"Promise me you’ll call when you get there?"
"I will, Dad."
"Okay. Be careful - you know those French people can be a little crazy sometimes."
"Bye sweetheart, see you at Christmas time," he said as he grabbed her in a hug.
A voice over the loudspeaker announced, "Last call for flight 667 to Paris."
"Dad, let me go! I’m going to miss my plane!" Chloe disengaged herself from her father’s embrace. "I promise I’ll call as soon as I land." She kissed him on the cheek. "Love you."
"Love you too pumpkin…please be careful." His words were lost to Chloe who was already making her way toward the hostess, boarding pass in hand. She turned one last time and waved before disappearing through the door.
I can’t cry, I won’t cry, I won’t cry, Chloe mumbled to herself. Come on Chloe, you wanted this opportunity to leave good old Washington behind and this is your chance, so stop feeling sorry for yourself and go sit down.
Chloe made her way down the aisle toward 14C. "Here it is." She stood on her tiptoes trying to put her carry-on into the overhead luggage space. "Damn, why do these things have to be so high?"
"Let me help you, mademoiselle." Chloe turned toward the voice and was faced by two smiling brown eyes.
"Sure, that would be great. These things are not made for people vertically challenged like me," she said with a smile before sliding into her seat.
The stranger put her carry-on away with ease and looked at Chloe. "Well, you and I are going to spend some time together - I’m 14B."
"Great, I hate flying, so having someone to talk to always helps me." She softly tugged a lock of blond hair behind her ear. "Where are my manners? I’m Chloe." She extended her hand to her travel companion.
"I am Vincent," he said, shaking her hand.
"Well Vincent, nice to meet you." She smiled at him. The plane started taxiing toward the runway. "Oh boy, here we go." She said nervously. "Have I mentioned that I hate flying?" As the plane started to gain speed Chloe grabbed her seat arm and closed her eyes.
"But you should not close your eyes, the take-off is the best part!" Vincent teased her.
"Speak for yourself. It scares me senseless," Chloe said with clenched teeth. "Just tell me when we’re high enough that I can’t see the ground anymore."
"Okay." Minutes went by and Chloe started to relax. "Okay, it is safe to open your eyes now." Vincent told her.
Chloe opened her eyes and glanced cautiously out the windows where only clouds were visible. She let out a heavy sigh. She then slowly let go of her seat arm.
"So, how long are you going to stay in France?" Vincent asked.
"What? Oh sorry, you startled me." She slowly opened and closed her hands to bring back the blood circulation.
"I was just wondering how long you will be in France?"
"Oh, yeah, sorry…one year."
"Pretty long time for someone so young to be away from home."
"Hey, I am 18, and perfectly capable of handling myself," Chloe answered with irritation. Damn, why does everyone just assume that I am this young kid who knows nothing andcan’t take care of herself. It’s so annoying… Vincent interrupted Chloe’s musing.
"I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you." Vincent apologized. "I’ll shut up and leave you alone now."
Vincent reached for his bag tucked under his seat and took out a book.
Chloe carefully took a glance at him. Okay girl, put your pride in your pocket and make peace. Curly hair, baby face… Come on, he can’t be older than 19. Chloe sighed. "So how old are you anyway?"
"Oh, now you’re talking to me, huh?"
"Yeah, well eight hours is a long time to be silent."
Vincent smiled. "I’m 22, and before you say anything I know I look much younger."
Chloe laughed. "Why don’t we just drop the age thing for a while. I guess from your accent you are French, right?"
"Yes. So, what are you going to do for a year in France?"
"You are kidding."
"No, look." Chloe grabbed her backpack from under her seat and took out a folder.
"These are pictures of the family I’m going to stay with." She showed Vincent the pictures of a little boy and his parents. "This is Clément - he’s two - and those are his parents, Beatrice and Jean."
"Who is that?" Vincent asked pointing to a picture of Clément in the arms of a tall woman with long black hair and clear eyes. "Wow, whoever that is I wouldn’t mind being her au pair!"
"Hey!" Chloe poked him in the ribs. "This is Clément’s step sister Laurence."
"Why do they need an au pair when they obviously have someone old enough to take care of the little man when the parents are busy?"
"I don’t know, they didn’t really explain in their letters. I don’t think the step sister lives with them all the time."
"So, are you going to stay in Paris?"
