Quick French Lesson:
tarte aux pommes = apple tart
l'amour = love
maitresse = mistress of the house
merci beaucoup = thank you very much/many thanks
de rien = you're welcome
chérie - dear/darling
merde = shit (expletive)
Qu'est ce que tu as = What's wrong with you
amoureux = lover
Merci, monsieur = Thank you, sir
mes amis = my friends
premier arronddissement = first administrative district, nice part of town
When Anya stepped out red-faced and teary-eyed, Sophie deduced that she needed a break and suggested they stop at a crowded cafe for lunch.
"Are you feeling better now, dear?" Sophie asked with real concern, dragging the last chunk of chicken on her fork through the cream sauce on her plate and popping it in her mouth.
Anya nodded and took another delicious bite of the tarte aux pommes that ended a fantastic meal of herbaceous cucumber salad, chicken and vegetables stewed in red wine with buttery potatoes, and a selection of tangy local cheeses with slices of baguette. "I am, thank you. I just got a bit overwhelmed, I guess. Coming from where I grew up, all this..." She trailed off, having difficulty condensing all she had experienced in the last few hours into words. "This is a lot for me."
"I understand." Sophie continued to chew thoughtfully. "I know your upbringing must have been very difficult, but please don't forget that you deserve to be here, darling. Enjoying everything the city has to offer will take some getting used to, but it is a wonderful adjustment to have to make, trust me." She winked.
Anya shook her head in amusement as Sophie gestured for the waiter. She was nothing like the pompous snob Anya had been expecting from the luxury in which she lived. They were seated outside with all the other patrons instead of in some private, privileged corner, and her manner was even very kind with the waiter who returned to their table with tiny white cups of strong coffee for each of them. While he interacted with Sophie, Anya turned to observe the happenings around them before closing her eyes and allowing the afternoon sunshine to bathe her face in warmth. She wondered if Dimitri was appreciating all of this. It felt beyond odd to be without him after so much time glued to his hip, as if an appendage was missing.
"Now I must know what's on your mind."
Anya opened her eyes and turned back to Sophie. "I'm sorry, what?"
"You are certainly not smiling that way about clothes, darling, no matter how wonderful they may be." Her coffee cup still at her lips, Sophie's eyes sparkled with mischief. "Could it have something to do with that tasty morsel of a man who was at my home?"
Shocked that her thoughts had been so transparent, Anya choked on the sip of coffee she had taken and sputtered, "Dimitri?"
"Yes," Sophie said on a hearty laugh as Anya finished coughing into the crook of her elbow. "My goodness, I had no idea they grew them like that in St. Petersburg. In my younger days, I would have been thrilled to break him in half." She laughed again as she took in Anya's scandalized expression. "Anyway, I saw the way he looked at you, like you were his favorite dessert. I was just curious if you were as in love with him as he is with you."
Dimitri was so many things to her now, Anya didn't know how to begin answering such a loaded question. He was patient like the best teacher. He had the most terrific responses to her teasing and pranks like a brother. He encouraged her when she was down with tough love like a coach. He believed in her blindly like a devoted fan. Beyond that, he touched her like she belonged to him and turned her into fire in his arms. But she still didn't know how he truly felt about her.
Anya sighed. "It's...complicated. Dimitri's like my best friend." She could feel her color rising yet again. Sophie definitely kept her on her toes.
"Fine, fine...it's clearly more than that, but I'll let you be. A woman has to have her secrets when it comes to l'amour, no?" Checking the time on the dainty watch at her wrist, Sophie squeaked in excitement as she scooted back her chair to toss her napkin onto her empty plate. "We should go before it gets too late - just wait until you see the beautiful new gowns Coco has been working on. Your Dimitri is going to lose his mind."
The person Sophie mentioned turned out to be the fashion designer who owned the largest boutique on Rue Cambon a few blocks away, House of Chanel. The sheer elegance of the building itself put all the other stores they'd visited to shame. Anya's jaw slackened from the moment they entered through the huge glass doors, when a valet in a tuxedo escorted them up a grandiose staircase to the owner's private apartment.
Unlike at Sophie's home, the maitresse herself answered the door - a tall and slender classic beauty of a woman dressed in trousers and slippers and a simple blouse, her neck adorned with multiple strands of pearls and dark hair forming soft waves around her ears in the style of the day. Several versions of her appeared over Anya's shoulder in the paneled mirror wall along the staircase. She and Sophie squealed in delight at the sight of each other like school girls, breaking into an ecstatic string of French as Anya followed them inside and tried to stay out of the way.
