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Home for Christmas


Image



On the outskirts of the city of Amiens there stands a house that faces Northeast. It looks remarkably intact, not like a house that had been through not one, but two world wars. As she stood there admiring it’s beauty, Loretta thought it must have been used as some sort of headquarters for army planners, which would be the only explanation as to how it survived. Not a trace of the shock of a bombardment, nor any of the after effects of industrialized modern warfare could she spot on it’s exterior walls.

The house was what the French call an ‘estate house‘, the kind that was used by the relatively well off middle classes once upon a time. The kind of house that the upper classes would have frowned upon; that the lower classes could only dream of owning; that the relatively well-to-do middle class family saw as a stop-over to a hopefully more elaborate estate. Now that most of those class structures in Europe were no more, she figured that by modern day standards the house was of the kind that only the well-off could afford.

In the case of the current owner, Julien Levade, he had inherited it from his father who farmed the surrounding land. In her mind she pictured a middle aged man, typically French looking, with greying brown hair and an undeniable French chin. She had some French ancestry herself, although it was French Canadian, and many had commented on her chin looking ‘French’. She often wondered what exactly this meant and how something as ordinary as a chin could somehow be linked to the look of a particular culture. At any rate, she expected to find an older French gentleman to greet her when the door finally opened.

Surrounded by green fields and a forest off to the right, the only road that led to it was a dirt one that veered off the main side road. Loretta had trouble finding it on her French map, not used to the road system here as of yet, despite the fact that she had been living in this part of the country for the past three years. She was by no means a full time resident, but chose to reside in her little Northern French house for the warmer months of the year. It was now late November; the trees were all bare save for a few leaves that tried to hang on and the ground was hard from the frost of the previous night. It wasn’t usually as cold as this for the time of year in France, but it was a sure sign that winter was coming. As she eyed the panoramic view she imagined this is what the Canadian army must have seen in the cold winters months between 1914-1918, wondering what had been the thoughts of those men. It was only natural that her thoughts turned to the war; her whole reason for buying a house in France was so that she could be near them.

All of these thoughts passed through her mind as she had already pressed the doorbell once and was waiting for someone to answer. Her only contact with the owner had been through her editor, François, who had communicated with the man about the interview she was about to conduct. Loretta was writing a book about Canadian First World War memorials and she knew the book would not be complete without reference to at least some of the countless cemeteries and/or memorials in France, which were dedicated to the Canadian army who fought here in these killing fields. François had found this particular house because it had an interesting history: it was one of the few houses left standing among the rubble of Northern France.

The mystic surrounding it was undeniable: in the middle of what was once the battlefields of the Great War it stood intact. The story intrigued her immediately and she agreed to interview the owner for her book.

When she heard the door handle turn she half expected to see a maid or housekeeper open the door, as houses of this stature generally are not maintained by the owners who keep them. In her mind she envisioned children and noise and life inside, but all around was quiet when the door finally opened and there stood a man who looked to be in his thirties. He smiled as a greeting, opening the door as if he had been expecting her. It was this gesture that made her ask:

“Mr. Levade?”

“Yes”, he confirmed in English, but with a thick French accent. “Come in”.

He graciously stood with the door ajar so that she could enter the house. The moment she went in the door she felt the cold from outside leave her body and the warmth of the house envelope her. It was more than just a literal temperature change; it was the atmosphere of the house itself.

“Thank you for allowing me to interview you about your home”, Loretta said, extending her hand. He took it and smiled warmly:

“Thank you for coming…please call me Julien.”

The man before her had prominent features, such as his chiselled cheek bones that gave the appearance of strength and depth. His eyes were deep set and very dark, almost black, that dominated his entire face, complimenting the dark brows and short dark hair. Most stunning of all, however, were his lips and the way they moved as he spoke. Yet most interesting was how his young face somehow looked old; not in the way wrinkles reveal age in faces, but in the way his face radiated a wisdom. All of this she drank in in a matter of seconds, her first impression.

He offered to take her coat and she removed it so that he could hang it on the tall, old fashioned coat rack that stood in the hallway entrance. There was a large, wooden staircase as soon as you walked in, with a long hallways on either side and doorways leading to various rooms of the house. For some reason it felt smaller on the inside, but she knew the walls were deceiving and that many rooms must make up the main floor alone.

“If you’d like to follow me to the back den here we can begin.”

