“You’re mad…” Tilly slinked through our hotel room door, setting her key-card and a bouquet of flowers on the dresser. It had been hours since she had left the room, and even longer since I had returned. I wasn’t sure where she had been, but there was an instant relief when I heard her jiggling the handle from outside. My heart rate rattled a little faster than normal, and I felt torn between, wrapping her up, thanking the great Berry above that she was alright, or giving her the hairy eyeball for scaring me half to death. I decided on the latter.
I narrowed my eyes, allowing my rather menacing eyebrows to furrow. Getting my point across that I was not pleased, I spoke in a low unapproving timbre. “You think? Where have you been? It’s been hours.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I got a little sidetracked.”
I looked to the window, it had been dark for several hours, a small tinge of worry still remained in my gut. I crossed my arms over my chest to further express my annoyance. “Sidetracked? I heard you ran off with some guy. What if something had happened to you? You don’t know this guy. He could have hurt you or worse.”
“I know, he could have, but he didn’t. He’s a good guy.” She explained a curl at the edge of her lips, masking a full blown smile, obviously induced by this Valencia character. “I think we might have something. Something special.”
I threw my hands in the air. “Well that’s great in all, but what about our reason for being here? Are you just going to throw that away for this french…” I didn’t even know what expletive I wanted to use. “guy?”
“No. Look! We were searching today as well. Okay? We didn’t find anything, but we were looking.”
“What about you?” She asked heading towards the bathroom door. “Have you found anything for us to go on yet?”
“No, but I did find someone who has offered to help.”
“Her name is Tulipes. She works with your boytoy at the pub.” Now I could feel the curl at the edge of my lips.
Tilly must of sensed it too, because she stopped just short of the door and turned back to look at me. ”Tosca? Did you make a lady friend?”
“A guide.” I corrected. Lady friend was too big a step for me to admit just yet. It didn’t matter the way I coated it, Tilly saw right through. “I never thought I would see the day! What does she look like? Is she pretty?”
My mouth was agape, a stupid grin plastered all over. “Very.” I blushed.
She clapped her hands together. “HAH! This is amazing. First night in France and you found a lady! Bro I am so proud of you.”
I could feel my head moving in all directions, wanting to nod, wanting to shake a way the title, it was all too much. Oh man, why was she helping me? What was she expecting? Did she like me? Did she feel sorry for me? I pulled back the plush covers on the bed, and hid underneath. “It’s been a long day. I’m going to bed.” I exclaimed from my down covered confines.
A small giggle, tucked me in before the bathroom door shut behind her. “Night lover boy.”
I heard the water as she turned it on, I even heard the shower curtain clink a bit on the metal track, after that, the sounds in the hotel began to fade into the walls. Sleep came quickly, for me that night. No time to think about it, no doubt I was snoring heavily by the time Tilly emerged, ready for bed. A brief recollection of a small clicking sound as the only lit lamp in the room went out and I was gone to the world again.
It was a welcome sight to find my home away from home in my sleep that night. With the fact I was so far away from everyone in Twizzlerbrook. I felt a little bit closer, opening my eyes to find the beautiful moon-drenched cherry blossom trees, swaying above me. It always surprised how real the dreams felt. Very different from normal dreams. I could feel the soft breeze that ran across my bare feet, and smell the blossoms on the trees.
I took in a deep breath, drawing in with it all the amazing scents that resided there. “Ah it’s good to be home!” Looking around, the place was deserted as per usual. Wasn’t really expecting to find anyone, not right away at least. Orange always made her appearances after I arrived, so I figured she would be along any time. Taking the opprotunity while I had it, I ran to the swing and sat down. Hah! Made it before she had a chance to steal it out from under me. Digging my toes into the grass and dirt, I pushed off into a large swoop. That tickle in the bottom of my stomach was still there every time I lifted up into the air. Nothing as free as the feel on a swing.
