“Where’s Mom?” Chelsey asked Gideon.
“She’s not going to be joining us.”
“She isn’t feeling well.”
“Oh.” She couldn’t help wondering if her mother really wasn’t feeling well or if she just didn’t want to go to the matinee show for Les Misérables at the Sondheim Theatre. Afterwards, they were going to have dinner at Macellaio RC Soho.
“I hope you don’t mind that it’s just going to be the two of us.”
“No, I don’t mind at all.” In fact, she was very happy that it was just the two of them. She enjoyed herself more when her mother wasn’t around.
He smiled. “Good. Let’s go.”
They walked to where his car was parked and soon they were on their way to the theatre. “I’m so thrilled that we’re going to see the musical adaptation of Les Misérables. Have you ever read the novel?” she asked him.
“Yes. It’s one of my favorites.”
“Mine too. I liked Jean Valjean. It was sad that he died but I’m happy that he was able to tell Cosette about her mother before he did.”
“Yes, Valjean was a good man although he was in trouble with the law and even Javert felt that he couldn’t give Valjean up to the authorities.”
“I didn’t like Javert. He was relentless, almost obsessed in his pursuit of Valjean. I didn’t expect him to end up committing suicide.”
“I didn’t either but I understood why he did. He was caught caught between his strict belief in the law and the mercy which Valjean showed him. Unable to deal with the conflict, he decided his only option was to jump into the Seine.”
“I was thirteen when I read it.”
“I think I was in my twenties when I read it. I hope that the musical adaptation will do it justice.”
“I hope so too.”
“Have you read other books by Victor Hugo?”
“Yes. I read The Last Day of a Condemned Man and The Man Who Laughs.”
“They sound very interesting. What are they about?”
“The Last Day of a Condemned Man recounts the thoughts of a man condemned to die. Victor Hugo wrote the novel to express his feelings that the death penalty should be abolished. The Man Who Laughs is about the life of a young nobleman, also known as Gwynplaine who was disfigured as a child. On the orders of the king, he travels with his protector and companion, the vagabond philosopher Ursus, and Dea, the baby girl whom he rescues during a storm. The novel is famous for Gwynplaine’s mutilated face which stuck in a permanent laugh.”
“Now, I’m really intrigued. Do you have any of these novels?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. When we go home, I will give them to you.”
She smiled. “Great. I look forward to reading them.”
“And when you’re done, we can have a discussion.”
“Yes. I’d like that very much.”
He smiled. “You and your mother are so different,” he remarked.
“Yes, we are. We don’t have the same interests at all. I had more in common with my father and now I have more in common with you. Who’s your favorite author?”
“Charles Dickens. What about you?”
“Jane Austen. What’s your favorite novel?”
“Great Expectations. What’s yours?”
“Pride and Prejudice. I had a crush on Mr. Darcy.” She laughed.
Gideon chuckled. “Was this after you saw the BBC film adaptation with Colin Firth?”
“How did you guess?”
“Most of the women I know fell in love with Mr. Darcy after watching Colin Firth in the role.”
“Even Mom who isn’t into period dramas, was glued to the television because of him.”
They talked about other novels and movie adaptations until they reached the theatre. He parked the car and they walked to their destination. People were flocking in. They went straight to their seats which were very good and sat down. Chelsey looked around her in wonder while Gideon flipped through the programme. “Have you ever been here before?” she asked him.
He shook his head. “No, this is my first time.”
“It’s a beautiful theatre.”
“Yes, it is.”
The seats were comfy with lots of leg room and the atmosphere was relaxing. She couldn’t wait for the show to begin. Fifteen minutes later, right on time, the lights dimmed and she was transported back to 1815 in Digne. She was so engrossed in the show that she couldn’t believe it when it was time for intermission. “Are you enjoying the show?” she asked Gideon.
“Yes, I am. I don’t have to ask you if you are,” he said with a smile. “Would you like any refreshments?”
She shook her head. “No, thanks. Don’t want to spoil my appetite for dinner.”
“I’ve always wanted to visit Toulon to see the Bagne of Toulon.”
“So, the Bagne is a real prison?”
“Yes. It was created by an ordinance of King Louis XV on September 27, 1748 to house the convicts who had previously been sentenced to row the galleys of the French Mediterranean fleet.”
“I’d like to visit Toulon too just to see its prison which has become famous because of Victor Hugo. Do you know where he was from?”
“Besançon. It’s a city in eastern France, near the border with Switzerland.”
“I wonder how far it is from Toulon.”
“I don’t know. It would be nice to visit both places, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes. Maybe we can over the summer holidays.”
“Well, it’s something to consider.”
The lights began to dim and soon they were immersed in the second half of the show. It was near five thirty when they left the theatre. The sun was shining brightly and the temperature had become milder. It was a lovely afternoon. They talked as they walked to the car park. On the way to the restaurant, they chatted animatedly about the show.
Dinner was a delight. Over Grilled Lamb Rack with creamy mashed potatoes and Roast Baby Chicken with roasted potatoes, they talked about all sorts of things. For dessert, they both had a slice of tiramisu cake followed by decaf coffee. They lingered for a while and then, it was time to leave. The sun had set by then.
While Gideon went to park the car in the garage, Chelsey went inside the manor. She was standing in the foyer, waiting for him. “Thanks for a truly lovely day,” she said. “I had a wonderful time.”
He smiled. “You’re welcome, Chelsey. I had a wonderful time too.”
She didn’t answer but smiled instead.
“Would you like me to give you the two Victor Hugo novels now?”
They went upstairs to the library. He took them down from the shelves and handed them to her. “I’m sure you will enjoy them.”
“I’m sure I will. Thanks, Gideon. I think I’ll go to my room and change.”
“Will you be joining your mother and me in the living-room?”
“Good. I’ll stay here for a little while before I head back downstairs.” He picked up the newspaper and sat down in the armchair.
Chelsey hesitated for a moment and then, she went over to him. Leaning over, she kissed him on the cheek before she quickly left the room.
He looked at the door which closed quietly behind her. A smile spread over his face and as he sat there, looking reflective. Then, he opened the newspaper and began to read. Half hour later, he went to the living-room and found Chelsey alone. Ruth was in bed with a headache.