I genuinely believe that aside from your place of birth there is somewhere else you belong: a place you’re guided to by your heart. Some people might spend their entire lives in search of such a place, but all my life, throughout my travels, I knew which place was waiting for me.
I had fed my love of Paris by having the Eiffel Tower plastered on my bedspreads and cushion covers, by buying kitchen accessories and placemats with Rue Du Temple scrawled across them, and hanging a cute Bon Appetit sign in my kitchen. I’d tried to explain to my boyfriend, Liam, that it wasn’t really an obsession, I had just adopted a French Provincial style of decorating for our home. He seemed unconvinced.
Everyone wants to go to Paris. To fall in love, eat smelly French cheese and drink good local wine while toasting to the Eiffel Tower. It was more than just our home’s décor and my Chanel lipstick collection that strengthened my bond. Paris is the art capital of the world, with tourists flocking from near and far to catch a quick glimpse of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and wander the vast halls of the Louvre. But, while many people believed the Louvre to be the pinnacle of the Parisian art museum scene, there were so many other museums to see. With much excitement, I had rattled off the list of must-see locations to Liam as we’d planned this long-awaited weekend in Paris.
‘We could head to the Centre Pompidou, Paris’s bastion of modern art. We’ll need a good couple of hours to wander through all the amazing rooms with world-famous works of – oh my God, we’ll be able to see Picasso, Klimt, Miro and Kandinsky!’
Liam’s face had twisted in horror, and he’d said, ‘Claire, I would sooner claw my own face off than spend an entire weekend in art museums.’
I had laughed it off, but my heart sank knowing that he wouldn’t budge on this. I would have to settle for compromising on the art so we could both enjoy the trip.
Liam had insisted we save the Eiffel Tower until our last day in Paris. He’d said we shouldn’t conform to the typical tourist itinerary, that we should discover other parts of the city first. He was so smart, so romantic.
We battled the crowds at the Louvre for a date with Mona Lisa, strolled hand-in-hand through the Jardin de Tuileries, dodged pigeons and love-lock sellers near Notre Dame, and, of course, no trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to the famed Moulin Rouge.
And this morning, stepping from the bus, our heads had craned upwards, my mouth ajar as Liam clicked away on his expensive Canon camera, snapping the iron beast before us. Except it wasn’t a beast. The Eiffel Tower was a lady – strong, imposing, beautiful – but I couldn’t have said so to Liam. He would have just rolled his eyes.
We’d lingered around the edge of the crowds, taking it all in. It was incredible how something that stood still could evoke as much excitement as a themed rollercoaster at Disneyland. Hordes of tourists surrounded us in a blur of excitement and delight. Despite the wonders around me, though, my attention remained on Liam. I only had eyes for him.
I tilted my head, admiring my gorgeous boyfriend: his dark, unruly hair, his five o’clock shadow, his charcoal-grey jumper and dark jeans that made him look like he belonged here; a true Parisian. Liam had been acting strange for days. Twitchy, antsy, a bit snappy. As he stood beside me, rubbing his unshaven jaw, I could see the cogs turning in his head, no doubt wondering what to say, how to do it. He is such a stickler for details; it’s one of the things I love about him.
My chest expanded as I breathed deeply. I tried to hide the knowing smile that twisted the corner of my mouth. This is it; this is really going to happen. It was all clear to me now: the impromptu visit to Paris; saving the tower till last.
This is my moment.
Wait until everyone back home finds out about this.
I stood in the heart of the square and waited for Liam to speak. Waited for him to ask the big question, to go down on one knee in front of all these people, and ask me to be Mrs Liam Jackson.
My chest tightened as he turned to me. His focus was on me and me alone. In this moment, under the massive iron structure, the world around us didn’t matter. It was as if we were the only ones on the planet and that the tower had been built for us alone. I could feel my skin prickle despite the warm air that swept over us.
‘Claire.’ Liam swallowed nervously. I could feel my eyes watering as he reached out and grabbed my hand, a hand that had been nervously tapping my thigh.
‘Yes?’ I breathed out, my heart beating a million miles an hour. Yes, yes, yes had been echoing in my mind all morning.
The dark, hypnotic pools of Liam’s eyes made me breathless as he gazed intently at me.
This is it! This is what I’ve been waiting for. The perfect end to a perfect weekend.
He squeezed my hand. ‘I think we should see other people.’
I didn’t think I’d heard him correctly; the sound of a record scratching in my head might have prevented me from understanding. Or maybe it was the tourists, talking and pointing animatedly as they took selfies with the tower. Even the traffic noise seemed painfully loud right now. I tilted my head as if to listen more intently, my eyes blinking in confusion.
Liam’s eyes seemed less romantic now, and his face was twisted in pain. But it wasn’t pain caused by the inner turmoil of working on romantic perfection like I had thought. It was another kind of pain entirely.
‘I said, I think we should—’
‘No!’ I shut off his words, afraid that he would only repeat himself. ‘No, no, no, no!’ This was not how it was supposed to go.
I had planned it all in my mind: Liam on one knee, a box appearing from his pocket (preferably from Tiffany), applause ringing out across the square as I cried and said, Yes, yes, YES! I had envisioned how to pose with my ring for Instagram, adding the witty caption: ‘I said oui oui.’ I had even picked out the appropriate filter for our selfie. It was all so perfect – in my head.
‘Claire, I’m sorry.’ His brown eyes were sorrowful, as though his heart was breaking. It was like I had just said the words that would tear us apart, not him. ‘I never meant to hurt you.’
I felt my fists clench. My shock, my disbelief, was morphing into something else, even as the hot tears pooled in my eyes.
He never meant to hurt me.
‘You’re breaking up with me!’