Vianne opened her eyes to moonlight cascading around the room. Annouk was lying beside her. It was late, maybe even past midnight, but as exhausted as she was she couldn't sleep.
"Maman, I am tired," said Annouk, sleepily lifting her head off the pillow beside her.
"Well, go to sleep then!" Vianne teased, ruffling her daughter's hair gently.
"Oui, maman." a smile spread across Annouk's face.
Vianne tenderly wrapped her arms around her daughter, waiting silently until her breathing slowed and she was sure she was asleep.
She stood quietly, placing the blankets around her, leaving her to dream.
As normal, Vianne found her way to the kitchen downstairs, and began adding cream and sugar to a pot and letting it to simmer on the stove as she crushed more cocoa beans to make a new batch of chocolate. She still did not know why, but making chocolate seemed to be a way for her to relax. She loved the rhythm of the rolling pin on the board, the sweet smells that pervaded the air and especially forming and decorating the finished product.
Maybe it was the way she had been raised; and for her, chocolate was as much of a medicine as it was for the townspeople. Adding the cocoa to the simmering mixture on the stove, she wiped a stray strand of hair from her face, and stirred the chocolate slowly as the warm scent filled the air.
A door shut at the side of the shop, and Vianne looked up. It was Roux. Even seeing him now, after she had become accustom to his somewhat roguish appearance, she felt her heart leap. He was wearing a simple button-up shirt, but had neglected to do up the top few buttons, revealing an expanse of tanned chest beneath it. His hair was tied back in its customary style, and a small smirk lit up his face.
"What are you still doing up?" he asked, stopping a few feet away from her to watch her as she worked.
She had been up thinking of him.
"I may ask you the same thing."
She stirred the mixture again before dipping another spoon into it and offering it to him. He came closer and took it from her, putting the whole spoon into his mouth.
"It's good." he said, smiling as he handed it back to her.
"Could use a little more … I don't know, flavour, however."
He stuck his finger back into the chocolate.
"Roux, it's hot-" she exclaimed, but not before he had already dunked his finger in the pot.
He had a hurt look in his eyes as he stuck it into his mouth.
"Could've told me that ahead of time!" he laughed.
Vianne turned her back to him and went back to her stirring, but she soon felt his strong arms snake around her waist and his breath warm on her neck. She felt herself blush.
Playfully, she pulled away, leaving the heat of him behind. She poured the chocolate in the hot saucepan into moulds, avoiding the irresistible brown eyes that she knew were searching for hers.
She definitely was in love with Roux; more than love, and she was sure of that when he had come back to them. As much as her instinct had told her to move on and to not trust that he would return, something in her believed that he would.
She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. He was examining pots and pans, an amused expression on his attractive face, and she realized at that moment just how much she had needed him when he was gone.
Finally she turned to face him, wiping her hands on her apron.
"What did you want?" she asked.
I already know what he's going to say …
"Really?" she said, smiling.
She met his eyes that were flickering across her face; up and down from her eyes to her lips. She swallowed and was about to turn away once more before he buried his hand in her hair, and his lips pressed against hers.
"Roux!" she scolded, pulling away reluctantly."Surely Annouk will hear us, and wake up, and then…"
"Well, she had better get used to it," he said, grinning. "Cos I'm not going anywhere!"
"What a tease you are, Roux." she said, smiling.
He grinned back.
"But seriously. You have some cocoa on your face."
He reached up and wiped the smudge away before letting his calloused fingers run gently along her cheek.
His touch was making her head swim. Even being in such close proximity with him suddenly seemed difficult.
Vianne, she thought to herself. What's gotten into you? He's just there, begging for attention, and you're pushing him away…
Before she could stop herself, her lips slanted across his, capturing them in a passionate kiss. He grabbed her shoulders and gently shoved her away, smiling.
"What about Annouk?"
"She's sleeping. You know, it's been so nice without Pantoufle around. She seems happier, having you around and all. I honestly thought…"
Roux looked away.
"You know darlin', the reason I left in the first place had nothing to do with what happened, between us."
"I know. I don't hold it against you, but I was honestly considering leaving for a while. I missed the river rats. You had honestly become a part of me."
Roux looked up at her, smirking.
"One thing I was saddest about when that happened was that I lost my guitar. It was one of those steel guitars, you know, they're really rare. I won it one time at a poker match between this old one-eyed man and an Indian. He was downright furious, though, he wanted to keep it and make some kind of a profit, but I said…"
Vianne's eyes drifted up to the roof, where she was trying to tell if Annouk was still awake or not.
"Sorry," said Roux, looking embarrassed. "You probably don't want to hear about my poker games."
"Oh, no, Roux! I missed those stories. Make you more interesting. That's one of the things I found so intriguing about you."
"So I'm intriguing, am I?"
"You know, Annouk is asleep. Would you like to see what's become of your beloved riverbank?" she asked.
Roux nodded, looking serious all of a sudden.
"Come on, you have us now! Why…"
He shrugged. She could tell by the way he had avoided the subject since he had come back that he was still mentally taking it in, even if on the exterior he was too defiant to show it.
Vianne's eyes were filled with sympathy as she took his hand and led him out of the shop.
"It's all going to get better for us, Roux. You'll see."
