Chapter One



Into the Vines by Kim Troike

Copyright © 2015 by Kim Troike.
ISBN: Softcover 978-1-5035-2030-1 eBook 978-1-5035-2029-5
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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CHAPTER ONE Don’t Forget Me

DANIELA TURNED THE volume up in her black Jeep, so she could sing along to her new favorite song. Adele was singing her hit number ‘Someone Like You’ in her soulful voice. It occurred to Daniela she liked sad songs as they made her feel so alive. Intense feelings or emotions came to the surface and made her skin tingle. Daniela continued with as many lyrics as she’d remembered. Tunes like this didn’t make her cry; they just made her dream of possibilities in her own life. Happy the night was over, Daniela reflected briefly on her patients in the ICU. Both of them were doing well and would likely be transferred to the general medicine floor in the morning, where their families could see them more. Her thoughts went to her dad, Dr. John Michaels. She was now a nurse thanks to him. He’d adopted her when her parents died tragically in a plane crash. He was the local medical doctor still administering healthcare to non-payers; everyone respected and admired him. She enjoyed nursing, and she poured her heart and soul into it-something her patients had told her many times. She guessed she had picked the right profession, at least most of the time she believed this, but on rare occasions, she found herself dreaming of her other passions. Her cell phone rang, bringing her out of her thoughts. She answered noting the caller ID read Joy, her friend.

“Hey, girlfriend, where are you? A few of us are meeting at the Stone House for drinks. Can you make it?” Joy chimed away.

“You are? Well, maybe. I’m on my way home. What time is it now?” Daniela asked as she looked at the clock on the dash.

“Daniela, come out. You never do anything. We want to see you. Jeff’s meeting us too!” Joy gleefully added, thinking of her boyfriend.

“Okay, will do. See you in about fifteen minutes or so.”

“Great. We’ll be in the cellar below the restaurant.” Joy said relieved, adding, “See you soon, girl.” Daniela hung up and immediately realized that once again, she would be going out in her nurse uniform, which was neither attractive nor practical, and she made a mental note to keep a change of clothes in her car at all times for the future. Turning off the highway, she headed back to town. The Stone House was new to her, and she liked it. Built from the local quarry, it was made completely from stone and had several hidden rooms in the cellar. It wasn’t the typical nightclub or bar. The place definitely made her smile with its uniqueness as she wondered how old it was. She also couldn’t wait to see her friends. Summer was here, and who knew? Maybe this year there would be someone special just for her. She was hopeful. Where on earth did you meet someone in such a small town? Maybe that was part of the reason why she wanted to escape out into the big world.

Down the road, she saw a car approaching, and there was nothing else around but scattered farmhouses amidst fields of corn. Then her headlights caught a deer in her lane and caused her to slow; in a split second it moved to the other lane, only to stop again. What happened next came so fast, but she remembered every hair-raising moment. The other driver swerved to avoid the deer and traveled in what seemed like slow motion across her lane. Daniela pushed her foot to the brake hard, managing to stop her car while her hands froze solid on the steering wheel. Her eyes took in the oncoming horror as the other vehicle hit a telephone pole dead on. As her vehicle came to a stop, it had moved doing a one-eighty-degree turn and now she faced the back end of the stopped car.

“Oh my God . . . oh, my God!” she breathily said, her chest heaving. She was having trouble focusing, while she blinked rapidly several times before opening her door and jumping out to run to the other car. Through the back window she could see a car seat with a small head just above the edge. Gasping, she opened the rear door and looked in to find a small child strapped inside. Grappling with the seat belt, she found the lock mechanism and glanced to the front at the driver’s seat. The person there, presumably the mother, seemed to be slumped, lifeless, and bloody. She looked at the child again, into his frightened eyes that beckoned for her help.

“Please . . . help my Momma,” he said, pointing to the driver. She grabbed him and swiftly pulled him out of the car, then ran to her Jeep. He clung to her with his head down and his little fists holding her shirt tightly. Daniela put him in her Jeep and reached for her phone to dial 911. Just then, she heard an explosion, and a small fire ignited in the engine of the car. The boy yelled out, “My momma! I want my momma!”

“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?” the lady on the phone answered.

“I have a little boy. His mother’s in the car and it’s just caught on fire. I’ll try to get her,” Daniela said quickly.

“If it’s on fire, better to stay back,” cautioned the operator. “I’ll send a fire truck and ambulance immediately. Tell me your location.” She gave the street location and estimated how far from the last turn.

Daniela turned looking at the little boy, who cried, “I want my momma, please!” Tears streamed down his red cheeks. Daniela gave him a big hug, squeezing him tightly, and said, “Okay. Stay here and I’ll do my best.” Frantic at this point, she took in a deep breath, and ran back to the car to see if the fire had spread, but she didn’t get very far. A loud explosion shook her, the heat and fire burning her face and forcing her eyes shut, and she was blasted backwards from the impact. She had to get away, she kept thinking, and she began to panic. Her heart raced as she picked herself up and ran back to her Jeep.

As she reached the little boy, sirens sounded and the police and fire crews arrived on the scene. She kissed the boy’s forehead and held him tight as he closed his eyes. At that moment, Daniela cried for the loss he would feel for the rest of his life, wondering if he would remember this terrible night.

Dr. Michaels arrived on the scene and found Daniela holding the little boy. He gave both of them a light hug and asked the little boy his name. “Francis,” he said, taking a deep breath. “Francis Stauder.”

“Dad, I did what I could,” Daniela said, shaking her head back and forth before adding in a whisper, “I just couldn’t get her out. I couldn’t get there in time. The car exploded.”

“You are so brave, and you did what you could, sweetie. You are a hero to this little boy, forever,” Dr. Michaels said to his daughter, patting her cheek softly with his arm still around her. “I was told you ran to the car, even though it was on fire.” He had such respect for her as he held her tight, this special girl he had helped to raise. “Joy called and said you two had a date tonight. She will be wondering where you are. I told her I had just received a phone call from the police. I explained about the accident, but you’ll need to call her when you get a chance. I know she’ll be worried!”

“I will. Thanks, Dad, for coming. You’ve been a big help.” Daniela said amazed at how calm her dad could be in an emergency. She hoped some of this had rubbed off on her, and possibly it may have . . . An elderly woman, who had arrived just minutes ago, came over to her and held her hands out for the little boy.

“Francis, dear, oh baby, come here,” she said. “He’s my grandson.” Once she had hugged Francis and kissed him, she turned to Daniela and mouthed a thank you. She stood there with her eyes closed and hugged him for what seemed like an eternity. The whole thing was just tragic. How dreadful for them! How would they deal with this? She wanted to tell her she wished she could have done more but decided that no words would be sufficient at this time. Silence was best. Daniela blinked a couple of times and shook her head, mostly in despair. She knew what it was like not to have your parents around. People took them for granted, not treating them well or not saying I love you. Didn’t they know a beloved parent or child could be gone forever, just like that, just like tonight?

Several days later, Dr. Michaels handed Daniela a brochure from a travel agency and said, “I think you should look at this. We talked about this the other day, and with what you have been through, this may be the perfect time.”

