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You as the Natural Center

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March 2002
Anton meandered through the streets, not seeing anything except Sandy's hand, fingers curled in a loose fist, a smile on his face as he slid into the past. The bourbon bottle shattered as he dropped it into somebody's trash bin. He wrinkled his nose at the smell, liquor and olive oil and pickled vegetables.

He found himself in front of a cafe, some streets away from the bright lights where the tourists wandered, so he slid into the rickety metal chair and ordered a glass of Lafite. The waitress smirked at him, and he ordered a bottle, as well as something rich and sweet and unhealthy. A minute later, he did not remember what.

He wondered if the police would find Sandy's body soon, or whether the muezzin and the abattoir would delay the discovery.

The waitress brought his wine, decanting it expertly. He dipped his nose into the glass for a moment, breathing deep. He set the glass down, patted his pockets, certain he carried enough euros to cover his indulgence.

His fingers brushed a velvet pouch, and he froze. He laughed.

There were diamonds in his pocket.

December 1962
Sandy's hair was dark, mussed against the pillow. Anton pulled the blankets down, traced the line of Sandy's back with his tongue. He tasted like salt and guilt, and he shifted under Anton's mouth.

Anton kissed the small of Sandy's back, then pulled away. Stretched. He poured himself out of bed and shivered in the chill air. He slid into a robe, walked to the window and pulled the drapes open. The sun slammed against him, white and cold.

"Anton?" Sandy rolled, dragging the sheets over his body, hiding from daylight. "It's late, isn't it?"

"Decadently so," Anton replied. "But it's snowing. What else can we do but revel?"

Sandy laughed. "Have breakfast?" he suggested. "Drink coffee? See a movie?" He sat up. "Work?"

"Sunday morning is an ungodly time to work." Anton tossed the blinds back, the edges catching at the corners of the rug. "Or perhaps you've never known that."

Sandy rolled his eyes, and Anton dropped his robe, gritting his teeth against the cold.

"Do you condemn me to freeze?" Anton inquired. "Or will you allow back into my own bed?"

Sandy's eyes dropped, and he drew the blankets back again, his right hand already busily at work. "Who am I to protest?"

"You, darling," Anton said, drawing the vowels out, "are absolutely everybody."

February 1998
Katie bustled in and out of the dining room, the dining room largely empty now, the staff already cleaning the kitchen, aside from Katie's own mise en place. Sam kissed Anton on the forehead, kissed Sandy, kissed Katie as she passed.

"Don't tell me," Anton protested, "you have to work in the morning. It's one of those arcane holiday weekends, is it not?"

Sam laughed. "It is, and thank god for that. I'm meeting someone for a, for a movie." He ducked his head, and Anton clapped his hands.

"There is a man," he enunciated clearly. "You are in love, and you abandon your family for a tryst."

Katie set a plate of sugared knots in front of Sandy, artfully, and Anton watched as Sandy flashed a smile at her. She dipped to kiss him, holding her hands, still kitchen-soiled, aside.

"They already know, Anton," Sam said.

"We know." Katie raised an eyebrow, her nails scratching against the towel tucked into her belt. "Not that he's introduced us to the young man."

Anton snickered. "How very precious," he remarked, and Sandy looked at him, sharp. "When will you bring your friend in?" He raised his hands at Sam's semi-scowl. "I promise to behave."

"We'll see," Sam responded, and he drummed his fingers against his leg. "But for now--" He raised a hand, waving to Katie as she disappeared back into the kitchen, and he jogged around the tables, disarrayed as someone swept.

Sandy watched Sam push the door open, pride and affection bright on his face. "He is so young," he said finally.

"He is in love," Anton repeated, and if he hadn't been watching for it, he would have missed the expression that flickered over Sandy's face. "Winter in Manhattan," he murmured.

Katie swept into the room again, and she slid a simply scrumptious little dish in front of him, and he rubbed his hands theatrically as she dipped her hand-held torch, the flame coolly blue as it scorched against his dessert.

April 1963
Lillian arrived early, the dinner hour barely starting, and she eschewed the bar, settled at the table closest to the kitchen instead. The waiters knew her, brought her an old-fashioned and Welsh rarebit. Anton came to her within ten minutes, bearing a plate with slivers of the evening's specials, and she gestured widely, indicating the chair across from her.

"This is a change," he observed, tugging at his tie as he seated himself. "Though a pleasure unending."

Lillian smiled at him, that wondrous, familiar grin. "Anton." She reached across the table and straightened his collar. "You look like you haven't slept for weeks."

Anton pressed his lips together and checked his first and second impulses. "Mothers always seem to know," he replied, and that was the closest he could approach the subject.

"Yes." She tilted her head, watching him for a long, long moment. "Yes, we do." She picked up a fork, speared a mushroom stuffed with apples, with bleu cheese and walnuts. "You are meant to be happy, Anton." She rolled the hors d'oeuvre against her tongue.

"Do you like it?" he wondered.

"It's lovely," she pronounced. She set her fork down, picked up her glass and peered at him through the bourbon. "You should be happier, Anton."

"Indeed," he replied. He spun the plate, a quarter-turn. "I should check on the kitchen," he said.

"Don't be long," she said, all light and love.

He blinked, because it hurt to look at her. "I won't be."

December 1981
Anton stared out the window, watching people revel, looking so damn happy, like children. Innocent. Secure.

"I will confess," Sandy said, walking up with a flute of champagne in each hand, "I have never been fond of bubbly," and he leaned on the word with mustered irony, "except on the social occasions that deem it."

"Barbaric," Anton responded, and he accepted the glass with a smile. "You have execrable tastes in many things, Sandy."

"But never people," Sandy riposted. His grin was sweet, knowing. Intimate.

Anton swayed back, took a sip of champagne to steady himself. He cleared his throat. "Some might question your certainty," he managed, feeling hollow.

"Gentlemen," Katie called, young Sam giggling sleepily as she carried him into the room. "It's almost midnight." She kissed Anton, briefly, then Sandy, at length. "Shall we count down?"

Anton looked at Sandy, who watched her, and Sam, with the world in his eyes.

"It's what people do," Anton said. "And so we shall."

Sandy looked at him, finally. "And so we shall."