Almost on cue a slender silhouette stepped out of the darkness. A small snort escaped her nostrils, alerting me to the fact, she was not pleased to share her swing. “Leave for months and then have the audacity to take my swing.” She spat, sticking out her tongue. “Some friend you are.”
I slammed my feet to the ground, bringing myself to an abrupt halt. I could tell for the most part she was teasing, but there was a small undertone that was undeniable. “Sorry.” I sheepishly grinned, swaying to the right and then left. “Would you like to sit?”
“No. You’re there now. You should stay.” She pouted, jutting out her hip, to its furthest possible limit.
“Suit yourself.” I picked up my feet and started to swing freely again, her face bobbing in and out of view. “So I’m in France right now.”
“No clue what I’m doing here!” I yelled, swinging so high into the air, that I lifted off the seat, hitting back down with a thud.
“That makes two of us.” She mused. I could tell she was getting a little satisfaction from my ongoing confusion.
I came to stop again. “I was really hoping you weren’t going to say that. I could really use some help.”
“I think you misinterpret my reason for being here.” She explained. “I’m here more for moral support, to keep you going. Not feed you the answers. Besides that, I truly don’t have the answers. You can do this though, I mean look at what the two of you have accomplished already. You traveled quite a distance to get where you are. You just have to keep looking.”
“But I don’t even know where to begin!” I wanted to say more, but she started to dissolve into the night air, preparing to leave me alone with my thoughts again. “No! Don’t leave! Please!? We need help! Where should I look?! I’m so confused!”
“Perhaps what you came here to find, isn’t what you are searching for.”
“What?! What does that mean?! Orange!” Slowly her eyes faded, before she was no more.
I watched the spot where she had been mindfully. Wishing and hoping she would come back. “Perhaps what I came here to find, isn’t what I’m searching for?” I scoffed. “Way to make me even more confused.” Looking to my feet, I flicked a small rock with my big toe across the grass. “What else could I be looking for then?” My shoulders slumped in surrender, before I sneered at the spot again. “You know you could have left without saying that. Because it didn’t help!! And I don’t really know who I am talking to. But you!! You!! You aren’t very helpful! I don’t need moral support!” Realizing how crazy I must have seemed, I lowered my voice a bit. “Just answers…”
The next morning I woke with a feeling of serene calm, the birds chirping outside on a clothes line, softly waking me from my dream. The moment I remembered who I was about to meet up with however, everything clicked into overdrive. I shot out of the covers and ran for the bathroom, slamming it behind me. Tilly was still wrapped up in bed, but my sudden movements, jolted her awake as well.
“Geeze.” She groaned, throwing a pillow over her head. “I don’t think the shower is going anywhere!”
I flipped on the water; had to get dressed, had to be ready, had to brush teeth well. I was in and out in a flash, and before I knew it, we were ready, rushing our way out to the elevator. We stepped in to morning air, it was a bit cool, but certainly not uncomfortable. We walked to the front of the pub to wait for Valencia and Tulipes. If you haven’t guessed by now, I was nervous.
Tulipes was the first to arrive. My heart literally stopped beating for a couple of seconds when I saw her walking across the road. Hopefully this wouldn’t be an on going problem, I thought to myself. Could be detrimental to my health if exposed to her for an extended amount of time. When Tilly realized the gorgeous figure walking towards us was indeed my friend, I heard her breath hitch in her throat. “Bro.” She whispered. “You picked a stunner.”
I couldn’t help but grin. I did didn’t I? Though in all honesty, it felt more like she picked me. I stepped forward to greet her, when Tilly pushed in front. “Bonjour!” She beamed, reaching out a hand. “I’m Tilly, Tosca’s annoying little sister.”
“Bonjour Tilly.” Came a sweet angelic voice in reply. I had to refrain from melting right there on the spot, that girl had me so deep under her spell, I could hardly think straight. I watched the two talk for a couple seconds more, before she turned her beautiful smile to greet me. “Bonjour Tosca.”
