Chapter 3

A Curious Encounter


Her neck hurt. Hell, she must have been in this position for hours. The sky outside was light; the sounds of a waking Paris filled the street below her window. Pushing herself away from the table, she remembered and reached for her glasses, yawning.

She felt the tips of her fingers unexpectedly run into the frames, which skittered away and over the edge of the windowsill.

Oh hell! A moment later, she could hear them hitting the sidewalk with an ominous crack.

She groaned, hand still outstretched. There was no way they could have survived that drop without some kind of damage. Resisting the urge to pound her head against the tabletop, she instead stood, pulled shoes on, grabbed her room key and stumbled into the hallway.

Dammit, she was practically blind without her glasses. Even five feet way, details around her were lost. It would be difficult, if not impossible for her to locate her glasses if they had bounced into the street.

She squeezed into the tiny elevator and rode down wedged between a portly, smiling man and his annoyed wife. Finding herself in the lobby, she made her way to the distracted young girl behind the counter.

A woman overheard her trying to explain to the clerk what had just happened. She tapped Daria on the shoulder.

"Hello, I speak some English. Let me help."

"Merci, desole-" Daria stumbled.

"Non, it's okay, I'll help you look." They stepped out of the lobby, making their way over the cobbles to the street side of the building. "I don't see them on the sidewalk. Is that your room, with the window open?"

Daria couldn't even see what she was pointing at; it was just a blur to her. She nodded. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why didn't I bring a backup pair? Oh yeah, I can't afford it.

"Ah. Here they are…shit." Daria could barely see her reaching down into the gutter, and turning something over in her hands. "I'm sorry, but they are badly broken. These have been repaired before, no?"

She placed the remains into Daria's hands. The frames were completely broken in two; a small metal pin that had been used to fix them previously had bent and broken away much of the plastic at the bridge. One lens was badly scratched. She sighed; they would have to be replaced, and glasses were expensive.

"Thank you for your help," Daria said glumly. She wiped the lenses clean as best as she could, and held the pieces up to her face. "How do I look?"

"Like an exquisite owl that has been run over by a car," smiled the woman. "I know of a good optical shop. A friend of mine owns it, and he can fix anything." She offered her hand. "My name is Dauphine Chapoux."

"Daria Morgendorffer." She folded the remains and put them in her pocket. "Thank you for your help. If you could point me in the right direction, I'll be on my way. I've taken too much of your morning as it is."

"It's no trouble, Daria. Besides, you could get hurt on these stupid streets. They do not follow logic in their layout, and the surfaces are quite broken in places." She took her by the arm. "It's not far. It's early, but they will open for me."

She reluctantly accepted. Being able to take care of herself was something that she took for granted. How could she have been so careless?

She looked over to the woman with gratitude. She was a decent sort, offering her help without hesitation. She didn't look much older than herself; taller, of course. Her black hair, more common here in France, reminded her of Jane. "Do you live in this area? It's lucky for me that you were near."

"I have a friend at the hotel that pretends I am a guest, so I can have breakfast for free sometimes," Dauphine laughed. "I share a little flat nearby; I am an artist. A jeweler."

Daria smiled, immediately comforted by her familiar, creative occupation: a starving artist. "You best get there early before the tourists wake up," she offered. "We can eat like pigs at a trough."

"Yes, I can see you are quite fat," Dauphine laughed. "You are very funny."

"Then you are easily amused," Daria half-smiled, relaxing at the easy banter.

"You are here on holiday?From your accent, I think you are American?" She guided her around a small pile of sand and cobblestones, pulled up to access some pipes below the sidewalk.

"Yes, a little vacation before I start my new job. I just graduated from college."

"We are here." She steered Daria into a small atelier, ignoring the little fermé placard on the door. "Gerard? I have a friend here who has trouble." She greeted a thin, white-haired gentleman with clear affection. "This is Daria Morgendorffer, from America. This is Gerard LeMans."

"A pleasure, Daria. Oh, my, this is not good," he tutted, catching sight of the mangled glasses in her hand.

"They fell off a fourth floor windowsill. Can you fix them? Dauphine says you are an incomparable wizard."

Gerard laughed. "If they could be fixed, I would not, Daria. These are, how do you say, butt ugly? You spoil your beauty with these."

Daria blushed. "Well, I don't have much money. I just graduated from college. Are you sure you couldn't fix them so they'd hold together for a few more weeks?"

"Perhaps, but only if you promise me you will replace them with something more suited to your face," he smiled. Taking the wreckage over to a workbench, he selected a length of stiff steel wire. Working quickly and confidently with a miniature bending jig and a pair of pliers, he splinted the broken halves together, binding them firmly together with an overwrap of fine bronze wire. Finally, he brushed on a quick drying coat of black lacquer, which secured and camouflaged the repair.

"Voilà," he smiled. "One month. At midnight, it turns into a pumpkin." Motioning Daria to sit forward, he placed them deftly on her face, making minor adjustments. "I am sorry, but that scratch cannot be eliminated. At least you will not kill yourself walking around."

