Chapter Four - More than a Taste
It was difficult not to take it personally when he didn’t kiss her.
Sophie sat stone-still, breathlessly waiting for the kiss that never came. It felt like she’d been sitting there for minutes, when in reality, it had only been seconds.
When she opened her eyes, Sophie could see the flecks of amber and gold in Tristan’s gaze. And the soft smile on his full mouth—a mouth that was decidedly not making contact with hers.
Stupid, she thought. She pulled back. Stupid… What am I doing?
Sophie felt foolish, but she bit back her apology, and turned her face away from his, gazing out across the city. She said nothing, just watched with feigned fascination at the small crowd which had gathered on the hill just below them. Someone had set up an easel and begun to draw caricatures of passers-by, much to their delight and amusement.
“Do you want to go down?” Tristan asked her, following her gaze. “Get your picture drawn?”
Sophie shook her head. “Oh no. God no. I don’t think I’m quite ready to have all my flaws magnified by an artist’s pen…”
Tristan laughed at this. He had a really nice laugh, Sophie thought: warm and masculine, the kind of laugh that felt like a drink of something warm on a cold day. But chasing on the heels of that thought was the embarrassment from just moments ago. Well, if he had noticed—and he probably had—then his rejection was the most polite one she’d ever received.
And that wasn’t quite so awful, all things considered.
Sophie smiled. She’d never been turned down so politely before. Granted, it’d been years since she’d been anywhere close to the dating scene, but his response wasn’t at all what she’d expected.
“Perhaps they will magnify all of your good qualities, and not the ones you imagine?”
Sophie gave him a look. “You’re very sweet.”
“Me? No. I just say things as I see them.” Tristan flashed her a winning smile, his slightly-crooked white teeth lending a very human charm to his handsome face. “For example, right now, the light is very beautiful, and your profile, when you turn to look at the city… if I knew you better, I would ask if I could take your photograph.”
Sophie felt giddy—like she was a teenager, asked to her first school dance by the boy she’d been crushing on for weeks. It bubbled up inside of her like champagne.
“And what would constitute knowing me better?” she asked him. “I really feel like I need to make a proper evaluation of this before I say yes.”
“Hmm.” Tristan considered, all mock-seriousness. “Well. I would need to spend more time with you, really get to know the important things about you. For example… what is your favourite colour?”
Now, it was Sophie’s turn to laugh. He’d asked her so seriously, she simply had to.
“Ah yes,” she said sagely, once she’d collected herself. “Yes, the important, crucial questions.”
“Very important,” Tristan agreed.
“I would have to say…” Sophie considered, raising her eyes heavenward and truly considering: “Blue. That kind of deep blue the sky has that makes trees and buildings look like they’re cut-outs made from black paper.”
“That’s very poetic of you,” Tristan said warmly. “I think Paris is rubbing off on you.”
Paris isn’t the only thing I wish were rubbing off on me, Sophie thought, but she kept that thought to herself as she chuckled at his flirtatious words. “I’ve always found that part of nighttime to be so… relaxing. But for years, I pushed myself to be a morning person. Don’t get me wrong, though; mornings are beautiful, too. Sunrises and… that quiet moment, and the first sip of coffee. Or tea.”
“Hmm, well now I know you’ve been talking to my aunt.”
Sophie laughed at this. “Yes. She fed me pain aux raisins and told me I should go have an adventure.”
“Hélène is a very intelligent woman,” Tristan said, his smile wide and open. “I am glad you came here today with me.”
“I’m glad, too.”
It was good to sit in companionable silence beside him. Tristan was easy to be around; she didn’t feel pressured to make conversation, or explain herself, or try and be perfect. Although she was nervous beside a man as good-looking as he was. Any woman would be, and probably most men, too. Sophie caught herself glancing over at him, admiring the way his curls, just this side of overlong, so effortlessly spilled across his brow. The way the day’s worth of stubble on his jaw made it look sharp and defined. And his full mouth, just ready for kissing…
Oh boy, she really had it bad.
Sophie cleared her throat. She was finally ready to talk about something that had been on her mind for a bit now.
“When we met, you asked me… you told me I had come to Paris because I was looking for something.”
“And are you?”
“I think everybody is, when they travel,” Sophie said. “Don’t you think?”
He shrugged. “Yes. No. It depends. People come here for all sorts of reasons. People want to see the world, or just meet new people. But yes, sometimes people are looking for… more.”
