The Devil's Reprise
Each step I took off the plane and through the airport, my senses bombarded with the smell of cigarettes and strong cologne and the sound of rapid-fire French, the more my legs felt like they were made of melting snow. Each step was a step closer to our meeting. Each step meant more sweat trickling down the back of my sore neck.
I felt like I was minutes away from being committed by the time Max and I cleared the overly suspicious French customs and stood waiting for our bags at baggage claim. I had to admit, I was really glad that Max was there with me for that. To them, we were traveling together, and in his perfect French, he had all the right answers for the customs officials. I could only smile and nod and repeat my name. I knew they all spoke English, but it seemed to anger them to do so.
The funny thing was—and I know I was thinking of too many romantic movies—but I really had expected Sage to be there, running toward me, ready for an embrace. Or at least, you know, be there. But he wasn’t. There wasn’t even anyone with a sign that said “Emerson” or “Creem” or even “Elvis-Wannabe from Sex City.” As Max and I trundled our suitcases out of baggage claim, we were met by no one.
“Well, this is a nice welcome,” I muttered as I watched people happily greeting one another. Max only nodded and stuck another cigarette in his mouth. I sighed and glanced over at the washrooms. They were called W.C.s here, I was right.
I excused myself and quickly tried to pretty myself up in the washroom in case Sage was still on his way or stuck in traffic or something. I not-so-subtly watched the French travelers lean over the sinks and dot lipstick on their lips and cheeks and smooth flyaways with mists of Evian water. I had so much to learn and fancied I might even go back to Ellensburg with a new sense of chic style.
And I was going back, despite Eric’s fears. If my first few moments in Europe were any indicator of what was to come, I was definitely going back.
When I came out of the washroom, groomed but still pretty darn lackluster after two long flights, I nearly stopped in my tracks. Jacob was here and talking to Max with a grim look on his face, my suitcase in his meaty hand. He was waving his other hand in the air, his gold rings glinting, and Max was silent, chewing on his lip and listening attentively.
“Hey,” I said, my voice cracking a little, as I continued walking toward them, hoping I wasn’t interrupting something important. Jacob shut up and his head whipped my way. A broad smile cracked across his face, his golden eyes vivid and dancing.
“Dawn, love,” he said in that irrepressible Cockney accent of his, throwing his arms open and bringing me into a tight embrace, my face smooshed up against his scratchy orange-and-brown wool suit, which smelled like coffee and mothballs. His fashion sense hadn’t changed, and that brought me the tiniest bit of ironic comfort.
I finally untangled myself from his vice-like hug and let him look me over with a discerning eye. “You look great, love. Tired as fuck but still great. I trust Max has been a gentleman with you.” Jacob’s scrutiny turned to Max, who seemed to pale a bit under his gaze.
“Max has been fine,” I told him. I couldn’t help but smile. “I’m glad you’re here; I was beginning to think you’d forgotten about me.” I was really beginning to think Sage had forgotten about me, but from the apologetic smile stretched across Jacob’s face, I could tell he knew what I was thinking.
“Yes, well, traffic you know, love,” he said, leading us toward the doors. “Bit of a crazy thing with all these frogs around us.” I quickly glanced around me, expecting to see dirty looks from the Frenchmen, but no one paid us any attention at all. “I was just here yesterday at the same time, but it seems you can’t predict the traffic in the city.”
We stepped out of the airport and into the light drizzle, which was falling steadily from the overcast sky. “Yes, I had to pick up Sage and Tricky. He’s back at the hotel, you know. He wanted to come and pick you up himself, but, uh, he’s recovering from jet lag.”
Funny how I could almost believe that—but as plausible as it was, as I would surely be hit with a debilitating chunk of jet lag later, I knew in my heart that wasn’t quite the case for Sage. He either didn’t want to see me or he was recovering from something other than jet lag.
As we scurried toward the nearest cab, I noticed Max’s eyes on me. We were about to climb into the backseat of a funny-looking car whose driver Jacob was trying to haggle with, when he stopped and said, “I’m here to take photographs, you’re here to write, and that’s the truth. Now get in.”
I had lovesick written across over my forehead, didn’t I?
We both scooted into the back of the cab, sliding over greasy old grey leather, while Jacob finally got in the passenger seat. He shot us both a gleaming smile and raised his orange brows. “Not sure how much this cabbie is going to charge us, but I figure if it’s too much, we can always get the suitcases and run, right-o?”
I spent the first half of the drive trying to figure out if Max and Jacob and everyone else knew something about Sage that I didn’t, and the second half being utterly swept away by the passing landscape. I was in France. I was in Paris. I was in a city that couldn’t be more foreign to me. I watched beautiful old houses zoom past us, their elegant roofs and flower-lined windowsills, the funny little cars parked on the streets out front, the fashionable women strolling past with their cat-eye glasses and their tiny dogs on sparkly leashes. The thing about Paris is that it really did look like all the movies I’d seen—Paris in the Springtime, Charade, Funny Face. Really, anything with Audrey Hepburn.
