This is the one with me trying to catch up on all the Thirsty Thursdays I’ve missed until today. I have four posts in this one so please bear with me. 🙂
It was twelve-thirty when she finally fit her car down the small spiral ramp that passed for the entrance to the parking lot for the old walled part of town. Plane trees shaded the little parking area, and she climbed a staircase from it to the place below Gabriel Delange’s restaurant.
The scent of jasmine wafted over her as she stepped into the place, delicate and elusive, as the breeze stirred vines massed over sun-pale walls. A surprisingly quixotic and modern fountain rippled water softly in the center of a tranquil, shaded area of cobblestones. She stopped beneath the fountain’s stylized, edgy angel, dipping her hand into the water streaming from the golden rose it held. Fontaine Delange, said a little plaque.
He had a city fountain named after him already? Well, why not? There were only twenty-six three-star restaurants in France, eighty in the world. He had put this little town on the map.
His restaurant, Aux Anges, climbed up above the place in jumbled levels of ancient stone, a restored olive mill. She would have loved to sit under one of those little white parasols on its packed terrace high above, soaking up the view and exquisite food, biding her time until the kitchens calmed down after lunch. But, of course, his tables would be booked months in advance. In another restaurant, she might have been able to trade on her father’s name and her own nascent credentials as a food writer, but the name Manon was not going to do her any favors here.
The scents, the heat, the sound of the fountain, the ancient worn stone all around her, all seemed to reach straight inside her and flick her tight-wound soul, loosing it in a rush. Stop. It will be all right. Your father is out of immediate danger, has two other daughters, and will survive a day without you. Take your time, take a breath of that hot-sweet-crisp air. Relief filled her at the same time as the air in her lungs. That breath smelled nothing like hospitals, or therapists’ offices, or the stubborn, heavy despair in her father’s apartment that seemed as unshakeable as the grime in the Paris air.
She walked past an art gallery and another restaurant that delighted in welcoming all the naive tourists who had tried showing up at Aux Anges without reservations. A little auberge, or inn, gave onto the place, jasmine vines crawling all over its stone walls, red geraniums brightening its balconies.
She turned down another street, then another, weaving her way to a secret, narrow alley, shaded by buildings that leaned close enough for a kiss, laundry stretching between balconies. Jasmine grew everywhere, tiny white flowers brushing their rich scent across her face.
Kitchen noises would always evoke summer for her, summer and her visits to France and her father. The open windows and back door of Aux Anges let out heat, and the noises of knives and pots and people yelling, and a cacophony of scents: olive oil, lavender, nuts, meat, caramel. . . .
As she approached the open door, the yelling grew louder, the same words overheard a million times in her father’s kitchens: “Service! J’ai dit service, merde, it’s going to be ruined. SERVICE, S’IL VOUS PLAÎT!”
“—Fast as we can, merde – putain, watch out!”
A cascade of dishes. Outraged yells. Insults echoed against the stone.
She peeked through the door, unable to resist. As a child and teenager, she had been the kid outside a candy shop, confined to her father’s office, gazing at all that action, all that life: the insane speed and control and volcanic explosions as great culinary wonders were birthed and sent forth to be eaten.
At least fifteen people in white and black blurred through a futuristic forest of steel and marble. Four people seemed to be doing the yelling, two chefs in white, two waiters in black tuxedos, separated by a wide counter and second higher shelf of steel: the pass, through which elegant plates slipped into the hands of waiters, who carried them into the dining rooms with—ideally—barely a second’s pause between when the plate was finished and when it headed toward the customer who was its destination. A wave of profound nostalgia swept Jolie.
“Connard!” somebody yelled.
“C’est toi, le connard, putain!”
A big body straightened from the counter closest to the door and turned toward the scene, blocking her view of anything but those broad shoulders. Thick, overlong hair in a rich, dark brown, threaded with gold like a molten dark caramel, fell over the collar of the big man’s chef’s jacket, a collar marked with the bleu, blanc, rouge of a Meilleur Ouvrier de France. That bleu, blanc, rouge meant the chef could only be one person, but he certainly wasn’t skinny anymore. He had filled into that space she had used to only imagine him taking up, all muscled now and absolutely sure.
His growl started low and built, built, until it filled the kitchen and spilled out into the street as a full-bodied beast’s roar, until she clapped her hands to her head to hold her hair on. Her ears buzzed until she wanted to reach inside them and somehow scratch the itch of it off.
When it died down, there was dead silence. She gripped the edge of the stone wall by the door, her body tingling everywhere. Her nipples felt tight against her bra. Her skin hungered to be rubbed very hard.
Gabriel Delange turned like a lion who had just finished chastising his cubs and spotted her.
Her heart thumped as if she had been caught out on the savannah without a rifle. Her fight instinct urged her to stalk across the small space between them, sink her hands into that thick hair, jerk her body up him, and kiss that mouth of his until he stopped roaring with it.
That would teach him.
And her flight option wanted to stretch her arm a little higher on that door, exposing her vulnerable body to be savaged.
She gripped that stone so hard it scraped her palm, fighting both urges.