As I opened my heavy eyelids I looked out to find the Parisian sun smiling at me, enclosing me in it's gentle warmth. Remembering last night, I shot a glance at the sofa to find Linguini still there, but sprawled out across the length of the piece of furniture, photo album laid face down on the floor.
"Good morning." Colette said in her sweet, heavily accented voice. I waved and smiled at her, receiving back a touch on the head by her delicate fingers. I nestled back into my little bed that Linguini had made for me. It was comfy for a small box lined with soft material. Comfortable for me, anyway. My nose twitched as I began to smell sweet crêpes wafting through the air. Colette often made crêpes, and when she did.. boy, were they delicious. I saw Linguini's face scrunch up and his eyes flutter open, murmuring "Pancakes.." under his breath as he got up sleepily like a zombie and walked into the kitchen to greet his lover.
"Ah, Bonjour." She turned from her cooking to give him a quick peck on the cheek.
"M.. Morning." Was all he could manage he was so tired. She didn't turn to look but kept talking.
"So.. What time did you sleep last night? I noticed you didn't come upstairs an-"
"I went downstairs to get some food and then.. then I fell asleep.. no, oh wait. I was showing little chef some photos." He stammered. "From my album." She huffed.
"What did I tell you about sleeping late on work nights? You know you get tired easily. You're going to end up almost cutting your finger off like you did last week!" Linguini winced. He had stayed up late to watch a movie all to almost fall asleep whilst slicing an onion the next day and only just miss a finger. He then frowned.
"But every night is a work night.. When did we last have a break?" He was right. The couple didn't have hardly any time to relax, except half of Sunday because the bistro closed early. Running a restaurant full time was difficult, especially when the only staff were a clumsy giant, an irritable French woman and a rat. Colette paused momentarily before flipping the pancakes over in the pan.
"Chéri, You know why we don't have much time off. We run a bistro. La Ratatouille, one of the finest in all of Paris." She also had a point. The restaurant was renowned as being one of the best in the city, and was frequently visited by food critics. It was a full time thing.
Colette turned off the heat and shuffled the pancakes out of the pan and onto a plate. She looked Linguini in the eye with a straight face. "You look.. tired. Really very tired." Linguini stared back into her stern face. She didn't look any better.
"You look tired too.. Chérie." Afraid he might get a slap round the face, Linguini took a step back as Colette lifted her hand. She touched her face as if in disbelief and stared down at their breakfast.
"Hmm.. Maybe so. Anyway, Bon Appétit."
"Alfredo, mind your han-" Colette exclaimed, only to be cut off by a wailing Linguini. He was tending to one of the ovens and obviously wasn't paying it his full attention. Being tired was probably the main culprit, alongside with him being a total klutz.
"Ow! Hey hey h-hey.. Col-Colette, grab me some ice.. please, ah, sorry. Ow!" He was bending over forwards clutching his injured hand and messing his speech up fluently. Colette rolling her eyes grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to the sink.
"Run this under cool water, Oui?" She said, leaving him dumbfounded with his arm in the sink, sleeve being soaked. He spluttered and placed his hand under the tap.
"Ah uh.. Okay.." The water stung a little at first but soon became soothing to the intense pain of the burn. I ran out from the top half of the bistro where I worked and ran downstairs to see what all the noise was about. I was hardly surprised, Linguini was no stranger to injuring himself. I smirked and remembered all the photos he had shown me the night before of him in casts and bandages of all sorts. "And this is when I broke my collar bone.."
I could see Colette was busily rushing round the kitchen trying to make up for Linguini's absence, Attempting to flip over meat whilst chopping vegetables and serving up plates. She flung something into an oven and rushed over to her partner, taking his hand out from under the cold tap. Accessing the burn she glanced quickly at him and then rushed off to the office to get a bandage and some ointment. Linguini peered at the giant red blister on his hand and grimaced. It looked pretty bad, and had already started to swell. Colette returned with a length of bandage and a crumpled tube of special cream for the burn.
"Here." She said quickly as she squeezed out a thick layer of the tube's contents and massaged it onto the blistering, binding it up neatly with guaze. She looked up and smiled. He smiled back cupping his hand. Although knowing Colette's fiery temper he should have known that the moment would not last long, especially in the workplace.
"Now back to work!" She demanded.
