"It's your turn to decide." The little girl announced and I swung my head around and looked down her, giving her a blank stare.
"Oh is it now? Because I was under the impression that I just decided to do something." I told her and she grinned.
"But then I decided to go outside and find something to do." She replied and skipped merrily towards the boats. I followed the girl and watched her jump in every puddle in her way, making the bottom of her red coat a maroon colour. "Let's go to the boats!" She announced and we continued in the way we were going, but now only making one pair of footprints after she had scrambled onto my shoulders.
"How about you be the servant boy this time?" I suggested, and brown eyes were in front of mine as she hung her head over me to reply.
"Roux, how could I possibly be the servant boy? I am not a boy, and I could not possibly carry you." She said matter-of-factly and straightened up, leaving me to chuckle.
"How do you know if you've never tried." I asked, grinning up at her.
"But I have tried, remember. You had to help me and lift yourself up." She said and gave a call out to the birds who responded by flying to a different branch.
"Very well Captain Anouk, how may I be of service?" I asked, a pirate accent invading my voice, giving it a gravelly undertone.
"To the boats wench!" She cried, pointing an invisible sword towards my home and I being the obedient servant boy, did as she bid. I did not bother to correct her on calling me a wench, leaving it to her mother to describe the difference between a servant boy and wench. "Hurry girly!" She cried and left me to wonder if she really did know the definition of the term.
"So now I am not the servant boy?" I asked her and I felt her head shake as she rested her jaw upon the top of my head.
"No. I got tired of that. I thought we needed a change." I could hear the restraint in her voice as she tried not to laugh. We reached the boat and after half an hour of sword fighting we called it a truce in the understanding that she really won, but she didn't want to hurt my feelings. She told this to everyone on the boat and they cawed with laughter, patting her hair and messing it up.
"I wish I could live on the river forever." Anouk told me as we rested and watched the clouds floating in the sky. Those words gave me joy on that day and I told myself that she was not the one I had to convince.
"Really? And what would you do all day?" I asked her, trying to find if it was another one of her games or she really did like the thought of living on the boat with us. She started with all those aspects of pirates- sword fighting, finding treasure, telling the wench (me) what to do. Her voice then described how her mother could set up a small kitchen and make desert for everyone.
"Could I be the captain?" She finally asked and I chuckled.
"We'll have to come to some sort of agreement." I replied and sat up as I saw Vianne walking to the boats. Her red shoes became speckled with brown of the mud and I realised how red symbolised these two women. It was a beacon that showed everyone that they were near and let them decide for themselves if they were happy about it or not.
"Lunch is ready Anouk." The little girl jumped up and leapt into the woman's arms and whispered something to her. "If you want too." Vianne replied and I gave her a questioning look to which she replied by looking at the girl in her arms.
"Roux, can we have a picnic on the river?" The girl asked, beaming with excitement.
"The river belongs to no one, so go ahead. Though I have to say it'll be mighty hard to swim and eat at the same time." Vianne grinned at me and the little child crossed her arms and glared at me.
"Can we please have a picnic in your boat on the river?" She asked, rolling her eyes. "The little one I mean." My eyes met Vianne's and she smiled gently.
"Why not?" Anouk clapped and ran off the boat we were on and up the hill to get the food and I put an arm around Vianne's shoulders and followed the child. I was always pleasantly surprised how the woman could fit so easily next to me, like two puzzle pieces. I listened to her talk about her day and waited until she asked what the child and I did.
"I hope she was not too much trouble." She finishes, waiting for my answer. It strikes me that I should ask her right then. Right out of the blue.
"She was fine. Wants to be the captain of the ship, and I am to be the ship's wench." She laughs softly and I have the urge to lean over and kiss her.
"Roux! Mama!" The child cries out and I find that we are in front of her shop. "Where is Bourdon?" Vianne's brown eyes grow wide with worry and I find myself assuming that Bourdon was a nickname of someone who was meant to be looking after the shop.
"Is he in your hidden place?" Vianne asks her daughter and as the girl sadly shakes her head I find that my assumptions are wrong.
