Chloe closed the window and walked back to the bed. She contemplated going back to sleep, but decided against it. She showered and got dressed before going downstairs for breakfast. Sitting alone at the kitchen table sipping her orange juice, Chloe felt lonely, and her mind kept drifting back to the evening where Clément had messed up Laurence’s hair with pizza sauce. She tried to shake the images away, but everywhere she looked something reminded her of Laurence.
"Boy, that’s not good. I wonder how long her train ride is…" exclaimed Chloe to herself. She got up and cleaned up the remains of her breakfast. She thought of going for a walk, but the fear of missing Laurence’s phone call kept her in the house. She decided to settle in the library and read some more of Beaudelaire’s poems.
The morning went by slowly. Chloe tried to concentrate on her reading but the task was almost impossible. Shortly after noon the phone rang. Chloe jumped to her feet and ran to the family room. "Hello?"
"Bonjour, c’est Beatrice."
"Oh, bonjour, c’est Chloe," she answered, the disappointment obvious in her voice.
"Hi Chloe, you seem somewhat surprised. Were you expecting someone else to call?"
"Has Laurence left already?"
"Yes, early this morning."
"Hm…too bad…I ‘m getting off the highway, and we should be home in the next twenty minutes. See you then." Beatrice hung up.
"You witch. You’re not sorry at all that Laurence has already left," said Chloe after hanging up.
Twenty minutes later, Chloe heard a car pulling in through the gate. She opened the front door and stepped out to welcome Beatrice. Beatrice opened the door of her Mercedes, and the sound of Clément crying was heard.
"Oh good Chloe, you’re here. Would you mind getting him? He has been crying on and off since we left my parents…I can’t stand it anymore." She left the car doors open and walked into the house, assuming her request would be obeyed. Chloe opened the back door and reached for Clément who was still strapped into his car seat.
"Hush, hush…what’s wrong babe? Huh? Had a bad trip?" She picked him up and closed the car door. "It’s okay." Clément’s cries became hiccups mixed with tears. "Boy, I think I know why you’re crying…you need a change of diaper…Come on." She carried him upstairs to his bathroom. Beatrice could be heard from her room, talking on the phone. Chloe lay Clément down on his changing table and started pulling off his pants. "Geeze, Clément! When was the last time you were changed? Look at this mess."
Clément’s cries had stopped as soon as his diaper was off. His discomfort had obviously been the cause of his screams. "Sweetheart, would you like to take a bath? It would probably help you feel better." Clément’s nodded between sniffles. "Okay, then. Let’s get these clothes off you."
"Chloe?" called Beatrice from her bedroom.
"In Clément’s bathroom," yelled Chloe.
Beatrice popped her head trough the door. "Listen, I would really appreciate if you could take care of Clément. I have to go out…some business I have to take care of. Is that okay?"
Boy, if I let her get away with that, she is going to ask me to take care of him at the last minute all the time. Chloe was ready to say that she had already made some plans, but one look at Clément’s tear-stained face made her change her mind. "Sure, no problem."
"Thanks. If it runs late…I might stay in a hotel…since I have to drive back to Paris tomorrow for work. Anyway, don’t worry…bye." Beatrice’s high heels were heard clicking down the stairs, the door opened and closed, and the car left the courtyard.
"Well, big guy, it’s just you and me." For the first time since Beatrice had stepped out of the car, Clément smiled. Chloe finished undressing him and stood him up on the floor while turning the water on. "Ready to go in?" She grabbed him under the arm and picked him up high in the air, making him fly above her head. Clément started giggling. "That’s better than crying. Come on little airplane, into the tub." She sat him in the tub and grabbed a bunch of toys from the toy-net attached to wall near the tub. "Here you go."
Chloe let him play for a few minutes and started washing him. "Hey, buddy, you’ve got to get up, so I can wash your legs." Clément stood up, splashing water everywhere. "Hey, little monster…be careful."
"Funny…" laughed Clément.
"Yeah, yeah, funny. You’re the one taking the bath, not me," smiled Chloe. "Wow, what happened to your hip, you’ve got a huge bruise right here." She gently brushed her fingers on the purpled area. Clément flinched. "It still hurts? You must have fallen pretty hard. Are you ready to get out?"
"No…no.." said Clément, sitting back in the tub.
