My arrival in Champs Les Sims was uneventful. I was tired from the long trip, but I was eager to start my training at the Institut d’Art . I didn’t waste time in the hostel I was staying at; I just dropped my bags off, got a small bite to eat and then headed out the door. I hopped on the Kenspa that had been provided for me while I was here. I couldn’t wait to see where I would be going to school for the next several months.
My first impression of the building and the grounds was a good one. I loved the statuary and the majestic fountains. The architecture seemed to match the rest of the town in a nice understated way.
I was not the only student to arrive at the Institute when I did, but I can’t say that I paid that much attention to the others. Maybe if I hadn’t been so jet-lagged, I would have noticed the very hot blond man who was checking me out.
In class, of course I did notice him. How could I not? He really was good looking. I immediately wanted to paint him and wondered if we’d get to paint any figure models and if people in the class would have to do the modeling. I noticed that there were modeling couches in our art room as well as some still life objects.
Our professor was also a very nice looking, older man. His name was Monsieur Dulac. I liked him, but he was intense. I just hoped that when he saw my work, he’d be impressed.
After our first class, the good looking man, whose name was Vincent Olivier, came up to me and introduced himself.
“Mademoiselle! Pardon! Mon nom est Vincent. Je ne pourrais pas aider à noter votre travail. Il est parfait. Incroyable. Excellentes courses de brosse,” he enthused.
My French is not that good, but I understood that his name was Vincent and that he thought I had excellent…brush strokes. At least that’s what I think he said. I hoped that he was admiring my work and not giving me a line.
“Je suis désolé. Je ne parle pas ce bon Français,” I struggled to tell him my French was terrible. I suppose my abysmal accent and butchering of grammar was enough to clue him in.
“Ah, pardon. I speaks zee Seem-leesh.”
It made it easier that he spoke Simlish fairly well. I introduced myself and told him I was from Twinbrook. Of course he’d never heard of it.
“Eez eet by Bridgeport?”
“Mais non,” I tried to explain that it was a swamp that was trying to become a major city, but he didn’t completely understand. We switched subjects back to art and then we were both much more comfortable.
Monsieur Dulac was a good instructor. He helped me improve my painting quite a lot. Although he was intense, he had a real passion for art and was willing to give advice and encouragement. Even a painting of simple fruit in a bowl was better after he showed me how to angle my brush to apply the paint just so. But what I really wanted to do was sculpt.
One of the reasons that I had chosen this school was that it had a reputation for teaching both painting and sculpting. Monsieur Dulac was reputedly an expert in both. After class one day, I caught up with the professor and asked him when we were going to be able to try other artistic mediums.
“Monsieur, monsieur! Excusez-moi. Désolé de vous tracasser, mais quand nous vont commencer à sculpting?” My French was getting better. After talking with Vincent and a few of the other students, I asked that they speak to me in French. I knew I would get better if that was all I heard. Monsieur Dulac answered in French as well.
“Mademoiselle Fields, don’t worry. Once we have mastered the still life in oil, then we will move on to still life in clay or wood.”
“That’s wonderful,” I enthused. “My brother Will is a sculptor. He likes working in ice. I hope to improve enough so that I match his skill.”
“Ice is very difficult. But I have faith in you, mademoiselle. You are quite talented.”
I blushed. “Thank you.”
Vincent, who saw me conversing with M. Dulac, came up to us to find out what we were talking about.
“I loved your work today, Kara,” he said. “I wish I could get my brush work to be as perfect as yours.”
“Oh,” I blushed again. “I’m not that good. You should see my brother Paul.”
Both the professor and Vincent assured me that I was indeed perfect. I knew better, but without Paul here to show me up, I decided to just accept their compliments and then change the subject.
That’s when Vincent asked me to join him in the café for lunch.
“So, you are a writer, too,” Vincent asked me over the autumn salad he’d bought for our lunch. We were talking about our lives before coming to the Institut.
“I’ve had a few books published,” I admitted. “Mostly children’s books. They’re pretty embarrassing.”
“Would I know them?”
“Maybe. Do you know Huggy Bunny Goes to China?”
“You wrote that?! I used to read that to my little sister. She loved the Huggy Bunny books.”
I concentrated on my autumn salad. It’s awkward to have someone talk about your work as if it means they know you. It’s like they’ve seen inside your underwear drawer and know how many g-strings you own.
