Julia Peabody Emerson had, with one or two fleeting exceptions, always done the correct and proper thing. She progressed with charm and grace, if not enthusiasm, from a genteel Southern girlsâ€™ school to an august finishing school in Switzerland. There she had, due to the enthusiastic tutelage of one of the fleeing exceptions, Professor Henri Simone, developed a deep and abiding passion for all things French.
As was expected, she returned home to marry Henry Emerson IV, a marriage that her Mother and his mother had engineered with little thought as to how the actual participants felt about it. Henryâ€™s ambition to be a painter and Juliaâ€™s dream of studying in Paris were waved away by their families and the two were married in a tasteful and dignified ceremony that had been attended by all the right people. The wedding pictures show a slight, pretty blonde with a placid expression standing next to a darkly handsome man who looked out at the camera unsmiling, with the air of a dreamer and a poet. The honeymoon had been pleasant, but uneventful and thus went the marriage, with Julia, Henry and Mother ensconced in the Peabody Mansion leading the life Mother had mapped out for them.
With Mother to guide her, Julia had joined all the right clubs, served on all the right committees and invariably won the Garden of the Month Award. Her pretty face smiled out often from pictures in the society pages and every Sunday, she and her sweet, sweet Henry sat next to Mother in the Peabody pew at First Baptist Church.
But, still, somewhere in the distance, Edith Piaf sang, people sipped champagne and women danced on tables at the Moulin Rouge.
Then, on the eve of Juliaâ€™s 40th birthday, Mother, ever the one to do things decisively, dropped dead of a heart attack. After a tasteful funeral service, the family lawyers pronounced Julia rich. AprÃ¨s moi, la deluge.
Weeks later, taking her hands in his, his milky brown eyes swimming with tears, Henry told her he was leaving and somehow, she understood. He took the millions he had inherited from his mother and moved to California., where he joined an artistsâ€™ colony and Julia, with her millions sensibly invested, attempted, without enthusiasm, to put the life Mother had mapped out for her life back on track. But, one Sunday as she sat all alone in the Peabody pew, she felt she needed to be somewhere else, that she needed to be someone else.
It began behind the firmly closed doors of the Peabody Mansion. Julia watched French films she ordered over the Internet and surreptitiously drove to Biloxi to buy French cheese and wines and Swiss chocolates. Later, she hired a French tutor, began speaking French to the befuddled servants and for several Sundays running, did not go to church at all. For two months straight she lost the Garden of the Month award. People were talking, but she wasnâ€™t listening.
Who knows when the balance tipped? Maybe it was when she watched Gene Kelly dancing through Paris for the tenth time. Or maybe it was Edith Piafâ€™s melancholy rendition of â€œLa Vie en Roseâ€ the night Julia polished off a whole half bottle of Chateau Rothschild, a slab of Brie and a box of chocolates. But, when she marched into the local wine store, right across the street from First Baptist, to buy six bottles of Alsatian Riesling, the dye had been cast. She had called Henry and he had squealed with delight for her. â€œCarpe blinking Diem, sweetie,â€ he shouted.
A week later, as she and her Chanel suit settled into her first class seat on the Delta flight to Paris, a handsome man sitting across from her smiled at her and breathily intoned â€œBon Soirâ€.
â€œBon Soir,â€ Julia returned with her best guttural rolling â€œrâ€. And she smiled at him, casting her eyes down ever so slightly.
And as the plane soared heavenward, bearing her away from the old life, Julia watched the lights on the ground fade to black. As she sipped champagne and looked out at the clear night sky, a whole new world welcomed her and Edith Piaf was within reach. Just for the briefest moment she thought, â€˜Mother would be appalled.â€™ But then the thought faded and a new idea emerged: Maybe she would find Simone and they could once again parlez the night away. The End