Home > The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris(11)

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris(11)
Jenny Colgan

Then Mum read something in one of her magazines and decided I was “depressed” and started muttering about seeing someone and that was annoying too, because depression is a horrid illness that people get and not a way to describe feeling a bit sad when you’ve lost a bit of you off the end, which, in my opinion, is a totally natural way of thinking and doesn’t need to be talked through: “I’m sad because I’ve had my toes chopped off.” “Oh yes, quite right, that’ll be sixty pounds please.” Or, heaven forbid, put me on drugs or something. But then again, I couldn’t deny that I didn’t really feel myself. Have you ever had a really bad hangover that’s gone into a second day? Well, it was like that second day. I just couldn’t summon up the energy to do the million and one things I knew I needed to do. There were just so many things.

Dad knocked quietly, which was interesting, as Mum never knocks and the boys never drop by, just holler from the bottom of the stairs.

“Hello, love,” he said, proffering me a cup of tea. I wouldn’t say we were a really old-fashioned family, but one thing was for sure: Dad never made the tea.

“Did you make this?” I said, eyeing it suspiciously.

“Yes,” said my dad quickly. “Two sugars?”

He must have asked Mum.

“Can I come in?”

“It’s your house,” I said, surprised. He looked nervous. Worse than that, before he sat down, he carefully removed two wrapped chocolate cookies from his pocket. I looked up at him.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“Something’s wrong, if it needs a chocolate cookie. Tell me, quickly.”

My dad shook his head. “I just thought you’d like a chocolate cookie.”

I just stared at him, unconvinced.

“Listen,” he said. “I got a call from your teacher friend…”

“She’s not my teacher anymore,” I said.

“Sounds like she’s been teaching you a few things,” he said, sitting at my white vanity unit. He looked strange there. The back of his head reflected in the mirror; he was getting really bald back there.

I shrugged.

“Just something to do, you know.”

He glanced on my bed, where there were several French books Claire had lent me that I’d been puzzling through with the help of a massive dictionary. It was a slow, boring business, but light was beginning to dawn.

“Well,” he said, “she says she’s offered you a job.”

I shook my head. “She hasn’t really. She just knows someone…or she used to know him. It was ages ago. She reckons I might be able to help out in the summer.”

“She says it’s in your line of work.”

“Yes—in another country. Sweeping up floors probably.”

Dad shrugged. “What’s wrong with working in another country?”

“What, you want me out of the house now?”

“No,” he said carefully. “All I mean is, you’re thirty, you’ve got no ties, you’re still young…don’t you want to travel a bit? See the world?”

I shrugged. I hadn’t really thought of it like that. In fact, I’d only really thought about what a gigantic pain in the arse this was for me and how people should be feeling more sorry for me, not what I was going to do next. I’d lost two bits of myself. That was enough for one year, surely.

When Dad was saying it, though, I did think, for a second, that it would be quite nice to go somewhere where nobody knew what had happened to me and didn’t eye me up with looks of concern and slightly prurient interest. The kids on the estate definitely talked about me when I went by. The one time I’d gone out with Cath so far, Mark Farmer had cornered me, drunk, at about 1:00 a.m. and begged to take a look at it. I hadn’t much fancied going out again after that. I didn’t want to be the local freak show. And I knew what it was like here in Kidinsborough. Sandy Verden had pooed her pants once in year four, and no one had let her forget it yet.

Dad looked at me kindly.

“Love, you know, I don’t like to give advice.”

“I know,” I said. “And I appreciate it. Mum gives me LOTS.”

He smiled, a little sadly.

“Honestly, love. At your age. The chance to go see somewhere new, live somewhere different, even if it’s just for a little while…I’d jump at it. I think you’d be mad not to.”

I’d never seen my dad so passionate about anything, not even when the Kidinsborough Wanderers won the league in 1994 and everyone went demented for about a month and a half. (The next season they got demoted, so it was a short run good thing.)

“Please,” he said, then he sighed. “The boys, you know, good for nothing, half of them…they’d have been down a pit in the old days or doing something useful, but now there’s nothing for them but to hang around, wait on building work…it’s a damn shame is what it is. But you…”

He looked at me, his tired, kind face full of something so emotional I found it quite difficult to look at. “You were so good at school, Anna, we couldn’t believe it when you left so early. Mrs. Shawcourt rang us then too, you know?”

I did know. She had told my parents I should stay on, go to college, but I really didn’t see the point of it. I already knew I wanted to work in food and I wanted a wage. I didn’t really understand that I could have gone to college to specialize, to spend a couple of years really learning stuff rather than picking it up here and there in industrial kitchens…well. After that, my pride wouldn’t let me go. My dad kept saying it wasn’t too late, but I was used to a wage by then and didn’t want to go back to being a student. Students were supposed to be spotty losers anyway; that’s what people said around the factory. I always thought it looked like fun, watching them heading up to the big agricultural college we had nearby, laughing and looking carefree with their folders and laptop bags, while we slouched into work every morning. Anyway.

Mrs. Shawcourt had said I had a real gift for languages and I should stay and do more exams. I’d snorted and wondered what the point of doing that was. Wasted on teenagers, education. Well, teenagers like I had been.

Dad was still talking.

“You know,” he said mildly, “I really believe you could. I totally believe you could do it.”

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