"Wow," said Chloe, gasping for air, and burying her face in Laurence’s chest.
Laurence smiled and kissed the top of Chloe’s hair, tenderly tightening her grip around her. "It was okay then, " she said hesitantly.
Chloe looked up at Laurence with glassy eyes. "Do you even have to ask?" she teased, but seeing the uncertainty in Laurence’s eyes, she decided to answer more seriously. She lightly kissed Laurence’s nose, and looked at her. "It was more than Ihoped for, more than I had have ever imagined."
Laurence relaxed a little, and kissed Chloe’s lips. "Thanks."
"For what?" asked Chloe.
"Letting me be with you," answered Laurence softly.
Chloe let her lips linger on Laurence and whispered, "I wouldn’t have it any other way" before kissing Laurence deeply. She broke the kiss and looked at Laurence. "I love you," she said sincerely.
"I know," smiled Laurence, kissing Chloe’s forehead and drawing her head to rest on her shoulder. She closed her eyes, and sighed contently. "I’m suddenly very sleepy."
"Me too. We didn’t get much sleep last night …actually, you didn’t sleep at all." Chloe closed her eyes and put one arm around Laurence’s waist. Laurence pulled the cover up over their bodies and settled back with Chloe in her arms.
"Lo, wait a minute. We can’t go to sleep. What about your dad? You have to talk to him," said Chloe sitting up.
"Relax, I already did before I came to see you," said Laurence, pulling Chloe back down.
"Are you guys okay?"
"No… but we will be since Beatrice is out of the picture."
"I know she asked for mental help, but did he press charges?"
"That was stupid," said Chloe, propping herself on her elbow.
"That’s what I told him, but he feels that filing for divorce should be enough."
"How is Clément?"
"He was watching TV when I saw him. It seems okay, but he doesn’t seem to have as much energy as usual. We should keep an eye on him. The bath experience must have been traumatizing," said Laurence, shivering at the thought. Chloe scooted closer, and caressed her face, tenderly kissing her forehead. Laurence looked at Chloe. "I…I’m glad you didn’t run away. I was a real jerk earlier."
"Yes, you were, but I think we’re okay now," smiled Chloe.
"I love you," said Laurence, looking deeply into Chloe’s eyes.
"I know," teased Chloe.
"Hey, this is my repartee," said Laurence, teasingly pouting.
"Oops, sorry," joked Chloe. "Was I supposed to answer I love you too?"
"Yes, that would be more appropriate," smiled Laurence.
"Far be it from me to be rude." She giggled and regained her serious look at Laurence. "I love you too."
Laurence kissed Chloe’s lips lovingly, drew her against her chest, and ran her hand through her hair. "Let’s get some sleep, okay?"
Chloe yawned. "That sounds like a good idea." She closed her eyes, and let Laurence’s heartbeat lure her to sleep. Once Chloe’s breathing became heavy, Laurence tightened her grip on Chloe, and closed her eyes.
A knock at the door woke them up. "Chloe, Dinner is ready if you’re hungry," called Jean through the door.
"Okay," answered Chloe’s sleepy voice.
"Laurence, Clément has been asking for you," called Jean amusingly.
"I…I’ll come down in a minute," answered Laurence.
"He knows? " asked Chloe, sitting up.
"I told him earlier."
"You what?" asked Chloe, incredulously.
"Come on, he’s not stupid. He asked how things were going with you, and I told him that I couldn’t answer that until I had a talk with you."
"Okay, friends have talk. He thinks we’re just friends right?"
"No, he knows. I don’t want to hide anything Chloe. I’m not ashamed of loving you," said Laurence seriously.
Chloe sighed and grabbed her discarded robe from the floor, tossing Laurence her clothes at the same time. "I’m not ashamed either, but I work for your dad. Don’t you think it’s going to be a little awkward?"
"Why? My dad doesn’t care as long as it doesn’t interfere with your job, and I’m quoting him," said Laurence, putting her shirt on.
"Fine, but I’m still really embarrassed by going downstairs and facing him right now." grabbed some clean clothes from her closet and walked into the bathroom to change. A few minutes after she stepped out. "Okay, let’s go then."
Laurence smiled. "You’re priceless, you know that?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, come on, lead me to be humiliated."
Laurence grabbed Chloe’s hand. "We weren’t going to hide forever anyway, were we?" asked Laurence, suddenly wondering if telling her father had been such a great idea.
Chloe sighed and smiled. "No, we weren’t. Come on, dinner awaits."
Laurence smiled and led Chloe out of the room.
Clément barely ate, and whined throughout the entire meal.
"Come on babe, I made you some pasta. It’s your favorite," said Jean, trying to force a spoon full of food into Clément’s mouth. Clément grabbed the spoon and threw it on the floor, splattering pasta all over Jean’s shoes. "Clément!" yelled Jean, sending Clément into tears.