The inside of the palatial apartment reminded Anya of photos of the Palace of Versailles she'd seen in books as a child - ornate, heavy on dark polished wood and gold, no surface unadorned. Soft jazz music filled the room from a gramophone on a stand in the corner. She had no sooner sat down on the oversized couch when Sophie grabbed her hand and pulled her over to meet Coco, who was bubbling over with excitement and saying something was "petite" as she made Anya turn around and around in a circle.
Sophie chuckled. "She wants to know how your waist is so tiny."
Anya ducked her head and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "It shouldn't be, as much as I eat."
Coco's head fell back with throaty laughter after Sophie translated, then she shooed them into a back room. Here the walls appeared to have been fashioned of black lacquer, inlaid with Asian fans and landscape scenes made from mother of pearl. It was breathtaking, but not more so than the ten or so outfits Coco wheeled out on a cart from another room out of view.
Anya's hand went to her chest as she stared in astonishment at the garments. Sophie and Coco spoke at length, and Anya's eyes bulged once Sophie had translated again. "She wants me to take all of this?"
"Partly as a favor for me, partly because they are all samples and you are actually tiny enough to fit them perfectly." Sophie's lips spread in a pleased smile.
Every moment of this day seemed to be determined to outdo the one before. Anya approached the cart with a reverent hand, lace and silk caressing her fingers. The quality of the clothes was beyond superb, fit for royalty. "Tell her I can't accept this, Sophie. It's too much -"
Sophie interrupted with exasperated tutting. "You can and you will. What did I tell you earlier? You're family now, and all of this today is my pleasure. Consider this part of your coming home gift."
The gesture made Anya ache inside. While fighting back yet another flood of tears, she turned to Coco, who looked touched. "Merci beaucoup, madamoiselle."
"De rien, chérie," Coco said in return, playfully bumping Anya's hip with her own and chasing her troubled frown away. She and Sophie played dutiful maids and helped Anya into each piece, Coco studying the fit with a careful eye and finding Anya's proportions perfect for all but a puffy taffeta cocktail gown and a women's suit that did nothing for her figure.
Anya changed into a periwinkle dropwaist dress with a scandalously high hem that flirted with her knees, officially prepared for whatever festivities Sophie had up her sleeve for the remainder of the evening. Coco let her have the matching ankle strap heels that were a trifle too big, and as Anya admired the sheer overlay attached to the front of the dress with a large rose-colored bow of silk, she spied Coco over her shoulder in the mirror against the wall heading to the trash closet with her blue dress.
"No!" she almost shrieked when she whipped around, making everyone jump.
"Merde," Coco cursed loudly, still holding the dress with the very tips of her fingers like it was contaminated. "Qu'est ce que tu as -"
"I'm sorry - please don't throw that away. It-it was a gift." Her first real gift, and the most lavish and expensive dress in the world could not recreate the sweetness she felt when she had it on from knowing Dimitri had wanted to see her in it.
Sophie slapped her thighs laughing as realization dawned and explained to Coco that Anya could not part with her present from her "amoureux". Coco joined her, shaking her head as she folded the dress with its belt and her old boots and set it aside. According to Sophie, she hoped "Anya's love could teach her man some better taste in women's clothing".
Coco spent the next few minutes packaging Anya's new clothes for transport to Sophie's house with the rest of the day's purchases, save for Anya's outfit for the ballet that would be sent to the hotel Sophie had booked for the night. Around the dinner hour, Coco took her leave with kisses on both cheeks for her two guests - with a good-natured swat to the behind for Anya - before she closed her door.
Sophie had given the driver strict instructions that morning to pick everyone up in front of the store around this time. Anya descended the steps with her shopping benefactor, still floating on air. When the valet opened the front door and they stepped outside, Anya felt Dimitri's presence before she saw him.
He stood off to her right with arms crossed and legs apart, surveying the street. The moment her heel hit the pavement he turned his head. He looked as thunderstruck as Anya felt at the sight of him in his smart new clothes: trousers of slate gray and shiny leather shoes, a snappy cornflower blue dress shirt with a coordinating tie, a slim dinner jacket cut to perfectly accent his broad shoulders. He'd even slicked his hair back from his face with a bit of pomade, revealing his sharp cheekbones and that jawline reminiscent of an ancient Roman coin.
Sophie was right; he looked so good Anya wanted to put him on a plate and sop him up with a croissant.
Dimitri's mouth opened and closed in silence like a fish gasping for oxygen for a long moment before he managed to speak. "God...you look incredible."
