Warning: This is an extremely long chapter.
Charlotte smiled at her husband affectionately and leaned over to kiss his cheek. Sometimes he had some very old fashioned, old world ideas that made them clash. Even his years of living in the states had not changed that, but she loved him. He had a very kind heart and loved his family fiercely. Although they never spoke of it, she had known how much their estrangement from Devra had deeply hurt him. They had been so happy to learn that she had children and regretted the years that they’d missed with them. Now they had the opportunity to be a part of their lives.
However, his sudden illness concerned her. He was never sick with anything other than a slight cold over the years. Even that had never slowed him down. The old family doctor had said that it was food poisoning and told him to remain in bed until he regained his strength. Rémi had refused because the girls were coming for their visit. As a compromise, he had agreed to the wheelchair. The doctor had said that anyone with a weaker constitution might have died.
The illness puzzled Arnaud, and he had told his Grand-Mére his concerns. They had all shared the same meals. Why didn’t the rest of them get ill as well? He wanted to call another doctor for a second opinion, but his Grand-Pére had refused. Dr. Chevron had been their family doctor for years, and his Grand-Pére trusted his opinion completely.
Rémi felt hurt by her words, but his eyes were suddenly fully opened to what they had attempted to do. He loved the vineyard, but even if he lost it, it was not worth hastening the death of his Grand-Pére. How could his mother be so stone-hearted, unfeeling towards her own father! Would she as easily cast him aside if he did not do as she wanted?
Early in the morning, Alissa went down to the kitchen to help prepare breakfast. She took Cara to the kitchen with her after settling Joy playing with her dolls on one of the porches close to the kitchen . The porch was pleasantly filled with plants and enclosed. So Alissa felt comfortable leaving Joy there.
She taught them how to cook ham and cheese crepes, French omelets and flaky croissants. Everything was made from scratch with fresh ingredients. There was plenty of fruit and various flavors of jam served with the meal. They had a choice of coffee, chocolat, or juice to drink.
“The Moreaus did not generally have a large breakfast before your Grand-Pére and I returned here to live. However, I too am American, and my mother taught me that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So I started a new tradition here of having a large family breakfast and a light lunch. Though, I do prepare the French traditional recipes for the meal. My mother-in-law, your Great Grandmother, taught me to cook in the French way before she passed away. She was a wonderful woman. I wish that you all could have known her.”
“Tell me about the rest of the family. Is there someone special in your life?”
Crystal answered, “Yes, Me!”
“So, I take that as a no! You still have plenty of time, and if you wish, I could find you a good Frenchman to settle down with.”
“Do you ever miss America?”
“France, this land is in my blood. No, this is my home, and I missed it when I lived in America. I took that job to earn enough money so that I would be able to modernize the chateau and nectary. I always knew that I would return here when my father wanted me to take over for him. Thankfully, your Grand-Mére is a special woman who was willing to make my country her own.”
Crystal thought to herself that, yes, her grandmother did seem to be a very special woman. She knew that she herself would not want to live here deep in the country. She could understand to some extent her mother’s desire not to return. This part of the country was so quaint and old fashioned. She preferred a more modern, sleek setting. Maybe somewhere like Paris would suit her more. However, she was content living in her apartment in her big American, pollution filled city! She would come back for visits to see her Grandparents again, but Champs Les Sim would never be her home.
“You wanted to know about the rest of the family?”
“Oui, s’il vous plaît! I mean, yes!”
“I guess, I’ll start with Dale. Alissa really lucked out when she found him! He is a really decent and kind guy, a good husband and a great father. He’s a well-respected pediatric surgeon, and he really cares about his patients. He is extremely intelligent and talented and on top of all that, he’s extremely goodlooking! He’s not perfect, but he comes pretty close most of the time.”
Crystal laughed thinking of how he acted over Noah and Sharlee’s relationship.
“He’s not just my brother-in-law, he’s like my brother, and I know that I can rely on him if I need him. Trusting other people isn’t easy for me, but I do trust Dale and my big Sis.
Now about Shawn. Shawn has a special way with animals. He has a very gentle spirit that makes animals trust him. He especially loves horses and plans to become a Vet. He’s plays on his school basketball team, but he’s really into just about all sports. His father likes sports too. No steady girlfriend, but the girls are crazy about him!”