"That’s not too far. I am from Vincennes."
"Where is that?"
Their conversation went on for hours. Vincent gave Chloe dos and don'ts about her future life in France. They talked about everything from music to politics, and when the flight attendant announced that the plane was starting its descent towards Paris, Chloe and Vincent were chattering like old friends.
The landing was not as hard on Chloe, thanks to Vincent who distracted her by pointing out some Paris monuments that could be discerned from high above.
"Mesdames et Messieurs, vous pouvez maintenant détacher vos ceintures et procéder vers la sortie," the flight attendant announced.
"Well, I guess it’s time to go." Chloe started to get up.
"Here, I’ll get your carry-on," Vincent offered.
Vincent handed her the bag. "Listen, here is my phone number. You can call me anytime, and I’ll show you around."
"Okay great. I’ll do that."
They slowly made their way toward the exit, and walked out.
"This is where we go our separate ways. I don’t have to go through immigration, so I’ll talk to you later."
"See you. Talk to you later," Chloe answered.
Vincent walked away, turned
around, waved one last time, and was gone.
As Chloe stood in the immigration line, the nervousness she felt earlier in the plane came back. Come on, we’re not flying anymore, so why I am so nervous? New country, new people, new language. Yeah…that’ll do it, Chloe thought. Okay, what’s the sentence in French for nice to meet you…damn, I can’t remember! A tap on the shoulder interrupted her thoughts.
"Hey lady, it’s your turn, are you going or what?"
She walked up to the immigration officer, and handed over her passport.
"Have a nice year." The officer said while stamping her passport.
Well, that wasn’t too painful. She tucked her passport back in her jacket pocket and made her way toward the luggage area.
Okay, all the suitcases accounted for. Oh boy, I should have listened to Dad and not taken so much with me. Chloe piled her luggage onto the cart and pushed it toward the exit.
When she emerged into the waiting area her eyes scanned the crowd for the faces she only knew from pictures. Okay let’s not panic, I‘m sure they haven’t forgotten about me.
"Ouch!" Chloe exclaimed when a cart ran into the back of her legs. "Hey, watch where you’re going!"
"Well, get out of the way!" an old man answered before shoving her aside and walking away.
Welcome to Paris, City of love! thought Chloe sarcastically.
"What?" Chloe barked, irritated for not finding her host family and by the old man’s rudeness. Chloe looked up to find a tall woman with sunglasses staring at her.
"Are you Chloe Jones?" the woman asked.
"Yes I am."
"Good, follow me," the woman said before turning away
"Wait a minute, I am not going anywhere with someone I don’t even know."
The woman sighed and took off her sunglasses revealing a pair of clear blue eyes. "I am Laurence Glairon."
"Oh…sorry, I didn’t recognize you with the glasses…I wasn’t expecting you here," Chloe apologized.
Laurence didn’t answer, instead grabbing the cart away from Chloe and pushing her way out of the crowd.
Chloe was almost running to keep up with her. The exhaustion of the eight-hour flight took its toll, and she found herself unable to keep up. Soon she was far behind, finally losing sight of Laurence Glairon.
Chloe stopped and tried not to panic. She has to realize that I am not following anymore. She stood alone in the middle of the crowd and tried to fight back the tears that threatened to fall. Not bad for your first day Chloe, almost run over by an angry old man with a cart and now lost in the airport. Not able to contain them anymore, tears started falling down her cheeks.
Suddenly a hand grabbed her shoulder. "What are you doing? I told you to follow me." Laurence looked at Chloe angrily.
"I lost you in the crowd, and…" Chloe’s tears started flowing even more. She felt helpless, lost, and homesick.
Laurence reached for something inside her leather coat pocket and handed a tissue to Chloe. "Here," she said.
"Thanks," Chloe said sniffling.
Laurence nodded and grabbed Chloe’s hand with one hand and the cart with the other and proceeded to make her way out of the crowd.
Once they reached the parking lot, Laurence let go of Chloe’s hand. No words had been spoken between the two women since inside the airport. Chloe felt exhausted and numb. She was ready to break the silence when Laurence spoke first.
"Here is the car. Good thing I took Dad’s car with the number of suitcases you have," Laurence stated with annoyance.
Chloe was starting to really get irritated with this woman who was less than welcoming and rude beyond words.
"Try packing light for a whole year." Chloe snapped back.
