“Another camera?” Sylviane wondered if her son was ever going to appear normal.
Jean-Éric rolled his eyes well out of sight of his mother as she rifled through his shopping bag as he tried to make his way up to his bedroom. “Mama, I have been saving.” He had been for almost two years, coping with hand-me-down cameras and lens from within the family and kind neighbours. Carefully saving every centime and franc, he kept them securely locked in a small wooden box under a loose board in his wardrobe, away from his sister. Not just his sister, but his mother’s curious nose too, she could always sniff out something out of the ordinary.
“Is just one camera, all the others have not been new.” He had been desperate to have one that was just his own.
“You could have put that towards something sensible.”
Gritting his teeth ever so slightly, Jean-Éric took a steady breath in and out before replying. “For me this is sensible, I love photography, is an investment in my future.” Proud of himself for saying it all, and not letting himself be spooked by his mother’s stern expression, Jean-Éric made sure to keep standing up straight.
“Your father will...will not be happy.” He was already worried that Jean-Éric was not taking the family business seriously enough.
“I save it all for myself, have not spent all I saved.” It wasn’t like he could get a job outside the family business anyway, so he needed his own escape. “I know I have to join the family business, so I want to do something I choose. Just one thing.” Watching his mother purse her lips made his conviction waver, he knew he was being groomed to take over the family business, pretty much against his will. He craved freedom, no ties, the ability to make his own choices about the direction of his life.
“Mmm, but is a strange choice for a boy.” It wasn’t a serious occupation.
“I am not frivolous.” It was something he had been told over and over because he had always loved art, at home and at school he was judged. He couldn’t escape it.
“It seems such a waste, you should be spending time with your father.” He was always trying to find his way out his obligations, even now that his schooling had finished.
“I do.” The bag was getting heavier and heavier, the weight of binding himself tightly within himself transferred to the one thing that made him happy. “I think you worry too much about me, I know everything, I have always been beside papa learning.” He’d spent all the time he wasn’t at school at the stables, he knew all the stablehands, he knew all of the tradespeople they used, and how to break a horse in.
It was fine for the summer, but the thought of doing it for the rest of his life made him feel hopeless. Truly hopeless.
“Go hide it upstairs.” Shooing her son off, quickly before his father returned home, she set about finishing dinner with what Jean-Éric had brought home besides his extravagant purchase.
Huffing as he reached the top of the stairs, Jean-Éric fought against his desire to pull on the string around the box and open it. Instead he changed for dinner and returned to help his mother finish in the kitchen.
“Your sister will help.”
“She is a terrible chef.” Jean-Éric shot back warmly.
“She needs to learn.”
“Is an impossible task, she can’t cook. She could run the stables better than me, probably papa too, but she can not cook.” Wanting the mood to stay as light as it could be Jean-Éric smiled and laughed all his way through to his father coming through the door with his sister.
They chatted easily about the usual things, the stables, the horses, who came to visit, who his mother had seen in town. Lea had spent the day breaking in a new horse, and spoke about it with such passion Jean-Éric felt guilty that he was the one who was going to take it over. His younger sister would flourish and so would the yard, he would merely keep plodding along as the figure head, all the while his sister resenting him.
“You were supposed to come to the yard today.” Jean-Marie wished he was surprised that his son had avoided the stables again, but it was a recurring problem.
Jean-Éric knew the conversation was coming. “I went to get some shopping for mama.”
“Sylviane, you were in the town today.” His son was avoiding his responsibilities, and he could let it go when he was younger, but not now he was a man.
“I offer, things are heavy.” Jean-Éric defended himself.
“Hmm.” Jean-Marie resolved to talk to his son after they had finished eating.
“I’m sure Lea was much more help than I could be.”
“Of course I was.” Lea piped up, she hated being ignored. Jean-Éric knew how to work in the stable, even how to run it, but she knew his heart was never going to be fully in it, not like hers would be. But she knew that was never going to happen.
“See, is much better than me, Lea should be taking over, not me.” He almost laughed at how silent the kitchen went, but to him it wasn’t a crazy idea, to him it made perfect sense.
“It is passed down to the oldest son,” Jean-Marie stated with finality.
His father sad it so sternly, any thought of argument dried up within him, and Jean-Éric sat in silence until everyone had finished eating. But before he could make his escape to his bedroom and finally get his hands on his camera, he had to watch his mother swiftly whisk Lea out of the dining room.
“Jean-Éric, this frivolous approach to life must stop. You are taking over the business when I no longer can run it. So you must learn beside me, this talk about Lea is preposterous.” They’d survived the war, just, and all he wanted to do now was hand the business over, and see out his old age alongside his beautiful wife.
“No, she will not be able to cope with the demands, it is work for men.” It was taxing, and stressful at times, having to coordinate between customers and suppliers.
Jean-Éric took a steady breath. “Lea loves horses, I do not.”
“All the Vergnes love horses.”
Leaning heavily on the highly polished wooden table with his forearms, Jean-Éric wondered how he could have this conversation without it turning into a huge argument. “I like them, but they are not my passion. I do not want to do something with my life I don’t love.” He wasn’t completely sure what he wanted to do with his life, but he knew he wanted to see the world.
“I do not care.” He was always a bit disappointed that Jean-Éric didn’t have the same flair with horses that Lea or he did, even his wife did. But it had always been the oldest son who took over the reins.
“I do.” He felt emotional at the thought that he was seen as a failure in the eyes of his father. “I do care, I think with me bad things will happen, you changed the business, but I have no idea how to do that.”
“You make it modern from your father, you help train horses for war, then you now make more profits than ever before with great ideas, my ideas do not have horses in them.” On the quiet he tried to think of something to take the business forward, but he failed at every turn, and despaired at the knowledge that he was going to single handedly ruin everything.
“I can teach you these things.” Jean-Marie could hear the pleading in his voice that he didn’t want there.
“Did you have to be taught?” The silence stretched out between them, leaving Jean-Éric in agony. “I am a disappointment.”
“Lea, she’s very smart, knows everything without you having to teach her. She just knows everything. Is not like I do not want to work with you, that I want to abandon the family, is that I know Lea will be a huge success. More than I ever could hope to be.” Jean-Éric pleaded earnestly with his heart.
“And how...is not that simple.”
“Is not as difficult as you think it is.” Jean-Éric tried to placate, but he wasn’t convinced it was ever going to work out.
“Customers want to speak to a man, not some girl.”
“Papa, Lea is not some girl.” He could feel his temper begin to flare, Lea was a fierce spirit more than capable of taking on even the most ancient-minded man. “The world is changing.”
“Is enough talk for tonight.” Standing up he put a stop to the conversation, hoping his daughter hadn’t overheard, it wasn’t his fault, it was just the way the world was.
Jean-Éric quietly sloped off to bed feeling disheartened, he knew Lea would excel and carry on the Vergne name much better than he ever could. But he had his camera in his room, calling him loudly, and so in the gentle glow of his lamp, he unwrapped it and gazed at the beauty of it all. The lure of possibility was its siren call, and Jean-Éric wanted to follow it.
“It’s just one week.” Jean-Éric reassured warmly.
“On your own!”
He knew his mother would worry. “I go to Paris on my own.”
“But you know Paris.” All she could see was bad things happening.
Jean-Éric shook his head at his mother’s worrying as he picked up his backpack, he was so excited about being able to go out on his own for once, somewhere new. Somewhere just for him. “I know you worry, but I will be safe.” He was borrowing a van from their neighbour, and had plotted the journey on his own, despite his parents trying their best to interfere.
“Please be careful my love.” There was no use in her protesting his trip, making him stay would only make him sad, and he needed some freedom. “Please.”
“I promise.” Giving her a huge hug, he packed the last few things into the car and prepared to make the journey to the other side of Paris. He estimated it would take between six and seven hours depending on how often he needed to stop, especially as he had never driven that far before. And with Lea at school and his father at the stables, he set off needing to fill his tank up, and the spare can his mother forced him to take.
The early morning sun was slowly warming up, and with his window propped open, the sensation of the fresh air flowing over his face gave him a sense of peace he was desperate for. He never felt he could settle to anything, the only activity he enjoyed was photography, face pressed to the camera he could disappear as he sought something from somewhere else.
Reaching over to the passenger seat to pick up the map, he held it against the steering wheel, but with little success in figuring out where he needed to turn off. “Hmpf.” Pulling over when he saw an entrance to a field, he reminded himself of the next few directions and carried on. The borrowed Citroën van wasn’t the best vehicle to drive, but it meant he would have somewhere to stay at night, and he could travel around the circuit when he wanted.
Once his was sure about where he was going, Jean-Éric started the van again and continued on. No one in his family was that interested in racing, unless it involved horses, and Jean-Éric wasn’t completely sure why he fell in love with it, but he found himself scouring newspapers to hear about his favourite racers.
But André Lotterer was the driver he loved to read about. He was the master of the daring pass, and seemed to be really aggressive when on the hunt for a win. He’d yet to see a photo of him, but he could imagine what he looked like from snippets of descriptions he’d picked up along the way. Older, handsome, fierce, strong. A true racer.
He was hoping to catch a glimpse of all of his favourites, finally put the men to the names he had read about. But overall he just wanted to see and hear the beautiful machines pushed to their limit. As he drove on his mind settled down as he felt comfortable driving through the changing landscape, he let his thoughts drift off.
Every now and then panic would rise within him about his future as he lay in bed, he’d struggle to do anything else than stare at the ceiling, paralysed with the fear his destiny was set in stone. He was also supposed to be finding a girlfriend, because children were necessary to continue on the family name, though he tried no one seemed to fit. This made him picky according to his mother, which she found infuriating, and his father, tiresome.
“You’ll find someone.” He told himself under his breath. Even though he wanted to travel the world, he never really wanted to do it alone. He wanted to share the experiences with someone just excited to be there.
By the time he got near the race track, the sky was still light so organising where he was going to set up for the night was easy enough. With his camping ticket shown to the marshal, he drove into the camping area inside the track, a place called Houx, not too far from Arnage. Even thinking of such an iconic name made him grin as he switched down a gear to trundle over the bumpy ground to find a place to park up.
He was finally at Le Mans.
There were already plenty of people about who had clearly been there before, they had much more with them, and were enjoying the atmosphere. It left Jean-Éric feeling nervous as he switched his engine off. It was times like this he would like someone beside him, but then if he waited it may never happen, and he needed to see the cars with his own eyes.
With warmth still in the air, Jean-Éric ventured out of the car to stretch his body out, starting with his arms, and moving down his body until he reached down to his feet. Sighing contently to himself, he wandered around to the back of the van to make a final check on everything he’d packed. He’d done it every time he’d stopped along the way, but the last leg did see him making a few sharp stops, so he wanted peace of mind that everything had survived.
Turning from the back of his van, he replied to the couple now stood beside him. “Hi.”
“Uh, yeah, must be obvious.” Jean-Éric shrugged with a smile.
“We like new people though, all of us,” Jean-Éric followed where the women gestured down the line of tents and cars, “were new once.”
“And it’s a good thing you’re French, we’ve accumulated far too many British people of late.” He laughed as the woman next to him rolled her eyes. “But they’re alright, we beat the French into them over the week.”
