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Chapter III

    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.

    "Iím sorry," said Chloe in a soft voice. "I should have known not to push you."

    Laurenceís eyes were filled with unshed tears when she looked at Chloe. She sighed. "Itís okay. Letís not talk about it anymore."

    "Ďkay," answered Chloe.

    "Tell you what? As soon as Clément wakes up weíll go take a walk, and Iíll show you more of the town."

    "Thatíd 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 wonít be long."

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    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.

    "Donít you guys have bike trails around here?" asked Chloe while barely avoiding a collision with a bike.

    Laurence smiled, "Itís an historic town, weíre lucky we have paved roads!"

    "Whatís the name of this road?" Chloe asked, so she could start orienting herself.

    "Boulevard de la Reine."

    "It means, the Queenís boulevard, right?"

    "Impressive!" joked Laurence.

    "Any reason why itís called that?" Chloe was always curious about historical facts.

    "The boulevard brings you to the Queenís gardens. I guess thatís why."

    "Is there a boulevard duÖ"

    "...Roi? Yeah, itís parallel to this one on the other side of the castle. And before you ask, no I donít know why itís called that."

    Laurence turned left before reaching the end of the boulevard, bringing them in front of the castle. Wow, I canít believe Iím 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 didnít realize that we lived so close to the castle," exclaimed Chloe.

    "Yeah, you should really go visit it."

    "Iím 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, itís Louis XIV."

    "Oh!"

    "Big difference, he was popular. Trust me, his grandchild wasnít."

    "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, weíve 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."

    "Letís hurry. Weíll 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.

    "Letís 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.

    "Whatís incredible?" asked Laurence while pushing the stroller through the crowd.

    "This place. Itís so exotic."

    "Yeah? Donít you guys have markets where you come from?" asked Laurence.

    "Not like this. Ours are moreÖI canít explain. Everything seems so alive here."

    Laurence looked at Chloe with a mock smile on her face.

    "Come on, donít look at me as if Iím stupid or something. Iím serious, this place is great."

    "Maybe. I guess Iím just used to it."

    "Can we walk around for a little while?" asked Chloe.

    "As long as itís 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 isnít 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, donít make fun. Iím 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.

    "Letís get some," said Laurence.

    "Really?"

    "Yeah, why not? Hey, Clément? Want some strawberries?"

    "Stawbeíies. Yeah," said Clément happily.

    "Okay, so letís get some."

    Laurence purchased the fruit. "Come on, letís get out of here."

    "But itís 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, youíre gonna be one sticky little boy, arenít you?" laughed Laurence.

    Clément giggled. "Good, Lo."

    "Yeah babe, youíre right. These are really good. I think Iíll have another."

    "Fine, you got me. Iíll try, but if Iím sick tomorrow, Iíll blame it on you," said Chloe admitting defeat.

    "I knew you couldnít 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.

    "Damn."

    "What? What happened?" asked Laurence. She then took a good look at Chloe and started laughing.

    "Thatíll 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 canít 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 itís clean," she said. She gently lifted up Chloeís 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.
 
    "Youíre 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? Weíre 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 didnít leave a note or anythingÖ"

    "I donít remember you leaving a note to tell us you wouldnít come home last night," said Laurence sarcastically.

    "You know how meetings goÖ." answered Beatrice defensively.

    "No I donít," 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 Iím taking Clément to my parents for the weekend. I didnít 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 youíre a mess. Come on, letís 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, letís 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, Iím fine. Nice save earlier."

    Chloe blushed. "Thanks, I guess. Iím sorry. I didnít 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 donít you get along?" As soon as the question left her lips Chloe realized what a mistake sheíd made. Dumb, dumb, dumbÖ remember, avoid personal questions. "Forget I even asked," said Chloe before Laurence had time to answer anything.

    Laurenceís eyes had darkened with anger when Chloe asked the question. Come on, cut her some slackÖ Sheís is trying. Laurence took a deep breath to calm herself down. "Itís okay. Itís just a long story. I donít want to get into it right now. Ask me some other time. Listen, Iím going up to my room. Tell Beatrice Iím not hungry. See you tomorrow." Laurence left the hallway and went up the stairs leaving Chloe behind.

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    Chloe decided to go and spend some time in the library until dinner. She went in search of the book of Baudelaireís poems. Okay, page 41. Letís 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 Beatriceís arms.

    "Hey, youíre all clean! Wanna go and play?"

    Clément smiled. "Playroom," he said pointing toward it.

    "Okay you got it."

    "Donít get him too wound up Chloe or Iíll never get him to go to sleep tonight. Iíll cook up something fast for him and we can eat."

    "Okay, Iíll go explore the playroom with him."

    Once in the playroom Chloe looked around her. Wow, I didnít 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, youíve got tons of toys. Want to play with your trains?"

    "No, Lego."

    "Legos, huh? Okay, youíre the boss. Letís 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 childrenís videotapes and books. "Kidsí booksÖyeah, thatís 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. " íkay."

    "Come on then," said Chloe while sitting in the floor. Clément flopped himself on her lap, and Chloe began to read. "Iím probably destroying the pronunciation! What do you say? Is my French accent really bad?" she asked Clément jokingly.

    Clément clapped. "MoreÖjíveux encore!"

    "Now, no mixing French and English otherwise your momís not going to be too happy about that."

    "Clément, ChloeÖdinner!" yelled Beatrice from the kitchen.

    "Speaking of herÖcome on Clément, dinner awaits."

