Authors: Jamie Rowboat
Tags: #Fiction Young Adults
It was after nightfall when Marie finally woke up on the sofa. The house was completely dark, apart from the moonlight streaming in through the French doors. Marie just lay there, she could see the answer machine blinking madly in the corner of the room and she knew one of the messages would be from her mother. She had no idea what time it was, so she allowed the ignorance of this position to excuse her from any immediate action. Marie hoped it was late enough not to call, but she knew that it would only make things worse if she delayed her reply much longer. Having just forced herself to the point of action, the light went on behind her and she swung around to see Gemma wandering towards the back door. She popped her head over the top of the sofa to say hello and Gemma jumped slightly as she came into view.
"Whoa, I was wondering where you had got to. You and that sofa are becoming good friends," she said, without slowing her progress towards the door. "We'll talk in a minute, but right now, I have an urgent appointment to keep in the bathroom."
"Yes, thank you, I think I've got the idea," said Marie.
Gemma chuckled and disappeared out of the door, leaving Marie the perfect opportunity to call her mum. Initially, the answer machine clicked in, and Marie thought she'd missed her again, but then the polite machine voice stopped abruptly.
"Hello," said Jackie, trying to settle into telephone speak.
"Hi Mum," said Marie, as light heartedly as possible.
"Oh darling, I'm so pleased you've called, I was getting worried about you," said her mum, with instant kindness in her manner. "I spoke to Gemma two nights ago, but since then I've been caught up with this wretched conference. She told me all about Charlie's accident, I'm so sorry. Have you heard any more news?"
"No, not yet, no one seems to know very much. The doctors are just trying to keep him stable at the moment. I'm sorry I didn't get hold of you before."
"Don't give it a second thought, darling. I had to have my mobile turned off, so it was my fault. I only wanted to make sure you're okay."
"Thanks Mum, I am, Gemma is looking after me very well."
"That's good, I know you're in good hands with her. Now look darling, I'm supposed to be going to London for another conference this week. I had planned for you to stay with your father, as it's half term, and Neil will be away as well, but I won't go if you need me darling, I really mean it. If you want me to stay, I will," she said, slightly breathlessly, as she struggled with the position she was in.
"That's fine Mum, Gemma's being very kind to me and she's quite happy for me to stay for a while. To be honest, I'm enjoying the distraction of her amazing house and listening to her travel stories."
"I'm certain she's got a lifetime of interesting ones to tell," interrupted Jackie, laughing.
"You don't know the half of it Mum," chuckled Marie. "Anyway, it's just good not to think about Charlie all the time. But thanks, Mum, I know you would stay if I asked you to and that's all that matters. I'll phone Dad tomorrow and tell him what I'm up to, okay?"
"Thank you, darling," said her mum, with palpable relief in her voice. "Now, are you sure there's nothing I can.oh damn, can you hold a second, someone else is trying to call me." There were a few seconds of Chopin and then her mum's voice suddenly cut in.
"Sorry, darling, it's the firm, Now, as I was saying, are you sure you're okay?"
"Yes Mum, I'm sure, I'll call you on your mobile if I get frantic, okay?" she said, knowing how to soothe her mum's fears.
"Okay, darling, must fly. The MD's on the other line, love you, bye."
"Bye," said Marie, putting the phone down and slumping into a nearby chair. Gemma appeared through the back door with had her headphones on so loud, Marie could hear the music she was listening to.
"Well, that's a load off my mind," yelled Gemma, at the top of her voice.
"Thanks very much for keeping me informed, you're too kind," Marie screamed back to no avail. Gemma was off in the music and she swayed across the room to its beat, her dressing gown over her shoulder. When she appeared sometime later, Marie had cooked a fritatta and was happily having some in front of The Eastenders. By the time they'd eaten and the shocking revelations at the pub had been unearthed, they were both too tired to even bother cleaning up. Gemma staggered off to her bedroom with an autobiography of Prince Charles, leaving Marie watching Parkinson interviewing some minor celebrity. When she woke up in the morning, the TV was still on, although fortunately the Teletubbies were on mute. From under the comfort of her snug doona, she could see Gemma bobbing around outside in the courtyard doing her usual rounds, so while that took place, Marie slipped off to the shower to wake herself up.
