Chabert was just another small town in the middle of France, hours away from busy big cities and the luxurious capital Paris; the kind of place where everyone knew everyone and their business – one could not keep a secret if their lives depended on it. People waved and smiled at each other on the streets and kids could roam around freely. Things were quiet and calm. Or, at least, they were before Beatrice-Marie learned how to talk, walk, prank and shock the permanent residents.

She was twenty-three years old and a living legend. All the kids knew her name and face; she was often used as an example of what would happen if children didn't listen to their elders. Beatrice was loud and cheerful with a vivacity that most adults considered exasperatingly spontaneous. The girl didn't seem to think things through before doing them. One time she had left the house saying she was going to the market and returned three days later with souvenirs from Spain.

"That Beatrice... She's the daughter of poor Sergeant Nerbaunt," was what Mrs. Bordeaux always said after someone mentioned the young woman or one of her latest antics. "Who would've thought someone like him would have such a disobedient daughter? She's not like us, no, no. So unruly..."

Mrs. Bordeaux usually let the sentence trail off with by a tired sigh, as if she had been saying that her whole life. She had been brought up by strict parents that believed there was nothing better than their simple country life and women who went about like Beatrice were bad examples for future generations of young ladies – such notion was stuck so deep in her mind that Mrs. Bordeaux couldn't help, but repeat the same jargon to her eleven-year-old daughter.

Little Babette Bordeaux was a tall girl for her age with a skinny frame and green eyes that seemed too big for her heart-shaped face. She never got in trouble or did anything wrong, but she never had any fun either – except for the moments spent dreaming of a life of adventure, a life just like Beatrice's. Babette wanted to do crazy things and be called insane, be considered too cool for that old town infested with grumpy inhabitants who couldn't stand the fact that someone had the courage to do whatever they wanted without worrying about what the others would think.

Through one of the spotlessly cleaned windows, Babette's eyes followed the commotion on the street with attention. People kept coming and going, many of them lingering around, waiting to see Beatrice-Marie leave on the back of the red motorcycle parked by the front yard. It was Babette's luck that the young woman lived right across the street, as that was the only way she would be able to see her depart. Babette's mother had clearly forbidden her from stepping outside on that day.

Beatrice-Marie walked out of the yellow house through the front door with a smile on her face and her father's arm around her waist. Her American boyfriend named Brad –like Brad Pitt, she had heard people say, just not so blonde – followed behind, slipping his jacket one, as his future sister-in-law held his helmet and chatted excitedly. The melancholy was visible in Mrs. Nerbaunt's face, but she managed to hold back her tears and muster a grin to her oldest daughter.

Brad jumped on the motorcycle and turned it on. The loud noise from the engine got a few gasps from children nearby, all of them fascinated by the vehicle. Most people in Chabert drove classic cars, old trucks or bicycles. Brad waved to the people and put his helmet on after offering everyone one last smile. Mr. and Mrs. Nerbaunt kissed and hugged their daughter for what would be the last time for a while – it was impossible to say how long it would take for their first daughter to return.

That was how Babette would always remember Beatrice-Marie until they saw each other again, if such thing ever happened: wearing a beige jacket with colorful designs hand-sewed onto it and knee-high white boots over tight denim pants. Her thick fringe covered her forehead and her eyebrows and the dark hair up in a ponytail nearly disappeared underneath her helmet. The young woman adjusted her brown messenger bag on her right shoulder and hugged her parents again. Babette suddenly felt sad, realizing that while she would forever have that and so many other memories of her heroine, Beatrice-Marie probably wouldn't give much thought to the little girl that lived across the street from her family house. They had only talked a few times as Mrs. Bordeaux had eagle eyes and kept a close watch to make her sure her little girl and the Sergeant's daughter didn't socialize.

"Babette!" Mrs. Bordeaux shouted from the kitchen, where she was preparing dinner already. "Get off that window and come help me! Someone needs to make the salad!"

The little girl sighed and rolled her eyes, thankful that her mother was three rooms away and couldn't see it or else she would've been scolded or grounded. Babette slowly stood up and smoothed her skirt, glancing outside one last time. She was about to turn around and head towards the kitchen when something caught her eye: Beatrice-Marie was waving frantically and seemed to be looking right at her. Hesitantly, Babette raised her right hand and waved back once, only to see Beatrice-Marie stop and smile, nodding her head. The young woman pulled her sister to her side and pointed to a small box that her younger sibling was holding and then pointed to Babette.

With a gasp, Babette covered her mouth with one hand; she didn't want to attract her mother's attention and suspicion. She smiled to Beatrice-Marie with a thankful expression in her face and nodded her goodbye. And as the young woman left on the back of her boyfriend's motorcycle, she left quite a few things behind: her parents, her sister, some of her belongings, her so-called legacy and a flame of hope in Babette's little heart.

April 21, 2009