“Bonjour.” I smiled, holding up a hand giving my fingers a miniature wave.
The three of us conversed comfortably as we waited for our fourth party member to arrive. Tilly and I took turns explaining, in a bit more detail, what we might be looking for, while Tulipes did her best to take in as much of our information as she could. There was a still a bit of a language barrier, but Tulipes was sharp, she picked up on things right away. Learning more and more as we chatted. We didn’t have to wait too long before Valencia strode up beside Tilly and wrapped an arm around her waist. She let out a squeak before practically jumping up into his arms. Tulipes looked to me and gave me a wink.
“Bonour cutie!” Tilly cooed.
Sure was a lot of bonjouring going on….
After a short round of introductions, we decided to split up into teams. It would allow us to cover more ground, and since we both had guides with working cell phones, we still had a way to contact the other, just in case of an emergency or in the off chance we actually found what we were looking for. Tulipes and Valencia exchanged numbers before we were off and running.
One thing I had managed to do during my time alone in the hotel, was rent a car. I wasn’t entirely sure if Tulipes owned one, seeing that public transit was much bigger in the city, and I didn’t want to bother her even is she had, so I spent a bit of money to rent one for the week. It’s amazing what you can get done online these days. I was ready to go in a couple clicks, and the car was to be dropped off to the hotel parking lot that morning. I found myself holding my breath as I lead her around the building to find it. Must remind myself to breathe, lack of oxygen to the head, might end up getting us in a crash and then where would I be? Unaware of my underlining awkwardness, the ivory beauty floated across the gravel, to wait at the passenger door. I nervously unlocked her door first, before stepping around the car to mine. You can do this, I assured myself again. It probably looked a little off from her perspective, but she busied herself with the mirror, as I gave my little pep talk.
Mapping out a bit of a trail, we decided to split the city in half. Making sure to hit every park, garden, flower shop that we could find. It was a long shot, but it was all we had. As we headed for the top edge of town, the Eiffel tower seemed to loom ever head, it was quite an amazing structure. Not quite as impressive to her as it was to me of course.
Things got off to a slow start and nothing seemed to improve after that. There was a plethora of places to go and see, but nothing seemed to have any connection to what we were searching for. The fact we had no clue what we were looking for didn’t really help matters much. I was relying fully on gut instincts and so far nothing was waving a flag in my face. About noon, we hit a rather large park below the tower. There were fountains similar to the one at home in the small grassy areas, surrounded by flowers no less, but it wasn’t the place. Tulipes gave me a hopeful glance, and I shook my head. A half hearted smile graced her sweet face and then we continued on to our next place. Mark another off our list.
By the time we closed in on the edge of town, our situation, to me, was feeling more and more hopeless. The only good thing from the day was all the time we had spent together. Stepping up the large steps of the cathedral, we walked to it’s edge, where a delicate garden had been constructed. It wasn’t right either and I let out a disappointed sigh. Tulipes bit her lip as she shook her head. “No?”
This was one of our last stops. If it was in town, it was surely on the other side because we had stalked the streets, coming up with nothing. “I’m really sorry.” I groaned. “I am just wasting your time.”
“No. I’m having fun. Not a waste with you.”
She was being awfully sweet, but my spirits were so low, I didn’t even know how to respond. “Let’s just keep going, I guess.”
Nodding patiently, she headed back to the car.
We only had a few places left to check and things were not looking bright. We shuffled through a small market in the middle of the lower east square, when a woman with a cart, shoved a beautiful bouquet of flowers at Tulipes’s face as we passed. She spoke in their native tongue, but I was fairly certain it had something do with the flowers and their price. She gave them a once over before checking with me. I shook my head, and she politely pushed the flowers away from her nose. Unfortunately the seller was not so easily swayed, and continued to try and push her wares, long after Tulipes had adamantly refused.
