Aria had never really been in the city of Paris in all her life. Yes, she would go to the little bakery down the street, but she never considered that Paris. It was just an extension of the Moulin Rouge. The Paris she had never been to, yet yearned for, was the one of museums, art galleries, and play houses. It was the one of crisp star-lit nights under the full moon. It was the one where young ladies fell in love with young men. Even as much as she wanted to be in the real Paris—the one from her fantasies—she never saw herself on the arm of an older man as his escort.
And yet, Pierre Andreu sat to her right with his fingers gently laced between her own taking in the sights of Paris at night looking just as handsome as he ever had. On such a clear night under the stars and full moon, how could she feel anything less than absolute elation? Why, on her very first real outing into the city of Paris, did she feel so incomplete?
You know why…
“What do you think, Aria?” Pierre asked above the sound of the horses’ hooves tromping the road. “It’s beautiful, don’t you agree?”
Turning her face toward Pierre, Aria offered as genuine a smile as she could muster. “It truly is,” she said. “The lights are even more brilliant than I thought.”
Pierre laughed softly, something smooth and natural. “Fantasy will always pale in comparison to reality.”
“I suppose you’re right.” Aria fell silent again, enjoying the simple pleasure of the wind brushing against her face.
“Is something wrong?”
When Aria once again turned her face toward her companion, she had not expected for his eyes to be so full of concern. She hadn’t seen that one before. Then again, she also hadn’t given him a reason to feel concerned. Their interactions had been so natural—so easy—within the Moulin Rouge, where she knew her exact place. Perhaps it was just the unknown staring her in the face that had stolen her enthusiasm?
“Pierre, I apologize.” The horses started to slow, joining a line of carriages waiting to let their passengers off right in front of the doors. “This entire week I’ve been looking forward to this night…to seeing this play with you. But what if I say something wrong? What if—”
Pressing a finger to her lips, Pierre smiled as kind as he always had. “You will be fine, my dear. I will be there every step of the way. Will you trust me to lead you?”
The carriage rolled to a stop in front of a young man dressed smartly in a tuxedo. The door opened, a small step placed on the ground, and then Pierre helped Aria to her feet. He was the first to be helped out of the carriage before his young date joined him. As if to assure her, Pierre wrapped her arm around his.
“Pierre? I trust you.”
And nothing else needed to be said between them. Pierre produced the tickets and handed them off to the usher who showed them to their seats in one of the balconies. Of course, along the way, they would stop to greet acquaintances or business associates, but never for longer than to exchange a few pleasantries. After all, how inappropriate would it be to still be finding ones seats while the actors were reciting their well-rehearsed monologues?
Pulling back the curtain, the usher stepped aside to allow Aria to step into the balcony to take her seat. Pierre was a step behind her, nearly bumping into her when she suddenly stopped. At first she was taken aback by the beauty of the interior of the playhouse with it’s carved domed ceiling and the rich contrast of the dark finish of the stage against the peach-colored walls and cream molding. She had never seen anything quite like it before. And the rich golden drapes pulled across the stage could have been taken straight from the sunrise itself.
But that melted away in an instant at the sight of a single man sitting in the seat closest to the edge. He was, like all the men attending, impeccably dressed. He had brown hair that seemed longer than his other well-dressed counterparts, but it gave the man a youthful aura despite the silver strands trying to overtake his mane.
Absolutely unassuming and completely alone; perhaps the only man in the venue who could look so genuinely content.
Pierre touched her shoulder lightly and stepped past Aria’s apprehension. “Good evening, Monsieur Renaud. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
M. Renaud stood to shake Pierre’s hand. “Ah, Pierre. I wondered if you were attending tonight. I’d heard rumors.” Hazel eyes turned toward Aria lingering for just a moment.
“I hope the rumors weren’t unkind toward my beautiful companion.” Pierre motioned for her approach. “This is Mademoiselle Ariadne. Ariadne, this is one of my friendly competitors, Monsieur Henri Renaud.”
Offering her hand, Aria smiled, “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“And yours as well.” Henri kissed her knuckle and smiled, coaxing a broader smile from the young woman. “I promise the rumors have been very kind, indeed.” Henri took his seat. Pierre sat beside his competitor with Aria to his right.
Almost as if the entire evening had been carefully planned by Pierre himself, the lights dimmed, the curtain rose, and the first actor appeared upon the stage. The entire theater was quiet for a beat until the man began.
“Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene, from ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life; whose misadventured piteous overthrows do, with their death, bury their parents strife. The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love, and the continuance of their parents’ rage, which, but their children’s end, nought could remove, is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage. The which if you with patient ears attend, what here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend…”
Modest applause followed the man as he exited from the stage and two other men entered to begin their scene. Aria’s eyes were stuck on each actor, on each piece of setting, on every curtain movement of every scene until Montague stood in the midst, facing the audience.
“A glooming peace this morning with it brings. The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head: Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things. Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished, for never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
The curtain fell one final time as the characters beheld the tragic fate of the titular characters. Aria joined the audience in applause as the actors were revealed once more to take a bow, soaking up the adoration and praise for their hard work.
“Once again a wonderful adaptation of Shakespeare’s work,” Henri said with a contended sigh.
“I completely agree,” Aria said. “This is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a play, but it was spectacular.”
“The same ensemble also does a wonderful rendition of The Winter’s Tale, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he said.
“We will have to attend another soon,” Pierre chuckled as he stood. “Unfortunately, we must depart. It was nice to see you again, Monsieur Renaud.”
Aria and Henri stood at the same time. The men shook hands, Henri kissed Aria’s hand once more, and they departed from the man’s presence.
Aria and Pierre sat in the carriage once more, heading back to the Moulin Rouge. Her smile had hardly faded as she recalled her favorite scenes and favorite lines, silently deciding all she would tell Philip when she saw him again so very soon. The silence between them wasn’t unpleasant or tense, but filled with the excited energy emanating from the young woman.
“Pierre, thank you for bringing me tonight. I thoroughly enjoyed the play,” Aria beamed at him.
“I see,” he chuckled, brushing her cheek with his knuckles. “I imagine you’ll have a late night talking to Philip tonight, hm?”
Aria blushed slightly. “Perhaps, but I did promise not to stay up terribly late.”
“So long as you don’t catch cold,” he said. Pierre leaned in closer to kiss her soft lips for a short moment. After all, such public displays were not usually acceptable, even between married couples. “I apologize if this is forward, but you are a natural companion. It was quite difficult for even myself to believe you’d never been in such a setting.”
Aria looked away. Pierre cupped her cheek, bringing her focus back to him. “I mean that as a compliment. I happen to know Monsieur Renaud will be having a dinner party next week and I’d like for you to accompany me.”
“Of course,” Aria whispered. “I would like that.”
The carriage began to slow just outside the Moulin Rouge. With a sigh, Pierre leaned back as if nothing happened. Once fully stopped, Pierre exited before helping Aria down. They walked just past the gate that separated the Moulin Rouge from the world.
“Sleep well, Mademoiselle Aria,” Pierre said softly. “Tomorrow afternoon I’ll be by for tea before I leave for a business trip, but we’ll talk more about that tomorrow.”
“Good night, Monsieur Andreu. And thank you again for taking me to the play. I look forward to tomorrow.”
Pierre kissed her lips one last time before boarding the carriage to take him home, leaving Aria at the gate to walk back to her room alone.