“That must have been nice to be able to pick up your friendship right where you left off.” I say picking up the second saddle and following you to the waiting horses.

“It was,” you admit, “it really was.” You place your saddle on the shelf and motion for me to do the same. “Celine and Leon were different. They were a different sort of person than the people I had a chance to meet while living here.” you motion your hands around to the barn, indicating the solitude of the country. I nod in understanding, though having never lived in such a remote area before. “I just….I just connected with them so much better than other people. Even when I was in school I just couldn’t talk to my classmates. They were so caught up in the silly pettiness it was irksome.” you shake your head, then take a bridle with bit in your hand and gently slip it over the horse’s large waiting head. I watch you intently and attempt to do the same but somehow manage to tangle the bridle. While you continue your story you masterfully slide the bridle off, untangle it, and slide it back on before my horse becomes irritated with my lack of skills. “The amount of times people were talking about makeup or some other celebrity gossip it was just so terribly tiring. When I was with Celine and Leon it felt….I don’t know…it felt like I was….”

“Living?” I offer.

“Yes! Exactly!” you exclaim. The horses ears prick up and they jolt their heads back with the sudden increase of volume. Instinctively we both caress their manes in a soothing manner to reassure them. You smile at me and nod, noting my technique. “Celine and Leon lived life. They didn’t waste it talking about other people’s lives, or the useless trimmings. They were more concerned with enjoying what we had while we had it.”

“I could have done well with that advice a few years ago.” I admit sullenly, thinking of my past relationship and work life.

“Everyone can. I have to remind myself everyday.” You say, sliding the saddle pad onto the your horse and motioning for me to do the same. “Actually, having you here reminds me of a promise to myself that I’ve been neglecting.”

“Oh?” I question, following your lead and lightly lowering the saddle onto my horse, doing my best to repeat the same techniques you are showing me. “How so?”

“I get…..stuck.” you say, cinching up the saddle.
“What do you mean?” I ask, cinching my saddle as you did.

“I get stuck in this pattern of life. If I don’t get reminded, I just repeat the same day over and over again. That’s not how I want to live my…..no that’s too loose.” you interupt yourself and cinch my saddle tighter. “If you have it that loose the saddle will slide sideways and you’ll end up on your head.” you laugh, and slap my shoulder. It’s odd for me to be taught how to do something that would ordinarily be considered a masculine activity by a woman that oozes femininity. Admiration and attraction are coursing through my body but I remain as neutral as possible. “What was I say?” you ask suddenly, jolting me from my train of thought.

“You…er…” I stop for a moment to think, “you were saying you get stuck, and you don’t want to be.”

“Yes, right. So when you come alone and crash your car and nearly die in my parents house it reminds me that life is fragile and I’ve got to spend my time living it, not just….”

“…..passing through it…” I finish your thought, as I have found myself thinking the same things for the last few months.

“Yes! That’s what

“You see Alcina, you are here again because you want to be the driver, not the passenger in your life.” Leon sips his wine thoughtfully. “When you are the passenger the view is great but you just sit there.” he places his glace gently on the table and continues, “but if you’re a passenger and you see something beautiful over there, you can’t say to turn that way. You can’t say you want to go here or go there. You just sit looking out the window.” Picking up a piece of bread he wags it at you. “If you’re the driver, you are in charge. You control where you go and you get to enjoy this life the way you want to.” He nods, happy with his argument and tears off a piece of bread with his mouth, the crumbs cascading down over his meal.

Celine shakes her head, “You’re such a messy eater Leon.” to which he just shrugs.

“I love my food. Love is messy. C’est la vie.” he laughs scooping up the crumbs that missed the entree and tossing them onto the bread plate.

“You know you still have to be careful though,” Celine says to Leon matronly, “You like to live and pretend there are no consequences but there are always consequences my oafish friend.” the thoughts of Michelle clearly on the forefront of her mind.

“Oafish!? Oafish?” Leon exclaims in mock pain, “How dare you Celine you little tart.” he laughs throwing his napkin in her direction only to have it fall into her soup.

“Oui, tu es une gaffe!” Celine says bursting into laughter as Leon retrieves his dripping napkin from Celine’s soup.

He shrugs, “But you love me anyways.” and Celine rolls her eyes and nods allowing the larger man to have this small victory. “So Alcina, tell me,” Leon turns abruptly to you, “why aren’t you staying longer this time?”