The two argued for several minutes, a small back and forth of wills. I felt weird just standing there, knowing I would’t be much help in a domestic discussion, so I decided to study the collection of rather eclectic sundries the woman had on display. She had a small stack of pots and pans, little glass containers with several different tops, including butterflies, hearts, leafs and neat row of potted plants. I passed by two pots before my eyes settled onto the third. A small flower was painted on it’s side and it looked an awful lot like the symbol from our clues. My mouth dropped open and I reached out for Tulipes’s shoulder. The ladies squabble subsided instantly as I jumped between them.
Completely forgetting the woman before me spoke only French I blurted out my question. “Where did you get that?!” I asked, pointing to the potted plant in question. The woman stared back at me blankly. “Oh right.” I turned to Tulipes. “Ask where she got that. Please.” Tulipes obliged and the woman nodded a couple times before answering back. Not understanding a word, I waited for Tulipes to clue me in.
“She says she buys from a shop near the front of a cathedral in Chambury. She gets a whole sale price so she buys many to sell here.”
“Chambury? Where is that?”
“It is a small village. It is a few hours time from here.”
“I think that is where we need to go.”
“Are you sure?”
“I think so yes.”
We didn’t even thank the woman, we just started running back to the car. Hurried feet crunched across the cobblestone road, till we were safely at the car once more.
I unlocked the passenger side door, before walking to my side, I was in such a rush to get on the road again, I wasn’t paying attention to the trouble, she was having getting the door open. I was in my seat when I looked up to find her pulling on the door. “It is stuck.” She grunted, pulling on the handle again. I started to get out of the car to help, but I was too late. I heard a small yelp, before she disappeared from view.
“Are you alright!?” I rushed around the edge of the car, to find her on the ground. She wrapped her arm around my leg to help herself up, but it didn’t put her at quite the right angle and she tumbled over again Here, let me help.” I reached out my hands for her to take. She smiled weakly before setting her hands on top of mine. Using the car for a bit of leverage I helped to bring her back to her feet. Her cheeks were red, more from embarrassment, than any sort of injury, but at first she wouldn’t look up.
Her eyes were transfixed on our hands. It seemed in all the commotion to get her upright, I had failed to remember to let go. Sweet soft hands were still safely guarded in my own, even after the realization of my error, I found myself resistant to release them. She didn’t seem to mind to much. Her eyes finally fluttered up and met with mine, that sweet face staring back at me.
“Are you alright?” I asked, giving her hands the tiniest squeeze.
“Yes, but your door does not seem to like me.”
“Let me see if I can fix it.” I finally released her hands, and jiggled the handle a few times before, it finally decided to give and pop open. “I’ll help you next time.” I said, opening the door a bit wider.
“Thank you.” Not waiting for me to get out of the way, our bodies connected for brief moment as she slid past me and into the seat. I gripped the door frame above her head and thankfully out of view, oh sweet berry what was she doing to me?
The drive to Chambury was short. Too short in my honest opinion. Not nearly enough time to study the beautiful woman in my peripheral, before it started to get dark. The sun was just heading over the hill as we pulled into the small village of Chambury. It didn’t take us long to find the cathedral or the woman in question. If we would have arrived any later though, we might have just missed her all together. She was in the middle of packing her things as we came up the steps. I tapped her gently on the shoulder, and she turned to greet us. Tulipes inquired if she had gotten the flowers from a florist or if she grew them herself. The woman explained that she did buy them from a local florist, but she was not at liberty to disclose the woman or her location. Tulipes’s expression dropped. “She says she will not tell us.”
“What? Why not?!”
“She says it is not a buisness, it is a family friend. She says it is not our buisness to know where she lives.”
“I’m sorree Tosca. She refuses.”
It was a disheartening walk back to the car. How could we be so close, only to be thwarted by an address… My footsteps were heavy and deliberate and I felt more like a petulant child than a grown man. I didn’t care, I was crestfallen, this was the end of our road. There was no possible way to find where the flowers came from now. Not unless we wanted to knock on every door in the village till we found it, that is if they even lived in the village. I walked to the passenger side first, unlocking the door and then using my new technique to open it. Tulipes just watched as I silently moved to my side of the car. I was in the middle of unlocking my door, when a gentle touch graced my back and arm.
