Copyright © 2022 by Brooke Gilbert
Cover Image License provided by Canva Pty Ltd. Cover design by Brooke Gilbert. Original Cover design copyright © 2022 by Brooke Gilbert. Edited by Caitlin Miller.
The following is a work of fiction. All people, places, names, events, and situations are a product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to a person, dead or living, is completely coincidental, and is not to be taken as reality.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2022921866
Paperback ISBN: 979-8-9872622-2-1
Amazon Paperback ISBN: 979-8-9872622-9-0
Amazon Hardback ISBN: 979-8-9872622-8-3
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, copied, transmitted, or distributed in any form without the author’s written permission.
For my Lola, whose unconditional love made this book possible.
And for all those with autoimmune disorders who refuse to give up...
Never stop dreaming.
“Breathe in Paris, it nourishes the soul.”-Victor Hugo
I sat nervously at the boarding gate, seriously doubting my mental functioning capability. I couldn’t help but question what I was doing. This was not me. I was not spontaneous, and I was not an adventurer. The most spontaneous thing I had done recently was try a different ﬂavor of dairy-free ice cream. Ms. Big Risk here. So, why did I think I could possibly pull this off? I must have been delusional. I needed to stop making decisions at 2 a.m. So, what was I thinking, imagining I could do this?
Okay, just breathe. Let’s think this through. You’re not on the plane yet. It’s not too late to change your mind. You can go back to being safe and extremely boring. Actually, boring didn’t even begin to cover it. They needed to invent a new word for what I’d become with my disorders. I would say I’m as boring as a grandmother, but frankly that’s offensive to grandmothers everywhere.
I was going to hyperventilate. I could feel my cheeks ﬂaming. The red lupus rash felt like it was giving itself away and the dizziness of my rare mast cell disorder was ﬂaring. I felt the heat of the butterﬂy wings race across my cheeks and nose, and I was hoping it appeared like I was blushing under my make-up. Get my rare type of Crohn’s to kick in and we’d have hit the trifecta.
The room was starting to spin. I was sure I'd gone chalk white as I grasped desperately for my suitcase in front of me. I leaned over my lap with my hands on the luggage pull and hung my head between my arms. To those around me, hopefully it just looked like I was tired. Airports are an exhausting place, right? But I could feel the ﬂight attendants at the front desk looking at me. I’d grown very good at knowing when people were looking at me. A nice side effect of my disorders. I usually stood out somehow. Even though my conditions didn’t really have any physical manifestations, they were pretty good at attracting attention. I required a lot of “special attention.” I hated being that person. You know, that person at the restaurant that changed what they ordered ten different ways. But I didn’t do it to be difﬁcult. I did it because I wanted to live. I understood that it was annoying all the same. I despised being that type of customer, and I would have been annoyed by me too.
The ﬂight attendants were very well aware of my conditions and dietary restrictions. It took an act of Congress to allow for an exception to bring all of my liquid medications and enough food with me onto the plane. And I’m sure they were all waiting to see who the mysterious person was that caused all the trouble. They probably had bets going. Well, I bet they didn’t think it was a woman in her twenties that looked so normal. I felt bad for costing them money on their bets. Actually, I didn’t; it’s rude to bet on disabilities.
Well, it was no secret now. I’m sure they were tallying up their losses. Maybe they were still debating whether I was “the one.” I can tell you I was “the one.” Because “the one” was about to pass out. Like, literally pass out. And I hadn’t even gotten on the plane yet. I hadn’t even left Atlanta and I was already going to have a medical emergency. How pathetic and embarrassing. I was going to have to call my best friend and say, “Hey, guess how far I made it?” We’d have a good laugh, but it was not exactly what I had in mind when I booked my plane ticket. I thought I would at least make it onto the plane before disaster struck.
When I booked my ticket, I decided to keep my mind distracted instead of imagining all of the many possible disastrous scenarios that could ensue. I busied myself with calls to my best friend about which outﬁts to pack and Googling beautiful photos of the places I would be visiting. Believe me, when you have this many disorders, you map out all of the possible disaster scenarios that could happen just by going to and from the doctor’s ofﬁce in town. But I hadn’t allowed myself to do that this time. Blame it on the “I have to do something with my life” mindset, the now-or-never carpe diem mentality. If I was a betting person like I imagined the ﬂight attendants to be, I would be losing the bet that I’d make it to Paris in one piece. The plane wasn’t even boarding yet. Like I said, it's not cool to bet on disabilities. That was karma for you.
God must have decided to have mercy on my desperate soul at this moment. Suddenly, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder, and a voice I knew I'd never forget swept over me.
“Are you ok?” a deep baritone voice rasped in my ear. “You look a little pale. Traveling is maddening these days.” He said it softly so as not to alert the small few who hadn’t already noticed my impending doom.
I felt grateful for the help as I kept my head lowered. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I didn’t think anyone but the ﬂight attendants would be aware of how severe the situation could become. And I was pretty sure that everyone else around me had just assumed I was tired. He must be a good Samaritan who just sensed it.
When I didn’t reply, he said, “Here, let me get you something cold to put on your neck.” How did he know exactly what I needed? And to my delight, I detected a bit of a British accent. My dizziness began to slow itself, but I decided not to raise my head until I felt I could straighten again. Maybe the handsome voice of this kind gentleman was putting me more at ease. I couldn’t believe a complete stranger could do that. How could just the sound of someone make you feel at home like that? I wanted him to keep talking. His voice was as warming to the soul as looking out a rainy window of a cozy London cafe could be. I was hooked. As the dizziness continued to lessen, I started thinking about how much of an idiot I was being. But, before I could continue with my very well-practiced self- deprecation, I heard that voice again.
