I do not own Chocolat, the book or the film.
In The Streets of Paris
"Has he come yet?"
Those were the first words out of Amabel's mouth as she crossed the threshold of La Chocolaterie Maya the next morning.
Bernadette, wilting at the counter, scowled. Cheery voices at this hour of the morning did little to improve her drooping mood. She had attended at feminist gathering in a garret beside the Luxembourg Gardens last night. The absinthe had flowed like a green river and she had unfortunately overindulged. "Has who come yet?"
Amabel flounced over to the counter. A sweet musk, that reminded Anouk vaguely of the stories of Arabian Nights, drifted from her white skin and tumbling waterfall of red hair. "Anouk's man, wretch." She retorted without too much vinegar. "He promised he would come by today." Her eyes rolled dramatically. "Mon Dieu, if he wasn't so obviously interested in Anouk, I'd try to steal him for myself. He's that…" She fanned herself dramatically, avoiding Anouk's dagger-like gaze.
Bernadette's cloudy eyes cleared a little. She raised her head from the sprawl on the counter and studied the impetuous red head. Curiosity, a woman's curse, and disapproval warred in her soul. As a true feminist, she revered Jean-Paul Sartre's theory of existence precedes essence and had done so since her early years. She had fought against the traditional stereotype of a woman since her teens and knew she should be above such petty constricting concerns as a good-looking man. But still… "Who is he?"
"Who is who?" Ninette came up for air from the litany of notes she was copying. She had a Literature essay due on Victor Hugo. "Anouk is in love?"
"She is!" Amabel butted in blithely. "He came into the café yesterday and found her. He…" She paused, savouring the next words. "He delved his hands in the shining mass of her hair!"
Ninette's blue eyes widened like a kitten. "Really?"
Bernadette muttered something rude.
Anouk felt a slight flush creep up her cheeks. "No, not really, I…"
"He can't have." Bernadette growled. The migraine crashed across her temples like a marching band. "Anouk always wears her hair tied up."
Amabel waved her hands airily. Red nail polish caught the light. "Well, yesterday it was loose, naturellement. And he swore he would return…"
"Threatened." Anouk muttered. "He threatened he would return…"
"…He would return today." Amabel finished.
Two pairs of wide eyes stared at their friend in astonishment. Well, one pair of wide eyes and one pair of eye-slits. The sunlight was still too harsh for Bernadette.
Anouk clanged the metal tray of the cash register shut with a loud crash. "He is nobody." She insisted through gritted teeth. "An old school friend. that's all. Not even that. And before you think anything of it…" She added, with an especial glare for Amabel. "He did not delve his hands into my hair…"
"Yes, he did." Amabel interrupted nonchalantly.
"He took out a piece of chewing gum! That's all."
"That's all?" Ninette was disappointed. The too-big black sleeves of her jumper fell down as she rested her chin on her hands, exposing skinny white arms. "He didn't… I don't know. Smile?"
"He did smile and of course that's not…"
"Yes." Anouk shot a quick glare at Amabel. "That's all." She shrugged. "He probably won't even turn up today. There's no point in hoping."
"Oh Anouk, don't say that!" Ninette's face creased in anxiety. She hated to even think of anyone being miserable. It made her want to cry herself. "He will turn up, I promise!"
Anouk laughed at her stricken face. "Ninette, I promise, he is nothing to me." She served a silent hippy from Limoges and turned back to her friends, wiping her hands on the makeshift apron. "We grew up in the same village, that's all."
"What village was that?" Ninette asked innocently. "Was it in Provence?" She had often noticed that Anouk's accent had a slight Provençal lisp to it, particularly when she was upset or angry.
Anouk closed her lips. She had never told any of her friends about her original home. When they had first begun to ask, she had only waved them off vaguely, muttering about coming from the country. Lansquenet-sous-Tannes was another lifetime for her. She tried not to think about it too much.
Amabel powdered her nose carefully. Throwing the fresh-faced Ninette an irritated look over the tiny compact mirror, she huffed. "What does it matter what village it was? Every village is the same anyway." She added with the carelessness of someone city born and bred. "What is important is that he is due any moment and Anouk…" She glared at the brown haired woman. "Anouk is being stubborn and refuses to put on something more becoming. More chic!"
