Authors: Lisa Schroeder
nside the box were two small handbags made out of shiny, silk-like fabric. One was silver and the other one black. They both had little gold chains to make carrying them easier.
“Beautiful,” Georges said. “Of course, we know Sylvia had exquisite taste.”
“Yes, she did,” my mom said, picking up the black bag and turning it over in her hands.
“At the chocolate shop we just came from, we got a package with jewelry in it,” I told Georges.
“Interesting,” he replied. “How many more places are there to visit?”
“Five,” I said. I looked at Mom. “That is, if my mom agrees to go to all of them.”
She looked at me. “I don’t see how we can stop now. I must admit, I’m growing more curious by the minute.”
“What fun,” Georges said. “But then, Sylvia was an amazing woman. She loved bringing happiness to people, yes?”
“Yes, she did,” I said. With all of the talk of Grandma Sylvia and what a wonderful person she’d been, my mom seemed about ready to cry, so I quickly thanked Georges and he showed us out.
We didn’t talk much as we made our way to the boutique on Île Saint-Louis. I think Mom was taking it all in—how much Grandma had really loved her and how proud she was of her.
Once we reached the little island, you would have thought there was a doll shop on every corner the way Mom oohed and ahhed. Her reaction made me smile.
“Grandma said in her note that this was one of her favorite places in all of Paris,” I told her.
“I can see why.”
I told Mom about the mime, and the ice cream Phoebe and I had eaten. As we made our way to the boutique where Marie worked, we stopped and admired many window displays, just like Phoebe and I had done.
When we finally reached Yamina, Marie was thrilled to see us. She ushered us into the back room and handed the package to my mom right away.
“Sylvia was such a kind woman,” Marie said. “Last spring when she was here, I told her I was feeling sad about my eldest daughter leaving for university in the autumn. She shared with me that when you had left for university, Faye, she told herself over and over again that you were happy to be going so you could follow your dreams. She reminded me that there is nothing a mother wants more than for her child to be happy. It really helped me to keep a proper perspective about the whole thing.”
Mom nodded. “Yes. She was always good at that. Keeping a proper perspective on things, I mean.” She reached over and stroked my hair. “Something I’m not always so good at, I’m afraid. But I’m working on it.”
Marie smiled. “Aren’t we all? So nice to meet you both. I’m afraid I must get back to work, but thank you for stopping by.”
“Oh, no, thank you,” my mom said. “Thank you for keeping the package all this time.”
We said our good-byes, and Mom and I went back out into the street. She pointed to a bench, and so we took a seat. This time, Mom opened the package. I didn’t tell her I already knew what was inside the box. I wanted her to be surprised.
She picked up one of the pretty black heels and stared at it. “Shoes? But how would she even know our sizes?”
“Oh, that’s easy. She called me one day after school, before you got home, and asked for our shoe sizes. I knew mine, but I didn’t know yours. So I went to your closet and checked. She got us both a pair of fuzzy slippers for Christmas, remember? But now we know that wasn’t the only reason she asked.”
Mom smiled and put the shoe back in the box. “I don’t think I really knew the depths of my mother’s cleverness. And I wish I had.”
The look on her face probably showed only a little bit of what she was feeling. “I’m sorry, Mom,” I said. “Please don’t be sad. It seems like she really wanted to become closer to you through this trip.”
“Yes, it seems she did. And I’m sorry we didn’t get that chance.”
I pulled out the fourth envelope. “Can we find out where she wants us to go next?”
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE PARIS, PART 4
Did you and your mother enjoy Île Saint-Louis, Nora? I’m sure you did. By now, I’m guessing you understand why I’ve come to love this beautiful city so very much, and why I look forward to coming back here once or twice a year.
Next, I’d like you to take a trip to one of my favorite gardens in Paris, Jardin du Luxembourg. There is so much to see, I hope you will spend an afternoon wandering the grounds, taking it all in. You will find manicured gardens, statues, fountains, a playground, little boats to rent for sailing on the pond, and even a vintage carousel. Oh, how your mother loved riding carousels when she was a child. There’s something magical about them, don’t you think?
I’d like for you to go on Wednesday, when something very special happens at the Luxembourg. You can buy a ticket and see a puppet show at 3:30. Make sure to get there early, as there has been a line both times I’ve been there.
A sweet woman named Amelia is a friend of mine who works in the ticket booth. She wears the most beautiful vintage dresses, like something out of an old Hollywood film. She has another gift for you and your mother. I can’t wait for you to see this one!
* * *
Mom checked the time on her watch as I looked over the map.
“How lucky for us,” I said, “since today is Wednesday.”
