Chapter 4

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Four weeks.

It had been four weeks since Maude had been to Paris. Four weeks since her life had fallen back into its quiet routine. Four weeks since she had met James Baldwin, who had never contacted her since.

The first few days, Maude had allowed herself to hope. Her eyes would light up when she heard the phone ring, and sadness would fill her big brown eyes again when she recognized one of Mr. Ruchet's friends' voices at the other end. When the doorbell rang, she'd rush to the door, hoping to see James Baldwin. Instead, she'd face one of the twins' freckled, lisping friends asking if Jean and Jacques could come play outside. It was when she had mistaken Mrs. Bonnin for James Baldwin walking across the Grand Place for the third time that Maude firmly admonished herself: she would stop hoping.

In four weeks, fall had gradually become winter, and Carvin had discarded its autumn coat and put on its winter garments. Snow had fallen a few days before Christmas and since then had been driven over by hundreds of cars. The beautiful white blanket had become a mushy brown mess that children delighted jumping in, that adults abhorred, and that women in heels rarely waddled in for fear of slipping and becoming a laughingstock.

For Maude, the holidays were bleaker than usual. Marie-Antoinette Ruchet had learned the truth about what she called the "falsified document." She'd had her suspicions from the start, and when she'd met Ms. Clement to talk about "Maude's utterly appalling conduct in Paris," Mrs. Ruchet also used this meeting to discuss Maude's grades that year. In no time, Mrs. Ruchet found out that "Maude is still a good student apart from her catastrophic grades in math" and that her previous test had been granted a 5 instead of a 15.

From that day on, she'd made it her personal mission to make Maude's life even more miserable than it already was. The house was to be cleaned from top to bottom everyday, which left Maude barely any time to sleep or do any of her homework. The worst part of it was that Mrs. Ruchet, who had completely abandoned her diet, refused to go back to the gym on Saturdays, never admitting she hadn't ever actually exercised but just spent hours chatting in the sauna with her friends. She invited her friends, Michelle and Tiffany, over on Saturday afternoons. They shared her taste for Lipton Iced Tea, although not as addicted. Maude was to tend to their every need on these afternoons, and Mrs. Ruchet watched her constantly like a hawk, her senses heightened by her daily dosage of sugar and her energy renewed, now that she wasn't weakened by vitamins, red vegetables, and tomato juice. With Mrs. Ruchet quitting her diet and watching her every move, Maude could no longer spend her afternoons playing the piano at the library.

But one cold December afternoon, the 28th, to be exact, Mrs. Bonnin was looking out the window of her bakery when she saw a tall black man in a warm brown coat walking through the Grand Place, pulling a suitcase through the snow. He stopped, as if not knowing exactly where he was headed. Spotting the open bakery, he headed towards it, a very puzzled baker earnestly taking in every detail of this stranger.

As he entered, Mrs. Bonnin smiled broadly at him.

"Bonjour," he greeted in a hesitant French, "I'm looking for 29, rue du Général de Gaulle. And Maude Laurent."

Mrs. Bonnin, who had barely understood his "bonjour," looked at his lips moving and guessed he was saying "rue du Général de Gaulle." However, she distinctly understood he was looking for Maude Laurent.

Her curiosity was piqued: who could this man be?

Even if Mrs. Bonnin couldn't speak a word of English and certainly couldn't give this stranger directions had her life depended on it, she definitely needed to get to the bottom of this affair. She held up both her hands, signaled him to wait, went to the back of the bakery for what seemed like three seconds, and when she came back, had discarded apron and hat and was in her warm winter coat, mittens, and was tucking her hair in her hood before taking her keys to close the small bakery behind her. Not that her bakery could ever be robbed, because nothing ever happened in Carvin, and the police was rarely ever busy.

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