Thursday, December 3, 2015


Vanessa had declared a truce with Jack to help her and her mother cook a real Thanksgiving dinner in France. The Chateau's old world dining room sparkled with crystals dangling from centuries old chandeliers. But their light fell softly on the bright modern art that hung on the dark paneled walls bringing a touch of vibrant life to the ancient room. Michelle had decreed that an heirloom, cutwork lace linen cloth would be used on the eight foot walnut table. It was topped with the family's vintage Limoges Haviland china, its edges swirled with delicate lavender flowers.

Three young women from the village had been hired to help prepare and serve the traditional American meal under the direction of Jack and Mrs. Tippett. This allowed Jack to sit at the table with the rest of the family. Michelle's husband Wilhelm and his mother, Madame Heidi Werner, sat upright at the table looking skeptical. Lucy and her attorney friend, Claude, smiled in happy anticipation.

Vanessa still mad at Jack had gotten Michelle's permission to invite their neighbor and lavender competitor Ricard. He had not won the contest either so at least he wouldn't be an unwelcome reminder. He said he was looking forward to the most unusual meal.

Sylvia decided to stay rather than fly back to Chicago for TG dinner with her family. She grinned. Give up the chance to eat a traditional Thanksgiving in France. No way.”

Edmund was invited to join them at dinner. Vanessa had insisted as an egalitarian American, but he said he would prefer eating in the kitchen with staff. Since she had seen him smiling at Genevieve, one of his helpers, she agreed to let him eat where he wanted. There he would also keep an eye on Charlie to make sure the helpers did not spoil him with too much rich food.

The meal was a great success, even Vanessa's dad who considered himself a great turkey roaster declared it was a masterpiece of a bird.

As a first course they were served a creamy, fragrant pumpkin soup. After a breif pause while the guests sipped light Beaujolais and conversed in a mixture of French and English, Edmund carried in the browned and glistening turkey. He set it down on the enormous serving buffet where he proceeded to carve it with the deftness of a surgeon. He glided around the table presenting a platter filled with serving sized pieces to the diners. Following him, the helpers presented bowls and platters of mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes (but without the marshmallow topping which Jack absolutely refused to allow in his kitchen), green beans, cranberry sauce (Vanessa had insisted, giving in on the marshmallows but not this) and a special Tippett family stuffing. 

 Bowing to the French tradition, after the plates had been cleared there was a light, palate cleansing green salad dressed with balsamic vinegar. Vanessa said it would allow their stomachs to get ready for the rich desserts of pecan pie and apple pie. Wines, of course. A Chardonnay with the soup, a hearty Beaujolais with the turkey, and Viognier with the dessert. Jack explained the latter was usually paired with spicy Thai dishes, but he felt it would be a good match with the flavor of the pies.

There were no American football games to watch after the meal, but there were also no dishes to wash as the smiling young women got through them in no time. They were anxious to get back to their families and friends and discuss the unusual American meal the Sevignys had consumed.

Jack was stowing his chef's knives in their special flannel wrap when Vanessa came into the kitchen. “I just wanted to thank you for helping us prepare our traditional meal. I know it's not the kind of food you prefer so it was especially gracious of you to go along with our project.”

He looked at her with a wry smile. “I felt it was the least I could do after the trick my family played on you.”

Vanessa grinned. “Well, my mother was involved in the trick and they tried to trick you, too.”

He waved his hand as if that was nothing and asked, “Is Ricard still here?”

“No, he had to get back to his family. I'm sure he'll love telling them about the strange customs we Americans have regarding food.”

“Are you disappointed he had to leave?” Jack started rearranging the spice shelves.

Vanessa thought what an odd question, but answered, “No, but again I thank you for allowing me to invite him. He has been very helpful to me.”

“Yes, he's helpful all right.” His voice was tight.

“What do you mean by that?” Vanessa annoyed, wondered if the old Jack was back.

“It's none of my business, but I thought you might be interested in him.”

Vanessa's mind floundered. Was Jack jealous? “Yes, you are right. It is none of your business. However, I am only interested in him as a friend.”

