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“Tell me, did you marry again? Do I have any brothers and sisters?”
“No. Once was enough. I finished my art studies and then studied English and Italian. I became a teacher. I love teaching children and I still love to draw and paint but now it’s purely a selfish endeavour. Except for Sundays here in the square. I get inspiration from the people and the exuberance. Forgive me,” he said, bowing his head, “but I am still in shock. I suppose you don’t think very much of your father, do you?”
“René, I only know that when I found out you were alive, I was so happy. I am thrilled that we have finally met and I hope that we can become friends at the very least. I know we are strangers now but I feel a strong connection to you already.”
“You have grandparents,” he blurted out. “They live in the south, a lovely little town called St. Paul de Vence. I can take you there but they will both have heart attacks and die on the spot,” he laughed — then, “Oh, forgive me. How insensitive. Your mother has just died.” He looked down abashed. “I too have this weird sense of humour.”
“It’s okay!” Claire beamed. “Are they fun people?”
“Fun? Well, I suppose yes, very fun. You will love them.”
“Do they dance?”
“All the time. My papa plays the accordion — very badly, especially after drinking too much of his home-made wine.”
“I would be honoured to meet them.”
“Of course, you must. We must make a list of things to do, Claire. I hope you are in no hurry to go home.”
“No, no hurry at all.” She wanted to tell him that she already felt she was home but it was too soon. Henri appeared with a tray and put down two steaming bowls. “Here is your coffee. On the house, René. For you and your daughter.”
“You have an admirer,” said René, watching Henri leave. “One of many I am sure. You are shivering. Are you cold?”
“I got a little wet in the downpour. My shoes are soaking.”
“Henri, bring us some cognac. Right away, please!”
Claire reached for the sugar bowl at the same time as her father did. They each grabbed three packets. As they stirred their coffees, they smiled shyly at each other.
“You are left-handed as well, I see,” he said.
“Bien sûr,” she said with a huge grin. “So tell me when exactly is the best time to go to the Louvre? And I want to see the Musée D’Orsay and Versailles and the stained glass at Sainte-Chapelle. I’m a photographer, you know. Did I already tell you that? A good one.”
“I have no doubt you are a good one,” he grinned. He pulled a notebook and pencil from his pocket and their list began.