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Don't Worry, Life Is Easy
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- ebook $13.99 $16.99 CAD
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 2, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Diane needs to start over again. After returning from Ireland and turning the page on her stormy relationship with Edward, the brooding Irish photographer, she is determined to rebuild her life in Paris with help from her best friend FÃ©x. She focuses solely on getting her literary cafÃ©ack on track-until she meets Olivier.
He is kind and thoughtful, and she may have a future with him…until she stumbles across her former love at a photography exhibit. What is Edward doing in Paris? Why didn’t he reach out? Faced with a hail of questions, her old flame remains cold and unresponsive. Apparently, he, too, has moved on.
In order to put the past behind her, Diane must go back over her tracks. Ireland saved her before. Can she get answers there and find peace again?
How could I have given in to Felix yet again? I don't know how he miraculously always manages to win me over: he finds a logical argument or some other way to encourage me to go out. And I let myself be tricked into it every time, thinking that maybe something might happen to make me change my mind. But I know Felix as if he were my own flesh and blood, and our tastes are completely opposite. So whenever he thought or decided anything for me, he was completely and utterly wrong. I should have known that, we'd been friends for so long. But here I was, for the sixth Saturday night in a row, spending time in the company of a complete imbecile.
The week before, I'd been treated to someone who championed organic food and healthy living. You would have thought that Felix had totally forgotten the vices of his best friend. I'd spent the entire evening getting lectured about smoking, alcohol, and my terrible eating habits. That upper-class health freak in thongs had told me quite calmly that my lifestyle was disastrous, that I'd end up sterile, and that I was unconsciously causing my own demise. Felix must have forgotten to give him the technical specs of his potential girlfriend. Giving him my biggest smile, I told him that I actually knew a great deal about death and the temptation of suicide. Then I left.
The idiot of the day was a different type: rather good-looking, a respectable background, and not prone to lecturing. His flaw—a rather large one—was that he seemed convinced he could get me into bed by telling me tales of his conquests in the company of his mistress, otherwise known as his camera, the GoPro: "This summer, my GoPro and I slid down an icy mountain torrent… Last winter, my GoPro and I went skiing… You know, the other day, I tried the metro with my GoPro," etc. It lasted more than an hour; he was incapable of saying a single sentence with talking about it. I was at the point of wondering whether if he took it to the bathroom with him.
"Do I go where with my GoPro? I don't think I understand," he suddenly stopped and asked.
Oh, dear… I'd been thinking out loud. I was sick and tired of being seen as the evil woman who was incapable of showing any interest in what she was being told and wondering what she was doing there. Nevertheless, I decided to rip off the Band-Aid all at once.
"Listen, you're certainly a very nice guy but you're too much in love with your camera for me to come between you. I'll pass on dessert. And I'll have coffee at home."
"What's the problem?"
I stood up; so did he. I gave him a little goodbye wave and headed for the cash register; I hadn't become so unsociable that I would stick him with the bill for our fiasco. I glanced at him one last time and stifled the urge to burst out laughing. I was the one who should have had my GoPro to capture the look on his face. Poor guy…
The next day, my telephone woke me up. Who was daring to disturb my sacrosanct late sleep-in on Sunday morning? As if I needed to ask!
"Yes, Felix," I groaned into the phone.
"And the winner is?"
"Oh do shut up."
His chuckling got on my nerves.
"I'll expect you in an hour," he managed to say, "you know where." Then he hung up.
I stretched out in my bed like a cat before looking at my alarm clock: 12:45. It could have been worse. Though I had no difficulty getting up during the week to open my book café, Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, I did need to sleep very late on Sundays to recuperate, to clear my head. Sleeping remained my last indulgence; after being the refuge of my deepest sorrows, sleep now helped me through my little problems. Once I got up, I was happy to see that it was going to be a beautiful day: springtime in Paris had come to greet me.
