Unlike the first, this second success really was followed by a period of definite growth both in numbers and interest. Not that we were continually inundated with people wanting to join the espace loisirs; indeed, numbers from Gensdouce itself hardly went up. But the centre was slowly making itself known in some of the outlying villages. Not only were we getting enquiries from as far as thirty kilometres away, but inscriptions were also rising steadily. It seemed as if the town was at last waking up to the opportunities the centre could provide. At the committee meeting for that month, Jean gave an upbeat report about the way things were going, and I realised once again, how my lack of cultural awareness almost cost me dearly. With all my enthusiasm I had expected instant results, not realising that in small rural village like Gensdouce, things didn't change quickly. Indeed, as it was, things were moving so quickly that Jean was weary. "Move forward, yes. But make sure we do it in such a way, that we can build on it, not send it all crashing down with a tremendous uproar upon us."

It was wise advice. And the second time around, I had wisdom enough to see the error of my ways. I just listened and kept my mouth shut. But despite the more steady growth my administrative tasks soon began to grow over my head. I had meetings to attend, reports to fill out, letters to write, phone calls to make and a thousand and one other administrative tasks which I hated and which weighed me down. Now, even I wasn't naïve enough to think that I'd be spending all day long talking with other people, helping and encouraging, teaching or training. But I didn't think so much of my time would be taken up with what I generally considered to be useless nothings. And what's more, my usual oh so trusty secretary was beginning to have second thoughts. Or to be precise, I'm not really sure what kind of thoughts she was having, as she now merely paid token attendance at the centre, and even when she did show up, she didn't have much to say.

Of course, I couldn't blame her. After all, every minute she put in at the centre was in her free time and she was not getting paid. But it did seem odd. I remember making a mental note to talk to Thérèse about it, but the last time I raised the question of Morgana to her, I didn't get much joy, so I conveniently forgot to do it again. Then, one day Morgana came into the office again after a break of something like a whole week. She seemed cheerful enough as she took a glass of wine, sat down at the typewriter and got down to work without a word.

"Forgotten how to say sorry?"

She looked at me as if in daze. "I beg your pardon."

"When you don't come into work for a whole week, then you usually say sorry and offer at least some kind of excuse."

"Come into work? I wasn't aware that I did work here. I thought I was just helping out, in what was meant to be my spare time. At least, I thought it was mine, but it seems you have other ideas."

Of course, she had me on that one. But no way was I going to let her have the last word. Besides, her good humour had put me in a foul mood.

"Well, if that's the way you feel about it, I'm sure there are lots of other people who can do what you're doing and make a lot less fuss about it." That hit her hard, and whilst I had sense enough to keep quiet for the moment, my mood was getting more aggressive by the minute.

I'd been working on a report about our first month's activities to be presented to the town council meeting that very evening. It was the very first report and I wanted to make a good impression. But my French, whilst good enough for everyday use, wasn't quite up to scratch when it came to important official documents. Until then, Morgana had always helped me pinpoint the one or two errors she would find and improve my style. So before I went off for lunch, I put on my best voice, went up to her desk and asked:

"Do you mind going over this as soon as possible. I'd like to have any necessary corrections when I get back from lunch."

"And I suppose, I don't get any lunch today?"

"What on earth is wrong with you today. You come into the office for the first time in ages, whistling loud enough to stop me from concentrating on what I've got to do. You refuse to give an apology or even an explanation for your absence, and instead do your best to pick a fight. And now you even refuse to do your job properly. Why don't you just go home. I'm sure I can find someone who does a better job than you."

A scream, the crash of a typewriter, the slam of a door and before I knew it, I found myself all alone in the office.