Sophie could understand that. She picked at a blade of grass that had worked its way up from between the rocks. “I can understand that. When I came here, I think I was looking for something more than just a change of scenery. A distraction.”
“And what does a woman like you need to be distracted from?” Tristan asked her gently.
Sophie sighed. “The truth is… this was supposed to be my honeymoon.”
Tristan cringed. “Ouch. I am sorry. At least, I assume that… this was not your choice, to be coming here alone?”
“My fiancee backed out at the last minute,” Sophie explained, her voice gone soft. “He backed out of the trip, and the wedding, and the whole relationship, all in one fell swoop. And so here I am.”
“Here you are,” Tristan agreed. “I am sorry. That must’ve been terrible.”
“It was,” Sophie said. “When he told me, I thought my heart was going to tear into pieces. I had planned so much of our future together I had it all figured out and then it was gone in a moment. I didn't want to believe it when he said it, but now the worst part is, I wonder if he wasn't right.”
“What do you mean?” Tristan asked her. “Did he make you unhappy?”
Sophie looked over at him. His face was warm and open and kind, but that made her feel guilty, suddenly aware of how much she was dumping on him.
“Sorry,” she hastened to say. “You don’t need to hear my whole life story—“
“No, it's alright,” he replied. “You can tell me, if you want to.”
“Have you ever been in love, Tristan?”
“Oh yes,” came his very serious reply. “I have.”
“And have you ever had your heart broken?”
“I think that feeling of heartbreak must be universal,” Sophie mused. “Anyone who’s ever been in love, and lost it, knows what it's like to have the future you plan to taken away.”
“That’s true,” Tristan agreed. “But I would also say… oftentimes, the best things happen in unexpected ways, in unexpected places. Not everything can be planned, and some things we plan for, they are not the best things, don’t you think?”
“I think I might be learning that the hard way,” Sophie agreed. “I’ve never been impulsive. I’ve never been good at flying by the seat of my pants. I get anxious if things aren’t planned out down to the minute. You should see me at work; I need everything in color-coded binders.”
She laughed at this, and shook her head.
“It is difficult for you, but you’re doing it right now, aren’t you?” Tristan asked her gently, a smile on his lovely mouth. “Being a little impulsive.”
Sophie smiled back at him. “Yes, I suppose I am.”
Tristan made a gesture at her, a kind of open-armed ‘well there you go’ that needed no translation. Sophie’s cheeks felt warm from smiling, which was a welcome change from her downcast mood just days before.
“So, tell me about your lost love, then,” she said. “I’ve told you my tale of woe… What were they like?”
Tristan’s expression grew wistful. He put his hand to his heart.
“Her name was Genevieve. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. Warm brown skin, and big brown eyes…” He sighed. “I just knew that if I could only be by her side forever, every question in my life would be answered. Every uncertainty I had about myself would be certain.”
Sophie could relate to that feeling, though she couldn’t deny that it felt a bit strange to have a man describe his love—another woman—in such glowing terms.
“Everyone agreed, Genevieve was the most beautiful girl in our… how would you say it, elementary class?”
Sophie burst out laughing. “The love of your life was in elementary school?”
“Oh yes, and it was dreadful,” Tristan said, eyes twinkling despite his forlorn expression. “She broke my heart.”
Sophie put her elbow on her thigh and her chin on her fist and bit back a grin, watching him.
“I had finally worked up the courage to confess my deep feelings to her on the playground, and when I did, she laughed and ran away.”
“Oh, that is awful,” Sophie said. “I empathize completely.”
“I do not mean to make light of your loss, of course,” Tristan said, and his expression shifted from playful to serious—genuine and kind.
“No, I… it’s actually kind of sweet, you making me laugh like that. I haven’t been able to laugh like this in a while.” Sophie smiled. “Thank you. But, seriously, between then and now you really haven’t had any love or heartbreak in your life?”
Tristan, relieved at her assurances, seemed to genuinely consider this. “I don’t know. There were times where, in the moment, I thought I did. But looking back, I have a completely different view of things. You know what I mean?”
Sophie nodded. “I do. Even now it feels strange to think that I was ready to spend the rest of my life with someone. Now, I can’t imagine that life anymore. It feels like… like a book I stopped reading—like something I put down and walked away from and just lost interest in. It feels like someone else’s life.”