“French Cooking School? You want me to go to a French cooking school in the Loire Valley?!” Daniela exclaimed. Her eyes grew big as she began to read aloud from the pamphlet. “Learn to cook the French way in the Walnut Grove kitchen at Volnay-Lavalle Vineyard in the Loire Valley. This is an exclusive private vineyard near Chateau de Chambord, where the valley meets the sea, the seaside where Monet spent his days of leisure, painting. Paris is a mere three hours away via an express train. Quaint cabins are available for our cooking students. What about my job? This is short notice.”

“You have a month off, if you want it. I saw your supervisor today at work.” John smiled. He knew she needed a little time off and would welcome the idea of Paris.

She waved the brochure in the air and yelled out, “I must call Joy! She’ll have to help me. I need to go shopping, like right now!” She kissed her dad and ran up the stairs to her room. Daniela continued reading the brochure upstairs. “Chateau de Chambord is French Renaissance in architecture, built in 1519, and is the largest castle in the Loire Valley. Originally built as a hunting lodge it took twenty years to construct and some have suggested Leonardo da Vinci may have had his hand in designing it. The owner, Francois, died and no one lived in it for a century.” Unbelievable thought Daniela. “Chateau Chambord was the inspiration for an animated film in 1991, Disney’s Beauty and The Beast, as the Beast’s castle.” Interesting, maybe I’ll find my beast she thought and laughed aloud. She felt as light as a butterfly, like she was floating and landing on individual flowers as she descended the stairs two at a time. Bet I get there and never want to come back to this town, she mused to herself.

Waving goodbye, she knew she was ready for this. Daniela did not like flying. She blamed the stomach twisting, chest tightening, and anxious thoughts on her parents long ago plane crash, but she bounded for the gate with her bag full of new clothes, nonetheless, showing no hesitation. She was going to Paris! I wish I had taken a French class or listened to audio books or something. I know nothing! Oh, well, I’ll just have to wing it, she mused, as she boarded the plane.

The flight attendant, a pretty French woman with dark hair and red lips, set her up for a movie with ear buds and took her drink order. “Mademoiselle Daniela, champagne for you. Please enjoy!” said the flight attendant with a light, gorgeous accent. She handed her the small bottle and a glass filled with bubbly. Ooh la la, thought Daniela, thinking like a French gal, as she giggled. She sipped her champagne as she leaned back to watch the in-flight film in French, wanting to immerse herself in the culture as soon as possible. The male protagonist was very smooth talking and extremely handsome, and so far the plot seemed to involve him taking some beauty on a moped to the seashore. Daniela was at two glasses of champagne by the time the plane was mid-Atlantic, and she didn’t have a care in the world. So much for being worried. Daniela drifted off and dreamt she was in a cabin, looking out the window towards the sea.

The Aegean Sea was a bright turquoise blue, and sparkling white caps were crashing against the sandy grey shore. The sky was washed denim, and she took it all in as her lover came up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders, pulling her into his chest. She shivered with anticipation and desire as his breath tickled her neck and his tongue traveled the outer shell of her ear. Daniela’s chest heaved, and his hands traveled down and moved lightly across her stomach. This sensation felt electric and radiated across her body. His right hand traveled up searching until he pushed her shoulder into him, causing her to gasp in pleasure. Turning her head, she met his mouth and they kissed luxuriously.
Daniela took a deep breath, startled, and tasted her lips, expecting something besides champagne. She had fallen asleep and had been awakened by a dreamy kiss. She straightened herself in her seat, embarrassed, before getting up to go to the bathroom. Champagne . . . Flying . . . Crazy dreams. Good dreams.

When she was done, she returned to her seat. “You okay?” asked the lady next to her.

“Yes, sorry, I was dreaming. Did I snore or anything?” Daniela asked sheepishly.

“No, but you said a couple times, I want, I want.” Her seat companion smirked a bit. “Oh, I did?” Daniela was wide-eyed now and blushing.

“What do you want, girl?” asked the lady.

“Well, probably to escape from all my troubles as of late,” Daniela said. That sounded much more appropriate than asking for a French kiss.

“Prepare to land,” she instructed Daniela, “the captain came on when you were gone.”

Landings were the hardest part for Daniela. Oh, how she loathed them. She always waited for the plane to slow down to what she assumed in her mind was about sixty to one hundred mph, after which she figured even if it did crash, she would probably survive. This fear of flying, she realized, would never go away. But she knew she was brave and most likely could conquer anything that confronted her. That thought made her smile.

“We made it,” the lady said. “Where are you headed, my dear?”

“I am going to cooking school!” Daniela exclaimed.

“What a coincidence! Me too! Let’s see . . . Paris, then a fast train to Le Mans and on to the vineyard, the Volnay-Lavalle Vineyard, with its own cooking school.”

“The Loire Valley, they say, is like a huge vineyard, and it goes from Orleans all the way to the coast!” Daniela could hardly contain her excitement.

“Yes . . . that’s what they say,” Brie politely acknowledged. “I’m Brie Kelly, from Savannah. Nice to meet you,” Brie stated proudly, offering Daniela her hand.

“Daniela Michaels, I’m from Cleveland, Ohio,” Daniela put forth and added, “pleased to meet you, also.”

“Time for departure . . . Paris, here we come.” Brie was rather excited to see what she’d been missing. Brie Kelly stepped aside, allowing Daniela Michaels to be first off the plane. Daniela couldn’t wipe the grin off her face; she breathed in the air, so glad to be back on land and ready to discover. They traveled through the airport to the TGV station in terminal 2. Daniela spun around and flashed her grin at Brie, and then high-fived her, not caring if she thought her crazy.

Daniela was glad that Joy had accompanied her shopping prior to the trip, and she was especially pleased with her new hairdo, a short chin length blunt cut with caramel highlights accenting her natural brunette color. Daniela had never cared much for her appearance before, or doing much about it, but with her new hairstyle and fashionable new wardrobe, she couldn’t help but feel a bit diva-like, like a new woman. Her new jeans fit like a million bucks, and Joy had picked out a black sweater for Daniela to wear, saying that black was always in style. The sweater fit like a glove and had a scoop neck. Daniela was wearing her favorite necklace, which had cost only six bucks, from Claire’s of all places. There were three lucky charms hooked to that necklace: a rhinestone studded horseshoe, a four-leaf clover, and the word ‘Luck.’ Large hammered copper circles dangled from both ears and a citrine ring completed her ensemble.

Brie informed Daniela that this trip was to celebrate her fortieth birthday, and it was a present for her, something long overdue. Brie was a knockout, dressed to the nines and very avant-garde. She had below the shoulder length blonde hair, a perfect figure, and she was every bit the sophisticated woman her name indicated. Daniela knew she would enjoy getting to know this lady named Brie and maybe learn a few things from her, hopefully, beginning with her confidence and ease. Maybe she’d learn how to say a few words southern style. “I don’t know about you but I’m starved. We have been in a car, on a plane, now on a train . . . and who knows what’s next?” Brie sounded exasperated. The attendants passed out sparkling water and ham and cheese croissant sandwiches with sides of fruit. Both napped after lunch. Departing from the train they took a taxi to the vineyard. The taxi ride would be about thirty to forty-five minutes and the two couldn’t help but turn their heads to capture the view out the windows. Magnificent colors of green and gold, as there was yellow mustard growing between some of the vines and purple lavender everywhere. The hillsides were majestic and ever-so often an old castle appeared. This was new for both of them.

