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Theresa was scrunched as far down into her seat as she could go when the older couple (really, elderly, she thought), finally unlocked their lips.  Then the woman promptly turned around and started kissing Jin on the cheeks—one, two, three, four times! Theresa added all the kissing to her list of reasons why the French never got started early in the morning.

The older woman turned to Theresa and smiled at her.  "Bon soir!" she said to Theresa.  Claude fired off something in French and the woman nodded in understanding.  "Ahh" she said, "L'Americaine".  She pointed to herself and said, "Marie-Anne" and Theresa nodded back and said, "Theresa".  "Bon soir Terese" Marie-Anne said, and Theresa thought, what the hell, at least she didn't say anything about New York.

Marie-Anne turned to Jin and started speaking rapidly in French.  Jin nodded and nodded and nodded and then turned to Theresa and said, "She would like to know why you are going to Angers" and Theresa said, "That's all she asked? It seemed more like a page of questions" and Jinn shrugged.  Theresa said, "I'm going to Angers to meet with owners of a vineyard that my company is interested in buying."  Jinn rapidly translated and again he and Marie-Anne spoke for several minutes in French.  Theresa wondered why it took them five minutes to say one sentence.  All this talk.  Jin turned back to Theresa.  "And which vineyard?"  "It is Le Roman, known for its rose".  Jin nodded back, "Yes, the Loire is well known for its rose."

"Anything else?" Theresa asked and Jin was amused.  "Why?", he asked, "Are you finished talking?"  and Theresa said she had work to do.  Marie-Anne was watching their dialogue from the front seat.  She pointed to Theresa's Blackberry and spoke to Jin.  He said, "She wants to  know why you need to work at midnight".  Theresa said, "I'm updating my [Link Removed] account and sending messages to my colleagues in the States – it's still early evening there."

Marie-Anne listened to the translation and then laughed.  She pointed to the Blackberry and said, "Personne ne'st pas la.  Nous sommes ici" and laughed again.  Jin said, "What Marie-Anne was trying to say is that you cannot be sure that anyone hears what you say on that thing, but here in this car, we are all listening."

Theresa said sharply, "Thanks for the lecture" and pointedly picked up her Blackberry and began texting.  Marie-Anne, Jin and even Claude all shrugged, though how Claude managed to do that and drive, Theresa wasn't sure.  

Claude punched on the [Link Removed] 

The other three listened to the music for awhile as Theresa worked.  Then the opening bars of a lovely song came on and the three breathed a long, "ahhh" and began singing along.  Claude picked one hand off the wheel and reached for his wife's as they sang.  Despite herself, Theresa began to listen.  Jin had a lovely voice.  She asked, "What is this song?" and he said, "[Link Removed]  It is tres fameux, very famous.  Your Josephine Baker sang it."  Marie-Anne turned around.  "Eat is ... zee love" she faltered and then fired off something to Jin, who turned to Theresa.  

"It is about having two loves" he explained.  "The chanteuse says she loves Paris, but she also loves her own country.  It is about being torn between two loves."  He looked at her.  "Do you have a love?"  Theresa was uncomfortable with the change in conversation.  She said shortly, "I used to."  He grinned at her.  He said, "You should have another.  I could be your love."  Theresa was annoyed.  She said, "I could be your mother."  Jin was not offended.  He shrugged.  "Age does not matter—you are a beautiful woman."  She said, "What is it with you people and love?"

From the front seat Marie-Anne laughed. She seemed to have understood the question.  She said, "Nous aimons l'amour".  They all laughed and Theresa wished she understood.  Marie-Anne said, "I raconte une histoire—a story" and Jin leaned forward to translate as she spoke. "There was once a queen, Alianor of Aquitaine.  She and her daughter, Marie de Champagne were patrons of the troubadours—you know of them? They sang songs of love, they created legend poems about Arthur, the King of the Table Round.  Alianor and Marie believed in love and so people came to them with their stories of love.  What is love? They wanted to know.  So these women set up a Court of Love, where people could come and tell their stories about love and the judges—the women—would decide each case, whether it was a case of true love or not."

Theresa said, "They litigated love? That sounds very American" and they all laughed.  Jin said, "No, they did not sue for love.  They ruled over questions about true love."  Marie-Anne continued, through Jinn.  " In one case a man came before the Courts and said his wife had been unfaithful to him with her lover and he was wronged and Alianor and Marie and the other judges said there was no such thing as married love and so the husband had not been wronged!"  

