Authors: Mia Caldwell
Well, this was highly unexpected.
When Julien pulled out an key that opened a small wooden door along a
stone wall not too far from where I had been working I just couldn’t believe my
eyes. I felt like Mary, coming across her aunt’s secret garden.
And on the other side of that door, was a very small garden that was
exploding with different colored wildflowers. It was similar to what had been
growing along the hillsides on our way to the château, but in a more
maintained, pristine way. I gasped, trying to let it all sink in.
“So what do you think, Amira?”
“What do I think? Seriously? This place is gorgeous, that’s what I
He smiled, setting the basket down at our feet. “I’m glad you
I helped him roll out a tattered blanket, surprised to see something
so old amongst Julien’s things. I sat down across from him, trying to keep my
legs tucked in under my dress. So maybe the maid’s uniform is a little bit too
“So how are you liking life here? I know it’s probably a big
difference from back home,” he asked, pouring us both glasses of juice.
I took the glass from him, sipping at it thoughtfully. “It is a big
difference. But that’s kind of a good thing, at least in my situation. There’s
just too much chaos going on back home. I’m glad to be rid of it, at least for
now. I don’t know what it’ll be like once I actually try and strike on my own,
but I imagine it’s not gonna be as peaceful as living in a huge castle and not
having to answer to five million different people. I get why you decided to
live out here. I mean don’t get me wrong, Marie’s definitely put me through my
paces this week. But as Alain so wisely said just a bit ago, it’s good hard
work. It’s good for my soul. I guess that’s all I can ask for right now.”
I looked down at the sandwiches that Julien placed on a plate in front
of us. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw that my sandwich was an elaborately
made BLT. Gervaise. He might not say much, but he definitely earned a spot in
“You think you’ll have a tough time, once you leave here? I don’t
think so. You are a capable woman, I know you’ll be up to handle yourself well
“Capable is one thing. I mean I know I’m street-smart… You have to be
where I grew up. This is different. Moving to a foreign country, having to
learn its language, having to take the little bit of what I know and applying
it to wherever I end up? That’s on a whole other level... At least it feels
“I read that you were going to school for nursing. Do you no longer
want to do that?”
I snorted. “I’d love to still do that. I was so close to finishing…
But witness protection told me that I needed to find something completely
different to do from now on. There is no sense for me to finish my schooling,
because they thought it would be an easy way to find me. So I guess there goes
It wasn’t an easy subject to broach with me, that much was true. If
there was one thing that made me the most bitter about the whole thing, it was
that I had to give up my dream job. I hadn’t even started it yet, and I was
already slipping through my fingers faster than I could catch it.
“Giving up your life, it must be so hard. That’s essentially what
you’ve had to do. I can’t even imagine being put in your situation right now,”
“Can we talk about something else?”
Julien frowned, picking up his sandwich and taking a bite out of it.
“I apologize. I had no idea that they had asked you to do that.”
I shrugged my shoulders, taking another sip of my drink. “So this
garden. What’s the deal with that? Has it always been here?”
At that, he grinned. I had to look away, because every time he smiled
at me something fluttered inside of me. It was kindof nice though… It made me
feel normal again.
“Yes, yes it was. I believe it’s one of the original gardens of the
château. The main garden was laid down years after the building was put up.
This one predates all of that by several hundred years… At least that’s what
the realtor told me. It even came with this lovely key. Who doesn’t want to buy
a house with a garden that has a key?”
I laughed, nodding. “I see your point.”
We devoured the rest of our food, chatting about the history of the
home, along with the history of the local area. I hadn’t taken the time to see
any of the surrounding area yet. Julien explained we were close to the city of
Arbois, and not too far from the border of France and Switzerland.
“Do you get a lot of snow here?”
Julien laughed out loud, nodding his head. “You could say that. We are
in the mountains after all. Not much further up the road is a famous ski
resort. It’s always full of celebrities that try to get away. I actually ran
into Jordan there once.”
“Jordan? Jordan… As in?”
“Sorry. Michael Jordan. You might’ve heard of him,” he laughed.
My eyes bugged out, and I froze, my mouth open and just inches away
from my sandwich. “You lie like a rug! Are you serious?
Michael Jordan? As in the basketball player that my dad had a
total man crush on?”
