I have made some changes in the first chapter. The butler, Nicolas, is being questioned by the police and is asked to tell what happened at the hospital. When he has finished the story, the police officer asks questions about Monique the maid. Nicolas doesn't have much to say, and he is hiding something from the police... and then we go back in time - one year earlier
One year earlier
Point of view: Monique the maid
I came to the vineyard early Tuesday morning. When I parked my car in the garage Nicolas was there to greet me. He was a tall and wrinckled man, but he was very funny. Nicolas always made my Tuesdays. Without him I wouldn’t get through them. It always took some time to get used to being back. I often missed my own life. My family. My boyfriend. My friends... not the Latourette family.
“Good morning, Monique,” Nicolas said in that proud, polite old voice of his when I parked the car. I liked Nicolas. He was like a grandfather to me.
“Hello Nicolas. Nice to see you again,” I replied and smiled.
“The pleasure is mine, love,” he said and gave me a smile back. He sure was an old charmour. I wonder if he’s ever had a wife... Nicolas was old and didn’t have any family. Nobody knew why. He was a mysterious man.
“What’s the matter?” I asked him. “You never welcome me in the garage?”
“Oh dear you have no idea just how bad everything is around here.” The smile on his face disappeared and he gave me a serious look, which meant I should listen carefully. I sighed.
“What is it now?” I asked. “Was I supposed to pick something up on my way?”
“No, no everything’s fine. Well except from one thing...” he said and looked down on his feet. “It’s Danielle, she...”
“Oh I know about Danielle,” I interrupted. Selina, the eldest daughter, had warned me.
“You know?” he asked. He was quite surprised about that. “How?” The way he said ‘how’ made me giggle. Now he was just curious to know who told me. Nicolas was always so very curious, and he loved gossip.
“Selina called,” I said. “Told me everything. They couldn’t just not tell me, now could they?”
“I guess not... but are you sure she told you everything?” he asked.
“I think so... Unless you know something I don’t, Nicolas?” I asked. He did... He always did... and then he usually pulled of a show before telling me. I loved hating his little shows.
“Perhaps. Depends on how much Selina told you...” he said and began to whistle like an innocent little girl aged 10.
“She told me about the stroke and that Claudine’s moving in. Was there more to tell?” I asked. Nicolas looked too happy about himself... Dammit he knows more!
“Then I suppose Selina failed to mention what happened between Gilbert and his mother?” he asked. She did... Selina didn’t even mention Gilbert on the phone... Why does Nicolas always know more than I do?
“...She didn’t,” I admitted. There was no reason to lie, Nicolas could always tell when I lied.
“Then...” he slowly began.
“Oh don’t be such a smartass,” I said and gave him a friendly slap on the chest while laughing. Nicolas was such a funny guy. He started laughing as well. The show was over. Thankfully. I thought the way he behaved was very funny but it could also be very irritating if he kept it going long enough.
“Then,” he said and giggled. “And this is actually not funny at all... I’m telling you this as a warning...” He cleared his throat and turned all serious.
“A warning? That sounds serious...” I said and didn’t quite understand. What can it possibly be about? Of course I knew I shouldn’t mention Daniella... One must always be wary around the Latourette family. Is this another one of Nicolas’ shows? Why is he so serious?
“Don’t mention Gilbert’s name if you want to keep your job,” he said. My reaction was a laugh but then I realized he was not joking. I’ve worked here for two years, they can’t just fire me for mentioning Gilbert’s name... I was sure Nicolas was exaggerating.
“Why?” I asked critically. I didn’t know if I should believe him or not. I usually believed him but Nicolas was tough to read... He was always hiding behind his humor and funny expressions. I never knew where I had him.
“Gilbert doesn’t want to have anything to do with his mother anymore... They had a huge argument at the hospital, and Gilbert left most dramatically.” I opened my mouth. I wish I had seen that... This is big news. It is almost bigger than the stroke itself. Poor Danielle... Was Gilbert really such a big drama queen? Gilbert had always been a nice guy in my eyes. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It made no sense. It seemed like everything had changed here over the weekend.
