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Three bestselling novels are now available in a single volume! Ariana: The Making of a Queen begins the story of an extraordinary young woman who struggles to find hope and meaning in the face of unimaginable suffering. In the second volume, Ariana: A Gift Most Precious, Ariana's faith is tested as she faces life-and-death consequences of past choices. And in Ariana: A New Beginning, Ariana discovers that her reliance on the Lord and her love for her family can make the dramatic difference between triumph and tragedy. This rare and compelling series was originally published more than a decade ago and immediately established author Rachel Ann Nunes as one of the most popular romance writers in the LDS market.
About the Author
Rachel Ann Nunes (pronounced noon-sh) learned to read when she was four, beginning a lifelong fascination with the written word. She began writing in the seventh grade and is now the author of more than thirty published books, including the popular Ariana series and the award-winning picture book Daughter of a King.
Rachel and her husband, TJ, have seven children. She loves camping with her family, traveling, meeting new people, and, of course, writing. She writes Monday through Friday in her home office, taking frequent breaks to take care of kids or go swimming with them.
Rachel loves hearing from her readers. You can write to her at Rachel@RachelAnnNunes.com. To enjoy her monthly newsletter or to sign up to hear about new releases, visit her website, www.RachelAnnNunes.com.
The Making of a Queen
Warm rain fell softly in the dark Parisian night, yet strongly enough to mingle with the tears that fell down my face, masking them completely as I stood against the balcony railing in the cheap hotel. Not that there was anyone around to see that I was crying, or to care about my pain. It should have been one of the happiest days in any woman’s life— full of wonder, discovery, and love. But on this night, my first since becoming a wife earlier that day, I was alone and crying.
My new husband, Jacques, was out drinking with his friends, celebrating our marriage in the way he knew best, and shattering my dreams— dreams that had already been thin enough to begin with. Still, I guessed I was lucky he had gone through with the wedding in the first place. One thing I did know was that I loved him with a first love’s passion, even though he had left me alone on this of all nights.
Noise blared from the next- door window— another American song idolized for its irreverence and suggestiveness, a typical theme of the nineties. Ordinarily, I would appreciate the music; but tonight it only intensified my loneliness.
The rain came down faster now, and I could see figures scurrying to the subway where it was dry. The hole seemed to swallow the people as they ran down its stairs, their heads bowed and bodies huddled against the rain. It was summer; the tourist season was upon Paris, and the weekend crowds seemed undiminished even by the late hour and the rain. Along the road I could see the bars, lighted and beckoning. I wondered idly which of them held my new husband, and a fresh batch of not- so- quiet sobs erupted at the thought.
If only Antoine were alive! The thought came suddenly but not so unexpectedly. The rain would always remind me of Antoine and how he had been ripped from my life, my world changed forever. I would never forget how, up until nine months ago, Antoine had been my world. He had always taken care of me.
“Come on, let’s go do something!” Antoine would shout at me whenever I was depressed. “There’s no use in hanging around feeling sorry for ourselves!” Then he’d grin at me, and I couldn’t help but smile back. I’d put my hand trustingly in his, willing to go anywhere with the brother I adored, knowing that with him my problems would disappear.
My brother had been loved by everybody who knew him. He had the sort of face even strangers felt attracted to and trusted. He always kept their trust and mine— except when he died and left me all alone. But I really couldn’t fault him for that; he would never have left me on purpose.
“Where are you children off to today?” Father beamed down on us that last day we spent together. He laid a proud hand on Antoine’s shoulder. “You will take care of Ariana, won’t you?”
Antoine, seeing my frustration at his words, replied, “She’s hardly a baby, Father. But I will look after her, and she after me, as we always have.” That made me feel better, since we were the same age— the only difference being that he had been born a boy and I a girl. Of course, with my father’s double standard, that alone was enough. Though we would soon be entering the twenty- first century, my old- fashioned father believed boys were somehow more competent in all areas of life than their helpless female counterparts.
“What time will you be home?” my mother asked.
“I don’t know,” Antoine said offhandedly. “Sometime before dark, I assume.” He flashed her his smile before she could object, melting her instantly as usual.
Oh, I didn’t mind that my parents loved Antoine so. I did, too. In my eyes, as in theirs, he could do no wrong. He always included me in everything he chose to do, giving me the freedom I would never have known otherwise. He never made me feel I was just something extra that had happened when my parents had tried to have the baby boy they had longed for, though that was the truth.
Together we spent many days roaming Paris where we lived, using the subway to take our explorations further, until I felt I knew Paris and the surrounding area better than I knew my own bedroom. Yes, I had many good memories of Antoine. I had especially loved walking along the Seine River, where numerous artists and others set up to sell their talents and various pieces of junk they called “souvenirs” to the many tourists. It was fun being near people who were so different from me, yet somehow the same. I adored watching and studying them, particularly when they weren’t aware of me.