“There you go, Mademoiselles. Enjoy!” The taxi driver brought their luggage into the main house, which was very old and very large, a Baroque styled mansion. The black wrought iron gate in front lined the pathway and surrounded the house, giving it a regal look, and there were colored flowers and greenery surrounding the property. Walking inside through the heavy, ornate, dark wooden door, Daniela felt she had just stepped back a few centuries in time.

She headed for the front desk and noticed a television broadcasting the cable news channel in the lobby. On the TV was a little child of maybe three or four years in age holding an old guitar with a few missing strings. She was pretending to play it, singing a song. Children ran around behind her in and out of tents. The TV caption read: Children Are Starving. The commentator asked, “Thousands are on their way to camps escaping the drought. Will they make it?” Daniela shook her head. These children were starving and here she was to make food, very fancy food. How ironic. Put the thought out of your nurse brain, and relax she told herself. The weatherman seemed to be indicating a warm and pleasant twenty-four degrees Celsius that day for Paris and the Loire Valley region, which sounded fantastic to Daniela.

“There you go, ladies. Pierre will take you to the cabins via the golf cart. We know you will enjoy,” said Marie, who had introduced herself as the chef of the Walnut Grove kitchen. She smiled at them and pointed to a table where a chilled bottle of champagne awaited their parched, thirsty lips.

“Well, why not? We’ve arrived!” Brie giggled and poured them a small glass each before toasting to a wonderful trip and the weeks ahead here at the cooking school.

“To Brie, and me, and France,” Daniela said with a smile and toasted her new friend and new country.

“To France, tomorrow.” Brie tasted her champagne, and it tasted mighty fine.

The next day, they met up at the main house in the kitchen. Their instructor, Nicolas, a likeable man with dimples and a toned body, was already there. His eyes sparkled with joy, and his smile lit up the room. Daniela easily adored him right off the mark. Brie saw her checking him out and nudged her a little, whispering, “Step back, he’s taken. I saw him kissing our chef, Marie.”

Daniela quickly chuckled. “What? You think I’m on the prowl?” asked Daniela.

“Yep, he’s taken, so withdraw, make a new battle plan,” Brie said with a roll of her eyes and some serious smirk.

“Now that everyone is here, I want to welcome you to the cooking school, the Walnut Grove kitchen in the beautiful Loire Valley at the Volnay-Lavalle Vineyards. I hope you come away refreshed and with a new talent to boot, French cooking!” Nicolas winked and in a charming vernacular, began his introduction.

“He’s a charmer, Brie. Is this how they grow them in France? So suave, assured . . . ooh la la. I like!” Daniela showed her enthusiasm.

“Oh, honey, I have heard that about France, and I believe we are in for a treat—and not just the baked kind.” Brie raised her eyebrows high and pursed her mouth slightly as she let out a laugh.

“Basically, ladies and gents, you have five days of class this week and five next week, with scheduled days off. These would be good days to go to Paris, Mont Saint. Michel, or the coast,” Nicolas informed the group. “The following Saturday is the final meal preparation; a fine elegant French dinner, with which all of you will assist. I am the sommelier, and I will instruct you not only on wines and champagnes but also cheeses and desserts! Bon appetit!” he said and winked again at the group, nodding at Daniela. Nicolas then greeted Marie and introduced her.

She began, “Hello, everyone, I’m delighted to meet you. We will get better acquainted this afternoon, as per schedule. Nicolas will take you around the vineyard and school for a tour, provide you with lunch, and I’ll see you after that.” The classes would consist of four students each to one instructor, switching at lunchtime. All the other guests were from America, and one newlywed couple was from Ireland. A mother-daughter duo came from Green Bay named Sylvia and Joan, and they were paired with the honeymooners named Allie and Craig. Brie and Daniela were paired with a couple from Miami named Thomas and Eric.

The vineyard was gorgeous and well maintained. There were beautiful paths to roam along and explore with miles of gently rolling hills in this valley and the Loire River beyond. The painted fence contained the grape vines and seemed to go on forever, as far as the eye could see. It was mid-summer so things were in bloom with white blossoms and greenery throughout. She would definitely have to check out the grapes if there were any yet on the vines. Out the back of the chateau or mansion were flowers hanging off the pergola and all around the house. The colors of the roses ran from peach and pinks to deep rose or scarlet and were sweet smelling, too. Bundles of Russian Lavender spilled out into the garden’s eating area. She saw a white tablecloth over a round table with a pitcher atop and glasses surrounding it. She swallowed knowing she was thirsty. Daniela’s eyes feasted upon this beauty that drenched her soul, making her feel as though she was seven again and in a fairyland. It was as though a fairy godmother might appear and grant her every wish.

Smiling, she pulled herself together and came back to reality, finding Brie who looked exhilarated, also. Brie pointed out the gorgeous blue and rose hydrangeas near the chateau to the newlyweds, who seemed to be eyeing the cabins beyond the gardens. On Monday, the second day of class, Daniela looked at her schedule and noted it was marked for vegetables and fruit prep with Marie. This excited her, as she had always wanted to learn more ways to prepare vegetables, especially with herbs. She and Brie were together today.

“Good morning, class, bonjour!” Marie smiled warmly and welcomed all. “Before we begin this morning, we shall take a short walk to the garden.” Marie walked them out through the back door, and they followed her down a stone path lined with small grey boulders. On each side, tall flowers with orange blossoms and roses with fuchsia colored petals greeted them. Ahead of them lay trimmed hedges meandering along the curvy path until they reached a clearing that housed an immense garden. A small white cottage with green shutters was next to the garden. Beyond that, Daniela could see the Loire River, and the path that led to it. She made a note to check it out when she had more time. Beauty was everywhere, and it overwhelmed her as she looked over at Marie. Warmth exuded from this woman, starting with her smile and continuing right down to her mannerisms. Marie looked inquisitively at Daniela. “What do you love the most? Which is your favorite vegetable?”

Daniela took a deep breath, and her eyes glossed over. She blinked, and her throat went dry. “Marie, you remind me of someone.” She paused wondering if this was the right time. She continued. “You remind me of my mother. My mother loved her garden. She used to send me out to pick beans and strawberries all the time.” A single tear rolled gently down Daniela’s face as she thought of her mom.

“Oh, honey, she must have been special and sweet. I’m flattered I remind you of someone so special. This is an honor,” Marie said quietly, and she came up next to Daniela and wrapped her arm around her shoulders.

And with those tender words, Daniela let the tears flow. She smiled back at Marie. “I’m sorry, I just miss my mom.” She had liked this woman instantly and enjoyed the comfort she gave. Marie directed her attention to the rest of the class.

“Over here is the vegetable garden. We need carrots and green beans, as well as herbs. The items are listed on the sheet. Brie, honey, you pick the herbs.”

“Daniela, sweetie, you okay, dear?” she asked. Daniela nodded and began gathering the vegetables with some of her other classmates.

Back in the kitchen, everyone set about assembling, cutting and looking over the recipes before them. Daniela noticed that Marie was just about to put her apron on when Nicolas appeared in the doorway and gave her a nod to come talk with him. “Carry on, class. I’ll be just a moment or two.” Daniela moved so she could see them better, and she noticed Nicolas put one hand around her waist as his other hand caressed her face before he leaned in and whispered in her ear. Marie smiled softly and closed her eyes contentedly as Nicolas tenderly kissed her forehead. Daniela felt a blush creep up her cheeks, realizing she had just been privy to a very intimate moment between the couple, and she lowered her gaze.

