Home > The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris(9)

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris(9)
Jenny Colgan

“So…” Claire suddenly flushed a little and looked excited. “I got a letter.”

“An actual letter?” I said, impressed. I never got letters, just instant messages from Cath telling me some bloke was either totally fit or a right turd or both.

She nodded.

“Well, more of a postcard…regardless. He said he does need a new factory worker, yes. And I know of an apartment where you could stay.”

I looked at her, totally taken aback.

“What?”

“Well, I didn’t…I didn’t think you’d actually do it,” I said, stunned and touched. “I mean, go to all that trouble.”

“It was two letters,” said Claire. “I hope that’s not your idea of hard work. I’ve talked you up quite dramatically.”

“Uh-oh,” I said.

She smiled. “It was…it was nice to hear back after all this time.”

“This was definitely a romance,” I said.

“It was definitely a long time ago,” she said crisply in her teacher’s voice again.

“Don’t you want to go?” I said.

“Oh no,” she said quickly. “That time of my life is well over with, quite done and dusted. And I have quite enough on my plate. But you’re still young…”

“I’m thirty,” I said, moaning.

“That’s young,” she said very sharply. “That’s very young.”

“So, what’s it like, this factory?” I said, changing the subject. Her own kids weren’t much older than me and all married and settled with good jobs, and I didn’t think I could handle the comparison.

“Oh, it’s probably changed a bit,” she said, looking a bit dreamy. Then she came back to herself. “Anyway, it’s not a factory, more an atelier—a workshop. Le Chapeau Chocolat.”

“The Chocolate Hat?” I said. “That sounds…I mean, do they actually make hats out of chocolate?”

Claire ignored me.

“They’ll take you on as a general factotum, normal hours, and they normally use a room nearby, apparently, that you can stay in. It’s extremely expensive in that area of Paris, incredibly, so it’s very helpful. He says they’re busy till about October, so you could stay that long then come back. By then, the UK shops will be gearing up for Christmas, so I’m sure you’ll get a job then.”

“Don’t they have Christmas in France?”

Claire smiled at me. “Yes, but it isn’t the crazy obsession it is here. A few oysters and some time with your family; that’s about the size of it.”

“That sounds rubbish,” I said, suddenly a bit cross at how much this had been sorted out. I still felt as if I were being railroaded a bit, rather than being worried about and cosseted. Everyone was saying things like how I should stand on my own two feet, which I found particularly annoying as I didn’t really have two feet anymore.

“It’s lovely,” said Claire, her thin face going a bit dreamy. “The rain hits the pavement and the lights go all misty over the bridges, and you huddle up in front of the fire…”

“And eat oysters,” I said. “Bleurgh.”

Claire took her glasses off and rubbed her sore-looking eyes. “Well,” she said hopefully. “I think it’s a very generous offer, considering he’s never met you.”

“What about speaking French?” I said, sounding slightly panicky. “I won’t be able to speak all the French.”

“Don’t be silly, you’re coming along brilliantly.”

“Yes, but that’s talking to you. Real French people will talk like this…zubba zubba zubba zubba zuBBAH, at, like, one hundred miles an hour. One hundred kilometers an hour,” I said gloomily.

Claire laughed. “The trick is not to panic. Trust your brain to know what people are saying. Also, people talk just as much rubbish in French as they do in English. They repeat themselves all the time, just like real people do. Don’t worry about it.”

I blinked.

“Does he speak English?”

Claire smiled shyly.

“Not a word, as far as I remember.”

- - -

1972

His mustache had been the first thing she’d noticed about him—not because it was a mustache, because lots of men had them at that time, along with long unruly sideburns, which he also had, but because it had chocolate on the ends. She had blinked at it.

“What?” he had said instantly, waggling his eyebrows at her. “What? Tell me—you cannot believe such a devastatingly handsome man has just walked through the door?”

She had smiled involuntarily—with his thick mop of dark brown curly hair, mischievous brown eyes, and burly, large body, he was undeniably attractive, but handsome, no. Especially not in the traditional French style, where the men were neat and well-groomed, slim and rather refined. There was nothing refined about this man; he looked a bit like a lost bear.

“You are laughing? It’s funny that I am not handsome? Hmm? How is that funny?”

He then mimed a position of extreme woundedness.

Claire had been wallflowering near the elaborately corniced door, waiting for Mme. LeGuarde to want to go, for nearly an hour.

Her hosts were terribly polite and not the terrible tyrants she had been dreading and her father had been hoping for, but they also thought it was quite the privilege to be allowed to take part in their social lives.

Claire, though, found it incomprehensibly sophisticated and suffered from terrible nerves, not knowing what to say. There were young men in berets arguing furiously about communism, stunning slender women smoking and occasionally raising an eyebrow at the men or mentioning how boring such and such an exhibition was. She wasn’t a party person, even among people she knew. Paris itself was knocking her out daily with its astonishing beauty. But the people absolutely terrified her.

She treated it as an extension of her language classes and tried to listen in as much as she could, but in her mind these people were undoubtedly grown-ups. And she, equally undoubtedly, was not. She felt neither one thing nor the other, and the fun and glamour made her feel more and more like an uneducated country hick. She found it hard enough to follow what people were saying, they spoke so fast. She was constantly dazzled by how beautifully everybody dressed, so different from her mother’s homely style, and on top of that, everyone talked about exhibitions they’d seen and writers they’d met, and everyone talked about food absolutely without stopping. It was exhausting. People took an interest in the LeGuardes’ English girl—she was pretty and endearing-looking—but she found herself clamming up, like the worst kind of wallflower. She could see Mme. LeGuarde, who was extremely beautiful and well-groomed, wasn’t particularly impressed by this, but after Kidinsborough and the rectory, Paris was completely overwhelming.

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