Short story collection- 1.
By Leila Baez / Matthew staff
It is an idea that has been shared over generations: “Those rude French people”. I was terrified upon my return to Paris, France, as I had not been in years and I would not remember my previous experience anyway since I had been many years younger. The airport was as lively as New York City during rush hour, but it was already two in the afternoon. Were all of these people tourists? Many looked like they knew exactly where they were going in ironed suits and trendy fashions that were impossible to actually be comfortable in, especially on a plane. Mother pulled me in the same direction as the crowds were heading, luggage claim. I still did not understand more than a survival kit of phrases in French, but I knew images. These little icons and signs may have different combinations of letters, but the pictures were always the same. We made it through the condensed pack of people, grabbed our luggage from the belts, navigated the rest of the way into the hall that would take us to the pick-up area. Crowds of people on either side of the ropes. When I was young, I would call each of these areas the red carpet.
I had asked Mother if we would be renting a car or relying on Uber. I asked if they had Uber in France. She said neither, I was confused. France was known for the metros and taxis but they were much more expensive than a thirty euro a day rent-a-car. I knew what she meant on the red carpet when I saw our names in big rainbow letters in the hands of someone I had missed for so long. That boyish grin was something special when it was in person instead of across screens: Adrien. I broke away from the security of Mother’s hand and beelined down the hall and around the other arrivees. I don’t remember how I got to him so quickly, I just remember nearly toppling back with him and the strong hold his rather lanky arms somehow gave. He had never changed in the years I knew him, he was the one piece of France I actually held onto.
“Welcome to Paris!” he grinned and announced in his usual overly dramatic way. He was always like this, a gigantic dork. We bonded over that, being a couple geeks with big lives and bigger imaginations. I always teased him prior to my journey to Paris, calling him a cat not just because of his agility, but because of his shared name and looks of one of our favorite characters: Adrien Agreste. I always asked him if Adrien was a popular name in France. He would assume so even though neither of us bothered to look it up.
I do not remember what I responded, only that I giggled a lot. He handed me the sign he held and showed the address of a bakery he knew I would love. My stomach growled so loud it got the attention of his parents and my mother. Everyone realized that while time seemed to stay still in that pickup lobby of the airport.
“The stomachs have chosen!” Adrien declared, earning some eye rolls and laughter from the other four of us. His father explained that we’d be staying at their house. If it was anything like what Adrien had shown me over video chat, it was definitely big enough for all five of us. Adrien and his father were quick to grab our luggage and bring it out to their car while his mother asked me what I had been up to over the years. It was expected since the last time she had seen me in person I was maybe seven, and now I was turning fifteen. In hindsight, I did not give her much information of importance. I still had my nerdy little hobbies and interests, and had no clue what I really wanted to do when I graduated high school or “secondary school” in less than two years from that point. The entire talk was frivolous and I was much more concerned with what I would be looking forward to during our vacation. While Adrien and his family were sweethearts, I was not sure about the rest of the rather intimidating city, let alone country. I guess Adrien realized this because he promised me he would work as a translator during the trip.
“In France,” he suggested, “it would not be a shock for the man to speak for the woman when ordering food or asking for directions. It’s thought of as a gentlemanly trait. We can just act like we’re dating and no one would think anything of it!”
We always teased each other over the idea of us dating if not for an entire ocean separating us and, to my surprise, his plan worked throughout the trip. But on this day I was very happy that he translated for me, considering the car stopped outside a bakery called the Boulangerie Guyot Geraldine. It was a small bakery with big baked goods. The baguettes were the length of swords and there were bear claws the size of my face. The macarons were every bright and beautiful color of a pastel rainbow and everything had a glazed finish. I needed it, all of it.
“Go ahead and order, hun.” Mother smiled at me and after supportive nods from Adrien’s parents I stepped forward, up to the glass casing and very shyly called the attention of the women behind the counter.
“Je suis désolé?”
I was extremely nervous, not wanting my first French mess-up to be in a bakery I wanted to live in at that moment. I must have been strangling Adrien’s hand with my own because he stepped beside me and in a cheerful but far too speedy way ordered a hot chocolate and coffee per person, and a bag of pastries I would later find out were macarons, blondie brownies, mille-feuille, red velvet and lemon cupcakes, and of course those bear claws. We sat down outside at one of those stereotypical cafe tables I’ve seen in every Parisian painting and movie and a waitress came to us with our order a few minutes later. Everything still had that golden glaze and sweet scent. I got to eat a bear claw first, Adrien took a couple pictures when I wasn’t paying attention and it was not the size of my face after all. It was bigger.
My favorite moment was when we ate the macarons. Mine was a mix of strawberry and cherry, his was green tea and chamomile. Red and green swirled to puffy perfection. A sweet elderly woman had come out to see how we liked everything and gave us the macaron recipe after Adrien asked. She said we would have to figure out the last secret ingredient on our own, but it was not that hard to figure out: sweetened condensed milk. At the cafe and at his home, our mothers thought of Christmas, but Adrien, his father, and I knew differently. That year, even though we were an ocean apart, we cosplayed Ladybug and Chat Noir for Halloween, his father was Hawkmoth. We made those macarons together over video chat and stayed in, watching episodes of our favorite show with bowls of our favorite pastry in hand.