Laurence looked coldly at Chloe. She opened her mouth as if she was going to speak, but instead just turned her back and opened the trunk of a gray Mercedes station wagon. She grabbed the first suitcase and put it in the trunk. Chloe started moving to help her.
"I can handle your suitcases. The car is open - why don’t you just go sit down," Laurence said while reaching for another piece of luggage.
"Fine," answered a frustrated Chloe. What is her problem? Boy, if all French people are this way than I am going to be back home before you know it, Chloe thought while making her way toward the passenger side. She opened the door and dropped herself onto the seat. Shortly after, Laurence sat behind the wheel and started the car.
Chloe glanced over at the clock. 8 a.m. No wonder I’m so cranky, I’ve been awake for over 24 hours. She yawned. But I wonder what her excuse is, Chloe thought while looking at the woman siting next to her.
She doesn’t look French at all. Jet black hair, blue eyes, high cheekbones, very tall, Chloe mused. I bet she never spends a Saturday night without a date.
"You have been staring at me for the past five minutes. Stop staring," Laurence said coldly.
"Uh…sorry...I didn’t realize I was staring…I..."
"We’ll be there in twenty minutes."
"Okay," answered Chloe, relieved at the change of topic. Silence settled once again in the car. Chloe looked out the window and could see Paris lights on her right while the car went down the highway at high speed. Chloe felt some of the excitement she first had when hearing that she had been accepted in the au pair program. I am not going to let some rude stranger ruin my first day in France. I’ve been waiting for this moment for too long. Chloe smiled to herself. Okay, time to see if Miss Queen of Rudeness can utter more than two words in a row.
"So, your English is really good, and you barely have any accent. Where did you learn English?" She asked Laurence.
Laurence glanced briefly at Chloe before looking back at the road. "At home."
Oh, boy I see that I am going to have to drag the words out of her. Chloe sighed. "More details, please." She said sarcastically.
"My mother was American," Laurence answered. "Why in the world do you need to know anyway? You’re here to take care of Clément, not me," Laurence said angrily.
"Wow, calm down. I was just trying to make conversation."
"Then don’t bother," Laurence said flatly
The rest of the trip passed in silence. Chloe had started to drift off when the car stopped in front of a high iron gate. Laurence reached out the window and dialed a code, opening the gate. The car drove in and stopped in front of a beautiful red brick house with flowers on the front porch. Next to this house were other similar houses. The row of houses ended with what looked to Chloe like garage doors.
Laurence got out of the car. I guess that’s my signal to move, thought Chloe. She extricated herself from the comfort of the Mercedes seat, and made her way toward the trunk.
"Leave it. You can get it later," Laurence said while walking up the steps to the door. Laurence took her keys out of her left coat pocket and open the door. While stepping inside she yelled in French, "We’re home!" Chloe, who was close behind her, heard tiny footsteps running toward them and a toddler’s voice screamed. "Lo!"
The toddler came running into Laurence’s arms. She picked him up and launched him high above her head and back into her arms. She had a huge grin on her face and was whispering words in the child’s ear.
That’s a change from what I have had to deal with for the past two hours. Chloe was amazed at the change of attitude in Laurence. She seemed so happy, yet minutes ago, she was ready to kill Chloe just for talking to her.
Chloe’s thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a woman wearing a green business suit and high heels. Her face looked severe and tired, and her hair was still damp from the shower.
"Hello, I am Beatrice," the woman said while smiling at Chloe. "And I see you have already met my son, Clément, and of course Laurence since she picked you up from the airport." Beatrice walked toward the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee. Chloe felt compelled to follow her. "I hope Laurence didn’t give you too much of a hard time. She can be very rude sometimes, and God only knows how upset she was this morning to have to get up so early to drive to Roissy."
Chloe debated how to answer this question. Do I say that she was extremely rude, or do I just pretend nothing happened? …I guess if I have to be part of the family for a year I’d better not get on anyone’s bad side.
"No, ma’am, she was really nice."
"Oh, good, well that’s a first." Beatrice lit a cigarette and finished her coffee. "Listen, you must be exhausted. Laurence will show you up to your room because I have to go to work. Today just relax, and we’ll talk when I get back." Beatrice turned towards Laurence who was still holding Clément. "Clément, viens dire au revoir à maman." Clément jumped from his sister’s arms and ran to his mother. Beatrice continued talking as she picked him up.