I was enthralled, no doubt brought on by the time difference and sleep deprivation and present company and crazy circumstances, but it was a good kind of trip—better than the mushrooms Mel would make me eat when we were bored and hanging out in the hayloft. Suddenly, as Mr. Plant might say, I was a traveler of both time and space.
I was here.
And there. There, as the cab drove alongside the taupe stone buildings and pulled up to the narrow, gargoyle-fronted hotel where we were staying, there was Sage Knightly, standing outside.
There was Sage, leaning against an ancient-looking stone sculpture that I was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to be leaning against, sipping from a paper cup. There he was, the man whose music made my blood pump and whose words made my heart ache. There he was, the man I’d made love to, the man I’d loved, the man who had become so much more than I even let myself realize.
And he was smiling at the cab as we came to a stop. He was smiling right at me.
He was also 100 percent, teetering-over, eyes-glazed, not-drinking-coffee-out-of-that-cup drunk.
“Here we are,” Jacob said uneasily from the front seat of the cab. His eyes were locked on Sage, who was now slowly plunking his large frame down the steps and sauntering toward us.
Goddamn it if he didn’t look like a beefier Jim Morrison at that moment, in tight black pants and an open black shirt that looked like it provided no barrier to the cool-ish weather. His swagger was all alcohol-induced, his grin lopsided like he didn’t care enough to straighten it. His black hair was longer now, his curls looser and more disheveled, falling into his eyes which were the dreamy grey-green that I remembered, the color of olive leaves. Those dimples still popped against his thick five o’clock shadow. He was a hot mess but, unlike me when I was a hot mess, he was still hot.
Heat throbbed between my legs, my stomach started to do somersaults, and the rest of me was frozen in that sticky leather seat, afraid to get out of the cab, afraid to find out that the Sage Knightly I’d come all the way to Europe for wasn’t the same one that I had known.
And I was afraid I’d still throw myself at him, regardless. Because fuck, could that man make you forget every single inhibition.
Max patted my knee quickly and said, “Can’t sit in here all day, little lamb. He’s just a music maker. He won’t bite.” He paused. “Unless you know something I don’t. And I reckon you do.”
He got out of the cab and helped the bellhop with our luggage as Jacob walked around and opened the door for me. I wished he would just leave me inside with my panic and my thoughts and my hormones, which threatened to fog up the windows. But the cabbie eyed me in the rearview mirror with impatience, and I forced my legs to move.
I stepped out, Jacob’s eyes briefly holding mine with something that looked like an apology in them, and Sage swaggered over to us.
He stopped, legs in a wide stance, and took a sip of his drink, looking us over as we stood beside the cab.
“Well, if it ain’t a trifecta of gingers,” he said with a smirk. “I feel like the apocalypse is coming.”
I noticed he wasn’t letting his eyes settle on me for very long. I also noticed that they narrowed slightly when they took in Max.
Jacob picked up on this and stretched out his arm toward Max. “Sage, this is Max. He’s the photographer assigned to cover the story with Dawn.” He smiled. “And Max, this is Sage. He’s the drunk rock star you’ll have to take photos of. Aim for his left side; it’s his most flattering angle.”
Sage didn’t miss a beat. “I hang to the left, too.”
That’s also how I knew he was drunk. Sage wasn’t normally this, er, forthcoming when meeting people for the first time.
Max nodded at Sage, smiling politely but not offering his hand, and followed Jacob up the steps to the hotel.
“Come on, Max,” Jacob said, “let’s get you checked in. Dawn, I’ll get you sorted. I’ll show you to your room…later.” His eyes darted between the two of us.
He didn’t have to spell it out. He was leaving me and Sage together to greet each other properly, with privacy. I wanted to yell after Jacob, for him to come back, or I wanted to run after him and get myself checked in. But now it was too obvious for that. I felt like Paris was the closet and we were two awkward teens thrust into a game of Seven Minutes in Heaven.
We were about five feet apart from each other, but I could smell the booze on him. I watched Jacob and Max disappear, then watched the cab pull away, and finally there was nothing left to watch except Sage.
I looked at him and smiled shyly.
“Hi,” I said, my voice quieter than I would have liked.
His face softened, the cockiness in his grin fading. “Hey.” He stared at me openly for a couple of beats, and I couldn’t read what the fuck was going on. I felt like I needed to say something, do something, maybe shake his hand? But no, that was too lame for two people who’ve had sex with each other, more than a few times. Too weak for the unexplainable bond between us, a bond that can only come from going through Hell together. It was too cheap for two people who cheated death and watched a borrowed world burn.
“How was your flight?” he finally asked.
I could feel my face scrunching up. He might as well have asked me about the weather. Oh God, this wasn’t how I imagined this going at all. Why did he feel like such a stranger to me?