"There is nothing wrong with what I'm wearing!" Anouk snapped. Seeing nothing but scepticism in Amabel's lovely face, she turned to the final customer sitting by her counter. "Mademoiselle Aimee, is there anything wrong with my clothes?"
The old woman choked on her chestnut ganache. She had been ignored up to now and this had suited her well. But suddenly she was thrust into the limelight. She dabbed nervously at her mouth with a monogrammed handkerchief. Watering blue eyes surveyed the convent skirt, the high necked blouse in a practical and unforgiving brown and the scraped back hair. "I… petite, I ... ooh…" She dissolved into silence, terrified to voice an independent opinion and terrified to offend by remaining silent.
Monsieur Giscard, lumbering in the door, swooped to her rescue, with the instincts of an overweight owl. "You are perfectly demure, Anouk." He replied, if a little pompously. Mademoiselle Aimee nodded vigorously. She always preferred to have a male opinion to cling to than assert her own point of view. Unfortunately for Monsieur Giscard, not all women at the counter were so compliant.
"Bah! You see, Anouk? Demure!" Amabel snapped her compact shut, just as the tiny bell on the door tinkled. Monsieur Giscard frowned at her asperity. "Sacre diables, you will never get him like that!"
"Who says she needs to get anyone?" Bernadette growled. Her principles had reasserted themselves.
"But everyone needs some bit of effort to secure one's true love." Ninette interrupted the feminist, her wide blue eyes glowing. "It is only right!" She spoke with the fervour of a religious martyr.
Mademoiselle Aimee's eyes dampened slightly at the young girl's romantic enthusiasm. She had been a secret hoarder of romantic novels for years. Amabel, on the other hand, repressed a snort. "True love! He only appeared yesterday, Ninette. True lust. Ah, now that I can understand perfectly. But this love…"
"But you knew him before, didn't you Anouk?" Ninette appealed to her friend. Anouk felt the familiar wash of affection for the wide-eyed girl, this time tinged with irritation.
"A bit, perhaps." She agreed. Hastily, catching the gleam of triumph in several pairs of eyes, she rushed on. "But that was a long time ago. We were kids." And, because she was a petty, small-minded person who did not enjoy having her peace and solitude disturbed, she added. "I'd forgotten he'd even existed." She turned around to collect a tray of Cointreau Roses. She raised his voice so that none of her friends could mistake what she said. "Of course, he wasn't all that special to begin with."
"I know you're not talking about me." A smooth, amused voice cut into the conversation.
Anouk glanced up. Instantly, her cheeks went pink with mortification.
Luc Clairmont stood in the centre of her shop, looking like every mother's dream and nightmare combined. His shoes were polished and gleaming underneath clean light brown trousers. A spotless white shirt with a wide floppy collar made him look cool and relaxed despite the humid March day. His blonde hair was brushed neatly and glinted slightly in the noon sunshine flooding through the wide windows. A small smirk curved around his lips. His blue eyes were fixed directly on Anouk to the exclusion of everyone else in the café.
And there was a devil dancing in them, laughing at her discomfort.
"As far as I remember, Anouk Rocher, I was a charming child."
"I…" Anouk stared at him. "You…"
"Luc!" Amabel let out a wild squeal. "Luc, you came!"
There was a start of uncertainty in his eyes for a moment. Anouk saw it and relished it. She couldn't resist a small smirk as Amabel threw herself on the blonde haired man, bestowing an effusive kiss to both cheeks. Awkwardly, Luc patted her on the shoulder. "Umm… Bonjour Mademoiselle…?"
"Oh Luc, it is truly wonderful that you came!" Amabel was in full flight. "We have been waiting all morning to meet you!"
Blue eyes sought out Anouk in panic. "Ah."