“Ah, that is good.”

Why is that good?” Vanessa's body flushed with heat as she remembered how Jack had embraced her and was about to kiss her. She wondered what might have happened if her mother had not come in then.

He ignored her question. “Are you going back to Chicago now?”

“Yes, that's the plan.”

He stopped fiddling with the spices and looked at her. “I've been offered a chef's position in Chicago, at Le Perroquet. I just wondered if I might run into you when I'm there.”

Vanessa felt like a balloon lifting her up. “You're going to Chicago? Of course you'll run into me. My folks will want you to stay with them while you find a place to live and get settled.”

Bien. I wasn't sure if you would want to see me again after this disastrous month.” He reached out his hand. She took it, but this time she pulled him to her, put her arms around him and kissed him. Charlie barked, dancing around them in excitement, always ready for a new adventure.

The End

Saturday, October 31, 2015



[Chapter 18 will be available on December 1, 2015]

Paris shop that features
American food products 
Vanessa was torn between raging with anger, crying with humiliation, and feeling sucker punched by what she felt was her mother's betrayal. With a sea of emotions storming inside her she could only gape helplessly at Jack.

His face looked drained of blood and he whispered, “I am appalled at what my family has done to you. I am abject with horror that I was an unknowing party to this travesty they visited on you.”

The formal solemnity of his apology was the straw that tipped the camel over and Vanessa giggled. Jack's eyes widened. She thought he looked pop-eyed and her giggles became guffaws. He backed towards the door. “It is bad, but you must not lose control. Stay calm.” He continued to retreat, speaking softly as if soothing a child with a temper tantrum.

At this, she threw herself on the bed, shaking and roaring with laughter. It felt good. She'd been tightly strung for twenty four hours, worrying about the contest, suffering the disappointment of losing, and as the coup de grace (as the French would say), hearing the family's confession. Her cup had definitely runneth over.

Jack, alarmed, muttered, “I will call a doctor.”

“No, no.” Vanessa got a grip on herself and reduced her output to a few snickers. Jack c+ontinued to look wary. She took a deep breath. “I am not hysterical. I just find I no longer care and I can look at this whole….affair? would you say? as a comedy of errors. If I saw this in a movie it would be funny.”

Jack squinted his eyes. “What do you mean, funny? I don't see anything funny about my family setting us up for a romance.”

“Well, you're a man and your pride has been hurt.” Vanessa smiled, her eyes twinkling.

He crossed his arms across his chest. “My pride has not been hurt. But I can find my own dates.”

“Yes, I hear you've done very well in that department.”

Glowering, he asked, “Are you laughing at me?”

“Of course not. But you do look cute when you're mad.”

“I am not mad. And I do not appreciate your condescension.” He put out his hand. “I came to apologize and we have gotten sidetracked. Please forgive my family for their idiotic behavior.”

She put her hand out to shake his, but instead he grasped her hand, gave her a long look and pulled her to his chest, quickly putting both arms around her to hold her. 

“What are you doing? Are you crazy?” she muttered, her face pressed into his white shirt.

He stroked the top of her head, “Your hair is very soft. I've wondered what it would feel like.”

Despite her shock, Vanessa felt herself melting into him. It'd been a long time since she was this close to a man. And although he was irritating as a speck in the eye, he was cute, even when he wasn't mad.  Just as he bent his head to brush her lips with his lips, the door flung open.

Vanessa! I have arrived.” It was her mother, wearing a pink and green silk dress that +skimmed her slim figure. Obviously made to order in Bangkok.

Vanessa shoved Jack away. Her mother was not going to think her wretched plan had succeeded. Planting her fists on her hips, she glared at the happily smiling woman. “What are you doing here? You have some nerve trying to set me up with this egotistical cook.”

Jack growled. “I am not a cook, I am a chef.”

Her mother waved her hand towards Jack as she continued to face her daughter. “Have you forgotten what next Thursday is?”