Meanwhile upstairs in the rat bistro, I served customers and made idle chat with a few familiar faces. Emile popped out of the kitchen, a piece of pie crumb stuck to his whiskers. Scowling I walked over to him.
"You've been eating the stuff out of the fridge again, haven't you?" He shook his head vigorously, handing me the puppy dog eyes. I brushed it off. He did this often, you just had to get used to it. Emile helped out in the kitchen, and was also a waiter, although he had a tendency to eat part of the Entrée before it was delivered to the table. Sure, work was hectic, but I didn't loathe it. I loved working up here, it was like a dream. Suddenly I caught sight of a large family of rats walking past, being seated at their tables by another rat. I walked over to greet them, a smile on my face.
"Hello, welcome to La Ratatouille." I chirped. The family greeted me with a round of smiles and hellos.
"My name is Remy. I'm actually the manager, but I'm here to take your order tonight. What may I entice you with?" They were a good looking family. The larger rat, who appeared to be the father was a little rugged and had a chunk missing out of his left ear. Then there was the mother, who was a very attractive looking creature I must admit. They had a brood of 5 children, each with bright sparkling eyes and happiness that seemed to glow off of them.
"Ah so you are the famous Chef Remy!" The father stood to shake my paw. "The names Jacques. We've heard so many good things about you. Amazing things." He sat back down, grinning. I was touched.
"Thank you. Eheh, now how about you kids? See anything you like?" Five pairs of eyes darted up at me, shouting out their orders. "Woah! One at a time now."
After taking the orders from the family I went to the kitchen, to find Emile sneaking left over cake from the refrigerator. It wasn't a real refrigerator of course, you couldn't buy those in rat-size. But it was in fact a tiny ice box, and we stored our food in there to keep it fresh. Most of our kitchen was either made out of recycled objects we found out and about or dolls house furniture. The reality of it all was still settling in. I owned my own bistro, in Paris! Would you believe it. How did I come from family poison checker to manager and chef of a real restaurant? I put it down to sheer luck, or maybe even fate. If I hadn't of been separated from my family after that crazy old lady tried to fill us with lead I wouldn't of ended up in Paris, or if I hadn't of fallen in that window above Gusteau's I wouldn't of met Linguini. Or if it had not been Linguini that was ordered to dispose of me then I would be.. I gulped. Dead. I shook it off. I didn't need grim thoughts. Not now, anyway. I snapped right back to what I was doing and shouted out the orders for the family. A whole host of furry bodies scurried over to various work stations and set out preparing things. In what seemed like no time plates (or rather bottle caps and pieces of bowl-like scrap) were placed before me and I scurried with them out to my awaiting customers. On the way there I caught sight of Emile attempting to sneak a grape. "Emile, stop that!"
"Mmm. My mouth is watering just looking at it!" Jacques said aloud. The others seemed to nod their heads. "Tuck in, everyone."
"Bon Appétit." I said as I smiled and began to back away to the kitchen.
"Wait up a sec, Fella." I turned to see Jacques grinning at me, food in his mouth.
"What is it? Is there anything wrong with your food? I can take it ba-"
"No no! Nawh the grub's good. Real good. Why don't you stay for abit?" He chuckled. His wife shook her head.
"If you're not too busy, he means." She spoke softly, grinning and placing a delicate white paw on my arm. I blushed.
"I, er.." Throwing a glance towards the kitchen entrance I could see that everything was running smoothly and that my help wasn't really needed. "I.. I'm sure I could stay a few minutes." We shared a smile.
"..So then this big fella comes up to me all like, Hey, punk. That's my corn! What a drip, am I right?" The rugged rat bellowed with heavy laughter, sending waves of chuckles from around the table.
"That's a good one.." I laughed nervously. "So.. How long have you been living in the area for? I mean-"
"Four years. I personally, didn't come from this place, but my beautiful wife Belle did. Ah, beautiful..like the city of Paris itself."
"You're too kind, Mon Chéri." She said with a giggle as he kissed the back of her silky paw from across the table. He winked back at her.
"I came from across the pond. You know, the big US of A." I gawked
"Wow, really? America." Jacques responded with a vigorous nod of the head.
"Yup, America. You ever heard of New York City? The big apple?" My eyes widened and I nodded.
"Yes of course, I remember Linguini saying he grew up there. Brooklyn, I think."
