Authors: Barbara Taylor Bradford
A huge smile spread across Diane’s face, and she exclaimed, “Good Lord, I can’t believe it! She’s a miracle, that woman.”
“Oh, I know she is, and aside from looking so much younger than her age, she’s full of energy and vitality. Whenever I speak to her on the phone she sounds as busy as ever, running the school, entertaining, and traveling. Only last month she told me she’s started writing another book, one on the Art Deco period of design. She’s just so amazing.”
“I’ll say she is, and what a lovely trip for you. When is the party?”
“On June second, at Ledoyen. It’s a supper dance, actually.”
“That’ll be fun, we must find you something pretty to wear. Is it black tie?”
“Yes, it is, but look, Mom, I’m not sure that I’m going to go.”
Diane was startled, and she frowned. “Why ever not? You’re close to Anya, and you’ve always been a special favorite of hers. Certainly more than the others—” Diane stopped abruptly and stared at her daughter. “But of course! That’s
. You don’t want to go because you don’t want to see the other three. I can’t say I blame you, they turned out to be rather treacherous, those women.”
With a small jolt, Alexandra realized she hadn’t even thought about her former best girlfriends, who had ended up her enemies. She had been focused only on Tom Conners and her feelings for him. But now, all of a sudden, she realized she must throw them into the equation along with Tom. Her mother was quite right, they were indeed an excellent reason she should stay away from Paris. They were bound to be at the party … Anya would have invited them as well as her … together the four of them had been her greatest pride the year of their graduation … her star pupils. Of course they’d be there … with bells on.
“You’re right, Mom, I have no desire to see them,” Alexa said. “But they’re not the reason I don’t want to go to Paris. It’s something else, as a matter of fact.”
“And what’s that?”
“His name’s Tom Conners.”
Diane was momentarily perplexed. The name rang a bell, but she couldn’t pinpoint the man. She leaned forward slightly, her eyes narrowing. “
. Do I know him? Oh, yes, now it’s coming back to me. Isn’t he the Frenchman you introduced to us a few years ago?”
“That’s right, but Tom’s
American. If you remember, I did tell you about his family. His father’s an American who went to live in Paris in the early fifties, married a French girl, and stayed. Tom was brought up and educated there, and he’s always lived in France.”
“Yes, so I recall, darling. He’s a lawyer if I remember correctly, and very good-looking. But I didn’t realize there was anything serious between the two of you. I thought it was a brief encounter, a sort of fling if you like, and that it was over quickly.”
“It lasted almost two years, actually.”
“I see.” Diane sat back, wondering how she had missed this particular relationship. On the other hand, that was the period Alexa had lived in Paris, working with Anya’s
two nephews in films and the theater. However, she had certainly kept awfully quiet about Tom Conners, had confided nothing. Odd, really, now that Diane thought about it. She said slowly, “Somehow you’re still involved with Tom Conners, I think. Is that what you’re trying to say?”
“No … yes … no … look, Mom, we don’t see each other anymore, and I never hear from him, he’s never in touch, but he’s sort of there … inside me, in my thoughts.… ” Her voice trailed off lamely, and she gave her mother a helpless look.
“Why did you break off with him, Alexa?” Diane asked curiously.
“I didn’t. He did. Three years ago now.”
?” her mother pressed.
“Because I wanted to get married and he couldn’t marry me.”
“Is he married already?”
“No. Not now, not then.”
“I’m not following this at all. It doesn’t make sense to me. I just don’t understand what the problem is,” Diane murmured, her bafflement only too apparent.
Alexa hesitated, wondering if she could bear to tell her mother Tom’s story. It was so painful, so harrowing. But when she glanced at her mother’s face and saw the worry settling there, she decided she had no option. She wanted her to understand … everything.