Crystal told him more, “Aiden is a little sweetheart! He’s really funny and likes to tell jokes. He’s crazy about all sorts of vehicles, but especially race cars. He and Joy are very close, and I know they are already missing each other. He likes swimming and plays soccer. He really looks up to Noah, and they have a good relationship. Of course he’s close to his parents too. He and Alissa inherited my mother’s singing ability, and if they wanted they could be successful at it. However, neither of them are interested in doing that. Aiden wants to design cars after he grows up. Joy also has a pleasant voice, but dancing is her passion. Shawn and me can’t carry a tune!
What can I tell you about Sharlee? Even as a teenager, jaws dropped when she entered the room. She’s gorgeous! She has a magnetic personality; and like her mom, she’s got a glow that comes from within and draws people to her. She is one of the most humble, loving people that you will ever meet. Neither she nor Alissa really see how special they are. She’s extremely smart and succeeds at just about anything she tries. She’s a great mother and wife, just like Alissa is. She loves reading, and if she has a free moment from Skylar, Noah, or her studies, you’ll find her head buried inside a good book! She sees herself as tough, but she isn’t tough at all! She’d kill me if she heard me say that!”
They both laughed again.
“She’s tenderhearted and looks for the best in people. That’s not always good for her. So, I’m glad that she has someone like Noah to look after her.”
“Noah, what about him?”
They both laughed.
“Really though, no one stood a chance with Noah after he met Sharlee. They are gaga over each other and have been ever since they met as teenagers. Noah is loyal and tough, but gentle with Sharlee and Skylar. He knows an engine inside and out. He loves motorcycles and especially his own Harley. He’s hardworking and determined to make a good life for his family. Sharlee lucked out too! He’s a great guy and super hot! He’s turned out to be a loving husband and father.
Now, Skylar. Noah calls her his Sky, and they are so sweet together. She is the most adorable little baby. You can’t help but smile when you look at her. She’s a very happy baby. She’s always smiling and laughing, and she’s really trying hard to talk now. Soon she’ll be crawling. I don’t usually have much interest in babies, or children for that matter, but my nieces and nephews are special to me. The rest of us, you’ll have a chance to get to know for yourself while we’re here.”
Crystal didn’t realize it, but their conversation had told her grandfather a lot about her too. She really loved her family deeply and that showed her grandfather that beneath the tough exterior that she portrayed, there was a loving heart. It was all that he needed to know about her in order for her to find a place in his own heart.
He told her solemnly. “You are a very exceptional young woman, my petite fille, and we are most fortunate to have you in our family.”
Crystal was surprised to find tears in her eyes. Her grandfather held out his arms to her, and she moved closer and hugged him back.
The next day, Cara asked her mother if she could go for a walk. Alissa told her not to go too far, and Joy asked to go with her. Thankfully the vineyard was on the coast. Cara found a path down to the beach, and she and Joy walked along it. Well, Cara walked and Joy pretended to fly!
As she sat there, she was deep in thought. The final break with Kent had been mutual, but Kent had again been the first to bring up the subject. He’d told her again that he didn’t feel close to her and didn’t think that it was going to get better. She’d never told him that she loved him, and Cara had finally realized that it was because she didn’t. She cared about him and was strongly attracted to him, but it had just been infatuation. She didn’t have a deep emotional attachment to him and agreed that they should stop dating.
However, she hadn’t expected to feel so sad, so unsure of herself afterwards. Would she ever really love anyone? Her aunt Crystal was single and intended to remain that way. Maybe that would be best for Cara too. She’d just concentrate on her studies for now and like her Dad said, she’d be a successful photographer without a man by her side.
Cara quickly wiped the tears away.
“I have not seen you around here. Are you one of the Moreau’s American visitors?
Joy was still playing in the sand.
He asked her, “Well, do you have a name?”
“I did sort of get that impression, but sometimes when we’re sad, it’s good to be with other people. It’ll take your mind off of whatever that fool who hurt you did! My friends tell me that I am quite entertaining!”
He laughed and got up from the ground. “Well, I wanted to kiss you from the moment that I saw you, and I just knew that you would make me wait a long time if ever. So I just did it. You’ll find that I’m very spontaneous too!”
Cara was completely shocked! He just grinned at her. “You know that you enjoyed it too! Just admit it, and I promise that it won’t happen again until you want it to happen. You just need to get to know me better.”