“Yes,” she replied. “And I can’t wait to see that garden. It was on my list of places to visit, so this works out well. I’m going to call Justin and have him meet us at the main entrance. You and I will stop and pick up some food to have a little picnic at the garden. How does that sound?”
“Perfect,” I said.
While she spoke to Justin, I tried to imagine what might come next. I had no idea, but as I studied my mother’s face, I could tell I wasn’t the only one who was excited that we were about to find out.
On our way, we stopped at an outdoor food market and picked out a couple of crusty baguettes, some fresh fruit, a wedge of cheese, and a few pastries. Mom also bought a thin blanket for us to throw on the ground. Justin was waiting for us at the main entrance, just like we’d agreed on.
While we ate, we told Justin about the notes and packages.
“What do you think it all means?” he asked us.
“I’m not sure we’ll know until we get all of the clues,” my mom said before she popped a strawberry into her mouth.
“While you two go off to find Amelia, can I call Alice and see if she can come and meet me here?” Justin asked.
My mother shrugged. “I don’t see why not. Justin, I hope you don’t feel left out in all of this.”
“No, it’s fine,” he said. “I’m glad you two are having a good time.”
Mom told Justin we’d call him when we were finished with Amelia, and we’d meet up at the carousel, which was located in the garden. After we cleaned up our stuff, Mom and I took off, leaving Justin to call Alice. We explored for a little while, enjoying all of the flowers, statues, and fountains. At three o’clock, we made our way to the ticket booth, arriving early like Grandma had suggested.
There were a man and a woman working in the ticket booth, so we walked up to the window with the woman. The tiny wrinkles around her eyes told me she was probably around Grandma’s age.
She smiled when we approached her.
“Amelia?” my mother asked.
she replied. I could tell she was trying to figure out if she knew us.
“Do you speak English?” I asked. Once the words were out, I almost couldn’t believe I’d spoken up without getting anxious first. I’d simply asked the question, without even thinking about it.
“Yes,” she said. “How may I help you?”
My mom explained, “You were friends with Sylvia, my mother. I’m Faye and this is my daughter, Nora.”
“Oh, but of course. How nice to meet you.” She stood up and said something in French to the man. “Let me come out so we can talk.” She pointed behind us. “Wait for me over there.”
We did as she said, and stepped away from the little building and waited until she joined us. I took in her pretty red dress, which looked like something from long ago, with a wide collar and a flared skirt.
“I am very sorry for your loss,” she told us. “Sylvia was such a delightful woman.” She looked at me. “The last time your grandmother was here, she spoke of bringing you with her to Paris someday. It is sad you did not get to see that dream come true.”
There was that word again. We didn’t seem to be able to get away from it. Of course, the whole thing
sad. I found myself secretly wishing we could throw all of the sadness into the river and watch it float away. But of course, that was impossible. It would be a part of every gift we received from her friends, because they wanted us to know how sorry they were. And because they loved her, too, just like we did.
It seemed to me the best thing was to get right to the point. “She left me notes,” I told her, “for a treasure hunt. She said you had something for my mom and me?”
she said. “But first, would you like to watch the puppet show that’s about to begin?”
“Oh, yes,” I said. “I would.” I turned to my mom. “Is that all right?”
“Absolutely,” she replied. “I’d love to see it, too.”
“Let’s get you two tickets, and when the show is over, I will take you to your surprise.” Her brown eyes sparkled like bubbly root beer. “And what a surprise it will be.”
e found seats toward the back of the theater. The rows near the front were reserved for small children.
“It feels like we’re on a journey of some kind with your Grandma Sylvia, doesn’t it?” my mother whispered.
I gave her a funny look. “Well, we came from New York all the way to Paris. That
She shook her head. “No, I mean, with the notes. I keep thinking to myself, where is she taking us?” She leaned back and stared out across the audience. “I suppose sometimes the best journeys are the ones where you don’t know exactly where you’re going. You simply have to go along and enjoy the ride.”
It made me smile, because it sounded like something Grandma would have said. When the puppet show began, I settled back in my seat to watch
The Three Little Pigs
, spoken entirely in French. When trouble was about to happen, the little kids yelled at the puppets to watch out. It was pretty funny, and even though I didn’t understand the words, I totally understood what was going on.
When it was over, my mom looked over at me and smiled. “That was so good, wasn’t it?”
“I loved it,” I said. “Mom, I feel like everything in Paris is good.”
She patted my leg. “I think you’re right. We’ll let everyone leave, and then we’ll go find Amelia.”
It didn’t take too long for the room to empty out. Amelia spotted us and took us around to the back of the building. She opened up a door and led us inside what seemed to be a small storage room, where the puppets they used for the shows hung on racks. There were little wooden chairs scattered around, and tables covered in papers.
