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14 December 2013 @ 06:43 pm
Chapter 76: Arrivals and Familial Matters  

A/N: There's less than 10 chapters of this thing left! Is anyone still reading this? This chapter is rather fluffy, but I think we need a breather after all.

Chapter 76: Arrivals and Familial Matters

The next few weeks were characterized by an uncharacteristic calm, the sort that was almost welcome to everyone except for those of more restless temperaments such as Bahorel, Grantaire, and Gavroche. 'This summer is already quite hot enough without tempers being that way,' Eponine thought to herself one afternoon as she quickly alighted from an omnibus in the Marais.

She wiped her face and pulled her hair back from her face in an effort to still appear fresh and less harried, a feat that was becoming increasingly difficult in the humidity of mid-summer. Although it was almost five in the afternoon, the heat was still far too oppressive for her taste. 'Hopefully there will be a cool breeze or two in August,' she thought. It was already the seventeenth of July, a little over two weeks away from a day she was very much looking forward to.

However there were more immediate matters at hand, such as the very reason she was in the Marais today. Regardless of the fact that it was a warm day, she still ran to the Rue des Filles du Calvaire. This time Nicolette let her in the house readily, only saying, "Madame la Baronne is expecting you upstairs."

"Is she well? How is her little one?" Eponine asked as she tossed aside her hat, her shawl, as well as her bag of documents.

"As well as any woman should be. The little one is a son by the way; is practically the Baron in miniature," Nicolette said happily.

Eponine laughed as she immediately pictured a baby with Marius' brooding expression and slightly startled eyes. "I am sure that only makes Cosette doubly happy today," she said before racing upstairs and following the sound of conversation towards a half-open door towards the end of the hall. She took a moment to peek into the room and smiled at the sight of Cosette sitting propped up in bed, conversing with Marius, all the while stopping now and then to glance at the swaddled bundle in her arms. Cosette was fresh-faced, with her wavy hair neatly combed back and tumbling past her shoulders. Her mien was soft and radiant, akin to that of a Madonna.

Eponine knocked on the door twice before pushing it open gingerly. "You sent for me?"

"I did, and it's good to finally see you!" Cosette replied. "Azelma, Prouvaire, Courfeyrac, and Armand were here about an hour ago."

"I had to finish some things at work, and there is a meeting later at Picpus," Eponine said, finding an extra chair near the bed. "You look so well, Cosette. I wouldn't have thought that it was only this morning that you gave birth."

"I've had some hours to make myself presentable," Cosette said candidly.

"Ah, that's true. So what's his name going to be?"

"Georges. That was my father's name," Marius explained, his smile now almost giddy and boyish. "Cosette swears that he looks like me all over again, but I think he has her nose."

"The second is a good thing I s'pose," Eponine said, peering at the ruddy faced newborn dozing in her friend's arms. She couldn't help but wonder what Marius' grandfather thought of the infant's name, but she knew better than to bring this up. "He's awfully quiet isn't he? Armand wouldn't calm down for hours when he was born."

"He's tired from a long day," Cosette explained. "We've had well-wishers coming in since after lunch."

Marius cleared his throat. "I already asked Courfeyrac to be Georges' godfather, but we still want you to attend the christening this Saturday."

"Why?"

"You and Azelma are the only sisters I've ever known," Cosette said. "I understand though if you find this a bit of an imposition. I know you're busy since you have work and a wedding to plan."

"No, I'll be there. It would be nice to attend a happy christening for once," Eponine reassured her. She bit her lip as the memory of Paulette's last moments flashed through her mind, but she willed herself to dispel the gloom by taking in the scene that was right before her. 'Cosette made it through like so many other women do,' she reminded herself even as she heard Marius excuse himself.

Cosette sat up straighter, all the while keeping her hold on Georges. "I never thought that this would happen. Has it really been so long since we were children together?"

"Only ten years," Eponine said dryly. "Though it feels like nine years and another lifetime."

"It's turning out better than most of us imagined," Cosette pointed out, stopping to stroke her son's cheek. "He's beautiful. I always believed he would be, but seeing him..."

