Click here to read parts 1-3 of Caroline Miller’s Marie Eau-Claire.
Though Geraldine arose early the next morning, as was her habit, Steven had already left the apartment. There were no traces of any activity in the kitchen so she presumed he chose to have breakfast somewhere along the boulevard. She had the place to herself but felt uneasy. What were his plans for lunch? Would he be in or out?
Her morning routine stretched before her exactly as it had done for years, but the rooms she entered seemed empty, as if each was holding its breath until Steven’s return. Of course, she understood she was projecting her feelings upon the cream-colored walls, but they seemed to reflect her emotions with an unaccustomed intensity.
The hours wore on at a tedious pace, each second punctuated by the ticking of the mantel clock. For once, it came as a relief when it was time to collect the mail. It gave her something to do besides think about Steven. But the little box contained nothing of interest. Even the newspaper seemed filled with the same reports she’d read the day before. There was trouble in the Middle East, the economy was in a slump and the politicians were hurling accusations at one another as the coming elections approached. Each day’s turmoil seemed indistinguishable from the last. If one were to depend upon world affairs as evidence of time’s passage, she grumbled, one would be lost.
The hour of noon was approaching when Geraldine, having nodded off, was awakened by a rustle at the door. A key was turning in the lock and she heard voices, one male and the other female. Rising from the settee, she had just enough time to give her reflection a quick glance in the mirror over the mantel before she heard that dreadful nickname being called out.
“Hello, Gerry?” Enid’s voice entered the hall before her followed by Steven’s deeper tones. Soon after, the pair entered the parlor, the nephew carrying an armload of groceries. He greeted his great aunt cheerily then headed for the kitchen with his burden while Enid flopped down on the settee. Her lips twitched with her approval of the new man in residence but she said nothing, as if she expected Geraldine to crumple beside her like a giggling school girl.
Geraldine did nothing of the kind but slid into one of the overstuffed chairs, taking a moment to observe her friend’s apple green dress with its white piping at the collar. The color struck her as unbecoming but far worse, the garment was sleeveless and exposed Enid’s wrinkly arms. Though Geraldine’s appendages were smoother, she never made that mistake. No matter the weather, she always wore long sleeves or draped a silk scarf over her shoulders. How like Enid to be oblivious of her defects her friend thought.
It was true. Enid had no notion of the poor impression she was making and seemed all too eager to discuss the new arrival. She leaned toward Geraldine as if to share a secret.
“What a handsome young man this nephew of yours turns out to be, Gerry, and how wicked of you to keep him all to yourself… though I can’t blame you. I’d probably do the same thing…”
“I’m not keeping him to myself,” the dancer objected. ‘He’s just arrived…”
“Yes, yes. Never mind that,” Enid interrupted. “Tell me all about him. How old would you say he is? Twenty-four? Twenty-five? And, oh, what a gorgeous pair of dark eyes — so sad and melancholy, as if he were harboring a tragic secret, perhaps the loss of a great love. Women will absolutely swoon for him, I warn you.”
“Don’t be so silly, Enid.” Geraldine crossed one leg over the other and looked annoyed, though it troubled her that her friend had seen that same haunted look she’d observed from the outset. Was her relative hiding something, after all? Had he come to Paris for a reason but refused to tell her? She tried to distract her doubts by staring out the window. “He has an interesting face.” That was the only truth she was willing to concede.
Edith gasped. “‘An interesting face?’ Are you blind? He’s utterly gorgeous. Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed. I’m sorry, Gerry, but I can’t allow you to keep him to yourself. There’s a younger generation that must have a peek at him. You’ll soon see I’m right.
“Please, Enid, don’t take him under your wing…”
“Too late, darling, I’ve invited him to the theatre this evening…”
Geraldine said nothing but uttered a loud and prolonged sigh. Seeing that she’d ruffled feathers, her visitor spoke apologetically.
“I don’t see the harm in it. I met him outside the concierge’s offices and guessing who he was, I introduced myself. Why not? As we were both coming here, I had to make conversation. He’s very easy to talk to, more friendly than his brooding look might suggest. Handsome men are usually far too pleased with themselves to take notice of anyone else. But this darling nephew of yours…”
“I’ve decided to make omelets for lunch.” Steven stuck his head into the room, unaware that he’d been the topic of conversation. “I’m pretty good at it, so I hope you plan to stay, Enid. You won’t be disappointed.”
“Dear boy,” Enid purred, “I can’t imagine ever being disappointed with you.”
“Yes, well, the trouble is, I can’t find a frying pan. You do have one don’t you, Geraldine?” He cast an appealing glance in his great aunt’s direction. Disarmed by it, she sat for a moment, thinking.
Of course she had a frying pan. But where did she keep it? She hadn’t a clue. Ah yes… she remembered. “I think it’s in the pantry beside the cooking oils.”
“In the pantry?” Steven raised one eyebrow in disbelief. “That’s an odd place for it.” He didn’t wait for an explanation but hurried from the room as if making an omelet had something to do with preventing World War III.
Enid tossed a cat-like grin in her friend’s direction. “And he cooks, too.”