Audrey and Gustav
When Audrey got home from school on Thursday afternoon, she knew something out of the ordinary was happening. For one thing, the entire coble-stoned street was completely bare of cars yet many people were milling about. And even before she opened the door to the house, she could hear several excited voices coming from inside.
“…but don’t you see why this is so important for us?”
Audrey rolled her eyes; it was the unmistakable voice of her older brother, Pierre.
“Nonsense,” her cousin Emile responded. “It’s a sport, who cares who wins and who doesn’t?”
They were standing just inside the door and made an interesting pair; although they had similar features and identical close-cropped haircuts, Pierre stood at least six inches taller. They were always arguing about one thing or another and Audrey ignored them and tossed her bright blue and yellow Madeline backpack to the floor.
The small living room was crammed — Audrey recognized her relatives, but there were a few people she didn’t know — and everyone was chatting noisily. A huge platter of cheese sat on the old coffee table.
As Audrey passed, plump Aunt Brigitte smiled down at her and her red-nosed Grandfather Bernard, holding a large glass of wine, patted her head. She frowned when she saw her hated cousin Sophie sitting on the floor playing with what looked like one of Audrey’s toys. In the kitchen she found her mother busily tending to a few steaming pots, her dark hair haphazardly tied into a bun. Several more wheels of cheese covered the counters and the wonderful smell of foi gras filled the air.
“Hello, Audrey, how was school today?”
“Mama, what is going on? Why is Emile and Aunt Brigitte and Sophie all here?”
She smiled. “Don’t you remember? The riders are coming by today.”
Audrey’s eyes widened. Of course, the Tour! How could she have forgotten? This year, during the final stage, the riders would be coming right by their house.
“Audrey, can you hand me that-?”
But she was too late; Audrey had rushed out of the room, grabbing a gooey chunk of Brie on the way, and up to her bedroom. She quickly changed her itchy school clothes and then dove under the bed. After pushing aside some well-placed clothes and books, she pulled out a large pink sign, the one she had worked on for the past two weeks and hadn’t shown anyone. She was hoping the riders would see it as they went by. Actually, Audrey didn’t care about most of them, just one: Gustav Ingleman.
She smiled and gazed at the shiny, slightly wrinkled piece of paper taped over her bed. It was an ad for a sports drink she had carefully cut out of one of her father’s magazines. In it, a few men on bikes were racing down a street. Third from the right, wearing a blue outfit, with a tuft of blonde hair poking out from beneath his helmet was Gustav.
Audrey had liked him ever since she had watched the Tour on television last year. He was leading then and a small dog had wandered onto the street right in front of him. Instead of zooming past it, or worse running it over, he had actually stopped so its owner could run out and retrieve it. He had lost the lead, and eventually the Tour, but gained Audrey as his biggest fan.
And she didn’t care that Gustav was German and Pierre said they should only cheer for the French riders, that it was their “patriotic duty to France.” She just wanted Gustav to win.
She folded the sign neatly and headed downstairs. Afraid Sophie might come up and put her sticky hands on more of her stuff, Audrey quickly went back to her room and closed the door. When she got downstairs, the living room was quiet; everyone was staring at the television and nibbling cheese.
“Look, there’s Claude Donet,” Pierre said excitedly. “He’s right behind the leader.”
“What’s that?” Grandpa Bernard asked in his low, raspy voice.
“Claude Donet, Grand-pere,” Pierre said loudly.
Audrey grabbed another piece of cheese and sat on the floor, gently placing the sign next to her.
“What is that?”
She looked up to see Sophie standing over her staring at the folded sign, her arms on her hips and the blue ribbon in her blonde hair slightly askew.
“It’s a sign for Gustav,” Audrey declared.
Sophie scowled. “Gustav? Why do you like him?”
“Because he’s the best rider in the whole world, that’s why.”
Sophie was about to respond but suddenly the door burst opened and in rushed Bruno.
“Who’s leading?” he asked, pulling his tie off.
“Some Brit,” replied Emile. “Colin Kennedy. But it’s really close.”
“Hi, Papa!” Audrey grabbed the sign and ran to him; he picked her up and kissed her cheek; she giggled as his stubble tickled her.
“Hello, Cheri! Got the sign ready, I see.”
“Yup, do you think he’ll see it?”
“Look!” exclaimed Brigitte. “They’re already at the plaza!”
“Okay, everyone,” Bruno said, putting Audrey down. “I think it’s time to go outside.”
Everybody quickly got up and headed for the front door. When they got outside, they found the sidewalks packed. All the neighbors plus what appeared to be hundreds of others had gathered on both sides of the street. A number of people were waving flags and a few had brightly painted faces.
Pierre immediately charged through the crowd with Audrey right behind him.
“Wait, Pierre!” she called after him.
“Here they come!” several people shouted and a huge cheer erupted from the crowd.
Pierre had gotten to the edge of the sidewalk but Audrey was still fighting through a sea of legs, desperately trying to protect the sign.
“Who’s leading?” a deep voice bellowed.
“The German, Ingleman.”
”But Donet’s right behind!”
Audrey, still trying to get through, recognized her brother’s blue pants only a few feet in front of her.
“Pierre,” she shouted. “I can’t see, what’s happening?”
“Donet!” she barely heard him say above all the noise. “He’s about to take the lead!”
Audrey reached out to grab his leg but at that moment a fat woman in a green and brown dress stepped in front of her.
“Please, Pierre, pick me up! Gustav won’t be able to see my sign!”
“Here they come!”
“But Audrey, he’s not…“ Pierre, taller than everyone nearby, glanced back at her. She gazed up at him; her hair was a mess, one of her brown pig tails had come loose, and tears were starting to well up in her pale blue eyes.
He smiled. “Make way!” he yelled, and pushed a few people — including the angry-looking fat woman — aside. Audrey quickly joined him and he leaned down and lifted her up.
Suddenly the riders were bearing down on them.
“Yay, Gustav!” Audrey screamed, unfolding her sign and holding it up as high as her arms would stretch.
Just as they zoomed by, the rider in the blue outfit glanced her way and through the dirt and sweat on his face, a small smile appeared.
Audrey was stunned for a second and then beamed. “Pierre, Pierre! He looked at me, did you see! He saw the sign! Did you see him?!”
Pierre laughed. “Yes, Audrey, I did.”
He put her down gently and she ran back through the crowd to find her parents.
“Mama, did you see? He saw the sign! Papa, he saw it!”
Later that evening, with a few relatives still hanging around, they watched the Tour highlights.
“There’s the house!” Brigitte said.
“And as the rider’s came down the stretch,” the television announcer said, “they passed some lively fans.”
Some crowd shots showed various people cheering and yelling. Emile and Pierre and even part of Aunt Brigitte’s arm were shown but the most recognizable person was Audrey.
“There you are, Cheri!” her father said.
There she was with her sign, the one she hadn’t let anyone see, the one it had taken weeks to perfect, unfurled for the world to view. It was covered in colorful hearts and stars and spiraling lines with the word “Gustav” spelled out in glitter right in the middle.
“And,” the announcer continued, “perhaps Gustav Ingleman’s win can be attributed to this excited little girl, this excited, confused little girl.”
The camera zoomed in to reveal the upside down sign.
Suddenly the room was quiet; everyone was looking at Audrey.
“It was upside down the whole time?” she asked softly, her face turning as pink as the sign.
After a moment, Pierre snickered; a second later Emile giggled. Soon they were all laughing and Audrey smiled bashfully.
“He still saw it,” she said defensively and then joined in the laughter.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED