Chapter 1: Americano
"It’s cold as hell out there," said Jesse. "The fog’s rolling in right off the bay."
"Maybe you should shut the door, then!" said Daniel.
"Maybe you should be the one helping me clear up outside!" she shot back, shoving the broom at him. "What kind of gentleman leaves a lady on the trash detail, anyway?"
"No gentleman," said their boss. He gestured to the door. "Help her, Daniel."
"Thanks," said Jesse. She stuck out her tongue playfully at her co-worker as he stalked past her, muttering.
"The back needs cleaning," said her boss, with a trust fund carelessness to his wave.
Jesse grimaced. "One thing I love about you is your despotism,’ she said. "It really -- oh, you know -- it really makes it worth it."
"Glad to be of assistance.’ He turned a page in the novel he was reading, and in the lowered lights of the evening, and his purely Gallic profile, he looked for all the world like a flaneur from some brooding black-and-white French film rather than the somewhat surly owner of The Last Drop Café in early 21st-century San Francisco.
"Louis, can you just see to any customers while I’m cleaning? There’s still like 20 minutes to go," she said, banging around behind him.
"Sure, sure," he said.
A few minutes passed before the little old bell on the door chimed, presumably Daniel coming back in from sweeping the sidewalk. Louis did not look up, and only raised his eyes reluctantly upward when he was engulfed in shadow.
"Hey," said the figure.
"How -- how may I help you?" said Louis, putting the book down and standing up quickly. His eyes swept over the thick winter coat, fine leather gloves and scarf, then the blond mane of wild hair and grey eyes, the friendly grin plastered on the handsome face of the man before him. He knew money when he saw it. He didn’t like it.
"I’m new around here," said the man. "Well, relatively new. I was based in Oakland before."
"Okay." Louis shrugged.
"How may I help you?"
The man regarded him steadily for a moment, then shook his head a little. "As I was saying, I’m new around here. I have a band--"
"Oh, that’s dealt with by one of my baristas," said Louis. "We’re just about to close, actually, so maybe--"
"Hold on," said the man. "I need to get a vibe for the place before we offer to play here -- ah, you’re smiling. But we’re really very good. I just want a coffee for now."
Louis nodded. "Sure. That was rude of me." He glanced at the man, then away again. "What would you like?"
"Americano," he said, beginning to remove his gloves.
"No, I’ll have it in."
Louis took a fresh white mug off the shelf and filled it halfway with hot distilled water from the cook-top. The grinder hissed pleasantly as he filled a little metal portafilter with a good mound of freshly ground espresso and attached it with mercenary precision to the espresso machine, flipped the switch. It whirred to life with its own little hum, and he placed a doll-sized mug underneath to catch the fresh espresso liquid as it dripped out.
When the small cup was filled, he flipped the machine off again and dumped the contents into the first mug of hot water, shaking it just a bit to get the last few drips into the larger cup. The dark liquid seethed beneath the beige surface, and with an artful flick of his wrist, it swirled into pleasing shapes. He set this on the counter, making eye contact with his customer. He set a teaspoon just right against it, and placed one of those almond cookies Jesse was so proud of alongside it; he felt generous.
He turned around to clean the machinery as the customer began to drink.
"So you’re French, too?" called out the man as he moved to the back counter.
"Yes," said Louis. "Well, I moved over here when I was six or seven, not very old, so I don’t really have the accent anymore."
"You have quite an accent," said the man.
He set his mouth. "Non, I don’t. It’s probably because we joined our Acadian relatives in Louisiana. I moved to San Francisco a couple of years ago, so if there’s any accent, it’s that. Still American." He turned back to the man with a challenging look, but his customer was staring at his cellphone.
"The name’s Lestat, by the way."
"I’m sorry?" said Louis.
"The name’s Lestat. You know, if you need to write it on my cup like all those weird Americans do."
Louis pushed the sharpie out of Lestat’s eyeline. "Yes," he said uneasily. He watched as Lestat took a sip. "Good?"
"Very," said Lestat. "How much do I owe you?"
"It’s on the house. Consider it a welcome to the neighborhood."
"Thanks. I know you’re closing but I won’t be too long. I just wanted to check things out, learn a few things." His gaze rested on Louis again. ‘What’s your name?"
Louis stiffened. "Why?"
"C’mon, I just want to meet people. What is it?"
"It’s, uh. It’s not as interesting as yours."
‘What? Something generic? Something boring? I doubt it." He laughed. "Jean? Pierre? Louis?"
He flushed. "Yes, Louis." He snatched the book up from the counter.
"Oh, come on - I didn’t mean it!" said Lestat fondly.
"If you need anything else," he managed with chagrined dignity, "one of the baristas will help you. Adieu."
"Surely you know it’s au revoir," said Lestat with a smirk.
"Do I?" he muttered, pushing through the staff door and away from Lestat. "We’ll see."
Unfortunately, it very much proved to be au revoir; he did indeed meet Lestat again the very next day.
