Michael walked slowly along the banks of the Seine. He looked how the water glistened in the evening sun and smiled softly. He had his arms wrapped around his chest, as it was a chilly evening. This was one of those evenings when Jean was working late. Michael felt lonely, Eric and Paul were the only friends he had beside Jean and they were busy with work as well.
Michael picked up a small rock from the ground and threw it to the water. There was a small splash, Michael watched the broken surface on the water and felt embarrassed when an old couple walked past him giving him a long stare. It didn’t matter what others thought, not really – Michael reminded himself, shrugged and continued on his way.
Last week Jean had taken a small holiday to celebrate Michael’s 21st birthday and partly to make up for hitting him. The incident had left Michael more guarded around him.
Everything had started well; it had been just the two of them. They had spent two nights in the countryside at a guesthouse. First day they had dined out and taken walks in the near by grounds, seen farm animals. Jean had said that he had arranged a riding opportunity for him before they had left and Michael had waited for it with anticipation. But then on the second day, the day of the promised horse riding, Jean had wanted to visit a wine ranch first and his wine tasting had gotten out of hand. Jean had forgotten their plans and his promise. Michael on the other hand had been forced to swallow up his disappointment and finally escort Jean back to their room from a pub they had ended up in.
The next morning, Jean who had suffered from a hangover, gave his usual apologizes and promises to make it up to him later. Michael had forgiven him like he always did, it didn’t take away the feeling of disappointment, but he had gotten used to being disappointed. Perhaps this was the best he could ask for after Ricky? Considering everything this birthday had still been the best he had compared to the previous three. Jean had tried at least and he was mournful of his behavior. Perhaps in small steps and with patience he could help Jean to cut down his drinking? When Jean was sober he was a completely different person, someone Michael cared about greatly
Still… If he searched his heart carefully, Michael knew that the love he felt for Jean could never compare to what he had felt for Jack or Tony. There was no passion, not on his part. Or perhaps he just wasn’t able to feel passion like he had when he was younger? Had it been like that with Jack either? Jack had been his comfort, partner that kept him sane during that hell they had been through. Michael had held on to him with everything he had in order to survive. Jack had become a part of him and it still felt like a whole piece had been taken from him. Michael felt longing; the longing didn’t ease, just felt like it was growing. Most of all he missed home, his parents, life and his youth that Ricky had stolen.
No one really stopped him from contacting his family, no one but himself. Michael thought about it often, but the fear had been planted deep, the fear of rejection. His parents would be ashamed if they knew that he had bee a prostitute, they would be disgusted of all the men and the nasty things that had been done to him. Perhaps it was better that they didn’t know? That the image that his mom and dad had of him, wouldn’t be tainted. Still, Michael couldn’t help but to wonder, did his parents think of him at all or had Ricky been right when he had claimed that they were only happy to be rid of the boy that shamed them?
If there was something that Michael could have done to earn their appreciation and pride he would have jumped at the chance. To even consider calling them he felt like he needed to do something about his life first, something he could be proud of, something to lessen the shame of his past.
At times Michael dreamed of his own apartment, but especially of the fact that he would have his own job and his own life. That he wouldn’t be dependent of anyone but himself and that he would owe nothing to anyone. He wanted a job; something of his own and a prober work could be the way to gain something to be proud of. Michael knew how difficult it would be to find work without education and prober French skill, he spoke a little French, but it was still clumsy.
He had passed the restaurant often, La maison anglaise, an English restaurant that had very confusing menu that combined Italian, French and English kitchen. Michael thought they had too much to offer, that it would be smarter to pick something to focus on properly. But he was curious all the same. If the restaurant were English then perhaps his clumsy French wouldn’t be that big of a problem? After considering it for a few weeks, one day Michael finally encouraged himself. He had to start somewhere in order to build a new life, where he was more that a former victim of prostitution, more than a boy who Jean had saved.
Michael had to muster all the confidence he could and stepped in the bright but somewhat old-fashioned restaurant that didn’t have many customers at that time. There was a woman waitress behind the counter who smiled and greeted him. Michael greeted back and approached. ”Came in for lunch?” The woman asked.
”No, actually I came here to ask for work. I wonder if I could speak with the owner?” The woman eyed him with curiosity and finally nodded.
”What is your name?”
”Michael Harris,” he had taken his mothers maiden name to use after leaving New York.
”You’re British?” The woman asked in English while circling the counter and waving at him to follow.
