Chloe went in search of Laurence. We got along too well this morning. I am not letting her spoil that. She found Laurence in the dining room staring out the window.
Chloe walked slowly through the dining room and came to stand beside Laurence.
"I'm sorry," said Chloe in a soft voice. "I should have known not to push you."
Laurence's eyes were filled with unshed tears when she looked at Chloe. She sighed. "It's okay. Let's not talk about it anymore."
"'kay," answered Chloe.
"Tell you what? As soon as Clément wakes up we'll go take a walk, and I'll show you more of the town."
"That'd be great."
"Okay. Can you keep an ear out for Clément while I take a quick shower?"
"Yeah, sure," said Chloe, realizing that Laurence was still wearing her running clothes.
"Good. I won't be long."
They took a walk down to Boulevard de la Reine. The boulevard was lined with trees and benches. The sidewalk was busy with bikers, runners, and people simply taking a walk.
"Don't you guys have bike trails around here?" asked Chloe while barely avoiding a collision with a bike.
Laurence smiled, "It's an historic town, we're lucky we have paved roads!"
"What's the name of this road?" Chloe asked, so she could start orienting herself.
"Boulevard de la Reine."
"It means, the Queen's boulevard, right?"
"Impressive!" joked Laurence.
"Any reason why it's called that?" Chloe was always curious about historical facts.
"The boulevard brings you to the Queen's gardens. I guess that's why."
"Is there a boulevard duÖ"
"...Roi? Yeah, it's parallel to this one on the other side of the castle. And before you ask, no I don't know why it's called that."
Laurence turned left before reaching the end of the boulevard, bringing them in front of the castle. Wow, I can't believe I'm standing here in front of this great monument, thought Chloe.
The large U-shaped castle stood glowing in the afternoon sun. Chloe and Laurence stopped in front of the black iron gate with its golden trim. Everything seemed shiny and bright, reflecting the name of its first owner: The Sun King.
"Wow, I didn't realize that we lived so close to the castle," exclaimed Chloe.
"Yeah, you should really go visit it."
"I'm planning on it," answered Chloe, admiring the far-away white castle with its paved courtyard. "Is that Louis XVI?" asked Chloe pointing to the statue of a man on a horse in the middle of the courtyard.
"No, it's Louis XIV."
"Big difference, he was popular. Trust me, his grandchild wasn't."
"Yeah, no kidding. If I remember right he got his head chopped off."
Laurence smiled. "Yeah, and thousands of nobles too. Okay, enough history for today, we've got to get back before it starts raining."
Chloe had not realized that the sky had become extremely cloudy. "Man, it was sunny when we left."
"Let's hurry. We'll cut through town, so we can take cover if it starts raining too hard." Laurence grabbed the stroller and started walking.
They had barely reached la Rue du Marché when the rain started falling.
"Wet, wet," said Clément laughing, He had thrown his head back and was trying to catch raindrops in his mouth.
"Let's go in here," said Laurence as she made her way into the indoor market.
Once inside Chloe was taken aback by what she saw. People were standing behind their stands yelling about their products, the shouts were echoing everywhere making the place extremely noisy. Chloe picked up different smells. HmmmÖ Fresh bread, cheese, fresh fruitsÖ
"This is incredible," she said.
"What's incredible?" asked Laurence while pushing the stroller through the crowd.
"This place. It's so exotic."
"Yeah? Don't you guys have markets where you come from?" asked Laurence.
"Not like this. Ours are moreÖI can't explain. Everything seems so alive here."
Laurence looked at Chloe with a mock smile on her face.
"Come on, don't look at me as if I'm stupid or something. I'm serious, this place is great."
"Maybe. I guess I'm just used to it."
"Can we walk around for a little while?" asked Chloe.
"As long as it's still raining, yeah, why not? Lead the way."
Chloe made her way through the crowd looking around in awe.
She is like a child in a toy store. Unbelievable! And this isn't even clothes or jewelry, thought Laurence.
Chloe stopped in front of a cheese stand.
"Ma petite demoiselle, vous voulez acheter quelquechose? Regardez moi ce beau roblochon," said the stand owner pointing at a cheese.
Chloe turned to Laurence, "What is he saying?"
"He wants to know if you want to buy some cheese?" explained an amused Laurence.
"Oh, okay." Chloe looked back at the man. "Non merci," she said with her best French accent.
As they walked away, Laurence joked, "Very good accent you have there."
"Hey, don't make fun. I'm here to learn," said Chloe pretending to be offended.
"Oh, look at that," she said, stopping in front of another stand. "Those are the biggest strawberries I have ever seen," exclaimed Chloe pointing at the fruit.