Very softly Alexa said, “Tom was married very young to his childhood sweetheart, Juliette. They grew up together, and their parents were friends. They had a little girl,
Marie-Laure, and seemingly, from what he told me, they were an idyllic couple … the poster couple, I guess. Very beautiful, very happy together. And then something bad happened.… ”
Alexa paused, drew a deep breath, and continued. “In July 1985 they went to Athens. On vacation. But Tom also
had to see a client from Paris, who owned a summer house there. Toward the end of the vacation, Tom arranged a final meeting with his client before he took his family back to Paris. That morning he told Juliette he would meet her and Marie-Laure for lunch at their favorite café, but Tom was delayed and got there a bit late. It was chaotic when he walked into the square where the café was located. Police cars and ambulances were converging in the center, and the human carnage was horrendous. People were dead and dying, there was blood and body parts everywhere, like a massacre had taken place. The police told Tom that a bomb had exploded only minutes before his arrival, more than likely a terrorist’s bomb that had been planted on one of those big tour buses, this particular one filled with Americans from the hotel in the square. About sixty people were on the bus, and they all died.
“As the bus was leaving the square, it suddenly blew up, right in front of the café where Juliette and Marie-Laure were waiting for Tom. The impact of the blast was enormous. People sitting at the various cafés around the square were blown right out of their chairs. Many were killed or injured—” Alexa stopped, and it was a moment before she could continue.
After taking several deep breaths, she went on. “Tom couldn’t find Juliette and Marie-Laure, and as you can imagine, he was worried and frightened, frantic, as he searched for them. He did find them eventually, under the rubble in the back of the café … the ceiling had collapsed on them. They were both dead.” Alexandra blinked, and her voice was so low, it was almost inaudible as she finished. “Don’t you see, he’s never recovered from that … that …
Diane was staring at Alexandra in horror, and tears had gathered in her light blue eyes. “How horrendous, what a terrible, terrible tragedy to happen to them, to him,” she
murmured, and then, looking across at her daughter, she saw that Alexa’s face was stark, taut, and drained of all color.
Rising, she went and sat next to her on the sofa, put her arm around her, and held her close. “Oh, darling, you’re still in love with him.… ”
“Am I? I’m not sure, Mother, but he does occupy a large part of me, that’s true. He’s there, inside, and he always will be, I think. But I’m smart enough to know I have no future with Tom. He’ll never marry me, or anybody else for that matter. Nor will he have a permanent relationship, because he can’t. You see, he just can’t forget
“Or he won’t let himself forget,” Diane suggested softly.
“Perhaps that’s true. Perhaps he thinks that if he forgets them he’d be riddled with guilt for the rest of his life and wouldn’t be able to handle it. You brought me up to be sensible, practical, and I believe I am those things. And after we broke up, I knew I had to get on with my life.… I knew I couldn’t moon around, yearning for Tom. I understood there was no future in that.”
Diane nodded. “You were right, and I think you’ve managed to get on with your professional life extremely well. I’m proud of you, Alexa, you didn’t let your personal problems get in the way of your career. All I can say is bravo.”
“You once told me years ago that I must never negate my talent by not using it, by wasting it, and I listened to you, Mom. I also knew I had to earn a living, I wasn’t going to let you and Dad support me, especially after you’d sent me to such expensive schools, Anya’s in particular.”
Diane nodded. “Just as a matter of interest, how old is he? Tom, I mean.”
Diane nodded, searched her daughter’s face intently, and wondered out loud, “Do you love Jack Wilton a little bit at least?”
“Yes, I do love him in a certain way.”
“Not the way you love Tom?” Diane ventured to ask.
“You could make a life with Jack, though?”
Alexandra nodded. “I think so. Jack’s got a lot going for himself. He’s very attractive and charming, and we get on well. We’re compatible, he makes me laugh, and we understand each other, understand where we’re both coming from, which is sometimes the same place. We admire each other’s talents, and respect each other.” She half smiled at her mother. “He loves me, you know. He wants to marry me.”
“Would you marry him?” Diane asked quietly, hoping for an answer in the affirmative.
Alexa leaned against her mother, and a deep sigh escaped her. Unexpectedly, tears spilled out of her eyes. Then she swiftly straightened, flicked the tears away with her fingertips. “I thought I could, Mom, I really did. But now I don’t know. Ever since that invitation arrived yesterday, I’ve been in a turmoil.”
“You won’t be able to resist seeing Tom if you go to Paris, is that what you’re telling me?”
“I guess I am.”
“But you’re stronger than that … you’ve always been strong, even when you were a little girl.”
Alexa was silent.