"Linguini? The tall human, with the bushy hair on his head. Right? Sounds Italian if you ask me. Yup, definitely Brooklyn. Lotta Italians live in Brooklyn." I found that I was learning more about Linguini's home town from a fellow rat than the kid himself.
"So what made you come over here? I mean, why are you in Europe?" He took a chunk of tomatoey food in, chewing quickly with his mouth open before answering my question.
"I was bored of where I came from, I wanted to see new things, new sights.. So I hopped on a cargo ship and a few trucks from America and winded up here. I didn't even know Paris was my final destination, but hey. Fate was gonna take me somewhere."
"Wow.. That's a long way to travel.."
"Sure is." He muffled between mouthfuls.
"What is America like? New York?" The rest of the kid's eyes seemed to sparkle, the younger ones jumping up and down in their seats yelling "Tell us dad! Tell us the stories again!" He chuckled.
"All right, All right.. Settle down now kids. Well, my dear pal Remy. New York is like nothing you've ever seen before. Got the nickname of the "Concrete Jungle", and rightly said. It's wild out there."
"Ouch! Don't touch that!"
"Stop being such a little baby." Colette snarled. Linguini looked up at her, somewhat hurt.
"I'm no babe.. uh, baby! Gosh.." He threw a palm to his face. "I didn't mean to burn my hand, y'know.. or the food. I'm sorry." She wiped a brow with one hand and sighed, placing the other on her hip.
"It doesn't matter, Chéri.. Although, what did I tell you about those late nights?" Linguini felt silly for not taking her advice. "I could tell you were going to slip up at some point during the day."
After a brief note of silence he spoke up.
"I didn't mean to.. I'm just a little tired, that's all. You're right.. I am tired. I'm gonna sleep same time as you tonight."
"Good." She whispered, reaching up to give him a kiss on the cheek.
They had reached home before darkness had encroached the streets of Paris, the sky a beautiful dusky pink. Linguini let go of his partner's hand and fumbled around in his pocket for the keys, before dropping them on the ground.
"H-Here." He laughed nervously, trying to shake it off. She just threw him a funny smile back.
After unlocking the door she swiftly opened it and shrugged off her coat in one move. Linguini on the other hand, too pre-occupied with Colette's grace tripped over the doorstep and collided with the door. "Ow!" He exclaimed. Colette laughed, causing Linguini to throw her a giant frown in return. "Not funny!" He pouted like a little kid. She only laughed harder, moving forward to scoop him up in her arms.
"Oh, Alfy.." She said between hiccups of laughter, rubbing his forehead. "Does the baby want a bandage?" He pouted yet again and then nodded.
"Oui, S'il vous plait." Colette hoisted him up and took his hand, leading him to the front room. "You're so mean to me.." He joked. She turned around and poked his nose.
"Oui, I know. It's my duty to tease you Chéri.. And it's yours to make a fool of yourself and give me purpose." He scowled mockingly and laughed with her, taking her by the waist and giving her a loving squeeze. The pair stayed in the embrace for several moments before Colette finally spoke up. "I wonder where Le Petit Chef is." Linguini turned to face her.
"I think he wanted to stay back and clean.. or cook, you know what he's like."
"Hm, maybe. Anyway, it's only half 7. Would you like to watch a movie?" Linguini grinned.
"I'm good. I have a better idea, anyway.."
"You have a giant pimple. There, on your cheek." Scanning the picture he too discovered the blemish.
"Shut up.. I made an ugly teenager." The couple were browsing Linguini's photo album just like he had done with Remy the night before.
"Non, non. You should have seen me!" Linguini blinked and dragged his eyes away from the scaly-skinned picture of himself towards his beautiful girlfriend in utter disbelief.
"You?.. Ugly? Uh.. But you're so beautiful." A gentle blush appeared on Colette's cheeks as she gave him a genuine warm smile and a kiss before opening her mouth to speak.
"Ah, Merci. But not in my teenage years, oh no.. All the other girls would call me names, I was abit of a tomboy." Him and Colette had never really spoken about their past lives before. Sure, they had touched upon the subject a few times but never flat out talked about it. This was all new information to him.
"What did they say?" He asked. She chuckled and and pushed her hair out from her face. "It was silly. People thought I was horrendously bad mannered and rude, not to mention an outsider.. They didn't think much of me." He made a face that said he understood and closed his eyes.
