[This story was originally published in the March 2012 issue of Dreamspinner’s newsletter. I have permission to republish it here for your enjoyment, so…you know…enjoy it.]
Cal had been sitting on the café patio all morning, turning things over in his head, a cup of coffee on the small table before him. By positioning his chair just so, he had a nearly unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower, that ubiquitous landmark that screamed “Paris” like nothing else.
He’d been in the city for eleven months, nineteen days, seven hours, and the year he’d given himself to make his name as an artist was almost up. He didn’t want to go home, didn’t want to take his place in the family mortuary business, and absolutely didn’t want to return in defeat, tail tucked between his legs, not after all the grand speeches he’d made about his paintings making him famous one day.
Give up the dream when he was so close he could taste it? Okay, he hadn’t accomplished what he’d hoped in this last year, but yesterday, he’d stopped at a gallery to make enquiries and they’d invited him to bring a few pieces in. Trying to choose which pieces to include had given him a headache; what if he chose the wrong ones? What if the gallery declined because he’d included this work rather than that work?
So he was sitting in a café, staring at the distant Eiffel Tower, and trying to reclaim his natural ebullience, something he’d had scads of at age twenty, when he’d first arrived in France, but now at twenty-one, seemed to have gone missing. How quickly this beautiful city had beaten him down, stripped him of fearlessness, and taught him that the things you wanted most were often just beyond your grasp.
For instance, take the waiter, whose name was Alain. Cal had been coming to this café for months, and Alain was almost always the one who took his order, and yet Cal had never asked him out. The one time he’d made the attempt, Alain had sweetly deflected him, and Cal had never tried again.
They’d never flirted, never eye-fucked, never so much as touched hands in passing, but Cal couldn’t stop fantasizing about him. Alain was tall and slender and had thick dark hair and beautiful blue eyes and the sultriest voice he’d ever heard. When he spoke to Cal, his accented English pleasantly tickled Cal’s ear and caused a flutter in his dick. At night, in the narrow bed in his studio, he would toss and turn as he masturbated to the picture of Alain in his mind, imagining that young man’s full lips sucking him until he came with a long cry, and fall into restless dreams that starred Alain holding him close. Half his paintings featured Alain in various poses, most of them naked, and all of them sensual.
Back in Seattle, he wouldn’t have hesitated to pursue Alain, but in Paris, he’d retreated inside himself, made nervous by the unfamiliar, his self-confidence contracting to a mere shadow of its former self.
Cal watched Alain weave expertly through the tables on the patio, speaking quickly to patrons as he passed, a ready smile on his face, and then it was his turn.
“Would you like more coffee?” Alain asked. “Or perhaps, now that it is midday, you would prefer to order lunch?”
Cal could have listened to Alain speak for hours. Angels wouldn’t sound half as beautiful, Cal was sure of it. He opened his mouth to say something and was interrupted by a blast of English from a man two tables over.
“Get this damn cat out of here!”
Alain turned. Hell, everyone craned their necks to see what the ruckus was about. A skinny black cat had leapt up on the table and stuck its face in a glass of milk. The couple seated there gazed at it with something like horror. They were obviously American, and the man was the one who’d yelled.
Cal instantly started to laugh. Dogs were welcome almost everywhere in Paris but cats, not so much, and this one was obviously a stray.
Before anyone could move, Cal was on his feet and scooping the cat into his arms. “He’s hungry,” he said to the couple. “No harm done.”
“Cats are filthy animals,” the American insisted and gestured to Alain. “Remove that glass and bring me a fresh one.”
Cal grabbed it before Alain could. “I’ll take it. For the cat.” Turning to Alain, he said, “Put it on my tab, please.”
Retreating to his table, Cal sat with the cat in his lap and held the glass so he could drink from it. Cal could feel the tiny bones in the taut body beneath his hand and was moved. He’d always been a sucker for needy creatures. He petted the animal while it drank and heard it start to purr.
Alain was back. “I think you have a new pet.”
Cal glanced up at him. “I can’t keep him. I’m going home in a few days.”
“May I ask why?”
Still stroking the cat, Cal told him. The words poured out and at the end, embarrassed, he abruptly shut his mouth, avoiding looking at the waiter, who surprised him by pulling the extra chair over and sitting beside him.
“You don’t want to go home. You want to stay.”
“I’ve run out of money.”
“In Paris, people don’t live on money. They live on sex and love and all that is beautiful.”
Cal looked at him then, and saw softness in Alain’s eyes that had not been there before. He blurted, “Will you go out with me tonight?”
Alain’s smile grew larger. “I will, if you keep the cat and show me your paintings.”
Alain would see how much he meant to Cal, but suddenly, he didn’t care. It was time he took control of his life again. The veil that had covered the sun was gone and colors danced around him. “I can do that.”
“What will you name the cat?”
“Why don’t we name him together?” Cal suggested boldly.
Alain laughed and placed a hand over Cal’s. “Paris a capturé une autre âme. You will not return to Seattle, I think.”
Cal translated the French in his head: Paris has captured another soul. Grinning, he turned his hand up and laced his fingers through Alain’s. The cat continued to drink his milk, purring in contentment.