"Is something else. I s'pose it's always that way," Eponine finished. The expression on Cosette's face was beatific and content, something which Eponine was sure her mother never wore, at least where Gavroche, Neville, and Jacques were concerned. The younger woman had to look away for a moment if only to keep her composure at the memories that suddenly welled up, not just of her own time at Montfermeil but of darker nights and not knowing what to do about a little boy squalling in a cradle while her mother tried to ignore that relentless clamor. 'Might I be taking better care of the boys than she ever wanted to?' she wondered silently, frowning a little at the irony of it all. Then again, she figured it was probably one of the better outcomes in their odd situation, more so since she was not alone in bringing up her brothers.

"I know that Musichetta and Therese are taking charge of your trousseau, as a present. That isn't the only thing that some of us have arranged by the way of wedding gifts. I thought you ought to know," Cosette remarked at length.

"Who is 'us'?" Eponine asked, now a little startled at having been so abruptly drawn out of her reverie.

"Marius, myself, my father, and of course a whole lot of our other friends," Cosette said merrily. "We all thought that you and Enjolras would need some practical things for setting up your home. So we made a list of the things you will not have to buy over the next few weeks since we're taking care of all of that," she explained, gesturing to a drawer in the bedside table.

Eponine retrieved a carefully folded piece of paper and shook it out before reading its contents aloud. "Linens, plates, teacups, bookshelves, candlesticks...Cosette, this is far too much!" She gaped at her friend in disbelief. "We couldn't do it for when you and Marius got married, and we weren't so grand either for Joly and Chetta!"

"Marius and I live in this house with Grandfather and thus we do not have to worry about so many expenses. Joly and Musichetta have had a house of their own for years now so they have little need to worry about practicalities. You and Enjolras are just starting out, and with your brothers to take care of," Cosette reasoned. "For my part, consider it my thanks for your having helped me with so many things such as getting my projects together, and for Enjolras' saving my father from being put in prison."

Eponine sighed, knowing that she would not be able to dissuade Cosette or any of their other friends. Besides, who was she to reject help of the most practical sort? "I'm going to find some way to thank you and everyone else for this," she said resolutely.

A knock sounded on the door. "Cosette? Shouldn't you be resting?" Jean Valjean asked as he stepped into the room.

"I feel very well, Father," Cosette replied. "Why don't you sit with us for a little while?"

Jean Valjean smiled and acceded to his daughter's request, taking a seat on the opposite side of Cosette's bed. "It's good that you came to visit, despite all the things you have to see to," he said amiably to Eponine. "I hope all is well?"

"Yes, though I s'pose I could use more hours in a day, not just the extra sunlight," Eponine replied.

Cosette smiled sympathetically. "Especially since it's almost the mid-year deadline for voting on the petitions everyone has filed."

"It's why the other ladies and I met yesterday and figured out how we'll finally get the legislators and deputies to give a good vote to our petition. It would be awful for us to have to start over," Eponine explained. That deadlock was the one dark spot this summer, more so since most attempts at lobbying had fallen so far on deaf ears, regardless of whatever innovative ways that she, her fellow society members, and even friends in the legislature and other departments could come up with.

She bit her lip before looking at Jean Valjean keenly. "Would you mind if I asked a big sort of favor? It's nothing with politics."

Jean Valjean looked at her curiously. "What is it?"

Eponine took a deep breath, wondering how to word her request. "I s'pose it is odd but you're the person who I think I should ask. Could you please be a witness at my wedding?"

For a moment Jean Valjean appeared startled. "I do not wish to usurp the place of your father on that day, child. It should be his place to give you away then," he said graciously.

"He doesn't concern himself with me. He gave his consent but of course he wouldn't be happy about what I've been doing and I doubt he ever will," Eponine said. She swallowed hard before speaking again; she still couldn't understand why even mentioning her rift with her father was such a difficult matter. "After all you've done for me; you took me in when no one else would, and after all you've done for my friends, it's the best way I can think of to thank you."

"You have been more of a father to her over the past year than her own parent," Cosette pointed out to Jean Valjean. "She's a sister to me too, so it wouldn't be out of place."

The gentleman bowed his head. "I am honoured then."

Eponine nodded gratefully. "Thank you," she said, stopping short of adding the word 'Father'; somehow addressing him as 'Citizen' felt far too formal and short. After a great deal more of pleasant discussion, she took her leave of her friends and headed back to the Latin Quartier, promising once again to be present at Georges' baptism.