“I am so sorree Tosca.”
The moon seemed to race into the sky after that. I pulled out to the street and we headed back for the city. We were barely out of the village before the car started to rattle. The engine heaving each time I tried to apply the gas. I frantically studied all the guages before me. Everything seemed fine. The tempurtaure guage was good. No check engine light. The gas was still half full. Come to think of it, the guage had been half full for a while now… oh berry, no. We were out of gas. The car slowly rolled to a stop and I smacked the steering wheel.
I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it must have been something good, because she used it every time there was trouble.
I unbuckled my seat belt.. “We better call my sister.”
Tulipes nodded in a agreement before reaching into her pocket for her phone. It was hard to see in the dark, but even still, her eyes opened wider than I had ever seen. Her arms frantically patted her front pockets, before she pushed her feet into the floor of the car to lift herself up so she could pat her back pockets. “Pas!”
“What?” I asked, flipping the overhead light on.
“My phone. It is gone.”
Tulipes was already opening the car door to get a better look at the floorboards and the dark corners underneath her seat. ” I had it.” She whined. “It was here.”
“You don’t have your phone?!”
“I did!! But it is not here.” She thought for a moment and then gasped. “Mon baie, it must have fallen when I fallen.”
As my sister would say, oh sweet lavenous days. This was not good. “What do we do now?”
“I don’t know. Find help.”
I looked across the empty field, there were trees, grass and sky. No houses, no cars and no phones. “I guess we walk then.”
“I am so sorree Tosca.”
“It’s alright. We will be fine, we just need to get walking.”
Even a small distance can seem like a lot when you have to walk it. We had passed only one house for a good couple of miles, but I was able to navigate us back to it with little to no trouble. The lights on the porch were burning brightly and breathed a sigh of relief as came up over the hill. Just a few short minutes and we could get things back on track again.
“Bonjour. We need to use a phone. Our car ran out of gas, and we need to call someone to come pick us up.”
The woman shook her head solemnly. “Pas. Il n’y a pas de téléphone ici.”
“Oh right. You don’t understand me…” I looked to Tulipes who was preparing to translate when….
“No, I understand you. There is no phone here. You need to go.”
“But… no phone? You have no phone? Please you must.”
“It is late, and you should not be here.”
I was more than willing to continue our absurd argument, but a small shaky voice cut right through. “Framboise, where are your manners? Let them in.”
All three of us turned to the direction of the voice. A tiny woman was heading up the walk, her expression not very impressed with Framboise’s behavior. “I am very sorree, please come in. We will be happy to get you a phone.”
The woman on the porch glared at us both before opening the door allowing everyone outside entry. “We really appreciate it. Thank you.” Doing my best to express our true appreciation seemed to fall on deaf ears, well one set of them anyways.
We were guided through to large living room. There was a small fire burning in the fireplace and its golden light seemed to bounce off of the furniture, setting a slightly rustic homey feel to the place. Framboise shoved a phone into Tuilpes’s chest before stalking back to the kitchen. She immediately started to dial, when it dawned on her that she had no idea how to get a hold of them. She had entered the number into her phone, so she had no reason to memorize it. She patted the phone to her chest before turning to face me. “I don’t know the number.”
“Right….” Made sense. Why didn’t I think of that.
“I will call my mom!” She exclaimed as she dialed a number furiously fast. There was no immediate answer but she refused to get off the line.
“Car trouble?” Asked the woman sitting just across from me.
“Ran out of gas.” I explained.
“Fate is funny no?”
“You are looking for something. Something you can’t seem to find.”
Suddenly the woman had my full attention and I waved at Tulipes to hang up the phone. It took her second to catch my frantic arm gestures with her back turned, but finally she caught on.