"Stop forcing him. Can’t you see he isn’t hungry?" said Laurence, trying to keep her anger at bay for Clément’s sake.
"He has to eat something, or he is going to get sick," answered Jean, flashing a reproaching glance at Laurence.
"Forcing him is not going to help. For heaven’s sake, last night at this time, he was sitting in a tub full of freezing water because your wife left him there after beating him. How is he supposed to feel?" barked Laurence.
"Okay, that’s enough," Chloe intervened. She got up and picked Clément up from his chair. "Okay, sweetheart…it’s okay. Calm down now."
"I want Lo," cried Clément.
"She’s right here," answered Chloe, kissing his forehead and handing him to Laurence who was now standing next to them. She picked him up and left the kitchen, but not before sending a deadly glance toward her father.
Jean sighed. "I don’t know if she can ever forgive me." He got up and put his plate in the sink.
"She will. You’re not really responsible, Beatrice is."
Jean smiled slightly. "Thanks, but it’s more complicated than that…it’s her son she’s holding right now."
"Yeah, I know, but you’re legally Clément’s father, aren’t you?" pried Chloe.
Jean looked at Chloe for a second and opened his mouth as though to speak, but nothing came out. He turned around and mumbled, "I have to go and make a phone call."
Chloe stood alone in the kitchen, watching the space Jean was seconds before. Gosh, these people are complicated, she thought while clearing up the table, and grabbing a paper towel to pick up the mess Clément had made on the floor. Suddenly a thought hit her, Could it be that Jean’s silence means that he never declared himself Clément’s dad?
She was just putting the last dish in the dishwasher when Laurence came up behind her. "Hi," Laurence smiled, propping herself against the sink.
Chloe wiped her hands on a dishtowel. "Where is this cook that Beatrice was talking about when I first got here? I hate doing dishes."
"Another one she drove crazy. His vacation was a way for him to get away and never come back…sorry," answered Laurence, opening the fridge and taking out a small box of orange juice.
"Those are for Clément’s snack," said Chloe, pointing at the drink.
"So?" answered Laurence, teasingly piercing the top with a straw and sipping from it.
Chloe shook her head. "Where is Clémemt?"
"Upstairs with my dad." Laurence’s eyes darkened. "I tried to run him a bath, but as soon as I picked him up to put him in, he started crying."
"Oh, Lo, I’m sorry. It’s going to take some time. Hopefully, he is not scared of water now."
"Hopefully…I didn’t feel like fighting. We’ll try again tomorrow morning."
"Is your dad tucking him in for the night?"
"Yes, he is reading him a story." Laurence finished her drink and tossed the empty container in the trash.
"I’m sorry I interfered earlier at dinner time, but nothing good was going to happen from you guys fighting in front of him."
"I know," said Laurence sadness in her voice. "It’ll get better." She picked up and apple and bit in it, making the silent room resonate with the crunching noise. "It’s only 7:30, would you like to go for a walk?"
"Now?" asked Chloe.
"Yes now," answered Laurence amused.
"Sure, let me go and get my jacket upstairs. Do want me to tell your dad we’re going for a walk?" She asked, leaving the room.
"Sure," called Laurence, sitting down at the kitchen table to wait for Chloe.
They walked slowly through the streets of Versailles. The streetlights were on, even if night had not fallen completely yet. The weather had gotten much colder, and the trees were almost bare. They strolled holding hands through the quiet city; everyone seemed to have already retired for the night.
"Lo, we’re walking toward the castle. I thought the gates were closed at night."
"Yes, they are," answered Laurence simply while directing them into a street adjacent to the main entrance of the castle. They followed the gates around to the back, but instead of making a full circle, Laurence dragged Chloe down a small hill, and stopped in front a river.
"Hey, I remember this place," said Chloe, looking around her. Laurence smiled and took out a flashlight from her jacket pocket. "Lo, I’m not going in this tunnel at night. No way."
"Come on, where is your senseof adventure?" She ignored Chloe and flashed her light ahead. The light roamed for a few seconds and settled on a grille.
"Lo, I’m not going. There is no way I’m going through that puddle of mud by smashing myself against a wall full of spiders." Chloe crossed her arms against her chest and stood her ground.
"I know. Trust me, you won’t have to deal with that anymore." Laurence unscrewed the bar the same way she had done it a month ago, and stepped in.
"Laurence, don’t you leave me here!" called Chloe, looking around in panic.
Laurence’s head popped out. "Then come on."
Chloe sighed and stumped her feet. "Fine, but you better be telling the truth about those spiders." She heard Laurence chuckle from the inside, bent over, twisted sideways to go through the small space provided by the removal of the bar, and stepped in. Laurence was waiting for her, flashlight in hand. She extended her hand to Chloe who took it, holding on to it as though her life depended on it.
"If you squeeze my hand that hard, you’re going to cut of the circulation," laughed Laurence.
