Chloe slept very, little, her mind too preoccupied by the events of the past few days and anticipating the ones to come. She got up before dawn, giving up on sleep. She carefully untangled herself from Laurence, kissed her lightly on the forehead and left the room.
"6 o'clock. This is crazy!" she exclaimed, checking the clock while entering the kitchen. "Maybe I'll make them an American breakfast...good idea, I'd least it'll keep me busy." She proceeded to make pancakes from scratch. "Okay, what's a cup worth in milligram...damn why can they use the same system as us?" said Chloe frustratingly, trying to convert the measures. She finally decided to just eye everything and see if it would work.
By 6:30, she had a large batch of pancakes ready. She set the table for three, and got out the jam and Nutella. "That'll have to do since they've never heard of syrup in this country," smiled Chloe proudly, looking at the table and admiring her finished work.
"Are you talking to yourself? asked an amused voice.
Chloe looked up and smiled at the sight of Laurence in the doorway, wearing only boxer shorts and a tank top. "Yeah, I do that sometimes. Keeps me sane," she smiled, walking towards Laurence. "How did you sleep?"
"Very well. I feel rested and ready to deal with what ever else comes up today," said Laurence, tenderly running her hand over Chloe's arm. Laurence's deep blue eyes met Chloe. "Chloe, about last night I...."
"You don't have to apologize.."
"I wasn't going to," interrupted Laurence with a smile. She seriously looked into Chloe's eyes. "I was going to thank you. You give me strength. The fact that you believe in me makes me believe in myself. Thank you."
"You're welcome," answered Chloe, blushing.
Laurence drew her in for a hug and lightly kissed her on the forehead. "What did you cook? Smells good."
"I don't know if it's good though...I sort of had to guess the measures," explained Chloe, showing the measuring cup to Laurence.
Laurence laughed heartily. "Cups and milligrams, right?"
"Yeah, it's a pain." Chloe looked at the clock, which indicated 6:45. "Should we wake up Clément, so he can have breakfast with us?"
"I think so. I'll go get him." She left, but not before briefly squeezing Chloe's shoulder when passing her by. Once she reached the doorway, she turned around. "Would you come with me today?"
"To meet with the lawyer?" asked Chloe incredulously.
"Yes. I don't know if you're going to be allowed in the room with us, but I'd like to know you are close by," said Laurence seriously.
"Of course I'll come," she smiled.
A smile lit Laurence's face, and for the first time since Jean's death, she looked happy. "Thanks. I'll go get the monster now." Chloe nodded and watched Laurence leave.
A few moments later, small foot steps were heard running toward the kitchen, and Clément came barging in. "C'oe," He called, running toward her.
She picked him up and hugged him briefly. "Good morning little man," she smiled, sitting him down at the table. Laurence took her seat and Chloe brought the pancakes to the table. "All right. Those are called pancakes. You usually it them with syrup, but since we are in France, and nobody knows what syrup is, we'll have to eat them with something else." She sat down, grabbed a pancake, put it on Clément's plate and cut it in three pieces. "Do you want jam or Nutella on it?" she asked Clément.
"Nute'a ," said Clément happily. Chloe spread the chocolate paste on his pancake and grabbed one for herself.
"It's pretty good," said Laurence, delightfully chewing on one.
"You like it?"
"Yes, they are like crêpes, but bigger."
" I never had 'craps', said Chloe, spreading strawberry jam on hers.
"Not 'craps'! Crêpes," repeated Laurence, purposely enunciating every syllable to show Chloe the difference.
"Yeah, that's what I said. 'Craps'."
"I give up," laughed Laurence, finishing her plate and getting up to get the orange juice. She poured some for the three of them and sat back down. "We should probably get moving. We have to get ready, drop Clément at school and go."
"What time is the meeting?" asked Chloe, getting up and putting her plate in the dishwasher.
"More," interrupted Clément, his little arms reaching for the plate containing the remaining pancakes.
"One more, and we have to get rolling," said Chloe. "And Clément, the food goes in your mouth not on your face," she smiled, looking at Clément who had chocolate spread all the way up to his ears.
"Meeting is at 10. I tell you what. Why don't you go get ready? I'll clean up this mess, bathe him and when you're out you can keep an eye on him."
"Are you sure you don't want help cleaning?"
