Saturday, June 3, 2017

All things must come to an end eventually

by Eleanor Tylbor

Looking back, Sheila came to the realization that she had shared fifteen years of her life with a man who was a stranger.

This moment of truth arrived with the delivery of a big screen TV. If she had known then what she eventually discovered the hard way, she would never have bought it for him in the first place. Since installing it in their den along with a satellite dish offering hundreds of programming choices, most of which were sports networks, Hal spent most of his waking time in an old, well-worn leather recliner.

His obsession was all consuming to the point where he now ate and slept in the chair,  enabling him to watch televised hockey games in all the time zones. Some people had teddy bears and blankies as comfort items - her husband had his leather chair. Such was Sheila's life.

An intimate birthday party for Hal seemed like an inspired idea at the time but in hindsight she should have waited before acting on it. After ten years of marriage their relationship had become predictable and dull. She hoped that a party for two would rekindle a flame that once burned brightly, but was in peril of flickering out. It was blatantly clear that her husband preferred watching televised hockey games to anything resembling a normal conversation between two people. His usefulness was now relegated to covering household expenses with a part time job, enabling him to stay home and do what he did best, which was nothing.

In a desperate but futile bid for his attention, she had once stood naked in front of the TV, posing provocatively.

"You're blocking my view," he had barked at her, between bites of a sandwich she had brought to him, followed by "you made me miss a goal!"

It came as no surprise when a night out at the movies was rejected within seconds of the words forming on her lips.

"The playoffs started," he told her. "Can't expect me to leave now!"

"And I'm sure the players have come to depend on your valuable support," she snapped back, storming out of the door, slamming it behind her.

It wasn't as if time spent with her best friend Estelle was an unusual occurrence. In fact, their get-togethers at the coffee bar had become part of a regular routine. Sipping lattes they discussed the planned birthday celebration for Hal.

"Since you feel compelled to create a special menu for the insensitive dolt, the only place to shop is at Epicurean Edibles, but he's really not worth the effort you know..."

"Let's not go there again," Sheila jumped in before her friend could finish the sentence, knowing another scathing denouncement of Hal was on the way.

"Why don't you just divorce him and get it over with?" Estelle asked. "He doesn't give a damn about you, anyway. Given the choice you'd place a distant third after hockey, his only real love. He probably saves his romantic moments for a hockey puck!"

They both laughed but Sheila was very much aware of Estelle's feelings about Hal. In fact Estelle had suggested on countless occasions that the best thing that Sheila could do for herself was walk out and even then, he probably wouldn't even realize she was even gone.

"You're so negative! Okay – I admit things aren't the same as they used to be but what marriage is? Hal's got his good points…"

"Like?" Estelle asked, waving her perfectly manicured nails in the air for emphasis. "Name two."

"Well - he's honest and… I can't think when you're pressuring me!"

"See? You can barely come up with one! Be honest with me and yourself, for once. Aren't you just the teensy bit curious what your life would be like without him? More importantly, don't you want to find out?"

Lately, she had found herself thinking about this very subject, especially after encountering someone special from her past.

"Remember Mike Pickering from our senior year? Almost walked right by him yesterday. He's lost most of his hair but it's those piercing blue eyes of his that made me recognize him."

"Didn't you have the hots for him?" Estelle asked, studying the waiter as he bent over while emptying the plates in the trash can. "Hmmm...nice... I mean, Mike was very nice as I recall."

"Me and a hundred other girls had the hots for him," Sheila answered, suddenly feeling nostalgic for her youthful past. "He's a big shot lawyer now with a firm here in town. Even gave me his business card."

"So you talked to him, too. Well that's a good start! Now if you'd only leave that jerk of a husband of yours…"

"Far be it for me to interrupt another of your tirades but I better go check out that gourmet shop you recommended before it closes. Call you later."

It took more than a half-hour to get served at Estelle's favorite upscale delicatessen and the prices they charged would put her budget out of whack for a couple months, but it would be worth it if it would entice her husband away from TV. The clerk suggested escargots and smoked eel but knowing Hal's very basic tastes, she opted to play it safe with a beef consommé and steak tartar for the main course. A decadently rich, chocolate mousse birthday cake for dessert completed the order. The food was expensive but it was a small price to pay if their relationship could be salvaged.

