Chapter 1: Adagio
(especially as a direction) in slow tempo, to be played slowly.
a dark chocolate mousse cake lit up by a spicy passion fruit center.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lucas is tired.
He always is, so there is nothing new with that statement. He tries to remember a day where he isn’t tired, where he has truly enjoyed himself and felt at peace with the world and with himself.
He comes up short.
At first, Lucas told himself that if he just survived law school everything would be worth it. The sleepless nights, the countless days spent memorizing ancient books in his overpriced university’s library. The parties his friends organized and he missed, the activities he didn’t engage with, the gossip he wasn’t involved in. He gave it all up easily, kneeling at the altar of academic success with an eagerness that surprised his best friend Yann, his father, and truthfully, himself. He is the first to admit that his high school self didn’t exactly prioritize grades, with that of his gay awakening and the following existential crisis he spent the better part of his late teens navigating. Thankfully, he is perfectly alright with the nature of his attraction now — he just doesn’t have much time to do anything regarding testing it, besides the occasional Tinder date.
At the time, Lucas thought that if he could just graduate with high enough grades he would get into a good enough firm and then finally, finally he would have a life. Turns out, though, that becoming a first-year associate for a global law firm basically means signing your life away to it. We will give you more money than you can imagine what to do with, their slogan should say. In return, breathe, sleep and dream about your work.
For almost $200,000 a year, they don’t tell you, it should be worth it.
Lucas is tired.
Once again, he has pulled a 16-hour shift because there is no such thing as a 9 to 5 schedule if you are an associate — those hours only fly with the graphics team and perhaps with marketing if they are not helplessly working on a last-minute pitch brought in by one of the partners as an after-thought, so used to working impossible hours that they believe — no, they expect — that all teams should work them as well. Lucas hopes to never become so clueless. Sometimes he wants to tell the partners that they can’t realistically expect that kind of work dedication from the business teams unless they are also willing to pay them six figures. He is quiet, though, staying in his line for fear of ruining with one sentence what he has worked so hard to obtain for the last six years.
Lucas reads the latest draft of a document he’s been working on for the last few days, making some new edits before sending it to the pitch team for completion. After, he stretches with a groan and stands carefully, pulling a face as he hears a bone in his shoulder pop. He remembers Yann telling him about this article he read about how sitting on a desk all day is bad for your health and how high-pressure jobs increase chances of getting a heart attack before middle age. He then thinks about how that turned into a rant about how capitalism is an oppressive system that global corporations and firms such as his help to keep in place. He didn’t exactly tell Lucas that he has a part on it... but Lucas is smart enough to understand the implication.
Still, he smiles, thinking about his best friend with fondness and a little exasperation. Not everyone can afford to be an idealist. Thinking about those things won’t help him pay the rent or put bread on his plate. Ever since that stint in his last year of high school living in Mika’s borrowed couch and practically begging his father to give him money for food, he knows he will never put himself on such a vulnerable position again. Being at the mercy of other people is for the weak, Lucas thinks matter-of-factly. World peace is nice, financial stability is nicer.
“Lucas! Oh, Lucas, there you are!”
“Where else would I be, Daphy?” he replies. “This has been my office since I started working here.”
“No, no, I know. It's just that most of the other associates are at the Drinks Cart Social now,” she explains. “You know, that thing we do every Friday at around 5:15? Food, drinks, friends. You need to learn to relax, Lucas. All you do is work, work, work. Where’s the fun in that?”
“See, that’s the first mistake, Daphy. Believing that eating cheese over white wine will make any of this fun. It won’t.”
“But all our friends are there! Chatting, socializing!”
“Daphné, those are not really my friends. We all just work together. Just because we spend the majority of our time here, it doesn’t make us friends. If anything, everyone here is just sort of friends by default, and that’s a little sad, isn’t it?”
For a second, Daphné’s face falls. Lucas can see, with clinical fascination, how her eyes open, open, open, immensely large and blue, just before they return to their normal size, and then to angry slits. “Oh, so that’s what you believe. Okay, Lucas. Then let me reiterate that those people who are not your friends are your colleagues, and the Drinks Cart is not only for associates: counsels and partners also mingle there, sometimes. If you were actually so smart, you would know how to play the game. It’s not only about what you know, but who you know. Jerk.” With that, she turns around and exits the room, making sure to kick his office door shut.
Okay, so maybe he was a bit of an asshole. Lucas can feel the familiar shame burn his cheeks, put a heavy weight on the bottom of his stomach. Daphné has been nothing but nice to him since he started working at the firm, and since her office is right next to his, she has brought him more coffees and sweets from that French pastry shop next door she likes that he can count. On days when he has gone all night without sleeping, those gestures meant more to Lucas that he would even know how to vocalize. Okay, so Daphy is a little clueless, so what? After her cutting insight on the perks of networking with peers to ultimately climb the leadership ladder, Lucas starts to realize that maybe he is the clueless one.
... or maybe everyone is clueless. Maybe everyone here is just trying as hard as they can, faking it as best as they can manage. It hasn’t been that long since they all graduated, and the group is not that bad, anyway. They can be really entertaining when they want.
Lucas decides he is feeling in the mood to share, after all. He just sent the draft, it’s Friday afternoon, and he could do with some free alcohol and socializing. He takes the jacket of his suit from its place on the hanger behind his desk and puts it on, rolling his hands carefully over the expensive material, getting rid of wrinkles that aren’t there. It’s become sort of a ritual, the thing he does at the end of the day, a signal that work is done.
Today it is also a little indulgence: he wants to feel the fabric of his Berluti jacket, marvel at the impossible softness of the shiny, silky blue, so dark it is almost black. The employee at the Madison boutique had told him that the color really suited him, and Lucas had privately agreed, seeing how it made his clear blue eyes seem even bluer. He had always fancied fashion — not necessarily following trends, but just seeing people express themselves through their style, the way they put themselves together to say something. Granted, most times Lucas didn't understand what that something was, but it was a fun game to play in his head in a city like New York. Lucas is nothing but a realist, but in the privacy of his mind, he entertains himself imagining the lives that the people he encounters must live.
As he walks out of his office on the 39th floor of a midtown Manhattan skyscraper — on his way to that fancy pastry shop that Daphy likes so much —he starts playing.
On the elevator:
That guy, with the frumpy suit. He just found out that his wife of 13 years is cheating on him. He knows he should be sad, but he is secretly elated. He has been thinking of a divorce for years now, but he couldn’t bear to be the one to bring it up.
Floor 35… floor 29… floor 17… floor 9…
A dark-haired girl gets in:
Those green converse shoes are a gift from her girlfriend. Today is their anniversary and she just went to check in with her. She gifted her pink orchids, and told her to hurry up and wrap it up because she is about to give her the surprise of her life once she arrives home.
Lucas steps into the lobby, quickly exits the building through the giant glass doors and makes a right. At this point he knows Avenue of the Americas by heart, he doesn’t even have to look at the signs marking the streets.
As he walks, he sees it all. There are the tourists, taking photos next to the giant LOVE sculpture in the corner of 55th street. A teen boy has managed to climb it until he is leaning dramatically on top of the “L,” his friends snap photos and record videos and Lucas is both mildly impressed and sort of terrified for him. He is trying to impress them so hard. He is terrified, but he would rather fall from that sculpture than show them that. There are the business people, talking into one phone while they type emails into another one. She has just closed a deal for $3 million at 24 years old. She will stop at nothing until she is her company’s youngest CEO. There are the construction workers, always building skyscrapers that keep getting impossibly taller, an endless competition to see which one will touch the clouds first. They are tired. They just want to go home to play with their child, she is learning how to walk now.
And then there is Lucas. A part of everything and nothing, coexisting in a city that is busy and chaotic. He lets himself try and feel the connection, how every person plays an invisible role in each other’s stories, how he is also nothing but a secondary character, a footnote. A grain of sand in the immensity of this universe, smaller and less significant if he even dares to think about other universes.
He feels immediately comforted. He also feels incredibly alone.
He has arrived to the pastry shop, and he gives himself permission to wonder at the sight of it all. Okay, so maybe Daphy has a reason for coming so often — everything looks insanely good. Lucas usually favors savory food over sweets, but wow. Rows and rows of desserts and pastries are carefully displayed to tempt anyone who comes in, beautifully arranged by color and size. All the sweets are labeled in French. Éclair, tarte aux framboises, pain au chocolat, tarte fine aux pommes, petit gâteau… He understands nothing but wants everything, already tasting the treats with his eyes, trying to imagine the flavors on his mouth.
“Hi, how can I help you? Do you need any suggestions?”
Lucas realizes that he has just been staring at the sweets for a few minutes now, standing there without actually ordering anything.
“Oh… yeah, thank you, uh,” he strains to read the name tag pinned on the girl’s shirt. He remembers how awful people can be to customer servers from his days working at his university’s Starbucks, so he always tries his best to be extra nice. “Emma. Thank you, Emma. If you tell me what’s good, that would be nice. I’m a little lost, not sure what to order.”
“Well, the cookies are nice. So are the muffins, really. I’m not crazy about the other stuff,” she takes one look at the way his eyes open and hastens to add: “not because they are not good! I’m just not into that complicated stuff, you know? If I’m gonna eat something sweet, I’m perfectly fine with some ice cream, a donut. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken, you know?”
“No, I understand. But I think I need something a little more than cookies and muffins. This is supposed to be a “gesture” and this girl is a little extra to begin with, so I want to go above and beyond, if that makes sense.”
“I see, I see. Uhm. Well, the Cardinals always sell well, and you can’t go wrong with those little chocolate mousse things…” she sees his indecision. “Listen, why don’t I see if I can get the chef to recommend you some things? I’m sure he can do a better job of explaining this than me, since he is the one making them and all.”
“Fuck, no, that’s — you don't really have to do that —”
“Nah, seriously, chill. Eliott loves talking about this stuff, he probably could go on for hours. He has this crazy ability of matching people with treats that are exactly right for them. Also, I think his shift is about to end, so now’s actually a good time.”
“Emma, seriously, that’s not —” she's gone. “Necessary.”
Right, then. Lucas occupies himself reading the names of the sweets in display again, trying to recall if Daphné has a particular favorite. He’s pretty sure the last time she just brought him a normal croissant, which, if he is fair, was perhaps a little better than the ones he gets at his corner bodega: buttery soft and flaking prettily in his hands with every bite. He leans a little to get a better look at the pastries, thankful that the shop is pretty empty besides a couple of tourists checking photos on a fancy-looking camera on the back.
“Hello, Emma said you needed some help?”
Lucas sights, already replying as he turns. “Yeah, thanks…” he takes one look at the guy in front of him and swallows, his throat suddenly dry. “Yeah I… that would be, uh, helpful.”
“So my help would be helpful?” the guy repeats with a small smile. Lucas realizes he’s mocking him, but the tease is gentle. “Well, yes, I figured. Emma says you are looking for something surprising.”
Well, okay, maybe Lucas wasn’t extraordinarily smooth there. But he wasn’t prepared for this guy. He almost feels a little offended that Emma didn’t give him a bit of a warning. Yeah, wait, let me get Eliott, the impossibly attractive pastry chef. Because he is. Impossibly attractive. Lean and tall, but hunching a little in that way that some tall people do when they don’t want to take up much space. His hair is all over the place, his cheekbones are to die for and his eyes…
His eyes are kind.
They are focused on him.
“Uhm, yeah. I mean. I want something that’s a little out of the ordinary,” Lucas explains. “Just something that has a little more oof than your regular cookie, you know? Sorry, I don’t want to be a bother, I know you were just about to leave.”
On the contrary. If anything, the guy looks excited. “Oof,” he repeats softly, like he’s never heard anything more interesting. “Something oof. Well, that’s a challenge, no? Okay, give me a moment.”
He places his backpack in the nearest chair to him and takes his jacket off neatly, placing it on top of his bag. Lucas can see a variety of small cuts and burns in his lightly tanned arms, nothing major, but enough that he stares for a moment too long. Enough for Eliott to notice. “Just hazards of the job,” he explains. “You get used to it after a while. Come, sit here for a moment, I’ll be back.”
He goes before Lucas can tell him that it’s not necessary, that this is too much, that everything looks good, so probably everything is good. That this is just a friendly gesture for his coworker, that he was just overthinking it.
He distracts himself by taking his phone out and checking his work emails. He never spends more than 10 minutes without checking, he knows just how fast an urgent matter can require his assistance. At this point the instinct to check his emails is as second nature as it is for other people to check their texts.
Lucas doesn’t bother. Yann usually prefers to either call or wait to tell him whatever when he drops by his apartment. His father hasn’t called or messaged him since Christmas — around five months ago — and his mother prefers to send him letters these days. Long, carefully constructed letters that usually don’t make much sense in terms of narrative, but are beautiful nonetheless: a combination of her favorite quotes (mostly biblical), poems, small sketches and cut-ups from photos she likes from magazines. Sometimes she tells him about her day, sometimes she just writes “Lucas, I love you.” Every single one of her letters is unique, a collage that gives him insight into her brain. He cherishes them deeply — almost as much as her.
Eliott returns soon enough, a tray in his hands. “Well, here is a selection of some of my oofest offerings.”
“You know you don’t have to use it like that, right? It’s not a verb.”
“You started it.”
“Yeah but that’s just how I speak, you are making it, like, a thing.”
“It’s just funny, a guy like you, in a suit like that…”
Lucas starts to turn red again, this time from anger. “What do you mean a guy like me? And the suit, what?”
Eliott laughs a little. “Sorry, no, sorry. It’s ah, uh, it’s a very nice suit. Really nice. It’s just a little funny—”
“What’s funny?” Lucas cuts.
“Well you look so posh,” Eliott explains with a smile, looking at him with hooded eyes, a little apologetic. “But then you use words like ‘oof’. It’s a little surprising, see? It’s cool, I like surprising people.”
Before Lucas can process, Eliott is talking again. “So, you fucked up, huh?”
“Wha— excuse me, I think it was you who fucked up just now!”
Eliott dismisses him with a wave of his hand. “No, I mean, with your girl.”
“Ah?” This conversation is getting more confusing and bizarre by the moment.
“Your girlfriend? Girl that won’t be satisfied with a common cookie.”
“My what now?”
“Dude, are you okay? Maybe you are more sleep deprived than me. I can make you a coffee too if you want? Not usually my thing, but…”
This is too much. “No, that’s not necessary. And Daphy is just—”
“Daphy? Wait, Daphné? Cute blonde, huge blue eyes? That’s your girl?” Emma has appeared out of nowhere, sitting loudly in the chair right in front of them. The shop is pretty empty so Lucas understands that maybe she is just taking a moment to unwind. As she pulls a face that spells incredulity, he decides he likes her. At the moment, though, her presence is making him feel a conflicting mix of annoyance and gratefulness.
“I mean, sorry, dude! Don’t get me wrong, you are an attractive guy. But she’s been coming here at least three times a week for the past couple of months, always during my shift. I guess I thought that maybe…”
Well fuck, now Lucas is intrigued. “Maybe?”
“That maybe she is into it? And like… me?” Emma frowns a little, resting her head into the palms of her hands. “I’ve been seriously flirting with her for a few weeks now, but I just thought she hadn’t picked on it. I wasn’t aware she’s together with someone. You are probably the one she’s been bringing pastries these last few days. Wow, I really feel like she should have said something? Some people, seriously…”
“Emma,” Eliott interrupts, his smile pained. “Although I completely understand the frustration you are feeling right now — believe me, I do — do you think it’s appropriate to vent your feelings to the boyfriend of the object of your affection?”
“Well, when you put it like that…”
“No, but listen,” Lucas is determined to get a word in this time. “We are not together, really. She’s not my girlfriend.”
Lucas is not sure who looks more delighted by the news.
“We work together, so we see a lot of each other,” he explains. “Today I was a bit of a jerk. I’ve been working long hours, so I snapped at her a little and I thought that maybe an apology sweet would be nice… I don’t know. Sorry, you probably think this is dumb now. I don’t want you to waste your time, especially since it’s Friday evening…”
Eliott’s smile warms so much that Lucas has to avert his eyes. Instead, he looks at Emma, who seems completely unfazed about the whole thing now that she knows he isn’t Daphné’s boyfriend.
“Fuck, yeah!” she exclaims, grin wide on her face. “I mean, a small fuck you for hurting my girl, but this is kinda awesome, right? Oh fuck, wait. A customer has just walked in. I’ll be back.”
With that, she stands and quickly walks to take care of the middle-aged woman, who, unlike Lucas, seems to know exactly what she wants.
“So, are you going to keep me waiting?”
Eliott is closer to him. Maybe a little too close. Lucas is once again hit by his undeniable beauty, which somehow he managed to put aside when they were bantering before. His eyes are so big, so blue, so beautiful — like a summer sky — something that has no real beginning or end. More than anything, Lucas is mesmerized by the kindness in his face, attracted to the little smile crinkles forming at the corner of his eyes. Because if his eyes are a summer sky, his smile is like sunshine before dawn.
“No, I — no.” He would never. He probably couldn’t deny him, if he tried.
“Okay, so, for your girl who is not your girl,” he says, showing him something that looks to Lucas like a pink macaron cake. “Now that I know who she is — Emma won’t shut up about her — ignore everything else in this table but this. This is an Ispahan. It was created by Pierre Hermé, and to be honest, it freaking rocks. I have been perfecting this for a while now, so we are still not even selling it here, but today I am finally satisfied. These are from my last batch. Here, try.”
Eliott carefully passes him the sweet, watching intently as Lucas takes a bite. In a second his mouth is filled with cream, sweet but airy, which is immediately followed by the tanginess of fresh berries.
