A short story.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

he high-pitched beep of a horn from a Citroen hatchback pierces the air as Felix hurries through a crosswalk. He scowls at the driver as he struggles to find his footing traversing the uneven road. The cobblestone streets of Honfleur create a loud rumble as cars pass by. Sailboats of all shapes and sizes litter the neatly tucked away port nearby. Gray, white, and brown buildings of varying heights crowd the town harbor; blue and red awnings rest at the base of each structure. The murmur of locals and tourists out for the day give even more animation to the picturesque fishing town.

Elongating his stride to pass a group of Chinese tourists, Felix shoves his hand down the pocket of his slightly-too-tight pair of skinny jeans and snags his phone to check for messages. There are none. He remembered he wanted to grab a small souvenir for his mother before he caught the four o’clock train. He only has 30 minutes before the train departs from the station. He missed the early train from Caen last week and ended up having to buy a new ticket. His elementary French didn’t help his situation, either.

After rounding a corner to trek up a hill in town, Felix scans nearby stores. Pastry shops, boutiques, and art galleries line the historic Rue du Dauphin. The aroma of fresh bread and hazelnut instantly greets Felix’s nose. He contemplates buying a box of macaroons for his mother but hesitates. He knows himself well, the treats would be gone by day’s end. He impatiently paces down the narrow street, glancing into the windows of each store.

The shopkeeper’s bell startles Camille as two new customers enter the Chocolate House. The store owners prefer to call the shop a “house” rather than a “shop” because shops aren’t as inviting. Shops, stores, houses; they’re all the same to Camille. The only reason she has a job offering free chocolate samples to customers is so she can afford to rent an apartment in Paris next fall.

Camille welcomes the customers with a half-hearted smile and offers them a complementary praline. They happily accept. The couple nibble at the pastry and continue on to view the white chocolates. Camille sighs and shifts her weight to her left leg while holding the platter of pralines in her right hand. A gurgle erupts from Camille’s stomach. All she had for breakfast was a parfait and an espresso. She places her hand on her stomach and scans the room for her boss. Amabel is nowhere to be seen. She glances over to the counter and sees the cashier helping a customer at the register. Camille slowly inches her hand toward the platter of pralines. She swiftly seizes one off the end of the arrangement and pops one into her mouth. She chews slowly, trying to savor its texture, but the dessert quickly dissolves in her mouth.

Suddenly, Amabel struts out from behind the corner exiting the kitchen. Camille turns her head and pretends to cough as she swallows the remnants of the nutty candy. The cough catches Amabel’s attention. Camille inhales, stands up straight, and gives her a broad smile. A speck of caramelized nut remains lodged in-between her left canine and incisor. Amabel looks quizzically at Camille but pays her no mind. She speeds over to the front of the store to replace an arrangement of truffles. Camille lets out a relieving exhale.

Felix continues up Rue du Dauphin. A couple walking aimlessly in front of him turn to enter wooden doors leading into a white building. Over the doors reads Maison De Chocolat. He shifts his eyes towards the shop window to gaze upon dozens of platters covered in an array of chocolates, macaroons, and cookies resting in the shop window. He closes in on the shop, bending down to eye the intoxicating collection of desserts; he thinks maybe he could go for some macaroons, or at least a travel cake to take back home. His eyes tilt upward. Felix slowly stands up, leaning in towards the window. His pupils dilate as he fixes his gaze.

All of the sudden the street goes quiet. The tourists and meandering locals disappear. He listens to the thumping of his heart. A single, light shines overhead in the shop, highlighting a woman in a red uniform holding a platter in her right hand. He watches as she darts her eyes across the shop and slips a candy from the platter into her mouth. Felix can’t help but smile. He lets out an audible laugh and races to the wooden doors.

Camille hears the shopkeeper’s bell chime again and she glances over to the doors. A young man with a hiking backpack stumbles inside and looks directly at her. She looks away in order not to make eye contact with him. She readjusts her posture and peers down at the floor. She shifts her eyes upwards again and notices the young man looking at the desserts towards the front of the store. She watches as he grips his hands underneath the straps of his bag as if he doesn’t know what to do with his hands. He turns to look in her direction, but she moves her head to look away again. She wants to get a better look at his face but doesn’t want to stare. She hopes he comes to ask for a praline sample.

A slew of thoughts jumble inside of Felix’s head. Outside of the store he didn’t think twice about going up to the woman holding the desserts. Once he stepped foot into the Chocolate House, he lost his momentum. His palms now are sweating. He tries to casually look at the desserts, knowing full well which ones he wants to buy. He’s making a game plan to work his way over to get a free sample. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he feels the train ticket with his left thumb and index finger. He curses himself for being apprehensive.

