Culture Clash

Welcome! This is the sequel to A Year in Paris. If you have not read it, I strongly suggest you go ahead and do it...otherwise I guarantee you are going to be lost :-)

Please send feedback to Copyright (C) 2000 Malaurie Barber

Chapter I

    Laurence woke up suddenly, startled by the loud ring. She blindly reached for the phone, which she knew was sitting on her bedside table.

    "Allo," she answered with a sleepy voice.

    "Lo, it's me. Am I waking you up?"

    "Oh...hi...yes, you are. For God's sakes, Chloe, it's 3 a.m."

    "I'm sorry...I..."

    "That's okay. Is everything all right?"

    "Yes, everything is fine. I was just thinking about you, so I thought I'd call you. I didn't realize it was only 3 a.m..."

    "No, obviously you didn't." Laurence sighed, her eyes slowly adapting to the darkness. Her eyes scanned the room where tubes of paint and canvases lay scattered on the floor. The moonlight lightly peaked though the blinds, creating a world of shadows and mystery.

    "I should probably let you go back to sleep...I'll call later," Chloe's voice seemed unsure and taken back by Laurence's coldness.

    " Come on now, I'm awake. Tell me why you called."

    "You were supposed to call me on Sunday, but you never did. I tried to call, but no one was home."

    "I guess we got busy."

    "Lo, are you getting tired of me? Do you want to put an end to the relationship?" asked Chloe out of the blue.

    Laurence propped herself up on her pillow and readjusted the phone on her ear. "What makes you say that?"

    On the other side of the Atlantic, Chloe sat down at her desk, and passed her hand through her blond locks. "I've been gone for almost two months, and for the past month I'm the only one who has called. Every time you have some sort of excuse. You haven't let me speak to Clément in ages..." Chloe's voice shook with emotions. She paused to regain her calm, hoping for an answer from Laurence. "Have you nothing to say?" she asked after a few moment of silence.

    "What do you want me to say?"

    "What do I want you to say?" Chloe's voice rose a notch and tears starting falling down her cheeks. "Never mind Laurence. I'll hung up now it's very obvious you have better things to do than to talk to me."

    "Chloe, stop over reacting. You woke me up and my mind is still foggy. I'll call you back later on. Okay?"

    "Okay," whispered Chloe before hanging up.

    Laurence hung up and flopped back on her pillows. She covered her eyes with her arm and sighed. The image of Chloe ran behind her closed eyelids, making her heart swell with sadness. She sat up suddenly, kicked off the covers and turned the light on. A light rain had started falling outside, making a gentle rumbling noise on the roof. She opened the window and let the fresh night air enter the room, droplets of rain splashed on the edge of the window, gently wetting her face. She stared outside past the roofs, her glaze getting lost in the heavy clouds. She fought the need to rush back to the phone and call Chloe back. The reality was that she missed her terribly, but if she was able to deal with it, Clément wasn't. After Chloe left he had constantly asked for her, his appetite had lessened, and Laurence, worried, took him to the doctor, who diagnosed him with child depression. His explanation was that Clément had suffered through two great loses in a few months, and that Chloe's departure was too much for him to deal with. She had taken Clément to a child psychologist, and it was only now after two months that he was starting to make progress. She wasn't willing to throw away his progress by having him talk to Chloe.

    "The best way is for him to forget," she said aloud, breaking her thought process. "...and maybe for me too." She closed the window and walked back to her bed, took off her damp nightshirt and grabbed a clean one from her dresser. She had, at the request of Clément's psychiatrist, removed any pictures of Chloe from the house, but she secretly kept one locked in the drawer of her night table. She reached inside the drawer and picked up the picture with trembling hands. Memories of her time with Chloe came rushing back, and a large smile formed on her face. She slowly lay down and hugged the picture to her chest, her mind wondering what was to come next and how could she find the strength to totally block Chloe out of their lives. Her eyes fluttered a few times before closing, her hands relaxed their grip on the picture and it slid gently onto the bed. She let sleep claim her, hoping for wisdom in her dreams.