“Good, yeah?” Elliott seems satisfied by his reaction. “It’s filled with rose petal and lychee cream, the actual macaron is also rose flavored. The raspberries are for that extra ‘oof’ factor. Also, because they look beautiful next to the rose petals.”
They do. Lucas can see Daphy already Instagraming the sweet, ooing and aaing over the contrasting shades of pink, the rose petals and the softness of the cream.
“Yeah, no, this is perfect,” Lucas assures him. “She is going to go wild over this, I can’t believe you made it. And that you would know that this is exactly her thing just from hearing about her from Emma.”
Eliott looks even happier. “It’s my superpower. I can make everyone their perfect dessert.”
Lucas remembers Emma saying that earlier. He knows the line is completely obvious, his intention is painfully clear, but still. He can’t help himself. “Oh, yeah? And for me? What would you make for me?”
If Eliott registers his words as flirtatious, Lucas will never know, because he seems to take the question completely seriously. He takes a good look at Lucas, and then at the tray which still has nine untouched confections, each more beautiful than the other. He finally grabs a small glazed one, the chocolate so dark it’s almost completely black.
“I think… I think I need to keep thinking about it. But this is a start.” He leans closer to him, closer again, closecloseclose, taking the sweet to Lucas’ lips, who immediately opens up. He takes a second to convince himself that his mouth opens with surprise, not desire, but he knows perfectly well it’s both.
Eliott's eyes burn into his, too intense, too bright, just too much. He places his other hand just next to his neck, making an impromptu plate. Lucas worries he can actually feel the movement when he swallows. “Sorry,” Eliott whispers, still close. “I don’t want you to ruin your pretty suit.”
Lucas doesn’t know what to say, so he takes a bite instead and is immediately overwhelmed. At first, the cake is bitter in his tongue, almost uncomfortably so. But then it becomes lighter, airier, the chocolate sweeter. In the center there’s an unfamiliar flavor, sweet and tart, the perfect contrast to the acerbic initial layer. Lucas, who is actually a cookie or donut kind of person, is shocked that a dessert can be such a ride.
“It’s… it’s a lot,” he finally says.
“It’s a 90% dark chocolate mousse cake,” Eliott says. “I think it can be a lot for some people, yeah. But I think we like that.” Just then he gets a text. He takes the phone from his light jeans pocket, scans it and starts to stand. “Sorry, I really need to go. I forgot I had some plans later, but I need to go home to shower and take a nap first.”
Lucas is a little disappointed, but he understands. It is Friday afternoon in the city that never sleeps. Completely understandable that most people do have things to do outside of work.
“No, that’s okay. You already saved my life with this, thanks so much.” Eliott smiles and starts walking towards the door. Just when he is about to go out, he turns.
“That last dessert you tried, though?” He says, once again holding his gaze. “The center is all passion." He stops, continues after a second. "Passionfruit... I could have it every day. It’s called Adagio. And your name?”
Well, fuck. “Lucas. I’m Lucas.”
“Well, come again, Lucas. I’ll make you other things until I get it just right.” And with that, he is out of the door.
Lucas takes a moment to compose himself. Swallows. When he is ready, he takes the tray back to Emma, and without thinking much says, “Give me ten of everything in this tray. Wait, no,” he corrects quickly. “Everything but the Adagio.” That one is only for him. He won’t share it with anyone else.
“Dude, these are like $5 to $7 a piece,” Emma says, slightly terrified. “I don’t know how badly you fucked up, but I’m sure no girl can eat 90 different sweets in one go.”
Lucas thinks of his “friends by default.” Manon, Arthur, Imane, Basil, Daphy. He starts to feel shitty again. Before he can overthink it too much, he takes out his credit card and hands it to her. “No, that’s okay. It’s a big office.”
“You only tasted two of them! And you are only ordering one of those you did try!”
“It’s fine,” he says, suddenly feeling a little abashed. “I like trying new things.”
Please forgive me if this is awful — this is just my first attempt at writing fic. Any comments or feedback is appreciated! Also, you can talk to me in Tumblr, if you want: luielu
Also, in case you are curious:
Lucas's pretty Berluti suit: here. This is from the Berluti Man Autumn-Winter 2017-18 collection.
LOVE sculpture, by Robert Indiana. Often people just take photos between the "V" and "E," but once I saw a boy climb on top of the "L." I almost had a heart attack. Here.
The title is a line from my favorite poem, which, I believe, fits Eliott (and by extension, Lucas) beautifully. (Hear what Eliott explains about choosing a path in Combien de Lucas dans l'universe just before Lucas talks about parallel universes).
Let me know your favorite poem?
Chapter 2: Andante
(especially as a direction) at a moderately slow tempo - faster than adagio but slower than allegro.
"at a walking pace."
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lucas doesn’t come back to the pastry shop again.
Despite Eliott’s promise that he would make him different sweets until he figured out one that was just right for him, Lucas convinces himself that this is for the best. He is not an idiot — at least most of the time — and he understands that his attraction for Eliott is too strong to leave unchecked, a danger his heart can’t afford to take, not now, perhaps not ever. He doesn’t have time for this, not really, and Eliott probably isn’t even into him. Sure, for a moment there it seemed like he was flirting with Lucas, but guys as attractive as him always seem to be flirting. It’s easy to convince yourself that the attraction is mutual, in the moment. And even if it was, well…
This is why Lucas won’t even entertain it. He is too busy to get distracted by useless crushes that won’t go anywhere. How would he even attempt a relationship at the moment, anyway? Who would put up with his unreliable hours? His non-existent schedule?
Who would put up with me, an unforgiven voice in the back of his mind whispers, and Lucas merely agrees with an internal shrug, so used to that line of thought that he doesn’t even question it.
It’s Friday morning and Lucas has been shepherded into conference room C-9 by Daphné. His apology desserts from last Friday gained him goodwill with the rest of the associates, and it helped that by the time he got back to the office they were all in their sixth bottle of Chardonnay, their words loud and minds soft as they engage with each other, letting the stress melt out of their bodies like butter over bread. They had received him gladly, especially when they saw the elegant boxes of sweets he carried. Daphneé had recognized the lilac branding immediately, eyes going wide and mouth slack as he gave her a small smile, showing her the Ispahens and, in a moment of inspiration, retelling Eliott’s story about the chef who created the dessert, the ingredients involved in the process of making it, and even throwing in that the patisserie won’t even sell them yet. For the exclusivity factor, of course. After that, all had been forgiven.
And after Lucas had caught up with the rest of the associates’ alcohol intake, he had happily and drunkenly accepted to help them organize their next group outing. He had no fucking idea what it was, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
He was wrong.
Most of the associates — those who weren’t actively working on a pitch at the moment — are already sitting in the conference room, many of them drinking coffee or tea while simultaneously checking their emails and discussing their weekend plans, the multitasking natural as air. They all seem to know why they are gathered, so Lucas quickly decides that his best game plan is to pretend he is also up to speed with whatever is happening. He is a lawyer, after all, and thinking on his feet is what he does best.
As he takes a seat next to Imane, Daphy takes her place at the end of the table, silently communicating she is the group’s leader. With a pointed shh from Basile, the conversation around the room turns to quiet whispers, followed by total silence. Everyone seems interested in what she is about to say, curiosity making their gazes seem bright and alert. Daphneé squares her shoulders, ready for what is surely about to be a grand speech.
“Friends,” she starts, glancing pointedly around the room, fixing everyone sitting with a stern stare. “Thank you for coming to the Social Committee’s first official reunion to organize the Testoni Cup. As I’m sure you all know, the Testoni Cup is one of the most notable associate traditions from the New York branch of our firm, dating back to 2005.”
Daphné pauses, making sure she has everyone’s attention. She stops talking for a few more seconds, for gravitas, until Imane tells her to stop being so freaking dramatic and go on with the story.
“Thank you, Imane. Very well. Since this is our first meeting, I believe it’s important you understand what is at stake. Today we will talk about the official history of the Testoni Cup and assign roles for those of us involved in it. In front of you, you will see a document. Please read it carefully, we can discuss after you finish reading it.”
Lucas is intrigued. He had seen the folders carefully assembled in front of every seat, but he hadn’t realized that whatever they were doing had any kind of official capacity. He begins reading:
November 28, 2006
as amended on April 20, 2019
The Official History of The Testoni Cup
1. The New York Office (NYO) Associates’ Retreat and The Testoni Cup
The origins of The Testoni Cup (“The Cup”) are closely linked to the NYO Associates’ Retreat
and, therefore, date back to the fall of 2005. Twice a year, the entire partnership of the firm gathers for a retreat, usually outside of the U.S. The associates of the NYO, in the spirit of collegiality, used the absence of the partners as an opportunity to hold a corresponding associates’ retreat at a local Mexican restaurant to discuss important issues and consume margaritas.
The first NYO Associates’ Retreat, held in Spring 2005 at the Los Feliz Bar, was an incredible success. One associate, Richard Chuckney, was particularly devoted to the evening’s activities. In fact, his devotion was so great that he left the Los Feliz Bar with an additional pair of shoes: a pair of antique black leather oxford-style Amadeo Testoni shoes (size 11), wrapped individually in shoe bags and contained in a Testoni shopping bag (the “Shoes”).
The following morning, Mr. Chuckney exerted a good will effort at the office to find the rightful owner of the Shoes. He was sort of unclear as to how he came into possession of the Shoes and wanted to return them to whomever they belonged. His efforts, unfortunately, proved fruitless, and the Shoes ended up in a drawer in his office, forgotten. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth, and for nearly a year, the Shoes passed out of all knowledge. Until when chance came, they seized a new bearer.
A second associates’ retreat was held in the fall of 2005, also at the Los Feliz Bar. Ana Cristina Gonzalez (now a partner) was easily the most enthusiastic associate at the fall 2005 event. Some time after that retreat, but prior to the third associates’ retreat, Mr. Chuckney and his new officemate, curiously also named Richard (last name Fuentes), discussed the Shoes and the idea of selling them was discussed. It was not until Mr. Fuentes wandered into a Testoni shop in Rome that this idea came to fruition.
It was after determining that the shoes had a value of over US$600 that Mr. Chuckney and Mr. Fuentes decided to sell the shoes. Thankfully, Mr. Fuentes had a roommate who needed a new pair of shoes and had feet that would actually fit the abnormally large size of the Shoes (size 11). It was decided to sell the Shoes to this gentleman for the fee of US$500.
What to do with the money? Various ideas were considered and rejected before ultimately settling on creating a perpetual trophy – The Testoni Cup – to be awarded to that associate who so distinguished him or herself at the NYO Associates’ Retreat, demonstrating a commitment to the ideals and goals of the NYO Associates’ Retreat. The trophy was commissioned by a French trophy crafter in early 2006 and arrived in the New York office in time to be presented following the Spring 2006 NYO Associates’ Retreat. The first true recipient of The Cup was Mr. Charles Young. The cup was awarded retroactively to Mr. Richard Chuckney and Ms. Ana Cristina Gonzalez.
Given the 2008 financial crisis, the Firm’s partners decided to forego their Fall retreat for an indefinite period of time. As a result, the Fall Associates Retreat was suspended. These were dark times. However, now the economy has recovered and we are looking to make a comeback. The 2019 Spring Associates Retreat will have a different name and a smaller budget. It will be known simply as the “Testoni Cup” and the Fall Associates Retreat event, which traditionally is a smaller event, will be known as the “Lil’ Testoni Cup.”
2. The Testoni Cup itself
The Cup is approximately twelve inches high and is in the shape of a gold-plated chalice atop a marmol pedestal. It bears an inscription identifying the cup as “The Testoni Cup” and indicates its date of establishment as 2005. Furthermore, it contains the official motto of The Testoni Cup: “Fac et excusa”.
The Cup is presented to the new cupholder by the existing cupholder at a Drinks Cart within two weeks of the NYO Associates’ Retreat. The new cupholder is expected to drink a drink of his or her choice from The Cup at the ceremony. The cupholder is entitled to display The Cup in his or her office until the cup-awarding ceremony following the subsequent Associates’ Retreat.
The Cup must remain in the New York office.
4. Selection Criteria
The Cup is not awarded based on the volume of alcohol consumed. Rather, The Cup shall be
awarded to that individual who has demonstrated an exemplary level of dedication to the ideals of The Cup and the NYO Associates’ Retreat. The recipient shall be selected by popular acclaim. There can be only one winner. If there is no consensus, no winner shall be announced. Any non-partner employee in the New York office is eligible to win The Cup.
“I see,” Imane says, an expression of complete calm in her face. “So you are finally out of your damn mind.”
There is complete stillness as everyone finishes reading the document on their hands and different expressions of disbelief are slowly making rounds around the room.
Lucas is flabbergasted, to put it mildly. “You… you want us to organize a drinking competition?”
“It’s tradition!” Daphné almost screams, looking at Manon — who is a notorious non-drinker — for support. “This is, I mean this isn’t my idea. I’m just… bringing it back.”
“Well, I think it’s brilliant!” Bas stands up abruptly, putting both hands in the table with more force than necessary, the movement sending some of the documents flying around the room. He is staring everyone in the eye, looking overeager and half-crazed. “It is, Daphy, it’s brilliant. That’s what we need. That’s exactly what we need, I’m telling you! We need to amp up the morale here. Things have been so busy lately, we deserve to have a break!”
Arthur is quick to offer support. “Yeah, yeah. I mean, I agree. The parents — I mean, the partners — won’t be around, what’s stopping us from having some fun? Especially if it’s at the expense of the firm. Mind you, this is strictly for bonding purposes. Completely professional. I don’t see the harm. Smart thinking there, Daphy. Lucas, I’m sure you agree.”
Lucas isn’t quite sure he agrees, actually. On the one hand, an opportunity to get drunk for free should never be wasted. On the other hand, really? They are not in college anymore.
This thought, however, is what ultimately makes him want to say yes. He never had the opportunity to be so careless in school. Or he had, but rejected it every time in the face of his responsibilities, his crippling fear of failure. Always focused on getting good grades, always so dedicated to his future, his success. Just this once, he wants the chance of feeling a sense of camaraderie. Of belonging.
“Uh, yeah. Sure.”
“Wonderful!” Daphy is almost beaming. “I’m so glad everyone is on board!”
“Are we, though?” Manon whispers under her breath, a small smile directed at Imane, who rolls her eyes and shrugs, the universal signal for I guess this is what we are doing now, huh?
“Alright, so. We are going to need to divide and conquer,” Daphné says, falling once again into business mode. “The location has basically been settled, but I still need to make confirmations and take care of payments. I think perhaps Manon and Imane can take care of invitations and making sure everyone who is supposed to be there is actually there. This includes all the associates from the New York office, the associates from the D.C. office — in case any of them want to make the trip here — business teams, secretaries, etc. Basically, everyone who is not a partner. Also, I want you to invite key clients. Obviously, not the big players. But think companies with younger corporates. This is an ideal scenario to form closer bonds and potentially get more mandates. The struggle will be getting RSVPs and confirmations from everyone because people hate to RSVP… But you know, I’m thinking you could work out a good cop, bad cop situation…”
“And who is supposed to be the bad cop in this scenario, again?” Imane says, unimpressed.
“Well… uh… I’m just saying, uh, you have, you know, convincing power…”
“Maybe just stop talking now,” Manon suggests with a pained smile. “We are on it.”
“Alright, then. Moving on… Basile and Arthur, although historically we don’t have themes for these events, I’m thinking it would be fun if this time we did. I’m not entirely sure what the theme should be, but I trust your judgment. Come up with a good one, get props, decorations. The sky is the limit, we have a pretty decent budget this year.”
“We will absolutely not let you down,” Basile says, with candor. “Count on us to come up with a theme that will blow up your mind.”
“… okay. So, Lucas,” she says with a smile. “Once again, I just want to say, I’m so happy you have decided to join us in earnest. And since you did such a good job with desserts on the last Drinks Cart Social, I think you are the ideal person to take care of them again!”
“That’s it, yes.”
“You are… sure?” she nods quickly, and Lucas is instantly ticked off. It seems too easy. “I don’t know, it just seems like other people are taking care of more stuff.”
“Don’t worry about it, seriously,” Daphné says, reassuring. “We just want you to be there.”
Oh, okay. Now he gets it. She thinks Lucas is a flight risk, and if he ends up not showing up, after all, she wants to make sure he won’t ruin something that would actually make or break the evening.
He knows he shouldn’t be pissed off. And yet.
“Alright then,” Lucas says, with feeling. “No worries, I’ll take care of it.”
“Oh, everyone, one last thing,” Daphné says, looking apologetic. “Securing permission and funds took me longer than I anticipated and… well, this all needs to be taken care for next Thursday. We only have one week to pull this off.”
“So you want… 700 different desserts now. Dude, you are bringing desperation to a new level, I have such a massive amount of respect for you.”
Once again Emma is looking at Lucas like she can’t decide if she fears him or pities him.
After the Social Committee’s meeting, Lucas had locked himself in his office and called every good, reputable bakery shop in Manhattan. He even called in Brooklyn and Queens. Hell, he called in the Bronx and even in Staten Island. Every single one of them told him that such a large order would be impossible to deliver with such short notice.
So that’s how he finds himself sitting with Emma in the pastry shop on Monday afternoon, after a whole weekend of making calls to no avail. He tried, he really tried, to avoid coming here again. And yet, he finds himself sort of pleased to be sitting next to her, something about her casual bluntness being exactly what he needs in the moment. He is feeling desperate, actually, and he is kind of glad that someone is able to tell.
He absolutely can’t allow himself to fail at a task that is supposed to be the easy one. He knows what the others will say, he knows how people talk. It’s not even about the sweets anymore. What if the partners find out about this fuck up? If he can’t even get desserts to a party, how the fuck will he have the ability to close a deal when it matters?