When I was ready to leave, I stopped myself from picking up the keys to the bookstore; it was Sunday, and I had promised myself not to go there on the "Lord's Day of Rest." I took my time to get to the Rue des Archives. I strolled along, allowed myself to window shop a little while puffing on my first cigarette of the day, ran into some regular clients of the bookstore and gave them a little wave. This peaceful spell was broken by Felix when I arrived at our usual Sunday meeting place, a table outside a café.
"What the hell have you been doing? I nearly got kicked off our usual table!"
"Hello, my darling Felix," I replied, planting a sloppy kiss on his cheek.
His eyes narrowed. "You're up to something; you're being too nice."
"Not at all! Tell me about what you did last night. What time did you get home?"
"When I called you. I'm hungry; let's order."
I let him call the waiter to take our order for brunch. It was his new craze. To reassure himself, he'd declared that after his crazy Saturday nights, brunch would be better for him than some stale reheated pizza. Ever since then, he wanted me to be in attendance to admire him while he devoured his scrambled eggs, sausages, and bread along with a carton of orange juice that was supposed to quench his thirst the morning after.
As usual, I just picked at his leftovers; he made me lose my appetite. We leaned back comfortably in our chairs, smoking, our sunglasses perched on our noses.
"Are you going to see them tomorrow?"
"As usual," I replied, smiling.
"Give them a kiss for me."
"I will, promise. Don't you ever go anymore?"
"No, I don't feel the need to now."
"And to think I didn't want to set foot there before!"
It had become my Monday ritual. The bookstore was closed and I went to see Colin and Clara. If it was windy, if it rained, if it snowed, I went to them. I liked telling them about my week, all the little things that happened at the bookstore… Since I'd started dating again, I'd tell Colin all about my pointless fix-ups in great detail; I felt I could hear him laughing, and I laughed with him, as if we were co-conspirators. But it was much harder for me to talk to Clara about important things. My daughter… everything I remembered about her always made me sink into a pit of sadness. Without thinking, my hand rose to touch my neck: during one of my talks to Colin, I'd taken my wedding ring off the chain I wore. Took it off. Once and for all.
I'd worn nothing around my neck for months now. I'd explained to Colin that I'd thought about it and decided to accept Felix's suggestions about dating.
"You're with me, my love… and you'll always be with me… but you're gone… you're far away and will never come back. I've accepted that… but I want to try, you know…"
I'd sighed, tried to fight back the tears, and turned my wedding ring round and round in my hand.
"It's starting to weigh heavily… I know you won't hold it against me… I think I'm ready… I'm going to take it off… I feel that I've healed… I'll always love you, that won't change, but it's different now… I've learned how to live without you…"
I'd kissed the gravestone and taken off the necklace. My eyes filled with tears and I let them flow. I'd squeezed my wedding ring with all my might. Then I'd stood up.
"See you next week, my loves. My Clara… Mama… Mama loves you."
Then I'd left and didn't look back.
Felix interrupted my thoughts by tapping my thigh.
"Let's go for a walk; it's nice out."
"Lead the way!"
We left to walk up and down the quayside. Like every Sunday, Felix insisted on crossing the Seine and making a detour to Notre Dame Cathedral to light a candle. "I have to repent for my sins," he'd say, but I was no fool: his offering was for Clara and Colin, his way of keeping a link to them.
While he paid his respects inside the church, I waited patiently outside, watching the tourists get attacked by the pigeons. I had just enough time to finish off a cigarette before seeing Felix act out his version of the death of the mother in the movie Amélie; it was worthy of an Oscar—especially the scream! Then the wonderful actor came and put his arm around me, waved to his imaginary cheering audience, and led me slowly towards our beloved Marais and the sushi bar we went to every Sunday night.
Felix was drinking sake. "You have to fight evil with evil," he said. As for me, I was happy with a Tsingtao. While eating some sushi, he began his attack and demanded a debriefing. It was going to be very brief!
"So, what's wrong with the one you went out with yesterday?"
"His camera's attached to his face!"
"Wow! That's really exciting."
I slapped the back of his head.
"When will you understand that we don't have the same ideas about sexuality?"
"You poor thing," he lamented.
"Should we go back? We'll be late for the movie on TV."
Felix walked me back to the door of the bookstore, as always. And gave me a big hug, as always.
