Saturday, August 30, 2014


                             Chapter 3.  Does Mother Always Know Best?

 [Chapter 4 will be available on October 1.  Scroll down for previous chapters or click label for specific chapter, i.e.,  aachapter 1.]  

The hands of the gods who were taking care of Vanessa's future must have been busy the day she sent the email to Michelle Savigny. Her boyfriend dumped her. 'Dumpling' Dan with the devastating dimples thought giving her the news after a Bulls game would be a sensitive way of handling bad news. She refused to cry until she was tucked in bed. Her mind churned through her faults, the reasons why no one would ever really love her. She was too quiet, her laugh was too loud, her thighs were too big, her mouth was too small. She was just too...everything. Charlie arfed and licked her hand. She fell asleep patting his head.
     The next morning, Sunday, over Dunkin's chocolate doughnuts, Sylvia commiserated with her but said, like a loyal friend, Vanessa was better off without Dan. Still, Vanessa felt she had half a broken heart. Unfortunately, Sylvia couldn't stay long enough to heal the other half. She was flying to Boston at one p.m. to take depositions for her ice cream defense case.
     As Vanessa closed the door on Sylvia, she felt abandoned but before she could sink into a well of self-pity, the phone rang. Her heart beat faster. Perhaps it was Dan saying he'd changed his mind. Not that she would ever forgive him.
     Hi honey. How are you?” It was her mother.
     “I'm OK. Isn't it awfully late for you to be up? What time is it in Bangkok?”
     “It's only ten p.m. We just got back from a terrific dinner, home cooked by a new friend. Prawn tom yam with yummy coconut milk. Remember I told you Thailand is twelve hours ahead of Chicago.”
     “Yeah, I guess I forgot. Did you get my message about Michelle?”
Mom's voice almost leapt out of my ear piece. I think travel revved her up even more than her usual effervescence. “She's a wonderful person. I'm so glad you're going to meet her.”
     “Well, I haven't heard back from her yet, so I'm not sure. And do you really think it's OK for me to visit some one I don't know?”
     She gave a deep sigh. “Vanessa, you've got to spread your wings if you want to get any place. And this is a great opportunity to try something new, to get out of your safe nest.” She paused. “Michele is sound in mind and body. You don't need to worry about her. I'm sure she won't put you in any danger, if that's what you're afraid of.”
     I tried to laugh. “Of course not. I'm not afraid. I just wanted your blessing before I went off to Paris, if I do hear from her again.”
     “Oh, you will. I know you will. Well, Dad wants to go to a bar down the street to listen to some Thai music. So I'll say goodnight. Have fun. I love you.”
     “I love you, too. Thanks for calling.”
     Vanessa knew her mother was a lot more adventuresome than she was, but she also knew she wouldn't give bad advice. She decided not to worry about the invitation and spent the rest of the day pretend shopping on the internet. She wished she had the nerve to start an on line dating account.
       On Monday morning the helpful gods were still occupied elsewhere. Vanessa forgot to bring in the soggy work papers she'd brought home during the storm Friday night and was fired, or at least that was the reason they gave her. She took the few personal items she had in her desk and a security guard escorted her out of the building. Wow, she thought, who knew the company considered her dangerous.
      At home she was too embarrassed to call and complain about another calamity to Sylvia, who was busy being successful in Boston. Instead she lay in bed watching afternoon talk shows with Charlie's comforting, warm body snuggled beside her.
     She'd resigned herself to being the care taker of the dog she'd rescued in the rain. The white fur ball was adorable but his taste for ground round, not canned dog food, was going to drain her meager financial resources. At least until her parents came home and possibly took over his care.
      Vanessa sighed. The thought of her parents learning about her failures made her cringe. She tried to follow the rules for success in self-help books her friends laughed at. Her friends must have been right. For her the rules were guidelines to disaster. She wanted to prove to her mother that her expensive college education wasn't a waste. Not that her mother ever said that. Vanessa just felt as if her mother was disappointed in her.
