One Summer In France – Episode 53

Suzette looked around her as Pascal drove them through the countryside towards the coast, Pont l’Abbé and the embroidery festival.

“I’m looking forward so much to today,” she said. “Although I do feel guilty about taking you away from the garden centre.”

“Don’t,” Pascal said as he slowed down approaching a crossroads and the left turn that would take them into Pont l’Abbé. “We are going to have a fun day together. Forget all our work problems.”

Suzette glanced across at him.

“But it’s your business. You are in charge.”

Pascal nodded.

“Oui. But always there are problems. With staff. With bureaucracy. With cash flow.” He hesitated. “Oh, just decisions to be made all the time.” He smiled at her. “But today we are going to forget all our problems and enjoy ourselves.”

With Breton bagpipe players, the smell of crêpes, processions, Breton dancing, doll exhibitions and costume exhibitions, the day passed in a whirl for Suzette. She made note after note, collected business cards and brochures, took photos of some particularly intricate embroidery and was totally amazed by everything she saw.

At one particular haute couture exhibition full of modern designer clothes, Pascal turned to her.

“Your embroidery is as good as anything on show here today, Evie. But I suspect you know that already.” He smiled at her. “Is it what you intend doing in the future? Is that why you’re making all these notes? Gathering information?”

“Perhaps,” Suzette said, moving away to look at an intricate wedding dress. She wasn’t ready to talk to Pascal yet about her idea.

“If you’ve got the inclination, you can compete with the best of them and make a living.”

Something about the way he said those words made Suzette turn to look at him.

“You could do it anywhere, too – you wouldn’t have to live in Paris. You could live anywhere,” Pascal continued.

Suzette inclined her head.

“Thank you. I know my embroidery is good, but moving out of Paris is another thing entirely. One that’s definitely not on my current agenda.”

Pascal opened his mouth as if to say something, changed his mind and shrugged.

“Come on. Let’s find somewhere to have a coffee before we head for home.”

“Thank you for today,” Suzette said when they’d finally found a café with a spare table and the waitress had placed coffee in front of them. “I’ve really enjoyed it.” She hesitated and fiddled with a sugar packet before adding, “I didn’t mean to be rude earlier, but I’m still trying to sort things out in my own mind.”

“I know. You’re at a crossroads.” Pascal placed his hand over Suzette’s twitching fingers and looked at her, a serious expression on his face. “I’ve very much enjoyed today, too. When you want to talk, I’m ready to listen.”

“Thank you,” Suzette said.

It wasn’t until they were in the car halfway home that Pascal dropped what amounted to a bombshell to Suzette.

“I have a confession to make. My mother wants to meet you and I half promised I’d take you to see her before taking you home.” He glanced at her. “I know it’s been a long day and you’re probably tired, but I’d really like the two of you to meet. You’ll be disappearing back to Paris before we know it.”

Suzette was silent for a minute, remembering the word Libby had used about Pascal’s mother. Controlling. She’d also heard her described as always being elegant and immaculately dressed. Whereas she, Suzette, at this moment, was tired and her clothes after the day at the festival were no longer immaculate.

But she did owe Pascal something for taking her to Pont l’Abbé. She was truly grateful and didn’t want to hurt him by refusing to meet his mother.

“I’ll understand if you’re too tired,” Pascal said into the silence. “We can make it another time.”

“No. This evening is fine,” Suzette said. “So long as your mother doesn’t mind my creased clothes.” She glanced down at her cotton frock. Freshly ironed that morning, it was less than pristine now.

“Thank you. We won’t stay long, I promise,” Pascal said.

Twenty minutes later Pascal turned into a tree-lined avenue and Suzette saw the longhouse standing at the end of the drive for the first time. A gasp escaped from her lips.

“What a beautiful house,” she said.

“Tell my mother that and she’ll love you for ever,” Pascal said. “She and my father spent years renovating it. It was practically derelict when they inherited it.”

As they got out of the car Suzette saw Madame Josette de Guesclin standing in the doorway, waiting to greet them, poised and immaculate.

After Pascal had introduced them, Josette led them through to the sitting-room before turning to Pascal.

“You naughty boy. You left your phone behind. I haven’t been able to contact you.”

“Désolé, Mama,” Pascal replied. “Did you need me urgently?”

“No, I just wanted to know if you were having a good time. And,” she paused, “whether you had learned anything?”

“Oui. I learned a lot about design and embroidery today.”

Suzette looked at the two of them. She knew somehow that his answer was not what Josette had wanted to hear. There was an undercurrent here she didn’t understand.

“Mademoiselle, may I offer you a small aperitif?” Josette gestured towards a decorative wooden side table where several bottles of spirits and glasses stood.

“A glass of apple juice would be nice, thank you,” Suzette replied, seeing a bottle hidden in amongst the others. “I don’t drink spirits.”

As Pascal poured the drinks, apple juice for her, martini for his mother and pastis for himself, Suzette became uncomfortably aware that she was being scrutinised by Josette. Surely her dress wasn’t that creased?

“You like it here?” Josette asked suddenly. “You find it quiet after Paris?”

Suzette nodded.

“I like it here very much. Of course, I miss some things about Paris – the shops and the theatre mainly, but they’ll still be there when I return.”

“Ah, I, too, adore the theatre,” Josette said. “My husband used to take me regularly.” She sighed before asking abruptly, “And your ankle? Completely healed now?”

“Yes.” Suzette finished her drink and placed the empty glass on the table. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Madame de Guesclin. Thank you for the aperitif, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask Pascal to be my chauffeur again and take me home. It has been a long day.”

“Such a short visit,” Josette said. “We’ve barely got to know one another. Maybe you’d like to come to dinner one evening before you disappear back to Paris?”

“Thank you.”

“I’ll tell Pascal which evening will be convenient for me. Bonsoir.”




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.