“Now I’m getting worried. Can you say something?” His husky tone was enchanting.
“Oh, I . . . um . . .”
Great. Just ﬂipping fantastic. He’s like a warm English ﬁre after being caught in the rain, and I’m like a hillbilly tractor stuck in the mud. This was just perfect. Why was I terrible with men? I hadn’t even looked up yet. I didn’t even know if he was good-looking or married or anything. I needed to get it together. It was pathetic enough to almost pass out waiting for a plane, but this . . . Well, this just took the proverbial cake.
“I’m sorry,” I said shakily, my eyes still staring at my luggage beneath me. “I just started feeling really dizzy, so I grabbed my luggage and, well, it will pass. I'm ok. Thanks for your concern, though.”
“It doesn’t look like it’s just going to pass.” There was genuine concern in his voice. Did he know how hard it was to ﬁnd true concern in a man’s voice? I felt like I’d struck gold with this gentle stranger. He had my full attention. No aggravation in his voice, just a genuine want to help. “How about that cold water for your neck? Hold one second.”
I was terriﬁed to look up now. He was like my own personal Hugh Grant. I didn’t want to ruin it. I wanted to live in this dream for as long as I could. Allowing my mind to be transported to Nottinghill. I suppose it’s quite sad that a note of genuine concern and an offer of a cold water bottle got me this excited, but it did. My Hugh standards had severely fallen in my twenties after a few terrible relationships. So, if you gave me a sexy baritone with actual concern, I was ready to say, “I do.”
A moment later he placed the bottle of water on the back of my neck. Most people I’d known didn’t have any idea about putting ice on pressure points like that. I could feel the ﬂight attendants’ eyes still on me, but now I knew it was for other reasons. This guy must be attractive. It was time to rip off the band-aid. I knew I couldn’t live in this dream forever. It was time to look up.
I took the water bottle off of my neck and started to bring it in front of me so I could drink some of it. I kept my motions slow so I could steal some glances toward my Hugh Grant stranger.
The ﬁrst thing I noticed, he was dressed nicely. Not lazily like a lot of men dressed at the airport. He had on nice jeans that hugged his very well-deﬁned legs and a blue button-down shirt that I instantly loved. I’d always loved blue button-downs on men. Now if only the eyes . . . Yes. Oh yes, they matched. I again felt like I was going to faint, but for other reasons now. Yes, this was quite a man. Exactly my type. He was more ruggedly handsome than pretty, with blue eyes that had soul and spirit deep within them. Tousled, sandy blond hair only added to the effect on me. And that smile. That was the clincher for me. Yes, this was my type of man.
From the instant our eyes met there was a spark. I know I’m a hopeless romantic, but there was something almost palpable in the ﬁrst moment I gazed into his eyes. I had never experienced that feeling before. There was an instantaneous connection, as if we already knew each other. As if he was my safe place.
“Are you feeling any better?” he asked as he broke my trance.
“Oh, yes, much better. Thank you so much.” I took a moment to breathe as he sat down in the seat next to me. “Most people wouldn’t know what to do in a situation like that. Actually, I don’t think most people would have even noticed a situation like that.” I was beginning to babble as I usually did. They didn’t call me “chattering Christine” for nothing. It was a seriously bad ﬂirting habit. Really the only ﬂirting habit I had. I was sorely out of practice since I had adopted a “no dating rule.” What made me think I could ever get back in the dating game? What made me think it was time to get back to dating, much less that I deserved to get back into it at all? And why did dating always have to be such a game? I wish it could just be straightforward. Maybe then I could actually win at it some of the time.
Before I could start back down that self-disparaging rabbit hole, I was becoming increasingly aware of his presence beside me. And I couldn’t help but notice that his presence was quite tall and muscular. Guys like this didn’t usually pay me any attention. I’m 5’11,” and it has always been my luck that short, non-muscular guys were attracted to me. Nothing wrong with short guys with gym aversions; it’s just that when you’re almost six feet tall, you feel pretty unfeminine when you can look down and see the top of your date’s head. Not that I thought this good Samaritan man was interested in me in a romantic way. But my mind and my body were acutely aware of him. His knee touched mine, and my face managed to ﬂush an even brighter shade of pink. It might as well have been neon at this point. My body was a pro at betraying me.
“No problem. I’m happy to help,” he said, interrupting my train of thought.
“I feel so pathetic,” the words slipped out before I could ﬁlter myself.
“Really, don’t. Traveling gets to the best of us.”
If only it was the traveling that had gotten to me. I needed to pull myself together. I wasn’t even on the plane yet. I needed to prove to myself that I could do this, and so far, it wasn’t looking very good. As a Capricorn, I was extremely determined to make this trip happen.
“So you’re taking the non-stop ﬂight to Paris too?” he asked a little skeptically. As if he had already realized that the ﬂight wasn’t a good idea for me. I felt like he knew me well already, or at least could read me better than most. But my situation was anything from normal and ordinary; there was no way he could have any clue about the mess he was stepping into. I almost felt bad for him. I wanted to say, “Thanks for the water, but save yourself.” Or, “You’re too nice. Find a seat somewhere else by a normal woman who will have ordinary answers to your questions.” I’m the ﬁrst to admit that normal is overrated, but my weirdness was more than anyone bargained for.