Hi folks and I'm glad to see so many of you visiting my blog day. Before I get down to the nitty gritty of my subject, please permit me to introduce myself. My name is Simon and I've been around this blog for quite some time. But you'll usually find me in another category, where you can read all about my adventures in France. Which is why my author decided to pull me out of obscurity and let me address you today. You see, I'm one of those rare English speaking originals who has actually taken it upon himself to learn to speak French. And I don't just mean going into the shop and shouting "avez-vous un cuppa" in ever raising decibels. No I mean learning real French, the way French people speak it; with mistakes admittedly but more or less understandable.

Now let me make it clear from the start that I'm a convert to what I'm going to tell you. The day I turned my back on home and raced off to France, I was looking for adventure and for a good time, but the last thing on my mind was to actually learn French. Like most of you here today I was struck with that well-documented illness deludengitis, in which the sufferer is deluded into believing the whole world has a responsibility to learn to speak English. And it took a lot of time and much more nagging before a cure beckoned. So to help you avoid making the mistakes as I did, please consider the following:

  1. French is easy; it really is. The proof is the fact that even I learnt to speak and can make myself understood reasonably well. Apart from that in the town I live in, you'll find a lot of two year olds scarcely old enough to run around the streets, yet capable of speaking perfect French. So, there's no need to despair. Chin up, and off we go.
  2. Now for my second reason I'm going to call on your pride as members of the English speaking community. Have you any idea what its reputation is? Let's just say that one way of improving this, is showing the French that we too are capable of going beyond our comfort zone and learning complzxities like the French use of the subjunctive in expressing any sort of desire. It'll enhance your reputation 100 fold.
  3. Now for my third reason, please try and imagine the following situation. You've met a young lady at the local pub and you go for a walk with her. When you come to the park bench, you put your arm around her shoulder as your lips move close to her ears and you gently whisper "I love you" or "give me a kiss". Can you imagine anything more deadening than that. But it'll send an electrifying tingle up the young lady's back if she hears: "Je t'aime; embrasse-moi." Let's just put this one down to the voice of personal experience.
  4. My next reason will appeal particularly to the sadists amongst you. I've entitled it "the student's revenge." I experienced the thrill of this just some months ago when I had to return to Ireland for my father's funeral, where I met my old French teacher. I was so excited at my new-found ability to speak French, I actually greeted him in that wonderful language, upon which he turned red, green and purple before racing out of the room in complete despair. Poor guy, hehad spent years inocculating me against the French language only to see me succumb in the end, after all.
  5. What eventually persuaded me, that knowing French would be worth all the trouble it might cause, was the night I went into the restaurant famished after a hard day's work harvesting. I was famished, and what's more the waitress was a pretty little thing, so I was hoping to make a nice score there. Wanting to impress I cast several flourishing glances at the menu before choosing the most expensive dish, figuring it must be something very substantial. You can imagine my surprise when I was served with some very exquisite octopus soup in a cup not much bigger than an oversized thimble. I should have smelt a rat the moment I saw that sweet young thing's smile when I told her how hungry I was.
  6. But learning French can also save you money. If you've ever been in a French taxi, then you know that an English accent automatically increases prices twofold, and the same holds true for street vendors in most of the big towns. Apart from that, there's no way you can complain when you're short-changed if you don't speak French. So in the long run, the price of the lessons is more than made up for by the amounts you save elsewhere.
  7. Ever been around a table when someone was telling a story. The punch line comes and there's silence. What an embarrassment! But imagine laughing out at a funny story only to find out you misunderstood and it was really quite sad. Yes, friends, I've been there too.
  8. One of the banes of TV and cinema are subtitles. I hate them because they always draw my attention even when I don't need them or can't understand them. But it's worse when I can understand them, because they usually get it wrong anyway, and then I get annoyed over nothing. So if you want to join the "banish subtitles" brigade, then please learn to speak French and you'll never need another subtitle in your life.
  9. Now if not speaking the language can get you into embarrassing situations, speaking it can help you turn the tables on others. One night I was out on the town with some English friends who had turned up unexpectedly. We were in a small restaurant and some young people on the table next to us were making fun of us, obviously believing we couldn't understand a thing. As we went out, I'm afraid I couldn't resist the temptation of going up to them and thanking them in perfect French for their highly entertaining remarks. The shades of red their faces took on were truly a sight to be seen.
  10. Ever wondered why the French are the way they are. Well, learning their language helps you understand a little more this complex mentality.
  11. Well, my talk is entitled thirteen reasons and I'm beginning to run out of ideas. But one more comes to mind. If you learn French, then you'll certainly have something to write, the next time this prompt comes up as part of the Fiction Friday blog.
  12. Maybe you've always been Mr. Ordinary. Never one to rise above the crowd. Well, with your knowledge of French, you'll become someone special in the English speaking world, and if you even go on to learn another language after that, then you'll surely become a giant.
  13. Now having given all these weird and wonderful reasons for learning French, let me end with the most vital. My author is a French teacher. So if you start learning French, not only will you be keeping a deserving character alive, but maybe he'll have so much to do that he'll stop writing these stupid stories about me. And if you want to know what I'm talking about, then just click here.

