‘How often do you come here?’
‘Paris or the restaurant?’
‘Frequently enough but I haven’t been since my divorce. Matter of fact it was the last trip I took before the divorce.’
‘I’m sorry to dredge up such memories.’
River shrugs; he came to terms with the divorce a while ago, it doesn’t hurt as much so he can talk about it some, especially when he is with her. ‘It’s been a long time so it’s not as bad as it was when it happened.’
A waiter arrives to take their drinks order.
‘Are you drinking tonight?’
‘Sure I am. What do you recommend?’
River orders a bottle of red from the wine list. Ava looks around the restaurant, everyone seems to be having such a good time. It is dressed for Christmas, the waiters are friendly. A big man with a ponytail minds the bar and from what she can tell his cocktails are the stars of the show.
Ava’s phone ringing brings her back to the fore. Rocks. ‘I’m sorry I have to take this.’
She excuses herself to answer the phone her cousin has been trying for months to get in touch with her, Paris seems like a good enough place to start.
‘Oh! She lives!’
‘I know, I know I am the worst.’
‘No you’re not. Just tiny bit anyways. How are you?’
‘I’m good. I really am. I’m sorry I’ve not taken your calls or anyone’s I know Aunty Zara hates me now.’
‘No she doesn’t. None of us do. We just want you to know we are here for you always.’
That’s her cousin, ever loving.
‘How is my favourite little man? Can I speak to him?’
‘He’s in London.’
‘Where are you?’
‘Paris, we came for the hub.’
‘We’re in Paris!’
‘Yes! And I insist on dinner right now. Tonight. We will meet you anywhere because I know I may not see you for goodness knows how long.’
‘Sure, but I’m with someone if you don’t mind.’
‘Oh shit. Is it a date?’
‘No, it’s not a date. Just come down, I want to see you.’ Ava drops the location of the restaurant before bidding her cousin goodbye and heading back into the warmth from the cold.
The bottle of wine is already at the table, but like the gentleman he is, River waits for her to arrive before the waiter returns to uncork it.
‘Thank you.’ She accepts a glass of wine from the waiting and takes a sip. ‘Excellent choice.’
‘Merci.’ River thanks the waiter. ‘Everything okay at home?’
‘That was my cousin and I’m sorry I’ve invited her tonight. I haven’t seen her in ages and she’s been trying to get in touch with me forever. I’m so sorry I should’ve asked. Do you mind?’
‘Not at all. The more the merrier.’ The things he wants to talk to her about can wait, this is not the night or situation for it. Meeting another member of her family… he likes these sides to her. So far he has only met Oliver, knows of the ex-husband whom he has no interest in meeting. A cousin, he’d love to meet.
Ezme “Rocks” Rose-Jones and her husband Sebastian Rose-Jones, the race car legend, immediately spot Ava at her table with her companion, when they walk in.
Ava sees her cousin and that smile widens her on her face, from behind him, River hears an excited squeal and Ava is engulfed in a hug. Her cousin. Rocks Rose-Jones.
‘It’s so good to see you!’
‘You too.’ More hugs and kisses before seats are taken and introductions are made.
‘River, my cousin Rocks and her husband Sebastian, guys this is River Huxley, we work together.’
‘Nice to meet you.’ Rock and Sebastian shake hands with River.
River knows who they both are, of course he does; Sebastian Rose-Jones is the legendary formula one driver, so young and so accomplished on and off the track already a legend. His recent retirement following a successful season made for much excitement the world over. He is now the owner of his Formula One team. Rocks Rose-Jones is the master creative entrepreneur and investor. A few of her fashion brands sell on Huxley.
Seeing Rocks makes Ava so happy, her cousin has not changed. Dressed low key in a black jumper and jeans with Timberlands and Bash dressed similarly; they look like a pair of teenage lovers in Paris.
‘Sorry to crash your dinner.’ Sebastian says.
‘It’s not a problem at all.’ River assures them. He signals to a waiter who makes his way over to their table. He lets the waiter know that there will be four people dining so that Martin is informed.
The waiter gingerly makes his way to the kitchen to inform Martin.
‘We were at the hub yesterday.’ Rocks informs Ava, ‘it’s pretty fantastic. Wait time was less than fifteen minutes and we ordered a lot of stuff for presents.’
‘That’s good to hear. It’s all down to Ava. I had no hand in it.’
‘That’s not true.’ Ava shakes her with a little laugh. ‘How long are you in Paris for?’
‘We fly to Florence on Monday to see my dad and Nonna.’
‘How are they both?’
Whilst the two women catch up Sebastian and River get to know each other.
‘How’s my darling boy?’
‘He’s so good, growing up by the second. I swear when I blink I miss things. AJ told me you cancelled. He was livid.’
‘Did he think I was going to go ahead with him after everything?’
‘He filed for full custody of Oliver after that.’
‘No!’ Rock’s hand covers her mouth in shock.
‘Yep he did and then he tried to blame you for cancelling me for helping him which is why he filed for divorce.’
‘I should’ve asked for the deposit.’ Rocks giggles. ‘What a bitch.’
Ava lowers her voice, and says, ‘and then earlier this week he came to my office, apologised and said he wants me back.’
‘Shut up.’ Rocks whispers.
‘I know!.’ Ava rolls her eyes, irritated at AJ, remembering that conversation ‘I think he is an actual sociopath.’
