Chapter VII

    Chloe spent the next few weeks babysitting Clément and learning her way around town. Her day was fairly simple. She would get Clément ready in the morning, and walk him to school around 9 a.m. She then had until 3 in the afternoon to do as she pleased. She had walked back to the castle many times and stood at the same spot she and Laurence stood weeks before. The sadness and melancholy to have been deceived by Laurence were slowly wearing off, and she sometimes wondered if everything had just been a fragment of her imagination. Chloe had not spoken to Laurence since their last phone call, but she knew that she regularly called and talked to her dad and Clément.

    Chloe enjoyed her life at the Glairon's house, but often wished she could get to know more French people of her age. One Sunday, while cleaning her room she found Vincent's phone number lying behind her bed table.  Must have fallen when I was unpacking? I wonder if I should call him, I don't even know if he remembers me. Oh, what the hell! What do I have to lose.  She ran downstairs to the family room. The house was quiet -- Jean, Clément and, surprisingly, Beatrice had gone out to the park. Chloe had declined the offer to join them, not wanting to spend more time than needed with Beatrice. She quickly dialed the number and waited for someone to pick up.

    "Allo, je voudrais parler a Vincent, s'il vous plait."

    "Oui c'est moi," answered the voice.

    "Vincent, this is Chloe. From the plane. Remember me?"

    "Yeah, of course. My gosh, I wondered what happen to you."

    "I'm fine...settling in."

    "How is life with your family?

    "It's okay. The kid is great."

    "Good. Do you like it here? Not too homesick yet?"

    "I was for a while, but I'm starting to like it, plus I'm crazy about the kid."

    Vincent chuckled. "Listen, what are you doing right now?"

    "Nothing really...I was cleaning my room, and I found your number, and thought I'll give you a call."

    "I'm glad you did. Want to go and have some coffee? It's only 4 p.m., and I'm half an hour away from Versailles. I know a great coffee place..."

    "Huh...yeah, sure I'd love to."

    "Great. Give me your address, and I can be there in 45 minutes."

    They exchanged address and Chloe hung up. Okay, good. I need to get out a little. Chloe looked at her reflection in the mirror hung on the family room's wall, readjusted her ponytail, and straighten her shirt. The weather had gotten colder as the month of September went by, even if today was particularly sunny. Chloe rushed to her bedroom to pick up something warmer to wear than the simple linen short sleeve-shirt she had on. She rummaged through her closet, and her hands brushed past the leather jacket Laurence had given her. A rush of sadness passed through her, and she took the jacket off its hanger and brought it to her face, smelling the leather and the lingering sent of Laurence's parfume. She shook her head and threw the jacket on her bed, grabbing a University of Maryland T-shirt from the closet. She put on a pair of white snickers and hesitantly picked up the leather jacket. Chloe stared at it for a few moments and made a decision. "It's going back," she said aloud. She ran and bolted into Laurence's room, throwing the jacket on the bed. She took one quick look around the room and left.

    While waiting for Vincent to arrive, Chloe went to the library - place that had become her favorite retreat over the past few weeks. She had spent numerous hours looking through books trying to improve her French. Sometimes, she would just sit in the high ceiling room and enjoy the silence. The room was built with thick walls that stopped any unwelcome noise from intruding with the peace and quiet of its occupant. Chloe picked up Madame Bovary. She had been trying to read at least one chapter each day and was really enjoying the story. It also helped that she had previously read it as a class assignment a few years back. As she got comfortably settled in the large leather chair, the phone rang. Damn, what now! Chloe had lately starting feeling at ease with her French capacity and was less reluctant to pick up the phone.

    "I'm coming...I'm coming..." she yelled at the phone.

    "Allo," her voice annoyed from being disturbed.

    "Chloe?" asked the voice.

    "Oui," she answered, daring not to hope she recognized Laurence's voice.

    "It's Laurence."

    "Oui, je sais." Instead of the excitement Chloe expected to feel, she felt numb and partially angry. She purposely kept the conversation in French. "Ton père n'est pas là."

    "I know I spoke to him this morning, he told me he would be taking Clément to the park this afternoon...Chloe, I wanted to speak to you."

    "What?" Chloe forgot about her intention to keep speaking French, and her mind was filled with thousand of angry thoughts. What the hell?

    "I've been thinking a lot, and I'm sorry I've been ignoring you for the past weeks..."

    Chloe interrupted her. "Sorry? Why Laurence? Because you lied to me or because you treated me like shit last time we spoke or maybe just because..."

    "Okay, okay, you made your point. I never promised you anything Chloe. We said we didn't know what was going to happen, and I needed to think." Laurence sighed.

    " Listen, when is your next weekend off?"

    "Why?"

    "I'd like you to come over to Lille for the weekend."

    "You...you want me to come visit you?" asked Chloe dumbfounded.

    "Yeah...I'd like to."

    "You know what the problem is Laurence? I hate being told what to do, and what I hate even the most are people who think they can just jerk me around whenever they feel like it..." The door bell rang. "I have to go. Good bye Laurence, and please in the future, keep any lame requests you have to yourself." She angrily hung up, and took a deep breath to calm herself down. The bell rang again, "I'm coming," she yelled.

    She opened the door to Vincent. He stood tall in the doorway, wearing a light summery jacket, and a pair of blue jeans, his hair had grown and brown curls were surrounding his face giving him a babyish look. "Hey, my directions weren't too bad, huh?"

    "No, they were fine. It's great seeing you again," Vincent said with a smile.

    "Yeah...so, where are we going?"

    "You'll see. Let's go?"

    "Yeah, let's." She closed the door behind her and stepped into the fresh air. "Chilly outside today," she said more for herself than as a mean of conversation.

    "I parked my car on the street a few blocks away."

    " Žkay." They walked silently down the sidewalk.

    Vincent broke the silence. "Are you okay? I mean on the plane you talked non- stop...and you haven't said much yet."

    "I'm sorry. I just had an argument with someone I know, and I'm still upset about it."

    "Oh...here is my car. Are you sure you want to go? Because we don't have to if you're not in the mood for it."