"You cook, I clean. Fine by me," smiled Laurence. She grabbed Chloe's chin and drew her in for a kiss. Chloe barely brushed her lips on hers and withdrew.
"Lo, not in front of Clément," smiled Chloe.
"Why not? First of all he doesn't care. Look at him, he is too busy, eating and wiping his hands all over his face. Second of all, I don't want to hide." She got up and kissed Chloe briefly on the lips. "Come on go get ready," she laughed at Chloe's surprised expression.
"Do I have to dress up?"
"I honestly don't know. I'm going to...just don't wear jeans."
"I can do that. I'll be out in a few."
Half an hour later, Chloe walked down the corridor to Clément's room. She wore a pair of beige slacks, a green sweater and black shoes. "Will this do," she asked, referring to her clothes. Laurence turned around and smiled at the sight of Chloe. "You look beautiful," she said tenderly. "Clément, come back here," she called to Clément who had taken advantage of her moment of inattention to run to his toys. "I don't know how you do it every morning."
Chloe laughed. "Why don't you go shower and get dressed. I'll take care of him."
"Good idea," answered Laurence, handing Clément's clothes to Chloe.
Chloe looked briefly at the clothes. "Side note for you. No overalls for school. He can't go to the bathroom by himself with those. Stick to sweatpants or pants with and elastic around the waist." She explained going to Clément's dresser and getting out a pair of blue sweat pants.
"Got it. Okay, I'll see you in a few minutes."
By 8:30, Chloe took Clément downstairs and send him to the playroom. While keeping an eye on him, she picked up the phone and dialed her dad's office number.
"Hi dad, I know it's only 3:30 in the morning for you, but I thought I'd leave you a message on your voice mail at work, since this week is going to be very busy, and I don't know when I'll have time to call. Everything is going very well here, I'll try again next week...." She turned around to the sound of Laurence coming down the stairs and stopped in awe. Laurence was wearing a light blue business suit, her skirt stopped one or two inches above her knees, making her legs seem longer. She wore her hair loose and had added a touch of make up making her eyes even more piercing blue. "...okay, bye dad...love you," she hung up the phone and walk up to Laurence. "You look great. Is blue an appropriate color though?"
"Instead of black?" Chloe nodded. "It will do for today. We have to wear black tomorrow for the funeral though," she said, her voice cracking slightly.
Chloe tiptoed and kissed Laurence. "You look stunning."
Laurence smiled. "Shall we get going?"
They piled into Jean's Mercedes and dropped Clément at school. Chloe waited for Laurence in the car while she walked Clément to his classroom. Laurence walked back to the car with an angry expression on her face. She jerked the car door opened and flopped herself on the driver seat.
"What's wrong?" asked Chloe concerned.
"This group of women was obviously talking about us when we walked by, so I stopped and asked them if I could answer any questions for them. They started apologizing all over the place and telling me how sorry they were, and what a tragedy ....I lost it."
"What did you say?" asked Chloe, half amused half concerned at Laurence's anger.
"I told them to mind their own business, and that they really didn't give a damn, but it only gave them something to talk about...I just made sure Clément never get invited to anyone's birthday party again," smiled Laurence, relaxing a little. "Okay, let's go."
They drove to Paris, and Laurence drove the car through fancy streets with old renovated buildings, BMWs and Porches were parked on the sidewalks and old women walking poodles could be seen strolling down the sidewalks. Laurence parked the car in front of a large red building.
"We're meeting him at my dad's office," she explained, opening the door and stepping out. She opened the front door and they walked into a large hallway. A man in his fifties came to greet them.
"Chloe, this is Bernard, my father's business partner."
"Bonjour," said Chloe, shaking his hand. Bernard had deep brown eyes, a balding head, and a beard that was turning gray. He was slightly shorter than Laurence. He showed them into a waiting room. The room had couches that reminded Chloe of the ones inside Versailles, and paintings with golden frames hung on the wall. Bernard offered them coffee, but they both declined. Shortly after, the bell rang and an older man came in. He looked much older than Bernard and wore a dark business suit. He smiled at Laurence and lightly kissed her on the cheek. Laurence spoke briefly in French with the two of them and turned to Chloe.
"We shouldn't be long. Are you sure you're okay here by yourself?'
"I'll be fine," answered Chloe, smiling encouragingly to Laurence.
