Daniel was annoyed for some inexplicable reason. A talkative young dark-haired woman had spent the last two hours sitting at the bar at Chez Ammand chatting up the bartender about living in Paris. He was working on lecture notes out of Isaiah for a seminar at the Sorbonne. She was an intruder at his favorite mid-afternoon haunt. What made this even worse was the fact that she was a foreign invader of the worst possible kind – an American. He was also jealous; Pierre, the bartender, was devoted to conversing with the woman. But Pierre belonged to him most afternoons; an existentialist and devoted agnostic, he was Daniel’s favorite sounding board for his lectures. Beneath the agitation there was something else – he was attracted to the American and this, more than her hoarding of Pierre’s attention, was at the heart of his inability to focus on his upcoming lecture.
“What’s the professor drinking?” asked the American, bored with chatting up Pierre, as she glanced behind her to the table where Daniel was sitting, seeing his empty pint glass..
“Kronenbourg,” he said, “He always comes in, has a couple of drinks while he works in the afternoon.”
“Pour me two,” she said, “I’ll bring one over to him.”
“Of course,” said Pierre, dejected and resigned to the fact he could no longer hold her interest.
She brought the beers over to Daniel’s table where he was buried in his notes. He only looked up when he heard the pint glasses being set on the table. saw the raven-haired American. Her intelligent, eyes held his gaze and pierced him with shocking immediacy. He had not seen her face while she talked with Pierre and as he took in her beauty, her effortless elegance was captivating and somewhat unnerving to Daniel.
“So whatcha working on there, professor?” she asked with alarming boldness.
Daniel said, taken aback, “A lecture for my seminar tomorrow.”
“A lecture on what?”
“The Old Testament.”
She pressed, “Which part?”
“The book of Isaiah,” he answered.
“Which part?” she hounded further.
“The fifty-fifth chapter.”
“Seek the LORD while he may be found…” she said with a smile.
“Uh, yes,” he said, surprised further still, “And thank you for the beer, by the way.”
“No problem,” she said, still grinning, “Well, have you found him yet?”
“I’m not sure what you mean exactly, Madame. What was your name?
“Photina, but everyone calls me Tina” she said, “I meant exactly what I asked. Have you found him?”
“Found God, do you mean?” said Daniel, “Why do you ask?”
“Why is it that Frenchmen can’t answer a direct question?”
“Why is it that Americans feel entitled to ask direct questions?” Daniel retorted.
He pulled into her powerful field of gravity. Whether he would admit it to himself or not, he enjoyed Tina’s game. He continued to be held by her stare, penetrating and playful and captivating.
“I am not trying to be rude. I’m interested that you would be here preparing a theology lecture. Now, are you going to answer my question or aren’t you?”
Daniel cleared his throat, “Yes, I . But, Jean Calvin would say that he found me.”
“So you’re Protestant,” Tina said approvingly.
“Yes, one of the few in Paris who is,” he said, scratching at his temples, “Can you tell me about your name, I’ve never heard of it.”
Tina answered, “My grandmother was Greek, and quite devout in her faith. She named all of her children after saints from the Orthodox tradition. She was beside herself when her daughter married a holy-rolling Pentecostal Christian. I think that Mom wanted to honor her mother by continuing to name her kids after the saints as well. Photina, was the woman at the well. In the early days of the church she gained renown as a fearless proponent of the faith, and many believed on account of her testimony. She died as a martyr under Nero’s persecutions.”
Daniel and Tina continued to converse about a wide variety of subjects. Tina was captivating and engaging and a better sounding board than Pierre could ever hope to be. The two conversed well into the evening as Chez Ammand filled up. They continued to talk over drinks, and ordered dinner. In time, Daniel learned that Tina was the daughter of a Central Coast California rancher, and she grew up in Assemblies of God church. She learned of his seminary days in Aix-En-Provence and his family’s Huguenot heritage, life growing up as the son of a Michelin executive. As the night waxed on, Daniel offered to walk Tina to her nearby apartment. It was the beginning of a walk that would last for a lifetime.
One hundred and fifty-five bottles – wine, beer, and liquor, with lit candles melted into their openings, cast their kitchen in flickering light. The ones that could not fit onto the counter tops or refrigerator encircled the small table in the middle of the room. Resting on the table with two glasses was a bottle of Louis XIII . Tina was seated in the chair facing the table, with a child’s empty high-chair between her and the other empty chair at the table. She heard Daniel stumble through the entrance to their apartment and make his way into the kitchen. He was not the same man she met five years ago. The light that danced in his eyes, the light that won her over, was all but gone. The man who slouched into the kitchen was beaten by sorrow that could not be assuaged.
“What is this?” he asked.
“Sit down Danny,” she said with firm softness, “We need to talk.”
“Talk about what? Have you been saving my bottles?”
She answered, “Not all of them; there would be thousands in here if I had. I gave one bottle a week to Pastor Bernard’s wife and she kept them for me until I was ready to show them to you.”
“And where did you get the money for such an expensive bottle of cognac?”
“Never mind that,” she said, “It is what we are going to do with it that is more important.”
“What is that, exactly?”
“Jean has been dead for three years today, and you can barely utter his name. You haven’t shed a single tear around me. You forget that I lost our little boy as well, and I’m afraid I have lost you, too.”
Daniel took an apprehensive seat at the, “Are you leaving me?”
“No, Danny,” Tina said as she got up from her chair and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, “I’m not leaving you and I never will. I’m giving you one of two choices. After we open this bottle, either I will drink it with you and we will drown together here in Paris, or we will take it over to Jean and pour it out like perfume on his grave. If we go to his grave and pour this out, you will put the bottle down for good and stop indulging this hopeless grief. I know that you know God did not give you the wonderful gift of life so that you could throw it all away. If we go to Jean’s grave together, we need to leave here and put the past behind us. I’ve already talked to my parents and they’ll take us in at their ranch until we are back on our feet.”
She moved across the table to him and he clutched her hand on his shoulder and turned into her belly and wept for over an hour, as she held him in her arms. Later that night, after blowing out each of the candles one by one, they left for Jean’s grave and poured out the contents of the bottle like Mary Magdalene had upon Jesus’ feet. He never took another drink. A week later they were aboard a plane for America. Although they would visit his family in Cleremont-Ferrand occasionally, they left Paris for good. Daniel began seeking God again and found him after years of anesthetizing his pain. This time however, he sought him together with Tina, only to find that God had never lost him. They made a life together in California, and never looked back.