He can’t, he won’t go there. He can already feel the anxiety making his blood ticker, so heavy in his veins that for a second he wonders if it will actually stop reaching his heart. He allows himself a few seconds to just feel it beat in his chest, tumptumptump. And again and again and again. Lucas has always been an over-thinker, but in moments of deep stress, the worry is so visceral that he feels the symptoms in his entire body, so overwhelming that he thinks he is actually going to die.
But now is not one of those moments. It won’t be.
Lucas schools himself, seats straighter on his chair. Readjusts. Tries for a smile. “I know I should have let you know sooner, but I just found out about this event on Friday… I just… I don’t know, do you think it could work out?”
He had quickly recapped the whole thing. Party. Emergency. Make or break event that could potentially affect their career prospects. Daphné. During that part Emma looked ready to accept the order on the spot. But when he said 700, well…
“I don’t know. Eliott would probably be crazy enough to accept if it’s you asking, but he is only an intern, you know? He doesn’t have the final say,” she starts tapping her fingers against the table, seemingly thinking as she talks. “And this is too much for just him, and in such a short period of time, it feels almost impossible. We would probably have to get Alexia to help, and get Ms. Catherine on board too — she's the owner, you’d see her around if you came in the mornings.”
Lucas knows there is a lot to unpack here. He knows he should be asking about prices and timelines, if it’s actually possible, how to make this thing work. But he fixates in one thing, and one thing only.
“What do you mean…” he starts, swallows, tries again. Goes for something smoother, tone almost uninterested. “What do you mean, he would accept if I ask?”
“That for a week straight he's been setting aside a dessert for a guy that never comes to pick it up,” she says, one of her unimpressed stares in place. “What do you think I mean?”
“Lucas, you are not pulling a Daphné on me here. He likes you. At least, he is intrigued. Accept it, internalize it, deal with it, move on.”
Okay, sure. But how? He gives himself a moment to feel it all. The elation. The flattery. The incredulity. The panic. The… hope.
It’s when he gets to the hope that he decides to put a pin on these particular thoughts. He simply can’t entertain them now. Perhaps he will let himself explore them later, at home, when he’s alone. Chasing, in his mind, how every possibility could go. What each path could possibly mean. Now, however, he needs to compartmentalize. Move on, fast.
“Alright…” he finally says, after a second too long. “So, the sweets?”
“Ugh, you are impossible. Is this a lawyer thing? Is Daphné just like you, is this what I will have to deal with?”
“No suit today?”
Of course, there he is. Eliott. Bright as ever, a light in all the ways that people can be one.
“Casual-ware Mondays,” Lucas says levelly, by way of explanation. In truth, he had barely slept last night, stressing, and had no energy or mind for a suit this morning. He had grabbed a pair of dark-wash Levi’s from the floor, slipped them in, and quickly follow suit with a navy Theory crewneck. Mentally, he had made a note of leaving an extra suit in his office, in case he would ever actually need it in another situation like this.
“A shame,” Eliott says, smiling. “But this is nice, too.”
“Eliott, Lucas is having a crisis and needs our assistance. Well, yours, actually.”
“Thanks, Emma,” Lucas says, words dripping with sarcasm. “So nice of you to be my official representative.”
“No worries bro, I’ve got you.”
The only reason why Lucas doesn’t roll his eyes until he can only see the insides of the sockets is that he has trained himself not to do that anymore. The instinct will always remain, though.
“And how may I assist?” Eliott asks, curiosity in his voice.
“My firm has this event on Thursday,” Lucas explains. “The partners will be away in Cannes for a retreat, so normally the associates use the opportunity to get everyone together and have drinks, socialize — the usual stuff. But of course Daphné went overboard with the planning and now is this whole thing. There is going to be a lot of people — she even invited some clients, I think.”
“So it needs to be perfect,” Lucas follows. “Or else.”
“Or else,” Eliott deadpans.
“Yes. So. I’m in charge of desserts…”
“… and I kinda need to bring around 700 individual ones? For next Thursday? Evening?” Lucas has no idea why everything starts to sound like a question in the end there, but perhaps it has something to do with the way Eliott’s eyes crinkle in the corner as he smiles.
“And you want me to do it. I see. You must have been so impressed with my skills from the other day, that’s quite flattering.”
This time Lucas can’t stop the eye roll. “How do you manage to make this about you?”
“Just another of my skills.”
“Ugh,” Lucas practically groans at the same moment that Eliott starts laughing.
“You guys are gross,” Emma says, and goes ignored.
“But yeah, no worries, I’ll do it,” Eliott assures him. “Maybe it’ll be a little challenging, but it’s totally doable.”
“Eliott, are you sure?” Emma questions. “That would probably be a lot of overtime — and you haven’t asked Ms. Catherine if she’s on board yet…”
“Okay, but when are we not doing overtime, Emma? It’ll be fine. I’ll get Catherine on board. And Alexia owes me.”
“It’s cool,” he says, his voice leaving no space for argument. “Now, time is obviously running short, so Lucas, we should talk ideas, no?”
“Uh, yeah, definitely,” he says, a little uncertain. “I mean, I don’t really know, whatever you think should be fine.”
“I’m flattered,” Eliott answers with a smile. “But it doesn’t usually work like that. We discuss ideas, we agree on the order, we discuss pricing, delivery, all of that."
“Oh,” is all Lucas says.
“Oh is correct,” Eliott says. “But I can tell you are new with this, so I’ll guide you through the process. No worries, it’ll be alright.”
“My hero,” Lucas replies, trying for sardonic, but it comes a little more grave than intended. For a second too long, Eliott just stares.
“You guys are… gross,” Emma repeats, with feeling.
“I won’t stand for this slander,” Eliott says, mock-serious, while he takes a black hoodie from his backpack and starts to put it in. “Lucas, we are leaving.”
“Yes, we do need to have that discussion, but I want to take a walk before going into the kitchen again to start making everything. Coming?”
Lucas should probably go back to the office, actually. He left a document on his desk before leaving, expecting that the chat at the pastry shop would either be an immediate no or a quick, but hard-won yes. In either scenario, he was back in his own building in 20 minutes.
But, really, what would another 20 minutes do?
He follows Eliott out of the door.
“Central Park, really?” Lucas says when he sees the direction they are going. “Isn’t it a bit of a tourist trap now?”
“Central Park could never be a tourist trap,” Eliott seems almost offended by Lucas’ words. “It’s too vital to the city, its lungs and heart. Also, it’s close.”
It’s true, it’s close. The park is only four blocks and a couple more avenues from their jobs, but the minutes stretch as they walk in a pace that can only be described as leisurely, Eliott already excitedly discussing some of his ideas, Lucas making agreement noises in all the right places.
It’s almost seven in the afternoon now, and the city is starting to glow in hues of orange and gold, the sun bathing glass buildings in light until they reflect each other, mirrors ricocheting over and over and over again, making everything appear endless. The taxis make impatient honking noises and people walk so fast that they are almost running. For once, Lucas is in no hurry, glad to absorb everything around him to hold himself from staring at the sun walking next to him.
56th, 57th, 58th, 59th. Now they make their way to Fifth Avenue. Elliott points at a little restaurant to the right, Sarabeth’s, and tells Lucas about how they have the best chocolate pie that he has tried, how he is working to perfect his own recipe. “It’s so good, seriously, so good, no, listen, so good, I’ll get it for you, let’s eat some now. No! Let’s eat it at the park, we can eat as we walk, wait,” okay, a few more minutes, they get the pie, and Eliott is adamant about paying for it, even though it’s outrageously expensive. “I know,” Eliott whispers. “It’s because it’s in front of Central Park and next to the Plaza Hotel. It’s worth it, though, you’ll see.”
They walk some more, on their way to the park, again, but Eliott can’t seem to help himself from pointing at another spot that seems unassuming next to the opulence of The Plaza. “Have you been there?”
“The Paris Theatre? No, I don’t think so.”
“I love it there. It’s this tiny movie theater, only one screen,” he explains. “Sometimes they play old films. I like classics.”
Of course he does. “Eh, that’s cool. Yeah, love classic films, too.”
“Yeah? Awesome. Maybe we can catch a film sometime then,” Eliott says, smiling, and before Lucas can reply or stop his mind from saying something stupid like it’s a date, Eliott continues, lowering his voice like he is sharing a secret. “James Dean used to hang out in there. Apparently, he had a friend that worked in the theater and would let him in for free. This is before the fame, mind you. He was broke. But he loved movies, and he wanted to make movies, and then he did. And then he died.”
“That’s… sad,” Lucas says, a little at a loss.
“You think so? Maybe. But he became a legend although he only starred in four films in his lifetime, and was alive only to see two of those at that,” Eliott says, a look of wonder in his eyes. “I think it’s awesome how he just did exactly what he wanted. Created the life he wanted to live. I admire that.”
Lucas doesn’t really know what to say after that, so he doesn’t really say anything. Maybe it’s because at the moment he can’t relate.
They have almost reached the entrance of the park now, and Lucas expects they will go in, but Eliott just keeps walking north-wise steadily, so Lucas follows. The trees are to their left, the buildings to the right, and Lucas thinks about how New York is a juxtaposition of everything, how much, despite it all, he likes living here. How much of what the city has to offer he misses because of work, because even when he is free he is tired, he wants to sleep, he wants to chill a little. Eliott, however, walks with purpose. Not hurriedly, just like he knows exactly where he is going, and it makes Lucas feel a little lost, and a little like he would follow him anywhere.
One block, three blocks, five, seven, eleven, twenty; Lucas losses count after twenty-five streets. They have walked for more than forty minutes now, all the while chatting about everything and nothing. It’s almost the end of spring, the weather finally starting to get warm, and summer is so close that it lingers in the air, the potential of this new season almost as exciting as the thing itself.
In 64th they stop to see the animals in the zoo, in 70th they buy macaroons in Ladurée and Eliott asks him if he has ever been to the Frick Collection, tells him that going in is worth it even if is just to sit in the inner garden. In 74th they pass by the Consulate of France, in 79th Eliott smiles and tells him that there is this little French bookstore that he loves, Albertine, and won’t he come inside with him?
They go into a store where every book is written in French, and Lucas feels slightly out of place but Eliott appears to be right at home. They roam near the entrance, picking books up and carefully putting them down. Philosophy, psychology, literary classics. After a couple of minutes Eliott says “Lucas, come,” and up they go in a set of very narrow stairs until they reach the second floor of the shop. When he reaches the last step Lucas is amazed. Instead of a ceiling he sees a heaven painted in midnight blue, golden stars splattered all across and beyond a circle that names all major planets and constellations. It’s breathtaking, and Lucas stares and stares, until he redirects his gaze to Eliott, who never kept his eyes from him, all the while waiting for his reaction.
“Eliott, fuck, this is insane.”
“You like it?”
“I — yeah, of course,” Lucas says, comes up short. “Thanks for bringing me.”
“This is where I come when I get a little homesick,” he explains. “Being surrounded by books, I don’t know, it always makes me feel better.”
“You are not from New York?” Lucas questions.
“Yeah. What, is my accent that good that you can’t tell?”
“I mean there is a bit of an accent there,” Lucas admits. “And I didn’t really think you were from New York… but like, nobody is from New York. Everyone is kind of from… everywhere else.”
“And where are you from?” Elliott questions.
“I’m from New York.”
“Uptown New York!”
“Ah,” Eliott says, with a laugh. “That doesn’t count, then.”
“Fuck you, it counts!”
“Lucas, calm yourself,” Eliott sounds so offended he is clearly mocking him. “There are children here.”
There are. Lucas was so immersed in everything else he didn’t even notice that the second floor is the children’s section.
“Ah, let me guess,” Lucas jokes. “You come here to read The Little Prince. It’s your favorite book.”
Eliott smiles a little, his eyes crinkling. “Yes, actually. It is my favorite.”
“You are — you are serious. What was with all the intellectual hipster books that you seemed to be considering downstairs, then?”
“Maybe I just want you to think I’m smart.”
“I think you are ridiculous.”
“Oof,” Eliott responds, pretends to be offended. After a few moments, he smiles, elaborates. “I come here to look at the stars, sometimes. You can’t really see them in big cities like Paris or New York, too much light pollution. But still, I like looking at these stars, because it reminds me that even if I can’t see them they are there. In other skies, they are there. In the darkness, there.”
“‘Si tu aimes une fleur qui se trouve dans une étoile’,” Lucas quotes, a little hesitantly, hoping he remembers it right. “'C’est doux, la nuit, de regarder le ciel'.”
“Ouais!” Eliott exclaims, he seems so happy. “Putain, tu parle français?”
“No, sorry,” Lucas says, now feeling that perhaps he shouldn't have started with that since it will appear that he was flexing skills that are almost nonexistent. “My mom does though. She used to read to me when I was little, and our edition of The Little Prince is bilingual. So she would alternate between versions sometimes, and some quotes stock.”
“I see. Still, impressive.”
“Didn’t botcher the pronunciation?”
“Now, I wouldn’t go that far…”
“Ugh, fuck you, Eliott, seriously.”
He just laughs. “Let’s get out of here. The pie and macaroons won’t eat themselves.”
They walk some more.
Eliott tells him about how from 82nd to 105th, Fifth Avenue is called the Museum Mile, and how the strip of streets got the name because of the richness and cultural diversity of the museums here. When he talks he lights up so much that he positively glows, excitement pouring out of him in waves. And yet, he seems to be just as happy to hear Lucas responses.
He tells Lucas about all the museum they should check out when they have some time, now that the summer is approaching: the Met in 82nd, the Neue Galerie in 86th, the Guggenheim in 89th, the Cooper Hewitt in 91st, El Museo del Barrio in 105th. It’s only when they reach that one that he stops, and when Lucas checks a sign marking the block he realizes they have walked 46th streets, practically the entirety of the east side of the park without ever actually entering. They are almost all the way to Harlem when Eliott finally starts to walk inside Central Park through an impressive iron gate that appears to be modeled after something you would see in Versailles.
For the first time it occurs to Lucas that after the walk, the detours, the shopping, and the bookstore, it’s been close to two hours since they left the bakery, and all the things he should be doing now — instead of this — haven’t crossed his mind not even once.
Lucas has never been in this area of Central Park before. The few times he has been in the park he sticks to the south, the area that is closest to the office and that inevitability gets more packed by tourists and residents alike. Here, however, they are practically alone, he can only see a few people shuffling in the distance. From lilies, tulips and gardenias to sunflowers, hyacinths and cherry blossom trees, color surges in every direction from the blooming flowers; fountains making soothing noises in the stillness of the garden.
“Do you know the Conservatory Garden?” Eliott asks him, as they sit next to a small pond with waterlilies floating above its waters. In the horizon, the sky is turning a stunning shade of pink, lilac, cerulean blue. In the pond, a statue of two children stands before them, a boy playing the flute, a girl holding a tray where a bird made of iron sits, forevermore. A little plaque marks the statue as a tribute to Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of The Secret Garden.
“No,” Lucas says quickly, and then, in the face of Eliott’s expectant stare he adds, “I admit it’s pretty cool. How did you find this place?”
“I don’t know, one day I was walking and walking and I sort of stumbled across it. It’s my favorite place in the city, can you hear how calm it is?”
“Yeah,” Lucas exhales. “It’s like we are not in the city anymore.”
“It’s a refuge. This is where I come when I want to be alone.”
“You are bringing people to the place you come when you want to be alone?” Lucas teases, unable to stop the grin that appears on his face.
“No, but this is special, and I usually don’t bring anyone. You are the first.”
Lucas breath catches in his throat at the same moment that he realizes that he has feelings for Eliott.
He knows in his head, how it sounds. How ridiculous it is, the cliché of it all. But it isn’t fair, really, that Eliott is not only attractive. Of course not. He also has to be interesting, and kind, and able to casually say things that perhaps mean nothing to him but make Lucas’ heart feel like it’s imploding in his chest.
It’s also not fair than in just one week he allowed himself to forget, his memory unable to recreate Eliott as he sits next to him now, so handsome that he is just pretty. The bluegrey of his eyes, the same color and shape of half-moons, as he smiles. The sunshine of his smile, the little star dots climbing from the side of his neck. Lucas is gone, he knows, no amount of compartmentalizing will be able to save him from these thoughts, the unwavering tide of these feelings. Not love, not quite, not yet.
An infatuation, he thinks, almost groaning. A schoolboy crush, nothing more.
“Thanks… thanks for bringing me into your home, then.”
“You are very welcome, I appreciate that you are so well-behaved.”
“Pff, okay. I’m I trying this chocolate pie, or what? I’ve been anticipating it for the past two hours. You let me starve.”
“As a baker, I’m taking personal offense because I would never. Here, eat, before you swoon.”
“We can cut it in half,” Lucas offers.
“Nah, no need. I don’t need to be reminded of how it’s better than mine. Soon though. Mine will be the absolute best, you’ll see. You’ll try it and compare.”
“Did you always wanted to be a baker?” Lucas asks. He has itched to know the answer to this question for more than a week. Since he met him, really. The answer to this and so many other things.
“No, not really,” Eliott says, biting into one of the strawberry macaroons, a trace of pink powder staining his lips. “I had no idea what I wanted to be for a long time, actually, just kept trying different things after high school. But then I was… unwell, for some time. Just, not in an ideal mindset. And during that time, I don’t know, my parents were concerned, so I started seeing a therapist. I didn’t want to talk to her, I had nothing to say. At least not out loud, not in a way that made sense. But I didn't feel like I could do anything else. And one day, I don’t know, I think she got stressed with me. She said “well, If we are not talking, we might as well try doing something. At least we’ll have something to eat.” So she suggested we tried a receipt, a very easy one. Madeleines.”