It’s getting late,” Antoine had said to me that last day in September, now nine months past. He glanced at his watch. We had been walking near the river at the end of our adventure- filled day of roaming the catacombs in several of the nearby cathedrals. “We just have time to get home before dinner. Mother will be expecting us.” I wanted to protest, but he was right. She would be expecting us, and Antoine was a good son to remember that. He was always good to everyone. Seeing my understanding, he smiled, making me glad I had not objected.
We took the subway home that night, and for some reason the train stopped between stations. The lights went off, and we were alone in the dark. Worry crept up inside of me; I had never felt comfortable in dark, closed- in spaces. “Don’t worry,” Antoine said, ever aware of my feelings in the way that close twins were. “They’ll come back on soon.”
As if to obey him, the lights flickered on. But still the train did not move. I tried to peer out into the dark tunnel but could see only my worried expression reflected in the glass.
“Look at this!” Antoine shouted. He had hold of two of the bars that were meant to steady standing passengers at rush hour, and he was hanging upside down on them like a monkey.
Are you crazy, Antoine?” I exclaimed. We were alone in the car, but people from the next car could see him if they glanced though windows in the connecting doors.
“Come on!” he cried, doing a flip and swinging further down the bars.
“We’re not ten anymore, Antoine!” I protested, remembering the time when we had perfected our antics on similar bars at the playground. But that had been more than seven years ago— we were nearly adults now. In six months we would be eighteen.
“Oh, Ari!” Antoine tossed his dark head around to gaze at me, his deep brown eyes dancing. Then he uttered the prophetic words that would echo in my mind forever: “We’re only seventeen; we’re not dead and buried yet!” At that I had to join him, my fear of the stopped train vanishing completely. Of course, looking back, I know that to comfort me was the only reason he had hung on the bars that night. He had always taken care of me.
Pain ripped through my soul as it always did at this point in the memories, for the train incident had happened the night before he died.
Now I clutched tightly at the balcony railing until my hands turned white and began to ache. The light from the hotel room came through the tiny glass door, its feeble rays barely reaching me in the dark. Dressed in my thin, dark blue nightgown, I felt suddenly cold. But still I lingered at the railing where the rain could reach me, almost wishing it could wash me away— or at least wash away the feelings that tortured my heart.
“Oh, Antoine,” I whispered into the night. “If only you hadn’t left, then things would not be so mixed up.” But he was gone forever, and anything I said to him wouldn’t make any difference. Antoine existed no more, except in my memories.
I continued to stare out into the night, but I didn’t see the streets or the cobblestone sidewalks— only the frozen expression on my father’s face the day Antoine died. It had been raining all morning long, turning from a soft pitter- patter to an earnest downpour. Antoine had already left for his early class at the private school we attended. Unlike me, he never passed up a chance for the early classes. He rode the bus and trains, as we all did; it was the fastest way to get anywhere in crowded Paris, where parking spaces were few and far between.
My parents and I were finishing up our croissants and coffee at the table when the phone rang shrilly into the silence; there was always a lot of silence when Antoine was absent. My father stood and reached for the phone. “Hello?” he said in his decisive voice. “This is Géralde Merson.”
As the person on the other end of the phone continued, my father’s face grew stark white, contrasting sharply with his dark hair and moustache. “No! No! It can’t be true!” he exclaimed suddenly and painfully, but his voice sounded defeated. He listened further before asking shakily, “When did it happen?” And then, “What time should I come down? Okay. Thanks for calling.
When he turned to us, he was no longer the man I thought I knew. “Antoine is dead,” he said. “A car hit him on his way to school.”
“Oh, no!” my mother gasped and began to cry. “What happened?”
“He’s dead, Josephine!” My father’s voice was harsh. The pain in his eyes was too terrible for me to bear. “What does it matter how?”
The reality that Antoine was never coming back hit me like the weight of an anchor, and my anguished words exploded into the air. “Oh, please, not Antoine! Why did it have to be Antoine?”
My parents turned slowly to face me, seeming almost surprised at my presence. I thought for a minute they would reach out to me, that we could turn to each other in our shared grief. But they didn’t. My father turned on his heel and went into his office, shutting the door firmly behind him. My mother stared after him for a long moment, the hurt evident on her face, and then she also turned and ran down the hall to her room, her loud sobs filling the sudden silence.
“Oh, Antoine,” I whispered. “We’re lost without you!”
I stood in the dining room alone, not knowing what to do. I lifted my eyes to the large mirror on the wall opposite me. There I could see my face, still tan from summer, with my short, dark hair and large brown eyes— each feature a feminine version of Antoine’s. No wonder my parents couldn’t bear to look at me!
For a very brief instant, I saw my brother’s face instead of mine in the mirror. I could almost hear him speak the words he’d said on the train the night before: “Oh, Ari! We’re only seventeen; we’re not dead and buried yet!” I gasped and ran to the mirror, but he was gone, and I was truly alone. My face was now white beneath my tan, but I didn’t cry. I bit my lip until the blood came, but I still didn’t cry. Not then.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my parents’ reactions that day were to develop into a more permanent reality. My father spent more time at work, and I often went days without catching so much as a glimpse of him. When I did see him, he was cold and withdrawn, the light gone from his eyes. Mother was worse, sinking into a shell of her own making. She talked to me but seemed to see right through me, her face a bitter mask of pain and loss. I spent less and less time at home, but my absence went unnoticed. I knew they would never love me as they had Antoine, that I could never replace him in their hearts. And I began to hate them for it.