The sun was low in the sky but not yet quite setting, and a cool breeze had finally begun to rise, doing much to make the evening pleasant. 'I'd like to stroll in the Luxembourg, but there's still a bit I have to see to,' Eponine thought as she finally reached the street corner of the Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau. She paused at the sight of a crowd gathering further down the street, apparently gathering at the doorstep of the tenement. As she drew closer, she could see her concierge on the doorstep, brandishing a broom in the face of a man she recognized as being one of the newer writers at the Moniteur.

Citizenness Leclair waved frantically to Eponine. "Finally you can help me get these devils away from here! Tell them you've got no wish for interviews this evening -""

Before Eponine could say anything, the throng of newshounds suddenly converged around her. "Citizenness Thenardier is it true that you'll soon be resigning from being the assistant chairperson of the women's society?" one of the older writers shouted.

Eponine was stunned at this question. "Where did you hear such a silly thing?"

"Word at the Place du Pantheon," the journalist replied. "It is only to be expected though, given your upcoming marriage."

"Why would that change anything?" Eponine asked.

"You will have no need to agitate when you are well provided for by your husband," the writer from the Moniteur said.

"Citizenness Legendre has a husband. So does my good friend Citizenness Musichetta Joly. They're not the only ones I can name," Eponine pointed out, keeping one hand still on the strap of her bag of documents. "You already know that so many women have to do something to help their families since one person alone can't always bring in enough bread for everyone."

"That is correctly said, Citizenness. Eventually though, it will be inappropriate to be extremely vocal about your personal politics especially when connected to such prominence," the journalist pressed on.

Eponine frowned at this idea. "That does not make sense. My vote is separate from anyone else's; that is in the Charter. So why should speaking out on politics be any different?"

"Not all men would stand to be so publicly contested."

"I I wouldn't want to have much to do with a man who'd either cower too easily or pretend to be a tyrant once there is some disagreement with how to go about things."

The journalist blanched even as his colleagues snickered and in some cases, actually applauded. "This will make a disturbing precedent," he muttered as soon as he regained his composure.

Eponine crossed her arms, unwilling to capitulate any further to his baiting her into discussion. "I s'pose that's all then. You're blocking my way to the house, and I'm not about to have interviews out here in the street."

"You're lucky she's the one who came home first and not Citizen Enjolras. Look for your stories elsewhere," the concierge upbraided the journalists. She turned around all of a sudden and shook her head. "Jacques, go back upstairs!"

Jacques squeezed past Citizenness Leclair and ran to his sister. "Ponine, why are they still here?" he asked, tugging on Eponine's skirt. "They keep asking us about so many things we don't know about."

Eponine's eyes widened with shock as she realized what the journalists had been up to, a dire suspicion that was confirmed when some of the men lowered their eyes or looked away guiltily. She carefully stepped between her brother and the journalists, carefully placing a hand on Jacques' shoulder. "I don't care what questions you ask, but I shan't let you pester my brothers for anything. If you want a story you'll have to wait for me someplace. You'd better tell that to your friends and employers too," she said, her voice sharp with annoyance.

"Our apologies then if we...overstepped our boundaries," the oldest journalist said gravely.

Eponine nodded firmly by way of accepting this apology before looking past her concierge towards where Gavroche and Neville were waiting on the stairwell, already ready to pelt a pair of worn out shoes at the nearest unsuspecting journalist. "You all should shoo; you can get a better dinner elsewhere tonight," she told the crowd, earning another round of laughter.

"I think we've inconvenienced the young lady enough," the leader of this group said, waving to his colleagues. "Perhaps at a more conducive time, Citizenness?" he asked Eponine more kindly.

"And with better questions. Good evening to you," Eponine replied.

Citizenness Leclair shook her head in disbelief as the group gradually dispersed. "I hope they will think twice before attempting again such a mean trick, especially at your new home on the Rue Guisarde," she said to Eponine as they entered the house.

"Over there, it is much easier to throw things; there are more windows and the door is a little wider," Eponine quipped even as she glanced at her other brothers and their impish expressions. "Whose shoes were those?" she asked Gavroche as she shut the door behind her.

"Mine. Look whose toes I'm borrowing today," Gavroche said, holding up one foot.

Eponine bit her lip on seeing that her brother was wearing Courfeyrac's old shoes. "At least they aren't squeaking. You should have said so earlier if your shoes were pinching you," she said as she took off her hat, followed by her gloves.

"They weren't till two hours ago."

