Sandra Byrd is a best-selling author of books for adults, teens, and children. Her notable series include the Friends for a Season series, the Secret Sisters series and the French Twist series, which includes the first two Lexi Stuart novels, the Christy Finalist Let them Eat Cake and its sequel, Bon Appetit. A regular contributor to newspapers and magazines, Sandra lives in Washington state with her husband and two children.
Everything you want is out there waiting for you to ask.
Everything you want also wants you.
But you have to take action to get it.
If I had known exactly where and in what kind of trouble I was about to land, I’d have stayed in Paris.
“Come on, dear.” A wizened woman dragged a shuffling friend past me and down the long carpeted hallway. “We don’t want to get in the way of Rosa’s granddaughter, even if she’s sitting on our couch.” She threw a dirty look over her shoulder.
I started to stand up and get out of her way, but she disdainfully waved me back into my seat.
“WHO?” her friend shouted as I sank back down.
“ROSA’S GRANDDAUGHTER. She’s sprawling on our couch.” I flinched at the vocal hurricane, but no one else seemed to notice. Or maybe they just couldn’t hear it.
For the time being, I was crashing at the guest apartment at my nonna’s retirement community. Where else could I get in on such short notice? It was twenty dollars a night, and only for a week or so…I hoped. “Well, they do have a lot of singles,” I’d told my best friend, Tanya, as she laughed at the news. “And they do love what’s left of life.”
“I think it’s cute,” she’d said. “You can get a personalized pill container and swap horrible doctor stories.”
“Ha ha,” I’d answered. “Be careful, or I’ll hold your bridal shower there on bingo night.”
I’d stayed with my parents on Whidbey Island for the two weeks since I’d been home from France. Yesterday they’d dropped me and my gear off at the retirement community, though most of my stuff was still in storage awaiting my “real” apartment. And now I sat in the common room, not realizing I’d poached what someone considered her personal couch, waiting for the afternoon bus to take me to my new job.
I checked my watch again. To pass the time, I thumbed through the Gideon’s Bible sitting on the side table, flipping by chance to the first chapter of Philippians and scanning the extra large print until my eye caught something that hooked into my heart.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and
more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be
able to discern what is best.
Oh yeah, I thought. Bring on the discernment. I was starting a new job—the job I’d been hoping for all my life and at which I desperately wanted to succeed. And I found myself embroiled in a romantic crisis where I not only didn’t hold all the cards, but the men involved had turned surprisingly poker-faced about their intentions.
Lost in thought, it took me a minute to realize that a kindly looking man had sat down next to me. He tried valiantly, but unsuccessfully, to clear the phlegm from his throat. I scooted over to both accommodate him and to offer us some personal space. He kept looking at me, but as soon as I looked back at him, he glanced away.
Finally he spoke. “Who are you?” he asked quietly. “And what are you doing here?”
That was indeed the question, and not only for my current living situation. I wished I had an answer.
Nonna breezed in through the lobby, snapping her mauve umbrella shut with a force that belied her age. She kissed the cheek of her companion, Stanley Jones, who tottered off to his own apartment, then came to get me.
“Lexi, love,” she said. “I’m glad I got here in time to see you off. Let’s wait by the door. The bus will be here soon.” On the way through the foyer, she whispered, “I thought I’d mentioned, dear—don’t sit on any upholstered furniture in the common areas. When you get to be my age, many of us have incontinence problems.”
Shocked, I reached around and felt my backside, not caring who saw me. Whew. Dry.
Nonna giggled at my distress, taking everything about aging in stride, as she always did, and looped her arm through mine. “I’m glad you’re home.”
I grinned back at her. “Me too, Nonna.”
“Why can’t one of those nice young men drive you to work today?” she asked.
“I don’t want to ask them. It’s…awkward. I’m not sure where I’m going with either of them right now, and they both have their own jobs.”
“Seems to me a man who likes a woman would offer her a ride,” Nonna sniffed.
“I’m sure plenty of men hitched up their buggies and took you to work back in the day,” I teased.
She grinned wickedly and leaned over to kiss my cheek. “So tell me about the Frenchman.”
“His name is Philippe. He’s really nice, a great baker, and has the most adorable daughter named Céline. He’s taking Luc’s place, the one who moved back to France.”
“He’s one of the owners of the bakery?” she asked, checking creds, as always.
“Yes, Nonna,” I said. “He’s an owner. He’s Luc’s cousin, and the whole family owns all the bakeries.”
“What about that lawyer you were seeing before you went to Paris?”
“Dan?” I kept my voice even.
“He’s…here still. Of course. I just talked with him a few days ago. It was his suggestion, actually, for the Delacroix Company to lease the space I’ll be working in. The new bakery.”
“That was nice of him. Who’s the better looking of the two?”
“I’m glad to see your values haven’t changed!” I said, but com- pared them in my mind anyway. Philippe was definitely good looking in a continental way, dark blond hair that just touched his shoulders, a bit taller than me. Dan was built bigger, taller, with broad shoulders I loved to see set off by suspenders. His strawberry blond hair perfectly matched his lightly tanned complexion.