The day of Antoine’s funeral, the rain finally stopped. The sun shone brightly down on the mourners, but its warmth did not reach our hearts. I stood dutifully by my parents during the short graveside service and while they lowered the coffin into the hole that seemed to ravage the earth. But I fled from the cemetery as they began to throw the dirt on the coffin. I couldn’t bear to see them do that to Antoine; it was too final. At that moment I knew my life was over; how could I possibly live without my other half?
I ended up at my favorite section of the Seine where we had spent so much time, Antoine and I. Breathless and sweating when I arrived, I lifted my face to gaze out over the water, hoping for a breeze and maybe some kind of comfort. There was neither— only boats, faceless people, and squawking seagulls.
I walked blindly and aimlessly for a while. Suddenly I stopped and stared, surprised to see a group of young men with short hair and suits, singing in the street. Several young women were among them, holding up a big sign proclaiming “Families Are Forever!”
What a bunch of idiots! I thought. Nothing is forever. I had learned that lesson only too well.
Other young men and women with the singers were stopping people passing nearby and talking with them. One of the men— a tall boy, really— with a shock of bright red hair approached me with a pamphlet. His accent betrayed that he was a foreigner, probably from America by the sound. “Here,” he said, thrusting the little booklet into my hand. “Did you know that families can be together forever?” His voice was sincere, his blue eyes clear; I knew he believed what he was saying, but in my grief- induced haze, I didn’t care.
I stopped in my tracks and whirled on him. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” I sneered. “Has anyone you loved more than life itself ever died? Someone who was so much a part of you that you’d rather die than live without him?” The red- headed boy shook his head and opened his mouth to speak, but I continued quickly, “Well, I know how it feels, and anything you can make up won’t change the fact that my brother is dead and gone from me forever!”
I crumpled the thin pamphlet in front of his face and threw it to the ground. Then I added cruelly, “Now get out of my way and leave me alone!” The young man stepped back, and I glanced up at him. I expected to find hurt and anger in those clear blue eyes, but all I saw was pity and, strangely, love. It made me even more furious that the only one who seemed to show me what I so desperately needed was a red- haired stranger from another country.
“I am sorry,” the young man said softly and hesitantly in his uncertain French. “I hope you find what you need. I will pray for you.”
How dare he!
I thought, and I was about to say something even more unkind, but he was already gone, leaving me alone as I had requested. I went home and cried as I hadn’t been able to since Antoine’s death earlier in the week— red- hot tears that seared my cheeks as they fell. There seemed to be no end to the bitter flood. My throat felt raw, and my eyes were swollen, but the ache in my heart was worse. I thought I was going to die, even hoped that I would.
At last the torrent subsided, and through my abating tears I spied my parents’ liquor cabinet. I had never been drunk before, but I had often had alcohol with dinner. I knew it would give me a euphoria that would make me temporarily forget. I began to drink, and an unnatural warmth flooded through me.
Yet I didn’t forget, not even for a moment, and all my drunkenness did was to put another wedge between me and my parents when they came home to find me nearly passed out. They utterly forbade me to drink. I didn’t give it up, though; I continued drinking at home or with friends in the months that followed. My parents’ anger was better than their indifference.
A loud knocking at the hotel door brought me abruptly back to the present. I came in from the balcony, hardly noticing my wet hair and the thin nightgown clinging to my body. I glanced at the TV, which I had left on. The sound was muted, but I could see the latest Disney movie filling the screen. Special TV channels were the only modern concession the run- down hotel had made for its questionable clientele. I had always enjoyed Disney cartoons— one more thing I had shared with Antoine— but this time I didn’t stop to watch.
The knocking sounded again. Could it be Jacques? And it was only one o’clock in the morning! With a hopeful heart, I hurried to the door and threw it open to reveal not Jacques but Paulette, the girl who had become my best friend after Antoine’s death.
My heart sank. “Oh, hi, Paulette.” I stood back and let her enter the room. As she swept past me I could smell the cigarette smoke in her hair and the alcohol on her breath. Involuntarily I flinched. In the months after Antoine’s death, those things had been my constant companions— but no more. I had someone else to think of now.
When I had shut the door, she turned her plain face to me. “Ariana, you’re soaking wet! Haven’t you got any sense? I—” She broke off when she saw my pain. “Oh, I’m sorry, Ariana, I know you wanted Jacques, but he’s not coming. I was just down at the bar and saw him with the gang. That’s why I came. I knew you were alone and thought you could use some company. Come on.” She put her arm around my shoulders. “Let’s get you out of these wet things.” Numbly, I let her lead me to the bathroom.