“But...” I managed to say. “But why?” Nicolas’ face hardened.
“Philippe said Gilbert wanted to remember his mother as she was before she got paralyzed... It really upset the rest of them. Imagine being a fly on the wall when they were arguing... The atmosphere in there was worse than it would be in a lunch date between Marie Le Pen and Francois Hollande.”
“I’m speechless! What about Danielle? How did she take it?”
“Don’t know,” he said and shrugged. “Hard I guess... I mean, who wouldn’t?”
“Yeah. I feel so sorry for Danielle. She’s such a sweet woman. I don’t get it. Not any of it.”
“Me neither,” Nicolas agreed and turned his head. He looked at the Paris poster on the garage wall. It was one of Gilbert’s posters. “Did Selina tell you about the wedding?” he then asked.
“She did. It’s a shame but I guess it’s for the best.”
“It is, yes... Emmanuel took it well though. It could have been worse.”
“Oh really? That’s good... When will she get home? Danielle I mean. Any news from the hospital?”
“They’ll call us later today but I think she will come home on Friday. And Claudine with her. Selina told you Claudine is moving in, right?” She did... which I thought might actually be a good thing. I knew Danielle would appreciate it. She didn’t want to hire a stranger to take care of her. That wasn’t her way.
“She did. Now what do you think about that?”
“It’s fine by me but I think Philippe is quite angry with her. I don’t really know why... It has something to do with the argument at the hospital,” Nicolas said. Philippe is angry with Claudine? What was this now? Everybody loved Claudine, why was he angry with her?
I had duties to see to and I had not had a cup of coffee yet, so I thought it was time to leave the garage and go inside.
“I know you’ll find out somehow, Nicolas,” I said and smiled. “You always do.” I began to walk, it was time for my daily cup of coffee. I had had enough chit chat, and the garage was probably not the best place to hide in case Philipe was awake and needed something.
“Do you have coffee, Nicolas?”
“Yes... I do believe it’s still hot, but I haven’t made so much now Danielle is at the hospital. Philippe doesn’t drink coffee, he never has.” Nicolas followed me inside. “Let me make you some more.”
“Thank you. Is Philippe up yet?”
“He isn’t,” he replied. It wasn’t a surprise to me. Philippe liked to sleep till midday when he had had too much wine. I bet this was no exception.
“This is hard on him.” Nicolas said. It is hard for all of them... Especially when Gilbert chose to be such a dick. And I used to think Gilbert was nice... Perhaps I’m bad at judging people.
“If it’s hard on him he needs to relax... and then it would be a shame to begin vacuuming, don’t you think so?” I asked Nicolas and turned around as I climbed the stairs. I stopped and gave Nicolas a smile and a blink. Nicolas laughed and turned me around so I could continue climbing the stairs. I laughed too. I love my job. No stress...
“You silly child,” was all he said. I did not mind he called me ‘child’. He was at least fourty years older than me...
Friday came early. I’d spent the last couple of days avoiding the depressed Philippe and bragging to Nicolas about my new boyfriend. Nicolas was always so critical and teasing when it came to my love life but he was just joking... Nicolas likes listening to my stories. He doesn’t have much of a private life himself... He’s an observer. He observes life. I intend to live it... I was not planning to be a maid at the vineyard for the rest of my life. I was saving money for university. Not everyone can be born into families like the one I serve... Others have to work for it.
“When will they be coming?” I asked Nicolas when I went to the kitchen to get my daily cup of coffee and breakfast. The kitchen was big with wooden counters and a black and white floor. It was very classic, big and pretty. Not even my rich, distant in Cannes had a charming kitchen like this.
“Oh good morning dear,” Nicolas said. He was making pancakes for Philippe and hadn’t heard me coming. “We don’t know yet. Yesterday the hospital said they’d call when they take off. They might call any minute.”