“This is so cool,” I said, walking over to one of the puppets and taking its tiny hand in mine.
“It’s like a behind-the-scenes peek,” Mom said.
“Your surprise is over here,” Amelia said, pointing to a wardrobe closet against the wall.
Mom looked at me. “Any guesses?”
“A puppet of our own?” I asked.
Amelia didn’t say anything, but instead, simply opened up the doors to the wardrobe. Inside hung clothes. She reached in and pulled out a dress with a flared black skirt and a short-sleeved gray jacket on top.
“This one is yours, Faye,” she said, handing it to my mother.
Then she took another dress and handed it to me. “And this one is for you, Nora.”
I don’t think I’d ever seen such a cute dress. Mine also had a flared skirt, but with a simpler design, just a basic top with short sleeves and a thin belt around the middle. It was black with pretty, shiny silver polka dots all over it.
“The material is taffeta,” Amelia told me. “Your grandmother, like myself, had a thing for the vintage look, as you can tell.” She put her arms out and smiled. “What do you think? Do you like them?”
“Yes,” I said. “Oh my gosh, I love it. What about you, Mom?”
“They’re both beautiful. Do you know if she made them herself, Amelia?”
she replied. “She sent everything to me and asked me to get the wrinkles out.” She held up her index finger as she said, “Oh, I almost forgot. She sent these along as well.” Amelia reached into the wardrobe again and pulled out two tan overcoats. “Just in case it was raining, I suppose.”
“Wow,” I said. “She thought of everything.”
“Maybe we should read the next note,” Mom said. “Find out what’s in store for us from here.”
“I think I shall leave you two alone,” Amelia said. “You are welcome to use this room as long as you need to. There are some large shopping bags folded up, there in the corner. Feel free to use them for the clothes if you’d like. When you leave, simply close the door behind you and it will be locked.”
“Thank you so much for all of your help,” my mom said. “We really appreciate it.”
“Yes, thank you,” I said.
“My pleasure,” Amelia replied. “Sylvia was a dear friend, and she loved both of you very, very much. We talked often of family, and one of the things I learned from her is to never take any loved one for granted. Things—life—can change so quickly, yes?”
I looked at my mother. She had tears in her eyes. “Yes,” she said softly. “It is so true.”
Amelia said, waving at us. “Have fun!”
After she closed the door, my mom sat down in one of the chairs, the dress folded over in her lap.
I hung my dress back up in the wardrobe and then pulled the next note out of my bag. I opened it up and began reading out loud.
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE PARIS, PART 5
By now you’ve met Amelia and have your gifts in hand. I hope you like them! I’m sorry they aren’t a bit more fancy, but time was of the essence, so I went for a simple yet elegant look. It’s my favorite, if I’m honest. I can’t wait to see you and your mother all dressed up. What beauties the two of you are.
I’m assuming you made it for the puppet show, which means it is late in the afternoon. Most likely, the next excursion will have to wait until tomorrow. But it will be worth the wait, I promise!
Have you heard of Place du Tertre on Montmartre? At one time, it was the home to many poor painters, including Utrillo and Picasso. When you visit the square, I’d like you to find my friend Frederic, who has a kiosk there. Please be advised, artists may approach you and try to get you to agree to a portrait, but these artists are not licensed and do not have the city’s approval. Frederic is extremely talented, and I know you are going to enjoy meeting him and seeing his fine work. He will paint a portrait of the two of you. This painting will be something you can keep forever—a lovely reminder of the time you spent in Paris, together.
As always, you will find directions and money enclosed for this latest excursion. Enjoy!
“Are you sure there’s not time to go today?” I asked Mom.
She checked her watch. “I’m sorry, honey, but I think it’s best if we wait until tomorrow.”
I sighed. That wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear. But I guess it did make sense. Painting a portrait wasn’t like drinking a mug of hot cocoa—it couldn’t be done in ten minutes.
“So when we go tomorrow,” I asked, “do you think we’re supposed to wear everything we’ve found so far? Like, dress up for the portrait?”
Mom narrowed her eyes. “Hm. That’s a good question. It seems like she would have told us to wear the items she sent along if she wanted us to do that.”
“So what’s it all for then?” I wondered out loud.
Mom chuckled. “Your guess is as good as mine. All right, while I call Justin and tell him we’ll see him in a little while, why don’t you start packing up our dresses and coats? We can use the shopping bags, like Amelia suggested.”
I went to the closet and pulled out my dress again. It was
pretty. Part of me wanted to peek at the next envelope, so I didn’t have to wonder all night about what it could mean. But that would be like cheating, and I didn’t want to be a cheater.
I told myself I’d waited twelve years to get to Paris, so compared to that, one night would be a piece of cake.