Jean's funeral was very brief, but deeply moving. Jeanís friends and co-workers came to express their condolences. Bernard, who also happened to have been Jean's closest friend, gave the eulogy. Chloe looked at Laurence during Bernard's speech. Laurence stood tall in her black suit, her hair was pulled back, and her eyes stared blankly ahead of her, her face expressionless. Chloe discretely slid her hand into Laurenceís and squeezed it to show support, but her squeeze was left unanswered, Laurence's hand stayed cold and unmoving in Chloe's hand. Chloe withdrew her hand and tried to remain focus on the speaker, but her eyes kept coming back to Laurence's cold face, and every time she caught a glance of Laurence's obvious attempt to remain in control, her heart ached.
After the funeral, a short reception was held at the house. There again, Laurence remained polite and calm, her walk almost robotic. She thanked people when spoken to, and forced a light smile on her face to reassure everyone. Once everyone left, she thanked the people she had hired to cater and serve the food, and walked them to the door. As she closed the door, she turned to Chloe who had followed her to the entrance.
"We should probably go get Clément from next door now," she said flatly.
"He can wait a few minutes. How are you feeling?" She asked, lightly rubbing her fingers up and down Laurence's arm.
"Relieved," she answered, walking back to the family room, sitting down and taking off her shoes. "Damn, no one should be allowed to wear high heels. Those were made to torture women."
Chloe looked at Laurence, not buying her 'everything is fine' attitude. "What do you mean relieved?"
Laurence sighed. "Somehow today provided closure for me. For the past few days I have felt in a daze...sort of a nightmare as if I was going to wake up and everything would be back to normal. But, it's not Chloe. It's real. He is gone, and I have to move on." She got up and walked to the stairs. "I'm going to go change and get Clément." She turned and went up a few steps before Chloe caught up with her.
Chloe went up one step higher than Laurence and turned to face her. Their eyes met, Chloe's still red from the tears she shed earlier, Laurence's dry, questioning. Chloe didn't say anything, but instead stared at Laurence. After a few moments, she tenderly kissed Laurence and broke the silence. "You don't have to pretend to be all right in front of me, Lo."
"I know, and I'm not...." She stopped, and the tears held back all day long threaten to fall. "I can't mourn him forever. I have Clément to take care of. I'm not going to lie and pretend it didn't happen, but I have too much resting on my shoulders now to go hide in a corner and cry." Chloe nodded, and stepped aside to let Laurence go by.
On Friday, they were sitting on the couch watching yet another episode of Sesame Street with Clément when the doorbell rang. Chloe got up and looked through the kitchen window to see who was at the door. "A man and a woman wearing dark business suits. No idea who they are."
Laurence got up and sighed. "Let's see what they want." She opened the door. "Puis-je vous aider?" The man handed her a business card.
"Who is it?" asked Chloe, coming behind her.
"We are from social services. I am Philippe Garnier and this is my co-worker Linda Leclerc," said the man, with a perfect English accent. "Can we come in?"
"I thought we weren't going to get a visit for another two weeks," said Chloe, looking at Laurence and back at the social services workers.
"Can we come in?" asked the man again.
Laurence nodded and stepped aside. "Sure, please come in. Clément is watching TV, but I'm sure he'll be happy to draw or play with one of you," said Laurence sarcastically.
"That won't be needed," answered Philippe Garnier. "Is there a room where we can sit down and talk?" He asked stepping in, followed by his co-worker.
Laurence nodded and led them to the dining room. Clément stood on the couch, curious to who those people were.
"I should probably go and stay with him, or he's going to come and want to be part of the discussion," said Chloe.
"He is fine. Stay, you take care of Clément more than I do. He's watching Sesame, nothing can take him away from that," smiled Laurence.
"You're right," answered Chloe, sitting down at the table.
"Why did they assign new people?" asked Laurence, looking coldly at Philippe Garnier. She had for quite a while been annoyed with social services' constant visit, and this sudden change irritated her.
"We're not here to assess the child's behavior, we are here to discuss his placement into a foster family."
"What?" yelled Chloe and Laurence at the same time.
Linda Leclerc, who could sense the tension building up in the room, intervened. "We were told that Clément's father was killed and his mother is in jail."
"Yes, but we are here," said Laurence coldly.
"Miss Glairon, we know from your file that you don't leave here, and Miss...." Philippe Garnier stopped and looked at Chloe.
"Jones," she said.
"Yes, and Miss Jones is only an au pair. She can't be expected to work 24 hours a day while you're away. This is a very simple procedure. We place Clément with a foster family until you are finished with your schooling. Then we assess the situation and see if you are fit to be his guardian."
Laurence got up abruptly, her eyes black with rage. "Get out of my house right now," she said fuming, her voice a low growl.
"Miss Glairon, you're not helping your case by not cooperating. We already have a history of violence in our files with Clément's mother, please understand that we are only looking after the child's well-being."
