F I C T I O N
Annemarie Eugénie Ferdinand Boudin de Clément was 19th in line to the Belgian throne, but at 18, the baroness had travelled – escaped, really – to California and had become Annie Clement, student at Cal Arts in the southern part of the state. She met Paul, a young software engineer, in San Francisco and they fell in love. She moved to The City to live with him.
They loved each other with a blinding passion. Their relationship was a sustained chain reaction, an exploding conversation that seemed to never end, a back-and-forth that constantly topped itself. There was no one else in their eyes, it seemed. Weekends at Stinson Beach or down to Montara, trips to the gray and green North Coast. He was a better person because of her, and he hoped she felt the same.
Her origins had not been a subject of much discussion. It was her faint Continental accent that brought on Paul’s questions. She had hinted vaguely, almost shamefully, that her family was very wealthy and she stood to inherit a fortune once her parents were gone. He occasionally found her talking heatedly on the phone and assumed it was her parents at the other end of the line.
It was only a matter of time and distance before Paul began to detect that she was becoming restless, her eyes not gazing into his as deeply, but looking down and away. Then there were those first days without her when she said she needed to go to the East Coast. These were followed by other days of absence, sometimes becoming weeks, yet she kept in daily contact with him telling him she loved him madly. In his total devotion to her, Paul made up his mind that he would live with her occasional absences.
Until one day she returned to tell Paul tearfully that it was over – everything was over – and she told him all about herself. And Frederick.
Count Frederick Arenberg Beaufort-Spontin, 25, and the Baroness Annemarie had been betrothed in the manner of centuries-old Belgian custom. They had been in love for years – a quiet relationship steeped in privilege and wealth – until Annemarie decided she needed the freedom to see how the rest of the world lived. In this other world and throughout her years with Paul, she had gradually come to realize that the pull of her family and the responsibility to her country were too great to abandon. She told Paul she would return to Belgium to be married.
Paul was beside himself with shock, grief, and anger. He went back and forth believing that she had chosen wealth and status over the simple life and love he had to offer, yet he had not convinced himself that she had stopped loving him and that she was being married according to entrenched custom and against her real will.
Two weeks later, the bells of the Church of Our Lady in Bruges announced the start of the noble and grand wedding ceremony. All 1600 eyes in the cathedral, including the groom’s, were turned to the back of the aisle as the organ music began. Baroness Annemarie appeared, resplendent in a classic white gown. Gazing ahead at the altar, she virtually floated down the long aisle, her dress ahead of a regal-length train partially supported by two flower girls.
As the bride approached the middle of the cathedral, Paul couldn’t hold himself back any longer. He stepped out in the aisle and stood on the train. As the dress’ slack was taken up, the bride was jerked to a stop. Baroness Annemarie Eugénie Ferdinand Boudin de Clément and everyone else turned to see Paul. He stood there on the train, at the center of all the shock and not knowing what to do next. The music had stopped. All eyes glared at him.
Paul wanted to catch her eye and remind her one last time of what they once had, but all he could do was scream, a loud and sustained wail that reverberated up and down the cathedral’s vast halls and trailed slowly off as he turned and ran out of the place.