Jeff stepped out into the bright sunshine. His one regret, that he’d not managed to finish some thirty minutes earlier. Due to the rain he’d not been on a run once that week. And today, with near perfect conditions, all he could think of was getting across town to the crafts shop and then heading home as quickly as possible.
Bus or taxi? A quick glance at his watch and he turned away from the bus stop and headed towards the Les Halles, ignoring the bustling crowds enjoying the sunshine and some Easter shopping. His luck was in as half way down the road he spied an empty taxi coming towards him. Despite having been in France almost six months now, he still baulked at the French method of stopping taxis. Instead, he merely raised an arm in the hope that no suicidal Frenchman would jump out onto the road in front of him and whisk the taxi away. Again, he was in luck.
“23 impasse des lilas.”
The taxi driver gave a blank look in return.
The driver’s face brightened and Jeff relaxed. Things should still work out. In his best French he explained to the driver that he wanted to stop very briefly en route. He’d tell the driver when. The latter merely shrugged his shoulders and pointed at the metre. This was going to be an expensive taxi ride. Still, it would be worth it. He closed his eyes and imagined the radiant faces of his children as they set out all together on the hunt for those brightly coloured Easter eggs. Pity, there weren’t more shops that sold egg colouring. He could have done without this last minute dash across town.
He started taking more interest in his surroundings. The taxi was making pretty good progress despite the rush hour and he didn’t want to miss the shop. That was when he saw her. Lucy, in a red dress and coming out of a side-entrance between a wine shop and a hairdressers. What on earth was she doing there? This wasn’t her usual shopping territory. His mind began to work overtime. He saw her standing before him pleading all sorts of excuses, none of which were plausible. He saw himself climbing up a narrow staircase to the door of a dingy looking office, bearing the plaque…
A screeching noise as the taxi pulled up with a jolt at a red light. Jeff awoke with a start just in time to catch another expletive-like expression which, this time, Jeff did not bother noting down. He felt ashamed. How could he possibly have thought… And then he realised where his thoughts had taken him. About five minutes beyond the crafts shop and the egg colouring. He tried to explain to the driver that he wanted him to turn around and go back. More expletives as the thickset arms waved towards the metre. The sight of Jeff’s credit card seemed to calm him slightly.
How could he have been so stupid? How could he have even entertained the suspicion that she…? He shoved all further thoughts about this out of his mind.
It was another half hour before Jeff, egg colouring safely stored away in his briefcase, climbed out of the taxi and handed the driver his credit card. Not yet used to the creative arithmetic of French taxi drivers he punched in the code without a word, picked up his briefcase and headed inside.
“Hi! I’m home.”
He went through into the living room where his wife was standing at the window watching the kids playing in their sandbox.
“Sorry, I’m late love. I drove straight past the crafts shop, had to get the taxi to turn around,” he stammered, reddening.
“Never mind, dear. We’ve only just got back from the park ourselves. Come on, let’s get straight at it. If we do them now, they’ll still be dry by tomorrow morning. And you can hide them in the garden while we’re having breakfast. The kids won’t notice a thing. But before that…”
She went out towards the kitchen and returned, bottle in hand.
“I was going to keep this until tomorrow. Look, I’ve not even wrapped it yet. But you look as if you need some of this right now.”
“My favourite Cognac! Thanks, darling.” He leant over and gave her a peck on the cheek.
“But, of course, that’s what you were doing in that shop. I saw you coming out. I was in the taxi and I thought…”
And he was so busy wrapped up in his explanations, he failed to see the fear staring out of his wife’s eyes.