"I’ve booked him, for Thursday after next," said Jesse excitedly. "I went back with him to listen to some demos after you went into hiding last night. They’re pretty good."
"I didn’t go into hiding," scowled Louis. "I was busy."
"After we closed, he invited me to his studio around the corner to get an extra copy and listen to him play live. Swanky place. Daniel’s listening to his music now -- chill, Louis. He’s on his break! He likes it more than I do. You should have a listen."
"Maybe," he said. "So… you spent the night there?"
She laughed throatily. ‘You’re interested to know, huh?”
He frowned. "No, I was just making small talk. That’s all. I’m not really interested." He ducked out from under her hand. "Jessica, how many times have I told you not to ruffle my hair? I will write you up next time, I swear it."
"Yeah, yeah, and then I’ll have Aunt Maharet come in and raise the rent again. See if I don’t."
"Go and clean off those tables before I put you on frappe duty."
She shuddered. "Yes, boss."
Louis turned back to the shop, smiling contentedly. It was a relatively slow morning, with a couple of regulars and a woman hogging a table for the free wifi on the couch near the window. He appreciated the lazy days; sometimes it was good to people-watch instead of having to be in amongst them, dealing with them.
The door swung wide open, the bell jangling and giving out more of a clatter as it hit the wall. A signature entrance for a signature client.
"For the love of hell..." he muttered.
"Bonjooooour, tout le monde!’" Lestat said, gesturing to the whole room. He was carrying a Macbook and a bulging rucksack, which he dumped carelessly onto a table near the counter. "I’m looking for Mademoiselle Jesse."
"So you’re the guy we booked!" said Daniel, appearing from the back room. He pushed past Louis and made his way to Lestat, fist-bumping him. "Jesse’s had me listening to your stuff all morning."
"Daniel, isn’t it time you were off your break?" said Louis.
"Five more minutes, boss." Daniel plonked himself into the seat at Lestat’s table. "You got more stuff?"
Lestat laughed. "I do. Of course you like it. I said we were good." He gave Louis a warm smile, which he deftly turned into a smirk when it was not returned. "I’ve decided this place is good enough for me to play."
Louis scoffed. "I decide that."
"I thought you said Daniel and Jesse did."
"Well, yes -- but it’s still my place, okay?"
Lestat made a sharp military salute. "Aye, aye, captain! Now how about a drink?"
"You remembered, I’m touched." He stared at the chalkboard for a while. "No, give me -- let’s try a mocha. A caramel mocha."
"Sure. Daniel, a caramel mocha when you’re ready."
"Can’t you make it?" asked Lestat. "Your Americano was really very good."
"Daniel is trained to my standards," said Louis. "Actually, he’s better."
"It’s true," said Daniel.
"And so humble, too!" said Louis sharply. He turned back to Lestat, who regarded him with an expectant smile. Daniel didn’t flinch, so Louis sighed and tightened his own apron. "Alright, caramel mocha. Just take a seat and I’ll have it ready for you in a couple minutes."
So the order was slightly more complicated, and he was not particularly fond of milky drinks, but the process was soothing. Lestat and Daniel were talking animatedly at the table now, and he was grateful for the noise and concentration required by the milk frother as a diversion.
He topped the drink with a little whipped cream, an artful caramel drizzle and a pinch of sea salt crystals. It smelled divine. Nothing could ruin this perfect moment, this perfect drink.
"Caramel mocha for Lestan!" he called out.
Lestat was at the counter in a flash. "Thank you," he said. "But it’s Lestat. There’s a ‘T’ on the end."
Louis smiled serenely. "Oh? I must have misheard. That’s $4.80."
"How much!" said Lestat, slapping a five-dollar bill into his hand. "They wouldn’t charge that across the street!"
"I’ve told you," he said. "We’re not them."
"You write names on the drinks like them," said Lestat. "And incorrectly, too."
Louis shrugged. He opened the cash register. “Maybe your name isn’t boring enough.” He held out the change. ‘Have a nice day.”
“Keep it,” said Lestat. “You can spend it on customer service training.” He took a sip of his coffee and gave a wink. “It’s a good thing your coffee’s worth it, Lewis.”
Louis clasped one arm behind his back. ‘You’re welcome,’ he said brightly. He turned to Daniel, still at the table and chuckling behind a clenched fist. ‘Your break is most certainly finished now. Please take over.”
‘Yeah, okay,’ said Daniel. He gave Louis an apologetic smile as his boss moved past him and seated himself at one of the other tables with his book, draping his apron beside him.
Business picked up as the morning rolled into the afternoon, and Louis took over the hot drinks section while Jesse wailed and lamented the torment of the iced drinks and Daniel handled food. It was a brisk pace, and the lady on the couch left in a huff when a group of parents and toddlers sat on the other end of the sofa.
Lestat somehow still held court, his voice booming and chattering into his cellphone, at Daniel and Jesse, at other customers. He aimed one or two jokes at Louis, but they were busy , Louis said to Daniel, he was being annoying , he said to Jesse. He’s overwhelming , he told himself.