What's Wrong?

A few days later and we were still bathing in the success of the village fête to celebrate the reopening of the espace loisirs. So many people had shown an interest in the centre and its various activities, we never imagined that it could be a failure. And if the truth be told, it wasn't... not exactly a failure. But when we took stock of enrolment after the first few weeks, the results were sobering. Less than 10% of the village population had bothered to register and most of the activities were still under subscribed, leaving us with some very frustrated volunteers who had given so much only to run headlong into a wall of apathy.

What was going wrong? Why was there so little interest? Was it our fault or did we just have to accept that interest was low? And the most vital question of all... what were we to do? I'll admit, there were times when I felt like just staying in bed and letting everything go to the blazes. It would have been by far the easiest thing to do. How glad I am for the close friends I had who understood me at times like these. They never let me off the hook and picked me up every time I went down. Not that they were hard on me. Far from it. In fact, the first time I felt like this, I phoned Morgana who by now was becoming an extremely efficient secretary, to say that I wasn't coming in. I just couldn't face up to the office that day. And within the hour, there was a ring at the door and there she was together with Jean and Thérèse, picknick basket packed to the full, all ready to whisk me off for a day in the country. It was just what the doctor ordered as the next day I was back at work with a vengeance and all ready to prove the world and my adversaries wrong. Not that I had any real adversaries - other than Mayor Demille, of course. But worse than open adversity is the type that comes in through the back door; precisely what slowly and surely started to happen.

I wasn't really aware of it, at first, and I suspect that I'm still not aware of the full extent of what was going on. It began with the murmurings. This and that wasn't being done right. If only we could still... Why hasn't the new director... and similar signs of discontent were making themselves heard; a tangled web whisperings and rumours which threatened our very existence. So was I the mistake? That was an important question, and one I knew I had to answer decisively before anything else could be done. And my answer was a resounding NO. Now I know I have a fair size ego and modesty is not my biggest quality. So the moment I found my answer, I went to the three people I trusted most and put the very same question to them. Each of the three answered in the same decisive way, and Morgana even gave me a fleeting kiss to go with it. So with that out of the way, how was I to deal with the problem and what were we to do about the centre. Not only were we under subscribed, but if things didn't turn around soon, we'd also be facing serious money problems.

Strangely enough, it was our true enemy who came to the rescue. Having heard about our problems he siezed upon the opportunity and made a cold, very calculating speech attacking our policy of bringing culture to the people. Most who heard it were very impressed with the rhetoric and the manner in which it was delivered, although to this day I've met very few people who could explain in detail what was actually said. The jist of it seems to be this. All we were doing, was playing around at culture without having any real idea what culture actually was. Whilst we were pussyfooting around with folk artists and creative writing groups, the big city was offering concerts which were on the cutting edge of artistic endeavours, and authors were publishing who had something to say to the world and its condition. Without actually saying so in so many words, he was accusing us of dumbing down culture, the implication being that the average citizen of Gensdouce could not digest anything more serious.