He follows. “It was a total fuck up. Seriously, they were so bad. But there was something about the act of following the steps of the recipe that made me feel more grounded. In that moment, it was just about being there, taking things one step at a time. It felt very calming. So I tried again at home. And again, and again, and again, and then they were good. And then I kept doing other recipes, and then I tried to make them better than the original. I don’t know, experiment? When they were very good I would bring some to my therapist. And then we started talking, and she was alright. And then I didn't feel so bad anymore, so I decided to enroll in a culinary school, see how it goes.”
“Is it… is it depression?” Lucas asks, carefully.
Eliott stays quiet for a long time, so long that Lucas regrets opening his mouth, cursing himself for thinking it was remotely okay to ask such a personal question to someone that he barely knows.
“It was a depressive episode, yes,” Eliott finally says, without looking at him. “But not depression. Bipolar. That’s when I was diagnosed.”
Lucas doesn’t say anything, waiting until Eliott finally looks at him again. When he does, Lucas gives him a small smile, hoping it conveys what he is feeling right now. “You didn’t have to, really, but thanks for telling me. I know how it — well, it’s not the same, obviously, but… well, my mom, she has schizophrenia. For a while there we didn’t know what the fuck was going on, it was so scary. I didn’t know how to act, what to say.”
“Is she doing better now?” Eliott asks him softly.
“Yeah, yeah. At least now we understand, you know?” Eliott just nods. Of course he knows. “She… she gets full-time care. It’s safer for her, that way. And I made sure that she likes the place she is living in, near the woods, uptown, and I visit as often as I can. And we write letters to each other, sometimes we have calls. We do some texts.”
Lucas isn’t sure why, but suddenly he is desperate for Eliott to know, that he would never, ever, abandon her. He would never push her aside. Not anymore. Not like before. That part of the reason he works so hard is to make sure that he can provide her with the best possible care.
Eliott seems to know this, as well. “Lucas, it’s okay. You are doing the best you can. No one has everything figured out.”
“I—“ Lucas wants to protest, explain that he could be doing more, be more, do better. That he is trying, but it doesn’t feel like he is succeeding. He refrains in the last moment, instead murmuring a quick yeah, thanks.
“And you?” Eliott asks, evidently trying to change the topic. “Always wanted to be a lawyer?”
“Not at all, no. My undergrad major was biology, actually. But after graduating I realized that I didn’t want to spend most of my time in a lab.”
“And an office is better?”
“At least I get to wear nice suits,” Lucas jokes half-heartedly.
“And the world is better for it,” Eliott murmurs. “No, but really. Why?”
“My practice area, now, I do Dispute Resolution,” Lucas explains. “My firm focuses mostly on huge corporations, organizations, governments. Big scale stuff. But when I was getting my JD, I just liked the idea that problems could be resolved. Discussions, arguments, fights. They could be mediated. I could do something to help people.”
He follows. “There are so many things in life that can’t be fixed, that are just so permanently broken. I just wanted… I just wanted to be a relief.”
“Has that changed?”
Lucas considers this. It hasn’t, not really, but somehow it got lost in his quest to excel, to rise in his firm, to feel financially secure. “No, I— it’s just, it’s complicated.”
“Maybe we should start discussing desserts now?” Lucas interjects before Eliott can follow with what he is surely about to ask him. “It’s kind of late now. What do we need to discuss?”
“Nothing really, if you trust me to not fuck this up for you,” Eliott says with a shrug. “If not, we can talk preferences, how much of each thing you want, what kind of flavors, the whole thing.”
“Wait, seriously? Then why did we even went out of the pastry shop, to begin with? You were the one who said we needed to discuss many things.”
“Because,” Eliott starts, staring Lucas dead in the eye. “Then, you didn’t know me. So how could you possibly trust me not to fuck up something that is clearly important? But now is different.”
“Yeah. Do you trust me, Lucas?”
He swallows. What a charged question that is. Trusting someone makes you vulnerable, and Lucas can’t stand to be in anyone’s mercy — again. But Eliott seems so sincere. And he told him so many things about himself that he didn't have to, showed him a city that he doesn’t really know despite living in it. He makes everything seem more interesting, more colorful, more real than anything else has felt before. Trust. How can he trust?
He nods, once.
“Okay,” Eliott offers him a small smile, it reaches his eyes. “I promise you, it will be fine. All of it. I’ll make sure of it.”
“We’ll see about that.”
“Oof, you wound me again,” Eliott says. “Ah, also. You should give me your number, so I can keep you updated with the process and stuff. Ask you any questions related to the order.”
“Oh. Yeah, sure.” Eliott passes him his phone and Lucas inputs the digits, doubts for a second how to save his own contact information before deciding on his first and last name, his occupation for context.
“Lucas Lallement (Lawyer),” Eliott repeats, teasing. “Come on, as if I would forget.”
He calls Lucas immediately after and then suggests he saves his number too, in case he has any questions.
“We should probably go back now,” Lucas says. “I should stop by the office and I imagine you have to take care of so much before Thursday as well.”
“You should go now, I’m gonna start ideating for your event,” Eliott says, bringing out a sketchbook and a fine-line pen from his backpack. “It’s a whole process, but I enjoy this part.”
It’s almost pitch black now. “Okay…” Lucas says, standing up. “Just don’t stay here alone until too late. This is still New York, you know, who knows what could happen.”
“Aw, worried about me. I’m touched.”
“You truly, really, genuinely, suck,” Lucas tells him, already ordering an Uber as he makes his way out of the park. There is no way that he will walk almost 50 blocks back, alone. He can hear Eliott’s laughter all the way back to the car.
I was going to apologize for taking so long for an update, but then I realized that if I apologize every time it takes me a while to update, I will be apologizing forever. However: I'm sorry. Here is an extra long chapter to make it up to you (if you are still reading). My excuse is that I was traveling for a long time, and then I got back and life got extremely busy, so writing time is limited. Then, when I wrote, I was unhappy with the direction this was going. I think whoever is reading deserves more, and I can't publish unless it's working for me. So there is that.
Also: I think this (as in, this fic) is going to be slightly longer than anticipated. I knew where I wanted to take this story when I published chapter one, but during my trip, I realized exactly what I want it to be. So... it might take some time to get there, but I think it will be good (and hopefully worth it).
Another also: I am still overwhelmed over the response I got for chapter one? You are all so extremely kind and as an avid FF reader, I always try to be good about leaving comments and appreciation, but I never realized just how good it feels for people to connect with what you are doing until I posted this. So, thank you. So much.
Again, any comments and feedback are appreciated. And if you see any typos please let me know. And if you want to talk to me on Tumblr, you can do it at luielu.tumblr.com
Another (last) also: I am trying to make this story feels as real as possible. Every single place I mentioned here, exists. The Testoni Cup is based in my firm's own version of it (I can't make that stuff up...) and even the way Lucas feels, I hope that feels real too, as I don't believe in love at first sight (attraction at first sight? Sure. Love? No. You have to know people to love them. But that's just what I think, who knows what these boys think.)
All of that is to say (this is the actual last also, I promise): in chapter one I posted links to things that could help visualize elements of this story. But this time I thought that maybe that distracts from the story itself. So if you want me to keep posting that / explaining / giving context to things, let me know.
Chapter 3: Allegro
(especially as a direction) at a fast tempo, a movement that is meant to be played very quickly.
"cheerful or gay" in Italian from the Latin root alacrem, "lively, cheerful, brisk.”
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
From: Eliott (Baker)
Tuesday, 4:32 am
hey so, I was going to make tiny creme brulees but since the place is mexican I decided on tres leches hope thats ok
From: Eliott (Baker)
Tuesday, 4:54 am
ok fuck it I’m making creme brûlée too they are just too god you need to try it
From: Eliott (Baker)
Tuesday, 4:55 am
but these are god level, I swear
To: Eliott (Baker)
Tuesday, 8:47 am
Why were you texting me about desserts at 5 am?
And why did you place the proper accents for creme brûlée the second time, but not the first?
From: Eliott (Baker)
Tuesday, 11:02 am
because that’s when I was making them and I was hoping for some input
I realize now that maybe the timing wasn’t ideal
To: Eliott (Baker)
Tuesday, 11:51 am
Wait, what? You were at the bakery at 4:30 am?
From: Eliott (Baker)
Tuesday, 11:53 am
but like I usually get there at 5-ish? so it was just a little earlier than normal
To: Eliott (Baker)
Tuesday, 1:05 pm
Sorry, I was in a meeting and it ran late.
But why? Fuck, I’m sorry. I didn’t think that you would have to be there so early…
From: Eliott (Baker)
Tuesday, 1:21 pm
Lucas its ok all bakers get up really early it’s just a part of the job
okay maybe now I’m waking extra early but that’s just a few days no worries
I take naps when I get off I’m used to it
your concern is reward enough
To: Eliott (Baker)
Tuesday, 1:33 pm
Also, I like Tres Leches a lot.
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:23 pm
Eliott (Baker) has sent a photo.
Eliott (Baker) has sent a photo.
Eliott (Baker) has sent a photo.
just updating you
To: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:27 pm
You really don’t have to, but I appreciate it. Those look great.
Are you almost done?
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:28 pm
lol not even close. getting there
Alexia came in today though, that helped
To: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:28 pm
Alexia, the other baker?
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:28 pm
Alexia, my roommate
To: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:28 pm
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:29 pm
no worries she knows how to take instruction
most of the time
To: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:29 pm
I’m not worried. Just curious, that’s all.
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:30 pm
Alexia did a training in baking so she knows what she’s doing
she has experience in a thousand different things too
she's been a dog walker, data analyst, translator, sculpture artist
I think right now she’s really into dancing?
she does her own thing, kinda hard to keep up
but interesting to hear about
maybe you’ll meet her soon
To: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:32 pm
How did you meet?
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:32 pm
To: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:32 pm
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:32 pm
… lol, craiglist
Lucas, come on
To: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:33 pm
I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know you that well. Maybe you would actually be crazy enough to be roommates with some girl you hooked up with on Tinder.
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:34 pm
actually I’ve never used tinder
I prefer to meet people organically
and I actually got out of a relationship pretty recently so…
To: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:35 pm
Oh. Sorry. Are you okay?
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:35 pm
it was long distance. hadn’t been working for a while
definitely for the best
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:39 pm
To: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:41 pm
Yeah, was just reading a document.
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:41 pm
you’re working now?
To: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:42 pm
Barely. But yes.
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:42 pm
I wonder who sleeps less, you or me
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:46 pm
are you hungry?
To: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:47 pm
Eh, a little? Daphy got me a sandwich around 7 pm. Sort of hungry again.
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:57 pm
smh that’s a croque monsieur, not a “sandwich”
To: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:58 pm
It was literally a ham and cheese sandwich.
And how do you know?
From: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:58 pm
Emma was telling me about it when she was about to leave
do you think daphne is into her or
To: Eliott (Baker)
Wednesday, 11:59 pm
Honestly, I don’t know what Daphy’s into. We are close, but not close enough that we tell each other who we are dating.
From: Eliott (Baker)
Thursday, 12:01 am
so you are dating?
come over and I’ll give you food
To: Eliott (Baker)
Thursday, 12:02 am
From: Eliott (Baker)
Thursday, 12:03 am
To: Eliott (Baker)
Thursday, 12:04 am
I’ll be there in 5.
From: Eliott (Baker)
Thursday, 11:58 am
hey, you didn’t tell me earlier and I should definitely have asked before but where is this restaurant again
To: Eliott (Baker)
Thursday, 1:02 pm
Fuck, true. Sorry.
109 Ludlow St, New York, NY 10002
The thing starts at 6:00 pm, I’m sure guests will arrive a bit later. I imagine if you are there by, I don’t know, 5:45 it should be fine?
To: Eliott (Baker)
Thursday, 3:58 pm
Do you think it will be fine?
To: Eliott (Baker)
Thursday, 5:08 pm
To: Eliott (Baker)
Thursday, 5:58 pm
Eliott, where are you?
I’m leaving my office soon but Daphne is already there and texting me about the desserts.
To: Eliott (Baker)
Thursday, 6:43 pm
Are you seriously going to bail on me?
Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck. Shit, fuck. Fuck.
God, he trusted him. Lucas actually trusted him.
He never worried, not even for a minute, that the order would not be delivered. Not since Monday’s walk, not since the park, not since the — almost, at least to his standards — non-stop texting. Not since last night’s midnight snack which dragged into this very morning, Lucas once again consuming every piece of information he learned about Eliott, allowing Eliott to learn about him in return. It was three in the morning when Lucas finally went home, Eliott saying he was going to stay a little longer in the shop to finish glazing the éclairs.
But now it’s a quarter past seven and Lucas has almost reached Los Feliz, jittery and nervous the whole ride from his office to downtown, so much so that he asks the cab driver to stop, yes stop, yes now, yes, he knows they are still nine blocks away from their destination. He needs the walk, to clear his thoughts, but he also wishes to delay the inevitable.
Just for a moment, he considers to keep walking to the metro stop. It’s right there, he can see Delancy St. just a few meters from him. He can take the F line, just three stops and the train will leave him in York St. From there, he would need to walk five more blocks, and then home. The whole thing would take him 15 minutes, perhaps 20 if the train is acting up.
Better yet, he could cross Manhattan Bridge across the East River, see how Brooklyn becomes more real in front of him as Manhattan disappears on his back, the twinkling lights of the skyscrapers resembling the stars above his head — invisible, but there. In the darkness, there. Always there.
Lucas sighs, runs a hand through his hair, knows that it’s a mess. Tries to adjust his tie only to realize that he had taken it off in the cab when he was trying to get some air into his lungs. “Fuck, just fuck everything,” he knows he’s whining, but fuck, seriously? That one was Hermès. He almost jugs into the venue now. He needs a drink. Maybe ten.
When he arrives, it’s chaos. The entrance to Los Feliz is packed — mostly associates, a bunch of business people, IT, of course. Everyone who works in the office and is under 40, game for some free booze and the potential of something happening, whatever it might be. Anything to ensure that on Friday, when the event is discussed, they are not completely out of the loop.
He shouts his name to security above blaring R&B music, they check, a heavy finger swiftly touches all the names printed on thick stock paper until they find him. Lucas Lallemant, yes, welcome, come in.
As soon as he passes security Arthur and Baz are on him. “Lucas, fucking finally! Where were you? Daphné has been asking all over for you!”
“Yeah, sorry, had a long call with a client,” he looks around the place and realizes that it’s even fuller than what it seemed from the outside, people squeezed against each other in the tiny tables opposite an equally tiny bar, which is nonetheless covered in liquor bottles that contain the full range of the color spectrum in their labels. They also linger in the hall that leads to what he presumes are the restrooms, go up and down stairs that disappear into what looks like nothingness but is probably a ratty basement. Lucas thinks there is no way that all guests will fit — and it’s only past seven. “This place is a fire hazard, though, how is everyone supposed to fit in?”
“Never been here before?” questions Arthur, who seems to already know the answer by the way he smiles at him. “Come on, Lulu, you seriously need to start going out more. Okay, so this is just the entryway. Here we set the mood. The party, though? The party is downstairs. This place has levels. The game has just begun.”
“Yes, Lucas, the game!” Basille is so excited he looks like he can barely contain himself. “I told you all: a theme that would blow your minds away. Tonight, Lulu, Lucas, my dear, dear friend, we are playing traffic light. Everyone’s in.”
Lucas takes a moment to look at his surroundings — really look, this time. Everyone is chatting and drinking, some are even somewhat dancing, but what he sees this time is that every single person in attendance — except security and the bartenders, the people actually working the event — has neon colored bracelets on their wrists and paint stripes across their cheeks. Red, yellow, green. Traffic light.
“Red, if you are taken,” Arthur explains. “Yellow, if it’s complicated. You are sort of seeing someone, but haven’t confirmed the relationship. Maybe approach with caution. And green… well, green, if you are fair game. Anyone can jump in.”
“You… you turned the associate's event into a hookup playground,” Lucas states, the incredulity clear in his voice even though he almost shouts to make himself heard. “Is this what you are telling me? Guys. What the fuck. There are clients here!”
“And they are having a grand good time, if you ask me,” Baz murmurs, pointing discreetly at where Charles Munier, the Interim VP of Goldman Sachs, is talking to Manon. He looks fascinated; she, in return, deeply unimpressed. Lucas wonders what’s going on there for a moment, then he remembers Manon’s in the Investment Funds group and disregards the interaction with a mental shrug.
On a corner, Daphné is chatting with three of her most recurrent clients, all women Lucas has seen around the office more than once. The women are young but carry themselves with an ease that only those who are extremely confident in their position and abilities seem able to pull off. They sip pale pink champagne and delicately take canapés from the trays that polished-looking waiters pass around. All of them sport bright red stripes, except Daphné: hers are a shade of yellow that matches her mid-length dress. Lucas is, despite himself, intrigued.
In the bar, Imane is resolutely drinking what appears to be a vodka soda but Lucas knows is water with lime. The diamond on her ring finger is almost the size of an ice cube, the red on her cheeks matches the red in the tie of her fiancé, Sofiane. They look at each other like there is nothing else to look at, and suddenly Imane’s laughing at something he said – Lucas can’t hear her, of course, but the effect it has on her face is luminous, happiness pouring out of her so radiantly that it almost hurts to look at.
“Lucas, it’s okay,” Arthur says, probably sensing his distress. “We are not completely insane, okay? Daphy gave us the go ahead. We even ran this by the Risk team, they said that as long as we explained to the clients we are not really representing the firm tonight and no one is here on official business capabilities, it’s fine. Think of this as a bunch of consenting adults letting out a little steam, an after-work unwind.”
“It’ll be fine! More than fine! Everyone’s loving it,” Baz interjects. “Come now, what’s your color, Lucas? Any secret boyfriends we know nothing about? Are you gonna be a wildcard-red?”