They walked down the empty streets, the silence deafening. The occasional candle flickered dimly in a window, but other than that, the night was empty. The sky was clear and a cool breeze drifted along the street, twisting her hair up around her head. The three-quarter moon shone brightly, casting a silver light down the cobbled streets.
Roux cleared his throat. She looked up at him, but he was still staring at the road, his feet shuffling.
"What is it?" she asked, taking his hand in hers. He gave it a gentle squeeze and ran his thumb along hers.
"Nothing, enjoying the silence." he replied.
Vianne tried to enjoy it too as they walked down the narrow path leading to the riverbank and the dock where the boat used to be. She stopped, but he kept walking up to the end of the dock. Lights from the windows of the houses on the other side of the river glinted off the water, shimmering and rippling on its midnight blue surface.
Vianne walked up to where Roux was sitting on the edge of the dock. His eyes were closed as he gazed unseeingly at the water. Silently, she sat down and gave him a peck on the cheek.
His deep brown eyes flickered open, gazing at her.
"Honestly, what're you thinking about?" she asked.
He stared at her. She felt instantly stupid, and turned away.
"I probably shouldn't still be thinking about it." he said. "I realize no one died; I didn't really lose anything valuable-"
"What? You lost your home, your guitar, all your possessions…" Vianne retorted.
"I meant like Annouk," he replied, "or you."
"It really changed me, Vianne. Before that I was so carefree, well, I guess I thought I was indestructible. Michael, one of the men that used to travel with me, well, I saw him, and he said that if I hadn't been off macking some woman I could've helped put it out."
Vianne felt a bubble of anger rise up in her chest.
She felt like asking if he felt the same way, but realized that would be irrational. Instead, she lay down on the damp wooden boards of the dock, hearing the soothing sound of water beneath her head. She closed her eyes, feeling like she was on a boat.
"It already feels like it was so long ago." he said.
"It's still going to take a long time to get over it. God, every time I look at Annouk I realize just how incredible it is that she's still here. If I had lost her, I probably wouldn't have had the strength to live." she replied gently.
"What was Annouk's father like?" asked Roux, changing the topic. With her eyes closed, she felt him lie down beside her and put his arms around her. She manoeuvred herself so her head was resting on his shoulder, their feet dangling off the end of the dock.
"To be honest, I can't remember much of him." she said.
She explained what she could remember. He had been a wonderful man, yet so … unreliable. He had never understood her need to move, the yearning for freedom he could never give.
"He wanted me to settle down, raise a family. I never liked that town very much. When I looked at the children, they were all silent and mindless and their educations controlled their lives. The teachers in that town were so strict; I still don't get it. I could never imagine my own daughter growing up and thinking that way. When I think back to my own childhood, I can remember that feeling of liberty. That's the lifestyle I wanted for her."
She knew Roux was smiling, even though she could not see his face. She propped herself up on her elbows beside him.
"I knew Annouk would want to stay." he said quietly.
"So do I, especially now."
"You came back."
Roux smiled, putting an arm around her shoulders and lifting her up into a sitting position, with her back to the river.
It was a warm, clear night. Vianne breathed in a delicious breath that smelled like rain and wood smoke.
"Roux, I…" she started, but he was looking at her with a mischievous glint in his dark eyes.
"Vianne, there's still chocolate on your face!" he said, trying to keep from laughing. "In fact, good God, there's chocolate in your hair, too…and that dress, it's got cocoa stains all over it."
"What … why…" she said, but suddenly he was standing above her, grabbing her shoulders and pushing her into the water. She screamed, feeling a moment of suspension before her back hit the water with an awkward splash. The water was warm, but it filled her mouth and tasted like iron. She waved her arms wildly before she surfaced.
"Roux! You ass!!" she screamed, but he was practically toppling over on the deck, holding his sides from laughing. She sputtered.
"Help me!" she demanded, pushing the wet hair out of her eyes. He looked over the edge, extending one tanned hand out to her.
She kept her face straight as she grabbed it, but as soon as she had a strong grip she pulled as hard as she could, kicking with her legs. Roux didn't budge, however. He folded his arms and rested his head on them, watching her spit the disgusting water out of her mouth.
"Not coming in that easy with yeh," he laughed.
She let go of his hand and instead grabbed the collar of his shirt, firmly pulling his face closer to hers. His expression changed to one of surprise and lust, and she smiled.
She threw her arms around his neck, and her weight was enough to make him fall. He landed with her arms still around her, the pieces of hair hanging from his ponytail stuck to his face. She put one behind his ear.
"Great. Genius, you are, Vianne; how do you expect we get out now?" he said, laughing. The way his wet shirt clung to his chest made her heart begin to race again.
They stayed there for a minute, quietly treading water.
"I'm actually pretty comfortable." she said, letting the water scoop her up onto her back.
"You're so crazy, love." he muttered, grinning. "But Annouk's probably woken up by now. Imagine her waking up there alone, panicking because her maman disappeared."
Her eyes widened in realization, and she hastily swam to the edge of the dock.
Vianne knew her temperature was sailing when Roux lifted himself onto the deck; every muscle under his wet shirt flexed, and she hurriedly looked away.
Roux helped her up, and he gently held her hand as they walked back to the chocolaterie.
Finito, I hope you liked it!