    "Don't worry about it. I'm glad we're doing that."

    " Okay." Vincent opened the door of a blue Golf GTI to Chloe. "It's not very far from here. It's on the other side of the river."

    "Still in Versailles?"

    "Yeah, but rive gauche." Vincent started he car and carefully drove off into the busy streets of Versailles.

    Fifteen minutes later, the car stopped in front of a café facing the river.

    "Here we are. We can sit outside if you want. It's protected from the wind, so it shouldn't be too cold"

    "I'd love to." They chose a table on the far-left corner of the patio. The small round tables each had only two chairs both facing the street. "This is weird, why are the chairs this way?"

    Vincent chuckled. "Didn't you know that French people were nosy? They like to see what's happening in the street...you should see in Paris it's a ritual to sit down at a café and talk about the people walking by."

    Chloe sat down. "Well...I guess we should do as everyone else then."

    "Yeah," smiled Vincent, taking a seat next to Chloe. "What do you want to drink?"

    "Perrier."

    "Perrier? Wow...never met any American who likes Perrier."

    "Yeah...well, I do," stated Chloe with a hint of sadness in her voice, remembering that it was Laurence's favorite drink.

    "Tell me, what have you been up to?" asked Vincent, waving the waiter over. They quickly placed their order.

    "Just getting settled I guess. Nothing much really."

    "Have you been to the castle yet?"

    "Yeah, I love it. It's so beautiful."

    "If you haven't seen everything yet, I'd love to take you there sometime."

    "I got a very detailed tour, thanks. I'd love to see more of Paris tough."

    "We should do that sometime." The conversation stopped as the waiter came back with their drinks. Chloe settled back comfortably in her chair and took a sip of her Perrier. She let her gaze wander along the river, the late afternoon sun was slowly going down casting its last ray on the river, couples were strolling hand in hand tenderly whispering in each other's ear.

    Vincent's voice broke Chloe out of her reverie. "Earth to Chloe!"

    "What? Sorry, I was just watching those couples," apologized Chloe. "I'm sorry I'm not the best company today."

    "It's okay. We all have our days. What did you find so fascinating in those couples?" asked Vincent, waving at the space where a few moments ago lovers just stood.

    " They just seem so happy...I know it might sound stupid, but it seems as if the world could have collapsed, and they wouldn't have realized it because they were so lost in each other."

    "Ha, l'amour," joked Vincent.

    "You're such a guy!" answered Chloe, a slight hint of hurt in her voice.

    "I'm sorry. I was just joking. I know what you mean. Do you have a boyfriend in the States, Chloe?"

    "Wow...that's a personal question. Is that a come on?" she joked, trying to lighten the mood.

    "Don't know. Depends on your answer," said Vincent, jokingly flirting with Chloe.

    "Hum...I see." Chloe scoot forward on her chair and looked at Vincent. "No, I don't have anyone in the States."

    "Okay, so let's say that was a come on. What do you say?" He asked with a smile. Chloe considered the question for a minute. Her mind was torn between her need for a friend and her uncertainty about Laurence. She sighed deeply. "I don't know Vincent. What about we become friend first."

    Vincent stared at Chloe, his brown eyes reflecting amusement. He picked up his glass of coke and clinked it with Chloe as if to seal a pact. "You got it."

    After the drinks, they went for walk along the river. The ease they had felt in each other in the plane had come back, and they were chattering away like old friends. Vincent spoke of his studies at La Sorbonne, and how he wanted to go to law school.

    "Boy, you'd get along great with my dad," said Chloe smiling.

    "Why?"

    "He's a lawyer.

    "Hey, if I have the father on my side, do I get the daughter?" kidded Vincent.

    "Hum...we'll have to see about that," Chloe answered jokingly.

    As the afternoon wore off, they made their way back to the car. "It was great seeing you again. We've got to get going though, I have an exam tomorrow morning," explained Vincent, opening the door for Chloe.

    "No problem. It was nice." She sat down and buckled herself in.

    "It was. We should do that more often," Vincent looked at Chloe and smiled tenderly.

    Before she had time to control it, Chloe's cheeks became crimson red. "Yeah, we should," she answered very fast.

    "Hey, you're blushing...do I have an effect on you Chloe?" teased Vincent.

    "No, you don't...you're openly flirting with me. I'm not use to it, that's it."

    Vincent laughed. "Come on, you're kidding me right. A girl like you never gets hit on. That's a good one."

    "No...I'm very shy. I guess I just don't pay attention. Can we drop it?" She pleaded, feeling more and more embarrassed.

    "Yeah. Sorry, you're so easy to tease," joked Vincent while starting the car.

    Half an hour later, the gold GTI pulled in front of the Versailles house.

    "Here we are. Can I have your number or is that too big of a come on?" teased Vincent again.

    "You are impossible," answered Chloe.

    "Yep, I like it that way. So can I?"

    "Do you have a pen?"

    Vincent reached inside the glove compartment and pulled out a pen, and handed it to Chloe. She picked it up, took slowly hold of Vincent's hand making sure she prolong the contact, and wrote her number inside his palm. Two can play this game, she thought while putting the cap back on the pen and giving it back to a surprised Vincent.

    "Give me a call," she said while exciting the car. She dialed in the code to open the gate and walked in the courtyard, Vincent honked and waved one last time before disappearing into the street of Versailles.

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    Chloe opened the front door and had barely time to take her shoes off before Clément came running towards her screaming her name. "Hey, slow down little man, you're going to knock me over." She picked him up and softly kissed him on the cheek. "Did you have a good time at the park?" Clément nodded and wiggled himself out of Chloe's arm before taking off running to the family room.

    "Hey Chloe, come on in here," called Jean.

    "Did you guys have a good time?" she asked.

    Beatrice was lying on the sofa, looking exhausted. "A good time? I broke two nails and had to run after a plastic ball for two hours!" she answered sarcastically.

    "Honey, stop complaining. For once that Clément gets to spend time with both his parents, I don't want to spoil that," said Jean harshly. "Chloe, where did you go? Did you have a good time?"

