06 – (Another) Unexpected Change of Plans

Continued from In the Same Boat

 

 

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving,”
Lao-tzu

*******

Night in Castellane proved to be a far different prospect than night in Nice. Not that either of them were about to complain. Sara had more than enough of the noise, bright lights and busyness back in Vegas.

If they had chosen to come three months later, when the tourists swelled the village population from not quite two to nearly twenty thousand, it would have been a far different story. But that night, it was calm and peaceful, all the better for enjoying a long, leisurely postprandial stroll through the picturesque hamlet which curled its way around the rivière Verdon.

Particularly as they practically had the streets to themselves. Dîner at the hotel restaurant had largely been very much the same: a quiet tête-à-tête before a roaring blaze of the stone fireplace. It was a welcome change.

They’d certainly needed the walk, for they’d feasted like kings in fine French fashion. After a full day on the river they’d been hungry and with it nearly eight-thirty by the time they’d finally reached Castellane, their earlier pique-nique along the banks of the Argens was a long distant memory.

Very early on in their time in Paris they’d learned that after the frequently two hour long dîners au restaurant, post-meal rambles were a virtual necessity to proper digestion or digestion at all.  Apart from the practicalities, however, they were always a pleasant way to pass an evening.

Oftentimes, the two of them walked so close to each other that their hands brushed. Although more often these days with her so much away, Sara took Grissom’s arm or he her hand. That night they’d happily strolled among Castellane’s narrow cobblestone streets long after the church bells had chimed their last at ten.

Grissom let go of his wife’s hand only long enough to hold open the front door of their hotel. Although he was wearing a strange sort of smile as he did so, causing Sara to inquire with an uneasy sort of grin of her own, “What?”

“I was recalling M. Benoît’s advice. The guide at the canoe place,” he clarified. “Before we went out, he told me to make sure to always let the lady go first.”

“That was chivalrous of him, I guess.”

“I don’t think chevalerie was what he had in mind,” Grissom replied.

Knowing there was more to the story than what he was telling, Sara merely waited for her husband to continue.

Which after a moment he did: “Turns out there’s a Provençal saying: ‘When a viper bites a man, the man dies. When a viper bites a woman, the viper dies.’”

Sara nodded in comprehension. “Hence ‘ladies first’ then.”

“According to Benoît, when you’re out in les bois, yeah.”

“And I thought the French were into chivalry.”

“Apparently not upon threat of death.”

“Or snakes,” she laughed.

Unfortunately, Sara’s merriment didn’t last long. For her phone chose that moment to buzz, indicating she had a new message. While she had only intended to give it a hurried check before returning it to her jacket pocket, the text stopped her dead in her tracks. That her face fell for the first time that day, didn’t escape Grissom’s notice.

When she continued to stay still and quiet, he asked concerned, “Work?”

Sara shook her head. “Travel agent. I was hoping to go straight from the train station to the airport on Wednesday. But because most the airports are still closed because of the volcano everyone is taking the train instead. Overnight Monday is the latest train she can get me from Nice to Rome.”

Both were all too aware that it was Saturday, nearly Sunday already.

While her words indicated that she was trying not to be upset about the whole thing, Grissom could plainly hear the disappointment when Sara continued on with, “The car is paid up through Friday. You might as well use it. I can give you a list of hotels where I made reservations.”

“May I?” he cut in, gesturing to her phone.

Although not knowing what he wanted it for, Sara readily handed it over. Grissom didn’t bother to stop to explain either. Instead, as he moved towards a deserted corner in the lobby, he simply typed in what he was searching for, scrolled through the screen until he apparently found it, dialed, greeted whomever was on the other end with the customary, “Allô,” and proceeded to continue his conversation in that rapid and fluid French of his that Sara couldn’t help but both admire and envy.

She’d long ago stopped trying to keep up with his progress, possessing the distinct disadvantage of not having nearly as many opportunities to practice as her husband did, nor the redoubtable Mme Laurent as a tutor. While his français might not be parfait, he certainly made it sound easy. Not that Sara was surprised. She’d always known that once Grissom set his mind to learning or doing something, he did it.