"Sorry," answered Chloe, relaxing her grip.
They walked down the tunnel, and Chloe started slowing down once they got closer to the spider area. "I told you that you don’t have to worry." Laurence pointed her flashlight ahead. The mud puddle was covered with wooden planks, making it possible to go across it without having to step in it or go against the wall.
"Lo, when did you have time to do that?" wondered Chloe, stepping cautiously on the wooden planks.
"Earlier when I left the hospital." She followed Chloe, making sure she stayed at arms length.
"That’s where you were," Chloe jumped off the makeshift bridge. "I should have known you’d come here…it’s your retreat."
"Chloe, move up! I can’t get off if you stay right in front," said Laurence to Chloe who had stopped as soon as she had put a foot on dry land.
"Sorry." She moved on the side. "That’s what you wanted to show me?"
"Not really. Come on."
"Lo, can we turn back and do that another day?" asked Chloe. She felt exhausted and the darkness of the tunnel made her really nervous.
Again Laurence ignored her request. "We’re almost there."
They walked down the tunnel for a few more minutes, and stopped in front of the room they had explored a few weeks back. "Lo, I love it here, but seriously, I have had enough adventure for one day…"
"Would you stop whining?" teased Laurence, opening the door. They stepped into the dark room with Laurence’s flashlight the only light source.
"It’s even more messy than I remember," commented Chloe, looking around. Furniture was piled up on top of each other, old drapes and rugs formed a large pile on the floor, paintings lined up against an old dresser and only a small aisle had been left to make the second room accessible. The movements of Laurence’s flashlight made the furniture take on a strange appearance.
"Follow me," said Laurence, crossing the room and opening the second door. Chloe sighed and followed closely. As soon as Laurence entered the room, she turned her flashlight off.
"Hey, what are you doing?" called Chloe in the darkness. Instead of an answer, she heard a match being cracked and a candle was lit, followed closely by five others. Once Chloe’s eyes adjusted to the candlelight, she looked around in awe. "Lo, this is…" She picked up a candle, and walked around the room, speechless. The room had been cleaned up and organized. A table and two chairs stood next to the left wall, rugs had been thrown on the floor giving the dirt room a comfortable aspect. An old buffet leaned against the right wall, a wooden tray with two glasses and silverware sitting on it, and next to it were shelves filled with books. Chloe moved closer to the shelves and picked up a book. My gosh, Lo…this is from Diderot…I can’t believe it." She moved her candle higher up, turned around and froze. There on the corner were two white sheets suspended from the ceiling by ropes, forming a large rectangle. She turned to Laurence who motioned to her to go in. Chloe lifted the corner of one sheet, and stepped underneath.
"Holy…" exclaimed Chloe. Blankets had been thrown on the floor to make a bed, four pillows had been added, a small table with an antique oil lamp stood on the side of the make shift bed, and on the wall a painting had been hung. Chloe stepped closer to the painting. "Oh, Lo…" she said tears in her voice.
Laurence took it as her cue to walk in. "You called," she said teasingly, coming up behind Chloe.
Laurence nodded. "How could I not? This painting seemed to move you so much last time we came."
Chloe stared at the painting of the crying child. "Thank you," she whispered, setting the candle on the table and turning to face Laurence. "When did you…how did you…" She found it hard to speak as if everything she had seen was part of a dream.
"When I left the hospital. I wanted to do something nice for you…I thought this room would be our place to get away from everyday problems…a place to come to forget." Laurence brushed a loose strand of hair behind Chloe’s ear.
"This is amazing. I don’t know how you did it. Where did you find those books?"
"They were in a wooden box…they are not that old, maybe 60 or 70 years."
"Even so, this is amazing…I love it." She tiptoed and lightly kissed Laurence. "Do we have to go back soon, or can we stay here for a while?"
"No, we can stay," answered Laurence, drawing Chloe back for another kiss. The kiss was soft and languorous. Laurence drew Chloe closer, gently slid Chloe’s jacket off and wrapped her arms around her waist. Tenderly, she lifted Chloe’s shirt and ran her hands over the skin of her back, never once breaking their kiss. Slowly, she lowered them down onto the blankets, and nibbled on Chloe’s neck before coming back up to look at her deeply in the eyes. The candlelight gave Chloe’s eyes a golden green shade, passion shone in them. Chloe sat up, forcing Laurence up with her, and removed Laurence’s jacket before diving back for another kiss. She pushed Laurence on her back, and softly laid on her.
"I think, we’re going to be here for a while," smiled Chloe, her voice a murmur.
Laurence laughed heartily and combed her hands through Chloe’s hair, stopping to softly massage the base of her scalp. "For a while, huh?" she said tenderly teasing while pulling Chloe back into another kiss. They lost themselves into each other, and when the candle burned out, neither of them realized it.
Go to chapter XIV