03 – A Nice Evening

Continued from Lovers Meeting

“The evening’s the best part of the day,”
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro

*******
With apologies for the delay — and the length.

*******

Though not quite breathless from their brisk jaunt to the beach, the two of them, still beaming and nearly laughing from the race, sank eagerly – and thankfully – onto one of the white benches that punctuated the length of La Prom. For while they hadn’t exactly ran, they’d had to rush to retrace Sara’s earlier steps to get there in time.

It hadn’t mattered that they’d been quick in their one stop along the way, doing little more than stashing their bags in their chambre d’hôtel. Although they did linger long enough for Grissom, once the door had shut behind them, to remove his hat and properly welcome his wife to the Continent.

In the end, the view had certainly been worth the hurry.

Just in time, they’d reached the shore to watch the sun bathe the sky and clouds and sea in pinks and golds and crimsons as it sunk below the hills and curving crescent of the coast to the west.

For a while they were lost in quiet contemplation, each relishing in the uncomplicated comfort of the moment, not because, or not merely because, they actually had the time just to sit and watch the sun go down, although Sara had to admit that was a very nice change from the fervid hustle and bustle of Vegas. Instead, it was the simple fact that they were actually sitting beside each other on the same bench that ultimately made it remarkable.

Eventually, Grissom broke the contented silence with an inquiring, “So, how long are we going to be in Nice?”

Which caused Sara to query in reply, “Bored already?”

He shook his head. “No, just curious.”

“Just for the night.”

“And then?”

She grinned. “You’ll see.”

“Since when are you so interested in surprises, Sara?”

“Like you can talk.”

When he didn’t seem to catch on to what she was referring to, Sara snickered and said, “This from the man who had his assistant teach him how to skate.”

And without ever bothering to mention he was doing it until he’d insisted upon taking her to the weekly Friday night Paris roller derby the last time she’d been in Paris. After the couple of tumbles he’d taken the first and only time they’d gone before — Sara having been genuinely ignorant of the fact that the ability to skate wasn’t one of her husband’s many talents — she would have thought it would have been one of the very last misadventures he would ever be interested in repeating. But she should have known that Gil Grissom wasn’t the sort of man to take a lack of knowledge or experience lying down — or flat on his back on the pavement.

Unsurprisingly, he made no reply to this.

He only slid his arm around Sara’s shoulder. The once faint sea breeze having begun to blow cold rather than cool, she snuggled closer as they settled in to watch the dark descend in earnest as the day gave way to night.

And even surrounded as they were with all the hustle and bustle of an evening along La Promenade des Anglais, Grissom and Sara found themselves, like they so often seemed to do on these all too rare occasions they were back together again, equally lost in each other and utterly oblivious to the rest of the world.

After a while, Grissom murmured, “You were right about the train.”

For at the very bottom of the email she’d sent him three days before, after the detailed list of things Sara had wanted him to pack, there’d been a brief postscript suggesting that he try to get a seat on the right side of the train for the ride down from Paris.

“Nice view?” she asked.

As honest as ever, he replied, “Yeah. Although not as nice as now.”

*******

The evening wore on.

But eventually, with neither of them having eaten much that day (a practically inevitable occurrence considering that train and airline cuisine wasn’t exactly três gourmet), the persistent rumblings of their stomachs set Grissom and Sara off in search of a promising restaurant socca located in Nice’s Old Town. For they had been informed by the friendly concierge at the front desk of their hôtel that no visit to Nice was complete without sampling a plate of the regional specialty and this particular locale served sans conteste la meilleure socca.

Except the place being a little off the beaten path, even with the two of them having paid close attention to the young man’s directions, punctuated as they were with a great deal of hand gesturing and the mentioning of local landmarks that meant nothing to them, they managed to miss a turn or two among the narrow, labyrinthine streets and lose themselves among the warren of le Vieux Nice. So that after a good three-quarters of an hour of wandering among the brightly bedecked buildings, they were beginning to rue their decision to walk rather than take a taxi, the taxi having seemed so silly with everything in Nice theoretically never more than a twenty minute walk away.

