Chapter 18

IN THE WEEKS after the custody hearing, their romance burst into full bloom. Chris started to relax, and make his peace with the fact that Kim wasn’t going to prison, and would be back, wanting to see Ian. Francesca reminded him that there was nothing he could do about Ian’s mother. He had won a major victory. He had full control and sole custody, and all their visits would happen with supervision. Ian would be safe from now on. It allowed Chris to finally think about something else. He was spending more and more time with Francesca. They were in her living room and bedroom at night, after Ian went to sleep, but they didn’t dare do more than kiss, in case he woke up and came upstairs.

They went on wonderful outings together on weekends, the Bronx Zoo, the Staten Island ferry, the boat museum at the tip of Manhattan. She took them to see her father and Avery in Connecticut, and Chris and Henry got on well. The three of them wore costumes and went trick-or-treating on Halloween, and watched the parade in the Village. Francesca hadn’t had as much fun in years. The next morning, as Ian lay in bed with a plastic pumpkin full of candy, Chris came upstairs to find her in her room.

“I’ll trade you two Milky Ways for a Snickers,” he said, as he walked into the room.

“No deal. The lady on Jane Street gave me the dark Snickers bars. That’s worth at least six Milky Ways, and a bag of peanut M &M’s. I saw you slip two of them into your pocket at our last stop.”

“You’re a crook,” Chris accused her as he kissed her. He was starving for her. Years of monastic solitude had finally caught up with him. “I have a proposition for you,” he whispered as he ran a hand under her sweater, and she caught her breath. “I want to go away for the weekend with you.” They didn’t dare get too passionate, with Ian so near, but they had come close. Very close.

“When?”

“Now!” he said, and she laughed. They had Ian on their own for the weekend, because Marya and Charles-Edouard had gone back to Vermont for a few days to work on the book. “How about next weekend? Maybe Marya will baby-sit.” He sounded desperate.

“I’ll ask her when they get back.”

“If she won’t do it, I warn you, I may go crazy and rip your clothes off in a public place of my choosing.”

“Take it easy. We’ll work something out,” she said, and teased him as they kissed. They were both anxious for an adult weekend somewhere where they didn’t have to behave, be circumspect, or think about Ian. They needed time for themselves now. They had been very respectable for almost two months. It was long enough.

Francesca asked Marya on Sunday night when they got home from Vermont. As always, she was delighted help out. She loved Ian, and heartily approved of their romance.

“Where are you two going?” She was happy for them. There were two happy couples in the house now. Charles-Edouard was wonderful to her, and promised her he was a reformed man. He wanted no other woman but her. Francesca had long since told her about her father, who had been exemplary ever since he had married Avery. She told Marya it just took the right woman.

“We haven’t figured out where we’re going. I wanted to see if you’d mind baby-sitting first.” And then Marya had an idea.

“Why don’t you go to my place in Vermont? It’s quiet and peaceful. It is beautiful this time of year, even if it’s chilly. And it’s nicer than being in a hotel.” Francesca loved the idea, and so did Chris. They made their plan. They were going to leave on Friday afternoon and come back on Sunday night. It was a long drive, but it was worth it. They thought of nothing else all week, and Marya was busy making plans with Ian. They were going to a movie, a play, and a museum. Ian was delighted, and Chris and Francesca could hardly wait. Francesca got one of her artists to work at the gallery for her. They were covered.

It felt like a getaway scene in a movie as they drove away from the house on Charles Street late Friday afternoon. There was rush-hour traffic, but neither of them cared. They had actually pulled it off. Even Ian paid no attention as they left. He kissed both of them, and didn’t even ask where they were going for the weekend. He was too busy with Marya. And Chris promised to call him.

They both started laughing as they left the city, and congratulated each other on having done it.

“I kept worrying all week that something would happen and we couldn’t leave. Like Ian getting chicken pox,” Francesca said with relief as he drove.

“So did I,” Chris admitted. “I was sure one of us would get sick, or Marya couldn’t do it, or Kim would break out of jail or go nuts. We have two whole days together!” he said victoriously. “I can’t believe it!”

“Neither can I!” She was beaming.

Even the drive was relaxing and enjoyable. They stopped at a little inn on the way up and had dinner. And then got back on the road and continued driving to Vermont. They got to Marya’s place just before midnight. It was a pretty little house with an orchard, tall trees, and beautiful grounds. Francesca and Chris were thrilled to be there. Marya and Charles-Edouard had been enjoying spending time there lately and he loved the area. It was a perfect counterpoint to their city life in New York. In France, he had a farm in Normandy, which he had just given to his wife. He wanted to buy another one with Marya, when they were in France next summer. He liked the country better than the beach. He loved her home in Vermont.

It looked and felt like a honeymoon cottage as Chris unlocked the door and turned off the alarm. And Francesca looked around at all of Marya’s pretty things. It was a beautiful room with wood paneling and a fireplace. And upstairs, the guest room had a big canopied bed. They set their suitcases down, and before Francesca could even take her coat off, Chris had her on the bed and was kissing her. They were both out of breath and frantic with passion within minutes. They had waited so long for this, and they had wanted each other so much in the past weeks. They had been circumspect for Ian’s sake, but there were no constraints on them now. They were both naked within minutes and under the covers, learning each other’s bodies and fondling each other. They were both aroused, and neither of them could wait any longer. Francesca welcomed him, and Chris plunged into her, burning with desire. It was the hottest, fastest, most unbridled sex either of them had ever had. They were like two starving people who had finally found food after years on a desert island. They came at the same time, and lay breathless and panting half off the bed afterward, and they both started to laugh.

