This is the first chapter of my novel CHICAGO TIME. It will be available for purchase from Amazon.com and Smashwords on Monday April 2. You can read more about the novel here.
1 – How They Met
If La Ville Venteuse had not been closed that morning in 2003, Robert and Elise would not have met. Robert arrived first, eager for a cappuccino, only to discover that the entrance was locked and the CLOSED sign up. There was a hand-written note taped to the inside of the glass door, which read,
“Dear loyal customers,
“It is with mixed regret that I must tell you that La Ville Venteuse is closed as of this Monday. It has been a wonderful 7 years here in the Ravenswood neighborhood.
Robert read it once more. Almost every morning for nearly four years he had stopped at La Ville Venteuse for a cappuccino and either a chocolate or almond croissant. The shop was only a few doors down from the Montrose L station, making it a convenient stop on the way to work or home. Inside the darkened shop, the glass cases that were normally filled with dozens of different pastries in sweet shades of red, white, blue, green, dark brown, and golden brown, all organized into neat rows on inclined shelves, were empty. Once or twice a week after work Robert would stop in and get something for his after-dinner dessert; a slice of cheesecake, flour-less chocolate cake, or a fruit custard. Robert had loved everything he had ever eaten there. The now former owner had always seemed very French to Robert; proud, confident, informed, and rude. A few customers seemed to have a strong personal rapport with him that Robert could never figure out how to gain, despite how often he patronized the place. A few had even spoke to the man exclusively in French.
“No, no, no!” exclaimed a female voice to Robert’s left. “This can not be.”
Robert turned and saw a black-haired woman with light white skin. He had seen her many times before in the shop having long conversations in French with the owner. She looked to be in her late twenties, possibly thirty.
“You speak English?” said Robert.
“Of course I do. I’m an American,” said Elise Callahan in an accent-less voice to Robert’s growing surprise.
“What gave you the idea I wasn’t?” She thought the nearly sun-burned-faced guy standing next to her, whom she had always thought didn’t look too smart to begin with, was even dumber. She thought any man who wore golf shirts with khaki slacks didn’t have a proper sense of fashion. Didn’t he know that not all shirts with collars were meant to be worn with khaki slacks to work?
“You were always talking to the owner in French. I never heard you speak English,” said Robert.
“Well, I’m not. I studied French in college and then lived in France for awhile.”
“Is that what it took to get the guy to be nice to you. I’ve been going to this shop for years and never got anything more than a ‘thank you.’ Now, I’ll never get anything more than that, or his pastries for that matter.”
“Did you ever say hello to Mr. Beaubien when you came in?”
“Sometimes. I think so. Why?”
“It’s impolite to a French person not to greet them in their own shop.”
“And that’s why he was so rude?”
“He considered it rude when someone entered his shop and didn’t greet him. He considered his shop a part of his home. That’s how they do things in France.”
“How was I supposed to know that? I’m not in France. I’m in Chicago. I don’t assume that when a guy’s at work he wants to talk about everything under the sun but the business at hand, especially if there’s a long line of people behind me. I assume he’s working. ”
“I have to get a hold of Mr. Beaubien. He had talked about closing the shop, but I didn’t think it would happen so fast. This doesn’t seem possible.”
“Why would he close?”
“He wasn’t making much profit on the place. But he was making a lot on the catering end. A lot more. My guess is that’s what he’s going to focus on…So you liked La Ville Venteuse?”
“Oh yeah,” said Robert. “Everything was delicious here.”
“And now it’s gone. One less thing for me to like about this city.”
“My whole morning routine is screwed. Where am I supposed to go now? There’s nowhere else around here to get decent coffee, let alone great pastries.”
“Well, I wish I knew the answer, but I need to get to work.” Elise turned away and headed towards the L tracks.
Robert followed. “Me, too.”