“Yup,” I said quietly. I was still trying to assess the situation. It was like triaging from my medical training all over again: What information was I going to classify into the ‘safe to say’ pile that wouldn’t be an explosive word bomb full of pitfall questions? This was something I had gotten accustomed to on a daily basis, but not with handsome strangers. I couldn’t triage with a handsome stranger next to me. My guard was down. My ﬁlter was missing. I was already doing something really stupid by going on this trip, but it was important for me to go, nonetheless. There were so many holes in my logic as to how I was going to make this trip a success, I only needed one to be pointed out before I got up and walked out of the airport. Never again to think about this ridiculous plan. But I needed to take this trip, and I didn’t want to be talked out of it.
So I deflected. Deflection was my number one strategy in dealing with the battlefield that is socializing.
“What about you? Why Paris?” I asked. He looked at me. His eyes held me accountable, and it annoyed me. He knew I was deﬂecting. Most people would be thrilled to talk about themselves, but not him. He looked me over as if he was calling me out for the cheap ploy I had just played.
“Business,” he ﬁnally replied. “So why Paris for you? I bet your reason is much more interesting. Obviously you’ve gone through a lot to get here.”
Wow, he was blunt. Blunt, direct, and most deﬁnitely holding me accountable. His interest in my trip to Paris made him even more attractive. People usually let me cop out. Where did he come from anyway? And why was he suddenly so curious about this distressed woman who almost passed out in the middle of the airport terminal?
“Um, it’s really lame and I don't want to talk about it. If I talk about it then I’ll probably end up not even getting on the plane,” I said.
His blue eyes widened with curiosity, which only made him look more mysterious. He had this sexy smirk on his face that all at once infuriated me and set all of my senses on ﬁre. He seemed extremely intrigued now. Fantastic. I’d said the wrong thing. I had wanted to appear uninteresting and make him go away. Or did I not want him to leave?
“Ok,” he said with a laugh. “I have to hear this. We’ve got two hours to kill before the plane starts boarding. Let’s get some coffee and you can tell me all about it. I’ll make sure we get back on time and that you actually get on the plane. I won’t talk you out of it. Everyone needs to see Paris once.”
“Oh, I’ve seen Paris.”
His eyes widened with shock. He looked like he truly didn’t know what to make of me.
“Well, I’m still not going to talk you out of it,” he recomposed himself. “Everyone needs to see Paris as many times as possible. How about that?”
We stood up to start walking toward a small café nearby when he abruptly asked, “Wait, are you some hopeless romantic? Is this some Sleepless in Seattle fantasy? Please tell me you haven’t received a cryptic message from some stranger on the internet asking you to meet them at the Eiffel Tower with a pile of cash that they need for some life-saving procedure,” he laughed. “I can guarantee that’s not going to end like the movie.”
I was furious. What did I look like to him? So he did think I was pathetic. He was a pathetic sick girl chaser! I’d met enough of them. The type of guy who loves to ﬁnd a sick helpless girl who's all out of options so that he can feel like the hero. Now this guy thinks he’s scored really big because he assumes I’m getting catﬁshed at the Eiffel Tower! I was going to agree to get coffee because, well, look at him. Even my “no dating policy” would bend for this guy, but now . . .
“I don’t drink coffee,” I said a little too forcefully. “And I don’t do social media. I have an account for my handcrafted jewelry business, but that’s it. So, no, I’m not getting catﬁshed under the Eiffel Tower. At least pick a more original landmark.” There was a biting edge to my tone.
“Well, I thought the Moulin Rouge would just be crude.” Playfulness filled his voice.
“You know what?” I said, feeling my blood pressure rising. “I’m not going anywhere with you and your Mr. Darcy accent.” I knew that I needed to calm down. I didn’t need to add to my troubles, and with my heart racing so quickly, I knew the dizziness was sure to return. This trip already felt nearly impossible; I didn’t need to make it any harder.
“Wow, I’ve hit a nerve. Mr. Darcy, huh?” he chimed. “So the hopeless romantic bit is accurate. Let’s just back up a little, ok? I didn’t mean to offend you. I just thought you needed someone to look out for you. I mean you’re not even on the plane and–”
“Oh, so, what are you? The disability police?” I said emphatically. Anger was coloring my words now and making my head swim. “I was doing perfectly ﬁne. I’m perfectly ﬁne. I will make it to Paris on my own, unchaperoned and without assistance.”
“Well, you will need the pilot and the plane. Probably the crew as well,” he said nonchalantly.
“Argh. You–you really think you know me, don’t you?” My blood was beginning to boil.
“I’m really not sure how this escalated so quickly, but considering you were just about to pass out, I don’t think we should be raising your blood pressure so much.” I could tell we were beginning to draw an audience from prying eyes.
“We? We?!” I turned from him and started collecting my things. He noticed that I had several rolling luggage cases. Normally passengers get one carry-on. I assumed he was beginning to realize that I was a special exception; that there was a reason I was allowed more. Great. He probably thought I had some horrendous issue. Not that I didn’t have my share of disorders, but I doubted it was the type that was racing through his mind. I looked like a basket case. Well, to be fair, I was a basket case, but I didn’t want him assuming that.
Here I was ready to share with him my reasons for taking this trip and what led me to this moment. I couldn’t believe I’d almost opened up to a complete stranger. I knew better than to do that. It had never gone well in the past. Even opening up to people I already knew hardly ever went in my favor. I learned I needed to be very selective with what information I shared and with whom. For the past ﬁve years, I had to be guarded and prepared for whatever reaction a person could have to my disorders. But it was getting more difﬁcult to deal with negative reactions. I began to only share my reality with a select few I truly trusted; people whose reactions I knew I could handle, whatever they may be. So, if the information was too vulnerable, I kept it locked deep inside a metaphorical vault. There was a copious amount in that vault. 97% of my life was tucked away in there. Only 3% open to the public. Because that’s what it's like to be chronically ill. I was feeling stupid for almost opening up again to someone who hadn’t yet earned my trust. Thankfully, I was stopped before I made that mistake again.