Theresa said, "Well, finally something we agree on.  I don't believe in married love either."  Jin translated to Marie-Anne for her.  The older woman laughed out loud and put her hand on her husband's thigh suggestively.  Theresa was a little shocked.    She said, "What, you believe in it?"  Marie-Anne needed no translation.  She nodded yes and Claude leaned over and kissed her thoroughly, at 65 m.p.h.  In the dark.  When he finished the older woman turned back to Theresa and said, "Oui, je crois.  Ca arrive. comes. Soi patient, yes?"  Jin said, "She says you must have patience."  "Easy for her to say", Theresa muttered, "she's not the one who's biological clock is about to explode."  Jin arched an eyebrow and leaned toward her.  "I offer my services" he said.

Theresa was annoyed.  She said, "I don't believe in it anymore and I'm not sure I could live with anyone long enough to fall in love again anyway".  Claude was watching her in the rearview mirror.  He said, "You do not have to be in ze house together.  In France, les roi- zee kings—built chateaux for the lovers where they could, how you say, make ze visit".  He pulled quickly onto an exit ramp that appeared out of nowhere.  "I will show you."

The exit led them down to a dark, two lane road.  Marie-Ann buzzed down the windows and Theresa could smell dampness.  She said in surprise, "Are we near a river?"   And Claude said, "You have zee nose of a paysan".  Theresa understood this somehow.  She said, "Yes, I grew up in the country" and Jin arched an eyebrow at her again.  She said, "What? Is that so hard to believe?" and he grinned at her and said, "Did your Black-berry help you grow the crops?"

She chose to ignore him.  The car glided silently down a long, dark allee of trees.  The allee gave way to a grassy area and just beyond  it Theresa could see the white outlines of a building.  Claude said, "Come, come" and they all got out of the car and walked through a formal garden.  That's when Theresa saw it: a long, white elegant [Link Removed] built on a bridge spanning the river.  She stopped still.  Marie-Anne watched her.  "That's the most beautiful castle I've ever seen", she breathed.  "It's like a fairytale."

Behind her Jin said, "Ah, too bad you don't believe in fairytales".  Theresa looked at him sharply over her shoulder.  "What makes you say that?"  and he shrugged in response.  

Claude walked ahead, making her look at the tall arches on the central span, pointing out the stone dock under the kitchen.  He said to her, "Eat is the castle of women, you know? Eat was made for zee women and always zee women owns this."  Jin said, "Chenonceau, Le Chateau des Femmes."  Marie-Anne fired something off, pointing at the castle where it met the other side of the river.  Jinn translated, "She says this chateau symbolizes love: it joins together two opposite sides and builds something beautiful in the [Link Removed] 

Theresa turned and looked at the older woman in understanding.  Marie-Anne nodded back at her. They stood quietly for a moment, looking at the lights from the tall [Link Removed] dappling the quite surface of the river and then they turned to go back to the car.

As they came through the gardens Theresa said to Jinn, "What made you say I don't believe in fairytales?"  He said, "But you do not, do you?"  

She said, "No.  Do you?"  Jinn smiled.  "In Germany they are not called fairy tales.  They are called wundermarchen, wonder tales.  I think that better describes stories about magical things."  He turned to her.  "Come, even if you do not believe in fairies, you must still believe in magic."  Theresa shook her head.  Jinn shook his head back at her.  "Ahh, Terese.  Magic happens.  You just have to be on the look-out for it."

He helped her into the car.  Marie-Anne stifled a yawn as she clipped her seat belt and was asleep before they had pulled out of the parking area.  In the back seat, Jin folded his arms across his chest, leaned his forehead against the window and promptly nodded off.  Theresa turned and looked out the back window as the car drove out of the allee.

Claude did not go back to the highway but instead kept to the smaller roads.  Theresa wasn't sleepy at all but she didn't want to wake the others.  Claude looked in the rear view mirror and saw her watching the countryside.  He said, "You like?" and Theresa whispered back, "My grandparents owned a farm in Illinois.  I grew up there."  Claude said, "So zis is why you do your work?"  "I guess so.  The farm is gone.  Now I buy other people's farms, sort of."  "You miss le farm?"  She smiled at him.  "Not until tonight".  Claude said, "Okay, so we make a visit to some farms" and turned again suddenly and found a one lane road.  Theresa idly wondered whether Claude invented roads as he needed them or whether he had extremely gifted night vision.

Dawn was beginning to break and Theresa could see the fields dropping away from the low stone walls that ambled next to the road.  She saw men in blue coats with large baskets slung over their shoulders, heading down into the fields.  She said to Claude, "But those look like bean fields!" and he nodded.  She said, "I thought everything in the Loire was vineyards and sunflowers."  Claude laughed quietly.  He said, "Zose are the picture cards we make for zee tourists, but we ave to eat when zay go home, yes?" And laughed again.  

In the pre-dawn quiet  of the car, Theresa's Blackberry beeped a text message and Theresa hurried to shut off the sound before it woke Jinn and Marie-Ann.  She tossed it back into her bag without looking at it and turned back to the fields.  Claude watched her without comment in the mirror.

To be continued...

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