Saturday, April 19, 1975
He hated school. They made fun of him. He was smart. He was little. His hair was black and unruly, it curled at the nape, and it hung in his gray eyes. He wasn’t Vietnamese, he wasn’t French, though he spoke both, and English, too. He didn’t know what he was but knew he was either Sam Trang or Jean-Claude Latondre, depending.
At this moment, he was Latondre.
His boarding school was nestled in lovely, soft hills outside of Vienne, France, in a crumbly old building that formed one side of a quadrangle made by an administration building, two student dorms, and the school. He was walled in. Where there weren’t walls, there were fences. It had been a monastery. He decided he must be Catholic. It seemed that he had been here forever, but it had only been since he was six. He counted on his fingers from August of 1973 to April 1975—not so long. He would be eight in November.
He ran his hand over a piece of knobby wood on the bench and waited for his friend, Ondine, to take him for his bi-weekly outing. He kicked his legs in his black slacks and black shoes, thinking of the December morning that changed everything. The sun was out, the sky was clear, his sister and the other children playing games, covered in dust from the soft dirt ringing the church and convent. There had been a game of cache-cache. He stuffed himself under the cold kitchen to hide. The bombs had come—then the man. The day after that, he was in an orphanage in Saigon, at Tan San Nhut airbase with airplanes thundering in and out and out and in. He knew he was Viet Cong and that his father was a Colonel, his mother a soldier, a woman well known for her intelligence. He had heard that said of her many, many times.
He missed his sister. He would never see her again. She was dead. She had been eaten by the American wolves. He didn’t think she would have tasted very good; she was tall and thin and sometimes mean to him. But if they had used a sauce, perhaps she would have tasted less like a skinny old chien.
He drummed a hand on the side of the bench, which made him notice his big hands, too big, like his feet. They teased him about them too while chasing him around the quadrangle, calling him a freak, pig—murderer.
He tried not to remember. He tried not to remember. He tried not to remember.
The fierce Michigan winter lingered as though if it left, it could never return. There had even been, by lake effect standards, an anemic snow of four inches on Easter, which left the crocuses afraid to poke out of the earth’s warmth well into mid-April. Now, they dusted the lawn in yellow and white, long naturalized like the nodding heads of the narcissus and daffodils that marched down the fence line. Snow still kissed the base of the towering walnut trees on the lawn of the Cooper-Haas farmhouse. Budding leaves haloed the old branches in soft green. Tender blades of spring grass pushed through the layer of winter die-off.
Kathryn Van Streain sat on a window seat built in a south-facing window of a second-floor bedroom, gazing out, her elbows on the sill, her chin in her hands. Her eyes wandered past all the miracles of emerging life to the crabapple tree near the front porch. With the spring sun warming the tree’s burgeoning branches, she might yet have the bouquet she had dreamed of when she set her wedding date.
Kate tucked her left foot under her right thigh and opened her leather-bound journal; an envelope fell out. Yesterday, her father, Renselaar, had handed her a courier delivered envelope with a puzzled smile. She jammed it in her journal then forgot to open it. She fingered the envelope and wiggled her toes then slid a finger under the envelope’s flap.
The door opened. Emélie Cooper, still in her pastel striped cotton pajamas and bare feet, ran to Kate and leaped onto the window seat. She butted her head against Kate’s shoulder as a kitten might.
“Tell me again?” Emélie asked in her softly accented voice.
Kate put an arm around the thin, lanky, almost eight-year-old. “Next week, before your father and I go to Hawaii on our honeymoon, we’ll all go to the courthouse to see the judge. He’ll ask us a few questions.”
Kate tousled Emélie’s silky waist-length hair. “Silly administrative things. Don’t worry. It is just a formality. The judge will sign the papers that will make you mine—then you are ours.”
Emélie wiggled in Kate’s arms. “Daddy’s still asleep. I peeked into his room.”
“It’s Saturday. He never gets up before eight on Saturdays. I think he likes to snuggle under that despicable old quilt of his remembering Saturdays when he was your age.”
“But he is getting married today! To you!” Giving Kate a gamin smile, Emélie slid off the seat and ran for the door.
“Don’t wake him, he deserves a little possum time,” Kate called after her.
Laury Cooper was up most of the night wandering the halls, checking on his sleeping daughters. He even ran his knuckles over Kate’s door. She hoped his restlessness had been from desire because, if not, he was worried or frightened or both.