Monsieur Giscard cleared his throat portentously. Amabel's behaviour found little favour in his eyes but the appearance on the scene of some young whippersnapper dressed up like a Teddy Boy (or something of that ilk) found even less. Behind the pince-nez, his eyes narrowed into little slits. His barrel chest began to puff up like a bullfrog. Mademoiselle Aimee gazed at him adoringly. "Bonjour, Monsieur." He rumbled pointedly, rapping his own silver spoon against the mug of chocolate like a drummer ringing up an execution.
Luc, quick to release the clinging Amabel, fixed an innocent smile on his face. Anouk resisted the urge to roll her eyes in disgust at the obvious pretence. "M'sieur." He inclined his head politely. "A pleasure. Madame." He added, bestowing a small smile on Mademoiselle Aimee. The old woman dropped her chocolate and blushed like a child. Images of Rhett Butler flew into Mademoiselle Aimee's romantic mind.
Monsieur Giscard cleared his throat. Clearly he was longing to ask if Luc's intentions towards Anouk were honourable. After all, being a life-long bachelor, this would be the only time that he would ever be able to ask such a question and not appear nosy.
Bernadette, in her own fashion, beat him to it. She eyed Luc up and down. Her gaze lingered, sharp as barbed wire, on the fashionable tailoring and Saville Row cut. Her nostrils flared slightly. "Are you a pimp?"She demanded. The hot chocolate had dispersed sufficient quantities of her hangover to enable her to interrogate.
"You look like a pimp. That," She sniffed loudly and straightened her spotted blue and pink tie. "Or some poor little rich boy from the University of Orléans who thinks just because he's some big shot back home amongst the debutantes and bland bald-pates of Society…"
"Why, Mademoiselle." Luc's eyes had gone hard. He recognised a challenge when he saw one. He let go of Amabel, who slipped out of his arms disconsolately and scowled at Bernadette. "One would say you were speaking from experience."
"Monsieur," Ninette, ever hurrying for peace, slipped in between the combatants. "Tell me, please. Do you work?"
Luc stared at her, momentarily startled. It was after all, a question plucked from nowhere.
The petite girl looked up at him through ridiculously solemn blue eyes, eyes the colour of Swiss lakes. His own widened. They drifted over the delicate-as-frost cheek bones and the luminous white skin. Then back up to those extraordinary blue pools. He stared at her fixedly. Then his eyes creased, smiling at the corners. Instantly, the debonair man about the town was back. Under the shocked gazes of everyone in the café, he captured one of Ninette's hands. With a smile, he pressed her knuckles to his lips.
"All day and night, mademoiselle."He smiled at her. "I slave only for the cause of beauty."
Ninette gaped. Of all the reactions in the realms of possibility, she had not expected this. "Oh."
"Oh!" Bernadette snorted.
"Yours." Luc continued as if she had not spoken. "If you will permit."
"Oh!"Mottled red swept to Ninette's cheeks. "M'sieur…" She fumbled with her cup, the lake-blue eyes dropping to the floor with embarrassment.
Amabel sighed, content to take the audience's role. Bernadette snarled into her cup of hot chocolate. Monsieur Giscard shot several fulminating glares at the young couple and Anouk… Anouk gritted her teeth and resisted the urge to throw a tea cloth at Luc's blonde head.
"Do you always flirt like this Luc, or is this show put on for my benefit?" She attempted something like the languid bored tones of the aristos she had heard strutting around the streets.
"Show, Anouk Rocher?" He looked up from his contemplation of the beet-red Ninette. His blue eyes were sharp. "I did not realise you were taking such pleasure from it."
"Of course." She raked loose strands back from her face in a defiant gesture. "I consider it a great pleasure when some idiot from the Provinces stands in the middle of my café and embarrasses my friends with his attempts at wit."
His mouth tightened. Abruptly, he dropped Ninette's white hands. "Sarcasm, Anouk, is the lowest form of wit."
"And yet, still higher in intelligence than your own."
The rest of the café gradually fell silent as the two combatants faced each other across the narrow expanse of the walnut counter. Those who had been debating Baudelaire and Zola only five minutes ago quietened. The Marxists looked away from their manifestos of social equality. The lone Situationist in the corner stopped puffing on her cigarette.
