Friday, December 25, 2015

LOST IN AIX (Part 1 of 3) by Rolynn Anderson

Welcome to the last story of our Ringing in the Holiday Roses of Prose Stories.  In the spirit of the holiday, I'm giving a free e-pub copy of my release, FAINT, to a random commenter who responds to each part of my story.  Merry Christmas and Happy New year!

Lost in Aix
By Rolynn Anderson
Part 1

A ringing phone at two in the morning never brought good news, yet Paul Beaudet should have guessed the caller was his grand-mère.  He’d told her by e-mail he wasn’t up to joining her for Christmas, hoping by the time she read the message it would be too late for him to catch a train to Marseille.  But no use arguing with Grand-mère on the phone; even if he was suffering from a cold and he worried she’d catch it, she demanded his presence…or else.

Feeling weary from scrambling to prepare for the trip, Paul watched his noon train inch into the Aix en Provence station.  Do I have everything?  He hefted the backpack he usually carried on a day-trip to Marseille, now heavy with dark chocolates, macarons, panettone, and a dozen sweet oranges, all quickly-gathered Christmas gifts. Paul smoothed the front of the sweater Grand-mère made for him, relieved he’d remembered to wear it.

He stationed himself at the point his coach would stop, confident the conductor would edge number thirteen exactly to where Paul was standing.  A glitter of yellow in the train window caught his attention, a brilliant gold headband on a black cowboy hat, corralling a woman’s long blonde hair.  Definitely not a Frenchwoman.  Another American spending Christmas in France?  Homesickness for all his relatives in California snagged him, lightened by a measure of hope he’d meet the cowgirl.  He sighed at the feeble fantasy of connecting with the woman, who might not be his age nor from the USA.  Probably not his type, either, whatever that was.  Still, the train had docked early, and the engineer had the kindness to bring in the eighteen-car behemoth slowly so Paul could savor her profile.  He checked his ticket to be sure: she sat in the side of the car he was to occupy on his day-trip to Marseille.  Was she getting off in Aix en Provence or staying on the train?  He prayed for the latter. 

As the train huffed to a halt, she startled and glanced at her surroundings, as if surprised the train had reached her stop.  After she checked the platform for the name of the town and nodded, her eyes caught his a second longer than a glance.  He smiled at the gift.  She bustled, closing a laptop, stuffing it into a backpack, and grabbing a suitcase from the overhead.  Focused she was, and hurried, not realizing she had the luxury of five extra minutes to disembark.  Paul pushed away his disappointment at a lost seatmate, now left with the slim chance of entering the train when she exited.  Could he lift her luggage to the landing or steady her as she stepped off the car?  A hand.  A touch.  One American helping another in a bewildering foreign train station.

Bewildered as he was two years ago: an American in transition.  Paul had traveled from California to Marseille, to visit Grand-mère, his only relative in France, putting distance between him and a poorly chosen career.  Now he was in his second glorious year as a tour guide, leading small groups of men and women on week-long tours around Aix on Provence.  Kudos from Trip Advisor rolled in regularly and he was sought out as a mentor of want-to-be guides, yet his friendships rarely lasted more than one intense week at a time.  Most nights he trudged alone to his tiny Aix apartment on Rue Rifle Rafle.  When he wanted unconditional love and a home-cooked meal, he took a daytrip to his grand-mère’s.  

And now I pine for a five-minute relationship with a woman. Foli!  Insanity.

Paul stared at the woman, now standing in the aisle of the train, poised to descend the stairs from the top level of the car.  Tall, back straight, easily toting the backpack and small bag.  She’s strong.  Confident.  Smart and well-prepared with minimal luggage.  She smiled at someone, giving Paul a jolt of jealousy.  She’s mine for a few more minutes, damn it.  When she moved out of his sight, he took a post outside the Sortie.

The exit bulged with people.  Suddenly, an old woman lost her balance while stepping from the train, ricocheted off the door, reeled into Paul’s arms and stomped on his foot.  He steadied her, an old-age mustiness reminding him of his grandmother.  Madame.  Êtes vous d’accord?”

She glared at him, as if he were responsible for her stumble or maybe unnerved by his American accent.  Quickly he set the old woman on her way and jumped on the train, turning to look for his cowgirl.  He caught a glimpse of her shoulder and a corner of her hat before a crowd whisked her away.

