The small narrow street sat almost at the edge of the city and was a favorite for most who lived throughout Paris. When asked, anyone familiar with the area spoke of it with pride. A memory of the Paris thirty or forty years past is what brought customers to the tiny neighborhood. Several cafes lined the street each with no more than two or three tables for outside dining all nestled snuggly along the narrow sidewalk. It was a quirky neighborhood where everyone got along and helped one another. Most of the shopkeepers were second and even third generation families. In the middle of block sat two tailor shops, which stood next door to each other. Owned by the Arnoult's, husband and wife, Adele for women, and Didier for men. The Arnoult family of tailors has been in Paris for over a hundred years making fine clothing for both royalty and scoundrels alike. Down the street, Luc Marin owns the only upholstery shop, in the area, along with his cousin Joseph who was also the proprietor of "Parisian Antiques," a well-known establishment. Only three blocks long, few trees lined the narrow street, but each store proudly displayed its own unique colorful awning. Locals and visitors alike credit the popularity of the street for its not only unique charm and quaintness of the storefronts, but also to the friendliness of the shopkeepers. Year after year, with fierce resistance by all who lived and worked here, the street remained the same and refused to yield to progress. Over time many invaders tried, but all failed at their attempts to renovate the tranquil neighborhood. The credit mainly goes to two people who have resided in the area for over three decades, Monsieur's Guman and Plasain, who have stoutly protected and led the resistance against those who advocate progress and change. To their neighbors and friends they are great heroes, but to developers and property owners they are common gangsters. Not only are Guman and Plasain good friends, but they also are co-workers at the Building and Development Authority. By more than chance, the two happen to be in charge of issuing building permits. The majority of builders shake their heads with the pre-knowledge that unless they are painting, renovating a bathroom, or making repairs to an existing building the street remained intact. Guman and Plasain would issue no permits for new construction. For many outsiders, the narrow street is considered an alleyway, but not for the local business owners or residents. This was their neighborhood and their pride showed. With very little room for automobiles to park, let alone trucks, all deliveries had to be before 5:30 in the morning. Otherwise, one could become stuck on the small street for several hours waiting to exit. By 7:30 every morning, the area was bustling with throngs of patrons each visiting several of their favorite shops, except for four. Many of the regular customers had learned to accept the eccentricity of these four shopkeepers. The Le Boucherie, the butcher's shop, owned by Monsieur Belmand; Fromagerie, the cheese shop, owned by Monsieur Doustand; Richleu Fleuriste, the flower shop, owned by Mademoiselle Richleu; and the Chateau de Patissere, the pastry shop, owned by the world renowned Monsieur Toulard. Except for holidays, the four local shops were open Tuesday through Saturday, but on those days, they did not open until 7:50 a.m. After receiving deliveries the four shop owners, who were friends, met each morning at 6 am sharp and ate breakfast together. Each Tuesday, the four gathered at the butcher’s shop and ate a robust breakfast of smoked meats with fresh fruit and croissants. On Wednesday's, they would meet at the cheese shop and share a beautiful assortment of cheeses from around the world, along with fresh croissants and, of course, a baguette of French bread. On Thursdays, Mademoiselle Richleu did not serve flowers, but she always had a beautiful large fragrant floral arrangement in the center of the table. Her brother who was the head chef at a nearby four star restaurant would make three different quiches along with seasoned pommes frites for his sister and her three friends. Fridays belonged to Monsieur Toulard who served an assortment of fresh soft bread, hot from the oven, along with soft creamy butter and two or three sweet tasting jams. In addition, a tray full of luscious sweet pastries adorned the table. Saturdays were everyone’s favorite because on that day, everyone met at least one half hour earlier, always at Monsieur Toulard’s, and feasted on food items each brought from their own shop. Today was Tuesday, and the four friends had a delightful breakfast at Belmand’s butcher shop. The weather had been nothing less than exceptional, which only added to the beauty of the small narrow street. It was 7:30 and Monsieur Toulard smiled as he busily moved through his store setting up the front window of his popular bakery. He was a robust man and a great baker known throughout Europe for his fine-looking, delicious creations. As usual, this morning he displayed for all to see, a wonderful assortment of cakes, creamed filled pastries, various fruit filled tarts, and his yummy cupcakes. With delight, the baker was meticulously arranging his front window, when a young