“I think I’m too old for this,” Chris said, trying to catch his breath, and she was lying on top of him, dripping with perspiration, her eyes closed, with a huge smile on her face.

“I think I died and went to heaven,” she said, as out of breath as he was. It had been worth waiting for, and they rolled over in bed and looked at each other. “Do you suppose it’s like this for Charles-Edouard and Marya?” she asked him, propped up on one elbow, admiring him, as she traced a lazy finger down his chest, and he laughed.

“I hope not. It would kill them.” He kissed her then, and she fondled him. He was totally sated, but easily aroused again. He had years to catch up on, and it had been a long time for her too. They made up for it that night. And again the next morning. Neither of them wanted to get out of bed. They just wanted to lie in each other’s arms.

Francesca went downstairs to make them coffee, and there were some rolls in the freezer that she heated up for them in the micro-wave. And then they went back to bed. There wasn’t a house around them for miles, and the view was beautiful. They finally got up and walked around the property, just so they could tell Marya they had, and then they went back to bed for the afternoon.

And they called Marya to thank her for the house and tell her how much they loved it.

“I’m so glad you do,” she said happily. “It’s very romantic, isn’t it?” She giggled like a girl, and Francesca smiled.

“Yes, it is,” she agreed.

“I never realized that until recently. I just thought it was a pretty house.”

Francesca knew that they would never forget the days they spent there. They made themselves go to a local tavern for dinner, where Marya said the food was very good, and she was right. And they took a walk in her orchards afterward by moonlight, and then they came back and sat on the porch, and huddled together and kissed. Neither of them wanted to go back to New York. They wanted to stay there forever. She envied Marya the house, and would have loved to spend weeks there with Chris instead of just a few days.

She smiled as she looked up at him, as they sat on the porch swing, swaying slowly. “You know, for two relationship-phobics, I think we’re doing pretty well. What do you think?”

“I think you’re turning me into a sex maniac. It’s all I can think of,” he confessed with a grin. “Are you putting something in my food?”

“Yeah, saltpeter. I can hardly sit down.” They both laughed. It was the perfect honeymoon weekend and just what they needed. It was the final bond to each other, and the only one they’d been missing. They had the friendship they’d built over many months, the romance that had sprung up between them since the summer, and now this, the union of their bodies to complete what they felt for each other. The circle of their love was complete.

“Would you ever want to get married, Francesca?” he asked as he held her.

“I never have before. I was afraid I’d end up like my mother, married fourteen times.”

“Be nice. Only five,” he teased her.

“I figured once was too many. My father cheated on everybody. My mother married everybody. I never wanted to do either, and I was afraid to have kids,” she said honestly. “That seemed like too much to me. What if you screw it up? You ruin a whole human being.” Chris was struck by the irony of it, as he listened to her. She would have made a wonderful mother but hadn’t had children because she was afraid to hurt someone or do something wrong. And Kim, who was a walking minefield and human disaster area, hadn’t hesitated to have Ian, and wanted more. Once he realized what a mess she was, Chris wouldn’t let her, although he would have loved to have more children. “I think Ian is the first child who has ever made me wish I’d had some of my own. But I’m still not convinced you have to get married to have them. That’s a double jeopardy I was never ready to face.”

“I think it’s nicer if you are. It’s a statement about commitment and believing in the other person.” He thought about it for a minute and then shrugged. “What do I know? Look what a catastrophe my marriage was.” But look at who he had married.

“It probably helps if you marry the right person.”

“I couldn’t have married a worse one. I must have been blind, but she talked a good game, and we were both young. I’d know better now.”

“Would you ever marry again?” She didn’t think he would and was stunned by his answer.

“I would with you,” he said softly, and she didn’t respond. It was a long time before she did.

“That terrifies me. I don’t want to screw up what we have.”

“If it’s right, it makes it better. If it’s wrong, it makes you wish you’d never been born. I can’t imagine feeling that way with you.” She kissed him and put a finger to his lips then. She didn’t want him to say anything she wasn’t ready to hear. But he told her he loved her that night, in the big four-poster bed. And she told him she loved him too. They fell asleep in each other’s arms.

They woke up when the sun rose the next morning, and had breakfast on the porch. It was cold, but the air was crisp, and they drank coffee in their bathrobes and sat on the porch swing again under a blanket. She was thinking about their conversation of the night before, about marriage, but she didn’t mention it, and neither did he. It was also on Chris’s mind, but he didn’t want to unnerve her, so he didn’t bring it up again.

They made love again that afternoon, and changed the sheets on the four-poster for Marya. They had done their dishes, and Francesca left her a note on the kitchen table. “Thank you for the most beautiful weekend of my life.” Chris looked at it and crossed out the last two words and wrote “our lives.” She smiled and kissed him.

“Thank you too,” she said to him, and he carried their bags out to his car.

They turned on the alarm and locked the door. They drove away just as the sun was setting, and Francesca leaned over and kissed him, and he smiled. “I love you, Chris.”

“I love you too, Francesca.” He reached over and touched her cheek, and they drove in silence for a while. There was so much to think about, and remember. Everything felt exactly the way things were meant to be. Neither of them had ever felt that way before.

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