He choked on his food, quit trying to clear his throat. I couldn’t
help but grin at him. When he recovered, he promptly began laughing his ass
off. It felt nice to know that somebody appreciated my ridiculous humor.
“Yes, that guy. He was there with his family, when was it . . . about
1996? Right around the same time that he came out that awful movie.”
I turned my fork out pointing it at him threateningly. “Hey. Don’t
hate on Space Jam.”
Julien threw his hands up in mock self-defense, his eyes wide. “My
apologies!” His face broke back out into the crooked smile of his, making me
As he turned away to wipe something from his face, I couldn’t help but
wonder what exactly was going through his mind. He was being awfully nice to
me, and while he seemed like a really nice guy and all… I felt myself becoming
more suspicious. It was probably just because of my paranoia, but what else
would lead someone like him to try and charm someone like me? We were from
totally different worlds, with totally different backgrounds.
And let’s face it, I probably wasn’t his type.
He probably fell for the well-educated, wealthy, tiny little white
girls that probably flit all over him when he goes back to the states. Somehow
that image just popped right into my mind, making me grit my teeth.
I had to figure out what his angle was. Maybe then I would feel little
bit more at ease around him.
“So what made you decide to open a halfway house? I mean that just
seems so… random, don’t you think?”
That caught his attention. “What do you mean by random?”
“I mean you’re an heir to a billion-dollar company. You’re famous,
and… look at you! With everything you have going for you, what makes you decide
to open up your enormous home to people on the run?”
His cheeks reddened, but he didn’t look pleased with my observations.
Maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up at all.
“That sounds like something a reporter would ask me. Is it so
far-fetched to think of me as someone who wants to help others?” His voice was
low, and he looked at me with the kind of intensity that made me swallow
against the lump in my throat.
I bit my lip, not wanting to hurt his feelings. Of course he was a
good guy. Of course he wanted to help. Maybe I was just turning into a psycho.
“I’m sorry, Julien. I don’t mean that you’re someone who wouldn’t help
others. It’s just that, I don’t know, there are so many other things you could
be doing with your life I guess. I just don’t see anyone waking up in the
morning one day and saying hey, maybe I should open up my house to people who
could possibly bring in all sorts of danger along with them.”
Julien just shook his head, a smile making its way back onto his face.
“You know… Growing up, I always wanted to be a detective…” he said
I caught myself letting out a squeak of a laugh, forcing it back down
quick as Julien stared at me.
“I couldn’t, of course. My family name makes that sort of thing
impossible. Everyone treats you differently when money is no object… I can’t
live a normal life. I’ve grown up associating with the most powerful people on
this planet. And I didn’t like what I saw.”
His body language had changed. He seemed angry, unhappy…
“They treat others terribly, and don’t think about the consequences. I
disagree with their actions. When I was given the chance to take part in witness
relocation, I jumped on it. It gives me a chance to spend a little time on
something outside of myself. I give to charity, I support good causes around
the world… But I wanted something more. Something personal. This kind of work
grounds me. What is it you say? The work is hard… But it’s good for the soul.”
I nodded. “If I was in a better position myself, I would do something
to give back to my community... Especially where I grew up… there are so many
people who need help in so many different ways. So I guess it’s nice to see
someone like you trying to help out in your own way. You’re a really nice guy,
Julien. I just didn’t expect this.”
You are really nice guy Julien?
Sometimes I wish
I knew how to shut up.
We sat there and talked some more, watching as the sun moved across
the sky. I couldn’t help thinking there was something he was still hiding. It
made me curious and want to know more about him.
I hated to go, but he had some sort of meeting he had was already
running late to.
“We should do this again. I haven’t gone on a picnic since . . . ” his
voice trailed off as he was obviously lost in thought.
“I’ve never been on a picnic, now that I think about it.”
He raised a brow at me. “Really? Not even as a child?”
I shook my head no, shrugging. “It just wasn’t something that my
parents had time to do. They were always working,” I replied, helping him clean
Julien’s face softened as he folded up the ragged blanket into a
perfectly neat square. He looked as though he were about to say something but
I pointed to the blanket he was holding so carefully in his hands.
“That means a lot to you, doesn’t it?”