    "I went to a café on the left side of the river with a friend of mine."

    "Hum...does this friend have a name?" smiled Jean.

    "Vincent."

    Jean chuckled. "Good, I hope we get to meet him very soon."

    For the second time today, Chloe blushed. "He is just a friend. I met him on the plane ride over here."

    Jean looked at her, and got up to plug a video on for Clément. "By the way, there is a message from Laurence on the answering machine for you."

    "Really?"

    "Yes, she is asking that you call her back."

    " I'm surprised she called at all," mumbled Beatrice.

    Jean gave her a warning look. "Go on. You know where the answering machine is."

    As the music of Sesame Street came on, and Clément yelled, " Žookie monste'!" Chloe walked to the answering machine and pressed play. Hi, Chloe, it's Laurence. Call me back, would you? Here is my number 03-04-78-97-45. You can call until very late. I'd be up. Beep... Chloe erased the message and shook her head. I'm not calling. I'm tired of being a play thing.

    Chloe decided to grab something to eat from the fridge and go up to her room for the evening. As she was standing in front of the fridge with the door open, trying to make up her mind on what to eat, Jean sneaked up behind her. "Don't be too harsh on her."

    Chloe jumped. "Wh..., you startled me. What are you talking about?" She grabbed a left over pasta and put it in the microwave.

    "Laurence. I know you're mad. I can tell. I don't want to tell you what to do, but I know my daughter, and she thinks she's not good enough for anyone's friendship. I don't know why? I'm just saying that maybe you're a little too fast to judge her."

    Chloe didn't know what to say. She was still pondering her answer when Jean interrupted her thoughts. "Listen, you don't have to be friend with my daughter, I'm not forcing you here, but I was under the impression that you like her."

    Chloe removed her plate from the microwave and sat at the table. "I do." She said while reaching for the salt.

    "Just think about what I said, okay?" Jean looked at Chloe expectantly. She slightly nodded making Jean smiled. He left the room to go back to Clément who could be heard giggling in front of the TV.

    I guess Sesame Street is funny, thought Chloe, taking a bite of her food.

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    The night went by slowly, sleep a word almost foreign to Chloe. She couldn't keep the images of her time with Laurence away from her mind, and her will to keep her out of her life was slowly faltering. She tossed and turned the whole night, hearing Jean's voice telling her, "She thinks she's not good enough for anyone's friendship." Around 5 a.m., Chloe gave up on getting any decent sleep and got up, deciding to go for a run. She put on a pair of sweats and a tee shirt and left the house. The air was extremely chilly and the sun was starting to rise. Streetlights were still lit, and only a few cars were passing by. Chloe started a slow jog down the street.

    Gosh, I'm really out of shape, she thought after turning onto Boulevard de la Reine. She kept her run steady for another 10 minutes before stopping at an intersection, totally out of breath. Few morning joggers passed her, their run light and their head high. They don't even seem to be tired. She dropped her hands to her knees and lowered her head, trying to bring her heartbeat back to normal. Shortly after, her heart slowed down, and she was able to start jogging again. This time she paced herself more, and made it around the block and back to the house without falling over.

    She walked into the silent house, making sure not to make any loud noises. She silently took off her shoes and went into the kitchen for a glass of orange juice. Surprisingly Jean was sitting at the table, reading the newspaper.

    "Good morning Chloe. You're up early."

    "I went for a run."

    Jean smiled and picked up the coffee pot. "Coffee?" he offered Chloe.

    "No thanks. I'll have some orange juice." Chloe opened the fridge and poured herself a glass of the cold beverage.

    Jean folded his newspaper and got up. "I'm going to be gone at least until the end of week, here is the hotel I'd be staying in." He picked up a piece of paper and scribbled a number on it, handing it to Chloe.

    "What kind of number is that?" asked Chloe, surprised at the 11 digit number.

    "It's in China."

    "Wow, you're going there on a business trip!"

    "Yes, it wasn't planned really, but I got a phone call this morning very early, and one of my associate located an antique I have wanted to buy for a very long time."

    "So, you're taking off for China," said Chloe incredulous.

    "That's where the piece is." Jean walked into the hallway, followed closely by Chloe still holding the piece of paper. "Listen, please don't hesitate to call if you need to. I don't want to wake up Clément, but hug him for me, would you?"

    " Žkay." Jean walked to the family room and picked up his suitcase sitting next to the door. "Have a good trip."

    "I will." He opened the door and turned around. "...and Chloe?"

    "Hum?"

    "Don't forget what I said last night." Jean closed the door slowly behind him to minimize the noise.

    "I'm not," she whispered to the closed door.

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    Chloe finished her orange juice and headed for the shower, almost bumping into Beatrice in the stairs.

    "Bonjour Chloe."

    "Oh, sorry, I almost knocked you over here."

    Beatrice slightly smiled and patted Chloe on the shoulder." It's okay, just be careful in the future. I have to get going. I'll be late tonight. So don't wait up." She went down a couple of steps and turned around. "I almost forget. There is a parents-teacher conference this afternoon at Clément's school, I forgot what time exactly, but could you go? Just let me know what happen." Beatrice turned and went down the remaining steps, picked up her handbag, and headed for the door.

    "Wait," called Chloe.

    "What is it?" Beatrice seemed annoyed that Chloe stopped her, and her impatience was showing.

    "Why can't you come back for the parent-teacher conference?" asked Chloe dumbfounded.

    "I have to work, Chloe?"

    "Come on. What can be more important than talking to your child's teacher about his wellbeing?" spat Chloe, not even trying to hide her anger.

    "First of all young lady watch your tone of voice. Second of all, there are many things you don't know."

    "What do you mean, many things I don't know? I know one thing is that I have never met anyone who ignores her child more than you do." The words came out of Chloe's mouth before she had time to stop them. Boy, if that doesn't get me fired, nothing will.

    "Chloe, I do not ignore my child, I have a busy life. As I said, there are many things you don't know." Beatrice didn't wait for Chloe's answer and stepped outside. Before closing the door, she looked at Chloe. "I think the conference is at 3." She closed the door and left.

