A Year In France – Episode 18

Supplied © A Year In France illustration by Mandy Dixon

Julia smiled happily as she placed the tray of almond biscuits fresh from the oven alongside the cakes already cooling on the rack. Christiane had rung earlier and asked if she could come over for coffee.

“I’m having a morning in the kitchen,” Julia had said. “I thought I’d have a go at making some madeleines as they seem to be Philippe’s favourite.”

She hadn’t added that baking had become her favourite occupation as a means of passing the time.

“You can test them for me,” she’d added.

When Christiane arrived 20 minutes later, Julia took her straight through to the small veranda where she’d set out the coffee.

“Philippe is working, I’m afraid,” she said, handing Christiane a cup. “So he won’t be joining us.”

“I’ve come to see you rather than Philippe,” Christiane said. “I’m worried about you.”

Julia looked at her, surprised.


“I know what my son is like when he is working on a book. Everything – and everyone – else gets shut out.”

“The edits will soon be finished,” Julia said. “And Philippe has promised to take a break before he starts his next book.”

Julia held out a plate of madeleines. Had Christiane guessed how difficult she was finding it to adapt to this new life of hers, without a definite role in it for herself?

“Good,” Christiane replied. “I would hate to think you were unhappy and he was neglecting you. Days can go very slowly when you have nothing much to do.”

“I’m having a French lesson every week with Madame Colbert. And I haven’t mentioned it to Philippe yet, but I’m thinking of trying to do some freelance PR work over the internet.

“I know I have to do something for me. But first I am looking forward to spending more time with Philippe in the next couple of weeks.”

“You have to find your own interests here and have a life independent of Philippe,” Christiane told her. “For when he is away in his other world. It is a shame you did not go to London in the end.”

“I left it too late,” Julia said, shrugging. “Besides, my flatmate has rented out my old room.”

“Next time, you do not dither. Now, there was another reason I came.” Christiane hesitated before going on. “My friend Thierry – do you like him?”

“Yes. He seems nice,” Julia replied, wondering where the conversation was heading.

Christiane beamed.

“He is, but Philippe does not like him. I need you to put in a good word for him whenever you can. I am too old for conflict in my life. My son and my friends have to get on.”

Julia looked at Christiane. It sounded as if Thierry was more than a friend.

“I’ve noticed Philippe is very quiet whenever he sees Thierry or whenever he is mentioned.”

“It is some sort of stupid hangover from the days of his father,” Christiane explained. “He seems to think I’m being unfaithful and that Thierry is after all he can get.

“He’s not, but will Philippe listen?” Christiane sighed theatrically. “Sometimes his imagination, it goes into overdrive in real life.”

“I’m not sure he’ll listen to me, either, but I’ll certainly try,” Julia assured her mother-in-law.

“Thank you. Now, let us forget our men and talk about something else. These madeleines are good.”

Half an hour later, as Christiane stood up to leave having refused an offer to stay for lunch, Philippe came on to the veranda, Tess at his heels.

“Mama, I thought I heard your voice.”

“I’ve been keeping your wife, whom you’ve been neglecting for the last few weeks, company.”

“Unavoidable,” Philippe said, turning to Julia and smiling. “But it is finished. The final manuscript has been sent on its way to my editor. I’ve awarded myself a fortnight off before I start the next book. So, have you organised lunch?”

Julia shook her head.

“No. I was . . .”

“In that case we’ll take Tess and walk down and eat in the village. Let’s celebrate. Mama, you will join us?”

Christiane shook her head.

“You two go alone. I have things to do before this evening.” In a flurry of kisses she was gone.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.