He looked down at it, his face unreadable. “You don’t miss much, do
you? Yes it does mean a lot to me. My father brought it one evening when we
were at the beach. It was just some normal night, but it’s one of the only
memories I have of him. He died when I was three.”
Even though I already know knew that, it still sucked to see Julien’s
face when he admitted it.
“At least the memory is a good one.”
“It must’ve been so hard to leave your parents behind to come here…”
It was just a small cut, but it still hurt. “You didn’t read that in
my file? They were killed by a drunk driver… Along with my…”
I couldn’t bring myself to finish the sentence.
“I’m so sorry. You don’t have to continue. People are senseless, and
when they operate vehicles they tend to become even more so.”
We walked back up to the château, not saying much. It had been nine
years since it happened, but sometimes it felt like it was just yesterday.
We went our separate ways, and I was left to my work once again. After
finishing up in the gardens with Alain, I went into the kitchen and mopped the
floors until they were sparkling clean.
Anything to get my mind off of my family.
To my surprise, the secret garden picnic was just the first of many
little excursions that Julien took me one over the next week. He would take me
away from my work for hours on end, showing me a new part of the castle, or
just walking around outside and chatting with me. At first I was incredibly
suspicious of this. I mean why wouldn’t I be? Didn’t he have better things to
do with his time?
Julien explained it to me that he needed constant breaks to keep his
mind fresh. He figured it would make me feel more comfortable if we got to know
each other better. And he was right…
The more time I spent with him, the better I felt in general. Even
though I was always constantly on my guard, it felt like I could loosen up the
reins a bit when he was around. Sort of like I felt safe around him. Maybe that
was the point.
Maybe we were spending a bit too much time together though… Marie was
starting to get frustrated with me, to the point where she would roll her eyes
at me if I asked any questions, or she would act as though I was getting some
sort of preferential treatment from Julien. Which was nuts, of course. He was
just trying to make me feel welcome in his home… at least that’s what I told
But we were always together, even when I wasn’t working. Hour-long
breaks turned to hours at a time, then became not just the breaks during the
day but also spending time in the evening together. I began to wonder what
exactly was going on between the two of us.
Often I would find him looking at me out of the corner of my eye. I
could never really determine what was going on inside his head, and he had a
pretty good poker face. My imagination was going wild.
Maybe he was actually into me. He could be nice and
spend all this time with me. He
could be nice and not even have much interaction with me at all. But this was
something different, I could feel it.
I wished I could call up Rosita and ask her for her opinion on this.
With no friends aside from maybe Julien or Alain, there was no one to talk to.
The thought depressed me, and I realized that outside of this home I really had
no life. And this was only a temporary place… What would happen when I struck
out on my own?
After dealing with a cranky Marie all morning, I checked the clock in
the kitchen, sighing with relief when I realized that it was almost noon.
Julien would be around here at some point soon asking me to come along with
him. To where, I had no idea.
Gervaise went ahead and cooked me a small lunch, without me even
having to ask. It was nice knowing that at least the chef liked me.
I sat down at the table, trying hard not to completely devour my meal.
It was true what everyone said about French chefs; they were the absolute best.
As the minutes ticked by, I had to wonder where Julien was. Usually he
was down here by this time, telling me about his morning, while grabbing a cup
Gervaise noticed me looking at the time, and cleared his throat. “Ah,
mademoiselle. Monsieur Malveaux not coming today.
Il est dix-huit Juin
,” he said, starting in on his French again.
I thought about it, and realized that he gave me the date. “Dix-huit
Juin? Is that today’s date? Today?”
“What happens today?”
He shrugged, shuffling off to another corner of the kitchen to busy
himself with something else.
I finished up my food, wishing I knew where Julien was so I could ask
him. Was something going on today that I had missed?
Without Julien pulling me from my work, I went to find Marie and see
what else needed to be done. I was still trying to figure out the schedule,
which seemed a bit all over the place to be honest. But when she pointed me to
the right place I generally knew what I was doing. For the most part.
I figured I would start in one of the upstairs guestrooms that I had
last seen her in. I scoped out the entire long hallway, still not finding her.
A noise came from upstairs, startling me. What could that be?
The thing about dealing with PTSD is that you never knew when
something will trigger you. I was very cautious as I climbed the next set of
stairs, keeping my ear out. It sounded like someone was yelling loudly, maybe
What the hell?
