Standing on the balcony of his sixtieth-floor penthouse, Noel Sauvageau gazed out at the
were having an unusually mild December, and though the weather was crisp and
cool, the sky was clear, and the late afternoon sunset was a fiery splash across
the horizon. It shone with crimson, a neon blood red, threaded with streaks of
red-orange and yellow, as if a giant, ethereal hand had crushed and smeared the
sun across the sky. He thought it strange that Christmas Eve would bear a sky
that looked better suited for October. Manhattan
Managing his clients’ overseas affairs had him exhausted, and the global financial turmoil of late was only serving to drain him completely. He was glad he’d taken the week between Christmas and New Year’s off. He desperately needed the rest.
His cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He withdrew it and looked at the screen. Sighing in resignation he answered, “Joyeux Noël, Maman.”
The sound of his mother’s voice grated on his nerves. “I told you I’d be there tomorrow.”
“There is someone your father wants you to meet.”
Translate: There is a woman I want you to meet. His mother’s insistent attempts to marry him off infuriated him. “I don’t want to meet women, Mother.”
“Your father believes there is something wrong with you.”
Of course, he does, Noel thought bitterly. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Have a good evening.”
“Jean-Noël Baptiste Sauvageau, you must come to your senses! You have put us in an extremely uncomfortable position.”
Of course, I have. How dare he do, rather, fail to do something to enhance his mother’s social status. “I did no such thing.”
“You most certainly have. People are saying things. They have suspicions.”
Of course, they do. “The suspicions would stop if you simply told your friends that I am a homosexual man. It isn’t as if I’ve contracted the Bubonic plague.”
“How apt a term. The word bubonic derives from the Greek word for groin.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Mother.”
“You’re thirty. You should be married and giving me grandchildren.”
“You’ve known I was gay since college. I’m not going to change. You can’t expect me to marry a woman.”
“I can, and I do.”
“Mother, I don’t want to argue with you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“What time will you be here? Your father wants to speak with you.”
Of course, he does. “By two.”
“Merde,” she swore softly.
“Merry Christmas, Mother.” He terminated the call and pocketed the phone. He abhorred the thought of having to deal with her tomorrow. It wasn’t enough for her that he was one of the most powerful men on Wall Street at the age of thirty. Or that she could boast an article each week about him in the Times. Or that he supported his parents’ extravagant lifestyle. He had never been good enough. Chances were good that if he married a woman and gave his mother six grandchildren, she’d still find fault with him.
His phone vibrated again. Please, God, I can’t take any more. He withdrew the phone, looked at the screen, and frowned. Blocked number. He touched the screen and answered, “Sauvageau.”
“Merry Christmas, Noey.”
His jaw dropped. The sultry voice from his past was soft and round on his senses and memories flooded him, instantly twisting his gut. “Olivia,” he breathed.
“In the flesh. Or as close as one can be over an electronic communication device. What are you doing this evening?”
“Just like that? We haven’t spoken in almost twelve years and you call to ask what I’m doing on Christmas Eve? Worse yet, without as much as a ‘how are you’?”
She sighed. “I miss you. How have you been?”
His gut twisted a little tighter. “I’m fine, thank you. How are you?”
“Terrific! I saw the article in yesterday’s Times. Congratulations on pulling off the largest takeover in history. What are you doing this evening?” she asked again.
He shook his head to himself remembering the Olivia he’d met in high school. The Olivia who became his best girlfriend, the sister he never had. The girlfriend who always pulled pranks and knew all his secrets. Except one. The girlfriend who unwittingly stole the love of his life. He’d lost his two best friends in a single twist of fate and nearly dropped out of high school right before graduation. The sound of her voice reopened jagged wounds in his heart. “What are you up to, Olivia?”
“I want you to come to our party this evening.”
He winced, even more incredulous. “Why? I mean, why now?”
“Because I miss you and I want to see you.”
“Olivia, you know I can’t.”
“We’re divorced, Noey.”
He stilled. “I-I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t be. We’re still friends. Come to my party. It’s a lousy six blocks away, and you can always leave if you’re not having fun.”