"Come on babe, I’ll go play Legos with you."
At the mention of Legos, Clément stood up and opened his arms to Chloe so she could pick him up.
While dressing him, she took a look at his bruised hip again. "There isn’t much I can do for it babe. I wonder what you did to hurt yourself so badly." She finished dressing him -- making the decision not to put a diaper back on since they were trying to train him -- and brought him down from the changing table. "Here you go."
"Lego?" asked Clément
"Yeah, lead the way." Clément grabbed Chloe’s hand and dragged her downstairs to the playroom. For more than an hour they built castles and airplanes out of Lego blocks. Clément seemed to have the mind of a future architect, building complicated patterns and being very careful to match colors, even once taking apart a wall Chloe had just built because she had mixed blue and red blocks.
"Hey, sweety, you want a snack?" asked Chloe.
"Yes," said Clément, getting up and running to the kitchen.
"Boy, he doesn’t waste any time." She followed him to the kitchen. In the kitchen Clément was already sitting at the table, his little legs dangling from the chair. He smiled at Chloe when she walked in and started banging his hands on the table.
"Yeah, yeah, drum…noisy too. Come on, stop that. Wait a minute, did you just call me by my name?"
"Coe," repeated Clément.
"No, no, Ch-loe," repeated Chloe, enunciating her name to Clément.
"Coe!" said Clément again.
"Okay, okay, forget it. Coe it is. At least for the moment. What do you want to eat?" Chloe opened the fridge and gazed inside. "What about a fruit cup?"
Clément grimaced. "No. Cookies!"
"I tell you what. You eat half of the fruit cup and you can have a cookie. Deal?" she said, giving her hand to Clément to tap as if to seal the deal.
Clément laughed and tapped her hand. "‘kay."
"Good, here you go." She placed the fruit cup and the cookie in front of Clément. He started reaching for the cookie, but Chloe stopped him. "No, no what did we just say? Fruit first and cookie last." Clément looked at Chloe and grabbed his spoon. "Good, much better. Now you eat, and we’ll go for a walk after. What time is it?" Chloe looked at the clock hung on the kitchen wall. "4:30 p.m. Yeah, we’ll have time for a walk." Why hasn’t she called yet?
Clément finished his snack and jumped off his chair. "Catch me, ‘loe." He took off running toward the family room.
"Boy, he is going to kill me." She took off behind him. "Here I come." She heard giggles coming from the family room, but Clément was nowhere to be found once she got there. "Where are you? Oh, I get it, now we’re playing hide-and-seek. Guess I’m it." She looked briefly behind the couch and spotted Clément but decided to prolong the game. "I wonder where Clément is? Clément?" Suddenly keys were heard in the front door and someone stepped through the door. Chloe ran to the entrance. "Who’s there?"
"Hello," said the voice. At the sound of the voice, Clément burst out of his hiding place and ran to the door. "Papa, papa." He jumped into the stranger’s arms.
"Hey, p’tit gars. Regarde moi. Comme tu as grandi!" He picked up Clément and hugged him tight, kissing him profusely. "Tu m’as manqué. Je t’ai ramené quelque chose."
"Un jouet?" asked Clément.
"Hum…peut-être," he joked. He put Clément down. "You must be Chloe. I’m Jean."
"Oh, hi," said Chloe, shaking his hand. "I wasn’t expecting you before next week."
"Some of my meetings got cancelled. Has Laurence left already?"
"Yes, early this morning. I’m sure she would have stayed longer if she had known."
"That’s too bad. I was hoping she’d still be here," said Jean, disappointment obvious in his voice. "I guess I’ll call her later on tonight. What about Beatrice?"
"Uh, she left. She said she had some business to attend to."
"Hum...okay…" answered Jean, dismissing the topic. "Listen, it’s still nice outside, I want to take Clément for a walk in the park. Would you like to join us?"
"I don’t want to bother you."
"No, really, I wouldn’t have asked otherwise. So, is that a yes?" smiled Jean.
"I’d love to," smiled Chloe. Jean’s good mood was contagious, and she found the loneliness she felt after Laurence left slowly go away.
"Great. I’ll go change for some more suitable clothes, and we can get going."
