Chapter Nine - Dreams Gone Cold
But how was she going to explain this to Tristan?
Sophie sat at the outdoor cafe, hardly noticing passers-by as she waited for him to arrive. After frantically packing, prompted by the work messages and the messages of sympathy (however honest or not they had been) from her co-workers, Sophie had been pulled from her worry by a sweet message from Tristan, who asked her if she could meet him later on, when he was free, at this very cafe.
And now, here she was. But instead of waiting with an eager anticipation to run back upstairs to her flat and get back in bed with him for another several athletic and enthusiastic rounds of lovemaking, she had to deliver the news that she was cutting her trip short.
Even thinking those words made a chill run down her spine. But what else could she do? She’d already been away too long—and, yes, a few days was too long, she could see that now. It had been foolish to leave, reckless to indulge herself, and she could feel herself spinning further and further out of control the longer she sat there.
The strong espresso in her cup didn’t help with her jittery nerves, either. Inside, her stomach felt tight as a sailor’s knot, a prison of sense and reason into which she’d shoved her free-spirited, joyful soul.
For a brief moment, everything had been hers for the taking. But you could only live in a fantasy land for so long.
Eventually, you had to come back down to earth.
Sophie caught sight of Tristan’s handsome form as he made his way towards her from down the street. He gave her a little wave, and she returned it. She couldn’t keep her eyes off of him, and, yet again, that longing rose within her—a longing for intimacy and connection… all of the things they’d shared in their brief moments together. She didn’t dare call it love, not yet, not after she was still healing from her doubly-fractured heart. No, it wasn’t love, but it was something on the way towards it, if things went right.
That understanding shocked her. She could love Tristan, perhaps. She could be happy.
But could was too frightening, too unsettling, to rely on.
And she was afraid.
Resolutely, Sophie tightened the knot of determination in her thoughts, silencing her aching, yearning heart, and tilted her head to accept the press of Tristan’s lips to her cheek as he greeted her.
“Hello, beautiful,” he said, his voice a warm murmur in her ear that brought her right back to the intimate moments they’d shared only the night before.
He kissed her on the right cheek, then the left, and then on the lips, and Sophie melted into it on instinct. It was a kiss with a promise, but she couldn’t let herself get pulled into him again.
When they separated, and Tristan sat down at the table opposite her, he smiled at her.
“I have something to tell you.”
They both announced this at the same moment. Tristan’s eyes widened, and then he chuckled. “You go first.”
“No,” Sophie stammered, not yet ready to tell him what was really on her mind when he was so happy. “You go ahead.”
His brows raised, but he nodded.
“All right… Well, I just met with my editor, and she was pleased with my most recent work. She told me she has an assignment for me in Provence. Two weeks, actually, or perhaps longer.”
Tristan was leaving? Sophie blinked in surprise. That wasn’t at all what she’d been expecting him to say, and she certainly wasn’t expecting him to look so happy about it.
“And… what did you tell her?” she asked.
“I told her I would go.” Tristan reached out and clasped her hand in his. “The train leaves tonight. Come with me.”
“I bought you a ticket to Marseille,” Tristan continued, all eager, boyish delight as he clasped her hands in his. “The paper covered mine, of course, but… I have one for you, and if you come with me, it’s just a little over three hours, and we’d be there. I could show you around, take you with me. You’d love Provence, it’s beautiful.”
The words tumbled excitedly out of Tristan, an eager expression on his face. And the prospect of it, the adventure, was thrilling. When had she ever just gone somewhere on impulse? Besides this trip, that was… Sophie didn’t do things like that. The old Sophie didn’t, anyway. And the new Sophie… well, was she that girl? could she be? With so much at stake back at home. Too many people depended on her, judged her… and even though she wanted, more than anything, to say yes, Sophie heard herself answer him and knew that her soul was crying out in opposition to her words.
“I would love to go,” she began, watching his face, searching his expression for… She didn’t know what. “But I can’t.”
“I know it’s sudden,” he began. “And I know, before just a few days ago, we were strangers. You are free to come and go as you like, of course.”
Sophie shook her head. “It’s not that. I…”
Her voice trailed off.
Tristan’s expression had shifted from one of excitement to gentle concern.
By the way he was studying her face, Sophie knew that she had betrayed her not-so-hidden emotions, bared a part of her soul that would’ve been kinder to keep concealed. But there was nothing for it, now.
She took a deep breath.
“I can’t come with you,” she said, “because I’m flying home.”
Stunned, Tristan leaned back a little, his spine straightening.
“I… I need to go home, there’s so many things I have to take care of, and everyone is waiting for me, and I can’t just… just ignore them any more.” She swallowed thickly. “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize for having a life,” Tristan reassured her. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “I know things have been difficult for you. But what is so pressing at home that you need to go now? You’ve only been here a few days.”
“I know, and believe me, I want to stay, and I want to go with you, but… everyone at work…”
Sophie’s voice trailed off. Her excuses sounded hollow even to her ears, but she couldn’t stop it. It was like explaining a dream, trying to put into words the conflicting emotions she was feeling. Part of her—the soft, vulnerable, sentimental part of her that Tristan had nurtured and made love to the night before—wanted nothing more than to change her mind and say she’d go with him, happily, eagerly, immediately.