She followed him down one of the hallways that led to the back of the house, looking in through the doorways as she passed them. They entered a room that had a large table in the middle of it, almost like a dining table, and tall, wooden chairs. When she saw herself reflected in a large mirror she tried to fix the appearance of her hair by moving a strand behind her ear, suddenly becoming conscious of the fact that she had not taken enough care in her appearance that morning. She was not the type of person to leave the house looking messy, but she suddenly realized that she should have dressed better for the occasion.

“This is a lovely house”, she commented as he pulled two chairs closer together at the large table in the room he led her. He looked up at her briefly and smiled, saying:

“Thank you.”

“And it’s been in the family for four generations?”

“Yes, but it was not always this large. My great grandfather put an addition on the back in the 1940’s, sometime after the war.”

He was referring to the Second World War when this part of France had been occupied by the Germans, under the Vichy government. From François she had learned that despite the German propensity to overrun large estates like this one, miraculously it was left untouched and the Levade family had been allowed to remain in their home. Julien’s great grandfather would have been close to 60 at the time, and having lost his leg in the First World War he was probably granted the dignity of remaining in his own home. Even Hitler had respect for the sacrifices of other countries in the Great War.

Loretta had a seat at the end of the table, putting her briefcase down and opening it.

“I’ve made some tea…how do you like it?”

“Plain is fine.”

His back was turned to her as he went over to another side table where he had the tea laid out on a tray, and watching him pour some into the cup she wondered how many people currently lived here. Her eyes surveyed the tall white ceilings and the tapestry of the wallpaper and curtains, each tastefully chosen by someone who obviously had a keen eye for décor. For it’s age the house seemed in remarkably good shape and one would never guess it had been through two wars.

“Can I get you something to go with the tea?” he asked her.

“No, thank you.”

When Julien brought the tea over to the table he saw that her gaze was fixed on the glass windows of the back French doors, looking outside. It had been his first chance to get a good look at her face and he stole the moment to admire her profile as she did not notice his eyes on her. The thought that immediately came to mind was that of the porcelain dolls his sister used to have when she was a child, their delicate features looking almost untouchable. She had the same fair, flawless skin, framed by her long dark hair, some of which she had tucked behind her ear. Her lips were the colour of young pink tulips, the kind that grew in the garden on the sides of the house in summer.

He did not have to follow her gaze to know that she was looking at the cemetery in the fields behind the house, the fields that once had been battleground.

“There are seventy three Canadians buried out there”, he spoke, which caused her to turn her head and look at him as he had a seat in the chair. “They were all killed on the same day.”

“May I see it?” she asked.

“Of course.”

12/14/2009, 2:08 am Link to this post Send Email to OrlilLicious   Send PM to OrlilLicious
 
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Re: Home for Christmas


He got up from the chair to lead her out back, opening the French doors and feeling the cold air on his face. The sun was shining, lending it’s rays of light to the fields that once saw so much blood and death. Looking on them now, it was difficult to imagine the carnage.

Julien walked a bit ahead of her as they started to make their way through field. He looked back at her and said:

“I grow lavender crops in the Spring.”

“Lavender?” she asked, never having heard of lavender crops before. She was usually a city girl, born and bred, and had very little knowledge of farming, even the ones back home. The only time she had been to a farm was as a child, on school trips, but those were usually the kind that farmed animals and not agriculture.

“Lavender can be used for all sorts of things, but it’s mainly used for perfume and soaps. In France it is very big business.”

Now she understood.

“You should see it in summer”, he said, suddenly stopping and looking out at the fields spread before them. “All you can see is purple for as far as the eye can see in some directions.”

She looked to see the way the sun was reflecting off his face, making it look almost golden, and tried to imagine what the purple fields of lavender crops looked like. He looked like he was in love with the image.

“It sounds beautiful.”

“It is”, he said, looking over at her briefly before they started walking again.

