.
"We can't waste time thinking about what could have been, Danny." She replies, looking up at him. He can't help thinking this will be the last time he'll see her like this. He wishes he could just stay in this moment forever. They both close their eyes, and her unsteady breaths crash into his.
His lips quietly meet hers. Time stops, and all the background noise just fades away. He forgets everything he has ever known, and pours it all into her. She tastes the same, feels the same. He tries to make it last, because he knows this will never happen again. He finally pulled away from her regretfully; sadly. His lips are still just a breath's away from hers, and her eyes are wide, filled with mixed emotions; they're gorgeous, and he has to force himself to look away.
"I love you." Danny says, before turning away and leaving her life once again, but this life he knows its forever.