Chapter II

    Chloe closed her last suitcase and looked around the room to make sure she wasn't leaving anything behind.

    "Hey, you're finished packing. My dad is downstairs waiting for us to pack things in his car." Brett grabbed her boom box and her CD box. "I'm going to miss this room. We had a blast this semester."

    Chloe smiled slightly. "Are you sure your dad doesn't mind driving me home? It's a little out of the way for you."

    "No, that's cool. It's not snowing yet anyway. Really, no sweat. I'm surprised Sean didn't offer to drive you."

    "He had to leave early."

    Brett smiled and laughed happily. "You two have spent tons of time together...come on, you can't lie to me...come on."

    "Brett, I've told you thousands of times. We're just friends."

    "Yeah, yeah...I've heard that before."

    Chloe sighed and shrugged her shoulders in a sign of surrender. "I'm going downstairs." She made her way to the elevator with difficulty, carrying her two heavy suitcases.

    After Laurence's last painful phone call Chloe had gone out with Sean for dinner, but her emotions were too raw to ignore, and after being asked for the third time if she was all right, she spilled everything to Sean. Between tears and hiccups, she told him about their relationship, her year in Paris, Clément, and about Laurence just breaking up with her. Sean showed understanding and compassion, and as the months went by his original crush on Chloe evolved into deep friendship.

    Obvious signs of an approaching snowstorm filled the sky and a light snow had started to fall. Brett's father grabbed Chloe's suitcases.

    "Better hurry, the sky doesn't look too good," he said, looking worriedly at the sky.

    "One more trip, and I'm all set."


    She rushed back in, and crossed paths with Brett. "Do you have anything else in the room?" she asked quickly.

    "No, I'm done. Turn the keys in once you've locked the door."

    "Yeah, I'll be right down." She hurried upstairs and quickly finished packing the remaining objects scattered around the room in a gym bag. While emptying her bed table drawer, her eyes came across the picture of Clément and Laurence she had hidden out of sight shortly after her last contact with Laurence. Chloe slowly dropped her gym bag, and picked up the picture. A light dust had settled on it, and she tenderly brushed it away with her fingertips, lingering slightly on Laurence.

    "What are you doing? We're waiting for you," said Brett, popping her head through the door.

    Chloe jumped slightly and quickly dumped the picture in her bag. "I'm coming."

    "Well then hurry, it's starting to snow hard."

    Chloe nodded and picked up the bag, slowly closing the door and hoping to leave behind the painful memories.


    The drive from College Park to Bethesda was slow and slippery. Chloe tried to relax in the back seat, flinching slightly each time Brett's dad stepped too abruptly on the brake. After what seemed to Chloe like an eternity, the car pulled into her neighborhood. Her dad had moved from his apartment in Washington D.C. to a house in Potomac after accepting a new job closer to the Northwest section of Washington. The neighborhood was filled with medium sized houses with big, open yards. The car stopped in front of a red brick house. Smoke was coming out of the chimney and rising into the snowy sky.

    "Thanks for driving me. See you next month."

    "Yeah, I'll call," said Brett as Chloe stepped out of the car and was greeted by her father.

    Robert hugged her tightly. "It's good to have you home," he whispered while kissing her forehead. "Let's get your luggage, and get you inside."

    The house was warm and smelled of burning wood. Robert helped Chloe up to her room and dropped the luggage on a large double bed. Chloe had only slept in the room once or twice when visiting during the semester; consequently, it contained very few personal elements.

    "Go ahead and get unpacked. Dinner should be ready in a few minutes."

    "Thanks dad."

    "I invited your aunt and uncle for Christmas Eve dinner. I'm so glad youíre spending Christmas here this year. How is Laurence?"

    Chloe's face turned pale, and her throat tightened up. "I don't know dad...I haven't spoken to her in over a month."

    "Really? Maybe it's for the best sweetheart. Long distance relationships are always a heart breaker."

    "Yeah, I'm learning the hard way," she said sadly, quickly opening her suitcase and starting to unpack, hoping her father would understand that this was a sensitive topic.

    Robert watched his daughter and if she had looked at him at this moment, she would have seen worry cloud his eyes. Instead he smiled and hugged her briefly.