"We speak English as well as French in this house. I want you to speak English to Clément, so he can learn, and we’ll speak French to you so you can also improve. It worked really well with the last au pair, so it shouldn’t be a problem." Beatrice gave Clément a quick kiss and put him down before grabbing her coat. "Laurence will take care of Clément for today. Ask her if you need anything." Beatrice opened the door. "Oh, I almost forgot. Laurence, your Dad called. He won’t be home until the beginning of next week because he had to prolong his trip."
Laurence’s eyes didn’t betray any emotion, but her voice was quivering when she spoke. "He knows that I’m leaving at the end of the week. He said that…"
Beatrice interrupted her. "Yes, he said to tell you to have a good beginning of semester. Okay, I have to go." With those words Beatrice was gone.
"Bitch," Laurence mumbled to herself before locking the door behind Beatrice.
"I take it you weren’t expecting him to stay away so long." Chloe asked.
"None of your damn business." Laurence coldly stared at Chloe, defying her to add any more comments. Chloe stood her ground and stared back into Laurence’s eyes, not willing to give this woman another victory. Their staring contest ended when Clément screamed for his mother. Laurence bent over to pick him up.
"Shuh, shuh, don’t cry. We are going to have tons of fun today." She rocked him and mumbled nonsense in his ears until his sobs finally stopped. Chloe hadn’t moved, not knowing where to go in this unknown house.
"I’ll show you to your room. Just get from the car what you need for today. I’ll get the rest later."
"Okay, thanks." Chloe made her way to the door. "I need the…"
"The car is unlocked."
"All right then, I’ll be right back." Chloe exited and slowly closed the door behind her.
"Well, pumpkin, what do you think of your new babysitter?" Laurence asked her little brother. "If she is as lazy as the one you had previously…well, you are in for a surprise." Laurence moved toward the family room still carrying the child. "Maybe I should transfer to a closer University, so I could come and stay with you…huh, what do you think?" The child gave Laurence a grin and started playing with her necklace. "Lo, stay. Lo, stay." Laurence distracted Clement’s attention from her necklace by showing him a Fisher Price red fire truck. "Tuk" said Clement happily. "Truck, not tuk." Laurence explained. "Tuck." Clement repeated. Laurence sighed, "Okay, sweetie, let’s leave the phonetic lesson for another day, and go see what Mary Poppins is doing outside."
At that moment the door opened to reveal Chloe struggling with a large suitcase. "Sorry it took me so long, but I couldn’t remember which suitcase I had put my toilet kit in, so I had to open everything. Well, finally I found it, so I figured I would take the entire suitcase in because who knows what I might need today, and…."
"I’ll show you your room." Laurence made no move to pick up the suitcase and started up the stairs with Clément still in her arms.
"Could you give me a hand? I mean, it’s so heavy I don’t think I can carry it upstairs by myself." Laurence did not answer, but made her way back down the stairs, and softly put Clément down.
"Up! Up!" Clément started to scream.
"Clément, chill out, I’ll pick you up in a minute. I have to carry your babysitter’s suitcase." Laurence seemed annoyed and snapped the suitcase out of Chloe’s hand and marched up the stairs as if she wasn’t carrying anything more than a simple briefcase. Clément started whining. "Lo, Lo!"
Oh boy, if he can’t be away from her for even a single minute, I’m going to have a grand time with him next week when she leaves. Chloe knelt in front of Clément. "Hey, want me to carry you upstairs?" Clément looked at Chloe with teary eyes, and raised his little arms up toward her. "One victory for Chloe Jones," mumbled Chloe.
The wooden stairs of the Versailles house creaked as Chloe made her way upstairs. Once at the top of the stairs she looked around for any sign of Laurence. Wow, this floor is a total maze. In front of Chloe was a long corridor leading into two more corridors. One, two, three…damn, four doors. I wonder if they’re all rooms. Well, none of them are open, so I guess mine must be somewhere further down, Chloe walked slowly down the corridor admiring the high ceiling and the antique paintings on the wall.
"Hey, what’s taking you so long?" called Laurence.
"Where are you?" Chloe heard a heavy sigh.
"Take the first corridor on your left, second door on your right." Chloe followed the directions and found herself in a large room with an enormous bed sitting in the middle. "Wow, quite a house you guys have," exclaimed Chloe with excitement.