This proved to be a major miscalculation on the Mayor's part and reaction was tempestuous. Several people wrote letters to the local press who had reported the occasion in detail, and very soon a fierce debate was raging. I reacted by erecting a makeshift graffiti wall at the entrance to the centre, enouraging everyone who so wished to come and express themslves. In the first week we filled over 12 rolls of wallpaper and on Saturday afternoon, a protest march was held during which the rolls were delivered to the Mayor's office at the Town Hall. My request that Mayor Demille speak at a public meeting to explain his feelings and debate the issues was politely refused but we held the meeting anyway regretting the Mayor's absence and clarifying our mission and our goals. More than anything, it was Morgana's speech that brought people around. As she taught at the conservatoire, she knew exactly what the Mayor was talking about, yet one after one she refuted his arguments and gained the respect of all present. She was greeted with a standing ovation far larger than any she had yet got for her playing. After the meeting I made a point of going up to her and thanking her, but she turned and ran before I had finished what I was saying. And suddenly I was being pulled away by Thérèse who answered my query as to what was going on with a long and somewhat wistful look before shaking her head and walking off herself.

Pen's eyes widened with amazement. The feast spread out before him was one he had never seen in his life. He envied his Swedish colleagues who could sit at this table week in week out and gorge themselves on one idea after another.

As he let his eyes roam over the proffered delights, the ink started pulsating through his insides and Pen began to long for the release that only creativity could bring. Fortunately, there was a wad of paper on hand so before long Pen was up to his neck in ink as the paper yielded itself to his stimulating genius.

Drawn by its bright colours he began his feast by getting his teeth into the crisp crush salad savouring its richly varied textures with each bite. But before long he was head over heels into the earliest memory spread spreading its soft flesh onto the enticy array of spicy breads - enough to make anyone's mouth water.

Until now, the paper filled itself slowly, as was fitting the savouries he had delected so far. But once he saw the mask soup put out for all those who prefered to disguise their real being behind a cloak of fictitious then the ideas started to flow thick and fast. One page after another of secret identities started to flow inspired by their dear diary confessions and 3 wish letters to Santa. Pen was really working himself up into a frenzy now and he could not resist the eccentricities of the fish stand full of mouth-watering anticipations and slippery holiday memories of fighting with monster sea creatures, hanging onto his sturdy but simple rod for dear life signs of a misspent youth.

A noise from somewhere behind him momentarily arrested his attention away from his dream journey. It came from in the kitchen where the chef was lamenting the lack of fridge space so vital to his collector personality. Seeing Pen, he called out "Hi, my name is Hero." But Pen was no longer listening. The strength of passion for all that was laid out before him was too great to be wasted on bedtime stories of punishments or rewards, however heroic their troubled Kings and Queens vying against each other for the best first acts may be. Furthermore, fellow travellers were beginning to arrive by the dozens, dancing through the aisles and stopping wherever their fantasy took them. Fearful that one might be his nemesis Pen girded his slender torso and nibbled at a plate of who else I might have been noodles. But his mind wasn't on this dish. After all what was the use of anticipation and change when the chronicles of the hear and now were far more attractive, so he took up a plate of hair venison with goosebump sauce and deepest darkest decisions, a local variant of what most other people called phenomenon rice. And all that was to washed down by a glass of vintage I get that sinking feeling. In fact, to avoid that sinking feeling he took a few glasses and as a result he was soon on off again on an inward journey to explore the inward life of poets - the "o" being a regrettable but nonetheless permissible slip of the pen.

But even the best things cannot be sustained without rest and so in the last hour or so, Pen took to some metaphysical speculation as to the nature of being, eventually settling his mind on the two questions critical questions what I might have been and what I might still be. Not that he would ever write about that. Such speculations would surely be too wicked for even the most yummy and superstitious of all scribble readers, like left and right who were most definitely two peas in a pod.