“Now that sucks,” I said and found a cup in the cupboard.
“So thinks Philippe. He had to get up early in case they might call... and you know how much he likes getting up early,” Nicolas said and turned around for a second to give me a smile. Philippe hated getting up early.
“He likes it just as much as I do,” I said. “The difference between us is just that I have to get up early and he doesn’t,” I said and poured some coffee.
“Oh yes you have a very hard life,” Philippe said ironically. “Philippe is a monster in the morning. He’s angry, restless and can’t sit down for more than ten minutes at a time...” he then said... and he was right. As usual... but I knew that much. All I wanted was for him to feel a bit sorry for me... Nicolas was so cold all the time. He was funny but cold... Cold and straight forward.
“What about Claudine?” I asked. Claudine, who hadn’t left Danielle’s side since the stroke, probably knew something...
“What about her?” Nicolas said. He didn’t understand.
“She’s with Danielle, why haven’t you just called her and asked when they will be coming?”
“Oh we have,” Nicolas said as he flipped a pancake in the air. He was a good cook. “Do you take us for fools?”
“I’m sorry... Of course I don’t,” I said and took a bite of my croissant. I didn’t mind the way Nicolas spoke to me. It was just his personality. He didn’t mean anything with it... I actually found it quite funny sometimes.
“What did she say?” I asked. Nicolas turned around and looked like someone who had given up hope. He sighed.
“You know it’s rude to speak with food in your mouth, don’t you Monique?” he said and tried to make me feel bad.
“Monique?” I asked and pretended I was offended. “You Monique me for talking with food in my mouth. You are in a happy mood today I see,” I said and gave him a smile. Nicolas laughed.
“Of course I am,” he said and flipped another pancake in the air. “Danielle’s coming home today. What’s there not to be happy about?”
“Philippe,” I said. “And Claudine. You didn’t mention her... Aren’t you happy she’s moving in?” Nicolas hesitated.
“Claudine’s nice...” he said. “She loves her family... But I still don’t know why Philippe said she was irritating. I hope there won’t be another argument when they come. Danielle needs to rest.” He was right. If Claudine and Philippe would be at each other’s throats when they came home from the hospital it would be hard for Danielle to relax... And she needed it.
I finished my breakfeast quickly and went to do my duties around the castle. There wasn’t much to do with Danielle at the hospital, but when Claudine moved in there would be much more laundry to do... so I didn’t feel bad for not doing very much while Danielle was gone. First I changed Philippe’s sheets, then I did the laundry, and all I had to do for the rest of the day was to make sure there wasn’t any dust on the surfaces and make Claudine’s room ready. Easy. I went to my own chamber and relaxed a little bit when I’d finished doing laundry. I had my own chamber in the attic. I had a very nice view... but the room was small and I had to go down to the first floor if I needed to go to the toilet. The castle wasn’t very modern... but it was charming. An old castle shouldn’t be decorated with modern furniture. That would ruin the beauty of it.
I began to read one of my favorite books in my bed. I kept reading longer than I ought to... but when it was late in the afternoon I finally stopped and began to wonder when the phone might ring. Nicolas said the hospital would call but they hadn’t called yet.
I went downstairs to look for Philippe. He was playing the big, black piano in the living room so he was easy to find... He was playing a wild song. He is troubled... In general he was a very impatient man, and waiting for Danielle to come home did not make it any better. I went to his side and gave him a friendly smile. He needed a friend. When he noticed me he stopped playing.
“Ah, Monique,” he said. “Have you finished for today?” he asked. His voice was very calm, nothing like the song he had just played.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Good.” He slammed his hands down on his thighs and got up. He was a big man. He had big muscles but he also had a big belly... He enjoyed life. He didn’t think much about the doctors’ advice... unlike Danielle.
“Come on then, let’s have a glass of wine together you and I.” He said and smiled. I did what he asked. My presence obviously pleased him, and I pitied him.
