Cup of Steamy Stars and Candied Roses
:France x Reader:
The café is one of her favorite places to go ever since she moved to Paris.
She loved the cozy atmosphere, the beautiful soft glowing lights suspending from the ceiling in silver rods, and the wonderful plush recliners sitting near the low glass coffee tables, decorated with golden sparkling stars. She loved the aroma of coffee wafting in the air as soon as she entered through the double doors, lingering with just a small hint of chocolate and cinnamon. She enjoys gazing into the glass display cases, with a thought of buying some of the overpriced petite cakes that she wondered whether it is worth spending several Euros extra. In the end she would leave a small sigh as she orders a café au lait—coffee with steamed milk—with extra sugar, and a macaron filled with meringue, rose petal jam, or bittersweet chocolate.
She loved to spend several hours on the recliner with a laptop, a book, or even a notepad to jot down notes of her experiences so far. Sometimes she would scribble down a brief message to tell her mother that everything was going okay and that she was glad to take the opportunity. Sometimes she wondered if her mother was doing well on her own, since it was the first time she decided to leave her beloved mother to venture out the comfort of her hometown. However, she knew that it had to happen sooner or later because she was twenty-two years old—a suitable age to be living alone.
Although it had been quite a pleasant experience the last two months, she had to admit, from what she noticed in the streets of Paris, that she wasn't able to share her happiness with another person. Of course, she had had many conversations with strangers but they were too brief to be considered “decent” and lively. She wanted someone whom she could talk endlessly, someone who she could find herself engaging in frequent conversations that were entertaining and relaxing. Her mother had always badgered her about finding a man to spend time with but she didn't really care; she just wanted to find someone to talk to!
She let out a satisfied sigh as she found herself sinking in a loveseat, with a steaming mug of Parisian hot chocolate along with a slice of the café’s famous L’Opera cake to cherish and enjoy. Today she pulls out a notepad and a pencil from her duffel bag and easily flips to a fresh, clean page. Her (e/c) eyes scan around the room for inspiration, her senses taking in the familiar scent of chocolate and cinnamon swirling about the air as if they were dancing along to the light music flowing from the ceiling speakers. She cuts a corner of the chocolate and coffee cake and bites into it, cherishing the warm notes of the bittersweet chocolate and creamy coffee swirl endlessly in velvety bliss. Oh, the extra Euros she spent for this delectable slice was so worth it!
It must have been the nice weather or the blissful look settling on her face because a man passed by her table while glancing at her direction, lips curling up in satisfaction. She didn't notice him until he returned, with one elbow tucked into his side as he balanced his tray with the upright palm of his hand. His other hand was resting on his hip, white sleeves neatly folded away from his wrists and contrasting nicely with the low black apron around his waist.
“Enjoying the L’Opera, mademoiselle?”
She looked up, fork in her hand and poised pen on the other, and smiled up at him.
“It’s delicious, monsieur,” she replied, setting her utensils down and feeling her heart skip a beat from the sudden encounter. "It is something I wouldn't grow tired of eating."
“I am glad to hear,” he murmurs happily, setting the tray aside to sit on the loveseat across from her. “I made the cake this morning!”
“You made this?” she widens her eyes in awe as the man nods and chuckles.
“From scratch!” he replies. “I use the freshest ingredients to create the cakes, mademoiselle. No one would want to buy a cake that isn't fresh, no?”
“No, monsieur.” she shook her head. “The cakes would not look appetizing.”
“Exactly.” He grins. “But sometimes the cakes can turn out terrible even the chef uses the freshest ingredients. You see, mademoiselle—” he gestures to the L’Opera in front of him. “—all cakes are made using the same ingredients, but it is up to the creator to create something beautiful out of what he is given. The quality of the cake only matters when the chef uses his heart to create something, no? If that chef creates for money, then his cakes reflect his greed. But if he creates for satisfying his customers, then his cakes reflect his love.”
“No wonder it is delicious,” she murmurs, gazing down at her cake before looking up at the man again with a small smile. “You must have put a lot of heart into your creations, Monsieur. The cakes are certainly beautiful to admire and delicious to eat.”
“You are too kind!” he laughs. “I enjoy what I do, mademoiselle. I bake to see the customers brighten up after a stressful day. I bake to share my love and provide comfort to those who need it. I only wish I can lower my prices so everyone can afford them and experience it—but alas, the state of living is far too tedious for a pâtissier to survive in this world.”
“Then why not give the unsold cakes to the people instead?” she suggests as she takes a sip of her warm drink. “They will brighten those who couldn't afford them.”
“Of course I would!” the man exclaimed, blue eyes widening. “However, the people here do not take strangers too kindly; they are not willing to accept help even when they need it the most. The world is a dreadful place for them.”
“The world…a dreadful place, you say?”
“I’m afraid so, mademoiselle.”
Upon hearing those words, she pauses from the exchange to cut into her slice of cake with her fork, spooning a small portion into her mouth and chewing thoughtfully. It tastes just as wonderful as the first bite—the soft sponge cake and chocolate ganache dissolves into her palate, leaving a lingering warm sweetness. As she finishes up her bite, she suddenly realizes how lucky she is. Despite being born and raised from a single parent, she had been fortunate to live in a stable financial condition that it never occurred to her how the world doesn't treat the others in the same manner.
Of course she noticed the unfortunate people living in the streets and slums, but she never stopped to acknowledge their pain and suffering. Her world had been one that made her feel as if she was consuming a cup of steamy stars and devouring a plate of candied roses instead—it was beautiful but quotidian.
She wanted to know how poverty felt.
For a person whose world surpassed galaxies and swallowed up the celestial stars, she desired to see how poverty can crumble a person and shatter their dreams. She wanted to taste the bitterness and drink from tears caused by grief; she wanted to see the world turn grey instead of remaining in color—she wanted to feel what it truly was like to be human.