Felix turns from the assortment of white chocolate truffles to get a better look at the woman. He spots a name tag on her chest which reads “Camille.” The two lock eyes. Felix was about to turn away but instead he keeps his gaze. His hands are ice cold, yet clammy. He decides to walk towards Camille. He inches towards her, each step feeling like a minute has passed. Felix reaches Camille and audibly swallows his saliva. He opens his mouth to speak but is greeted by the most soothing voice he has ever heard.

“Voulez-vous essayer une praline?” Says Camille. He notices something in her teeth but chooses to ignore it. Her smile warms the room.

“Uh, oui?” Felix says, uncertain. He nervously waits for her response. She graciously offers him the platter of pralines.

“Oh,” Felix laughs. “Merci.” He says as he delicately grabs one of the candies.

“Would you like a praline?” Camille says to the man.

Really?! She asks herself. That’s the cutest thing I can come up with?

Camille offers him the platter of pralines. She thinks he has an adorable accent. She wonders how much French he knows. She watches him take a bite of the dessert and then works up the courage to try to start a conversation.

“Where are you from?” She asks in French knowing he’s from the United States.

“Um, les États Unis.” He says confidently, but with a thick accent. “… et toi?”

“Here of course!” She snickers. She looks at him to see a blank expression left on his face.

Fuuuuck me, I wish I paid attention in French class. Felix thinks to himself. Camille laughs and says something he can’t quite make out. He smiles. Usually, when Felix doesn’t know what to do in a situation where he didn’t understand someone, he stands there and smiles.

“Comment tu t’appelles?” Camille says. Felix notices she has great eye contact. He could stare into her lime-green eyes all day.

Felix pauses to internally construct his reply. “I’m Felix. And you?” Felix says. He instantly regrets asking for her name.

Camille points to her name tag. “Camille!”

“Ah, yes. I mean, oui,” Felix says. He forces a laugh and shoves his hands in his pockets. His cheeks turn a rosy pink color. Camille shifts her weight to her other leg as Felix pulls out his phone to check the time. “Ah shit,” he says under his breath. “Um, nice to meet you Camille.” Felix flashes her a longing smile and runs off. While turning to exit, he pulls his hands out of his pockets, pulling the train ticket up along with them. The paper swings in the air behind his leg and lands softly on the floor. The ticket remains unnoticed as Felix continues out the doors, exiting as quickly as he entered.

Camille’s smile fades as she watches Felix’s silhouette pass by the shop window. She wondered what happened. She thought they were having a nice conversation. She was fond of his American accent. He was the first person to take an interest in her while she was at work.

Camille decides to get more free samples from the kitchen to take her mind off of Felix. She strides towards the kitchen but hears a crinkly scraping sound coming from the floor. She peers down at the ground and realized she stepped onto a slip of paper. She rests her platter of pralines on a table displaying biscuits and reaches down to grab the creased paper. She observes the train ticket and glances at the at the departure time: it’s for a train to Paris from the Honfleur station in 15 minutes.

Felix pauses to turn back to look down the street towards the Chocolate House. He drops his head and kicks an unfilled pastry bag crumpled on the ground. Lumbering onward, he glances up at a street sign. One kilometer to the station. Letting out an unfulfilled sigh, he reaches for his ticket to make sure it is still there. He digs feels around the pocket but comes out empty-handed. His face turns white as he frantically slaps his legs to feel for the slip of paper. He throws off his pack’s shoulder straps and begins digging around in his backpack, pulling out old laundry, a rain jacket and a toiletry bag. He unzips every pouch of the pack, only to find an a few stray Euros and an old dinner receipt. Panicked, Felix shoves his items back into his bag and begins searching the ground around him. He thinks he must have dropped it nearby. Unsure of what to do, he sprints back down the hill towards the Chocolate House, scanning the cobblestone street before him.

Camille looks at the biscuits on the tray and hesitates. She pivots and walks behind the counter displaying colorful wafers where she keeps her belongings. She loops her arm through the strap of her backpack and heads out the door onto the street. She stops as she hears the door slam behind her, smiles broadly, and begins strutting toward the train station. She speeds up her stride after hearing the train’s horn in the distance.

She closes in on Felix scanning the ground halfway way up the hill. She digs the ticket out of her breast pocket and whistles, holding it out. Felix stares then smiles in recognition of his ticket and Camille.

“Oh my God, thank, you!” he said rushing up to her, hand out. “I thought I was going to miss it.”

He frowns quizzically as she laughs and holds the ticket back. She glances over her shoulder even though she can’t see Chocolate House. She is free.

Camille takes a step closer to Felix. He can smell her perfume. She delicately hands him the ticket. “You weren’t planning on going alone, were you?” She says.

_________________________________________________________________

This story was written around this time in March 2018 for my final English class at the University of Missouri.

The city of Honfleur, France is real, and it is gorgeous in the summertime. I remember seeing a cute girl in a chocolate store when I visited some years ago. But unlike Felix in this story, I never spoke to her.

This story is an ode to the spontaneous love affairs we may or may not encounter during our travels.

Avid traveler. Midwest native.

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