Jean-Éric told himself to relax properly, and embrace. “Is good then, I’m Jean-Éric.”
“My name is Caterina, and this is my boyfriend Pierre.”
Shaking Pierre’s hand, he kissed Caterina’s cheeks and followed them to be introduced to the rest of the group. Alain and his son Nico, Romain with his wife Marion, and sons Sacha and Simon, Charles and Esteban, along with Jenson and David. Realising that there were only two British people there, he went to say something to Pierre, but he had already pre-empted him.
“Two is still two too many!” Pierre grinned before shouting over to Jenson and David in French, leaving them both looking confused. “Gets them every time.”
After an evening of drinking and talking, Jean-Éric felt completely vindicated in his choice to come to watch Le Mans as he climbed into his makeshift bed. He’d taken an old, soft, mattress and made it fit best he could amongst everything else he’d brought along, and under the blankets he slept easy.
“Get ready for this.”
Over some excellent red wine the previous evening, Jean-Éric had gotten some more practise in refining his English with Jenson and David, two fanatic racing fans who were already onto their fifth visit. He was about to ask what to get ready for as they reached the edge of the circuit, but he could hear it in the distance already. The roar of an engine. The deepening rumble as it approached made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
His plan had been to take a photo of the first car he saw, but he was so enthralled and so blown away by the sound of the engine running through his body, he knew the best he could hope after developing the film was a blur. Then they didn’t stop, car after car, driver after driver finding the best line.
“Uh, do you know number for André Lotterer?”
“Yeah, had a look in the programme, he is number eighteen.”
“Pardon?” David spoke so fast and with such a strong Scottish accent, Jean-Éric struggled to grasp what he was saying.
“Eighteen.” Jenson repeated before giving David a small shove. “I could barely understand him to begin with, takes a while.” Jenson grinned broadly before giving David a surprisingly soft look. “Not a bad driver, we’re supporting a fair few, but Paul di Resta and Lewis Hamilton are our bet for the win.”
Jean-Éric liked how Jenson and David were with each other, joking around, touching each other freely, making fun of each other. They were really great friends, and it showed. “André Lotterer and James Rossiter will win, I am sure.”
“We shall see about that.”
Thankful that David had spoken much slower, he managed to understand what he had said, even though it was only a short sentence. They stayed a little longer watching the cars fly past, each time made Jean-Éric happier and happier, he’d promise himself just to live in the moment and not stress over anything.
“Let’s go on a bit further.” Jenson suggested.
Jean-Éric agreed and followed on behind them, they kept talking to each other quietly, their heads would get close every now and then, then they’d laugh or nod at each other. It left Jean-Éric feeling curious, or at least that what he assumed the feeling inside was.
“So why don’t you support French drivers?” David made sure to speak as slowly as he could without trying to insult the young French guy.
They’d stopped on the top of a small hill, giving them a different perspective, being able to look down, Jean-Éric decided to try and get another shot. “I like how they race.” He didn’t want to get to far into the reasons with them because it wasn’t just that, he really didn’t think too hard on it himself.
“Maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of him, a lot of the drivers visit Arnage, a few stay nearby too.” Jenson liked the way Jean-Éric’s face flashed pink over his cheeks. Usually he’d get up early with David and enjoy every second of the cars on track, the French contingent tended to get up later, enjoy a delicious lunch and then amble off to the track. But when they saw Jean-Éric up at the same time as them, they both agreed to offer him some company.
“Oh.” He wasn’t sure what to do with the information, he knew it was highly unlikely, but the idea of meeting a racing driver made him feel weird, a little off balance. “Is real?”
“Sure is chap, I had a little meeting with Herr Lotterer two years ago, very suave.” He had been taken in which left David burning with jealousy, until that evening. He quickly smoothed things over, very successfully.
“Still talking about him I see.” David bit his lip to suppress the smirk.
“Ah, cool it you, I made it right.”
They bickered gently, without malice, and Jean-Éric felt awkward watching on as they play fought, both wearing huge grins. He felt like he was imposing. “Uh, I will go by my own.”
“Oh no, do not feel…” Jenson started.
“Is okay, is okay.” Jean-Éric raised to hand to stop Jenson or David from trying to convince him. “I have my map, and you already are so nice.”
“Do you have something to eat?”
“Oui, plenty.” His mother had given him so much, he was confident in making several offerings to the group in the evening. “Merci, uh, thank you.” His aim was to walk the whole circuit whilst he was there, to see all the corners and straights he had read about, and seen in photos.
“Okay then, we’ll see you later.” Waving him off, Jenson took David off to their favourite spot to enjoy the views.
He may not be into single horsepower, but he had picked up a lot of useful skills from working at the stables, so now he was using the map reading skills his father had drilled into him for when he went hacking to avoid getting lost. But before he went he raised his camera to take one more photo from the higher vantage point.
Taking in Arnage and Indianapolis left him eager for more, he had heard Pierre and Charles talking about Mulsanne and going in a couple of days, and with an open invitation to go with them whenever he wanted, he decided to go in the other direction.
Whilst he watched the cars tackle Maison Blanc, he made ate what he packed for lunch, savouring the sausage and cheese to the most beautiful soundtrack. The familiar summer sun was beating down on him as he ate, the shade was a few feet away, but he couldn’t bring himself to move the small distance.
He was in heaven.
He had his camera, he had cars, and he had perfect weather.
He was revelling in his freedom.
But the last thought left him feeling guilty, it wasn’t like his parents kept him locked up, or dictated his every move. But there was a heavy weight of expectation on his shoulders that was always going to be there if he stayed at home. The screech of tyres from a driver losing control shocked him from his thoughts, just past him, a car spun off the track and plunged between the trees.
Before he could stand up, a group of marshals were dashing off after the car to rescue the driver. At least that was what Jean-Éric was hoping. But as time went on, and the amount of people that went into the trees got higher, he knew the worst had happened. Not wanting to dwell on the accident, Jean-Éric packed up his things and walked on again, this time not stopping until he the pits were in his sights.
“Merde,” he breathed out at the smells, sounds and hive of activity in front of him. It was glorious. The scent of fuel made his head go light, it was intoxicating to be so close. All he wanted to do was try to catch a glimpse of a driver, any driver.
“You’ve dropped this.”
A piece of card was handed to him, and before he could say anything other than merci, the green card was in his hand and the man was walking off. There was a loop of string attached through a punched hole, and once Jean-Éric flipped the card over he couldn’t believe what he saw. He had a photography pass in his hands.
Stepping to the side, Jean-Éric made himself comfortable so he could watch what people did, and more importantly how the photographers acted. But he couldn’t muster the courage to keep the pass, someone would be missing it, someone who was a proper photographer and needed it. Inspecting the card he only found a stamped number instead of a name, and no idea of where to take it.
Slipping the string over his head, Jean-Éric wondered if being impulsive was going to backfire on him. But with his camera hanging off his shoulder, he walked into the paddock, making sure to avoid looking too many people in the eye, he was just going to walk from one end to the other, and then walk back, find a marshal and hand the pass over.
Hearing the name, Jean-Éric darted his gaze around to try and find the source.
“André, we need one more…”
The man striding in front of him was talking French, and as Jean-Éric followed where he walked he finally saw him. André Lotterer.
Jean-Éric stood back, carefully angling himself with camera in hand to watch on as the pair spoke. André was not old at all, and far more handsome than his imagination could every gift him, distinguished. Shaking his head at the word not being right, Jean-Éric brought his camera up to his face and waited for beat before pressing on the shutter, capturing a clear shot. What he hoped it was a clear shot anyway.
He was more than handsome.
The sort of more than handsome that made his stomach swoop low.
But he was wearing sunglasses.
His favourite subject behind the lens was people, it was easier to capture landscapes, but seeing a truth within someone when they least expect it was so satisfying. He was getting some practice in, roping in his sister when she was at the stables. Jean-Éric loved to see the joy in her face when she was riding, and the strength of her spirit when she was organising people, and horses. He taken some in secret of his mother and father too, working in the kitchen, and more from the stables.
With the sunglasses off, Jean-Éric’s heart rate rocketed up.
He was holding the sunglasses idly as he fished around in his pocket for something. Cigarettes. Gauloises, he recognised the packet. Risking another photo, Jean-Éric took the chance and looked through the lens again.
Jean-Éric forced himself to walk the length of the paddock, loitering would eventually bring too much attention to himself, and without André catching him out he considered himself fortunate. But as he walked, his mind kept wandering on behind him, back to the man leaning on the truck, the short sleeve shirt showing off the strength in his arms. Glancing over his shoulder to see the spot he was standing in not long ago, he found himself drifting back. His legs knowing the exact steps to retrace.
Of course he wasn’t still going to be there.
Sighing at himself in embarrassment, Jean-Éric dropped his head, and then he was faced with the illicit photographers pass still hanging around his neck. “Idiot.”
“Hope you are not talking to me.”
Whoever was talking to him in a strange French accent didn’t sound too impressed. “No, was just talking to myself.” Turning his body, Jean-Éric was just about to keep himself standing when he focused in on who he was talking to. “Oh, no, d-definitely not to you, uh, about you.”
“I am pleased that you’ve said that.”
“Of course you are no idiot.”
“I could be, you do not know me.”
“But you are André Lotterer, you’ve won Le Man twice.” Jean-Éric listened to himself ramble on and on, reeling off statistics and amazing race victories, that left André grinning at him in complete bemusement.
“You know more than me!” André said with a smile and a hint of amusement.
André didn’t have the heart to admit that he didn’t care about the lists the younger man was talking of, he cared about pushing his life to the ultimate limit. Beyond what was safe and normal. He’d never been interested in normal. “Maybe so, but you know a lot.”
“How you drive, is always without fear, you are spectacular.” Knowing he’d never see the racer again, Jean-Éric felt free to make an absolute fool of himself, and let him know just how he felt about him. Almost. He was certain in his knowledge that André would never want to know about his middle of the night fantasies, and future ones, especially now because he knew what he looked like.
André was finding the man endearing, his eyes were bright and engaging, his lips full, hair flopping in front of his eyes in the most perfectly distracting manner. So much so he almost didn’t catch his hand moving from his pocket to brush the strands away. “Do you have some time to visit the garage?”
Jean-Éric forced his head to nod and followed the racing driver into his team garage, a few mechanics were standing around with coffee cups, but they slowly disappeared as André showed him around the car. His face wasn’t particularly expressive, he hoped for more, he certainly hoped for a glimmer of something more than he got.
“You can take photographs.” As he had not even touched his camera made André wonder about his intentions, anyone else with a pass always had their camera pressed to their face.
“Oh, thank you.” André looked like he was stepping out of the way so he could get to the car, but where he stood was a gift. Almost out of the garage, he was searching his pocket again for the creased packet of cigarettes to pluck one out of. Jean-Éric changed his angle and used the difference in light to frame André’s silhouette perfectly, his lean body highlighted by the close cut of his clothes.
“Did you get all you wanted of the car?”
“Uh huh.” He hadn’t taken one where it was the focus. “Maybe one more from the front?”
