“Jackie? Is my next appointment here?”
“She just walked in, Dr. Allen. Would you like her to come in?”
Her door opened, and Claire was briefly stunned as the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen walked into her office.
Is she an actress? A model, maybe? She looks familiar.
But she couldn’t place it immediately, and she cleared her throat, standing and crossing fro behind her desk. “Desirée Beaumont? I’m Dr. Claire Allen. It’s nice to meet you.”
Desirée nodded politely, offering one perfectly manicured hand. “Dr. Allen.”
Claire ushered her guest to a chair and sat across from her, taking quick observation. Desirée was tall, willowy, with rich blonde hair and deep blue eyes. She looked expensive; from the perfect French twist in her hair, to her tasteful (but clearly designer) dress, to her Gucci pumps, every detail of her appearance was pristine. Planned.
“So, Ms. Beaumont. How can I help you?”
“As I told your assistant, Dr. Allen, I’m here to talk to you about your book. I’m a consulting editor for Éditions d’Olympiques. I’d like to discuss the possibility of publishing your work in France.”
“Oh.” Claire blinked. “That’s - that’s very flattering. I’m happy to hear it.”
Desirée smiled, arch, elegant. “We’re very, very interested in your work and your theories, Doctor. If it’s not too much trouble, I’d just like to ask some questions about your practice.”
Desirée crossed her legs, settling her hands gracefully on her lap. “Am I correct in understanding - you see private patients, and also work with a group?”
Claire talked about her singles group, her private work, her columns, and the consulting she’d done for law enforcement. Desirée - who had virtually no French accent, she couldn’t help but notice - wrote nothing down, made no attempt to take notes, but appeared keenly aware, comprehending every word.
“Very interesting. I think your work will be very appealing to the French public, and quite honestly, your columns might also be something we’d look into translating. Now - I think your assistant mentioned that you’re working on a second book now?”
Claire paused. This - she wasn’t sure how to put it. “To be honest, I haven’t made much headway, apart from some preliminary research. I had one topic, but decided to - to sit on it, at least for now.”
Desirée nodded, her eyes bright with interest. “May I ask what it was?”
“A case study.” Claire thought. “And - connected to it, I guess, a study of modern romance, juxtaposed with classical ideals.”
“Classical?” Desirée sat forward in her chair. “You mean - truly ‘Classical?’ Are we talking Cupid?”
Claire let out a breath. “In a way, yes. Obviously, it’s just an idea. I’ve got some written, but not enough to start sending in chapters.” She shrugged. “It’s a concept. We’ll see.”
“Of course, of course.” Desirée nodded, a smile hovering over her lips. “Personally, I find the idea very interesting. I think that’s a concept we’d very much like to see.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
Desirée glanced quickly at her watch. “I have a bit of time yet. If it suits you, I’d love to hear your thoughts on modern romance.”
After half an hour, Desirée excused herself. “I’m sorry I must leave so quickly, Doctor, but I’m afraid I have another meeting and I must be on time. But thank you for the invitation to observe your group meeting tonight. I believe I might be able to attend, and I’d be very interested to see it.”
“No, no, of course. Thank you so much for coming in, Ms. Beaumont,” Claire murmured, rising to get the door. “It was wonderful meeting you. If Éditions d’Olympiques would like, I’d be happy to send more information about my work.”
“Yes, we’ll be in touch.” Desirée reached into her handbag, pulling out a business card. “Please, let me know if you have any questions.”
“I will, thank you.”
Claire opened the door to find Trevor behind it, beaming at her. “Dr. Allen. So nice to see you.”
She gritted her teeth but produced a smile. “Mr. Hale. I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I missed you too, Doctor.”
Claire turned back to Desirée, who was watching the exchange with interest. “Um - Ms. Beaumont, Mr. Hale. I apologize, Ms. Beaumont -”
“Oh, not at all.” Desirée smiled, displaying perfect, pearly white teeth. “Mr. Hale, yes? Nice to meet you.”
Claire was bracing herself for Trevor, who could be dangerous when unleashed on the unsuspecting public, but to her surprise, he actually paused.
‘Nice to meet you, ma’am.” He blinked, seeming to come back to himself. “Actually - it’s not that important, Dr. Allen. I’ll see you later.”
“Uh. Bye, Trevor.”
She watched him leave, not sure how to react.
Desirée Beaumont walked into the meeting room promptly that evening and took a seat near the back, smoothing her skirt over her legs, looking simultaneously too elegant to be there and completely, serenely at ease.
She smiled politely as the regulars walked past her, gracious to the few bold enough to introduce themselves. From her chair at the front, Claire watched the interaction with interest; Desirée was clearly terrifying to the men, who all kept to their side and stared at her. Mike, in particular, seemed awestruck, openly staring. The women seemed more intrigued than anything, a clear sense of what the hell is a supermodel doing here? permeating their whispers.
