More from the Big Cheesy (a.k.a. “Sweeping Gooey”) Novel

frizzyWhen we left our heroine, she had just run into someone she didn’t expect to see in Paris. Remember, it’s January 1979. And she has just gotten a very bad haircut, which she is hiding under a stocking cap. Keep in mind this is  a gooey novel, though I’ve heard from a reader that ‘gooey’ may cheese off my male audience. So I’m considering making it a BIG CHEESY novel versus a SWEEPING GOOEY novel. My first concern is that it needs more cheese. So I’m working on that.

Bonnie shrank back, remembering clearly who it was she was talking to. Tom Iversen. The Tom Iversen. Graduated first in their high school graduating class — but just barely — after having slept his way through most of their senior year. Since he’d received a full-ride scholarship to Stanford University, he could let things go. And he did. He came to class hung-over, almost every morning, and tried to hide his bloodshot eyes behind cool, dark aviator glasses. His rare contributions to the classroom discussion – when he was awake — were in the form of crude commentary to anyone nearby, or cutting remarks about the teacher.

And Bonnie could hear it all. She was always placed nearby Tom, her Huber just ahead of his Iversen in the seating chart alphabet.

Even when he was at his worst, Tom was still every teacher’s pet – the golden boy who was going to make Sunray Lake, Minnesota, proud, ace his way through Stanford, become an aerospace engineer with NASA, who knew, maybe wind up piloting the Space Shuttle.  Bonnie was sure they already had the “Welcome Home, Tom!” banners printed up and ready to hang from the Sunray Lake water tower when he made his triumphal return from space in just a few years.

So he could afford to slack off.  People like Tom always could.

But Bonnie wasn’t like Tom. She couldn’t slack off.  She wasn’t sure she even would if she had half the chance. She was a bright, industrious student, and earned a few scholarships, but not enough to attend some pricey West Coast school. So she never bothered looking outside the Midwest. And why should she? Her path had never been as has clear as Tom’s always had been. And she had no one taking her on as a special project, ready to encourage her to try more lucrative, less traditional female professions. Shouldn’t she have been encouraged to think of being a rocket scientist too? Received some extra coaching to raise her college entrance test scores?

Bonnie wasn’t sure what she might have made of such encouragement. She’d never been the type of person to accept help easily, and never asked for it. She’d gotten her first job as soon as she could, working at 15 in a drugstore restaurant as cook, waitress and busboy, sometimes all in the same shift. She took the bus to and from her restaurant job, finishing her homework when the ride didn’t make her nauseous. Sometimes even when she was nauseous, she’d fake work on her homework so the local pothead on his way to the head-shop didn’t insist on carrying on his never-ending anti-government rant in the seat next to her, all the while steadily exhaling remnants of his long-held smoke at her as he spewed his nonsense. It always seemed best to stay under radar, keep your head down, avoid eye contact (especially with ranting potheads), and take care of your business by yourself.

And while she would have done better to save everything she earned for college, she had a hard time not spending all her meager wages and tips on small luxuries. Mostly art books and art supplies, which went to good use, but also the occasional cute angora sweater in pink, a color that she thought looked good against her pale, sometimes blotchy skin and didn’t make her hair look so bad. Oh and a pair of super wide bell bottom hip-hugger jeans. Or two. It wasn’t that her parents couldn’t afford to get these kinds of things for her. Bonnie didn’t want to ask.

And maybe that meant she was to blame for where she was after all. If you don’t ask for help or mentoring, you don’t get it. Instead you got angora sweaters that kick up so much static electricity that your limp hair goes even flatter against your neck and shoulders; hip-hugger jeans that quickly go out of style; and, just that day, an ugly curly, short haircut to fix the frisé frizzies. Instead you wound up at the nearest college that would take you, that your parents could mostly afford, with loans and part time jobs to pay the rest of the way.

So that’s where things stood for Bonnie Huber, visiting Paris, France in January 1979. In a few months, about when the perm grew out, she’d have to declare a major, and she still had no clue which direction she should take. And now she was standing right in front of a guy who had always had a clear sense of direction, and always seemed to have others for pushing him along when he needed to be pushed.

