Bring Down the Stars (Beautiful Hearts Duet #1)(8)

“Ma chère,” he said, when the last notes faded. He wrapped his thick arms around me in an embrace I desperately needed. Edmond’s hugs felt as good as getting a full night’s sleep.

“So good to see you again,” he said, holding me at arm’s length. “How was your summer? How is your family?”

“They’re fine,” I said, crossing two fingers to hide the white lie. The farm wasn’t doing so well. Dad said none of the farms in our county were, but we shouldn’t worry. Yet. Of course, I’d spent the summer watching him and Mom do nothing but worry, while I worked waiting tables at Cracker Barrel.

“I missed you,” I told Edmond, and that wasn’t a lie at all.

“I missed you, ma petite chère,” he said. “This place is dimmer without your beauteous light.”

Tears sprang to my eyes again. Crying twice in one morning was unacceptable. I turned away quickly to work on prepping the coffee machines.

“Always the romantic, Edmond.”

“Always,” he said. “Are you ready to begin a new year at the big school?”

“I think so. This year is tough because—”

He cut me off by tipping my chin up with one finger. His large brown eyes were heavy with concern. “I see a new sadness here.”

“It’s nothing.”

Edmond frowned.

I sighed. No sense in hiding it. Mark and I had been inseparable for two years. He’d dragged himself out of bed many a morning to have a coffee at the Panache Blanc while I worked, just so he could be close to me. Edmond knew him well.

No, he didn’t. Turns out, no one knew Mark well. Least of all me.

“I broke up with Mark,” I said.

“Quel bordel!” Edmond bellowed.

“I’m fine. I’d rather not talk about it—”

“Why? What happened?” He waved his flour-covered hands. “I know, you will not want to discuss, but he is a fool, that is plain. Pfft.”

He made me feel the fool.

I smoothed my skirt. “Done is done. I’m going to move past it.”

Edmond wrinkled his nose. “A tough cookie, as you Americans say. Bon. I have no cookies for my tough cookie but…” He took a cranberry scone from the tray he’d just pulled from the oven, put it on a plate and handed it to me.

“Oh no, I don’t need…”

“You do. I insist.” Edmond called to the back. “Eh! Philippe!”

His backroom assistant, a wiry eighteen-year-old named Phil Glassman, poked his head out from the back room with a vague grunt. His eyelids were still at half-mast. Poor Phil—a year and a half working here and he still couldn’t get used to the early hours.

“Philippe, you prepare the coffee,” Edmond said. “Autumn will start after she eats.”

“I’m fine,” I said, knowing there was no arguing with Edmond when it came to matters of the heart. Food, wine, and song were his cure-alls, and I had to admit the scone smelled amazing. I could use the comfort food.

Edmond ushered me to the back room, plopping me down on a chair. “Eat, ma chère. Eat and taste the sweetness in life, not the bitter, oui? You are too good for mortal men, but true love will find you. This I know.”

He patted my cheek and barked at Phil again as they prepared for the morning rush. I ate the scone and tried to take his words to heart. It helped. Not so much the food as the love baked into it.

There might be jobs in Amherst where I could make more money, but none of them had Edmond.

After the early morning rush, I hung up my apron, waved at Edmond and biked back to campus. My first class of the day was Intro to Economics with Environmental Applications, a course both in line with my humanitarian career goals and that satisfied a general ed requirement. Win-win.

I always sat in the front row of my classes, taking notes until my fingers cramped. I envied the students who captured the lecture on their smart phones. My phone was more than a few incarnations behind the latest model, and I didn’t want to wear it out.

After class, a text came in from Ruby:

Lunch on the quad?

Usual spot, I typed back.

I’ll be the super hot one in the yoga pants.

I grinned. Whereas I never left the house without looking as put-together as possible, Ruby Hammond could hardly be bothered to wear matching shoes.

The sun was brilliant that September morning. I loved the Amherst campus with its miles of rolling green grass stretched along Federal-style buildings of red brick. Trees dotted the green where students basked in the late summer sun, talking and reuniting after the summer break.

Whether you were in kindergarten or college, the first day of school seemed to hold a special feeling of possibility. Like one of my dad’s mornings, where amazing things could happen.

Ruby and I had claimed a wrought iron street lamp in front of the Admin building as ‘our place.’ She was waiting for me, stretched out on the grass, wearing the promised yoga pants and a wrinkled baseball-style shirt. Her dark hair was tied up in a messy bun and she shielded her eyes with a caramel-colored hand.

We’d been paired up randomly as freshman roommates, and despite our differences, we hit it off at once. I kept our place clean, and in exchange, she kept me laughing when my studies threatened to bury me.

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