“Go ahead.” Watching on as he positioned himself, André couldn’t help but stare, without another soul about he could indulge himself without having to look over his shoulder. And it was just a little look, just a little time spent appreciating how athletic the man was as he moved about. His trousers were loose, but as he widened his legs, the fabric pulled taut just in the right place…
“Um, Mr Lotterer?”
“You have been in my garage, call me André.” The man blushed, and he could see he wanted to turn his head away, but André was equally impressed and amused that he didn’t. “What can I call you?”
“Jean-Éric Vergne.” He wanted to sound confident and more grown up than he was, but with his cheeks burning, his voice faltered a little. “Jean-Éric.”
“Your French is very good.” He was fluent, even though his accent wasn’t local.
“Thank you, comes to me through Belgium.”
“Ah, that explains the accent.” In the background someone was calling out for André, and the brief moment had gone.
“It was good to meet you Jean-Éric.” Holding out his hand, they shook, and he felt his firm grip returned. Damning whoever was looking for him, André walked Jean-Éric out back to the paddock, almost convinced now that he wasn’t a professional photographer. He was too quiet, too unassuming and not demanding at all, which raised a whole other set of questions about who he knew to have obtained the pass he needed.
“Was an honour to meet you Mr Lotterer.” André laughed a little at him as he walked off, but Jean-Éric didn’t care at all, by sheer chance he had done something he never dared imagine could happen.
Whipping his head around, he saw André striding towards him, pen in hand.
“Would you like an autograph?” He received a shocked little nod, then a slight panicked look. “Maybe this?” Tugging playfully on the pass hanging around his neck, André flipped it over and signed the blank reverse, using Jean-Éric’s body to press against.
It felt strangely intimate to have André so close to him, and through his thin shirt he could feel the press of the pen against his skin. The heat was just starting to seep out of the day, but Jean-Éric was feeling hotter than he had since he woke early in the morning. He smelled of cigarettes, gasoline, cologne, outside, sweat, it was overwhelmingly masculine.
He was overwhelming masculine.
Jean-Éric enjoyed it far more than he would ever tell a soul, he was trapped with a secret that he could never speak of, but it wasn’t going to stop him fantasising when he was alone. Allowing himself to enjoy the moment, Jean-Éric held the sigh in when André pulled back, and it was all over in a few brief moments. “Thank you.”
“Enjoy the race.”
“Mmm. Good luck.”
“Now is my chance to thank you, Jean-Éric.”
André disappeared and Jean-Éric took his leave too, taking himself back to the camping ground almost the same route he took to get to the paddock. But without any action on the circuit, he waited to be out of sight of a marshal post and climbed over a fence to place his feet on hallowed ground. He was quick to set up a shot to take, using up the last few spaces on the film before he had to change it out, and more importantly before he got caught.
With the sun waning and taking the heat out of the day, Jean-Éric chose a more direct route back to his van. Walking through the fields, he let his hands drift over the top of the long grass whilst his mind was occupied with André. How he wished their moment could have gone on, maybe in private, although Jean-Éric realised how incredibly fortunate he had been.
“Ah, the wandering man returns!”
Jenson had spotted him first as he nimbly climbed over the last fence.
“Bonsoir!” Trading stories of the day filled the rest of the evening over wine and food, when it came to his turn he left out the details of the pass and meeting André Lotterer, he didn’t want any scrutiny, he wanted it kept precious. He wanted to climb into bed and add his dream ending to the meet up, with a kiss, a long kiss.
“Jean-Éric?” Pierre called over, but it was of no use, he was trapped in some sort of day-dream, and it left him smiling at his own memory of his first visit. “Jean-Éric?”
“Huh?” A few people began to laugh, and he realised that he had been caught.
“Must be something good you think about?”
Searching for something to say that wouldn’t implicate him. “Um, maybe I am tired a little, can not believe I am here.”
“We all know that feeling,” David reassured kindly, “don’t feel you need to stay up with us, we won’t be offended if you’d rather sleep.” He knew on his first couple of visits he felt obliged to be the last one awake, and with Jean-Éric being on his own, he wanted to give him the opportunity.
Hearing others agreeing left Jean-Éric feeling endless relief, and with a round of grateful thanks from himself, he gathered up his bag and took himself off to bed. He could hear the chatter continue as he wrapped himself up in a blanket, it was soothing to know there were other people around. It gave him the peace of mind to close his eyes, and relax enough to take himself back to André pressing the pen against his body. Even through the card, and his shirt, he could feel the pressure.
The heat of his face so close to his.
The gentle puff of his breath.
The scent of cigarettes.
His kind touch.
In the dark, that was what Jean-Éric wanted instead of his own. André’s hand on his body. A touch that he didn’t know, one that could surprise him, one that could tease him. As talented as his hands were, he was bored of them. But not bored enough tonight.
“You were talking to that kid for a while.”
“Is a photographer, want to make sure they all get my good side.” André laughed at the roll of the eyes from the team manager, he was deft hand at deflecting any sort of focus on who he spoke to.
As the days rolled on, Jean-Éric found himself looking forward to spending time with the rest of the campers. Pierre and Caterina kept him topped up with wine; Alan and Nico were fanatical about their knowledge of the cars and the drivers; Romain and Marion were keeping an eye on him like he was family, and their sons were very sweet; Charles and Esteban kept themselves to themselves but they knew all kinds of gossip; and Jenson and David never failed to make him laugh. Jean-Éric felt peaceful around them, it would take more, but it gave him hope that he would be able to make connections wherever he went.
They sat along the Mulsanne straight and marvelled at the raw speed of the cars, Tertre Rouge gave them chills, and watching the cars emerge from over the hill allowed Jean-Éric to set his camera up perfectly.
“Do you take photos a lot?” Marion had been watching Jean-Éric a lot over the few days they had all been together, he was studious with his camera, and she was intrigued.
“Um, yes, I try. I would like to do it all the time.” He went on to explain about why he liked doing it, and his wish to travel the world. “I want to meet all sorts of people.”
“After what we have lived through, I think we all realise that stories need to be told, and pictures tell us so much.” Marion couldn’t help but feel maternal towards Jean-Éric, she wanted to believe that he was younger than he was.
It gave Jean-Éric so much to think off as they all ate together under the baking hot sun, maybe he could do that, tell stories with photos, allow other people to see what they could not imagine. “Before you go Charles, Esteban, can I take a photo of everyone?” He didn’t expect anyone to agree, but before his eyes everyone gathered together on the small mound they had shared a late and leisurely lunch, waiting for him to set it up. “Just in a little Jenson.” And with that Jean-Éric watched Jenson gleefully climb on David’s lap and wrap his arms around his neck.
Jean-Éric laughed at how happy they both seemed to be, and reorganised himself to take the photo. He wanted to remember everyone, he wanted to remember the moment for all its freedom and possibility.
With some cajoling, Jean-Éric managed to find someone with a camera to take one of them all with his, something he realised he would be glad of later on. One photo of himself wouldn’t be a waste of film.
Taking his leave, Jean-Éric couldn’t help but take himself back to the paddock, he had a bag full of film canisters ready to be used, and he knew where to find people. The pass had been carefully packed into his bag, and it soon found its way around his neck once he was in reaching distance of the garages again.
“Ah ha, look it is my favourite photographer.”
There was an arm around his shoulders pulling him into a warm body. André. “Hello.”
“You can come with me.” Dragging him off to his garage, he introduced him to James Rossiter and made Jean-Éric take a photo of them both.
“So you are Jean-Éric, I hear you are an excellent photographer.” Seeing Jean-Éric in the flesh for the first time beyond a rather elaborate description made complete sense.
“Oh, um, thank you.”
There was a boyish charm to his blushing at the compliment, but he was built lean and strong. Wholly André’s type. “Cheers to you for using English, can’t speak a word of it, and I know André talks about me behind his back!”
“I do not at all.” André shot back without a hint of malice, but he added more than a hint of warning in his eyes to go steady. He wasn’t sure if Jean-Éric would want closeness, but he wanted to explore the possibility and see. And hope.
“Just once or twice perhaps.” James grinned, unable to help himself in winding André up.
Jean-Éric was just trying to concentrate on keeping calm around two drivers he had only read about a couple of weeks ago. They were stood right in front of him. Right there. James Rossiter and André Lotterer. He felt like he wasn’t there at all, almost as if he was watching a film of the scene.
“Have you eaten?”
Just about managing a nod to say that he had, he was then offered a coffee to which he took graciously after being firmly escorted into the garage again. He wasn’t allowed to protest or politely decline, he made an attempt, but André shook his head and tutted at him, before putting an arm around his shoulders.
Hearing the way Jean-Éric moaned lightly after the first sip left André wanting more, to hear him again. “Good?”
“Have been drinking awful coffee! Is so good to finally drink something...something good.” It smelled like it was going to be rich and smooth. “Isn’t practice soon?” He put the cup down on the side to drink in a minute, his nerves were shaking the cup and he didn’t want André to see.
“It is, so get yourself comfortable in here and you can watch me.” André pointed out a few places he could watch from easily.
“And James.” Jean-Éric couldn’t help but tease the man, his piercing blue eyes locked onto his the moment the words left his mouth.
“Why not just me?”
“You are a team.” He almost lost his smirk, but Jean-Éric was glad his fought himself to keep it on his lips as he spoke evenly.
“Maybe me a little more?” He set himself one time to press further.
“Maybe just a little.”
“Aha, and now you can stay.” Patting Jean-Éric on the shoulder, he left him alone whilst he went to climb into his car.
He thought he’d be able to keep his cool, but André flashed him a smile and he felt his face heat up, and then he felt it in his stomach as it did loops, and then for the first time he felt it in his legs. They felt weak, wobbly, they trembled. He was in trouble. Jean-Éric knew he shouldn’t think such things about another man, he has spent enough time in church to understand the sin, but it didn’t stop his heart and eyes seeking men out.
As the cars circulated, fighting each other for the position on track, Jean-Éric was left stood next to James thinking about how he so desperately wanted André to do a great many things to him. Grinning to himself he let him mind wander off to where it went at night.
As he climbed out of his car, André found himself looking for Jean-Éric, he wanted to see his expression, what he thought about his driving. “You look very...satisfied.” André wasn’t sure if it was the right word, but it just seemed to fit.
“Oh, maybe it is because you both have done such a great job on track.” He knew it was getting to André when he included James in his praise, and knowing that his time was limited and never to be repeated, he chose to live his fantasy.
“I think I went faster.” Watching Jean-Éric roll his eyes with a playful sigh made André laugh, he couldn’t keep it inside if he wanted to. “I thought you would be more satisfied with me.”
“Is everything in your life a competition?” With a hand on his hip, Jean-Éric sent the challenge with a raised eyebrow.
The haughty expression was killing him, the hands on hips too, then the way Jean-Éric raised a single eyebrow at him finished him off. “Can you wait?” He got an earnest nod of the head, and slipped off alongside James to get changed out of their race attire.
“You have it bad.”
“James,” André returned with a warning tone as they both undressed.
“Do not play with me, I see it in your eyes.” James found it so easy to tease André when he spotted a handsome man, it was a predilection he didn’t share, but not one he worried about. André took just as much pleasure in teasing him when he had eyes for a woman.