“I’ve been told that before too! So, what is your name?”
“Cara Stallworth. The Moreaus are my great grandparents.”
“I don’t speak French yet.”
Cara had always thought that hand kissing was corny, but it seemed perfectly natural and romantic when he did it.
She wasn’t looking for a romance, but Julien seemed like he’d make an interesting friend.
Julien laughed. They talked for a little longer and then Cara and Joy continued their walk along the beach. Cara hadn’t realized it, but her interaction with Julien had been witnessed. Someone had been following her and Joy all morning.
“Ma cherie! Are you alright!”
Cara didn’t respond. He looked up above them. He didn’t know what had caused the slide. There had never been one here before! He tore off a piece of his undershirt and wet it in the water. Then he put the cold rag against Cara’s face and wiped the blood away. The wound seemed to be further back covered by her hair.
Cara said, “We’re heading back to the vineyard.”
“I’ll just lean. Thanks.” Cara began to feel better as they walked along.
When they reached the chateau, her great grandmother called the doctor to check her out. After examining her, Dr. Chevron said that she might have a slight concussion, but that she would be alright.
Cara said in disbelief, “Fiance!”
Pascal responded, “Yes, we are to be married when we are older!”
“Pascal, my relationship with Cara or with anyone else is not your business! It never has been, and it never will be. You were like my sister! Now it’s reached the point where I don’t even consider you to be a friend anymore.”
He looked at Cara.
“Cara, I hope that you feel better soon. I will come by tomorrow and check on you.”
He kissed her hand and then left the room.
“How dare you come here and try to steal my boyfriend! You American Gargouille! You Americans! Always butting in when you’re not wanted. Go back to America! You are just like Grand-Mére said! Un clochard sans classes just like your own Grand-Mére!”
Alissa and Solange entered the room at the same time after overhearing Pascal’s shouting. Other members of the family came too. Alissa rushed over to Cara, protectively.
“I wish that a bigger rock had fallen and crushed her répulsif head! I should have started the slide from higher up! Why don’t you all just go back where you came from! You’re not wanted! We don’t need you!”
“Grand, you were so right about them. They are nothing but trouble! I was just trying to scare Cara away.”
Alissa saw Joy’s expression and asked Crystal to take her outside to the garden.
Marguerite was horrified by what her daughter had done. Pascal looked at her mother and saw the deep disappointment and shock in her eyes.
She saw her mother’s sad expression and felt doubt over her actions. Then she looked at her father and saw his pain and disappointment. She finally grasped the seriousness of what she had done and tears slid down her cheeks. She felt very confused.
She turned to look at Charlotte and Rémi.
“I love you both, dearly, as though you are my own grandparents. However, Pascal shall never again return here. You are both welcome to visit my home at anytime that you wish. You as well, Rémi, along with the boys.”
Then she looked at Solange, and she was clearly trying to restrain herself from striking her. “You sorcière maléfique are never to speak with my daughter again. Do not attempt to contact her in any way! Arnaud, I am taking Pascal, and we are driving back home to Gordes.”
“I understand, Margarete. I will join you after I take care of some things here.”
“I am very happy that you are in the family. I don’t know the words to tell you how sorry I am for what Pascal has done, but thank you for not taking legal action against her. Please visit us in Gordes the next time you are in France? I would love to meet the rest of your family.”
Marguerite hugged Charlotte and Rémi. Then she kissed Arnaud goodbye. She left the room without looking at Solange again.
Rémi II went to get Crystal, and he instructed his son Vincent to look after Joy. Then he and Crystal joined the others in the gathering room. Arnaud helped his grandmother take a seat on a sofa. She looked very shaky.
Alissa faced her aunt. “I think it’s time that we were all completely honest with one another. There is something very wrong here, and I know that it has to do with you, Aunt Solange.”
Alissa looked at her and just shook her head. She would never understand people like Solange. At one point she had wondered if mental illness ran in her family. She’d asked Sammi to check her mother’s health records and see if she had been diagnosed with a mental disease. Sammi had done as she asked and discovered that Devra had received various examinations from psychologists during her time in jail. She’d been diagnosed with a personality disorder which is not the same as a mental illness. Personality disorders are not inherited. Looking at Solange and after Pascal’s behavior, Alissa wondered again.
