She was glad to see him. The morning tour guide had left the group at Grand Place. It was the intoxicating aroma which had drawn her to the Neuhaus chocolate shop. While heading back outside with the delectable package in hand, Sophie had bumped into him. He politely asked if she minded him tagging along.
“Not at all!” she had answered, much to her surprise. She generally liked being alone.
But from the time she had boarded the tour coach in Calais, she had noticed something about this man that had intrigued her. Perhaps a long ago memory? Now in Brussels for an entire day, it might be nice to wander about with a companion.
“Will you join me for lunch at La Brouette?” he had invited.
Her feet already hurt. She hadn’t been prepared for the cobble stones. She agreed. The waiter led them to an outdoor table at the bistro’s terrace. John was a charming older man, likely pushing sixty, she considered. Safe – by her standards. He suggested the croque-monsieur and recommended she try the local beer. She thanked him for finding this eatery, from where they had a superb view of the entire square. Before he could comment, they were interrupted by another from the tour, whom Sophie unhappily recognized.
“Good to see familiar faces!” She greeted them almost brashly, plunking her exhausted body on the other free chair. “I was going to settle for a bench and a decadent waffle, but this place is far more interesting,”
Sophie was flabbergasted! Didn’t people on tours respect personal space and privacy? Hadn’t she worked diligently at avoiding this boisterous older woman, from as far back as London? No boundaries! A perfect day ruined.
Alyson was tired of tramping about alone. As soon as the city tour was finished, everyone around her headed off in different directions ‒ all to avoid her. She had no delusions. It was something she had gotten used to on these trips. Even the shared roommates, arranged through the company, were relieved to leave her on her own. It was a challenging way to travel; certainly a hell of a come down from the days of gallivanting about with Alfred, her fifth husband. He had left her nothing ‒ but the yearning for adventure. Her friends back home were far too few now: some still married, some widowed like her and others, with little income ‒ or so they said. Well too bad! An excursion a year was her annual resolution ‒ and just maybe, finding another mate. She had immediately liked the look of this man, John Knight, who had helped her with her luggage last evening. She made note of his name when the guide called out their room numbers at the hotel. What on earth was he doing with this young hussy half his age, she wanted to ask him. And such a miss snooty, snob at that! Yes, attractive by all counts, maybe even beautiful with that head of red cascading hair. She enviously remembered her own good looks, back in the day. Now it was more about being bold to attract attention, and counting on people’s good manners to include her.
He couldn’t very well tell her to leave, though it was his first instinct. His young guest was clearly uncomfortable having her there. As was he. John chided himself for having been helpful with her luggage. Dumb move. It was likely an innate habit, from days gone by. How many of these older women had he encountered over the years, feigning helplessness? Right on cue, he had performed the job – now the act of chivalry ‒ expected of him. Women seemed to recognize these types of females, for who they were. Hunters on the prowl? But men, were they destined to fall into their trap? The best he could do now was to engage them in polite conversation about the tour: the silly Manneken Pis, that had become the emblem of Brussels and about the surrounding buildings ‒ the Town Hall, Maison du Roi and the opulent guildhalls. He informed them about the magnificent Grand Place Flower Carpet that would be on display in August. All the while, what he really wanted was to spend some alone time with Sophie. He needed to find out if his hunch was correct. Had he in fact met her years before on another tour ‒ with her father? He had detected a familiarity in her lilting voice that led him to this reflection. Once free of the grappling female, he was determined to invite Sophie back in the evening, to again view Grand Place ‒ all gloriously illuminated in brushed gold.