I don’t know how many times now I’ve told you all that a story has just gotten away from me, but I kept on writing. In advance, I’m going to say thank you to anyone who does read this story because it’s the longest of the challenge so far and written immediately after I posted the Lake story. About 2 to 3 hours of writing off the top of my head (or the bottom or middle, I’m not exactly sure where it came from). I’m mentally fatigued now so I haven’t proofed it. I will tomorrow when I become a revived writer, 🙂 so please understand that I know this is not my best. But it’s a heart-felt love story and we all need some of that these days. Thank you. 🙂 And I especially appreciate any of you who actually read it. You’ve got my heart.
You Say Macaron and I Say Macaroon
“Do not, not ever, fall in love with a Frenchman,” Aunt Jane tells me at the gate before my flight to Paris.
“It’s highly unlikely. I’m only there for six days,” I say before hugging her and giving her cheek a peck.
“Oh, that’s enough time for one of those lotharios to do their deed.”
“Lotharios? They still make those?”
“Off with you. Be careful. Have fun.”
“I can’t do both at the same time,” I say, tossing her a final wave.
“Just try. That’s all I ask.”
Things do not go as planned. Aren’t those the worst words when you’re in a country where it seems the natives have selective recollection of a language not their own? My suitcase decided to venture to Lisbon instead of Paris. The hotel reservation I made three months ago, verified twice, was given away; I suspect greased palms were involved. They assure me that my card was never charged; if it had been, I’ll be receiving full reimbursement. But that doesn’t help me now though, does it? Most hotels are booked or they’re too expensive. Even the nearest youth hostel has a waiting list. Just when I’m about ready to tell Paris where to head, a gray-haired woman sitting at a table adjacent to mine leans toward me.
“Paris is not treating you well, non?” she asks.
“Very definitely non.”
She smiles. She is an undefinable age. Her shiny gray hair gives her the appearance of someone older, but her skin is almost unlined and her smile has a joie de vivre that makes her seem very young, young and happy.
“I can offer you accommodations for two evenings at the apartment above this café,” she says.
Despite the fact she seems very nice, normal, I’m wary.
She laughs. “I can see from your expression that you think this is too good to be true. The truth is that I’m your fairy godmother.”
My eyebrows jut into my forehead while I’m wondering just how nuts this woman is. Can I just walk away? Ignore her?
Her laugh tinkles again. “I am making a joke. My son usually stays at the apartment during the week because it’s close to work, but he’s in Nice for the next two days. Lucky man. So, I can offer it to you.”
“For how much?”
“I saw a movie about paying forward. That is what I’d like.”
“What? For me to offer a stranger a room in America?”
“Or something else. Something that would make a difference to a person in need.”
“But how will you know if I actually ever do it?”
Her eyes seem to reach into mine and find my soul. “Your conscience will know.”
The apartment is small but has everything I need and comes at the right price. The cotton sheets are cool on my skin and welcoming as I slide into bed. Since I didn’t sleep on the plane, I have no difficulty finding dreams almost as soon as I close my eyes.
When I open them, I scream.
Morning rays stream through the window illuminating the man who is sitting on the chaise, a throw blanket draped over him as he stares at me, his arms folded across his chest. He bursts into rapid French as I cower against the bed.
“Who are you? What do you want? Can this damn trip get any worse?” I don’t know whether I said that last bit or just thought it. The one thing I was semi-certain of was that if he meant me immediate harm he wouldn’t be sitting four feet away staring at me judgmentally.
“No, but you must be with all of your ‘ehs.’”
“I’m French. I live here. This is my apartment.”
“Madame Robert’s son?”
He rolls his eyes. “You are one of my mama’s lost souls? Why didn’t she take you home? That’s what she usually does.”
“You aren’t supposed to be here.”
“But I am. Do you see the problem?”
I shrug. Of course, I see the problem. Paris has become a problem. Why didn’t I go to Dublin? I think things would have worked out better in Dublin.
“I’ll shower and then leave.”
“You don’t have to sound so happy about throwing me onto the street.”
“I could not sleep in my bed last night. I’m, as you say, cranky.”
“No kidding,” I say under my breath.
Aware that I’m only wearing a white cotton nightie that clings to everything, I gesture for him to turn around. “Better yet. Can you just go somewhere else until I can shower and change?”
“Where to the kitchen to prepare you breakfast?” he asks in the surliest voice I think I’ve ever had directed at me.
“If you’d like,” I say, my inner imp shining.
He grunts, but then does disappear.
I shower. Fortunately, I had the foresight to put a shirt and change of underwear in my carry-on accepting that sometimes luggage gets lost. I just didn’t think it would happen to me. As I emerge, I smell something delicious.
Madame Robert’s son has whipped up a wild mushroom omelet, with croissants and freshly cut fruit.
He glances at me, his gray-green eyes twinkling. “Will this do?”
“Are you a chef?”
“You didn’t know? The restaurant downstairs is mine. I am Daniel.”
Despite a chaotic start, over breakfast and delicious coffee, Daniel and I begin conversing like old friends. He’s been to Washington, DC, which is only about 70 miles from my hometown of Front Royal. Aunt Jane has a work apartment in DC that I’ve stayed at a lot in the past fourteen years so I feel like DC is almost a second home. He says the Smithsonian Zoo is one of the best zoos that he’s ever seen, which makes me chuckle because my Aunt works at their Front Royal research facility.
As we have second cups of coffee on the rooftop terrace and I gaze at the scenery I’ve only seen on the web and in books, he offers to take me around Paris.
