He taught her the ways of love, but he didn't know how to love
Beatrice, fresh from university, is determined to become a writer, but her sheltered life in 1950s England, as a vicar’s daughter, ill-equips her emotionally to become one. She decides, just ten years after a major world war has ravaged Europe, to travel alone around the continent, to not only discover a life outside her protected bubble, but to discover herself.
Arriving in France in 1955, she meets Sabine, a beautiful, older French woman and her lover, Charles, an Englishman, a French resident for many years. Both Charles and Sabine are captivated by the beautiful, but naïve and sexually innocent English girl, and Beatrice is willingly drawn into a three-way steamy love affair with the two.
But Charles, although charismatic, is sometimes moody and melancholic—a relic from his dysfunctional childhood. He falls desperately in love with Beatrice—with tempestuous results. When all seems lost, and Beatrice is in despair, help reaches her from an unexpected source. Will another man, waiting in the wings, help her to pick up the pieces of her fractured life?
This steamy love affair has an emotional centre that will tug at your heart—and other parts too, as Beatrice travels from innocence to maturity in just a few, short months. But will she achieve her dream of becoming a writer? Or will she return home with a damaged heart?
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From innocence to maturity, in a few passionate months
I leaned against the ship’s railing on that sunny August morning, watching as the white cliffs of Dover receded from view. The lump in my stomach had been there all day, yet hadn’t stopped me from boarding the ferry for Calais at mid-day. The Second World War had now been over for ten years. Yet I was still nervous about what I would find when I stepped on to French soil for the first time. Would there be terrible damage from the bombs? Would the language barrier make travelling difficult for me? I knew some schoolgirl French, but I wasn’t sure if that would be enough.
I looked up and caught the gaze of a middle-aged woman standing a few feet away.
“First time abroad, dear?”
I paused for a moment, unwilling to reveal my complete lack of experience. Finally, I turned and gave a half smile.
“Yes. Yes, it is. Does it show?”
“It was just the wistful look you gave at the sight of the Dover cliffs. Made me wonder if you were a bit nervous about leaving home, dear.”
I smiled, but didn’t answer—not wanting to get into conversation, but be alone with my thoughts. The woman turned back towards her companion.
Was it so obvious that I was utterly inexperienced in the ways of the world? Oxford had been such a bubble—cut off from reality. Mixing with academics and fellow students, reading, reading, reading, writing essays—it all seemed to take place in a secret world where the real world rarely intruded. Then back home to the vicarage for a month, feeling as though I no longer belonged to my previous life. My friends and family had not changed, but I had. I suppose many people leave university planning to experience the world of their dreams—perhaps some make it, but many drop back into the safe and comfortable existence they had known until then. I was determined to be among those who reach the life they dreamed about—had dreamed about since childhood in fact—or I would die in the attempt.
I’d always known I wanted more than the life into which I was born. Safety, security, and predictability—they were not for me. I wanted to grab life with both hands, experience everything that was offered and eventually to write about it. The thought was both exciting and terrifying.
I walked a little further along the deck and resolutely turned my eyes away from the receding cliffs and towards the open Channel, determined to look forward to the future. The screeching seagulls that had followed the ferry since we left Dover began to diminish in number as they headed back to port. Part of me desperately wanted to do the same. But the brave part of me—that which had kept me determined about my goals—was still dominant.
“But darling, what will you do on your own over there?” My mother had found it impossible to understand why I, or anyone she knew, would want to drift off into the unknown, with no destination in mind and no obvious ambition, other than to travel and experience life.
Was their three-way love affair destined to crash and burn?
Sabine kissed me again—a longer kiss this time. Her tongue slid over my lips, as though seeking a way into my mouth. It was such a completely unknown sensation. I opened my lips just a fraction, but it was enough for her tongue to slither between them into my mouth. This must be what lovers do when they’re locked in a clinch, their tongues secretly entwined.