    As the door closed, a little voice called from the top of the stairs. "Papa?"

    Chloe rushed upstairs and stopped Clément from trying to go down by himself. "Hey, little monster. Good morning. You want to go down and have breakfast." Clément nodded. "Well, remember how I taught you to go down the stairs? Turn around and go down backwards." Clément did as he was told. "Good boy." He stopped halfway down and looked up at Chloe before opening his arms as if to be picked up. Chloe picked him up, and Clément wrapped his arms around her neck, holding her tight. She stopped in the family room and sat on the couch, Clément still in her arm. "Are you okay?" Clément nodded and tighten his hold on Chloe's neck. They stayed this way for what seemed an eternity, Chloe whispering tender words in his ears, Clément holding on to her as if life depended on it. Gosh Clément, how much of my conversation with your mom did you hear?

    After a while Clément went limped in Chloe's arms. She moved slightly and realized that he had fallen back asleep. Žkay, it's only 7 a.m. , and he doesn't have to be in school before 9 a.m. Chloe kept her arms around Clément and gently laid down on the coach, Clément's head pillowed on her chest. She adjusted herself to be more comfortable, and closed her eyes joining Clément in the land of dream.

    She woke up suddenly and frantically looked around at the clock. Damm, it's 9:15 a.m. Chloe shook Clément who was still asleep in her arms. "Hey babe, come on wake up." Clément slowly opened his eyes and sat up. "Come one let's get you some breakfast, and dress, and go to school."

    Half an hour later, Clément and Chloe were walking down the street almost running to get to the school. Damn, they really have to let me use one of the cars. They got to the school shortly after 10. Chloe handed Clément to his teacher, apologizing profusely for his lateness. She managed to ask for the parents/teachers meeting time schedule, hugged Clément and left. On her way back home she stopped by the boulangerie and got some fresh bread and pain au chocolat for Clément's snack.

    She walked into the house and took off her snickers. Boy, maybe I'm going to finally be able to get a shower. She walked to the family room and spotted a beautiful dozen of roses laying on the coffee table. The flowers' aroma filled the room giving it a summery feel. " What the hell? How did they get in here?" She picked up the roses and discovered an envelope with her name on it carefully tucked into the wrapping. She put the flowers down, and delicately opened the envelope. She was surprised to find a train ticket Paris/Lille for this coming weekend; a note accompanied the ticket.

    I am sorry. Please come. Love, Laurence

    Chloe looked around, expecting to see Laurence. After scanning the room for a few minutes, she came to the conclusion that Laurence must have had the roses delivered by a neighbor, and went in search of a vase to put the flowers in. She discovered a crystal vase in the dining room buffet. "That would do." After putting the flowers neatly into the vase, she hesitated a moment before grabbing the note and ticket and making her way upstairs.

    She walked in her bedroom and set the flowers on her night table. She sat down on her bed, staring at the ticket, her mind in turmoil. She could not decide if she wanted to give in or stand up for herself. She can't treat me like crap and then send flowers and be forgiven. I won't let her treat me that. Chloe threw the ticket on her nightstand and lay down, covering her eyes with her arm.

    "What's you decision?"

    She sat up in a rush, her heart racing, her eyes scanning the room for the voice. She discovered Laurence standing up against the far wall, wearing worn out blue jeans, a white T-shirt, and a pair of white Nike shoes. Her face half in the shadow and half in the morning sun light showed uncertainty her voice had not held a few minutes ago. Chloe got up and looked at Laurence speechless. "What are you doing here?"

    Laurence took a few steps forward, careful to stop far enough from Chloe, so she didn't give a hostile impression. "I wanted to see you."

    Chloe nodded, finding it hard to speak.

    "You never called back last night, and I wanted you to know that I really meant it when I said that I was sorry, and I wanted you to come over."

    "So, you just jumped on the first train this morning and came here," stated Chloe incredulously.

    "Pretty much," smiled Laurence.

    "You shouldn't have bother," said Chloe flatly.

    Laurence took a deep breath. "You have every right to be upset, but doesn't anyone deserve another chance?"

    "Another chance? Isn't what I have been giving you ever since we first met--another chance?" barked Chloe.

    Laurence looked at Chloe sadly. "Yes maybe you're right."

    "Now, I'm going to ask you the question again. What are you doing here?"

    Laurence looked deeply in Chloe's eyes and started speaking "I have been acting like a selfish brat, and I hurt you. I don't want to apologize for my action Chloe, but please know that I'm sorry I hurt you. I never meant to. I spent the past few weeks telling myself that it was for the best that you will go back home hating ...but it's not. I don't want you to hate me. The time I had with you here was the best time I had in years. I'm not always a nice person Chloe, but I want to be nice to you. You make me want to be nice to others. I still don't know what I can give you or how much, but I know one thing..." Laurence took a deep breath. "...I really care about you, so much it's almost scary, and I don't want to lose you."

    The room suddenly darken and rain started falling outside, thunder only few miles away, the turmoil on the outside similar to the one going on in Chloe's head. A loud thunder broke their gaze, and Chloe walked to the open widow closing it, blocking the outside noise, leaving only silence. She propped herself against the edge of the window and looked at Laurence whose only movements had been to follow Chloe with her gaze.

    Chloe sighed. "What if I say, yes I forgive you. Do you take my heart and break it again? This all thing is new to me. Being attracted to a woman is new to me." She paused and raised her hand stopping Laurence from replying. "No, please let me finish. You're probably going to say I won't do it again I promise, and we both know, it's bullshit. I don't want any false promises; I only want the truth. I want to know what's happening in this thick head of yours, and I want you to tell me when you think you want to run away. It's only under those conditions that I can forgive you."

    "I accept," answered Laurence very seriously.

    Chloe took a few steps forward stopping at arm length from Laurence. "No more running away?"

    Laurence shook her head and grabbed Chloe's hand, bringing it to her chest. "I promise." Her heart skipping when a tear rolled down Chloe's face.