“At least tell me why you don’t drink coffee,” he called to me as I walked away.
I knew I shouldn’t go too far. If I started feeling sick, I could become disoriented and dizzy again. I didn’t need to stress my body any more than it already was.
I was beginning to have serious doubts again about making the trip. Maybe it was due to my lack of conﬁdence, but I couldn’t help but feel like it was a stupid idea. But for some reason, I wasn’t accepting turning thirty well and the trip to Paris was something I needed to do for myself. The fact that I was alive with this much quality of life ﬁve years after my first rare autoimmune diagnosis was a miracle. And the fact that I could travel to Paris, even if it wasn’t the smartest idea, was surreal. I never thought I’d get to travel again, much less to Europe. The ﬁrst years of my illness, I struggled to even travel to doctor appointments. And without hope of getting better, I had given up my dreams of traveling. Now that I could, it was something I had to do. I couldn't even explain my massive determination in going. I just felt pulled to go. And if something serendipitous occurred while I was there, well, then that would be an added bonus. I couldn’t stay stagnant any longer. I had to do something. Even if it was a bad idea.
The greatest thing about having the same best friend for over twenty years is that you develop this type of ESP. It’s a best-friend sense of sorts; a sense that is learned and honed after years of life experiences together. Even if other people think it can’t possibly exist, I am absolutely sure that it does. Because at the very moment I had reached full frustration from my run-in with the mysteriously handsome British stranger, Lola was calling my cell phone. Lola: my best friend of nearly twenty-ﬁve years. She was calling because she knew. She always knew.
More than that, she was always supportive. But I knew that even she was skeptical about this trip, even though she had never verbally confessed her concerns. She had been through every step of my medical journey with me since I was diagnosed with my ﬁrst rare disorder at the age of twenty-four. I wouldn’t be here without her. That’s why God made us best friends. She was well aware of all of my medical limitations, restrictions, and risks. She was also well aware that the trip to Paris was not a great idea. However, Lola always found a way to be supportive. She was the Amy Poehler to my Tina Fey, and I knew I couldn't have made it to this point in my journey without her. And I loved her so much for not telling me how bad of an idea this was. Granted, it was understood it was a terrible idea; but she loved me enough not to say it.
I pulled out my cell, already knowing it was Lola. Sure enough, a photo of us from last year’s Galentine’s Day came on the screen. I already missed her face. Maybe this was a horrendous idea. I wish she could have come with me, but she was expecting her ﬁrst child, and I knew she needed to be home right now. That was the most important thing. Even so, she was always with me in spirit. And I was going to be an auntie!
“Hey, Lola! How did you know I needed you?” I said.
“I just know. We’ve always been connected like that. How are you holding up? Are you getting ready to board?” she asked. Her concerned tone ﬁlled me with warmth.
“Well, I was. I’m just having a lot of second thoughts. I’m starting to talk myself out of everything. I don’t know why I thought this was possible.”
“Because you’ve been through a terrible last couple of years and you can do this. You deserve to take a trip that you never thought you’d be able to take again.” Lola paused. “I’ll admit I was super nervous when you ﬁrst told me what you were going to do, but you have everything planned out. Your life has been on hold these last few years, and I really think you need this. Plus, you’ll never know if you don’t go. Just promise me you’ll check in often and that you’ll be careful.”
“I will. I promise. Thank you for being the best,” I replied.
“You’ve already got that title.”
“How are you feeling?” I asked. “I want updates constantly. Just because I’m overseas doesn’t mean I can’t get reports.” I laughed.
“I’m doing well. Everything is still going as planned. Your prayers have been such a comfort. Now go out there and actually get to experience life!”
“Well, so far, the experience hasn't been great. I almost passed out at the terminal. This really cute British guy helped me, but he turned out to be a major pain in the bum. Just my luck.”
“Don’t judge too quickly. You said you were going to be open to new experiences on this trip, remember? British guy doesn’t sound that bad. Maybe your Paris romance has started early.” I could feel her winking through the phone.
“Ok, I’m hanging up now. You know it’s going to take me forever to board with all my “special” luggage.”
“Take a picture of British guy if you get a chance. I’m stuck at home, you know. I need a little excitement since I didn’t get to come on the trip,” she said consolingly.
“That’s going to be difﬁcult since I plan to never see him again,” I laughed.
“What was the word you used about this trip? Serendipity? I don’t think you get much choice. You agreed to go with the ﬂow and I’m absolutely loving it,” she chuckled.
“It’s a good thing I love you so much,” I joked.
“You have to. I’m the Blanche–”
“To my Rose,” I ﬁnished.
And with that, she hung up. Golden Girls was one of the many shows we had binge-watched together over the years. It calmed me just thinking about it. Lola was good at keeping me calm. We had ofﬁcially become friends in the third grade. She just walked up to me one day and asked if I wanted to be friends. And the rest, as they say, was history. She was a missing puzzle piece that clicked into place. Throughout the years, it never mattered where we were in life or how far away we were from each other, we could always pick up right where we left off. Never skipping a beat. She was my forever friend.