Before I had a chance to further investigate, Marie came rushing out
of the room at the end of the hallway. Her face was completely flushed, and she
looked seriously pissed. I didn’t know whether to ask her what was going on, or
whether to get out of her way.
She paused when she saw me standing there, trying to collect herself.
“Is everything okay? What was all that noise I heard?”
She huffed impatiently, waving her hand about. “No concern. We go back
to work,” she insisted, walking right past me.
That’s the kind
of answer someone who’s hiding something would give. I wanted to wait until she
was out of earshot to have a look myself, but something told me not to. I
realized where exactly we were in the house, and that made me even more
curious. As far as I knew, the room that she had just left was actually
Marie always insisted that she personally cleaned Julien’s room, so I
had never actually seen it before.
Once I got back to working down the second floor main hallway, I’d
debated on whether I should go up and check on Julien or not. I didn’t even
know if he was actually in his room or not, but I hadn’t seen him anywhere else
in the house.
Dinner time had rolled around, and I was left again to eat by myself
in the kitchen. Even Gervaise was making himself scarce for the night. It was
eerily quiet, and my imagination was trying to get the best of me again. I
didn’t want to drive myself crazy so I headed back to my room, deciding to call
it an early night. Maybe I would see Julien tomorrow. Then he would probably
explain what the deal was.
I had finally drifted off to sleep when I heard the knock at my door.
It was so soft that at first I thought I had just imagined it, but when I heard
it again I looked over, trying to read the time on my phone.
10:18? Who needs me this late?
I hesitated to get up, but I looked around the room to see if I could
grab something to defend myself with… just in case.
The next knock was even louder this time. Giving up on finding a
makeshift weapon, I slowly opened the door.
It was Julien.
He looked… well… he looked like a hot mess. His usual clean-shaven
face was long forgotten, a layer of stubble already in its place. His hair had
not been styled for the day, giving him an unruly look. He had on a pair of
low-slung jeans that were desperately in need of hemming. The most startling of
all was the fact that he was shirtless, giving me a very close and personal
look at his chest. Just as I had imagined he was lean yet toned everywhere
else, leaving a slight definition to his abs and hip bones.
He gave me a petulant look, his eyes completely glassed over. “Aren’t
you going to invite me in?”
Was he drinking?
Given his intoxicated state, I tried desperately not to ogle him with
my eyes. “Is everything okay? You seem a little… drunk.”
He laughed loudly at me, throwing his hands up. “It seems that way,
I frowned, but let him in anyway.
Julien staggered over to the tall bureau where I had finally put away
my clothes for the extended stay. He leaned up against it, shoving his hands
into his pockets.
“This day is not a good day,” he mumbled.
“Care to elaborate?” I didn’t care for him trying to beat around the
bush at the moment.
Julien shrugged his shoulders, clearly not wanting to. I huffed and
went to sit back on my bed. I didn’t know what his problem was, but I certainly
didn’t feel like babysitting him either.
“Look, if you’re just gonna stand there and pout all night than we
have nothing else to say. I was trying to go to bed and I’m sure —“
“Wait. I just need to talk to you. I need some friends to talk to, I
never have anyone to talk to anymore,” he slurred, wiping his mouth.
I took in the way he was slumped against the bureau, slowly shaking my
head to myself. What would have possessed him to possibly get this messed up? I
remembered earlier when Gervaise mentioned something about the date. At least I
think that’s what he said. I had to wonder if it had something to do with the
way Julien was acting tonight.
“Okay. Just come over here and tell me what’s going on.”
I watched him make his way over to me, cursing to himself as he
continually tripped over his own two feet. Even though I found myself
completely agitated, it was kind of hard not to laugh at him.
He plopped face-down on the bed, a few feet away from me. Now that he
was closer I could definitely smell the whiskey on him. It threw me off — I
pictured him drinking some vintage wine.
Julien rolled over and turning to face me. “I never told you the
story. I’ve such bad timing.”
I pursed my lips, still not in the mood for his riddles. “What story
are you talking about, Julien?”
He sighed dramatically, pulling himself up onto his elbows. “It’s a
sad one, I’ll admit it. It started with Danica...”
“Who is Danica?” I asked quietly.