“So, have you written anything for adults?” Vincent continued. I told him about the two Sci-Fi books I’d written. “They aren’t as famous as Huggy Bunny, but I like them better,” I admitted.
“I will have to find a French version of them.”
“Good luck with that.”
A few weeks later, M. Dulac allowed us to go upstairs to the sculpting room where we were able to work in clay or wood. I chose clay because I felt more comfortable working with it. With a few pointers from the professor, I managed to make a pretty decent replica of a globe.
Then we went back to painting, but this time instead of still life, we were painting figures. Unfortunately, I would not be painting Vincent. Instead we got a model named Marcel. I suppose Marcel looked good enough, but I was disappointed not to be able to see Vincent half naked.
Vincent had asked me out a few times. He offered to show me around Champs Les Sims. We visited the old Celtic burial grounds, the Nectararie, and the Galerie d’art. Vincent was the perfect companion, always a gentleman.
But as things started to get more serious, and Vincent began flirting with me and whispering things in my ear before class or while we were out, I realized that I didn’t like him in that way.
Sure, he was handsome, fun to be around, and interested in many of the same things as I was, but I just wasn’t that attracted to him. I felt terrible when I finally told him that I didn’t want a relationship with him.
“Look, Vincent, I’m sorry. I think I’ve given you the wrong impression.”
“Yeah. I like you. I really do, but…well, I like you more as a friend, you know?”
“But we have been dating for all of these weeks,” he looked a little hurt.
“We’ve been going out. Having a good time. I’ve had fun.”
“We could still have fun and be lovers, too.”
I shook my head. “I just don’t like you that way. I didn’t mean to make you think that we’d become…lovers. I just thought we were friends.”
“Puh! Friends. I do not need friends!” Vincent was becoming quite animated. He tried to reason with me. “I see a beautiful woman and I want her for a lover. I take her out, show her around, treat her like a queen. I expect her to be grateful.”
“Grateful!” I went from being sorry to being insulted. “So all of our outings have been what? Extended foreplay? I was supposed to be so grateful that I just fall into bed with you?” Vincent gave one of those absent French sort of shrugs as if to say but of course.
“I wanted to be your friend, but now…now, I don’t even want that!” I shoved Vincent out of my way as I stormed out of the Galerie.
Over the next few weeks, I tried not to let my anger at Vincent get in the way of my studies. I concentrated on my painting and sculpting and ignored Vincent. Of course Monsieur Dulac noticed something was wrong.
“Mademoiselle, what is it that darkens your mood? You are using a heavy hand with the paint. You need to relax.”
“It’s nothing. I’m sorry.”
“Is it a boy?”
“No.” But my denial didn’t fool the professor.
“L’amour has a way of getting in the way of art, non? Especially when it is unreturned.”
“It’s not love. I didn’t love him. I don’t even like him anymore!”
“Perhaps not, but you have loved before, non? I can tell that you have the passion of a woman who has loved. It is in your art.”
I thought about it. I had loved. I loved Shawn for years before our relationship fell apart. I remembered his smile and the look in his brown eyes whenever we were together. But that was in the past. It was over.
“What you need is to find love again,” Monsieur Dulac said. He had a look in his eye that I recognized. He was hitting on me! I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know his first name.
I turned back to my painting severely confused. I hadn’t felt anything for Vincent, but I had to admit that M. Dulac intrigued me. He was so poised, so knowledgeable. And he was handsome. He looked like a man who knew things.
So later, after class was over, when Monsieur Dulac asked if he could take me somewhere special, show me something intriguing, I said, “Sure,” even though I knew it could turn out to be a very bad idea.
But he was a perfect gentleman. In his car he told me his name was François and asked me to call him by it. I agreed, though it took me a little time to get used to it. He ended up driving me up to the old Landgraab Chateau. He explained the history of the building on the way.
“Oh, I know about this!” I was excited. “My dad and mom came here and explored the whole place. They told me of all of the fancy rooms and the traps everywhere!”
After the tour (where he showed me the traps and how to disarm them), I gave François a big hug. I had a great time. The next day, when he asked me out to the café, I agreed to go. Pretty soon, it became a regular thing. I know that the other students thought we were dating, but like Vincent, François was a prefect gentleman and hadn’t even tried to kiss me, though he was quite good a flirting.
