Barbara was my best friend. She was amazing, and even with her arctic cold eyes that boys took as a 'Try and Die" sign, she always managed to book a date Saturday night-which was more than I ever could. She cared about everyone, and desperately wanted to visit Africa to help the families in poverty. She taught my cousin how to knit, and always knew the best apples to buy at Larry's. I couldn't have asked for a better friend. She really was amazing.
But as Mademoiselle Garnier taught us in English, "was" is a past tense verb.
She fell off a balcony and shattered her spine. Croissants from La Maison D'Isabelle and not-so-fresh plums from Larry's didn't help her-neither did the cards the neighbors made or the prayers for Barbara Pasteur Autry would give during Sunday Mass.
After Barbara died, I committed myself to being the person she was-and better. Sure, I didn't have brown hair or a pretty french accent, but my darker red tresses and Norwegian heritage would work. I just wanted to pay back Barbara somehow. I just felt like I owed her a part of my soul.
And apparently I gave her that and more, because all I hear now from Jacques is how people are in trouble, and they need my help. I was actually kind of surprised when Jacques handed me a request from an American show asking if I would be a special guest there on Friday. I have never heard of the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, but my friend Kaylie loves it. She also lives in New York. I'm in Paris.
"..Jacques?" I turn to my secretary, unsure of what to think.
Jacques shrugs. "It came in today, Teresa. You deserve to be there, I think." He smiles and straightens his black blazer before walking out of my office and shutting the ornate oak doors.
I sign and take a look at the letter. Mousier Fallon wants to interview me on my career, no doubt. And how I got here. My mind flashes to Barbara's funeral. It has been seventeen years, I think.
I purse my dark cherry lips and lean back in my chair. It's two years old and made from Italian leather, with a very comfortable back rest. This is one of those chairs that can give you back problems when you're older, but I don't argue with comfort.
I prop my feet up on my desk; it's scattered with papers and letters, and a phone is sitting a foot away from my heels. I reflect on the letter, looking out the large windows of my office. Money can't buy a view like this.
Jacques makes an entrance once again, this time with my lunch; a lemonade and water grass salad is all I ask for. Jacques probably threw in an order of fries though, to keep my sugar level steady (I hate it when he does that).
"You still reading the lettre, mademoiselle?" he asks, and sets my bag of food and drink on the table.
"Oui," I answer, setting the message down to rummage through my order.
"If I may, Teresa..." Jacques starts, fumbling with his fingers. "You've done a lot of good here. I think you should go. Also.." he smiles, and pulls out two small white slips of paper. I gap. They're two plane tickets to New York. Why didn't Jacques consult me?
"....when are you ever going to get another chance to visit America with your one fave person in the monde?"
I sign happily. "Jacques....I don't know! Why did you-"
I stop. Jacques simply smiles again and replaces the plane tickets. "Think about it." Then he walks out.
I turn to my shelf on the wall, near my big, aging white clock. The Nobel Prize sits proudly on the new wood. I have to smile. Jacques is right. I have done a lot of good in this world
Now I'm thirty six, and have earned the Nobel Peace Prize. I am vice president of France. I have been for two years.
The first thing I did to get here was work at Larry's. I wanted to become Barbara, so she still sort of lived on in me. I learned how to find just the right plums and apples, and took responsibility for the shop when Larry went away. It was during my break when I would read magazines on the poverty children in Africa faced not getting clean water. And so began my great quest to put good in the world.
I've won several prizes since installing eighty clean water pumps in villages across Africa. In my senior year of college, I got second place in the national track championships. I'm an activist for civil rights in Norway and Ireland-I've been awarded for my symbolic leadership in those areas as well. I also organized a yearly (now it is) carnival to raise money to help repaint our beloved Eiffel tower. That way, the government could build a civic's center near the park for all France's children to enjoy. We payed for half the paint. We used the rest of the money to buy chocolate bars to give my friends in Africa. I knew it was a treat they would greatly appreciate.
I'm pretty known throughout Paris. Well, now France, too. But I owe it all to Barbara, I think. In some ways, I think she died for me.
I take in a sharp breath, fork in hand, and glance at the letter. Maybe Jacques is right. I have done some good in the world. Maybe I do deserve this spot.
Gingerly, I pick up the letter again with my free hand and slowly read through it. I set down my plastic fork and turn to the phone, pressing the large grey button.
"Jacques...." I buzz him up. I get an answer a moment after.
"Oui, Teresa?" he asks, his french accent crisp. I've always been jealous of it. The accent has this something....
I snap back to reality. "Jacques.." I repeat. "I think I....." I trail off, unsure of how to put this in words. But I know Jacques is right, and I know I want to go to the states. But most of all, I am starting to see through my secretary's eyes: I do deserve it.
I smile. I can hear Jacques tapping his pen impatiently on his desk from the intercom. That just pours more happiness into my soul. I press my pale fingers to my chin and continue.
"I want everyone to know me, and my story. I think we are going to America."
* * * *
"Are you sure you're ready?" Jacques asks again. I nod. I am getting tired of his questions. Of course I'm not ready, but he doesn't need to know that. I look fine on the outside-I'm nerves on the inside. But I can't let it show. I don't know why. I've been on television plenty of times before. Maybe it's because I'm about to step on the stage of one of the most widely watched talk shows in America. America! Now that I think about it, that is probably the reason.
I smooth out my pale business suit nervously, Jacques watching my every move. A camera man named Frank walks over to us. He says I am on in a minute.
For some reason that sends chills down my spine. I purse my cherry lips and fiddle with a loose strand of hair. Jacques puts his hands on my shoulders, and whispers in my ear. "Just be you. Tell your story."
I suddenly relax, and breathe. I think about Barbara. About Larry's and Africa, and the summer festival. It makes me laugh. I can't see him, but I can tell Jacques' grinning.
I hear Mr. Fallon speak into his microphone from the side of the stage. I shuffle my feet as he begins his introduction on me. Just a few simple stuff, like where I'm from and my current job. That should catch some people's attention.
Then Mr. Fallon calls my name. I hear a roar of applause from the audience. I breathe deeply and place a smile on my face. A real one. I truly am excited to be here. Right before the show went on air, Frank had told us that today, about one million Americans were watching the show in their homes. I hope I can influence them to do good in this world. That is my one goal, I think. To help change the world. But no one can do it alone.
I breath one more time. Jacques gives me a small push, and I walk out onto the stage, lights blinding me, and the roar of the people waiting to hear my story.