Thursday, July 31, 2014


                                    Chapter 2.  Who is Michelle?                                             

[Chapter 3 will be available on September 1.  Scroll down for previous chapters.]   

The alarm didn't go off since it was Saturday, but Vanessa's eyes popped open as usual at seven a.m. Her brain didn't recognize weekends as different from week days. Usually, waking earlier than necessary annoyed her, but this morning was different. This morning she had the tingly anticipation of opening the letter from France. Although, as Sylvia suggested, reading it might be a let down, Vanessa was optimistic. 
       Brushing her honey gold hair from her eyes, she told herself you get what you expect to get and she wasn't going to expect or accept another disappointment. Dan, the man of her dreams was turning into an indifferent nightmare. He had the sexiest smile, with deep dimples he said he hated but turned her backbone to jelly when he flashed them.  Unfortunately, he wasn't flashing them at her very much these days.
       Her job as travel concierge at the world's largest consulting firm, so exciting at first, had become overwhelming as she struggled to keep up with its demands. Sometimes she felt like she was stuffing ten pounds of files into a five pound cabinet.
       Her mother would tell her to 'buck up,' and 'the world is your oyster' and other crazy platitudes. It was just as well her retired parents were off on another of their once in a lifetime trips, which they seemed to take every year.
       Vanessa stretched her firm, young arms and legs ready to roll out from between her violet plaid sheets. Her mother said they matched her eyes. Funny because Vanessa didn't think her eyes were plaid.        She shrieked as her toes touched a strange lump. The lump wiggled its way up to her face and began licking her.
       “Charlie!” She'd forgotten the dog. After walking him in the cold rain last night, she'd shut him up in the kitchen with his sleeping blanket and water dish. Somehow the rascal had gotten out and into her bed. She must have been really tired if he did it without waking her up.
       Poor thing. He probably missed his owner. She hoped the vet's office could find someone at home today. Charlie lasered her with big, brown eyes and whined. She got the message. He needed a walk. The rain had stopped. There was no patter of drops hitting the window glass. She pulled on her grape colored sweats, ran a brush over her hair, and hoped to heaven she didn't meet anyone she knew.
       On the corner there was a French bakery sending out the most delicious aromas and she decided for good luck she would eat a croissant while reading the mystery card. Unfortunately, dogs weren't allowed in Le Baguette, so she tied Charlie's leash to a parking meter and dashed in to get a flaky, buttery pastry and a small, fragrant French Roast coffee to go. Charlie sniffed the enticing smells and yelped happily when she untied him to go back to her building.
       Vanessa knew it was silly, but she wanted to to create good vibes for reading what she hoped—expected, she corrected herself—was a wonderful invitation. After feeding Charlie, she warmed up the croissant and put it on a scalloped edge plate with the Eiffel tower on it she'd picked up at a sale. For a touch of Parisian elegance, she poured the black coffee into the matching, porcelain cup. She added a little nonfat milk cause she didn't like the bitterness of French Roast.  Too bad, she mused, it wasn't cream.  She put out a paper napkin covered with wine labels left over from a small party she'd had. If she were doing it properly it would have been a cloth napkin. Oh, well, she wasn't in France yet. She propped the stiff card against the coffee cup with the chateau facing her.
       “Well, Charlie, I've put it off as long as possible. I can't bear another minute of not...Oh, wait. I need music.” Vanessa slipped in one of her favorite CDs, practically an antique but she loved it, La Vie En Rose, and smiled as the familiar violins started to sing.
       She settled herself again, gave a deep sigh, looked at the card and made a wish. She didn't know what she was wishing for. Something new, something exciting, and, oh, please, something French.
She made a swooping sign of the cross, took a tiny bite of the croissant, savored it and swallowed. Then a sip of the coffee and a wipe of her glistening, pink lips with the napkin. She slid the card out of its envelope, rubbing her finger tips lightly over the picture of the imposing, stone faced chateau with its pointed towers.
       Charlie pushed his nose against her leg. “OK, Charlie, come on.” She patted the seat of the wooden chair next to her and he scampered up. He woofed, looking at the card as if urging her to hurry and open it.
       She slowly opened the top flap of the note. The message inside was written in a beautiful, flowing French. Her stomach dropped like a bocce ball. At first all she could recognize was her name and the words at the bottom, Respondez s'il vous plait. She didn't know French but her 'stickler for manners' mother had hammered into her what that meant. Respond if you please. So, it was an invitation of some kind. That was encouraging. But she wanted it translated and fast. She pulled her iPad over and went to Google translation. She typed in the words of the card, sentence by sentence, until she got what looked like a readable version in English.
       “Mon cher Vanessa, Vous pouvez rappeler de moi comme un vieil ami de votre mère.  My dear Vanessa, You may remember me as an old friend of your mother's. I tried to call but she does not answer. She must be away on one of her adventures. I hope you are as adventurous as she is because I have a favor to ask of you...”
       Vanessa's cell rang. She grumbled and let it go to voice mail. Charlie nudged her hand with his cold nose. “Yes, yes. I'll keep reading.”
       “You may have an important occupation and relationships you would not want to disrupt, but I find myself needing your presence. It is vital that you come to visit me at the Chateau de Savigny as soon as possible. I will cover all your expenses. Although I prefer what you Americans call 'snail mail', it would be advantageous in this case if you could respond to my electronic mail: Respond if you please. Most sincerely yours, Michelle.”