As they approached the cemetery Loretta could see the graves through the small gate. It was a small cemetery, surrounded by short walls that were made out of gray rock, with a large cross erected in the center. The graves themselves were in immaculate condition, all straight and in perfect rows. It resembled the countless other cemeteries located throughout Northern France, all of which were managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The French had their own organization to take care of their cemeteries, as do the Americans. Being a Canadian cemetery it was a part of the Commonwealth, so the tombstones were large and white, standing at attention like ghosts in the middle of a field. From a distance, however, one could only see the large white cross standing high above the graves and walls, the only indication that a cemetery was situated there. The amazing thing about driving through Northern France was seeing these small, local cemeteries in the middle of what was once battlefield but is now a farmer’s field. The French honoured the sacrifice of these foreign boys and men by dedicating a piece of their land for their final resting place. This land wouldn’t be French if it weren’t for the blood foreign men shed on what was to them these foreign fields.

Loretta felt herself become emotional as she stood outside the gate of the cemetery, looking at the graves of seventy three Canadian men who never returned to their families.

“I remember when I was a child a Canadian couple came to our house and asked my father if they could see the cemetery back here. He of course said yes and showed it to them. I seem to remember that one of the men here was the man’s great uncle, and he wanted to pay his respects.”

“I suppose no one ever comes here anymore….Canadians, I mean”, Loretta said. It only took a short glance to see that she was emotionally drawn to these graves and that she was feeling a sense of connection.

“You’re here.”


Julien left her to be alone so that she could take the pictures she intended to take with the camera around her neck. He looked back to see her back was to him and she was obviously having some quiet time with her thoughts. It was an odd sight to him to see a woman standing in the field because for many years now he had always looked out on an uninhabited surrounding land. This was all his, passed on from generations ago, but he knew that he owed this good fortune to the men lying in the middle of it. That is why he agreed to have this interview and to allow the story of where and how the Canadians fell on his land to be told in her book. He was used to living a very quiet life, secluded from much of the world, content to keep watch over the dead.


When Loretta went back inside the house Julien was sitting at the table reading a newspaper, waiting for her. He looked up from it and smiled warmly.

“It’s very peaceful out there”, she said.

“It’s hard to believe that less than a hundred years ago there was a war going on just outside these doors.”

She sat down in the spot she had been before, placing her camera down on the table beside her.

“The weird thing when I moved to France was how I almost expected it to look the way it did back during the war”, she said, referring to the First World War as she always did when she spoke of the ’war’. He seemed to understand what she meant. “It was weird to me that it looked so tranquil and beautiful.”

He took a sip of his tea and looked at her as he did so, listening. When he put the cup down he responded:

“You speak about it as if you remembered it from the war, like you were there.”

She smiled when he said this, not realizing she had worded it quite that way. Her connection to the war was not something she often spoke about, especially not to strangers. She found that few people understood, or cared to. Julien was perceptive.

“Shall we begin?”


Loretta spent over an hour interviewing Julien about his house and family history that was connected to the wars. She learned that in August of 1916 these fields and the forest near by had seen action during the Battle of the Somme. For strategic reasons the forest nearby had been very important in securing the Allied hold on the area; therefore the whole surrounding land had been made part of the effort to end the stalemate and win the war. They spoke about how remarkable it was that it was left undamaged, but as far as he knew it wasn’t used by any of the armies as headquarters or for other such purposes that might explain why it was left unscathed.

“This is the only home to remain standing in the area. All the houses you may have passed along the way to get here were built in the 1920s after the war. The town of Amiens, as you may know, was virtually destroyed.”

“I’ve seen pictures of it from just after the war and it was reduced to ruins…it’s incredible that this house survived…if only these walls could talk.”

Julien folded his arms across his chest and leaned back in his chair, smiling at the thought of what they would be able to say if they could tell their stories. She realized that she had most of the information she needed or that she intended to ask him, so she turned off the recorder she had on taping the conversation for future reference.

“Is that all?” he asked.

“Yes, I think I have all I need.”

He got up from his chair. “I have something to show you first that may interest you.”


12/14/2009, 2:09 am Link to this post Send Email to OrlilLicious   Send PM to OrlilLicious
 
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Re: Home for Christmas


She waited for him to come back into the room, and when he did so his hands were full of what looked to be picture albums, old and worn from use. She was excited at the thought of seeing some older pictures of the place and so she got up to help him. They put the contents of his arms on the table and she saw that he had much more than just photos; it appeared there were some older books, too, that looked to be some sort of documents. She opened one of them to see old, worn pages with writing on them in French.

“Wow”, she said, looking through the pages of a book that obviously was of considerable age.

“These are all documents belonging to the house. Some of the words are illegible due to old age. I try to preserve them as best I can but they were like this even when I was a child.”

