Giselle sat at the small table in the Parisian café where she was waiting for her date to arrive. Paris was such a busy city, as was Jacques, and it was quite possible he had been held up by unforeseen events at the bookstore where they both worked. At any rate, she was sure that he would be arriving shortly. He had promised her, after all, that tonight would be a very special first date for the two of them. They had been working together for a year now, but they had never been on an actual date before this evening.
She was sipping a glass of Merlau, or Merlot, a new wine in Paris harvested from succulent grapes in the Bordeaux region, but it did not help to quell the butterflies of anticipation that flitted about in her stomach as she waited. The wine was rich and velvety, while also fruity and spicy, and had become a favorite. The rich Merlau was a lovely accompaniment to the ambience of the dimly lit café and its' small crowd of patrons.
As Giselle sipped the Merlau, she looked about the café. She was immediately intrigued when she spied two men sitting in the corner as they drank their forbidden drinks of absinthe while they talked with one another. Whatever it was they were discussing, it was obvious that their conversation was somewhat heated. One was a handsome, tall, blonde-haired man, and the other was a bit shorter and stockier, with dark hair and a mustache. Eventually, after apparently becoming angry and frustrated, the stockier man rose hastily from his seat and abruptly left.
Surprised by their public disagreement, Giselle quickly looked away and toward the door in hopes of finding Jacques, but such was not the case. When she turned back to look at the remaining man, he gave her a delightfully handsome smile and shrugged his shoulders. As she smiled somewhat timidly back at him, he picked up his drink and leisurely walked toward her.
“Mademoiselle,” he greeted her. “Might I sit with you for a bit? I fear my friend has suddenly left me all alone, and I find myself in need of companionship.” Not waiting for a response, he smiled charmingly as he slid into the empty seat at the small table.
Startled by the man’s boldness but not wanting to be rude, Giselle nodded. “Oui,” she said. “But, monsieur, please know that my date will be arriving shortly.”
“Lucky man,” the tall, slender man commented as he settled himself comfortably in the seat across from her. “I’m Scott,” he said with a beautiful smile that had obviously impressed many women.
“Bonjour, Scott. I am Giselle,” she smiled back at him.
“So, you are waiting for your sweetheart? Your petit ami? He is your intended?” the man asked. It was obvious that he was American from his accent.
“Oh, no!” Giselle quickly answered and shyly smiled. “It’s our first date. We work together, you see, at the bookstore.”
The man smiled ruefully and with exerted concentration said, “Ah, but l'amour is so very splendid and beautiful when it’s fresh and young. And yet, as time transcends, it so often becomes a damning element in our lives.” His glorious smile slowly faded to a demure frown as he spoke. “I should know,” he added and held up his left hand for her to see his ring, indicating he was married. “At best, you can’t live with it, and you can’t live without it.” The handsome smile returned, albeit a bit ruefully, with the last commentary.
Giselle was uncertain how to respond. Who was this American and why did he have such a dismal view of l'amour? Moreover, why was he inclined to share it with her? It was obvious that he had had too much to drink. Perhaps this is why he and his friend had argued. Were they arguing about l'amour?
“Monsieur,” she began, but he immediately held up his hand to interrupt her.
“Please, I must insist that you call me Scott,” he said, his blue eyes gentle as he appealed to her.
“Scott,” she said hesitantly. “Perhaps you’ve had enough to drink for this evening. I thought that this drink - this absinthe - was forbidden anyway. C'est tres mauvais, no?,” Giselle whispered as she pointed at the milky, green drink in front of him, alluding to its' purported danger. She was aware that absinthe had been illegal in Paris since 1915, and yet, here this man was drinking it a full ten years later in full view as if it was not.
Scott looked down into his glass and smiled with assuredness. With the utmost air of confidence, he said, “Ma jeune fille, only the most intense of pleasures are derived from the depths of the forbidden.”
Giselle blushed at his words and attempted to change the subject. “Where is your wife tonight, monsieur…I mean, Scott?” she quickly corrected.
The man gave her a wry smile. “I fear she finds her pleasures in the forbidden as well,” he said and then sighed. “Alas, she has taken off with her friends for more exciting times than intense, heated discussions betwixt my friend and me, as you have just unfortunately witnessed.”
“I see,” said Giselle, genuinely sorry for this man’s current misfortune in life, friendship, and l'amour.
“Do you? Do you really see?” Scott asked, intently watching her and awaiting her reply.
Unsure how to respond, Giselle once again attempted to deter the conversation from the question with which he had just presented her. “Why are you in our lovely city of Paris, Scott? Are you working here?” she asked.
“Paris is such an enchanting and fulfilling city, and so full of opportunities. I am here at preset, mon chéri, in an attempt to finish my latest novel - at least on good days. However, on bad days, like today, I drink and tend to argue with my closest friend. And I suppose one could say that I drink and argue much too frequently,” he said as he took another large swallow of his drink.
“Oh! You are a writer! Comme c'est intéressant! What are your books about?” Giselle was genuinely interested.
Scott smiled his charming, attractive smile and nonchalantly leaned back in his chair. “Well, let’s see, Giselle. I mostly write about l'amour. Do you not find it ironic in consideration of the sad view of love I’ve just painted for you?”