A short time later we sat together on the large bed. I was now wearing a long T- shirt and my robe instead of the negligee. I drew my feet onto the bed and lay back on a mound I had made of the pillows, my fingers plucking carelessly at the green coverlet, faded and worn but clean. Paulette drew out a thin, homemade cigarette and lit up, breathing deeply. She offered it to me, but I refused as I hadn’t in the weeks and months following Antoine’s funeral.
Antoine had never liked Paulette, who lived nearby, though she would have given anything to be noticed by him. “I don’t think you should hang around with her,” he had told me. So I hadn’t; I was too busy with school and spending time with him, anyway. Then he died, and suddenly I didn’t care about anything. I stopped going to school and began to hang out with Paulette, who hadn’t been to school for years.
“It’s too bad about your brother, Ari,” she had said the first day she found me drinking alone in the park. That had been the day after Antoine’s funeral.
“Ariana,” I said dully. “Don’t call me Ari ever again.” In my eyes, Ari had died with Antoine.
“He was one good- looking guy. He . . .” Paulette had talked on, but I hadn’t really heard her; it was just nice to have someone to sit with. She pulled out some of her thin cigarettes. “Want one?”
For the first time, I looked into her clouded eyes. “What is it?”
“Marijuana. It will help you feel better.”
I took the cigarette and breathed in, hesitantly at first and then more deeply, coughing some but at last finding some relief for the aching pain in my heart. I didn’t realize at the time that drugs would bring much more misery to my life than I could ever imagine.
After that day at the park, Paulette and I became inseparable. We hung out with a group of teenagers like us, brave on the outside, yet each hurting in some way on the inside. We drank all the time, went dancing, and smoked. Sometimes I never even bothered to go home. At times my parents didn’t notice, at others they yelled at me, but it made no difference. I was living my own life, and they had no influence over me.
Then I met Jacques. I had just turned eighteen, and we were at our favorite dance club celebrating when I saw a good- looking young man with dark blond hair come from across the room toward our group. Several of the guys got up to meet him.
“Hey, welcome back, Jacques! How did things go on the Riviera?”
“Good, good,” Jacques replied, a sincere smile on his handsome face. “But I missed you all.” His eyes suddenly spotted me. “Who’s this? Someone new to our little group?”
“I’m Ariana,” I said with a smile. “It’s my birthday, and we’re celebrating.”
Jacques came to sit beside me and put a casual arm around the back of my chair. “I’m glad to meet you, Ariana.” His brown eyes burned into my own. “Very glad.”
“Oh, yeah, I’m sure you are,” I joked dryly. “I’ve heard all about you, Jacques, and your way with women.”
He smiled impudently. “Good. Then you will let me help you have a great birthday, won’t you? I’ll make it one you’ll never forget!”
And he did. We danced together all night, laughing and joking. He was so handsome and attentive, always saying just the right thing. He knew how to treat a woman, how to flatter her and make her feel loved and cared for.
I didn’t go home at all that night, not wanting to be separated from the dashing Jacques. The magic between us was strong, yet I feared it would vanish if we were parted, even for a few hours. The group of us crashed at someone’s apartment, and we stayed up all night watching videos, smoking pot, and drinking. At last I went to sleep in the crook of Jacques’ arm, feeling more content than I had since Antoine’s death.
Jacques and I became a couple. The group seemed amazed that the wild Jacques had finally settled down, and I secretly worried that he would leave me. I didn’t understand what he saw in me, a girl who had been rejected by her own parents, but he seemed genuinely fascinated and wanted to be a part of every aspect of my life— including my parents. I took Jacques to meet them a few days later, but they refused to accept him and even forbade me to see him. So less than a week after we met, I moved to Paulette’s, so Jacques and I could spend every minute together. How could I have known I was only getting into more trouble? I had still been so innocent, even then. That had been just three months ago.
And now we were married, a thing we had decided to do only two days earlier— or rather, something I had convinced Jacques to do. When he finally agreed, Paulette and I had thrown together what kind of a ceremony and party we could. It wasn’t much, but our friends pitched in to see that it had at least a semblance of a real wedding. My parents hadn’t bothered to show up. They simply sent a substantial check, like some kind of a payoff. I wanted to rip it up into a hundred little pieces and send it back to them, but I had learned the importance of money in the last three months and knew that I would probably need it. I took the check immediately to the bank my father owned, careful to choose a time when he wouldn’t be there. I cashed the check, withdrew my own childhood savings, and took the money to another bank, where I opened an account that I kept secret even from Jacques. I wanted to save it for an emergency and couldn’t trust him to do so; he seemed to live only for the moment.
“Ariana!” Paulette’s voice was insistent. “Are you okay?”
I looked up at her, shaking away the memories. “Yes, I was just thinking.”
“Yes.” I stared out the open balcony door into the wet night and added softly,
“And about Antoine.” It was the first time I had said my brother’s name to anyone since the day he died, and Paulette seemed taken aback.