“I’d really like to take a closer look at these.”

“Sure”, he said. “Unfortunately, I can’t let them out of the house or else I would loan them to you…because of their age I don’t want to risk it.”

“I understand.”

She knew that having some more background on the house would help in her research, even if it wasn’t going to be that useful for the book itself that she was writing. Her interest in the documents and photographs were more out of personal curiosity.

“I have more of this stuff somewhere but I can’t seem to remember where I placed it.”

“This is like finding a treasure”, she said opening one of the pages of a photo album. She reached for her camera so that she could photograph it, thinking it may be useful for the book.

“Yes, that is history, is it not?”

She liked the way he put that and smiled, looking over at him. She felt the warmth of his body now that he stood close by, and a feeling came over her that made her feel like she was talking to a close friend. She had only been there a few hours but she already felt like she had known him for much longer than that.

“I’d like to come back with my editor so that he can transcribe some of the documents into English for me. Do you mind if I come back when you have some time?”

“Yes…I mean no”, he said, laughing at his mistaken choice of words, “when would you like to come?”

She hadn’t expected to make a second trip to the house so she wasn’t sure when she could do it next. It had to be soon, since François would be heading to Spain before the last edit would be taking place. Since they were planning on seeing each other this weekend she figured he wouldn’t mind making the trip with her to the Levade estate to do a bit of transcribing. She asked him if Saturday afternoon was a good time for him: it was.


After she finished gathering up her things and putting them away in her briefcase she helped Julien with the tea dishes into the kitchen. It was large and spacious, probably the size of some people’s apartments, yet it had an intimate feel to it the way all kitchens should.

“Did you decorate the house, or did your wife?”

She did not look at him when she asked the question in case her eyes might reveal the true intentions for her asking it. The whole time they spoke he always used the word ’I’, never ’we’, so she was left wondering if this large house was shared by more than just him.

“I did”, he answered, and since he did not deny having a wife, she quickly assumed that he was indeed married. “I’m not married”, he added, looking over at her as they stood side by side at the sink. She looked down at his hands as they rinsed the cups with water, her own hands clasping the edge of the white porcelain sink. His were rough, cuts on the a few of the knuckles, but they looked strong and as if they had seen much use.

“Where did you say you lived again?” he asked, suddenly changing the subject.

“Arras…about a forty minute drive from here.”

“But you don’t live here all year round?”

“No, just usually during the summer. I have an apartment in Toronto as well.”

“You’re very lucky”, he said, “to see so much of the world and have travelled.”

“Don’t you travel?”

“No”, he said, drying his hands on a dish towel, “I’ve never desired to.”

She admired that because it showed contentment with one‘s life, something that she felt she had been searching for for years. It showed that he had found his little piece of the world and was happy with it.

“You write for a living?” he asked, and it was then that she realized Julien had no idea who she was…and, really, why should he? It wasn’t like she was some celebrity or movie star, but she was an acclaimed novelist who had written four best selling novels, not to mention a screenplay that was in the works. In Canada she was a literary giant, but she had also seen much success in Britain and the U.S. There was no reason why a Frenchman should know who she was because that didn’t matter anyway…what did matter was that she was standing with him in that moment. His eyes had this way of looking at her as if he knew exactly what she was thinking, so she turned away from them momentarily.

“Yes”, she answered.

“When you come back you’ll have to tell me more about your book.”

“I will.”


Julien got her coat for her and helped her put it on. She seemed shy about his helping her, as he held the coat open so that she could put her arms through. He didn’t realize it for the first few seconds but his hands lingered on her shoulders; as soon as he realized he moved them away.

“Thank you so much for taking time out today to meet with me. Your home is a real gem.”

“Thank you”, he said, feeling that it was his turn to be shy. He could feel the blood rising up slowly to his head, not sure why he was feeling the way he was all of a sudden. “I hope you will be able to find your way home alright.”

“I have my map if I have any problems.”

He wondered why that all of a sudden she seemed anxious to leave, especially now that he could feel that he was more himself. He watched as she extended her hand to thank him, and he took it in his, wondering if he should say something. Instead, however, he watched as she walked out the door as he stood there, and then drive away in her car until she had disappeared around the corner and he could no longer see her. When he closed the door behind him and turned to see his house, he realized that for the first time in his life he was alone.