“Don't tell me it's your birthday, because I know it's in July. I could never forget that since you're the quintessential Leo. And next Thursday is still November.”

“Yes but it's the fourth Thursday of the month. It's Thanksgiving.” Her mother turned to beam at Jack. “and I'm here to help my good friend, Michelle Sevigny, celebrate.”

Jack muttered. “This is France. We don't celebrate Thanksgiving.”

“Well, you will next week.”

“Americans!” Jack shook his head and left mother and daughter to it.

Vanessa and her mother hugged. Mrs. Tippett then asked her daughter to tell her everything she'd left out of her emails and phone conversations.

Although she still thought her mother should have been more honest with her, Vanessa was relieved that she had someone, besides Sylvia, to help her deal with the maddening Sevigny family. She went over everything that had happened since she arrived in France, including the terrifying dog-napping of Charlie and the humiliating lavender cooking contest. “How could you do this to me? Don't you love me anymore? And by the way where's Dad?”

“Of course I still love you. You're my only child and I want the best for you. I've known Jack all his life and he's a good guy. Michelle and I thought we'd just give you both a little push in the right direction. Like all men, though, he has his rough spots. Which speaking of, Dad's at the local barber. His hair and beard grew a little too au naturel in Thailand. I thought he should get spiffed up before he showed up at the Chateau.”

“This has been a very upsetting day for me and now you drop in like a punctured blimp.” Vanessas wasn't about to let her mother get off with just a nice hug.

Her mother frowned. “A punctured blimp? Punctured maybe, but I resent being compared to a blimp.”

“I'm sorry.” Her mother'd just flown thousands of miles from her Thai adventure to spent Thanksgiving with her. She should appreciate the effort. Although the lavender cooking contest was outrageous, Vanessa admitted that her mother did have her best interest at heart and told her so.

At dinner that night, an effervescent Lucy told them amazing stories about American attempts to have a traditional turkey dinner in France. Once an ex-pat couple invited French friends for such a dinner at five o'clock in the afternoon, the time they'd always had it back in America. Their guests had thought the invitation was just for early cocktails and were surprised to learn they would be eating so early, since they had just finished a regular, four hour, French lunch. Another American ordered a twelve pound turkey but with the language confusion got a twelve kilo, or twenty seven pound bird that would not fit into a small French oven.

Lucy added, “However, Americans in Paris no longer have to worry abut the proper ingredients. An enterprising young woman now runs 'Thanksgiving,' a store dedicated to American food products, including,” Lucy made a face, “canned cranberry sauce.”

Mrs. Tippett said, “I'm sure we won't have any disasters with Jack as our chef. And with me giving him precise instructions.”

Jack, who'd been persuaded to join them at the dinner table that night, looked like thunder. Vanessa thought his dark look did not bode well for the coming Thanksgiving dinner.

To be Concluded December 1, 2015

Wednesday, September 30, 2015



[Chapter 17 will be available on November 1, 2015]

The November sun shone down on the Sevigny Chateau, causing the leaded windows to sparkle. The autumn flowers with their orange, red, yellow, and russet petals brightened the entrance way. But the group of people who trudged through the front door were not sparkling or bright. The long awaited and dreaded cooking contest had taken place. Vanessa's sweat soaked chef's jacket attested to her hard work. She had even sewn stars on it for luck. Alas, it had been in vain. She had not won. Only Charlie was scampering and smiling as everyone went off to sulk. He still looked up at her with adoring eyes.

Sylvia touched Vanessa's arm. “I think you'd rather be alone for a while. I'll just go to my room and return some of my urgent phone calls.” The friends separated at the top of the curving staircase. Charlie followed Vanessa to her room.

She threw herself on the embroidered silk coverlet, not bothering to carefully remove it first. When the disastrous results had been announced, in French of course, she saw from Jack's grim face she had not done well. No one criticized her. They just smiled weakly and Michelle said, “tu as fait de ton mieux.”

Lucy translated, “You did your best,” adding, “The family thanks you for that.”