“As if,” says Lucas, letting out a little puff of air as he reaches for a couple of fluorescent green bracelets, taking the jacket of his black suit off neatly and gently passing it out to the girl receiving them. He rolls the sleeves of his white dress shirt once, twice, three times; letting the green bands shine brightly against pale forearms. A moment later Arthur is on him, painting green stripes below his eyes. Lucas feels branded, as if he has somehow identified himself as prey. Single, ready, jump ahead. The next moment, Baz has materialized a drink out of thin air. Vodka, neat. He downs half of the glass in one go, the other half is gone a moment after. Lucas can already feel the alcohol softening his thoughts, relishes the way it burns pleasurably at his throat. Someone fills his cup as soon as he is done with the first, and he feels the worry melting into the back of his mind until he’s focused on this, and this only. Not drunk, not yet, but getting there.
Lucas starts making his way in, sipping his drink more slowly this time and carefully avoiding eye contact, in case it invites unwanted conversation. He only invited one client, Chloé, who he can see now sitting by the bar, a Cosmopolitan in one hand, her iPhone in the other. He had recently assisted with a settlement for her father’s mine business, and Chloé had been instrumental in the matter. Where her father was unreasonable and impossibly demanding, she was kind and quick to offer solutions. Over the many months it took to settle the deal, they had discovered an affinity for style, music, and men. A somewhat similarly complicated relationship with their families sort of sealed the deal, and to the surprise of both of them, they had ended up becoming close friends.
“Chloé, thank God.”
“Lucas!” she says, looking up from an open text on her phone. “Finally, I’ve been messaging you.”
“Sorry, I haven’t been checking my phone since the taxi. Have you been waiting long?”
“No, it’s okay, only around 15 minutes,” she says. She seems to finally take a good look at him. “Hey, are you okay? You don’t look that well.”
“Me? Yeah, good, I’m fine,” he lies. “Maybe I drank that first vodka too fast? It’s good, though.”
“Uhm, if you say so,” she says, looking unconvinced. She seems to decide to let it go. “So… when is your friend coming?”
“Yann?” He asks, signaling the bartender for another drink. When he has her attention, he asks for a cranberry vodka and then goes back to Chloé. “I think he might be arriving around 8:30 or 9:00. He gets late out off work, especially now when the campaign is picking up.”
“Political staffer, it must be so exciting…” she says, a dreamy look on her face. She had been nursing a crush on Yann since he arrived unannounced to Lucas’s apartment the very same day that they had closed the settlement for her father. Later, Chloé had told Lucas that she had never met someone who was both so idealistic yet so adamant on making positive change happen. In her world, those things simply didn't coexist. She was charmed. “Do you like this? Do I look okay?”
She does. She decided on a long-sleeved mini black dress, her hair out of her face in an elegant bun. Her lips are a soft, creamy shade of pink. Below her eyes, she sports carefully applied green polka dots. “Gorgeous,” he says, pressing an affectionate kiss on her cheek.
Ah, fuck. Eliott. Looking at Lucas like he could eat him whole.
For the first time since Lucas met him, he doesn't say his name with a smile. Eliott doesn’t comment on his clothes, or his drink, or the state of his hair. His eyes zero on Lucas’ hand, still resting gently in Chloé’s waist from where he had leaned in to kiss her cheek, and then go to the green stripes below his eyes. Eliott’s stripes are a bright red. If possible, Lucas gets even angrier. Of course, of course he had someone. He fucking knew it.
“Hey,” Lucas said, the picture of nonchalance.
“Hi!” Chloé says, appearing immune to the tension radiating out of Lucas’ body until she feels his hand squeeze tighter against her waist. “Uh. Chloé. Nice to meet you.”
Eliott barely spares her a glance. “Likewise,” he says. To Lucas: “Can we talk?”
“Sorry, busy right now,” Lucas realizes that he should have dropped his hand a while ago, that he is sending a purposely misconstrued image. But he doesn’t care, he really doesn’t. Sometime during the last hour, the alcohol and the pass of time had turned his anxiety into anger. He’s angrier than he remembers being for a very long time, and he knows he doesn’t really have a reason to be, which in turn just makes him feel even more pissed off. He feels like he is burning with it, and he needs Eliott to feel it, too. “Is this about payment? You can find Daphné, she’ll sort you out.” He stops, goes for his more bored, unaffected tone. “You did end up bringing the stuff, right?
Eliott looks like he just slapped him. “Of course I did, how can you ask that?”
Lucas shrugs, stares at a spot somewhere above his shoulder. “You never confirmed. Your last message was before noon.”
“Fuck, Lucas, I know. I’m sorry, okay?” He gets one step closer, tries to make eye contact again. “My phone died and I didn’t even think of charging it because I still had so many things to finish. I should have let you know I was going to be later than anticipated, but of course I was coming. And everything is here, everything. Emma and Alexia are putting the sweets in the kitchen now.”
Lucas looks at him, and he sees, he can tell, he’s sorry. He doesn’t know if it’s the alcohol, or a deep part of him that is just ugly and petty and broken. But when he sees Eliott’s face all that he focuses on is redredred. All that he can feel is his own hurt, his own idiocy.
He smiles. “I understand, don’t worry, seriously,” he takes his hand from Chloé’s waist and readjusts it around her shoulder. “Now, if you excuse us, I promised Chloé here that I would get her a shot downstairs.”
Lucas forces himself to put one foot in front of the other, dragging his friend almost all the way downstairs before he can even think of looking back.
“What… what just happened?” Chloé asks, her voice doing that high-pitch thing it does sometimes when she is very agitated. “Did you just use me as your beard? Lucas? Who is that guy? Lucas!”
“Chloé, shh,” Lucas says, looking behind her to make sure Eliott is not at hearing distance. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t on purpose. You were just sort of… there? So it was convenient. I’m sorry, that was a bit fucked up.”
“Yeah, you think?” She says, rolling her eyes at him, somehow managing to make the gesture seem fond. “You are gay, remember?”
“How could I ever forget,” he murmurs. “Honestly, I would have probably done the same if it was Yann standing next to me. If anything this only proves that we are at a friendship level where I am real enough to show you just how much of an idiot I can be. Congrats, Chlo: I trust you.”
“And I trust you,” she says, her voice soft. Sad. Fuck. “Listen, fuck it, okay? Let’s get those shots. And you can tell me all about mystery guy later, don’t let him see you upset.”
“Sure,” he says, this time trying for a genuine smile. “Just one shot for you, though, remember last time.”
“Ha, you were in worse shape than me.”
“That’s physically impossible.”
They continue bickering all the way down to the basement bar, dodging dancing bodies and people sitting on every possible available surface, from discarded boxes to what appears to be a broken piano. The lower level is bigger than the entrance, but just barely: one chamber opens into a sort of lounge that has the appearance of a post-war crypt, yet somehow still manages to be tasteful. The second chamber is slightly bigger, but barely – you wouldn’t be able to tell from the number of people pressed against each other in the dancefloor. On a corner, a pretty DJ with a short snakeskin skirt and long braided hair mixes reggaeton, bachata, and merengue, the unfamiliar, sensual rhythms seem to be doing wonders as an ice-breaker for those playing traffic light. In the almost complete darkness of the venue, Lucas sees flashes of green, yellow and red glimmer and flicker all around him, the colors mixing in his mind until they blur.
He knows three drinks in less than an hour is not necessarily wise, yet he downs the tequila shot as soon as he’s presented with it, wincing only slightly at the aftertaste. At least it’s good quality, he thinks, otherwise, it would taste like fuel. It sort of does, anyway. Chloé seems to be ready to ask him if he wants a second one when a guy in a sharp grey suit stands next to them in the bar. “Vodka & cran, yeah?” he says, staring at Lucas with a raised eyebrow, drawing attention to the drink in his hand.
Lucas hesitates only a second before taking it. “Yeah. Hi.”
The guy flashes a blinding smile before leaning in the counter and getting infinitely closer to him, the movement practiced and smooth. “Hello. Alex, I’m with Goldman Sachs.”
Ah. Another one of Manon’s. “Lucas, I’m in the DR group. This is my friend Chloé, the majority owner of Newmont.”
“The mining company?” the guy, Alex, looks impressed. “That’s cool. I read you just made it into the Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens List.”
“Number 16,” says Chloé, with a warm smile towards Lucas, who helped her through the long, hard battle that was making all those changes in her company. “Starting this year. If we must mine, it should be done responsibly. Our hope is that our competitors follow our lead.”
“Even if that takes away your competitive advantage?” Alex asks, clearly surprised.
“Of course,” she doesn’t hesitate. “What’s right should always be prioritized over what’s satisfactory, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I thought so,” she says, with a final smile. She looks over their shoulders quickly and then hastens to make a goodbye: “I must go to the ladies room. If you excuse me now…”
She gives Lucas a pointed look, and he has the presence of mind to sneak a glance behind himself as she leaves. There is Eliott, standing a couple of meters to the right with a pretty girl with blue hair and brown eyes. She’s on the short side and has an eclectic monochrome outfit, pants, shirt, and shoes are all different shades of orange. Instead of picking one color for her bracelets, she has green, yellow and red adorning her wrists, as well as tiny polka dots of the same colors painted above her brows and cheeks, like freckles out of a feverish dream. She’s talking to Eliott but he doesn’t seem to be listening, all the while drilling holes into Lucas’ skull. When they make eye contact he raises an eyebrow and Lucas looks away.
“Problems with the boyfriend?”
“What?” Lucas says, almost choking on the word.
“Dude, come on,” Alex says, giving him a knowing little smirk. “You can cut the sexual tension with a knife. If he fucked up and you want me to help…”
“I – what, how could you? And, wait, would you?”
“Are you kidding?” Alex leans closer, talking closely next to his ear. “I love drama. Dance with me?”
“Sure, why wait?”
“I don’t really know how to dance to this type of music…” Lucas says, doubtful.
“So? Me neither,” Alex shrugs. “We need liquid courage first.” He orders two more shots, holding the lime between his thumb and forefinger and encouraging Lucas to lean in and squeeze it with his lips. Just before he does, he stares back at Eliott, just to see if he’s looking back. He is, a murderous look in place. Good.
This time, when Alex asks him to dance again, Lucas says yes. Because he wants to dance, because Eliott didn’t ask, because Eliott is staring, because of Eliott’s red stripes. More than anything, because Lucas wants to know what he will do.
Integrating into the mass of dancing bodies is as easy as taking a few steps into the center of the room, where they are immediately flanked on all sides. The music is fast and has a deep beat, and at first, Lucas worries about what he is doing, how he looks. But then he realizes he’s beyond the point of caring, he just wants to move. He closes his eyes and lets himself actually feel the music, more than just listen to it. He spins, jumps and moves his hands in place, barely aware of Alex to his front, everyone else around him. Time feels elastic and malleable, he could be dancing to just one song or an infinite amount of them when he feels a firm presence behind him, a solid hand pressed around his waist. He is about to say something to Alex when he speaks.
“You don’t know how to dance,” Eliott whispers in his ear, and Lucas actually shivers.
“Fuck you, of course I do.”
“You do, but not to this,” Eliott says. “And although watching you is nice, I think I can teach you better than your last dance partner. Who seems to be busy now, by the way.”
Lucas opens his eyes to see Alex flirting with one of Daphne’s clients. He curses gently under his breath.
“Whatever, I don’t need anyone teaching me,” Lucas’s tone is dismissive, yet he makes no attempt to move away from Eliott’s hand on his waist.
“But it’s so easy and you’ll learn so fast,” Elliot breathes on his ear while he gets a step closer to him, the movement pressing his chest flush to Lucas’s back. His hand slides slowly from his waist to his right hip, holding him in place. “Don’t you want to learn?”
Lucas doesn’t trust himself to speak, so instead, he just nods weakly, sure that Eliott will feel the movement against his shoulder.
“Okay, so this type of music, it’s all about the hips,” Eliott explains. To illustrate, he squeezes his hip a little. “No matter how fast or slow a song goes, the beat is almost always the same. Close your eyes. Feel it.”
He does. What he feels is Eliott all around him, his senses overloaded by him. His hands on him, his voice in his ear, his smell, sweet and warm, like pastries. He bites a groan before it can leave his throat.
“Okay… good. You are feeling it,” Eliott says, approval clear on his voice. “Now lean in your knees, just a little bit. No, that’s too much, just a little. Good, like that. Okay, now rotate your hips a little… think of drawing a number eight… here, let me…”
He places his other hand on his left hip and moves him, making contact minutely with his own hips. Lucas places one hand on top of one of his, unsure of if he’s about to move Eliott away or hold him closer before his knees give in, but before he can make a decision Eliott spins him until they are standing in front of each other. As if choreographed, balloons and small confetti stars rain all over and around the dance floor, making everyone cheer and dance with even more energy than before.
Lucas stands still in Eliott’s arms, whose skin is a shiny mess of sweat, glitter, and stars. On anyone else it would look disgusting, on Eliott, the effect is mesmerizing. Lucas sees him, like a mirage, a kaleidoscopic vision of color and sound. He wants him so much he almost can’t take it — he’s resumed to a thing that wantswantswants and the only thing he wants is Eliott.
“Forgive me,” he says, his lips next to Lucas’s temple.
It’s the wording that undoes Lucas. Forgive me. He doesn’t say he’s sorry again, instead, he asks for his forgiveness. He puts himself in a position where he knows he could be rejected. He gives Lucas the power to decide whatever is going to happen next.
Lucas feels the rest of his anger melt away, and realizes that somehow his hands have attached themselves to the front of Eliott’s black t-shirt. His thoughts are a blur, and he can’t think, he really can’t, shy and unsure and unable to meet his eye. He thinks he feels Eliott’s lips on his neck, the touch imperceptible and barely-there, gone before he can determine if it happened or if the vodka is enabling his mind to indulge wish-fulfilling thoughts. He wonders if Eliott will kiss him. He hopes he does.
But then he looks up to see his face and sees a flash of red again.
“Wait, no, I can’t think,” Lucas says.
“Are you okay?” Eliott gets out of his space immediately. “This is too crowded, wait, let’s just get out of here.”
The hand that just one moment was expertly attached to his hip grasps his hand instead, guiding him away from the heat and noise of the party. They go up the stairs again, and then across a dimly lit hallway, and before he knows it they have somehow reached the kitchen. There are a few stray cooks and waiters roaming around, enlisting more trays and champagne glasses. Eliott guides Lucas to the end of the space and points him to a chair. A minute later he passes him a glass: “here, new drink.”
Lucas takes a sip. “This is just water.”
“Come on, you seriously didn’t think I was giving you more alcohol?”
“And you were gonna drink it anyway?” Eliott is shaking his head. “Lucas. I’m concerned about your self-preservation instinct.”
“You have none,” Eliott says with a pained smile. “Do you want some pastries? Food?”
“I don’t think I have it in me to eat anything just yet,” he murmurs, drinking more of the water instead.
“Okay, that’s good too,” Eliott says, bringing closer the whole jug.
“I thought you broke up with your girlfriend,” Lucas says. Because fuck it. He’s drunk, and apparently, he has no self-preservation skills.
“Uhm? I did, more than a week ago.”
“Your face. It’s red.”
Eliott frowns and touches his face like he’s feeling for a fever. After a moment, his fingertips brush the hardened paint against his cheeks. “Ah, that. Yeah, no girlfriend. Or boyfriend. I just didn’t want strangers to try anything with me. Seemed like the easiest way of avoiding that complication.”
Was boyfriend an option? “Wait, you can do that?” Lucas asks, feeling like an absolute idiot. “They said red was ‘taken,’ as in a relationship.”
Eliott shrugs. “In my book, red only means ‘don’t approach’. And I had no intention of being approached. I just wanted to make the delivery and find you.”
Lucas can’t bring himself to look him in the eye. Partly because he’s embarrassed, partly because he thinks that if he does, Eliott will see a relief as wide and deep as the ocean showing in his face.
“I know you don’t trust me yet,” Eliott says after a moment. “But you will. You’ll have no choice but to.”
That gets him to look up. “So confident, are we?”
Eliott just laughs, and Lucas can’t believe just how much he missed the sound. He briefly closes his eyes to be able to enjoy it better, but Eliott mistakes the gesture for exhaustation.
“Let’s get out of here,” Eliott says, softly. “We can split a cab.”
“The firm is paying for employee and personal transportation,” Lucas says, jaded. Fuck, he really had too much to drink. His head is simultaneously spinning and uncharacteristically still. “It’s not necessary for you to go out of your way.”
“We are both in Brooklyn anyway,” Eliott says. “It’s fine.”
Lucas is about to say yes, already standing from his chair, and then he remembers. “Actually, do you care to walk there?”
“You want to cross the bridge? Now?”
“I’m in the mood to see the stars.”
Many thanks to my darling Clara for editing this. You might know her from a little blog called Skam France. She's cool. Go say hi.
I have decided to share my mood board with you because I think some might enjoy it. Maybe you'll also enjoy my story playlist. This is how I want this story to look and feel, but it's not necessary to follow to understand. If you think it might detract from it, please disregard.
Again, any comments and feedback are appreciated (Discord friends: I love your Discord comments, but I think I actually prefer if you comment here? That way I can re-read your comments again and again, and be happy, again and again). If you wanna talk to me on Tumblr you can do it here:luielu
Chapter 4: Crescendo
a gradual, steady increase in loudness or force
the climactic point or moment in such an increase; the peak
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lucas has been hungover before, but this is different. He can feel his brain throbbing in his head like it doesn’t belong to him, every thrum hammering and buzzing, telling him that waking up was a mistake.
He groans again. With feeling.
“What are you—,” he starts. Stops. "Why?”
“Lovely to see you are still quite the conversationalist in the morning,” Yann comments, and Lucas can hear the humor in his voice even if he can’t see it—due to having his eyes permanently shut. The bright morning light is too much for him to handle right now. “Here, drink this.”