Chloe looked at Jean. He was wearing a dark blue business suit and his tie was loose around his neck. I understand where Laurence’s height comes from, thought Chloe. Indeed, Jean was tall, his lean body enlarged by broad shoulders, and his face was slightly tanned. He had a large forehead with dark black eyebrows guarding eyes as black as a crow’s. A few wrinkles circled his mouth, and hair that must once have been dark as night now bore silver streaks around the temples. I guess Laurence gets her blue eyes from her mother. I wonder who Clément gets them from…must skip a generation.
Jean picked up Clément who was still clinging to his father’s leg. "Come on big guy. Want to come upstairs with me, so I can give you your present?" Jean walked upstairs carrying Clément.
"Boy, that’s quite a change from Beatrice," murmured Chloe. She rushed to her bedroom to put on a sweatshirt. On her way back down, she heard Clément giggle. Yep, definitely a change.
They went to the castle park. Jean had taken a soccer ball and ran around with Clément teaching him how to play soccer. Clément proudly wore his gifts from Jean, a pair of toy binoculars and a baseball hat, and he looked adorable.
After a few minutes of running around, Jean stopped and ran to Chloe who was sitting on the grass watching the game. "Come on, I shouldn’t be the only one getting tired here." Chloe got up and joined them.
An hour later, Chloe and Jean collapsed on the ground exhausted. Clément ran to his dad and tried to get him to get up. " Jouer enco’e papa. Allez."
"Non, j’en peux plus," laughed Jean.
The sun at started to come down, and the previously crowded park was almost empty. "I tell you what. I take you guys to McDonalds. It will be just like home for you, Chloe," joked Jean.
"Hey, we eat other things besides burgers," exclaimed Chloe.
"I know…I was just joking," answered Jean smiling. "Hey sport, you can get a happy meal. They have toys inside."
Clément started jumping around. "Toys…Coe come?" he asked, grabbing her hand and looking at her expectantly.
"I think so," she answered, getting up and brushing the grass off her pants.
"I think he really likes you. Good, because we had bad luck with the other au pairs," remarked Jean.
"Yeah, Laurence told me."
"I know Beatrice left you guys alone when she went away to her parents’ with Clément. Was Laurence nice to you?" Jean grabbed Clément’s hand and walked back to the car parked outside the gates.
"Yes sir, very. She showed me tons of things around Versailles. I had a great time."
"Oh good. My daughter can be
known to have quite a bad attitude sometimes," said Jean as he started
the car. "Okay, let’s go. I’m famished."
Over burgers, Jean told Chloe stories about Laurence as a child, and how strongly Clément resembled her. Chloe was fascinated to learn that Laurence took riding lessons for 10 years; how, like Clément, she always tried to get her way with everything; and how at the age of five she took off by herself and managed to get to the metro and ride to Paris while her parents were frantically looking for her at home. Her father was obviously crazy about her, and the tone of his voice reflected great pride.
"Yes, she is quite something," he added, finishing his food. He adjusted Clément’s napkin and wiped the corner of his mouth with it. "Clément, you're a mess."
"She is also a very talented painter," added Chloe.
"She let you up in her room…wow," said Jean surprised.
"Why is it that surprising?"
"I can’t remember the last time she let anyone up there, let alone me!" exclaimed Jean. "She likes you. Good, my daughter is a very lonely person, and she doesn’t have many friends. I’m glad you guys get along." Jean got up and picked up Clément. "I’ll go wash his hands, and we can get going." He left in search of the bathroom.
I really hope she hasn’t called while we were out…I wonder if I could pry her phone number out of her dad, thought Chloe.
Once home, Chloe asked Jean if she could check the phone messages using the excuse that her dad may have called.
"Sure, the answering machine is near the phone."
Chloe pressed the flashing red light, but to her disappointment Beatrice’s voice was heard. "Hi Chloe, my meeting lasted longer than planned, and some of my co-workers invited me out for dinner. Don’t wait up. Thanks." Beep, and the answering machine went quiet.
"Damn, she hasn’t called," mumbled Chloe for herself.
"What is it? Did your dad call?" called Jean from the family room where he was reading a book to Clément.
"No he didn’t. I…I was also hoping that Laurence would call to say she made it," answered Chloe.
"Probably not…my daughter is not big on phones and even less in keeping in touch. I’ll call her later." Jean looked up to see a very disappointed Chloe. "What? Did she promise you she’d call?"