”London,” Michael lied and followed her. On their way past, Michael glanced to the kitchen and saw two men joking around while cooking. They then stopped next to an office room and the woman gave a soft knock on the door.
”Mrs. Gladstone, there’s a handsome young man asking for work,” the woman glanced at him and grinned, Michael felt like he was blushing.
”The door is open,” The voice replied and the woman tapped his shoulder.
”It will go just fine, I’m sure,” she winked before returning to her own tasks. Michael drew a deep breath and opened the door. Mrs. Gladstone, who sat in front of her computer looked at him and gave a warm, welcoming smile.
”Come in and close the door behind you.” She said. Michael smiled at her and nodded. The woman was around sixty, Michael guessed. She was well dressed, wore eyeglasses and seemed easily approachable. Something about her reminded Michael of his grandmother, which made him feel at ease.
”Hi, I’m Michael Harris and I…”
”You came looking for work?” Mrs. Gladstone smiled gently, eyeing him from head to toe. ”Muriel Gladstone,” she introduced and offered her hand. ”Please, take a seat.” She said after they had shook hands.
”So, what kind of job are you looking for? Do you have any training?”
”I’m quick to learn, I speak fluent Spanish as well, I’m still learning French but I know the basics that will get me by. I’m hard working, I want to work, I don’t have experience yet, but like I said I’m quick to learn. I would be ready to start washing dishes, cleaning, anything.” Muriel was quiet for a moment, tilted her head and smiled.
”You’re quite young, aren’t you?”
”I just turned 21, I’ve lived in Paris only for a year and before that I spend a couple of years in the States.”
”Well Michael, you happened to walk in at a perfect time since one of my waiters just quit and I haven’t had the chance to hire anyone yet to replace him. Do you think you could handle that kind of work?”
”Of course! I promise that I wouldn’t let you down.”
”We would have to train you first of course. It’s not as easy as it often looks. Do you have any desktop experience?”
”No, but I learn,” Michael said with determined voice. ”I swear you wouldn’t regret hiring me.”
”At least you’re confident,” The woman smiled. ”I like that.” For a moment Muriel twirled a pen in her hands, she didn’t usually hire inexperienced, at least if she hadn’t first checked their background properly, but something about the young man pleased her. He was handsome to be sure, his smile was genuine and warm, and with his looks she was quite certain that customers were more willing to forgive small mistakes. ”Alright Michael, if you’re ready for a couple of weeks training without pay. Meaning that you’d be here five work days a week helping and learning, after which I’d hire you for three month trying period and after that… we’ll see. How does that sound?”
”I happily accept! Thank you, I know I will impress you.”
”Good. I’ll need your personal information and we’ll make a written contract to you, can you come here at ten am tomorrow?”
”Sure, of course, thank you again!”
Michael was in better mood than in months when he got home. Finally he would have his own job, own money earned with proper work! When Jean arrived home later that evening he heard Michael’s cheerful humming from the kitchen. There was a delicious smell of food that filled the apartment
”Smells wonderful, chéri, what are you cooking?” Jean asked with a smile as he approached. Michael smiled with his eyes brightening which warmed Jean’s heart.
”Lamb and oven potatoes,” Michael replied. ”Guess what?” He asked then barely able to hold down his excitement.
”Tell me?” Jean chuckled softly and touched his lover’s cheek gently.
”I got a job!” Michael said observing Jean’s face. The other man frowned with confusion.
”Yes, from one English restaurant, tomorrow I’ll go there and I have two weeks training period after which I’ll be hired for three months trying period as a waiter!” Michael explained. ”I won’t be paid for the training, but I don’t mind and I didn’t expect to. I’m just so happy to go to work! Perhaps someday I can get to the kitchen too, what do you think? Many chefs have started out washing dishes for example.”
Jean opened up a bottle of wine and poured himself a glass. He didn’t reply at first, sipped the wine quietly. Michael chewed his bottom lip confused. Perhaps he had been silly to think Jean could be as excited as he. ”Arent’t you going to say anything?” He asked finally.
”You don’t need to work Michael. It is enough that you take care of the daily chores here, my salary will cover us both.”
”But I want to work. I want to do something with my life. I’m already 21 and I’ve never had a job. I’m bored here alone everyday…” Jean still looked tense; he tasted the wine while observing Michael’s face.
”What will happen to the chores at home then? Or the time we have together if you have to work evenings or weekends?” Jean asked with sour voice.