The fun over it was time to get eating - eating here being a likely Freudian slip which should read, writing. So before too long he was found rooted to the spot dishing out dollops of crême de la first job, worst job, dream job, a challenge which could only be met by the fortifying tonic of a sparkling glass of kissing elixir which he shared with the young I have an idea standing next to him. That kiss came after only his second ever chance, and he relished it. But they were soon brought back to real life as the flashes went off all over and the money chasing paperazzi sent off their prize photos to their editors making sure that Pen and Idea would remain in the news for quite some time.

But Pen's revenge would not be long in coming. He had a series of hotel stories all ready for publishing that were so badly written, all he'd have to do was publish them under the journalist's name and he'd be google magiced for life. No one would ever know the secret identity of the true author.

But for now he had newer adventures to negotiate. Taking Idea by the hand he led her to the counter with the mystery epithet "Now and Then" towering over it. These were savoury dishes written in bed. They were actually all about Pen's first love - a fact Pen conveniently forgot to mention. After all Idea was not in the mood to think about competition. They walked lingeringly around the counter just as a couple on their first date should. Occasionally, they dipped their finger in here and their setting the skin on a tingle and making them wish they could simply stop time passing. If only... sighed Idea and the wings of her miscellaneous fantasies took her over oceans making her realise how vital it was to be more than a mere passenger in one's own life.

Cheeses were their next destination and it was here they met Mr. Town Mouse who'd come gone into the country that very morning with the express purpose of meeting Miss Country Mouse. But not upon impulse, no his fortune cookie found in one of those books I would never write had prompted him to do so. And it paid off high dividends when the four sat down together around a glass eccentric Beaujolais, so old that it had to be delivered via time machine, and started swapping when we were wee stories.

But all this romance was far too much for Pen who took off and headed for the dessert counter. He took a piece of the most delicious looking where I live cake and wondered why he did in fact live where he lived. After all, everyone in his home town frowned upon chocolate and similar culinary wonders. How on earth could he imagine that he'd ever fit in there? He'd leave. He had to. With his baggage, of course, baggage imposed upon him by that provincial, bourgeois little town, baggage he could never shake off. He'd carry it around for ever with him, surreptitiously, like a thief who doesn't know what to do with his booty.

Desert was followed by coffee and before long Pen was putting the finishing touches to his tale whilst pounding out in his mind the story of his next scribbling - a hospital adventure of intrigue, love and music. But now it was time to go home, but as Pen moved towards the exit, he was challenged by an extremely angry looking official demanding he pay his bill. It seems everyone wanted to have his two cents on events.

Now, dear reader, it would be easy for me to say that I only attempted this because I knew I would not fail. But the truth is something far more superstitious. In typical, experimental fashion I let inspiration provide me with the initial idea and ran with it as long as I could. It was only about half way through that I realised I could carry it through to the end, bitter or not, that's for you to decide. Of course, I had read the instructions for the prompt, that I was only to take one of the former prompts. But who when spoilt for choice in front of a Smorgasbord would limit him/herself to just one good dish. And so in true scribbler style and in order to tie up all the loose ends of my shoe laces (had to get shoes in there somewhere) all that remains for me to do is to raise my glass, toast my fellow aficionados, make my goodbyes and write

the end.


The letter which flattered onto my doormat the next morning will remain one of my most treasured possessions for the rest of my life. It was a model of goodness and grace despite the fact that I deserved exactly the opposite. Yet, Thérèse made it quite clear that there had to be limits in our friendship and if I was not willing to respect them, we could no longer remain friends.