    "This is the chance you were asking for Laurence. Don't blow it." The rain beating against the window, making Chloe's voice barely audible. Small steps were taken and arms wrapped around slender bodies, hearts beat faster, the rain suddenly forgotten.

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    They stayed wrapped up in each other's arms for what seemed an eternity, neither of them willing to let go. Slowly, Laurence released Chloe. "Does that mean you're coming this weekend?" she smiled tenderly.

    Chloe nodded and stepped back into Laurence's arms, burying her face in Laurence's T-shirt, taking in the smell of her perfume, the way her body fell under her hands. "That is if I can have the weekend off. Your dad left for China this morning."

    "You're kidding!?" asked Laurence, incredulous. She stepped back from Chloe and took her hand, leading her to the bed. She sat down and kept Chloe's hand in hers. "Business trip?"

    "He said that a friend of his called him about an antique. He didn't say how long he was going to be gone for. Sorry I didn't ask him."

    "No, no, you have nothing to be sorry for. Chloe, I came here to see you today, not my dad, not anyone else, just you," she gently rubbed Chloe's palm, sending chills all the way Chloe's spine. Chloe took her hand away, and rushed in to explain her action when she saw the look of hurt on Laurence's face.

    "I can't concentrate when you do that," she explained with a smile.

    "Am I distracting you?" laughed Laurence tenderly.

    "Yeah, you are.' Chloe paused and looked in Laurence's eyes. "I'm happy you're here. I missed you."

    Laurence smiled, her smile brightening her face. The cloud of tension she felt over the past week, suddenly gone. " I missed you to," she reached for Chloe's hand again, gently going back to her previous movement. Chloe swallowed with difficulty, flinching slightly under Laurence's ministrations. Laurence looked up at Chloe and spoke softly. "Am I scaring you? You flinched when I touched you."

    "No, no you're not," rushed to explain Chloe, taking both of Laurence's hands in hers to make her point. "It's just that it's new to me, and...and when you caressed my hand with yours..." Chloe stopped at loss with words, not knowing how to explain how she felt.

    Laurence smiled. "I won't rush into anything, I swear if I ever make you uncomfortable, please tell me."

    Chloe nodded and released Laurence's hands. "I will."

    They just stared at each other, their eyes holding the promise of things to come.

    "I should probably go shower. I went for a run this morning, and never got a chance to clean up ever since," said Chloe, breaking the spell.

    " Okay. Would you like to go grab some lunch after that?"

    "Sure. I have to be at Clément's school at 3 p.m. for a parent/teacher conference. When are you going back?"

    "My train is at 8 p.m. I'll come with you to the meeting. I can't believe that Beatrice is not doing it herself."

    "We had an argument about it this morning," said Chloe, getting up.

    "I'm sorry she is such a bitch. You know you haven't been here that long you could really ask for another family."

    "Lo, we've been over that. I'm not going anywhere. I think Clément needs me...somehow I get the feeling that Beatrice's attitude toward him is affecting him more than we think."

    Laurence passed her hand in her hair, tucking it back behind her ears. She sighed.

    "I wish, I weren't so far," she stated, sadness in her voice. "Thanks Chloe."

    "You're welcome. The Glairon's family is stuck with me, either they like it or not," she smiled and tenderly stroked Laurence's cheek. Laurence grabbed her hand and lightly kissed the palm, making Chloe blushed intensely.

    "Huh...well...I think I'd better go shower," she slowly retrieved her hand from Laurence's grasp.

    "I'll wait for you. I'm going to go to my room, There are a couple of things I might want to take back with me tonight."

    "I won't be long." She turned around and walked into her bathroom, closing the door behind her.

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    The first thing Laurence saw when walking in her room was the leather jacket lying on the bed. She picked it up and put it on the chair next to the door. She then started looking through her paintings and canvas. She packed up a few blank canvas in a large bag and a dozen of paint tubs. She then looked through a pile of paintings propped up against the wall. Finding what she was looking for she left the room, picking up the jacket on her way. She walked back to Chloe's bedroom, knocking at the door before entering. Not getting an answer, she slightly opened the door and called.

    "Chloe, it's me. Are you dressed? Can I come in?" I guess she must still be in the shower. She walked in, dropped the jacket on the bed and went to the window, opening it. The rain had stopped, and the sun could be seen piercing through the cloud. Il y a probablement un arc en ciel quelque part, thought Laurence. The bathroom door opened, and Chloe came in, wrapped in a towel, her wet hair hanging over her shoulders.

    "Oh, hey...I wasn't expecting you back so soon," she said, embarrassed to have walked in only wearing a towel.

    "I...I knocked and called, but you didn't answer, so I figured you were still in the shower. Sorry."

    "Let me grab some clothes and get dress." Chloe looked through her dresser and picked up a long sleeve T-shirt with the University of Maryland logo on it, she grabbed a pair of jeans from her closet, and went back to the bathroom.

    Five minutes later, she came back in, brushing her hair. "Give me five minutes to comb through this mess, and we can go."

    "No rush. I found something that belong to you," she said, pointing to the leather jacket on the bed.

    "I...I was mad, I also missed you, and this jacket was a constant reminder of you...I'm sorry," apologized Chloe, the brushing forgotten.

    Laurence smiled and walked closer to Chloe. "I know. I understand. I acted like a jerk."

    "Yeah, but it's all behind us now, isn't it?"

    "Yes, it is. I have something I want you to have." Laurence handed Chloe a small painting.

    " Lo, this is beautiful." The painting represented a mother and child playing in a flower garden. Everything from the affectionate look on the mother's face to the child obvious playful attitude had been captured. The flowers looked so real, Chloe could almost smell their perfume.

    "This is the first painting I did after my mother died. I stopped painting for a while after her death. I couldn't find the inspiration. I had therapy sessions after she passed away...I ..I didn't cope with losing her very well. Anyway, one day my therapist asked me what was the best memory I had from my mother....you're holding it right now."

    "The people on the painting are you and your mom?" asked Chloe, staring at the painting.