I stiffened a little as I felt Charles’ hand reach under my skirt, sliding it slowly up my thigh. He stopped at the top of my leg, as though giving me time to adjust to its presence—whispering into my ear, as Sabine continued kissing me.
“Don’t be afraid, my darling. You have a beautiful body just waiting to be discovered. Sabine and I want to discover it together. We want to seek out your hollows and your curves—to teach you about making love.”
My floral summer dress had buttons from neckline to waist. Sabine stopped kissing me and slowly began to unfasten the little pearl buttons, until the material gaped open to reveal my white cotton bra. How I wished I owned some more glamorous underwear—of the type I was sure Sabine was wearing.
Charles intervened, clearly anxious to make progress in their joint seduction. He reached down and lifted up the hem of my dress, drawing it over my hips and further up my body, until he could remove it over my head, before dropping it in a heap on the floor. I almost stopped breathing at this point, so great was the intensity of feeling throughout my body. It wasn’t too late to stop them, if that’s what I wanted. But I didn’t want them to stop. I was desperate to step over the chasm between my youth and becoming a woman. I’d never felt as desperate about anything in my entire life. I was excited about stepping into the unknown world of sexual love.
Sabine kissed me again, as Charles unfastened my bra, slid it off my shoulders, and dropped it onto the floor. His warm palms found my breasts and I heard a faint intake of breath from him as his hands covered them, softly massaging and stroking. I shivered, but not with cold. No one had ever touched me like that before. I didn’t know such sensations existed.
I was conscious that my breasts were much smaller than Sabine’s, and regretted my lack of womanly voluptuousness. Would Charles notice and make a comment. Oh, why was my body so girlish? Why didn’t I have a body like Sabine’s? My lack of size didn’t appear to be bothering him however. His hands continued to gently massage my breasts.
I started as I felt Sabine’s hands on either side of my hips slowly begin to slide the top of my knickers downwards from my waist. Charles must have felt my sudden movement, for he nuzzled and kissed my ear, whispering to me.
“Hush, darling, it’s fine, everything’s fine. Relax. Let it all happen. We’ll take care of you.”
The 1950s was a time of transition—from innocence to sexual freedom
Charles began reminiscing.
“I remember a very passionate affair I had at Oxford, probably before you were born, Beatrice. She was an older woman I met in the Lyons Corner House. She taught a young, green, boy from the sticks all about love.” He paused, his mind clearly far away from the present and in that lost world of his youth.
After a moment he resumed talking, both Sabine and I remained quiet and waiting for his revelations.
“I was twenty, and I’m sure she was at least thirty-five—although she would never reveal her age. She was very fashionably dressed, and always wore red lipstick, traces of which I frequently found on my shirts back at college. I met her about six times and we made love on the back seat of her car on several occasions, I remember.” He smiled in remembrance.
Sabine smiled, a little mischievously. “And were you a good pupil, Charles?”
“I do believe I was. She was married of course. But she always seemed a little sad. She told me her husband had a young mistress and frequently ignored her. I believe she was lonely and looking for a little love, which of course I was eager to offer.”
Both Sabine and I were curious to know more, now that Charles had begun his reminiscences. I was glad, too, not to be talking about my lack of love affairs. The wine was making me a little reckless and unafraid to voice thoughts that would never be expressed normally.
“Why did it end, Charles? Did her husband find out what was happening?”
“No, I don’t believe he ever did. It ended because the term ended. I went home for the holidays and when I came back, she’d gone. I never found out what happened to her.”
Sabine wanted to know more. She leaned more towards him, wine glass in hand and with a look on her face that seemed to me to be suggestive, as though she wanted him to shock us with his revelations. “What did she teach you, Charles?”
But Charles was reluctant to share. Maybe he’d been a little in love with this woman, and her disappearance had caused him pain. All he said was, “She made me feel like a man, instead of the boy I’d been until then.” He went quiet as if lost in thought. Perhaps this woman had been a major love of his life. I really wanted to know more about his feelings at the time. Did he still think of her often after all these years? But it seemed that his reminiscing was over.