Placing your cutlery down and sighing you take a deep breath. You knew the question would come. You had even asked yourself the same question, though not really believing the conviction of your own answer, “because…” you stop seeing both Celine and Leon looking directly at you. “Oh stop looking at me like that!” you exclaim, “You already make it so hard for me to leave, do you have to look like lost puppies already?” laughing nervously. Celine and Leon look at each other and shrug, then look back at you, still waiting for your explanation. “Because….I’m still in school.” the words come out of your mouth and immediately feel poisonous. “I have to get back for the next semester. Plus my parents are expecting me to…” you stop mid sentence seeing Celine tilt her head to the side clearly not pleased.

“Al, you’re not going home for your parents.” she states dryly “You’re going home because you’re scared.” her words cut into you.

“But…I…no…..it’s not….” you stammer unable to come up with an immediate defence. “….I’m not scared. Why….scared? Why would I be scared?”

Leon seems completely unsurprised by this turn of events and looks at you with his piercing grey eyes. He pushes the hair out of his eyes and stares right through you, “You most certainly are scared.” he nods slowly. “You are scared to be the driver.”

“W….wha….huh?” you blubber. Not expecting to be attacked by both of them at once.

“It’s ok.” he continues, “It takes time. You’re scared now because you’ve never had to make the big decisions in your life.” Leon’s words run true and you feel a pang of panic shooting across your mind. Here you thought you were so independent and strong, but these two….were they right? Were you merely the passenger looking out the window. “This is part of waking up to life.” Leon says gently, taking a final gulp of his wine. “You have to break free of your family, free of your parents. You have to start out and be your own self.”

“Like Michelle.” you retort cooly, hurt by this attack on your strength and individualism.

Both Celine and Leon jerk involuntarily. Neither replies for a moment and you feel the sudden wash of guilt cross your mind, but still remain stoic trying not to give away your feelings. Celine opens her mouth to speak, then closes it. Leon looks over at Celine and clearly doesn’t want to say something. The table has become suddenly quite awkward and you can’t help but feel the blame. Celine then says in a hushed voice, “Michelle…..was…..different.” Leon nods, but does not add anything more to the conversation.

To everyone’s relief the waitress comes to the table and asks if anyone would like a coffee. Leon orders an espresso, as does Celine, and you order tea instead. Finally Leon breaks the silence, “So my dear, am I going to get you to show me your underwear again this time?”  The sudden abrupt change from sullen to ridiculous causes you to laugh and Celine to reach over and slap Leon on the shoulder. “What? Is this a bad question?” he asks pretending to be unaware of how inappropriate his questioning sounded.

“I don’t know.” you admit while laughing, “What’s in it for me?”

“Bah, nothing.” Leon scoffs. “I just like seeing you wearing little frilly things in my studio. He winks and you can feel yourself blushing. As strange as it was, Leon had expertly put you at ease when he was behind the camera. He had made you forget that he was a man. You did not question his motives. You did not worry about what he thought about how you looked. He was simply an artist and you were the paint on his brush. The sudden revelation that he found you attractive was a surprise. There was a pang of excitement that rushed from the center of your body outward, causing your fingers and toes to buzz.

“Well…..we’ll see.” is all you manage to reply. You caught yourself looking at Leon through this modified perspective now. When you first met him you definitely thought he was handsome. He wasn’t the type of man that you would see in some perfume advertisement. He was real. He was rugged and strong despite the delicate nature of his occupation as a photographer. Your eyes were drawn to his broad shoulders and stubbled chin. They were the epitome of manliness and you secretly wondered what it felt like to be in his arms.

Being from such a small community the number of viable men that were worthy of being boyfriend material was substantially low. This had resulted in you going through high school without ever being on a single date. Your classmates were a different story. They were constantly dating, though their definition of dating was slightly different than yours.

One of the pitfalls of being in a small community is that there isn’t a whole lot of fun things to do. As a result the number of teen pregnancies in your town was far above the norm when compared to the rest of the nation. You supposed that if the town had a movie theater perhaps more couples would go out and watch a movie instead of staying in their parents basement fornicating without a lick of protection.

When you arrived at university you felt like a fish out of water. The girls in your class were constantly talking about fucking this guy or that guy. It was depressing to you in some ways. Not because you felt jealous, but because you knew that they were so much more experienced than you were, and when the day finally came that you were going to lose your virginity, you felt that you would be horrible at it. You didn’t want to be so embarrassed, and as a result barely made eye contact with most of the boys in your classes.

The waitress leaned over and placed a cup of tea in front of you, jolting you back to the reality at hand. You absentmindedly pulled at the tea bag while you drifted away.