    In College Park, Chloe stared blankly at the phone still in her hand. Her tears had dried and her eyes were now red and swollen. She took a deep breath and put the phone down. Stiffly she got up and walked to her bedroom window. Books and dirty clothes were scattered all over the floor next to her roommate's bed; she carelessly kicked them aside and opened the window. The cold air of early November came rushing to her face. She closed her eyes, and let the wind gently caress her face. The fear of losing Laurence crept through her, and sobs racked her body. She angrily wiped her tears away and slammed the window shut. I can't afford to worry about it now. She said she'd call back...I have an exam to study for tomorrow. Chloe sat at her desk and picked up her economy book. She tried to clear her mind and concentrate, but the task seemed almost impossible. Every turn of a page brought her gaze back to the phone. As she was starting to get into her studying, the door suddenly opened.

    "Hi," said a girl, with light purple colored hair and wearing baggy clothes.

    "Hey," answered Chloe, barely lifting her head from her book.

    "You should have come out with us. It was fun."

    "I didn't feel like it."

    "Yeah, I know, you don't feel like doing much ever since you came back from France."

    "Brett, save me the lecture for another day, I have an exam tomorrow."

    "So, do I. You don't see me sweating it." Brett kicked her shoes across the room and flopped herself on her bed. Chloe tried to ignore Brett, hoping she would get the hint and back off, but no such luck. "I met this guy at the bar, His name is Bryan. Very cute. Anyway, he asked me out tomorrow night and was wondering if I had someone to bring along, so we could double date with his friend Sean. What do you think?"

    Chloe sighed and turned around. "Why are you asking me?"

    "Because I thought you'd want to come along."

    "No, thanks," answered Chloe, going back to her book. Brett walked up to Chloe and snatched the book from her hands. "Brett, come on, quit it."

    "Not before you agree to come along. Come on Chloe, you can't stay in this room for the entire semester." Brett and Chloe had known each other since middle school. While not the closest friends, they had kept in touch when Brett's parents sent her to boarding school for high school. Chloe wrote to Brett once or twice while she was in France, never giving much detail. They had conveniently agreed to share a dorm room since neither of them could afford their own place. Chloe had tried on numerous occasions to talk to Brett about Laurence, but Brett's superficiality and unwillingness to listen to anyone but herself, had stopped Chloe short.

    "I already told you, I'm not interested in finding a boyfriend."

    "Yeah, I got the point, but no one is asking you to marry the guy. Just one date, okay?"

    "I'll think about it."

    "That's my girl." Brett handed her the book back. "I'm going down for a smoke. Want to come?"

    "No thanks. I'm waiting for a call."

    "Oh, yeah, this mysterious person from France that never calls when supposed to."

    "Her name is Laurence...and she has been busy lately."

    "Whatever! I just know that you wait for her calls with more anxiety you would from a boyfriend." Brett picked up her pack of cigarettes and walked out, leaving Chloe alone with her uncertainty.

    She shook her head and tried to go back to her book, but after ten minutes she gave up, got up, picked up her jacket and left the room. "If she calls she can leave a message," said Chloe aloud, persuading herself she was making the right decision. She went in search of Brett, who she knew could be found in front of the high rise building smoking away. She took the elevator down eight floors, and stepped into the starry night.

    Laurence felt her bed shift, she slowly opened her eyes, and smiled. Clément, seeing that she was awake, threw himself into her arms. He had taken the habit to come and wake her up in the morning. It was Laurence's favorite moment of the day. A precious time when she could enjoy Clément's closeness without any worries, she often sang softly to him, and sometimes Clément would go back to sleep in the comfort of her arms. Holding him close strengthened her resolution to do what was best for him. As she held him tight, she gently caressed the picture of Chloe that had fallen during the night. She sighed deeply and fought tears swelling up in her eyes. I can do this, she thought, trying to convince herself. She tightened her grip on Clément whose breathing had become heavy, and tenderly kissed his forehead. The clock marked 6:30 a.m.

    We have half an hour before getting up. She let her body relax and closed her eyes, not allowing herself to fall back asleep, but only to bask in the early morning silence before the craziness of the day took over.

    Half an hour after, she gently shook Clément awake. "Sweetheart, time to get up. Come on." Clément stretched lazily and opened his eyes. "Come babe, let's get moving." He sat up, rubbed his eyes, and got off the bed. Laurence walked around, picked him up, and walked out of the room. She let him down once they reached his room, and opened his dresser. "What do you want to wear today?"

    "Sweat pants," said Clément, happily clapping and running around.