    "Everything works out for the best sweetheart. I'll call you when dinner is ready." He exited the room, closing the door slightly behind him.


    The snow fell through the night, blanketing the neighborhood with white powder. Chloe woke up at the first sun ray, rubbed her eyes, and walked to the window. Outside everything seemed so silent, so still, so pristine, and its purity seemed almost unrealistic to Chloe. She shook herself out of her reverie and headed for the shower. She felt refreshed this morning, and for the first time in months, she was looking forward to the day to come.

    The entire neighborhood was snowed in and, until a plow came by, there was no possibility of going anywhere.

    "Good morning. How did you sleep?" asked Robert when Chloe walked into the kitchen. He was sitting at the table, slowly sipping coffee and reading a day old newspaper. "I love days like this. Gives me time to catch up on news. I'm always two or three days late reading the paper," he smiled, looking above his glasses.

    "Dad, you could have turned the TV on and caught the news that way, itís faster than reading the paper." She opened the fridge and poured herself a glass of orange juice.

    "I know, but it's not the same as reading the paper while sipping a good cup of coffee. I'm glad I planned for this," said Robert, looking outside.

    "Are we snowed in?" asked Chloe as she buttered a bagel.

    "Yes we are, but not to worry. I went shopping the day before yesterday and I bought enough groceries to feed an army. Now I hope that by tomorrow some of the snow will have melted, otherwise it's just you and I for Christmas Eve."

    "Okay by me." She took a bite of her bagel and reached for the comics section.

    They spent the day reading by the fire and playing chess. At night when Chloe lay down on her large bed, she felt serene and relaxed. Maybe, I just needed to get away from campus, and from everything that reminds me of her, she thought, turning on her side, and tucking the bed covers under her chin. She closed her eyes, and fell asleep with a smile on her face.


    Laurence put the last decoration on the Christmas tree and stepped back to admire her work. "Not too bad," she said aloud to herself and to Clément who was busy looking at a book. He had helped Laurence by putting up some of the decorations, but lost interest very quickly. "Hey, Clément, what do you think? Do you like it?"

    "It's pretty, Lo," he smiled, running to her.

    She hugged him briefly and plugged in the Christmas lights, giving the room a greenish and reddish glow.

    Clément clapped his hands happily. "Santa is coming," he sang, dancing around the tree. Laurence smiled and started to pick up the empty decoration boxes.

    "Lo, another one," screamed Clément happily.

    Laurence straightened up and looked at Clément, who was holding a small ornament. He handed it to Laurence and went back to his book.

    "I guess this one must have fallen," she said, finally looking closely at the ornament. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart sped up at the sight of the small Santa Claus decoration. It had been Chloe's favorite last year.

    "Lo, look. It isn't this so cute?"

    "It's a tiny Santa Claus," smiled Laurence.

    "Yeah, but look at the finesse and details. I've never seen that."

    Laurence smiled at the memories and hugged the ornament tightly to her chest. "Gosh, I miss you," she whispered.

    "Okay, Clément, bath time and up to bed."

    "A little more, Lo...please," said Clément, using his best angel imitation.

    "No, babe. I know you, and you're going to be up at the crack of dawn. Come on, no discussion." She picked him up and went upstairs.


    Chloe put on a final touch of make-up and adjusted her sweater. She slowly removed Laurence's ring from her right hand. "I think it's time I move on," she told herself. One last look in the mirror and she made her way downstairs where her family was waiting for her. The plow truck had finally made its way to their neighborhood in the late afternoon the day before, clearing up the roads and allowing the habitants to leave their houses.

    Chloe's aunt was a woman in her 50's. She mothered everyone and still saw Chloe's father as a little six year old who needed her help to tie his shoes. Her husband, a prominent lawyer in Washington D.C., was a very quiet man who had learned over the years that saying 'yes dear' instead of arguing with his wife would give him better results. Chloe liked them very much, and she was looking forward to seeing them again. She slowly walked downstairs; a large Christmas tree stood in a room adjacent to the family room. As she walked by it, memories of the past year came rushing back, but she quickly put them aside, not willing to dwell in the past. Not this evening, she thought while entering the family room.