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    In the kitchen the smell of Chinese food engulfed Chloe. Iím 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 wasnít hungry."

    "Well, her loss," said Beatrice, actually relieved to not have to deal with her stepdaughterís attitude for the rest of the evening.

    During dinner Beatrice told Chloe what would be expected of her in more detail. "Youíll have one weekend free per month where you wonít have to take care of Clément at all. The other weekends, youíll be asked to baby-sit Friday or Saturday night, sometimes both. Youíll 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 heíll be gone from 9 to 3:30 p.m. everyday, so youíll 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, itís 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.

    "Iíll get him cleaned up, if you want," said Chloe, trying to get Clément away from his motherís wrath.

    Beatrice sighed. "Why donít 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. Iím exhausted from my day of work." She stood up and placed a peck on Clémentís cheek.

    "Good night, sweetheart."

    After washing Clément and putting him into his pyjamas, Chloe set him down in his bed.

    "Now what? I canít carry a tune so donít ask me to sing, but Iíll tell you a story if you want."

    "Story with tuk?" asked Clément.

    "Whatís tuk?"

    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 donít 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 doesnít really seem to understand that youíre just a little two year old boy. Thatís too bad because youíre 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.

    "Still hungry?"

    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 donít 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. Itís nice to have someone to take over sometimes."

    "Doesnít 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. "Iím going up to my room now. Gínight Beatrice."

    "Good night."

    I canít 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.

    "Iím sorry, I didnít think youíd be asleepÖIÖI thought you might be hungry, so I brought you some food since you didnít eat dinner and allÖ."

    Laurence reached for the plate Chloe was holding.

    "Thanks. You didnít 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 Iíll 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 Chloeís, but the difference was in the paintings on the wall.

    "Wow," said Chloe while looking around. "These paintings are great. Who are the artists?"

    "Theyíre 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.

    "What?"

    "I said itís a she," answered Laurence while putting her plate down on an oak desk in the corner of the room.

    "So, who is she?"

    "Me."

    "What? Youíve got to be kidding!" said Chloe in disbelief.

    "Why should I be?"

    Chloe stared at Laurence. Her eyes reflected nothing but truth and honesty.

    "Thatís the truth, isnít it?"

    "Yep," said Laurence with a smile.

    "Youíre really talented, you know that?"

    "Thanks. I like painting. It relaxes me."

    "Have you ever thought of selling your work?"

    "Come on! Iím not that good. Plus itís just a hobby, nothing more."

    "Youíre 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 womanís eyes. They remind me of Öoh my goshÖtheyíre the same as Laurenceís eyes. "She has the sameÖ"

    "My motherÖitís 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...Iím sorry I had no idea...nobodyÖ"

    "Itís okay," said Laurence, walking away and sitting at the desk.

    Chloe didnít know what to do. The conversation was taking a turn she hadnít 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 didnít 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.

    "Youíve got a fridge back there?" Chloe asked, surprised and relieved for the change of topic.

    "Yep. So you want something?"

    "Iíll take a Diet Coke if you have one," answered Chloe.

    "Coming up."

    Laurence walked back toward Chloe and handed the can to her.

    "Thatís 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 doesnít taste like Diet Coke."

    "French Diet Coke tastes like American Coke."

    "I take it you donít 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."

    "Iíll try that."

    "Okay. Do you have siblings back in the States?" asked Laurence while walking back to the fridge.

    "No, Iím an only child."

    Laurence came back with Chloeís drink. "Here."

    "Listen, Iím going to eat my food while itís still warm. You donít have to stand, you can sit on the bed."

    "I donít want to disturb youÖ"

    Laurence laughed. "Thatís a good one coming from the person who woke me up half an hour ago."

    Chloe blushed. "WellÖI didnít know youíd be asleep.

    "Iím 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 didnít get along with Beatrice?" Laurence nodded slightly. "You said to ask you later, and ÖI think it could be important for me to know whatís going on since Iím going to live in this family for a year and all. I think maybe itís later and you could explain it to me." Chloe waited expectantly for Laurenceís 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, itís too soonÖ"Listen. Really, youíre reading too much into it. We just donít get along. There isnít much more to it," said Laurence

    "Nothing I should know?" asked Chloe

    "Not really. You already know that Beatrice sleeps around. Beside that there isnít much."

    "What?" exclaimed Chloe.

    "Donít tell me you didnít guess? Come on! Do you really think those meetings of hers are real?"

    "I thought it was a little weird that last nightís meeting lasted that long, but I never thoughtÖ Wow, Iím sorry."

    "No sweat, really."

    "Thatís why you donít 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. Itís late andÖ"

    "No, no, I should go. I didnít realize it was so late." Chloe got up from the bed.

    "Can you knock on my door tomorrow morning? And this time donít let me sleep in." Chloe asked as she walked to the door.

    "I tell you what, why donít you take my alarm clock?"

    "What about you?"

    "Donít 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 canít believe it!" said Chloe feigning indignation.

    "Yeah, I heard. Thanks for putting him to bed."

    "Youíre welcome," said Chloe smiling. She opened the door and was ready to take her leave when Laurence spoke.

    "Youíre right you know."

    " Ďbout what?"

    "Beatrice doesnít understand that Clément is only two."

    Chloe smiled. "No she doesnít, thatís for sure. Gínight Laurence."

    "Gínight."

    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 donít want you to feel like youíve got to entertain me!"

    "I wouldnít be offering if I didnít want to do it. Plus, Iíll give you the unofficial tour."

    "What do you mean?"

    "Youíll 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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