“I have nothing in my eyes.”
“He is a beautiful young man, but I think there are feelings there for you too.” Jean-Éric seemingly agreed to everything André offered or suggested with soft eyes, so James believed dinner would not be out of the question. “Take him to dinner tonight, we only have the parade tomorrow.”
James’ words made it seem possible, like Jean-Éric would say yes, and he would want what he wanted. Shaking the thought from his head as he buttoned up his shirt and then fixed his waistcoat and tie, he slipped his jacket on and left the room and James’ taunting laughter. Not seeing Jean-Éric immediately had him wondering if they had been overheard, but instead he found the man crouched down with his camera pressed to his face. He took such care with what he was doing, André was entranced.
“You must have dinner with me tonight.” He was only supposed to be thinking of the words, not saying them out loud, but they came out nonetheless.
“Um…” It knocked the air out of him as he stumbled standing up, he wasn’t expecting André to say anything like that.
“You should, André is just the best at choosing the wine, but then you are French, so I guess you know too. Maybe you can talk about that.” Leaving his voice light, James quickly took his departure to walk out of the paddock, and left them to discuss the details on their own.
Jean-Éric was now panicking, he didn’t have anything smart to wear, nothing that would be acceptable in a restaurant that a racing driver would choose. “Uh…I don’t think I have suitable clothes to wear.” Staring at the floor, he felt like a child. “I have a jacket but...it is not formal.” It was too hot to wear anything other than a shirt all day.
“I am sure that would be fine.” He blustered, trying to brush the nerves from himself.
To turn the invitation down would be something he would forever regret, and keeping that in the front of his mind, Jean-Éric accepted. “Where shall I meet you?” André had gestured for them to walk towards the exit of the paddock, so Jean-Éric followed eagerly.
“Oh, thought I could take you for a drive in my Porsche.” Presenting his silver 356, he listed a few specifications that he could see Jean-Éric understood.
“Makes my van sound like a snail!” Jean-Éric laughed, as he gazed upon the sweeping beauty of the Porsche. “Makes it look like one too.”
“Then I think you should let me drive, we can pick up your jacket along the way.” André offered, but still he sensed resistance.
“I’m camping. Near Arnage.”
“Very rustic.” That comment coloured Jean-Éric’s cheek pink which was enough for André to put a halt on any further jokes. “I used to camp when I came to watch with my father, we stayed at Houx.”
“Maybe you remember where it is, that’s where I’m staying.” André would be waiting in his car, so he would be able to get to his van and leave without much fuss. As he climbed into the car, he marvelled at the luxurious interior, it wasn’t like anything he had seen. “It’s all so beautiful.”
The word reminded André of how James had described Jean-Éric, and he wasn’t wrong at all, he had fine features, wondrously plump lips, it was where his gaze desired to rest most of all. The way Jean-Éric appreciated every detail wide-eyed had him wondering exactly how old he was. He had the stance and look of a man, but when his cheek flushed with colour he seemed to get younger in an instant. “How old are you?”
“Eighteen.” He knew André was twenty six from reading articles about him, and with him now dressed in a waistcoat and jacket, he definitely seemed those eight years older.
Checking for traffic as he meet a crossroad André squeezed his eyes shut for a second, he was young but he was a man. But maybe he wouldn’t be aware of his feelings. Getting a few extra directions from Jean-Éric get them to the entrance of the campsite, where he hopped out and jogged behind some trees and disappeared out of sight for a while.
Grateful André didn’t even try to follow him, Jean-Éric took himself off quickly and mentally ran through all of the clothes he had brought with him, and when he did it for real, he rejoiced at the small bottle of cologne that was languishing at the bottom of his bag. Dabbing a little on, along with a fresh shirt and his slightly crumpled jacket, Jean-Éric felt civilised enough to return to André. But as he began to make his way back he chanced a look in a mirror and regretted ignoring his comb, so with the trees still hiding him he dragged his fingers through his hair a couple of times instead.
“Now, don’t you look handsome.” He smelled amazing too, the hint of cologne was purposeful and André hoped it was just for him.
“I have to do something to compete with you.” Jean-Éric grinned.
“I’m not one that likes to lose, but I’ve lose this battle.” And André was sincere, Jean-Éric was so effortlessly handsome.
“Stop always making fun of me.”
“I am being serious, you are very handsome.” He risked patting Jean-Éric’s thigh, and was pleased when he didn’t jump away. André wanted to believe that he even leaned into his touch, but that had to be a bump in the road, nothing more.
The moment André laid a hand on him with his voice calling him handsome, Jean-Éric didn’t want the contact to end, he wanted his hand to stay there. The heat seared his skin, burned through his trousers, branded him. He hadn’t realised that when André was taking his hand his leg followed until it hit the gearstick. Feeling embarrassed, he turned his head and stared out of the window as the scenery flowing past him. “The view is glorious.” Long gone were his days of daydreaming, car journeys with his father were lessons. Lessons in stable management, rearing foals, how to budget, what to feed the horses in poor weather…
“I have to agree.” Looking at Jean-Éric was glorious. “But you look so serious.”
“Am thinking of home, my father.”
“Oh.” His voice was solemn, more so than he expected from the younger man.
Thinking he may have worried André unnecessarily, Jean-Éric brightened his voice, “Is nothing bad, but I am to take over the family business, but my sister should.”
“Of course, she is much better than me.”
André was perplexed as to why Jean-Éric would give up something like that. “What is the business?”
“Horses. We raise and train them.”
“Ah, that makes more sense.”
“I do not not seem like a I like horses?”
“Maybe, but I could not imagine you staying in one place forever.” There was a carefree spirit that surrounded Jean-Éric, it was in his eyes, the way he smiled, how he moved even.
“That is how I feel all the time, I want to find stories and capture them, show them to the world. Has been so much hate and death in the world, I want to find the love that is left.” There was such a freedom to be found in speaking to someone he knew he was never going to see again.
“That’s a very noble cause, I think the world needs more love.”
“It does, too much love has been hidden.” The way André looked at him, and the expression on his face showed so much understanding Jean-Éric was unsure what to say next. It was an utterly ridiculous thought, but it felt like if André wanted to he could dive into his soul.
The silence that stretched out until they reached the restaurant that André had a long standing reservation at, that was set in place from his very first visit. It was a small place, family run, with exquisite standards. “I came here at my very first race, now it has become a tradition.”
Jean-Éric nodded before getting out of the car, wishing all the while that he had never said a word about himself now. The air between them had gone stale and awkward. Just like it always did at school. Hiding the disappointment, Jean-Éric gave himself a brief stern talking to before reaching André’s side, he just had to relax.
“Welcome Mr Lotterer!”
Finding himself swept along, Jean-Éric nodded when he needed to, to both the owner and André as he was led through the compact restaurant. Nimbly avoiding bumping into other chairs and other people, he was shown a small table in a tight corner at the back. A small space between the walls either side of a window was all they had, so choosing a side, he looked out at the view across fields as André continued to talk to the owner about business.
“Sorry about that, he does love to talk!” André grinned as Jean-Éric smiled back at him. “I’ve ordered a few things, if that’s okay?”
“And a little wine.”
“Naturally.” Before the atmosphere was stung by silence, the wine arrived and Jean-Éric gladly took the glass André poured for him. Sipping at it, he wished for the alcohol to bring back the confidence he had earlier.
It was rich, deep and fruity. “Very.” Taking another drink, he set the glass down gently on the square wooden table.
“So, horses?” André fell in love with the way Jean-Érc talked about his family, how his hands moved about to emphasise a point about how much he admired his parents, the warm smile as he described his younger sister, the pinking of his face when he avoided questions about early crushes. “Ah come on, you must have had girls chasing you.”
“Maybe...I do not think...maybe I did not...never really noticed.” Jean-Éric finished with a shrug, he was surprised that what he had said caused laughter from André.
“You are so beautiful though.”
“I don’t think girls like beautiful boys!” It was his turn to laugh now, it was such a preposterous thing for André to say, he wasn’t beautiful at all. Sometimes he could believe he passed as handsome when he put some effort into his appearance, but a lifetime working in a stableyard put paid to that occurring on a regular basis. “Now, you are incredibly handsome, so suave.”
“Oh Jean-Éric, you certainly know how to compliment a man.” Pouring more wine for himself, André offered more to Jean-Éric without expectation, but was gifted the most wonderful smile as an agreement.
“And you know how to impress a man with good wine.” With the light beginning to fade outside, the candles that the owner had exuberantly lit were casting a wonderful glow on André’s face. It felt...romantic.
“What has you smiling?” Jean-Éric’s lips had quirked into a sweet smile, and he just had find out what had caused it.
“Umm…” He had just about managed to not blurt out that it was all André’s fault. “Am so lucky to be here doing this, that I get to meet you, and now have dinner with you.”
He continued to ramble on about his racing career, reeling of statistics and things he had read in newspapers to do with his race wins. It left André smiling himself, mirroring Jean-Éric as he rambled on. “Jean-Éric.”
“...and it was written that you once fixed an engine yourself…”
“...and one time you punched another driver because he kissed your girlfriend…”
“Jean-Éric.” André refused to keep the laughter in.
“...and you have this weird superstition with putting something in your shoe before every race…”
With his words clearly having no effect, André reached over the table and grasped Jean-Éric’s arm firmly. “Jean-Éric, I do not know where you read these things!”
“It’s not true?”
“The engine, yes, but the others no. I’ve never brought a girlfriend anywhere near a race track, and the idea of putting anything in my show other than my foot is hideous!” He got a furrowed brow and a hint of disappointment in return that he wanted gone. “Jean-Éric, I think they write things to make us all seem much more interesting than we are.”
“Are you telling me you are boring?” André smirked at him in a devilish way.
“Not at all, but I do believe there are things people will not print, for decency.”
He hated that he went bright red when anything salacious was said, even now, at his age, he still did it, and he detested himself more whenever it happened.
He found it fascinating that Jean-Éric’s face didn’t colour at all at what he had said, he was purposely obvious with what he was saying, and compared to everything else, this time he was positively indecent. Instead he was biting at his lower lip tenderly, just pressing into the plump flesh.
“Coffee for the sirs?”
André choked back the frustration, and glanced at Jean-Éric to gauge his response. “No, I think that will be all.”
“Oh.” Cringing slightly as André paid for dinner, he wished he could have kept his mouth shut, because the amusement on André’s face was too much to bear.
“I thought we had spent too long here.” André explained as they wandered out into the evening air. “But I can see you wanted coffee, I do have some to drink back at my house.”
“You live here?” By the time he plucked up the courage to answer they had reached André’s car.
“No, I rent a house here, the hotels that are close are so small, I like to live in space.”
“Oh?” A sharp shake of the head was all Jean-Éric got to his question before André took the driver seat. “Sorry, I did not mean to pry.”
“The war...it…” Jean-Éric’s hand was on his shoulder, gripping him warmly as he struggled with the words.
“André, please, you do not need to say anything if you do not wish to.” He had his own memories of war, but they were wound up in childhood and his parents stories. André was older, and the way his breath caught suggested far more than he could say.