12/14/2009, 2:09 am Link to this post Send Email to OrlilLicious   Send PM to OrlilLicious
 
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Re: Home for Christmas


Chapter Two

The laptop sat open, the blank screen staring at her. She stared back, but eventually the computer won and she gave up. She leaned back in her chair and took a sip of her French beer, closing her eyes and rubbing her forehead.

Why was writing so difficult tonight? Most of the book so far had been written fairly smoothly, with none of the dreaded writer’s block that comes with writing a book. Why now? Why tonight?

Loretta’s eyes caught sight of the camera sitting on the dresser in the hallway, where she had left it sitting when she got in earlier that day. The visit to the Levade estate house had
stayed with her, almost as if the scent of the place had stayed on her skin and clothes. She was finding it difficult to concentrate because her thoughts were of earlier that day: the mysterious house, the cemetery of Canadian men…

…Julien.

She wasn’t sure why but her thoughts lingered on the way he smiled. It had the warm effect of an electric blanket, when you feel the warmth creeping from your toes all the way up to your head, until the cold entirely leaves your body.

Her thoughts were interrupted when she realized that the screen had blacked out and the screensaver came flashing on. She had been lost in thought, some would call it daydreaming, for almost 10 minutes.

She got up from the chair to stretch, hoping that would bring some life back into her brain. She walked over to the camera and, picking it up, turned it on to examine the pictures she had taken earlier that day. She would take some more when she goes back on Saturday, she thought. Perhaps some more of the house itself…perhaps some of Julien. He had one of those faces, however, that she knew she would never forget. Unforgettable.

She was happy when the phone rang and she picked it up. It was François.

“I got your message from earlier”, he said. “How did it go today?”

“Good.”

“I was told he could speak English…”

“Yes, his English was fine.”

“Then what’s this about translating?” he asked, sounding confused. He mustn’t have heard her correctly in her message, or perhaps she didn’t explain herself.

“I need you to translate some documents for me. He brought some old stuff from the house and I’d just like you to take a look at it. I’m not sure how relevant it will be to the book, but it’s interesting stuff.”

“And the house is in good shape?”

“Remarkably good shape…I kept thinking how incredible it was, almost like a miracle.”

“So it was nice, then?”

Loretta thought for a second before she answered: “It left an impression.”


*
The following Saturday brought the two strangers together again, for the second time. This time François was with her, as her editor, giving the meeting an outwardly official purpose. He was impressed with the solid structure of the house from the moment they stepped out of the car, staring up to inspect the roof.

“Looks like the original chimneys, too…”

They had not seen Julien walk out to greet them until he spoke.

“Hello…I heard you drive up.”

Wearing a light brown blazer and brown dress paints, he walked towards them, his hand extended to François first. The way he walked made him look boyish, the way a boy does when he’s unsure of himself, but the smile and gestures were friendly and welcoming. There was something definitely innocent about him, something which she had not noticed on their first meeting.

“Julien, this is François, my editor.”

The two men shook hands.

“And hello again”, he said, looking at Loretta, his dark eyes seeming to smile at her. Instead of shaking her hand, however, he gave her the customary French hello kiss, faire la bise. “It’s very nice to see you again.” She did not know why she was taken back by the gesture, seeing as this is how most French greeted her; perhaps it’s because of the closeness that it brought to them.

“Thank you for having us.”

He smiled graciously, but then François had a host of questions for Julien about the structure of the house. As far as he knew the chimneys were original, but the roof had obviously been replaced several times over the years. They spoke for a few minutes before they all went inside, where Julien took their coats and hung them on the old, tall rack.

Loretta noted that sense of warmth upon entering the home, a feeling that she had felt the first time she came here. She figured this was due to the fact that she was enchanted with the house itself, knowing it’s unique history and being fascinated by it. It also smelt of something that she could only describe as ‘history’: an old, pleasant wood-like smell that you only get when you enter an older building or home.

Inside the large room at the back of the house Julien had the documents and photo albums laid out, ready for their exploration. He also had a tray of tea, as he had before, but this time with what looked like small desserts. François was not shy about taking some, having complained the whole way there about how starving he was, but she did not have any right away. Instead, she busied herself with working alongside François, having him decipher and translate the documents for her as he typed into his computer.