Vanessa was too exhausted to cry. Her thoughts were a jumble. She had dropped everything, flown thousands of miles, spent hours trying to learn to cook with a demanding chef, had her dog stolen, her best friend had even come out for the cooking contest, and for what. For nothing. A big fat zero. She would make flight reservations home as soon as she could speak without sobbing. Hopefully, she wouldn't even see any family members again. Edmund would help her. Charlie snuggled up next to her as she fell into a restless sleep. The little dog licked her face, perhaps attracted to her salty tears. She dreamed a handsome prince in velvet robes, wearing a white chef's hat was kissing her face.

A light tapping on the door woke her. She called, “Come in.” It was Michelle and Lucy. She had told everyone she couldn't cook. It wasn't her fault if they wouldn't listen to her. They had no right to criticize her for not winning. But that was not why they were there.

Michelle reached over to smooth her hair away from her forehead. “Je suis désolé que vous aviez cette mauvaise expérience, so sorry.”

Lucy jumped in. “It's all our fault. Don't worry about the contest. That's not important.”

Vanessa was confused. Not important! All she'd heard for the last several weeks was how much she needed to practice to win the contest. And she had tried. She'd spent hours in the kitchen with fuss budget Jack trying to perfect her technique.

Michelle struggled with English to say, “It was a mad plan, crazy. I will let Lucy explain to you. Je suis trop embarrassés par toutes.” She shrugged her shoulders and left.

Vanessa was getting even more confused. She remembered Sylvia had raised the question of what was the real purpose of the contest. “Just what's going on here?” she demanded.

Lucy sat on the edge of the bed. “How do you feel about Jacques?”

“Jack? He's OK, I guess. A slave driver when it comes to cooking, but otherwise he seems like a nice guy...for a Frenchman.”

“Hmm, yes, we were afraid of that. You do not feel attracted to him?”

Vanessa sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. “Attracted to him? Just the opposite. His nit picking has driven me crazy.”

“Our plan backfired, as you Americans say. We had hoped that by spending time alone with him in the kitchen for days, the two of you would feel a mutual attraction.”

“Your family was trying to fix me up with him?” Vanessa couldn't believe what she was hearing. “There are easier ways to do that, you know.”

Oui, but we wanted it to happen naturally, without you knowing.”

“So, the contest was just a trick, to keep me here?”

“Not a trick. We hoped you might do well, but we really hoped for a marriage.”

A marriage?” Vanessa's blue eyes widened. “With Jack? Why?”

“Let me explain. We did need a non family member to enter the contest. As you saw today, even our neighbor, Ricard. did not actually participate in the contest. His family's lavender recipe was prepared by a stranger to our area.

“OK, but you said you really hoped for a marriage. Where does that fit in?”

“As delightful as our family might be, you may have noticed there are no children running around. Michelle and Wilhelm did not have children and are past the age where that happens. I regret to say, I am on the cusp of menopause and not married, so it does not look like I will be producing another generation. So who is left? Jacques. And no, he is not gay. He has had many girl friends. But none that either he wanted to marry or that wanted to marry him. In most cases, we were glad of that. But inheritance laws in France are very strict, especially where land is involved. It is imperative that Jacques produces a legal heir. We know and love your mother and we knew a lot about you, so we hoped that the two of you would find a common bond.”

“But wait a minute. Michelle originally told me she needed my mother to do this, but my mother was in Thailand and couldn't do it. That doesn't make any sense. My mother's already married and I think past child-bearing age.”

Lucy hung her head. “Please do not be angry with your mother, but she was in on our little scheme. She, too, would like to see another generation around her.”

Vanessa squeaked, “My mother! My mother knew this plan and didn't warn me.” Then she remembered another strange request. A dressy, white dress. She'd been asked to bring a white dress. Was that to be her wedding gown? Vanessa was outraged. Even 'Dumpling Dan' had never made her so mad. And she wondered, what about Jack?
She hissed, Was Jack in on this plan, too?”

“No, no. We wanted it to happen naturally, without either of you knowing.”