Indeed, Giselle did indeed find it ironic. It was exceedingly odd that a man with such a dismal, disappointed view of l’amour would choose to write about it. Then again, love was a wonderful subject for a book. Moreover, l’amour was truly a wondrous thing, at least in her experience.
“Please allow me to explain my pretty, petite French flower,” Scott said as he leaned on his elbow across the table to look intently into her green eyes. “I write about l'amour, mon chéri, because I am a hopeless romantic and have not yet given up on achieving it to the fullest capacity in my life.” He relaxed and leaned back in his chair again as took a sip of his drink before continuing. “I have a need to know and understand love; to have it fill me to the depths of my being. In fact, I crave love with an intensity that extends beyond a need for sustenance of any kind and reiterates the words I have just spoken.” He picked up his nearly empty glass and waved it in the air. “And believe it or not, I crave love more than I crave even this poison.”
Scott finished his drink. “Hope for such things springs eternal, does it not?” he asked as he lifted his empty glass as if to pay homage to l'amour and to emphasize the truth of the words he spoke.
As Giselle pondered a response, Scott rose, declaring it was time for another drink and headed to the bar. She watched as he ordered himself another drink of absinthe. While he lingered for a bit at the bar, she turned to find Jacques entering through the café's entrance. She lifted her hand to wave to him. He immediately spotted her and made his way to the small table. Giselle rose and kissed him warmly on the cheek in greeting. The smile she gave him was all the assurance he needed to let him know she was very happy to see him.
“I am so sorry I am late, mon tendre,” he said. “I was unfortunately detained at work.”
Giselle smiled sweetly. “It is not a problem, Jacques. I am just so happy to see you now.”
Just then, the stranger meandered by their table, pausing to introduce himself to Giselle’s guest, a fresh drink firmly in his hand.
“I see your ami has arrived,” Scott said, and smiled at Jacques, extending his hand in greeting. Giselle made the introductions, a bit wary of what Scott might say to Jacques.
“I fear, monsieur, that I was a bit lonely and kept this sweet, jeune fille entertained for a short while as she awaited your arrival,” Scott said. “We had a very thorough discussion on the subject of l’amour, and I gave her my most earnest opinion on the subject matter.”
Jacques’ brow rose in surprise and Giselle blushed, but Scott was oblivious to either of their responses as he rambled on. “I informed your sweet Giselle that I am a hopeless romantic. Moreover, I do think l’amour will eventually win the day for all of us. Do you not agree, Jacques?" Scott smiled and nodded, not waiting for Jacques' reply. "Yes, I see that you do understand, mon ami, because of the way you look at this delicate, beautiful French damsel. that l'amour may very well be a real thing.” Suddenly Scott turned serious and gave a gracious bow before he added, “I pray that l’amour will be a very real thing for you two sweethearts and fill your hearts. I can easily see that it is already a flower nearing a full bloom for each of you.”
With those words, he turned on his heel as suddenly as he had appeared and headed back to his former table where the man with whom he had been arguing earlier in the evening joined him again. The two friends hugged, laughed, and patted each other on the back as they took a seat and began a new, intense conversation, all former arguments seemingly forgotten.
Giselle nervously turned to Jacques, who was watching her with wide-eyed amazement.
“Jacques,” she began. “I did not know what to say when he approached and began to discuss such serious things like l’amour. I found him to be a very sad man, always hoping to find love, but never seeming to find it.”
Jacques continued to stare at her in disbelief. “Giselle,” he said. “Do you not know who that gentleman is?” he asked.
“No, I don’t have clue who he is other than he said his name is Scott. And I know he’s American, but that is all.”
“Mon chéri, that is none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald, the famous American novelist. Moreover, he is sitting with Ernest Hemingway, another very famous American writer. These two writers frequent the bars of Paris, and all know them for their carousing, rowdy ways. They drink nothing but absinthe and champagne – or so the story goes,” Jacques said as he eyed the two men and their drinks.
Giselle dubiously looked at her date. “F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway? I am not sure that I have heard of them,” she said. “However, Scott did tell me that he is a writer.” She turned to watch the two men as they conversed, a new view of Scott taking root in her mind. She would have to buy one of his books just to see how he wrote about that wonderful subject called l’amour for which he continuously searched and longed.
Giselle turned back to her date. “Famous American writer or no, I would much rather be sitting here with you, Jacques, enjoying this night.”
Jacques picked up her slender hand and kissed it. “And I, with you, my sweet Giselle. Still, not many can say that they met someone as famous as F. Scott Fitzgerald on their date. Perhaps you should consider picking up the trade and penning a story about such an incredulous encounter this beautiful Parisian night!”
Giselle shook her head. “No, I don’t think so, Jacques. I will leave the writing to the two of them instead,” she said and the couple laughed as they began the first night of many to follow for them.
Indeed, a lifetime of love and many happy years spent together would be forthcoming for Giselle and Jacques. Who can say? Perhaps that fateful meeting with F. Scott Fitzgerald, a hopeless romantic, and the ardent words he spoke that night, propelled their love to a beautiful and ultimate end. Regardless, there is little doubt Fitzgerald would have been immensely pleased, and perhaps a wee bit envious, of the love the two shared over the course of their lives together.