Tristan slid the ticket across the table to her, tucked it under the edge of her coffee cup so the wind wouldn’t blow it away.
“It’s still yours,” he said softly, “if you want it. I will understand, however, if you do not come.”
Sophie laid her hand on top of the ticket. There was something so charming and yet so bittersweet about the paper ticket, fluttering in the wind like a little trapped bird. It was the gesture of it, she knew; the romance—and, hadn’t she been asking for a little more romance in her life? Wasn’t this what she’d wanted, without even knowing how to search for it? Tristan had rode into her life on his motorcycle and right into her heart with his smile, and she was gone for him, and it frightened her.
There. That was the absolute truth of it.
She was terrified.
“Thank you,” Sophie said. “I… this has been wonderful, truly.”
No matter what words she chose now, it all felt like goodbye.
Tristan hesitated, then, standing from the chair, he leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. His hair ruffled in the wind, and his lips were warm against her cold cheek.
“If you change your mind…”
His voice trailed off. He pulled away, and looked down at her. Sophie nodded.
There was nothing more to say.
Sophie was packing—or, rather, shoving things, unfolded, into her suitcase—when her phone rang. She flinched at the sound of it, assuming that it would be just one more demand from her co-workers—or, worse yet, another one of her former bridesmaids, ready to drop even more uncomfortable, unfathomable information into her lap.
But instead, it was her brother.
"Hey," Sophie said, answering the call and placing Ian on speaker so she could keep packing. "What's up? Isn't it like, six in the morning for you?"
"It is!" came Ian's way-too-chipper response. "I just missed your beautiful voice."
Despite her haste and sadness at having to cut her trip short, Sophie smiled.
"I missed you, too! Congratulations, by the way!"
"Thank you!" Ian's voice sounded positively glowing; Sophie could picture the expression on his face. "I thought, what the hell, maybe it was time for Adam to make an honest man out of me."
Sophie snorted a laugh. "That would be impossible."
Ian gasped in mock-offense. "How very dare you! I will let you know that I am incredibly honest... unlike some people we both know."
Sophie's smile fell from her face. She knew exactly what he meant by that. Who he meant.
"Yeah," was all she could manage, without her voice getting shaky. There was nothing else she could say.
"Okay, but listen," Ian said, charging forward, pushing past her grief with the sheer force of his personality. "You've had plenty of times where you've stepped in and protected me, and now it's my turn to be your overprotective big brother. And if you want me to go fight them then I will hang up right now and meet them in an Arby's parking lot."
Sophie laughed, and wiped away the tears that had already begun to spill down her cheeks. "You don't have to fight them. I just... I just want to come back home and get on with my life, pretend none of this happened and move on."
"Wait, you're not coming back already, are you?"
"I have to."
Sophie sighed. "Says work. Says life. Says everything. It was a mistake coming here and there's so much piling up and—"
"Respectfully," Ian cut across her, "Forget work and our parent - they will all be fine. And certainly forget your ex and your terrible friend, too. You're in Paris! Why on earth would you ever want to leave."
The truth hit her like an ocean wave, like she'd been standing with her back to the sea, already planning her route up the mountains once more, not appreciating the waves for what they were until it was too late.
Was it too late?
Sophie had already told Hélène that she was checking out this evening, so that was all settled. She had expected to get to the airport, buy the first ticket home no matter how many layovers it had, and try to put this all behind her, but... the only ticket she had in her possession was the train ticket that Tristan had given her. The one that would take her to Provence, and to the unknown, and most importantly...
The one that would take her back to Tristan.
"Are you still there?"
"I'm here," she replied.
"Well, good," Ian said decisively. "And don't you even think about coming back here for at least another two weeks. I mean, you're good, but if you put in for that time off then your work needs to lay off and let you live"
Sophie pulled the train ticket out of her back pocket and looked at it. Her brother was right, and the revelation was like sunlight breaking through the clouds.
There was still time.
“Of course I’m right, I’m always right.”
Sophie laughed. “You’re so annoying.”
Sophie didn’t even dignify that with a rebuttal. She was reading the train ticket, calculating in her head whether or not she could make it to the station in time.
What was she thinking? Make it to the station? She wasn’t going to the station, she was going to the airport…
“Did I lose you again?” Ian’s voice filtered in past her dueling daydreams, and Sophie stared down at the phone, still holding the train ticket in her hands.
“No, I, uh… sorry, I need to go take care of something. Love you!”
“Love you too!” Ian said cheerily. “Bye!”
The call ended, but Sophie didn’t move. Could she really do this? It felt crazy, but no crazier than anything else that had already happened in her life so far. Impulse and instinct had brought her Tristan. Wild adventure called to her yet again, the same way as it had when she’d booked the tickets to Paris to begin with. Except this time, it was with joy, not sorrow, that she considered her next move.
She wasn’t running away this time.
This time, Sophie knew she was running towards something. Her only hope was that it wasn’t too late to reach it—to reach him—in time.