Michael drew a deep breath and gritted his teeth, often Jean made him feel like a housewife! Michael hated it, he wanted to feel like a man, like an equal partner at least, hadn’t he deserved it? At that moment however, he did everything to calm down.
”Of course I’d still do my share of the housework and it’s not like I’d work every evening or weekend…” The answer was calmer and more conciliatory than what he felt like giving.
”You should have discussed about this with me first!” Jean brought the glass to his lips again. Michael felt a stab of disappointment, Jean would take away his happiness but he didn’t want to give it up. He continued chopping the vegetables quietly.
”I didn’t realize that I needed your permission,” he said quietly without looking at Jean. ”I thought that maybe you’d be happy for me, because the fact that I got a job and it made me happy. Is it that wrong that I’d want to do something normal. That I’d want to be your equal?” Michael felt his heart racing with anticipation of Jean’s reply.
”Don’t be silly, of course you’re equal,” Jean crumbled and Michael turner his gaze to him.
”I don’t feel it, I wish you stopped reminding me about my past, of what I was, what I never wanted to be.”
”Stop it Michael,” Jean snorted. He emptied his glass and filled it again. ”Haven’t I been good for you? Do you realize where you’d be without me?”
Michael fell silent, he continued chopping the vegetables, and his mood was down once more. ”I am grateful Jean, of course I am…. But…” He hesitated, looked at his hands. If he would give in now, he would never have the courage to take control of his own life. ”I want to make my own choices, please let me. You helped me and I’ll always be grateful but I want to make my own decisions. I’m going to take that job, whether you like it or not. I’m sorry Jean, but I am not going to ask your permission to everything I do, you’re not my guardian, you’re my lover. If you truly love me you support me in this.” Jean gritted his teeth. The real reason why he didn’t want Michael to work was jealousy. He feared that as Michael’s social circle would grow he’d be swept away by it. Michael wouldn’t be dependent of him anymore. He was scared that he’d lose Michael, the boy had made him happier than he had been in years. For a moment he looked at Michael’s sad mien and realized that he couldn’t forbid him either. Michael had been disappointed in him before and he couldn’t afford to add to that disappointment. Someday Michael might realize his freedom to leave and it was the last thing that Jean wanted. He had to keep up the bond of gratitude.
”Alright,” he finaly whispered with hoarse voice. He lowered his glass down and approached his lover again, planting a soft kiss on Michael’s cheek. ”Alright chéri, I want that you’re happy, of course I do… I want to see your smile.” Jean whispered, snuggling against Michael’s back, he nibbled his earlobe gently. ”Smile my love, your smile is so beautiful…” Jean urged and got what he wanted. ”Just promise me that you won’t take too long shifts, promise me that we still have time together as well.”
”Of course Jean, I promise.”
”Good,” Jean smiled a planted a kiss on his neck.
Michael was good on his word and didn’t disappoint Mrs. Gladstone. He was always on time, hard working and helpful. He seemed to be always on a good mood, never complained and did his work with care. Muriel felt like she had found a true gem, since the boy was on a good path to become the best waiter she had ever had. The rest of the staff complimented the boy, whose good spirit and smile seemed to cheer up everyone. They often laughed that they had never seen someone enjoy so much of being a waiter and Michael even seemed to enjoy cleaning,
The customers liked Michael as well, left him huge tips and complimented him on review cards. Even in some negative feedback that the restaurant had received, remembered to add that the brown eyed, handsome young male waiter had saved the situation as much as was humanly possible after the food had let them down.
At times Muriel wondered to Michael if he ever had a bad day, to which Michael chuckled lightly and answered that the restaurant felt like a second home to him. Muriel raised Michael’s salary quite fast; she didn’t want to lose a gem like that elsewhere.
Sam eyed the menu feeling somewhat amused. ”Well, at least one has plenty to choose from.” He took note glancing at his friend. ”Is the food really as good as you advertised?” He asked cocking his brow. The restaurant was located somewhat remote, it was bright and clean but quite old-fashioned in decor. Sam was sort of reminded of a grandmother’s living room or something like that. At the moment they played Beatles from the radio. Kitty smiled mysteriously.
”I didn’t advertise the food, I said this is a good place.” She replied and Sam glanced around him feeling confused. Kitty read a lot of décor magazines, so she couldn’t possibly think this place looked amazing.
Suddenly a soft laughter somewhere behind him stole Sam’s attention and he turned. At that moment the old fashioned décor and the odd menu with too many things on it lost their meaning.
