Germaine called her parents early the next morning and let them know what time they could expect her. She also told them Steven Bloom was coming along to meet Amelie.
"Germaine is this wise?" her mother asked. "To let him into her life after all this time?"
"Maman, he wanted to see her and he is her father. How can I tell him no now that he knows?" she questioned back. Germaine's mother was well aware of the facts surrounding their relationship. "All Amelie need know is that Steven is a friend. He understands her well-being is the first priority."
Stephen arrived early at Germaine's apartment. He looked around after she let him in and was surprised at how much it reminded him of the dwelling they had once shared. They sat in the kitchen and had café au lait and croissants. "Why do croissants always taste better in France?" he asked.
"Because they are better," she replied crisply as she pulled the center out of her croissant. Germaine had a method to eating croissants that had always entertained him. After breaking it in half she pulled out and ate the centers; that was followed by spreading some preserves, preferably strawberry, in the remaining 'shells'. "Yes, I still eat them like this," she said looking up at him as she picked apart the flaky bread. The small smile that played around his mouth had given his thoughts away to her.
"Are you ready to go?" Germaine asked as he looked at the photographs she had scattered around the apartment. Most were of Amelie but a few Steven recognized as having been taken while they traveled around France. If she had saved snapshots of them together none were on display. Their life together had been wonderful despite the danger and uncertainty of their chosen occupation. He hadn't wanted to leave her and return to the States years ago but he had followed orders. This time, orders or not, he would leave when he was ready.
"Are we going to the same place?" he asked and she nodded. He had met her parents years ago during one of their sightseeing trips. She had told them he was an American businessman and they had met at a café at lunch. During the 45-minute trip to pick up Amelie, Germaine told Steven she informed her parents what they really did when she found she was pregnant. He learned they had accepted her decision not to contact him after many lengthy discussions and that Germaine still worked for intelligence from time to time in a strictly technical role. Steven Bloom also discovered just how much he had missed talking to her.
Amelie had heard the tires on the gravel of the driveway and ran outside as they exited the car. Her grandparents soon appeared behind her, hanging back near the door, as the girl darted towards Germaine. "Maman!"
"Mon ange!" The smiles on both their faces could light up Paris, Steven thought as he watched Germaine embrace Amelie. He nodded a hello to her parents that they returned with small smiles. He could see they were uneasy about him meeting their granddaughter. Germaine brought Amelie over towards him, telling her she wanted her to meet someone.
He crouched down to the child's level and introduced himself in French. "Bonjour. My name is Steven. What's your name?
"Amelie," the girl replied quietly.
"That's a pretty name; just like you," he said as the child hung on her mother's leg and warily looked at him. He wanted to gather her to him and hold her but restrained himself; hopefully one day he would be able to. Looking back and forth from Germaine to Amelie, he noticed the similarities; besides the blue eyes they shared the same full lips and sly smile.
Amelie clung to her mother as they all sat and had coffee and brioche. Germaine was happy to see her parents did their best to act as though nothing was at all strange about Steven being there. For his part, Steven listened to Amelie tell Germaine about her overnight at her grandparents and answered occasional questions from Germaine's parents. He chuckled when the child made Germaine promise to make her hot chocolate when they got home. Germaine made the best hot chocolate he had ever tasted.
On the drive back to the city, Amelie had become comfortable enough with Steven to talk freely. She chattered on about everything from school to her stuffed bear she carried with her. When they arrived back at the apartment, Amelie decided she wanted to show Steven her room. As Germaine made hot chocolate, she could hear the two talking away about all sorts of things. When Steven emerged from the girl's bedroom, Germaine looked at him with an amused grin and said in English, "She likes you."
"How do you feel about that?" he asked.
She smiled ruefully, "If you get too close to her, it's not going to be easy when you leave."
"What if I don't leave?" he questioned to see her response.
"Excuse me?" she retorted as she went to take hot chocolate to Amelie who was playing in her room.
"Germaine, all I have waiting for me is an empty apartment. But here, I have the two of you," Steven said when she returned. "I've missed you, Germaine. I never realized how much until you sat down at Ile de St. Louis. We had something special; we could have that again. And I would love to spend more time with our daughter."
"We can't just pick up where we left off, Steven. I wish it were that easy but it's not," she told him. "We're both different people now and there's Amelie to think about. We'd have to start over."
"Then we start over," he said. "I'm willing to try. Are you?"
She smiled and said, "Stay for dinner. I need time to think."
He agreed and they had an enjoyable dinner that evening with Amelie keeping them both entertained until her bedtime. After she was carefully tucked in, Germaine and Steven sat on the couch talking. He told her about living in California and she filled him in on her life since he had left. Having come to a decision of another kind, Germaine got up and retrieved something from her bedroom. She returned to place a CD in Steven's hand.
"What's this?" he asked her.
"It's for you. You can watch it later," she answered.
"What's on it? Can I watch it here?" he inquired.
Germaine nodded and placed the CD in her laptop and pressed play. She then walked into the kitchen, poured half a glass of wine and took a small sip. The disk contained photos and short videos of Amelie from birth to the present and she wanted him to watch it alone. There were photos from the day she was born, holidays, birthdays and random shots from her five years. Steven got to see clips of her crawling, her first steps and her wonder at a caterpillar she found. When Germaine re-entered the room near the CD's end Steven's eyes were glassy. "You did this? For me?" he asked.
She nodded as she sat next to him and wiped away a tear that escaped down his cheek. "I burn a new one every so often to keep it up to date. I thought if you ever found out, you might want to see all that. Occasionally, even I am a hopeless romantic." She leaned in and kissed him. Memories of their time together came flooding back to both of them as he put his arms around her. When she finally pulled away she told him, "I don't know if I can do this, Steven. It scares me."
"Since when do you back away from something because it scares you?" he asked. When she didn't answer, he added, "You never have; don't start now."
"When you left, my world came crashing down around me. I'm told you're dead and I'm having a baby; then you're alive, but you're married. I picked up the pieces, put myself back together and moved forward," she said. "It was the most difficult thing I've ever done and I did it well. I made a whole new life for myself and my baby. I don't want to go through that again."
"Germaine, I don't want you to have to go through that again. God knows, I didn't want you to go through it the first time but I wasn't given much of a choice. I shouldn't have accepted what they told me about you. I'm sorry for that," he said and put his arm around her, drawing her close to him. "It's your call. We'll go as slow as you want. So,will you give in to the hopeless romantic inside?"
When she finally nodded in assent it was Steven's who initiated the next kiss. As his lips moved down her neck Germaine whispered in his ear, "I never stopped loving you."
"You've always been in my heart," he quietly replied in her ear as they sat wrapped in each other's arms enjoying the closeness and long kisses after years apart. Neither heard Amelie quietly enter the room.
"Maman," the girl said. "I can't sleep."
Steven relaxed his hold as Germaine smiled and raised her eyebrows at him before getting up and turning her attention to the child. "It's late, Amelie," she said as she ran her fingers through the tousled curls. "Let's go. Where's your teddy bear?" From the couch Steven looked on as Germaine led their daughter back to bed. As she turned the corner Germaine noticed the smile on across his face and knew she had made the right choice.