Katie stepped from the yellow gravicab that gently hovered above Cheshire Street.
Tim followed. “Katie,” he said. “Have you plans for the weekend?”
The cabby eased the gull-wing door down behind them.
“Atef and I are having Christmas dinner in Henley, Timmy,” she answered. “I’m so sorry.”
Tim pulled open the glass door to a greystone, noting, as Katie glided by, her strawberry blonde hair cascading onto her sweater and her blue denims emptying into her boots. “I’m planning Christmas in Paris myself,” he announced, following close behind.
Katie stopped and spun around. He smacked into her. “Forgive me,” Tim mumbled, blushing. Straightening his gray herringbone jacket, he brushed his fingers through his dark hair, needing a cut.
“Paris?” she asked. “I love Paris. Especially at night. The yellow streetlamps warming the twilight, defying the darkness . . . Christmas in Paris, Timmy? Really?”
The greystone’s lobby, with tinseled pines, cranberry candles and frosted windows, flickered in Tim’s eyes. Under one tree, nestled among brightly-ribboned packages, he spotted a tiny winter scene imprisoned within a crystal snow globe. A little boy knelt over it, picked it up and turned it over. He shook it fiercely, turning it again in his hand, watching the snow whiten the tiny houses and painted people.
“I have some merlot,” said Katie.
“What’s that?” Tim said, turning from the boy and the crystal to Katie’s light-green eyes.
“A glass of merlot,” she said again. “Upstairs.”
“Yes,” he responded, tugging his pocket Toshiba out by its fob, glancing at the tiny glowing numerals. “I’d like that. I have some time, actually.”
Katie placed a hand over the door-lock pad, then pushed open the door to her flat. She tossed her Harrad’s shopping bag into a teak chair in the dining room and moved toward a white kitchen cabinet.
Tim walked to the living room window overlooking London from the seventh floor. “The view is breathtaking here,” he complemented, watching the white ball of sun burn through the clouds. Light snow whitened the nearby rooftops. “I should live in a home so idyllic.”
“You’re right,” said Katie, presenting Tim a half-full goblet. “You should leave that dismal flat on the East Side and find a place like mine . . . You could, you know, and I’d be the first to help you move.” She kissed him on the cheek, then smiled, lifting her glass. “To yet another Christmas, Timmy.”
Their glasses chimed.
“To Christmases yet to come,” he offered, returning the smile, sipping the wine. “Katie? Remember when we were kids? You were thirteen and told me about your first kiss.”
“Whatever brought that to mind?” she asked.
“Just all the Christmases that have gone by,” he said, “and how long we’ve been friends.”
“Hmmm. Yes,” she answered, glancing to an oval rug in front of her sofa, studying its deep greens and blues, “we have, and our mums were friends for years before that. Housekeepers they were. For the same agency. Commoners, the lot of us. I hadn’t thought of all that for years.” She looked up at him. “Much time has flown. You’re right.”
“Your first kiss,” Tim said again. “You said it brought snakes to mind.
“Slithering garden snakes or something of the sort,” he continued. “Then you kissed me. To show me.”
“Snakes!” she said. “I’m sure I don’t remember that.”
“It was snakes,” he insisted, fully-humored now. “I remember as clear as a bell.”
She turned from the window. “Could we talk about Paris now?” she said, curling into her white sofa.
Tim sat against the teak window sill, cupping his wine with both hands. “I’ve planned . . . some research there,” he said. “In late-1990s Paris. A bit of work and holiday, I suppose.” Sipping his wine, he seemed to stare right through and beyond Katie.
“1990s!” she said, leaning closer. “Timmy, you’re hopeless! You spend too much time with your Accessing. You should stay here for Christmas.”
“I love Accessing,” he said, brushing his fingers through his hair. “It’s a great deal of my work at the museum, after all. But, Katie! There’s no such thing as hopeless, you know. There’s always hope to . . . break through. Change is always possible.”
“Perhaps,” she said, sinking a bit into the couch. “But why? Why 1990s Paris?”
“I’ve made advances in my work,” he said, standing, turning toward the window. “Accessing is no longer an objective activity. Recently, I discovered how to actually enter the past—as if actually a part of that time. Accessing is no longer like observing live exhibits in a museum but like walking among the exhibits.” He turned, facing her. “I’ve been practicing driving a real motorcar—one with wheels and tires! Granted, I’ve had to settle for VirtuReal driving at work. All simulated, of course. But this Christmas, in Paris, the streets will be as genuine as the strands of Kashmir wool in your sweater.” He sipped at the merlot.
“Isn’t it enormously dangerous?” she asked. “And, unethical?”
“I know exactly what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m a very good driver, actually. As for ethics, who’ll know about it but us.”
“Why 1990s Paris?” she asked again.
“A secret,” he said with a finger over his lips. “Shhh.”
“Really? We’ve never kept secrets before.”
“You’ll know eventually,” he said, tugging at the fob to his Toshiba. “I promise. Just have to stay in suspense for now.”
“If I changed my plans,” said Katie, her eyes a shade brighter, “could I Access Paris with you? I love Paris!” She looked into his eyes. “Actually being there? In the past?”
“What would Atef say to that?” said Tim, turning away.
“I’ve no idea,” she said, staring into the back of Tim’s herringbone jacket.
“I don’t like him, you know. He’s not like us, and not because of his Egyptian heritage. He’s wrong for you, Katie. I often wish he’d never have come along. However,” he continued, turning toward her, smiling, “he can come too! If you’d like. We’ll make it a royal holiday, just the three of us.”
“What? You sure, Tim?” said Katie, another shade brighter. “We wouldn’t be interfering with your work, would we?”
“You know I don’t mind, Katie,” he said, softly, then finished his goblet. “It’ll be my present to you this year.”
PARIS, Oct. 9—Investigators probing the Paris crash in which Princess Diana died have concluded a second car was probably involved in the accident, a police official said today. . . .