Dawn was slowly creeping through the blinds when Chloe felt the bed shift as Clément climbed up. He took a look at Chloe who was nestled against Laurence's shoulder, then lay on Laurence's other side. Laurence opened her eyes and smiled. "Hi, pumpkin," she said sleepily. Clément's response was to cuddle up against Laurence and closed his eyes. Laurence sighed happily and tightened her grip on the two most precious things in her life before letting sleep claim her again.
At 7:30 the alarm clock went off and Clément sat up while rubbing his eyes. Chloe's sleep didn't seem to have been bothered by the loud noise, and she barely acknowledged Laurence sliding out from under her. She was woken up later on by the feel of Laurence's lips on hers. "What time is it?" she asked, her eyes trying to focus.
"8:30. Madame Cambier just picked up Clément and I have to go."
Chloe rubbed her eyes and sat up. "You're working today?"
"I'm sorry, I really couldn't take off...I have all those projects to take care of." Laurence tenderly ruffled Chloe's hair and kissed her forehead. "Remember...I took one week off to come rescue you from a week of boredom at your momís and another day to come get you from the airport."
"Yep, and I'm grateful for that." Chloe got up and hugged Laurence tightly. "What time are you coming home?"
"I shouldn't be too late. Madame Cambier will pick up Clément and keep him until I'm back. I left you Jennifer's number on the kitchen's table."
"Wait. Why can't I pick him up from school?"
Laurence sighed and passed her hand through her long floating hair. "Clément is slowly warming up to you...I just don't want to push it."
Chloe was about to argue, but the truth of Laurence's statement hit her. "All right, I understand."
Laurence smiled and quickly kissed Chloe. "Thank you. I really have to go. I'll see you tonight."
As she was getting ready to step out of the room, Chloe called her. "Lo!" Laurence turned around with a questioning look on her face. "You look pretty sharp in that outfit," smiled Chloe. Laurence wore a light blue business suit, with a white satin blouse, and the outfit was completed by a light touch of make up and gold earrings. Laurence smiled at Chloe's compliment and left the room.
Chloe spent her morning getting reacquainted with the town. She walked downtown to the market and bought strawberries from a stand, where the memory of her first time eating the fruit with Laurence brought a huge smile to her face. After the market, she strolled to the castle and walked around the park. Each alley reminded her of Laurence and the love she had for this historic place. After wandering aimlessly for a little while, she found herself walking around the canal to the gate where she and Laurence had entered the tunnel bringing them to 'their room' so many times. She looked briefly around and, not seeing anyone, she knelt and twisted the third bar from the left as she had seen Laurence do it so many times. The bar moved stiffly before giving way. Chloe smiled to herself and after looking around one more time around, she stepped inside and replaced the bar. She took a few steps inside the tunnel and stopped as fear grabbed her. Ahead of her was perfect darkness, not a sound could be heard, and not a shape could be seen. She took a deep breath and slowly stepped forward, but after a few more moments she stopped again and took a look back to where the daylight was.
"What am I trying to prove?" she said aloud, her voice resonating inside the tunnel, darkness slowly enveloping her. She shook her head and rushed back to the grill, repeated her earlier movement and stepped out. "Next time bring a flashlight," she told herself.
She finished her walk by stopping at the bakery and buying a fresh baguette. After a light lunch of fresh bread and pãté, she picked up Laurence's note with Jennifer's phone number and dialed it.
"Hi...je..puis-je parler avec Jennifer?" asked Chloe, reading the sentence Laurence had written out for her."
"C'est moi," answered the voice.
"Hi, my name is Chloe and I'm calling about the tutoring job."
"Hi...I was expecting your call."
"Yes, Bernard told me he gave his ex-business partner's daughter my number. How can I help you?"
"I need a French tutor."
"Okay...well, I'll tell you right off the bat, I charge 150 Francs an hour and can only tutor in the afternoon since I'm teaching in the morning."
"Okay," answered Chloe, surprised at the woman's bluntness.
"I tell you what. Are you free this afternoon?" asked Jennifer.
"Yes...yes, I am."
"Good. Why don't we meet? I can get a feel for what you need, and you can get a feel for what I'm like."
"That would be fine."
"I live in Paris a few blocks away from Porte de la Chapelle. Would you like me to come over or would you like to come here?"
"I don't mind coming...that is if you give me directions."