Trevor was stunningly, refreshingly punctual; as always, he perched on his seat at the back of the room, grinning at her saucily. Claire flushed.
Time to start the carnival.
“All right, ladies and gentlemen. Nice to see everyone.” Claire pulled off her glasses. “We have a guest tonight - Desirée, who’s visiting Chicago on business. I’ve invited her here tonight to observe our group, so please make her feel welcome.”
The murmurs abated as the group turned to look at Desirée curiously. All except Trevor, Claire noticed. His normal nosiness seemed to be utterly lacking. Desirée didn’t faze him.
Something was odd.
“Well. Yes. All right.” She shuffled the notes in her lap. “Tonight, I thought we could start by talking about places for a first date. We tend to pressure ourselves when we’re looking at a possible relationship, and first dates can get you so wrapped up in your own head that you forget to relax and enjoy yourself.” That seemed to get agreement, soft chuckles. “But sometimes, it’s helpful to step back and remember that we don’t have to take ourselves quite so seriously. So. What are some interesting, fun, creative thoughts about places, and activities, for first dates?”
It ended up being one of the most enjoyable group meetings she’d had in months. The topic drew ideas from everyone, and even Trevor, who was still on bizarrely good behavior, only broke in to add an anecdote about a friend he’d had who took a girl on a first date to a wax museum and ended up accidentally setting the entire place on fire.
“All right, all right. Thank you, everyone - this was a great meeting.” Claire tucked her notes back into her bag. “I’ll see you all next week.”
Mike waved his hand. “Karaoke night at Taggerty’s. Tonight is 70’s night, so get excited, everyone.”
Amid the crowd of people leaving, Desirée made her way to the front. “I wanted to thank you, Dr. Allen. I enjoyed being here.”
“I’m glad you could make it.”
“I’ll be leaving in a few days, but you have my card. Hopefully we’ll be seeing each other again.”
Claire nodded, watching Desirée leave, and started when Trevor suddenly poked her in the shoulder. “Gah! Trevor. Warn me next time.”
“And miss the fun? Never.”
She huffs, picking up her things. “You were quiet tonight. No sardonic comments on how every single thing I said was wrong.”
He shrugged. “Well, I enjoyed it. I’m all for crazy date ideas. True love tends to flourish when people are enjoying themselves.”
“Thus spake Trevor.” Claire stood. “Well, whatever it was, I like it. Try and channel that from now on, will you?”
He beamed at her. “I’d hate to let you get complacent, Claire.”
Business was light the next evening. Trevor was wiping down the bar when he saw Desirée Beaumont settle alone at a table near the corner, and immediately made a beeline for her. She looked up when he got to her table, her eyebrows raised. “What excellent customer service.”
“Son. It’s good to see you.”
“Slumming it, down here with the mortals? I’ve never seen you look so - ugly.”
“I love you too, darling.”
“Not that I’m not happy to see you, but what brings you to my little corner of creation?”
Desirée pursed her lips. “Just - researching.”
“That’s none of your business,” she smiled. “Almighty Venus has her own matters to attend.”
Trevor grumbled. “Fine. But really, would you like a drink?”
“I don’t suppose you have any nectar on hand?”
“We’re fresh out.”
“A glass of red wine, then.” She sat back in her chair, smoothing at non-existent wrinkles in her dress. “May as well see what passes for wine here.”
“Coming right up, Domina,” he assured her with mock solemnity, bowing like a waiter. She rolled her eyes.
“Quickly, please, garçon. Before I start to age.”
Back at the bar, as he rooted around for wine, Champ tapped him on the shoulder. “Dude. Who’s the blonde?”
“Uh. Businesswoman, I think. Said she’s just visiting town.”
“I think she’s taken.” Trevor poured wine into the best-polished glass he could find. “Well. Got to get this to the lady. You want me to ask if she likes tall, handsome men with skin like chocolate?”
Champ just glared at him, so Trevor took the wine back over to Desirée. “Your Grace.”
“Thank you.” She took a small sip. “I’ll admit, it’s better than I thought it would be.”
“And joy breaks over the wine-dark sea. So why were you talking to Claire?”
Desirée folded her arms, fixing him with her cool gaze. “As I’ve said: it’s my business, not yours.”
“Are you interested in her research?”
“Her books? Her columns? You came to group yesterday. Is it that?”
Desirée just laughed, shaking her head. “Darling. You don’t get it. You simply don’t get it.”
She sat back and sipped her wine, and Trevor, at a loss, had to go back to the bar, filling drink orders as he wondered what the hell she meant.
He pestered her a bit more, but she didn’t tell him anything.
Desirée left not five minutes before Trevor saw another familiar patron. “Dr. Allen. Come to cast your wisdom on your adoring disciples?”
“You know I’m just here for a drink.”
“You can cast wisdom and drink.”
She watched him shuffle through the bottles. “You know the woman who was in my office yesterday? Desirée Beaumont?”
Trevor nodded. “Blonde, gorgeous. You just missed her, actually.”