“And now, you get to live your own life,” Tristan said. “Not anyone else’s. Just yours.”
Sophie laughed nervously. “To be honest with you, that’s terrifying. But you’re right.”
“Look at you, you could do anything you wanted,” Tristan said enthusiastically. “You could… go get a tattoo.”
Sophie wrinkled up her nose. “No! What on earth would I get?”
“You could become a world-famous opera singer,” Tristan continued, teasing her.
“Only in the shower,” Sophie said. “No, maybe I’ll start slowly like… take something out of alphabetical order.”
“Well, don’t go crazy now, Sophie,” Tristan said, putting his hands up as if to caution her.
They both laughed. Sophie’s heart was filled with lightness. That same sweet effervescence, that effortlessness, buoyed her spirits up like the clouds that drifted lazily overhead.
“Thank you,” she said softly. “For… For being so kind. You hardly know me, and you—“
“No, I know your favorite color,” Tristan countered. “And I know that when you laugh, you wrinkle up your nose, just here.”
He leaned forward and brushed the bridge of her nose with his fingertip. Somehow, that gentle touch was more erotic than a kiss. It was so gentle, and yet it made her want more.
“And I know I would like to spend more time with you—tomorrow, if you are free?”
“I’d like that as well.” Sophie smiled.
Tristan smiled. “Good. Is there more of the city you wish to see? Anything in particular?”
“Of course there is,” Sophie laughed. “This is Paris. You could spend a whole lifetime here and not see everything…”
With a laugh of his own, Tristan folded his arms across his chest and leaned back. “You definitely could…”
“Have you lived here all your life?” she asked.
“No.” He shook his head, squinting up into the sun. “I moved here when I was seventeen. I was raised in Bayeux—the tapestry, do you know it?”
“I do,” Sophie said. “Although its technically an embroidery, isn’t it?”
Tristan laughed out loud. “So it is.”
“What is it, do you think, that made the people who found it pick it up and say, ‘ah yes, that right there, it’s definitely a tapestry and no mistake’?” Sophie wondered.
“Ah, well, humans are wonderful at missing what’s right in front of them,” Tristan replied. “But if you like art… How about the Louvre, tomorrow? Have you been?”
Sophie felt her cheeks warm. “No. I haven’t been—and yes, I would love to go with you tomorrow.”
“Good.” Tristan gave her one of his brilliant grins. “Good. Wonderful. I have some things to attend to tomorrow morning, but perhaps the afternoon? I could take you to lunch and then we could go to the museum then?”
Sophie nodded. “Yes. That’s perfect. I can’t wait.”
“Me either,” Tristan admitted. He smiled.
Inside her heart, the world was as golden as the sunshine on her face.
When Sophie returned to her flat that evening, she wondered if Tristan had been telling her the truth, or just feeding her some line. But no, when he brought her back to her door, it was with a modest kiss on the cheek and a soft-spoken reminder that the lock stuck.
It had been so long—a lifetime ago, it felt like—since she had been anywhere near the dating scene. She’d been settled, off the market, until she wasn’t. And now she was here, and Sophie shocked herself with how much she wanted to invite him upstairs.
What was this feeling?
It was strange, and new, and utterly unfamiliar… but she didn’t hate it.
“I had a wonderful day with you,” Tristan said, his gaze as warm as sunshine, and just as comforting.
“I did as well.” Sophie smiled up at him.
She nodded. “Yes. I might do a bit of self-care shopping in the morning…”
His brows went up. “Oh? Anything in particular?”
Sophie felt bold. “Well… you know, there’s always room in a lady’s wardrobe for some delicates.”
She could see the moment his pupils dilated. The moment he swallowed thickly, his throat bobbing.
“Is that so?” came his soft reply.
She nodded. Sophie relished the wolfish look in his gaze, and the power it made her feel.
And Tristan looked like he wanted to devour her. There was no doubt in her mind that even though he hadn’t made the first move today, she’d definitely shown him that she wouldn’t be averse if he did some time soon.
“Well,” Tristan said, trying to collect himself. “I hope you find what you’re looking for, then.”
“I hope so, too.”
The butterflies in her stomach were back, only this time, they weren’t fluttering out of nerves—or, more than just nerves, there was need, and anticipation, and desire.
And she could tell from the look in his eyes that he felt it, too.