Hi folks! I’m on vacation and don’t have much Internet over here. But I managed to pull off Chapter 3. If you’re new to the story, you can start here: On Chapter One.
THE VISCOUNT OF MAISON LAFFITTE
Chastity stood in the kitchen, completely white, gripping the telephone in her hand. There was a low, nervous laugh on the other end of the line. “You remember who I am, right?” he prompted when she didn’t answer.
“Why are you calling me after all this time?” she asked slowly. There was silence. He hoped, perhaps, that in that old way she had of filling the pauses in conversation, she would be the one to break the silence. She didn’t.
Finally he said, “I don’t know. When I moved to France it didn’t seem right not to get in touch once I knew you were living here.” He paused before adding, “I think I was wrong not to be involved with my son.”
“Even if you had agreed to be involved when I first told you about him, you sort of lost that opportunity for a relationship by getting thrown in prison.” Chastity spoke the words hastily, not caring how they sounded. “How long have you been out?”
“Six months,” he said, choosing to ignore the curtness in her voice. “I got out early on parole. Good behavior,” he added quickly.
When she didn’t say anything, he stumbled on. “Look Chastity, please forgive me. I treated you like dirt. I am not calling you because I think I deserve a chance. I’m calling you because – well, if there’s any way you think it will benefit Thomas . . .”
He stopped when he said his son’s name, and then continued in a lower voice. “I called your parents. They weren’t thrilled to hear from me, but they told me his name is Thomas.”
Continuing, he said, “If you think it will benefit Thomas to get to know me, I wanted to make myself available.” He rushed on. “But you call the shots. You’re the one that decides if we have a relationship, and what that relationship is. I’m just asking for a chance.”
Stalling for time, Chastity asked him, “Did my parents give you my phone number?”
“No way!” Marc answered with something close to a laugh. “I don’t think they were keen to have me in your life again.” He then added,“ And I wouldn’t blame them. It was Caroline who told me you had moved back to France and were working at l’Ermitage.”
What an idiot, Chastity thought, rolling her eyes. Didn’t it occur to her to ask me first before she passed on personal details to someone who was such a jerk to me? She wondered why she had bothered to keep in touch with someone with whom she barely had anything in common.
But in the end, she agreed to a meeting, completely unsure whether this was a good idea or not. Everything about this was unprecedented. Was it really better for her son to know his father (deadbeat though he was)? She reluctantly admitted to herself that part of her ‘yes’ had to do with her curiousity about what he looked like after eight years.
This conversation had taken place a week ago and Chastity could barely put it out of her mind. She considered stopping by Maude’s office in the Math department before picking her son up after class, but in the end decided to keep her own counsel. Instead she walked directly to where the other parents were waiting outside of the elementary school.
She counted herself blessed that her son was able to attend the same school where she worked, and felt that her life as a single mom had finally taken a direction for the better. At least she hoped that was the case.
Truthfully, even early on, things could have been worse. When she got pregnant at the age of eighteen, she could have been cast off and left to find whatever job she could manage without getting a secondary degree. But after her parents had overcome their initial shock, they agreed to raise her child while she attended university. She had already been accepted to Columbia on full scholarship, so apart from having to delay her start date by one year so that she could have the baby, she went ahead with the initial plan.
Marc Bastien had been the high school sweetheart. He came from a wealthy French expat family, and had everything going for him by which a high school girl could measure success. He was handsome, athletic, charming . . . He wasn’t the best of students, but even the teachers seemed to overlook that detail, seduced by his grinning charm.
Chastity, however, was a local resident coming from a family of modest means, and was firmly entrenched in the bottom rung of the social structure at school. So when Marc turned his attention to her – a bright student, but painfully shy – no one could seem to believe it, least of all her. Yet he didn’t seem to tire of her at all during their senior year. The other students were forced to accept her as well, and she found herself sitting at the coveted table at the senior dance.
After Marc took her virginity that summer, he quickly lost interest in her – so quickly, only a naïve teenage girl could think that it was because of something she had done wrong. And when she confronted him with her pregnancy, he told her to get an abortion, and graciously added that he would give her the means to pay for it.
“But . . . I thought you loved me,” she said, not even realizing in her shock just how desperate she sounded.
“We’re too young to settle down,” he said by way of an answer, as if that settled it all. He tried to present it as if they had a choice. But while he might have had one, she definitely did not – not any that she could consciously accept. As horrified as she was to see the plus sign on the pregnancy stick, she knew there was no way she could possibly get rid of the baby. She was positive her parents wouldn’t want her to either.
Chastity cried for weeks before summoning the courage to talk to her parents, who were already starting to suspect that something was seriously wrong. And later, when she saw how lovingly they stepped up to the challenge of caring for a baby when they could have started doing more things for themselves, she was more grateful to them than she had ever been.
Thomas spotted her in the crowd, and ran up to her, his backpack jostling on his back with each step. He was holding out a paper. “Mom, we got a ticket at school to go to the circus!” He looked up at her eagerly, the sun glinting off his light brown hair that was parted to one side in a way that looked so much like his father.