"Merci, monsieur." Anya turned this way and that to give him a little show, then giggled into her hand to hide her obvious blush. Noting how the soft pink of his jacket echoed the color of the bow on her dress, she bit back a smile that likely would have blinded him. "We look like someone could buy us as a set."
With an oddly miserable chuckle, Dimitri rubbed at the back of his neck. "If you say so. You look a hell of a lot better than I do."
"Are you kidding? That color does amazing things for your complexion, darling." Anya stuck her nose in the air, imitating the snooty salespeople she'd encountered all day, then wrinkled it at him.
Dimitri got her joke and huffed an earnest laugh. "Thanks, I think."
For a man who was catching the attention of more than a few roving female eyes passing by, he was behaving as if his new outfit was made of cactus needles instead of a resplendent linen. Anya had seen visiting whores in chapels who looked more comfortable than he did.
Her heart twisted. If she had had a breakdown of her own over the lavishness of her shopping trip, she could only imagine how Dimitri must have felt all day. She'd at least had structure and a consistent roof over her head at the orphanage, for better or worse. From what she understood, Dimitri had spent his formative years more or less on the street.
The grandeur of Paris itself was a foreign language to him.
Sophie, having finally extracted herself from the store after purchasing several bottles of Coco's popular perfume, trotted over to a woman selling individual roses from a wicker basket on her arm just outside. She bought a handful and handed Anya a couple, who brought the blooms to her nose to inhale their fragrance, sweet as the evening air.
Smirking like she had a secret, Sophie slipped into the space between Anya and Dimitri and said, "Welcome to Paris, mes amis. Forget where you're from and I'll make this a night you won't soon forget." She made her way back to an impeccably dressed Vladimir in a boater hat, but not before bumping Anya right into Dimitri's side.
His eyes shot up to hers in surprise, warming with a shy heat that left Anya breathless and ready to make a decision. If Paris could be home to her, she would be home to Dimitri. With that heady thought, she tucked her smaller flower into the buttonhole of his lapel and curled a hand into the crook of his elbow. He blinked down at her and his mouth hinted at a smile that failed to manifest.
That was okay. They had all night to work on that.
Sophie took up that charge herself and corralled everyone back into her waiting car. Vladimir made a lot of noise about wanting to see an American dancer perform wearing nothing but a skirt made of bananas at La Folies Bergère, but Sophie talked him out of it in favor of dinner at Le Moulin Rouge. Anya curled herself against Dimitri's side in the backseat this time, both of them staring together into the night beyond the window, watching the city come alive as the sun faded and the people threw off their mantles of responsibility to feed on Paris' decadence. An earlier spring shower had left the cobblestones shimmering, reflecting the light that seemed to shine from every window and doorway and street lamp and joyful Parisian face. It had a luminescence of its soul, this place. Anya wanted every bit of it for herself. And for Dimitri, to light his darkness.
Vladimir and Sophie shared a dirty sense of humor that made them quite entertaining company. Dimitri had livened up considerably by dessert, especially once Sophie lost a shoe after her fourth glass of champagne and Vladimir had to maneuver through a dancing chorus line of can-can girls to retrieve it. His melancholy returned after one handsomely dressed gentleman after another asked Anya to dance when the band opened the dance floor. Anya didn't know how to feel when he urged her to accept every one of them.
But she didn't give up. She kept coaxing him to the light with her warmth, with smiles and private laughter shared just with him. Their party of four ended the night on the viewing deck of the Eiffel Tower with the whole of the world a carpet of stars far below their feet. Anya received her reward in the form of Dimitri's arm around her waist and his hand folding tightly around hers, as if he were afraid she'd turn to mist in his grip.
It was nearly midnight by the time they made it to their chic hotel just off the Seine in the premier arronddissement, and Dimitri still hadn't let her go. They said their goodbyes to Vladimir and Sophie, who were going back to her house for the night to get "reacquainted", and Dimitri escorted Anya to her hotel room.
Heart in her throat, Anya found it more and more difficult to meet the intensity of his eyes. She watched their clasped hands as they walked slowly from the lobby down the empty hallway.
"You've never told me what you planned to do after tomorrow."
Dimitri flinched, his hold on her hand becoming just shy of painful, and stopped walking. "What do you mean?"
He looked so stricken, Anya began to question her decision to lay the question on him that had been gnawing at her for days. "I...was just going to ask what you planned to do after I'm back with my grandmother. Where you planned to go." She started to tremble. "Will you stay here, in Paris?" she asked, very carefully.