Brie noticed and helped Daniela to re-focus on the task at hand. “Daniela, dear, come help me here with the herbs for the green beans and almond dish.” Marie returned to class, and Daniela watched as Nicolas couldn’t take his eyes off her as she made her way back. It was easy to see that he loved her deeply. Daniela knew that was what love looked like, or she hoped, and she thought it was beautiful. Her own parents, when she was quite young, used to push her on the swing set behind their home. She had loved it. Then when it had been time for her to go inside and get a drink, she would look out and see them kissing and looking so sweetly into each others eyes. Her dad had been so gentle and soft spoken, telling her mom to take her for a bath and he would clean up the kitchen from dinner. If he was stressed, he had not showed it, just smiles and love. Her dad worshiped her mom. That was Daniela’s conclusion. Brie had told her that Marie was in her forties and that Nicolas was younger, though quite mature for his age. He certainly looks happy, Daniela thought to herself. She did not find it odd as she was used to seeing older men with younger women relationships back home in America. Why couldn’t it be the opposite?

The next morning Daniela peeked out the cabin window after showering and noticed children running around the open grassy field.

“What’s up, Daniela?” Brie asked upon seeing her puzzled expression.

“There are children playing outside. I know Marie has twins, but I’m counting about seven or eight now. I wonder if they’re all Marie’s.”

“I have no idea,” Brie said, after taking a peek out the window. “Come, let’s wear sundresses today! I’m feeling Parisian.” Brie pulled out her dresses, which she had purchased from some of the finest shops in Savannah. She, of course, had the shoes to match, as well as the handbags.

“Fabulous! Milady!” Daniela pulled out a floral sundress of her own and a pair of golden leather sandals but then looked up at Brie. “But how will I cook in this?” Daniela laughed at the idea but then decided she didn’t really care. When they were dressed, Daniela and Brie walked to the main house, and along the way they noticed the children again. This time, she saw they were pointing up to the sky, where she saw a small airplane performing flying maneuvers, a loop de loop, overhead. She knew a little about flying from reading and talking with her uncle about her parents. “Maybe the kids know the pilot,” Daniela shouted over the sound of the airplane.

“They are certainly excited!” Brie added. “Goodness, we are late, let’s hurry up, Daniela!”

When they were finished with their morning class, Marie informed her students that they would be having lunch outside on the patio with a special guest who’d just arrived. The patio itself was covered with a pergola that was wisteria entrenched, though it had already bloomed. Daniela noticed lights were strung up all around the outside, under the trees, and across the dance floor, which was situated off to the corner. Lunch consisted of a starter with prosciutto ham and farmer’s cheese on homemade croissants, followed by a simple salad of greens from the garden and a quiche using the eggs from the hen house, all of which had been made or collected by the class. Brie had made the drink today which was a favorite of hers from the South, consisting of half lemonade and half sweet tea.

“Oh, Daniela, what will we do when we have to leave and go back to meals at home?” Brie said with a laugh. Before Daniela could respond, seven or eight little ones came out the back door with plates in their hands to join the class. Three of them called Marie, Aunt Marie, while the rest gave a nod or half smile.

“Here he comes!” shouted a little boy. He pointed to the sky, where a plane was descending down below a few trees in the opposite direction of the river.

“Momma, can we go see him before lunch? Please! Please!” The twins asked of Marie.

“Go! Yes, go follow Elise and Erika, all of you!” Marie directed the bunch to go with her children. Ten minutes or so later they all sat outside with glasses of champagne and took in the beauty of the day and the vineyard. The children returned and with them a tall slender bronze haired man, who laughed and strolled along with them. They dragged him rather exuberantly, and Daniela couldn’t help but wonder who this mysterious stranger was?

“Mr. Olivier, how long will you stay?” asked Erika, one of the twins.

“What did you bring us?” inquired little Jackie.

“Come eat some lunch!” demanded Elise, twin sister to Erika.

“Okay, that sounds wonderful.” Olivier managed to squeeze in.

“Pick me up!” said one of the smallest. The children were beside themselves as they shouted questions, one after the other. Daniela watched the scene before her, fascinated.

She smiled and nodded to Olivier, when he acknowledged her with a brilliant smile. Her heart sped up and skipped a beat, and she took a deep breath, which caused Olivier to smirk and make his way towards her. Nicolas joined the group and sat down next to Marie and Brie, and he then chatted to a few classmates. “Enjoying some champagne, I see.”

“Hi, I’m Olivier, and you are . . .” the stranger held out a hand.

“I’m Daniela. It’s so nice to meet you.” Daniela smiled. She felt drawn to this man and did not want to cease eye contact. Olivier sat next to Daniela and began a conversation with the others.

“How’s the littlest one doing? Eating well?” Olivier asked. “Did the doctor come by last week?” Marie assured him that all was well, miraculously, and that the boy would make a full recovery. Daniela was curious, as she saw Olivier smile at this and his shoulders relax, as he sat back and ate lunch. Olivier then raised his glass of champagne and proposed a toast in French before he translated it in English. He said, “To the students, thanks for a wonderful lunch, and to Marie and Nicolas, thank you for your wonderful hospitality! Cheers!”

After mingling for a while, Olivier asked Daniela if she would care to join him in the kitchen. Once inside, the two of them set about cleaning up, Daniela thought Olivier a total gentleman for doing the dishes without having to be asked—not that he should have had to, considering he was a guest. Her mind spun a little as she wasn’t quite sure of herself, and she smiled as she joined him at the sink. Standing next to Olivier, she couldn’t help but notice how tall he really was, and she spent more time admiring his wavy hair than she did helping him at the sink.

Olivier began to ask Daniela a few questions about herself, so she relaxed a bit and told her history to him—some of it, anyway. Daniela dried the glass plates, and when the sink was nearly empty, she reached out for the last plate, which Olivier had just finished scrubbing, and accidentally brushed his hand with hers. This small touch tightened the muscles in her hand and forearm, and she felt a little flutter in the area below her ribs. Olivier let the water out of the sink, smiled at her and rinsed this last plate; his fingers pulsed around the edges. He then handed it to Daniela keeping a hold on it to tease her, causing her to giggle. She wanted to ask him so many questions but decided on one. “How long are you staying?”

He glanced over at her again, smiling, raised his eyebrows and asked, “Well, how long are you staying?”

Immediately, Daniela thought he was brazen, bold, and apparently unafraid, especially, when he put the emphasis on the word you. But when she looked into his eyes, they were light and playful and she didn’t know what to think. “I’m here for the two-week cooking school, which ends next week,” Daniela replied.

“Well, we don’t have much time then, do we?” he whispered. Daniela wasn’t sure she liked that last statement, but when he smiled at her, it looked so genuine that she couldn’t help but smile back. She was pretty sure she had just been charmed by a Frenchman, and she liked it. When Daniela finished putting away the dried dishes, Olivier walked her out to the patio to join the others, and went to find the children to continue playing with them. Daniela left him to his games and decided to go for a swim instead in the pool, something to get her mind off this stranger named Olivier.