"I have something to ask you," I said while still in his arms.
"Please stop playing at Dating.com; I can't stand such awful evenings. It's so demoralizing!"
He pushed me away.
"No, I won't stop. I want you to meet someone nice and kind, someone you'll be happy with."
"You only introduce me to fools, Felix! I'll manage on my own."
He glared at me.
"Are you still thinking about your Irishman?"
"Stop talking nonsense! I've been back from Ireland for a year. Have I ever talked to you about Edward? No! He has nothing to do with this. It's ancient history. It's not my fault if you only introduce me to fools!"
"OK, OK! I'll leave you alone for a while, but you have to be open to meeting men. You know as well as I do that Colin would want you to have someone in your life."
"I know. And I intend to… Good night, Felix. See you tomorrow! It's the big day!"
I gave him the same big kiss as a few hours before and went into my building. Despite Felix's objections, I didn't want to move. I liked living in my little apartment above the bookstore. I was at the heart of everything that was happening, and that suited me. But most importantly, it was here that I'd rebuilt my life all alone, with no one else's help. I took the stairs instead of the elevator and climbed up to the fifth floor. When I got inside, I leaned against the front door and sighed contentedly. In spite of our final conversation, I'd spent a wonderful day with Felix.
Contrary to what he believed, I never watched the movie on TV. I put music on—tonight it was Ásgeir, "King and Cross"—and began what I called my spa night. I'd decided to take care of myself, and when better than Sunday evening to make time to give myself a facial and all the other things we girls do?
An hour and a half later, I finally emerged from the bathroom, I smelled nice and my skin was soft. I washed down my last coffee of the day and curled up on the sofa. I lit a cigarette and let my thoughts wander. Felix never knew how much it had cost me to push Edward to the back of my mind so I wouldn't think about him anymore.
After I'd returned from Ireland, I hadn't kept in touch with anyone: not with Abby and Jack, not with Judith, and especially not with Edward. Obviously, he was the one I missed the most. The memory of him came back in waves, sometimes happy, sometimes painful. But the more time that passed, the more certain I was that I'd never hear from them again, and especially not from him. It would be pointless after so long; more than a year already… And yet…
About six months earlier, one Sunday in winter when it was pouring rain, I'd decided to clean out my closet. I came across the box where I'd put the photos he'd taken of the two of us on the Aran Islands. I'd opened it and melted when I saw his face. I rushed to the phone like a woman possessed, found his number in my contacts and dialed it. I wanted, no, I needed to know how he was. I was on the point of hanging up every time it rang, torn between the fear of hearing his voice and a deep desire to get back together with him. And he'd answered: just said his name, in his hoarse voice, then a beep. "Umm… Edward… It's me…, "I stammered, "It's Diane. I wanted… I wanted to know… umm… how you are… Call me back… please." After hanging up, I told myself I'd just done something really stupid. I'd walked all around the room, biting my nails. My obsession with knowing how he was, to find out whether he'd forgotten me or not, had kept me glued to telephone for the rest of the day. So much so that I tried again at ten o'clock. He hadn't picked up. When I woke up the next morning, I called myself all kinds of names when I realized how ridiculous I'd been. My moment of madness had made me understand that Edward no longer existed, he would remain just one episode in my life. He had started me on the path to free myself from my duty of loyalty to Colin. I felt free of him as well now. I was ready to open myself up to other people.
When I opened my eyes that Monday morning, I savored the importance of the day to come. That evening when I went to bed, I would be the sole proprietor of the book café, Happy People Read and Drink Coffee.
After my return from Ireland, it had taken me several weeks to decide to get in touch with my parents. I had no desire whatsoever to fight with them or to suffer their remarks about my lifestyle. When I'd finally called them, they invited me to come to dinner at the house, and I'd agreed. When I got to the family apartment, I felt ill at ease, the way I always did every time I went there. We didn't usually manage to communicate with each other. My father had remained silent and my mother and I beat around the bush without finding anything to talk about.
When we sat down to dinner, my father finally decided to speak to me.