boy, Pierre, stopped to view all the scrumptious baked treats. Pierre stood outside the bakery and watched as the Monsieur Toulard carefully brought out the first chocolate gateau and strategically placed it in the window. The baker disappeared back into the kitchen, only to immediately reappear with some other delight. After fifteen minutes passed, Monsieur Toulard was almost done as Pierre stood and waited patiently in front of the store window. Finally, to finish his window display, Monsieur Toulard brought out a beautiful plate of assorted cupcakes and today, as always, they were splendid with a variety of icings and appearances. The baker stood proudly off to the side and watched as the young boy carefully inspected his gorgeous cupcakes. The child looked at them as best he could with his nose almost pressed against the store window. Pierre gazed at them thoroughly studying the cupcakes from several different angles. Monsieur Toulard continued watching the small boy, waiting for the usual smile of approval that he was accustom to seeing on all the faces of his customers. The portly pastry chef was prepared to give young Pierre a sample because he could tell that the little customer would appreciate his delicious creations. “Which one would the young boy choose,” wondered the Baker? Finally, Pierre looked up at Monsieur Toulard and as their eyes met, Nicolas Toulard smiled proudly. The baker began pointing at the plateful of cupcakes and Pierre looked back at them. Then the boy looked up again at the baker, who was still smiling and Pierre shook his head from side to side then walked away. Quickly the smile on Monsieur Toulard disappeared and he was beside himself. The baker could not believe what just happened. Had this child rejected Nicolas Toulard’s cupcakes? He opened the door to his pastry shop and stood on the sidewalk watching as the small boy walked away with his hands in his pockets and his head down. “Who is this child who shakes his head 'no' to my creations, my art? He is too young. Does he know that people come from miles around to buy my pastries,” said the baker dismissively. Still it troubled the baker that today his cupcakes did not seem good enough for the young child.
As is the custom, 6:30 Wednesday morning is the morning when the four proprietors meet for breakfast at the cheese store. However, a fidgety Nicolas Toulard picked at his food and kept glancing up at the large clock on the wall every few minutes. "Nicolas, what's wrong mon amie," asked Mademoiselle Richleu. "Nothing Anna, it is just a misunderstanding." "Oh, with who," asked Thomas Doustand. "It's nothing, I promise," replied the baker. "But you are not eating," said Michel Belmand, "you're insulting Thomas. Thomas, these are wonderful cheeses; save some for me tonight." "I will, Nicholas do you not like the cheeses?" "No, no, my dear Thomas, I always love your cheeses, please I just have to go, I'll talk to all of you later." With those final words, Nicholas Toulard stood up and left his friends sitting around the table, dumbfounded and bewildered at the baker's sudden departure. He walked across the small narrow street and directly into his bakery. Immediately, he went into the kitchen and reached for a luscious three layer chocolate cake for the window. Nicolas brought it out and began placing it carefully on display, but was startled, which almost caused him to drop the cake. Standing outside the bakery, with his hands clasped behind his back, stood the young boy, Pierre. He looked down at the large dessert, but only briefly. The baker and the boy both knew why he was standing there. Monsieur Touldard refusing to be ruffled walked back into his kitchen only to return with another cake, and after many trips back and forth and several long minutes, the time finally came. The baker brought out a tray full of the most beautiful cupcakes in all of Paris. Nicholas Toulard placed the tray on top of a stand, which as always occupied the center of the display window. As he had done the previous day, the boy stepped forward and starred at the cupcakes. Carefully and meticulously, Pierre judged each one. He moved several inches to his right and several inches to his left, never taking his eyes off the desserts. The young boy even bent down and inspected the cupcakes from a new angle. After careful inspection, the child straightened up and met Nicolas Toulard's eyes. Today, the baker was not smiling. Pierre looked down at the tray of beautiful cupcakes, as did the baker, then the boy looked back at the baker, and their eyes locked on each other. Unknowingly, a small bead of sweat appeared on the baker's forehead, which the young boy noticed. The boy's verdict was the same as yesterday. He shook his head from side to side, indicating that these beautiful, delectable cupcakes were not satisfactory and walked away. Monsieur Toulard stood there devastated; no one had ever criticized his creations, let alone a child. “Does the boy not realize who he is criticizing,” thinks Monsieur Toulard. “There are days when lines of patrons wait for my pastries. Who is this child?" The Baker once again stood outside his shop and watched as the small boy walked away with his hands in his pockets and his head down.
