I arrived a few minutes early and crossed the street. The entrance to the Dan Hotel afforded shelter from the wet and the wind, and was also a good vantage point. I would recognize her. I was sure. After all, how much could ten years have possibly changed her. New glasses? Hair style? Another wrinkle or two in the smile?
It was approaching nine p.m. She was the most punctual woman I had ever met. Would she come? I had a knot in my stomach the size of a pregnant baseball. Then I saw her. The slim body, elegantly covered in a tapered wool coat, the joie de vivre in her gait. The rain had turned to drizzle. I glided towards her. We embraced under her umbrella. As if the decade had passed in an instant. A flash. A movie frame.
She was wearing white gloves. Was she hiding something? Was she the woman of another? Or would she be free, unattached, ready to resume, unfettered, the romance of our lives? I had returned. I was ready.
This had been the place where we first met. Where we fell in love. Where we last parted. The small movie house where we had seen so many Bogart films, cuddling together in the bosom of the darkened theatre. It had sadly closed down, replaced by a workout emporium. We walked, arm in arm, in beckoning silence, to the coffee shop. Just like back then.
She read my mind. “I’m sorry,” she finally said. She removed her gloves so I could see the ring.”So much time has gone by, and yes I am still in love with you. But when you had to leave and go abroad, there was a terrible void. A chasm. I needed to find a husband. He knows that I am meeting you. But this is the last time.” She came round the table and hugged me long and hard. It only intensified the pain.
We took our espresso in silence. She looked at me with her famous torch eyes. “Remember how you always laughed at me for being on time? Do you remember the one time I was late?” She winked at me. I nodded.
“Well, the good news” she said, “Is that you have a daughter. Nine and a half years old, of course. She has your charm and smile. Oh, and of course, I’m sure you can guess her name.”
We embraced, a warm brief kiss on the lips for the very last time, and she was gone. My mind was a blur. I boarded the wrong bus and gave the driver a phone token instead of a bus ticket. But one thing was clear.
We would always have Paris.