And she found as she vainly attempted to follow his exchange, that she really did have to agree with Greg, especially when said French was being spoken in Grissom’s rich deep voice.

When Grissom finally clicked off, Sara chuckled as much to him, much to her husband’s obvious bemusement.

“When I first came back to Vegas,” she proceeded to explain as the two of them resumed their way back to their chambre d’hôtel, “Greg used to tease me that you and I could be talking about the weather in French and it would still sound sexy. I think he meant me more so than you,” she qualified with a smirk, “but he does have a point.”

“Really?” queried Grissom, not entirely sure if she was being serious or not. It really didn’t matter either way. Even if it happened to be at his expense, it was more than worth the teasing to see Sara sans soucis, smiling and playful again.

But sincere she was as she insisted, “Yeah, really.”

Why that was so inconceivable she didn’t know. After all, la langue française had always been a language pour l’amour et des amoureux — for love and lovers. But at the moment, Sara was far more interested in what he’d been doing on the phone than pursuing the point.

“So what was that all about?” she asked.

“SNCF, French railways,” he supplied, motioning for her to precede him up the stairs.

“Yes, I know. But you do realize that they have a press to speak to someone in English function?”

He shrugged, “Habit.”

“Show off,” came Sara’s wry retort as they headed down the hall.

Then pulling the room key from her jacket pocket she prompted, “And?”

“We just have to pick up the tickets at the station on Monday.”

This reply caught her up short, causing Sara to scrape the key along the outside of the lock.

“The tickets for what?” she asked.

“The train tickets to Rome.”

“‘Tickets’ as in plural?”

“Yeah. I’m coming with you,” Grissom said simply, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “I had to upgrade to a private couple’s sleeping compartment, but I didn’t think you’d mind.”

Flustered and fumbling and unable for some reason to get the door open, Sara stammered, “You’re coming all the way to Rome?”

“Allow me,” he insisted, covering her hand with his. Upon giving the key a deft turn to the left instead of the right, the latch clicked free.

Which was when Sara recalled that most locks in France operated in reverse to how they did back in the States, something she should have remembered after all the grief Grissom constantly gave her for being unable to open the front door to their Quartier Latin apartment the first few days each time she was back in Paris again.

At the moment though all she could do was mechanically follow Grissom into their room. He slipped off his coat and when he indicated that she should do the same, handed her own for him to hang up in the wardrobe. She just stood there dumbly watching him do this, completely at a loss for what to say.

Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so surprised, not after all this time nor everything that had happened, but she was.

So that when she eventually spoke, her rather resolute “Sit down,” came out a bit more dictatorial than she’d meant it to. It certainly brooked no refusal.

Swiftly surmising — however incorrect — that his wife was either upset with him or about to tell him something he might not want to hear, Grissom sat. But his unexpected flash of fear gave way to puzzlement once he felt her hands settle on his shoulders and her thumbs began to ease their way up his neck.

“Relax, Gil,” she urged, gentler this time. “I know you’re sore. I can feel it, so there’s no point in your denying it.”

And he was. The muscles he didn’t normally use in the course of his teaching duties at the Sorbonne ached from the exercise, although not unpleasantly so. But he wasn’t about to tell Sara this. Not with the feel of her hands on him again.

Instead, he asked, still slightly confused, “Returning the favor, dear?”

But that hadn’t been it at all and she said as much.

Truth was, she still didn’t have the words to reply to Grissom’s abrupt change of plans. Until she did, she hoped her actions could come close.

In response to the deliberate attention she was giving to working loose the tension all along his shoulder blades, Grissom let out a long appreciative sigh, to which Sara laughed, “What was it you were saying last night about me getting old?”

“You were the one who was asleep before I got back,” he countered.

“Jet lag.”

Predictably Grissom’s “Right,” was thoroughly incredulous.

“Fine,” she conceded. “But if I’m growing old, what does that make you?”