Vanessa couldn't believe that the Sevigny family, which she'd thought kind and welcoming, was filled with diabolical planners. No wonder some of them, especially Wilhelm, had been so strange acting. That he had forsaken his own family name to take theirs should have been a tip off that things were not what they seemed.

Does Jack know now? Have you told him what all of you planned for him? Marriage to an incompetent American, who couldn't cook her way out of a frying pan.” 

“Michelle is telling him now.”

“From what I know of him, you'll be lucky if he doesn't leave never to be seen again.”

“He is family. He will understand.”

“Well, I don't and I'm leaving as soon as I can.” Vanessa seethed. The door shook with a thunderous pounding. If it was another member of the Sevigny family she was ready to knock them over to escape.

Without waiting for an invitation, Jack walked in. He scowled at his sister and gestured towards the doorway. “Please allow us some privacy. Vanessa and I need to talk.

To be continued November 1, 2015

Monday, August 31, 2015



[Chapter 16 will be available on October 1, 2015 

Vanessa's loud cries of happiness brought everyone running to the sun splashed foyer. She introduced Sylvia to the family and Edmond. Vanessa was proud of her friend's appearance. Sylvia had flown across the Atlantic and looked like she had stepped off a fashion runway not a long distance plane. Her slim black trousers, caramel colored cashmere sweater with its artfully tied silk black scarf were tres chic. Vanessa knew the family and all the French thought a good appearance very important. 
      Unfortunately, she didn't feel she quite measured up to their standards. But they did approve of her cooking and right now that was the main thing.
      Michelle kissed Sylvia on both cheeks and insisted in heavily accented English that Sylvia come into the breakfast room to share their breakfast. Sylvia protested that she'd had a big breakfast on the plane. She laughed. “The airlines still feed their passengers on international flights, thank heavens.”
      Lucy urged, “But at least a cup of coffee and a croissant, no?”
      Vanessa worried Sylvia might feel overwhelmed by the family. “Do you need to freshen up, first?”
      But extrovert Sylvia shook her head. “No, I did that at the airport. However, I'd love to have some real French coffee.”
      The breakfast room which had been so quiet now exploded with laughter and chatter. Everyone seemed to be on their best behavior to present a delightful front to the visitor. Vanessa was grateful when Lucy stood up to offer some peace. “And now we should leave the two amis alone. I'm sure they have lots to discuss in privacy.”
      Edmond who had entered the room coughed discreetly. “I have taken the luggage of Mademoiselle Richmond up to the room next to Mademoiselle Tippett. The bed has been freshly made up and the bath of course has fresh towels.”
       Vanessa thanked Edmond who stood in the doorway, and added, “Michelle, thank you for welcoming my friend and for another delightful meal. I think I should go up and help Sylvia unpack.
      The friends unpacked with Sylvia admiring the beautiful, walnut armoire and antique dresser. She ran her hands over the soft, white duvet covering the huge canopy bed. “Maybe I should take a nap.”
      Vanessa replied, “In due time, but first we need a long, catching up session.” They plopped down on the matching, pink floral, down filled arm chairs. Sylvia told her the news from Chicago, and then Vanessa explained about the family and the cooking contest to be held on the next day.
       Sylvia said, “I just have to see this French kitchen you've been raving about.” They went down the stately staircase, through the hall and into the working kitchen.
Sylvia was suitably impressed by both the modernity of the appliances and the antiquity of the décor. “Do you really think you can cook an edible meal for this contest, let alone win it?”
      Vanessa shrugged. “Jack is a perfectionist teacher and chef. I don't have any natural talent for cooking, but he has tried to train it into me.”
      “Are you nervous?”
      “Of course not.” Sylvia's eyes rounded when she heard this, but Vanessa went on. “Of course, I am, silly. I'm terrified, but I gave my word and I'm trying to live up to it. I can't imagine I'll win, but I have to at least carry through.”
      Sylvia's skeptical attorney's mind showed. “Doesn't this contest seem a little too contrived? I mean, really, can lavender differ that much depending on who or where it was grown?”