       Vanessa hands fell from the keyboard. “Is this a joke? Charlie, I've never heard of this woman before. And why does she need my presence?” The dog put both his front paws on her leg and pushed his head against her tummy.
       “Oh dear, and I still need to find your owner.” She finished the croissant without tasting it. Her cell rang again. “Vanessa” she answered. It was Jackie at the vet's office.
       “I'm sorry but we've bad news for you. We've located Charles' owner.”
       “But that's good news!” She would be sad to have Charlie leave, but if she did go to France, she couldn't keep him.
       “There's more. Are you sitting down?”
       “Yees. What else?”
       “The dog's owner was Raymond Carr, but he was struck and killed in a hit and run accident last evening. He had no relatives. It's on the news this morning.”
       “Oh, no. The accident must have happened when he was walking Charlie. That's why the dog ran away. I'm so sorry, but where should I bring Charlie? To Mr. Carr's apartment?” Vanessa glanced at Charlie whose ears pricked up, like he recognized his owner's name.
       “No, there's no one at the apartment. No one to take the dog. The only solution is to take the dog to the pound. Don't worry they'll take good care of him.”
       Vanessa looked at Charlie, whose fluffy white head was now down between his paws as he laid on the floor. He looked up at her as if he was thinking, please don't send me away. She knew the pound had a two week waiting period. If an animal wasn't adopted by then, it was...she didn't want to think about it. She thanked Jackie for calling her. As she clicked off, she saw the flashing light reminding her of the ignored call.
       “Vanessa, This is Dan. Sorry I had to bail on you last night. But let me make it up to you. I've scored tickets for tonight's Bulls' game. It's against the Lakers so should be an epic battle. Let me know right away. If you can't make it I'll have to find someone else. Can't waste these seats.”
       After listening to his message, she didn't know whether to feel happy he was taking her someplace special, or sad because someone probably bailed on him to make him available. Oh, why not, she thought, she had nothing else to do tonight and he did have those devastating dimples. But she'd let him wait a little before she accepted the date.
       As she punched in her parents' cell number, she racked her brain to remember a woman named Michelle. There was no answer. Of course not, it must be the middle of the night in Thailand. Her sensible mother would have turned the phone off, knowing she couldn't do anything about any disaster until morning.
       The next best thing was a long talk with Sylvia. She was home and excited about the invitation. She said it was about time something good happened to Vanessa and of course she should go. “This Michelle knew your mother's name and your address so it can't be a scam and she offered to pay your expenses.”
       Vanessa skimmed the translation and the card, no where did she see her mother's name. But whoever wrote the letter knew her mother loved adventures.
       Sylvia pooh-poohed her fears. “Just answer with a yes and see what happens next. You don't have to go if you don't want to. At least find out more about it before saying no.”
       “If I go, could you take care of Charlie for me?”
       “Charlie, who's Charlie? Aren't you still dating dumpling Dan?”
       “Charlie's the dog I rescued last night. And yeah, I guess I'm still dating Dan. At least I am tonight.”
       Sylvia chuckled. “Dan's another good reason to leave town. Remember 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” 'Course I wouldn't blame you if you preferred 'out of sight, ought of mind.' And no, sorry, I can't take care of a dog. My building doesn't allow pets, remember. I've thought about suing them over the issue, but I'll save my legal ammunition for a bigger case.”
       “I don't know exactly when Michelle needs me in France. Maybe my folks will be home by then and my Mom can help her.  Or can take the dog so I can go.   But enough about me. Do you think your new client is going to work out well for your career.”
       They debated the pros and cons of Sylvia's client, who wanted to sue Jen & Barry's ice cream for an unhealthy weight gain due to use of the product. When that subject was exhausted they hung up promising to touch base on Sunday. Vanessa called Dan, getting his voice mail. She lowered her voice to what she hoped was a sexy tone saying she was up for the game and possibly everything else he had in mind.
       She glanced down at Charlie. Although asleep, he now had both paws over his head. Was this his opinion of her going out with Dan? She shook her head, of course not. He was a dog, he couldn't even know what she was saying.
       Now she was faced with sending an e-mail reply to Michelle Savigny. She looked down at her grubby sweats. No, they would never do. It was crazy, but she needed to take a shower and pull together an 'outfit' before she could write to the probably incredibly chic woman.
       An hour later, she was squeaky clean and dressed in a fitted white T shirt, black jeans so tight she could barely sit in them, and black ballet slippers. Strangely enough, the clothes gave her confidence. But still she trembled with excitement as she composed a formal response. This might be the most important letter of her life.
       She typed that yes her mother was on an adventure and wouldn't be back for two months. Considering her words carefully as she would for college entrance essay, she thanked Michelle for the invitation to Chateau Savigny. If help was needed before her mother came home, she, Vanessa, might be able to arrange time off from her employment. When would Michelle want Vanessa's presence? For how long? And to do what? She tried to word the message as politely and grammatically as possible. She hoped it wouldn't count against her that she didn't write in French. Oh well, once she tapped 'send' her future would be in the hands of the gods.

 [To be continued on September 1.]