It had been so easy to ﬁnd my best friend. But when it came to a romantic soulmate, the opposite had proven true. I had always imagined that ﬁnding my soulmate would be simple. I was beginning to wonder if you could have both in life or if I should just feel lucky I had found at least one type of soulmate. I have always been a hopeless romantic: binging romance movies and reading every Jane Austen novel I could get my hands on. And I always thought it would be as easy as Austen made it seem to be, but I had the worst romantic luck. And after several terrible relationships, I had basically given up.
But that’s what Paris was about: opening back up to all of life’s possibilities. I had shut down the possibility of a soulmate for so many years. As if my body had decided it was a vestige that didn’t need to be used any longer.
Right after my diagnoses, dating felt selﬁsh. Then, when I was miraculously able to learn to live with my conditions and regain more quality of life, dating anyone still felt somewhat selﬁsh. And I can’t remember when that excuse started masking a deeper, more honest one. I had stopped dating for fear of another horrible romance that would leave me feeling empty and broken again. Low self-esteem meant settling for bad treatment and my non-existent confidence meant I had to watch as guys I liked passed me by as I sat too paralyzed by fear and insecurities to go after them. And then the mask provided a nice reprieve from the vicious cycle. It was better to be alone until I could unshackle myself from those crushing insecurities and unimaginably heavy self-hatred. Until I could see myself positively when it came to dating, I would continue to hide behind my disorders. Truthfully, I liked keeping my heart tucked away. But recently, there had been a glimmer of hope in my heart telling me that I deserved to be happy and to ﬁnd my someone. Lola had ignited that hope in me by showing me it was possible for someone to love me; and “me,” I now realized, was not just the pretty, but also the flaws and the brokenness . . . it was all. And the shackles had started to lift, and finally the weight felt a little lighter.
That glimmer of hope finally had a chance to shine after I had been forced to reevaluate my life. Right after my twenty-ninth birthday, the reality of turning thirty in one short year hit me like a ton of bricks. And while it’s just a number, that’s when I decided it was time to assess my life: everything I hadn’t accomplished and everything I was missing. My heart told me that I hadn’t been fair to it. And for some reason, this trip to Paris was the way to give my heart its ﬁrst actual chance at happiness. No settling, no hiding. And if I was being honest, there was another reason I wanted to go to Paris. The possibility of running into a romantic interest in the city of love had helped with my determination in getting there. If we were ever to meet again, wouldn’t it make the most sense for it to happen in Paris?
I headed back to the boarding gate with more resolve this time. The call from Lola had
helped me remember why I was going on this trip and that I was capable of doing so. I never did anything for myself, and I deﬁnitely never did anything this brave. It was a celebration of what I had gone through the last couple of years, but it was also symbolic of a new beginning; a new chapter in which I could actually open my heart.
My eyes scanned the terminal, looking for Mr. Cocky British man. No sign of him. I breathed a sigh of relief. The ﬂight was beginning to board and the butterﬂies in my stomach were ﬂuttering madly. This was it. No going back.
I went to the ﬂight attendants’ desk and prepared myself for the long conversation I would have with them about my luggage. The airline had been very understanding about me needing to keep all of my medications with me, as well as needing to access to all of my own food and drinks throughout the ten-hour ﬂight. It helps to be labeled a medical mystery and have a whole team of doctors write notes on your behalf. I had been dreading this moment, though. I hated being the person that got “special treatment.”
I approached the desk with trepidation, but the look on the perky young ﬂight attendant's face said that she recognized who I was and that she had been expecting this situation. She looked at me like she had half expected a disabled ogre to appear and was very disappointed to see me. My illnesses, for the most part, could not be seen on the outside. And the few symptoms that could wouldn’t be noticed easily. She was looking me up and down and starting to reassess the situation. I was beginning to worry that she was going to deem that it was unnecessary for me to be allowed this privilege.
“We’ve been expecting you, miss,” she said brightly with a smile and a nod of her perfectly cut blonde hair bob.
“Thank you so much for allowing me to have my medicines and dietary needs with me. I greatly appreciate it.”
She waved her hand, took my boarding pass, and let me through. She said she would help get me settled and make sure my luggage was stored near me so I could have access to it at all times. I was immediately relieved. I was grateful for her help and how easy she made the situation. These instances could become really uncomfortable, and I hated being in the middle of them. Unfortunately, I found myself in them all the time. I became more and more appreciative of the people who made these exchanges easy and comfortable. No amount of gratitude could ever be enough for those people who understood, or even just pretended to understand, in these circumstances.
Settled in my seat, I ﬁnally took a much-needed breath of relief. I had to ground myself. I couldn’t believe I’d actually made it onto the plane and that everything was going as planned. I looked around the business class cabin, taking into account my surroundings so I could get my bearings. I was beginning to breathe more easily. I focused on the pattern of the navy blue fabric on the headrest in front of me. Finding a focal point sometimes calmed my nerves while I practiced zen breathing techniques. I was beginning to relax when I heard a familiar voice.
“Is this 12B? This is going to be fun!” The British accent cut through the air like a wire cutter through clay.
It sliced into me and the peaceful serenity that I had created.
“No, no, no, no,” I said, a little too emphatically.
“No, this isn’t 12B or no, this isn't going to be fun?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“Wow, you’re wound really tight, you know that? And no, the British don’t kid around. It’s against Queen and country,” he said with a sly smile. “I may wind you up though.” He winked.
“Ok, well, this has got to be a mistake, or someone can switch with us or something,” I said frantically. I spotted an older lady with white hair across the row. She looked sweet. She reminded me of Betty White. “Ma’am? ma’am?” I began waving my arms wildly. The British man’s face was amused. He was having fun watching this little show I was putting on.