"Tomorrow we're going to the cobbler. I'm not letting you go barefoot even if it's summer."

Gavroche only thumbed his nose cheekily before kicking off his footwear and following his siblings into the kitchen. He grabbed a whole loaf of bread from the cupboard and began to munch on it while waiting for Eponine to finish preparing their repast. "Going barefoot gives one better soles," he said, pointing to his bare feet.

"Yes, till you get a splinter or two. Besides there are still nasty puddles in summer and you know how awful smelling those are," Eponine said as she put some stew into bowls and set on a plate some cooked rashers of meat. "Jacques, the cheese is for tomorrow morning," she said, catching her youngest brother trying to look through the cupboard.

Jacques scowled as he shoved a piece of Brie back into the cupboard. "But I want to eat it now!"

"Yes, and if you do that you won't have anything much for your bread tomorrow, how would you like that?" Eponine said.

Citizenness Leclair laughed as she sat down to join the young people at their dinner. "You definitely sound like his mother some times," she remarked to Eponine.

Eponine shrugged. "It's not such a bad way to go about it, I hope?"

"Not at all. He's so little, that's what he needs," Citizenness Leclair said.

After a while Neville looked up at the sound of more knocking at the door. "Another fly to chase away!" he said as he scratched his cat between its ears.

Eponine sighed and got up from the table, already quietly preparing what harsh retort she would have to make to this disturbance personified. She opened the door a crack and saw Musichetta there, carrying a large basket. "Oh thank goodness it's you, Chetta! I thought I was going to have to get a stick to poke at one of those writers," she laughed.

"That mob down there?" Musichetta said, gesturing to the journalists who had retreated only as far as the street corner. "What are they waiting for?"

Eponine rolled her eyes. "If they want to sleep there all night, it's not my concern. Though I doubt they'll want to do that after Enjolras or Combeferre finds them there."

Musichetta giggled and shook her head. "I'm sorry if I interrupted your dinner, but Therese told me to rush here and ask your opinion about some laces we found, and also to fit this one dress." She laughed at Eponine's rather confused look. "It's supposed to be a present, but we don't want to give you something that does not fit you."

"I s'pose that's sensible," Eponine said as she let Musichetta into the house and showed her upstairs. She showed her friend the list she'd acquired from Cosette. "Did you know anything about this?"

"Yes of course!" Musichetta said, giving her a wide grin. "I know what it may seem like to you, but it's really something we want to do."

"Isn't it too much trouble?"

"It is difficult enough not to have any relatives to help one through these things, and I don't want you to be overwhelmed," Musichetta continued more gently as she set down the basket. "First these laces. Wouldn't they look nice on a nightdress?" she said, laying out several pieces of tatting on a table.

Eponine held up a piece of lace worked in the pattern of dainty flowers. "I think this one looks nice."

"It's rather plain, isn't it?" Musichetta said. "I have nicer ones."

"I don't want something that will make me itch when I sleep," Eponine pointed out.

"Who says you have to sleep the entire night in it?" Musichetta teased as she put the laces back in the basket. "By the way, it's nice that you'll all be moving to the Rue Guisarde. Patrice, Bossuet, and I are only a short walk away, and it's not too far either from where Prouvaire and Azelma are, or Bahorel and Therese, or even Grantaire and Nicholine on the Rue de Gres. Combeferre will still be here though?"

"For a few more months, but I think he means to eventually stay with Claudine," Eponine replied. "It's far from the Sorbonne, but he thinks that they can do their work better at Picpus since there is more space there for experiments."

Musichetta nodded as she pulled a green dress out of the basket. "Do you like this color? I've always thought it brings out your hair best."

"Yes. I've never thought of it that way before though, I just figured it didn't make me look so pale all the time," Eponine said as she shook out the dress to try it on. It was of a simple but elegant make, with slightly puffed sleeves, a more modest neckline, and some light embroidery in the shape of scrolls along the waistline and the hem of the garment.

"It's not exactly from this month's fashion sketches; those wouldn't look good on your shoulders," Musichetta explained, going to help Eponine fasten the dress. She stepped back and smiled approvingly. "Therese was right to take in the waist. It's very becoming. If only you had a mirror to see it."