"Let's get some," said Laurence.
"Yeah, why not? Hey, Clément? Want some strawberries?"
"Stawbe'ies. Yeah," said Clément happily.
"Okay, so let's get some."
Laurence purchased the fruit. "Come on, let's get out of here."
"But it's still raining," said Chloe. The rain could be heard tumbling onto the roof.
"I know. Trust me."
Laurence pushed the stroller toward the other end of the market and turned into the right aisle. At the end of the aisle was an opening leading to what seemed to Chloe to be another market.
"Yikes," she said while going through the opening.
"Fish market," said Laurence.
"Yeah, I can smell," said Chloe sarcastically.
Laurence lead her to the outside of the market and stopped under a big awning. "Now, what do you say we try those strawberries?" asked Laurence.
"Now? Without washing them? Gross."
"Okay, suit yourself," said Laurence while grabbing a strawberry and biting into it. "Hey Clément, here you go." She handed Clément a piece of fruit. Clément took the fruit and bit into it, laughing when the juice started running down his chin. "Oh, boy, you're gonna be one sticky little boy, aren't you?" laughed Laurence.
Clément giggled. "Good, Lo."
"Yeah babe, you're right. These are really good. I think I'll have another."
"Fine, you got me. I'll try, but if I'm sick tomorrow, I'll blame it on you," said Chloe admitting defeat.
"I knew you couldn't resist." She handed Chloe a strawberry. "Here."
"Thanks." Chloe took a bite. "Wow, these are good."
"Told you," winked Laurence.
A companionable silence settled between them. They both stared at the empty street, and at the pouring rain. Once in a while someone would go running by carrying an umbrella or just protecting themselves with a newspaper or jacket.
"What? What happened?" asked Laurence. She then took a good look at Chloe and started laughing.
"That'll teach you to laugh at me when I have pizza in my hair," said Laurence chuckling. Chloe had juice dripping down her chin, some of which had already found her shirt.
"Very funny," said Chloe while trying to wipe the juice away from her chin.
"Arrghh, I can't do that, I have as much juice on my hands as on my face," said a frustrated Chloe.
"Wait, let me help." Laurence reached inside her jean pocket and got a tissue out. "I swear it's clean," she said. She gently lifted up Chloe's face towards her and tapped her chin and the corner of her mouth with the tissue wiping away the last of the juice.
Chloe was caught of guard by the action of the taller woman. She suddenly felt
very awkward. "Thanks," she said, taking a step away from Laurence.
"You're welcome. I always have tissues handy with Clément around. Hey, seems like the rain is slowing down. Do you feel like braving some little droplets? We're not that far from home."
"Lead the way."
When they got home Beatrice was waiting for them. "There you are. I was getting worried. You didn't leave a note or anythingÖ"
"I don't remember you leaving a note to tell us you wouldn't come home last night," said Laurence sarcastically.
"You know how meetings goÖ." answered Beatrice defensively.
"No I don't," answered Laurence dryly.
Chloe could feel the tension building between the two women. Laurence had her arms crossed on her chest and was staring at Beatrice challengingly. Come on girl, find something to say before they kill each other. " UhÖHiÖI learned everything I need to know to take care of Clément today. Laurence even showed me where his pre-school is," said Chloe.
"Oh, really good because I have a full day tomorrow and the day after, and on Friday I'm taking Clément to my parents for the weekend. I didn't know when I would have had time to show you anything," said Beatrice, relieved for the changed of subject. Beatrice looked at Clément who was still sitting in his stroller chewing on a strawberry.
"Gosh, Clément you're a mess. Come on, let's get you washed up before dinner." She picked up Clément. "Oh, I ordered Chinese food for dinner. I hope you like it, Chloe."
"Yes, I do," answered Chloe.
"Oh good ...it should be here by 7 p.m. Come on sweetheart, let's take you upstairs and give you a bath."
As soon as Beatrice could not be seen anymore Chloe turned to Laurence, who was taking her coat off. She was obviously upset.
"Hey, are you okay?" asked Chloe, lightly touching her arm to get her attention.
Laurence passed her hand in her long black hair in frustration. "Yeah, I'm fine. Nice save earlier."
Chloe blushed. "Thanks, I guess. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you and your stepmother, but you seemed ready to kill each other."
Laurence gave Chloe a weak smile. "YeahÖsorry you had to witness thatÖagain."
"Why don't you get along?" As soon as the question left her lips Chloe realized what a mistake she'd made. Dumb, dumb, dumbÖ remember, avoid personal questions. "Forget I even asked," said Chloe before Laurence had time to answer anything.