"Well…sort of…I just wanted to know if she got there safely," fumbled Chloe.
Jean shook his head. "I’m sorry if she said she’d call and hasn’t. As I was saying she is not very reliable for that. I wouldn’t expect hearing from her until next time she comes down here."
"Oh, okay," answered Chloe softly.
"Hey, don’t worry about it, you’ll meet plenty of people during the year. I can give you her number if that makes you feel better." Jean didn’t wait for Chloe’s answer. He moved Clément off his lap and grabbed an address book from one of the coffee table’s drawers. He scribbled a number on a torn piece of paper and handed it to Chloe. "Here you go."
"Thanks. I guess I’ll go upstairs now if you don’t mind."
"No, of course. I’m going to put the monster to bed in a few."
"I gave him a bath this afternoon already."
"Oh, okay. Thanks."
"Could you come down around 7 a.m. tomorrow? I have to go to the office, and who knows about Beatrice."
"Sure. Oh, I almost forgot, Beatrice left a message." Chloe went up the wooden staircase, holding the piece of paper tight in her hand.
She first walked to her bedroom and lay down on her bed in the dark. "Damn, what do I do now? Call her or not?" Chloe sat up and reached for the remote control and flipped the TV on. The brightness of the screen lit up the room, making her squint. She flipped through channels for a short time and settled on a game show. After a few minutes of trying to concentrate on translating, Chloe gave up. She stood up, grabbed the piece of paper with Laurence’s phone number and left her room. She stopped in front of Laurence’s door, took a deep breath and entered. The unmade bed still carried the shape of their bodies. Chloe gently smoothed out the blanket and grabbed the phone.
"Here goes nothing…" she said while dialing.
"Oui, bonsoir, je voudrais parler à Laurence," asked Chloe with her best French accent.
"Laurence," yelled the voice. "Téléphone."
"Laurence?" asked Chloe, her voice almost shaking.
"Chloe, is that you?"
"Uh…yeah…I just wanted to know if you made it back home." Chloe sat on the bed and fumbled with the telephone cord.
"Yeah, I’m fine. How did you get my number?" Laurence’s voice sounded cold, almost harsh.
"Uh…your dad gave it to me."
"My dad? Is he back?"
"Yes, he was sorry he missed you."
"Yeah, I bet. How is Clément?"
"Good, very good. We all went to the park this afternoon and played soccer…it was fun."
"I’m sure it was." A voice was heard in the background. "Yeah, yeah, I’m coming… Okay, Chloe I have to get going. Thanks for calling."
"Uh…okay…when will I talk to you again?"
"School starts again tomorrow, and I’m going to get really busy…I’m rarely home…"
"I see your dad was right…" said Chloe sadly.
"What did my dad say?" asked Laurence, a hint of anger in her voice.
"That you weren’t very big on keeping in touch or calling people. I’m sorry if I thought that after last night…" her voice trailed off.
"Listen, I really have to go…I’m afraid you’re expecting too much from me here. I don’t know what I can give you…we talked about that…we agreed…"
"Yeah, we did." sighed Chloe. "Go and have fun Laurence. Bye." She hung up, not waiting for Laurence to answer.
In Lille, Laurence hung up the phone and sighed. I have to give her a chance to back up…She walked slowly to the door, picked up her keys, and looked one last time at the silent phone before leaving the apartment.
In Paris, Chloe sat dumbfounded on the bed, her fists clenching the covers over and over again, tears falling slowly down her cheeks. She got up, taking one last look at the bed that held the memory of the night gone by, and left closing the door slowly behind her. She walked down the corridor leading to her bedroom, her sadness slowly giving way to anger. She violently opened her bedroom door and stamped inside.
"Who the hell does she think she is? How could have I been stupid enough to think that Miss Ice-Queen could care about anyone beside herself? Stupid…stupid!" She walked into her bathroom. "I need a cold shower, so I can clear my head and stop fooling myself." Chloe took off her clothes and stepped into the shower, turning the cold water on, letting it clear her mind. Shortly after she added hot water, and slowly rested her forehead on the shower stall, the warm water relieving the stress of the day. After a while she turned the water off and stepped out. She dried herself, and put on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt before getting into bed. The emotional stress of the day slowly took its toll, and Chloe let exhaustion take her to dreamland.
Go to chapter VII