With this realization in mind, she reaches for her sketchbook and pen, eyes focused on the reclining man in front of her. “Monsieur, I am curious to know how the world can be so dreadful. Is there any way for me to know how it is?” the man appeared surprised at her words but nodded willingly as his interest in their conversation piqued.
“Of course, mademoiselle,” he straightened up, folding his hands in his lap neatly. “A dreadful world is a place where desires are present but cannot be achieved instantaneously. A poor man may dream for a luxurious lifestyle but he is not granted with the ability to grant it; he is powerless and without the will to create. It is because of this that he suffers tremendously; he is without resources that allow him to fulfill his wishes. After all, what is a chef without his tools?”
“A chef without tools…cannot be considered a chef then,” she answers, pressing her pen against the paper and sketching in thought.
“Ah, it is plausible for you to say so. However, this is where it becomes tricky, mademoiselle.” he inputs with a chuckle. “You see, we are still missing a key component: the heart. A chef without his tools is still a chef because he has his will; his drive; his heart! A chef’s passion for creating still exists, while the poor man is without that passion.”
“Then is it passion that determines his fate?” she asks, eyes intently focused on her paper as she continues to sketch.
“Not necessarily. I believe there are many circumstances that cause one to suffer a downfall, but passion does not ultimately determine his fate. Instead, it is more of the will that causes him to view his world differently. Even if the poor man has no materials to rely on but has the will to live, then he would not be living in a grey world, no?”
“Then, is the poor man without the will to live the one who lives in poverty?” she stops sketching and returns her gaze towards the man. “He certainly suffers more than others since he thinks he has no purpose in living.”
“I agree mademoiselle.” She notice his blue eyes glint against the warm lights above, reminding her of a wise sage beneath the youthful guise. “However, the will to live does not entirely define the purpose of life itself. There is so much to life; but heaven only knows how many lifetimes it will take to experience it all.”
“Perhaps you’re right, monsieur.” She says with a smile. “There is simply too much for me to take in. Life is boundless as the skies...it’s quite a pity that some people are not able to realize this.”
“Do not pity them.” He shook his head, tied blond hair bouncing slightly from the motion. “They will eventually find a way to live if not now; we cannot pity them for feeling hopeless. We both know that life is a precious treasure anyone can receive—one that far exceeds material possessions we place high value over.”
“You are right, monsieur. We shouldn't pity them, for their existence already shows they still have the will to live.”
“Of course!” he exclaims out loud, smile widening in satisfaction over her response. “That is the beauty of life! Even when everything is lost, they still have the will to live! Living in poverty is only a mere obstacle; they still have the chance to become glorious creators as long as they hold the passion!”
Her breath catches at his comment, her heartstrings tugging in a most pleasant manner. His words seemed to resonate the minute it left his lips, taking her by the hand to guide her through the Milky Way. She sees herself immersed in the cloudy substance, drinking in the stars and feeling its warmth spread through her veins like white-hot flames. For a moment, she sees the sun personified as the man sitting across from her; with its pale rays illuminating through his glossy blond hair. For a moment, she becomes dazzled by the man’s presence, soaking the deep blue eyes and little blond stubble on his chin to the button down shirt and apron around his waist.
It isn't until she hears the sound of a customer entering the café that she snaps out of her daze and breaks the intense eye-contact. The man too perks at the presence of another customer and quietly excuses himself with a small smile, taking the tray as he rises from the loveseat and heading the front counter.
As she watches the man cater to the customer, she suddenly realizes that amidst their long and engaging conversation, she didn't pause to ask for his name. They had addressed each other as strangers, as mademoiselle and monsieur; the moon and the sun; the cup of steaming stars and the plate of candied roses.
Instead of feeling ashamed for her lack of manners, she feels refreshed and invigorated. The absence of personal introduction had eliminated the need to present each other as separate entities bound to the Earth. Instead, it connected them through a mutual understanding—one that sought the purpose of life.
As she finishes the remainder of her cake, she resumes her sketch with the man’s newly found wisdom etched deep within her. Her hand glides across the smooth surface, pen meticulously scratching lines and curves in varying pressures.
By the time she set her pen down to admire her fresh sketch, the man returned to replace her empty cup with a fresh one.
“On the house,” he gives her a wink, turning away and disappearing in the kitchens before she could utter a word of thanks. She takes a sip of the fresh café au lait and gazes out the window, noticing the sky break out in orange-yellow hues and realizing that she lost track of time immersing herself in the conversation. But in all honesty, the hours that slipped by during the exchange felt as if they stopped, allowing the two to share a brief but intimate moment she knew would spark a life-long friendship.
By the time the man returned from the kitchens, he became dismayed to find her gone and silently bemoaned over not asking her for her name. It had been a while since he conversed with a woman who surprised him with a curiosity that surpassed even his world. Thus, the more he recalled their previous exchange, the more he found himself wanting to grow closer to her.
He let out a heavy sigh, taking the paid bill and piling the silverware and dishes onto the tray before noticing a folded sheet of paper peeking from beneath the cup. He unfolds the paper carefully and smiles warmly, admiring the carefully drawn sketch of the L’Opera slice—corner cut out and fork resting beside the plate—that she had consumed during their conversation. He shifts his gaze towards the bottom of the sketch, heart skipping a beat when he sees the ten digit string of numbers and a small message of thanks written in dainty script.
He folds the paper again and tucks it gently inside his apron pocket before he resumes cleaning the table. As he picks up his filled tray, he lifts his head and catches the glimpse of the sun disappearing into the horizon with its warm orange rays seeping through the glass of the windows.
“I suppose it’s time for me to go home too,” he murmurs contently and he heads back to the kitchens once more.