“But you work—”
“I am on vacation for two more days. I would love to show you the sights.”
On the second day, we are watching a myriad of colors glisten across the Seine as the sun sets. Daniel’s fingers interlace with mine, naturally, unexpectedly, and I almost want to withdraw my hand because I’m not sure that I want a fling. I’ve never been the fling kind of girl, which may sound stupid because it seems like most girls are now. I just feel too much. And when you feel too much and have sex . . . well, that’s mental Armageddon.
“What would you like to have to drink?” he asks.
“Campari,” I say because it sounds so cool, sophisticated.
He raises an eyebrow. “You drink Campari?”
“No. It’s bitter. You don’t have a bitter bone in your body.”
Oh. Oh, goodness. Someone, anyone, please throw me a lifeline because I’m falling fast.
“You must have a St. Germain Gimlet.”
His suggested cocktail is beyond lovely, sweet and yet herbally, delicate and strong. I am intoxicated not so much from the drink but from how well he seems to understand me. In the back of my mind are Jane’s words telling me not to fall in love with a Frenchman. As his green-gray eyes stare into mine, hypnotizing me, I think it might be too late.
“I will make for you my macarons,” he says.
“Oh, I just love all of that coconut,” I say, trying to appear sincere because I do know that macrons and macaroons are different and I just seriously want to tease him.
He just nods, his expression soulful. “As you wish.”
When it comes time to say goodnight, he drops me off at the apartment. “I’ll sleep elsewhere tonight.”
“No. I can sleep on the chaise. I’m much smaller than you.”
“I insist. You and your mother have done so much for me already.”
The chaise is comfortable and because I’m small, I fit. Apparently still jet lagged, I sleep solidly and far too late. When I rise, there’s coffee and two plates. One holds macarons and the other macaroons.
Daniel grins at me. “I try to please.”
As I take a bit of a macaron with chocolate ganache filling, I’m sure that the phrase “died and gone to heaven” must have been said by someone who tasted this macaron. I moan and sound ultimately ridiculous.
“This is better than sex,” I say.
“Yes, but no, definitely no,” Daniel says, meeting my eyes.
I swallow hard because I see so much in his gaze, so much I want, so much I dreamed of, so, so much that I can’t have because I’m only here for three more days. A tourist dreaming of forever with a man she can’t have.
I take another bite. “You know, you should really think about becoming a chef,” I say, teasing, trying to dismiss any sexual tension.
He smiles. “I’ll give it some thought.”
While I don’t fall in love with Paris, just a lot of like, I do fall in love with a Parisienne. And, I think but am not totally sure that it’s reciprocated. On my final night he insists on cooking for me at his restaurant.
I sit at a bar overlooking the kitchen where I can see him preparing food. While I’ve seen him cook in the upstairs apartment, there’s something so very incredible and intimidating and inspiring about watching him cook for others, directing his colleagues, plating dishes with art and finesse. A slight jiggle of a sauce, art on a plate. A squirt of some oil fusion. Intermittently as if suddenly aware of me watching, he glances upward and grins in a way that’s so confident and yet humble.
He’s made me a tart filled with leeks, fennel, Roquefort, and walnuts, a potato soup that soars above its humble root vegetable origin, and finally cherry crepes with brandy because once I told him I loved cherries. I am in taste heaven and emotional hell.
As I finish the last bite and then sip Courvoisier, I know I’m about to run. I can’t handle telling him goodbye because I know I don’t ever want to say the words to him. He’s making the rounds, talking to patrons when I hurry outside and up the stairs to the apartment. In twenty minutes, I’m on my way to the airport.
Aunt Jane takes one look at me and shakes her head. “You went and did it. You fell in love. I told you not to.”
My bottom lip wobbles and I bite it, figuring it will also keep the tears at bay.
I sit at my favorite perch along the Shenandoah, a river I’ve loved longer than the song. It’s been two weeks and I still feel stupid. I feel like I’m in a rom-com and suddenly Daniel will show up and we’ll live happily ever after, presuming, of course, that’s what actually happens when the screen fades to black. I’ve daydreamed about what-ifs and what could be’s and don’t feel at all in touch with the what are for sures. Paris was nice, a dream come true, but I live and work in Virginia and life has never been a fairytale. The deaths of my parents showed me that life was far from a fairytale.
“Is this the place?”
I startle, wonder if my daydreams have taken on a life of their own. But when I glance up, outlined in sunshine is the silhouette of a sturdy man, a man whose voice sounds just like Daniel’s.
“It’s beautiful. The river is green. Not at all like the Seine.”
“Of course. As are you. Where else would I be?” he says as if it’s the most natural thing to say.
“You’re here for me?”
He rolls his eyes. “As you once said, well, duh.”
I laugh and then fling myself into his arms. Oh, that kiss. That kiss makes me think that all the minutiae about where we’d live, how we’d make a living mean nothing. But.
His fingers splay through my hair. He breathes in the scent of my shampoo, lavender and violet. “I never thought I’d fall in love with an American. But then I never thought there would be one like you. Or anyone anywhere like you.”
“But, Daniel, how do we—”
He kisses me again. “We do. We just do. That’s how.”
“I see he found you,” Aunt’s Jane voice breaks between us.
When I glance at her, she’s shaking her head. “Well, your adventure was different from mine. Mine never came for me.” She walks away then and I realize that there’s an entire story she’s never shared with me.
“And, we’ll find your Aunt a happy ending too,” he says.
I don’t know how we’ll make this come together, but I know we’re on a road at the beginning, not the end, and that we’re on it together. And, maybe that’s all we need for right now.