Frustrated, he rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger. He knew where they lived. He’d always known...and had always been careful to avoid their building. “Olivia, we haven’t seen each other in years. It isn’t... it isn’t as if—”
“Oh, shut up. We’re still best friends. You’re the only one who doesn’t know it. Come on, the whole gang is here. Even Angie and David took the night off.”
“Angie and David?”
“You remember Angelo Russo. His family owns Russo’s Ristorante. Remember?”
He did remember Angelo. They’d played on the baseball team together. “David?”
“David Greenly. The kid we always thought wasn’t old enough to be in high school because he was so small. He and Angelo got married a month ago.”
He wasn’t surprised. He was shocked. “You can’t be serious.”
“Would I lie to you?”
No, Olivia never lied. Even when she might have spared him a crushed heart.
“Come on, Noey. I’m dying to see you.”
He shook his head to himself again. “I-I think I would rather... Listen, why don’t we have lunch on Monday? We can talk.”
“It’s four o’clock now. Be fashionably late and arrive around eight. Penthouse three. Casual and you needn’t bring a thing. I can’t wait to see you, Noey!”
He was left holding a silent cell phone in his hand. Olivia had always been a force of nature, a cyclone in her own right. Once she set her mind to something, nothing stopped her. He ran a tired hand through his chestnut curls as he turned, walked into the living room, and headed straight for the bar. He poured a glass of Petit Syrah and carried it to the coffee table. The leather of the couch squeaked beneath him as he kicked off his Ferragamos and lay back. The gang. Man, they’d had so much fun in their senior year of high school. His mind drifted through memories. The feelings of first love had been fresh and intense, the need to be close absolute. They’d spent two solid weeks together over Christmas. Sebastian had held him and sang him to sleep every night. It had been the best Christmas he’d ever known. Then his world crashed down around him. He wanted to forget. He closed his eyes in a futile effort to shut out the pain. He hated Christmas.
“Woot! Way to go, Noel!” Sebastian shouted and whooped from the stands behind home plate as Olivia shrieked her happiness on the air.
Noel stood after a painful slide home and bent over, hands on knees, and worked to catch his breath. The home run had won the game for them. They were the state champions thanks to him. Sebastian was in the stands. He couldn’t have been happier. More than a fitting end to his last year in high school.
Sebastian trotted up and brushed the dirt off his side and thigh. Then, to Noel’s utter astonishment, amid the throng of congratulatory fans, Sebastian hugged him, lifting him off his feet and spinning them around. In front of everyone. Noel couldn’t help it. He giggled. Like a girl.
“Put me down, man! People are gonna think we’re queer!”
Sebastian laughed. “Screw ‘em!” He spun them around again before dropping Noel on his feet. “We’re goin’ to Russo’s to celebrate! C’mon!” Sebastian grabbed his hand and pulled him along. Sebastian didn’t care what people thought. He was always so damn carefree.
After a night of celebration, he and Sebastian went back to Sebastian’s apartment. His parents were out of town. As usual. Sebastian popped the tops on a couple of beers and handed one to him. They sat on the den floor, laughed about the win, and tried to outwit each other playing video games until the wee hours of the morning. Then Sebastian kissed him. Their sex was clumsy and imperfect as first times tend to be, but Sebastian became Noel’s whole world that night.
It was awkward seeing each other the next morning in school, but by the end of the day, they were back to their usual banter. They walked home after school, Olivia between them, as they did every afternoon until Olivia veered off to go to her afternoon job delivering groceries. Sebastian and Noel stared at each other for an uncomfortable moment, then continued the journey to Sebastian’s apartment.
They stood at the bottom of the steps leading up to Sebastian’s tenement. Another awkward moment.
“See you tomorrow,” Noel said softly and turned to go.
Sebastian caught his hand. “Stay.”
Noel shifted uncomfortably on his feet. “Listen, Sebastian, I—”
“Don’t over-think it, Noel. Just... we care about each other. Just leave it at that.”
Noel nodded once before following Sebastian up the steps.
Their stolen moments had been glorious after that.