“How did you know that?”
“I think I have what you are looking for?”
The phone in Tulipes’s grasp dropped to the floor with a thunk.
“You do? Where?! Where is it?”
“It is hidden, safe. Locked away from the world. I can show you, but not tonight. I can take you in the morning. It is too dark now. Can you stay?”
“Auntie!” A voice piped up from the other room, but she ignored it. ”You will have to excuse my great niece, she is a bit overprotective. Please, call me Mara.”
“Tosca and this is Tulipes.”
“It is an honor I assure you.”
I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I gave a small smile in gratitude anyhow.
“It is late. Let me show you to your rooms.”
We followed the Mara down a dimly lit hallway, where we stopped before one of its closed doors. Her wooden canes rhythmically clunking coming to a halt. “Shall I make up two rooms, or would you care to share?”
“I started to say two, but Tulipes beat me to the punch. “One… please.”
I shot her a sideward glance, and my jaw dropped to the floor. Did she just say one?
“Very well. You can take this one then. I must apologize the walls are in desperate need to repair, but I burden with dear niece with so much already.”
“It’s fine.” My heart was racing in my eardrums, probably wouldn’t be able to see the walls let alone appraise their condition. “Thank you.”
After bidding our gracious host goodnight, we retired into the bedroom. I was pretty sure there would only be one bed, but some how it didn’t quite sink in till I saw it sitting there. What did all this mean? We were sharing the bed? She wanted to share? With me? She didn’t seem to have the same reservations as I did, so she walked across the room and settled onto the increasingly more inviting mattress. I however couldn’t move from the door. A playful grin beckoned me to move closer, along with a small wave of her hand in a come hither motion. “I will not bite.” She teased.
I laughed nervously. “I know. I just thought, well.. are you sure about this?”
“If you are uncomfortable. I can sleep on top.”
“I’m sorry what.” I almost fell against the door behind me.
“I can sleep on top of the covers. You can sleep under.”
“Oh. Right. Of course. No. I will be fine. You can have the covers.”
“It it warm. Let’s just sleep. Hmm?”
I cautiously moved across the room and lowered myself onto the other side. The mattress dipped at my weight, letting out a loud creak. “Heh.”
Turning our back towards one another, we attempted to sleep. I say attempted, because my heart was still beating so hard, I could barely breathe, let alone sleep. She seemed to slip right off, and I could feel my internal temperature start to cool. Listening intently to the soft lull of her breathing, before my eyes drifted shut and I too was out.
Some time during the night we both slipped under the covers. Not knowing exactly how it happened, it came as quite a shock, when I woke to find my arms clinging tightly to her middle. My eyes shot open, but I didn’t move. If I moved she would wake up, but if I didn’t move she would wake up too. Mon baie, I was in a pickle. She let out a soft moan and my eyes rolled to the back of my head. Oh sweet berry babies, I needed to move before it was too late. I decided to try and seperate us slowly. “Tosca?” Not slowly enough.
“I don’t know how this happened.” I explained. It sounded stupid, but it was the truth. I slipped my arm from underneath her and stood from the bed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean. I really don’t know….”
“It is fine. It felt nice.”
“I just… I wouldn’t invade your privacy like that. Not on purpose.”
I thought she was going to reach out and slap me, but a pair of sweet lips parted the air between us, landing directly on mine. It was only a peck, but it sent a shiver so far down my spine, it went through the floorboards.
“You worry much.” She giggled. A giggle I recognized immediately. Suddenly one of the things on my agenda was crystal clear. I think I had just found one of the things I was looking for.
After a delicious breakfast, Mara in the lead, guided us out of the house to her back yard. “It is here.” She pointed up the hill. “I am so glad you made it, I don’t think I will make another trip. It is hard walk.” Tulipes and I nodded. Following closely to keep an eye on our frail guide, she lead our way, we were finally going to see the fruits of our labor. Tulipes slid her arm through mine as we continued up over the hill.