Sending Jean-Éric a thankful smile, he started the car and set off into the evening. “I can take you back to your campsite if you wish.”
“No, I’d like to stay with you,” Jean-Éric whispered as he started to take his hand back.
Before Jean-Éric’s hand left his shoulder, he took it in one of his own and pressed a soft kiss to the back of his hand. “Thank you.”
The tingle of electric sensation running from where André’s lips touched his skin and up his arm, made Jean-Éric’s heart race harder than it ever had. Harder than when he had to run to not be late to school, harder than when he chased a prize horse through countless fields because he didn’t bolt the gate properly. He wanted to feel his lips again.
He had to.
He was desperate to.
“I didn’t mean...um...how far is it?”
“Not far at all.” How dreamily Jean-Éric said his name sent his hair on end, it was heaven. “In fact, here we are.” Pulling up outside he was cheered by Jean-Éric’s willingness to get out of the car, he fully expected hesitation after the kiss. “It is not huge, but do you not think it makes a difference to have your own space.” Locking the doors he then fished out the keys to open up the small house.
“I would not know what that feels like!” Jean-Éric grinned as he followed André into the small entrance hall. “I would think that would never happen for me, I am destined to stay at home forever.”
“Not with your passion.” Jean-Éric’s laugh was sweet, and completely dismissive of what he had just said.
“I’d love to see London, and New York, Rome…” He tailed off when he realised that André was staring at him in utter bemusement. “Sorry.”
Shaking his head as he brought Jean-Éric further into the house, he reached back to touch his arm. “Do not be sorry for thoughts like that, I think you’d love those cities.”
“Of course you have been.”
André nodded kindly. “Coffee?” Shrugging out of his jacket, he folded it over a chair pushed under the table before waiting for Jean-Éric’s answer.
“Please.” Leaning against the cool marble of the counter, Jean-Éric watched on as André grind up beans, looking like a movie star still wearing his waistcoat. He could imagine the room in the morning, filled with light, André stood in the same place but without his shirt.
It wasn’t the kitchen he had at home, it was simple without a sign of anyone living there, all painted white instead of plain wood, brandy and whiskey on the marble instead of wine. A couple of unopened packets of cigarettes, whereas at home no one smoked as his parents thought it was unhealthy. No flowers, or the last few crumbs of that days bread, plates waiting to be washed.
“I stay here every year, the family who own it go on holiday because it gets so busy here, so they know their house is in good hands.” André felt the need to fill the silence as the coffee brewed. “Let me show you the rest.” The coffee could wait for a few minutes. Switching the lights on as he went he showed Jean-Éric the lounge, filled with comfy couches and chairs, the dining room that he never used because he believed it was for families, and the three bedrooms upstairs. “I use this room, the view in the morning is glorious.”
Taking André’s word for it, Jean-Éric nodded, noting the small balcony highlighted by the soft light of the bedroom, ideal for two to share the first coffee of the day. “It is a wonderful family home.”
“Not something I need to worry about.”
“Oh, well, I do not think I do either.” His voice tapered off, fading away to a near non existent whisper.
The moment was there, the thought to tell him how his lips on his hand made him feel, it rushed from his heart to his lips in a flash. “When you...when your…” His voice sounded weak and pathetic.
Jean-Éric’s sounded scared, but there was a little strength in his words, but he thought the quiet moment had gone when he turned from him. Then the room was in darkness, and all they had was the cool light of the moon.
“Your lips on my hand.” Jean-Éric could barely hear his own words, but André must have, because that same hand was being held by him.
Willing to take the biggest risk he had all day despite pushing his car to the limit, André echoed his kiss from before, but let his lips linger far longer. “I had hoped you wanted another.”
“You were occupied earlier with making sure I was satisfied with you.” Jean-Éric shocked himself with the words that tumbled out of his mouth.
“Are you satisfied?
Moving in closer, André could feel Jean-Éric’s breath against his lips, ever so slightly harder than his own, he waited to make sure he was okay. Gently holding his forearms, André encouraged Jean-Éric to do what he felt comfortable with, and loved how his hands found his waist with an echo of confidence.
“André.” He couldn’t do more than he already had, he wanted so much more but lacked the experience to get it.
The whine in his voice nearly undid André on the spot, there was an edge of innocence there, so after he softly cupped Jean-Éric’s cheek he waited again. “You’re so beautiful,” he whispered before dipping in close to brush their lips together. Immediately the grip on his waist tightened as Jean-Éric gasped, lips parted he moved in again to kiss him properly.
The softness of André’s lips against his own as they surrounded his upper lip left his body weak, his nerves were overwhelmed by the sensation of being utterly surrounded by the man. A man. He was kissing a man, well, he was being kissed. “Oh god, André.” He couldn’t even begin to care that he moaned his name so wantonly.
“Are you okay?”
“Very.” Nuzzling in close, Jean-Éric tried to settle his heart rate down, but all it did was give him André’s cologne to breathe in. He wanted so much more than he knew how to ask for, more than a kiss, but left wanting for those words, he had to find safer ones. “Can I kiss you?”
The words scattered over his skin like fire. “Please.” Jean-Éric was so tentative, so unsure, André could barely feel the heat of his breath before it disappeared.
“I can not,” Jean-Éric breathed. The voices crowded his head until his desires were shut down completely. Without exception.
Using the darkness to cover his disappointment, André sighed internally before reaching for the lightswitch. “Would you still like a cup of coffee?” He thought it would give him the perfect opportunity to decide what he wanted to do without having to say outright.
“Yes,” his voice trembled in the light. Following André back downstairs, Jean-Éric felt so foolish for leading André on like he had, asking for a kiss and then not kissing him. “Sorry for...I should leave.” He stopped before stepping into the kitchen, feeling safer closer to an exit.
He was ready to test the temperature of the brewed coffee, but Jean-Éric’s voice was left behind. “You can if you wish Jean-Éric, but do not be sorry for being unsure, have you ever…” Meeting him in the hallway, he leant against the wall, wanting to come across as non-threatening as possible.
“No, but I dream, I wish.” The relative dimness of the hallway gave him somewhere to hide.
Watching Jean-Éric stare at the door, André knew he had to ask. “I can take you back to the campsite whenever you wish, you just have to ask me, and I will do it immediately.”
“It is a sin to do this thing I wish for.”
“There is no sin in love Jean-Éric.” Staying still, André tried to breathe though Jean-Éric walking towards him, but he couldn’t help but hold onto it, scared that a single noise would spook him.
He couldn’t hold André’s face like he had done earlier, so Jean-Éric compromised by placing his hands on his chest, and feeling his heart racing brought him endless comfort. “I know you are not nervous.”
“How do you know this?” André was amused by his assured tone. “How do you not know that I am very nervous, that I want you to feel safe with me.”
“I do.” Pushing his hands from his chest to loop around André’s neck he started to close the gap between them. “I do not know how to...um...kiss,” Jean-Éric whispered.
“You do.” Wrapping his arms around Jean-Éric’s waist, he pulled him snug to him and brought their lips together again for a sweet kiss, encouraging him to follow his desires. “You kiss how you want to.” He remembered feeling utterly at sea when he had his first kiss, the other man mashing his mouth against his forcefully, it hurt and he hated the memory. That would not happen for Jean-Éric.
Doing his best to emulate the way André gently sucked on his top lip, Jean-Éric did just that, feeling their hearts race together he pressed closer to André, pushing him firmly into the heavily-patterned wallpapered walls. He swore he heard a faint groan amongst the white noise filling his ears, so he chased it.
He’d never felt anything like it. All he’d done was flick his tongue out like he’d seen his friends do, but he wasn’t ready for the shower of sensations that washed over him. Head to toe he shivered, his tongue had met André’s and they were lazily passing over each other. “André, André, André.” It felt decadent to be doing it, to kiss another man without looking over his shoulder, just doing as he most wantonly desired.
Jean-Éric was ever so slightly grinding into him, his hips were rolling in time with their kiss, the rhythm slow but growing in pressure, all down to Jean-Éric’s choices, his lust, his desires. The soft mewls from Jean-Éric as their crotches rubbed together made him sound so achingly innocent, that André had to press pause for them both.
“I’m okay.” He couldn't bear to stop. “Please, please, please…” Pulling him back close, Jean-Éric breathed the words across André’s lips before kissing him again, his body lighting up to every sensation, emotion, feeling he could reach. The heat of André’s body against his own forced the connection ever closer, he needed to feel he was there with him, wanting him just as much.
If Jean-Éric wasn’t open to conversation, André slowly swept his hands up and down his back to reassure him, but it spurred him on to rut against him even harder. “Oh god,” he gasped loudly as felt how aroused Jean-Éric was, they were both getting harder.
“Oh.” He was aroused, and so was André, and the eventual realisation snapped the moment clean in half, pulling Jean-Éric out of it all. Taking his hands back form roaming over André’s toned body, he covered his crotch with them and stepped back. “Sor-sorry.”
“Do not be, it’s natural. You’ve affected me also.” He smiled kindly as he watched Jean-Éric’s gaze drop lower and lower. “Feels good?”
“Then all is good,” André reassured softly, as he reached across with a hand to make the gap disappear. “It think maybe that coffee would be good.”
“Uh huh.” Slowing down was probably the best idea, he was new to kissing, dealing with the effects with another person was beyond his comprehension.
“Do you mind if I take off my waistcoat?” Shedding his tie first, he then tackled the buttons.
“No.” Walking into the harsher light of the kitchen brought Jean-Éric back to the surface, and he was realising he wasn’t really enjoying it, he wanted to sink back into André. He wanted more kisses. But instead he watched André unbutton the neat row of dark buttons of the tweed waistcoat, sneaking snatches of skin as his shirt below caught and gaped.
Jean-Éric was casually leaning against the counter on an elbow in such a languid manner, it was starting to drive him crazy, and the way his eyes flitted about his body gave him chills. He felt watched as he moved to heat the coffee up, the intense scent was addictive, similar to how he felt about Jean-Éric already. He wanted to chase.
With his mind filled with questions about what André had done with men before, Jean-Éric missed André asking him questions about his coffee. And hadn’t realised a thing until André was stood in front of his laughing.
Jean-Éric had a wonderful far away look in his eyes he couldn’t help but ask about. “What has you so distracted?”
Being laughed at, and then being teased tested Jean-Éric’s patience, coupled with the low pulse of arousal, the frustration at stopping the kissing. “Have you had sex with a man before?”
André was completely caught off guard with what Jean-Éric had asked him and the way he asked him, Jean-Éric was so forthright and challenging. “Yes.”
There was a twisting in his gut at the thought of André being with someone else. “Was it good?”
“It has been great, not every time, but then that is how it can be.” Giving a shrug to take the edge off what they were discussing, he was rewarded with a breathy sigh.
“Oh.” Jean-Éric wasn’t ready for the answer André gave him, he was convinced it was supposed to be amazing.
“You’ve not had sex before?” He had assumed he had at least fooled around with a girl.
“Um, uh, no but I would like...uh...would like to. Soon. At some point. Sometime.” He didn’t want to have sex now, he felt too unprepared.
