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There Was a Boy

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“What exactly is going on here?” The Duke’s tone was low and suspicious. I scrambled to my feet and was trying to stammer my way through an answer when David rustled awake.

“Oh, you’re back. We were just–we were rehearsing.” It amazed me how fast he could turn from himself into his persona, even in his current state. 

“Rehearsing?” Sebastien snorted. “You expect me to believe that, in the middle of the night, you two were rehearsing?!”

“Oh, hello!” Johnny rushed in. “Is everything alright? I was just passing by and heard the commotion.” His eyes went wide taking in the scene before him. 

“It’s okay, Father. Sebastien knows all about the emergency rehearsal .” David gave Johnny a pointed look to make him understand.

“Emergency rehearsal. Y-yes, of course.” As if on cue, Johnny was quickly joined by Stevie and the rest of the group, including Alexis. 

“Evening, evening! Perfect time for a rehearsal, isn’t it?” Stevie chimed in.

If you had asked me just days before what I thought I would be doing in Paris, never in a million years would I have guessed this scenario. I’d wandered off from home to live a penniless existence writing and trying to make something of myself. I certainly hadn’t expected to find myself in the middle of a love triangle with a group of Bohemian misfits writing for the Moulin Rouge. 

Sebastien took a seat among the chaos, looking pointedly at Johnny. “Listen, this is all very interesting. But I won’t be played for a fool. You want me to invest. What’s the story?”

“Oh, yes. The story, of course. Well, the story is, uh- Stevie? Why don’t you tell us what the story is?”

Stevie snapped her head forward, ready to spin a tale for Sebastien. “Well, it’s a story set in Switzerland–”

“England!” I leapt in without thinking. “It’s set in England. It’s the story of a handsome socialite. His land is being invaded by an evil king. And to save his people he has to marry the evil king. Before they can marry, he meets a penniless ... guitar player. But he’s going to be performing in a show, so he doesn’t look penniless and the socialite falls in love with him .” I looked at David. “The guitar player wasn’t trying to trick him or anything. Anyway, they have to hide their affair to keep everyone from finding out.”

David looked sympathetic to the story I was spinning, though it wasn't much of a story at all, and I hope he caught my meaning. 

Jake cut in, “I will play the role of the devilishly handsome guitar player.” 

“And I,” Stevie stated, “will play the role of the magical guitar who only speaks the truth.”

Sebastien’s eyes lit up with interest, “And let me guess, you give the game away?”

“Yes!” She was obviously delighted to be a part of this charade.

“Oh!” Alexis clapped with excitement. “We can get Miguel to play the evil king!”  Ted’s face turned sour at the mention of Miguel, but he said nothing about her suggestion. 

“Generally,” Sebastien drawled, “I like it. Rose! Let’s go to your office and figure out the details.” Johnny’s face lit up as his dream materialized before his very eyes. 

“Yes, let’s do that. Please come with me.” He led Sebastien to the hallway, winking back toward the rest of us, who were already celebrating. 

“Oh my god, David. Where–” Alexis looked at me, “did you ever find this cute little button face?”

“Alexis, choke on a cork please. This is Patrick. And he will be writing the show.” Alexis was suddenly beside me, wrapping her silk scarf around my neck.

“Well, welcome to the show Patrick.” I looked to David for advice on how to get out of this. I didn’t want to be rude, but I couldn’t have him thinking I was interested in what Alexis was offering either. 

Ted saved me, clearing his throat loudly. “Alexis, would you take a walk with me?”

She shimmied her shoulders, immediately forgetting me in favor of Ted. “Yes! Love that for us.” She paused in front of David, either not knowing or not caring that we could all hear. 

“He’s a cute little button, David. Don’t mess this up!” He gesticulated wildly with his hands like he couldn’t believe what she had just said to him before she walked off with Ted. 

“Patrick!” Stevie beckoned. “Coming to celebrate with us?” Honestly, she looked and smelled like she had already been celebrating for hours. 

“Yeah, I’ll be there in a moment.” 

