Skinner: Finding Solid Ground
Max spent some time working on the bike, cleaning it up filling it with petrol, checking the tires and taking it out for a run. He’d had a bike when he was at university it had been for the sole purpose of taking girls out for rides in the countryside. He’d spent his youth drinking and shagging and it was only his intelligence that got him out of the university for he rarely ever studied. Then came boring years of learning his trade and working his way up the ladder that ended at M&S. These were the memories he had. Were they real? He had no way of knowing.
The competitive side of him had taken over and ruthlessly drove him forward, he’d become hard and cold but his charm laid a veneer over these faults. At least that had been the Max Skinner he knew before he ever went to the House of Four Seasons. Toni had dug deep and found him, and now he had surfaced in Provence ready for life.
Monday morning found him wrapped in his uncle’s robe almost afraid of what he was about to do. He wished Toni were here to reassure him and tell him he was twelve today. He didn’t feel twelve he felt about six. He didn’t count his movie as anything real, nothing he’d experienced there had any bearing on his life now. Fanny hadn’t been real at all, but Toni had been.
He took his shower and fooled around in the bedroom, finally convincing himself he was being a bloody pillock about the whole thing, and got himself dressed and out the door. He rode up onto the cobbled courtyard at Chambord, took a breath and passed through the narrow opening in the stone wall. He was relieved to see Connie sitting out at a table waiting for him.
"G’morning," he smiled.
"Good morning to you too, I’m ready when you are." Connie stood up wearing a pair of tight jeans and a white pullover sweater. She had her hair pulled back in a clip at the base of her head and a pair of sunglasses in her hand. She may have looked cool and put together but she felt far from it. This was the first time she’d gone anywhere with a man since her divorce.
Connie climbed on back of the big bike and looked around for the grabs on the seat to hold onto. Max settled in front of her and they were off. Max had a brief flashback riding the bike at the House with Toni behind him; she’d held him tightly around his waist with her head on his back, the day they’d made love in the stream. Help me, Toni, he said in his mind and an answer came to him, you can do anything, you are loved. He caught his breath, had that come from her?
He stopped at the crossroads and pulled out the map, "I need some help here, Connie."
Connie looked around him at the map, "Let’s start there at Lacoste."
Max slowed the bike, "Marquis de Sade, shall we see if he’s home?"
"I don’t think I want to visit him thank you, but a drink at that café might be okay."
Max ordered them both lemonade and he looked through the tourist map, "We should have made a plan I suppose."
"I don’t really like plans; you know sometimes you find the perfect place without looking so hard for it."
Max liked that, "As long as you don’t get us lost I shall put away the map."
"I might, I’m not that familiar with this area."
"I’ll trust you…I don’t often do that…trust."
"Neither do I. Where did you live in London?"
"Knightsbridge, I still have a flat there."
"I once lived in Camden in another life."
"Did you, strange that we’d both end up here in Bonnieux."
"I suppose it is it never occurred to me that I would live in France some day. But I like it. I think two years is long enough to come to that conclusion."
"My uncle lived here for forty odd years but he still loved England."
"And you, Max; do you still love it?"
"I’m not sure love is the right word, but it will always be a part of me."
"Is there no one special in your life, Max?" She had to ask it had to know because she was beginning to like him very much.
"Special, well I would have to say yes, but she’s married to my brother and no longer ‘in my life’; as far as dating anyone, no."
"I didn’t know you had a brother."
Max thought he’d put his foot in it; of course his Uncle Henry would never have mentioned siblings.
"Actually I have three half brothers; two in America and one based in England. You only have the one sister?"
"Penny, yes only one. Where are you in the rank and file?"
"I’m the eldest."
"Are your parents still alive?"
"No, both died when I was still in school. Are you ready to ride again?" He didn’t like personal questions, he was afraid he was going to slip up somewhere.
They ended up in Cucuron and Max looked over the pool remembering the way it was in the movie, with a screen showing old film clips and a piano, and the rain… and Fanny. Connie noticed the look on his face.
"Have you been here before?"
"Not really, no not really at all; would you like to find a place for dinner here?"
"Yes, it’s nice here by the pool."
"This has been the most enjoyable day, Connie, thank you so much for coming with me."
"Thank you for asking me, I was a little hesitant you know but I’ve enjoyed being with you today."
"That makes me very happy," he smiled.
"I haven’t been with anyone since my divorce."
"I haven’t been with anyone since last summer…so we were both due a good day." Their eyes met and stayed for a moment and she looked away.
Max paid for their dinner and they mounted the bike for the long winding way back home.
He stopped the bike at the entrance to La Siroque and turned and looked at her, "If you say no that’s okay."
He started the bike again and took her home. "Sorry, but I had to ask; I really didn’t want this day to end."
"There will be other days, Max," She kissed him softly and disappeared through the narrow opening in the wall.
Max blinked, got on his bike and rode home. It was going to be a long night.
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