Their dining room table was set with their best dinnerware, along with two new crystal wine glasses she had bought for the occasion. Dimming the lights she lit perfumed votive candles to lend a romantic air to their dining. A few stirs to the bisque and it was time, as they said in hockey talk, to drop the puck.

"Dinner ready yet?" Hal bellowed from another room. "It's between periods so we better eat now."

"Almost," she yelled back. "You can come in now."

"We celebrating a special occasion?" Hal asked, scanning the beautifully set table before settling in his chair"

Your fortieth year on this earth is special, so I went all out and chose a gourmet menu for us."

"Dark in here," he commented, looking around and staring into his soup bowl. "Can't see what I'm eating. Hey – maybe that's a good thing! "

Only Hal laughed.

"What's this stuff?" he asked, sniffing the air like a dog and moving his spoon through the liquid.

"It's…lobster bisque…very light…" she stammered. "Try it!"

He pushed the bowl away spilling some of the liquid out of the bowl, grabbed a slice of French bread from the basket, and tore into the crust.

"Can't eat this soup!" he spluttered between bites. "You know I can't stand fish! What made you think I would eat this junk?"

There was no use trying to reason with him when he made up his mind about something and didn't bother trying. Instead, she removed the bowl and emptied the contents into the sink. If Hal knew how much money she had poured down the drain he would have a stroke, which would suit her just fine at that moment.

Steak tartar followed and she gritted her teeth anticipating his reaction.

"Raw hamburger?" he barked at her, moving the meat around the plate with his fork. 'Ya wanna gimme food poisoning?"

"Not hamburger. It's steak tartar," she answered matter-of-factly, "and one eats it rare."

"Well this guy likes his well done! Take this…tartar crap and fry it up like it was meant to be cooked and add a side dish of fries. Don't forget the ketchup. Bring it in to me when it's ready - and put a rush on it," he told her, walking out of the dining room. "The game is starting again."

Her body shook with frustration and anger and her eyes filled with tears. Why had she bothered trying to please him when she knew in her heart that this would be the end result?

Only dessert remained to be served and in spite of it all, she held on to the ever dimming hope that maybe they could still re-ignite the passion they once had shared. She had nothing to lose at this point. This was her last shot.

Next installment: Hal Gets His Just Dessert





Tuesday, September 29, 2009

THE NIGHT AFTER THE NIGHT BEFORE

Arriving back at the apartment, Sheila hurled her keys across the room and threw herself down on the couch.

"Damn you Estelle!" she yelled out loud, pounding her fists on the pillows. It was at that point she questioned the sanity of sharing an apartment with an old friend that she hadn't seen since their high school days.

A simple night out at the movies had turned into a disastrous date-for-three with Estelle using every opportunity to make romantic inroads with Jean-Paul. If she wasn't giggling and playing touchy-feely, she was feeding him popcorn kernels with her teeth and tongue, and Jean-Paul didn't seem to care about their exchange of saliva. At one point Sheila became so desperate to be acknowledged that she feigned choking on a kernel hoping that he would come to her rescue, only to have the Heimlich manoeuvre performed on her by Rhoda. Unfortunately, Rhoda's expertise with life saving techniques was limited to a "How to Save Your Pets in Emergency Situations" book. Her ribs throbbing with pain from the attempt, Sheila feigned a head ache and left with neither Jean-Paul nor Estelle even noting her departure.

"You…you… bitch!" Sheila screamed tossing the pillow on to the floor and stamping on it in frustration. "Why did I ever trust you?"

She couldn't remember the exact moment that she realized she was developing real feelings for the charmer from France. It had been a long time since she had felt any emotion other than contempt and anger toward males in general thanks to her former husband, Hal. Here she was, a middle-aged female experiencing emotions similar to those she felt towards Michael Pickering in Junior high, a mixture of excitement and fear. It was images of Hal sitting in his arm chair watching TV that quickly brought her back to reality and in control again.

"He doesn't owe me anything," she said to herself, fixing the pillows. "We really hardly know each other and anyway, he's free to date anyone he wants. I'm going take a bath and wash away those bad memories."