     When she snagged the job as travel concierge at the biggest consulting firm in Chicago, she thought she was on a jet fueled trajectory toward the top with an added perk of expense account travel. The icing on her three-tier cake was dating a Brad Pitt look alike. She hoped for Angelina's sake Brad wasn't the snake in the grass Dan slithered out to be.
     She drifted off to sleep, but Charlie woke her with sharp little yips. It was six p.m., time for the dog's next meal. Would he eat through her savings before she got another job? Was his adoring looks worth it? She decided she didn't know and didn't care. He was her responsibility and she wasn't going to fail him.
     As he gobbled up several dollars worth of food, she pulled back the sheer white curtains from grimy windows overlooking the dark street. An icy November wind off the lake careened past her building. Under the street lamp, bits of paper swirled around her bus stop. At least she wouldn't have to stand out in the cold waiting for a bus tomorrow morning.
     With that positive thought in mind, Vanessa perched on a kitchen chair to open her iPad and search for job openings. She gave a deep, deep yawn her yoga teacher would approve of for expanding her lungs. While she typed, she talked to Charlie.
     “I just want an interesting job that pays my bills, a boyfriend who thinks I'm more desirable than sports, and maybe some exciting—but not too exciting—travel. Oh, Charlie I don't want to wait until I'm retired like Mom to see the world. I want to see it while I can still enjoy it.”
     A beeping noise signaled a new email. It was from Michelle Savigny. Hope sprang in Vanessa like a desert cactus blossoming after a sparse rainfall.
     Michelle's new email, even with the help of Google translations, did not answer all of Vanessa's questions. The woman who'd invited Vanessa to a French chateau sounded distraught. She needed Vanessa as soon as possible, but only for two weeks at the most. Vanessa would fly into Paris and be met by a private car which would drive her down to the south of France, where their family business was located. She'd have a private room and bath in the Chateau which was surrounded by acres of lavender. Unfortunately, not in bloom at this time of year.
     Vanessa, tempted to accept Michelle's offer, given the state of her love life and employment, was worried. What kind of help would be required of her? That vital information was not included in the message. The email, riddled with exclamation points, indicated a hyper state. Was the woman going crazy?
     She sent back a cautious reply. Yes, she was able to leave immediately and two weeks would not be a problem but she needed to know what Michelle required of her since she might not have the necessary skills. If it had something to do with the lavender fields she would not be any help. She was not a gardener.
     For the next few days, a flurry of emails back and forth via the internet ether and across the Atlantic Ocean eventually confirmed Vanessa's trip. Although she still didn't know what she was supposed to do once she got to the Chateau or why time was short before irreparable disaster would fall on the Savigny family.
     As much as Vanessa wanted the excitement of travel, and as free as her time was now sans job and boyfriend, she worried. Of course, she always worried. Her mother hadn't seen Michelle in years, maybe she'd changed, maybe she was emotionally unhinged, maybe Vanessa would end up running for her life through the marble halls of Michelle's ancient chateau.
     But she accepted the invitation and was now sitting at her kitchen table making a check list of things she had to do before her trip. Charlie barked and looked at the star burst 50s clock on the wall, left from the previous inhabitants.
     “OK, Charlie, I know, I know. I've got to get a move on 'cause I still have to get over to the animal clinic to get your records.” She wondered if she should also ask for a dog tranquilizer. Would the dog be able to last through an eight hour flight? Too bad no friend could dog sit him while she was gone. When Charlie heard her call a kennel to keep him while she was gone, he laid on the floor, put his paws over his head and whined. So she'd asked Michelle if she could bring her dog.
     “But, of course, we French love and respect dogs. I'll include a ticket for him, too,” was her agreeable, translated reply.
     The evening before Vanessa's Air France flight, Sylvia, back from her depositions, came over to help her pack. She reassured Vanessa, “I'm sure Michelle's not a white slaver, so take a chance. Have some fun for a change.”