Leon then asked, “So what are you going to do in school? What is your plan for your life?”

“I……I don’t know” you admitted, taking a small sip of the hot tea, feeling the hot liquid run slowly down your throat and soothing your insides. “Right now I’m just in general arts. It’s a little of everything…but….I don’t really know what I want to do…at all.”

Leon smiles and nods having already experienced the same point in his own life, “You have to be open to it. You have to listen to your heart and know what will bring you happiness. Don’t listen to your friends, or your family, or anyone else.” he continues, “The people around you will tell you what they wish they did, or what they want for you. This is what they want. You need to know what you want.”

“But how do you figure that out Leon?”  you ask. “I feel like I’m just wandering through these classes for no reason.”

“Well right now you are,” Leon agrees, “but when you find what sparks your flame, you’ll know.”

“Is that what happened to you?”

“Bof! It was the worst for me.” Leon explains, his Parisian accent thick and his hands wave at the ceiling in aggravation. “It took me too long. I lost so much time.” He laments, the annoyance clear in his voice. “But that is how life is. You find your path, and when you find it, you know.”

“I understand. I just……I wish it was easier.”

“We all do.” Celine chimes in, “but if it was easy then it wouldn’t be rewarding.” she smiles and pats you on the arm.

Just then the waitress comes by and asks if there would be anything else for the trio. “Oh zut alors! Pardonnez-moi madame. J’ai oublié quelle heure il était.” Leon says quickly then turning to you, “They close early on Thursdays to prepare for the weekend meals. We should go now.” Leon throws down some euros and leads the way out not before helping Celine with her jacket. You smile to yourself and admire the two, wondering if there was perhaps more to their relationship then the obvious friendship. Wrapping your jacket tightly around yourself you follow Leon out onto the quiet street with Celine directly behind you. “Shall we?” Leon asks presenting his arms for his two lovely female friends. You and Celine place your arms within his and walk three abreast through the middle of the snow covered cobbled street making your way back to the warmth of the studio.

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You walk ahead of me guiding your horse, “Lightning” while I guide, “Thunder”. The names were kitschy, but how often does someone name a pet without trying to be cute or cheesy in some fashion. Expertly you guide him to the barn door and he waits patiently as you open it for him, then follows you out. Thunder, on the other hand, was doing more of the leading with me, pulling his lead in a way that indicated I was definitely walking far too slowly. It had been a long time since the two of them were saddled at the same time. Most times you had to saddle one and then the other in turn. It was important that you kept each saddle worthy. Horses, much like people, need interaction and companionship. If they don’t get it, they tend to wander and get into trouble. “A tired horse is a healthy well behaved horse.” is what your father used to say. Thunder was his horse and was substantially bigger than the lighter coated Lightning. It didn’t take much for me to imagine your mother riding Lightning, seeing you quickly jump into the saddle without difficulty sitting upright with ease. I had to take a few stabs at it but eventually managed to throw myself up onto Thunder. He snorted his displeasure with my lack of ability, shaking his head up and down making it harder to grab the reins. Eventually I righted myself and followed you down the path through the pasture and on the way to find my car where I had left it in the ditch.

“How far is it?” you ask, turning your head to be sure I can hear you.

“I’m actually not sure.” I replied honestly, “by the time I got to your place I wasn’t entirely sure where I was.” I chuckled at the stupidity but inwardly realized how close I came to an untimely end.

“Well we’ll head up this way and keep an eye out. It’s a little more milder today anyways.” Milder for this area of Canada was a matter of subjective interpretation. Milder than it was the previous days meant it was still -17 celsius. If you were tell someone from Virginia that this was mild, they would likely think you were off your rocker. Of course if you told someone in the arctic that -17C was mild they’d also laugh thinking about how downright balmy it was. “If we don’t find it after 15 minutes though we’ll have to turn around.” you finish.

“Ok.” I reply dutifully while attempting to maintain control over the big beast below me. Thunder is clearly used to leading not following and despite my efforts he has accelerated to now trot next to Lightning. Without any direction from me he adjusts his pace perfectly in time with his companion and as such you and I are riding side by side through the cold of this “mild” day. “I imagine it was warmer in Paris then it was here.” I chuckle, hoping my statement provokes you to divulge more of your story.

“It definitely was warmer.” you reply, your voice trailing off as your mind wanders back to that time again.

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Once you reached Leon’s studio the long flight and large meal started to take their toll. You felt the tiredness creep through your body and despite your best efforts you couldn’t help but yawn. Leon reached over and hugged you with one arm, then Celine took you by the hand and started to lead you up the stairs to her room. “Did you want to have a shower before bed?” Celine asked politely.