“Nicolas!” he suddenly yelled. His voice was deep and rough, he never stayed calm for long. He was a very bombastic man, and his mood changed all the time. Before I could blink Nicolas was there. Nicolas never went far away from Philippe in case Philippe needed anything.
“Yes, sir?” Nicolas asked courteously. Not once did he look at me. He always looked at his master when spoken to. He was like a dog, forever true to his master...
“Get us some wine,” Philippe said. Nicolas nodded and was about to leave, but Philippe changed his mind. “Make it three glasses instead,” he said loudly. “You should join us.”
“Oh, that wouldn’t be appropiate, sir,” Nicolas said. Don’t leave me alone with Philippe, Nicolas... Philippe was nice but it was also a bit uncomfortable to be alone with him. Not in an awkward way... but Philippe didn’t know when to stop talking and when to stop joking. He always asked too many private questions, and one time he laid a hand on my thigh... I slapped him and ran to the kitchens. He hadn’t done it since.
“Nonesense,” Philippe insisted. “You’re a good man, you deserve it,” Philippe continued. “Our wine has always been the best on the southcoast, don’t you dare say no to it.” Nicolas nodded and went to fetch the wine. Meanwhile I seated myself in one of the couches in front of the chimney, and Philippe in the other.
“So...” I said. I wanted him to speak to me. He knew he could trust me... I thought I might help him, be a shoulder to cry on.
“So... what?” Philippe asked and lighted a cigarette. He pretended not to be upset at all but I knew he was. I could tell from the song he was playing on the piano.
“Have you heard nothing from the hospital?” I asked. Philippe inhaled before answering.
“Nothing,” he said and kept smoking. There was a pause. I didn’t think he would say more, but then he continued talking.
“I’ve talked to Claudine though,” he said. “They will be home around six o’clock...” This was news to me. I guess Claudine told the hospital not to call then... There was no reason for them to waste their time on calling when we already knew what time they would come.
“Good...” I said. I wanted to say more but Philippe did not give me the time.
“Hah! Good,” Philippe said and made it clear he didn’t think it was good. “I hate hospitals,” he said. “You can’t trust ‘em.” He laughed but began to cough.
“Perhaps you should quit smoking now Danielle’s coming home,” I said. I wasn’t being mean, I meant it as a friend. “A house filled with smoke will not be good for her health.”
“You use that word too much, woman,” Philippe said grumpily. “Good... You’re not a doctor, you don’t know what’s good for her,” he said and crossed his legs. I shrugged. I shouldn’t make him angry and so I held my tongue. Now he knew my opinion but I shouldn’t tell him what to do and what not to do. I was just a maid.
A few seconds later Nicolas came back with a bottle of wine and three glasses.
“Ah!” Philippe said when he saw which bottle Nicolas had taken. “Good choice, Nicolas.”
“It has always been my favorite, sir,” Nicolas replied and opened the bottle. He smiled when the stopper came off.
“One of my favorites too,” Philippe agreed. My father hated it when he first tasted it. But my father was bad at making wine... It’s me who has made our brand what it is today,” Philippe said and took his glass. Nicolas laughed.
“I remember the wine your father made in ‘74...” Nicolas said and laughed. “He never knew much about wine your old man.” Nicolas poured wine in our glasses.
“It tasted like goblin’s piss,” Philippe laughed and took a sip of his wine the second Nicolas had finished pouring. I smiled. Then I got a text message. I grabbed my phone and checked who it was. Philippe didn’t mind that. Philippe was like an uncle to me, and he often said I should feel like home when I’d finished my duties... and I did. If I didn’t I wouldn’t even sleep here from Tuesday to Saturday...
“Is it that boyfriend of yours?” Nicolas asked teasingly and seated himself next to me. It wasn’t. It was Selina.
“You’ve got a boyfriend?” Philippe asked. Why is he so curious all of the sudden? Nicolas nodded.
