Reservations for Two
While there is tea, there is hope.—Arthur Wing Pinero
The Provençal breeze tousled the ends of my hair as I tried to organize my thoughts. “I’m beginning to figure out what I want,” I told Neil, my voice echoing slightly over the cell connection.
“When you hang up and listen to the message I was leaving, you’ll hear all about it.”
He chuckled, and my heart squeezed in my chest. Neil McLaren had the best laugh I’d ever heard—low and warm. If I closed my eyes, I could see the way his eyes crinkled at the corners, the way his lips turned up.
Not that I’d gotten to spend that much time looking at his eyes during our on-again, off-again long-distance relationship, but his short visit to Portland had left a lasting impression.
It was a laugh I never thought I’d hear again.
“You want me to hang up?” he asked.
“So why don’t you tell me what you want?”
I shrugged and looked out onto the lavender waving in the breeze. “I want the impossible. I want my job at the restaurant, and I want to be with you.”
“Cool?” I lifted an eyebrow. “What are you, fifteen?”
Neil sighed. “Sometimes I feel like it.”
“The restaurant—I gave up my job, my normal, stable-ish job at the paper to open this restaurant with my brother. I’ve always, always wanted to run a restaurant, and I’m not ready to give that up.”
“I wouldn’t want that for you.”
“But—,” I started, ready to remind him that he worked in Memphis and that instantaneous travel remained a figment of Star Trek’s
“Here’s the thing,” Neil said, interrupting me. “I have vacation days I haven’t taken because all I’ve done for the last few years is work. I have thousands of frequent flyer miles built up, just sitting around.”
“Aiming to get your name on the side of a plane?”
“Not yet. I’d rather use them. And I’m at a good place to pause at work. Do you want company?”
All of my counterarguments about work, travel, and romance dissolved in an instant. “What?”
“I’ll fly out there. You want us to be together? So do I, and spending time in Europe doesn’t sound so bad.”
“It’s not a vacation,” I told him. “It’s a trip to see family, when I’m not meeting with investors or poking around in my grandmother’s history—though I suppose that’s still family related. There will be family dinners and people with opinions. And if you decide to come with me to Italy, those opinions will get even louder.”
“Do you want me to come?”
“Then I’ll see you there.”
I snorted. “You don’t even know where I am.”
“I know you’re at Chateau de l’Abeille. I also know how to use Google.”
“Well . . . fine. Be all smart like that.”
“I love you, Juliette. I want you to know that.”
Joy blossomed inside my heart. “I love you, Neil.”
“I’ll see you soon.” From:
Letizia Adessi, firstname.lastname@example.org To:
Can’t wait to see you! You must remind me when you are arriving on the train. Nonno and the rest of the family are delighted to see you, though we’re very sad that your parents won’t be able to make the journey. How is your mother? And when does your new restaurant open?
Me, email@example.com To:
Looking forward to seeing you as well! I’ll be a few days with my mother’s cousin here in Provence, then planning to take the train to Rome. I have a few scheduled meetings with suppliers for the restaurant, but the rest of my time is all yours. The plan is still to travel together to Montalcino for Nonno’s party, yes?
My parents are doing okay for the time being. Mom’s cancer was diagnosed at stage three, so she’s had surgery as well as chemo, with radiation planned next. With my mom’s health we’re hopeful, but the doctors have warned us that ovarian cancer is usually chronic, and never really goes into remission. But we have hope.
My father is having a difficult time, but he’s a wonderful caretaker, and the rest of us are filling the gaps as we can, both at home and at D’Alisa & Elle. Business is doing okay at the restaurant, at least.
The preparations at Two Blue Doors (the new restaurant) are going well—we’re looking to open on July 25th. It’s been a few years since his last restaurant closed, so Nico’s excited to have his own place again, though if he changes the menu one more time, I might have to murder him (just kidding—they’re always great changes. He really is a talented chef. It’s just that the ordering budget is something Nico views as an abstract idea, rather than a hard and fast set of numbers).
I’ve been living above the restaurant in the apartment, along with my friend Clementine, who’s the pastry–chef that’s been fun, and waking up to pastry experiments has been lovely. With everything on my to-do list for the opening, I haven’t had time to miss working at the newspaper, though I do wish I saw work friends more often.
I just got to Montagnac, where I’ll be staying with my mother’s cousin Sandrine, her husband Auguste, and my great-aunt Cécile for a few days. It’s a lovely spot—the family chateau where my grandmother was raised and my mother grew up. Now it’s an inn as well as a lavender farm—Sandrine and Auguste run the place. I’ll be sure to take pictures to share. And if my plans shift at all, I’ll let you know as soon as possible. There are a couple variables here (one in particular) that I’m not entirely sure about.
Can’t wait to see you! Is there anything I can bring from here for Nonno’s party? Give my love to everyone!
I spent the next thirty-six hours expecting to get a phone call, an e-mail, or a carrier pigeon telling me that it wasn’t going to work out, that Neil wouldn’t make it for any number of wholly practical reasons.
There was no denying the chemistry we’d felt when we were together, but the distance had taken its toll, and we’d broken up.
But now we were back together, or as together as two people who had broken up over the phone and gotten back together over the phone could be. Our breakup before my flight to France still felt fresh—fresh enough that I expected news that Neil had come to his senses more than I expected the man himself.
As the hours passed, though, my phone didn’t buzz with a text or e-mail revealing that he’d changed his mind, that some immunology crisis had emerged, that an unexpected summer tornado had hit Memphis.
And I knew, because I’d checked.
Instead, I was setting the table for lunch when I saw a moving cloud of dust come down the long road toward the chateau.
“Either that’s the German guests who haven’t checked in yet,” said my cousin Sandrine, watching the window from over my shoulder, “or your copain
“Eh?” her husband Auguste intoned, setting aside the radio he’d been tinkering with to have a look out the window for himself.
We watched together as Neil—all six feet and three inches of him—unfolded from his tiny rented Fiat.“Ah, c’est l’Américain,”
Auguste noted, turning to me. “Bonne chance.”
.” Sandrine pressed a hand to her heart. “Très beau
. How did you meet?”
My heart fluttered with happiness. “The Internet,” I said, my eyes trained on Neil. The moment he spied me through the window, a grin spread across his face.
I raced out the door and into his arms. “You came!”
Neil pressed a kiss to my forehead and held me close. “I told you I would,” he said. “All you had to do was ask.”
I looked up at him, taking in his gold hair, his gingery beard.
We returned to discover that the lunch table set for three had become a table set for two; Sandrine and Auguste had disappeared. Two candles flickered at the center of the table.
“I think Sandrine and Auguste feel invested in our having a happy reunion,” I remarked dryly.
“I can live with that.” Neil tipped my chin upward and placed a gentle kiss at the corner of my mouth.
My fingers wove into his hair as I kissed him back.