To the shock of all his nighttime employees, Nicholas Toulard entered his bakery at 2 o'clock in the morning. "Bonjour, Monsieur Toulard." "Bonjour, Henri, Constance." "Bonjour." "Monsieur are you all right, did we do something wrong?" "Excusez-moi, Henri?" "It is 2am and you normally do not enter the bakery until usually 6:15." "I know, but I have something to do and only I can do this." Nicholas Toulard walked over to his stainless steel table and began assembling all of the ingredients for his cupcake creations. "No one is going to criticize Nicolas Toulard's baking, I have never been so insulted by anyone, let alone a child, who does he think he is? What does a child know about baking," mumbled the baker to himself. "But what could it be," he wondered. The Baker began assembling the ingredients he would need for the cupcakes. Within a short while, the first batch was ready to go into the oven. As he placed the tray inside the large hot oven suddenly he reasoned, "Ah ha, how could I be so stupid, it must be the frosting," said Nicholas Toulard loudly. “It must be I put the frosting on too early and by time I display my cupcakes, at least for this child, they have lost their luster!” At the sound of the baker's brief outburst, Henri and Constance quickly turned around, as did the baker's three other helpers. He was excited at the revelation and knew not to prepare the frosting for at least three more hours. This morning, for the first time in over ten years, Nicholas would miss breakfast with his friends: Anna, Michel, and Thomas. "I am happy this small boy is not a critic," Monsieur Toulard reasoned with himself. "Could one only imagine if the child worked for a local paper or worse a worldwide magazine?" In a loud voice he said, "Of course, how could I be so slow? It is one of my lowly competitors who has sent this child to torment me, that's it! But who, is it Claude, I'll bet it is him. He has always been jealous of my success. No, it is Gaspan, the snake. Not only is he jealous he is also a lousy baker. It's Gaspan yes, no, what if it's Angeline. My love Angeline could she still be mad at me, after all these years. "Do we ask him what is wrong," questioned Henri. "No, leave him alone," replied Constance softly. His two workers watched as their animated employer seemed to be having a two-way conversation with himself. The time finally arrived and the baker began to prepare the ingredients for the frosting. When Nicolas felt the time was right and like a true artist he gently added the sweet creamy toppings. Working over each cupcake, Nicholas Toulard, the great baker of Paris, became nervous. He had not felt this way in over twenty years. "It is impossible, a child, no it cannot be. I must not be feeling well." Just then, Michel, the butcher, walked in through the back door of the bakery. "Nicolas we are all waiting for you at Anna's, are you all right?" "I am so sorry my friend, but today I am too busy to eat this morning." "No, no, Nicolas, we are never too busy to eat together. Let the other shopkeepers work until they drop dead, but not us Nicolas." "I know Michel, but this is very important. I will see all of you here tomorrow, and I promise I will tell you. Forgive me." "Nicolas, this is not like you, but if you insist." "I do." Nicolas' friend departed and immediately the baker returned to his frosting. He checked it carefully to make sure it had not lost any of its luster and began slowly spreading the butter cream coating over the cupcakes. First, there was a white butter cream, then a chocolate butter cream, then a lemon, followed by a banana cream. Carefully, Nicolas topped each cake as he piped frostings in swirls and dollops. Then gently and lovingly, he topped each one with a variety of candies and nuts, along with powdered sugar, and such. When Nicolas finished, he looked at each cupcake before placing them on the tray and smiled to himself on a beautiful job well done. "Take that Gaspan, not even the child you sent will be able to resist my cupcakes." "I cannot accept this something is terribly wrong," said Anna. "No, he is busy he told me," replied Michel. "It is not holiday time, I agree with Anna, something is wrong with Nicholas that he is not telling us," chimed in Thomas. "I am going over there right now and I am going to find out. He may lie to you two, but he will not lie to me," said Anna. She stood up with a determined look on her face and marched out the backroom of her flower shop, with Thomas and Michel following close behind. As she opened the front door of the flower shop Anna suddenly stopped and looked across the street over at Nicolas' bakery. Standing there in front of his shop was a young boy, with his hands behind his back, watching the baker carefully fill the front display window.
