The fourth and final part in my short story set in Burgundy. How will Donna find her place in this beautiful chateau ? Or will she run back to Bill in New York?
Donna awoke, less surprised this time to again find herself in the plush four-poster bed in the guest room of Henri’s chateau. Around her lay papers, strewn about with hastily scribbled notes. Her laptop lay half open at the foot of the bed, perched precariously on the edge. She got up carefully, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and pushing back the curtains to discover birds chirping and the sun was shining in a cloudless, blue sky.
Donna had worked tirelessly through nearly the entirety of the night, but somehow she wasn’t tired. In fact, she was energised. She glanced at her cell phone, and her mind drifted to the conversation she had had with her friend Jerry, a major editor at the The New York Times, yesterday. She checked her recent calls, needing to prove to herself that it wasn’t a dream.
When Henri had left to attend to some business the previous afternoon, Donna called Jerry to tell him what she had been up to and about the buried treasure that was the chateau she had discovered in Burgundy. She told him about the market and the painting, about seeking out the chateau, only to discover their incredible history and award-winning wine. She even sent through images she had been able to covertly snap on her phone.
Jerry listened patiently to her retelling of events without speaking, and then there was a pause.
“Jerry?” said Donna. “Are you still there?” She had been talking for so long, she was afraid he had lost interest.
“Oh yes I’m here Donna, just enthralled in your story,” replied Jerry. “And I think you’re going to like what I’m about to tell you”.
He cleared his throat then broke the news to Donna that he just so happened to be working on a feature – for The New York Times cover, no less – about investing in wine from Burgundy and the beauty of the region itself. An hour conversation later, Jerry agreed without a doubt that there was a story here, and to Donna’s shock – he eagerly accepted to tell it.
That evening, Henri suggested that Donna stay over again. During dinner, she had somehow managed not to mention Jerry, although it was nearly impossible due to excitement. She needed time to create a master plan in her head, of how to craft and tell the story of a prize-winning – albeit only locally-known – wine from a somehow unknown but magnificent chateau with a richly historical past. She felt like she had truly found a diamond in the rough.
Now, looking rather ruffled after working for most of the night, Donna gathered up her notes and laptop and with her arms full, opened her door and bounded down the hall. She headed to the kitchen, where she knew Henri would be having his morning espresso, and she smiled when that is exactly where she found him.
“Well good morning then,” Henri laughed when he saw her, papers flying about. Donna had a moment of panic realising she hadn’t even bothered to look in the mirror. She smoothed her hair into a ponytail and began laying out her notes.
“I’ve actually been up most of the night,” admitted Donna. “Listen Henri, I think I’ve worked something out here.” This interested him, and he put down his cup to give her his full attention.
“Yesterday afternoon when you were working, I spoke to my friend Jerry at The New York Times,” she explained. “I hope you don’t mind, but I told him all about your family home and how you produce this rare wine that somehow hasn’t been acknowledged outside of Burgundy. Long story short, he’s already working on a cover piece running in two weeks time about investing in French wine, and he agrees with me that you have a story here.”
Henri raised his eyebrows in surprise and opened his mouth to speak. “How -”
“AND HE WANTS TO FEATURE YOU AND CHATEAU BEAUROCHER FOR THE BURGUNDY SECTION!” Donna blurted out, interrupting him and grinning from ear to ear.
Henri didn’t shut his agape mouth nor say anything for long enough for Donna to start shifting uncomfortably. He definitely thinks I’m crazy, she thought. Just when she couldn’t take the silence any longer, he spoke up.
“Donna,” he said. “I apologise; I am speechless. You’ve done more for this property – for me – overnight than my family and I have managed to do for a century. I am so honoured and very touched.”
Donna breathed a sigh of relief but knew they couldn’t waste any time.
“I’m so glad you’re open to this, Henri,” she said. “I think this is going to change your entire life. But there is so much to do, you have to be ready for the attention when the story breaks. Do you have time today to go through photographs and help me compile as much information as possible to send to Jerry?”
Donna’s mind was visibly in overdrive, and as she babbled off a list of things they’d need and how she’d never have the time, Henri reached across the table, smiled, and put his hand on hers.
“Donna, I’ll make the time,” said Henri.
They abandoned their coffees and headed straight to the library, where they worked for hours peeling through old books and searching, taking notes, talking and laughing.
By late morning, Donna finally began to feel drained. Her marketing mind had been running at full speed, and with only two cups of coffee inside her, she was in need of fuel. Henri glanced at her.
“Donna, you look a little pale. Why don’t I take you to lunch in Beaune? We can stop off at your hotel and pick up your bags to bring them back here. If we’re going to spend time working on this story, it is more convenient, non?”
Donna smiled. She was about to protest and say something about having to get back to New York, instead she surprised herself with her reply -“That would be great, Henri, thank you. Or rather, merci.”
Before going to lunch, Henri dropped Donna off at her hotel and told her he’d be back in 40 minutes. She smiled to herself. Such a gentleman, leaving me the time to change, to sort out my bags and check out of the hotel, she thought. She went up to her room, showering and dressing carefully before folding away her small wardrobe and heading down to the desk. She pulled her card out of her bag.
“Ah non, Madame. The room is already paid for, merci.”
Donna was confused. “But…”
Before she had time to say more, Henri walked into the hotel and picked up her bags, smiling.
“It is the least I can do, to thank you for the work you are doing for my family.”
As they walked through the town from the hotel to the restaurant, Donna was surprised by how many people walked up to Henri to say bonjour. At the restaurant, it was apparent that he didn’t have a reservation, but they were happy to effortlessly accommodate the best table in the house for Monsieur Henri. Lunch was long, delicious and generously accompanied by exceptional wine.
