It was nice to see Paris again, like an old friend that had waited for her. Her old friend had been a harsh host last time, but she had been younger, and traveling with very lean wallet. This time, the old friend didn't make her sleep on the floor, or feed her on nothing but marvelous crusty baguettes and cheap wine, and stole her clothes and art supplies when she slept. The art and energy of the city had made her believe that she didn't mind being pickpocketed on the Metro, and that sleeping in hostels with her friend snoring on one side and her brother passed out drunk on the other was the height of adventure.
She nearly passed out when they stopped in front of the hotel. "This is the Meurice!" she squeaked.
Kevin was cranky with fresh jet lag. "Yeah."
"Dali stayed here! He practically lived here!"
"That's why I picked it," he said, yawning. "I don't usually stay here, my keys always go missing in all the…crap in the rooms."
Only Kevin would describe Louis XIV style furnishings, complete with chandeliers and candelabras and bunches of roses in vases as "crap".
This time, she had a real hotel room to sleep in, one with roses and wine and ivory-colored silk sheets that they tore and stained, and a panoramic view of the Eiffel Tower that she focused on when he fucked her from behind as she stood at the window. She had gotten well acquainted with the room; they didn't leave it for the first two days as they burned off jet lag by taking shifts of eating, sleeping, and fucking in between silk sheets.
She finally persuaded him to venture outside on the third day after dosing him with enough caffeine to keep a platoon of grad students on a permanent buzz.
By the forth exhibit, he was getting antsy. She ignored it.
"Come here," she said, pulling him over by his elbow. A grin had been affixed to her face the moment they entered the glass pyramid. "My favorite."
Kevin squinted through his glasses lenses at the statue rising above him. "She's bigger than I thought she would be."
"A lot of people say that. Did you know that she was originally holding an apple?"
"I do now." He glanced around restlessly, showcasing classic symptoms of "museum fatigue". She should really give him a break, Mina thought, especially since she had kept him up so late the previous night.
She focused her attention back on the Venus de Milo. "The guy took it from her because she offered him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. Isn't that utterly romantic?"
"Yeah, until they started a war."
"Oh stop, it's cute." Her eyes stopped on the curve of the statue's hips. "I wonder who she was modeled after."
"Most of the depictions of Venus were modeled after a real person." She peered up into the statue's blank eyes and tried to envision the person that she once might have been. "Since, well, Greek goddesses aren't real, and it's an easy way of protecting a lady's privacy. That's why even in the Renaissance, when they didn't believe in the Olympians any more, you still see pictures of her. The artist or benefactor could use whomever he desired, especially if it was someone who was uh, off-limits, and Venus would keep his secret."
Kevin was digging through her handbag. "Did you throw my passport in here?"
"Oh my God, can you even feign interest?"
His head popped up. "I'll feign it better if I can get some coffee in me."
She felt herself smiling despite herself. "Fine, go. I'll wait for you here."
He kissed the corner of her mouth and waded through the Japanese tour group that had parked in front of Venus. Mina crossed the room to get to a better vantage point and reached for her bag. "Oh damn."
Thirty seconds later, Kevin reentered the room, her oversized handbag in tow. "Sorry," he said, handed the bag over, and dove back through the throng of Crocs and video cameras.
Her hair got in the way as she bent to rummage through her gigantic bag, pulling out items as she searched for her pencils. It was an unwise choice to stuff so much in a single bag, and her left shoulder had been aching until Kevin graciously offered to carry it for her. At the two hour mark, he had started grumbling about how it felt like it was packed with bricks.
Perhaps Kevin and Paris weren't a good mix. He had seemed on edge from the moment the plane landed.
She shrugged it off and made a mental note to talk to him about it later.
The pencils were jammed on the bottom along with a black lacy bra that had been torn off by the overenthusiastic seamstresses that morning that Mina couldn't yet bring herself to throw away. She had worn it that first night, back when she struggling with making ends meet and healing a crushed heart by slapping paint on canvas. It was a time she didn't want to think about, but something inside made her keep a reminder.
She found the sketchpad and repositioned across the room from the statue, squeezing in between a German couple arguing over a guidebook and a Filipino girl with a Canadian flag patch sewn on her messenger bag. There was something caught in the middle, so she opened to that page to remove the offending object and start her sketch.
She dropped her bag when the page flipped. Her hand flew to her mouth as her brain tried to process what was happening, wondering if it was a joke, but it couldn't be, because that would just be insane-
Taped to the top of the page was a ring, hewn in unpolished yellow gold, with a diamond the color of morning sunshine sparkling in the middle. The rest of the white space was occupied by a charcoal sketch of a stick figure with a pacman-shaped head, an artist of whose work she was very familiar. A speech bubble was flying out of its mouth. "Will you marry me?"
Bright, hot tears filled her eyes as she read the postscript. "Don't worry, it's a fair-trade from Canada and recycled gold. I know better."
The German girl had reached down to pick up pencils and cosmetics that were rolling across the floor from the spilled bag, and she caught a glance of the sketch in Mina's hands. "Here, you dropped-Ach mein Gott!"
Her outburst caught the attention of the Canadian girl, who leaned over and then squealed. "Holy-girl, you just got proposed to! Robin! Rishi! Get over here! This girl just got proposed to!"
Mina could barely register this, or the rush of Japanese tourists and an irritated docent who scurried over at the commotion. All she could feel was the heat rushing to her head and the feeling like she wanted to faint, or scream, or explode in a burst of light, but instead she peeled the ring away from the page and cupped it in her hand, a tiny object that held a lifetime of promise.
She lifted her head as a tear ran down her face, and there he was, surrounding by gawking tourists and looking rather unsettled at the attention. "I didn't think there would be this many people around," he muttered, reddening and trying to ignore the middle-aged Japanese man holding a video camera up to his face. "I was going to try something like the Eiffel Tower, but it seemed more appropriate here...with her." He nodded up at the Venus de Milo. "You said people would commission an artwork of a lady they loved, and call it Venus to protect her identity... well, you're mine. And you're real. If I could do what you could, you'd...um, you'd be my Venus." His lips lifted in a small smile while his face burned like a stoplight. "I love you. I don't know how to talk about it most of the time, but I do. I always will."
The German girl started crying and elbowing her boyfriend in the ribs. The Japanese tour guide must have translated what Kevin said, because the women started sighing and more video cameras flipped open to capture the moment.
Mina finally found her voice. "When-when did you do this?"
"In the bathroom."
"You gave me a bathroom picture?"
"Mina for the love of-! Would you just give me an answer before I throw up?"
The grin burst from her face like a ray of light. She flipped the page on her sketchpad, dashed out a few lines, and turned it around for him to see.
An identical stick figure with a bow on her pacman head said "Yes".