Nearly ravenous and starting to despair of ever finding the restaurant, they emerged into a small place, which wouldn’t have been all that remarkable except that amongst the towering old mansions that surrounded the square stretched a cheery canopy proclaiming the premises beneath as Fenocchio Matîre Glacier.

Not that ice cream cafés were all that rare in France. Paris alone had had more than 250 of them in 1701, nearly a hundred years before the first ice cream parlor ever even opened in the United States.

Although Grissom had repeatedly passed by the stately premises of Berthillion, the capital’s premier glacier, without ever being drawn into the tea house-like interior, Fenocchio’s, with its extraordinarily long line of gleaming freezer cases, was far more like what he thought an ice cream shop should be. And judging from how even at this late of an hour most of the tables and chairs surrounding it were occupied, he wasn’t the only one it seemed to think so.

There was however still plenty of room to sidle up to the counter to get a better look. Which they both did, Grissom out of frank and impressed fascination at the lavish display, while Sara did so more because her husband’s unexpectedly enthusiastic response amused her to no end.  They scanned row after row of sunny, daisy-shaped markers imprinted in bold, jaunty letters with the names of the various flavors. And for those qui ne parlent pas couramment le français, at least not when it came to things like marron (iced chestnut), confiture de lait (milk jam), fleur de lait (milk flower), réglisse (licorice) and avocat (avocado) flavored ice creams, there were models and plastic replicas representing the available parfums on display.

“All of this is ice cream?” Sara asked, honestly awestruck.

And it was. Exactly as the banner proudly proclaimed: 59 parfums glacée, 35 parfums sorbet, a total of 96 different flavors that would certainly give Baskin Robbins a serious run for their money. And the ice cream connoisseur pause.

There were the usual flavors of vanille, chocolat, café, and caramel; orange, limette, ananas (pineapple), melon, citrus and pomme (apple) sorbets; the slightly less conventional calisson (cinnamon), Amaretto, Bailey’s, érable noix de pécans (pecan and maple syrup), chocolat gingembre, miel pignon (honey and pine nut), tiramisu, Malaga and zabaglione. Various fleur parfumée included violette, jasmin, and rose. And then there were the true variétés exotiques: verveine, tourte de blette (Swiss or white beet tart) and black olive; lychee, cactus, beer, thyme and rosemary ices.

Having caught sight of that keen look in her husband’s eyes, Sara knew he was tempted, more than tempted so she let out a long sigh of surrender before she asked, “Not worried about spoiling your dinner?”

Grissom scoffed. “The last time my mother tried that line on me I was five.”

“So that’s a No then,” she laughed, then in all seriousness said, “Well, in any case you’ve got a bigger problem.”

He looked understandably perplexed at this. “What’s that?”

“While they have it, you’re going to have to try something other than vanilla.”

For Sara had long stopped counting the number of times she’d observed Grissom stand before the ice cream case in the supermarket and for no less than the better part of five minutes be apparently lost in the contemplation of which flavor to try only to invariably end up placing a carton of vanilla in his basket.

“What’s wrong with vanilla?” he asked sounding a little hurt.

“Nothing.”

“Americans do eat three times more vanilla than any other flavor.”

With an all too familiar sort of shake of the head Sara murmured, “I don’t even want to know how you know that. Still,” she pointedly maintained, “there is no way you’re getting vanilla, Gil.”

Seeming to yield to this prohibition, Grissom joined her at the counter and following Sara’s slightly halting “Puis-je avoir une chocolat piment, fleur d’oranger et lavande s’il vous plaît,” rattled off his order for vanille poivre rose, coquelicot and tomate basilic, as the petites boules de crème glacée were not overly large, the better it seemed to encourage the sampling of multiple flavors.

