As soon as I walked in the front door, I dropped my bag on the floor. After one week in France, I was so very glad to be home. I was glad I’d gotten in late; I knew Mom and Mama would want to know everything that happened, but right now I needed to process everything.
I had met my father.
And it had not been what I expected. At all.
“I can’t do this.” I looked over at Alison as we stood on the walkway in front of the modest house on the fringes of Champs Les Sims. I was on the verge of a panic attack. “I can’t do this, Alison. This was a mistake.”
“Luc, just breathe.” She grabbed my biceps and squeezed hard. “You can do this. We came all the way to France. You’re not going to balk now. You can do this.”
I swallowed hard and nodded jerkily. “Right. I can do this.”
I turned and walked stiffly up to the door. I couldn’t make my hand move to knock on it until Alison gave me a firm shove.
A minute after I knocked on the door, it creaked open. On the other side, was a man, aged beyond his years, with thinning hair and eyes the color of mine. “Oui? Puis-je vous aider?”
I cleared my throat, shifting on my feet. “I don’t speak French. Do you speak English?” Shit, why hadn’t I thought of that? I should’ve gotten an interpreter.
“Oh, oui, I speak some anglais,” he said in a confused voice. His English was stilted but understandable.
Here goes. I felt like I was going to vomit. “Are you Jean-Pierre Marchand?” After he nodded, I continued. “I’m…” I cleared my throat again. “I am Luc Thoreau. But my name used to be Luc Marchand.”
I went into the kitchen and poked around the refrigerator. To say Jean – as he had requested we call him – had been surprised would be an understatement. Flabbergasted might be a little more in the ballpark.
I sat down at the bar and pushed some leftovers around on my plate. It looked like something of Loralee’s make. She must’ve been over while I was gone.
After the initial shock, Jean-Pierre invited Alison and me into the house. It was a very modest place with a sort of Spartan look about it.
“W-would you like to sit down? Are you ah, assoiffé? What is the word? Thirsty?” He laughed nervously. “I am sorry. I have not spoken l’anglais in a long time.”
“We’re fine,” Alison said kindly, herding me to the sofa.
Jean-Pierre sat down on the sofa next to the couch, leaning forward to look at me. “You are Luc? How are you? Are you well?” It seemed like he couldn’t contain the excitement he was feeling. Was he actually happy to see me?
“I’m good.” I smiled hesitantly. “I got adopted when I was six by a lesbian couple. They have a daughter a few years older than me.” Would he have a problem with my parents being two women?
He looked like he was about to burst into tears. “I am so happy. Je suis tellement soulagé. I have worried for so long about you.”
I glanced over at Alison before I turned back to Jean-Pierre. “If you were so worried, then why did you give me up?”
I put my plate in the dishwasher and found my way into my bedroom. I dropped down on the edge of my bed. Nothing about my reunion with my father had gone as I had imagined. I hadn’t been prepared for what he’d told me.
“I was addicted to héroïne.” I didn’t need him to say it the English way for me to understand what he was saying. “I started – “he waved his hand around, searching for the right word “– using after Therese and I moved to Willow Creek. The move was very hard for me; I missed my home and family here.” He shook his head, looking deeply ashamed. “I drove Therese away. She did not want me near you. I thought if I came back to France, I could get over my dépendance.”
“But it didn’t work,” I said softly.
He shook his head. “I was dévastée when I heard about Therese’s accident. They found me and tried to give you to me, but how could I take care of you? I could not take care of myself. I was so afraid you would not be adopted or you would have a bad life. Is your family good?”
I swallowed thickly. My father had loved me? He’d made the hard choice and done what was best for me. I almost couldn’t believe it. “My family is wonderful. My mama is a video game developer and my mom is a doctor. My sister got married in May.”
When he smiled, I could see myself in him. “Ce sont des anges. Is this her? Your sister?” He motioned to Alison.
“Oh, no.” I smiled. “This is Alison. She is a friend. She has been helping me find you.”
He offered her his hand. “Thank you, Alison.”
I braced my arms on my legs, feeling heavy with thought. It was still overwhelming. We’d talked to my father for hours that day, then had lunch at a café with him the next, then dinner at our hotel the day after that. He was practically walking on air the whole time, so happy that I was there. He had told me all about his life. He’d gotten clean seven years after my mother died, and ended up getting married again, though it hadn’t worked out. He’d been divorced for about a year now, which explained why he was living in the little rental place I’d found him in.
He’d even given me a bunch of old pictures while I was there. When I remembered that, I jumped to my feet and went back into the living room to get my suitcase. I hauled it back into my room and carefully took out a framed photograph of my parents on their wedding day.
I hung it up on the wall and just looked at it. They both looked so happy. Two years later, they would be divorced. He would be addicted to heroin.
I shook my head and sat down on my bed again, still looking at the picture. Loralee had wished that the meeting with my father would go well, and, to my happiness, she had gotten her wish. Before I left France, I even promised that I would see him again soon. It was a promise I intended to keep.