“Noel!” Olivia shouted across the cafeteria. “Come here!”
Noel trotted across the room. “What, O? I gotta get something to eat.”
“Look!” Olivia held a delicate silver chain up in front of him. At the end of it hung Sebastian’s class ring. “We’re gonna get married after we graduate!”
Sebastian walked up and looked from Noel to Olivia, and back again, his face turning as white as a sheet as realization set in. Noel ran from the cafeteria and never looked back. To say he dealt with the devastation poorly would be an understatement. He got drunk the night after graduation and drove into an oncoming semi-truck in a failed attempt at suicide.
“No!” Noel cried out as he shot up from the couch.
His pulse raced, his heart beat in his throat, and ancient, familiar tears stung his eyes. Shit. Nothing more than a dream. Calm down. He fell back on the couch and tried to force the pain away. It was hopeless. How, after twelve years, he hadn’t gotten over Sebastian, he still didn’t know. “Shit,” he said softly as he sat up. The evening had set in leaving him in the dark of his apartment, only the dim illumination of the city lighting the room. He rubbed sleep from his eyes and looked at his Louis Moinet. The delicate tips of the hands glowed telling him it was almost eight.
He wrestled with the idea of going to Olivia’s party. There was no way he could face Sebastian and had forgotten to ask if he’d be there. He retrieved his cell phone and made to call, then remembered the number was blocked. “Shit.”
He rose from the couch and headed to the bedroom to change clothes.
He asked himself if he’d lost his mind as he walked down
toward Olivia’s building. What would he do if Sebastian were there? He’d run.
One of the most powerful men on Wall Street, yet he couldn’t face his ex-best friend and lover. Perfect.
The doorman welcomed him with a cheery Christmas greeting and took his name. After a quick check in the computer, he admitted Noel and keyed the private penthouse elevator for him.
“Which direction?” he asked the doorman.
“It’s a private elevator, sir. The doors will open to their private foyer.”
He knew Sebastian was a successful architect, he simply hadn’t realized how successful. But then, he hadn’t followed his career. Deliberately.
The silent elevator came to a slow stop, and he breathed in courage as the doors opened to raucous merriment. Before he knew it, Olivia had nearly tackled him in a fierce hug. It felt good—far better than he expected—and he smiled down at her. “Hello, Olivia.”
“Oh, Noey, I’m so glad you came! You’re the best Christmas present I could have hoped for! It’s so great to see you!”
“It’s wonderful to see you too.”
There was an awkward moment before she whispered, “The answer to your unasked question is ‘yes, he's here.’”
He slowly withdrew from her arms. “I can’t.”
“Yes, you can. He misses you as much as I do.”
“I can’t. I’m sorry, O.” He reached for the elevator call button and the doors silently slid open.
“Oh, Noey, please don’t go.”
He stepped into the elevator and turned back to her. “I’m sorry. It was great to see you. Call after the New Year and we’ll get together.” The doors slid closed and he descended in silence, tears pricking his eyes.
He cleared his throat as he stepped off the elevator and bid the doorman good night. It was all he could do to make it to the sidewalk before he burst into tears. “Thirty fucking years old and you’re crying on the sidewalk,” he muttered to himself as he withdrew a silk handkerchief and wiped his eyes. He all but ran back to his apartment building. “You’re spineless underneath it all, you dumb bastard.”
Closing the front door behind him quietly, he kicked off his shoes and padded to the kitchen in socked feet. He retrieved a glass from a cabinet and turned on the tap. As water filtered through the Brita, he thought he heard a knock at the door. He turned the tap off and listened intently. Nothing. He turned the tap on again and watched the ultra-filtered water sparkle as it filled the tall crystal glass. Again, the sound of a knock. He turned the water off.
Sipping water as he crossed the expanse of his finely furnished living room, he went to the front door. He looked through the peephole and saw nothing. He reached for the house phone against the wall.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Sauvageau! What may we do for you this evening?” The valet’s voice was entirely too chipper.
“Did you send someone up?”
“No, sir. We wouldn’t have without calling you first. Why do you ask?”