As they sat down at one of the few free tables, Sara gesturing to his bowl said, “Feeling a little pink today?”

“Coincidence,” he replied having just noticed the predominance of the couleur rose himself. Although the tomato-basil sorbet really was more orange than pink in his opinion.

Watching her take a tentative taste of the chocolate chili she’d ordered, Grissom was suddenly struck by a rather puzzling realization.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat ice cream before,” he said.

Which was true, the more he thought about it. Not once.

For her part, Sara’s face fell for a fraction of a second before the faint hint of a smile returned to tug at her cheeks.

“The summers when I was growing up,” she began with a tinge of distant reminiscence in her tone, “my father — when he was sober — used to take us out for ice cream.”

At the slightly taken aback look he was giving her, Sara shrugged and added, “It wasn’t all bad.”

Grissom nodded in comprehension. Life was seldom ever that simple.

“I guess after he died, I lost my taste for it,” she finished.

Indicating the bowl in front of her, he said, “You didn’t have to, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah I did,” she rejoined. “It was time.”

With a glance as fond and affectionate as any kiss or caress, Grissom reached across the table to cover her free hand with his own. Sara smiled, particularly at the feel of his wedding band sliding over her skin. She turned her own palm up and threading her fingers through his, gave it a squeeze.

“So?” she asked after a while, “how is it?”

“Not vanilla,” he deadpanned.

Sara tsked; Grissom grinned.

“Actually, it’s a nice change,” he conceded. “You?”

“Yeah.”

She nudged her bol towards him so he could sample for himself. He did the same.

At odds with the apparent peculiarity of the parfums, the flavors really were gastronomic wonders. The lavender had rich, smoky peppery undertones; the poppy was punchily floral and the orange blossom bore a sweet-tart citrusy tang, while the vanilla and pink pepper pleasantly tickled and tingled at the back of the throat and the decadent contrast of chocolate and piquant chili reminded them both of the Mexican-style hot chocolate they’d occasionally drunk in Costa Rica. As for the tomate basilic, Sara hesitated.

“I’m all for trying new things,” she said, “but what on earth possess you to pick tomato?”

Grissom shrugged. “It is a fruit you know.”

******

The two of them were having so much fun experimenting with the various parfums de glacées they almost forgot about having a proper dinner. But in the end, they decided they should at least try.

Grissom made a momentary return to the counter while Sara disposed of what little remained of their ice cream, which wasn’t much. Even the tomato had virtually vanished. At the curious look she was giving him when he rejoined her, he simply said he’d gone to ask for directions.

Something that seemed to amuse Sara to no end, causing her to quip, “I thought men never stopped to ask for directions.”

Grissom didn’t deign to reply.

This second set of orientations seemed to do the trick. For less than five minutes later, they finally located the snug local hot spot right behind the large neoclassical styled Église Notre Dame du Port.

And hot spot it was.

Despite the fact that the restaurant was little more than a hole in the wall sort of place that they would have likely passed right by if they hadn’t been looking for it, it was filled passed overflowing with Niçoises who were apparently enjoying the good food and good company with a great deal of good humor – warmed, too, as they were by the heat of the wood burning stove that stood center stage and in pride of place in the middle of the room.

Chez Pipo did not take réservations. It just wasn’t that sort of place. And with its queue wending out the door, Grissom and Sara were unsurprised to be politely informed that there would be a short wait until they could be seated. Nor were they deterred. On the very rare occasions they’d eaten out together in Vegas, there’d always been a wait (Frank’s being one of the few exceptions).

In time, a pretty serveuse ushered them inside where they were promptly rewarded by the rich earthy scent of wood smoke that perfumed the place. With its pleasant aroma overpowering as it did even the ever-present haze of cigarette smoke that hung about the indoor dining rooms of nearly every restaurant in France, they decided to elect to sit inside that night amongst the cramped tables.