    "When I was six, we went to visit my grandparents in the south. They had this beautiful garden. My mother explained to me that she always loved this place because she could always find peace and comfort. She looked so serene and happy..." Laurence's voice trembled slightly. " Over the week we stayed there, her and I played so many games in this garden. It was a happy time." Laurence stopped for a second to get her emotion under control. "I want you to have this painting because if it is one of my most precious possession with the portrait of my mother I have in my room."

    Chloe looked at Laurence understanding the gesture and value of it. Giving her her most precious belonging was a way for Laurence to show she wasn't going anywhere.

    "Thank you. You know you can always take it back..."

    "I know."

    A silence hung for a few minutes. Laurence stepped closer to Chloe, and gently stroked her cheek. Chloe felt riveted in her spot, her eyes glued on Laurence, her senses aware of the gentle stroking. Laurence tenderly kissed Chloe's forehead, and brushed her lips across her eyelids. At the first feel of Laurence's lips on her skin, Chloe closed her eyes, the sensation almost too much. Laurence stopped for a second and looked at Chloe to see if she was creating any discomfort. The sigh of Chloe's standing there with her eyes closed, breathing faster, made Laurence's heart leap. She pushed away any voices telling her it was the wrong thing to do and softly brushed her lips on Chloe's. Chloe felt Laurence's lips brushed against hers, and this simple action made her body tingle. She slowly opened her eyes and was met by the sight of Laurence's blue eyes. No words were necessary to explain what had just passed between them; the flush of their faces and their obvious ragged breathing was enough.

    "I...I think I should finish brushing my hair and...we can go," said Chloe, trying to get her breathing under control.

    Laurence nodded. "I'll wait for you downstairs." She exited, softly closing the door behind her. Chloe sat abruptly on her bed, hugging the painting. The only word going through her mind, "Wow."

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    They walked to a nearby café called "Chez Paul," and got a table in the far corner. Old wine, beer and coffee advertisements hung on the wall, waiters walked around head held high, wearing black pants, white shirts and white aprons. Old French men stood almost staggering, their face red, at the bar, sipping a glass of wine..

    "Those people at the bar seem to have had way too much to drink," said Chloe, munching on some bread the waiter brought.

    " Yes, they sure do. Would you be interested in seeing a movie Saturday night?" asked Laurence, picking up her knife and spreading butter on her bread.

    "I don't know if I can understand it, but yeah, that would be fun."

    "Good. I'll see what's playing."

    " Žkay."

    Laurence waved the waiter over, and they placed two orders of ham sandwich and salad. They made small talk until their food arrived.

    "Wow, this is a huge sandwich," exclaimed Chloe, looking at the half-baguette sandwich on her plate.

    "Yes, but it's very good," said Laurence, taking a bite of hers, soon followed by Chloe.

    " Yuk...what's in it?" asked Chloe almost spitting out what she had in her mouth.

    Laurence laughed at Chloe's face. "What do you mean what's in it?"

    "I mean it tastes weird."

    "It's ham and salty butter."

    "That explains why. Don't you guys know about mayonnaise?"

    "We sure do, but we don't use it on sandwiches," explained Laurence, amusement in her voice. "If you really don't like it, we can order something else for you."

    "No that's fine. I'll scrap off the butter." She opened her sandwich and proceeded to take off the butter with her knife. " Much better," she said after taking a bite.

    After lunch, Laurence proposed a walk in the park of the castle since they still had time before going to Clément's school. They entered the park from an entrance Chloe had never seen before.

    "Is that really part of the castle? We don't even see it."

    "The park is enormous. This part has more trees and hiking trails, it's less touristy.

    "Fall is upon us," said Chloe, looking at the leaves falling from the trees. They walked slowly, getting deeper into the park, less and less people crossing their pass. Once she felt that they had gone far enough into the wood, Laurence gently took hold of Chloe's hand.

    "Is that okay?" she asked unsure.

    Chloe tighten her hold on Laurence's hand and interlaced their fingers. "Yeah, it's more than okay."

    They walked for another few minutes in silence. "Would you like to sit down for a while?" asked Laurence.

    "Sure." They sat on the grass, their backs propped up against a tree, their hands still linked together.

    "I like this place," said Laurence.

    "Let me guess-- another one of your retreat," joked Chloe.

    "No, not really. I just like it because it's quiet, and you don't see any people when you go very far in."

    "Must be a great place to paint when spring comes, and everything is blooming."

    "I never painted here, but you're right I should try it."

    Chloe looked up at Laurence and took a deep breath. "Can I ask you a question?"

    "Sure, what is it?" asked Laurence, turning her head and looking into Chloe's green eyes.

    "You...I mean you kissed me earlier...I..."

    Laurence interrupted Chloe. "I'm sorry I should have asked you before. I just went with my instincts, I..."

    "Hey, hey, did I say anything about having not enjoyed it?" smiled Chloe, getting closer to Laurence.

    Laurence swallowed with difficulty and shook her head. "So, what's your question?"

    Chloe looked away suddenly embarrassed. "Hey, you can tell me," said Laurence softly, turning Chloe's face back towards her, she gently let her hands brushed down Chloe's arms and grabbed both her hands.

    "When you kissed me I felt...." Chloe stopped for a moment, trying to find the words to described the way she felt. "I felt...as if electricity was passing through my body, it's probably not the right description, but I can't find the words...it was just so..."

    "Shh," whispered Laurence, tenderly putting her finger on Chloe's lips to stop her. "I know what you mean, I felt the same way."

    "I wish, it hadn't been so brief," whispered Chloe, her eyes suddenly finding the fabric of her jeans very interesting.

    Laurence smiled. "Hey, please look at me. There are no reasons to be ashamed. I didn't want to scare you off, that's why it was so brief. Right now there is nothing I would like more than to kiss you again." The last part almost a murmur in the wind.

    Time seemed to stop, leaving only Chloe and Laurence staring at each other. Chloe took a deep breath and scoot closer to Laurence, their forehead almost touching, their breath mingling. "I don't know if I know how to do it right," whispered Chloe. She softly kissed Laurence's nose and eyes before lightly kissing her lips. Uncertain of the effect she was having, she withdrew only to have her face caught by Laurence.