Jennifer gave her directions, and they chose 2:30 for their first meeting. She quickly called Laurence at work to tell her what was happening, grabbed her jacket and headed out. As she closed the door a strange feeling of being watched crept through her body. She rapidly turned around, but the only things behind her were the gate and the wall. She shrugged her shoulders and dismissed the thought.
The metro ride to Porte de La Chapelle from Versailles took her a little over an hour, and she rushed outside and into the streets without wasting time. Jennifer lived a few blocks away from the station in an old gray building covered with graffiti. Chloe dialed the apartment number Jennifer had given her on the inter-phone and waited for an answer. Shortly after she was buzzed in. The lobby was small and the walls seemed to be begging for fresh paint with their dirty-used to be white color. Not finding an elevator, she walked to a staircase and climbed spiral stairs up to the third floor. The corridor was as gloomy as the rest of the lobby and she was deliciously surprised when the door opened to a large sunny apartment with bright yellow walls and blue carpet.
"Hello, you must be Chloe! I'm Jennifer," said a woman with curly red hair and big brown eyes.
"Hi," said Chloe, shaking Jennifer's hand.
"Well, come on in." She was led to the living room were a large blue couch stood. "Would you like something to drink? I have Coke, orange juice, apple juice and water."
"Orange juice would be great," said Chloe politely.
Jennifer nodded and left for the kitchen. The room was tastefully decorated with large colorful paintings, a bookcase stood next to the window, the coffee table was made out of glass and through it dry red roses were visible
"So, how good is your French?" asked Jennifer while depositing the glass of orange juice in front of Chloe.
"Pretty bad," answered Chloe with a blush. She picked up her glass to recompose herself.
"Okay, I'll be frank with you. I was a little annoyed when I heard that Bernard gave you my number. I am really busy and don't really tutor anymore..."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I really don't want to be a bother, I..."
"Wait, let me finish," smiled Jennifer. " I said I don't really tutor anymore, I didn't say I wouldn't do it."
"So, are you going to do it?" asked Chloe, uncertain of what to think of this strange and blunt woman.
"I think so. After all, I remember when I first came to France. Without a tutor, I wouldn't have made it. Plus you're American, and we Americans should stick together."
"So you're American also." Chloe took a long sip from her drink.
"Yes, I am. At least I used to be," smiled Jennifer, memories rushing through her mind.
"I'm from Washington D.C. Where are you from?" asked Chloe, trying to make conversation and get a better feel for this woman with whom she was going to spend a lot of time for the next few months.
"A small town in Michigan. I haven't been back in years though."
"What brought you here?"
Jennifer's body stiffened at the question. "I got married to a French man. I have a few ground rules," she said changing the subject and protecting herself from any more personal questions.
"About what?" asked Chloe, not following the change of topic right away.
"If I'm going to tutor you, I have a few ground rules."
"Rule number one is don't be late. I hate lateness. If you're going to be late, call, but you better have a good excuse. Number two, if I give you homework, you'd better do it or else find someone else because you're wasting my time." Jennifer stopped and looked at Chloe who seemed to be hanging on her every word. "What do you think?" she asked when not getting any reaction from Chloe.
"That's it?...I was waiting for more rules...uh...sounds fine to me."
"All right. We can meet three times a week to start with. Is 2:30 a good time?"
"Yes, that's fine."
"Good then. We'll start next Monday. This week is really busy for me. I have something I want you to look at though." She got up and reached for a flat red book on her shelves. "This is called the Becherelle. It teaches you every basic of French you'll ever need. Study chapter one for next time."
Before Chloe had time to reply, she had been bid good bye and sent on her way. Still a little stunned by Jennifer's attitude and way of handling things, she made her way back to the metro station.
The early day's sun had been replaced by a cloudy sky and cooler temperatures. Chloe shivered slightly and zipped up her jacket. The metro ride was even longer on the way back that it was on the way over because of rush hour. Thousands of people rushed to get home, creating a human traffic jam and packing the metro cars to their limit. She spent the entire trip standing in a corner, trying not to let herself be suffocated by people taller than her and oblivious to their surroundings. The smell of smoke and sweat was starting to make her nauseous when she finally reached her destination. She elbowed her way through the door, stepped onto the platform and took a deep breath. The Versailles station had the advantage of being outdoors and even if Chloe had to weave through a crowd of people to get out she welcomed the fresh air. A light rain had started to fall, and she pulled her jacket over her head to stay dry. She walked quickly down Boulevard de la Reine, avoiding bikers and rollerbladers oblivious to pedestrians. She had not even been walking for 5 minutes when the rain started falling harder, soaking her to the bone. Once she finally reached the house, her hair hung flat on her head, her bangs glued to her forehead, the rain had soaked its way inside her jacket, and her jeans were sticking to her skin. She opened the door quickly and stepped in.