Laurence's eyes had darkened with anger when Chloe asked the question. Come on, cut her some slackÖ She's is trying. Laurence took a deep breath to calm herself down. "It's okay. It's just a long story. I don't want to get into it right now. Ask me some other time. Listen, I'm going up to my room. Tell Beatrice I'm not hungry. See you tomorrow." Laurence left the hallway and went up the stairs leaving Chloe behind.
Chloe decided to go and spend some time in the library until dinner. She went in search of the book of Baudelaire's poems. Okay, page 41. Let's see if I can understand the poem that she recited earlier. I need a dictionaryÖ that would make it easier. Chloe looked around and spotted a dictionary lying on one of the desks in the far-left corner of the room. Come onÖlet it be a French/English dictionary, thought Chloe while making her way to the desk.
"Yes!" She exclaimed. "Okay, Baudelaire here I come."
Time flew by, and she was surprised to hear the doorbell. Gosh, 7 p.m. already. She went to answer the door but Beatrice had already gotten there.
"Chloe, can you hold Clément for me while I answer?" asked Beatrice.
"Sure. Come little man," said Chloe, taking a very willing Clément from Beatrice's arms.
"Hey, you're all clean! Wanna go and play?"
Clément smiled. "Playroom," he said pointing toward it.
"Okay you got it."
"Don't get him too wound up Chloe or I'll never get him to go to sleep tonight. I'll cook up something fast for him and we can eat."
"Okay, I'll go explore the playroom with him."
Once in the playroom Chloe looked around her. Wow, I didn't pay attention earlierÖthis child is spoiled. Look at these toys! Hundreds of toys, everything from puzzles to Legos to cars, to electric trains were lying around the room.
"Clément, boy, you've got tons of toys. Want to play with your trains?"
"Legos, huh? Okay, you're the boss. Let's build."
After 10 minutes, Clément was so engrossed in what he was doing that
Chloe took the opportunity to walk around the room. She stopped in front of
a shelf stacked with children's videotapes and books. "Kids' booksÖyeah, that's
what I need to learn the basic French vocabulary."
Chloe picked a book and flipped through the pages. "Cool, better than a dictionary. Hey, Clément? Wanna read a book?"
Clément looked up. " 'kay."
"Come on then," said Chloe while sitting in the floor. Clément flopped himself on her lap, and Chloe began to read. "I'm probably destroying the pronunciation! What do you say? Is my French accent really bad?" she asked Clément jokingly.
Clément clapped. "MoreÖj'veux encore!"
"Now, no mixing French and English otherwise your mom's not going to be too happy about that."
"Clément, ChloeÖdinner!" yelled Beatrice from the kitchen.
"Speaking of herÖcome on Clément, dinner awaits."
In the kitchen the smell of Chinese food engulfed Chloe. I'm starving, she thought while putting Clément in his highchair.
"Chloe, would you tell Laurence that dinner is ready?" asked Beatrice.
"UhÖshe told me earlier to tell you that she wasn't hungry."
"Well, her loss," said Beatrice, actually relieved to not have to deal with her stepdaughter's attitude for the rest of the evening.
During dinner Beatrice told Chloe what would be expected of her in more detail. "You'll have one weekend free per month where you won't have to take care of Clément at all. The other weekends, you'll be asked to baby-sit Friday or Saturday night, sometimes both. You'll have Sundays off unless something comes up. My husband and I are never home before 7 or 8p.m., but Clément is starting preschool next week, and he'll be gone from 9 to 3:30 p.m. everyday, so you'll have plenty of free time."
Sounds like fun, thought Chloe sarcastically.
"Do you have any questions?" asked Beatrice.
"No. I might as we go along, but not now."
"Good then, it's settled. Clément, what are you doing?"
Clément was playing with his mashed potatoes as if they were Play-Doh.
"Clément, this is not proper. Look at you, you are a mess again," Beatrice sounded exasperated and her voice was slowly rising.
"I'll get him cleaned up, if you want," said Chloe, trying to get Clément away from his mother's wrath.
Beatrice sighed. "Why don't you do that. Thanks. This child will do anything to drive me insane."
Chloe picked up Clément. "Would you like me to put him to bed also?"
Beatrice seemed to consider the offer for a second. "Yes, that would be great. I'm exhausted from my day of work." She stood up and placed a peck on Clément's cheek.
"Good night, sweetheart."
After washing Clément and putting him into his pyjamas, Chloe set him down in his bed.
"Now what? I can't carry a tune so don't ask me to sing, but I'll tell you a story if you want."
"Story with tuk?" asked Clément.
Clément made a vibrating noise with his mouth and pretended to be driving. "Big, big tuk," he said trying to explain.
