He watched her silently from across the room. Her every move was graceful and efficient. She sat facing away from him, which had perturbed him some at first, but the more he watched the more he realized the beauty she was displaying. He dreaded the moment she would cover her frame with the dress draped over a chair in the next room. “Is there anything I can get for you,” he asked softly. “Water? Wine?”
“No, thank you, Grandfather. I am fine,” she answered softly. Her English was flawless, with just enough of a French accent to sit on her words like a gilted edge of gold on fine parchment.
He remembered the last time he saw her: May 1989. Cosette had just turned three. As she and her mother, Claire, had prepared to board the plane, she had given her Grandfather a big hug, and a kiss sticky from the candy she’d deftly removed from his coat pocket. Claire, his only child, had promised they’d return within the year, but circumstances intervened, and after that other circumstances came along, keeping them apart. Whether he was going to see them, or them him, fate had been too successful in keeping him away from his family.
Of course, there had been pictures and phone calls and videos exchanged over the years. Claire had done the best she could to stay in touch, despite the challenges. She had thought marrying Cosette’s father, a Frenchman, would afford them some protections, but his untimely death had left her instead destitute and homeless. Now, even Claire was too ill to make the trip back to the States.
He had not been fully ready for the beauty that greeted him at the airport. Pictures had not prepared him for her gracefullness and poise, nor how much she resembled her late grandmother. Sitting here now, watching her adjust her corset, he worked hard to fight back the tears.
“I called your mother to let her know you arrived safely,” he said.
“Oh, thank you!” she replied, her face bursting with a smile that seemed to him as bright as the sun itself. “I do worry about her so much. How is her cough?”
“Persistent. She says its getting better, but from here … I don’t know. Seems as though her voice gets weaker with each conversation.” He shifted slightly in his chair. “She tells me you’re hoping to see a certain art exhibition while you are here?”
“Only if it is accommodating for you, Grandfather. There is an exhibition of Degas at the Metropolitan Museum with some rare pieces I’ve not yet seen.” She paused to pull tightly at the strings of her corset. “But I don’t want to impose on what you already have planned. It is so kind of you to let me come stay for a while.”
“Cosette, my dear,” he started, trying to choke back the tears. “It has been my dream to have you here from the moment you and your mother left. You are welcome to do whatever makes you happy, and to stay as long as you like. There is much time for us to make up.”
Cosette turned slightly, reaching over her head to secure a pin in her hair. “Being here is so much better than watching you on a YouTube video,” she said. “Mother has told me so many wonderful stories, how you used to take her for walks in the park, or meet her for lunch by surprise.”
The old man pulled the linen handkerchief from his coat pocket and dabbed at the moisture in his eyes.
“Are you okay, Grandfather,” Cosette asked, her voice full of concern.
He smiled. “Yes, dear. Seeing you here just brings back so many memories. Your mother so often sat on that very dressing stool and nursed you as a baby. Twenty-five years earlier, her mother had set there as well. Now, to see you …” He let his voice trail off. “You are almost a precise copy of your Grandmother.”
Cosette smiled again. “Mother has told me that as well. I’m sorry I never got to meet her. She sounds lovely.”
“I think she knew of your impending arrival even before your mother did. It was she that named you Cosette.”
The young woman finished her preparations and walked into the next room to retrieve her dress. “There are many stories I long to hear, Grandfather, and there shall be time for all of them.” She returned to the dressing room and elegantly slipped into the high heels waiting, completing her royal countenance. Walking over to her grandfather, she took his strong but tender hands in hers. “I do have one question for you that has been burning inside me for a very long time,” she said softly.
“What is it, my dear?” he asked. “I will tell you anything.”
“Do you still keep candy in your left pocket?”
He laughed as she quickly fished a mint from the left pocket of his jacket, and kissed her gently on the cheek. “As many as you want, my child.”