“I thought I heard a knock at my door. It’s nothing. Thank you.”
He placed the receiver in its cradle, padded to the couch, and plopped down. His mind turned to unbidden memories. Sebastian’s touch, the feel of Sebastian’s skin, their nakedness sparing no distance between them. The feel of Sebastian inside him— This time he was certain he heard a knock at the door. He set the glass on the table and stood, wondering if some lunatic had gotten into the building.
He returned to the front door and checked the peephole yet again. There, outside his door, was Sebastian Croft. He quickly withdrew. He felt sick. Lightheaded. Unbelievable. He checked the peephole again. Sebastian paced, his concentrated expression clearly reflecting nervousness and... fear. He’d never known Sebastian to be afraid of anything. How’d he get up here? More importantly, what in hell was he doing here?
Irritated, he withdrew and reached for the house phone again.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Sauvageau! What may we do for you this evening?”
The valet’s voice was still entirely too chipper. “Are you certain that you didn’t send someone up?”
“Yes, sir! We wouldn’t have done so without your permission. Sir? Are you concerned? Shall I send security up?”
“No, no. Thank you. Merry Christmas.” He placed the phone in its cradle once more and checked the peephole again. There he was. Large as life. Right outside his door. How in hell did you get up here, Sebastian?
Sebastian turned and rapped on the door firmly this time and looked at the peephole as if he knew Noel watched him.
Shit. Noel thought about ignoring the knock and going to bed, but something compelled him to unlock the door. He took a deep breath and opened it.
They stared at each other for an inordinately long moment.
Sebastian’s blue eyes were sharp and clear, determination plain on his face. “I had to come. O said you left once you found out I was there.”
Noel fought the anger that threatened to overwhelm him. “What do you want, Sebastian?”
“Can we talk?”
Noel couldn’t prevent an unbecoming gape. “No.”
He went to close the door and Sebastian stopped it with his finely shod foot. “Please.”
“Dammit, Sebastian, what do you want?” he asked again.
For the second time in a matter of moments, Noel fought to keep his jaw from hitting the floor. “Don’t be ridiculous. Move your fo—”
“Noel, please!” Sebastian set his palm flat against the door in a further effort to prevent its closing. “Please. I just want... I have to know.”
Noel shook his head, half wanting to yell at Sebastian, half wanting to fall into his arms. He wanted to stomp his feelings into the ground. He wanted to deny they ever existed. “Know what, Sebastian?”
“Did you ever love me?”
Fury infused Noel. “Move your damn foot before I call security. And go home, Sebastian!”
“You did, didn’t you?”
Noel melted when he saw the plea in Sebastian’s eyes and he hated that Sebastian could still do this to him after twelve years apart. He looked away, barely able to contain his fury. “How dare you ask,” he said softly.
“Let me in.” Pregnant pause. “Please,” he begged.
Noel turned back to him. This wasn’t the carefree Sebastian he’d known. The man who stood before him was an obviously disheveled, sleep-deprived man who was far thinner than he remembered. Sebastian looked lost, as if his confidence had fled him entirely. Noel fought the profound love he still felt. No matter what he did over the years, it hadn’t left him, hadn’t ebbed one iota. He wanted to rail against it, all while wanting nothing more than to feel Sebastian’s arms around him once more. He stood there, vacillating between slamming the door and opening it wide.
“I still love you, Noel. Please let me in,” Sebastian pleaded again.
His heart twisted with anguish. How he’d ached to hear those words from Sebastian just once more. He questioned his sanity as he let his hand fall away from the door and allowed Sebastian to pass over the threshold.
Noel stuffed his restless hands into the front pockets of his jeans. “Would you like something to drink?”
“No. Thanks. I just want to talk. I won’t stay long.”
Noel’s heart twisted a little more. He’d allowed Sebastian into his home, into his life again, and the thought of him leaving was almost unbearable. He gestured to the couch as nonchalantly as he could in his pitiful state and took an overstuffed chair across from it.