I had hardly slept all night, as I was gutted by I had done. And now, here was Thérèse once again opening the door of friendship despite my stupidity. I went around to her house at once. To be perfectly honest I was dreading seeing her and it took me at least half an hour to cover the few hundred metres that separated her house from my apartment. I half expected her to turn me out without a word. When the door opened, I opened my mouth and let the words flood out before she had a chance to stop me. She accepted my apology with grace and invited me in for a coffee. To my surprise Guillaume was also there, and I took the chair next to his a little sheepishly.

"You'd better know that Guillaume knows all about what happened yesterday evening. In fact, I was so shocked and saddened, I called him and he travelled straight back from Reims."

I turned my head to avoid looking into his eyes. But Guillaume would not let me avoid a confrontation.

"Simon. I know how you feel about last night. And I want to let the whole matter rest now. I don't mind telling you that's not how I felt when I got back last night and heard what Thérèse had to say. But I value our friendship and I want to forgive you. But I want you to know that Thérèse means everything to me, and I to her. Our bond is one that we cannot break without causing irredeemable damage. We have promised ourselves to each other, and to each other alone, and we both intend to stick to our promise. I know what I say may sound old-fashioned and I realise that it's not exactly the way most people, even married couples, live their lives today, but we wouldn't have it otherwise. We trust you Simon, and we believe that you will show us the respect we deserve."

I didn't know what to say in response. I was completely numb and I began to mutter some meaningless words, only to stop and begin again with the same success. It was only then I realised that nothing needed to be said. They just seemed to read the thoughts that were inside me. We embraced and I felt something a thousand words wouldn't enable me to express. But time was getting on and there was work to do.

"I think I'd better be getting a move on, I'm afraid. There's still a lot of cleaning up to do after yesterday and I don't want to leave it all up to my volunteers."

"Well, as I'm here now, I may as well give you a hand. And while I'm at it, you set your little Irish genius to work on finding me an eloquent excuse for my missing a whole day of my conference."

"And while you guys are slaving away together, I'll get a good Irish stew up on the stove and you can invite whoever's left back here for dinner." I failed to see, nor would I have understood the wink she gave her husband at these words, but I did notice something in the tone of her voice... something which was soon forgotten in all the hustle and bustle of clearing up, thanking people and getting the centre ready for the first activities which would begin now in just a few days time.

All was still in Paul's office. The only sound to be heard was the quiet whirring of the computer. Daniel sat frozen in front of the screen. As author of several well-read scribble posts, this wasn't supposed to be happening. He was supposed to just sit down and write with the ease of the artist, for whom inspiration was a right, not hard work.

For some minutes now a thought was beginning to lay siege to his brain. But it had to go carefully. Pushing to hard at this stage could lead to total oblivion. So it camped in front of the doorway to his conscience occasionally calling out and letting Paul know he was there. Slowly but surely curiosity got the better of Paul. He looked out to see who was there. He liked what he saw and opened up. A long conversation followed that piqued Paul's interest. This was an experiment worth trying. He'd take his computer dictionary and copy each and every word into his word processor. Then he'd jumble them all up before copying some so as they might appear several times if necessary. The final step would be easy. He'd delete all but 233 words, so as to bring the post down to a readable length. The result would be totally unintelligible.

So dear reader, if you can understand this, you'll know my experiment has failed.


The fire welled up into flame as Daniel poured out the remains of what was left of the letters into the grate. It was over and done with and the fire soon died down into a bright glow once again. But that was nothing compared to the fire that was still raging within his heart. His one hope was that it too might soon come to rest now that the false words he had so treasured, had been laid to shame.

His mind went back to their first meeting; they'd scarcely even noticed each other before her cousin introduced them. And even then, it was hardly love at first sight, at least not the overwhelming emotional kind which grips you and turns your life upside down. But they enjoyed being together and saw more and more of each other over the succeeding weeks. He couldn't even remember when he'd first admitted to himself that he was in love. But he knew that for the first time in his life he felt safe. Here was someone he could depend on, who would not, never let him down. And now he would never feel that way again. The hurt still wrenched his heart in two. Would the pain ever die down?