“I would never demand a thing of you.” Placing the cup of coffee onto the counter beside Jean-Éric, André risked going in for a kiss. But was greatly rewarded with eager hands travelling down to rest just above his ass, and a river of whispered moans and whines to accompany it.
“Does it hurt?”
Jean-Éric’s words were whispered softly between kisses. “It shouldn’t hurt, maybe a little uncomfortable to begin with. You should be properly relaxed, but worked up too.” Jean-Éric gave him a quizzical look after leaning back. “I mean that, this,” he reached around to give Jean-Éric’s ass a cheeky squeeze, “should be relaxed and open. And the rest of you be like you were earlier.” Arching into him, André soaked up the excited hiss.
“Do it again.” The buzz of electricity from André’s touch was something he was quickly wanting more of. “Please.” He tried to go faster, but André was making them go slow. “Hey, I want more.”
“I can give you all the more you want.” What he really wanted to do was lay Jean-Éric out on his bed upstairs and kiss him all over his body until he was writhing in ecstasy. Tease his body, play on all of his senses to the point where he was crying out, his entire being bathed in pleasure. “Oh, Jean-Éric.” He felt the yawn against his cheek. “Maybe our night is over.”
“No.” He had been fighting the proof of his tiredness, but failed when he stupidly let himself relax. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to yawn.”
“I would hope it is not down to being bored,” André joked.
“I jest of course, I can feel how you are not bored.” Pressing into him to emphasise his point, André kissed the sigh from Jean-Éric’s lips to keep for later. “If you would like, you can sleep here tonight.”
“Only if you would like.” Jean-Éric looked nervous. “But there are other rooms too, and of course I can still take you back…”
“No, it’s so cold at night!” Jean-Éric chuckled lightly as André ran a thumb over his cheek as he gently cupped his face. “Would be nice to be warm.”
Giving a small nod, André led them both upstairs, Jean-Éric trailing behind enough that he showed him another bedroom. “There are more blankets and sheets in the foot of the wardrobe.”
“Oh, oh okay.” He had hoped that he would be able to share a bed with André, but his lack of experience was obviously a turn off. “Mmm, make sure you aren’t late for anything tomorrow…”
“Do not worry about anything like that, we will have plenty of time for breakfast.” He was desperate to kiss Jean-Éric again, the way he was biting at his plump bottom lip was so inviting, so enticingly innocent. “Can I kiss you goodnight?”
Jean-Éric nodded, the question he wanted to ask kept inside as André kissed him passionately, licking into his mouth, rendering him utterly weak at the knees. “Don’t stop,” he gasped when André broke away from his lips.
“I would go all night with you out here.”
“You need sleep,” Jean-Éric moaned lightly.
“Mmm, but you are so much better than sleep.” Kissing him again before their night ended, André drank in the buzz of Jean-Éric’s moaning against his lips.
“But…” Pressed up against the wall, Jean-Éric desperately tried to get as much of André as he could before their night came to an end. Rolling his hips, he sighed at the contact, it felt so unbelievably decadent to seek out and get what he wanted for once. “Please don’t stop.”
Taking the risk of untucking Jean-Éric’s shirt, André pushed his hands underneath and fell in love with the feeling of the heat of his skin, burning hot against his palms, firm under his fingertips. Dipping his fingers below the waistband of his trousers, he was cautious until he felt Jean-Éric nod beside his cheek, another hushed round of pleas pushed him to offer his bedroom. “We could use my bed if you would like.”
“Mmm, are already undressing me.”
“You can tell me to stop.”
“I don’t want you to.” Walking into André’s room, he held his breath when he heard the door shut, he was in a bedroom with a man. A man who was wrapping his arms around him, chest to back they stayed like that for a while, then when André’s hand travelled lower he gasped when his fingers grazed the base of his cock. Throwing his head back onto André’s shoulder, Jean-Éric wanted more and without the words he pushed André’s hand lower with his own. “Oh god, André.”
Brushing lightly down his length, he felt the twitch, heard the sigh, and braced himself for when Jean-Éric melted into him. “No one else before?”
“Just me,” Jean-Éric sighed heavily.
“Then you know what you like.” Being a little firmer with his touch he ran his hand down a couple of times until he could feel him shaking. “Do you like that?”
“Uh huh.” It finally wasn’t a middle of the night fantasy, it was real, and his mind could just about comprehend it. He was being touched in the most amazing way, and he was willing himself to not forget a single second of it. “Can...can we…bed?”
He almost didn’t hear the last word, so soft was the whisper, but André did, and gently guided him forward and waited for Jean-Éric to lay down on his back. “Do not be shy.” He was trying to shield his arousal with his hand. “Is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Even with his words, Jean-Éric was resolutely staring at the ceiling, his hands cover his crotch, so André sat on the bed and ran a hand up his leg. “All those things we done before, we can do now.” Getting Jean-Éric to relax again took some time, but with gentle words and reassurance, he was begging André to kiss him. “We take it slow.” Kneeling between Jean-Éric’s legs, André leaned down to kiss him again, revelling in the new familiarity of it. And when the body beneath him arched off the bed to find his, André felt comfortable enough to continue exploring Jean-Éric’s body.
Bearing witness to André taking his shirt off stopped Jean-Éric thinking about trying to hide how aroused he was, because all he wanted to do now was touch his body. It was ingrained into him to hide any effect another man had on him, but he knew he would be safe to let that guard drop to fully enjoy the night. Resting up on an elbow, he reached to place a hand on the light hair trailing to below his trousers, he felt the jump in André’s body with a flourish of pride.
“You can touch me however you wish,” keeping his voice low and soft, André beckoned to Jean-Éric to fulfil his fantasies.
He wanted to feel his hardness, he wanted to touch André like he had been touched, make him feel like he had felt. With André knelt between his legs he already felt on display, so to let his hand drop to feel the outline of his arousal made them both groan. Feeling brave he made his next touch firmer, staring at his hand as he felt André get harder still. “Feels good.”
“Yes it does,” André cried out as Jean-Éric, accidently or not, had found the most sensitive spot. “Oh god Jean-Éric!” Pulling Jean-Éric’s hand away needed to come with a quick explanation. “Not doing anything wrong, just...don’t want to finish without you.”
“You have a talented hand,” André smirked before snatching a kiss, gently rutting against him as he brought himself back from the edge. “I want more.” He meant more of Jean-Éric’s exploration, but instead he got him undressing himself, dragging his shirt over his head, giving him a sharp look to move out of the way so he could push down his trousers. André swiftly matched him before returning to part Jean-Éric’s legs again, teasing fingers along his thighs to get them to wrap around his waist.
He wasn’t going to take anything from Jean-Éric that he would feel pressured to give up, wrapped up in the moment, so he carefully leaned forward until their bodies were pressed together, lips able to touch, sighs only needing to be whispered to be heard. “You want?” André asked with a roll of his hips.
“Uh huh.” Jean-Éric felt like he was going to melt through the bed. “Please.” With his legs around André he felt every movement, but it also meant he could pick up his hips when André threatened to break their contact.
Jean-Éric was digging his fingers into his back with every gentle thrust, his moans getting louder, his breaths quicker, he was falling apart below him in the most glorious way. His eyes shut lightly, his lips parted, tongue flicking out, inviting him in. “Mmm, Jean-Éric.” Kissing him deeply, André upped the tempo, their cocks rubbing alongside each other at a rhythm that was going to bring them both off. “Jean-Éric, Jean-Éric,” André chanted and moved in time with his words.
He couldn’t believe how it was making him feel, he’d climaxed before by his own hand, but nothing he’d done felt so intense, so necessary, so utterly perfect. But he still wanted more. Hurriedly taking his hands back from clinging onto André, Jean-Éric forced his hands between them to push his boxers down. “You too?”
Jean-Éric’s wanted them to both be completely naked, his breathy question lingerws in the air between them, it was all André could do to tell him yes. Their boxers were barely around their thighs before they were back to rutting against each other, hungry for their release, desperate to satisfy the other. “I want to hear you.” André begged, he loved to hear how much the other person was enjoying themselves.
André kept begging him to be noisy, tell him how much he was loving it, and it left Jean-Éric feeling shy. But he kept pushing, kept asking him to make a little noise for him, and when he did, André matched him and more. “Can I...uh...touch...you?”
“Anything you wish.” André grinned wolfishly as he saw Jean-Éric’s hand begin to move, the tentative brush of fingertips made him sigh heavily. It was a struggle to not fall to the bed with Jean-Éric playing with him, his hand holding them both, slick, they both began to thrust, move together. With his hands either side of Jean-Éric’s face, André took in the delicious view beneath him, Jean-Éric was shifting his gaze between him and his own hand.
He was marvelling at the beauty of André’s face, and then at his own bravery, he was touching a man in the most intimate way. He could feel himself go beyond being able to hold back. “André, I...near.”
Pulling his hand out from between them, André got Jean-Éric to cling on as he ran a hand along his thigh. “Me too,” he whispered with a gentle smile, “very close.” He could feel the pleasure coiled inside him begin to unravel. “Jean-Éric.”
Chanting each other’s name, they held onto each other, sharing messy kisses, groaning loudly. The only thing they were focused on was pleasure, the thrill of ecstasy driving them on, chasing release.
It was almost too intense for Jean-Éric to get his head around, he had never felt like it before, never felt so desperate and vulnerable in equal measures. “Please.” Throwing his arms over his face he cried out as he came, the release taking over everything he was, feeling the waves of pleasure through his body. “Oh god, oh god, André you...you...everything...so...”
André couldn’t help but smile at the way Jean-Éric was sighing and writhing about on the bed beneath him, the aftershocks flowing through him over and over. He looked heavenly, his hair splayed over the pillow messily as he moaned when he ran a finger down his spent cock. “Are so beautiful.” Kneeling between his legs again, André carefully uncovered his eyes, picking his arms up and laying them either side of his body. “I want to see you.” He offered as a means of an explanation.
“I…” He couldn’t speak, it was useless trying to, he felt too heavy to do anything.
His body was streaked with their come, the low light was highlighting how far it had gone, and that made André smile again, the physical proof of their coupling.
André was smiling at something on his body, he tried to see what he was looking at, but Jean-Éric couldn’t see it. “What?”
“We are a mess,” he chuckled softly.
Glancing up from his stomach to André’s he saw the evidence of what had happened. “Oh.” But before he could feel ashamed he was being kissed, André licking into his mouth, the coolness of them pressing against his stomach.
“I think we should get cleaned up before we sleep.” Nuzzling his nose against Jean-Éric’s ear, he made sure to press a little kiss to his neck. “I hope you want to stay.” Feeling the nod, he got himself off the bed, making Jean-Éric stay behind. “Will let you know when it’s ready.”
Listening to the water being run for a bath made him feel sleepy, on top of the climax he shut his eyes and concentrated on how good his body felt. It all felt so right to have been with a man, he knew he had been right to find men attractive, only a man could have made him feel like that.
“Still with us?” Jean-Éric had spread himself out even more in his absence.