Relaxing in the bath, she recalled Michael Pickering and their stolen kisses in back of the school at lunch hour. Searching through Estelle's wine rack, she had picked out the expensive bottle that Estelle had raved about and was saving for a special occasion.

"This is a special occasion, Estelle!"

Sheila allowed the jets to caress her body while intermittently sipping wine.

"Good taste in wine, Estelle!" she said hoisting the glass up in the air in an invisible toast. "To my health!"

"You were some kisser, Michael Pickering!" she laughed out loud, thinking about her first love and their past. "Too bad we didn't meet later in life when we could have explored our relationship further."

The effect of the hot water combined with the stress caused her to doze off and consciousness slowly returned with the sound of laughter coming from the other room.

"You're too much!" Estelle was giggling. "Oh you're bad alright!"

As if the movie experience wasn't humiliation enough, Estelle was extending her night out with Jean-Paul right in front of her eyes and ears.

"I find cream is so versatile," Estelle went on, "and yummy."

Enough was enough. Sheila quickly towelled off, wrapped it around her and ran out into the living room.

"You have got some nerve Estelle!" Sheila blurted out. "First you interrupt my date with Jean-Paul and now you flaunt your victory right in front of my eyes! A leopard never changes its spots. You were the same in high school."

Estelle stared at Sheila, her eyes wide open. There was silence between them for a minute, the two of them staring at each other.

"Well? Say something! Are you denying it?" Sheila demanded

"I-I don't know what to say," Estelle stammered.

It was at that point that Sheila noticed the image on the television.

'I'll take Lance as my partner for the evening," the blonde on the screen exclaimed excitedly. "He's got everything I want and need. Thank you "Late Date!' the blond laughed, holding hands with a well built male as the image faded from the screen.

"Oh my… I mean, Jean-Paul didn't come home with you?" Sheila managed to get out, realizing that she had made an error in judgement.

"Do you see him here," Estelle asked, "although I have to admit it wasn't for lack of trying. The man for whatever reason couldn't be convinced to come back for a night cap. He's not usually like that."

"Well how was I to know? I mean, at the movie you two were very hot and heavy exchanging saliva. We were on a date, Estelle, and you and Rhoda horned in on us."

"Oh please! We're old friends, Jean-Paul and me," Estelle shot back defensively.

"Obviously more than good friends," Sheila responded.

"Anyway, it wasn't as if he wasn't enjoying himself or anything," Estelle said.

"Did he have a choice? You were all over him," Sheila retorted.

"I'm just a friendly person. You're reading more into it than it was," Estelle went on. "I'm tired and going to bed. Did you forget we're supposed to meet Jean-Paul for breakfast at his bakery?"

"Know what? Perhaps we better discuss the parameters of this arrangement," Sheila said, trying to keep the soaking towel wrapped around her.

"See…that's the difference between you and me. I would have dropped that towel if I thought Jean-Paul was here but you wrapped it around you like a body bag," Estelle commented while studying Sheila fumbling with the towel.

"Obviously, this arrangement isn't working the way it should," Sheila said, storming out of the room.

"Obviously," Estelle said, watching her leave. "You snooze – you lose girl!" Estelle commented.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A NIGHT OUT AT THE MOVIES - NOT!

"Such a coincidence meeting you two!" Estelle exclaimed, making herself comfortable in the empty seat next to Jean-Paul. "I've been dying to see this movie for a long time."

"Would that it could be arranged…"

"Sorry?" Estelle commented at Sheila's remark.

"I meant, of course, isn't everyone? Even more of a fluke since the film is playing in theatres all across town, and you just happen to pick this one! Will coincidences never cease?" Sheila added sarcastically.

"Go figure!" Estelle laughed, shrugging her shoulders.

"But Estelle – you phoned me twenty minutes ago from this theatre begging me to meet you. Remember?" Rhoda suggested.

"Didn't somebody offer to get popcorn? Estelle asked, attempting to diffuse an increasingly uncomfortable situation. "I like mine with lots of butter."

"Me too. Even though it makes my fingers yucky. I can't stand the feel of grease on my hands!" Rhoda said, staring at her hands and rubbing them together.

"Oh I wouldn't knock grease. It does have a place in the right situation," Estelle said, throwing her head back and laughing, while staring brazenly at Jean-Paul.

