Juan Carlos arrived at Francine’s apartment in a burnt orange Aston Martin. The roof was down allowing the sound of operatic rock to fill the space previously occupied by the thrum of the engine. £350,000 of automobile estate with one careful owner.
“Bonsoir Cheri!” Francine gave Juan Carlos her trademark double bisoux, checking out his aftershave at the same time. She was pleased to note he was wearing the distinctive, delectable scent she had ordered for him from her favourite Parisian perfumier. The spicy tobacco notes suited his olive skin perfectly, with just enough of a hint of pink grapefruit to stop it being a cliché.
“You look divine, as always, Bellissima!” Juan Carlos replied as he opened the car door for Francine and helped her in.
“So, your new toy has finally arrived.” Francine remarked, stroking the seat as she settled into its leathery embrace. Juan Carlos already had plenty of toys, for water, air, and roads, but this one would make the drive much more thrilling. It also meant Juan Carlos had to stay off the champagne, so conversations would potentially remain in one language that evening.
Francine could happily entertain a certain amount of Spanish and Italian thrown into a conversation. Indeed, a pinch of multilingualism was the salt and pepper of any proper têtê-à-têtê. Unfortunately, when Juan Carlos got a bit too squiffy, he invariably ended up speaking German, one of the side effects of spending the first few years of his life with an Austrian nanny. There were other side effects too, some of which involved apfelstudel, however, they were not going to be shared with Francine that sunny summer evening.
“This is the Superleggera, isn’t it?” Francine asked, knowing full well exactly what model it was, but wanting to let Juan Carlos talk about it. They took the long way round the Island, heading north and enjoying the coast roads at as leisurely a pace as one could in a sports car.
It was such a civilized way to pass an evening Francine was almost sorry when they finally roared up at Esmerelda’s house in the south west. They were among the last guests to arrive, so Juan Carlos positioned the car right next to the front door, blocking off the rest of the parking. He shrugged, “Well, you can’t exactly leave this on the slipway.”
When it came to slippery cobbles, Francine displayed a similar regard for her stilettoes. She had no intention of letting them go anywhere near the slipway either.
Inside, champagne was flowing as liberally as the gossip. Numbers were naturally a lot smaller than previous parties, but Esmerelda’s new house suited a more intimate gathering. The sleek white kitchen and living area opened out onto a terrace, perfectly positioned for late afternoon and evening sun, with a stunning view out to sea.
Esmerelda greeted them with a whoosh of chiffon and lipstick. She had lost a few kilos during lockdown and was back into the section of her wardrobe normally reserved for the two weeks after a juice retreat. She swooped in for kisses, then doubled back on herself. “Oops. Sorry, I keep forgetting we’re not supposed to do that anymore. Hard to break habits of a lifetime, although can’t say I mind ditching the handshaking.”
Juan Carlos gave her a small bow. “This is to kiss your hands. Although we are not allowed to do that either.”
“It’s funny, isn’t it, how well everyone looks these days.” Esmerelda added. “Staying at home does great things for my waistline.”
Juan Carlos looked puzzled. “You mean you enjoyed lockdown?”
“Well, I’m not going to say I ‘enjoyed’ it”, Esmerelda explained. “But being at home for a few weeks was quite relaxing. I got everything tidied up and couldn’t go out and eat lots of yummy food.”
Francine touched Juan Carlos gently on the arm. “I’m afraid Esmerelda can’t cook. So being at home for her basically means salad every night.”
“Yes, she’s right. I probably did eat salad every day … well, every day I could be bothered to make it. My eldest son managed to send me some of those dried soups and powdered food packs he’d got left over from his Svalbard expedition. They were actually quite nice.”
At this horrific thought, Juan Carlos took a big step back, straight into an approaching waiter, sending the tray of champagne flying.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, or actual events is purely coincidental.