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“Are you sure of all this, Claire?” René asked her sincerely after Henri had taken their order.
“Yes, I have no doubt. But I can understand how strange this all is for you. For me too. Mother wouldn’t tell me anything about you and eventually I gave up asking. She spoke the truth only before she died. I knew nothing about you until I found your letter and here I am.”
“Tell me what happened to her.”
“She was in a car accident. The doctors did their best but she was too damaged.” Claire spoke softly. “I didn’t even know your name until I read it in the letter and this picture. It was in my mother’s bible when I was cleaning out her house.”
He took the old photo and held it in his hands again. “Incroyable!”
“I don’t know what to call you,” Claire said.
“René.” He stared at her intently. “Please call me René. I see now so clearly, you do resemble her. She was the most beautiful girl I’ve ever known.”
“Why didn’t she stay here with you?”
“Yes, of course. It was my fault. You see, at that time, when I met your mother, I was already married.”
“Wow,” said Claire, “but my mother was so pious. I can’t believe she got involved with a married man...”
“Let me explain. You see, I didn’t tell her. She found out by accident. It’s a long sad story which we can discuss later but it is enough now to say I came to Paris for my art and my wife went to Milan to study architecture. We were much too young for marriage. As far as I was concerned, we had already separated. I had only been studying here a short time when I met your mother. She was so lovely and innocent, too innocent. I fell in love with her but I didn’t tell her about Marie. I couldn’t. As I got to know her better, I knew she wouldn’t accept this thing so I kept it a secret. I always planned to tell her but somehow...Anyway, we spent six months together and it was in my head to get a divorce quietly and marry Emily. Everything was going so well until Marie came to Paris unexpectedly and then the merde hit the fan.
“Your mother was hysterical when she found out. She said she hated me. She packed up her things that night and left me and I never saw her again. I did get a divorce after that and I hoped that Emily would forgive me and come back or let me come to Canada. I wrote her so many letters trying to convince her that I would do anything to make it up to her. I telephoned her too but she would often hang up on me.
“It was the last time we spoke, that she told me about the baby. You! I was elated. I said I would come right away but she said no. Then she wrote one last time and told me about her miscarriage. She said she never wanted to see me again and that she was happy it died and there would be nothing to bind us together. I have never been so ashamed of myself. I tried to stay in touch after that but all the letters came back unopened. I stopped then. It was over. It all makes sense now. She had you and didn’t want me to be a part of your life. I was so wrong to lie to her about being married. But it was wrong for her to lie to me too.”
Claire breathed deeply. “How awful for you and for her — and wait, for me too. If only she would have given you another chance, it could have turned out so differently. My French would have been so much better,” she smiled. “Sorry, I have a strange sense of humour.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “I like it. I like you. I can’t believe you are my little girl. We have so much to learn about each other.”