"Now that we've settled the popcorn issue. Just a drink for me, Jean-Paul," Sheila offered. "No ice."

There was limited conversation between them while they waited for Jean-Paul's return.

"It got great reviews," Estelle remarked, clearing her throat nervously. "Did you read that, too, Rhoda?"

"I heard that too," Rhoda agreed. "Yup – great review…"

"Full theatre," Estelle continued, glancing around. "Hey - isn't that Al over there?"

"I can't tell. Maybe."

"You forgot your glasses again, didn't you, Rhoda?"

"Duh, I can see a big screen without them," Rhoda answered sarcastically.

"It is Al and that's Moliz with him," Estelle said. "Shoot! He's coming over here. Pretend you don't see him."

"I'm not pretending. I can't," Rhoda answered. "Why? You broke off with him last year."

"Just do it, okay?"

"Hello there, ladies!" a well-built male wearing an Australian outback hat stopped at their aisle. "Haven't seen you since…"

"…a long time," Estelle quickly jumped in. "Time does fly when you're having fun. Still broadcasting the oldies-but-goodies on the radio?"

"That I am, m'dear. Of all people to meet. D'ya still have that Australian whip I gave you? Remember when we…"

"…so, are you alone?" Estelle jumped in quickly.

"I'm here with Moliz. You remember Moliz?"

"We met her before. Who's that seated on her right?" Estelle asked, stretching her neck to get a good look and waving at Moliz.

"Me and Sharky are sharin' her tonight."

"Not surprised. Moliz always did believe in the more, the merrier."

"Hey-hey! We're just friends out for a nice evenin' at the movies," Al winked in response to the remark. "Better get back over there. Don't wanna give Sharky an unfair advantage. Why don't you give me a ring and we can re-live old times? We were always good together."

"Look at that! The movie is gonna start in two minutes! Always an experience seeing you, Al!"

As they watched him make his way back to his seat, Jean-Paul returned, his arms filled with their popcorn and drinks.

"Sorry to take so long but there was a long line up," Jean-Paul said, as Sheila stood up and grabbed a container of popcorn and drink.

"Here – let me help you with that," Estelle offered taking two boxes of popcorn and handing one to Rhoda. "You do have such…manly hands, Jean-Paul. So strong yet so smooth to the touch."

Estelle rubbed her hand across Jean-Paul's palm and he didn't make any move to remove his hand.

Sheila found herself unable to focus on the screen and instead watched Estelle at the corner of her eye. She debated whether or not she should take a chance and make a move to hold Jean-Paul's hand and as she gently reached over, she saw Estelle holding Jean-Paul's right hand.

"Just looking for a napkin," Sheila stammered, taken aback with Estelle's brazen forwardness.

"Here – I have some extras," Rhoda stretched and handed them to Sheila. "A person can't have enough napkins when you eat buttered popcorn."

Anger seethed through Sheila's body and then her eyes welled up with tears.

"Um…you know, Jean Paul – I suddenly have this terrible migraine. Whenever I get one, the best thing to do is to go home and sleep it off," Sheila said while sniffing and wiping her now dripping nose with the back of her hand.

"I know where you're coming from. Of course we understand. Go back to the apartment and nurse your migraine, sweety. We can manage on our own, can't we Jean-Paul?" Estelle said, excitedly.

"I am very sorry for you, that you have a headache," Jean-Paul responded removing his hand from Estelle's, genuine concern in his voice. "Don't forget our breakfast with Moliz. You will be there, yes?"

Estelle had a triumphant look of a conqueror as Jean-Paul waited for a response.

"Count on it. Of course I'll be there – wouldn't miss it for the world! See you back at the apartment, Estelle?"

"I hope you feel better," Rhoda said, stuffing her mouth full of popcorn.

As she walked back to the apartment, she realized that she and Estelle could be sharing more than just a place to live.


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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES TIMES FOUR

Arriving at the Multiplex, Sheila spotted Jean-Paul standing near the ticket booth, hands buried in his jean pockets. Walking slowly towards him she noted his cool dressing style with a short leather jacket worn collar up and jeans that hugged in the right places.As she approached she saw traces of white powder on the jacket sleeves.

"Bad dandruff problem?" she asked, her voice flirtatious, brushing some of the powder away with her hand.