Another groan. “What is this ? I can’t drink anything anymore, man, I’m done.”
“You can,” Yann says simply, his voice sounding closer. He pushes a cup into his hand. “And you don’t really want to know what’s in there. But it’ll help, I promise.”
He considers refusing, or at least taking a peak with one eye to check what it is that he’s drinking, but once again he uses fuck it as his ultimate decision maker. Lucas takes a deep breath and chugs the whole thing in one go.
He almost spits it out again.
“Yann. What… the fuck. Is that?”
“Sorry,” Yann says, and he seems to mean it. “It’s a hangover recipe I learned while we were in the campaign run last month. It has half a cup of soda, a couple of Alka Seltzers, a full cup of lemon. Some Gatorade, ginger, a bit of salt…”
“You want to poison me, I see. So much for being best friends.”
“Say whatever you want, it’s effective,” Yann insists. “Just give it a minute, you’ll feel better.”
“Maybe just stick to campaigning, yeah?” Lucas says, but there’s no malice behind it. Carefully, carefully, he opens his eyes. He needs a moment to adjust to the brightness of the room, how the sunlight enters through the exposed windows of his loft and touches every surface of the space. He had originally picked up this place because of the windows. Gorgeous, imposing floor-to-ceiling windows that make the Manhattan skyline appear so close to him that he can almost touch it while laying down, the East river impossibly large as it surrounds the entire island. He can see out, but no one can see in—perfect for him.
Sure, the place is tiny, with the modern kitchen located directly in front of his king-sized bed, but it’s tastefully decorated, he doesn’t have a roommate and he can afford it. In New York, that’s called success. More importantly, it’s his. The first place that he has been able to own, the first place where he has felt safe. He doesn’t have to worry about being kicked out for not paying rent on time, he doesn’t have to forego sleeping due to another heated argument between his parents, he doesn’t have to go through the embarrassment of asking his friends to lend him a sofa to spend the night. He can be alone, either by choice or by chance.
Mostly by chance, these days.
“How did you get here, anyway?” Lucas asks warily, finally taking a good look at his best friend. He was supposed to see him at the party yesterday, but with all the Eliott-induced stress he never got to meet with Yann or even send him a text to know if he was going to show up or not.
Yann looks like he always does. Handsome, kind. Self-assured in a tangible way that Lucas can never quite seem to grasp or emulate. The characteristic has always been there, underlying everything, since he’s known him. It’s probably what prompted Lucas’s infatuation for him when they were still in school, when everything was still confusing, when he needed to feel some kind of security. For so long, Yann has been it. The closest he has ever felt to having a home, if people can be described as such.
“You gave me a key the day you moved in, you idiot,” Yann replies, falling into bed with him with a plop , almost dislodging Lucas with the unnecessary force of the movement. “So. You abandoned me at a party where I didn’t know anyone for a dude. Alright, I see how it is. What happened to bros before hoes, bro ? I’m hurt.”
“First, I’ve regretted giving you that key since the moment I did it. It was supposed to be for emergencies,” Lucas emphasizes the word gravely, since he doesn’t think Yann understands what an emergency qualifies as. He seems to think that having a key basically means he can forego ringing the doorbell altogether. “Second, I couldn’t abandon you since you weren’t even there .”
“But I was there! I just happened to arrive after you left. With a dude,” the last part is almost a whisper, Yann seems to be aiming for a conspiratory tone. “And a hot one at that, apparently. Care to explain why I haven’t been informed about this new development in your life?”
“There is nothing to inform, it’s just Eliott. He works in this bakery that’s right next to the office.”
“Lucas, cut the BS. Chloé told me there was drama,” he says, matter-of-fact. “She didn’t tell me what kind of drama because she’s a good friend and she is loyal to you and more pressingly because she actually doesn’t know what are the specifics of the drama. But this is me. Spill, come on.”
“Yann, fuck off.”
“Lucas, you know I will just stay here until you tell me. I will start eating your food, play your video games, annoy you into telling me,” Yann says, with the tone of voice of someone that thinks he is being completely reasonable. “You are not doing that suppressing-my-emotions thing you did in high school where it was obvious that you were having a bad time but you just wouldn’t tell me about it and then suffered through shit alone. Nah, you are telling me. Sooner or later. I suggest sooner, for your own peace of mind.”
“Alright, alright. God. You are annoying,” Lucas says, pressing his palms against his eyes, looking for a few moments to have the sweet relief of darkness again. “I’m only telling you because I’m still too hungover to deal with you. Okay, I think I like him.”
“You don’t say.”
“Yann, don’t be funny. This is shit.”
“Why? Is he not into guys?”
“I don’t think so?” Lucas says, still, after all, unsure. “He made a comment yesterday about not having a girlfriend or boyfriend.”
“So he let you know, clearly, that he is single while emphasizing the fact that he is not straight. Yes, this is such a mystery.”
Lucas groans, loudly. “I hate you so much.”
“No, you don’t,” Yann says easily. “But honestly, I really don’t see the problem here? A hot guy seems to be into you. You are already talking. You say you think you like him. No issues, in my book.”
“What if he just wants to be friendly? He hasn’t been living in New York that long, I don’t think, maybe he just wants a new friend. Also,” Lucas continues. “Even if he likes guys, it doesn’t mean he likes me .”
“Right, but according to Chloé—and I’m sure everyone else that saw you in that restaurant—he seemed to be pretty into you.”
“You guys need to stop talking about me so you can actually talk about each other. I don’t see how discussing the guys I’m into or not counts as foreplay, for either of you.”
“Lucas, I’m a gentleman. You know I don’t kiss and tell. However, you don’t know what counts as foreplay for me. You don’t know what I’m into.”
“Right, and I never want to know.”
“Right. But anyway, yeah. I still don’t see any issues here.”
“Okay, okay. But what if he likes me,” Lucas says, and even though the words are hypothetical, they taste like honey on his lips. He savors them before continuing: “What if he likes me, and we date, and I get really into him, even more than I already am, and he realizes that I’m angry, and anxious, and overworked, and that I never have time, and that I’m a mess — a disaster, really. What if I like him more and more while he likes me less and less? What if that happens, Yann? What then?”
“Has anyone ever told you,” Yann questions, extraordinarily calm. “That you are way too angsty for your age?”
Lucas unceremoniously drops a pillow over his own face. “I won’t listen or see you. I’m now pretending you aren’t here. But yes, actually, I’ve been told.”
“Mika,” Lucas confirms under the pillow.
“Say hi to him from me next time you talk.”
“Will do,” Lucas says, still under the pillow.
“Okay, I’m just gonna say what I have to say,” Yann says, with that earnest voice that he sometimes gets when he is talking about good causes and saving the world. “You don’t know what’s gonna happen. I don’t either. Nobody knows. I know you like having control, and most often than not you take control by ending things before they can start, but Lucas, I really hope you don’t do that this time. Just try to take it completely chill and see what happens.”
“It’s really hard to just wait and “see” what happens for me,” Lucas says. “You know I’ve never worked that way.”
“I know, Lucas. Believe me, I do,” Yann says, because if anyone understands who Lucas is, how his mind works, it’s him. “I just think that you are overthinking it. And that you know you are overthinking it. And that exploring a possibility doesn’t mean you have to commit to it. I mean, you are just starting to get to know each other, you don’t know what's gonna happen. Perhaps he has strange habits like biting his toenails or he is a secret cannibal. Dude. Maybe he doesn’t recycle! What if... he doesn’t… recycle? Lucas? You couldn’t possibly like him then.”
Lucas smiles despite himself. “Nah, he’s annoyingly perfect. I’m sure he recycles and he doesn’t eat people or his own toenails.”
“As Hannah Montana would say: Nobody is perfect.”
Lucas hates himself a little for thinking I gotta work it! before continuing. “Well, I guess you are right… he is kind of an atrocious texter.”
“Yeah, dude. Awful grammar, no capitalization, he sends double and triple messages, is super inconsistent about texting times. It’s a lot.”
“And yet, you enjoy it, right?”
Lucas sighs. “I do… I really do. Fuck, why ?”
“Who cares about why! This is great! I’m telling you, it’s great. Just take it chill, see what happens,” With that, Yann starts standing up, making his way to Lucas’ kitchen. “If you like texting him, maybe you should text him now.”
“Now? Why now? Isn’t a bit too early? I don’t wanna be too desperate.”
“More desperate that leaving you breakfast and a note?” Yann asks, raising an eyebrow and grabbing his messenger bag from where he threw it on the white marble countertop.
“A what now?” Lucas asks, standing so quickly that his head, which until now was actually feeling better, spins.
“There’s a box here filled with pastries—and I’m taking a few with me, by the way, because I couldn’t try them all yesterday—and a little paper attached to it. Since you left with him, and he is a chef and all, I’m assuming that they are from him. If I were you, I would say something along the lines of ‘ Thanks for breakfast, wanna come over and eat with me ?’ Tongue-out emoji optional.”
“You have no game,” Lucas says, rolling his eyes.
“Tell that to Chloé.”
“Wait, so, something did happen? Details!”
“I’m not giving you details, Lucas, you don’t deserve them. I told you that you are forbidden from rolling your eyes at me.”
“Whatever, Chloé will tell me,” Lucas says, this time rolling his eyes theatrically.
“And that’s my cue. If you have the energy to be petty, you have the energy to get your life together,” Yann heads towards the door, one brioche in hand, the rest of the pastries he took safely stored in his bag. “Seriously, dude, you’ve got this. Don’t close yourself to something you want now just because you are too scared of what will come tomorrow. You can deal with that later.”
Lucas forces himself to just say it. “But what if it ends?”
“For now, just focus on getting it started,” Yann says with an encouraging smile. “I’ll be here for whatever happens after. See you later, Lucas.”
“Remember to ring the fucking doorbell next time!” Lucas screams behind him, but Yann has already closed the door behind him. For a few moments, Lucas finds himself in the middle of the apartment, staring at the blank walls. He never really got around to hang any art or photographs on them. When he comes back to it, he sees tiny dust particles floating against the pale-gold light coming through the windows, realizes that the apartment feels warmer than what he is used to when he wakes up to get ready for work or when he forces himself to go for a run and study his new cases on weekends.
He sees the sun hanging heavily in the middle of a cloudless sky, it must be noon already. In the distance, he spots the traffic around Brooklyn Bridge, the cars looking toy-like and fragile. He wonders how it would feel to take one on his hand and squeeze until there was nothing at all, just abstract pieces of metal, paint, and oil.
The city looks like a playground on the horizon, compressed, something that he could smash easily below his feet, if he wanted to. It would be so easy, he thinks, easier than dealing with its residents, the incongruence of his emotions. He stares and stares, noticing the way life moves below him: Au pairs walking with the rich children in their care; a handsome ginger cat that Lucas decides to name Ron on a whim; the owner of the Chinese nail salon in the corner, smoking a cigarette leisurely as she scrolls through her phone. On and on, on and on, these are things to see but not to belong. He can see out, but no one can see in. Lucas feels such impossible heaviness.
He is distracted by a rumble from his stomach, surprised by his own hunger. He considers whipping himself some eggs and bacon, knows the grease will get rid of the rest of his hangover (although, surprisingly, Yann’s monstrous concoction has helped). He could simply bypass and ignore the box, sure, but that would be rude, he reasons, and also, just eat the pastries without reading the note? No manners at all. He can’t be that person. He takes the ripped piece of paper with unsure fingers, flattens it in, starts reading:
Thanks for inviting me to stay over. That was very nice of you, but I hope you understand why I didn’t think it was precisely the best idea. Maybe another time? I figured you would be hungry in the morning so I put a few leftovers in this box before we left the restaurant. Also, I don’t think you ate anything during the party (and perhaps that’s why the Vodka hit so hard…). Call this professional vanity, but I would love it if you tried my stuff. I would probably start with the Viennoiseries (which we kinda stole from Vienna in the 1840s, but that’s a story for another day) but I wouldn’t blame you if you are tempted by a Paris-Brest.
P.S.: Let me know how you like them, yeah?
P.S. 2: Don’t worry about work, I told Emma to tell Daphné that you were probably taking the day. Daphné said that there are no partners there, so don’t fret over it (but that you do owe her)
P.S. 3: You look good when you are sleeping (and you fall asleep extraordinarily fast)
Well, okay. Lucas has been called oblivious on his time, but even he thinks that there is simply no heterosexual explanation for the note, correct?
He racks his brain trying to remember when he invited Eliott to stay over. It’s not that he was too drunk to forget—he remembers everything that happened last night, on general lines—it’s just that he was probably too mortified by his own idiocy to record the interaction on his memories on a permanent basis. But Eliott said he wanted to rain check. And he said he looks good sleeping (does that mean he put him to bed himself? He waited until he was asleep to leave?) and Lucas is a little tired, frankly, of denying himself.
So after thinking it over—and over, and over, and over—he sends him a text:
To: Eliott (Baker)
Friday, 1:51 pm
Hey, thanks again for yesterday. And the pastries (I ate them all in one go…) were very good. Do you maybe wanna hang out later? We could go to that cinema that you said you liked, if you want.
And he gets a reply, not too long after:
From: Eliott (Baker)
Friday, 2:16 pm
no worries glad u liked them :-D
I would love that but maybe another day? I’m kinda beat tbh
from the last few days and from walking over bridges…
From: Eliott (Baker)
Friday, 2:17 pm
To: Eliott (Baker)
Friday, 2:18 pm
From: Eliott (Baker)
Friday, 2:25 pm
if ur really set on movies maybe we can just stay in idk
your place or mine
To: Eliott (Baker)
Friday, 2:25 pm
Sure, mine is fine
If you wnat
From: Eliott (Baker)
Friday, 2:26 pm
To: Eliott (Baker)
Friday, 2:26 pm
Also, adding noses to smileys is weird
From: Eliott (Baker)
Friday, 2:29 pm
you like weird
To: Eliott (Baker)
Friday, 2:26 pm
See you later
It’s 6:45 pm and Lucas is freaking out.
He has cleaned his house (two times), changed his outfit (three times) and gone to the store to pick up some snacks (one time). It’s excessive, but the process of doing it made him feel better, in control. His nerves and anxiety are still there, simmering underneath it all, threatening to spill out. But Lucas swallows them in, drinks some water in hopes of drowning them out.
Maybe he’ll be late.
Time to clean out the fridge.
Maybe he’ll reschedule.
Perhaps he should take this opportunity to iron all his clothes.
Maybe he won’t come at all.
Alright, he’ll just work on a case, then.
He’s still in the process of replying to a Request for Proposal for a Chilean company accused of malpractice when the buzzer rings from downstairs.
Deep breaths. “Yes?”
“Mr. Lallemant, a guest for you,” the building’s concierge informs. “One Mr. Eliott Demaury.”
“Uh, yeah. Thanks, Frank. Please let him in.”
“As you wish.”
Lucas stands up. Sits again. Stands. Tries to fix his hair in front of the mirror right next to the door, unintentionally makes it stand up even more. While he’s at it, he considers quickly changing from the grey hoodie he put on, which he had chosen because it looks comfortable but not like he was trying too hard. Before he can even take one step in the closet’s direction, though, Eliott rings his doorbell.
He’s pretty, interesting and he rings doorbells, Lucas thinks, somewhat dazed. Dream man.
He opens the door. “Hi.”
“Hello,” Eliott says, a small smile adorning his mouth. He stands there for a moment, looking at Lucas, who is at a loss for words, because shit he is here and he is even a little earlier than anticipated and I don’t know what to say now what should I say now , but before the silence can be too wide, too uncomfortable, too unbearable, Eliott speaks again: “I got us snacks,” he says, bringing one hand up to show him a fabric tote bag filled with what seems like popcorn, Doritos, Oreos, and a few other things that Lucas can’t quite determine.
“What is it with you and feeding me?” Lucas says, finally standing aside to let him in.
“I don’t know, maybe I keep thinking that if you just eat enough, you’ll grow a few centimeters more.”
Lucas lets out a startled laugh, lightly hits Eliott in the arm. “Fuck you, I happen to prefer staying closer to the floor, thank you.”
“Honestly, me too,” Eliott says, a faux-haunted look in his eyes. “I’m scared of heights, you see. Terrified. I have to take sleeping pills every time I take a flight.”
“Yeah? and how often is that?” Lucas says, curious.
“Often enough. Either for volunteering or an internship.”
“Where have you been, so far?”
“Well, my apprenticeship lasted two years, in Paris. Then I was in Toulouse for another couple of years, for my BTM Pâtissier, which is like, a chef’s diploma of sorts. Then a year in Kyoto,” Eliott says, a fond smile illuminating his features. “Hawaii for half a year, Cartagena for another six months. That’s where I learned to dance, actually.”
Lucas wonders if Eliott said that on purpose to give him an opportunity to talk about last night. If it is, he doesn’t take it. He’s too scared of what it would mean, what it would entail to discuss it. “That is quite impressive. You have… you have traveled a lot”
“Yeah, it was fun, and I learned a lot. New York should be the last one, for a while,” he says while turning away from him, finally putting the snacks over the counter table, where he sees Lucas’ laptop. “Don’t tell me you were working.”
“Overworking is for suckers and for squares, Lucas,” Eliott says, crossing his arms.
“And I pledge my allegiance to both parties,” Lucas replies easily.
“.... even suckers, huh?”
“Eliott, Jesus Christ.”
It takes a second for both of them to start laughing hysterically. Lucas thinks how unbelievably easy it is.
When Lucas is alone, he is a thing made of pins and needles, nerves and anxiety which he covers up with impatience and rage. Like getting into a top law school, and subsequently graduating from it, he has learned to cope with these feelings by staying on top of them, by extending an extraordinary amount of control over himself and his surroundings, the people he decides to be with.