"How's business?" he'd sneered.
His tone of voice and refusal to look at me put me on the defensive.
"I'm raising the bar, little by little. I'm hoping we'll be out of the red in about two months. I have ideas I want to put into place."
"Don't talk nonsense, you have no idea how to run the place. We've been telling you that since Colin died; he was the one who kept the bookshop going, as well as his regular job."
"I'm learning, Dad! I want to get there and I will!"
"You're not capable of it, which is why I intend to take things in hand."
"May I know how?"
"Since I doubt you'll find another man capable of doing everything for you, I'm going to hire a manager, someone strong and serious. If you want to go on playing at being the shopkeeper, I won't stop you. It will keep you busy."
"Dad, I'm not sure I understand…"
"I can see by the look on your face that you understand very well! Enough of this childishness!"
"You have no right!"
I stood up so quickly that my chair fell over.
"The bookstore is my home!"
"No, it's ours!"
I was fuming inside but deep down, I knew my father was right. They were the real owners of the bookstore: to give me something to do, they had taken out their checkbook, reassured and encouraged by Colin.
"Make a scene, if that amuses you," he'd continued. "I'm giving you three months."
I'd slammed the door and left. It was at that moment I understood that I'd changed, gotten stronger. Before, I would have been beaten down and gone through another depression. This time, I was determined, I had a plan. What they didn't know at the time was that I'd already started to put it into motion.
I'd gotten things back on an even keel, and I'd started by installing free Wi-Fi in the café. Thanks to that I'd attracted a student clientele—some of them spent the entire afternoon working in the room at the back. I'd also started given them a discount for coffee and beer to assure their loyalty. Most of them had gotten into the habit of buying their books from me, knowing that I was prepared to bend over backwards to find the biography they needed to salvage their term paper. And keeping regular opening hours had been successful: I always opened at the same time, unlike the days when Felix was the only one in charge. That had allowed me to create a reassuring atmosphere. No one ever found the door closed any more.
The three busiest times of the day were simple: in the morning when customers grabbed a quick coffee before going to work, at noon when the literary types had their lunch break—they were the ones who forgot to eat because they were looking for a new novel—and cocktail hour after work. That was when people came for a drink at the bar and every once in a while, they'd buy a book to keep busy on a night they'd be spending alone. Every now and then, I gave Felix free rein to organize a themed evening; there was no one better than him when it came to such events. He always found a speaker who was eccentric and unbelievably knowledgeable to discuss any theme arranged—and the debate was always controversial—which made the alcohol flow like water. So much so that the participants often left with several books under their arms, without really understanding what had been discussed. And Felix's tips were paid by promises of steamy nights. I never went to those evenings; they were his thing, the time when I let him have fun and closed my eyes to his avant-garde customers.
I had wanted the bookstore to become a warm, welcoming place, open to everyone, somewhere that all types of literature would find a home.
I wanted to advise readers while allowing them to enjoy themselves, to read the stories they wanted to, and without feeling ashamed. It didn't matter whether they wanted a literary prizewinner or a best-selling popular novel, only one thing counted: that our customers read, without feeling they were being judged because of their choices. Reading had always been a pleasure to me and I wanted the people who came to my book café to feel that, to explore, and, for those who were the most reluctant, to at least try it. All types of literature sat side by side on my shelves: detective novels, general literature, modern romances, poetry, books for young adults, biographies, bestsellers, and books for the most esoteric of readers. It was my own personal shambles, the place where Felix, my regular customers, and I came together. I loved the feeling it had of having to search through all the treasure to find the book. New clients were gradually initiated by each other.
Today, the bookstore was my equilibrium. It had allowed me to get my head above water, to resume my life in Paris, to realize the extent to which work was beneficial to me, to prove to myself—since I couldn't prove it to my parents—that I was capable of accomplishing something. Thanks to the bookstore, I had once again become someone blessed with relationships with other people; I was a woman who worked and took on responsibilities. I had to lose everything I loved the most to realize what tied me to this place, to these four walls. I hadn't taken a day off in a year; I was incapable of leaving and would never again let Felix run it alone.