“Jocelyn, Jake, come on!” She waved an unsteady hand toward the remaining crowd, motioning for them to follow her. And then, just as before, it was only me and David. 

“Thank you for that. You, um, really saved everything tonight.” He fidgeted with his hands, trying to make himself appear casual.

“You’re welcome, David. Like, I said I think it’s going to be quite a show. I’m very glad to be a part of it.” 

His cheeks flushed and he seemed to be looking anywhere but at me. 

“Can I ask you a question?” There’s something I needed to know before I left. 

His eyebrows raised, clearly curious. “Please do.” 

“Umm, before, when you said–when you said that you loved me. Was it–”

“Was it just an act?” And the question was so casual it seemed like it had been asked and answered a thousand times before. I could feel my face heat up in embarrassment before I could even verbally respond. 

“Well, yeah. Was it?”

A funny little smirk crossed his face. “Of course.”

I stuffed my hands in my pockets and looked away in a terrible attempt to hide my disappointment. “Oh, okay. It just seemed so … real.”

“I told you before, I’m paid to be who people want me to be. I can’t afford to feel anything real.”

“That sounds terrible.” My heart ached for him. I longed to feel some bigger connection with the world. I couldn’t imagine having to barricade my feelings behind a façade of showmanship. 

No,” his voice became defensive, “what’s terrible, Patrick, is being seen and vulnerable. To put yourself out there only to be trampled time and time again. That is terrible.”

“If you say so.”

“I do!” He huffed in irritation, crossing his arms across his chest, and turned away. 

I could tell there was nothing more to be said tonight. “Goodnight, David. I’ll see you around?”

“Yes, I suppose you will. Goodnight, Patrick.”

I had promised Stevie that I would track her and the rest of the group down but I just couldn’t after my talk with David. I sat in my room as the celebration raged upstairs and couldn’t get him out of my head. It was silly to think it, but I wondered if he was thinking about me, too. 

If I looked just so I could see the blades of the infamous red windmill spinning in the night. Had it really all been an act? 

In certain moments it felt like I had seen small glimpses of authenticity from him. Moments when he let his defenses down, even for just a fraction of a second. I couldn’t think of that now, though. Rehearsals would be starting and I would need to focus everything into completing the script. Perhaps I could understand what he’d said about not being allowed to feel. 

Meanwhile Johnny had gotten much more in The Duke than he had bargained for. They had calmly debated the terms of the contract in Johnny’s office, but The Duke had one more thing in mind.

“Everything looks in order, Rose. I’m just going to need one thing added to the contract.”

“Oh, of course. What can I do for you?”

Sebastien fidgeted with the hat in his lap, a nervous tic showing his agitation. He was bent on getting this part of the deal and would happily walk away if he didn’t. “If I’m to invest and finance your little show I’m going to need a guarantee. Something that ties David exclusively to me.”

“Excuse me? I think David would probably have something to say about that.”

“I have the means to turn the Moulin Rouge into a theater. I can take care of David, make sure he’s treated like the star he is. But, if I’m to do that I need to know that I’m the only one investing my time in him. I require the deed to the Moulin Rouge. It’s not that I’m jealous, I just don’t like other people touching my things!” Sebastien let out a forceful exhale to calm himself and raised his eyes to meet Johnny’s. “Do you understand?”

Johnny was nervous but felt like he didn’t have a choice. Sebastien had been the first to show such interest in advancing the plan of transforming the Moulin Rouge to a respectable theater. He knew the times were changing and people wouldn’t be flocking to clubs like his forever. “I understand completely. I’d be happy to accommodate that.”

After making the modifications, Johnny signed the contract with a flourish of his pen and pushed it toward Sebastien. 

“Glad we understand each other, Rose.” Sebastien added his signature before he leaned back with a satisfied look on his face. “I’m looking forward to doing business with you.”

Johnny nodded slowly and tried to contain his misgivings. “Yes. It’s certainly shaping up to be quite the adventure.” He swallowed nervously, wondering how on earth he was going to explain this to David.