When the two of them confessed to being ignorant about what they should order, or even as to what socca was exactly, having truth be told gotten little more out of the clerk at their hotel than that socca had something to do with pois chiches, chickpeas, and yes, was végétarien, the cheerful young woman, who was ever keen to practice her already excellent English, explained that the menu was simple, having only recently been amended to included a handful of other spécialités régionales to compliment their famous socca.

As for what la socca was, she gestured to the ceramic oven, where almost as if on cue, an apron bedecked cook was retrieving a nearly two meter wide pan.

Grissom and Sara both had to fight back broad grins.

For what they had apparently earlier missed in translation was the simple fact that socca proved to be of all things a giant pancake on steroids.

Not that that bothered either of them in the least, especially as Sara had always had a particular penchant for pancakes. Still, the happenstance in that they had come all this way for the first meal they shared together in Nice to be pancakes tickled them both.

Of course la socca wasn’t your typical made with butter, flour, sugar, milk and eggs, then served with maple syrup sort of pancake. Instead, the savory rather than sweet, crepe-like batter, like that of the Northern Italian farinata, was made from chickpea flour and olive oil and seasoned with very liberal amounts of black pepper before being fired on a searing hot griddle until the outer crust blistered crisp.

The secret to Chez Pipo’s success, the waitress informed them in confidential tones, lay in the unique flavor imparted by the restaurant’s 300-year-old Biot oven.

“When it comes out, eat it right away,” she advised. “You don’t want it to cool. Just use your fingers.”

Of course there was little other choice. As she with an almost mischievous grin of her own next informed them that there wasn’t a single fork, knife or spoon to be found in the whole place.

As Sara’s particular practice of vegetarianism didn’t preclude the eating of fish, the rest of the menu proved to be the most vegetarian friendly example of la France gastronmique they’d ever seen.

In order to tide them over while they waited for their double commande de socca to come out of the oven, they ordered toast with tapenade, a Provençal dip made from a mixture of black olives, capers and anchovy paste, as well as pissaladière, a white, cheese-less, pizza-like tart made from a pissalat (more anchovy paste) and garlic, topped with sweet caramelized onions and studded with whole black olives.

This done, they settled in amongst the toasty, cozy chaos of their surroundings where it was wonderfully easy to get pleasantly lost among the hum and noisy buzz of conversations not in their native tongue.

The place couldn’t have been more perfect if they’d planned it.

*******

When they emerged from Chez Pipo a little over an hour later, it was with that sort of contented satiety that comes not just from eating well, but eating well in good company. And with both of them full and starting to get a little sleepy, they decided to head back to their hotel, this time electing to follow the shoreline, the better to avoid losing their way yet again.

The earlier mauve of evening had turned to dark and while the previous smattering of clouds had cleared, there were few stars to be seen. For the city, although nowhere near as garish and gaudily lit as Vegas, the neon embellished palm trees notwithstanding, was still far too alight for all but the brightest of stars to show. As for the slight sliver of the moon, it had disappeared into the horizon long ago.

So they’d been practically blinded by the bright spectacle they stumbled onto.

It wasn’t like either of them had never seen a Ferris wheel before. But with its brilliantly blazing sunburst center, the enormous grand roue that dominated the gardens of La Place Masséna seemed so strangely incongruous among the colorful yet dignified antiquity of its surrounds that it stopped them dead in their tracks.

They stood there staring for a moment before Grissom chuckled softly to himself, “I guess they really did out-Eiffel Eiffel after all.”

“What?” queried Sara, more than a little confused.

Grissom proceeded to explain how the first ever Ferris wheel had been built for Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The organizers, wanting to display a feat of American engineering might that would out Eiffel Alexandre Gustave Eiffel and the tower he built to serve as the centerpiece of Paris’ 1889 Exposition Universelle, eventually settled on a design by an engineer from Pittsburg by the name of George Washington Gale Ferris: the 300 foot high vertically revolving wheel that would eventually bear his name.

