Alex and Rick sat in the Salon César Ritz, enjoying the breakfast buffet that had been catered exclusively for the guests of the wedding. Both of their plates were piled high with sausage, eggs, bacon and toast. They were refuelling for their last night together in Paris. Tomorrow they would each catch a plane, Rick back to the Middle East and Alex back to New York.
The couple sat side by side, Ricks arm was slung casually across the back of Alex's seat as he whispered something in her ear. Her answering chuckle immediately drew Jon's attention as he escorted his wife into the room. He stood frozen in the doorway.
"Jon..." Dot asked "...are you coming?"
"Huh? Oh yeah."
He followed Dot over to the buffet table and retrieved a plate from the warming rack. Not one thing he passed appealed to him. As he trailed along behind his wife perusing the buffet spread, Jon would surreptitiously glance in Alex's direction. She looked calm and relaxed as she joked with Rick, but every now and then when her husband's attention was diverted - when she thought no one was watching - he could see the sadness behind the facade. The sadness he was sure he had caused.
Alex hadn't noticed his presence in the room yet. Or maybe she had and she was just choosing to ignore it. That thought was like a spear to the gut. He was so engrossed in watching Alex, he hadn't even noticed that while she seemed oblivious to his presence, her husband wasn't. Rick caught Jon's eye and nodded. Jon nodded back.
He caught up to Dot who had progressed further down the buffet line than he had in his distracted state. "Babe," he said gently, "will you be ok for a while? There's something I have to do."
Dot looked at her husband curiously and then followed his gaze to where it was settled on Alex. "Don't you think you did enough damage last night? She looks happy enough Jon. Just leave her be."
"I owe her more than that Dottie. She deserves an apology and I'd like to give her one."
"Hey, they're your balls. Knock yourself out."
Jon drifted towards their table, the empty plate forgotten in his hand.
"Morning guys." He said quietly so as not to startle her as he sidled up to the table.
Alex ignored him.
"Mornin' mate," Rick smiled. "Did you get some sleep?"
"Eventually yeah," he chuckled and winked over Alex's head, "thanks. Hey man, would you mind if I borrowed your gorgeous wife for a bit?"
Alex shook her head almost imperceptibly, pleading Rick with her eyes to say no.
"Of course not man. Go ahead." The irate look Alex shot her husband would have been amusing had Jon not known he was the cause of it.
"Alex?" Jon placed his empty plate on the edge of the table and held out a hand for her to take.
"Jon can't we do this some other time...I just sat down to eat." Alex protested.
Jon just shrugged, "I promise I'll have you back before your eggs are cold...and hey, even if I don't..." he added with a sheepish smile, "...it's a buffet...I'll make you a new plate myself."
"Ok fine," she rolled her eyes, "but this better be quick. I don't get enough time with my husband as it is," she said, having the satisfaction of seeing pain flicker across his beautiful face. Rising, ignoring the hand he offered, she demanded, "Where?"
"Follow me." He turned to Rick before walking away. "Thanks man."
Rick nodded once.
Jon placed a hand on Alex's back to guide her from the room and felt her stiffen beneath his palm. Could he expect anything less? He led her through a pair of French Doors to a beautiful little courtyard garden. The second the door closed behind them, he knew it was a mistake. Soft flakes of snow drifted slowly to the ground where they immediately turned to slush. All of the trees were baron. The fountain – the centrepiece of the garden – sat dormant for winter. Alex who was dressed in only a light sweater shivered violently with the cold.
"Shit," he cursed, "this ain't gonna work." He glanced around the small garden and saw a door off to their right slightly ajar. "Here," he said and grabbed her hand unconsciously, as he led her to the only shelter from the elements he could see.
The door led to a small private dining room that adjoined – by way of an ante-chamber - the larger one they had just been in. The room was arranged for an intimate dinner for two. The table was intricately laid with all of the finery royalty would expect. On the far wall a fire blazed beneath a marble mantle, framed by two sumptuous arm chairs. Jon pulled one closer to the fire and indicated for Alex to sit. She complied.
Rather than sitting in the other he pulled up a foot stool so he was directly before her. He sat stiffly, legs open, feet placed either side of hers. His elbows rested on his knees and his hands lulled between them. He seemed to be focused on some area between them and the floor.
Tension sparked in the room while Jon mustered up the courage to speak. Just as Alex was about to rip into him he raised his head and met her eyes. "Jesus Ali, I don't even know where to start." He paused and drew in a deep breath exhaling loudly before he continued. "You know I'm not someone who likes to admit they're wrong...but yesterday...last night...baby, I'm so sorry. I have no excuse."
Every word of the tirade Alex had prepared evaporated from her mind with those few words. But he wasn't done yet. He reached tentatively for her hands. She didn't pull away.
"What can I say baby? Jealousy is a terrible thing, and not something I am accustomed to, except it seems where you are concerned. I can't tell you how much I hate seeing his hands on you. And do you know what the worst thing is?" She shook her head slightly, his eyes never left hers. His thumbs traced circles on the back of her palms. "I actually like the son-of-a-bitch."
Alex found her voice, "Do you think it's any easier for me Jon? I've been watching you with Dot for years. She is a wonderful woman, Jon. You know that right?" He nodded. "I feel like a god damn whore every time I'm in the same room as her. You're hers Jon. You belong to her in every way possible."
"Not in the way that counts most...my heart belongs to you."
"Oh Jon." She shook her head hopelessly.
The silence seemed to stretch forever then.
"Did Rick mention I saw him last night?" Jon finally asked, shifting his focus to the floor.
Jon chuckled. "Probably didn't want to embarrass you."
"Why would you seeing my husband embarrass me?" Alex had no idea what he was talking about.
He chuckled again, but there was little amusement in it. "Never mind."