Rocks and Sebastian are two of her favourite people, there is a love story for the ages; they met on the Italian Riviera, spent one night in heaven and then went a decade living separate lives only to finally get together in a unique set of circumstances after going in and out of each other’s lives. Sebastian is a formula one legend. He retired from driving a couple weeks ago after winning his tenth championship and is now principal of his own racing team. Besides that he is a venture capitalist and chairman of the Rose Farms that supplies most every organic produce the world over. To look at them you wouldn’t know they are a power couple; no airs, no graces, no pretences.
Martin, along with two other waiters, serve their food, after much niceties with the two new guests, and a bit of adulation over Sebastian who is suitably embarrassed. ‘Bon apetit.’
‘Mmm this is so good.’ Ava savours the flavours in her mouth, the duck is marinated to the bone, complimentary vegetable seasoned and grilled.
‘Where did you find this place?’ Rocks asks.
Ava points at River, ‘he did, not me. I lived in Paris all those years and I must have walked past this place a thousand times.’
‘Martin is a friend, he used to be my chauffeur in Paris before setting up shop. He’d take me to all the best restaurants off the beaten path, we sampled a lot of food before he came up with his concept.’
‘It is very good,’ Sebastian says, ‘I better not tell Marco I cheated on him.’
Ava laughs, ‘Marco will haunt you down and kill you. How is he?’
‘He’s the chef at The Old Town.’ Rocks answers River’s question.
‘Of course, you own the Old Town, it’s my favourite restaurant in New York. That lamb roll.’
‘I’ll tell Marco he has a fan.’ Sebastian says with a laugh. The lamb rolls from the old town are a legend.
‘I tried so many times to make it at home, even my children tease me about it. Will you be opening any other locations?’
‘I thought about it, but, Marco is the sauce so it’s very unlikely.’
‘I suppose that makes it a place of pilgrimage. It is seriously incredible.’
The night passes in good company, food and wine. Ava loves having her cousin with her, making up for lost time
‘Mesdames et Messieurs,’ the resident DJ is on stage, ‘bienvenue a la soirée karaoké.’
Rapturous applause breaks around the restaurant. This is clearly a thing.
Ava and Rocks exchange a look and Rocks immediately knows what her cousin is thinking.
‘No. Ava No!’
‘Come on it’ll be fun.’
‘Do you karaoke?’ River asks with a little smile on his face.
‘Rocks famously hates it, but we always bully her into it.’ Ava laughs, ‘come on!’ She grabs her cousin by the hand and they head to the stage to applause from the diners.
‘I cannot believe you’re making me do this.’ Rocks says.
‘I know, but I’ve missed you so.’
Rocks rolls her eyes, ‘I’ll take piano then.’ She settles herself behind the Steinway and brings the keys to life with a few notes.
Ava winks at her cousin and Rocks starts the opening keys to Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me.
Rocks is a rockstar with music instruments having played the guitar, piano, saxophone and drums in school. She was always on an instrument whenever they performed karaoke at family gatherings and she always brought the house down.
“My baby don’t care for shows
My baby don’t care for clothes
My baby just cares for me
My baby don’t care for cars and races
My baby don’t care for high-tone places…”
The phenomenal piano solo brings the house to its feet.
River is captivated by Ava on the stage, a natural. He’s in love with her, it dawned on him there and then, watching her sing that song, her grace, swagger, confidence, sexiness. She is right there in front of him. The divorce from her husband put her through the ringer, but here she is, in Paris with him, very much her own woman. Of course, he is in love with her. Has been for some time now, but this moment with her, carefree on stage singing one of his favourite songs, in one of his favourite places in Paris… he is building new memories with her, unbeknownst to him, she is the salve for the last two years of hell he’d been through. Ava Sinclair… she has no idea what she does to him, for him and he wonders what he does for her. Her cousin Rocks and her husband Sebastian, look and feel so very much in love. Sebastian cannot take his eyes off his wife on the piano; they are not the soppy sort, but you cannot help but feel it being in their presence.
The band starts playing that upbeat melody and immediately the restaurant get to their feet cheering on the two women on stage. Ava and Rocks exchange a look with a shrug. Someone tosses Rocks a microphone and she joins Ava.
‘There’s a boy I know, he’s the one I dream of
Looks into my eyes, takes me to the cloud above
Rocks: Mm Hmm
Ooh I lose control, can’t seem to get enough
Rocks: Uh huh
When I wake from dreaming, tell me is it really love?
Rocks: Oooh How will I know
Ava: Don’t trust your feelings
How will I knoooooo- ow
How will I know
Ava: love can be deceiving
Rocks: How will I kno-oooow?
How will I know if he really loves me
I say a prayer with every heartbeat
I fall in love whenever we meeee-et
I’m asking you what you know about these things
Ava: How will know
Rocks: If he’s thinking of me
I try to fall
But I’m too shy
Ava: Can’t speak
Falling in love
Is so bitter swee-eeet
Rocks: This love is strong
Ava: why do I feel weak…
The entire restaurant is on their feet when the cousins take their bow to cries of encore! Ava engulfs Rocks in a hug, rocking her from side to side. How they’ve missed each other.
‘That was beautiful darling.’ Sebastian hugs and kisses his wife as she leans into him.
River mock bows at Ava, her prowess on the stage floored him and for a second, he was going to kiss her but catches himself just in time. Rocks and he exchange a look, she saw his reflexes kick in just in time and spares him a little laugh. She knows…how could he not be in love with her wonderful cousin.