My room wasn't too big but it was comfortable. I had to leave the hotel the next morning, so I started to pack. Nina sat on a sofa by the window. She looked tired and I felt guilty. I opened the wardrobe and I hear her gasp.
"What's wrong?" I asked, worried. She stood up slowly and pointed at my clothes.
"You buy in H&M! How can you? Don't you have a sense of fashion?" I watched her horrified face and frowned.
"Well, not all of us can be dressed by famous designers" I commented, putting my clothes inside the suitcase. She looked at me, thinking.
"Ilse, we have to go shopping together" I sighed.
"Whatever" I said, shrugging. I wasn't in the mood to talk about fashion. "You've been trying to contact me for two months and now you only want to talk about my clothes?" Her expression softened.
"Sorry. The doctor said I have to take things easy and avoid strong emotions. So, you better sit down! She patted the chair next to hair and I sat down. "When you left France my world turned upside down. You were my only friend" She played with her Damiani ring, absent minded.
"I guess you already know all what happened" I said. She nodded. "And you understand why I had to leave, right? I had to forget about Jerome, about my job, about everything. If I stayed in touch with you... I..." Words failed me. Nina took my hand.
"I know, Ilse" She said, in low voice. "But you left before we could talk. I have something very important to tell you about John" I watched her, surprised.
"About John?" I suddenly felt disappointed. I was expecting she would tell me how much Jerome missed me. But once again, my expectations had been too high.
"You won't believe this, but John is a fake! The BBC filtered some spies to steal the work of other TV channels, didn't you watch the news? It was a huge scandal!"
"I haven't watched TV for a long while" I said. I was feeling a bit dizzy.
"Well, he's persona non grata in Germany and I was surprised you came to work for him after what he did! Besides, he had a public fight with Jerome last week" When I heard Dupont's name, my heart jumped. Nina observed my reaction and smiled. "I will make the story short: John tried to ruin Jerome's name and tried to bribe the pilot of the hot air balloon. As it didn't work, he drove there himself and cut a security rope!! He spent a week in prison and had to pay a fortune to Jerome for all the damage caused" I couldn't even blink.
"Why would he do that?" I asked, shocked. She moved on her chair, excited.
"Wait" She said, lifting her manicured hand. "He works for the British national team as their personal journalist and his main goal was to distract the French national team". I gaped at her. "And he did succeed"
"I can't believe it" I murmured. "But what does it have to do with me?" I asked. Nina leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees.
"You left before I could tell you all this, you asked John to get you a job here and of course, he accepted. But what he's trying to do now is to get all the dirty details about your relationship and sell the information to the yellow press". I had to laugh. I would never tell him any personal detail about me.
"Nina, you know I wouldn't do that" I said. Nina narrowed her eyes.
"Wouldn't you? What if you started to date John, because you wanted to forget about Jerome faster, and he became your confident? John is a really hot guy" She had a point. I took a deep breath, trying to calm my shaking hands.
"Nina, is there something else you want to tell me?" I asked, expectantly.
"You want to know if Jerome said something about you, right?" Her sad smile made me freeze. I looked down, nodding. "Ilse, the truth is that since the World Cup finished, I haven't spoken a word with him" I looked up, surprised.
"And what about Didier?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
"Didier wouldn't tell me anything. Besides, he's working really hard with his team here in England and he barely has time for me. I've also started working as an independent entrepreneur and I have my own clothing brand. The designs are done and we're just waiting for the tailors to start working"
"Those are great news!" I said, happy for her. She smiled. Silence came. I decided to stop fighting my curiosity and ask her directly. "What happened with Jerome after the accident? I want to know everything" Nina shifted, uncomfortable. Then, took her phone and gave it to me.
"Call Didier and meet him. I know he won't tell me anything and is not my business anyway" I looked at the iPhone, doubting.
"I just want to know if he forgave me" I murmured. Nina arched an eyebrow.
"Forgive you? You didn't do anything. He never blamed you and I bet he already told you that" She covered her mouth with her hand, gasping. I looked at her, surprised.
"You know about our meeting!" I screamed. She shook her head, closing her eyes.
"I'm such a big mouth!!" It was funny to see her kicking the ground.
"Nina, please, tell me everything!" I saw her doubting, then lifting her hands, surrendering.
"Fine, you will find out anyway..." She made a dramatic pause and looked at me. "Jerome was destroyed when you left. He thought you didn't want to see him ever again. He knew you would blame yourself. He needed time to get over the loss of the World Cup, he needed support from his loved ones and you just left, Ilse. He was so upset and disappointed" Her big blue eyes watched me with sadness.
"They told me to go, they fired me" I said, sharply. Nina nodded.