He greeted her with a broad smile that displayed perfectly white teeth.

"Oh mon Dieu! Pastry flour! That is one of the bad things when one is a baker," he responded, his voice a mix of concern and embarrassment. "You sometimes take the work home with you!"

They both laughed as Sheila helped him brush the flour off his jacket sleeves, noting the firm muscles beneath.

"Don't stop now," Jean-Paul laughed, taking her hand into his.

She felt her face get warm, an indication that she was blushing. His deep blue eyes seemed to penetrate her soul, seemingly amused at his ability to unnerve her. She reacted by quickly removing her hand.

"I make you nervous, yes?" he asked, his voice expressing genuine puzzlement. "It was not what I desired."

"Just want to clean the flour off my hands," Sheila quickly jumped in, rubbing her hands together and blowing on the palms. She felt embarrassed and frantically searched for something to say to defuse the uncomfortable situation.

"Wow – almost time to go in," was the best she could come up with. Glancing down at his hands, she recalled how warm and soft they felt covering hers.

"I bought tickets for us," he said holding them up and then quickly returned his hands into his pockets, "to save time. Is okay with you?"

"You didn't have to. I mean – you didn't have to pay for the two of us… I'll pay half…"

She could see by the surprised expression on his face that this was the wrong thing to say.

"I ask you to accompany me so it is I who should pay. No?" his voice taking on a slight edge. The silence between them that lasted ten seconds but felt like an eternity ended suddenly with the mention of her name.

"Sheila Fraser as I live and breathe. Haven't seen you in must be…"

"…a long time," Sheila added, thankful that someone interrupted the awkwardness. "What in the world are you doing here? I heard you were living in Georgia!"

"I was but we d-i-v-o-r-c-e-d last year and I figured there was probably more a-c-t-i-o-n back here, if you get my drift. Who is this delightful guy standin' by your side?"

"Jean-Paul – this is my friend, Moliz. We went to school together…"

"…a long time ago," her friend Moliz laughed. "Jean-Paul. Isn't that a f-r-e-n-c-h name?"

"That is because I was born in France," he answered. "Have you ever visited France?"

"Honey – the closest I ever got to anything French was when Billy Joe Stuckey stuck his tongue down my throat at the Tuckerville picnic. As if that wasn't bad enough, the j-e-r-k had just finished competing in the garlic eating competition."

"Too much information! Moliz was our school spelling champion for four years running," Sheila added. "Um…we better go in now. The movie is going to start in 5 minutes."

"We really gotta get together, girl. Wanna do lunch tomorrow – and bring along Jean-Pauly here."

"Why don't I call you," Sheila said grabbing Jean-Paul's arm leading him into the theatre.

"I have a wonderful idea. Why don't we all of us meet at my bakery tomorrow for croissants and coffee? There are a few tables and we can get to know each other better," Jean-Paul suggested, handing Moliz a card. "Should we say…ten o'clock?"

"You own a bakery, JP honey? How lucky can you get, Sheila? All that delicious french pastry if you get my drift. I just can't wait to taste those – um – whad'ya call them – cross-ants?"

"And I shall make many varieties. Good bye sweet lady."

"Oh you charmer! Au reev-are! I learned that in French class along with…"

"Good bye, Moliz."

"I am looking forward to our breakfast tomorrow," Jean-Paul said, lifting her hand and gently kissing it.

"I think I've died and gone to heaven!" Moliz responded before disappearing into the crowd again.

"She is a funny person, your friend, Moliz! I like funny people!"

"She's…just…the best," Sheila said. This evening was definitely not going as she had hoped.

There wasn't much conversation between them as they waited for the movie to start.

"I will go get us some popcorn" Jean-Paul said, standing up.

She felt a poke in her shoulder.

"Go figure that I would meet you two here! I mean, what are the chances?"

"Yeah. What are the chances, huh?" Sheila repeated, glaring at Estelle.

"Me and Rhoda here just had to see this movie. Didn't we Rhoda?"

"Yeah… I guess so," Estelle's friend Rhoda said, a puzzled look on her face.

"So? What's new? Hey – two empty seats! D'ya mind if we sit next to you guys? Scoot on in Rhoda! Who's buying the popcorn? I like mine with butter."