Sebastian sat slowly, almost tentatively. Even in his hesitation, he was still as graceful as ever as he sat on the edge of the couch. “I wanted to say I’m sorry. I-I—”
“I know. It wasn’t until later that I learned O was pregnant.”
“We’re divorced now.”
Noel nodded once. “She told me.”
“I’m sorry about everything. About the accident...your face.”
“It isn’t your fault,” Noel said softly.
Sebastian looked intently at Noel’s scarred face now. “You’re still beautiful.”
Noel turned away. He’d long since accepted that Sebastian wasn’t to blame for his suicide attempt. It had been a culmination of things. His mother’s incessant berating, the stress of hiding his homosexuality, depression, and low self-esteem. Life. Sebastian and Olivia’s relationship had merely been the last straw. “It isn’t your fault,” he repeated.
“I want a second chance.”
Noel turned back to Sebastian. He was surprised by the request but not. “I’m not the same. We’re not the same.”
“I know. But I still love you.”
Noel’s gut twisted. “We don’t know each other anymore.”
An uncomfortable moment passed before Sebastian said, “I want.... I would like the chance to get to know you again.”
Noel fought for honesty. The least he could do for the only man he’d ever loved was to be honest. “I’m closed off now, Sebastian. I don’t....” His voice trailed off. I don’t want to feel anymore.
“We’ll take it slow. As slow as you want. You set the pace.”
Noel couldn’t help himself. “Why, after all these years?”
Sebastian swallowed hard. “I never stopped loving you, Noel. Not for one minute.”
Anger welled in Noel again. You did! And you crushed my heart! He wanted to rail at Sebastian.
“Please don’t look at me like that. When you tried to commit suicide, I talked to O about breaking things off. She knew I loved you. But I didn’t think it fair to ruin our son’s life because I couldn’t figure out my sexuality back then.”
Noel had known even back then that things between them had been far more than a high school tryst. He’d suffered hours in agony over the years knowing he’d lost the only man he would ever love. He fought for calm as emotion threatened to overwhelm him. “I understand.”
“When I realized I could never be happy without you, I asked O for a divorce. She understood. God, Noel, I never wanted to hurt you. I’m so sorry.”
Noel’s frozen heart melted a little.
“I want a second chance,” Sebastian repeated.
Noel wanted to squirm in his seat. The love of his life was asking for a second chance. Part of him wanted to scream no, the larger part of him wanted to whisper yes. “I don’t.... I’m not... I’m not whole anymore.”
Sebastian offered Noel a small smile now. “Neither am I. But maybe...maybe we can help put each other back together.”
Unwanted tendrils of hope and longing brushed Noel’s heart. A long time passed before he gathered enough courage to speak. “What are you doing tomorrow?”
Sebastian’s brow knitted for a fraction of a second then smoothed. “I don’t have any plans.”
“Would you like to be my date for my parents’ Christmas soirée?”
Sebastian’s eyes widened in surprise and he sat a little straighter on the couch. “Your parents know?”
Noel nodded. “And my mother hasn’t changed. It’s sure to be a day spent in hell.”
Sebastian suddenly grinned. “I was always able to make your mom laugh. Let’s hope I haven’t lost my touch.”
Noel smiled in spite of himself. “If she thinks you’re dating me she may try to kill you.”
Sebastian blushed. He looked almost radiant and it reminded Noel of the Sebastian he knew in their youth.
“Bring her on. I can handle anything as long as I have you,” Sebastian said confidently.
Noel turned serious again. “Sebastian?” Sebastian looked at him expectantly. “I won’t survive if you break my heart again.” The pained admission had Noel choking up, and he turned away with an audible swallow.
Sebastian rose from the couch and went to him. He leaned down and kissed Noel. Soft, tender, the sweetest chaste kiss Noel had ever known. Sebastian’s fingertips stroked his cheek tenderly and the old, familiar heat rose between them once again. Noel’s anger quickly dissipated on the air, no longer important. He’d give anything to make love to Sebastian again. But could he? The thought both thrilled and terrified him. Could he allow himself to be vulnerable again? “I’m afraid.”