"I know all that, and he knows. John came to tell us that you said you didn't want to see us again" When I heard those words, my anger raised.
"He did what?" I said, furious. In that moment, Nina's phone rang. Her face lightened up.
"Didier, hi!" She listened in silence, then looked at me. "Yes, she's here" I felt my heart race. Then, she passed me the phone. I took it, slowly.
"Hi?" I said. I heard Didier's laugh on the other side of the line.
"Ilse, I'm so glad you're fine, we finally found you!" I had to smile.
"Yeah, I know..." Silence came.
"We know about John and we took care of it, no worries. We have the best lawyers working for us". We? My heart beatings fastened.
"I can't believe he did all that" I said.
"Ilse, you wouldn't believe half of the things that happen to us, football players. And now, to the point: are you OK?" Nina was observing me with curiosity.
"I'm fine now" I said, and I meant it. I was about to wish him good night and pass the phone to Nina when he spoke again.
"Good, because Jorg told me it would be nice if we all went for a lunch tomorrow, after you move to your new flat"
"Jorg?" I said.
"Yes, he's staying at my place for some days" I heard a voice behind him and recognized it at once. I almost dropped the phone. "Wait, Jerome is asking me about dinner, hold on a sec" I couldn't breath. I heard them speaking and tried to figure out what they were talking about, when I suddenly heard my name, followed by silence. "Ilse, are you there?" Asked Didier.
"Y..Yes" I stuttered.
"Good. We have a deal then? Tomorrow for lunch? We'll pick you up"
"Sure" I said.
"Good, good night then!" I passed the phone to Nina, feeling my hands shake. She spoke some more minutes and I stood up and packed the rest of my things.
"I'm going home now. Jerome ordered some Japanese food. He's staying in our place this week, they're painting his house" She explained. I just nodded.
"Thank you, Nina" I said, feeling tears in my eyes. She hugged me.
"Never leave again, Ilse" She opened the door and left. I got ready for bed and fell asleep at once for the first time in weeks.
It was a cloudy day again. When I was ready to go out, with my suitcases packed, they called me from reception to tell me there was a car waiting for me. I checked my phone and saw a lost call from John. I didn't know what to do. If there was a lawsuit against him, it wouldn't be wise to talk to him. But at the same time, I so needed to tell him what a bastard he was.
I took the elevator and arrived to the ground floor. There was a man dressed in a black suit waiting at the reception desk. I returned the key and checked out. The tall man looked at me.
"Are you Miss Werther?" I nodded, and he smiled. "I will drive you to your new flat. I work for Cooper editions" He showed me his identification card. "Here with me I have Mr. Dupont's personal attorney". I looked at another man who was standing there. He was older and had a smart face.
"Good morning. I'm here to ask you not to answer any call from the BBC premises. There's a lawsuit filed and everything is in our hands. You will only have to testify when the moment comes. In the meanwhile, disconnect the company phone, please" I listened, surprised, and nodded. I took one of the phones from my purse and turned it off.
"Shall we go?" The man in black said, taking my suitcases. We got into the big Audi and he drove through the city.
The next two hours passed so fast that I could barely register what was going on. My new flat was in a neighbourhood near Bond Street. It was a small apartment with pretty views to a pedestrian area with a park. It was too good to be true. The living room was decorated in light green and blue, with matching curtains. The bedroom was small but comfortable, and I held my breath when I saw it was decorated with posters of Van Gogh's paintings. I remembered the time I spent with Jerome in Montmartre and I was surprised he remembered how much I loved the work of the Impressionists.
I unpacked my things, took a cup of tea and tried to relax. I looked through the window. People walked in the streets with bags in their hands. There was a little tea shop on the other side and I had to smile when I saw a group of old women with big hats full of flowers, chatting animatedly.
The doorbell rang and I jumped. I looked at my watch. It was still early for lunch. I opened the wooden door, slowly. Jorg was on the other side, waiting, with a big smile.
"How do you like your new flat?" he said. I smiled.
"I love it"
"Good! Take your purse and let's go for a lunch, the others are waiting downstairs" I felt the blood freeze in my veins. He noticed my uneasiness and patted my shoulder. "Everything will be fine" He whispered.
We went downstairs. The wooden stairs creaked under our weight. The main door was ajar and my heart raced. It was fresh outside. Among the crowd of pedestrians, I saw Nina's blonde head. Didier was standing next to her.
"Ilse!" Dider screamed, smiling. He hugged me and I couldn't hide my surprise and embarrassment. "We finally meet!" Nina hugged me as well, and Jorg joined us.
"I reserved a table for 1 p.m" Jorg said. I looked around, wondering where Dupont was. Nina followed my gaze and smiled.