When Lucas is with Eliott, he is a thing made of butterflies and honey, anticipation and ease. He laughs easier, the muscles in his jaw and shoulders feel looser, he doesn’t think about what he needs to do next, he thinks about what he wants to do now.
And what he wants to do now is kiss Eliott.
He wants to, so badly, has wanted to since that very first time, at the shop. He imagines running his hands through Eliott’s hair, softly at first, roughly later. He imagines kissing him on his velvety bed, Eliott hovering over him, dazed. Or even better, having Eliott kissing him against the hard surface of his windows, pushing firmly into his body until it blends with the night sky, the very same skyline they walked together the night before.
“Do you ever miss the stars?” Eliott asks, looking at the sky over their heads, perfectly starless. Even inebriated, Lucas can hear a longing so deep that it almost shatters something inside of him.
It’s a little cold, the taps of their shoes make a hollow sound against the wooden floor of the bridge. Around them, the river moves and moves, not stopping for anything or anyone.
“I — ”
The moment is gone.
“Are you hungry?” Eliott says.
“Again with that?”
“Only asking because I am hungry, since I came here straight from my nap and if I had made something to eat I would have been late,” Eliott explains. “And I really, truly, didn’t want to be late again.”
The implication hangs heavy in the air.
He continues. “So I was wondering if you were hungry, perhaps I could cook us something? If you are okay with me using your kitchen.”
“Uh, sure,” Lucas says, now cursing himself for not going grocery shopping in like… ever. “I usually order takeout, though, so don’t bother? Not sure I have much stuff in there.”
“Creativity goes a long way with cooking, don’t worry,” Eliott says, taking a look at his fridge and cabinets. “Do you wanna set up the film? What are we watching, by the way?”
“Uh, I don’t know. Whatever you want, I don’t really mind,” Lucas says. He occupies himself browsing through the film categories in Netflix, Amazon, Hulu.
He is so immersed by it that he is surprised when Eliott sits by his side a little while after, arranging a plate in front of him. Distracted, Lucas takes a bite and promptly spits it out. “Dude! What the fuck is that!”
“A wrap with eggs, bacon, guacamole, hummus, sardines and strawberry jam.”
“Why,” Lucas says, talking to no one in particular. “Is everyone set on poisoning me today. I just don’t get it. But you! You are a chef! You should know how to cook!”
Eliott shrugs, delicately taking a bite of his wrap. “I only know how to bake, actually. Most people are not fans of my food.”
“And I can see why.”
“You can starve, then.”
“I have your snacks, plus mine, plus some of your pastries,” Lucas says, raising an eyebrow. “I’ll be alright.”
Eliott laughs. “Alright, then. Do you know what we are watching?”
“What about Terminator? Inglourious Basterds?”
“Lucas… no,” Eliott says, categorically. “We are not… that’s not… no. No.”
Lucas rolls his eyes at him again, pursing his lips a little. “I asked you what you wanted to see, okay? Just play whatever you want.”
While Eliott starts scrolling through the movie options with a satisfied smile, Lucas takes a moment to stand and go serve themselves some drinks, start pouring the popcorn and Doritos into different bowls. He places cookies and cakes in hollow plates, acid gummy snakes and rich dark chocolate in slightly smaller dishes. He doesn’t really have a couch since there isn’t room in the apartment for it, so he places everything in the center of his large bed, carefully arranging and rearranging the pillows to have an excuse to do something.
He considers pulling out some blankets but the night doesn’t really warrant them. It’s not extraordinarily hot yet, the intense, humid heat will probably arrive by the end of June or the early days of July, but he still feels a stifling sensation in the air, just below his skin.
Eliott looks cool like air.
Lucas discards his hoodie quickly.
“Okay, ready,” Eliott says. “You’ll love this.”
“A cartoon?” Lucas asks, taking a look at the screen and leveling Eliott with an unimpressed stare.
“Not a cartoon, Lucas—an animated film. Miyazaki’s masterpiece, no less! You’ll love it, I’m sure you will. The main character is kinda like you.”
“Extremely good looking and lovable?”
“I was thinking hard-working, stubborn and a little grumpy,” Eliott admits with a laugh.
“You suck,” Lucas says easily, cheerily.
“I thought you were the sucker?”
“I’m not talking to you anymore. Play the film.”
He does. They accommodate against the frame and start watching the film, and Lucas is so nervous of being alone with Eliott on his bed, in the darkness, that he has trouble telling his body to stop fidgeting. He has half a mind on the film and the other on his environment, hyper-aware of Eliott’s every movement — every time he rests his hand close to his, when he gets close to grab a snack that is closest to Lucas than to him, when he lets out a shaky exhale or a soft laugh. After a while, he grounds himself by focusing on the subtitles and he is surprised to realize that he is deeply invested in the characters and their quest by the end of the movie. When it’s done and Eliott lets out a yawn, Lucas is so scared he’ll leave that he suggests doing a double feature, you choose, why not? and Eliott seems surprised but agrees with a simple “sure”, this time he plays a movie about some kids in the 60’s who live on an island, have fallen in love, and want to flee together. The film is funny but somewhat dark, an underlying current of melancholy permeating it until the very end. When it’s over, it doesn’t escape Lucas’ attention that Eliott’s favorite films are about characters that are either running away or desperately want to go back home.
“I should leave now,” Eliott says, helping Lucas carry the empty bowls towards the kitchen. “It’s a little late and you know how shit the L train gets on the weekends.”
“Right, yeah, totally,” Lucas says, and he knows, he knows, but God, it’s not enough. He wants more time, he’s greedy for it, so without thinking he blurts out: “I’ll walk you out.”
“ Oof, a gentleman,” Eliott teases, with a smile. “Sure, thanks.”
They go out. Lucas isn’t sure if by walking out he meant to the door, to the closest metro stop, or to Eliott’s own apartment in Bushwick. All he knows is that he wants more minutes, all the time that he can get. Eliott takes the decision for him, though, directing them to the promenade of Brooklyn Heights. The city unfolds infinitely in front of them, and if he strains his eyes enough Lucas can even see the silhouette of the Statue of Liberty, so distant from them, recognizable only because he knows where to look. The only sound in the area comes from the wind blowing against the tree branches above them, by a seagull squeaking near the dock. They are alone in a world of their own. He shivers.
“Cold?” Eliott asks.
“Not really, no.”
“I think we ate enough, thanks,” Lucas says, playfully shoving his shoulder against his.
Eliott shoves back.
The silence grows between them, but Lucas isn’t compelled to rein it in. He looks at the river, how the water goes in all directions, how the waves come and go, come and go, come and go. People think he decided on this location for the views, and it’s true — just not in the way they think. It’s not about the buildings or the bridge, it was always about the river. The city could fall any minute now, but the waves will always remain. He is grounded by their permanency. He thinks that 10,000 years from now New York won’t exist, the world won’t exist, everything will be covered in water. In a parallel universe, perhaps it already is. He has always been comforted by the waves the way Eliott seems to be comforted by the stars.
“Do you ever miss the stars?”
Eliott had asked him so softly. Lucas wonders if it’s memory or imagination.
Above them, a plane makes a noise coming in from the east, going and going until it gets lost within the night clouds.
“I wonder where it’s going,” Lucas murmurs.
“Uhm?” Eliott murmurs, distracted, looking in the direction where the plane disappeared.
“The plane,” Lucas explains. “I—I like to do this thing, sometimes, where I imagine the lives other people might be living. Where they are going. What is going to happen next.”
“Creativity goes a long way, not only with cooking,” Eliott replays, with a lopsided smile. “I don’t think I’ve ever done that. Where do you think they are going?”
“Korea,” Lucas says without thinking.
More time passes. The wind still caresses the threes. The night still surrounds them.
Eliott talks after a moment. “I don’t think I care that much about where I’m going,” he says, looking at the horizon. “The only thing that always mattered was to just go, you know?”
He doesn’t. New York is the only place Lucas has ever known. Even when he left Woodstuck to move to the city, he was still in the same state, the same country. He can’t imagine living in six different places in five years. But he wants to understand, so he says “yeah,” instead.
“Don’t you ever just want to go?” Eliott presses on.
“I mean, sure,” Lucas says, after thinking honestly about it for a moment. “But what if I don’t like it better than here? I feel like sometimes people are more attracted to the idea of starting from scratch than the actual practicality of it, though.”
“Fuck practicality. Just because you are used to a place, it doesn’t mean that’s the place for you.”
“I guess... it would be nice… to take a vacation, some time,” Lucas scratches at his chin with his pinky. “To be honest, I mean, this is kind of embarrassing, but I don’t even know the city that well. I mean, I work a lot, and then when I’m free I always tend to go to the same spots, same crowd. I haven’t even really done that many of the touristy shit.”
“So that’s what we should do!”
“A staycation,” Eliott explains, like it’s obvious. “We shall be tourists in our own city. Nah, not tourists. Explorers. Adventurers.”
“You are too much, has anyone ever told you that?”
Eliott looks away a second too long. “Yeah, actually. So what do you think?”
“Wait, are you serious?”
Well, damn. “I’m still, you know, I’m still working. I can't really take time off to have a vacation, especially not now when more requests are coming in that ever.”
“Right,” Eliott says, squaring his stance in front of Lucas. He looks into his eyes so insistently that for the very first time, Lucas realizes that they aren’t actually blue, they are the silvery shade of grey of the clouds before it starts pouring out. “I know, Lucas, I can’t either. But that will be the fun part. It doesn’t have to be a consecutive vacation—we have the whole summer. I’ve heard New York is fun in the summer, we have so many things to try. Don’t you think it will be fun to try them together?”
“You work so hard,” he says. Softly, firmly. “You really do, but frankly, I haven’t even known you that long and you always seem like you are one step away to splitting apart.”
He looks conflicted but presses on. “I don’t mean to offend you, I just… I don’t know, I think you are doing a lot and I think you should also make time to have some fun and it doesn’t look like you are enjoying yourself or what you are doing that much anyway.”
Eliott says the last part rapidly, like if he gets all the words together very fast their full impact won’t hit Lucas that much.
But Lucas has heard them, and he knows, he fucking knows, that how he looks all the time must be how he feels all the time, but what does Eliott want him to say, really? Yeah, I’m 23, and I’m making money, and I’m comfortable, but I’m kinda miserable, and alone, so alone, and scared, sofuckingscared, and I can’t start again, I can’t do this again, because I don’t really know what else should I do, what else should I be , and I have already lost so much time on this, years of my life, and my mom depends on me, and I depend on me, and if it isn’t this then what , and I have no safety net, nowhere to go back to, not to my father, not to my mother who needs me so badly, I have no other family and barely a few other friends, who are not making that much but who know what they are doing, know where they are going, and I can’t burden them with my privileged non-problems, so I have to suck it up, suck it up Lucas, suckitupsuckitupsuckitup
He’s on the edge of a full spiral.
He sucks it up.
He says: “You know what, I think a staycation could be great.”
Eliott smiles at him like Lucas hung every star on the sky.
Thanks to Clara, for beta-reading again <3
Your comments and feedback are so so wonderful, thanks very much <3
Also, I'm sorry. More than +20K of set up and build up? It's a lot. I do love a slow burn. BUT. We are going places soon. That's a promise :)
P.S: As you can tell, my smilies don't have noses.
Chapter 5: A piacere
\ ˌäpyäˈchārē, -erē\
the performer may use his own discretion with regard to tempo and rhythm
literally, "at pleasure"
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
First half of summer
First week of summer
“Lucas, it’s literally two blocks away from your office. How come you’ve never visited before?”
By “it,'' Eliott means the Museum of Modern Art, where they are currently eating dumplings in its internal sculpture garden. All it took was one text from Eliott (“lunch at MoMA? x” ) for Lucas to agree (“As long as it isn’t cooked by you”), and now they are sitting in the farthest part of the entrance, near the manmade fountain, wary of the security guard busting them for their contraband food. Lucas usually eats lunch in front of his computer, generally delivered via Seamless or picked up by Daphné or Manon. This might be one of the first times he actually uses his lunch hour for a full hour. Might also be one of the first times he eats away from his desk while he is at work.
“I never had the interest,” Lucas says with a shrug. “Or the desire.”
Eliott gives him a teasing smile. “And now?”
“Now someone promised me dumplings from Xi’an’s,” Lucas says seriously. “Couldn’t say no after that.”
They talk, the sound of their voices drowned by the soft murmur of the nearby fountain, where the statue of a woman almost falling into it, mouth agape and arms outreached, looks almost incongruent in the extraordinary calm of the garden. It’s the first day of summer, the kind of radiant, glowing day that urges tourists to roam the parks or have a lazy day at a cafe, to go outdoors, to stay far away from the museums.
When they are done eating, Lucas and Eliott are free to wander around the garden and makeup backstories about the statues. On the far corner of the garden, close to the limits of the museum’s black glass walls, a single red rose stands alone, the statue at least 10 meters tall. The artist managed to make steel, aluminum, and lacquer look delicate and frail, a thing destined to die preserved for eternity. They figure a rose that size must be an offering for a giant or a goddess.
Lucas imagines the statue of the fallen woman in the fountain has suffered a terrible case of work burn-out. Eliott says the artist has captured the moment she realizes she has fallen irrevocably in love.
“Terribly dramatic, aren’t you?”
“Definitely,” Eliott says with a half-smile. His phone starts ringing immediately after, and without meaning to, Lucas’ eyes flicker to the screen of Eliott’s phone. Maman. Eliott takes a look at the screen and pointedly ignores it, pressing a button to the side of the device until it’s silent. A couple of seconds after, it rings again.
“Aren’t you gonna pick that up?” Lucas asks.
“We only have 30 minutes left of our lunch hour,” Eliott says with a shrug. “We haven’t even seen Starry Night yet.”
“Van Gogh can wait, right?”
“How dare you,” Eliott says, his eyes comically wide. “Take it back.”
“Will not,” Lucas says with a smile. “But no, seriously, if your mom needs to talk to you...”
“I said it can wait, Lucas,” Eliott says, an edge to his voice he’s never heard before slipping in.
Just then the phone rings again, and Lucas has just enough time to notice the unnaturally hard press of Eliott’s jaw before he finally picks it up.
“ Quoi, maman,” he listens for a moment, a rapid voice barely perceptible through the speaker before he goes again. “Je t’ai déjà dit que ça allait, laisse tomber. J’ai pas envie d’en parler maintenant, d’accord? Je suis occupé. Je te rappelle plus tard.” He hangs up without waiting to hear a reply.
Lucas stands there, awkwardly, before making himself ask if everything’s alright.
“Great,” Eliott says genially. “Now come, we only have 25 minutes left to see the rest.”
They walk past the giant rose, past Starry Night, past Magritte’s Lovers and Matisse’s Dancers, past Rousseau’s Dream. They do a detour just to enter a little room filled with de Chirico paintings, so filled with equal parts longing and isolation that Lucas, who isn’t even an art person, feels an unnamed emotion tingle on his brain, awaken feelings he didn’t know just images could bring. There’s a mirror next to a Khalo painting and Eliott takes a selfie of both of them on it, Frida’s eyes following them all the while. They stop to see time melting because Dali has willed it that way and also take a moment to walk the expanse of Monet’s Water Lilies, which surround them completely, water that flows from Giverny just to envelop them. Lucas knows their hour is up, but how can it matter when Eliott begs for just one more stop before they leave?
“I just don’t understand how anyone can like Pollock when Joan Mitchell’s work exists in the world,” a young woman with lilac hair and a Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists t-shirt stage-whispers towards her companion, a look of barely-contained disdain clear on her face.
He stares and stares, but no matter how much he looks, Lucas can’t make himself understand what’s so special about the monumental painting in front of them. He attempts to decipher the lines, the blacks and greys and whites, tries to read meaning in the way they join and separate, converge and split again. He doesn’t know who Joan Mitchell is, but he thinks that whatever she does has to be better than the artwork in front of him.
“Don’t you love it?” Eliott asks, his eyes traveling down the lines of the painting on the wall. Lucas thinks that even the name is bizarre — One: Number 31, 1950.
“It’s… eh, it’s really something,” he offers. He stops after a moment, makes himself say what he really thinks. “I mean, not really? I feel like anyone can make this.”
“Maybe, yes,” Eliott concedes easily. “But the thing is, until him, nobody did. That’s what makes it special.”
“To lay down fabric on the floor and drip painting from above?”
Eliott gives him a pensive look, the blue hard to make out from the grey in his eyes. “To make something that no one else had dreamed about doing before.”
Second week of summer
“I’m not saying I’m lazy,” Basile explains to Arthur when Lucas arrives at his office bright and early Monday morning. “I’m saying that if there was a competition for laziness, I would probably lose because I would be too lazy to participate.”
“But how are you going to lose a competition in which you are not participating?” Arthur asks, balancing on the legs of his chair carelessly until he is dangerously close to falling to the floor.
“I probably would be too lazy to care, frankly.”
“Do you really think it’s wise to brag about laziness at the job, Baz?” Lucas asks with a chuckle while he takes his seat on the other side of his desk. “Also, if I may. What the fuck are you doing in my office?”
“That’s our Lulu, a fluffy little cloud,” Arthur says with a sardonic smile, letting the chair drop heavily against the ugly olive carpet that covers the floor. “And we came to give you this, you ungrateful one.”
He stretches across the desk and hands him a golden chalice, which Lucas hadn’t notice standing on the floor when he got in.
“You are fucking with me,” he says, incredulous.
“If I were, you would know it,” Arthur says.
“I didn’t— I couldn’t— I didn't even drink that much!” Lucas protests. “There were people way drunker than me!”
Lucas stares at the trophy in his hand, willing it to go away if only he frowns at it hard enough. It doesn’t. Its motto is as clear as ever: Fac et excusa.