Laurence nodded, took a deep breath, and repeated herself. "We shouldn't be long."
Indeed, 45 minutes later, Chloe heard them coming out of what she assumed must have been Bernard's office, she heard the front door open and close and Laurence came back in the waiting room. She looked as if she had grown 10 years older in the short amount of time she had been gone. Her face was serious, her forehead wrinkled and her eyes unreadable.
"Are you guys finished?" asked Chloe, getting up.
"Yes....I need some fresh air...walk with me," asked Laurence, her eyes absently looking at Chloe.
They walked down the street in silence. The sky was cloudy, but the temperature was not as cold as yesterday. "Let's go there," said Laurence, pointing at a park ahead of them.
They walked past the gates and went to sit on a bench. The park was almost deserted, a few people were jogging and a mother walked by dragging her screaming child behind her.
Chloe waited patiently for Laurence to speak. After staring at a tree for a few minutes, she couldn't remain silent anymore. "What's the name of this park?"
"Parc Monceau," answered Laurence. She turned to face Chloe. " I don't know how my dad managed it, but he changed his will a few weeks back. Beatrice gets absolutely nothing. Clément and I get his money, his business, and his houses."
"Yes, we have a beach house in Bretagne, and a house in Dordogne, plus he had apartments scattered all over Paris that are rented...and of course the Versailles house."
"Wow," said Chloe, surprised.
Laurence sighed. "We each get half and half, and I'm responsible for Clément's money until he turns 18." She passed her hand through her hair. Bernard is going to buy my dad's half of the business from us...I don't want to take over." She stopped talking and stared ahead lost in her thoughts.
"Lo, what are you going to do with the Versailles house?" asked Chloe, softly.
"Keep it...Clément has been through so much I don't want to force him to adapt to something else."
"It might not be the right time to speak about that, but what about school?"
"I'm not going back."
"What?" exclaimed Chloe.
"I'm not going back," repeated Laurence, her tone of voice implying that the topic was closed. But Chloe wasn't going to let it go that easily.
"What do you mean you're not going back? Lo, this is ridiculous. You are a month away from graduation...come on. Don't you think your dad would have wanted you to finish?"
Laurence looked at Chloe with a defeated look. "If I go back Chloe, you are going to have to take care of Clément 24 hours a day...it's a little bit much."
"Stop worrying about me. He goes to school, and I'm sure Madame Cambier would be happy to help once in a while. She seems very fond of him. Lo, don't throw away your dreams."
"I don't know what my dreams are anymore," said Laurence sadly.
Chloe brushed a strand of hair behind Laurence's ear and took hold of her hand. "One more month Lo...don't throw it away," pleaded Chloe.
Laurence nodded. She then laughed sarcastically. "You know I'm filthy rich now." She paused and sadness took the place of sarcasm. "So why do I feel so empty?" she said softly.
Chloe scooted closer and kissed her on the cheek. She brought their joined hands to her lips and kissed Laurence's knuckles. "I love you."
A slight smile appeared on Laurence's face. "I know," she said, getting up and letting go of Chloe's hand. "We should probably get back, I want to clean out my dad's office."
"Okay," said Chloe, following Laurence out.
Jean's office was on the second floor. A large oak desk stood in the middle of the room and a large leather chair and numerous shelves with books completed the room. Laurence dropped the boxes she had picked up downstairs and walked around the desk.
"You know that yesterday was the first time I had ever been to his office," said Laurence, absently passing her hand over the desk. A picture of Laurence and Clément stood next to the computer and behind the chair on the shelves was the picture of a woman who looked really familiar. Chloe walked closer.
"This is a picture of your mother," she softly said. She had previously only seen her in paintings the resemblance between Laurence and her mother in this picture was striking. Laurence snapped the picture from the shelf and put it in one of the boxes along with the picture of her and Clément.
"He really loved her...you know it never even occurred to me that he must have been hurting really badly when she died." She sat at the desk and opened a drawer. "I'm only taking the personal things. The rest stays here. Do me a favor, can you start packing the books in a box?" she said while going through the drawer.
"Sure," said Chloe, picking up the box and starting to stack books in. A few minutes went by, each of them absorbed in their task. "Lo, look at this," said Chloe, holding a book with a white cover. "It's a picture album."