Bonnie shrugged off her feeling of inferiority. Tom Iversen was nobody, like all the other nobodies she’d had as high school classmates, who were all long gone from her life. This chance meeting was nothing.

“I’m studying French – and art — in Paris for the month,” she said casually, adding the “and art” part even though Mademoiselle was teaching only French. It really was a stretch to say she was studying art at all. Sure, she had a talent for portraiture and a few art history classes under her belt, but that was hardly “studying art.” She was, however, carrying a sketchpad and pencils with her, and planned to do some sketching at the Louvre. So at least she had some proof on her. Maybe someone would happen to notice her there, see that she had talent, and something special would happen in her life after all.

“How’s rocket science school?” she asked Tom casually, as if they had just run into each other at the Sunray Lake grocery store. But her voice rang out too loudly in the quiet, empty Jardin des Tuileries, echoing against the stone courtyards of the formal gardens and ricocheting back to her with false rings. It seemed like the wrong place for such an untrue tone of voice.

He shrugged. “I’m taking a break from aerospace engineering,” he said, using the more proper term for his course of study. “Taking a year off to travel.”

“Really,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound too sarcastic or envious. “How do you take a year off?” She thought that might sound rude, and again her voice was too loud, which confirmed it. She wondered whether the chemicals from the permanent had seeped into her brain, and changed her, permanently, maybe for the worse. She decided she didn’t care. “Exactly how do you do that?” she said, her voice ringing back to her a little less harshly.

“Well, let’s just say that everyone thought it was for the best,” he said.

“Everyone?”

He took a few moments to consider her question, and answered her. He was obviously taking his direction from the solemn atmosphere of the winter garden. “Mostly my advisor. My dad was against it, saying I’d hit my stride soon enough.”

Jim Iversen, Tom’s dad, was the long-time Sunray Lake high school principal. He’d seen enough kids to know whether one would hit his stride at some point, but had a huge blind spot, or so everyone thought, regarding his son.

“So here I am. In the middle of my European tour,” he said with a laugh. “And I’m completely, 100 percent lost in Paris. I just got into town and if I hadn’t run into you, I’m not sure what I would have done. I got scammed by some gypsies in a bump and run. My wallet’s missing, I lost my passport, and I’m down to my last franc. Think you can help me out?”

Interested in more cheese? Why click here,  s’il vous plaît.

Where to Open a Big Cheesy Novel? Why Paris, of Course!

imagesAnd so it begins.

Chapter 1

January 1979
Paris, France

The Jardin des Tuileries was deserted on a dull gray winter afternoon as the mousey, stick-thin American girl set out to cross it on her way to the Louvre. She observed that no one sat in the cold chairs by the fountains. No children ran along the paths that crisscrossed it. No one strolled slowly along, admiring its parterres. It would be several months before the famed Parisian spring was to arrive. Now all the flowerbeds were empty and colorless, except for the bright blooms of red lipstick on discarded Gauloises Bleues butts that had been planted casually here and there.

Bonnie Huber wasn’t wearing any lipstick or smoking French cigarettes, so she had nothing to add to that winter garden-scape. She also wasn’t wearing her warmest winter coat, the one that held up to Minnesota winters and kept her warm when she was crossing the tundra known as the St. Agnes campus. That coat had been left at home in St. Paul, since she figured she could handle a Paris winter in her plaid zipped-front jacket. She’d also left her very unfashionable lined Sorel snow-boots behind, figuring there wouldn’t be any snow and that her brown earth shoes could handle it. And there hadn’t been any snow.

Instead there had been rain. And many deep puddles that she’d had to traverse in her low-heeled earth shoes. But even soggy socks hadn’t dampened her enthusiasm for the January term in Paris.

She liked best the free afternoons, when students in her group could do as they wished. Today that meant a long afternoon exploring the Louvre museum. She planned to take in every bit of it, hoping to spend hours admiring the Mona Lisa and all of its treasures; she also hoped to have enough time to visit the nearby Orangerie, home to the famous Water Lilies paintings by Impressionist painter Claude Monet.