After a short while, Diane said slowly, carefully, “Here’s what your loving and very devoted sounding board thinks. You have to forget Tom, as you know you should. You must put him out of your mind once and for all. He’s not for you, Alexa, or anybody else, in my opinion. What happened to his wife and child was unbearable, very, very tragic, and so heartrending. But it
years ago. Sixteen years ago, to be precise. And if he’s not over it by now—”
“He wasn’t over it three years ago, but I don’t know about now—”
“—then he never will be,” Diane continued in a very firm voice. “Your life is here in New York, not in Paris. For the most part, your work is here, and you know you can make a wonderful life with Jack. And that’s what you should do—” Diane stopped, tightened her embrace, and said against her daughter’s glossy dark hair, “There are all kinds of love, you know. Degrees of love. And sometimes the great love of one’s life is not meant to last … perhaps that’s how it becomes the
… by ending.” Diane sighed, but after a moment she went on. “I know it’s hard to give someone up. But, in fact, Tom Conners gave you up, Alexa. Not vice versa, so why torture yourself? My advice to you is not to go to Paris. That way you won’t be tempted to see Tom, and open up all those wounds.”
“I guess you’re right, Mom. You usually are. But Anya’s going to be really upset if I don’t go to the party.”
“I’m sure she will be.” There was a slight pause, and then Diane exclaimed, “There
an alternative! You and Jack could go to Paris together. Obviously, you couldn’t go looking for Tom if you were there with another man.”
Want to bet? Alexandra thought, but said, “The invitation doesn’t include a guest. Only my name is written on it. And I’m sure Anya’s invited only former pupils and her family.”
“But she wouldn’t refuse
… not if you said you were coming to Paris with your … fiancé.”
“I don’t know what she’d do, actually. And I have to think about that, Mom, all of what you’ve just said … and implied.”
THE INVITATION STOOD PROPPED
up on the mantel next to the carriage clock, and the first thing Alexandra did when she got home was to pick it up and read it again.
Down in the left-hand corner, underneath the letters
RSVP, was the date of the deadline to accept or decline:
April the first
. And in the right-hand corner it said Black Tie and underneath this Long Dress. All the information she needed was right there, including what to wear; with the engraved invitation was a small RSVP card and an envelope addressed to Madame Suzette Laugen, 158 Boulevard St. Germain, Paris.
So she had the rest of February and most of March to make up her mind, to think about Anya’s birthday and decide what to do, whether to go or not. That was a relief. But she knew she would spend the next few weeks vacillating back and forth.
Deep down she wanted to go, wanted to celebrate this special birthday with Anya, an extraordinary woman who had had such an enormous influence on her life. But there was the problem of Tom Conners, and also of her former friends … Jessica, Kay, and Maria. Three women once so close to her, and she to them, they were inseparable, but they were sworn enemies now. She couldn’t bear the thought of seeing any of them.
April the first, she mused. An anniversary of sorts, since she had met Tom Conners on April the first. In 1996. She had been twenty-five, he thirty-seven.
April Fool, she thought with a wry smile. But she wasn’t sure if she meant herself or him.
Placing the invitation back on the mantel, she knelt down in front of the fireplace, struck a match, and brought it to the paper and small chips of wood stuffed in the grate. Within minutes she had the fire going, the logs catching quickly, the flames leaping up the chimney.
Pushing herself to her feet, Alexandra turned on a lamp. Along with the fire, it helped to bring a warm, roseate glow to the living room, already shadowed as it was by the murky winter light of late afternoon. She felt tired. After leaving her mother, she had walked down Park
Avenue from Seventy-ninth Street to Thirty-ninth. Forty blocks of good exercise, but she had finally given in and taken a cab back to the loft.
After glancing out of the window at the lights of Manhattan slowly coming on, Alexa sat down on the sofa in front of the fire, staring into the flames flickering and dancing in the grate. Her mind was awash with so many diverse thoughts, but the most prominent were centered on Tom.
It was Nicky Sedgwick who had introduced them when Tom had come out to the studios in Billancourt to see his client Jacques Durand, who was producing the movie. It was a French-American coproduction, very elaborate and costly. Nicky and his brother Larry were the art directors and were designing the sets, and at Anya’s suggestion they had hired Alexa as their assistant. But she had become more like an associate because of all the work and responsibility they had heaped on her.