    "Please don't stop," spoke Laurence softly.

    " Žkay," answered Chloe, her voice and hands trembling. She tenderly brushed her lips over Laurence's and felt Laurence's hands gently tucking her closer, taking it as an invitation she softly applied more pressure to her kiss. Laurence let herself feel the sensations, the taste of Chloe's lips, the gentle pressure, she gently combed her fingers through Chloe's long hair making Chloe's quivered each time she brushed her fingertips against her neck. The kiss ending as softly as it started. Forehead against forehead, fingers intertwined, they both tried to catch their breath.

    "And you said you didn't know how to do it right?" Laurence joked, her hand lightly squeezing Chloe's fingers.

    Chloe smiled, she lightly passed her fingers on her lips, not believing what she had just done. "I didn't do too bad then, huh? She asked uncertainty in her voice.

    "That was...amazing," said Laurence sincerely. "Anytime you have this kind of impulse, please don't fight it," she joked.

    "Okay, but the same goes for you."

    " Okay," answered Laurence, getting up and giving her hand to Chloe to help her up. "We probably should get going. It's almost 2: 30 p.m."

    "Already? Yeah, we should go."

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    They spotted Clément in the playground going down a slide. About 20 kids were running around under the supervision of a few teachers. Chloe walked in the playground followed by Laurence.

    "Hey, Clément!" she called.

    Clément waved at Chloe and ran towards her, screaming her name. "Cloe." She picked him up and hugged him tightly. "Hey, sweetheart, I have a surprise for you." She pointed at Laurence who had taken a step back during Clément and Chloe's interaction. Clément looked at Laurence and his face lit up with an enormous smile.

    " Lo," he said extended his arms to Laurence. She took him from Chloe's arms and kissed him in the cheeks, holding him tight.

    "Look at you, you've grown so much." Clément tighten his grip around Laurence's neck. " Tu m'as manqué p'tit gars."

    "I tell you what, I stay here with Clément while you go and talk to his teacher," offered Chloe. "Anyway, it'd be easier since my French is still so-so."

    " Okay, it shouldn't take too long." Laurence put Clément down and knelt in front of him. " I'm going to go and talk to your teacher. You stay here with Chloe, okay?" Clément nodded and grabbed Chloe's hand. "Good, that's settled. I'll be back in a few."

    Half an hour later, Chloe was starting to wonder what was taking so long when Laurence stepped out. She picked up Clément from the swing and walked up to meet Laurence.

    "What did she say?" asked Chloe. Laurence's face was serious and showed worries. "Lo, what did she say?" asked Chloe again when not getting an answer.

    "I can't tell you right now," she said, pointing at Clément discretely. "When we get home."

    The walk home was quiet. Laurence carried Clément all the way, her walk fast and determined. Once they got home, Chloe got the pain au chocolat she had bought for Clément earlier and gave it to him as a snack.

    "Hey, little man, would you like to watch a video while you eat?" asked Laurence.

    Clément ran to the family room. " Sesame, lo!"

    "Okay, Sesame Street it is." Laurence plugged the video in and mouthed "Kitchen" to Chloe. Chloe nodded and followed Laurence to the kitchen.

    "What's going on? Come on, you're worrying me."

    Laurence sighed and sat at the kitchen table, passing her hand through her hair in frustration. "Have you ever seen any strange bruises on Clément?" asked Laurence, her voice quivering.

    Chloe sat down and thought for a minute. "Once. The day you left, when Beatrice came back. Clément had a huge bruise on his hip. I didn't think much of it because you know how he is, he runs and falls all the time." Chloe softly brushed Laurence's hand. "Come on. Tell me what's going on, please."

    Laurence got up to get a Perrier from the fridge. She offered one to Chloe who refused. " His teacher said that Clément is very scared of people touching him..."

    "We hug him all the time, what is she talking about?"

    "...let me finish. She said that a week ago, he started screaming when the teacher's assistant came behind him while he was drawing, and pet him on the head." Laurence stopped and took a sip of her drink. "She also said that she has seen bruises on his legs and back, but not that much in the past month."

    "Is she insinuating that we beat Clément? This is insane." Chloe got up angrily, only to be yanked back on her chair by Laurence.

    "Listen for a minute. She said that the kind of reaction Clément has to people touching him is common to abused children."

    "It just doesn't make sense. He is with me all the time, and I swear I would never do anything to him...I..."

    "Chloe, stop it. I know you wouldn't. Think, she said that she hasn't but one for the past month. You have been here for a month."

    "I thought he didn't go to school before. How does she know what happen to him before that?"

    "She is the school principal, and she also runs the camp over the summer. Clément went to her morning camp July and mid-august. That's where she knows him from."

    "Didn't you take care of him during the summer?"

    "I did most of the time, but I usually went away during the weekend."

    "He is a child. Children hurt themselves..."

    "I agree, and it's why I never paid too much attention to the bruises he would get during the weekend because I know how active he is. Now, I can't help think that he never had any bruises when my dad was home, but always when Beatrice took care of him."

    "Are you saying that she ..." Chloe couldn't even finish her sentence the idea of what was imply horrifying her.

    " Yes, it's what I'm saying," said Laurence, her hands clenching into fists.

    "Okay, let's say it's true. How do we prove it?" Clément is too young to speak." Chloe passed her hand in her hair in frustration. "We should talk to your dad..."

    "No. Come on Beatrice is his wife. He refuses to admit that she cheats on him, do you think he is going to believe that she is abusive? No way," said Laurence, her ton harsh, her eyes black with anger.

    "Hey, cool off, okay? I'm just trying to help here," answered Chloe angrily.

    "I' m sorry...It's just that I don't know what to do."

    "We don't leave Clément alone with her ever again...that shouldn't be too hard since she is gone most of the time." Chloe got up and starting pacing around.

    "Okay, but we can't keep on doing that forever Chloe." Laurence got up suddenly and trashed her empty bottle of Perrier as Clément came running into the kitchen, his face covered with chocolate. "Hey, I see you haven't learn yet that food goes in your mouth not on your face," said Laurence, picking him up and turning the sink faucet. She grabbed a paper towel and cleaned up his face and hands. "Is your tape finished?"