Sheila had not counted on a date-for-four on their first outing together.


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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

COFFEE, CROISSANTS AND JEAN-PAUL

The phone was ringing as they entered Estelle's apartment.

"Why does that always happen?" Estelle mumbled rushing to answer. "Hi there, you! Missing me already?" she said, smiling broadly. "You could have called me on my cell if you wanted to talk to me that badly..."

Her smile slowly dissolved as she handed the phone over to Sheila.

"It's for you… Jean-Paul… Probably wants to know how you liked his croissants. That man is so into his bakery."

Estelle hovered nearby, glancing over periodically as Sheila carried on her conversation.

"This is a surprise. We just barely got home and I haven't had the chance to try them yet…"

"See? Told you!" Estelle said softly. "Frenchmen and their croissants! Almost an obsession! Given the choice they'd probably choose pastries over sex, I swear!"

"…haven't planned that far ahead to be honest," Sheila said, aware that Estelle was studying her. "No I haven't seen that yet… Let me think on that. Can I get back to you? A pencil and paper, Estelle?"

"If it's to write down Jean-Paul's phone numbers – I have them both!" Estelle responded, a definite edge to her voice. "I always keep the numbers of my favorite people handy."

"Um – bonjour!" she commented as the conversation ended.

"Well? What did he want? C'mon - share!" Estelle asked, as she set the table. "Wait 'til you taste his croissants. Perfection. Did I mention to you that me and Jean-Paul know each other for two years now but it feels like we've known each other much longer than that. We're close. I mean, we were never really officially seeing each other but we dated a few of times."

Sheila got the distinct impression that Estelle was trying to tell her hands-off in her own inimitable fashion.

"Coffee or tea?" she went on. "Personally, I think that drinking anything but coffee with croissants is blasphemous. I mean – croissants are so - you know - French," Estelle said, barely taking a breath between sentences. "So? What did he want?"

"Just like you said, he wanted to know how we liked the croissants," Sheila said, choosing her words carefully.

"And? Just that?"

"So…he asked if I had seen this movie – I forget the name now," Sheila commented, helping Estelle finish setting the table.

"Oh…really. That's all?" Estelle went on.

"And…he asked me if I wanted to go see it with him…" Sheila spluttered.

"Well of course he does! Jean-Paul is like…so polite! He knows that you're my house guest from out of town and he wants to make you feel at home in a new city!"

At that point Sheila wasn't sure whether Estelle was warning her that she was her guest and as such, at her mercy, or assessing the situation and offering her personal take on it.

"Of course you're right," Sheila assured Estelle. "He's just being friendly."

"Naturally. I mean, why else would he do it?" Estelle asked, the smile returning on her lips. "It's his way. Part of that French charm. Okay – instant or freshly brewed?"

"Would it…be alright if…if I had tea?"

"Don't tell me you're a tea drinker," Estelle gasped, "but don't worry – we'll make this our little secret. Not that there's anything wrong with tea. I mean, I drink it when I'm malade... Malade means sick. Jean-Paul taught me that. Oh that man is so romantic!"

"So then you wouldn't mind if we go to the movie together?" Sheila asked, gauging the expression on Estelle's face. "We won't be late."

"Why would I mind? We're all friends here, right? Anyway, I've got lots of stuff to do and then there's the planning for that welcome party for you! I've got lots of really great available guys for you to meet."

Again Sheila felt that her friend was setting down territorial rules and Jean-Paul was off limits. For her part she was merely going to the movies with a friend. No more, no less. Then, what was the fluttery feeling in her stomach every time she remembered Jean-Paul's face studying hers from across the counter?

"Here's an extra key," Estelle said, handing it over to her, "but call before you come home very late. You never know who could be here."

There was very little conversation between them throughout brunch other than the occasional "pass the cream" or "more tea?" Sheila wondered if Estelle's hospitality could come to an abrupt end sooner than later.


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Saturday, February 21, 2009

A SWEET MEETING AT THE BAKERY

"Don't you just love croissants?" Estelle asked, aware that there was a definite attraction between her friend and Jean-Paul. "I mean - everyone loves croissants. I know I do!"