“I’m sorry, Ariana. I know things haven’t been easy for you. But now that you and Jacques are married, things will get better; you’ll see. He’s got a job now, and you can get one.” Paulette’s homely face was serious for once. The curious light of the room made her brown hair seem dull and lifeless, matching the look in her drugged eyes.
I smiled gently at her. “Yes, it just has to be okay.” We hugged each other impulsively. I brought my hand to rest on my slightly swollen stomach, where my true hope for the future lay. There the baby I had conceived nearly three months ago, a week after meeting Jacques, was already making its welcome presence felt. For this baby, I had given up drinking and drugs. I was determined to do right by this life inside me, no matter what.
When Jacques came home three hours later, I was long asleep. I felt him slip into the big bed next to me, and his movements woke me. Sighing contentedly, I rolled over to him; but he was snoring almost before he hit the bed. Once again the tears came, and I blinked them back angrily. After all, he had at least come back to me.
For long moments I stared into the darkness, hearing Jacques’ even breathing, yet feeling utterly alone. The night was finally still, broken only by an occasional shout or a lone car. The rain had stopped sometime while I had been sleeping, and I was fiercely glad. Now things would be all right again.
Almost unconsciously, my hand went to where my baby was growing. Sleep finally came, giving me a welcome relief from my lonely thoughts.
“Wake up, my love!” Jacques sang to me the next morning, kissing my face all over. He threw back the covers, and his hand slid down to my stomach. “Hey there, baby, wake up. Daddy wants to talk to you!” He made a show of kissing my belly noisily.
I opened one eye and then the other and held out my arms for him. The dashing man I had fallen in love with was back!
He lay next to me, our arms entwined. “I’ve brought you breakfast,” he whispered, kissing my ear. “Though we’ve slept so late it’s more like lunch!” One brown eye closed in a wink.
I smiled and sat up slowly so I wouldn’t feel nauseated; I still had morning sickness most days. While I ate, I examined Jacques carefully. His handsome face showed no signs of a hangover, though his eyes were still clouded with drugs.
“So what are we going to do today?” I asked, trying not to sound too hopeful.
He raised his eyebrows a couple of times suggestively, making me laugh. Then he said seriously, “Well, I thought we could find an apartment. I’ve got a few leads to follow up. I’ve had everyone I know out looking since we decided to get married. It has to be something we can afford.”
I knew that meant a dump, but I didn’t care because we would be together. I smiled. “At least we’ll be able to pay for the first month’s rent.” I was referring to the paycheck Jacques had received just the day before our marriage.
His smile suddenly vanished. He pushed his longish hair back with a nervous hand. “I, uh, spent some of the money last night,” he said.
I wanted to scream at him, but I didn’t. More than anything, I wanted to keep the peace. Besides, getting upset would only make my morning sickness worse. “How much?”
He told me, and it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. We would still be able to get the apartment; we just wouldn’t be able to eat for more than a few days. But I knew we would manage somehow. At least he had a job, and I would look for work tomorrow.
After breakfast and a quick shower, we left the hotel. Outside, the June day was hot and sweltering, and many times I felt dizzy. Heat always seemed to do that to me since I became pregnant. But I was determined to spend as few days at the hotel as possible. We went from one old apartment building to the next, and just as I was giving up, we found an apartment. It was a real dump, but at least it was a place to put our few belongings. The real selling point was that it was available immediately.
We paid the landlord and took a second look at the apartment. The paint was peeling, and the room lacked air conditioning. The bathroom was so small that I couldn’t go in without leaving the door open or I would feel claustrophobic. The vinyl tile in both the kitchen and bathroom was loose and coming up, the grayish carpet in the living room had dark stains everywhere, and the bedroom had no carpet at all, just heavily pocked and scratched hardwood flooring. I was suddenly glad my parents wouldn’t be coming to see me in such a place, far removed from their elegant apartment on the better side of town.
We checked out of the hotel immediately. Paulette helped me move my few belongings from her mother’s apartment, and one of the guys helped Jacques move his things from his cousin’s where he’d been staying. There wasn’t much to move, but the gang had found an old bed, a worn couch, and even a small table for us.
After helping us settle in, our friends laughed, making jokes about newlyweds, and left us to our honeymoon. But Jacques and I spent the day cleaning, or at least I did. Near dinner time, Jacques kissed me and went to get something for us to eat. He didn’t come back until after eleven. By that time the apartment was liveable, though not completely clean.
I heard Jacques come in, and I glanced up at him tiredly from the kitchen floor where I was finishing up. “There must have been a long line,” I said dryly, eyeing the plastic bag he held in his hands.
He grinned the beautiful smile that always made my heart skip a beat. “I got waylaid down by the bar, but I’m back now.” He leaned down to kiss my cheek and handed me the sack. I grabbed it eagerly; I had eaten only bread since lunch and was feeling sick from the lack of good food. But all the bag held was wine, some pastries, and a few thin marijuana cigarettes.