“Mmm.” He didn’t want to get out of bed, but upon opening his eyes and seeing André leaning against the doorframe to the bathroom, completely naked, made getting up easier. Sharing a bath wasn’t something he had been expecting, but it was big enough for two, facing each other they washed their bodies clean. “What do you keep calling me beautiful?”
“Because you are,” André stated the truth simply before standing up.
“Hnnn.” His body was dripping in water, it cascaded down as he moved, making Jean-Éric feel small.
Enjoying the was Jean-Éric was openly staring at his body, André teased him by drying himself in a way to keep him looking. “Are you…” Padding over to the bathtub, André looked down to see Jean-Éric palming himself under the water. “Have I left you unsatisfied?”
“No, no, no.” He sighed as he played with his head with the edge of his thumb. “Just...more.”
“Oh.” Crouching down, André rippled the water with his fingers. “Can I?”
“Please.” It took hardly a touch from André to have him thrashing about in the water, he was still so sensitive from their adventure in bed, so having his hand wrapped so perfectly around his cock blew his mind.
Handing Jean-Éric a towel, André loved the little show he put on, making sure not to hide himself at all. “I think you missed a spot right here.” Taking the towel from him he passed it over his ass, he could feel how firm it was and was struck by the thought of how wonderful it would be to be buried in it. “And now we sleep.” Leading Jean-Éric back into the bedroom, he went to ask if he wanted to share, but the younger man was happy to climb into bed without hesitation.
A few lazy kisses was all they could share before dropping off to sleep, sated and happy.
Jean-Éric never had any trouble waking up early, it was ingrained into him from his life lived at a stables, but he was surprised to go downstairs and see André up as well. “Oh, good morning.”
“Did not expect a racing driver up so early?”
He had carefully got out of bed, not even chancing a look at André in case he woke him up. “No.” Laughing as he accepted the cup of orange juice, Jean-Éric took a sip before he followed André outside to sit at a small wrought iron table. “I thought you stayed in bed all day, only get up to race.”
“There is far too much to enjoy in the morning.” Striking a match, he lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. “Do you want one?”
With a shake of the head Jean-Éric declined. “Only when I drink wine.” André gave him a shrug in the morning sun, and continued to smoke. The view of the countryside was glorious, even though there was a hint of mist still clinging to the grass, he could feel an early heat in the air. “Think it will be a nice day.”
“Think so.” There was nothing strained in the silence that stretched out between them, sat side by side they drank whilst André smoked. Pressing their legs together, they both sought out the contact in the early hour.
“When do you need to go?”
“Not for a little while yet.”
“Glad to see you are still alive!” Jenson called out as soon as he spotted Jean-Éric traipse across the field towards them.
“We’ve been worried about you,” Marion started, “we didn’t see you come back last night.”
“Oh.” He hadn't given a thought to the reaction of everyone at the campsite. “I met with a friend I had not seen in so long, we had dinner, and then it was so late…” He trailed off hoping what he had said had been enough.
“Sorry, I just think you are here alone...” Marion stopped when she got a gentle nudge from Romain. “Okay, okay.”
“It’s nice they let you stay over.” Charles commented as he reached for the nearest bottle of red wine.
“Ooh, sleepover.” David laughed as he fought the bottle of beer out of Jenson’s hand. “Lucky boy!”
Jean-Éric felt his whole body flash red at the comment, they had to know, thinking it must be obvious, he started to walk to his van. “I did not sleep so well.” He meant it as an excuse to go to bed early, but it garnered a chorus of whooping and whistling. “I, uh, slept on the floor, no bed.”
“Ignore them Jean-Éric.” Caterina waved him off. “If you need your sleep, then go, the first time is hard!”
Turning the offer down, he went to go get a jumper to protect him against the incoming evening chill. “Just need a jumper.” He didn’t really want to go to bed alone right away, after the intensity of the previous night, he knew company would be best.
“Did you go to the parade?”
“Uh huh, was fun.” André had given him a lift to the parade, lending him a fresh shirt he knew would never be returned, the same one he had slipped out of to avoid getting ruined by the campfire. Camera in hand, he got access to all of the drivers, but they were relaxed and talking to each other, the race still a day away. He couldn’t deny that his lens wasn’t almost entirely focused on André, but he knew he couldn’t be blamed for that, he was undeniably handsome.
He wanted the memories to never fade.
It was the thought he took to his van by the time he eventually got to bed. He wished that he could have taken photos of them in bed, tangled together in lust and desire, damp with sweat from exertion and pleasure. He wanted the memory of the kisses, the way he touched his face, the teasing way he smiled at him knelt between his legs.
The pass was burning in his bag when they walked to watch the start, he had the ticket to be able to get close to him, and he had the invitation, but he didn’t have the excuse. There wasn’t a reason he could think of to take himself away from the group. Everyone had been so kind to him.
He spotted André run across the track to get into his car at the start, shocked at the roar of all the engines together as they peeled off from the edge to start their twenty four hours of racing, and no matter how hard he tried he only had eyes for one car. As it lapped the track, Jean-Éric tried a few times to get the shot he desperately wanted, and hoped that it had worked. He just wanted to have something he could keep as a memory.
He stayed with everyone until they naturally began to split in the early evening, Romain and Marion were content to go back towards the campsite with their children. Jenson and David were not subtle in their eagerness to go seek out their favourite viewing spot. Alain and Nico were set up for the whole twenty four hours with a precise list of timings jotted on the back of their map. Charles, Esteban, Pierre and Caterina, were comfortable where they were, but were curious where Jean-Éric was going to go.
“My friend I met yesterday, we were going to try and meet.”
“He wanted to meet by the Dunlop Bridge.” He saw the curiosity drop out of their expressions, hiding a smile by fiddling with his bag.
“Have fun!” Caterina said before the other boys started anything.
Once he was out of sight them the nerves began to build in his stomach, Jean-Éric gravitated towards the Dunlop Bridge knowing that if he crossed it he could possibly see André again. They had been sat in the car after André had driven them to the parade, when he asked if he would meet him again, in the paddock at a certain time. At the time he had been excited, another chance to see him, maybe kiss him, but as he walked through the crowds of people there was doubt creeping in.
Huffing at himself, Jean-Éric resolved to push the doubt aside and just try. Try to get to the paddock, try to not hope too much, try to keep himself in check. Climbing the wooden steps, feeling the vibrations of the cars underneath his feet was a thrill, as he walked over to the other side.
“My favourite photographer.”
Jean-Éric shivered at the whispered words to his ear, he was stood with his back to the paddock, taking photos of the small sliver of track he could see. “I thought you were in the car.” There had been no specific time to meet, André had just said sometime in the evening, which was the right amount of vagueness to spark the doubt in his mind.
“Ah, you were trying to hide from me,” André accused playfully. “That’s not nice.”
“Was not sure you would really want to see me at all again.” He knew this was it for them, and Jean-Éric just wanted confirmation that there was something real in their late night tryst.
“Of course I would,” he answered sincerely. The short time he had spent with Jean-Éric felt surprisingly calm, usually his liaisons were rushed to ensure secrecy. But he wanted more of the young Frenchman, more kisses and touches. “I have a little time before I am back in the car.” He had a small bed to sleep in, even though he knew from experience it would be unlikely, but he was willing to share. “Come with me,” Andre said, keeping his voice low.
Following André between the wagons painted in the team colours, Jean-Éric felt shivery in the shadows, his mind playing over what they did last night.
Hearing a softly spoken oh made André stop and turn around, there was a story behind that oh. Reaching out, he tugged on the strap of the camera bag across his chest to bring him closer, sneaking a kiss as the cars roared around them, before letting him go and continuing on.
A little dazed, Jean-Éric couldn’t help but smile before following the same winding path between vans and lorries, to be met by a grinning André and an open door.
Seeing the charging man was wearing a team jacket, Jean-Éric swiftly took his camera out of his bag, giving the both an opportunity for cover.
“Ah, were you off to do something?” Clocking the camera, he checked before passing the message on.
“Yes.” He would be forever grateful that Jean-Éric chose to pluck his camera from his bag. “We needed some fresh photographs, and I have had the joy of meeting Mr Vergne.”
He gave the photographer a quick look up and down, he seemed a bit young to be doing what he was doing. “The boss wants you,” he directed at André.
“Tell him I will be right with him, in the garage?” He could see the plan he had formed in his head the moment he saw Jean-Éric fade away.
Waiting for Stefen to walk out of earshot, André beckoned Jean-Éric to follow him once more. Briefly shielded from the world, André couldn’t truly shut out the ticking down on their time together, it had been more than a gift to have seen Jean-Éric again anyway. “I had great plans for this room.” Behind a closed door, they kissed sweetly, tentative to begin with, both of them aware that they were running out of time.
“Please André,” Jean-Éric whispered as he pressed himself close to the older man.
“I know, I know.” He wanted last night all over again, again and again, but neither of them had the time and space. Falling into a heated kiss, they clung onto each other, hands grabbing race overalls and shirts, breaths short and snatched, moans buzzed against lips. “Jean-Éric.” He looked so beautiful he could barely allow himself to think about leaving. “I have to go.” The words hurt to say, even more so when he saw how hard Jean-Éric was trying to hide how he felt.
If he were to allow himself, Jean-Éric could weep at the impending loss.
“Still need to take those photographs.” Cupping Jean-Éric’s cheek with his hand, André took in his face, pressing a thumb to his lips to feel the softness one more time.
“Okay.” The light in the room was hazy and soft, and perfect for a portrait, a close up of his face. Setting him up, he took advantage of being able to touch him, to angle him just so. “You are so handsome.”
“Would you have taken nude photographs of me?”
Jean-Éric nodded as they both moved to go back outside. “But I have that picture in my head for always.” André was stood so close behind him he could feel the heat from his body, the scent of gasoline from the car flowing off of him, his lips on his neck, hand dangerously close to his crotch. “Please.”
His mind was filled with all the debauched things he would love to do to Jean-Éric, but in his heart he knew there was no time left. “Jean-Éric.” Kissing the curve of his neck softly, André closed his eyes briefly and commited the calm moment to memory. “I need to…”
“I know.” Jean-Éric knew he’d never get close to someone like André again, worst of all, he knew he’d never see André again like he had. Never share another kiss, never be pressed against a wall, never…there were too many nevers to consider.
“Please take this though.”
Taking the slip of paper he unfolded it to reveal a neatly written address. “Why?”
“If you would want to write to me, this is my address.” His decision had been teetering between asking to swap addresses and throwing the note away, but in the end decided upon giving Jean-Éric his with expectation. Seeing him again confirmed the desire in his heart to know Jean-Éric better.
The neatly written script revealed he lived in Provence.
He watched Jean-Éric’s eyes read over the address a few times. “I come to Paris sometimes.” He went to say something else, but André knew he would be talking for talking's sake
“It is still as I said before, I would never make you do anything you do not wish to do.” André paused to give Jean-Éric a chance to say something if he wished, but when he didn’t he continued on. “You are not obliged to write to me, but I would like for this not to be the last time we talk.”
Without knowing if he would be brave enough to pen André a letter, Jean-Éric instead leaned into him, putting a hand on his chest to ground himself, he kissed him tentatively. But in moments he wrapped his arms around André’s neck so he could kiss him properly, he was crushingly aware he was acting desperate, but when hands were splayed over his back, a tongue licking at his lips. They were both desperate.