Nicolas Toulard hurried along today, filling his window with all of the beautiful cakes and tarts that normally adorn Chateau de Patisserie. However, when it came to bringing out the tray of cupcakes, he hesitated. He stuck his head out from behind the kitchen door and glanced back at Pierre who was stretching his neck in hopes of getting the first glance at the tray full of cupcakes. Henri, Constance, and the other three employees watched their employer take a deep breath before picking up the tray. He lifted it up and disappeared through the door leading into the front part of the shop. "I've never seen Monsieur Toulard act this way what do you think is wrong," asked Henri. The five employees crowded by the kitchen door and peered out in hopes of uncovering some clue to the mystery. All they saw was a young boy standing outside of the bakery who seemed to be intently watching Nicolas Toulard and the tray of cupcakes. The baker gently placed the tray, as he always does, in the center of the display window. He looked at young Pierre and gave a small gentle nod to the boy, which was an invitation for the child to look over his delightful creations. The boy carefully stared at the tray moved a few inches to his right, and then back the other way, a few inches to his left. He bent down slightly so that he could see the cupcakes at eye level, then he stood up. Pierre, as he did yesterday, and the day before, met Nicholas Toulard's gaze and suddenly, with disappointment and sagging shoulders, shook his head from side to side and walked away. Nicolas' shoulders also sagged, but the rejection was too much for the baker. Today as he stepped out of the bakery, he walked after the small boy and stopped him. The five employees spilled out into the main room and starred as Nicolas walked after the small child.
"What is Nicolas doing to that child," asks Thomas, as the baker's three friends watched from the door of the flower shop. "Quiet," said Anna, "let's see what happens."
The large rotund Nicholas stopped Pierre and looked down at the small boy. He said, "Young man, I am sorry, but you have insulted me, and I cannot, no I will not tolerate it. Have you no manners?" "I'm sorry," said Pierre softly. "Sorry," says Nicolas, "I have baked for Royalty, for Presidents, and for people around the world. No one has ever dared to insult my creations. To some my work is considered art! The way you have insulted me is just too pedestrian. Why, you have never even tasted my cupcakes and yet you dismiss them as though they are made in a factory. Who sent you Claude, Gaspan, Angeline? It's Gaspan is it not?" "I-I am sorry Monsieur, but who are these people?" "Child do not toy with me, just tell me who sent you. If you do you may come back to the bakery and choose any cake to take home to your family and we will forget this whole farce. I just need to know." "Honestly Monsieur, I do not know what you are talking about." In a change of voice, Nicolas kindly asks, "If no one sent you, then what is wrong with my cupcakes? Every day I make them and every day you stare at them, reject them, and walk away. Why?" Pierre begins, "I am so sorry Monsieur, I do not mean to get you mad, but I am looking for the right cupcake. I am looking for the most special, most important cupcake, and I have not seen it. I am sorry."