I shook my head at him in anger. I knew that if I didn’t eat soon, I would be very sick. “Jacques, I can’t eat this junk! You heard what the doctor said when we went last week. I’m supposed to eat healthy stuff !”
But Jacques only smiled. He walked to the door and picked up another sack that he had left outside. “I know, gorgeous. That’s why I brought you this.” He handed me another sack full of yogurt, fruits, cheese, and various other healthy items I had asked him to buy. The food was still cold, so he must have just gotten it down at the new market on the corner that was open all night. “I must have mixed up the sacks,” he continued as I tore off the lid on one of the drinkable yogurts.
I drank the yogurt before I replied, needing to stave off the nausea I was feeling. “Thanks, Jacques.” I smiled and pulled my husband down to the floor to kiss him with all the passion of a young wife. He loved me so much. It would mean a lot of work and adjusting, but together we would make everything turn out right.
Morning dawned all too soon, bright, hot, and bustling. Jacques left early to go back to his job at a distribution warehouse, where he loaded boxes of clothing and other items into trucks all day. After kissing him good- bye I went back to bed, feeling sick from the late night before. But the sounds from the street and the heat that seeped in from the thin windows and poorly insulated walls made me even more ill. I made myself get out of bed and eat more of the food Jacques had brought me last night. I also spied the wine and marijuana on the counter, but, with a hand on my belly, I resisted the impulse. I was going to do right by my baby.
After breakfast, I showered and left the apartment to look for a job. Though still hot, the streets were better than the apartment because of a cool breeze that blew fresh air into my face. I set my jaw determinedly and started out. I tried nearly every supermarket and café in the area—it was the only work I was qualified for— with not even a hint of an offer. Half of the owners turned me away the minute they found out that I was expecting, so I soon stopped mentioning my condition. I didn’t feel good about it, but I needed to eat, didn’t I?
The June sun was hot on my head and back as I reluctantly started searching the bars for openings. Not even a breeze broke the afternoon heat. I didn’t like the idea of working in a bar, not appreciating the environment for my unborn child because of the smoke and the rough handling of the customers, but I felt I had no choice. Several of the workers told me there were openings and asked me to come back the next day or later in the evening to talk to the managers. I saw a glimmer of hope but was depressed nonetheless; I didn’t want to work in a bar.
On the next street, I saw two young men in white shirts and short haircuts walking toward me. With a flash, I remembered the young American with the bright red hair who had talked to me the day of Antoine’s funeral nine months before. Pain washed over me, and I hurried across the street to avoid them.
“And he said he’d pray for me,” I muttered. “Then why doesn’t his God get me a decent job?” Of course, I wouldn’t pray for myself; I didn’t believe in a God that would let Antoine die. Besides, I had done well enough without Him, hadn’t I? I had a husband and a baby— what more did I need? Certainly nothing that confused young man could have offered.
I shrugged the thoughts aside and hurried down the street to the next bar and the next. I had no luck at either. I was only two streets away from our apartment when I suddenly saw a little café squeezed in between a shoe store and a cheap clothing outlet. Above the shop, as above many shops in Paris, loomed a three- story apartment building that appeared old but well- maintained.
I sighed, almost unwilling to risk rejection again. But something urged me over to the café. “Now would be a good time for you to pray,” I murmured to the absent red- haired American boy. Again thoughts of Antoine flooded my mind, but I shoved them away. He was dead and gone forever; he couldn’t help me now.
The shop had obviously just finished with the last of the lunch crowd, for it was nearly empty. I arranged my blouse carefully over my slightly rounded stomach, though it was really not noticeable to those who didn’t know how thin I had become since Antoine’s death. Still, I felt as if a neon sign pointed to the baby inside me.
The stout woman at the counter glanced up as I entered. One hand went up to push back a piece of gray hair that had escaped from her bun. She smiled wearily. “What would you like?”
Looking down at the splendid array of sandwiches and pastries, I felt suddenly hungry. I had stopped several times during the day to nibble at the cheese and bread I carried in my purse, but it was long past time for me to eat again. Nausea rose up in my throat, and I fought
“I’m— I’m looking for work,” I said as clearly as possible. “Do you
have any openings?”
The lady studied me a full minute in silence before saying severely, “I don’t hire people on drugs.”
“But I’m not,” I protested as the room around me began to spin. I felt the blackness coming as it always did if I didn’t eat at least every three hours, and suddenly I knew I was going to either be sick or pass out.
I turned from the woman as quickly as I could, hoping at least to make it out the door. The room whirled faster, and the blackness ate at the edges of my consciousness. Desperately, I clutched at the nearest table to try to steady myself. Then everything went black.
The next thing I knew, someone was dabbing my face with a cool cloth. “Wake up,” said a woman’s voice. It was the woman from the counter, but this time her voice was softer.
I sat up quickly, only to feel a return of the sickness. I lay back down on the cot and looked around the small room anxiously for my purse.
“My purse,” I whispered urgently. “Where is it?”