The laughter may have been the most beautiful sound that he had ever heard and the source…. The dark haired, lean waiter, who just lowered plates in front of two middle aged woman, smiling and revealing his dimples. Sam saw his lips moving while he wished the women good appetite. He turned, sweeping his hair lightly back, and walked towards their table. Sam couldn’t tear his eyes from the youth who still smiled and for a moment their eyes met.
”Hello, are you ready to order?” The young man asked. Kitty kicked Sam’s foot under the table to make him snap back in to the present. ”Would you like something to drink first?”
”White wine please,” Kitty replied while Sam still stared at the waiter with dumb expression.
”Did you like the one I recommended to you last time?” The waiter asked in a way that almost made her blush; he remembered!
”Yes, I’d like that same, please and…”
”Some ice water as well?” The waiter guessed and Kitty almost giggled while she nodded. The waiter brought his gaze to Sam who now glanced at his nameplate; Michael, Sam again looked at the smiling face, chocolate brown eyes and long dark eyelashes. He didn’t think that he had ever seen more beautiful creature. ”And for you, sir?”
”Beer,” Sam managed to reply.
”Some particular brand? Ale or stout perhaps? Or lager?”
”Guiness?” At this Michael nodded.
”I’ll return shortly with your drinks. You can take a moment to think about your order,” the youth said and turned towards the bar. Sam felt somewhat dazzled, foolish and just odd.
”Kitty…” Sam managed to splutter, looking towards where the waiter had gone. He saw him talking to a waitress, who said something to him and brought another sweet burst of laughter. ”He must be the most beautiful creature I’ve ever laid my eyes on, I wonder if he’d go out with me?”
Kitty snorted somewhat amused and slightly embarrassed of her own schoolgirl like reaction to the waiter, her silly giggle. ”He’s straight, you’d just scare the poor kid.” She nodded.
”No, he can’t be straight…” Sam said glancing at Kitty quickly who cocked her brow.
”And why not I wonder?”
”Well,” Sam didn’t know how to answer reasonably. ”He just can’t…I have this feeling. Oh Kitty, I have to go on a date with him!” Sam nearly moaned and his expression brightened when the waiter approached with their drinks.
”Have you decided on what you’d like to eat?” Michael asked placing the drinks on front of them and filling their water glasses.
”Caesar salad with chicken, thank you.” Kitty replied and Michael wrote the order down before looking at the blond man with a smilt, the pen ready on the notebook.
”Well…” Sam eyed the menu that seemed to have too much everything. ”What would you recommend?” He asked looking at the brunet.
”Do you like spicy food?” Michael asked.
”How spicy are we talking about?” Sam asked and Michael chuckled softly.
”Not too spicy then…” He noted and thought for a moment. ”Well one that works well with your pint of Guinness is beef stew and it’s very delicious too, one of my favorites.”
”God, I’ll have that then.” Sam smiled and looked at the cute waiter as he wrote the order down.
”I really don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful,” Sam sighed after the waiter had left. Kitty again cocked her brow and brought the wine glass to her lips.
”You can always dream,” she noted and glanced at the back of the waiter. ”Great ass, beautiful smile and perfect teeth, gorgeous eyes too… I’d do him.” Kitty nodded. ”At what point I’ve started to take interest of younger men? Horrible, he’s at least five years younger than me.” Kitty sighed and Sam chuckled.
”Yes, a real pedophile on the making,” Sam teased which made Kitty kick his leg once more.
”Stop it,” she snorted.
”I’m going to ask him out.” Sam decided, tasted his beer and smiled.
”He is straight,” Kitty replied defiantly.
”No he is not,” Sam smiled.
”Yes he is! He has to be!” Kitty insisted. ”And even if he wouldn’t be, he at least has to be taken.”
”No he doesn’t.” Sam said and followed the waiter with his eyes, when he was taking another order from the near by table. ”Want to bet?” He asked quietly.
”Just what are you suggesting?”
”Give me one week and I’ve had dinner with him,” Sam grinned.
”What will you give me when you lose the bet?” Kitty asked with a smile.
”I wont lose and when I win you’ll come and cook for me some evening.” Sam smiled with confidence.
”But when you lose? Kitty insisted.
”If I lose, I’ll buy those expensive shoes for you that you drooled the other day.” Sam promised.
”Deal!” Kitty whooped and offered her hand across the table to seal the deal.
”Deal,” Sam grinned and they shook hands.