“Yes, dear? What is it? Is something wrong?” she replied sweetly. I could see she was turning on her hearing aid. She was adorable.
“Actually, ma’am, I wondered if you would like to sit next to this very nice, attractive British man,” I motioned toward Mr. Cocky British Man.
“I’m going to Paris for the French men, not the Brits,” she coyly replied.
“I’m sure he could do a wonderful French accent. Couldn’t you?” I said, eyeing him.
“Actually, I’m rubbish at a French accent,” he turned his attention toward the older woman. “She’s just nervous about ﬂying. I’m very sorry to bother you.” He was smooth.
“That’s ok,” she mumbled as she turned off her hearing aid. I couldn't believe her. Passing up a handsome guy like him. They don’t grow on trees, you know? She didn't look so adorable now. I couldn’t wait to see who was seated next to her. Karma’s a–
“Stop acting so dodgy. You’re going to get us kicked off the plane,” he mused as if that should calm me down. It only incited my annoyance.
“You’re the dodgy one.” I rolled my eyes at him, but he just ignored me.
“So, after those offensive shenanigans, I’d say I’m more than entitled to know, one, why you don’t drink coffee, and two, in detail, why you are going to Paris,” he mused. “I have a feeling it’s a good story, and I don’t want the short version. It’s a long flight, and I want to be thoroughly entertained.”
“Uggghhh. You are just so–”
“Adorable? I know. I get that all the time,” he smirked. “Sometimes I wonder, though, if I didn’t have the British accent, would I still have the same effect? But I guess I would. It’s just an added bonus.”
“You’re really full of yourself, aren’t you?” I questioned rhetorically.
“Oh, come on, I’m just giving you a go. You looked like you needed some loosening up,” he responded genuinely.
“I’m plenty loose and you don’t need to be worried about me like that.” He eyed me suggestively. My cheeks started to ﬂame.
“Careful, love. I think you’re getting too loose now.”
I turned my back to him. Well, the best I could in a small airplane seat. My being almost six feet tall didn’t leave much room to swivel.
A ﬂight attendant came down the aisle looking concerned. This one was pencil thin with a brown bob. What was it with the bobs? Was this part of the dress code? I didn’t like the way she was eyeing us. I could see the older lady had pushed the call button and was trying to get her attention.
“What’s the matter, ma’am? We’re trying to board the plane.” The ﬂight attendant didn’t try to hide the annoyance in her tone.
“Those two need to be separated,” the older woman pointed toward us. “I didn’t stay up late every night playing bingo so I could win this ticket to have the two of them ruin this for me. She already tried to get me to switch seats with her.” She pursued her lips disapprovingly.
“Do I need to separate you two?” the ﬂight attendant asked impatiently.
“No,” Mr. Cocky British man replied.
“Yes,” I disagreed.
The ﬂight attendant looked confused and turned to the women.” I think they’re just having a lovers’ spat. I’ll bring them something to drink and they’ll be ﬁne.”
“We’re not–” I began.
“Yes, it’s not a good way to start a honeymoon, is it? She’s already mad at me and all I do is try to make her happy,” he said slyly.
What did he think he was doing? I glared at him.
“Uh oh,” said the older woman. “Looks like this one isn’t going to last the whole ﬂight. Can we start taking bets? I need extra money for the toilets.” She spoke to the passenger in the seat across from her, “You know they charge you every time you go there? This old bladder isn’t what it used to be.”
The ﬂight attendant eyed the older woman for a moment and then looked as though an idea had crossed her mind. I think she might have actually winked at the older woman before walking away. So much for my zen breathing techniques. Any peace I had achieved had just been completely busted by this British heatwave.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked. “You think you’re being really cute, don’t you?”
“Actually, I was just hoping for some free booze. I think I’m going to need it considering who I’m seated next to.” He smiled a ﬂirtatious grin. “Thought it was the least you could do for me. I’m pretty sure I’m entitled to it.”
“Yup, that sounds British.” I began to feign a British accent. “Always entitled,” I said, drawing out the last word for extra effect.
“Hey, that’s not bad.”
“Thanks. I love the BBC,” I replied.
“Well, maybe there’s hope for you after all,” he grinned.
There seemed to be a huddle forming in the galley area. Whispers could be heard while money was exchanging hands. I think the betting idea had gained traction. Fantastic. I could see the ﬂight attendant with the brunette bob eyeing us while she started to pour champagne. Guess she must have wagered our marriage would last the ﬂight. She started toward us with the glasses and the rest of the bottle.
“Well that didn’t take long, did it?” he rhetorically mused. “That’s good service for you.” He started making himself comfortable. A huge smile spread over his ruggedly handsome face.
“Compliments of the crew.” She winked as she handed us each a champagne glass.
“Thanks,” I muttered.
“Well, this is more like it.” Mr. Cocky British man was looking as content as ever. “If we’re going to pull this off, I think I should at least know your name.” He raised his glass a bit. “I’m Colin. I don't think we were ever properly introduced. Cheers.”
“No, I don't think anything you have done has been remotely proper. Which is ironic since you’re British and all.” I took a breath. “I guess a fresh start would be nice. I’m Christine,” I introduced myself, albeit begrudgingly.
He had basically drained his champagne glass before he realized I was still holding mine. “What’s wrong now? Are you too uptight to drink? Honestly, it will make ﬂying better. I can only imagine how bad of a ﬂier you are.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just seems like you need to be in control, or you’ll worry about everything. And, well, I don’t see you ﬂying this plane,” he retorted.
“You’ve already ruined this fresh start between us, you know. Here.” I handed him the glass. “I don’t drink. It’s not an uptight thing, it's a medicine interaction thing.”