If only she had not been quite so secretive about the new job she was hoping to get; the one that would enable them to marry, at last. And if only he had had the patience and courage to stop and ask who it was he had seen her with that morning.

It should have been the proudest moment of my life. Indeed, it was until... Even now I still can't figure out what made me do it. How could I have been so stupid as to risk losing the friendship I cared for most in the world by trying what I surely knew to be impossible.

It was the 21st September, the grand opening of the new espace loisirs. As a committee we had decided to organise a big village fête to coincide with the opening. Sports, games, demonstrations of all sorts of skills, arts and crafts exhibitions - everything that could make the day go off with a bang. And we would finish with a massive picnic à la française and a barn dance with Morgana and her team providing the dance music. And the best thing about it all was that it caught the imagination of both the old and the new villagers. Bringing the village back together again was one of the centre's stated goals and it seemed as if we were already beginning to see some success before we even started. Of course, there were some die-hards who stayed faithful to the Mayor and his clan, but the rest mucked in with enthusiasm and gusto. That morning our town resembled an ant colony with some sort of activity in every street and on every pavement. Music was blazing out from a number of places together with the sound of hammer blows as stands suddenly took shape. Not even the overcast sky put a dampener on our spirits which soon soared once the sun put in an appearance and, obviously liking what it saw, decided to stay.

This was a make or break day for me and I had to be at my best, especially with a number of local and regional dignitaries expected for the celebrations. So I made up my mind to stay off the beer and wine for that day. Not that I was a habitual drinker, but once I got going I did have a tendency to be very light hearted and to overdo it occasionally. Already twice that year I'd shamed myself through too much drink. This time I wanted to be sure nothing went wrong.

The day went off brilliantly. The fête was colourful and noisy and most of the village was there together with hundreds from the surrounding area. The chairman of the district council held a stirring speech for which he received thunderous applause before cutting the across the doorway to the centre and declaring it open. After that my main task was to show people around the new centre and to explain the various activities we intended to offer. If but a fraction of those who attended, decided to put their name down for just one activity, then our first year would be assured. To be quite honest by the time the picnic arrived, my head was buzzing. So I grabbed Thérèse and we went for a walk together. One of the biggest disappointments of the day, indeed, the only real disappointment was that Guillaume had been away at a conference. I owed so much to him and he wasn't even there to see this triumph. I took Thérèse by the arm and led her down to the river. She was full of praise for what we'd achieved, no she was full of praise for what I'd achieved... I began to wonder. We wandered round for half an hour or more and then made our way back to the picnic and the dance. Strangely enough, I was becalmed and elated at the same time. The worse was over and had gone brilliantly, so now I could relax. But as we made our way arm in arm back to the village green I felt as if I was about to burst my banks.

The picnic was still in full swing but the music had begun and some people were already dancing. I took Thérèse and led her onto the dance floor. We were both in high spirits as we swung around to the polka the band was playing. I danced with Thérèse all night and didn't even notice some of the looks we were getting. I would have reserved one dance for Morgana, had she been dancing but she remained solidly at her post behind her instruments all evening, coming down only once in a while to lead us through the steps of a new dance. It was a wonderful time and we danced until well after eleven - the time we were officially meant to finish. But in the end we decided enough was enough, not wanting to anger the local residents who had to be up early the next day.

I walked Thérèse back home and gave her a big hug and a lingering thank you kiss on her doorstep. She blushed a little and stammered:

"You can be really proud of yourself, Simon."

Encouraged by her words, I didn't give her a chance to finish as I pressed home my advantage. The last thing I expected was resistance.

"Simon, please don't. I like you a lot. You're our best friend, but I'm married to Guillaume and I don't want it any other way. I've chosen to love him and no other."

I refused to listen and tried to force myself into the house with her, but she twisted away from me and the door slammed in my face resounding with her one final and very definite "NO!"

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