Noel looked up at him. “I-I don’t know—”
“I’ll sing Christmas songs and hold you just like I used to.” Sebastian launched into “The First Noel.”
An unbidden smile filled Noel’s lips. Sebastian had always been able to make him smile, make him feel as if nothing mattered but him. “Please, don’t sing.”
“You don’t sing well.”
“I don’t?” Sebastian teased.
“You know you don’t.”
“Yes, I do. And you love the sound of my voice.”
That he did. He nodded slowly, surprised at how easily they’d fallen into their usual banter; as if no time had passed, no tragedy had occurred, as if his heart had never been torn in two.
Sebastian leaned down and kissed him softly again and looked into his eyes. “I love you, Noel. Give me a chance to show you how much.”
“I-I don’t know if I can... if I could let you go after.... I don’t know if I can stand you leaving....”
“I’m yours for as long as you’ll have me. I’m not going anywhere this time.”
The walls around Noel’s heart slid away and his love for Sebastian imbued every fiber of his being. He took Sebastian’s larger hand in his and it was as warm and soft as he remembered. Sebastian’s touch seemed to silently promise Noel that he’d never leave again.
They stared at each other for a long moment on the front steps of the Sauvageau building. Noel broke the gaze and leaned a shoulder against the bronze plaque proudly displaying his name on the building he’d purchased for his parents.
“How do you want to handle this?” he asked Sebastian softly.
Noel rolled his eyes, as he was prone to do in high school. Sebastian was always so damn cocksure. “You know what I mean.”
Sebastian leaned in and kissed Noel softly, chastely, sending a shiver down Noel’s spine. They’d had a glorious night of making love and it had gone a long way in assuaging the jagged wounds in Noel’s heart.
“Don’t worry. I have it under control,” Sebastian assured.
“You do not.”
“I’m serious, Sebastian. My mother is a viper. She’s far worse than she was when we were in high school,” Noel cautioned.
Sebastian nodded but looked no less confident. “I’ll tell her the truth.”
Noel felt faint. He couldn’t withstand his mother in
mode in public.
“And that would be?” Chernobyl
“I’m in the process of earning your trust again, and as soon as you trust me, you’re going to marry me.”
Noel’s head reeled, and the sidewalk seemed to churn beneath his feet. Half of him wanted to thank the heavens for a dream come true, all while the other half, the practical, reasonable half, shouted a rude ‘one night of great sex does not a marriage make.’
“Hey, hey, hey.”
Sebastian’s deep, resonant voice was gentle and distant, muted, as if Noel heard it through a wall of water. Then Sebastian’s strong arms were around him, holding him close, and guiding him to a nearby valet bench. He sat slowly, afraid he might simply pass out right there on the sidewalk. Sebastian sat next to him, held him, and whispered sweet nothings into his ear. Slowly, he came to his senses.
“One night together isn’t enough, Sebastian.”
“I agree. We’re going to take it slow. You’re in control. You’ll let me know when you trust me again. Then I’ll propose.”
Noel looked into Sebastian’s ice-blue, determined eyes. He needn’t bother questioning him further. Sebastian always said what he meant and meant what he said.
“My mother is a praying mantis.”
“She’s going to bite your head off.”
Noel couldn’t help it. He laughed, and it sounded strange to him. He couldn’t remember the last time he laughed aloud.
“Stop,” he said shyly and so unlike him. In one night, Sebastian had transformed him back into the shy teenager he once was.
Sebastian chuckled softly. “She isn’t capable of change, Noel. Stop thinking she is and you’ll be far less disappointed.”
Noel nodded and sighed. “How do you want to handle this?” he asked again.
Sebastian shrugged. “Honesty is always the best policy. If she hates us, she hates us. It’s her loss.”
Noel studied him now. Sebastian had always been so absolute. No grey areas. Things simply were, and he accepted them.
Now Sebastian smiled, sudden and bright. “I love you, Noel. I always have. It’ll be okay.”
“Okay,” Noel said noncommittally as he stood. He still felt lightheaded, but he was determined to make a go of it with Sebastian at his side. When the warmth of Sebastian’s hand filled his, he immediately calmed, and they stepped through the double-doors of the building hand in hand.