Unlike Vincent, if François had made a move to kiss me, I would have allowed it. I was attracted to him even though he was so much older than me.
When François invited me to his house for dinner, I was thrilled. We talked about art and sculpting and my writing over the autumn salad he prepared (he learned it was my favorite, so I was flattered that he had made it for me.)
After dinner, we retired to his sofa. He gathered me close as we watched a romantic movie together. It felt good to be held in his arms.
And when he kissed me, I got tingles. I hadn’t felt anything like it since Shawn. But François was a more experienced man than Shawn had been. He knew just how to kiss me, where to touch me…and when to stop.
“Cheri, unless we stop now, this is going to go to far,” he whispered into my ear as he nuzzled my neck.
“And that’s bad?” I breathed.
“Non. I want to make love to you. But…” He pulled away and looked into my eyes. “Are you ready for that? Do you want to make love with me?”
Did I? I pulled away and scooted a little on the couch. “I like you François. I love it when you kiss me. I…I want to make love…but…” How could I explain it to him? Would it sound silly for him to hear that I’d only been with one other person and that person was just a boy? Would he laugh? Would he think I was too naïve and young?
“Non cheri, you are not ready.” He kissed me again, but it wasn’t as intense or urgent as before. Then he promised to take me out again. “Perhaps then…oui?”
“Oui.” I promised. The good night kiss he gave me was almost as hot as the one on the couch. I almost reconsidered right then, but then he let me go and I went back to my hostel alone.
Actually we went out a few more times before François invited me back to his home again. Our dates were always romantic and fun. He kissed me and my knees got weak, but he never went farther than kissing and maybe a little heavy petting. So I was the one who, after a wonderful picnic out by the fishing pond (even the out doors was nice with François), said, “Let’s go back to your place.”
We ended up in his bedroom this time. He kissed my hand and led me to his bed. We made out passionately, he took his time with me, which I appreciated. I hadn’t told him that I’d only been with one other person. I didn’t want him to know I was so inexperienced.
François nuzzled my neck and took a deep breath of my hair. “I love the smell of you,” he whispered. “You smell of strawberries and cream. Strawberries for your hair and cream for your skin.”
Strawberries and cream. That’s what Shawn used to say I smelled like. He’s the one who always bought me strawberry scented bubble bath. He used to say that with my hair, I looked like Strawberry Shortcake. We used to laugh about it because I was so not like her with my Goth clothes in grey and black instead of pink.
“Tell me now, if you want to stop,” François lifted himself off of me a little. “Later I may not be able to. Do you want me to stop?”
I looked up into his brown eyes, so intense and piercing. I felt like he could see everything in me. But I couldn’t see anything looking at him. I was remembering another pair of brown eyes. Softer eyes. Shawn’s eyes.
“Ah.” I could see when François realized that I wasn’t with him anymore. He pulled back even more. “You are thinking of your lover. And it isn’t me.”
“No! I mean, he’s not my lover. I…I haven’t seen him for years. But I…” I scooted off the bed, fixed my clothes a little. “I’m so sorry.” I felt mortified.
“It is I who am sorry,” François said. He too got out of bed. “I thought that maybe…you are very beautiful, you know? So different, exotic. So colorful and young. But it is not meant to be.”
I didn’t deserve his nice treatment of me. He was so sure of himself even though I could tell he was disappointed. He had really liked me, found me attractive. I’d screwed things up so badly!
I left François’ house feeling worse than I had ever felt. I was so lost. Here I was in France and I had had two handsome, fun, intelligent men who liked me. But all I could do was think of Shawn and regret that he was no longer in my life. I couldn’t get past it and move on.
François would have probably been a wonderful lover. He may have even caused me to fall in love with him if I had let him. I could have at least let him help me forget Shawn and the mistake that had been our first time together.
What was I going to do?
All I could do was focus on my work. My relationship with François was strained, but he kept things professional and didn’t let it affect his instruction. Eventually, though we didn’t have the easy camaraderie that we had in the past, I was even able to talk to him about my art.
And then, almost before I realized it, my year in France was up. It was time for me to return home. I was excited to be going back. I felt like I had grown up so much, not only in my art, but also as a person.
I promised myself that I would work on my personal relationships when I got back to Twinbrook. I would never see Shawn again, so I really needed to move on. François and Vincent may not have been the right men for me, but there was someone out there. I knew it.