"I do not need to worry. It feels like it suits me. Thank you," Eponine concurred. Although Musichetta and Therese were not exactly the sorts who catered to the highest of society, she always felt that her friends had a better knack for knowing their clientele and making them feel prettier than the latest designs could possibly manage. The sound of sharp voices from further down the street snapped her out of her reverie. "It seems as if those journalists won't be sleeping there after all," she laughed as she began to change out of the new dress.

"If they catch some cold or draught from this weather, I am sure Patrice or Combeferre would not mind having an extra patient or two in the next few days," Musichetta joked. "I'll show you some of the other things as soon as we're finished with them. Though I should ask again, are you very sure about the color of your wedding dress?"

Eponine nodded gleefully. "I've worn that hue before."

"Clearly it's not just your fiancé you intend to leave speechless on that day," Musichetta said. "I'll let you try it on by next week. I don't believe in that superstition of not allowing the bride to fit the wedding dress before the day itself. It causes so much trouble for the seamstress or whoever has to alter the wedding attire at the last minute."

Eponine laughed as she helped Musichetta stash away the dress. "I never can imagine why someone could come up with such a silly idea. It only makes people so late." She quickly donned her work dress again, but this time removed the pins that held her hair back from her face. "If you don't mind having some stew, there's some downstairs still," she told her friend.

"Patrice promised me dinner at the Cafe Bon Vivant tonight," Musichetta said. "They have a superb new chef there, so I hear. You should go by that place again."

"Maybe some time soon," Eponine remarked as she showed Musichetta to the front door. She glanced in the direction of the street corner and saw that Enjolras was already there, talking with some of the more incorrigible journalists; the majority of the throng had already cleared out. 'They're worse than Grantaire's vultures; they're leeches,' she thought as she hurried towards the corner. Before she could get there, the conversation had been concluded; the last of the correspondents was slinking away and Enjolras was now walking in the direction of the tenement.

He caught her gaze first and smiled by way of greeting when they met halfway down the street. "I heard you sent them away from the doorstep," he said with wry amusement as he took her hand.

"They were blocking the way and they even bothered the boys and Citizenness Leclair," Eponine informed him, pulling him to the alley near the tenement. Inasmuch as she knew it would be better to discuss this indoors at home, she didn't want this matter to be brought up around her brothers' hearing. "I s'pose you didn't like their questions much either," she pointed out once they were alone.

"Downright impertinent queries," Enjolras replied. "They said you were formidable."

She raised an eyebrow as she began to rub his shoulders idly, feeling how tense he still was from his terse discussion. "They would have waited all night if you hadn't shown up. It's probably good for them that you didn't have a late evening at the Hotel de Ville."

Enjolras smirked at this joke before relaxing a little into her touch. "I made it clear that they are not to importune either of us with queries at this hour; there are more official places for interviews."

"The Hotel de Ville for you, and I s'pose the Rue des Macons for me, or someplace else where they can actually talk," Eponine remarked. "It's not too rude, is it?"

"I do not think so. One must have rules for these matters, in order to keep things somewhat orderly and avoid clandestine communications," he replied.

Eponine laughed at this formal answer. "How did the rest of your day go?"

"A few too many meetings, but that is to be expected given the big mid-year assembly," Enjolras said. "There is still debate as to when the next readings and voting will be."

"Isn't that normally on a Friday?"

"Usually, but the question is as to which Friday in the next few weeks. It may seem some people are deliberately creating delays for some petitions while expediting others."

"Aren't there rules about that?"

"Yes, but all too easily subverted."

Eponine sighed sympathetically as she squeezed his shoulder. "Something nicer then. Did you hear that Cosette and Marius have a son?"

Enjolras nodded. "I might have time to visit tomorrow. Have you been there already?"

"I went after work," Eponine said. She cocked her head when she realized that Enjolras was looking at her intently. "Is something wrong, Antoine?"

"No." Even in the dark it was evident that his cheeks had reddened a little bit. "You don't usually wear your hair down outside the house."

Eponine smiled widely at this barely disguised compliment. "Maybe I should if I know you're going to be there, since I know how you like it," she said before kissing him.

"That will not be necessary," Enjolras retorted before bringing his hand to the back of her neck, lightly running his fingers down to the collar of her dress before leaning in to kiss her back.