"He's in the restaurant, he can't walk too much during six months" I tried to calm down and smiled. She took my arm and we started our walk to the restaurant. The old houses around us, with the little shops, created a magic atmosphere around us.
"There's this nice restaurant around the corner" explained Didier. "They have a nice private area for celebrities and we always hire it when we go out for a dinner"
"Sounds well" I said, nervous. Didier smiled.
"How do you like London?" He asked. Jorg and Nina were chatting behind us.
"I love it" My reply didn't sound too convincing and he frowned.
"You know" He came closer and spoke in a whisper. "Everything will be fine." He winked and turned around to ask Jorg something about a shop near us. I walked the rest of the path in a dreamy state. How was I supposed to sit at a table in a restaurant with Jerome on the other side?
The restaurant was founded in 1625. The building was like a little castle in the centre of the city. A waiter was waiting for us at the door and we went inside. The walls were decorated with famous paintings and I wondered if they were the originals or just good copies. We crossed the room and a big door opened for us. A winter garden appeared in front of my eyes. All sort of plants and small tress rounded it. The glass walls protected us from the cold weather. And then I saw him. There, in the centre of a big table, Jerome was waiting for us. Didier and Nina smiled and Jorg shook hands with him. I felt all gazes on me when I approached him. I saw, horrified, that the chair next to his was reserved for me.
"Hi" He said, with a neutral face.
"Hi" I replied. I felt Jorg's hand on my shoulder.
"Sit down, Ilse. Choose whatever you want from the menu" I looked at him, grateful, as we all sat down. Didier was across the table, with Nina on his side. I couldn't move. Jerome was so close to me that I couldn't breathe.
"How did you sleep?" Asked Jerome. I looked up at him, surprised, when I saw he was talking to me.
"Fine" My short reply won a cough from Nina. I shot her a killing look. Jorg started a conversation with Didier and Nina went to the restroom. I was all alone with Jerome.
"Did you speak with my lawyer?" I tried not to look at his eyes, although I felt his gaze on me.
"I did. He asked me not to answer any call from the BBC" He nodded, taking a deep breath.
"I'm so sorry that you had to go through that. I had no idea that John was that kind of person" Silence came and I tried to calm down.
"Things got quite messed up but now everything is fine" I said.
"Is it?" He asked, staring at me. I got angry with myself when I felt the blush on my face.
"I got rid of that liar and I can move on" I said. His expression was neutral.
"Wait for me after lunch" He said in a whisper. I looked at Jorg and Didier but they hadn't heard us. Jerome's gaze became intense. "Please" He said. I nodded. Then, he took the menu and read it in silence. Nina came back and we placed our orders.
One hour later, Jorg was laughing out loud, drinking a glass of wine. Nina was laughing as well, and Didier spoke with Jerome animatedly. I was too shocked to follow any conversation and only smiled sometimes, to be polite and show I was listening, but I wasn't. Jerome didn't look at me during lunch, not even once. I wondered what did he want to tell me.
"Ilse, we must go" Said Didier. "It was nice to meet you" We said our goodbyes and only Jorg and Jerome stayed at the table with me. I saw Jorg checking his watch and feigning surprise.
"Oh, it's so late!" He elbowed me. "I have to go, do you mind?" He said, looking at me with a smirk. "I must leave you too alone" He kissed my cheek and shook hands with Jerome. When he walked through the door, I looked at Jerome.
"You didn't leave" he said.
"You asked me not to" I replied. He smiled for the first time.
"I know everything" he said, leaning forward. Our heads were closer. "I know why you left and I know what they told you" His blue eyes were staring at me.
"Life got quite complicated" I said, trying to smile.
"Now we know that what happened wasn't an accident. We both could have died there" He said. I felt a shiver. He was right.
"What will happen to John?" I asked. Jerome's gaze became intense.
"Do you really mind?" He said, in low voice.
"No" My voice was just a whisper. He smiled.
We were in silence for a while. I had no idea what to do. What was crossing his mind at the moment? Did he still feel anything for me? Would we ever be together again? I felt anxious, wondering if he just wanted to settle things between us and be friends, or if there was something else.
"Ilse" His voice broke the silence. I looked up at him. "There's something I want to tell you" The world stopped around me. Was he going to tell me that he had another girlfriend?
"Look, you don't have to give me any explanation. I understand that you moved on and probably you have your own life now. Really, everything is fine from my side and I wish you lots of good luck" My voice broke. He stared at me.
"What are you talking about?" He asked, amused. I swallowed.
"This thing you have to tell me. I can guess what it is. I know that what we had was just a fling and that you must move on" I said. His face changed.