“Oh, uh . . .” He looked embarrassed. For the ﬁrst time since we’d met, Mr. Cocky British Man was silent. I could tell he was starting to wonder what kinds of problems I had. Great. Another person I’d have to explain my life story to. There’s never any chance at being normal. Something always gives me away. And it’s not that I mind telling my story, it’s people’s reactions that I mind. The conclusions they jump to and the new light in which they see me. A spotlight that can never be undone.
“Ok, go ahead. Ask me. I know you have questions,” I said, breaking the silence.
“Oh, no. That was really rude of me. I’m so sorry,” he said a little too quietly. I felt like he was eyeing me as though I was Norman Bates, and he was waiting for me to go psycho at any moment.
“Fine. You know, you really shouldn’t jump to conclusions.” I decided to fill in the blanks for him. “I have some rare autoimmune disorders, and I have to take a lot of medications. So, I don’t usually drink alcohol. I mean, I could in moderation, but I usually don’t. And that’s why I have all the extra luggage. I have to keep my medications with me. I can’t be in a foreign country without them. And I have a lot of dietary restrictions, as well, which adds to the luggage. And coffee is one of the restrictions. Trust me, pre-disorders, I drank enough coffee to be an honorary Gilmore Girl. The lack of caffeine is one of the most upsetting parts of it all.”
He looked relieved, but I could also detect a hint of remorse for what he said. Awesome. Now comes the pity party. I was really good at predicting the steps people went through once I had explained my situation. I just wasn’t used to being stuck with them on a plane while they went through them. This was deﬁnitely a new experience. And it didn’t help that his gorgeous blue eyes now looked so sad. I wanted to drown in them.
I was seriously considering this escapade as my sign to get off the plane and go home when the captain started his speech over the intercom. This was it. We were getting ready for takeoff.
“Can you stop looking at me like that?” I said to Colin.
“Like you just saw a puppy get run over. It’s really demoralizing. And you didn’t even hear the full story. I could only imagine what you would look like then,” I remarked.
The ﬂight attendants were all whispering and observing Colin as he looked at my champagne glass. He downed it quicker than seemed necessary. They probably thought I'd already pushed him toward alcoholism. Fantastic. I’m really not that bad! I might push someone to weekend drinking, but not day drinking! Wow, my self-deprecation was really ﬂaring.
“How do you know I wasn’t just thinking how beautiful you are and that I wish I would stop making such an idiot of myself ?” Colin questioned.
“How do you know I don’t feel like a prat for asking all the wrong questions that make you feel uncomfortable and bad about yourself?”
“I don’t think that warrants the dead puppy look.”
After a few minutes of silence, he ﬁnally braved a new question. “So, you never answered the other question. Why Paris? I mean, I still need to make sure you’re not getting catﬁshed at the Eiffel Tower.”
He was relentless. And quite resilient. I could give him that. At least he was making jokes again. He was a conﬁdent man, and I hated that I kind of liked that about him. This was going to be a very long ﬂight.
We were up in the air smoothly when the captain removed the seat belt sign. I felt like I needed to get up and walk around. I didn't know how much I wanted to tell this stranger, especially since I already felt lame and pathetic about the reasons I was going to Paris in the ﬁrst place. Telling Colin anything hadn’t worked out well so far. Why would I trust him with something like this? I didn’t think baring my soul to him on a ten-hour ﬂight was such a good idea. At the same time, I’d never see him again after this plane ride. Maybe it would be good to get an unbiased opinion. Even if it was an arrogant British stranger.
I got up and stretched my legs. Walking around, I took inventory of all the families and couples on the plane. Excitement had filled the cabin since leaving the runway. Paris embodied romance, possibilities, and new beginnings. There was just something magical about it. I’d been on this ﬂight before; I knew that in a few hours, it would begin to dissipate when the leg and arm room started to feel smaller and smaller. But right now, the anticipation was almost tangible. It felt good to be a part of something like this again. I wanted to walk around and clear my head before any excitement began to wane.
I had been to Paris with my family once before in high school, and I always dreamed of going back. It was such a culture shock at ﬁrst that it took a few days to adjust. The French people were so vastly different than those at home in the South, especially with their customs and social etiquette. The South is relaxed and quite friendly. It’s not uncommon for strangers to go out of their way to help someone and personal space is usually optional. That was a stark contrast to the more formal and reserved French culture, where hugging could even be considered more intimate than kissing.
And then, I fell in love with everything about it. I didn’t know if going back would ever be a possibility again. It was so difﬁcult to believe I was really on my way there. It was almost impossible to believe I had gotten to a place with my health where I could actually make this trip. I felt like a completely different person now, and I wanted to give her a chance to experience the most beautiful city in the world.
With a new sense of self-assurance in my decision, I headed back to my seat. Colin was staring at me in such a peculiar way, as if looking at me hard enough would help him to ﬁgure me out. I could promise him it wouldn’t. I started rummaging through my bag and pulling out snack items.
“Do you eat that healthy all the time? I can see why you have such a nice body.” He practically winked at me.
“Ok, now you’re just trying to butter me up to get answers. And yes, it is possible to be this ‘curvy’ and still eat healthy. My butt is always going to be this big no matter what I do. I’m cursed with it.” I glared at him sarcastically.
“I never said curvy was bad. I happen to like your curves,” he smirked.
My face ﬂamed red. Since I’d met him, he was either being so blunt he offended me or so ﬂirtatious that I felt embarrassed. I really couldn’t ﬁgure this guy out. I thought suitcases ﬁlled with medicine would end any chance of ﬂirtations with me. And if I’m being honest, I was somewhat pleasantly surprised it did not. Not that I had made up my mind how I felt about those comments coming from him.
