I had just picked my daughter Madeleine up from her Montessori pre-school, and seeing that it was such an unusually pleasant day for October in Paris, we decided to go out to dinner. Now, I must admit that it was my own fault for allowing Madeleine to choose the restaurant, so it is of my own volition that we bypassed many four star
cafes on our walk to McDonalds... and thank God we did.
Its funny, but looking back on it, I realize that Maddy was the only one that I ever caved in for. One look into her big brown eyes and I couldn't be cross at her. Her happiness meant my own, and any sacrifice was worth that.
As we rounded in front of the building that housed McDonalds, Madeleine looked through the glass windows. Suddenly her eyes fixated on something and she broke out into a bright smile. Before I had a chance to find out what had so captured her attention, she had yanked her
hand from mine and was running into the restaurant.
A sudden wave of panic washed over me as I ran to keep up with her, trying to find her small form among those of all the adults milling around the queue. A man stepped in front of my way, and mumbling an expletive I realized that I had lost her. Trying desperately to regain my calm, I frantically began scanning the room.
"Papa! Papa! Over here!" I could hear her sweet voice as I whipped my head around to find her standing on a chair at one of the tables.
"Madeleine! Get down! Don't you ever do that again!" My voice was low and calm, but stern. I wouldn't risk making a scene, but my daughter's life was so precious to me. She couldn't understand the panic I had just experienced.
"But Papa, I..." Maddy started to protest but was soon interrupted by a sweet, adult female voice.
"Maddy, sit down please. You're father is right. Running in here to greet us was a rash thing to do. Kurt and I weren't going anywhere, and you could have come over to visit once you'd gotten your dinner."
I had stopped a few feet from the table and stared dumbfounded at the sight before me. Here at the table sat my daughter, a small boy (who I knew to be a classmate of her's) and the young woman who so calmingly and firmly was reprimanding my daughter. Now, I wasn't mad that
someone else was scolding my daughter, but rather that Maddy was so willingly taking it.
You see, Maddy's mother didn't stick around long enough to see her daughter turn 1 month old. Then, last year, Vivienne (my ex-wife) had shown up at Maddy's third birthday party, trying to win her back with silly dolls and other pathetic trinkets. My daughter had not been impressed by her, and ever since then had shunned the interference of other women - including her nannies, most of her teachers, and even our housekeeper. It had proved a trial for me, but if the scene playing out before me was any indication, this phase might soon be over.
Maddy folded her hands neatly in her lap and said, "I'm sorry, Celia. I just wanted to come and say hi. So you could meet my Papa."
At this, the woman reached over and pulled Maddy onto her lap. Maddy went willingly and then threw her arms around the woman's neck. "I know you're sorry, Maddy. It just scares parents when children run away like that. Do you remember how scared you and Kurt were when Mimi the class guinea pig got out of his cage and couldn't be
found? Well, that is how your Papa felt when you ran away from him. You're a very smart little girl, so I know that you now understand why its so important to always hold your Papa's hand and stay in his sight."
With that, Celia looked over in my direction, for the first time acknowledging my presence. It was the first glimpse I got of her, and what a beautiful one it was at that. She had a heart- shaped face with big hazel colored eyes, a small, up-turned nose and dark pink lips that were full and sinful looking. Celia quite literally took my breath away as she sat there, holding my young daughter in her arms.
Celia, however, did not seem to have the same reaction to me, for she quickly stood up and placed Madeleine onto the ground.
"M-Monsieur Belleau! I had no idea that Madeleine was your daughter. I-I'm sorry. My son Kurt and I were just having some dinner..." She said while frantically gesturing to her brown haired little boy who currently looked confused at his mother's sudden change of mood.
"Please call me Phillipe. I don't believe we've met before." I extended my hand to shake hers. When our fingertips collided, it sent sparks down my spine. Her hand was so small, and her skin so soft that I found myself having difficultly letting it go.
"Oh, well you see, I work for you. I-I mean your company. I'm an interior designer - my name is Celia Markham."
In a way it was odd for me to watch her squirm as she stated her status within my company. I have personally always felt indebted to the men and women who carry out the projects that I so casually heap upon them. They have all the real skills, I just have the money needed to make it
"Celia... Celia Markham. Yes, I know your work. You came here a few years ago from our Paramus office in the States. You were working on an office complex when I offered you a job here. Wait, didn't you turn that job down because your husband..."
The rest of my statement was cut off by the voice of Celia's previously silent son, "Mommy doesn't have a husband anymore. He was my Daddy but now he's in Heaven. Mommy says that when God took my Daddy to heaven, he brought us to Paris because it was his favorite place."
Having said his peace, Kurt resumed playing with Maddy and showed off his new Happy Meal toy. Celia, however, had visibly paled.
"Celia, I'm so sorry. I hadn't realized..." Damn, I'd thought, it was one of those situations where everything you say makes you look like a fool.
"No, no" she said, while sniffing, "Its been 2 and a half years. You'd think I'd be over it by now." She smiled, trying to hide the pain.
"No, I don't think that that is something you ever get over. Has living here in Paris made it better or worse?" I barely knew this woman, but something was drawing me to her. I wanted, needed to know her story.
"I don't know. First, I was offered the job here and couldn't leave because Jeff's job was still in New Jersey, but after he died, I needed to get away, to leave our house. I couldn't live there like that anymore. Raising our child in our house without him there. So, when I realized the offer still stood, I took the position and moved half
way around the world so that I could live where the two of us had spent our honeymoon. I hate being away from family, but its so hard to see his parents. I guess living here lets me run away from the problems I still can't face."
While she was talking, baring her soul, our two children happily chatted away, sharing in Kurt's chicken McNuggets and milkshake.
I felt for this woman. Here she sat across from me, errant tears streaming down her face as she poured out her heart to me. She had been too long without an adult companion, a person to confide in. Lord, how I knew the feeling.
Sure, finding people to eat lunch with or to have a drink after work with was easy enough, but to find someone who cared enough to listen to your problems was rare indeed.
But as I looked at her, I felt something else. It wasn't just pity or compassion, it was an odd yearning. One unlike any I had ever felt before. I studied her more closely. The long, silky hair, the slender body that was also graced by womanly curves so naturally enhanced through childbirth. She was a sight indeed.
Not knowing what else to do, I grasped her hand and simply asked, "Would you like to go back to my house for some coffee and a chat?"
... and that is how it all started - a simple conversation at a simple restaurant that had profound effects on our all of our lives.
That simple conversation turned into a simple courtship, one that our children shared in, and slowly we began to form a funny kind of family.
A year after we started dating, I surprised Celia and Kurt with a trip to Toronto. The kids knew that I meant to propose to her, and she was the last one let in on the secret as I bent down on one knee in the middle of Nathan Phillip's Square.
Our marriage isn't perfect; it is my belief that none are. We have our disagreements, and we get on one another's nerves. But the fact remains that at the end of the day, there is no one who I would rather hold in my arms as I fall asleep, no one I would rather be with for the rest of my life.