"Well, yeah…I don’t really live here!" answered Laurence.
"Your parents live here, so that makes it yours too, and boy, it’s a great house."
"Whatever." Laurence reached for Clément who was still in Chloe’s arms. "Come babe, time to let your babysitter get some rest."
"Chloe…my name is Chloe, I’m not just ‘the babysitter!’"
"Well there’s not much use learning your name. Usually babysitters don’t stay very long in this house." Laurence waved toward a door on the far left of the room. "The bathroom is over there." She then left the room and closed the door behind her.
What the hell was that about? Never mind, I’m too exhausted to think about it now. She walked to the bed and sat down. Okay, shower and bed. Maybe after some sleep I can think clearly. Chloe got up and opened her suitcase in search of her toilet kit.
"Come on, I know I saw it in here…damn, where in the world did I…oh, here it is." She grabbed her toilet kit and walked to the bathroom. The bathroom had a large tub and warm blue tiles on the floor, a mat was spread out in front of the tub, and the walls were white with painting of exotic fishes. "Wow! Nice bathroom." Chloe took her clothes off and stepped into the tub. "What I need is a hot bath."
Ten minutes later a clean and relaxed Chloe walked back into her room. She ruffled through her suitcase to find a pair of boxer shorts and a tee shirt and lay down on the bed. As sleep started to claim her, Chloe suddenly remembered the promise she made to her dad at the airport. "Man, I gotta call him before he panics." Chloe sprang off the bed and looked around the room for a phone. "No phone. Okay, I guess I have to go downstairs." She grabbed her University of Maryland sweatshirt, put it on, and left her room.
As she reached the family room at bottom of the stairs, Chloe found Laurence and Clément asleep on the couch. Laurence had a protective arm wrapped around Clément. I shouldn’t need to wake her up to find a phone…what did Vincent tell me I had to dial to reach the States? I knew I should have written it down. As Chloe walked across the family room the wooden floor creaked, freezing her in her tracks. She glanced at Laurence, but the noise didn’t seem to have woken her up. Chloe let out a relieved sigh. Good, I really don’t want to deal with her right now. She finally spotted a phone at the other end of the room on an antique wooden desk. This place is a real museum. I can’t wait to see the rest of the house.
"What are you doing?" said a voice from behind her.
Chloe spun around to find Laurence right behind her.
"I…I was just looking for a phone to call my dad…I promised him before I left."
"Why didn’t you ask?"
"Uh…I didn’t want to wake you up, plus I seem to annoy you every time I open my mouth, so…"
Sudden screams stopped the two women from continuing what seemed to be the beginning of another argument.
"Great, now you woke him up," Laurence barked while running toward Clément.
Chloe was fuming. "I did not wake him up, I was trying to be as quiet as I could, so stop blaming it on me."
Laurence ignored Chloe and rushed back to Clément. "Hey, it’s okay. I’m here. No need to cry." Laurence picked up Clément. "You’ve been crying a lot today. What’s wrong, huh? Wanna go play with your cars?" Clément sniffled and nodded. "Okay, let’s go." Laurence turned to Chloe. "Do you know the number?"
It took a second for Chloe to realize that Laurence was speaking to her. "What…what number?"
"The number to dial out of the country."
"No…I can’t remember it. Someone gave it to me in the plane, but I didn’t wr…."
Laurence interrupted her. "001"
"Yeah," Laurence answered before walking out of the room with Clement.
"Hey sweetheart, I was starting to get worried. How was your flight?"
"It was fine."
"I bet you must be exhausted. How is your family?"
"I’ve only met the mother and the step daughter so far…." It suddenly dawned on Chloe that she was thousands of miles away from home, and that so far her impression of her host family was far from pleasant. No way I can tell Dad about Laurence or he’ll want me back home on the next plane. "Great Dad. They seem really nice."
"Okay Dad, I’m really tired so I’ve got to go, but I will call you this weekend."
"Love you too Dad." With those words the line went dead, leaving Chloe to stare at the phone wishing she could be home right now instead of trapped here in this house with the most complex woman she had ever met.
Chloe went back to her room and got into bed. She glanced at the alarm clock on the night table next to her bed.
It’s only 11 a.m. I feel like a truck ran me over. I wonder if Paris is as beautiful as everyone says it is. With those thoughts Chloe fell into a deep sleep.
Go to chapter II