Whoever was calling his name was banging on the door too.
As they untangled each other, they each made sure they were presentable to the world that was the other side of the door. “It has been a pleasure Jean-Éric.”
I hope my letter finds you well. I hope my letter finds you at all. It has taken me so long to write to you because, it has taken me this long to think of what I want to say to you. First let me tell you that I have never forgotten a word you said, or a touch you lay on me. When I drove home, away from you, I could not drive without tears in my eyes. I have missed you every day since that night, you were so kind to me. You let me know I was right.
I am still trying to convince my father to allow my sister to run the stable, I believe that I can do it. Now I feel I can be honest and say I found the pass I was wearing when I first saw you, I did try to find somewhere to return it to the rightful owner, but kept it to myself. Perhaps I did not try as hard as I should have, perhaps I was not meant to.
How does it feel to be the Le Mans champion?
I leave you my address, and hope you will write me back.
I have found the words hard to come by also, but I can say I have enjoyed my time as a winner, me and James drank very many bottles of wine to celebrate. It was such a hard race, I feared that car breaking down many times, so the champagne tasted more sweet!
I hate to think of you upset, but I too had many solemn moments afterwards, in my heart I had hoped I would find you after the race was over, you definitely granted me luck and I wished to thank you for it. The thanks I can give you here in words could not convey to you how much I appreciated those hours we shared. No, it was more than appreciation. I adored that time, I still think of it. I treasure these memories I get to keep.
Seeing that you feel right, remember to always feel that way. You are right just as you are. You will always be right.
P.S. Could I request a photo that you took?
“Who are all these letters from?” Sylvienne asked as Jean-Éric plucked the envelope addressed to him out of the pile that had just been delivered.
“Someone I met at the race, we agreed to keep in contact.” He wanted to leave as much truth as he could in the story so there would less to forget.
“It is about time you found a girlfriend.”
“Oh, it’s not a girl, we talk about racing, and photography.” He’d sent a small selection of photographs André had requested. He only wanted one, but Jean-Éric chose his favourites to send him, making copies from the negatives in the dark room he had set up in his small unused study next to his bedroom.
“Are you sure there are no letters for me?”
“None my darling.” She hated to hear her son sound so downhearted on his birthday.
Jean-Éric sighed and brushed off the question from his mother about why he was so disappointed, along with the one about who he was dating, and the one about money.
“Perhaps he lost your address?” She was worried for her son, Lea was flourishing ever more as she took more and more responsibilities on at the stable. But Jean-Éric seemed to be withdrawn over the phone, every now and then asking if he had any letters years after he had left home.
“Perhaps.” They had kept in contact through letters and the occasional phone call, he had sensed André being less interested in continuing, asking fewer questions, longer between letters. Wishing his mother well, Jean-Éric hung up and threw himself back onto his bed, London was loud and busy, filled with people ready to party.
Stood in front of his mirror he tidied up his hair before picking out a scarf to help protect him from the cool Spring air. He was going out with a group of friends that had adopted him whilst he spent hedonistic nights in mid-sixties London photographing them.
Lighting a cigarette as Jean-Éric ambled down the road towards the bus stop he needed to take him to Carnaby Street. He hadn't had a choice in where they were going, but when it was decided around him he knew he could take advantage if he took a camera with him. It allowed him to distance himself from a situation, stand apart and use it as an excuse, although he suspected it being his birthday would stop that.
He had grown fond of the way English people mangled his name, they were ernest in trying to get it right until they gave up. Usually because they were too drunk to care. Then he got a new name altogether.
“See, we can tell when we say it wrong, you pout!”
A round of laughter later and the first drinks were bought, and Jean-Éric knew they would be far from the last. His mother’s worries about money used to be right, but he was making good money from selling photographs to newspapers and at exhibitions, so he was more than happy to pay for everyone.
Grinning as he slipped between tables and groups of people, Jean-Éric waited at the bar to be served, his small camera safe in his jacket pocket as he was bumped by people walking behind him. The bar was far from quiet, but stood alone, Jean-Éric allowed him mind to drift back to the last letter André sent him, it was short, just giving him an update on his last race. And after his name, there was usually a single kiss, but the last time it had been replaced by three lines of ten kisses.
“Oi, mate, you ordering?”
With a hand waving in front of his face, Jean-Éric was brought out of his daydream long enough to ask for the drinks he wanted and take the money out of his pocket to hand over. But he soon slipped back, he wanted another kiss from André, he’d had plenty from other men since, but none of them made him feel the same, none of them stayed with him. Taking the tray off the wooden bar, he carried it over to their table to a round of appreciative noises which brought a smile to his face.
He was surrounded by artists; painters, musicians, writers, and poets, and he loved to document their lives, their excesses and their work. He had seen so much wild abandon, people taking risks with drinking and drugs, he found himself wondering if was missing out by not experiencing more of it. A thought raised a smile on his face as he sipped at his beer, he didn’t take drugs but he loved men, that was risky enough.
Going to light up another cigarette, Jean-Éric tried to find a match. “Anyone have a match?”
“Smoking will kill you!”
“Yeah, and what you do won’t?” Jean-Éric shot back with a smug smirk, he’d seen enough drugs disappear up their noses. “I just want a match.” Taking the one handed to him, he lit up the cigarette and enjoyed the first drag from it with a sigh.
“So, how does it feel to be thirty?”
“Old!” After finishing their drinks, they collected themselves to leave to go for dinner. “Hey, I’m going to go back and buy some matches.” He wasn’t in the mood to go through the same argument everytime he wanted to smoke. Wrapping his scarf tighter around his neck as they discussed if they were going to wait or not, a couple of them decided to take the opportunity to score. “I’ll meet you there?” Jean-Éric offered to keep things moving, and once he got a group agreement he took himself back inside.
Instantly glad of the warmth, he wedged himself between a couple of people at the bar, offering apologies in French to avoid a confrontation, and to keep his spot. And eventually when he got them, he knew he’d have a bit of time to himself before he needed to move on, so leant against a wall opposite the pub he took his camera from his pocket and began to capture the evening revellers full of joy.
“Jean-Éric?” André asked in wonder, he looked incredible, suave, a heartbreaker.
Smiling because he was relieved that one of his friends finally figured out how to pronounce his name, he lowered his camera to be faced by a part of his past he couldn’t stop thinking about.
Jean-Éric couldn’t get his brain to work straight away, he looked so handsome, there was silver in his hair as he walked towards him. “André?” He could barely speak, but he could walk towards him and wrap his arms around his neck to hug him close. “Have missed you,” he whispered.
André couldn’t help but cling to him, but it couldn’t be for long. “Jean-Éric, is good to see you.”
Feeling André stiffen in his arms, Jean-Éric released him and stood back to see how awkward he looked, the smile in his eyes gone. “Good to see you too.” Talking in English to him felt heavy on his tongue, French was their language. They should be talking in French.
“I would like to introduce you to my friend, Sarah.”
“We’re on a date.” The pretty woman tried, André was pretty reluctant, even though he was old enough to be married with children.
“Oh.” The whoosh of white noise threatened to blind him too. “Well, is nice to meet you Sarah.” Jean-Éric kissed both of her cheeks to greet her properly. “I’m Jean-Éric Vergne.”
“Oh! Vergne? André has loads of your photos up in his apartment, all over the place. He treasures them, no one is allowed to touch!” Sarah laughed at the memory of André warning her off getting too close when she started to look at them.
“That’s nice to hear.” Jean-Éric wasn’t sure what else to say beyond what he had, that wouldn’t give away what had gone on between them.
“He says you’re the best photographer in the world.”
André felt his face heat up at what she was saying, they’d been on a few dates, he counted the first when he was ambushed at his housewarming party. She was gorgeous, funny, but he had to let her down lightly because stringing her along wasn’t anything he wanted to do. “It’s true.”
“I won’t argue, even if you’re wrong.” Jean-Éric laughed. “What are you doing tonight?”
“We were going to get a drink before André was going to drop me home.” She was far from naive, there was something going on. “But, it seems you two have a lot of catching up to do, I’ll see you sometime André.” Leaving them to it, with a kiss to his cheek she bid them both goodnight.
“I’m the best?” Jean-Éric switched back to French.
“Always.” André dipped his head to avoid doing anything stupid or rash.
Without André’s eyes boring into him, he felt able to ask the one question that had been plaguing him for years. “Why did you stop writing to me?”
“How would it have sounded if I had told you that I loved you, it had been one night, and our letters. You needed to explore the world, not be tied down so young.” Instead he sent three rows of ten kiss, the number they had shared, all it had taken for him to fall in love.
“I would have wanted the choice, I would have wanted to be able to choose you.” His life would have been so different, but knowing what he knew now, he knew it was about to change all over again.
Hearing the strain in Jean-Éric’s voice raised his head. “No other victory ever felt as good as Le Mans, I always looked out for you, at every race. I hoped you would come.”
“I…” Grabbing the front of André’s coat, Jean-Éric determinedly dragged him off the busy street, not stopping until they were alone, back into the shadows. “We are wasting so much time talking,” he whispered with a cheeky grin before pushing André to the wall, covering his lips with his own, falling into his body, relishing the deep set warmth he felt with his arms finally back around him.
“Oh, Jean-Éric.” Thirty one kisses, and he was still in love.
Hearing his name breathed by André against his ear made his body sing. “I would have chosen you, even then, I would have chosen you. I choose you now.” Kissing him again, Jean-Éric clung on. “I’m not letting you go again.”
“Maybe you will, just until I get you home.” Kissing along Jean-Éric’s jaw, André closed his eyes when he started to quietly moan. “Now, I need to get you home, now.” Their journey was a whirlwind, rushing from tube to tube to his apartment. “It’s messy, I am still unpacking,” André warned.
“Don’t care, don’t care. Just...André, please, just love me.” Unwrapping his scarf, and unbuttoning his coat, Jean-Éric let them fall to the floor as he followed André doing the same on the way to his bedroom.
The first breath they took in sync was when they were laying naked tangled together, Jean-Éric’s body resting on top of André’s. Gazing at each other serenely, they gave themselves the space to relax, and calm down, not wanting the moment to be rushed in any way.
“Thirty kisses was all it took to fall in love with you.”
It puzzled Jean-Éric for a moment before he remembered the last letter, the three lines of kisses. He really didn’t know how to tell him. Jean-Éric stole another kiss from his lips. “I think I loved you from the moment I saw you.” He kept every single letter with him wherever he travelled, and the kisses on the final letter were a comfort, and now they were a revelation.
“I have missed you every day.” Reaching up, André carded his fingers through Jean-Éric’s hair, it was much longer that was before, and tucking it behind an ear he smiled. He felt at home, settled, right. He felt right for the first time in years.
“I have missed you too.” When André cradled his cheek with a hand, he turned to gently kiss the edge of his palm. “But we can’t miss each other any more.”
“Never again.” Raising his hips, he got the gasp from Jean-Éric he had been dreaming about for years and they sunk into each other until sunrise. And the next sunrise, and the one after that.