Disclaimer: Everything you recognize here belongs to Rae Earl and E4, not me.
It's possible that it should be du fromage instead of le fromage. This was originally posted on my tumblr.
Karim teaches them French the way you would a baby, by pointing at things and saying their names. "Oiseau," he says, stroking a finch's head with his thumb; "Les escaliers," he says, climbing the stairs at night; "Bisou," he says, kissing her mum.
Rae rolls her eyes.
There are words that don't even need pointing because they're so close to English, like téléphone and frites and éléphant. Some phrases are also easy. "Je suis fatigué" and "Où est…?" become familiar with repetition. Before too long she learns that when he comes in grinning and bellowing "Où est ma femme?" it's best to get out of the house before she sees or hears what happens next. Because what happens next is traumatising.
On one such occasion she goes to the library and checks out a primary-school French text. She takes it to the pub and sits reading as she waits for the others. Archie shows up first, nodding to her before ordering a pint.
"What've you got there?" He slides onto the bench next to her, presses a kiss to her cheek, and leans over her arm to read. "French, eh?"
She shrugs one shoulder, careful not to jar him. "Karim's teaching us some things, but I thought this would help."
Archie gives her an encouraging smile. "It's really nice that you're learning. I know your mum and Karim appreciate it."
She shrugs again and slips the book into her bag before anyone else comes. When Chop and Izzy arrive, playfully bickering about her learning to drive a scooter, all talk of foreign languages is forgotten, and Rae doesn't mind.
The book is helpful. Alone in her room she reads through it slowly, trying to hear the words in Karim's accent in her head, mouthing the conjugations of être to herself. I am. You are. He/she/it is. We are. You (plural/formal) are. They are.
"Je suis. I am," she says. It's a complete sentence. I am. There doesn't need to be anything else: all it needs is there. "I am," she whispers again.
She's nervous the first time she uses a phrase she's learned from the book, one that he's not taught her. When she says "Je vais à l'hôpital" as she's leaving for therapy Karim looks first gobsmacked and then proud. He grabs her in a tight hug, beaming and chattering rapidly. Rae squirms in his grasp but can't hide her smile. Kester remarks on her positively cheery mood, and she admits that it feels good, making an effort and having it appreciated. His smile is almost as big as Karim's, and the warmth inside her is surprising, but not unwelcome.
Rae likes the phrase "Donne-moi." Demanding to be given things makes her sound like a child, but she doesn't care. Even when she doesn't know the word for what she wants, she still uses it; in the kitchen, making a sandwich, she instructs Karim, "Donne-moi the cheese," and he passes it to her, saying, "Je te donne le fromage." Sometimes she can't be arsed and just says "Donne-moi" and points, like a toddler. Her mother huffs and frowns and tuts, "Really, Rae," but Karim always patiently gives her both the item and its name.
(She usually remembers to say "Merci." And she doesn't always stick her tongue out at her mum.)
She isn't trying to keep it from her friends; she just doesn't feel like talking about it. But her bag spills open when she drops it on the floor in her room, and Finn goes down on one knee (her heart skips seeing him there) to pick up the contents. He shoves most everything back in but the French book has escaped entirely, and he holds it up.
"I didn't know you were learning." He sounds pleased; it's hard for Rae to tell through the roaring in her ears at the sight of him still kneeling and now smiling up at her.
She swallows thickly. "I wanted to try. Karim's taught me some, but it's mostly…stuff. Like 'window' and 'money.' Not proper conversation."
She perches on the edge of the bed and is grateful when he settles to sit cross-legged on the floor. Finn rests the book on one thigh and leans back, weight braced on his arms. "What've you learned?"
"No." Rae shakes her head. "It's too embarrassing." Her accent is terrible, twisted and thick, and she doesn't want him to hear it.
He just smiles like he doesn't believe her. She looks away from his face and hopes he never finds out how hard it is for her to resist him and his smiles.
So she sighs, melodramatically, with a bit of eye-rolling for effect, and says, "Fine. Erm…bière is beer; chaussures is shoes; le foot is football. Il pleut means it's raining and you need a… Damn, what's the word for umbrella?" She grimaces, eyes shut tight, trying to remember. Starts with a B—no, a P…
"Parapluie?" he suggests. When she opens her eyes he's got the book open to the glossary in the back and his eyes are twinkling. She mock-sneers and kicks half-heartedly at his knee. He laughs softly.
"And je suis means I am," she says quietly, not to him or for him, staring over the top of his head.
At the expression on her face he sets the book aside and shifts to sit next to her on the bed. Their legs press together from hip to ankle. They sit in silence for a moment; then he leans down and grabs the book again.
Rae watches him flip through the pages, tongue poking out. When he speaks it's haltingly, in an accent even worse than hers (though she doesn't care), and he keeps turning pages as he says, "Tu es, erm, gentil, et jolie, et…amusante, et sym—sympathique." He looks at her, expectant and, she thinks, a little nervous. "Did you get all that?"
She nods. Truthfully, she doesn't know all of the words, but she's not lying when she says "I think I understood."
He does that shy thing where he smiles with his head ducked down and looks up at her. It shatters her ability to doubt herself, and before she knows what's happening she says, "Finn. Donne-moi un bisou."
His gaze drops to the book and he starts to look for the words, but Rae covers the pages with one hand. With the other she taps her cheek while repeating the phrase.
She is not disappointed when his kiss is wildly off the mark.