Anouk didn't care. She felt reckless, itchy. It was like a thousand ants had erupted under her skin sending bubbles of energy trembling to every muscles and limb in her body. Normally aloof amused brown eyes flashed a challenge. She tapped her bare feet on the wooden floor. Her shoes had been abandoned underneath the counter earlier on. She was unaware of it, but a small smile curved one corner of her mouth.
"Have you nothing to say, Luc Clairmont?" Her head tilted to one side.
"Nothing?" He was annoyed now. Her frosty reception and her constant mockery had wounded his pride. He was not used to being disliked, in any of the circles he visited. "I have plenty, Anouk. Just nothing suitable for mixed company."
"You think I am afraid of a few insults?"
"I think you've never truly been insulted before or you would not say that."
"Sticks and stones…" She mocked. Her hair nearly bristled with energy. Strange, she had never felt like this with Maurice. It had always been gentle with him, like a child's prayer or a pastoral painting. Now, she felt as if she was on fire with energy, as if she was the fire, sparking and flying high.
"Salope. " He snapped.
There was a gasp from her customers. Even the foul-mouthed spitfire from Limoges was shocked. They stared at the interloper in their world as if he were the devil. Monsieur Giscard contemplated calling him out.
Anouk didn't notice, didn't care. Retaliation was her only goal.
"Bâtard!" She whipped back. The word had entered her vocabulary in Marseilles when her chocolaterie had been close by the docks.
If her café had been shocked at Luc's profanity, they were nearly bowled over by hers. Mademoiselle Aimee covered her mouth with a hartshorn scented handkerchief. Amabel's mouth dropped open until she resembled a red haired fish. In the couch under the poster for the Moulin Rouge, someone choked on their chocolat chaud.
Luc discovered he was breathing heavily, as if out of breath. For an instant he was reminded of the races they would run when they had been children. The course had been from the statue of the first Comte, in the centre of the square, to the river bank. They would race, a bunch of them, neck and neck until the last few hundred feet. Then there would be only two competitors left. Himself and Anouk. He remembered her fierceness and how she would always stretch ahead and beat him, just by that little bit… He looked at her. Before, the brown eyes had been sleepy and relaxed. Now, her eyes sparkled with life flashing like a fencer's blade. The loose strands had fallen back over her face and that smile was back, curving her full lips up.
Suddenly, he grinned. She hadn't changed.
"You always had the last word." He commented. His eyes danced with laughter, his annoyance gone.
She eyed him warily. The sudden change disconcerted her. Brown eyes searched his face for any hint of deception. She saw none. Her shoulders relaxed down. A small smile replaced the reckless gleam. Suddenly, she knew what to do.
Anouk reached down under her counter. On the bottom shelf, below the glass cabinet was a small locked case. The sliver brushed key dangled in the lock. Clicking it open, she drew out her own plate. The earthy red pottery was warm in her hands, despite being locked up for several days. The inscribed symbols intermingled with each other until all one could see was some giant mass of heathen signs. She had found it in her town by the Spanish border. The instant she saw it, she knew and she had bought it that very day.
She set it on the counter reverently. The fingers of her right hand made it spin. Looking up into Luc's eyes, she knew he recognised the ritual as something more than what it was. She smiled again and tucked a strand of brown hair behind her ear.
"What do you see?"
Amabel frowned at the unexpected turn of events. "Anouk…" She began.
"Ssssh!" Ninette, suddenly perceptive for once in her life, batted her hands at the red head. "Quiet, Amabel!"
Luc looked down into the spinning plate. He frowned for a moment. Then the frown lightened. He glanced up at Anouk, then across at the fascinated Ninette. "A white feather." He said softly.
Anouk's gaze flickered across to Ninette's rapt face. No one could have mistaken the warmth in Luc's voice or the intimate smile he shot in Ninette's direction. She felt something small lurch in her stomach. She ignored it.
"Chocolate snaps then." She retorted. "Welcome to La Chocolaterie Maya, Luc Clairmont."
Blue eyes smiled at her. He leaned back comfortably against the counter, his teeth glinting in another of his rakish grins. "It's good to be back, Anouk Rocher."