Chapter 39

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Visiting Paris with the Baldwins and Matt was quite a different affair from the first time Maude had been in the city. The first time she’d set foot in Paris, Maude had been lonely. Now she was surrounded with a wild tribe of friends. Back then, she had never left her small dreary town. Since then, she had crossed seas and discovered a whole new country, culture, and language. Maude was a completely different person, a happy person who knew her own strength and on the whole felt satisfied and content.

Victoria and James had left the kids on the first day to take a romantic stroll in the city, and Jazmine, still raw from her fresh heartbreak, wanted to go on a massive shopping spree at the Galeries Lafayette. The Baldwin tribe and their two French friends were sitting at the terrace of Le Napoleonnear the Eiffel Tower, enjoying the sun and the view, deciding what they would make of their free time in the French capital.

Maude’s appointment with the CNAOP was the next day, a couple of hours before her live performance on Taratata. That was tomorrow, she reminded herself anxiously. This afternoon she was absolutely free to spend time with the Baldwin tribe.

Matt had quite a stubborn opinion on what he didn’t want to do and voiced it unreservedly.

“I’m taking Ben with me,” Matt said. “There’s no way we’re spending an entire afternoon in stores.”

Jazmine almost choked.

“Stores?! The Galeries Lafayette aren’t just stores, Matt. They are literally paradise for anyone with taste. Obviously I am wasting my breath talking about taste to someone who agrees to willingly spend time with Lindsey Linton. That is a blatant sign of the utmost bad taste,” Jazmine declared haughtily.

“Whatever,” Matt chuckled, nonplussed. “Ben and I are going to do manly things, right, buddy?”

“Right, we’re men!” he cried out, thumping on his chest in a gorilla-like fashion.

“Say that again in a few years when your voice isn’t squeaking,” Cynthia scoffed sarcastically.

Maude’s cell buzzed loudly at the edge of the table. She grabbed her phone before it fell off the table and read the incoming text.

Have a nice stay in Paris. Say hello to the Iron Lady for me. Thomas.

Maude hid a smile.  Ever since the dance, Thomas had sent Maude an alarming number of sweet text messages with unwavering constancy.

“I’m guessing that’s Thomas again,” Cynthia observed warily.

Maude nodded. She never answered his texts: nothing would ever happen between Thomas and her after what he’d done. However, Maude was no different from the next girl, and read each message with a high degree of flattered indifference.

“We’re going to go check out the outdoor art scene at Place Georges Pompidou if anyone wants to come,” Matt ventured purposely avoiding Maude’s gaze. He felt he’d gladly throw Maude’s cellphone in the Seine River if Thomas sent her a text for the millionth time.

“There are some really talented dancers over there,” Cynthia gushed.

“And a couple of Michael Jackson imitators too,” Matt added.

“And mimes!”

“Break-dancers,” Matt put in.

“I’ll get my portrait done by a street artist!” Ben exclaimed.

“Well, I’m sticking to shopping. Besides, I really need to get my mind off . . . things,” Jazmine murmured.

Cynthia and Maude looked at each other worriedly. Jazmine hadn’t quite been herself since the Summer Dance, and Cynthia, who had never known Jazmine to be so thoroughly shaken, didn’t really know how to handle this uncommon version of Jazmine.

“Did you get to talk to Jonathan before leaving for France?” Cynthia ventured cautiously.

Jazmine nodded before emitting a small, brittle laugh.

“He said he didn’t know how to tell me. He’s been seeing Laura for three weeks, but he couldn’t find a moment to announce this surprising news,” Jazmine's voice quivered.

“Mrs. Bonnin, Carvin’s main baker and gossip, always used to tell me that men are the worst kind of cowards,” Maude recalled looking directly at Matt. He hadn’t even had the decency to warn her he was coming to the dance with Lindsey!

“Maybe guys aren’t the problem,” Matt interjected sharply. “Perhaps girls should learn to look at what’s right in front of them instead of looking for Prince Charming and fairy tales.”

“No, I agree with your friend on this one, Maude,” Jazmine hissed. “Jonathan was far from being close to what I imagined a Prince Charming to be, but I still fell for him. He is a very good example of how guys can act cowardly. Jonathan told me that, even though he cared about me, he didn’t want to get hurt. He preferred to be with Laura, a girl he could count on and who’s like him in more ways than I am.”

“If he means recluse and klutzy, I guess he’s right,” Maude uttered dryly. Laura wasn’t much better at handling things than Jonathan was.

Jazmine chuckled.

“He is right, Maude,” she admitted sorrowfully. “I couldn’t see that and the realization of this fact is still painful. He and I are worlds apart. I’m outgoing, fun, sociable. He prefers quiet evenings and a reduced social circle. He probably would’ve been unhappy with me.”

“He’s being too cautious, if you ask me,” Matt put in. “He refuses to take a risk and rejects the idea of being in a relationship with someone he genuinely cares about for a relationship with someone he will never deeply love, just because it’s safe. He’s afraid of exploring uncharted territory.”

“I guess some guys don’t have the courage to date a beautiful, popular girl while others consider it a risk to date anything but models or actresses. Probably afraid of losing their coveted spot on Page 6,” Maude retorted dryly.

“Models don’t eat. So there’s absolutely no chance you’ll spot them on a date at Ambrosia with a two-timing schemer,” Matt fumed.

The Baldwin sisters looked at each other in askance, deciding it was probably time to intervene. Cynthia cleared her throat.    

“Personally, I can relate on the whole cowardice issue,” she declared. “I was with Peter for that exact reason. I’m never making that mistake again. I am ready to take risks. To taking risks!” Cynthia exclaimed, raising her cup.

“Cheers!” They all cried in unison with a certain reluctance on Maude’s and Matt’s part.

“Now off we go shopping!” cried Jazmine.

The boys grumbled viciously and went their own way.

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