The woman clenched her lips tightly but handed me the purse. She obviously thought that I was going to pull out some drugs. I ignored her as I fumbled through my bag, my fingers eagerly closing around my one remaining cheese sandwich. I took a big bite and began to chew while the lady watched me curiously, a puzzled expression replacing her former disgust. After swallowing the first bite, I forced myself to eat more slowly; it would make my embarrassment even worse to throw up now.
After the small sandwich was gone, I glanced up to see the woman still staring at me. I brought one hand instinctively to my stomach that jutted out, still small but tellingly from my thin body as I lay on the cot. The woman saw the gesture, and her gray eyebrows raised slightly.
A bell rang in the distance, and the woman spoke. “I’ve got customers. You rest right here a moment, and I’ll be back.” She smiled ever so briefly and disappeared through the door.
I sat up slowly and surveyed the small, windowless room. A desk, a chair, the cot, and a large bookcase took up most of the space, obviously the woman’s— or someone else’s— office. I stood up and walked to the office door, which led into a large kitchen. Through a door beyond that I could see the stout woman helping a man at the counter.
There seemed to be no way out of the shop without passing the woman— unless one of the closed doors in the kitchen was a hall leading to her living quarters and perhaps a back door. It was likely, but I didn’t want to make the situation worse by being caught snooping. I went back and sat on the cot.
The woman returned in minutes. In her hands she carried a glass of milk. “Here, drink this,” she said gruffly, handing it to me. “You should drink a lot of milk for the baby.”
I took the milk and did as she asked. “I’m sorry,” I said between sips. “I didn’t realize I had gone so long without eating. I’ve been searching for a job all morning, and I was almost home when I saw your shop. I thought it couldn’t hurt to try.” I looked down at the floor and blinked back tears. Whatever hope I had of getting a job at this particular café was long gone.
“What’s your name?”
“Ariana. Ariana Merson, I mean Ariana de Cotte— I got married recently.”
“I’m Marguerite Geoffrin,” the woman said. “My husband and I own this café and the apartment building over it. That’s where he is right now, fixing a shower in one of the apartments while we’re not too busy.” She paused, and her next words surprised me. “Business is very good, and in fact we do need someone to work the lunch and dinner shifts, Tuesday through Saturday. If you are willing to work, we’ll give you a chance.”
I looked up at her quickly, hardly daring to believe my luck. “But why?” The words came out before I had a chance to stop them. “What about when the baby comes?”
Marguerite smiled. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, Ariana. First let’s see if you’re a good worker.”
I returned her smile eagerly. “Oh, I will be, I promise!”
Marguerite held up her hand. “But there is one condition.” Her expression became serious. “You will not use drugs of any kind.”
“I smoked pot for a few months,” I confessed hesitantly. “But since I found out about the baby, I quit. I want to do what’s right for it.”
“Then it’s agreed. You will earn the minimum salary plus two meals daily— or four half meals if you prefer, given your condition. Be here tomorrow at noon. I think that you already have been too long on your feet today.”
“Oh, thank you, Madame Geoffrin! And I won’t let you down, I promise!”
“I hope not, Ariana,” she said softly. Her eyes grew very sad. There was something more she wasn’t telling me, some reason why she was giving me a chance, but I didn’t want to push her. There would be time enough later to find out her secrets.
Jacques and I celebrated that night, using our last money to pay for an inexpensive dinner at a restaurant, saving just enough to buy bread until payday. Since Jacques also ate a meal at work, we would survive. After dinner, he drank a lot of wine, but I was used to his doing so. I was content to see my handsome husband enjoying himself.
The next weeks went by happily for me. The work at the café was constant but not strenuous, and the customers were nice. I had plenty of opportunities to rest my feet when business wasn’t so brisk. Marguerite, as I soon began to call Madame Geoffrin, even brought a tall stool to put behind the counter where I could sit and take the customers’ money while she filled their orders during the rushes. Together, we developed a system that efficiently took care of customers in the minimum amount of time, and this only increased our business. In the kitchen her husband, Jules, was busy preparing the foods we served to the many customers. I felt more needed than I had ever felt in my life, even when Antoine was alive. He had never needed me, only loved me.
Marguerite mothered me, and I responded to her care. She filled a void in my life that I hadn’t realized even existed. She and Jules became my closest friends besides Jacques and Paulette.
Summer turned into mid- October, and I blossomed— in more ways than one. Of course my stomach grew, and in fact I gained needed weight all over. But I also became more sure of myself and more positive about my future. The only strain on my new happiness was Jacques. Two months before the baby was due, four months after our marriage, he came home in a rage.
“I quit!” he exclaimed as he walked through the door. It was nearly noon, and I was getting ready to leave for the café.