"Oh no you don't, Jon...What are you talking about? Where did you run into my husband?"
Jon winced, he really hated that word. "In the bar."
"Oh...what were you both doing in the bar? And when? I wouldn't have thought `he would have time since we...." she let the thought trail off but it was obvious to Jon where it was heading.
"Rick came down for a drink. I couldn't sleep." He said simply. He met her eyes again. "I felt like an ass for the way I treated you and besides..." He looked back down at his feet.
"The couple in the next room were going at it half the night and I could hear it through the walls." His expression was hidden from her but she imagined that mischievous grin of his.
Jon didn't elaborate further. Slowly the cogs of her brain turned over as she wondered why he had told her this. Well she had asked, but his reluctance to meet her eyes was telling her there was more to it. After a couple more minutes of consideration Alex's face began to redden.
"What room are you in Jon?" She asked softly.
"216." When he looked up there wasn't even the slightest hint of amusement in his features as she'd imagined. His expression was...tortured. The term sounded melodramatic to her mind but there really was no other way to describe the pain that was so clearly etched into every line of his face.
"Regardless of all the shit with Dot," he said sadly, "at least you've never had to listen to us."
"Oh Jesus Jon, I am soooo sorry." She took his cheek in her palm. "I swear...I didn't know you were next door." What a fucking nightmare this weekend was turning into.
"I know that Alex," he said, his voice raw with emotion, "but would it have made a difference if you did?"
"Jesus Jon, do you seriously think I could hurt you on purpose like that?" She asked.
Like what I did to you last night. "Fuck. I'm sorry Ali. I know you'd never be capable of that. That's the kind of shit I would pull....I did pull." He shook his head. "It's just that...well...I guess I've been trying to tell myself that what you have with him isn't real...that you only married him to get back at me. But that's not it is it?"
"Maybe it started that way." Alex admitted.
"But it's not like that now?"
Her reply was barely audible. "No...it isn't."
"You love him."
It was a statement...not a question, but Alex felt she needed to answer regardless. She nodded. "I love you both."
"But you married him." Jon's voice cracked on the last word.
"Because you were already married...and you made it clear that you couldn't or wouldn't give that up." She defended.
"So...here we are."
"Yep...here we are."
"I don't think I can lose you again Ali." Jon dropped to his knees and rested back on his heels between her thighs.
She hooked a finger under his chin and forced him to meet her gaze. "Did I say you were going to?"
"I...I thought after the way I behaved last night...." the sentence trailed off.
"Jon we've tried to be apart...it clearly didn't work...for either of us."
"Is this working?"
"I don't know...but I think we can make it work."
"What do you want from me Ali?"
Alex took his face tenderly between her hands and held his gaze. "Love me when I'm with you. Think of me when I'm not. And try to be understanding when I can't drop everything to be with you."
"I've never asked that of you."
"Jon" her tone was chastising but gentle "...we're being honest here...you know you have." She held up a hand to stop his protest. "And that's ok...I want to be that demanding on your time too...but I know that isn't realistic...for either of us. You are just so used to getting whatever you want that you expect me to fall into line too, but baby...I have a life...I have commitments. If by chance our schedules mesh that's wonderful...I like nothing better than spending my free time with you...but you have to understand, particularly now, Dot will be having the...the baby soon..." Jon watched her choke over the words and realised just how much his malicious little display of the evening before must have cost her. Perhaps he had been wrong in thinking that hearing her make lo...no...fucking Rick... had been harder for him than what she had endured. "...and with your tour coming up that won't happen often. We just have to make the most of our time together when it does. There have to be sacrifices on both sides if this is going to work." Alex finished firmly.
"I understand that but..."
"No buts Jon. If you want this to work, you have to commit to it. I can't do it alone. We just have to accept and enjoy what time we manage to steal."
"And try not to spend it arguing." He smiled
Alex nodded in agreement. "And try not to spend it arguing." The smile that touched her eyes, melted his heart. They would be ok. Somehow they would be ok.
Jon raised himself to his knees. The inside of her knees touched lightly on his hips. "Can I kiss you Ali?" He asked hesitantly.
Ali didn't say a word but drew him forward into her arms and pressed her lips to his. The kiss was slow and tender and healing.
A few minutes later, when they were preparing to leave the sanctuary of the little room, Alex with her hand on the door knob, Jon touched her lightly on the arm. She turned to face him expectantly.
"Can I ask you a question?" He asked of her.
"You've spoken to Rick about us...well me?" This was a statement more than a question.
"Because I found it was too hard to keep such an important part of my life separate from him." She answered truthfully.
"He doesn't know..." Jon pointed back and forth between them.
"Of course not. He knows we're friends...and that I have always been a fan. He doesn't quite understand the logic behind my refusal of that job on your tour a couple years back and sometimes I think he may even suspect that we had something once. But he has never broached the subject with me. I assume he probably dismissed the idea because of how young I was."
"He's a good man." Jon said reluctantly.
"Yes he is. Just like Dot's a good woman. I'm just sorry that we dragged them both into this sorry mess."
"Me too baby...you have no idea how much."
As Jon and Alex entered the salon hand in hand a couple of minutes later, and headed for the table where Dot now sat chatting to Rick, every pair of eyes in the room turned to watch them. Thank God they were among friends.
Rick and Dot looked up expectantly when they reached the table.
In an act of long forgotten valour, Jon placed Alex's hand in Ricks, "You are one very lucky man. Thank you, Rick."
"I could say the same," Rick replied looking at Dot affectionately.
"Oh, I already know that." Jon smiled at Dot, and glanced down at the empty table. He turned to Alex, "Looks like I owe you that plate of food after all. I'll be right back." Jon smiled at her warmly and headed in the direction of the buffet.