    "Oui...fini," answered Clément, wiping his wet hands on Laurence's white T-shirt.

    "Hey, stop that...I tell you what, go and play in the playroom, and we'll be there in a minute." Laurence put Clement down and tenderly ruffled his hair. Clément took off running.

    Chloe waited to make sure that Clément was out of ear shot before continuing the conversation. "Listen, I think you don't give your dad enough credits. Maybe you could just talk to him and see what he says. What do you have to lose? If he doesn't believe you than we're back to where we are now."

    Laurence looked thoughtful for a few moments. "Maybe you're right, I'll call him as soon as he comes back from China." Laurence picked up an apple and took a bite. "Maybe we're just imagining everything, and Clément just really fell."

    "I don't know Lo. I hope so," Chloe's voice almost a whisper. She grabbed Laurence's hand and squeezed it to show her support.

    "Thanks," softly said Laurence, a hint of sadness in her voice.

    "We're together in this mess. Žkay?"

    " Okay," answered Laurence, a slight smile on her face.

    Chloe let go of her hand. "Come on let's go see what he is building."

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    They spent the rest of the afternoon playing with Clément. Around dinner- time Laurence went to Mcdonald to get dinner for the three of them. The happy meal was a huge success with Clément, and he insisted in taking the little plastic toy he got with his meal in the tub with him. Laurence helped out with Clément's bath, but shortly after 7, she had to get ready to go. She went back to her room to pick up the bag she packed earlier and walked back downstairs where Clément and Chloe were watching TV.

    "I think I have everything." She kneeled in front of Clément who was sitting on the coach. "Hey, babe. I have to go. You'll be a good boy, and I'll see you soon." She kissed Clément on the forehead and brushed his cheeks with her hand. Clément threw his arms around her neck and hugged her tight. She slowly unwrapped herself from his grip and kissed him one last time. "Love you babe." She walked to the entrance followed by Chloe. " Okay, I'll see you this weekend, right?" asked Laurence, a hint of uncertainty in her voice.

    "What if your dad is not back? I can't leave Clément with Beatrice. Not after what we discussed," said Chloe, her eyes tearful, her voice trembling.

    "Then, you take him with you. I know she won't object." Laurence came closer to Chloe. "Chloe, coming here today, was the smartest thing I have done in a long time. No matter what I want you to come this weekend...I've missed you too much over the past weeks to bare not seeing you for a long time." Laurence looked at Chloe, her eyes only reflecting honesty. Slowly she drew Chloe into her arms and held her tight.

    "I'll be there," said Chloe, her voice muffled by Laurence's shoulder. Laurence kissed Chloe's hair and released her. She lightly kissed her cheek and grabbed her bag.

    "I should get going. I'm going to miss my train." Her words saying she should go, her heart screaming for her to stay.

    "Thanks for the flowers," smiled Chloe.

    Laurence smiled back and softly touched Chloe's cheeks. "I'll call you when I get home. Remember you can use my bedroom." She playfully winked at Chloe and closed the door behind her.

    A little while after, Chloe put Clément to bed and went back to her room. She sat on her bed not believing what had happened today. Memories of Laurence's lips on hers made her heart beat faster and her face flushed. She decided to spend the night in Laurence's bedroom since Laurence said she would call. She grabbed her nightclothes, toothbrush, her book, and the monitor and left her room. She checked on Clément and found him peacefully asleep. She made sure his monitor was on and went to Laurence's room.

    The room was quiet; the only sign of Laurence's earlier stay the paintings scattered on the floor. Chloe picked them up and propped them back against the wall. She looked around the room and lightly passed her hand on the furniture as if trying to mesmerize places that Laurence might have touched. She broke out of her reverie and went into the bathroom to get ready for the night. On the sink stood an almost empty bottle of Calvin Klein's perfume, she smelled it and recognized it as Laurence's perfume. Dirty towels had been thrown on the floor weeks before and still remained where they landed. Chloe laughed thinking that obviously cleaning was not a number one priority for Laurence. She picked up the towels and put them in a hamper under the sink. She quickly got ready for the night, got herself in bed under the cover and picked up her book. As the hours went by Chloe couldn't help thinking of the last time she waited for Laurence's phone call, and it never came.
 

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    A loud ring woke up Chloe. "What? What is it?" It took her a few moments to get her bearings and remember that she was in Laurence's bedroom. Once she got her thoughts together, she realized that what woke her up was the phone. "Damn, I must have dozed off." Chloe picked up the phone and answered with a sleepy voice.

    "Allo."

    "Hey, it's me."

    "Laurence?"

    "Who else were you expecting," she answered jokingly.

    "I fell asleep. What time is it?"

    "A little after 11."

    "How was the train ride?'

    "Pretty boring."

    "I'm sorry."

    "It' s okay...the trip was worth it," said Laurence sincerely. "How is Clément?"

    "Thanks....huh, he fell asleep right away. What time is your first class tomorrow?"

    "8 a.m."

    "That's early!"

    "Yes, I don't know why I always end up with the early morning classes. Listen, I can't talk too long because I'm really tired, but I just wanted to make sure you knew I was thinking about you."

    "Are you?"

    "What?"

    "Thinking about me," asked Chloe teasingly.

    "Yes." Laurence's answer meant more than a simple yes it was almost a promise of things to come. "Are you?"

    "Thinking of you?" asked Chloe, knowing very well the answer.

    "Huhuh."

    "I haven't been able to think of anything else since you left."

    "Are you in bed right now?"

    "Yeah, I was reading, and I guess I fell asleep."

    "Are you spending the night?"

    "If it's okay with you..."

    "Yes, it is. I wish I could be there." Laurence's voice only a sensual whisper.

    "I wish you could be here too," answered Chloe, suddenly finding it hard to keep her heartbeat at bay.

    "I should really go. I'll call you tomorrow... Good night."

    "Good night, Lo."

    "Bye." With those words Laurence hung up the phone.


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