"Oh I get it, truck!"
"Yeah," said Clément happily.
"Okay, I don't really know one, but I can make it up."
Chloe wove the story of a truck that wanted to become a fire truck. Her soft voice slowly put Clément to sleep. She kissed Clément good night, and lightly brushed his hair behind his ears.
"You mom doesn't really seem to understand that you're just a little two year old boy. That's too bad because you're really cute," whispered Chloe.
She quietly exited the room, leaving the door half-open. She went downstairs to look for Beatrice who was no where to be found. She must have retired to her bedroom already. I wonder ifÖ Chloe open the fridge and looked for the Chinese leftovers. She quickly made up a plate and put it in the microwave to warm up.
Chloe jumped and turned around to find Beatrice wearing a bathrobe and slippers.
"You scared meÖyeahÖthe Chinese food was really good. I thoughtÖI mean I hope you don't mind," stuttered Chloe.
"No, not at all. Be my guest. Is Clément asleep?"
"Yes, he fell asleep right away."
"Oh, good. Thank you for doing that for me. I get so tired in the evening. It's nice to have someone to take over sometimes."
"Doesn't Laurence help you with that?" asked Chloe.
"Laurence? Well, yeahÖ I guess she does, but she is not really good with children. At least not as good as you are."
"Thanks, I guess," answered Chloe, not believing what she just heard. "I'm going up to my room now. G'night Beatrice."
I can't believe what she just said. Laurence not good with children! She adores Clément. What the hell is she talking about? Chloe carefully carried her plate upstairs, but instead of going toward her bedroom she went down the right corridor. OkayÖmoment of truth. Now, where is her room? Soft music came out of the third door. I guess that must be it. Chloe knocked at the door and waited for an answer. Maybe she is asleep. She waited few more seconds in front of the door before giving up. She was half way to the end of the corridor when she heard the door opened. She turned around and walked back. Laurence had the door half opened and was wearing a pair of boxer shorts and a tee shirt.
"What do you want?" Laurence asked, annoyed.
"I'm sorry, I didn't think you'd be asleepÖIÖI thought you might be hungry, so I brought you some food since you didn't eat dinner and allÖ."
Laurence reached for the plate Chloe was holding.
"Thanks. You didn't have to do that."
"Yeah, I know, but I wanted to." Laurence made no move to invite Chloe in, nor did she seem ready to start a conversation.
"I guess I'll leaveÖuhÖgood night," said Chloe, turning away.
"Wait!" Laurence sighed. "Do you want to come in for a bit? You can keep me company while I eat."
"Sure. I would love to," answered Chloe more eagerly that she wanted to.
Laurence opened the door wide to let Chloe in. Her room was pretty much a replica of Chloe's, but the difference was in the paintings on the wall.
"Wow," said Chloe while looking around. "These paintings are great. Who are the artists?"
"They're all by the same person."
"They are so full of color and life, you can almost see what mood the painter was in when he painted each one of them."
"She," said Laurence.
"I said it's a she," answered Laurence while putting her plate down on an oak desk in the corner of the room.
"So, who is she?"
"What? You've got to be kidding!" said Chloe in disbelief.
"Why should I be?"
Chloe stared at Laurence. Her eyes reflected nothing but truth and honesty.
"That's the truth, isn't it?"
"Yep," said Laurence with a smile.
"You're really talented, you know that?"
"Thanks. I like painting. It relaxes me."
"Have you ever thought of selling your work?"
"Come on! I'm not that good. Plus it's just a hobby, nothing more."
"You're full of surprises," mumbled Chloe.
"What did you say?" asked Laurence.
"Nothing, just talking to myself," answered Chloe quickly. "Wow, who is that?" Chloe asked, pointing to the portrait of a woman. The woman looked to be in her forties with light brown hair and very piercing blue eyes. Her smile was bright and seemed to illuminate her entire face. Chloe came closer to the painting and found herself staring at the woman's eyes. They remind me of Öoh my goshÖthey're the same as Laurence's eyes. "She has the sameÖ"
"My motherÖit's my mother," interrupted Laurence. She had moved and now stood directly behind Chloe.
Chloe stood staring at the painting. "She is beautiful," she said softly.
"Was...was beautiful," answered Laurence with a quivering voice.
Chloe turned around and faced Laurence. "I...I'm sorry I had no idea...nobodyÖ"
"It's okay," said Laurence, walking away and sitting at the desk.
Chloe didn't know what to do. The conversation was taking a turn she hadn't expected. She just stood there waiting for Laurence to decide if the conversation should go on or not.
"She died seven years ago."