"Chloe?" Laurence's voice called.
"Yeah, it's me," answered Chloe, tired and cold.
"What happened to you?" asked Laurence while coming to the entrance to greet Chloe.
"What do you mean what happened to me? It's raining," answered Chloe sarcastically.
Laurence ignored Chloe's sarcastic tone and rushed to help her get out of her wet clothes. "Here, let me help," she said, taking Chloe's jacket off and helping her out of her boots. Chloe let Laurence fret over her, her body too cold to protest. "Come on I'll run you a warm bath," said Laurence, taking Chloe's hand and dragging her upstairs.
"Don't you have to get Clément?" asked Chloe, her teeth chattering.
"He isn't going anywhere and he's probably having a blast playing with Monsieur Cambier. If we don't get you out of those wet clothes, you're going to get sick." She pushed Chloe into their bedroom and rushed to the bathroom to grab some towels and start running the bath water.
"How was your meeting with Jennifer?" she asked while giving a towel to Chloe to soak up some of the water from her hair and helping her out of her wet jeans.
"It's okay, Lo. I can finish," said Chloe once she wiggled out of her jeans. Laurence nodded and ran back to the bathroom to test the water. "I don't know what to think of her," called Chloe from the other room. "But we agreed to meet three times a week staring next week. We'll see."
"Okay. It's really up to you who we hire. We still have more numbers to call if you want to. Maybe you shouldn't settle on the first person you talk to."
"Nah, it's fine. I don't really feel like tutor-shopping anyway. At least she speaks English," answered Chloe, taking the last of her clothes off.
"Okay, but remember..."
"...I only get to speak English to her if I don't understand something...I know, I know," smiled Chloe, feeling better now that her body was free of her damp clothes.
Laurence smiled and drew Chloe into a hug. Her hands roamed gently on her back, sending shivers down Chloe's spine. She tenderly kissed her hair, and brushed Chloe's bangs off her forehead. "I thought you were going to grow your bangs out," said Laurence softly, her hands not stopping their movements.
"Takes too long," answered Chloe while lifting Laurence's shirt out of her jeans. Laurence gasped at the feel of Chloe's cold hands on her bare skin and bent over to kiss her. She longingly nipped at her lips before deepening the kiss. Chloe groaned and brought Laurence's head closer, the cold suddenly forgotten. She stepped as close as she could to Laurence and in one fast movement unhooked her bra, freeing more space for her roaming hands. Laurence backed Chloe against the bed and pushed her down while breaking the kiss. She quickly shed her shirt and resumed her kissing, her lips mapped Chloe's face and as she made her way down to her neck, she suddenly stopped.
"What? What is it?" asked Chloe, her face flushed, her heart beating faster.
"Damn, the bath," yelled Laurence, jumping off Chloe and running into the bathroom quickly followed by Chloe. "Shit, shit," cursed Laurence while turning the water off.
Chloe laughed at the picture of Laurence wearing only her pants, her hair disheveled, cursing like a sailor while turning the water off and trying to unplug the drain. The entire bathroom was covered with a thick sheet of water. "I guess my bath is ready," laughed Chloe.
"This is not funny...it probably soaked through the ceiling and is right now dripping in Clément's playroom," answered Laurence annoyed.
Chloe grabbed every towel from the linen closet and threw them on the floor. "Lo, calm down. There really isn't much water...you see I'm able to sponge up most of it," she explained while on all four demonstrating to Laurence.
Laurence joined her on the floor and the two of them were able to sponge up all the water off. "I guess I'll go change and get Clément," said Laurence going back to the bedroom to change.
"I'll take a shower since now the tub is empty," smiled Chloe, kissing Laurence on the cheek.
"Very funny," answered Laurence, still annoyed about what had just happened.
"Come on Lo! It's really no big deal. We got carried away and forgot."
Laurence smiled and relaxed at the truth of Chloe's statement. "I guess we'll have to pick up where we left off later on," she said seductively while kissing Chloe briefly.
Chloe swallowed hard and nodded. "Yeah, right...now go on before your son wonders if you forgot about him."
Laurence smiled and left.
copyright (c) 2000 Malaurie Barber
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