From what they could gather, most of the documents were outlining some of the ownership rights, passed on from generation to generation. Much of it was legal, but there were some things that pertained to the First World War, such as the evacuation orders given to Julien’s great grandmother to leave the house for her own satefty. This was standard, but it was interesting for Loretta to see an actual government order dating back to 1914.

“My great grandmother refused to leave, for many months after the war had started. Apparently she used to come back here as much as she could, to make sure that my great grandfather had not returned while she was away. She gave birth to my grandfather in this house, in 1919, just after the war. The whole surrounding area must have been in ruins, but somehow they managed to get on with things.”

Julien took one of the photo albums and opened it on the table where he sat, and she took it as an invitation to join him.

“I’m trying to find a picture of my great grandparents from when they were young.”

She watched his rough looking hands flipping carefully through the pages, admiring the way he seemed so interested in his family history. Unconsciously she watched the way his lips moved as he told her the stories that each picture told, studying the way they looked as they sounded each syabllel in what was not his natural language.
“This was me at four”, Julien pointed out a small, blonde, chubby little boy that was sitting on his mother’s lap.

“You?” she asked, surprised.

“Yes, I know, it’s hard to believe I was so fat.”

She smiled. “Baby fat.”

“Apparently it was some sort of condition I had until I reached puberty, then it was over.”

Loretta looked and saw traces of the man in the little boy on his mother lap.

“Your mother is very beautiful.”

“Yes…she was.”

She looked over at him and saw a sad look on his face after he had said this.

“I’m sorry.”

He looked over briefly and nodded, as if to say thank you for the gesture. He turned the page, however, and they looked at more of the older pictures from the books.

“I don’t know how much of this will help you with the book.”

“It’s very interesting stuff”, she said, “the house I live in near Arras was built after the first war, so there isn’t much history to it at all. The area is full of it, but the house itself is more modern. That’s why this house is such a gem.”

12/19/2009, 7:01 pm Link to this post Send Email to OrlilLicious   Send PM to OrlilLicious
 
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Re: Home for Christmas


Loretta had not realized that for nearly two hours they had been looking over the photo albums and discussing the history attached to them. They sat close side by side, her listening anxiously as each picture she pointed out was explained with enthusiam by Julien. Through the discussion she had learned much about the Levade family who had lived there for nearly 200 hundred years, through two world wars and much hardship that both brought. She could see the pride in his face when he spoke about his family, especially with regard to the wars, and she thought it was typical of the French way of looking at their history. He was a Frenchman through to the core,

She had lost track of all sense of time and only realized that François was finished transcribing when she looked up to see him watching the two of them.

“Did you find anything useful?” Julien asked.
“That’ll be for Loretta to decide after she’s looked through what I’ve done, but I think there is much here to be considered.”

“Do you have an idea when you’ll be finished the book?” he asked, turning to her.

“It’s in the concluding stages, so I expect any time…there’s always additions to be made later on, but for the most part it’s done.”

Except for the recent bout of writer’s block she was experiencing, this was the truth. She hoped that her second visit to the estate - her second meeting with Julien - would help unblock the creative process.

“Well”, he said, looking at the two of them as he spoke, “I’m honoured that you chose my house and land to include in your book.”

“It’s a very interesting house”, François said. “Do you mind if we have a look around?”

“I’ll give you a tour if you’d like.”


The two of them followed Julien as he first led them out of the room and down the hall, their first stop being to the great front room. Inside there was a large fireplace surrounded by large sofas and chairs, all comfy looking. Even though everything was big in size, including the room, she noted there was an intimate feel to the room itself. From there they explored the rest of the estate, with Julien explaing how each room was used to how some rooms were barely used at all. There were several bedrooms upstairs, most of which were empty of furniture, except for three or four that were nicely furnished for guests. For a house of it’s age the interior was in remarkably good shape and no doubt there had been recent upgrades and work done to modernize it.

While François was busy asking Julien questions, she was left to explore some of the rooms on her own. She saw when she turned the corner that there was another staircase that they had not yet explored. It was much shorter than the one that led to the second floor, and she couldn’t help wondering what was up there. She walked towards it and only saw a closed door at the top of the stairs, but that light was pouring out from beneath.

“Loretta?”

This was François calling out to her. She went back around the corner to find them where she had left them.

“We thought we’d lost you”, he said.

She smiled. “Not quite, though this house is surely big enough to get lost in.”
“It made for an interesting childhood.”