“You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?” Nonna poked me out of my daydream. “Gotcha!”
She laughed, and I laughed with her as the rain slid down the outside of the window, my hometown Seattle lights blinking away in the drops. “Thanks for seeing me off today. I won’t be long. Just meeting Margot and getting a quick run-through.”
“Of course I’m seeing you off ! Everyone is jealous that my granddaughter is here. I need to brag.”
I saw the bus rounding the corner about a half mile down the road. Nonna saw it too.
“Go get ’em,” she said. “And bring something home from the bakery. Anything with fruits and nuts will be right at home in this place.” She grinned, but I knew she loved her home and her friends.
I walked out the door and started toward the covered bus stop. Not a moment later, though, a motorcycle pulled up and parked in front of the retirement center door a few feet away. Even with the helmet on, I recognized him immediately.
What is he doing here? Quickly followed by, He looks good!
“Good afternoon, mademoiselle.” He hopped off the bike and walked toward me, holding out a helmet. “As your employer, it’s my responsibility to get you to work on your first day at the new job, n’est-ce pas? And I was eager to see you again. Sophie told me where to find you and what bus you were likely to take.”
“Oh, thank you,” I said. I introduced him to Nonna, who’d come running out as soon as she’d seen me talking with a guy. “This is my grandmother, Rosa. Nonna, this is my…friend, Philippe.”
“Enchanté.” Philippe kissed her hand.
“Enchantée,” Nonna responded, pulling back her shoulders and making sure the gathering crowd, their noses pressed against the retirement center’s front windows, witnessed the exchange.
As I got on the back of the bike, I said, “I had no idea you had a motorcycle here. Do you also have a car?”
“Oui,” he said, “I do. Luc left his car for me, and I gave him mine in France. But I thought a motorcycle would be fun too.”
He sped up a little, and as he turned the corner out of the retirement center’s curved driveway, I recognized the truck pulling in.
I’d told him I’d be staying with Nonna and had planned to take the bus.
I caught his eye, and he caught mine, and I saw the bouquet of flowers carefully propped in the passenger seat. I had no time to wave before Philippe accelerated and we sped off.
I turned my head and squeezed my eyes shut to avoid seeing Dan’s reaction. Nonna would explain it to him.
Nonna was liable to say anything.
A few minutes later, Philippe pulled the bike up in front of a long, black marble-fronted building in the Fremont district.
“Eh voilà!” he said, parking and then holding a hand out to me. “This is it. Do you like it?”
I took his hand, got off the back of the bike, and looked at the building. There were already two gold fleurs-de-lis over the front door, with the gold-lettered word Bijoux—meaning “jewels,” the name of the bakery—centered over the door. Otherwise, it was a blank slate.
“It’s beautiful!” I walked to the huge picture windows and looked in. The room was mostly empty, holding only a jumble of boxes and supplies, and some tarps left over from a recent paint job. But what lines, what bones. What this place could be!
“I can’t believe I never noticed this building before,” I said. “It’s perfectly perfect.”
Philippe laughed. “It’s been recently restored. That’s one of the reasons Luc was drawn to it…until he found out it couldn’t be used for a restaurant. But, ooh la la, what a bakery, n’est-ce pas? Après toi, mademoiselle,” he said, holding the front door open for me.
I expected to be greeted by the chic calm the exterior promised. Instead, I was blasted by a streak of blue French from the kitchen.
“Margot?” I asked in a small voice.
Philippe grimaced. “Oui. La Margot.”
Philippe’s sister Margot was the one downside to this dream job. Since she was a great baker and a member of the family, she didn’t worry that her attitude might lose her a job. She didn’t bother to sweeten it either.
“Bonjour,” Philippe called in what I recognized as his fake singsong voice. I felt torn between my desire to see my new kitchen and my desire to flee at once. Philippe decided for me, pushing me forward.
“C’est Lexi,” he introduced me to Margot.
“Nice to see you again,” I said in English. It was the polite thing to say, even if I didn’t mean it. She ignored me.
“I’m glad we’ll be working together,” I tried in French, an even graver lie. She didn’t return the favor or grasp my hand, but she grunted. French it was, then.
“Alors.” Philippe led the way toward the back of the kitchen. “This part,” he indicated with his hand, “will be mostly for pastries, which Margot will do. She’ll be here part time and at the other bakeries part time too.” He smiled widely and indicated the largest part of the kitchen. “And this will be for the cakes and catering. That’s you!”
I looked at my part of the kitchen. Marble and stainless counters, and lots of tall glass-fronted cabinets for ingredients. A pair of gleaming industrial mixers. Drawers full of equipment, but not in the easiest-to-reach places. I didn’t know who placed some of the utensils and tools. Maybe the guys who’d brought equipment over from the other bakeries.
“It’s everything I could want,” I said. And it was. My own kitchen. Tiny though it was, it was mine.
Philippe opened an armoire. “Here’s where you’ll store the paperwork and computer, and the phone even fits in there. Will this be enough space for the accounting books?”