"You have beautiful eyes," Sheila said, staring at the stranger accross the counter, her voice barely audible. "I've never seen such a deep shade of aqua...like the water in the Bahamas."

A loud masculine laugh broke their silence as Jean-Paul threw his head back, obviously enjoying the moment.

"Oh mon Dieu! You are so amusant!" he commented, reaching over the counter to touch the top of Sheila's hand. "I have never visited this place you speak, but you, ma cherie, have the soul of a poet!"

Unprepared for his compliment, Sheila felt her cheeks get warm and she licked her lips nervously.

"I mean to say... That is...the water in the Bahamas is so beautiful - and blue..."

"Why don't you quit while you're ahead?" Estelle said, through clenched teeth and a forced smile on her lips. "My friend here isn't used to compliments from men, are you sweety? You know french men - always with the compliments, right Jean-Paul? Don't I know it!"

Aware that her friend was upset, Sheila pulled her hand away from his and removed it from the counter.

"So many delicious things to choose from. I love chocolate but those eclaires look so tempting. Help me, Estelle!"

"You seem to be doing well on your own," Estelle laughed. "Okay. Give us a half-dozen plain croissants and six of the almond. Oh and a french bread."

"What about you, cherie? Don't you want something good, too?" Jean-Paul asked, a bemused expression on his face. "If you want I can make some suggestions.

"Jean-Paul is very good at suggestions. He's a very creative guy," Estelle offered, a smirk at the corner of her lips.

"Is - how you say - the cat eat your tongue?" Jean-Paul asked, bending over the counter his face directly in front of Sheila's.

"That would be 'cat got your tongue,' Sheila gently corrected, chuckling. "I just can't make up my mind!"

"I shall do it for you!" Jean-Paul said. "That is - if you want. I am the master when it comes to pastries."

"And a lot of other things," Estelle added. "Please help her so we can go home and have breakfast?"

Turning around, Jean-Paul studied the pastry displayed on the counters.

"Well...we could try a bichon au citron or eclair. I think, for you, the eclair. Firm on the outside hiding a soft sweet whipped cream center in the middle. You agree, yes?" Jean-Paul said, sliding an eclair out of the refrigerator and gently moving it to a small box.

"How much do I owe you?" Sheila asked, staring down at the box to hide her embarrassment.

"Will you please tell us how much we owe you, JP, or I'm gonna starve to death!" Estelle said, grabbing the boxes of croissants and pastry box.

"Today, I shall give you a gift, my friend," Jean-Paul said while staring at Sheila. "It will cost you nothing. I am happy."

"Happy today, happy tomorrow - let's go home! I'm ravenous!" Estelle jumped in. "By the way, JP, are you gonna be at Beth Ellen and Brian's cocktail party, tomorrow night?"

"I was invited, oui. I was not going to go but perhaps if you - and your friend here - will be there, I will change my mind. You will be there, yes?" he asked, his eyes always on Sheila.

"I'm not sure. I don't know anyone in town yet," Sheila answered, thinking how few fancy dresses she owned. Sitting at home watching hockey didn't require an extensive wardrobe expense.

"Of course she's going! Aren't you, Sheila? You have to start meeting people socially! Yes, wel'll both be there!" Estelle answered for them both.

"Good! You have made me a happy guy! A bientot," he responded, moving away from them to serve the now long line of customers.

"I can't come to your cocktail party," Sheila told Estelle. "You go without me. I'll spend a quiet night watching TV."

"Not on your life! You left Hal to start again. This is as good a time as any, girl!"

"But...I don't have the right clothes," Sheila protested.

"I'll lend you something from mine. Listen - we're going and that's that! Right now let's go back and eat."

Driving back to Estelle's apartment, Sheila kept thinking about Jean-Paul's deep-blue eyes and Jean-Paul in general. Fate had stepped in and now she was about to embark on her new life. Glancing at Estelle as she raved on about all Jean-Paul's assets, she realized that her new friendship could put their friendship at risk. It was, she decided, a risk worth taking.