"Merci beaucoup, sorte Monsieur," Daria sighed, relieved. She pulled out her wallet, not caring what the cost might be.

"Non, ce n'est bien," Gerard smiled. "Put that away. You are pretty even with them on, but please, replace them when you can."

Dauphine smiled, happy to have been able to help.

Daria sat back, smiling, her hair momentarily lit by a ray of morning sunlight reflected off a passing car.

It's color instantly registered to the artist's eye. Une si charmante couleur!

"Gerard, her face would work well with the second grouping, no?" Dauphine said thoughtfully.

He studied Daria for a long moment, making her uncomfortable. "Absolutely," he said with a slow smile. "Daria, perhaps we could help each other."

"Last one, my dear," pouted Remy. He shifted his camera slightly to the left. "You are my sexy librarian, and I bring my book back very, very late," he purred. "You will look at me with anger, and you will… punish me."

She paused as she processed the nonsense spilling out of the photographer's mouth. She tried to keep a straight face, and then burst out laughing.

"Perfect." Remy handed the camera to the assistant. "I think we are done."

Dauphine handed her the new glasses, exchanging them for the last of twelve new eyewear designs. "You are quite photogenic when you have good people working with you," she said thoughtfully. "But you don't enjoy this attention, do you?"

"That's an understatement," Daria sighed. "My sister is the one who would eat this up." She sat down in front of Maxine, the makeup girl. "Would you take this off now?"

"You are serious? I did very little to you, Daria. Only a bit of translucent powder, a tiny bit of shadow." Maxine laughed, shaking her head. "No. If all the girls had your skin, I would be unemployed."

"Come on, Daria, Gerard's taking us out to dinner. You look wonderful. They will send your clothes to the hotel."

I'm wearing a dress. Then again, I'm half a world away from home, and I can be anyone I want to be. There's no one here to catch me, right?

"Okay," she smiled.

"Did you enjoy your temporary employment?" Gerard asked, lips lightly pursed.

"It was interesting," Daria replied with a half-smile.

"She hated it," Dauphine laughed, "But she was a very good sport about it. You are very shy, it seems."

Gerard smiled, shaking his head slowly. "It shows in your photographs. The look is frankly stunning, Daria. You project a purity, a truth that is hard to fake. Remy is very happy, and he is not easy to please."

"She has a sister not quite as shy, is that not so? Do you have a photograph of her?" Dauphine asked.

Daria nodded, fishing her phone out of her new purse. The dress she had on naturally had no pockets, something she was not used to. She opened her photo file, found a photo of Quinn and handed it to Dauphine, who smiled and handed the phone to Gerard.

"She is very pretty, of course," Gerard nodded, but without much enthusiasm. "You see this kind of beauty all the time," he sighed, "She loves the attention. I'm sure she has many men at her heels." He glanced at Daria. "May I?"

She nodded. "I delete the really embarrassing photos."

He began to page through her album. Dauphine leaned in, curious.

His expression registered surprise. "You graduated from Raft University, Summa Cum Laude? In what field, may I ask?"

"My MFA is in English Literature, but I want to write."

"That explains why your eyes show such fire," Gerard murmured. "Your beauty is complex and deep."

Dauphine's eyes widened. "Daria, who is this man next to you? He looks like Trent Lane?"

Daria smiled, surprised. "It is. I've known him for years. He's my best friend Jane's brother. In a way, you could say I've grown up around him."

"I am very fond of his music," Dauphine smiled. "It's very thoughtful, reflective, even if it is so often sad. He seems to be a very interesting man, very gentle and observant."

"He seems quite taken with you," Gerard mused. "And you with him, from the way you flush."

Daria said nothing, finding the color of the tablecloth suddenly quite interesting. Dauphine, noticing her discomfort, changed the subject.

"So do you like your new glasses?"

"Yes, very much," Daria smiled. "Thank you again, Gerard, I would never be able to afford these. They really are a work of art."

"You can thank Dauphine as well; she worked with me closely on this grouping. I find her to have a very good sensibility. The natural horn material was something she insisted upon; I am not usually fond of it as it presents many problems because of its variability in color and patterning, but her approach was quite successful. She can be, as you say, a pain in the ass about what she wants," he laughed.

"The color of horn is perfect with Daria's hair, which is why I wanted to see her model the entirety of the second grouping." Dauphine sniffed.

"I'm a little embarrassed by the exchange," Daria admitted, taking her glasses off to admire them again. "These are worth far more than I gave you."

Gerard laughed. "Nonsense. I would have paid as much for a model as perfectly matched as you, and I could not find her, not from any of the agencies I use. Please, I must have your address so that I can send you a printed copy of the catalog."

He pulled out a small memo pad and an elegant silver pen. Selecting a fresh page, he handed them to her.

She smiled as the ink flowed like black silk, thought captured on fragile paper, still destined to last longer than her own short time on this earth. Here in Paris there would be, perhaps only as a forgotten memento in a drawer a hundred years from now, evidence of this evening.