All he had left of her was the seat she’d vacated and a faint odor of perfume, lemony, like the scents coming from L’Occitane, a perfumery his clients enjoyed visiting.  He touched the fabric of the chair, delighted it still held her warmth.  But the action embarrassed him, his Walter Mitty thoughts disturbing.

“I’ll do a little work,” he mumbled as the train picked up speed.  He took his iPad out of the backpack, but when he pulled the stylus from its holder, he bobbled it.  “Damn,” he said, raising the eyebrow of the woman seated across from him.  “Oops!  Laissè tomber.”  In case she was English-speaking he interpreted: “I dropped it.”

The pen had disappeared.  No amount of digging around the right side of his seat revealed the thing.  In moments he had to ask the man on his left to vacate his chair so Paul could crawl under the two seats.

“It’s a pit down here,” Paul grumbled.  He pushed out two bulging bags of empty food containers as well as a filthy cloth.  His silver pen glinted in a far corner, and he smiled at his find.  But another object caught his eye as he reached for the stylus.  A square metal thing, maybe three inches by five, hooked to a short cable.  He squirmed further under the chairs to pick up both items and with them in hand, scrambled out, stood, brushed himself off, and said to the man waiting to sit down, “Succès.  Merci.”

Paul regained his seat, placing the pen, the iPad, and the external drive in front of him on the table, a soothsayer examining meaning in things technological, not organic.  Pretending all three items were his.  Two found, not one.

He reviewed the facts:
1.  French train employees were engineering a slowdown this month.  Who knew the last time this car was cleaned or when the next lavage was scheduled?
2.  The thousands of items lost on French trains were rarely returned, or so said his clients.  If he handed over the data storage unit to lost and found, it might never get to the rightful owner.
3.  The size of the external drive probably meant all of the data of someone’s computer was stored in it.  The loss of the back-up information could be tragic for its owner.

And then, he dreamed:
1.  This is my cowgirl’s drive, which separated from her computer and fell to the floor when she rushed to get off the train.
2.  I’ll return it to her.  Get to know her.  Show her Aix en Provence.

As the train raced toward Marseilles at 290 kilometers an hour, a bald truth about Paul’s life rushed into his consciousness.  He was an expert at gaining the trust and affection of a thousand tourists, but he had yet to establish a relationship with anyone in France besides his grandmother. 

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of 'Lost in Aix.'  Celebrate with me my launch of FAINT, 3rd in the Funeral Planner Suspense Series.  Be assured that Elwood (Elly, the Scottie), is still 'growing' as a service dog. 

The Funeral Planner Suspense Series - Book 3
By Award-winning Author, Rolynn Anderson

Their dead clients refuse to rest in peace.

How did small-town boutique funeral planning morph into crime-solving?  Ask freelance embalmer Trudy Solomon, or Pete McDonald, a blind, forensic investigator.  They’re unearthing mysteries of the deceased for their pregnant boss, Jan Keller, while her journalist husband, Roman, is benched by a ten million dollar defamation suit.

A dead client goes missing, and investigating his disappearance forces Trudy and Pete to confront their fiercely independent styles.  When danger stalks them, will they blend brains, brawn and belief in one another to solve crimes and save themselves?


Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

You've written about my favorite country to visit. Of course I'll be back...and I love a dreamer. I'm a bit of one, myself. Awesome start, Rolynn.

Rolynn Anderson said...

The month we spent in Aix en Provence was magical. You've picked the right country, for sure. Thanks for your kind words. Rolynn

Jannine Gallant said...

Great beginning. I hope he finds his cowgirl! Merry Christmas!

Margo Hoornstra said...

A day late, the bonus is I can go right on to part two. I too, love a dreamer. Rooting for him now.

Alicia Dean said...

Ah, love this! I love the details that brings the story to life. And, great characterization. Paul is a 'real' and relatable character. Can't wait to see what happens when he connects with his cowgirl. :) "Faint" sounds like an awesome read. Very unique premise.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Thank you, Margo and Alicia. I worry when I write short that the characters aren't full enough. Thanks for letting me know they feel 'real!

Alicia Dean said...

I know what you mean, Rolynn. It's very tricky to develop character in thse short pieces, but you nailed it!

darkwriter said...

I'm hooked. I can't wait for the next installment.
You do a great job of getting everything in , in a short story.

Unknown said...

Good so far, Rolynn
Looking forward to #2
Stephanie & Alan