Chloe closed the last box and looked around the empty room. Her heart tightened at the bare walls and empty bookshelves. She sat on the bed and lightly smoothed out the wrinkles on the cover.

"Hey, you're finished? The movers should be here any time."

"Yes," she got up and looked around. "I think I got everything."

"Good. Help me bring that box downstairs," said Laurence, bending to pick up one of the largest box.

They had decided to keep the house and leave it to the care of Madame Cambier. Laurence had toyed with the idea of selling, but after refusing a few generous offers from potential buyers, she realized that deep down inside she wasn't ready to give it up just yet. She had spoken to the art dealer about her paintings and arranged a meeting with her as soon as they were settled. They were going to stay in a hotel in Washington until they found a house.

"Okay, I think we've packed everything we want to take with us."

Chloe nodded, wiped the sweat oof her forehead and sat on the couch. "I still have some clothes to pack, but I'm taking them on the plane, so I can do that tonight."

Laurence smiled and sat next to Chloe. "Are you all right."

"Sure, why are you asking?"

"Don't know, just a feeling I get."

"I'm fine." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "It's just that everything went so fast. A month ago you got shot and tomorrow we're moving to the U.S. It's a little overwhelming, that's all."

Laurence nodded and kissed Chloe's forehead before being startled by the doorbell. "Here they are."

It took the movers less than an hour to pile everything into their truck. The boxes were being shipped to Washington, and they were told that it would take a minimum of six weeks for them to arrive.

Laurence closed the door after paying the movers and walked back to Chloe who was still sitting in the same spot.

"Clément is staying at the Cambier's over night, right?"

"Yes," answered Chloe, melancholy slowly taking over.

"Would you be my date tonight for our last night in town?" asked Laurence with a bright smile.

"I don't know. I still have some packing to do ..."

"Chloe, come on. We have the whole night to finish packing."

Chloe sighed and gave up. "All right. What do you have in mind?"

"You'll see." Laurence stood up and shed her sweater in one quick motion, leaving her only in a white tank top. "I've got to shower first though. Care to join me?" she asked with a wink.

Chloe shook her head with a smile and followed Laurence upstairs.

They ate at a small restaurant near the castle. The table they had been given was near the burning fireplace and its warmth spread through them as they silently sipped a glass of wine. Laurence had been worriedly looking at Chloe's face for most of the evening, knowing something was bothering her and wishing Chloe would just tell her. She finally broke the silence.

"Speak to me, would you?" she asked tenderly, reaching for Chloe's hand across the table.

"Sorry, I just can't stop my mind from wandering tonight."

"Do you have any regrets?"

"About what?"

"Moving back."

Chloe sighed and moved back into her seat. "No, I don't ...I'm just being silly."

"Care to explain?" Laurence asked gently.

Chloe looked at Laurence hesitantly. "I have no regrets about standing by you, I'm just worried." She looked at Laurence and scooted back closer to the table. "When I first came to this country, the idea of two women together was foreign to me. I never thought love between two women was possible ..."

"Yes, I remember that." Laurence squeezed Chloe's hand and motioned for her to continue.

Chloe took a deep breath. "I'm worried about what my friends are going to think."

Laurence looked at her, not knowing how to answer. "Chloe, I ..."

"No, wait! Let me finish. Yes, I'm worried about what people are going to think, but at the same time I wouldn't have it any other way. I love you Laurence, and this is just something I have to get over, that's all."

Laurence's first reaction was to bolt and get defensive, but Chloe's obvious fight with her inner demons forced her to control herself. She slowly forced her anger back and vowed to concentrate only on the love she felt from Chloe. "I can't lie to you and tell you that what you said doesn't disturb me, but I believe in us. We've been through too much together and I'll do anything to make sure we make it."

Chloe smiled sadly. "Thanks. I'm sorry I'm in such a strange mood tonight. I'm sure it'll pass."

"No, don't ever apologize for telling me how you feel." She brought Chloe's hand to her lips and kissed it. "Are you ready?"

Chloe nodded and followed Laurence out. "Are we going home?"

"No, I thought we needed to say good bye to a special place," smiled Laurence, taking hold of Chloe's hand and walking to the castle.

Chloe smiled knowingly and let Laurence led her.

As usual Laurence had thought of everything and she was carrying a flashlight in her jacket. They slipped inside the dark tunnel and walked through the passge they had taken many times. Their room had not changed, the wooden table still stood in the center of the room and bread crumbs from their last picnic still lay on it. Chloe brushed off the dust from the bookshelf and breathed deeply, enjoying the smell of old books and antiques.

"I'm going to miss this place."

"Me too." Laurence came behind Chloe and pulled her against her, lightly kissing her neck. "This place is full of memories. It's been a place to come and let my anger wash over at times when I didn't think I could control it, and a place where you and I can come and hide from the world for just a little while."

"You're in a romantic mood tonight," Chloe noted, turning into the circle of Laurence's arms.

Laurence smiled and bent over, briefly touching Chloe's lips with hers. "I love you," she whispered before going back for Chloe's lips. They stayed standing in the middle of the dusty room, kissing and hugging until Laurence picked up Chloe and carried her into their makeshift bedroom. She carefully laid her down on the pile of blankets and lowered herself slowly onto Chloe. There was no urgency in their love making, only the reassurance and knowledge that what they felt was real and strong.

Madame Cambier dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief and hugged Clément one last time. She kissed him and handed him to Laurence. "Now, don't you forget about Mims!" she said smiling through her tears.

Chloe rubbed her arms and drew her into a hug. "Thank you for everything," she said hugging her tight.

"You take care of those two," said Madame Cambier, looking tenderly at Laurence and Clément.

"Count on it," replied Chloe, giving the old woman another hug before turning toward Monsieur Cambier, who stood silently next to his wife. She hugged him without making a fuss, seeing he was bravely trying to keep his emotions under control. She then turned and took Clément from Laurence's arms.

Laurence moved forward and stopped in from of the Cambiers. "I don't know how to thank you for everything you've done. I ..."

In response, Madame Cambier reached for Laurence and drew her into her arms. "You be careful, okay? Take care of my baby."

Laurence nodded and turned to Monsieur Clément, feeling a little awkward and not knowing how to say her good-byes to him. He smiled at her and tenderly kissed her on the cheek, whispering. "Aurevoir."

"I guess we should get going. They'll probably call for final boarding any minute now."

Chloe nodded and put Clément down, picking up her carry on. "You hold my hand now," she instructed Clément before looking one last time at the Cambier's and walking toward the moving stairs. Clément turned and waved, blowing kisses.

As the Cambiers slowly disappeared from sight, Laurence turned around to face the top of the stairs. A smile crept on her face as she looked at Chloe and Clément. A wave of happiness washed over her. Her eyes met Chloe's and for one moment, they only existed for each other. Laurence smiled, and briefly let go of Clément's hand to squeeze Chloe's shoulder. As they reached the top of the stairs and left Paris behind, Laurence knew at that moment she had made the right choice.

The End.

copyright (c) 2000 Malaurie Barber
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