“Trevor.” She waited until he looked at her. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“You mean some deep, dark secret? Why, Dr. Allen -”
“Had you met her before?”
“I got the feeling you’d met before. I thought she looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it.” Claire shook her head, taking a sip of her drink.
“I can’t say I’ve ever seen Lady Beaumont before.” He reached for his towel, starting to dry clean glasses. “Beaumont, though. Very nice surname. Means ‘beautiful mountain.’ Kind of like where I’m from.”
“Ha.” He simpered. “I’ve missed our witty banter, Claire-girl.”
“Oh, whatever.” Claire finished her drink. “Well. I’m glad you didn’t manage to scare her off.”
“So what did she want?”
Claire shrugged. “She works for a publishing company in France. Wanted to talk to me about translating my work.”
“Ooooh. A book about love, in the language of love.” He waggled his eyebrows. “Sounds dangerous.”
“It’s a long shot, but if it works out, it could be a great opportunity.”
He raised an empty glass. “I’ll toast that.”
“I’m touched.” She stifled a yawn. “As much as I enjoy trading witticisms, I’m going to head home.”
“Oh, I forgot to add - Ms. Beaumont was in here earlier.” He reached into his pocket. “She said she had a pair of tickets to the science museum for tomorrow, and asked me to give them to you. Said she couldn’t use them, and thought you might like to go.”
He handed her one ticket, and Claire took it, arching an eyebrow. “You said a pair of tickets?”
“Yes. I’m keeping the other one safe. It, and I, will see you there tomorrow.”
She huffed, but then again, she expected no less from Trevor. Though the thought of him at a museum was a little scary. Did the zoo normally allow animals to roam freely?
“Ten o’clock, tomorrow morning?”
“I’ll see you then.”
He was entirely too cheerful the next morning when she found him outside the museum, bouncing on his heels. “You’re entirely too excited about this, Trevor.”
“I refuse to believe you’re not excited at all.”
There was a decent-sized crowd, it being a weekend, but they eventually got inside. Claire peered through the brochure from the front desk. “Looks like there’s a -”
Instead of waiting for her to read, he took her hand and pulled her along. Claire hurried after him, grousing. “Sure. I guess we could just barge in without planning.”
“What’s to plan? Let’s go!”
He dragged her through the precious gem and thunderstorm exhibits with the enthusiasm of a third-grader. “Trevor. Trevor! Slow down. We’re not on a deadline here.”
“I’m just trying to further my education.”
He fixed her with an arch look. “Dr. Allen. I am an erudite, intellectually curious man. I take this very seriously.”
“None of that is correct.”
“You wound me. Now come on. We still have to see the bugs.”
He caught a glimpse of a sign down the hallway, and touched her shoulder, pointing. “Butterfly exhibit? I’ll bite. Let’s check it out.”
They followed the signs into the butterfly exhibit, finding a lush green habitat, rich with the scent of flowers. Butterflies - hundreds of them, big and small, in every color - fluttered through the air, lighting on flowers, trees, and people.
Of everything in Chicago, Trevor mused, this was the most like home. He watched a little cluster of kids run by, and a mother hurrying after them, scolding.
He still had no possible idea why his mother had decided to send them to this museum together, but then again, the glorious lady Venus had always kept some things to herself.
A big yellow butterfly settled on his sleeve, and he held his breath, watching its wings flex, slow and rhythmic, before it finally took off again, lazily fluttering into the canopy.
“Okay,” he laughed. “This is pretty cool. Very movie-magic.”
When his companion didn’t answer, he turned back to find Claire standing perfectly still in the middle of the path, her eyes alight with wonder, as a flock of butterflies hovered around her, brushing her skin with feathery-soft wings.
“Trevor,” she whispered, trying not to startle them. “Look.”
She lifted one hand carefully, bringing a little blue butterfly up for a closer look, watching its wings slowly moving. Sunlight caught her hair, butterflies clinging to her like blossoms, and Trevor’s breath caught in his chest.
Without a warning, the butterflies swirled up like a cloud, fluttering around Claire in a riotous, colorful flurry before dispersing, flying off in every direction.
Her eyes met his, dancing, delighted, and as some strange, warm flood of light poured through his veins, he wondered if this was what everyone had been talking about, all these millenia.
It caught him like an arrow to the heart, and he would stop to think about that, but he was too caught up in the sight of Claire, smiling, amid dozens of butterfly wings.
On the steps outside the science museum, Desirée pulled a phone out of her purse and dialed a single number.
“Hello - yes, it’s me. I talked to her.” She thought for a moment. “I was prepared to disapprove, but - I don’t think I can. Besides, he may be an idiot, but he’s my son. And eventually, he’s going to figure out how he feels about her.” She chuckled. “All right, all right, Apollo. I can admit when I’m wrong. I do like Psyche. More than I thought I would.”
She listened one more time, smiling. “Now? Now, we wait for him to come back to us.”