One Summer In France – Episode 48

After waving goodbye to Libby and Lucas as they left for the evening, Suzette sighed as they disappeared from view. Picking up her wine glass with the small amount of rosé she’d poured, she took a sip. Normally she didn’t drink when she was alone, but tonight she’d felt in need of something to relax her and hopefully lift her spirits.

A big part of her was panicking at the thought of the evening ahead. For so long her social life had been wrapped up with her fellow dancers. People she knew. People she had a connection with.

It was years since she’d been out to dinner with a man on her own – other than Malik, of course. What did she and her dinner date have in common? Why had he invited her? She knew nothing about his world and he thought she was somebody else entirely.

Suzette gave a quick glance at her watch. It would be cruel to cancel at this late hour, so she’d better go and get ready.

Not knowing where she was likely to be taken gave her a major problem over what to wear. In the end she settled for a pink and grey button-through dress with a bolero jacket she had customised with some delicate silver embroidery around the cuffs and hem. It was smart and dressy enough for a hotel dining-room, but not too flashy for somewhere a bit more downmarket. She did feel good, though, making a proper effort to dress up after weeks of dressing casually.

She heard the car stop outside the gîte and the door slam as she slipped her favourite pearl stud earrings into her ears.

“Bonsoir, Pascal,” she greeted her date.

“Bonsoir. Ça va?” Pascal asked as they kissed cheeks.

Suzette nodded.

“Can I get you an aperitif or anything before we go?”

Pascal shook his head.

“Non, merci. I’ve booked a table in Huelgoat – I hope that’s all right? One of the lakeside restaurants. It will take us about thirty minutes to get there.”

“That sounds perfect,” Suzette said. “I’ve not been to Huelgoat yet.”

Conversation between them as the powerful car ate up the miles was limited. Pascal concentrated on his driving down the narrow, twisting countryside lanes and Suzette contented herself looking at the passing scenery. When Pascal pressed a button on the CD player and classical piano music began to fill the air, Suzette smiled.

“I adore Chopin,” she said. “Do you play the piano?”

“A little, but I’m no expert. I just like to amuse myself these days. Do you play?”

Suzette shook her head.

“Non. Perhaps you can play for me one day?”

“It would be my pleasure,” Pascal said.

Huelgoat Lake was as calm as the proverbial mill pond as they drove into the village and made their way round to the restaurant.

The table they were shown to on the terrace was secluded with an unobscured view of the lake. Perfume drifted across from honeysuckle and jasmine plants in large pottery urns placed randomly around.

“This is lovely,” Suzette said after they’d given the waiter their starter and main course choices. “Do you come here often?”

“First time,” Pascal said. “I wanted somewhere new to both of us. It has a good reputation.” He glanced at her. “How is your ankle now?”

“As good as it ever gets,” Suzette said, shrugging. “The postcard you sent me inviting me to dinner – was that the village school you went to?”

Pascal nodded.

“It had, of course, been modernised by the time I went there!”

“Is it still there?”

“For the moment. But numbers are going down every year when families move away to find work.”

“You’ve never had any ambition to move away?” Suzette asked.

“Once, yes. After three years at university in Paris I had plans to travel the world. Instead it was straight back here to help with the estate,” Pascal said. “My father was ill so I didn’t have much choice.” He swirled some wine around his glass. “When he died my mother needed me here, so I’ve never left.”

“Do you have any regrets?” Suzette asked quietly.

Pascal smiled and shrugged.

“One or two. But on the whole I’m happy enough with my life these days. Besides, it doesn’t do to look back too often. And who knows what’s around the corner. Who you might meet.” He looked at her and held her gaze for several seconds.

“Enough about me. It is your turn to tell me how your life has been so far.”

To Suzette’s relief the waiter arrived at that moment with their starters and she was able to leave the question unanswered. What could she truthfully say to Pascal without revealing who she was? She knew instinctively he would dislike being lied to; their friendship would be over before it had begun. And sitting there as dusk began to fall, she realised she would enjoy getting to know this quiet, kind man a lot better.

Candle torches were lit on the terrace and the waiter lit a couple of small candles in the centre of their table. As they waited for their desserts, Pascal admired the embroidery on her jacket.

He gently fingered the silver thread work of leaves and tiny beads around the cuffs of the jacket.

“This is so delicate and beautiful,” he said.

“Thank you,” Suzette said. “It’s a hobby of mine. Well, more of a passion, really.” She laughed. “There’s a Fête des Brodeuses soon down in Pont-L’Abbé. I’m trying to work out how I can visit as I don’t have a car.”

“I’ll take you,” Pascal offered immediately.

“Oh, no. I didn’t mean that. I couldn’t –”

“I will take you,” Pascal said. “It is decided.”

“Truly? What about the garden centre?”

Pascal smiled at her.

“I am allowed the occasional day off, you know. The place will survive without me for twenty-four hours.”

“In that case, thank you,” Suzette said. “And lunch will be on me that day.”

“We’ll see,” Pascal said with a grin.

It wasn’t until they were in the car driving home that Pascal said, “You never did tell me how your life’s been so far. Whether you, too, have any regrets?”

Suzette was quiet. She had been hoping that Pascal had forgotten about the unanswered question. As the silence lengthened between them, Pascal leaned forward and pressed the CD button.

This time the music that poured into the car was from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite”, a piece of music that Suzette could, if she’d played an instrument, have picked out note by note, she was so familiar with it.

She smothered a sigh.

“Life has been mainly in Paris for the last thirty years, and now I’m at a bit of a crossroads. Lots of decisions to be made.” She glanced across at him. “I promise I will tell you my life history one day if you’re interested – just not tonight.”

“And I promise you I am interested and shall definitely hold you to that promise,” Pascal said.

Suzette’s heart lurched at his words and the quick, intense look he gave her. Pascal’s shy diffidence, she was beginning to realise, hid an enviable inner strength.



Margaret Scott

Margaret is a sub-editor within the Production Team on the "Friend". Her main job is to work on the stories and make sure the magazine leaves us in its best possible guise. When not doing that, however, she either has her head buried in the old “Friend” volumes or is out and about giving talks or going on Warner trips (fab!). She hates cheese.