“Today is day five. Don’t forget, you have tomorrow and Sunday off to enjoy at your leisure. I hope you enjoyed sleeping in this morning. Beef and game are on the menu today.” Marie began the lesson and Daniela’s mind wandered off as she thought about Olivier’s smirk from the day before. She hadn’t seen him again after his visit, although she had secretly hoped she would when she and Brie had gone for their morning stroll before class. Everyone in class started talking about their plans for the weekend. Daniela had not yet made hers because frankly, she didn’t know what she wanted to do. Actually, she did. She just wasn’t sure she had a willing partner as yet.

“I’m tired, Daniela, and I’ve got an early train tomorrow. Lights out for me, I’m afraid,” Brie said, smiling at her new friend.

“You’ll be all right by yourself tomorrow?” Brie asked, though she knew Daniela would be fine.

“You may come with me if you like.”

“Of course, I’ll be okay. Have a good night, Brie. I’m not tired yet. I think I’ll read out on the back porch,” Daniela said, retreating with her book and a candle in the other hand. After about an hour, Daniela decided to head up to the main house for a glass of wine. She found a bottle of pinot noir and poured a glass, noticing how quiet it was in the main house tonight. No one seemed to be around, so she decided to take the bottle with her and set out on the trail.

In spite of the dark night, she was able to find her way by the light of the full moon. The path took a left turn around some tall hedges, and she heard singing in the distance, which seemed to be coming from lower down by the river. She wondered who could be singing, she followed the path and headed towards the melodic voice. Pretty soon, she could see the river, large and flowing calmly to her left, and to her right was a campfire with three people sitting around, the flames from the fire glowing on their faces.

“Welcome, Daniela! You found us. Please come and join our fun!” Nicolas called out to her. She could see it was Marie and Nicolas along with Olivier, who was playing guitar and singing. Daniela looked at the guitar—it resembled one she had seen recently but couldn’t remember where. She held up her wine bottle and glass for them to see. “Here, come sit and relax. Olivier’s music will put you right to sleep,” Marie said jokingly. “Good choice with the pinot noir, by the way. Nicolas gives you high marks for that one.”

“Let’s see . . . a campfire, wine, and Olivier’s music . . . It sounds like a lullaby that would put a baby to sleep,” Nicolas said softly, teasing his brother and putting his head to Marie’s cheek. Nicolas winked at Daniela, and she smiled back. She almost felt a brotherly kinship with Nicolas, as he always made her feel at ease. Daniela looked longingly at Nicolas and Marie, thinking they made quite a pair. Earlier today, she had found out the whole story. Marie was a three-star chef and Nicolas, her boyfriend, was the co-owner of the private vineyard. She did not know the other owner’s name, only that Nicolas’s parents had left him the vineyard five years ago, and he had since built it into a first class destination, complete with a private airport and cooking school.

Olivier continued playing the guitar and singing. At one point, he broke out into a comical lyric and sang, “Roses are red, violets are blue, my heart beckons, unto dear you.” He smiled at Daniela, who was now blushing; her cheeks felt like they were burning hot. Olivier began another song, and Daniela decided to close her eyes, enjoying the sound of his voice. She must have nodded off, though, because the next thing she knew, Olivier was whispering to her, “Daniela, let me walk you back. I think you’re ready for bed.” He then added, “Thanks, bro, for fixing my guitar. New strings are just what it needed. Much appreciated.”

“Hey, you two are brothers? I think I see the resemblance,” Daniela remarked.

“Never,” Olivier spoke, “will he admit it.” And then he laughed.

Walking along the path, Olivier asked Daniela. “Are you warm enough? It can get chilly down by the river.”

“Thank you, but I feel very warm at the moment,” she said with a sleepy smile. She had just met this man yesterday, and she could hardly take her eyes off him. What made him so beautiful? Was it his eyes, the crook in his smile, the way he looked at her—or maybe it was all of the above? She wondered if he was attracted to her. Tonight he wore a V-neck undershirt and old, faded blue jeans. She noticed a silver chain around his neck with a medallion on it and asked to see it.

“This? Oh, yes, this is St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. Someone gave this to me a few months ago.” He said this very softly and held it out for her to see before kissing the medallion letting it fall back in place. He winked at Daniela and continued walking up the path, which led to the main house and her cabin. He walked her to her door, and she turned to thank him and say good night.

Olivier leaned in and braced himself with his left hand against the wall of the cabin, towering over Daniela. She looked up and became mesmerized by Olivier’s green eyes, feeling intoxicated. “I want to kiss you,” he whispered and waited for her response.

“I want that, too.” Daniela felt a warmth travel through her. Olivier touched her cheek softly and traced from her jawline to her lips, where he pulled her lower lip down with his thumb and paused there, beckoning Daniela to respond for him. When she did, he guided her back against the wall, and Olivier met her soft lips with a surge of surprising boldness. Their kiss became passionate. His hand then reached for the back of her neck, and he played with her hair. She could feel his kiss throughout her whole body, and opening her eyes, she saw his passion written all over his face. His eyes steadied upon her, drawing her in, and Daniela slid her hands up to his neck and then moved them down his chest. She needed to feel his skin on her hands, to feel how real he was. She broke away and breathed deeply before giving Olivier a chaste kiss on the cheek. “I’m going in . . . I need to go . . . I should go now.”

“You should go.” Olivier lowered his gaze to the ground and continued, “Sleep well, Daniela. Don’t forget to put me in your dreams.” With a kiss placed gently upon her hand, he turned and left. Daniela awoke early and made coffee. Walking around the cabin, she noticed a letter had been slid under the front door. Picking it up, she saw her name penciled on the front in neat cursive. Brie had already left for Paris for the weekend, so the letter must have been dropped off after she had gone. Intrigued, Daniela opened the letter and saw it was from Olivier.


I want to show you the vineyard and go swimming. Will you join me? Be ready by 11 o’clock.

See you then,

St. Nicholas

Smiling, she looked at the clock and saw that it was 8:30, meaning she had plenty of time to prepare herself. She couldn’t wait. She was nearly trembling with excitement. Olivier arrived and they loaded up the mule, a special golf cart to take them across this gorgeous vineyard, which seemed to go off into the horizon.

Olivier continued on to the orchards, which consisted of apple, peach, and cherry trees. Stopping there and getting out, he climbed a ladder, picked a small handful of cherries from one tree to feed to Daniela. They were delicious. Vineyards, gardens and orchards . . . Daniela decided she could get used to all this organic goodness. Olivier took her for a spin to a large garden she had not seen before. He explained the kind of vegetation that was planted there and when it would be harvested. He seemed to know more than she would have guessed about the land surrounding the cooking school, and this impressed her. They returned to the vineyard, descended from the mule and walked along rows of fresh grape leaves and new vines while they looked for a place to picnic.

When they had finally found the perfect spot, Olivier laid down the blanket he packed for the trip and said, “My favorite of all the grapes is the pinot noir, due to its temperament and delicacy. The grapes are light and the taste endures, with a fullness that rounds out the palate. Does that make sense? Now I sound like my brother, Nicolas.” Olivier laughed at himself, found the bottle of wine and opened it for them.

“Yes, it makes sense! I brought a few appetizers from cooking class you might enjoy,” Daniela introduced her basket of goodies. Sharing some pinot noir and several cheeses, Daniela had Olivier describe a few types of cheese to her.