Act now, justify later.
“Lucas, the selection criteria was clear,” Baz says with a shrug. “The cup was never supposed to be awarded to the person who drank the most, it was supposed to go to that person who ‘demonstrated an exemplary level of dedication to the ideals of the cup and the Associates’ Retreat.’ That’s you, Lucas.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Lucas, you arrived late, left early, flirted with two clients — both extremely powerful and extremely attractive — and left with, arguably, the hottest person on that bar. Also, the way you moved on the dancefloor? I mean, I am very, very straight, but everyone — and I mean everyone — agreed that the only person worthy of the Testoti cup this year is you.”
Lucas feels his cheeks burn. He rotates the cup in his hands, seeing the way the artificial light bounces off the shiny surface, a warped mirror that gives him a distorted reflection of his face. He is embarrassed, extremely so, but what’s done is done, he guesses, and hadn’t he read the names of some of the younger partners in the list of early winners? By the smiles on Arthur’s and Basile’s faces, he should be honored to be this year’s recipient.
He rolls his eyes at them, but there’s no heat behind it. He then stands up and clears some space on his bookshelves to display the trophy, clearly on view to every person who might walk into his office. When Lucas is sure that his face isn’t an unbecoming shade of crimson anymore, he turns around, and with a cocky smile and a pointed raise of his eyebrow, he says: “I’m not saying I’m the best, but if there was a competition I wasn’t even participating in, I would probably win because — well, I already did, didn’t I?”
Third week of summer
“I just don’t understand why you won’t tell me where we are going,” Eliott complains, giving Lucas his best attempt at puppy eyes. The effect is somewhat ruined by the single drop of condensation that slides down the right side of his face, glides on a chiseled cheekbone, and gets lost somewhere in the hollow of his neck and past his clavicle, which is so rarely exposed to Lucas hungry eyes. It is, so far, the hottest day of the season, and they are taking the subway uptown, have been pressed together for close to 45 minutes now. Torture. The wagon is so full of people that not even a soul could get inside of it now, the air feels heavy and recycled, like when you are inside of a plane breathing the same oxygen for too long. Eliott’s black muscle shirt is completely warranted. Lucas is uncomfortably hard.
“This is our staycation, right? I get to pick the places sometimes.”
“Yes, of course!” Eliott agrees quickly, tap-tap-tapping his fingers swiftly over the train’s metal handle. “You know that’s not what I mean, I’m just curious.”
The thing with Eliott, Lucas has noted, is that he wants everything immediately, with an eagerness he can seldom contain. The idea of waiting for anything gets him restless, and sometimes he wants so many things simultaneously he overwhelms himself with all the possibilities. The idea of choosing one thing, when he wants all of them, seems unbearable to him.
But it’s only one, two, three more stops before they are there. They get out to scorching sun and a non-existent breeze, but they are out, and Lucas can breathe again, finally has some space to move. When they start walking, he makes sure Eliott is distracted before carefully arranging the fall of his white t-shirt and the line of his tailored pants. When the trees are apparent on the horizon Eliott gives him a questioning look. “Oh. Central Park again?”
“You don’t have to look so disappointed. No, we’re almost there.”
“Oh! The Museum of Natural History?” Eliott says, now visibly more animated. “That’s awesome, I’ve been meaning to come for a while now.”
“Yeah, not really, no.”
“No? But there’s nothing else over here.”
“There is,” Lucas says with a small smile. He tries to will himself from stop looking at Eliott, but he can’t possibly miss the moment he will go from confused to excited. He is sure, so fucking sure, that Eliott will love this as much as he does. It’s the only way he can stand to share it with him, to give him something that means so much to him. “Now, here we are.”
Eliott’s eyes need a minute to catch up, but once they do Lucas is rewarded by Eliott’s most disarming reaction yet. “Oh, wow. Oh. Fuck! Really? Fuck! ”
“I knew it,” Lucas says, and he can’t help it, he’s laughing, so freely and so happily. “Are you excited?”
Eliott grabs his arm, like he can’t help himself either, and he’s smiling, already walking into the massive glass structure that reads Hayden Planetarium.
Lucas loves it here, has loved it since his father took him to the museum for the first time when he turned seven years old. Boys trip! he had announced, and it sounded so exciting to Lucas. The idea of spending two hours on the road with his favorite person in the world was reward enough, but the fact that the destination was this bright and electrifying city, a place that so far he had only seen in movies, convinced him that he was the luckiest kid in the world.
After checking in on their hotel for the weekend, their first destination had been the American Museum of Natural History. They explored the museum for hours, and all the while his father told him interesting facts about wild animals and ancient tribes. Eventually, they had laid down below the blue whale that hangs on the main floor of the museum and Lucas had asked, seriously, if he could move inside of it. And his father had answered, seriously, that no, he could not. But he had informed him that about 100 people can fit in a blue whale's mouth, and that their tongues alone weigh as much as an elephant, and would he really want to be in a whale’s mouth with so many other people? Probably not. Better to live in his own room, on his own house, with a mom and a dad that cared about him so very much. Lucas knew then that he had the best father in the world, and he used to tell that to anybody who was willing to listen.
The Hayden was just the cherry on top, the place where he learned about planets and galaxies, dark matter and constellations that have the names of fantastical animals and Greek warriors. He thinks that this is where he found his love of facts, of order, of science. This is where he realized that infinity exists, that the universe expands with every passing moment, that most of the stars he sees in the sky have already died, but that he shouldn’t worry because new stars are born every day, we just can’t see them yet because they are so far away, and although light travels fast their distance is too huge to reach us in a lifetime. But they are there. In the darkness, there.
He sees the way Eliott’s eyes travel over the model planets, linger near Jupiter and Saturn, and he is filled with such incredible fondness. Eliott doesn’t know, he can’t possibly know that this is the last place where he knew, as an absolute fact, that his father loved him. This is the last place where he believed that his father would be there for him, no matter what, where he knew that he had Lucas’ back through anything. This is the last place where he knew what complete happiness was, what living without a care in the world was. And then they went back home and he realized that their boys trip was just an excuse to get away from mom for a weekend. That through the next few years his dad would start leaving more and more often, first for weekends, then for weeks, and then completely. He could not possibly know that his father just walked out of his life. Eliott doesn’t know that, but his delighted face now almost makes up for it.
It is beautiful to share something precious when you know the person you are sharing it with will appreciate it as you do.
Later, when they have found their seats in the darkness of the Space Theater — listening to a scientist narrate the secrets of the universe, her voice alight with barely contained fascination — Lucas knows Eliott loves this place as much as he does. He knows it by the way his gaze is fixed to the dome, by how slack his jaw is, by the way in which, for once, he can’t seem to make any movement. They learn about the stars in the Milky Way and the most distant objects in the observable universe, and Lucas knows then, without a doubt, that in this universe, in this moment, he loves Eliott so much he can barely hold it in his body. Actually, he thinks he loves him so much that it doesn’t fit in the world, so his love just sort of floats around space with the stars and the planets. It is somewhat difficult to focus on the show after that.
Before it ends, when the scientist is still talking, Lucas feels Eliott’s hand brush against his, the ghost of his fingertips on his knuckles, like a kiss. In the cool darkness of the theater, he leans against his seat until his head is right next to Lucas’. Without removing his eyes from the dome, he gets as close to Lucas as he possibly can, and on a low tone, as if he’s afraid of disturbing the magic of the planetarium with his voice, he whispers into Lucas’ ear: “thank you.”
“For giving me this.”
I’d give you the entire universe, Lucas thinks. This and all the others.
Fourth week of summer
“Lucas, Jérôme wants to see you in his office,” his assistance informs him as soon as he finishes an afternoon meeting with a client.
Seeing a partner for a briefing isn’t rare, having all the associates of a practice group there at the same time could be. While Lucas approaches Jérôme’s spacious corner office, he can see before he enters that Arthur and Imane are both already sitting and waiting for him.
“Lucas, welcome!” Jérôme exclaims with a smile. Openly bisexual and barely 34, Jérôme is by far the firm’s youngest partner, the Head of Dispute Resolution in the Americas, and HR’s favorite diversity token boy. Handsome and lively, Lucas is convinced that either Jérôme is on Adderall, or he is able to secrete his own kind of energy drug. The guy was on a different country at least once a week, pitching to different companies and trying to build a robust client base. Lucas couldn’t blame him — even though he was a partner now, he still had to prove his worth to the others. In law firms, hierarchies of power always default to the most high-ranking person, who also tends to be the most senior attorney. For some reason, Jérôme seems to have a particular soft spot for Lucas, whom he had interviewed himself and later on chosen to join the DR practice from the general pool.
“Alright kids, listen up,” Jérôme loves calling them kids, even though he is only around 10 years older than them, tops. “I know we are all booked and busy, so I’m keeping this short. I’ve heard from a contact in Russia that Gazprom is looking for local counsel in New York, and they are about to drop an RFP any day now.”
“Gazprom as in, $98-billion-dollars-in-revenue Gazprom?” Arthur asks, looking dizzy. “That Gazprom?”
“Yes, kid, that Gazprom. Gazprom, the largest-company-in-Russia, Gazprom,” Jérôme stretches on his chair, looking pleased that his minions seem to understand the importance of the client. “If we get it’d be a relatively small deal, a 1 million euro litigation in front of the Department of Justice. The kay part is, though, that they seem to be looking for permanent local counsel. A go-to firm for all their work. Getting this account would be huge, you understand?”
They do. Imane looks focused and sharp; Arthur still dizzy but excited. Lucas is nauseous.
He continues: “You’ve all have been here, what, a little bit more than a year? Year and a half? That’s not much, but I’m actually impressed. You all know that growing this practice is not easy, both myself and DR are still relatively new to this firm. But the three of you have been paramount on all growth attempts and… I think that deserves rewarding. A reason to keep you motivated.”
He pauses, perhaps attempting for gravitas.
“I want Gazprom,” Jérôme says simply. “Whoever gets me this account will make counsel starting the next fiscal year. I don’t think that I have to explain to you how unheard of this is. So, I don’t want you to sabotage each other — I want you to work together. But I also want you to do research, get me intel, be strategic. This is important and I want you to treat it as it is, because it could change the course of your careers drastically to be made counsel after only working as an associate for two years. Frankly, the other partners think this is insanity, but I have faith in you all. So. Do or die, kids. It’s time to do or die.”
Fifth week of summer
It’s Sunday night and they are breaking and entering into the Conservatory Garden.
“Why do I keep letting you convince me into doing stupid things?” Lucas asks wearily, the question perhaps directed more at himself than Eliott.
“Because you like me, clearly,” Eliott flashes a winning smile from above his shoulder while he continues making work on the entrance lock.
“You are overestimating your own importance,” Lucas lies easily. “Also, I am currently having an internal breakdown over how illegal this is. Because it is, you know? Very, very illegal. Super illegal.”
Eliott seems unbothered. “We came here with all intention of entering normally, it’s not our fault that the park closes at 8 pm. Why should parks close, anyway?”
“I’m a litigation lawyer and I promise you, that excuse would never hold in court. Also, it kinda was our fault since you wanted to go to Dominique Ansel first to get a cronut.”
“And I stand by that decision.”
“We stood in line for almost two hours, Eliott.”
Lucas hears the sound of the lock opening as soon as he finishes the sentence, the Versailles-esque iron gates open minutely. He knows there is no turning back. He knew it the moment Eliott proposed entering into the garden — his refuge — even if it was closed; because he can’t deny him, hasn’t been able to since the moment he met him, since the very first time he was teased by him.
As they walk, the fragrance of roses lingers in the air, intensified by a full day of piercing sunlight, almost too sweet. Lucas can smell them before he sees them.
He thinks that a rose is pretty as a singular, but its beauty can only be amplified by plurals. Lucas is not even particularly fond of roses — their cliché, their faux-romance — but seeing them bloom like this, masses of reds and pinks, pale yellows and whites, so clearly loved, so obviously tended to, moves him to an unfamiliar degree. He feels so, so lucky.
Still, he thinks there is something quite unsettling about roaming around in a rose garden at dusk, as if they are the characters of a Victorian gothic, disturbing the serenity of an otherwise idyllic scene. It is so quiet that the sound of their footsteps echoes through the grounds, the answering chirps of a bird the only answer to their movement.
The moment feels eerie, almost otherworldly: the roses languidly leaning in their beds, so knowing of their beauty — which already fades, as all living things do. How they line up paths that come from every direction, creating a geometric pattern that no matter where you start to walk from will eventually reach a fountain at the very center of the garden. It feels like all his roads lead him to this place.
Like some things are inevitable.
Lucas sees the paths and feels such an immense sense of possibility, despite their obvious destination. Lucas stares at Eliott and he’s already staring back, his face only partially illuminated by a yellow moon, which looks so out of place in the night sky, as if the sun forgot where it belongs.
Lucas knows where he belongs.
In Eliott’s life, on his arms.
He reaches up, and up, his right hand pushing an imaginary rose leave from Eliott’s hair, because he needs an excuse to do it, because he wants to, because he truly cannot help himself. Because he’s dreamed of it for weeks now, and every day that he hasn’t touched him it’s an ache, a painful, unbearable ache. He waits to see if Eliott will move, and when he doesn’t he holds himself so still he thinks he will pass out.
He doesn’t realize he has closed his eyes, but he must have, because he’s startled into opening them by the feel of Eliott’s fingertips on his lips. They don’t move, Eliott just places them there, so Lucas moves his head from side to side slowly. To an outsider, it looks as if he’s saying no, for them, in the moment, it’s a caress. He tries to will Eliott to move with his mind, and shouldn’t he be kissing him already? Hasn’t he waited long enough? But he doesn’t, he just stands there, so close, so close, so close, and for a second Lucas wants him so badly that he almost hates him, hates that anyone could ever make him feel this way. But Eliott — who is impatient, who wants everything immediately, who has teased Lucas until he’s been wrung tighter than a knot for two months — seems perfectly content to wait him out forever.
Lucas is tired of waiting.
“Fuck, I can’t stand you,” he says, and he uses the hand that’s in Eliott’s hair to pull him towards him and finally, finally, kisses him.
At first, Eliott seems too giddy to kiss back, can’t seem to stop himself from smiling into it. But then Lucas’ hand pushes more deeply into his hair, grab the roots just above his neck and pulls, making Eliott produce a throaty sound that sounds involuntary, a sound that Lucas drunkenly chases with his own mouth.
After that, Eliott gives as good as he takes — he bites on Lucas’ lower lip softly, then more insistently until his mouth opens below him, and then it’s nothing but the leisurely brush of this tongue, the firm press of his hands on his lower back, the way they sneak below his shirt and Lucas feels them scratching against his skin. Eliott’s nails make patterns against it until he is shivering and wanting and almost begging for more, just more, give me everything.
On the back of his head, Lucas can’t stop thinking about how stupid they both are, how good this feels, how they should have done this from the very beginning. Kissing Eliott is everything, and unlike anything he has done before. He’s had his fair share of kisses and even brief relationships, but nothing has ever felt like this. Like Eliott’s kisses are the oxygen he needs to breathe under water, like his touch will propel him to outer space.
Lucas faintly registers the beginning of a storm in the background, the low roar of thunder is nothing compared to the frantic sound of his bloodstream on his ears when Eliott’s mouth travels to his throat and leaves kisses there. Eliott’s kisses slowly increase in pressure until it’s just him sucking on his skin, and Lucas is sure that in the morning he will have several bruises adorning his neckline. The thought turns him on so much he is dizzy with it, makes him mindlessly push his hips against Eliott’s until he lets out a breathless sound, tugging Lucas’ head back into another scorching kiss.
There are many things Lucas has learned about Eliott since he met him. Eliott likes movies and books that seem childlike but deep down are actually deeper, darker. Lucas notices that when Eliott finds something unbearably sweet he mindlessly places his left hand on top of his heart. Lucas knows that Eliott is prone to melancholic moods, that he doesn’t have a need to fill the silence with words. Lucas appreciates that Eliott is a little dramatic, that he is impulsive, that he is intense. However, knowing this is one thing, being the focus of that intensity is another matter entirely.
When Eliott kneels in front of him he looks like an angel at the altar. When he looks up, he holds his gaze, firmly takes Lucas’ hands and secures them on his head. From there it’s just a blur of sensations and feelings and sounds: the clang of Lucas’ belt, the exhilarating grasp of Eliott’s hands rubbing on Lucas’ tights, the impossible warmth of his mouth on him. The repetition of it, the build-up, the release.
By the time that Lucas comes down from the stars, the storm has started in earnest. There are no taxis on sight; no Uber drivers moved by two soaked men wrapped around each other. So they end up walking the 50 blocks back to Midtown together, all the while stopping and kissing until the rain fills their mouths and makes it impossible for them to breath. The walk lasts forever, their clothes hang heavily against their skin, warmed by the hot summer rain. It goes like that until they reach a train that gets them to Brooklyn, to Eliott’s place.
Much later, with Eliott’s naked skin pressed against his own, his warm breath tickling the thin skin of Lucas’ lids, he is happy. So incredibly, blissfully happy.
It’s still Sunday night, and Lucas is, truly, desperately in love.
Sixth week of summer
It’s Monday morning, and Lucas doesn’t go to work.
Thanks to Clara, for beta-reading again <3
A few notes:
1. The second half of summer (next chapter) is almost completely finished. I had originally thought about posting "all summer" in one mega chapter, but after reading and editing a lot I think it flows better this way. So know that the wait for part II will be much less.
2. I hope that was... worth it.
3. Your comments and feedback make my day, thank you. I love it when you make a comment about your favorite part or question where the story arc of a certain character will go, or make comments about settings in the story. So interesting to know your particular responses to certain things. So truly, thanks so very much <3