You mulled it over in your head for a moment. There are those times when nothing is more soothing than a nice hot shower. Having the warmth cascade down your body and tantalizing each square inch of skin it slowly runs down. This was one of those moments, however, where the thought of getting wet was unappetizing. You thought of the cold bathroom tiles. The feeling of cool air hitting your moistened skin. The uncomfortable moment between getting naked and standing in a cold tub before the shower warms up. The look on your face gave away your displeasure with the thought, but considering the number of hours you’ve been cooped up in airports, airplanes, buses, and trains, a shower was a protocol that you couldn’t ignore. “I guess so?” not truly answering in the affirmative.

Celine chuckled at your reticence, “Come on. Let’s get you cleaned up.” continuing down to the end of the hall where the bathroom waited. Once there she reached behind the shower curtain and fiddle with the knobs getting them in the only position that allowed any hot water to flow. As the building was quite old, some of the facilities were a bit finicky. Celine motioned you into the bathroom as you still stood on the threshold. Partly because you didn’t want to interrupt Celine as she prepped the shower for you, but mostly because the checkered white and black tile clearly looked as if it was going to be quite chilly. You stepped into the bathroom and Celine shut the door behind you, much to your surprise. Once the door was shut she began to take her clothes off in front of you. A smirk came across your face as you had forgotten how comfortable Celine was with sharing her nakedness. You looked her over unconsciously, admiring her trim petite figure. As she bent over to slip off her panties her hair draped over her face but was exposed her neckline. You noticed for the first time a small black tattoo at her hairline. It was the same heart shaped “M” as was in Michelle’s drawings. You smiled and simultaneously felt jealous and saddened for Celine and Michelle. “Hurry up!” Celine said looking at you with a small frown, “the hot water doesn’t last long. That’s why we’re showing together.”

You snap back to reality, “Oh….I….uh…never mind.” you muttered trying to overcome your natural shyness and slowly unbuttoning your blouse.

“Oh Al you silly girl hurry up.” Celine laughs and stands in front of you now, naked as the day she was born, beautiful and tough as ever, she helps you unbutton your blouse and you stand with your hands at your sides not sure exactly what is happening. She slips off the blouse and then unbuttons your jeans, roughly unzipping them and then yanking them down to your ankles. Slowly you begin to assist her and unsnap your bra from behind, slipping it slowly off, then slower still slip your panties off and step out of the pile of your clothes collected at the floor. “Come on, we have at most five minutes now!” the urgency in her voice a clear response to have been caught in the shower when the hot runs cold.

Without thinking you blindly follow her into the shower, the hot jet of water blasting off her body and cascading over yours. She quickly begins to soap up her body and tosses you the shampoo. You catch the feeling of urgency and speedily dump a glob of shampoo onto your hand and then start to work it into your long drenched hair. Closing your eyes to avoid getting soap in them you continue to stand in place as you work the shampoo into a frothy lather. A moment later you feel the soft delicate hands of Celine on your neck, then running down your chest, over your breasts, to your waist, your hips, your legs. You stand in shock. Her hands expertly move over your exposed body ensuring that soap has reached every area she can touch. The feeling is both exciting and scary. You were not expecting to be touched, and even though you’ve spent countless hours with Celine this was the first time that you had been so exposed. The tenderness and care was evident in her manner. As much as it was purely utilitarian to save the hot water, it felt like it was more than that. Then with little warning she grabbed you by the shoulders and spun you around, soaping up your back, your legs, then your ass, and back to your neck and arms. “Two minutes” you heard her say and you sped up your hand movement. “Rinse.” she commanded and you exchanged positions with her, coming closer to the water. The jet of hot water hammered into your skull with more force than you were accustomed to, but it simultaneously massaged the skin it came into contact with, sending a nice shiver through your body.

Once you felt enough shampoo had been rinsed from your hair you opened your eyes and pushed your hair away from your face. You were greeted by the smile and stare of Celine. She was looking you over from head to toe and while you couldn’t tell if it was to ascertain if you had properly rinsed or not, the look she gave seemed distinctly predatory. “One minute” she said quietly her eyes still on you as she finished rinsing herself. “I almost forgot how sexy you were.” she finally said. “Almost.” she chuckled and you smiled to. Then your smile vanished as the hot water disappeared and was replaced with a jet of cold water. “Merd!” Celine shouted, “Get out! Get out! Hurry!” she bellowed as she laughed. You practically leapt out of the shower landing on the piles of clothes waiting for you on the cold tile floor. Celine launched herself out immediately after, running into you with a wet smack. Instinctively you caught her smaller frame in your arms and righted her. She smiled and kissed you on lips in what you were assuming was an act of thankfulness. She then separated her nakedness from yours and reached back into the shower to turn off the now ice cold water.

