Chloe opened her eyes slowly and reached for Laurence, only finding an empty space. She sat up sleepily and looked with dazed eyes around the room, her eyes coming to rest on Laurence who was standing at the window. It was still dark outside, and a quick look at her watch told Chloe that it was only 5:30. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and yawned silently before getting up. She walked up to Laurence and lightly rubbed her arm.
"Hey," said Laurence, turning to face Chloe.
"Hey yourself." She rose to her tip toes and kissed her. "Lo, it's early. Come back to bed."
"I can't sleep."
"Does you arm hurt?"
"Some, but that's not what's keeping me awake."
Chloe sighed knowingly. Gosh, life has gotten complicated, she thought before squeezing Laurence's arm. "A lot has happened in the past week."
"You'd think that getting rid of Beatrice would be the end of our troubles, but even dead that bitch has an impact on our lives."
"It's going to take some time."
"I'm not worried about me," Laurence said harsher than she intended to. She walked away from the window and sat on the edge of the bed, passing her hand though her disheveled hair. "I don't know how to help Clément. She scarred him so deeply." As if he heard them talking about him, Clément came walking into their room. He crawled onto the bed and laid his head against Laurence's knee. "Since we all seem to be awake, why don't we get ready and check out?"
Chloe yawned for the second time and
sighed in defeat. "All right then, but I'm taking a nap this afternoon," she
said with a smile, trying to lighten Laurence's mood. "Come on sweetheart, let's
get you ready." She picked up Clément and walked out of the room.
They got dressed and grabbed breakfast at the hotel's restaurant, enjoying fresh pastries and freshly squeezed orange juice. They piled into in a taxi, Clément between them. The car drove into the early morning rush hour of Versailles, the heavy raindrops strongly hitting the windshield with loud pops. The cab pulled up in front of the house and they got out, Laurence carrying Clément. She wrapped her coat around him to keep him out of the rain, and quickly dialed the code to get into the courtyard. Chloe followed, worriedly, waiting for Clément's reaction. Laurence motioned for Chloe to unlock the door. Chloe hurried up the front steps, being careful not to fall on the slippery wet stairs. She unlocked the door and stepped in, leaving the door open for Laurence. Laurence tightened her grip on Clément with her good arm and stepped inside. As soon as she had crossed the doorway, Clément started screaming and wiggling in her arms, forcing her to put him down. He ran outside and huddled in a ball against the courtyard wall. Laurence shared a brief look of despair with Chloe before going after him.
The rain had started falling harder and its drops fell like sticks on a drum against the roof. She knelt in front of him, mindless of the rain soaking through her clothes and pouring down her neck. "Sweetheart, it's okay. I'm here. I won't let anything happen to you."
Clément looked at her, tears mixing with rain on his face. He violently shook his head and repressed a sob. "I don't want to go in." His little hands had balled into fists.
Laurence took hold of his fists and rubbed his knuckles with her fingers. "I know you're scared. I am too." Laurence's confession got her a questioning look. "But I promise you that nothing will happen to you if you go inside the house. She isn't there anymore."
Clément stared at her with a sad look. His stare wasn't that of an innocent four year old, but one of a child who had suffered and been hurt. Laurence bowed her head, his stare almost too much for her to take. A sense of guilt washed over her, but she quickly pushed it down and ignored it.
"Where is she?" asked Clément, breaking the silence.
Laurence debated her answer for a moment, but quickly opted for the truth. "Dead." Clément's fists slightly relaxed at the news. "She won't hurt you anymore. I promise. I'm here. Chloe is here." She turned to look at Chloe who had stayed on the front porch. "Let's go inside, sweetheart. It's raining and I don't know about you, but I'm getting really cold."
Clément slowly stood up, followed by Laurence. "Mom?"
"I hate this house," he said before starting to sob. Laurence picked him up and hugged him tight, rubbing his back while he repeated, "I hate it, I hate it." She walked back inside the house, gently whispering soothing words into his ears. Inside Chloe came close to them and hugged Clément. He wiped his eyes and reached for Chloe, she drew him in her arms and continued the gentle soothing Laurence had started. "Let's get you upstairs to get you some dry clothes.' In response Clément tightened his grip on Chloe's neck. She kissed him on the cheek and whispered, "It's all right, I'm here."
Laurence watched Chloe engulf Clément in her arms, and her heart filled with love for the young blond girl cradling her son. She followed them to the family room. The house was nervously silent, the only sounds from Chloe's footsteps as she carried Clément upstairs. Laurence removed her coat, boots and placed them near the heater to dry. She wrung her hair, letting the water drip on the foyer's wooden floor, before walking into the family room and pressing the play button on the answering machine. She erased a few useless messages from newspaper wanting to interview her about Beatrice's death and listened to the next one.
"Hi, it's Elizabeth, mom...I mean Chloe's mom...I'm calling to check how you're doing and let you know that I showed Laurence's painting to my friend who owns a gallery in D.C....He loved it. Let's just say he called it "pure genius". Anyway, he's interested in seeing more so I thought I would pass it on. Okay, got to run. Call me..."
Laurence stared at the blinking answering machine and a smile slowly crept to her face. She looked up briefly and thought Dad, you always said, things always happen for a reason.
"Was that my mom?" asked Chloe, making Laurence jump. She sat on the couch withClément still hanging on to her.
Laurence nodded, smiling. "Yes." She
opened her arms to Clément, who immediately rushed into them. "We'll
go into the playroom. Listen to the message."
Chloe stared at the blinking answering machine and shook her head, a smile on her face, hope creeping through her heart. She joined Laurence and Clément in the playroom, sitting on the floor next to Laurence while Clément indifferently pushed a fire truck around.
"This is good news."
"It's a sign. What do you think?"
Chloe brushed Laurence's cheek with the back of her hand. "Lo, this is one of the first genuine smiles I have seen on your face in quite some time. I want you to be happy."
"Would you be happy going back?"
"I told you last night. As long as I'm with you, I'm fine."
Laurence kissed Chloe's palm and linked their fingers together. "There is a lot to think about. Let's start by figuring out what to do with the house." She got up, followed by Chloe. "Chloe, how would your dad react?"
"Us moving to the States?"
"No idea. I haven't spoken to him in months." Chloe's voice was low, pain at her father's behavior obvious in her voice.
Laurence nodded, understanding in her eyes. "Can you keep an eye on him while I go make a few phone calls?"
As she walked out, Clément ran and stop her. "Where are you going?" he asked with a worried expression.
"To the study room to make a few calls. Would you like to come with me?"
In answer, Clément grabbed his truck and took hold of her hand. "I guess that means yes." She reached for Chloe and led them to the study room.
Continued in the conclusion
copyright (c) 2000 Malaurie Barber
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