Skinner: Finding Solid Ground
"Why didn’t you come out and see him, Connie, he’s dreamy."
"What?" Constance Duncan-Smythe turned her dark head and looked at her sister.
"The nephew that’s over at La Siroque, he is a dream and he’s not married!"
"Good for him," Connie turned back to her books.
"You’re never going to meet anybody stuck in his house all the time; you don’t even go into town."
"I go into the villages all the time Pen, I’m not looking to meet anybody…been there done that."
"He’s not going to sell La Siroque, he’s going to live there."
Connie was unconcerned.
"His name is Max Skinner; you should have knocked on the door when you delivered the basket."
"Why, it was just a little welcome basket, something Dad dreamed up. I’m never going to finish these figures with you standing there talking to me." Connie’s hazel eyes looked pointedly over her reading glasses at her little sister.
"Dad thinks he’s about forty years old or so, just right for you."
"Penelope Duncan GO!"
Penny grinned and ran out of her sister’s study.
Max slowly drove through Bonnieux looking for the café Aubrey mentioned, La Petit Lapin. He finally found a place to park and got out in a likely area and asked a shop owner. He was directed up a narrow cobbled street and he spotted the little tables and chairs set about an open café. He saw Duflot sitting with a few other men drinking and smoking cigars. He was so happy to see him he wanted to run up and hug him but he adopted a conservative attitude.
Francis Duflot looked up and stared a moment, "Max," he stood up knocking his chair over, bent to pick it up and walked over, "So you’ve come back after all."
"Yes, got back yesterday. Sad news about Henry."
"He was a good man. I heard you were back this morning but I didn’t think to see you."
"I didn’t think to see you either when I saw the house closed up."
"Well, we didn’t know what would happen when Duncan buys the estate."
"He’s not buying the estate Duflot, I’m planning to live there; I’m not selling it."
"Ah, this is good news yes very good news."
"I went to see Mr. Duncan today about the harvest, I had no idea Uncle Henry was considering a sale."
"If you had come to see him you would have known. He was in bad health Max, very bad."
"I regret that I didn’t take the time to visit, I had no idea he was so ill."
"Yes…well you are staying there now?"
"I am, um I wonder if you and Mme. Duflot would consider returning to the farmhouse?"
"Oh ho, ho Max you don’t know how good that sounds to my ears. I will go and tell her now and we will be returning and resuming our work. Yes, Max you bring good news today." Duflot engulfed Max in a bear hug and patted him on the back.
Max returned to La Siroque feeling much better than when he’d left that morning. Finding Duflot had taken a lot off his shoulders. He sat down at his desk and sent an email to Terry to let him know where he was and that things were looking up.
Yes things were certainly looking up; he had someone to harvest his grapes and make his wine. What had he said, five years or so Aubrey had been harvesting for Uncle Henry. He wondered a little about Aubrey Duncan, he’d been so confident he was going to purchase La Siroque. What had his Uncle promised him if anything? He seemed a nice enough bloke to Max, but still he warranted keeping an eye on. Max rarely trusted anyone.
Max was awakened the next morning by a strange sound, he lay in bed for a moment waiting to hear it again, purk, purk, purk…what the devil?
It was a chicken in his bedroom, he jumped up on his bed watching the creature as it walked around unconcerned, "Get out, get out of my bedroom," he yelled at the chicken who only purk, purk, purked back at him. He tossed a pillow at it and it went squawking into the hallway. "Chickens in the house!" he rubbed his eyes. Something had to be done about the chateau. He padded to the bathroom and then downstairs, the chicken had made it to the living room and he rushed over to the door and opened it, "Get out of my house," he yelled at the chicken running behind it as it squawked to the open door.
He looked up to see a very astonished looking woman on a bicycle with a basket.
"Oh…sorry…chicken." He offered a crooked grin.
"Chicken, is it a pet?"
"Um, no, no I don’t know how it got in," he stared at her and smiled, "I’m Max."
"I thought you might be, I’m Connie Duncan-Smythe. I’ve brought you some croissants."
"Croissants, you brought them yesterday?"
"Yes, well we have a cook who makes them daily and since you’re on your own here my father thought it would be nice to share."
"That was…a very nice thought to have. Would you like to come in…coffee…tea?"
"Thanks but no, I’m on my bike ride."
Max walked over to her bike and took the basket, "Thank you."
He met her eyes only for a moment; she looked down and turned her handlebars, "Enjoy Max, bye." She peddled off down the road. Max watched her until she was out of site and peeked in the basket, another pot of jam and two croissants. And Connie Duncan-Smythe.
Max went back inside and closed the door. He put the kettle on to boil and spooned coffee into the press. Connie was the other daughter Aubrey spoke of and she was divorced. He poured the boiling water in and took the pot and the basket outside to enjoy his breakfast.
Connie peddled her bike along the road to the crossroads and turned back, so that was Max in his pajamas. She really didn’t want to think about Max in his pajamas. She’d sworn off men after her divorce. She’d found this lovely place; a quiet haven, and keeping books for her father gave her employment. She was happy and healthy and whole again; she didn’t need Max in his pajamas. She peddled faster past the entrance to La Siroque.
Max spent the morning trying to block chicken entrances, shutters were hanging at odd angles and the rabbit warrens of rooms attached to the main house were a disaster. How had his uncle allowed it to get into such disrepair? He went out into the garage and found some tools and fixed the shutters closing them tight against chickens.
That afternoon found him in the study again translating papers. He made a face; here was the information about Duflot, if he’d only read through them. Duflot was to remain with the property and that suited Max. He poured himself a brandy and turned on his laptop, he had a reply from Terry.
"Good to hear things are working out for you Max; everything is good here in Virginia. Dino is in Miami. I heard from John, Donna is pregnant. Guess that’s proof enough he’s out. Toni showed me the pictures she took of the chateau, looking forward to seeing it someday." Terry.
So she’d told him about coming to France with him. Well that was good. He’d like to have them over once he got the place cleaned up.
"Come in the spring, I should have the place spruced up by then. Send me John’s email address." He sent back to Terry.
Max was glad Terry was talking to him; he’d always been open and accommodating where Toni was concerned, but he had noticed a certain protectiveness about him the last morning they’d spent at the House when he’d found out Max had stayed with Toni throughout his ordeal. He’d been grateful, but Max caught it and he of course had been right. Max didn’t trust himself, why should Terry?
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