Maybe it’s just eating out for the irst time in Paris without Chris that bothers me.
I stare at the menu, which is all in French, so I can’t understand it any more than I can understand the many conversations going on around me. “I’m assuming you chose this place to give me a lesson in ordering of French menus?”
“Actually, I brought you for the macarons. They’re famous for them here.” She looks hesitant and then reluctantly adds, “And I’m sorry to tell you this, but most of the restaurants will have French-only menus.”
Oh. No. But of course they do.
“Don’t look so distressed,” Chantal says quickly. “A few streets from your house is the Champs-Élysées. Since it’s a tourist hot spot, many of the restaurants there will have English on the menu. You’ll also ind a McDonald’s and a couple of Starbucks there.”
Just hearing that two American hot spots sit near my new home sends a rush of relief through me, yet the uneasy feeling hangs on. The nape of my neck tingles and I glance around, looking for suspicious characters. My progress is halted when my gaze catches on a waitress mixing up condiments with raw hamburger at the table directly to my left.
My gag relex is almost instant and I return my attention to Chantal. “If you order raw meat, I’m leaving.”
She laughs. “You do know tartare is very common here, right?”
“No, I’m not well traveled. I’m also not a huge fan of meat in general, though I eat it if it’s nearly burnt.”
“Hmmm, well”—she picks up the menu—“what about escargot?”
“I do not eat snails.”
She arches a brow. “Too bad. It’s another favorite for Parisians. How do you feel about duck?”
“They’re too cute to eat.”
She blinks at me, showing no signs of the impatience I deserve. “Fish?”
“Allergic. Do you eat pasta here?”
“It’s not a French staple, but we have it. You will ind a lot of American food on French menus, but I must warn you that most Americans dislike our attempt at their foods. Don’t expect our versions to be the same as what you’re used to.” She sets her menu down and laces her ingers together. “We need to ind things we do well that you will enjoy on a classic French menu.
Our pastries and desserts are fabulous.”
“A girl’s h*ps can only take so many pastries and desserts.”
“True,” she concedes, and considers a moment. “Well, our quiches are amazing. It’s the pastry crusts that make them so good, but they aren’t calorie-friendly, either.”
“Quiche is an option, though. I can eat that.”
“We also do an excellent grilled ham and cheese. Also quite fattening, of course, since we drench them in butter.”
Grilled ham and cheese? Is she serious? She grimaces at me and chides, “Don’t look so appalled. They are our version of hamburgers and quite delicious. Our bread is homemade, and our cheeses are amazing. As you Americans say, don’t knock it until you try it.”
“I’m sorry.” And I am. This is the food she loves. I need to frame my dislike with the diplomacy she’s shown me. “I do love cheese, so I’ll try the grilled ham and cheese. That is, if they have it on the menu here?”
“They do. Both quiche and the grilled ham and cheese are very common in our restaurants, so they can be your go-to orders. I’ll teach you how to ind them on the menu.”
“I think that’s smart.” I manage to sound positive, though the idea that these are the only items that I’ll eat is quite daunting.
“Okay, so ‘Croque Monsieur’ is the grilled ham and cheese.”
She shows me on the menu and I take a picture of it on my cell phone. “If you add ‘Madame,’ then you get a sunny-side egg on top.”
My eyes go wide. “An egg on top of a grilled cheese?”
“Yes,” she says, laughing. “You are really not enjoying this exploration into French cuisine, are you?”
“It’s that obvious?” I ask, silently reprimanding myself for my continued bad manners.
“Very.” As the waitress appears, Chantal says, “I’ll order for us.”
I would have tried to understand a few words of their exchange if not for the sudden prickling sensation on the nape of my neck again. The same sensation I’d had at the airport just before being welcomed to France by a pickpocket.
Instinctively I grab my purse, place it in my lap, and hold tight. Fighting the urge to turn to look behind me, for fear of being rude or seeing the man next to me eating raw meat, I shift in my seat. I’m in a new country, only days after Ava tried to kill me, just to name a few of my recent nightmares, and it’s making me paranoid. That’s all this is. Nothing more.
Except my urge to turn is intense—overwhelming, even.
The waitress walks away and I’m oicially crawling out of my own skin. “I’m going to the bathroom,” I announce, and push to my feet. I’ll be able to check out the seats behind me when I return.
“Toilette,” Chantal corrects, calling after me.
Without turning, I wave my understanding. Thankfully, I ind the “toilette” easily. With no one else present in the two-stall facility, I press my hands on the sink and stare at myself, seeing a too-pale brunette who’s the most uncultured person on the planet. I can’t even enjoy a meal in Paris.