This is the fifth title in the Curio Vignettes series, follow-up stories to the novel Curio.
Love can drive a normal man to extraordinary feats—inspire him to scale a mountain, swim an ocean, brave a raging fire.
Didier Pedra wouldn’t consider himself a normal man, but an unexpected romance has changed him nonetheless. A severe agoraphobe, he left his flat for the first time in years to prove himself worthy of the woman he loves. A long-enabled prostitute, he’s now given up the clients who’ve warmed his bed, padded his bank account and coddled his disorder, ensuring he need never venture outside the safety of his home.
For Caroly, he’s taken the ultimate leap of faith—boarded a train to travel farther than he has in half a lifetime, so they can celebrate the start of their future together with a trip to Provence. There are no gains without struggle, and this love is a prize worth fighting for.
As with this entire series, my thanks and love to Bobbi and Ruthie. We’ll always have Paris.
And to my editor, Kelli. We’ll always have…Akron. Who needs Paris, anyhow? We’ve got the Provence of northeastern Ohio.
The car bucks in a deep rut as we turn up the driveway, gravel crunching under the tires until we slow to a stop.
“Whewww.” Caroly’s blue eyes are wide, darting all around. Her grip on the wheel has blanched her knuckles, betraying the calm she’s been faking all the way from the Avignon train station.
Those fists match my heart, tight and bloodless. But we’ve made it. I give her shoulder a squeeze and a pat. “Well done.”
With a comically hysterical sigh, she switches off the engine and collapses over the wheel, honking the horn and startling herself. She laughs and straightens, and drops the keys in her purse. “Okay. We survived.”
Yes. A cab ride from Paris’ Latin Quarter to the Gare de Lyon train station, two and a half hours to Avignon. Thirty minutes in the hire-car parking lot while Caroly re-taught herself how to drive, not having done so in five years. And finally an hour’s journey—with a detour to collect groceries—to our destination.
Any one of those steps on its own would be enough to mire me in churning, nauseous worry for days beforehand. All of them together, strung in a terrifying marathon? Torture.
It’s bizarre, I think, opening the door and stepping into the cool air, but I’ve emerged nearly Zen at the end of the ordeal. As though I slipped through a wormhole into the core of my own agoraphobia and shot out the other side so coated in panic, I’m not afraid.
Stretching, I take in the countryside, the hills dyed mauve by the approaching dusk. We didn’t pass any other vehicles in the final kilometers of the trip. Caroly wanted remote and rustic, and she’s gotten it.
I fill my lungs with air more clean and fragrant than I’ve smelled in forever. Small wonder—this is the farthest I’ve traveled in nearly fifteen years. Heaven knows what grasses and flowers I’ll prove allergic to, after breathing nothing but city air since adolescence.
Driving stress forgotten, Caroly claps, grinning at the cottage. “It’s just like the photos.” Photos she’s been ogling obsessively on her phone for weeks.
“Nicer, even. Let’s hope the inside proves just as suitable.”
“Look! There’s my chim-ney,” she says in a sing-song, pointing to the roof. She’s been very excited by the prospect of fireplace access.
We gather our bags and the groceries from the trunk and carry them up the flagstones. The house is ancient, pleasantly so. Stone walls, pitched tile roof sprouting flowers, the window panes thick and wavery. Caroly consults a print-out then heads to an assembly of potted plants, poking in the largest urn until she holds up a key, triumphant.
“I won’t get to pick the lock then,” I say, pretending disappointment.
“Ooh, neat.” She returns and shows me the key, a knobby old charming thing from a more prideful time when we bothered to give flourish to everyday objects. The door lock matches, its scalloped edges boasting a decorative inlay of vines. It opens with a satisfying, loud click, and Caroly pushes the door in on whining hinges.
We head into the main room and find a lamp.
Her eyes light up, along with the bulb. “Oh. It’s perfect.”
The inside’s as rustic as the exterior, but with touches of modernity—old beams and stone, but the furniture is in good nick, rugs new, only the faintest whiff of mustiness. Far nicer than either of us had let ourselves expect. The ceilings are lower than in a modern home, but I don’t mind. I’m fairly tall but I’ve lived in a slope-cornered garret flat for years, and I enjoy feeling closed in upon.
We set our bags on the couch and carry the groceries through to the rear kitchen, small but well appointed, with a garden window overlooking the valley. I slide it open to let the breeze usher some of the closeness from the room. It’s early October and the rains ended a week ago. The autumn blooms have begun to make their debuts, dots of color in the distance and scrubby trees silhouetted against a darkening blue sky. We’ve missed the lavender, but the air is crisp, promising deep sleeps under warm blankets…should my brain allow such a thing beneath an unfamiliar roof.
I don’t like new places. The only explorations I’ve been comfortable undertaking are those bathed in candlelight, above, beneath and inside a new woman’s body. As a prostitute, my role was to navigate those landscapes with the intuition and confidence of a perennial lover, and I can say without bravado that I was excellent at my job.
But the outside world… There I’m as good as blind, lacking even the most basic internal compass, head full of static and screaming chemicals from my disorder at the mere thought of an unknown journey.
We’re here in Provence for only four