"His name is Clément," yelled Laurence, slamming her fist against the wooden table. "Get out," she repeated.
Chloe, who until now had been too choked by the change of events to react, regained her senses and laid her hand on Laurence's back to calm her. "Sir, can we please have five minutes alone/?" she asked politely. Philippe Garnier nodded, and Chloe pushed Laurence toward the family room. She briefly looked at Clément who was still watching his show undisturbed. He looked at them and started to get up. "Stay here sweetheart. We'll be in the next room." Clément flopped back on the couch and brought his attention back to the TV. Chloe dragged Laurence into the library.
"I can't believe those bastards," said Laurence angrily, as soon as Chloe shut the door.
"Lo, slow down. The only way they are allowed to take Clément away is if both of his parents are unable to raise him, and the living relatives are not fit to take care of him, right?"
"What's your point Chloe?" She suddenly stopped pacing and the truth dawn on her. She grabbed Chloe by the shoulders. "I'm legally his mother...I got so angry that I didn't think about that. Let me run upstairs and get the birth certificate," said Laurence, her face relieved. Chloe smiled and watched Laurence hurry upstairs.
Chloe walked back to the dining room. "Laurence is getting something upstairs, she'll be right there."
They both nodded. Philippe Garnier was taking notes, and his co-worker was patiently waiting. A few minutes later, Laurence walked back in the room. She sat down and stared coldly at Philippe Garnier. "Clément's mother is not in jail, Monsieur Garnier," she said sarcastically, throwing the birth certificate across the table. He picked it up and stared at it.
"Why weren't we aware of that?" he asked business like.
"Enough questions," answered Laurence, her voice carrying an angry tone. "I think you should leave now," she said, getting up. Philippe Garnier hesitantly stood up, leaving the certificate on the table. "You don't seem very sure Monsieur Garnier. He is my son. Doesn't the law say as long as one of the parents is alive and has never committed any crimes or acts of violence, he or she is automatically granted the child's custody?" Laurence looked at Philippe Garnier, and smiled coldly. "You can't even argue that I'm not financially secure because I'm sure you know that Clément and I were the only inheritors of my dad's fortune. Trust me, money is never going to be a question for Clément. Now, please may I escort you out?" She didn't wait for Philippe Garnier to answer, and walked away. She opened the door for them, but before they had time to step out, she blocked the doorway. "One more thing, since Beatrice, who is really the reason why you even know we exist, is in jail until further notice, I'll expect not to hear from social services for a very, very long time," said Laurence, looking at both of them menacingly and stepping aside.
Philippe Garnier walked pass her and turned. "Miss Glairon, you might be legally this child's mother, I still think you're not fit to raise him because of your schedule. I'll report to my superior."
"And then what, Monsieur Garnier? By the time you process the paperwork, I'll be out of school. Then, where is your case?" She didn't wait for an answer and closed the door. She slumped herself against the closed door, and covered her face.
"Lo, you're okay?" asked Chloe, concerned. Laurence removed her hands a huge smile illuminated her face. She walked up to Chloe, hugged her, picked her up and swung her around while laughing. "Lo, Lo, let me down," laughed Chloe. Laurence put her down and kissed her soundly on the lips. She hugged her again briefly. "You're the best, you know that," she said, kissing Chloe on the cheek.
"I aim to please," joked Chloe, kissing Laurence briefly, and playfully swatting her on the shoulder. "Go on, go see your son. He must be wondering what's going on?" Laurence smiled, grabbed Chloe's hand, and ran to the family room. She picked up Clément and threw him in the air, making him giggle. After laughingly sending him above her head a few times, she laid him back down on the couch and tickled him.
"Lo, stop," laughed Clément, wiggling everywhere, trying to get away from Laurence's tickling hands. She stopped and whispered something in his ears. Clément laughed and looked at Chloe.
"Oh, no, not me..." Chloe said, slowly backing up.
"Attack," yelled Laurence, playfully. Clément ran after Chloe who took off running toward the kitchen. She ran through it and exited through the other door into the dining room, only to be caught by Laurence. "I have her," yelled Laurence. She picked up Chloe and carried her back to the couch on her shoulder. '"Let me down," laughed Chloe, trying to get way.
"Okay," said Laurence, dropping her on the couch and starting to tickle her. Clément came and climbed on Chloe, tickling her unmercifully. "Truce, truce," said Chloe, after a while, tears of laughter running down her face. The three of them now lay, limp, on the couch, slowly catching their breath.
"Tonight, we celebrate. Let's go out for dinner," said Laurence, getting up.
"McDonalds," yelled Clément happily.
Laurence shrugged her shoulders. "You're the boss." Clément happily jumped into Laurence's arms and hugged her. Laurence looked at Chloe above Clément's shoulders and mouthed "I love you," before walking out of the room still carrying him.