While he didn’t deign to dignify this with a response, actually Grissom didn’t mind growing older in the slightest if it meant that he was going to be able to do it with Sara at his side. In fact, he was even looking forward to the prospect.

“So you aren’t mad?” he hazarded to ask after a while.

“Just surprised,” she replied. “You weary of the countryside already, ’cause I know you can’t be tired of the bugs. You never do.”

For Grissom’s holidays, if you could ever really call them that, tended to be of the busman’s variety. He frequented entomology conferences; raced cockroaches. They’d gone bug hunting on their honeymoon for heaven’s sakes. So it certainly wasn’t like Gil Grissom to forgo a veritable entomological gold mine. He was a bugman after all.

His subsequent “I’d rather have the extra time with you,” was just as breathtakingly straightforward as the announcement of his intentions to go with her had been.

“It’s a fifteen hour train ride from Rome back to Paris, you know,” she reminded him.

“I’ve got time,” he said, leaning back to give her one of his rare, private lopsided grins that whether he knew it or not, was always assured to win his wife over to whatever he was wishing or wanting.

Although he wasn’t above teasing.

“Unless,” he began, “your protests are your way of telling me you’re tired of my company already.”

“No,” she smiled in return.

And Sara was struck with the sudden realization that plans were just that: plans, things to be made and broken and amended as circumstances warranted. That ultimately what mattered was the time they had with each other.

“Rome it is,” she replied.

Her fingers began to steal their way down his chest before coming to rest on the buttons of his Oxford. Fumbling several of the topmost ones free, she said, “Although apart from the obvious, I really don’t know anything about Rome.”

Grissom didn’t question her actions; he merely took the hint and began undoing the ones she couldn’t reach.

“I thought you were the one who said, ‘Google is a girl’s best friend’? Anyway,” he rejoined sensibly, “I do.”

Nodding knowingly at this, Sara said, “Of course you do,” and began to ease the fabric from his shoulders.

“Besides, ‘Everyone soon or late comes round by Rome,’” he intoned, shrugging off the shirt entirely.

Readily recognizing his words as a specimen from her husband’s virtually bottomless cache of quotations, Sara chuckled, “And who was it that said that?”

“Browning,” he supplied. Although feeling her hands resettle on his now bare skin his qualification of “Robert, not Elizabeth,” came out breathy more than anything.

He was lost in the heaven of having her hands on him again for a long while before he said, “You know, if you’ve got your heart set on more bug hunting, we can still do that, even in Rome.”

“How?”

At the curious way she cocked her head to his “You’ll see,” Grissom added, “I guess you’ll just have to trust me, dear.”

“I suppose I deserved that.”

“Maybe a little,” he agreed and tilted his head back hoping for the kiss Sara was only too happy to supply, one that soon stopped everything: thought, breath, the motion of her hands.

“Shower,” she suggested as they broke away. “It’ll help.”

Her hint however wasn’t a matter of hygiene. For they’d each showered before coming down for dinner. Except with both of them ravenous and with a rapidly approaching dinner reservation (and one did not show up late for dinner in France), their washing up had done little more than knock off the sweat and rinse the smell of river water from their hair. But at the moment Sara was thinking more about how the hot water might help ease the last of her husband’s stiffness.

“Only if you’ll join me,” he replied.

And there was that glint in his eyes, the one reserved for when they were alone like this together.

“Don’t want to take the chance that I might disappear on you if I don’t?” she asked. Then with a playful grin of her own she added, “Or is this just an excuse to get me naked?”

“More afraid you might be asleep by the time I got out,” he rejoined. “Besides, since when have I needed an excuse?” he questioned in return.

Sara said nothing to this. Grissom felt her hands leave his shoulders and turned to watch her shuck her shoes and slip off her clothes on her way to the bathroom.

Pausing at the doorway, her eyes and face alight with something far different from mischief, she said, “Didn’t anyone ever tell you never to keep a woman waiting, Gil?”

Someone had actually. It had proven to have been excellent advice then and certainly seemed sound now.

So he joined her.

*******

Continued in Amour Interrupted

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