“And they succeeded?”

“Well, considering there are fewer than three dozen replicas of the Eiffel Tower in the world, while nearly every fair, carnival and amusement park has a Ferris wheel, yeah, I’d say they did.”

There was no disputing that.

“It really must have been something, back then,” Grissom mused, “to be able to ride even higher than the tallest skyscraper.”

To which Sara curious asked, “Have you ever ridden in one?”

“I can’t say that I have.”

It was her turn to laugh. “What, too sedate after all those roller coasters of yours?”

He shook his head. “No, just never had anyone to ride on one with,” he replied before inquiring in turn, “You?”

Sara had to pause to think about it. “Actually no -” she admitted.

Grissom reached for her hand.

As he tugged her towards the empty queue, she stammered, “What are we…?”

“What does it look like?”

When she appeared hesitant, he added, “Weren’t you the one who always said there was a first time for everything?”

********

Which was how the two of them ended up watching La Place Masséna’s towering grove of palm trees retreat beneath them. To the north, spread the ocher rooftops of le Vieux Nice. Multitudes of stately sailboat studded the quay to the east. While to the south, the inky blackness of la Mer Méditerranée stretched as far as the eye could see.

“Impressive enough for you?” Sara asked.

“Not bad,” he said, sliding a little closer to her on the narrow bench seat. “Although Ferris wheels weren’t always so…”

“Private?” Sara finished.

“Intimate,” he countered.

And Grissom was right, it was rather intimate. As it was both late in the evening and too early in the season for the mad crush of tourist Nice was frequently infamous for, there was no one in the cars ahead or behind them.

“No?” she asked, waiting for what she knew to be another of her husband’s ever-erudite explanations. As his impromptu mini-lectures seldom descended into grandiloquence, Sara rather enjoyed them and always had. And had never stopped being amazed and impressed at his ability to discourse knowledgeably about almost any subject under the sun. It was good, too, to see some things hadn’t changed.

Grissom didn’t disappoint.

“Not if you figure that the first Ferris wheel sat 60 people, plus a conductor in each of its 36 carriages,” he offered.

Sara did the math in her head. “Nearly 2200 people at a time. No, not really private.”

“No,” he agreed.

“That was too bad.”

It was his turn to be intrigued. “Oh?”

Instead of answering, Sara leaned in and kissed him, full, long and breathtaking on the mouth. It caught him momentarily off guard, but only just, for he recovered soon enough to enthusiastically kiss her back.

Although he did look a little bemused when they broke away.

“Is this your way of telling me I’ve been talking too much?” he asked, not sounding the least upset. Having Sara kiss him was certainly the most pleasant way he knew of being quieted.

Her thumb having found the cleft in his chin that his being clean-shaven again made obvious, she shook her head and with her eyes and smile bright with genuine affection simply replied, “No, Gil,” before kissing him a second time.

Then resting her head on his shoulder, she prompted, “You were saying – about the first Ferris wheel not being all that private…”

But Grissom had lost all interest in discussing grandes roues whether past or present, or in talking much at all. He decided to save his breath for far less intellectual pursuits and kissed her.

Neither of them saw much of the scenery after that.

*******

The motion of the car and the headiness of their subsequent kisses having left Sara feeling more than a little lightheaded, she took Grissom’s arm as they disembarked and still flustered by his surprisingly rather public return of her affection, indicated the direction of their hotel.

“Maybe we should…” she suggested.

Although it had all been nothing more than an innocent bit of kissing, for Sara at least, the whole encounter on the Ferris wheel felt três scandaleux. For while the French penchant for being serial kissers meant that PDA’s ran rampant — or at least had throughout Paris — love and lovemaking between the two of them had long been private.

It wasn’t that Grissom wasn’t a passionate man. He was and just how passionate would have likely led to more than a few raised eyebrows amongst his erstwhile colleagues. Still, he tended more towards being quietly affectionate in public and Sara hadn’t expected that to change, not even now that they were married.