She remembered how the sting of Marc’s rejection faded away once her son was born, and how it was replaced with this intense love for the little creature she found cradled in her arms. Eventually she heard from Caroline that he had actually gone to prison after being caught with a significant amount of drugs. The drugs didn’t surprise her when she thought about the numerous times she saw him using casually. But that he had started selling it did surprise her. She had assumed that his family connections would preclude him from doing something so foolish. She tried to shake away her distractions and focus on her son.
She looked at the piece of paper, smiling. “Honey, that’s not a ticket,” she said. She leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. “It’s just a flyer, but . . .” when she saw his face fall, “we might still be able to go.” She thought for a minute, and said, “It’s next weekend; I’ll have to see what we have planned.”
They started walking down the tree-lined street and he looked up at her doubtfully. “Maybe we could see if my father wants to go with us.” He spoke the words as if he were trying them out on his tongue.
She looked straight ahead and took a deep breath. “Yes, that might be a possibility,” she answered neutrally.
When she didn’t say anything more, he persisted, “Mom, why does he want to see me now? Why is he calling now after so many years?”
She looked down at him as they walked side by side, and after a brief hesitation, answered him honestly. “I think, at the beginning, he was just not interested in being a father. Maybe he thought he was too young.” She paused. “After that, he couldn’t see you because he was in prison.” She had never been one to hide anything from her son that she felt he had the right to know.
“My dad was in jail?” Thomas asked in shocked accents. “What did he do?”
“I’m not too sure,” she replied. “I think he was selling drugs.”
Thomas twisted his mouth as he thought. “What are drugs?” he finally asked, looking up at her.
She laughed. “Um . . . it’s like a medicine that you take; only instead of making you healthy again, it makes you sick. Drugs also make you act foolish when you take them. And- ” she added, “they’re against the law.”
Thomas, who had always been a precocious child, retorted, “Somebody would have to be an idiot to take drugs!”
“Yup,” his mom said, nodding her head adamantly.
Her son sighed tragically and shook his head. “My father is an idiot.”
Chastity let out a peal of laughter, that she quickly cut short. “Perhaps you are right, my dear,” she said carefully. “But everyone deserves the chance to be recognized for their goodness, and not their mistakes.”
Thomas chewed on this information for a bit before saying, “Well, whether or not he’s an idiot, he’s not much of a father. He could have written to me while he was in jail. I’m sure they have pens and paper there. And I would have sent him a drawing back.
“Yes, he could have,” she answered in perfect seriousness, hiding her smile. “Anyway, I think before doing something big together, like going to the circus, maybe we’ll meet him for hot chocolate first. What do you say to that?
“Okay,” her son said, sliding his hand into hers as they turned towards the entrance of their apartment building.
* * *
He was sure it was him. The gentleman leaning over the stone wall overlooking the Seine fit perfectly the description he’d been given. He had the dark wavy hair with a touch of grey, the Mediterranean skin color; and he was wearing a black leather jacket. And he was just standing there waiting. It couldn’t be anyone else.
Jean watched as the guy pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his inside pocket. He could read the words FUMER TUE in large letters, even from across the street. Smoking Kills. The man tapped a cigarette out of the packet before tucking it back inside his jacket. Jean waited five more minutes before heading over.
He was nervous. This was not at all somebody you messed with – the guy radiated power. Even if his reputation hadn’t preceded him, every movement he made was decisive. He jogged across the street, dodging the last car before he reached the curb that was anticipating the light. Slightly out of breath – as much from nerves as from the light jog – he approached the wall at a respectful distance. He left enough space that he wouldn’t freak the guy out if he had misjudged who he was.
“Jean.” The guy turned and reached out his hand, his voice a confirmation rather than a question. They shook. “Let’s walk,” he said, jerking his head East towards the Notre Dame. They walked side by side.
“Are you clear on what Cyril told you – your end of the deal?” he asked.
“Yes,” Jean responded. Then he cleared his voice and continued in a deeper tone. “It’s perfectly clear. There shouldn’t be any problem.”
“I don’t want to rush this,” the man said. “I want every step in place before we proceed. And I don’t want you to deviate from the plan. Is that clear?”
“Absolutely,” Jean said, giving a firm nod. “That’s precisely how I operate. When I – ”
The man cut him off. “Good. I’m glad we’re clear on that. Take your time. Build the relationships slowly. It’s been sitting there for twenty-five years and it can wait a few more months. The important thing is that this time we pull it off without anyone getting caught. I’ll send word when I want an update.” The man looked at Jean and lifted his chin up as he said, “Are we clear?”
“Very clear,” he replied quietly. He watched as the man crossed the street without another word and disappeared in the crowd. Jean found himself alone, and a young couple approached him, gesturing with their camera that they wanted a photo together next to the Pont Neuf.
Jean forced himself to smile as he waited for them to pose, and felt his heartbeat slowly return to normal.