"Can you hear anything," asks Thomas, staring across the street at Nicolas and the small child." "Ssh, quiet," demanded Anna. Nicolas Toulard stood confused as he stared at the small boy. "A most special, important cupcake," the baker thinks to himself. He looked down at the boy to ask a question, but Pierre seemed to be distracted and was ignoring Nicolas Toulard. For Nicolas, this was the final straw, "That is it, I cannot take any more insults from a child. Who do you..." The boy paid no attention to anything the baker was saying as he stared past the large man. Nicholas, his three friends, still standing in the flower shop doorway, and the five employees in the bakery all followed the small boy's gaze. Standing on the corner was a beautiful little blonde, blue-eyed girl, who had not only caught Pierre's eye, but appeared to have captured his young heart also. She was Pierre's age and was standing on the corner staring straight ahead, not paying attention to either the large man or the small boy, or the three people in the doorway. Nicholas looked down at Pierre who had not taken his eyes off the little girl. "Her name is Suzanne, and she goes to my school," said Pierre still staring. "She is in my class, but she doesn't know who I am. Monsieur," Pierre began, as he looked up at the baker, "that is why I need the special, most important cupcake." Nicholas looked down, smiled at Pierre and said, "Come by tomorrow in the morning and I promise I will have the most special, most important cupcake for you."
The next morning, Anna, Michel, and Thomas sat in the bakery eating while Nicholas Toulard was busy working. "So you are telling us, this child has been rejecting your wonderful cupcakes this whole week," asks Thomas. "Yes, that is right." "And because of this child you have been going crazy?" "Yes, that is right." "And finally, you spoke to this small child and he tells you that he is looking for a special cupcake?" "Yes, that is right." "Nicholas, if someone said that my meat was no good, or Michel's cheese was unsatisfactory, we would just throw them out and tell them never to come back!" "Oh, stop it Thomas," said Anna, "I think it is beautiful what Nicholas is doing." "Thank you mon amour." "Pas de quoi, you're welcome." "Anyway, please eat, help yourself, I must finish this for the boy."
Just like clockwork, young Pierre stood in front of the bakery, but there was nothing in the window and there was no Nicolas Toulard. There were no cupcakes let alone a special one. He cupped his hands and pushed his face up against the glass. The boy looked inside, but still there was no one. He began to worry that the baker was unable to make his special request. Suddenly, the kitchen door slowly opened and out came Monsieur Toulard, caring something in his hand, but Pierre was unable to see what it was. Three other people, who Pierre had never seen before followed Nicholas. It was a woman and two men. Pierre noticed another five people standing further back. Nicolas walked to the front door of his shop, carefully opened it and stepped outside, with one hand behind his back. "Who are those people," asked Pierre. "Ignore them, they are just jealous." Slowly Nicolas Toulard showed Pierre the cupcake, which was resting on a beautifully colored plate. It was the most beautiful cupcake Pierre had ever seen. It was larger than most with chocolate cake at the bottom, a layer of yellow cake in the middle, and another layer of chocolate cake on top. There were ribbons of frosting in chocolate and vanilla, along with beautifully colored candy, all topped with a small amount of white powdered sugar. Pierre smiled and nodded his head as he stared at the cupcake made by Nicholas Toulard. The baker leaned down handing the plate and cupcake to the Pierre. "Thank you Monsieur," said the small boy. Nicolas just smiled, turned, and walked back into his shop where Anna, Michel, and Thomas along with his five employees had all been watching from the front window. At that moment, Suzanne appeared from around the corner and Pierre saw her. Without hesitation, he walked up to her with a smile and said, "Bonjour." "Bonjour Pierre," said Suzanne. "You know my name," he asked surprised. "Of course, do you know mine?" "Yes, it is Suzanne, and this is for you." Pierre looked down at the plate with the beautiful cupcake and held it out for Suzanne. "How did you know Pierre?" Confused he replied, "I'm sorry, how did I know what?" "That today is my birthday, and this is the most beautiful cupcake I have ever seen. Thank you," she said and kissed Pierre lightly on his cheek. From that day on every morning, Pierre and Suzanne would pass by the butcher shop, the cheese shop, and the florist shop. They would stop and say hello to Anna, Thomas, and Michel. The two children would then walk over and stand in front of the window at Monsieur Toulard's Patisserie. They would smile and wave at him and Nicolas would smile back as he displayed a special, most important cupcake, in the center window of his bakery. THE END