    "I wish I had so much energy in the morning...I have to do some laundry, you don't have any clean sweat pants anymore. Here, jeans will do. She got out a pair of navy blue jeans and a red sweatshirt. She lay his clothes on his bed. "Okay, here you are. Get dressed and come downstairs." Clément had started to want to get dressed by himself a few weeks before, and his dexterity at putting his pants on amazed Laurence. Every morning, she would take his clothes out and go downstairs to get breakfast ready while he would dress. He was growing from a dependent toddler to an independent, stubborn little boy. Fifteen minutes later, Clément came downstairs. Laurence laughed.

    "Sweetheart, your shirt is backwards." She flipped the shirt over and tucked it in his pants. While tenderly kissing him on the cheek, she helped him climb into his chair.

    Half an hour later, the doorbell rang and Clément ran to the door, screaming. "Mims, Mims." Laurence laughed, finished her tea and opened the door to Madame Cambier. "Bonjour," she said with a smile, while Clément jumped into Madame Cambier's arms.

    After Chloe left, Laurence had gotten a job as a reporter for "Le Monde," one of the most famous newspapers in France. Her schedule was often impromptu, and they had worked out a deal with Madame Cambier. She would take Clément to school every morning, pick him up and babysit him until Laurence came home. Laurence always tried to be home early, but her job often sent her on last minute reporting assignments. Clément had become more and more fond of Madame Cambier and her husband, and with the help of Madame Cambier had come up nicknames for them. Mims and Pims, the nicknames for grandma and grandpa. Laurence explained that Clément only had to brush his teeth and comb his hair and was ready to go. Madame Cambier smiled, gently took Clément's hand and walked him to the downstairs bathroom while Laurence left to take a shower.

    Chloe looked at her watch and sighed. Two a.m. she is at work, there is no way she's going to call now. She closed her book, rubbed her eyes, and changed her clothes for a pair of boxer shorts and a white t-shirt. Brett was already asleep, her soft snoring gently filling the silent room. Chloe tried to relax and forced herself to sleep, but images of Laurence and Clément kept on popping through her mind. Tears filled up her eyes once more and spilled on her cheeks. She buried her face into her pillow and cried herself to sleep.

    The following day went by without any calls from Laurence. Chloe's heart swelled up when she walked in her room and found her answering machine light not blinking. She had barely had time to take her shoes off when Brett came bursting in the room.

    "Ready for tonight."

    "For what?" asked Chloe, sitting down on her bed and propping herself against the wall.

    "Our double date." Brett rummaged through her closet and extracted a purple silk shirt that matched her hair. "Hey, what do you think? Should I wear this?"

    "Whatever. Brett, I never said I'd go."

    "You said you'd think about it."

    "Yeah, and I did. The answer is 'no'"

    Brett jumped on Chloe's bed and sat crossed legs in front of her. "Why? Come on it's going to be fun. Bryan told me that this guy Sean is a theatre see he loved theatre, just like you. Please...." Brett smiled sweetly at Chloe, showing a set of perfect white teeth, her brown eyes shined with excitement and amusement.

    "Oh...okay fine, but we're not staying out late."

    "Deal." Brett shed her top and replaced it with the purple silk shirt. She picked up a pair of black jeans and put them on.

    "Do we have to get ready now?"

    "Yeah, they are picking us up at 6:30. We're going for dinner at the Chinese Buffet restaurant and maybe movie or drinks after."

    "Fine," sighed Chloe. She put her shoes back on and grabbed her leather jacket.

    "Aren't you going to change?"

    "No." She was wearing a pair of faded baggy jeans and a green turtle neck, and black boots completed her outfit.

    "Come on, wear something more....more sexy!"

    "Brett, be happy I'm coming already, okay?"

    "Fine, have it your way."

    "What's the problem with what I'm wearing?" asked Chloe with irritation.

    "Nothing, I just thought you'd like to look nicer."

    "Brett, I'm not looking for a are."

    Brett smiled and grabbed her jacket. "Let's go then," she said, giving up.

    While they waited outside, Brett pulled out a cigarette and lit it. "I wonder what kind of car Bryan drives. He seemed like the kind of guy who would drive a nice convertible...yeah, I can see him driving that...." Chloe let Brett talk as they waited for Bryan and Sean. She can talk up a storm, she thought, tuning Brett out, and getting lost in her thoughts. A few minutes later, a beat up Ford Escort pulled up in front of them, and honked. Brett's face turned pale at the sight of Bryan's car, but she quickly regained her composure. Chloe who knew Brett well enough to expect her reaction laughed at the sight of her decomposed face.