Two weeks later, Clément turned three, and they took him to Euro Disney to celebrate. Life was settling down slowly. Chloe decided not to go home for Christmas, and, surprisingly, persuading her dad was easier than she expected. Laurence finished school on December 17th, and they left Clément with Madame Cambier over night to make the trip to Lille to clean up her apartment. Chloe had her dad send her a University of Maryland sweatshirt as a present for Laurence's graduation. Christmas was coming, and every street was decorated, lampposts had bows around them, window shops had extravagant Christmas trees, and the streets resonated with Christmas music. Laurence and Chloe bought a very tall Christmas tree while Clément was in school and waited for him to decorate it. Clément seemed to have forgotten his misadventures and was growing to be a very happy and loving child, his fear of water was long gone, and the scars on his ankles were the only things left of this terrible night. He asked a few times for Jean, but the constant affection and attention he received from Laurence and Chloe seemed to be filling the gap.
On Christmas morning Clément woke up very early as if sensing something special. He called for Laurence from his bed.
"It better be later than it feels," she grunted, hearing Clément over the monitor and burying her face in her pillow.
"5:30," said Chloe, yawning. "I'll go get him."
"No, I'll get up also...after all it's Christmas morning."
They sleepily walked to Clément's room. "Good morning. Clément, do you know what time it is?" asked Chloe, smiling at Clément who was happily jumping on his bed. Laurence picked him up, and they went downstairs. At the bottom of the stairs, Clément wiggled himself out of Laurence's arms and ran towards the Christmas tree. Dozens of presents lay under the tree, wrapped in bright and colorful shiny paper. Clément screamed excitingly, grabbed a present and started to tear the paper off.
"Wait, wait," said Laurence, taking the present from his hands. "This one is not for you. Here is one for you," she handed him a big rectangular box wrapped with bright red paper, and handed the already half unwrapped present to Chloe. "This is for you."
"In that case, let me give you one of yours," She reached into the pile and retrieved one of Laurence's presents.
For the next hour, the only noises in the room were of paper being ripped, boxes being opened and hugs being exchanged. After Clément opened his last present, Chloe looked around the room. Pieces of paper laid everywhere, and piles of toys surrounded Clément, who was at the moment happily emptying a box of Legos he just got. She looked at her pile and smiled, Laurence had really overdone it. It seemed to Chloe that every time she had told Laurence she would like something throughout the past month, Laurence had taken notes and gotten it for her. Chloe looked at Laurence who was going through a Washington DC picture book that Chloe gave her, and smiled contently.
"Wow, museums are free in DC," exclaimed Laurence, reading the captions.
"Yes, they are...would that persuade you to come visit?" teased Chloe.
Laurence looked up and closed the book. "Are you thinking of going back?" asked Laurence seriously.
"Not any time soon, but what when my year is over?"
"It's not for a long time right?" questioned Laurence.
"Then we have time to think about it," said Laurence, dismissing the subject. "I have something else for you," she said, getting up. "I'll be right back." She took the steps three by three, and was back in no time carrying something under her arm. She handed it to Chloe. "Here, open it."
Chloe looked at Laurence and tore the present open to reveal a very old version of Les Fleurs du Mal. "Holy cow, Lo!. This one is even older than the one in your dad's library."
Chloe opened the book slowly, afraid of damaging it. On the first page was a dedication written in faded ink. "Pour mon Impératrice, ce livre parle de mon mal de vivre et des tourments de mon coeur. Charles-Pierre Baudelaire." Chloe looked up at Laurence, excitement and disbelief in her eyes. "Is that book really signed by Baudelaire?"
Laurence nodded with a smile. "This is the first version of it before he got ordered by Napoleon to change some of his poems. I guess he attacked religion too much for the Empire's taste. Anyway, this book was sent to Josephine, Napoleon's wif..."
"Wife," finished Chloe. "Lo, this is a piece of history...how did you get it? Am I allowed to keep it?"
"Of course, it's yours. How I got it? Are you forgetting that my dad was an antique dealer?" smiled Laurence, scooting closer to Chloe, and tenderly caressing her hair. "Merry Christmas."
"Thank you," said Chloe sincerely, while looking into Laurence's eyes. She carefully put the book down and tenderly kissed Laurence. "So far is has been an amazing Christmas," she said, gently caressing Laurence's cheeks with her lips. "I feel that my presents are so inadequate compared to what you gave me."
"Chloe, look at me," said Laurence, bringing Chloe to face her. "Do you see me? Do you see the smile I have on my face?"
"Well, yeah, but..."
"No, listen to me. If it werenít for you, I wouldn't have had the courage to pull through everything that had happened lately. If I'm here in this room with you, and Clément is not in some foster family, but here enjoying Christmas with his family, it's because of you. Nothing I can ever give you can repay what you've done for me."
Chloe looked at her with misty eyes, and buried herself into Laurence's neck. Laurence put her arms around her and drew her into her lap, she tenderly kissed her hair, and held her tight against her chest. Outside, snow started to fall, and Versailles was slowly waking up.
(C) 2000 Malaurie Barber
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