They returned to the chateau early evening, just as the sun was setting. As they drove up the road and it came into view, Donna was surprised that strangely, it felt a bit like home. They reconvened in the library to scan and send through the last of the details to Jerry, and decided to round off the busy day’s success with a celebratory glass of the property’s soon-to-be famed wine.
At one point in the conversation, Donna could tell Henri was looking at her in a funny way.
“What is it?” she eventually asked him. “Do I have something on my face?”
Henri appeared a bit embarrassed, then got ahold of himself. It was clear he was working out how to say something.
“Donna,” he started carefully. “How… important is it to you, to return to New York?”
“Do you mean, like tomorrow?” asked Donna. “Or…”
“I mean in general,” answered Henri, confidently, searching in her face for a reaction.
This took Donna by great surprise, but she allowed herself to ponder the question realistically. She had a job at an established agency. She had an okay apartment, by New York standards, which wasn’t saying much. She had Bill, but truthfully, she hadn’t thought about him once in the last couple of days. Her friends and family all lived in the East Coast and were only ever just a phone call or short plane away. Before she could work it out any further, Henri interjected.
“I’m asking because I’ve been thinking a lot these past few days, and I want to offer you a permanent position here in Burgundy as Chateau Beaurocher’s PR & Marketing Manager. I think you could do amazing things for it… for the community, for the wine, for everyone who works here… for me.”
Donna heard her answer leave her lips before her mind registered it, so even though the entire idea seemed preposterous, she knew it was right.
Donna woke up for the fourth time in the chateau’s guest room to another beautiful day. This time, it did not take her by surprise. She felt warm and comforted.
She was relieved that her belongings were now with her, and she dressed, excited for the day – and the future – that lay ahead for her, for them. She grabbed her laptop and headed to the kitchen.
As always, Henri sat at his breakfast spot at the head of the table. Donna sat, and he poured her a coffee. At this point, it was routine.
Before either of them could say anything, her open laptop made a *ding” as a fresh email landed in her inbox.
“It’s Jerry!” exclaimed Donna, shocked and glancing at her watch. “It’s 2AM in New York…”
“Writers,” laughed Henri.
Donna clicked it. “Oh my gosh, I think it’s a first draft of the piece!” The title stood out, bolded in the subject line – Burgundy Bliss.
The two stared at the screen, then each other in anticipation. Finally, Henri scooted a chair next to his at the head.
Together, they clicked it open and began reading…
We are two years down the line… still at the chateau, which is bathed in golden spring sunshine and encircled with flowers bursting into bloom. It is as beautiful as it ever was but now more maintained, full of life. It’s early in the morning, but even from a distance it’s clear that the old family home is a hive of activity. As we draw closer, we see two big vans unloading crates of tableware, piles of gilt chairs and numerous boxes of wine and champagne. Another van pulls up behind them, and the rear doors swing open to reveal ornate floral arrangements and buckets of greenery and garlands.
A peak inside the windows of the chateau kitchen shows a team busy in the early stages of food prep for what we can tell will be an impressive meal, and as we walk along the facade of the building, we see into the old, familiar library, where we recognise Henri sitting in conversation with an older gentleman. They are both smiling. There is an overall air of expectation and contentment.
Walking around the chateau to the rear lawn, we discover a large marquee whose roof shelters a small army of people looking very busy. Workers bustle about unfolding tables, laying down ground runners and assembling a large, wooden dance floor in the center.
We turn back towards the chateau and enter by the same door Henri found Donna so many months ago. We turn right and climb the huge staircase, following the corridor along to the room where Donna spent those first nights, stranded by the massive storm.
We near a room, and from inside we can hear feminine voices chatting and laughing. A soft fragrance of perfume hangs in the air, and there is the occasional sound of a hairdryer. We push the door open, and the first thing we notice – hung on display in front of the wardrobe – is a beautiful white dress, protected by a simple white cover. At the foot of the wardrobe stands a pair of pretty, high-heeled shoes, and on the back of a chair, what might just be a lace veil.
“Oh Donna, you look beautiful darling.”
We turn around to find the source of the voice and see a slightly older lady, standing behind Donna, looking at her in the dressing table mirror, while another, rather distinguished, fastens the clasp of a stunning necklace that lays elegantly around Donna’s neck.
“Voila ma chère Donna, c’était le collier de ma mère, et pour cette belle journée c’est mon cadeau à toi,” the distinguished woman says. With her poise and quiet confidence, we realize she can only be Henri’s mother.
Donna looks up, her eyes moist with tears.
“Merci beaucoup, Marie-Louise, c’est magnifique.”
Donna turns to the other woman, her own mother.
“Marie-Louise says that this necklace has been passed down for generations, and now she is gifting it to me,” gushes Donna. “Oh Mom, how did I ever get this lucky, to be welcomed into this wonderful home and family?”
Her mother hugs her – this is more she could ever dream of for her daughter.
Donna looks at herself in the mirror, not even believing herself that this could be her life. She moves to the window, perching gracefully on its sill, and looks out from the gorgeous French chateau she now officially calls home. Outside, the early morning sunlight grows stronger, and we’re met with a magnificent view of workers setting up for the afternoon’s ceremony against the backdrop of the now famous vineyard.
All of a sudden, a male figure appears on the grass below, admiring the same view. He turns around instinctively, and Donna realizes it’s Henri. They lock eyes and smile. She imagines how in just a few hours, she’ll be taking her first step down the aisle and into her future with her dream man, and she thinks to herself… Burgundy Bliss, indeed.
And so we have the end to Donna’s French fairytale. From a diverted plane ride, to a thunderstorm, to a vineyard of rare grapes, to finally, a romantic wedding.
and part Four here