Leo’s email pings, and he sees a new message from Mingan, Subject: OPEN HOUSE. He clicks and balloons and confetti fill his screen. “He’s a natural,” Leo thinks with a swell of pride. “Too bad I won’t be back in time.”
He realizes he hadn’t given much thought to the shop or how it was running, given what happened with Anelisse. He shouldn’t have been surprised, not really. He was already starting to think of her as a part of a past life.
In the hotel lobby, the concierge has arranged the car to take Leo to the helipad. Leo hands him an envelope containing some Euros. “Thank you, Marco.”
“Thank you, Mr. Cawley.” Marco bows slightly. “Have a safe journey. We hope to see you again soon.”
“By the way,” Leo turns back from the door. “The restaurant was perfect.”
“Thank you, sir,” Marco says again. “I’ll remember it.” Marco will remember, especially, how graciously Mr. Cawley had said goodbye to his…what had he called her? His love of a lifetime. He’d think of it again when his fiancée, whose family is intertwined with his, finds out about his girlfriend.
The helicopter pilot has bottles of Utopias on ice, remembering Leo’s favorite. “I should see about some of this at home.” Leo thinks, slowly exhaling as he swallows. He can almost feel the liquid seeping through his cells to cradle his nerve endings. Then he laughs, a small melancholy sound, realizing it may be an extravagance given his new circumstances. For special occasions then, he reaches a compromise with himself. Sunday evenings.
He looks down to the valley below. So many centuries of history, he thinks. And him? He asks himself, not for the first time. Yes, it was the right thing to do. He feels an easy certainty. “I’ve had my life of poetry.”
“Sir?” The co-pilot turns to him and Leo realizes he’s spoken aloud.
“Favorable conditions today,” Leo says to him.
“Yes, we’ll have you in Toulouse in eighteen more minutes,” the co-pilot says. “Let us know if you need anything.”
Leo thanks him and returns his gaze out the windows. What had brought people to the area when the first of the churches were built? Maybe they were lost, then trapped. Probably the valley offered sanctuary and protection.
His private banker and longtime family solicitor are waiting in the lounge when he arrives at the Toulouse airport. After greetings, freshly squeezed fruit juice and croissants, they present him with the last of the paperwork to sign. Leo leafs through the pages and retrieves a fountain pen from the inside breast pocket of his cashmere and silk jacket.
“Could we persuade you to call it Cawley Castle?” The solicitor asks.
Leo chuckles and shakes his head. “Chateau-sur-Lavende will do nicely.”
“A call for applications has been released, as per your specifications,” the banker says. Leo nods, recalling their correspondence.
“The foundation is set to provide grants for five-week residences, initially,” the banker continues.
“With the renovations and modifications on schedule, we can expect the first of the artists to arrive in six months’ time,” the solicitor says.
“Good.” Leo says, and stands.
“Congratulations.” They say, shaking Leo’s hand. “You are indeed a great friend of the arts world.”
The seat belt light is extinguished and Leo releases his as he clicks Send on his email response to Trudy’s manager at the fulfillment center, an acquaintance of his. He’d listened to her customer phone call again and recollected the coffee shop video, the one posted online by a customer waiting in line at her previous job. Someone had complained about their coffee and Trudy had pointed outside to people in dirty clothes sitting on the sidewalk, holding signs asking for food or change. She’d then challenged the customer to tell her about a real problem. Within days, that video received tens of thousands of hits and people flocked to the coffee shop. Leo had been amused, but understood when she was eventually let go. Her folk hero status had caused a rift among other staff.
The drink trolley squeaks down the narrow aisle between the seats. “Would you like anything?”
Leo nods and the attendant places a napkin on his tray, then pours him a scotch.
“Cola to go with that?”
Leo cringes at the abomination. Then, it occurs to him that maybe it is that bad. He nods again.
The attendant opens a can of Coke and places it on his tray beside the scotch. Leo thanks him and he moves on to the next passenger.
Returning to his email, Leo sees a response from the vocational school. Trudy had come so far from the time he had met her that he was reluctant to push. He remembers the angry, malnourished waif who’d smashed his window years ago. Police had known her since her first juvenile arrest and, after speaking with them, he decided not to press charges on condition that she receive intensive counseling and attend classes to receive her high school equivalency diploma.
He sips his scotch, cringes again, and adds equal part Coke to his glass.
He looks out the small oval window, this time at nothing but the white cloud that swallowed the plane. The problem was also a strength, he knew; Trudy’s honesty and the way she faced life head on. He was also proud of her awareness of the world beyond herself, and of how much she cared. In the final analysis he decided he’d be doing her a disservice if he didn’t intervene.
“I’ll tell her over dinner when I get home,” he says to himself. He shakes his head, sighing, as he imagines her reaction to an opportunity – yes, an opportunity, he’d say – to attend customer service classes at the local vocational school.
Watching the billowy shades of white and grey slide across the window, he notices a shift; a realignment.
Home. The little flat above the shop in America was his home now. He leans back, reclines his seat and smiles.
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See beginning of this story here.