By this time they were making their way back down the stairs and packing up their things to leave. Loretta helped Julien carry the tea and dessert dishes back into the kitchen and placed the dirty dishes in the sink, feeling as he stood beside her and did the same with the ones he had in his hands. Once again her eyes caught sight of his masculine hands, hands which seemed as if they had seen lots of work. Her eyes remained downcast because she felt that he may be looking at her, and she did not know what she would feel if she looked up and their eyes met. The seconds in which they stood there felt more like minutes, but whatever silent moment that had passed was gone when François turned up in the doorway.

“Monsieur Levade”, he started, continuing the rest in French.

Loretta wiped her hands on a towel and watched as they spoke about something pertaining to the house, as was evident by the way her editor moved his hands. She went watched the face of Julien and a feeling came over her that she had been afraid to feel moments before as they stood side by side at the sink. Not allowing herself to feel it she pushed it away as quickly as it came, and made a joke to them about conversing in English.

However, when they were in the front hall putting on their coats, she realized that this would be the last time she’d be standing in this house. A feeling of sadness suddenly came over her as she looked at Julien, who graciously stood there and wanted to see them to their car.

“Your home is a real marvel”, François said as he shook Julien’s hand.

“Again, thank you for coming and for paying such interest in the history of the house.”

When he turned to Loretta he first took her hand, and then went in closer to bid her farewell, French style. As their faces became close, their eyes briefly exchanged a look, but she closed her eyes as he kissed first her left cheek, then her right.

“Goodbye then”, she said when they parted and he had let go of her hand.

“Goodbye”, she heard him say, though it almost sounded like a question.

“We’ll be in touch with news of the book’s release.”

They were on their way out the door when Julien’s voice stopped them before they descended the stairs.

“I’d be very happy if the two of you would be my guests for dinner some time.”

Loretta paused, a little surprised by the invitation, not sure what her editor would say. She waited for him to respond and looked at him as he said:

“Perhaps Sunday, before I leave for Spain. After that I don’t expect to be in France for some time.”

She was surprised by how quickly he accepted the invitation, and looked to her to see if she approved.

“Is that fine for you?”

“Yes, I think so”, she answered.

Julien nodded and smiled, telling them to come any time after 4pm this Sunday.

“Dinner sounds like a lovely idea”, François said cheerfully.

Although she didn’t want to admit it to herself, she was happy that this would not be the last time she would see Julien.

12/19/2009, 7:01 pm Link to this post Send Email to OrlilLicious   Send PM to OrlilLicious
 
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Re: Home for Christmas


I would have commented sooner had I realized you'd posted this story again--or rather the new version of this story.

I tried hard to recall what you'd written before, and found that most of the first part seemed to be identical, best I remember. I think the part where Loretta and François returned to Julien's home to look at the documents and photos was the most recently written part and what I wanted to review for you.

First of all, kudos for finishing this story, and leaving it with such promise for Julien and Loretta. I'm pleased that the story bugged you to finish it and repost it. It seems almost autobiographical in tone--like it was something YOU had personally experienced and was simply relating it in fiction form. I enjoyed it immensely.

Since I know your interest and haunting dedication to the World Wars, esp. WWI, I thought that such a place would draw a person who had research in mind for a book and a need to satisfy curiosity. Loretta was attracted to the home and lands because of the history, and little did she know that it would also harbor a man who piqued her interest personally. I was glad that François was willing to come to the house outside Amiens--she had a twofold purpose in asking him to come, but her book was only going to be richer than before with the personal touch that Julien gave it. After the research phase of the visit was completed and Julien offered a tour, I was intrigued by the room at the top of the stairs that Loretta found, especially the light that was on up there. I imagine a man who loved to write or compose music--one of the arts--and the room was his sanctuary and source of inspiration. So in my imagination, it was why Julien took so long to answer the door the very first time he and Loretta met, and why she felt the way she did once she was inside the four walls--in other words I think she felt how she did as much due to Julien as the house and it's rich but harrowing history. I can see that for many reasons, Loretta was destined to visit this house and meet this man.

Thank you for not letting this story flounder incomplete--I truly loved how you worked through the process to improve and finish it for yourself if not for your readers. Well done!

---

Thank you, Shiloh~
1/10/2010, 4:13 am Link to this post Send Email to Pammie312   Send PM to Pammie312
 


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