“Ah, it is so buttery, smoky, and very delicious.” Olivier eyed Daniela and let out a laugh and shook his head. Daniela noticed how calm and relaxed Olivier was today, unlike the previous night at her door when things had been so tense. He had drawn her to him with such a fire; she had felt his need and desire, which had so perfectly matched her own, but today he was a gentleman.

Today, there was no rush, no worries, and it seemed like time was standing still, with nothing bothering either of them. A little bird chirped on one of the fence posts, and Daniela looked over at it and up to the beautiful blue sky. Blissful and light, she felt weightless at this moment.

Looking at Olivier, Daniela felt a heat rising to her cheeks, and her lower lip tingled. Her eyes began to glaze over with longing, which did not go unnoticed by him. He reached out and touched her delicate chin, gliding two fingers down her neck and resting them at the base of her throat. They eyed each other longingly, both wondering what was happening between them. Olivier was lying on his side, whereas Daniela was sitting up with her legs crossed. He did not pull back his touch but rather moved his fingers slowly down her chest. Reaching the center of her rib cage, he paused and looked up at her. She leaned into him and began to kiss him softly and innocently. It was the most perfect date Daniela had ever experienced.

Daniela woke early in her cabin the next morning. Brie was set to return later that day, and she couldn’t wait to hear all about Paris. Daniela thought perhaps she should have gone too, but she was holding out until the following week, after school had finished but before the finale. She wasn’t sure what she would tell her roommate about her kissing Olivier.

Was this anything more than a Frenchman flirting with an American?

Daniela wasn’t sure why she decided to ignore the usual angst she experienced at the beginnings of a relationship even though it was her nature to worry. Her need to over-analyze had pretty much driven her adult life, severing any chances she had previously had at romance. Was no one good enough for her or was she just too afraid to leave her father all by himself after everything he had done for her?

While stirring around the kitchen, thinking about making some coffee and breakfast, she noticed another envelope under the front door. “What? Again? No way . . .” she exclaimed to herself.


I had such a wonderful time yesterday. Did you? Let me take you out for coffee. Meet me near the Ramble Garden at 9 o’clock.

She looked at the clock on the wall and realized she would have no time for a shower, as it was 8:40. She ran to get dressed quickly, and put her hair in a French twist. She wore white capris, black leather flats, and a loose purple peasant shirt. She looked stylish in a simple way, and she thought it fit the mood she was feeling—a little Parisian. She hurried to the Ramble Garden and found Olivier waiting on a bicycle.

“Hop on! I’ll pedal us to get our coffee.” Olivier smiled as she got on the seat behind him, and he took off once her hands were firmly secured around his waist.

“Are you pedaling us to Paris?” Daniela asked sarcastically, after a while. She breathed in his scent from his shirt and smiled.

“No. Patience, my dear,” Olivier quipped.

They passed a forest, and she took in the view of the Loire River. The path they were on traveled along the river, and she noticed that no one was out and about. Looking across the river, she spied a massive structure off in the distance. It looked like it could be a castle, so she pointed it out to Olivier for confirmation.

“That’s Chateau de Chambord across the way. It’s somewhat famous, I guess,” Olivier informed her.

“It’s beautiful!” Daniela proclaimed. She kept staring at it until she could no longer see it, entranced as she was by its beauty. When she turned her head back to see where they now were, she realized that Olivier was stopping at a beautiful little stone house.

“Here we are. Your coffee awaits!” Olivier said enthusiastically.

“Is this where you live? I mean, when you are here. You sleep here?” Daniela asked. “Out here by yourself?”

“It’s quiet, and I love it. Come inside,” Olivier said eagerly. He grabbed her hand and brought her into his little home by the river. It was simple and clean—and unbelievably did not resemble a bachelor pad.

“I hope you like it,” he said comfortably, to which Daniela nodded her head in obvious approval. “Um . . . let me get the coffee.” Daniela noticed that all the rooms blended into one large room. The kitchen and family room were on one end while the bedroom and sitting room were situated on the other end. A fireplace separated the large room in the middle. Olivier set out their coffees, and they sat at the kitchen table and talked.

“What do you do?” asked Daniela. “You know, for a living? Do you fly planes? Are you a commercial pilot?”

“Of sorts . . . it’s complicated. I do fly planes, and yes, I travel all the time. Let’s talk about that later as I want to hear about you, and what it is you do.”

Olivier sipped his coffee and waited for Daniela to talk about herself. And she did. She talked about her parents and their plane crash when she was twelve; Dr. Michaels adopted her and how well he has provided and cared for her. Daniela told him about nursing school and how it was the hardest thing she had ever done in her life. She told him how she wanted to be a professional tennis player or a clothing designer. Most of all she loved kids but would never work with sick ones in the hospital as this would break her heart.

Briefly they talked about the cooking school and her love of cooking.

Smiling he said, “Finished? I could listen to you all day.” He pulled out Daniela’s chair for her and said, “Come, please. Let’s dance,” said Olivier. “What kind of music do you like?”

“So much, really, um . . . I’m from Cleveland so we like to rock n roll. Springsteen is good. You choose.” Daniela said trying to think of other bands. The two of them began to dance around his little home by the river. He had captivated her in every way—her mind, body, and maybe now, a touch of her soul. The way he looked at her made her feel like she was special, like she was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on.

Somehow, Daniela felt more right, more womanly, than she’d ever felt before. Daniela felt like she was home; never had she felt so at peace and alive.

Sunday and Monday went by rather slowly, but Daniela didn’t mind, as she really preferred that the week not end. She had caught up with Brie and heard about her delightful trip to Paris. She realized Brie didn’t seem to ever run out of breath as she carried on and on about her new favorite city. Brie wanted to return there on her next trip abroad, since she had met a few people that she would continue to correspond with via the internet. What Daniela really hoped for was to see Olivier again. They had not set anything up, but that was the way he was–spontaneous. But Tuesday rolled around with no word from Olivier, and Daniela began to worry.

“Daniela, I have something for you. It’s from Olivier. He wanted me to give this to you as he had to leave Sunday morning. He will be returning this afternoon,” Marie said kindly, bringing Daniela out of her dark thoughts.

“Oh, thank you! I was wondering where he was,” Daniela said, surprised.
Dearest Daniela,

Sorry for this brief note. I had to leave for an emergency and it could not wait. It is imperative that I talk with you—and very soon. I must tell you something. I cannot keep this from you any longer. My heart is in anguish, and I do not want to hurt you or keep anything from you. Please meet me Tuesday evening at the campfire by the river come nightfall.

“Oh. Dear God! What could that possibly mean?” Daniela whispered aloud, walking back to her cabin. She did not know what to feel. Maybe there wasn’t anything to this “relationship” after all. Maybe the French were like this—so suave and intense you fell quick and hard. She was still happy she had met Olivier, though. She felt a thrill whenever she was near him, and life in general seemed to have taken a turn for the better. When Daniela arrived, the fire was roaring and giving off much needed warmth, as the night had cooled beyond what a June night normally should be. Olivier strummed his guitar, and he smiled at her as she approached, before getting up to give her a warm hug.

“Hey, how are you?” he asked most genuinely.

“I’m good, and you?” Daniela replied, looking up into his eyes to see if he really was all right.