“And from what I’ve heard, he’s quite handsome...” Nicolas said and smiled. He was trying to make me feel awkward. Philippe laughed. Philippe often laughed at things that weren’t funny at all. It was all a part of his strange personality. He was also a mysterious man. Nobody ever knew his true mind. He didn’t like talking about feelings. He was quite complex and reserved in spite of his frequent, bombastic laughter.
“What does he write, that boyfriend of yours?” Philippe asked. I giggled.
“Since when do you care about my love life?” I asked. He laughed and took a sip of his wine.
“Don’t worry dear. You’re a clever girl, I’m sure he’s a nice guy...” Philippe said but didn’t sound like he cared.
“Oh believe me, he is,” Nicolas said. “He bought her flowers when they had a date last Saturday night.”
“Did he now?” Philippe said and smiled. He was also teasing me now. “What does he say now? Did he send you a love poem?” Nicolas and Philippe laughed but it was all right. I had nothing against their humor. They were both nice guys, and I was knew they never meant to hurt me.
“It’s not him,” I said. “It’s Selina.”
Selina: Hi Monique! I don’t know if Claudine’s there yet but I need to tell you this... She doesn’t want to leave mother at any time. She refused to go with Emmanuel back to Lyon for the weekend because “she had to stay with mother”... Please convince her to go. Emmanuel just called, and he was upset. Will you do this for me?
I hated it when Selina asked me to do her a favor... but of course I would give it a try. If it was true that Emmanuel was upset it was the least I could do to help.
Monique: Of course I will ;) What did Emmanuel say?
Selina: That Claudine was totally off. He visited her yesterday but it was like mother was the only existing person in her world. She didn’t even kiss him!
This message actually surprised me. I didn’t even listen to what Philippe and Nicolas were talking about when I read it, and I kept reading it over and over. It actually sounded like Claudine had hurt Emmanuel quite badly. She usually kissed him... She did it all the time actually. Treating him like this was wrong.
Monique: That sounds crazy! She always kisses him... I’m glad you’re not handling it like her... Of course I will talk to her about it :)
Selina: Thanks Monique ;) Just don’t tell her I told you to... Just ask about Emmanuel and make her feel bad... :D
Monique: Good idea :)
Selina: Thank you <3 I’ll probably visit during the weekend. Bye bye :)
”Heeello? Anybody home?” Nicolas asked and laid a hand on my screen so I couldn’t see anything on it, forcing me to give him attention. “Are you even listening to what we’re saying?” he asked.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve finished now, I’m all ears.”
“Good,” Nicolas said. “Now what did Selina say?”
“Oh she just asked if they were here yet,” I said. I shouldn’t say what Selina actually wrote in front of Philippe if he was already mad at Claudine... This would not make his thoughts of her any better.
“Oh okay,” Nicolas said. Philippe snorted.
“I really hate that hospital,” Philippe said. “They didn’t even call us like they promised. Claudine did... And I feel like I’ve been waiting for an eternity!” You are waiting for Danielle to get home... but you will miss the old Danielle. Nothing was ever going to be the same. Did Philippe realize that?
“With good reason,” I said. “Perhaps you should tell the hospital you’re displeased with the way they’ve kept us informed.” Nicolas gave me a look that said I shouldn’t encourage him. And I really shouldn’t... I didn’t know what happened. I let my tongue slip... Philippe could be quite cruel sometimes. Especially if he was having dinner at a restaurant and didn’t like the wine they served.
Philippe thought about my suggestion for a while.
“No” he then said and lighted another cigarette with his lighter. “No, no I don’t want to have more business with those idiots... It’s a waste of time”
“Understandable,” Nicolas said. He always spoke with his master’s tongue. “You should be done with them as soon as possible so Danielle doesn’t think about that stupid hospital when she gets home. I bet these days have been rough on her.”
“No doubt,” Philippe agreed. I also nodded. We had to think about Danielle’s needs first...