Lila's Protege [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Jeannine D. Van Eperen
eBook Category: Mainstream
eBook Description: In 1954 Jeffrey Laurance leaves all he has known behind him to embark on a singing career in the United States, fostered by Lila Lubow, a beautiful actress who discovers him in a small fishing village in France and sees his potential. Lila had made a similar trip herself when she left a small town in Austria to find fame and fortune. Will being Lila's protégé bring the young man success and happiness?
eBook Publisher: Wings ePress, Inc., Published: 2006, 2006
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2006
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He stood in the shadowy doorway, heard the gulls' angry cries, and smiled to himself as he moved from the rusty half-screened door and leaned against the drab, grey stucco building. Once the building had been gleaming white, but time, dust, salt air, and general neglect now left it, like most buildings in St.Yves, shoddy and dull.
At the inland outskirts of the village, a small forest of stunted trees where gypsies camped from time to time gave a little relief to the flat surroundings of the Landes region. The oyster beds that provided the main livelihood harvested little in recent years, so the economy was one of daily subsistence, nothing more. A few vineyards several miles hence struggled for existence producing crops good only for making cheap wine for the natives.
It had rained earlier in the day. A few puddles still lingered on the dirt road that bisected the village which bore little to distinguish it from the other villages in the vicinity except for the children's home at the north edge of the settlement. There was a post office, butcher shop, bank, a minuscule general store, a small seedy hotel, pâtisserie with a small cardboard sign in its window proclaiming it a bus station, a Catholic Church whose spire rose higher than the scant trees around it, some derelict vacant lots, a cluster of small residences, a few run-down boarding houses with loose clapboards and peeling paint, and a bistro that bore the town's only neon sign. The sign was pink and proudly spelled out Yves in the bistro's small window. The "s", however, was only partially illuminated.
The young man heard the click as the sign was turned on and the soft buzzing sound the sign sporadically emitted. His profile was etched in the sign's pink glow. He was shabbily dressed in cheap and well-worn clothing, a brown cotton pullover shirt and darker brown corduroy trousers, but his long dark lashes, emerald green eyes, dark wavy hair, finely chiseled chin and nose, sensuous lips, and slim physique led one not to notice his attire for long. He gave a shrill whistle. A few moments later a large Alsatian dog ran up to him. He patted her head.
"Good girl, Greta, you stayed out of the puddles." He breathed deeply enjoying the sea air, then walked inside to be confronted with the familiar smell of stale cigarettes, cheap wine and ale, and fried fish.
"There is a foreign ship in the harbor, Jef," Yves, the owner of the bar said. "American. Not a fishing boat, a yacht like the ones in the Arcachon Harbor."
The waves gently washed the beach as the gulls called to each other complaining about the intruders who walked along the shore. The sun slowly setting sent pink and orange streaks across the sky reflecting in the ocean like glittering spangles on a Spanish dancer.
Amelia removed her shoes, and walked over to her mother who was standing on the wet beach watching as fishing boats started to moor near the wooden pier. Gulls swooped down at the boats playfully while the fishermen cursed at them and protected their meager catch.
"What a lovely little village this is, Mom. I'm glad we decided to stop here."
Lila smiled and put her arm around her daughter's shoulders. "Did you enjoy your walk, darling?" Lila's accent still bore traces of her Austrian ancestry, even though she had lived in the United States for more than twenty years. Lila had recently shed her fifth spouse and was getting over her depression from the break up by traveling with her daughter, the product of her second marriage to a hotel tycoon, Elwood Marshall. They looked more like sisters than mother and daughter, and though many people insisted Lila was flighty, she had always been a devoted mother. Lila's hair was a pale ash blonde, her eyes Austrian blue, and she still possessed, at age forty-three, a trim figure.
Amelia's hair was a darker golden blonde, and she had inherited the olive complexion and brown eyes of her father.
"Why don't we get a room in town, Mom? We're so isolated on the boat."
"I'm sure, Amy, you wouldn't like any accommodations here. Even your father has neglected this town, and you know there aren't many places so blessed." Lila glanced back and looked with distaste at the dismal village.
"Perhaps that's why I like it here," Amelia said with the enthusiasm of youth. "It's really quaint. You ought to walk into town with me, Mom. There's even a small bistro, and I heard piano music coming out of it. The church is lovely, St. Yves. Of course, everything is St. Yves here."
"Is that the name of the bar, too?"