While she’s turned you quickly snag a towel from the rack and cover yourself, not out of modesty but for warmth. Celine turns back, shivering and laughing grabbing a towel for herself and wrapping it tightly around her slickened body. “See?” she says, “Five minutes. No more.” Stopping her, “I told you so” moment for a spell she shakes the water out of her ears and then continues, “It will take all of another hour before it’s hot for another five minutes.” Moving the towel from her body she bends at the waist and drapes it over her head, patting down her hair and rubbing her head.

“That’s crazy!” you exclaim, doing the same. Your hair is twice as long as Celine’s, however, and the prospect of sleeping with wet hair is an unpleasant thought. Vigorously you dry your hair in a desperate attempt to get warm once more. You stop for a moment when a thought crosses your mind, “But how do you and Leon get ready in the morning then?” twisting the towel around your hair and flipping back over your head as you stand. You now look directly at Celine as she stops rubbing her head and lowers the towel to her neck. She smiles and you know the answer at once, “No!” you bellow. Celine giggles and nods, “No!” you shout again, “Leon?”

“We are being eco conscious.” Celine states dryly, tossing the towel onto the rack to dry.

“But Leon?” you question, no longer out of incredulity but mild nagging jealousy. He was a handsome man. The sum total of moderately average parts combined into a rough but artistic frenchman with dark wavy hair and piercing grey eyes. You tried to picture what he would look naked, with water running down his body.

“But of course,” Celine retorted, “he’s looks good all wet and soapy.” she giggles to herself sweeping up her pile of clothes into her arms and moving to the bathroom door. “Coming?” she asks politely before opening the door wide.

“Whoops.” Leon says startled to see his two naked companions coming out of the bathroom freshly cleaned. Wheeling on his heel he chuckles, “Celine, a little warning next time yes?”

“Oh Leon, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.” Celine laughs, spanking his blue jean covered ass roughly before turning into her room.

Quickly you pick up all of your clothes and dash through the hallway to Celine’s room, the door shutting with a smack behind you. Stopping for a moment to catch your breath you look at Celine with daggers in your eyes, “Celine!” you exclaim and then burst out in a fit of nervous giggles.

“Bonne nuit mes chéris belles.” Leon says as he makes his way to the bathroom to get ready for bed.

“Bonne nuit!” you yell, far too loudly, but the excitement of the previous five minutes has caused your previously sleepiness to evaporate.

Celine laughs and chimes in, “Bonne nuit mon magicien talentueux languetés.” smirking at your look of confusion. The parisian accent was smooth and silky but far too quick for you to pick up on your first day back in France. What you heard, or at least thought you heard begged further questions of Celine.

“Bonne nuit mon palourdes savoureux.” came the response from Leon.

You looked at Celine with eyes full of questions, but she just smiled and motioned for you to jump into the bed with her. As usual, she was completely naked and despite the inhibitions screaming in your head to do otherwise, you joined her in bed, naked as well.

This was your first time sharing a bed with someone since you were very young and sharing a bed with your sister. Unaccustomed to the protocol or unsure if there was one, you turned your back to Celine and curled up in a comfortable fetal position. You lay there in silence thinking on where you were and what you were doing here. You were in Paris again. The city of love. The city for lovers. The snow had stopped falling, the wind had slowed, and the studio was quiet. You couldn’t hear a single car, any buses, people on the streets, or barking dogs. It was serenely silent as a funeral home. Turning to your back you stared at the ceiling of Celine’s room. There was more art pinned there that you hadn’t noticed before. More charcoal drawings, these of Celine and Michelle arm in arm and one of Celine holding Michelle tightly almost motherly. They were beautiful and raw. You thought it must be so hard for her to have all of these reminders of Michelle and not being able to hold her in her arms, to feel her close, to share her space and her heart. A pain radiated through your throat and you felt yourself begin to cry. Turning to Celine who was also on her side, you wrapped your arms around her exposed body and pulled her tight to yours. Celine bent her head down and kissed your arm, thankful for the warmth both physical and emotional. You closed your eyes and slowly drifted off into a deep peaceful sleep.

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