     Charlie, watching her pack, yipped in agreement. Vanessa glanced at him. He tilted his head and stared at her, as if to say, “Life's full of risks, what do you have to lose?”
     “I'm not a risk taker.” Vanessa said to both Sylvia and Charlie. She ran her hands through her hair. “Just look at my hair. I took a risk when I agreed to let Mario do what he wanted to help me fit into the French scene.”
     "Your hair looks fine. It's very chic nowadays to have dark crimson hair. And besides it'll grow out.”
     "I can't do anything about it now,” Vanessa wailed. “I don't have time. But I did buy a beret.” She plopped the black wool hat on her head and tried to tuck her colored hair under it.
     “Wear what you want, but I'm telling you, you look fine without the beret.” Sylvia rolled her eyes as Vanessa modeled the hat with a catwalk stride.
Charlie looked at her and growled.
     “OK, OK, I'll take it off.” Vanessa tossed it on the pile of clothes she planned to wear on the plane.
     Sylvia asked, “Do you have a color coordination plan for your clothes?”
     “Right. You know I couldn't plan my way out of a box of chocolate.” Vanessa frowned. “And nothing I own is fashionable enough for France.”
     “Wear what makes you feel good.” Sylvia suggested.
     “Just plain black. I always feel safe in black. And it's always stylish and since it's November it won't look like mourning and it won't show dirt. Very practical for long distance travel.”
     “That's a very wise decision,” agreed her friend.
     “And since I'm sick of making decisions, everything I own that's black is going. I'll worry about coordinating outfits when I get there.”
     When the bag was full, she zipped it up and put it by the door. Tomorrow she'd pack her cosmetics and last minute items. She gave Sylvia a farewell glass of red California wine, stating, “This may be the last Napa Valley I have until I get home in two weeks.”
     Sylvia raised the glass in a toast. “I don't think there will be a shortage of wine where you're going. Just have a wonderful time and don't forget to email or twitter me. Of course, if the crazy French woman has you in a dungeon you won't be able to do that.”
     “Very funny.” Vanessa emptied her glass. “I'll try not to miss your humor too much.”
     They hugged and Sylvia left.
     As she turned from the front door, Vanessa's email beeped. Michelle wrote, “J'Desolate. Forgot to mention another request. Please bring white dress, formal if possible.”
     “Why on earth do I need a white dress? It's November. I'm sure no one wears a white dress in France in November.” Vanessa groused to Charlie. “Oh, well, she's paying for our tickets, so I'll check out my summer clothes.”
      She found a white, frothy dress squashed in the back of her closet. It was an undesirable bridesmaid dress she'd worn to an unforgettable wedding. The quirky, artistic bride had wanted a 'different' wedding. The five bridesmaids had worn white, the bride had worn slinky black. It was different. The bride's mother was in tears, which could be explained away as sadness her 'little girl' was leaving her, but no one had warned the mother-in-law. Her jaw dropped as a bride dressed in what looked like mourning married her only son.
      Vanessa unzipped her travel bag and stuffed the dress inside, rationalizing her careless action, “If it's a chateau, there should be someone who can press it if necessary. I sure can't do it.”
     That night before her flight, she lay in bed, going over an endless checklist of things to do, that she had done. She had a valid passport, thank heavens, left over from her parents' graduation gift several years ago of a trip to Vancouver, safe, secure Canada.
She'd sent Sylvia a copy of her email correspondence with Michelle just in case Michelle turned out to be a phony.
     Charlie pushed his cold nose against her back. “I know, I know. I should get to sleep. We've got a big day tomorrow.” She ignored the funny feeling in her stomach. This trip had to be a wonderful opportunity. She couldn't screw up another chance at an exciting, worthwhile life. Just as she dropped off to sleep, she remembered the one thing she forgot to ask her mother. 

                             [Chapter 4 will be continued on October 1.]