Amelia laughed. "No, Mom, that is just plain Yves. There's no saint there, but I did peek inside, and the pianist is quite handsome. I'd really like you to come with me to see him."
"Umm, maybe later." Lila was bored with the place and eager to leave. She shivered. "We'd better head back to the boat. I'm starting to get cold." They walked to the pier as the fading sun now colored the horizon deep purple then took a launch back to the yacht, the Lovely Lila. "Maybe we'll push on to Bordeaux tomorrow."
"No," Amelia said quickly with disappointment evident in her tone of voice. "Mom, we've got to stay here for a while."
"Oh, really?" Lila raised her finely plucked eyebrows and gazed at her daughter.
"I've been trying to tell you, Mom. I'd like you to go to this bistro with me. The pianist there is the just about the best-looking man I've ever seen. He's quite young, but he's really something."
"He must be for you to be so interested." Lila studied her daughter as they rode in the small boat to the Lovely Lila. Amy had never been boy crazy. She rarely dated; in fact, Lila thought that because of her own lack of luck with the opposite sex, her daughter was reluctant to form relationships with men. Lila, herself, was always the optimist; always thought when she married, this one will last, but after five unsuccessful marriages even she was beginning to have her doubts. She had what she considered a healthy sex drive. Maybe it would be better to find a lover, forget about marriage ... if Amy was married, perhaps. She smiled to herself. There were several younger men that she did find attractive, but their funds were not what she was used to, and she did like presents and expensive evenings. If she could find someone younger who could fit her expensive expectations, and not too young; he'd have to be at least over thirty. She sighed. What kind of a mother was she? Here, her only daughter was mooning about some destitute young Frenchman, and all she thought about was what she'd like. It might be worth a trip into this dismal town to see just what kind of a man caught Amelia's fancy.
"Did you want me to see this young man tonight?"
"Could we, Mom? It's not a very far walk; only about a block or so away from the pier."
"How old did you say he was?"
Frowning in thought, Amelia said, "I don't know. I'm sure he's not any older than I. What difference does it make?"
Lila shrugged her shapely shoulders. "None. None at all, dear." * * * *
The odor of grease and fried fish assailed their senses as Lila and Amelia approached the bistro. Youths, too poor to pay for a glass of ale, lingered outside its door enjoying the conviviality and taunting their neighbors who entered.
Lila glanced at her daughter with annoyance. The young man had better be extraordinary, she thought, if she had to stomach an evening of putrid aromas, reeking bodies, and cheap wine.
"Amelia, this is impossible. I think we'd better turn tail and admit defeat. My nose just isn't used to this."
"Oh, Mom, consider it atmosphere. We're here now, and a few minutes won't hurt. Please?"
In the dusky light of the bistro, the air was thick with strong cigarette smoke. The room was square with booths lining one wall, a bar filled another, a doorway and a few small tables were along the third. In front of the fourth wall was a shabby spinet piano as well as more tables. Behind the piano was another door. There were no decorations except for a fish net that was hung on the wall behind the bar. The room was filled with tiny tables, some of which appeared to be pushed aside to make room for a small space for dancers.
Yves beamed as he saw Lila and Amelia enter his establishment. Quickly, the owner walked over before they could leave. Bowing profusely, Yves led them to an empty booth, then left them without taking an order, and scurried to bring drinks to other tables. Darting back and forth between the bar and tables, sometimes stopping to open a door and call in a fish order, Yves glanced and smiled toward the strangers' booth to be sure they were still there. A woman from time to time emerged, carrying platters of fish and set them on various tables.
Fascinated, Lila and Amy watched wondering how the woman knew where to take the orders since she was not the waitress. Yves alone, served as waiter, greeter, and bartender. Lila, now that she was inside and seated, found herself enjoying the evening and looked with calculating interest at the pianist.
"There are two beautiful women sitting in a booth at the far side of the room. Tourists, I think, Jef. They've really been studying you." Maurice, swarthy with a cocky appearance, blew a smoke ring then placed the cigarette between Jef's lips, waited while the pianist inhaled, took it back, and continued puffing himself.
"There is an American yacht in the harbor. Yves told me."
"Rich, American women." Maurice sighed and boldly stared across the room at the foreigners. He leaned indolently against the piano watching as his friend continued to play. "Why don't you give the tourist women a thrill and sing, Jef? If they are Americans, they love to hear French singers."
"When did you become a man of the world, Maurice? You've spent your life in St. Yves, too, remember?" Jef smiled at his friend, turned on the microphone, and began to sing softly.