      Vanessa put her fingers to her lips. “Shhh. Don't let the family hear you. But yes, I've wondered about that myself. They seem to take this so seriously and they've said they need to win the contest to ensure selling enough of their products to make their mortgage payment. But I can't believe all this is riding on a cooking contest and that they're trusting me to be the winner.”
      “Maybe there's another reason they've set up this situation. But they don't want to tell you.
      Vanessa straightened the folded dish towels next to the ironstone sink. “Leave it to a lawyer to think of skulduggery in the scullery. I haven't given it a lot of thought. After all I'm a guest. I just follow directions.”
     “Hmm. Maybe we'll find out what's really behind all this tomorrow at the contest."
      An excited barking broke into their conversation as a scampering, wriggling mass of white fur came tearing across the flagstone floor. “Charlie! I'm sorry I'd forgotten all about you.” Sylvia bent over to catch him as he catapulted himself into her arms.
      “I can't believe it.” Vanessa complained. “He hasn't seen you in weeks but he sure hasn't forgotten you. I guess all males are alike. They can't resist a pretty face.”
      “He remembers that I always used to carry special dog treats for him. Sorry, Charlie, none today.” She put him on the floor where he looked up at her adoringly and asked, “You told me about his dog napping and safe return. Is everything all right now? Is he legally yours?”
      “I'm trying not to think about it. The local police were outraged about a dog napper in their community and very, very nice to me. They've assured me that everything will be OK.
      “What about the dog napper? Wasn't he the owner's heir?”
      “So he said, but who knows? All that information is back in the states. I'm just letting the local police and courts handle everything.”
      “You said Charlie's collar was set with precious jewels.”
      Vanessa gave a disgusted snort. “Yeah, Mr. Lay was only interested in the collar, not the dog. I'm just grateful he didn't kill Charlie once he had his hands on what he wanted.”
      “So who owns the collar?” Sylvia continued probing.
      “I don't know and I don't care. I don't need the money—well since I don't have a job maybe I could use some money--I just wanted Charlie and as long as I have him, we'll manage somehow.”
      Charlie whined.
      “Oh, he wants a walk. Come on, I'll show you the gardens. Even though most of the landscaping is in sleeping winter mode, it's still beautiful and you can stretch your legs after your flight.”
      After showing Sylvia the grounds surrounding the Sevigny Chateau, Vanessa suggested a walk out along the country road where Charlie had been stolen. Charlie didn't seem afraid and he bustled along besides them, straining on his new collar and leash whenever he caught whiff of a tantalizing odor.
      Sylvia continued with the Chicago news, including Vanessa's former beau, Dumpling Dan. His current girlfriend had dumped him when she realized he was dating her because she could get discounted tickets to the Chicago Bulls' games. “So you see, he hasn't changed much.
      A tinny bell sounded behind them and both women whirled around. Charlie rushed to attack a bicycle. It was the 'dangerous neighbor' Ricard.
      Vanessa introduced him to Sylvia and told her how he had rescued her after Charlie had been taken. She added, “He is also my main competitor in the lavender cooking contest. Lucy has warned me to stay away from him.” She gave him a shy smile as she said that.
       He ignored her remark about Lucy and gave Sylvia a slight bow over the handlebars. “I am happy to see you again and to meet your friend. It is good to see the little dog is OK.”  His dark hair clung in curls to his wet forehead and his beautiful eyes shone with good health. Vanessa told herself her heart was beating rapidly because he had surprised her, not because he looked delicious.
      As they chatted, Lucy's purple car pulled up alongside them. “Vanessa, you and your friend must come with me. You must not fraternize with the enemy. And besides Jacques needs you now.”
      Sylvia frowned at Vanessa. “Really?”
      Vanessa murmured, “Don't argue. Just get in.”
      Ricard shrugged and got back on his bike with a wave.
      From the look on Sylvia's face as she followed her friend into the cheerful little car, Vanessa knew she would soon be facing a thorough interrogation

To be continued on October 1, 2015