What happened in Paris...
Another prompt from Black Ship Books - hope you enjoy!
“We have a surprise for you, Nanna,” Simon told her, patting her hand.
Ruby looked around the room with a slight frown on her face. She could not see any extra presents and she had already had her 'birthday tea', cooked by Simon's wife Annabelle. A sudden thought struck her.
“You've hired a stripper for the party, tonight?” she asked, a twinkle in her eye.
Simon and Annabelle laughed. “I'm afraid not,” and “I knew there was something we'd forgotten!” they said together.
“Well, you've really spoiled me, today. I certainly don't need anything else.”
“You're the only Nanna we've got and you only turn seventy once,” her grandson told her firmly. “Now, you sit tight and I'll go and fetch... it.”
Ruby did her best to sit back in her chair and appear unconcerned but in reality she was abuzz with internal questions. What on earth had Simon been up to, now? He had always been a strange child, quiet and studious at school but leading his friends on madcap adventures through her rambling old garden. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of two pairs of feet approaching the room. The door opened and the bottom fell out of her world.
“Hello, Ruby! I've got two tickets to Paris, here. Fancy it?” The man standing in the doorway followed this question with a broad wink that would have sent shivers down her spine about fifty years ago.
“What is... he... doing here?” she demanded, coldly.
“Er... is there something wrong?” asked Simon, peering over the man's shoulder.
“I think me and Ruby have some talking to do,” the older man said, the grin fading from his face.
“There is absolutely nothing for us to discuss. You broke my heart in Paris and now you have the gall to wave tickets in my face as if it was... something magical...” her voice trailed away as a memory or two peeked around the corners of her anger.
“But you've always talked about that time as if it was magical,” said Simon, confusion clear in his face and voice. “Annabelle, how many times have we heard, 'When Freddy took me to Paris...'?”
“I've heard it a couple of hundred times and I've only known you for five years, Ruby. We thought you'd enjoy seeing Freddy again...”
“That's because I chose to tell you the good stuff,” her grandmother-in-law told her tartly. “I kept the good memories alive and chose to bury the rest. Did it never occur to you to ask why he wasn't your grandfather?”
“I just assumed you'd drifted apart, the way people do. I... I'm sorry, Nanna.”
“Oh, don't upset yourself. It was a lovely thought. Well, Freddy, I'm glad you're still alive and you can still afford to whisk a girl off to Paris at a moment's notice. I'm sure you'll find someone who'll help you make use of them.”
“Don't be like that, Rubes! You know you were the only girl for me. I looked for you, I really did. Then I found out you'd married old Harry... I never did marry, Ruby. No other woman came close.”
“Harry's been dead twenty years. You never thought of getting in touch? Of course not – you were off having fun, weren't you Freddy?”
“I heard about Harry's death, yes. But I didn't know how to approach you. When's the right time to rekindle an old flame when a whole family...”
Tears stabbed at Ruby's eyes but she blinked them away. She had shed enough tears for this man; she was damned if she would ever let him see her cry. “So, you heard,” she said. “How about a note? A sympathy card, even?”
“I bought a card but... what could I say to you? I didn't know Harry that well; I'd never met your daughter. And I heard about how you'd taken young Simon here in as your own...”
“And now we get to it,” she interrupted, letting the bitterness out. “You didn't want a child making things difficult. Even you know you can't just fly off to Paris with a kid in tow!”
“No, Ruby, no! Well... OK, I wasn't exactly equipped to take on somebody else's grandchild, I admit it. But how could I just try to walk back into your life, then? Give me some credit for thinking of other people's feelings!”
The vehemence in his voice made her pause. However selfish and self-centred he might be in general, even Freddy could see that there were times when it was better to give people space. The loss of her husband, daughter and son-in-law in a car accident had hit her hard, in ways that she had still never processed. There was no time to give way to her own feelings with a toddler to raise. It was a wonder Simon had turned out as well as he had.
“Well, I'll grant you some sensitivity, I suppose. But what about before that? What about bloody Paris?! You fly me out there, put me up in some fancy hotel, take me out every night for a month and then... You just disappeared! I had no money. I had to sneak out of the hotel in the middle of the night with only one bag, to avoid being landed with the bill. All those clothes you bought me...” her face grew soft as she let the memories sweep over her.
“I took the jewels and sold them!” she told him triumphantly. “I don't suppose I got what they were worth but I didn't care. I only needed enough to get me home.”
“Ruby, I can't tell you how sorry I am. I had no choice... I... I was sent on a mission, through the Iron Curtain. By the time I got out you were married...”
“A mission? What on earth are you talking about?”
“I was a spy, Ruby. A genuine James Bond.”
She stared at him for a moment and then began to laugh. “Of all the stories...”
But Simon interrupted her. “It's true, Nanna. I've seen the papers...”
“A spy? Seriously?!”
The other three people in the room nodded.
Ruby took a deep breath. “And I thought I'd lived an interesting life. Well, Freddy, I think you'd better sit down and tell me all about it!”