The only failure in developing our business was not due to a lack of customers: it was my fault. I'd had the idea to start up reading workshops for children on Wednesday afternoons. Felix had encouraged me; he knew I loved children's literature. We'd done some publicity and distributed flyers in local schools, leisure centers, etc. I'd topped up my stock of fruit juices and especially my children's books. The big day had come. When I saw the first mothers coming in with their children, the little bell on the front door had made me jump for the first time in weeks; I'd hidden behind the bar. I just invited them to go to the little room in the back. I'd asked Felix to supervise getting them settled in while I went out for a cigarette. Since I was taking forever, he came out and told me they were waiting for me to start; I was the one leading the workshop. I staggered back inside to my little group. I'd started to read The Blue Dog and didn't recognize my own voice.
I realized I'd made a serious mistake when a little three-year-old boy came up to me. When I looked at him, I jumped back and started shaking all over. At that moment, it was Clara who I wanted to be coming over to me, to sit on my lap so she could see the book close up. Then I would have buried my nose in her hair. I dropped the book and called Felix to the rescue. It didn't take long for him to come over; he'd been standing there, watching me. He took over, playing the clown, and I went upstairs and locked myself in my apartment. I spent the rest of the day and all night rolled up in my quilt, screaming into my pillow, crying and calling out Clara's name.
The next day, the books were sent back to the publishers. That disaster made me realize something: I'd never get over losing my daughter. I could get over Colin, but not her. I'd realized that no child would ever come into my life again, or to the bookstore.
In spite of that incident, one decision had become essential. I'd made an appointment at the bank to review the situation on Colin's life insurance. He had taken every step to make sure I would want for nothing. I refused to squander any more of that money; it should be used for something important, something that would have made him happy. I had to find a project worthy of my husband. I'd already found it: I was going to buy the bookstore back from my parents.
We'd made it to the big day: ending these months of fighting with my parents. The importance of the day didn't stop me from visiting Colin and Clara. I walked down the paths of the cemetery smiling, with my head high. After putting down my armful of white roses, I twisted around so I could get down on my knees without looking ridiculous; I'd put on a black dress—it was a little tight—and high heels, which I hadn't done in ages. My parents had surely described me to the lawyer as irresponsible and depressed and I wanted to prove to them that I was totally the opposite.
"Today's the big day, my love! Tonight we'll be at our own place. I hope you're proud of me; I'm doing it for the two of you. And since I never do things by half, after we've signed the papers, I'll go out and celebrate with Felix! When I told him that, I thought he was going to cry tears of joy. Life is going on… it's strange… I can't be late; they need me to sign the papers! I love you both, my darlings. Clara… Mama… is with you…
I kissed their gravestone and left the cemetery.
The reading of the deed was carried out calmly and in silence. The big moment had come: the signing. I was shaking so much that I had to stop and start again. My emotions were surfacing: I'd succeeded, and all I could think about was Colin and the woman I'd become. When I sat down again, a few tears filled my eyes. I looked over at my mother: nothing. Then the lawyer handed me the document confirming that I now owned the property. The deed stated in black and white that I was a widow with no children. He politely told us we could go. Once we were out on the sidewalk, I turned towards my parents, looking for something without really knowing what.
"We didn't think you'd actually go through with it," said my father. "Try not to mess everything up, for once."
"I have no intention of doing that."
I looked at my mother. She came over to me and hugged me more warmly than usual.
"I never knew how to be the mother you needed," she whispered in my ear.
"That makes me sad," I replied.
"I'm so very, very sorry."
We looked into each other's eyes. I wanted to ask her "Why?" The look on her face told me she couldn't take my questions, my reproaches. My mother's armor cracked, as if she could finally deal with her remorse. But wasn't it too late? My father took her arm and said it was time to go. By way of encouragement, I was treated to "See you soon." They left on one side of the street and me on the other. I put on my sunglasses and headed for my bookstore. I walked down the Boulevard de Sébastopol to the Rue de Rivoli. I didn't take any shortcuts down the side streets: the wide avenues were calling out to me and I wanted to walk past the Hôtel de Ville and get jostled by the crowd by the BHV department store. When I finally took the Rue Vieille-du-Temple on my left, I was only about 100 meters from my bookstore. The moment the little bell rang, I told myself that Felix must have had informants on every street for he popped the cork on the champagne the minute I set foot inside. Champagne that sprayed all over the counter. Without bothering to pour me some in a flute, he handed me the bottle.