With me? she finished in her head. She didn't want to be without him and was exhausted from battling the constant need to sustain herself on his presence.
Why fight it anymore? If Paris could give Anya her family back, why couldn't it give her Dimitri, too?
He appeared to ponder her query as he studied her hand still clutched in his. When his smile finally resurfaced it had turned phantom, a shadow of its former glory that made her unspeakably sad. "I'll figure something out, don't worry." It was a typical Dimitri-style answer, everything and nothing in a mouthful of words.
Frustrated, Anya pinned him to the spot with her confused stare. "Dimitri, what's wrong? We're here, in Paris! We did it! Just like you said..." She shook her head and looked at the fancy carpet. "I just don't understand. I thought you wanted this, too - "
"Anya, I do! Of course I do." He flared to life then, finally, for the first time all evening. "I've wanted this for you since we met. And I'm so proud of you. I'm just..." He paused, biting his lip before looking Anya straight on, warm eyes unwavering. "I'm tired, I don't speak French, and it's been a long ass day."
She snorted. "Can't argue with you there."
They walked the rest of the way in a much more comfortable silence. Dimitri threaded his fingers through hers and Anya instantly felt feverish and afraid her legs would give out beneath her. When they arrived at her door, she fiddled with the key in the lock but didn't turn it. She wasn't ready to go in. At least not by herself.
Dimitri lingered, too, playing with the tips of her fingers. "I imagine Sophie will have you primping all day, so I probably won't see you until tomorrow night, huh?"
"Probably." Anya glanced up at him through her lashes, her lip caught in her teeth. "You gonna miss me or something?"
His smile broke through. "Maybe." He stroked his thumb over the back of her hand. "Have I told you how beautiful you look tonight?"
"You have," Anya said with a chuckle, her spirits lifting. "Several times. Though I was just barely prettier than you tonight. You should have seen all the ladies making googly eyes at you behind your back."
"Ha, ha." He rolled his own eyes. Shades of the old Dimitri she knew and loved had appeared, at least for the moment.
Anya wanted him, right then and there, and she prayed with all her might that he would kiss her and she'd have a reason to invite him inside and not look like a complete trollop. Eyes sweeping over his face, she shifted closer to him, near enough to share his heat and smell his cologne - warm and spicy, something like cloves and caramel, a delicious exaggeration of the natural scent of his skin.
He didn't grant her silent wish, but she didn't get a chance to be disappointed. Her head swam when he bent slightly and drew up her hand, his soft lips just grazing her knuckles, turning the polite farewell gesture into something shockingly intimate and sensual. He hovered there for a breathless moment, as if he were unsure of his next move.
When his eyes slid closed, he gently unfurled her fingers with his thumb and pressed that same luscious mouth to the pads of her middle digits. Anya thought her heart would knock a rib loose.
"If you need anything, come find me. I'm at the end of the hall." He released her at last and Anya instantly felt bereft, like a piece of herself had been torn away.
Shaken, she forced a smirk. "Really, now? Anything?"
"Yep." Dimitri's lopsided grin broadened suggestively.
"Isn't that kind of dangerous, writing me a blank check like that?"
He eased his hands into the crisp pockets of his trousers and rocked back on his heels. "Gotta take my chances. You could have me beheaded, after all. I've heard they do that here."
Anya giggled at his antics, cheeks hot. Even still not quite himself he was so...maybe it was the city itself making her crazy, or maybe she'd had too much to drink, but Dimitri's physicality had gone from very attractive to unbearably irresistible in the span of an afternoon. His mere nearness tonight had already dampened the fancy silk knickers Sophie had insisted she wear. Right now they were in danger of catching fire.
Though throwing caution to the wind and simply dragging him into her room crossed her mind, Anya dismissed the dirty thoughts and joined Dimitri on the high road he seemed to have taken. "What if I need vanilla ice cream in the middle of the night?" She threw a coy smile at him over her shoulder as she finally opened her door.
He bowed low as he backed away, still wearing that grin she adored. "Done."
"Champagne for my bathwater?" She batted her lashes like a cartoon.
That made him chuckle, still walking backwards toward his end of the hall. "Room 102," he said.
"Diamonds for my ice bucket?" she called after him laughing when he finally turned his back to her. He twirled his room key ring on his finger above his head in answer.
Anya watched until he disappeared around the corner before closing the door behind her with a solid, solitary click. She leaned against it with a deep sigh, still aching. The sight of her garment bag in the open closet with the extravagant fur coat borrowed from Sophie curled her lips into a smug smile.
She'd see if Dimitri could maintain his reticence once he saw her in that.