Here we go, a bit more of a tale for you! Nadine, alone, in Paris on Christmas, waiting for Caleb…
An Undead Christmas Carol
The things we do on Christmas Eve
My brother and I have caught an earlier train, some minor family issues to sort. You will be met by a driver at Paris Gare du Nord, who will take you to the Hotel. I look forward to seeing you in the foyer at nine.
Signed, Caleb Adams.”
Nadine sat back in her chair, perplexed. She was in first class of course, and had already been poured a long flute of champagne, “Bon Natale,” the hostess had said, serving her confidently after Nadine’s weak refusal. There was also a minced fruit pie with dainty marzipan holly leaves dusted in sugar on the top.
She turned the flute around in her hand, staring into the rising shafts of bubbles, and considered for the first time that she was somehow being manipulated, fallen into a game she had not asked to play. It took her a moment to calm down, and not before she had convinced herself that she was still in control. She could get in the cab at the station if she wanted, or not. She could put on the dress she had been loaned, or not. She could turn up in the foyer of this ‘Hotel’ – in her head she said it in a sarcastic French accent, dropping the ‘H’ – at eight, or not.
Alternatively, she could jump on a bus, or whatever public transport they did in Paris, and she could find the Champs Elysees and go for an evening stroll to see the white McDonalds sign… and all the other pretty lights that she imagined on a romantic Parisian evening. Okay, the McDonalds sign wasn’t romantic, but lamely, the one thing she remembered from school about Paris, other than watching Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, was that the McDonalds sign had to be white on the Champs Elysees, because all the signs were white, so the giant golden yellow arches had been forced to conform. That was about the entire sum of her knowledge of Paris.
Oh, and Catacombs. She knew there were catacombs beneath the streets of Paris, somewhere, looming tunnels that enshrined the bones of some six million plus deceased Parisian residents.
Maybe her knowledge wasn’t all that lame. Maybe she could come up with a brave idea of how she would wile away the hours if she decided to ran from her pending date. She had a couple of hours to mull over it now anyway.
With all her best intentions aside, and the champagne, the rocking roll of the Eurostar train carriage, and the hype of her final day of work for the year, Nadine found herself dozing off to sleep.
She woke to the conductor touching her shoulder, “Miss Morrison?” She nodded sleepily.“We are in Paris. Your car is waiting for you—”
“Oh!” She jumped, but her mind had kicked in again by the time she was walking out of the station. She turned her phone data back on, accepted the European charges, and sent Sonia a pin that projected her location for the following sixty minutes as she took the chauffeurs hand and stepped into the back seat of the silver Mercedes that was waiting for her.
As the vehicle mowed down the streets of Paris in a blur of twinkling lights and glowing old stone structures under the street lamps, Nadine hugged the dress bag.
Finally, on the outskirts of the city, the silver car pulled up to the gated estate of Caleb’s “Uncle”. The private hotel that was all at once everything and nothing Nadine had expected. Nothing, because it was grandiose beyond what Nadine would have believed she had fallen into, a Baroque Chateau with a yellow stone wall to protect it from the outside world, and golden gate of filigree and flowers that glittered in the full beams of the Mercedes as they clicked open mechanically and rolled inward and away from car. Everything because if Nadine could have ever paused for a moment to let her mind fully run away with the idea of Caleb Adams and who he possibly was, then a paved driveway in the hills above Paris, lined with marble nymphs and goddesses frozen upon plinths sprouting out of a perfect box hedge, tastefully lit with warm yellow fairylights, probably wasn’t that far a leap of the imagination from a penthouse on the tenth floor in Mayfair.
“At this rate, I’m not even going to see Paris,” she muttered as the car pulled further up the drive and into the shadow of the trees, trees that eventually blocked out the city lights behind them completely. They drove for a further five minutes at least in the fairy light filled dark until the trees opened out to reveal a stately home, which was more of a chateau, and reminded Nadine of Versailles, or at least a miniature version of the impression Versailles must leave on a visitor. To either side of the grand entranceway, vermillion curtained windows rose high and peeped open just enough to flash a glimpse of the golden lamplight, mirrors and chandeliers that hid beyond.
The Mercedes pulled up and shifted its great engine into neutral. The doorman paced across the marble entranceway, around the golden fountain, complete with naked cherub spouting water in a calming trickle from his gilded cornucopia of fruit and flora, and opened the car door for Nadine, who froze.
Completely froze. With the black dress bag hugged to her body, hiding her smart, but underwhelming black turtleneck and denim skirt with 80 denier opaque black tights and sensible-for-travelling matte black 1460 Dr Martens that had been well worn in over the last five years of their love affair with her feet.
If life ever stopped moving, just a bit, and shrunk, just a bit, to the point where you were able to consider yourself akin to an ant who happened to also be a homeless street urchin, this was that moment.