I blinked and answered, “I guess so.” He’d be a better judge of that than I would.
Margot slammed a drawer, and when I turned around, I saw her grab her cigarettes and a lighter from the countertop. I wrinkled my nose. They should at least be hidden. As she headed out back, Philippe followed her. “Un moment,” he said, winking.
While they were gone, I turned the radio to a warm, low-key favorites station and began rearranging my work drawers. After ten minutes, I had them just so. I also rearranged my countertops and cake decorating materials so it made sense to me.
When Margot and Philippe came back in, I asked him, “How will the front be decorated? Will there be furniture arriving?”
He took my arm, and we headed to the big front room. I could already envision engaged couples choosing their cakes in a chic, refined, leather-furnished room.
“Hmm,” Philippe said. “I hadn’t thought too much on that topic. I am so busy at L’Esperance…” He shrugged, and I knew the burden of taking over their biggest US bakery. “Would you like to do it?”
“Would I?” I grinned. “I would!” I pictured deep blue drapes framing the windows and subtle gold cording. I’d make an appointment for a window etcher to etch the company name in gold on the glass, just like the Delacroix bakery in Versailles.
It was going to look fantastique.
When we got back to the kitchen, my countertops had been completely rearranged back to the previous nonsensical order. Margot’s back was turned toward me, and she quietly hummed along with the radio—not the station I’d turned on. I looked through my utensil drawers. All returned to the way they’d been before I’d fixed them moments ago. I looked at Philippe. He shrugged. I determined not to escalate things and left everything where it stood—for the moment.
“Lexi?” His voice softened. “I have a few questions about some things for Céline…”
“Oh, yes, when is she coming?” I asked, delighted at the prospect of hugging that sweet little bonbon again.
“She’s at her grandparents’ in London but will be here in a few days,” he said. “I’ve signed her up for the French-American school, but there are some other things…” He opened his briefcase and held out a folder. “Do you know a good doctor? a good dentist? And many other questions I need your help with.”
I found it endearing to see him a little vulnerable for once; he was always so in charge. It made him even more appealing.
“Of course I can help you.”
He smiled. “Perhaps we can talk about it at dinner tonight? Incredibly, I have found a quiet little bistro…”
He must have caught the look on my face, because he stopped mid sentence.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve got dinner plans tonight.”
“Ah well.” He shrugged, but looked a little forlorn. “Perhaps another time.”
“Certainly,” I said. “Anytime this week. Stop by for lunch or let me know when it’s convenient.”
With that, he handed me a key and took his leave, and Margot left too. I locked the doors behind them and then sat on one of the bar stools next to the counter. I looked around.
It was all mine, my kitchen. Well, and Margot’s too. But I was no one’s assistant anymore. I was a chef.
I checked my watch, saw I had fifteen minutes to get to the restaurant where I’d agreed to meet Dan for dinner, and went to brush my hair. On the way out of Bijoux, before turning the lights out in the kitchen, I did two things.
I put Margot’s cigarettes and lighters into a drawer near her work station, and I turned the radio station back to the one I liked.
As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I saw him at a corner table. My eye caught his, and then my breath caught too. Dan was a good looking man in any pose, but when he smiled, he was downright divine. Though he’d picked me up at the airport and taken me to my parents’ house when I first got home from France, I hadn’t seen him since.
“The world traveler has returned,” he said, standing to pull my chair out and then scoot me back to the table.
“Do you mean from my travels in Paris or the urban oasis of Whidbey Island?” I grinned.
“Both.” He held out a bottle and a glass. “Wine?”
I nodded, and as the waiter came to take our order, we shared the last few weeks’ happenings, culminating in my announcement that I had been to Bijoux that day.
He nodded. “I left work early to come pick you up, but I arrived just a little too late.”
I knew he would bring that up. I knew it. And yet, we weren’t at the exclusive dating level yet, as far as I understood, so I didn’t have to explain myself to him, right? “Philippe thought it would be good to take me to work on my first day,” I said as casually as I could. “And he had the keys.”
Dan nodded and showed absolutely no emotion. Lawyer’s training, I supposed. A minute later, he loosened up again and asked about the kitchen and the countertops and what kind of oven it had—things nearly no non-baker would think to ask.
“Why are you interested in the ovens?” I teased.
“Because you are,” he said simply and without guile. And that was even more appealing than the dreamy smile.
I asked about his job too, and he regaled me with his latest case, somehow making the law funny, something my brother was never able to do. Then his phone rang.
He looked mortified. “I’m so sorry. I thought I turned it off. It’s new.” He took it from his pocket and fumbled for a minute to locate the Ignore button. Before the backlight went off, I saw the caller ID.
I met his eye and he looked away, and then the waiter brought our salads. While he ground some pepper for Dan, I reminded myself, You’re not at the exclusive dating level yet, as far as he understands, so he doesn’t have to explain himself to you, right?
Will the bakery succeed? Will she and Margot ever get along? What about the guys – will Lexi choose Phillipe or Dan? I can’t say. You will just have to get your own copy of Pièce de Résistance to learn the answers.