Laurence turned the chair around and extended her hand. Chloe handed the album to her and went to stand behind her. Laurence slowly opened it. The first page was a marriage certificate with a picture of Jean and Laurence's mom on their wedding day. Laurence wanted to close the album and stop the memories of her parents from rushing back, but she kept on turning the pages. Page after page told the story of her parent's life, her birth, her childhood, she turned one more page and stopped. There was the death announcement of her mother in the local paper. "Damn papa, why did you keep all of that?" she mumbled, tears in her voice. Chloe was slowly massaging her shoulders, giving her the strength to continue. She turned to the next page and couldn't stop the gasp that escaped her lips. There facing her was a picture of her and Clément at the hospital, December 7th 1997 was neatly written under it. "I had no idea he took pictures," said Laurence aloud.
"Go ahead, continue," said Chloe, encouraging her. Laurence turned the page and stopped. There was Clément's birth certificate. It read mother: Laurence Glairon, father: unknown.
"Lo, he never recognized Clément."
Laurence didn't answer but instead close the album and dropped it in the box. "I don't think there's anything else. Let's go."
They carried the boxes to the car and drove back to Versailles. "Are you hungry?" asked Laurence, driving the car into the express way lane.
"I'm getting there," answered Chloe.
"There are a couple of good chain restaurants on the way, we'll stop there."
Laurence was very quiet for the rest of the day, only talking when spoken to. She dealt with the last minute arrangements for the funeral and spent the rest of the day playing with Clément. Chloe decided not to take offense and instead enjoy the time off to write letters and finish her book. They had leftovers for dinner and Chloe went to the library while Laurence got Clément ready for the night. She was engrossed in Madame Bovary when she heard Laurence walking in the room.
"Hi," said Laurence softly, sitting on the arm of Chloe's chair. "What are you reading?"
"Madame Bovary. I have been reading it for months. It's hard since I have to use the dictionary every ten words. Is he sleeping?"
"Yes, " answered Laurence, lightly rubbing Chloe's neck. "I don't want Clément to be at the funeral tomorrow."
"Lo, don't you think he needs to be? It would provide some kind of closure for him."
"No, I'll ask Madame Cambier if she can look after him."
"Lo, Jean was his father, I think he..."
"Topic is closed, he is not going. He is two Chloe. He doesn't realize what's going on. I don't want to traumatize him."
Chloe sighed. "I don't agree, but he is your son, you decide," she said, closing her book and getting up. "I'm going up to my room." She left, leaving Laurence standing behind.
"Chloe wait up," called Laurence, but Chloe was already gone. Laurence passed her hand through her hair in frustration, and walked upstairs. She walked into Chloe's room without knocking. "Why did you leave so suddenly?" she asked to Chloe who was standing at the window.
"I'm tired and frustrated. I just want to be alone right now."
"No," said Laurence, crossing the arms on her chest.
"What do you mean 'no'?" asked Chloe, incredulously.
"I'm not leaving until you tell me what's bothering you, and why you are upset with me."
Chloe sighed, walked to her desk and sat on it. "I'm just being selfish okay. No big deal."
"What did I do?"
"Nothing really. Your reactions are normal because of what you're going through, but it's frustrating for me to never know what mood you're going to be in one minute from the other." Chloe got up and started pacing. "Take this afternoon for example. I know that discovering this album and its implications was hard for you, but instead of talking you shut me out...I don't know, I'm probably just tired.
"I haven't been very easy to deal with lately, huh?" asked Laurence sincerely.
Chloe stopped her pacing. "No, you haven't, but it's okay. You're going through a lot, and you shouldn't have to worry about me. As I was saying I'm just tired...I'll be fine."
"No, you're right. I shouldn't ignore you and expect you to be okay with it..."
"It's okay, Lo..."
Laurence interrupted Chloe by putting her fingers over her lips. "Chloe, you and Clément are the only people alive that I love. I can't afford to lose you because I'm neglecting you. I'm sorry, I'll try to be better or at least tell you if I don't feel like talking."
"Thank you," said Chloe, tenderly kissing Laurence's hand.
Laurence smiled and stepped forward to kiss Chloe. They melted against each other, their argument forgotten for the moment, the only important thing each other and the way their hearts beat faster every time one of them whispered words of love.
(C) 2000 Malaurie Barber
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