Later that day, Fran received a frantic phone call from Bernard in Budapest. The feature chandelier in the foyer was creating problems and shorting all the ground floor power and the supplier was refusing to cooperate with the electricians.
“I’m so sorry to call when I know how busy you are there,” Bernard’s tone was apologetic.
“No, not at all, it’s good to hear from you, actually.” Fran wondered if he could hear the smile on her face.
“How’s it going? I hope Clint is looking after you. It’s a magical place, that.”
“Indeed it is. We’ve had a great day – we’ve locked in most of the suppliers, I just need to spend a day in Joburg for the big ticket items but I’m blown away by the local talent here. The rooms are going be unique and everyone a variation on a theme – same but different. I’m loving this project. Oh, and Duncan was here…” she added, almost as an after- thought.
“Duncan? What was he doing there? “Bernard’s voice took on an edge and Fran sensed the new fragility of their brotherhood.
“It doesn’t matter. He’s gone now.” Fran whispered.
“But what did he say…?” Bernard urged. Fran bit her lip, wondering if to have this conversation over the phone. She was impatient now to explore her feelings for Bernard, but needed to be with him, face to face.
“I think we need to talk, Bernard.”
There was a long hesitation. “That’s never good…”
“Well, that depends…” Fran felt like she was 16 again, playing conversational cat and mouse with her latest crush, but there was way more at stake now.
“I’m going to be here for another week. And I think you need to get here soon. Why don’t you fly to Frankfurt from Joburg tomorrow night then connect through?” Bernard had clearly given this some thought already.
“Slight problem with that plan, I’m afraid. I only packed for summer in South Africa, not winter in Budapest. Look, I fly out to London tomorrow evening, then I can do a quick turnaround and be with you on Friday. Can you manage the electrician until then? The rest of my installations start on Monday, so you shouldn’t have to solve any more of my problems.”
“You’re my problem, Fran. You know that, right? ” There was an audible sigh from Bernard.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make things complicated, or difficult…” Fran stood up from the table at which she’d been working and began to pace the dining room. She pulled the corner of one of the carpets straight with the heel of her shoe and fixed a picture that was hanging skew, waiting for a response from Bernard.
“No, well, I daresay you didn’t but here we are. Look, let me handle the chandelier guy. ‘I make the masterpiece, you make it work’ is what he said to me, so best I go and do just that. I’ll keep you posted but see you on Friday. And Fran?”
“Erm, nothing. Sorry. It can wait.”
But Fran wasn’t sure if she could and she plopped back down, exhausted from both emotionally charged conversations with Duncan and Bernard.
“OK. And thanks for sorting the chandelier out. By the way, don’t you think it’s magnificent?”
“It will be, yes, well done!”
“Thanks. Let me know when you switch it on! Can’t wait to see you. It. The light…” Fran faltered.
Bernard laughed. “Me too. Bye, Fran.”
Fran felt a sense of relief and trepidation at the same time. Relief that now she knew , thanks to Duncan , that Bernard had real feelings for her, but trepidation that this was a big step, with kilometers between them and nothing but uncertainty ahead.
She began to gather up her stuff and then made her way back to her room to get ready for the game drive.
+ + +
Hugh and Fran piled the boxes of samples that they had chosen to take back to London into the Landrover along with their luggage. What they couldn’t carry they had photographed and catalogued for their storyboard.
“Another flying visit,” Clint expressed his disappointment that Fran couldn’t stay on longer and spend some real time relaxing in the bush.
“Quite likely the next time I see you we will be getting everything into the rooms so that will definitely be a longer visit, I promise,” Fran assured him. “And there might even be a visit in between, depends how everything goes and if my suppliers work on my time or African time!”
“You catch on quickly,” laughed Clint. “Just make sure you sit on them for delivery dates, or else the lodge will never re open!”
“I’ll happily come back and supervise them,” piped Hugh. “Any time!”
“Well, work notwithstanding, you know you are always welcome,” Clint added warmly, starting up the Landrover and pulling out of the lodge.
Fran managed to stay awake for the drive to Johannesburg and it seemed that in no time they were back in the parking of Caelum’s offices where they had once again agreed to stow their bags whilst they visited the show rooms of a few more key suppliers. Only Lawrence the intern was there and he greeted them warmly, offering coffee.
“Thanks, Lawrence but we have a lot to get through before heading for the airport.” said Hugh before Fran could accept or decline. She grudgingly conceded they were pressed for time and hoped their first appointment would offer them some much needed caffeine.
+ + +
In between their appointments with more suppliers, Fran called Janice to arrange her flight out to Budapest.
“And where in the world is Guy?” she asked “He’s dodging my calls and I need him in Budapest.”
“He’ll be there. He’s back from New York and I’ve booked him to fly in on Monday for two weeks, then straight back to the Big Apple and lover boy. Guy’s moved into Freddie’s apartment – overlooking Central Park! It’s so exciting!”
“That sounds a bit permanent. A lot permanent, actually…” Fran suggested to Janice.
“I dunno…” Janice tailed off and Fran knew better than to push her for more information than she had because then Janice would start filling in the gaps from her imagination.
“OK, well, I won’t see you until after Budapest is wrapped. Hugh will be back in the office and will work on the lodge, but I’ll speak to Gio later. Thanks for the flights, Jan.”
+ + +
Packing for a wintry Budapest, Fran nevertheless made sure to include a flattering swimsuit in her luggage in the event that the spa baths visit of her previous trip was repeated. She felt the butterflies in her stomach at the thought of seeing Bernard again, especially when she imagined them alone in a hot tub. Then she shook the thought and made sure she had a suitcase full of outfits that represented all eventualities for work and play. She zipped up the case, snapped on the lock and grabbed her warmest coat and made her way down to the waiting Uber.
+ + +
By now the arrivals halls at Ferenc Liszt International Airport was familiar to Fran who navigated the luggage claim and immigration with speed and ease. She steered her uncustomary oversized suitcase through the throngs, looking for Laszlo’s driver who was also now a familiar site at the meet and greet zone. Instead, she saw Bernard, sheepishly holding up a sign which simply read ‘Fran’. As she got closer, she saw there was a tiny, discreet red heart after her name and she stopped in her tracks. Then, as she started walking slowly, purposefully towards him again, he began moving in her direction until they met somewhere in the middle and silently he folded her in his arms.
- : General fiction
- : A bit bitty