    "Oh, my God, look at you. You look so much like your've grown. You're beautiful."

    "Hello Aunt Martha," said Chloe, hugging her aunt. "Hi, Uncle Greg." She hugged the thin man and stepped back. "I'm glad you could come... yesterday dad and I really thought that we were going to spend Christmas Eve alone."

    "Of course not, nothing could have kept us from coming."

    "Snow might have," joked Robert, indicating for Chloe to sit down. "I'm going to go check on the food. You all do some catching up." As he stepped out, the phone rang. "Chloe, can you get that?"

    She got up, only to be beaten out by her aunt. "You talk to your uncle, dear, I'll get that. I wonder who would dare to call on Christmas Eve."

    "Maybe it's my mom," said Chloe, half-hoping.

    "Hello," said Aunt Martha. "Hello," she repeated. "Peculiar, I heard breathing and the line went dead. Either way, it wasn't your mother."

    "Maybe one of those sales people," said her husband.

    "Dear, I doubt it, not on Christmas Eve. It's probably one of the only days of the year that they leave us alone." She sat back down and picked up some finger food from the coffee table. "So, tell me honey. How was France?"

    "It was good," answered Chloe, looking expectantly toward the door, hoping for her father to come back in and distract her aunt.

    "Good. Come on sweetie, tell us more about it."

    Seeing that she wasn't going to be able to get out of it, she told them about her year, purposely omitting details about Laurence. As she finished her tale, a sudden sadness came over her.

    "That sounds great. I think you had a great time," said her aunt, oblivious to Chloeís sudden change of mood. Her uncle, who was a little more perceptive, realized they had brushed a sensitive topic.

    "I wonder what's for dinner?" he said, trying to distract his wife.

    Chloe smiled lightly at his attempt and got up. "I'll go check what he's doing." As she stepped out of the room, the phone rang again. "I'll get it," she yelled more for her aunt than her father. She picked it up from her father's office, which was across the corridor from the family room.

    "Hello?" Not hearing anything, she repeated, "Hello! Listen, if this is some sort of sick joke, I don't see the fun in it. Stop calling," she said harshly before hanging up.


    Laurence hung up the phone and lay back down on her pillows. Her heart was beating extremely fast and her palms were all sweaty. She curled up into a ball and buried her face in the covers, trying to suppress a scream. After a few minutes, she regained control of her emotions and got up. "No more sleep for me tonight." She walked to the bathroom, splashed water on her face and came back to her room feeling more in control. She picked up a brush and spread paint on a pallet. Her eyes fell on a painting she had started a few weeks back, and never finished. She sighed deeply, cleared her head and tried to let the 'muse' of painting take over.


    Dinner was fun. They exchanged presents and played Monopoly, her aunt's favorite board game. Around midnight, Aunt Martha and Uncle Greg left, but not before making Chloe promise that they would see her again before next year.

    "Bye," waved Chloe, closing the door and shivering from the cold air from the outside.

    "Looks like it's going to snow again," said Robert, looking out the window. "Okay, I think I'll retire now. Goodnight sweetheart. I'll see you in the morning."

    "G'night dad." He kissed her lightly on the forehead and left. She turned off all the downstairs lights and also went upstairs. While getting ready for bed, the phone rang.

    "Damn...what's up with this," she said with frustration, lunging across her bed to pick up the phone on the other side. "Hello?" Again, she got no answer, but as she was getting ready to hang up, she heard a young child's voice faintly in the background. Her heart sped up, and she adjusted her grip on the phone. Hesitantly, she said, "Laurence?" Not getting an answer, she sighed and passed her hand through her bangs. "Please if it's you, tell me you're all right," she asked, her voice quivering, her mind racing with endless possibilities.

    On the other side a quiet voice answered. "I...I...wanted to...I'm sorry, I shouldn't have called."

    "No, Laurence wait. Please don't hang up," said Chloe, almost pleading. "Are you still there?" she asked uncertain.

    "Yes, I am here," answered Laurence, her voice barely a whisper.

    Chloe released a breath and tried to control her racing heart.

To be continued

copyright (c) 2000 Malaurie Barber
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