“Miss?” The butler leaned in the door and his perfectly groomed eyebrows rippled in question. He moved to take the dress bag, his gloved fingertips brushed the raised hairs on her arm ever so gently, but a moment later he pulled back in surprise, without the dress bag, “Where is your escort?” He asked with bright eyes, his tone formal, but not unkind.
Nadine pushed herself forward out of the shadows of the car’s backseat, “I don’t have an escort, I’m Caleb Adams’ date. He was supposed to meet me, but I honestly don’t know,” she inhaled, frustrated and uncomfortable, “I honestly don’t know what’s going on.”
“Ahh. Caleb.” The doorman nodded, “Their uncle did wonder when Caleb and Levi were to arrive. Clearly we have our answer. Come, you are most welcome,” this time he offered her his arm rather than a hand, and Nadine took it, still clutching the duffel and the dress bag.
He reached over and took both the bags easily under his left arm before scooting her around to face the door. He passed her bags over to his colleague smoothly, and marched forward. He was suddenly less formal with her, despite the proffered arm, and placed his free gloved hand over hers, “Don’t worry, Caleb leaves us all in the dark a lot of the time. Will you be sharing his room?”
“No thank you,” Nadine said swiftly, she still felt rather like she’d been stood up, and the last thing she wanted in that moment was to have to share a bed with the one who had done the standing-up, “if there is the option going to have my own room,” she clarified with a sudden flush, hoping her quick response and subsequent request hadn’t been too audacious.
The doorman laughed, “I didn’t introduce myself,” he said with a cheeky grin as he pushed open one of the grand doors and revealed the chess board marble floor and sweeping white staircase of the entrance way, complete with an Egyptian revival frescoed ceilings and slender marble nymphs in similar style crowning the arms of the balustrade. The alcove immediately to her left housed a eight foot high ebony black statue of jackal-headed Anubis who glared down at her with his gold lidded eyes.
Nadine blinked in surprise.
“I said my name is Casper,” the doorman repeated when he realised that Nadine wasn’t listening to him.
She blushed again, and he laughed at her. He was in all honesty just as stupidly attractive as Caleb was, with his black pony tail, high collared white shirt and navy blue dress coat, even if he was just a doorman. Nadine caught herself disapprovingly on the last thought. Whatever his job happened to be, Casper was acceptably attractive and definitely the kind of boy that Nadine would wish to hang out with some more, in any other circumstance had they happened to meet. So she smiled back when he laughed at her.
Casper walked her up the grand staircase and down a hall to the far side of the chateau where they climbed a further two flights of stairs, this time a dark mahogany with ivy carved into the panels that lined the wall. The carpet was a rich indigo throughout the chateau, and Nadine found the colour entirely thrilling, such that when Casper opened the door of the room selected for her, laid her bags out on the bed and bade her farewell with a cheeky wink, she pushed the door to and immediately laid out on the floor, burying her body in the thick pile of it.
Yes. She was going to enjoy this experience for all it was worth, despite Caleb Adams value to the tale or not, it would be one to tell her kids one day. Not that she had any immediate plans to pro-create.
She pushed herself up of the rich carpet and took five to explore her suite. She imagined it was small compared to what some of the chateaus inhabitants were privileged to, but it was lush, with the soft white bedsheets, the warm white towels on the heater, the grey marble bathroom with brass rainforest shower head that opened up its fount over a modestly opulent brass bathtub, the kind with feet in the shape of a lions paws and a curling lip around the edge that was smooth enough to rest your head on, or wide enough to sit on.
It was already quarter to eight, but Nadine was going to have a shower. Caleb would handle her being fashionably late. The whole chateau shouted the legends of elegant French women with long necks and black gowns who were always fashionably late, and what girl wouldn’t be when she had the option to lounge the hours away in her own brass bathtub with her perfect red pedicured toenails peeping out just above the bubbles to escape the emulsifying heat.
Nadine settled for a shower.
By ten to nine, the black dress bag was unzipped, and the dress was on, makeup en pointe, hair out, brushed and down, and she was left wrestling with the black suede killer heels that Sonia had loaned her, after Ludmila had made a passing comment that plain black heels would be the best compliment to the dress.
Nadine wished she had bought plasters with her in readiness for what the shoes would do to her heels that evening, but in the end there was nothing for it, she glanced over her reflection quickly in the mirror, and laughed out loud because she looking completely unlike the girl she really was, except perhaps for the fact she’d stuck with a comfortable amount of black eyeliner despite Ludmila’s warning that less was more as far as the dress’ impact was concerned.
It didn’t matter. Nadine pulled the door to and wiggled on her heels once to test her ankles, before walking back down the hall with confidence. She was her own force of nature, her own brand, her own style, less or more, dress or not.