“Would you like something to eat? I’ve got plenty,” I said, looking at him mysteriously.
“No, that’s ok,” he replied, obviously more intrigued with asking questions. “So is that carry-on ﬁlled with food and medicine?”
“Pretty much.” I shrugged. He fell silent. I could hear all the unspoken questions still hanging there. “Ok. Against my better judgment, I’m going to tell you why I’m going to Paris. It’s a long ﬂight and we have nothing better to do.”
“Smashing. I was beginning to think I should give up.” He reached over and took a few pistachios off my tray. I let out a little laugh. He must be getting comfortable again.
“I have a feeling you never give up.” I eyed him, taking him all in.
“This better be good. I feel like you’ve really built up the suspense. I’m already bored, so I’m glad you caved.”
“We’ve been on the plane for, like, thirty minutes. You do realize how long this ﬂight is, right?” I asked sarcastically.
“Yes, I’m very well aware. I was worried it was going to feel doubly as long when I ﬁrst saw who I was seated beside.”
“But I have to admit you have been full of surprises. It keeps things interesting,” he said. “I like that.”
“Why does it always feel like your compliments are insults?” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Ok, so back to you answering any question I can come up with.” His eyes brightened like he had just hatched an evil plan.
“Oh no, I’m just ﬁnishing answering your questions from the gate. You were kind enough to help me out back there. And I’m interested, for some reason, to get your opinion, but this doesn’t go any further than this plane, ok?” I looked at him with a deadpan stare.
“Always so many rules with you,” he said. “Are you sure you’re on the right plane? Seems like you should have gone somewhere more rigid and structured, like North Korea.”
“Ha ha. You’re hilarious.”
“I try. It’s one of my many endearing qualities.” He raised an eyebrow playfully.
“I have yet to see anything endearing,” I said, drawing out the last word for emphasis with a British accent.
“Must you do the British accent every time you mock me?” he asked.
“Just trying to be more authentic.”
The ﬂight attendant came back with two more glasses of champagne.
“Oh no, we’re ﬁne,” I said politely. “Really, we don’t need anything else.”
“No, we deﬁnitely do,” he said, grabbing both glasses.
“I just didn’t want to see you two arguing anymore. It’s your honeymoon to Paris.” She enunciated it like we didn’t realize where we were headed.
“This is supposed to be the best part of your marriage! Everything should be wonderful and carefree.” Then she leaned down closer to us and spoke in a low tone. “We’re really not supposed to do this, but with it being your honeymoon and all—” She glanced around. “If you need a tour of the galley and the spacious lavatories, I’d be happy to assist you.”
Colin snorted out his champagne. “Oh. Uh. Sorry. Believe me, carefree is not in her vocabulary. Why don’t you come back later to see if love here has gotten any more carefree,” Colin snickered and set the champagne glasses down.
She walked away with a shrug.
“How much money do you think they bet? This is insane. I’m going up there to tell them you made the whole thing up. This isn’t right.” I started to get up when he grabbed me by the waist and sat me back down in my seat. I could feel his strong hands on my hips, and my mind went blank. I was so shocked, I didn’t have time to resist.
“No, you’re not going to anger the people who give out the food, drinks, and entertainment during the entire ten-hour ﬂight. Obviously, they are really bored. Maybe someone who actually needs the earnings will wind up winning.”
I looked at him suspiciously. “Do you really believe that?”
“No, but I really believe that I don’t need to be miserable for the next nine hours. I think you can pretend to get along with me for that amount of time. Is it really that difﬁcult?” He smirked with such self-assuredness it made me a little speechless.
“You’re lucky that you’re so attractive.” The words came out before I could stop them. He just smiled and raised his eyebrows.
“Ok, stop changing the subject. You promised to tell me why you’re going to Paris. And make it good. You’ve drawn this out long enough.” His smile made me lose my breath.
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A woman with rare autoimmune disorders & a "no dating policy." A mysterious, cocky British stranger. A dream trip to Paris. What could go wrong?
Christine is on her way to finally check something off her bucket list–a dream trip to Paris. With thoughts of turning thirty looming, she is determined to make this bucket list trip happen and to try to open up her "out of commission" heart in the process.
Colin is a protective, dreamy British man who finds Christine in the airport terminal already second guessing her trip. And he falls hard.
What starts as a perfect "Mr. Darcy" meet cute and instant connection quickly goes wrong. When they find themselves seated beside each other on the plane to Paris, things seem destined to only get worse. However, with some forced proximity and the help of the elderly woman on the plane, they see that the instant connection they shared may have been right all along and agree to spend the week sightseeing together.
But Colin has a secret about why he's traveling to Paris. Both Christine and Colin have something they hope to gain from their Paris trip. Is a week in Paris long enough to change a heart? And can the magic of Paris help a wounded soul accept love?
Click the BUY NOW button at the top to start traveling with Christine and Colin today.
The Paris Soulmate is a sweet romance for clean and wholesome romance readers from debut author Brooke Gilbert. Travel to Paris in this romantic comedy all while staying in your pjs. Readers are laughing, crying, and falling in love with the characters.
The Paris Soulmate features in her "own voice" Crohn's, Lupus, & Mast Cell Activation Syndrome representation. This disability representation is written by an author who also battles these disorders herself.
This is a clean novel. Descriptive kissing only. No cursing. Faith conversations included. Trigger warnings: mild medical episodes and medical discussions.