“You what?” I asked in amazement. He had been doing well at work, and together our wages were paying nicely for our expenses. We had bought a few new things for the apartment and for the baby, and I was already dreaming about moving to a better home— someplace where the plumbing didn’t need to be repaired, where there were no cockroaches, and where the neighbors didn’t party all night long. Not that I ever complained about the parties; we were as bad as our neighbors in that respect. Many nights our friends were over very late, watching our second hand TV and smoking pot or drinking. I didn’t mind it as long as they stayed out of my bedroom and didn’t make us pay for the liquor. But still, things would have to change once the baby was born. I wanted my child to be something, not grow up to be a junkie.
“I quit my job,” Jacques repeated. “They accused me of being on heroin, and I won’t stand to be treated that way.”
I didn’t say anything for a time, my suspicion growing by the minute. He hadn’t exactly denied taking the drug. “Well, are you?” I finally asked.
He glared at me. “It’s none of their business what I do in my off time. It isn’t affecting my work any.”
My heart began to race. Marijuana was one thing, but heroin was something quite different. I had been in the gang long enough to see what kinds of lives were led by those who were addicted.
“It’s no big deal,” Jacques said, understanding immediately my expression of horror. “Everyone in the gang has been trying it lately, even Paulette.”
“When?” I still couldn’t believe it.
He shrugged. “While you’re at work in the evenings. Sometimes here, sometimes at one of the others’ apartments. What difference does it make? The fact is, the stuff is wonderful. It makes you forget all your problems and—”
“I didn’t know being married to me was a big problem,” I blurted. Tears came to my eyes. “I thought we were moving up in the world, that we could be like normal families and leave this life behind!”
Jacques stared at me. “I don’t want to leave this life behind! I want to live, to feel, to experience life to the fullest!”
“Is that what you’re doing when you’re all drugged up?” I spat at him. “Experiencing life? That’s some reality for you!”
“I didn’t know you wanted to make us over to be like your parents!” he rejoined cruelly. “Or maybe your sainted brother!”
you!” I was crying hard now, smearing the mascara I had just applied. Jacques turned from me and stalked into our room. I followed him.
“What are you going to do now?” I asked. “What about our baby? I can’t possibly pay for the bills alone! Please, Jacques!”
He flung himself on the bed. “Don’t worry, Ari. I’ll get a new job after I take a little vacation. We’ve already paid one month’s advance rent, so I deserve a rest.” He lay back and closed his eyes.
What about me? I wanted to scream at him. What about my rest? I felt the baby inside of me move restlessly, responding to my emotion, and I forced myself to be calm. “Don’t call me Ari,” I said through gritted teeth, keeping my voice calm. “My name is Ariana.” Leaving him there on the bed, I turned and ran out the door, pausing only to snatch up my coat from the couch. The October weather was cold, but I was warm from the sparks of our fight. I almost wished I never had to see Jacques again.
I arrived at the café slightly late, but Marguerite didn’t say anything. She took one look at me and hustled me to the bathroom, leaving Jules to man the café. Working quickly, she cleaned away the streaked mascara under my eyes and gave me some powder to cover the red blotches on my face.
“What happened?” she asked softly.
“Jacques and I had our first fight.” I nearly started crying again at the words. “He lost his job, and he’s taking heroin,” I added, searching her face beseechingly. “I don’t know what to do. I thought we could make a better life for our baby, but he doesn’t seem to want to. At this moment, I wish I’d never met him!”
Marguerite listened intently. “You’ve good right to be upset. Not only is heroin addictive, but it can kill. You must not get involved with it, Ariana, no matter what!” A shadow passed quickly over her face. “You asked me once why I hired you, and I’ll tell you now. I had a daughter who hung out with a group like yours. She left home and soon got into heroin and prostitution. She ended up dead.” Marguerite paused, and tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks. “When you came here, I saw my little girl again, asking for help before she was drawn into the depths. I couldn’t help but think that if someone had been there to help her, she would still be alive today.”
The bell hanging on the outside door tinkled suddenly. Then again and again. Marguerite wiped her tears away with the back of her hand.
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, suddenly understanding much more about this woman who had befriended me.
“Just don’t let me down,” was her reply. She hurried back to the counter to help Jules with the customers, leaving me to follow thoughtfully.
by Customer - reviewed on October 21, 2008
You must be kidding! Loved her writing style. Loved that it had the gospel in it but not overwhelmingly, like other authors. Fell in love with the characters and was so excited to find out recently that she wrote a 4th book! Can't wait to read it!!!!
A MUST READ!
by Sarah - reviewed on October 23, 2008
This is my absolute favorite series by Rachel! It is a must read for everyone!
by Customer - reviewed on October 14, 2008
too sad to be good. i felt the death in the book was too depressing!
by Jessica - reviewed on September 22, 2008
This series is so full of inspiration and tear-jerking pages that any woman would love it! Throughout reading the books, I was reminded of the power of a testimony and that love can take families through any hardship or trial that comes their way. Rachel Ann Nunes has created a masterpiece of a story that makes me happy to remember that I am a Latter-day Saint and I understand what blessings can be mine. I read this series years ago when I was a teenager and I still love it. I recommend it to anyone who loves a great story, full of suspense, heartache, triumph, and love.