"I got called names too. Uh.. like pizza face. I guess I kinda looked like.. well, a pizza." Colette began to laugh again. She ruffled his fluffy red locks and smiled. His face lit up as he pointed to another picture of himself, this one he seemingly liked. "Prom night." He beamed. "This is the only photo where I don't look too bad." He was right. If anything he looked remarkably grown up and smart. He was wearing an ironed black suit with a blue shirt and red rose on the front pocket, with shiny (and a little scuffed) black shoes.
"Wow, magnifique!" She grinned, then noticed out of the corner of her eye that he was covering the rest of the picture up with his hand. "What are you hiding?" She moved his hand from the open page and smirked. "Ooh, Prom date?" She gave him a flirtatious wink and nudged him gently with her elbow, causing him to turn bright red with embarrassment. "Girlfriend, no?" His face turned a deeper shade of rouge.
"N-No.. I never had a girlfriend. Not ever!" The girl in the picture was wearing a long, pink dress and had blonde hair that was neatly cut and styled. She was a pretty looking girl.
"She looked nice.. What was her name?" She looked across to see Linguini still bright red and struggling to string a sentence together.
"Uh.. Her name? Hey, wait! W-What are you doing!" She had taken the photo out of it's thin plastic pocket and flipped it over, revealing Linguini's scruffy handwriting. "No!" He spluttered as he grabbed the photo from her hands. Colette was shocked at his reaction.
"What? What is the matter?" She spoke, snatching the picture away from his hold. "Sandy?" She then moved her thumb, revealing a heart. "Oh, I see.." Linguini wailed. "You loved Sandy!"
"Awh Geez.." He sunk into his palms, hiding his burning cheeks. "So what?.. I'll bet you liked gir-.. I mean boys! Boys too.." She raised a brow.
"I'm only fooling around.. of course I did." Linguini sat up, conscious of his still-red face. "My first lover was when I was 17, his name was Francis. He wasn't particularly attractive, but he was a biker. I was into that." She looked up at Linguini and made a funny face. "..He was also a complete asshole." She laughed and crossed one leg over the other. "I have lost track of how many men I have dated. Too many. What about you?" Linguini stumbled and became red again.
"Only you." He replied sheepishly.
"Non, really?" As Colette began talking about her boyfriends Linguini drifted off into his own thoughts, thinking over what Colette had just told him. "I have lost track of how many men I have dated. Too many.." It kept whirring around in his mind, like an annoying bird. She was obviously very experienced when it came to dating. He couldn't help but feel a little uncomfortable with the thought that he might just be another 'number' to add to her list, or that he might not be anymore special than they were. She detected the look on his face right away.
"Oh, Alfredo.. I'm not going to get rid of you." He blushed. "You're.. You're different from all the other men." Linguini felt his heart leap and the corners of his mouth stretch.
"I am?" He beamed.
"Well, yes. You treat me as an equal.. Most pety men seem to have it engraved in their minds that women should pitter-patter around in the kitchen and attend to their every whim. Why I detest them in general.. pigs. But you're not like that." She closed her eyes and snuggled up closer to him on the couch.
"Thanks Colette.. That means a lot. I didn't think I was anything out of the ordinary, just a.. klutz."
Time had seemed to fly by before Colette glanced at the clock.
"It's 11, Chéri. Come on." She flipped the cover of the album shut in his lap and began to wonder off in the direction of the stairs. Linguini rolled a thumb over the gold embossed lettering on the leathery front and sighed. Seeing all these memories had only made him realise more how he missed home. "Coming?" Came Colette's voice from upstairs.
"Coming.." He whispered softly. He tore himself away from the memory book and put it back in it's place in the shelf, slowly making his way up the staircase. Colette stretched and rubbed her eye sleepily as Linguini walked into the room. She stopped.
"What?" She mumbled. He was totally caught off-guard by her.
"Huh? What?" Colette frowned.
"You're giving me those blank zombie-eyes again." Linguini took his shirt off and looked her in the eyes.
"..Zombie eyes? Uh.. Sorry, I guess." Colette flopped into the bed whilst he continued getting undressed, taking a quick glance at his half-naked body in the mirror. He poked his nose and glared at himself for a brief moment before turning the light off and crawling into bed with his partner, snuggling up close and inhaling the scent of her hair.
"Mmphm.." She mumbled, shifting against him. "Goodnight Alfredo."