"I wonder what today has in store for us," she thought, drying herself with a big fluffy towel. She didn't have to wait long for an answer. As she finished getting dressed, there was a quiet tap at the door.
"Good morning, are you in the mood for a bit of travel?" said Gemma.
"Maybe, but I'm not too keen on anymore hiking," said Marie, hesitantly.
"No, I'm talking about real travel, like say, a quick trip to France. I want to take you to the two places there that are an important part of my history. Are you game?"
"Mais oui," said Marie, with a smile. "I might as well, I've come this far and no one is going to miss me this week. Where did you have in mind, but wait a sec, how will I pay for this, what about Charlie and what will I wear?"
"Whoa, calm down girl, it can all be worked out. To start with, you can do nothing for Charlie here other than to fret about him like everyone else and since Charlie isn't doing that, why should you? Secondly, I am wealthier than the Duke of Westminster and with much better access to cash, so forget about the money. Finally, I am thinking of taking you to Paris first, which should solve any clothing concerns you have. Then, we'll travel to Provence for a few days to the little village where I grew up. How's that for an outline?."
"I'll have to get my passport, but when do we leave?" asked Marie, excitedly.
"Ooh, in about three and a half hours," said Gemma, glancing at her watch.
"God, you're a tricky one. You've got it all organised already."
"Not really, I just woke up with a clear feeling that we were to travel somewhere today. As I walked passed the front door, I noticed a letter in yesterday's mail from the architect who has been overseeing the renovations to my house in St Germain, telling me that they are all complete and ready for my inspection. So, I phoned up British Airways just to check on the availability of tickets. The young man who answered the call was an old summer student of mine from the local agricultural college. He upgraded us to first class in order to secure the only two remaining seats on the afternoon shuttle. So, what do you think? Are we supposed to go?" said Gemma, with a laugh.
"So, how long do you think we'll be gone for?"
"Well, we might have a couple of days in Paris. Then we'll fly to Lyon and pick up a car from there to drive into the mountains. I think we'll need at least five or six days in total. Do you think that will be okay with your folks?"
"Yes, I'm sure they'll both be okay. Mum is busy all week and will just be envious, as she loves Paris, and dad will think it's 'cool' that I'm going," said Marie, mimicking Ian's voice. Within an hour, they were all organised and in a taxi, hurtling up the motorway towards Heathrow airport. Marie couldn't help noticing the calm, focused demeanour of her travelling companion and her considerably improved outfit, which looked distinctly 'designer-ish' to Marie.
"You seem to have changed, Gemma," she said in the end.
"Oh, when you've travelled as much as I have, the process becomes an intensely personal one. To me, travel is like a dance, which releases my dreams for a while," replied Gemma.
"Yes, I guess it does, although my experience of travel has so far been confined to a few trips to France and one to Italy. I know the freedom it brings, I just didn't think I was going to be experiencing it first-hand this holiday. But, then again, I didn't think I was going to fall in love, go astral travelling, or find out that there are people who live for hundreds of years either," she said, as they pulled up outside the terminal.
They had taken no more than a few steps towards the door when there was a shout from just behind them.
"Gemma, Gemma Granlin, is that really you?" came a booming male voice. Both of them swirled round to see who was shouting at them, only to spot a large, extremely well-dressed man of about fifty-five approaching them at great speed.
"Hello, Geoffrey," Gemma said, with kindness rising in her voice, as she got her measure of their assailant.
"My God, it is you," he said, grasping both of Gemma's hands to kiss them.
"Oh, Geoffrey, stop it," she chided. "Marie, this is Geoffrey Allbrush who was one of my students a good many years ago. Although I love him to death, he was not one of my brighter ones, if you know what I mean," she said, winking at Marie. "So, what are you up to now?" she said, before he had time to properly react.
"Oh well, I.well I'm Chancellor of the Exchequer with the present government," he said, with the wind thoroughly removed from his sails. Marie just laughed. "Oh, you're a crafty old one, Gemma," he said, gathering himself again.