"I think he has run away." Anouk announces sadly but as a small bark and a sleek brown body come out of the kitchen the child's face shows new found joy. "Bourdon!" She picks the small dog up and hugs it tightly. "Do you like my new puppy?" She asks me and I nod.
"Maybe we can teach him how to swim?" I suggest and she grins and puts the dog down and follows the creature to the kitchen. I see my chance to ask Vianne when she turns to me.
"It is Anouk's birthday next week." She tells me and I nod, "I don't know what to do for it." She tells me and I see the desperation in her face. This child means the world to her, and I imagine that her birthday is the one day she wants perfection for the girl.
"Let me take care of it." I say and cup her chin in my hand. "You just need to look for her present." I kiss her and we do not notice the door burst open and a little dog sniff out feet until the child clears her throat and smirks at us.
"May we take this basket mama?" She asked and lifted a basket that was nearly half the size of her.
"Yes darling." She tells her and walks off to the kitchen, signalling for her daughter and I to follow her. On my way I scooped the child up and hung her around my shoulders, her arms attached at my neck. So many times I have seen the amount of love Vianne has for this child and so many times I thought I could never love her that much. But in recent days when we go and play in the town and near the boats, I begin to think that maybe I could.
"Vianne, there is something that I need to ask you." I whisper to her as she packs the basket. She looks at me worriedly and touches my arm.
"What is it Roux?" She asks and I open my mouth to reply but it catches in my throat. I have never been nervous to ask anything before, especially of Vianne. She puts her hand on my cheek and looks into my eyes, "is anything wrong?" I can see the worry in her eyes and grab her hand.
"No, nothing like that." I tell her and she half dismisses me as Anouk grabs her sleeve as she tries to get her attention.
"Mama, are we getting lunch?" She asks, her patience to go wearing thin. Vianne tells her not to interrupt and turns her kind face towards me. I try to look for something else on that face- love maybe?
"What were you going to ask me Roux?" She asks and I shake my head slightly.
"Later," I whisper and her smile widens a little and after a small nod in reply she follows her daughter to get the picnic ready. I watch the two women that my life has been surrounded by and find that the edges of my lips turn upwards in a smile. They are the first women I want this to work with.
"Roux!" A young voice calls out and I follow it to see someone trying to wrap sandwiches up with greaseproof paper. There was about a metre of scraps on the ground and a determined look invaded her face. "You don't expect us to do this all, do you?" And I don't, but I tell her that anyway. I earn a slap on the head from Vianne as she carries a pumpkin to the display counter.
"What's that for?"
"Halloween!" Anouk cries out gleefully and shows us the last sandwich that she wrapped before putting it into the basket and carrying it out. "We should have a Halloween party." She suggested and tried to lift the basket to give to me. I took it, threading it through my arm so it hung off my elbow and bent down so that the child could scramble onto my shoulders. Vianne laughs and pecks my cheek before she puts a hat on her head as she opens the door to let us through.
"Would you like to hop down now?" I ask the child and she slides off, her rain boots slamming into the muddy ground. She races down onto the pier and climbs onto the short fence, ignoring the cut out of the fence only a few inches away. Vianne laughs underneath her breath and I slow my pace so that she catches up to me- Anouk and I ran to the trees- and place an arm over her shoulders. She relaxes into me and asks what I was going to ask of her in the shop.
"Vianne, I need to go at the end of spring-" I start and she looks at me- her smile falters a little and even though her sadness I can't help but be pleased that she might miss me. "I can fix my boat up- make it bigger before I leave." I continue and the sadness is replaced by a look of confusion. "Will you and Anouk come with me? We can always come back after summer." I tell her. She leans into me and sighs.
"Roux- I would love to." I can tell there's more and all I wish is that she will tell me she will. But she is Vianne and though I don't know the reason, I certainly know the answer. "But there's something I must tell you." I slow down and look into her face, and brush a piece of stray hair from her eye. She takes a breath and looks into my eyes, her look so deep it scares me just the slightest. "I'm pregnant."