Chapter I

    Michel Pernaud reached over and punched off the alarm. 5:30. Today was going to be hell, at least from the work point of view. Two hours of prep time in the kitchen to help out his parents with their restaurant, Le Poisson, classes till noon, lunch with Sophie and then work all day long till eight in some labor negotiations down at the docks. Some Mexican workers were damn pissed off about their wages and had gotten a lawyer to nail some businesses. Thank God he was only the translator. After that - studies till midnight. The lunch with Sophie was the only bright spot on the horizon. Better dress and get down to the kitchen. His parents would have been there an hour already. The chef and the sous chef had come down with the flu. With characteristic eagerness and dedication, he dressed and ran downstairs to take his place beside his parents among the food slicers, pots and pans and other paraphernalia of a busy and popular, New York restaurant.

    In general people who came into contact with Michel quickly recognized his primary characteristics. He was, for most women, sweet, thoughtful and gentle. The niceness in his personality led to one major flaw, a tendency to want to please everyone, to never hurt anyone's feelings and a tendency to find saying no difficult. His appearance, particularly as a child growing up, suggested some entity from heaven who had floated, accidentally, down from a cloud to take his place among less kinder mortals and perhaps less beautiful ones both physically and spiritually. These qualities tended to hide a grittier side, less used, but honed from growing up in a city that wasn't always kind. As an adult he stood six feet tall, was lanky but well muscled, with thick, light brown hair and a face with a ready smile of perfect teeth and a heart-warming nature. His movements were quick and energetic, and from the day he met Sophie his life sung with even greater zest and energy. His thoughts never strayed far from her from the time he woke up until he fell asleep.

    Sophie, on the other hand, contrasted with him both physically and in temperament. Of medium height she had long, thick, straight black hair down nearly to her waist, a carryover from her younger years, which she had yet to abandon despite the encouragement of her parents. Her temperament demonstrated a quite volatile nature. Her emotions, easily expressed, could swing from fearsome anger to tender gentleness and back again in the blink of an eye. Her movements were as graceful as a cat, and although her beauty would never fill other  women's hearts with extreme jealousy or fear, men found her appealing. Her intelligence complemented a strong personality. Even though she loved Michel deeply and passionately, to a great extent she hid this fact from herself.

    Quite frankly one obstacle remained between them and halted all actions toward marriage. To Michel the obstacle was minor and easily swept aside, but to Sophie it loomed like the Pacific Ocean between east and west.