"But what brings you out here?" he asked, as various dark-suited figures started to appear around him, looking worried at this unexpected delay in his schedule.
"Well, I'm off to Paris for a few days with my friend, Marie," said Gemma, with gentle weight behind her words. Geoffrey turned towards Marie and bowed slightly, but before he could say anything more, one of the hovering people in a smart black suit stepped in a bit closer.
"Sir, I'm sorry to interrupt, but the minister is waiting for you in the lounge.and."
"I know my schedule, Blythe, thank you," said Geoffrey, quietly but firmly.
"I will have you know that this lady is responsible for making me what I am today," he said, turning towards Gemma. "AND, before you say anything, it might not be much, but it's a lot more than I would be without her," he said, looking directly at her. "Now, Gemma, before Blythe here has a seizure over my schedule, there is a favour I need to ask you, since coincidence has cast you in my lap so fortuitously."
"Go on," said Gemma cautiously.
"Well, I've been pushing my government colleagues to back a stronger environment policy. Now that I'm slightly further up the pecking order than I used to be as environment minister, they're starting to support me in real numbers. But this weekend is very important to my plans. I'm presenting the blueprint of the policy to the whole cabinet before I go to my French and German counterparts in an attempt to initiate some bilateral support for the measures. The crux of the argument is to show that environmental sustainability doesn't mean economic ruin. As you know, I've heard many of your lectures on the subject. Would you do a small talk, just to break the ice for me? It would really help. I've got a good number of allies, but there are a few tough nuts to crack in there, and I need unanimous support." Gemma grabbed his hands, which were gesticulating wildly.
"When's the meeting?" she asked.
"Ten tomorrow morning at the government offices on the Champs-Élysées," he said, adjusting his tie, nervously.
"Well, you know where my house is. I'll need someone to drive me to and from the meeting and, as long as Marie doesn't mind, I'll need a guide for her in the morning."
"Excellent," said Geoffrey, who looked like a young boy who had just secured some help to finish his homework. "I'll organise it all and I've got just the person to show you around," he added, looking in Marie's direction. But before he could elaborate any further, the five or six black-suited floaters descended upon him and he was whisked through the main entrance without another word being spoken. Marie looked at Gemma and they both laughed, but then something unusual happened, the main doors opened again and Geoffrey came striding back out, leaving a disgruntled group of his people in his wake.
"Those bloody P.R. people, they'd own my soul if I let them. If I can remember even a few shreds of the wisdom that you shared with me, it is to ignore the clamour of others and tread your own path. Now, before I get hijacked again, I would love to take you both out to dinner tomorrow night to say thank you for your help. What do you say, would you let me do that, or have you got other plans?"
"No, we haven't got anything on tomorrow night, that would be lovely," said Gemma, still giggling slightly.
"Are you two laughing at me?" said Geoffrey, looking at the ground.
"No, no, we're not laughing at you. It's just the situation that seems funny. You look like an eagle who's being harassed out of the fish he's just caught by a group of pestering seagulls," said Marie, touching him lightly on the arm.
"Oh, I see what you mean," said Geoffrey, with a laugh. "I just don't know how to get them off my trail."
"Well, perhaps you should stop letting your powerful position dominate you. Just be yourself while it's going on, then you won't get confused by other people's agendas," said Marie, quietly.
"My goodness, I can see why you two are together," said Geoffrey, with a deep belly laugh. "You must be training her to take over your empire after you Gemma," he continued.
"Something like that," said Gemma, with a wry smile.
"Well, you've made the right decision, that's for sure and I will look forward to getting to know you better over dinner," he said, as he began to gradually back away.
"And I think you'll get on with my son Peter, your guide for the morning. I'll get him to give you a buzz at Gemma's place to arrange a time to pick you up. He knows Paris quite well, as he's lived there for a while now," he said, making his departure through the swing doors and into the arms of his anxious helpers.
Gemma and Marie stood there for a few moments without saying anything, allowing the detail of the information they had just received to sink in. Then, in perfect unison, they picked up their bags and walked boldly into the terminal. The tone of the trip had now been set and they could continue with full confidence that everything was in hand.