The Unlooked-for Frenchman

Tomorrow is my wedding anniversary. I’ve known my hubby for 15 years now, almost half of my life, and I’ve been married to him for 13. Whenever this time of year rolls around, I like to think back to the week we met- the last week that I was in France.
I don’t have the time or space to relate all that happened during those crazy, memorable days, but this is one of my favorite (and most embarrassing) memories from that time. He was just returning home to the seminary in Aix, fresh from his first year abroad at Covenant College. His father was the administrator of the seminary and his mother the secretary, so home was an apartment on the campus.

If you recall, I had been studying in Aix for nine months, along with my friends E and N. And we had also been joined by E’s older sister B after Christmas. Steve knew B very well already from a previous sojourn in France, so he invited her (and the rest of us) to his apartment for dinner and a time of catching up. I had met him for the first time a few days before in the seminary driveway, and then we had merely introduced ourselves and walked on. So when we went to dinner that night he was still, for all intents and purposes, a complete stranger.

I had assumed that his merry, warm-hearted mother would be making dinner for us, but upon arriving, I saw that his parents weren’t even there. I was relieved that his father was absent, since we girls had always been slightly intimidated by the tall, white-haired administrator with his crisp British accent. (No offense to my dear father-in-law. I know him better now.)
At any rate, much to my surprise, this young frenchman had made the dinner entirely by himself. I remember him serving a fresh tomato and basil tart, a lovely salad, and his famous soup a la courgette. That was enough to peak my interest in the guy, but the evening continued to display more things worth admiring. The fact that he was a talented violinist and that we shared a very similar taste in music was one thing. The fact that he was a hard worker, and that the beautifully tiled floor in his parent’s apartment had been all his own work was another. And then after dinner, he walked into the living room with a tray of chocolate mousse he had made himself. I mean, what was a girl to do? All that, combined with a pair of mysterious blue-gray eyes, and I was a goner.

I don’t remember sleeping much that night. Of course I couldn’t tell the other girls what I was feeling. It was all too ridiculous. Remember, my nickname was ‘the nun’, and I may have been a little proud of that title. But much to my chagrin, and though I tried all night to call it to my aid, the common sense and rationality that had always dominated my life and decisions seemed to have fled. I tried to remind myself that just two days before, I had assured my parents that I wouldn’t be bringing a frenchman home with me. How we had laughed on the phone over the idea! Nevertheless, when dawn began creeping through the cracks in the shutters, I had but one idea in mind. To see that boy again.

All morning, I racked my brain to think of a way that I could ‘accidentally’ bump into him. Finally after breakfast, where I noticed my appetite had entirely fled, I suddenly remembered that we still had our last month’s rent to pay to the secretary. The secretary was his mother! His apartment was directly above the office! I had a better chance of meeting him there than in the kitchen, so I abruptly left the other girls to run and collect the money. I could tell they were beginning to wonder what was wrong with me. I don’t think I had ever failed to eat my breakfast before, but I didn’t care much what they thought at this point.

I was soon standing in front of the office door with a dry mouth and beating heart, hardly called for when performing such a mundane task. But boldly went in anyway. I found myself blushing furiously when his mother greeted me, and could hardly stammer out a ‘bonjour’. I silently handed her the rent, and then, unable to think of an excuse to stay, I began to turn when the sounds of a Bach violin prelude came floating down the stairs. I stopped and looked up at the ceiling.
“Ah, c’est mon fils, Stephen,” said the secretary. “Il joue du violin,” she continued with obvious pride.

“Ah oui?” I replied stupidly, and blushing still further, said ‘au revoir’ and made my way out of the office.

I gave myself a pep-talk all the way back to my room.

“What is wrong with you? Why are you acting like this? Get a grip! You’re leaving in a few days! This is pointless! He’s not even interested in you!”

But to no avail. Upon reaching the room, my first care was to figure out a way to at least hear a little more of his violin. I remembered that in the short tour Steve had give us of his apartment last night, I had seen that his bedroom window led out to a tiny balcony. That balcony was just across the way from our bedroom. And directly beneath our bedroom window was a roof belonging to the porch below. If I could climb out there and sit on the far edge, as close to the balcony as possible, I might be able to hear something.
As a matter of fact, we girls had often climbed out to sit on that roof for the chance of a little privacy, or to catch a bit of a sun. We kept it up until we were caught by the administrator. His austere warnings about the inability of that roof to support much weight had finally convinced us to stay off of it- but not today.
I opened the big green shutters, grabbed a book by my bedside table so that I might have a plausible excuse for sitting out there, and climbed out the window.
Sure enough, the sounds of Bach could still be heard clearly as I crawled to the edge of the porch roof. I sat down with my back against the sun-baked wall, held my book up in front of my face, and listened. I blocked out all thoughts of how ludicrous my behavior was, and how I seemed to be acting in some reverse parody of Romeo and Juliet, when I was startled by a loud “Ahem!”
I clutched at my book, and looked down. There, to my horror stood Steve’s father, in all his silver-haired dignity looking up at my dangling legs.

“Have we not before discussed the dangers of sitting out on this roof?” he asked reprovingly.

Then, as I tried to apologize, I noticed his eyebrows lifted in some confusion as he looked at my book. I looked down too. I had been ‘reading it’ upside down. My mortification was complete.
But if he thought I was crazy, he said nothing about it. Nor did he ask me what I was really doing there, since reading had clearly not been my purpose. He merely continued on his way, while I blindly scrambled to my feet and made my way back to the window. It was only then I noticed the music had stopped. I looked over my shoulder, and there was Steve, standing on the balcony with a funny little smile on his face. I didn’t know how much he had seen, but even so, I wished then that the roof would collapse and take me down with it….

Well, needless to say, everything turned out all right in the end. I wouldn’t trade those embarrassing moments for anything, since they were the beginning of thirteen happy years of marriage. They also make for a pretty good story.

I love you Stephen, my un-looked for Frenchman. Here’s to thirteen more years!

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