She knew she would not see a single one of her classmates at the Louvre. The rest of the girls—all sophomores in Mademoiselle Fliegel’s French class at the all-female College of Saint Agnes—were headed straight to the popular left bank, to the Rive Gauche restaurant that had authentic Italian pizza and authentic cute, young Italian waiters. Instead of practicing their French, they spent hours tasting the delicious stone-oven-fired pizza and the charming tongues of the Italian boys.

But not learning a word of Italian.

Bonnie thought they were wasting their time, particularly given that most of the girls had boyfriends who were attending the all-male College of St. Peter, just a few miles from St. Agnes. Bonnie didn’t have a St. Peter boyfriend, and even if she had she wouldn’t have bothered finding an Italian substitute to keep her entertained while in Paris. She spent her free-time elsewhere, exploring Paris on her own, eating French street food like crepes and dining on straight-from-the-oven baguettes.

Almost all of her classmates had been friends together in the Catholic High School near the college, and they all had learned many things that she hadn’t in her suburban public school. Like how to talk to foreign boys they didn’t know in a language they could understand. “The international language of LOVE,” her classmate Nancy had gushed, having scored a date with the cutest of the Italian waiters! Oh puke, Bonnie had thought.

Bonnie also hadn’t learned how to have the glossy, long hair they all seemed to have, hair that effortlessly could be swept into beautiful, wavy ponytails and fashionable chignons. Bonnie’s hair was limp dishwater blond that couldn’t hold a curl and quickly lost its grip on ponytail bands, turning into an ugly haystack mess in moments.

Or it had been that way the day before. Bonnie had marched into a salon the previous afternoon, one that was near the hotel where they were housed for the month. In her very best college-sophomore French, she’d asked for a perm.

Frisé, she’d said. She knew that meant ‘curly’. It wound up good old American frizzy, tightly crimped in a wavy mess that stuck out in all directions from her head. Her attempt to blow-dry the frisé out only made her hair look even fuzzier. She had not learned the true secret to hair care, that what looked effortless required much effort. Her roommate, a buxom girl named Carol Simon, had offered her the use of her rollers, explaining that all Bonnie needed to do was put her permed hair into the big rollers, while it was damp, and let it dry for several hours (or overnight), then carefully brush it all out in the morning aided by any of the numerous hair products Carol had hauled along. Her frizzies would be gone.

Well. What had been the point in getting curls put in if you had to spend hours getting them out, every day?

So Bonnie visited another salon on her way to the Louvre.

Une coupe courte, she said, s’il vous plaît.

And with that, the hairdresser cut the frizzy perm off, all of it except for the final few inches, which left Bonnie with her first-ever curly short haircut. It was still a shock to look in the mirror and see the thick nest of dishwater blond curls framing her heart-shaped face, curls that called attention to her big blue-gray eyes and her tiny, imperfect slash of a mouth. But at least she wouldn’t have to bother with curlers and hair products. She would just have to avoid looking in mirrors for the next several months until it had all gone away on its own.

But not one bit of her French salon experience could be seen under the stocking cap she’d pulled over it. She hated attracting attention and she was smart enough to know that a young woman on her own in a large city could attract the wrong type of attention.

“Are you, eh, Américaine?” a masculine voice said suddenly.

Out of nowhere, a stranger was suddenly at her elbow.

“Uh. Quoi?” Bonnie quickened her pace. Her best sophomore French deserted her as she struggled to say ‘what did you say’ in French even though he’d spoken clearly in a jumble of  English and French. Whatever he was asking her, she wanted him to go away— quickly and not stop bothering her.

Américaine?” he said again.

Clearly he was, given his accent. It suddenly struck her and she stopped in her tracks. Laughing. She looked at him.

“Tom? It’s you isn’t it?”

“No. Way,” the guy said. “Bonnie?”

“Why on earth did you just ask me,” she said, barely able to spit the words out between laughs. “Whether I was Américaine?”

“My French is, I guess, worse than yours. But you are clearly so American. In those earth shoes and that plaid coat. I guess it all came out in a jumble.”

“What on earth are you doing here. In Paris?” Bonnie asked.

“I guess I could ask you the same,” Tom said.

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Interested in where the story goes next? Why click here,  s’il vous plaît.