“You’re late,” Noel’s mother chastised as he stepped into the foyer.
Noel could only nod in resignation. “You remember Sebastian Croft from high school, Maman.”
“Hey, Mrs. Sauvageau,” Sebastian greeted warmly as he took her hand and leaned in to kiss her cheek.
She stepped back abruptly and peered at Sebastian, a cobra ready to strike. Then recognition set in. “Sebastian! It’s wonderful to see you again! You are the last person I expected to see with Jean-Noël! Whatever are you doing here? Are you certain you’ve come to the right place?”
Noel pinched the bridge of his nose briefly in frustration and embarrassment. His mother had an uncanny ability to portend politeness all while being rude in the extreme.
“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Sauvageau. It’s wonderful to see you again,” Sebastian said smoothly.
“Yes, yes, of course it is. Please come in.” She led them to the bar through the throng of milling, overdressed, and well-seasoned-to-way-past-reasonable-lifespan guests steeped in alcohol. “Noel, see your father immediately. He awaits you in the library,” she ordered as she handed them each a glass of champagne.
Sebastian set his glass gently back on the bar. “Thank you, Mrs. Sauvageau.”
She glanced at the champagne flute then at him, clearly having taken his refusal of the drink as a personal affront.
“Yes, you’re welcome, of course. Go see your father, Noel. I’ll see to Sebastian.”
Noel stiffened, and Sebastian squeezed his hand warmly before holding their entwined hands up before Mrs. Sauvageau.
“Where Noel goes, I go,” Sebastian said with a proud smile.
Noel thought he might faint again.
Mrs. Sauvageau’s face curdled and she glared at Noel. “If you’re doing this to spite me, you’ve failed, Jean-Noël. Go see your father.”
“C’mon, Noel. Let’s go see your dad,” Sebastian tugged Noel in the direction of the library.
Noel went willingly. Anything to get away from his mother. “What are you doing?” he whispered to Sebastian.
“Just what your mother asked.”
Noel shook his head to himself as they made their way through the fermented crowd. “She is going to murder us.”
“Then we’ll die together.”
“I’m serious, Seby.”
Sebastian stopped mid-stride and turned to him and Noel couldn’t discern the look on his face. “What?”
“I’ve waited twelve years to hear you call me that again.” Without warning, Sebastian all but swallowed Noel in a hug and spun them around. People gasped, and gawked, and made rude noises.
“Put me down!” Noel’s whisper was harsh.
“Okay.” Sebastian promptly dropped Noel on his feet and tugged him by the hand toward the library.
Noel nodded to people with a feigned smile and tried not to die a slow death inside. His mother was sure to be emulating
and he dared not look back at her. Mount Kilauea
“Ready?” Sebastian asked?
Noel nodded and knocked softly before opening the door to the library. “Joyeux Noël, Papa.”
“Ah, there you are, my boy.” He paused at the sight of Sebastian and a long moment passed. “At long last. It’s wonderful to see you again, Sebastian.”
“Mr. Sauvageau, it’s good to see you again too, sir.” They shook hands briefly.
Noel kissed each of his father’s cheeks. “How are you, Papa?”
He gestured to the oxblood leather chairs in front of his desk. “Very well, now that you two seem to have made your way back to each other.”
Noel glanced at Sebastian nervously before they claimed the two chairs.
Ever unafraid, Sebastian ventured before Noel could ask what his father meant.
Laughter shined in Mr. Sauvageau’s eyes. “I suppose, now that the laws have changed, you’ll marry?”
Noel couldn’t prevent an unbecoming gape. “Dad?”
Laughter continued to shine in Mr. Sauvageau’s eyes and he chuckled softly. “You can’t think I didn’t know.”
“Ah, yeah, I can, and I did.”
Mr. Sauvageau chuckled softly again. “What are your plans?”
Sebastian wasted no time in relaying exactly what he’d said on the sidewalk outside the building.
Noel sat there, speechless, numb. His father knew.
“Wonderful!” Mr. Sauvageau said enthusiastically.