    "Come on Brett, you want to date the guy not his car," she whispered jokingly while gently waving at Bryan who had gotten out.

    Bryan came forward and smiled at them. " must be Chloe," he said, turning to her.

    "Yes, and you must be Bryan."

    "That would be me. This is my buddy Sean." He pointed out to a tall guy with thin features, wavy black hair and deep brown eyes. Sean walked up to them and introduced himself.

    "Great, now that we all know each other, letís get rolling!" Bryan opened the passenger door for Brett and motioned for her to get in. She seductively smiled at him and sat down. Chloe shook her head, the seduction game not lost to her. She flopped herself on the back seat followed by Sean, and buckled in as the car left the campus full speed.

    Dinner was relatively pleasant, and Chloe spent most of it talking theatre with Sean.

    "Why is your major pre-law again?" joked Sean, after Chloe recited to him every play ever written by Stephen Dietz.

    "Long story...let's just say that my father is not to willing to pay for a major he thinks is not lucrative."

    "Why don't you double major? That's what I'm doing."


    "Yeah, English and Theater."

    "Maybe. I donít know."

    After dinner, Bryan suggested a bar on Route 1. They all agreed and walked into a smoky bar with loud music. It seemed to be a favorite college hangout because the place was packed with people wearing the University of Maryland colors. They settled into a booth in the far left corner and ordered soft drinks.

    "I like coming here during the week. Plus tonight they have live music...I wish though we could get a beer without having to show ID though," spat Bryan.

    The waiter came back with four cokes and set them on the table, leaving the bill behind as he left to go to his next customers. As soon as he was out of sight, Brett reached inside her bag, and brought her glass down on the couch next to her.

    "What are you doing?" asked Chloe, who was sitting on the other side of the booth next to Sean.

    "Brett's little mixture," Brett joked. She put her glass back on the table and pushed it toward Chloe. "Go ahead try it."

    "What's in it?"

    "Try it. You'll see."

    Chloe tentatively sipped from the glass and her face contorted in a grimace. "Yukk, what the hell did you put in it?"

    "Rum," she said with a proud smile.

    "All right," cheered Bryan, pushing his glass toward Brett to fill up.

    She filled up Bryan's and extended her hand toward Chloe. "Come on give me your glass."

    "No, I think I'll pass," said Chloe with exasperation.

    "Suit yourself. Sean?"

    "I'll pass also."

    "You guys are no fun." Brett brought her glass to her lips and drank half of it in one gulp. "Not too bad." She finished her glass and called the waiter over for a refill.

    Bryan and Brett kept on drinking and by the time they were ready to leave they were quite tipsy. "I'll drive," said Sean, taking Bryan's keys. Bryan didn't argue and instead flopped himself on the back seat with Brett.

    Sean pulled the car in front of the dorm. "I had a good time tonight," he said to Chloe with a smile. "Would you like to go out again...I mean not on a double date."

    Chloe sighed and pushed a lock of blond hair behind her ear. "I don't know..."

    "No pressure. What about I give you a call and weíll see?"

    "Okay, we'll see." She thanked him for driving back and got out. Sean had been the perfect gentleman all evening and she didn't feel like hurting his feelings. Plus I could really use a friend right now, she thought while helping Brett out of the car.

    The hike back to the 8th floor was long and painful. Brett was too drunk to stand and Chloe had to half carry her and half drag her while making sure they kept quiet, so they would not wake up everyone in the dorm.

    She dropped Brett unceremoniously on her bed, and sighed. "What an evening!" The light of her answering machine was blinking and with a fast beating heart she pressed it, hoping to hear Laurence's voice.

    "Hi, sweetheart, it's dad." Chloe pressed stop with anger and threw herself on her bed burying her face in her pillow as if to let out a scream. She slowly regained control of her emotions and got ready for another night of uncertainty and bittersweet memories.

    Tuesday morning crept in slowly and Chloe lay awake in her bed staring at the ceiling. Sleep had been evading her all night, her mind filled with too many questions unanswered. She quietly got out of bed and shed her nightclothes for a pair of running pants and tennis shoes. She walked through the silent corridors and decided to take the stairs down instead of the elevator. Outside daylight was slowly coming up and a light fog rose from the pavement. She stretched for a few minutes and started running. As she turned past the first parking lot, she picked up the pace and ran full speed down campus drive and around the mall. After 20 minutes of intense running, she slowed down to a lighter run and finished her circle by going behind the art building, past the performing arts building, and back to her dorm.