“What have you done, Solange?”
Rémi felt great guilt at Solange’s words to her mother. Was this his doing? Had she so completely misunderstood what it means to be a family? Yes, there is a lot of tradition handed down through generations, but there is also honor involved in being a Moreau!
Her mother cried out! “Solange, you could not!”
She angrily turned to her father. “You would have changed your will in favor of these two “parvenus” just because they are the daughters of your precious, Devra! Devra the talented one! The one the boys were all after! The apple of Pére’s eye! I was the good daughter who stayed home with you and learned how to manage a household. What did that get me! Did you appreciate it! No! I was always hearing, “Devra is doing great at college! She’s made a lot of new friends. On and on!”
She paused for breath as everyone listened in shocked silence. She continued speaking. “Then when she quit college, you were both so disappointed. I loved my sister too, but I hated her as well. I hated the way that you both favored her and fawned over her. So, yes, I was glad that she quit college. I was glad that her singing career was a flop! I was glad when you finally saw her true nature. At least she had used her stage name Morales. Then she had the nerve to steal my identity and pretend to be me! I was furious! She tried to defile the Moreau name. My name!”
Charlotte started to speak, but her husband Rémi motioned for her to remain silent.
“When she was going to jail to be punished for her other criminal activities, she had the nerve to contact me! Oh, she was really trying to reach you, Pére, but I was the one who answered the phone. She said that she thought that you and Mére would like to know that you had a petite fille named Alissa, and that if you would send her money to pay for a lawyer, she would allow you to raise her fille. She actually thought that we would like to have her bâtard fille in this house!”
Solange looked at her father and saw his pain and disgust over what she had done. For a few moments it moved her, but then she again hardened her heart.
“I told her that if she ever attempted to contact another member of this family again, that I would press charges against her for stealing my identity. I told her to forget that she was ever a Moreau just as I intended to do.”
She saw that her father was shaking with anger and heartsick. She dropped down to her knees in front of him. “Don’t you see, Pére? I could not allow her to hurt you and Mére anymore. I could not allow her to drag the Moreau name through the gutter with her! I couldn’t let her “bâtard” contaminate the family.”
Solange backed away as though he had struck her.
Solange rose stiffly to her feet. Charlotte told her. “It is you who does not truly understand what it means to be a Moreau. Yes, it is an honorable name. It represents strength but also love, kindness, generosity and pride mixed with humility! Solange, you have lost your way; and I am so sorry that I did not see it!”
Solange left the room and went to her suite. Charlotte looked at her grandchildren and her husband sitting dejectedly beside her.
That night, Solange was taken by her sons to a mental institution and admitted to begin receiving the treatment that she needed to regain her mental health.
The following day, Réme and Charlotte sat down with Alissa and Crystal for a heart to heart talk. They wanted to know about their lives growing up. When Alissa started giving them a sanitized version, her grandfather interrupted her.
“Pardonnez-moi, Alissa. We wish to know the truth. Please do not try to shield us.”
When Alissa told them about her experiences in the foster homes and then after her emancipation when she had dated Bronson and got pregnant, Crystal realized that she hadn’t really known how difficult life had been for Alissa. She’d told Alissa all about her own childhood, but Alissa had never really gone into detail about hers. Even though their mother had not been a good mother, at least Crystal had had her until she found Alissa. She hadn’t been on her own.
However, Crystal hadn’t known how truly alone Alissa had been and how bad it had been for Alissa in the foster system. She hugged her sister. Despite everything that she had been through, her sister was a wonderful person, and Crystal appreciated and admired her even more!
Rémi explained that as his eldest child, the vineyard would have been inherited by Devra and since she had died, then Alissa was next in line.
Although disappointed, Rémi understood. He told them that their side of the family would always be welcome at the vineyard. If ever any family member wished to live there, they would always have a home. It had been that way with the Moreaus through the generations and he knew that their cousin Rémi and his sons would always continue that tradition. Rémi II was relieved and grateful to find that his Grandpére had forgiven him for his part in his Grandpére’s illness and that the vineyard would still be his inheritance.
Alissa and Crystal cut their visit short because of Solange’s hospitalization and returned to America. Alissa promised her grandparents that she would return soon with the rest of her family. Even though there had been some difficult moments, they were all happy that they had found each other.