"Just a fling?" He asked, arching an eyebrow. "Is this what you think?"
"I don't know, I..." I began, but didn't know what else to say. I looked at my hands and took a deep breath. He observed me in silence.
"Let's go for a walk" he stood up slowly and I looked at his injured leg. He saw my face and smiled reassuringly. "I want to show you a place but we'll go by car. And of course, I'll have to wear my blonde wig in disguise" He winked and I felt my heart jump. We slowly left the restaurant. The waiters said goodbye and we soon found ourselves at the end of the street, where a big black car was waiting for us. "After you" He said, opening the back door. He followed me inside and gave some instructions to the driver.
"Do you always take your friends to do sightseeing, wherever you go?" I asked, and couldn't help smiling. He looked at me.
"Not my friends. Just you" We drove in silence for half an hour. A thousand thoughts were crossing my mind.
I found myself walking next to a blonde man limping, in front of the Tower of London itself. The fortress was placed by the river and was one of London's main attractions. Hundreds of tourists were walking around its property and once again I wondered what was Jerome doing and why. Why take me there? What did he want to talk about?We walked by a kind of memorial park where supposedly all the Earls of England were buried. On the other side of the road was the Tower. I always imagined it like a big tower, but it was actually a fortress and quite big. He bought the tickets and wenstarted the tour, crossing the gates in silence. It gave me a weird feeling to be inside, knowing all the horrible things that happened there. Our first visit was to the Bloody tower, place for torture and where they said that lives a ghost who shows up sometimes. There's a spiral staircase, so narrow and asphyxiating that I had troubles to reach the upper floor. Jerome held his hand to help me and I took it. His eyes looked at me with warmth and smiled. When we reached the top, he didn't release my hand. He stared at me for some seconds, but a Japanese tourists kindly asked us to move away. The moment passed and my hand was empty again.
We left the tower and walked to the next building, one of the most guarded and watched in the country: the Crown jewels. There was a big room, protected by huge iron doors that weigh 2000 tons each. There was a security camera above our heads. The tourists walked near us, trying to get the best views. A woman pushed me and I bumped into Jerome, who put his arm around my waist. The moment he touched me, I couldn't move anymore. He looked down at me, then at the camera. Suddenly, he removed his wig and threw it to the ground. Two policemen watched us with a frown. And before I could react, I felt his hand on my face. I looked up at him and he kissed me. People around us started to comment and the name Dupont was in their mouths at once. An explosion of claps and whistles made a revolution inside the chamber, and the security guards interrupted our kiss and took us out of the Tower. My heart was racing and I was so surprised that I didn't even realize that we were being taken to an office out of the fortress. All I felt was Jerome's hand on mine.
A policeman smiled when he saw us. Jerome shook hands with him and looked down at me.
"Jerome Dupont, the famous football player, disturbing the public order in the most secured area of the United Kingdom. Why doesn't it surprise me at all?" the officer said, looking at us.
"The Tower of London is a magic place" Jerome said. "I wanted to do something special for this girl"
"I know who this girl is" The man said, laughing. "Everybody knows" I looked at him, shocked.
"They do?" I asked.
"Don't you watch the news?" He had a magazine on his desk and, to my surprise, I was in the cover. "Will Jerome find his lost love again?" It said. I gaped at the picture, shocked. "You disappeared for two months and the whole world was wondering why did you break this poor guy's heart" I was too shocked to reach. I opened the magazine and read the article. There were pictures of Jerome and quotes from his interviews, where he said he really hoped I would be watching him on TV because...
"I love you" I heard him say, before I finished reading. I looked up at him. His blue eyes were warm. The policeman held his breath.
"What?" I asked. He touched my face gently.
"I love you" He repeated, slowly. His lips were on mine again before I could react. He wrapped me with his arms and I kissed him back. We heard the cough of the officer behind us.
"Sorry to interrupt, but I must write a report and punish you. Sorry, it's the procedure" Jerome didn't look at him. He just nodded and stared at me.
"Don't you have anything to tell me?" He said. I nodded, in silence. He waited patiently.
"I love you too". He wrapped his arms around me.
"Will you leave me again?" His voice showed so much sorrow. I couldn't believe what was happening in that moment.
"I won't" Silence came. My heart raced.
"Will you stay with me?" Was he asking me to move in with him? Was he asking me to stay in England with him? He saw my doubt and smiled.
"No matter where we live, will you stay with me?" He explained, and I smiled.
The policeman clapped and I looked at him, embarrassed.
"And now, lady, please, sign here" Reluctantly, I moved away from Jerome's arms, took the pen and signed the official report. Five hundred pounds for kissing in a secured area. It was really worth the punishment.