Chloe still didn't dare say anything.
"Car accidentÖdrunk driver." Laurence passed her hand through her hair. "Anyway, it was a long time ago." Laurence stood up abruptly and walked toward the bathroom. "Want something to drink?" she asked.
"You've got a fridge back there?" Chloe asked, surprised and relieved for the change of topic.
"Yep. So you want something?"
"I'll take a Diet Coke if you have one," answered Chloe.
Laurence walked back toward Chloe and handed the can to her.
"That's weird, it says Coca Light on the can, and not Diet Coke."
Laurence shrugged her shoulder. "Same thing," she said before drinking from a Perrier bottle.
"Weird, it tastes like Coke," said Chloe after taking a drink from her can.
"What do you mean? Coke doesn't taste like Diet Coke."
"French Diet Coke tastes like American Coke."
"I take it you don't like it, huh?" asked Laurence with an amused smile.
"Sorry, but I always thought Coke was too sweet. Can I have something else?"
"I only have Perrier."
"I'll try that."
"Okay. Do you have siblings back in the States?" asked Laurence while walking back to the fridge.
"No, I'm an only child."
Laurence came back with Chloe's drink. "Here."
"Listen, I'm going to eat my food while it's still warm. You don't have to stand, you can sit on the bed."
"I don't want to disturb youÖ"
Laurence laughed. "That's a good one coming from the person who woke me up half an hour ago."
Chloe blushed. "WellÖI didn't know you'd be asleep.
"I'm just playing with you. Come on, sit down while I eat."
"Okay," said Chloe, sitting on the large bed. "Laurence? Can I ask you a question?"
Laurence looked at Chloe as she bit into her spring roll. She waited to swallow her food before answering.
"You can ask, but I might not answer."
"Okay, fair enough." Chloe gathered her courage and asked, "Do you remember earlier when I asked you why you didn't get along with Beatrice?" Laurence nodded slightly. "You said to ask you later, and ÖI think it could be important for me to know what's going on since I'm going to live in this family for a year and all. I think maybe it's later and you could explain it to me." Chloe waited expectantly for Laurence's too answer. Oh, boyÖwhat the hell did you just do? Chloe thought while looking at Laurence. Chloe was unaware of the battle raging inside Laurence at that moment.
How much can I tell her? How much do I really want to trust her with? Laurence wondered. Nah, it's too soonÖ"Listen. Really, you're reading too much into it. We just don't get along. There isn't much more to it," said Laurence
"Nothing I should know?" asked Chloe
"Not really. You already know that Beatrice sleeps around. Beside that there isn't much."
"What?" exclaimed Chloe.
"Don't tell me you didn't guess? Come on! Do you really think those meetings of hers are real?"
"I thought it was a little weird that last night's meeting lasted that long, but I never thoughtÖ Wow, I'm sorry."
"No sweat, really."
"That's why you don't like her," said Chloe matter of factly.
"Yeah, partly," answered Laurence.
Chloe looked up at Laurence, realizing there was more to it, but deciding to not push it for tonight.
"Listen, thanks for the food. It's late andÖ"
"No, no, I should go. I didn't realize it was so late." Chloe got up from the bed.
"Can you knock on my door tomorrow morning? And this time don't let me sleep in." Chloe asked as she walked to the door.
"I tell you what, why don't you take my alarm clock?"
"What about you?"
"Don't worry, I have something better than that," said Laurence while pointing at the monitor on the bedside table.
"Wait a minuteÖdo you always leave this thing on?"
"Not always, I only turn it on when Clément is asleep. By the way, you tell nice tuk stories," joked Laurence.
"You heard? I can't believe it!" said Chloe feigning indignation.
"Yeah, I heard. Thanks for putting him to bed."
"You're welcome," said Chloe smiling. She opened the door and was ready to take her leave when Laurence spoke.
"You're right you know."
" 'bout what?"
"Beatrice doesn't understand that Clément is only two."
Chloe smiled. "No she doesn't, that's for sure. G'night Laurence."
Chloe stepped out of the room.
"Hey Chloe?" called Laurence.
"Now who is keeping who awake," joked Chloe. "What?"
"If you want, on Friday since Beatrice is leaving with Clément early in the morning I can give you a tour of the castle and its gardens."
"Wow, that would be great. Are you sure? I don't want you to feel like you've got to entertain me!"
"I wouldn't be offering if I didn't want to do it. Plus, I'll give you the unofficial tour."
"What do you mean?"
"You'll see. Good night Chloe." Laurence slowly closed the door.
Cool, what better way to explore than with someone who really knows the area, thought Chloe as she walked to her room.
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