But then her husband was equally full of surprises.

And apparently Ferris wheels qualified as private or at least private enough.

As for Grissom, he only smiled in reply.

There was no more lingering or loitering on their way back to the hotel.

*******

Sara draped her jacket over the back of a chair and vainly attempted to try to massage away the stiffness that still remained in her shoulders from the nearly full day spent sitting in tight and cramped quarters.

“You still sore?” Grissom asked, having observed not just the nearly imperceptible wince she’d given as she’d shed her coat, but also the involuntary twinge there’d been each time she’d adjusted her tote on her shoulder throughout the night.

“Still?  Yeah,” she said and upon his motioning for her to have a seat on the bed beside him sank down on the coverlet. “I just slept wrong,” she supplied at the concerned look he was giving her.

“And here I was thinking you were just getting old,” he rejoined.

“You just remember that I’m still younger than you were when we first met,” Sara countered.

Although she was far too tired and it was way too hard for her to be irritated by this jab while Grissom’s fingers were so intently employed in working free the knots in her neck and shoulders.

And before long, she relaxed into the caress, mindless to anything but the feel of his hands on her skin as they slipped beneath her shirt collar to impart as they always did, that warmth and comfort and closeness that only he had ever given her.

Despite the fact that Sara would never admit to it, not even, or perhaps most especially not to her husband, in the long years before the two of them had gotten together she’d spent an inordinately large amount of time pondering over Grissom’s hands.

They’d so seldom ever touched at all back then. Not that he touched anyone else really either. But the few times they’d had, the way his hands had been softer and warmer than she would have thought, gentle and reassuring too in those rare moments when he had taken up hers in his, had made her curious, more than curious as to what having his hands on her bare skin would be like.

She hadn’t even come close to getting the actual sensation right.

Her head fell forward as she luxuriated in the attention. But the calm tranquility shifted into something else entirely when Grissom brushed the hair back from her neck and set about replacing the ministrations of his fingers with that of his lips.

At their brush and the way his hands were now bleeding their heat through the thin fabric of her shirt, Sara was tempted, sorely tempted to succumb.

But every once in a while, prudence held sway over passion and that blind, heedless euphoria of being back together again was replaced by practicalities.

“Gil,” she sighed.

“You want me to stop?” Grissom asked.

“No. But I really need a shower.”

Her husband’s unexpected chuckle buzzed against her throat.

“I wasn’t going to say anything,” he began, “but since you mentioned it, dear –”

Shaking her head and with lips pursed in pique, Sara promptly stood and commenced rummaging through her tote in search of the soap, shampoo and other shower necessaries for her usual evening ablutions.

“It’s a little cold,” Grissom said as he rose to pull the curtains shut. “I’m going to run downstairs to see if I can get another blanket…”

But his voice trailed off as he turned to face his wife, suddenly utterly transfixed in watching her undress.

His gaze certainly missed nothing. Not the slight awkwardness in how she tugged her t-shirt over her head, still favoring as she did even after all this time her right side when tired. Nor the generous smattering of freckles along her chest and shoulders. Not the deft pop of the snap or the way she wiggled her way out of her jeans. His eyes, too, followed the arch of her spine, the curl of her hips, the long line of her legs all the way down to the curve of her calves.

His intent examination had probably amounted to less than half a breathless minute before Sara, now standing there clad only in her ever simple cotton bra and panties, caught his stare upon her.

And colored not out of embarrassment, but pleasure.

For no other man had ever looked at her like that.

She’d been leered at plenty, mentally undressed, visually dissected, examined and graded like a piece of meat. But the way Grissom’s eyes drifted along her skin was something else entirely.

His bright blue eyes had deepened, darkened with desire and there was no trace of a tease or amusement about him now.

To which she gave him a playful smirk as she reached back to unclasp her bra and said, “I’ll make it quick.”

*******

Continued in Early Birds

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