“Oh, Daniela . . . I must tell you what it is I do. It is very dangerous, but I must keep doing it,” Olivier began. She could see the strain and worry in his face. He seemed unsure of himself all of a sudden. His eyes welled up with tears, causing her throat to go dry. Her hands began to tingle like they had pins and needles. She sat down next to him by the fire and listened to him as he told her about his work.

“Daniela, I fly into remote African areas, searching for lost migrant children whose parents have succumbed to their long and trying journeys. These children are already starving before they begin these migrations. Some are emaciated; most are hungry but must walk hundreds of miles in search of food or an outpost that will feed them. Many have only a mother, and some mothers have up to six or seven children of all ages. The look in their eyes just kills me. There is only sadness there, or no look at all, just vacant stares, like they are not even there.”

Olivier closed his eyes, and opened them focusing on the task so as not to let his emotions carry him to release. He rubbed his forehead, and then he let out a sigh. “In other areas, some have been taken by the militia and put to slave labor in the jungle. I can hardly be cheerful for them, since so many will die. I’ve seen children’s bodies strewn about, with wild animals feeding on their corpses. What these children have seen, no one should have to see.”

Daniela wrapped her arms around his shoulders, and her eyes welled. “You are going out there to save these kids. You’re a blessing to these children, Olivier. What a wonderful thing to do. You are putting yourself in harm’s way to save others.” She could not believe what she had heard, and the effect it had on him. She was overcome with emotion; never had she heard someone in such pain over the plight of others. She cried for him, and yet she wanted to help him. “Let me come with you! Please, I beg you.” He looked at her, and he knew she meant every word, but he could not allow that. He did not want her to see what he had seen. He did not want her heart to be broken.

“No, Daniela. Although you would be great for the kids, I can’t allow that.” He hugged her and turned in to kiss her gently and lovingly.

“How do you find them?” Daniela wondered. “We use night vision cameras, like the military uses. It works very well out there in the middle of nowhere, in the desert and near the jungle’s edge, the rain-forest and mountain areas.”

“I saw something about this on the TV when I first got here. The news was running a special about children wandering through the desert with minimal clothes, no parents . . . I saw, I . . . I saw a guitar like yours, with only a few strings left. A little girl was strumming it and singing. But there were no adults, just a tent in the background . . .” Daniela remembered.

“You probably saw a piece of footage from the documentary, where I take my guitar and play to the children at night to comfort and amuse them just a bit,” he said humbly. “My guitar strings were missing that night because we had to use them to cook over a fire,” he said, shaking his head. “That was a long mission, and food was getting scarce, so we had to shoot birds for food.” He shook his head.

Staring at the fire and mesmerized by the white-hot glow, their thoughts frozen in time, a spiritual empathy formed between Daniela and Olivier. She shared with him, her heroic save of a little boy named Francis, and the harrowing death of his mother. Olivier understood her when she told him she felt, wonderful and awful, all at the same time. He had experienced the exact same thing in the desert.

After the previous night’s discussion by the fire, Daniela needed to free her mind from that turmoil. She thought a trip to Paris, as she had not been there yet, would lighten their moods. Olivier agreed to drive her, and somehow she knew he would take the extremely long way. Hours later, they drove along the water’s edge out by the sea. Olivier explained to Daniela about the cabin by the sea where Monet had stayed and painted the ocean.

“Actually, it’s called Belle Isle. We’ll go there first and then to Paris,” Olivier told her.

Driving on a little moped through a curvy section along the coast was so pretty and refreshing. The salt air and wind invigorated Daniela and improved her mood tremendously. She had her arms around her new friend, and everything about the two of them just felt right. She gave him a good squeeze, put her cheek to his back, and breathed in deeply Olivier’s scent. “Let’s stop here,” said Olivier. He pulled over to a little cabin that was made of stone, with curtains hanging in the old windows. It looked ancient but well cared for. Olivier pulled out a key from his pocket.

Once inside, Daniela saw that it was immaculate. Everything was white—the floor, the walls, the curtains, the bed, even the tables. There were fresh flowers on the table, with multiple colors in the arrangement. It provided just the right touch in the little seaside cottage. Daniela went to the window and opened it, letting the sound of the crashing waves of the sea and the heady salt air invade her senses. As she turned back toward Olivier, she realized he was already behind her, and he grabbed her waist and turned her into him further. He enveloped her lips in a playful kiss and they pulled each other closer.

Paris could wait, thought Daniela. Paris did come much later that night, before midnight.

Arriving in Paris at dark was magnificent, looking at all the lights. The both of them appeared wind worn but neither minded. Olivier and Daniela had little time to experience something so moving and so grand. Olivier had made a call for a dinner reservation at Café Roussillon near the Eiffel Tower, but first they would share a bottle of champagne, Moet & Chandon, at the famous Café de Flore! This only fueled them with energy to finish the evening. Daniela had never seen anything more beautiful than Paris at night and to be with Olivier . . . well, nothing could be finer. She most definitely felt like she was falling in love as she smiled at her date.

“Are you happy?” Olivier looked upon his little Daniela. She was sweet and didn’t seem of this world; too kind, he thought. They were seated for dinner at café Roussillon by the window on the second level, over-looking Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

“Extremely, though I have no idea what to order.” Daniela read her menu but decided quickly. “You order for me, surprise me.”

“Love to, you trust me that much?” Olivier was flirting right back at her. He ordered dinner for the both of them and winked at the waiter. “And for dessert we’ll share La petite mort.” He waited for a response. The waiter’s eyes enlarged and he smiled at Daniela.

“What did you say?” Daniela asked frantically.

“Oh my dear, you should have studied your French.” Olivier couldn’t help himself, but seriously looked at her and said, “I ordered you the little death.”

“What? Okay, what is it really?” Daniela persisted. “It is chocolate mousse, strawberries and cream.” Olivier smiled.

“Somehow, I know it’s more than that. I can handle it whatever it is, bring it on.” Daniela said and vowed to herself to learn the French language as soon as possible. Languishing over dinner with the sound of each of their voices became mesmerizing, an enchantment of the senses. The pair shared their La petite mort of strawberries and chocolate with a side of cream. Olivier would tell her later tonight of the real meaning behind the little death.

“One more stop, more of a famous place, and then we need a nightcap. I must also touch base with a comrade, for just a minute. He usually hangs out there late at night.” Olivier informed Daniela.

“Sounds fabulous, let’s go.” Daniela was a bit dreamy, but this was Paris, and she didn’t want to miss a thing. Once inside the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz, Olivier ordered two whiskeys and set about to talk with his friend. His friend was a fellow pilot, and the two of them would be leaving soon from the vineyard to Africa. Their business took ten minutes, and he returned to Daniela.

“My dear, as you can probably comprehend; we are not going to the vineyard tonight. We’ll stay at my place in the city. Is that okay with you?” Olivier spoke quietly.

“You have a place here in Paris, too?” Daniela asked.

“Yes, you like music, correct? It’s off the tourist’s path, a local joint. My place is above the club.” He hoped she’d like it.

The next day at the vineyard was a busy Saturday as everyone was preparing for the French dinner celebration by the cooking school students and staff. While the chefs from class busied themselves with all the final details for the special dinner, Olivier amused the children outside. The patio tables were set and the lights lit up the atmosphere, which made the night seem magical. The class had selected the evening’s playlist. Daniela kept thinking about Olivier. She couldn’t help it—he crept into her thoughts every moment since their Paris trip together.