Sites O Web Romances You... is a love, romance, and relationship resource offering relationship advice, romantic inspiration, romantic gifts, and much more. http://www.sitesoweb.com/

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A NEW CHAPTER

by Eleanor Tylbor

Although she was physically and mentally exhausted, sleep escaped Sheila. The couch was narrow and comfortable enough but it was the images of Hal that kept her in a netherland of sleep and semi-consciousness. In her dream state Hal's features were grotesque and each time he opened his mouth to speak, remnants of rotten food mixed with saliva flowed out of his mouth. Over and over he kept screaming, "Sheila - why did you leave me? I need you Sheila! Go get me a sandwich!"

"Sheila! Sweetie! Hello?" a distant voice interrupted the disturbing images.

Opening her eyes, she saw Estelle leaning over shaking her shoulder. Her pillow was soaked with perspiration.

"Are you okay?" Estelle said, her voice filled with concern. "I got scared when I heard you yelling."

"Nightmares!" Sheila responded, rubbing her eyes and running her fingers through her hair in an attempt to come to full consciousness.

"I'm guessing the cause is Hal and not some bad guacamole? Actually...given his love for food" Estelle laughed. "Why don't you go back to sleep and I'll go get us some fresh croissants at La Baguetterie down the street?"

The last thing that she wanted to do was close her eyes. A trip to the bakery sounded like a better option.

"Sounds good to me. Know what? Give me ten minutes to shower and we'll go together," Sheila suggested.

"Are you sure you're up to it? I mean...you look very tired..."

"Estelle. We've been friends like...forever. Is there a reason why you don't want me to go along with you?"

"Well... No - of course not. I was just thinking about...your health! We don't want you to get sick or anything..." Estelle stammered, turning her head away from Sheila as she spoke.

"Good! Just gimme a few minutes to revive myself and dress! This is the first day of my new life! Ohmygawd! I sound like something out of a romance novel!"

The hot water revived her and she found herself actually singing in the shower. Under normal circumstances and having naturally curly hair, she would have blown it straight. However, today it didn't matter and she didn't want to keep Estelle waiting.

"Nice to hear you singing," Estelle said, grabbing her coat in the hall cupboard. "Some advice from a good friend? Don't give up your day job!"

"Actually, I was thinking of starting a recording career," Sheila responded, laughing. It felt so good to feel happy again.

As they were walking out of the door, the phone rang.

"The voice mail will pick it up," Estelle said matter-of-factly.

"Are you sure? Could be somebody important like your friend from last night! Maybe he wants to pick up where you both left off before I entered the picture."

"He'll wait. Anyway - it'll just make him more anxious to see me when we get together next time. C'mon - they run out of croissants fast."

The phone was still ringing as Estelle locked the door and continued to ring long after they both had left.

It was a short ten-minute walk to The Baguetterie and as they opened the door, the sweet smell of yeast inter-mingled with freshly-baked bread greeted them.

"Hmmmmmm... Almost as good as sex, huh? Estelle said, winking at Sheila. "Notice I said almost."

Sheila was completely caught up studying the display case filled with pastries and long sticks of french bread. It reminded her of her business trip to France a few years back.

"So? What you think?" a deep masculine voice interrupted her flash-back. "Do they look good enough to eat?"

"And then some!" she blurted out.

"We have been told that we make the best pastries in town. You are Estelle's friend, no?" the voice asked.

Looking up, she gasped at the source who was leaning over on the other side of the counter. He was tall and muscular with thick black wavy hair speckled with flour. His smile was warm and welcoming and Sheila felt herself blush uncontrollably.

"I am Jean-Paul and you are?" he asked, genuine inquisitiveness in his tone.

"Sheila. I'm Sheila," she managed to get out.

"He owns the bakery," Estelle interjected. "We're good friends - very good friends."

"Would you like to taste one?" Jean-Paul asked, pointing to an eclaire and grabbing the pastry as he spoke. He handed her one and she found herself devouring the pastry.

"Delicious," Sheila said, finishing the last piece. "I...we didn't have breakfast, yet."

"One should savor all the good things in life," Jean-Paul commented, watching as she licked the cream from her fingers, "and not just yearn for them."

"Don't I know that!" Estelle jumped in. "A dozen croissants, sil vous plait?"

However, Jean-Paul didn't hear the order since his attention was focused on Sheila.

To be continued...


Sites O Web Romances You... is a love, romance, and relationship resource offering relationship advice, romantic inspiration, romantic gifts, and much more. http://www.sitesoweb.com/