I drank straight from the bottle. The bubbles tickled my taste buds.
"Shit! When I think that you're my boss now!"
"I prefer that to your father," he said, grabbing the bottle from me.
"Felix, you will always be a partner in my heart."
He crushed me to him and took a long drink.
"Shit, that stings!" he said, letting go of me, his eyes shining.
"Teach me the joys of partying again!"
I didn't bother going upstairs to change. I wiped the champagne off the counter and closed up. Felix led me from one bar to another. Known as the white wolf, he went into each place as lord of the manor. The cocktails had been chosen in advance; my best friend had planned the evening in great detail. All his lovers and would-be lovers stood aside in a group to make room for me; if Felix loved me, they had to take care of me. Our journey was scattered with eccentric encounters, red carpets, sequins, flowers stuck into my hair, everything needed to make me a princess for a day. The mad atmosphere that Felix organized probably went to my head even more than all the alcohol I was served.
It was time to stop to eat. We went to a tapas bar for dinner, which certainly wasn't going to be enough to soak up everything we'd drunk. Our seats at the counter had been reserved. Felix knew very well that I loved sitting on high stools and seeing what was happening backstage. A bottle of red wine was opened for us. Felix raised his glass.
"To your parents, who won't be a pain in your ass anymore!"
I took my first drink without replying; the wine was strong, powerful, just like what I was feeling at the moment.
"I have no family left, Felix…"
He didn't know what to say.
"Do you see? Nothing is tying me to my parents anymore; I have no brothers or sisters. Colin and Clara are gone. You're all I have left. You're my family."
"Ever since we met at college, we were a couple, and that will never change."
"We've done everything together!"
"Except sleep together!"
A nightmarish vision for both of us! He put one finger in his mouth as if to throw up and I did the same. Like two teenagers!
"On the other hand, if you change your mind about having kids and don't find the right guy, I can make a donation at the sperm bank. I'll teach the kid about life."
I spit out my mouthful of wine and he burst out laughing.
"How could you suggest such a weird thing?"
"We were getting too sentimental and that bothered me."
"You're right! I want to dance, Felix."
"Your wish is my command."
Praise for the series:
"Profoundly moving and expertly told, Happy People confronts life's most nightmarish tragedy with an unblinking examination. Diane's journey to find meaning again is at once charming and heartbreaking, and I found myself pulling for her to seek out her next experience of love. The wisdom and magic in these pages will linger long after the book is closed."
--- New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs
"A heartbreaking story of love and loss that will twist readers up in knots. . . Essential for any foreign literature or women's fiction collection."
--- Library Journal
"Martin-Lugand's sparse but emotionally forceful style... catches the sweeter moments between two people embittered by loss."
--- Kirkus Reviews
"The energy that Agnès Martin-Lugand is able to convey with this storm is enormous. This is one roller-coaster of a book, but I loved every moment of it. . . Anyone who has ever experienced a feeling of any kind, ever, will enjoy this novel."
--- San Francisco Book Review
Praise for Don't Worry, Life is Easy:
"...[T]his sequel is just as good as the first novel. Agnès succeeded in reducing me to a sobbing mess more than once. She writes so beautifully; simply said but so impactful... life can be so very painful, unfair, and dark. But if we are brave enough, it can also be pretty wonderful, too."
"The characters are well developed... the relationships are... done so well[,] you might cry by the end of the book. (I admit to nothing.) If you've ever faced a loss in your life and then been given the chance to fill that gap with something new, you will get this book."
"A deftly written and thoroughly absorbing read... an original and entertaining novel."
—Midwest Book Review
- On Sale
- May 2, 2017
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Hachette Books