Now, though, the last night was here. Everyone would be leaving tomorrow, late in the afternoon for Paris with a morning departure. She had no idea what she would do. They had not talked about anything further or into the future, and Daniela wondered what Olivier’s thoughts were regarding the apparent relationship. Daniela hoped at the very least that they would exchange telephone numbers and email addresses, and perhaps they could skype or find a way to visit one another. She could hear music playing outside. Her selection for the evening was Springsteen. Brie had requested a Southern rock band and this caught Daniela by surprise; she hadn’t thought her the rock “n” roll type. Daniela reminded herself to grab Brie’s information before they went back to the U.S., since she wanted to be sure to keep in touch with her new friend whom she liked very much.

Tonight was to be a festive night and certainly not one made up solely of goodbyes. Everyone had arrived in formal attire of long dresses and suit jackets. Most had taken extra care in doing their hair for the evening. Apparently, a few Parisians always made it out for this event, despite the long journey, knowing the students always did such a great job. Word of mouth about Marie and her little cooking school had obviously spread around. The cooking school at Volnay-Lavalle Vineyard was a gem, hidden in the valley. Several guests from Chateau de Chambord had also arrived, and in total, there were about fifty outside guests who had come for the great food, music, and dancing. The children had planned a surprise skit for all the guests, and Daniela, along with the guests, had been highly entertained.

“Oh, Marie, the children are so adorable! Where on earth did you get those costumes?” Daniela asked when she noticed some of the children running about.

“I made them. Aren’t they festive?” Marie said, smiling.

“Absolutely adorable! They look like precious little circus trainers,” Brie interjected. “All of them were mighty proud when they marched their little animals around the ring. Even the baby pig complied with the walk.”

“Ah, yes, the only obstacle was the cat, which little Victor had to carry. They loved running their very own circus! Congratulations to all of you, as well as to them!” Olivier was beaming.

“Dinner and its seven courses have stuffed me. C’était merveilleux,” said one of the Parisians.

“This is so fabulous, Marie. If word gets out, you will be flocked with guests every other Saturday night. I just know it, dear!” she added. Shaking her head with a giggle, Marie stood.

“Tonight, a few of my staff will do the cleanup so that all of you might enjoy a dance or two. Thank you to the students for such a fine French dinner that any Parisian would think made by a Frenchman himself!”

“Daniela, please . . . time for us. Will you dance with me?” Olivier held out his hand for her to join him, and they made their way to the dance floor just as a slow tune began to play. Daniela did not want this night to end; thinking such thoughts only made her sad. She looked up at Olivier as he held her close. Staring down into her eyes, he whispered, “What?” But he knew. He put his lips to her ear and whispered again. “I know what you’re thinking.”

“And . . .?” Daniela was having difficulty keeping her nervousness at bay.

“Let’s take a walk under the light of the moon,” Olivier said, leading the way. He was always so pleasant, so sure, and so confident, just like her dad. Walking through the gardens, with the moonlight as it guided their stroll, Daniela realized that Volnay-Lavalle Vineyards was a divine place for Olivier to come to when he wasn’t flying and saving children.

“You are very lucky to have this place to come to, Olivier. Your brother takes good care of you. Marie, too!”

“You’ve got that right,” he said with a grin. “So, what do you want to do about leaving? Do you want to keep in contact?” Olivier laid his cards on the table.

“I, I do, but how can we? There’s such a great distance between us.” Daniela had no idea what to say next. Worry began to set in for her, her brow furrowed.

“Let’s exchange cell and email information and take it from there, okay?” Olivier offered, contemplating his next thought. “I must fly while this drought continues, as things are only getting worse. The predictions . . . well, you don’t even want to hear about what they’re predicting might happen,” Olivier finished forcefully and with conviction, shaking his head.

Once they were back at Daniela’s cabin, Olivier offered to help her pack.

The next day after breakfast, Daniela prepared to see Olivier off. The kids were running around and pulling on Olivier. “Mr. Olivier, please bring his momma home to him!” Erika, Marie’s twelve year old, begged him. Her big brown eyes were round with fear as she pointed to a little boy in the group of children. She looked scared, and she pleaded again. “Mr. Olivier, I know you can find her! You found his little brother.” Olivier had to look away, to keep emotions at bay. He had, incredibly enough, saved both brothers. The boys’ father had apparently died, and the younger boy and his mother had become separated from the rest of their group. After rescuing the older boy, Olivier had gone in search of the boy’s mother and brother some fifteen miles away via airplane. That was the night another little girl had strummed the guitar with the missing strings, which Daniela had seen on the news. He eventually had found the little boy, but nearby the mother had lain dead. He’d told the brothers that he couldn’t wake her up after she had stumbled to the ground, and told the boys numerous times that their mother was gone and not coming back.

Regardless, every time Olivier left on his missions, Marie’s girl would remind him to find their mother. It was difficult for Olivier, especially since he was attached to the orphans. These children had done nothing to deserve the horrors they’d faced. Daniela knew Olivier did this to make a difference in people’s lives. What he did mattered in the world. She smiled at Olivier, but she was worried, because she knew how dangerous it really was. She’d heard about the war, the gun fighting, the dictators, rebels, and even the natural disasters.

“Well, it’s time. I must go to the plane.” Olivier started for the door. He needed to get moving soon so his resolve would not weaken at seeing Daniela as he hated goodbyes. He grabbed his bags. Everyone followed him out to the airstrip. Olivier would be flying with a co-pilot, as well as two volunteers on this journey. They had enough supplies to last them a month, just in case, and they carried plentiful supplies to hand out to displaced villagers. Each and every child gave Olivier a huge hug and kiss. They loved him so!

“We’ll be here next week, waiting for you, brother. Take care!” Nicolas shouted over the roar of the plane’s engines.

“Please take care.” Marie said and kissed him. Then she hugged Nicolas and put her head on his shoulder, worry marring her features. Daniela hugged him and kissed him. He had her step up into the plane so she could see inside. She looked around and wished she were going with him. She saw the guitar now with all the strings. Music was how Olivier related to the children, gaining their trust so they would feel comfortable around him. He was one of them, a type of soul that children could see a mile away. Attempting cheerfulness, she kissed him. Her throat swelled and she was forced to blink away her tears. But she could not hold back, as she had no idea when she would see him again. What if she didn’t see him again? That idea hurt. She did not want to let him go. Her eyes traversed back and forth and looked up to the sky. Why did she feel this way?

“Oh, please, I don’t want you to go.” She put her hand to her mouth and gasped, swallowing so hard it hurt. Turning slowly, she stepped down.

“I’ll be thinking of you!” he said when she reached the tarmac. Olivier’s face was tense and pained, knowing what lay ahead of him. He now had the additional burden of knowing what he was leaving behind—the possibility of something with Daniela. He gave her a concerned smile. Daniela covered her mouth with her trembling hand, while her eyes questioned the whole unbelievable scene. She did not want him to go and murmured silently, don’t forget me . . . . Daniela managed a slight wave, her still-trembling hand falling to her side as the plane taxied down the runway. Silence descended upon the group as they watched the plane take off and fly toward the Loire River, and beyond to desert, jungle and war-torn destinations.

Thank you for reading. Kim


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