    The dorm was slowly starting to wake up, and students could be seen walking sleepily down the corridors toward the main bathroom. She smiled at her neighbor who stood outside his door with an sleepy look and messy hair, and walked back into her room. Brett was still asleep in the same position Chloe had dropped her the night before.

    "Almost 8, I guess I should call dad, and get ready for class."

    The day went by slowly. She dragged herself from class to class, fatigue from her sleepless night slowly taking over her body. At 5, she left her last class and rushed back to her room, hoping for an hour of rest until Brett got home. As she walked in, the answering machine's light was blinking and Chloe pressed it with nonchalance, not daring to hope.

    "Hi, Chloe, it's me...Laurence. Call me would you? I have to speak to you about Christmas. .....I don't care if you call at 4 a.m. just call. Thanks."

    As she was getting ready to pick up the phone, it rang.


    "Hi, Chloe, it's Sean."

    "Oh, hi Sean."

    "Listen I was wondering if you'd like to go for dinner tonight."

    "...thanks, but I have to pass, maybe some other day."

    "Okay then, some other day. Let me give you my number."

    She scribbled his number down quickly, hung up, picked up the phone again and dialed Laurence's number with shaky hands. "It's a little after 1 in the morning there...hopefully she's still awake."

    The phone rang five times, and Chloe heard Laurence's voice.


    "Lo, it's me. You said to call you back."

    "Oh, hi. Yes, I wanted to talk to you."

    Chloe sat down on her bed and tugged the phone cord with her. "I was getting worried that you didn't call me back last weekend. I thought you were upset with me."

    Laurence sighed and took a deep breath. "No, I'm not upset with you...I want to talk to you about Christmas."

    "Sure. I checked on plane tickets and I can arrive on the 22nd of December and stay until the 27th of January, since we have a month off.... "

    "Chloe, stop for a minute. Listen...I don't think it's a good idea."

    "Oh, then I can come a day or two earlier and leave early, I'm flexible."

    "No...I mean I don't think you should come."

    Chloe's breath caught in her chest and she slowly let it out before barely whispering. "You don't want me to come."

    "No, that's not it...I don't think you should come. Chloe, come on, let's be realistic here. You're 4000 miles away, what were you expecting?" Laurence's voice was rising.

    "What was I expecting? I thought what we have was strong enough..." She stopped to hide the sobs in her voice, breathed deeply and continued. "Do you still love me?"

    "Chloe, it has nothing to do with my love for you..."

    "Answer me. Do you still love me?" Her despair had slowly given place to anger.


    "Then why are you doing this?" She stopped fighting and let the tears fall.

    "Because I have to worry about Clément, and when you left he wasn't the same for months. He is finally back to his old self, and there is no way I'm putting him through that again. Do you hear me? He is more important than anything else..."

    "More important than us," whispered Chloe.


    "What can I say to make you change your mind?"

    "Nothing... I have been thinking about it for months now, and I think it's the way it has to be."

    "So that's it."

    "Yes...I think so." Laurence's voice was now very low and shaky.

    "Okay...then so be it..." Chloe slowly hung up and sat on her bed dumbfounded. She brought her knees against her chest and hugged them tight. The picture of Clément and Laurence sitting on her bed table caught her eyes, and she let out a small whimper before burying her face in her knees and letting the sadness take over.

    Laurence stared at the silent phone in her hand and put it down. She slowly got out of bed and walked out of her bedroom toward Clément's bedroom. He was peacefully sleeping, his black hair shone in the moonlight and his chest rose steadily. Laurence tenderly caressed his cheek and brought the covers back up. She stared at him for a long time, trying to persuade herself she did the right thing. Her chest fell heavy and her eyes stung from unshed tears, she balled her hands into fists and dug her fingernails into her palms. I have to think about him. She stiffly turned around and walked out of the room.

    Chloe wiped he tears away, picked up a crumbled piece of paper on her desk and picked up the phone.

    "Hi Sean. It's Chloe. I changed my mind about dinner."

To be continued

copyright (c) 2000 Malaurie Barber
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