This bold gesture nearly made Eponine gasp with surprise, at least till she was lost in the feel of his hot mouth on hers as well as in the ardency of his grip on her waist. She draped her arms around his neck to bring him closer, and so she could also begin running her hands through his hair to encourage him. Enjolras pulled away for a moment to look her in the eyes, making her shiver before he kissed her gently, first on her brow, then the tip of her nose, and then on the side of her mouth. She could feel heat pooling in her stomach at this intimate gesture, prompting her to press a kiss on his jaw before unbuttoning his coat and then beginning to undo his cravat. "How tightly do you have to tie this every day?" she asked as she tried to work the knot loose.

"Enough to avoid mishaps," Enjolras replied, taking her hands to kiss her fingers, smiling when he heard her breath catch. "The point is moot though when you're around."

"And every day at breakfast," Eponine laughed, pressing herself against him and standing on tiptoe so that their foreheads were touching. She sighed as she felt his hands close around her waist. "Maybe we should get back inside before Gavroche decides to eat your share of dinner too."

Enjolras chuckled before suddenly the sound of a carriage stopping near the alley, followed by the murmur of some voices caught his attention. "We should think of how to greet my parents first; they've just arrived," he said in an undertone.

Eponine sneaked a glance over Enjolras' shoulder and saw three shadows talking at the tenement doorstep. Nevertheless the sound of Provencal accents was unmistakable, and she had to bite her lip hard to stifle her laughter. "What will they say if they catch us like this?" she asked as she stepped away from him so she could put her clothes and hair in some order.

"I am not sure if they will be angry or dare I say it, relieved," Enjolras replied as he tied his cravat and then buttoned up his coat. He risked a glance at the entrance of the alley. "Are you ready?"

"Is there any other way to be?" Eponine asked candidly. She slipped her hand in his as they walked back out to the tenement entrance. She had to keep a straight face when she realized that Louis and Monique were not in travelling attire, but the pair was dressed as if to go to dinner. 'Probably they have to call on someone else too,' the thought occurred to her. She glanced at Enjolras, who signalled for her to stay quiet as they walked up to about a few meters from where his parents were conversing with Citizenness Leclair, who had apparently not noted their presence either.

Enjolras cleared his throat. "Good evening Father. Good evening Mother," he greeted calmly.

Monique's jaw dropped and her eyes went very round as she turned about and caught sight of the younger pair. "You two! How long have you been standing there?" she exclaimed, astonished at being caught off guard.

"I s'pose only a moment or two-" Eponine trailed off before laughing as she saw Monique rush to hug Enjolras, who ended up grunting with surprise as the wind was nearly knocked out of him. A second later she found herself also pulled into this enthusiastic though slightly awkward embrace, much to the laughter of the rest of the onlookers.

"Monique, I know you missed them but that is effusive even for you," Louis joked after a few moments.

"How often do you get to see your son and your daughter-in-law?" Monique retorted as she stepped away to adopt a more dignified attitude. "I know I should be speaking in the future tense, but it may as well be the present now," she added.

Eponine was sure that her cheeks had gone scarlet at these words. "How long have you been in Paris?" she managed to say.

"About three hours," Louis said merrily. "We have to visit some friends, but we decided that it would be best to see you two first."

"Now don't bore them with our business, Louis! Antoine, Eponine, let me have a good look at the two of you," Monique said. She smiled warmly at her son after a few moments. "I never thought that being a legislator would suit you so well, Antoine; you were always so active even when you began to read a lot. Then again, you've never lacked for excitement over these past few weeks."

"A very interesting way to put it," Enjolras said dryly.

"You were never born to stay idle," Monique pointed out before looking over Eponine. "If Antoine wasn't in love with you already when I last saw you, I'm sure he would be by now. It's not just about how pretty you've grown, my dear."

"Thank you, I s'pose," Eponine replied a little embarrassedly. Even after all this time she was not sure how to take such high praise, especially from a woman who she perceived to be above her in many ways, regardless if she was a friend or almost family. "Thank you also for replying to my letters."

"Rather, I should thank you for writing them," Monique said.

Louis looked at Enjolras. "Have you already found a place to move to?"

"Yes, a house at the Rue Guisarde, not far from here," Enjolras replied.

Louis nodded approvingly. "Tell me more about it tomorrow; your mother and I have to be elsewhere in half an hour." He grinned at the engaged pair. "You probably can guess I hate coming to town; Monique hates my lack of being sociable. Perhaps you two will be the ones to help me break that old rule of mine; that is the only way I can think of to keep up with everything you're doing here."