His father hadn’t been exuberant since the day he reported their state baseball championship back in high school.
“What about, Maman?” Noel asked numbly.
Mr. Sauvageau splayed his hands on the ink blotter on the desk. “Your mother has no choice but to accept your decisions, Noel. She isn’t the awful person you believe she is and she is deeply concerned about you. Truthfully, she has every right to be. We both do.”
Noel met his dad’s even gaze. He had no one to blame but himself for his parents’ concern and, given that his dad had intuited his relationship with Sebastian, he’d also likely intuited that Noel had thought about suicide many times over the past twelve years.
“She’s human, Noel.”
“She’s horrid,” Noel said softly.
Mr. Sauvageau’s expression became pinched. “She’s insecure and worries about her only child.”
“She’s a bitch, Mr. Sauvageau,” Sebastian said politely but firmly.
Noel thought he would swallow his tongue.
“She’s been Noel’s worst nightmare since the day I met him. The woman never lets up,” Sebastian continued.
Noel’s world tipped into the surreal and he was sure he was having an out of body experience. Only Sebastian squeezing his hand kept him based in something vaguely resembling reality.
“Well, then, why don’t we put an end to it? Shall we?” Mr. Sauvageau said evenly as he stood.
“How?” Noel heard himself ask.
“Come with me.” Mr. Sauvageau opened the library door and ushered them down the expansive hallway and back through the celebratory crowd. He encircled Mrs. Sauvageau’s waist with and arm and guided her to the bandstand. The music came to an end as he stepped behind the microphone.
“What is he doing?” Noel whispered.
“My guess? Giving your mother cause celebre.”
“Dear, God, no,” he said under his breath.
Sebastian put an arm around Noel’s shoulders. “It’s a great offensive move.”
Mr. Sauvageau’s voice captured the crowd’s attention and Noel listened as he extolled Noel’s virtues and ended with, “And, with great pride, it is my pleasure to announce my son’s engagement to Mr. Sebastian Croft!”
The crowd went up in cheers and every socialite in the room swarmed Mrs. Sauvageau with congratulations and suggestions for the wedding. A photographer for Elle Magazine snapped several pictures and asked for an exclusive spread on the wedding. New Yorker Magazine wanted to know how soon they could interview her. She fell into the trappings of celebrity instantly and graciously.
“That will keep her busy for the next twelve months, twenty-four if you’re lucky,” Mr. Sauvageau said as he rejoined them.
Still numb, Noel watched as his mother came to life, for once in a manner other than toxic or volcanic.
“Congratulations,” Mr. Sauvageau said warmly as he shook Sebastian’s hand then turned to Noel. “Congratulations, my boy,” he said right before he hugged Noel.
Arm in arm, they walked back to Noel’s apartment in the wee hours of the morning. Despite the hour, holiday revelers filled the sidewalk and they periodically moved aside in tandem, unwilling to part for passersby.
“Thank you, Seby,” Noel said softly.
“For coming after me and...and for being a stubborn bastard.”
Sebastian hugged Noel to his side. “You know you have to marry me now.”
“Wrong? I’m never wrong.”
Noel bit his lower lip through a smile and looked at him. “You are this time.”
“How do you figure?”
“You haven’t asked, and I haven’t accepted.”
Sebastian stopped walking abruptly and turned to Noel, all humor lost. Passersby walked around them as Sebastian lowered himself to a knee and took Noel’s hands in his.
Oh, shit! He should have known better than to challenge Sebastian. “What are you doing?”
“What’s it look like I’m doing? I’m about to propose to you.”
“Here? In the middle of the night? In the middle of the damn sidewalk?”
“Yep.” Sebastian took a calming breath, cleared his throat, and looked up into Noel’s eyes. “Jean-Noël Baptiste Sauvageau, you’re the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. Would you do me the honor of being my husband?”
Tears of joy sprang into Noel’s eyes as the sounds of the world fell away. His tongue tripped over his answer at least three times but the look on Sebastian’s face told him he’d managed to get the three-letter word out. “Yes.”
©2013 Aisling Mancy