He was left in the dark. Colette fell asleep very quickly, so he was also left in dead silence. Nothing could be heard but his girlfriend's gentle breathing and the clock on the bedside table ticking faintly.
Laying on his back and studying the plaster on the ceiling, he squeezed his eyes shut and yawned.. but any attempt at sleep was denied by his mind. It was buzzing like crazy, the pictures from the album still fresh and vivid. He wondered how long it had been since he had seen those familiar faces in the flesh, heard their voices and felt their embrace.. He couldn't sleep like this. Unpeeling the sheets off carefully as to not wake Colette, he got up and trod lightly across the wooden floor, wincing at the sensation of the cold boards against his feet. Everything in the room was still, apart from the rise and fall of Colette's chest and soft breeze moving the curtains. Fresh air was what he needed. In a swift forward motion the door to the balcony was unlocked with a small click and opened, sending Alfredo face first into a wall of cool night air. He slumped onto the cold railings of the balcony and stared at the pretty lights that were Paris at night. He could remember what night was like back home in Brooklyn too; the yellow street lights outside his window that illuminated the little street and the neighbour's cat that used to whine at passing cars. For a brief moment he thought he could smell his mother's home-cooked food in the air, but he was obviously mistaken. Not even Remy could recreate that kind of magic..
I had forgotten the time completely, me and Jacques had been talking for hours. The guy just had so many stories to tell! He told me about the time he scaled the empire state building, and the hilarious escapade in the hot dog factory. New York seemed so different from France, so fantastic and exciting. And the food.. oh, the food! My senses were just tingling at the thought of what Jacques had described. I had seen burger restaurants around Paris, but even then they couldn't compare to what he had told me. We had said our goodbyes, and I had just finishing checking everything over for the night. Since it was nearly 1 AM and nobody was walking around outside, it was safe for me to just make my way home out in the open. I paused. Linguini and Colette must have wondered where I had been all that time.. the last time I turned up late Linguini was hysterical, almost suffocating me with his loving (yet sometimes uncomfortable) squeeze. I scurried the rest of the way, jumping and dodging drains and empty bottles that were lying about like a pro. I was a rat ninja! Just as I was about to jump through my special gap in the door, out of the corner of my eye I detected movement from up upon the balcony. Who was it? Was somebody trying to break in? My train of worrying thoughts was deflated as the figure's head turned to the side, casting a clear shadow against the moonlit brick wall. It was only Linguini. I would recognise that silhouette (and that nose) anywhere. I scurried up the drainpipe and leapt onto the balcony railing, causing the red-headed man to jump backwards in fright and wail.
"Gah! Little Chef!" He whimpered softly. "You..You almost gave me a heart attack. Geez.. Uh." I shrugged apologetically, Linguini looking over his shoulder to see if Colette had stirred at the sudden noise. "Where have you been?" Since I couldn't actually talk to humans, I used my body language to communicate. Me and Linguini had our own way of talking. I made a motion with my paws that mimicked scrubbing a pan. He nodded to say he understood.
"Oh. Busy shift, huh?" I smiled and nodded in reply, then making a sleeping action and poking the air in his direction. "I can't sleep." He murmured as he ducked his head and sighed. "My mind is just.. I dunno... Something is missing." Missing? What did he mean? As he lifted his head once again I could see the moisture in his eyes as they glinted in the moonlight, his expression trembling. "Oh Little Chef.. I love Paris, and I love Colette and my job, and my friends.. and you, of course. But.. but.." A tear drop plopped onto the rail beside me. But?..
"But I miss home!" He gave a little sniffle and blinked down at me, a tear streaming down his left cheek. "Well, no. This is my home now. Here, with you and Colette.. but y'know, America. With those people I showed you the other night.. home." I blinked in realisation. Of course! Poor kid. I knew how he felt.. no matter how much I loved my new life here in Paris, I still missed the clan at times. Looking up at him again, I really felt my stomach sink. If only I were bigger I would have given him a hug, but small gentle strokes on the arm were all I could manage.
"Thanks, pal.." We shared a moment of content silence, the cool Parisian breeze brushing against us as we stood together. Suddenly he shifted and cleared his throat.
"I think I'm going to head back inside. Are you coming? or.." He spoke clearly. I nodded, jumping onto his sleeve and running up to his shoulder.