The waiter returned with the wine and the sparkling water. Skilfully, he uncorked the bottle and presented the cork to Jules, who studied it meticulously before putting it to his nostrils. He nodded, and the waiter poured enough of the ruby liquid into his glass to cover the bottom. Jules lifted it, swirled it, stuck his nose into the large glass and breathed deeply. He sipped, swished the wine around in his mouth, swallowed, and with a blissful expression, he murmured, “Phenomenal.” 

The food deserved the same adjective, and the conversation flowed as smoothly as the excellent wine. Uncle Jules had a way of looking at his companions that made them want to spill all their little secrets. Maybe it was the short-sighted squint below his bushy eyebrows, magnified by the thick lenses. Perhaps it was his calm, authoritative, all-embracing manner. Before Lex had chewed the last piece of his tender steak, he’d told Jules all about his reasons for relocating from Amsterdam, how he’d met Linda, her imminent release from prison, and her coming to Paris to live with him. Before her imprisonment the previous August, they’d only spent a few days and nights in each other’s company, and the prospect of a life together filled Lex with apprehension. Her natural beauty had overwhelmed him and made him irrationally intoxicated with her. He’d visited her about ten times in the prison south of Amsterdam before moving to Paris, and having not seen her for a few months, he was longing for her arrival at the end of the week. 

“By the sound of it, you’ll soon need more space,” Jules said with a grin. 

“I doubt we can afford it, even with another generous settlement from you,” Lex replied.

“Nonsense! Your business will be up and running in no time.”

“I still haven’t received my licence.”

“Don’t let the French bureaucracy stop you. I never do.”

“It doesn’t make it easy to attract customers.”

“I might need your help on a matter.”

“What?” Lex said eagerly. 

“It’s quite trivial, but I will pay for your services if you agree to take it on.”

“I wouldn’t charge my favourite uncle.”

“The one and only, you may add.”

“Especially that one.”

“I insist on paying you.” 

“Some francs going into my meagre coffers would be nice, but more importantly, it would be nice to do something purposively.”

“That’s what I thought. I feel we’re about to be interrupted, so I’ll enlighten you over coffee and cognac.” 

As soon as he said it, the lights dimmed, and Lex knew what was in store. The waiter approached with a dessert decorated with a couple of sparklers, and a chorus of Joyeux Anniversaire rang out all around them. Maddeningly self-conscious, the colour mounting in his face, he felt like hiding under the table. Instead, he managed a polite smile, while nodding appreciatively to the outpouring of congratulations from around the restaurant.

The waiter placed a sparkling Dame Blanche in front of Lex. Fortunately, the sparklers  burned out quickly, and the lights came back on. 

“Let’s have half a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem 1963, Étienne,” Jules said when his dessert arrived. 

“Certainly, Monsieur Lévy.”

“You may think a Sauternes is an unusual choice with ice cream, but it’s a match made in heaven,” Jules said to Lex, who was sure his uncle didn’t expect him to have any meaningful opinion on the subject of Sauternes and that he said it merely for his own benefit. 

The waiter brought the bottle, and after going through the wine presentation ritual for the third time, Jules lifted his glass, and they clinked. Silence descended upon them for the first time that evening as they enjoyed their desserts and sweet wine. Lex promised himself to make Sauternes part of his ice cream experience on more occasions in the future. 

“Time for your present,” Jules said. He produced a small, square package from a pocket in his jacket and pushed it across the table. With a “you shouldn’t have”, Lex tore off the paper and opened the box to reveal a pair of zebra striped, silver cufflinks. 

“They’re beautiful, Uncle Jules.” 

“And they come with a nice story.” Jules leaned forward to catch Lex’s eye. “My sister gave the cufflinks to me when I turned thirty. I’m sure your mother would appreciate me passing them on to you now that you’re thirty.”

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