Even as business tapered off, he had no respite from the way that voice commanded his attention. And when Lestat appeared at the counter again, he jumped a little.
"That coffee smells strange," said Lestat. "What is it? Cinnamon?"
"It’s chicory coffee," said Louis. "It’s a French C--"
"It certainly isn’t!" scoffed Lestat. "In Paris, they serve their coffee simple -- well, apart from the Yankee coffee chains I’m sure you appreciate."
"It’s a French Cajun tradition," seethed Louis. "That’s what I was about to say."
"But not true French."
"True French? I can trace my family back to 1600s Brittany!"
"And my line is of nobility. I could have danced at the court of Marie-Antoinette, if I’d been alive back then.’ He laughed. ‘You’re looking at me so cynically! But you can check up on it; I am from the Lioncourt clan of Auvergne. Historical Auvergne, obviously. Cantal, to be more precise."
"Yes, well. They had a revolution," said Louis. "You won’t find any sans-culottes around here."
"Pity," mused Lestat. He looked Louis up and down.
"What?" he said, blushing.
"I’m in the mood for Cajun. Give me a chicory coffee, won’t you?"
Yvette passed Louis the fork with graceful ease. "This one’s my favourite of this week’s batch," she said. "Try it."
"It looks very decadent," he said, digging into the cake and tasting a bit. "I’m not sure our usual crowd will -- oh, wow. Oh, that’s very good." He closed his eyes, savoring the subtly sweet flavor, then set the fork down and met her eyes.
She rested her head on one hand and smiled. She was beautiful when she smiled. "I thought you would like it. We went for a take on banana pudding: French bread, and decadent cream and rum, banana extract…"
"God, I miss New Orleans sometimes."
"We just can’t get this sort of stuff out here. It’s our moral duty to introduce your customers to some good cuisine."
"True enough," he said. "Okay, I’ll take a batch."
"I knew you would," she smiled. "Wait there, I’ll go get the rest."
He followed her to the door and stood patiently while she opened up her van. "We’ll have some of that crème brûlée tart, too," he said. "Jesse still can’t get it quite as well as you can."
"That’s because you don’t learn how to be Creole," she said. "Come help me." She handed him a tray of the small pastries and tarts, deftly grabbed a tray of the banana pudding in one hand and locked up the van with the other. She followed him back into the cafe.
"How was your trip back home, anyway?" he asked.
"Oh, you know. It was good. It’s always good to be back, but then it’s a relief to get away again before the whole family thing starts up again." She rolled her eyes. "You know how my mom is."
"Yeah," he said. ‘Still hates me, I take it?"
She laughed. "You’re the Asshole Who Broke My Heart."
"Are you ever going to tell her that you split up with me?" he said, putting down the pastries and opening up the cake cabinet.
Yvette frowned. "Not unless you want me to tell her about the drinking, and then all that followed."
Louis turned to her, stung. "I’m not like that anymore," he said softly.
She placed the tray on the counter and walked over to him. She ran a palm over his face, and her brown eyes were soft and familiar. "I know, Lis-Lis." She smiled as he turned a little and kissed her hand. "I’m so proud of you for working through it. We’re all proud of you."
He nodded a little, caressed her hand, then turned away. "Thank you."
Yvette stood watching him for a few moments. "I visited your mother while I was there."
The door jangled. Neither looked up.
"Don’t," said Louis.
"I know we’re not together anymore, but I still care about you, Louis."
He turned back to her, and took up her hand again. "It’ll be okay in the end," he said. "I promise."
She squinted in the golden sunlight as it streamed through the cafe. It set off her beauty more than ever; her brown skin positively glowed, and her fine cheekbones and pretty face were so familiar and beloved to him that it physically hurt to see her. "What are you thinking?" she said. "Lis-Lis, what have I done to deserve such a look?"
Louis swallowed. "I just wanted to--"
"Sorry to interrupt, but are you guys open?"
They both turned, startled a little. Lestat stood behind the counter, a grin plastered across his face.
Yvette shook herself a little. ‘I’ll get going - I’m going to be behind on my deliveries.’ She stacked her pans quickly and took them off the counter.
"I still have to pay you--"
"I’ll drop in later this week," she said, waving her hand. "I’ll see you later."
"Bye," said Louis, staring after her. Disappointment crested in him but he was not sure why. Certainly he had not know what he had wanted to say to her in that moment.
"That your girlfriend?" asked Lestat.
"No, just a friend."
"She didn’t seem like it," he glowered.
Louis raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
Lestat didn’t answer. He stared past his shoulder, at the chalkboard. "I’ll have… um… an unsweetened latte with a shot of hazelnut." He focused on Louis again, smiling. "Please."
The sweet quiet morning was gone, Louis realized. He hefted a sigh and endeavoured to put his Game Face on. Business was business after all, and self-improvement was important, and at least Lestat had not ordered a damned soy drink.
"Wait, wait," said Lestat, and Louis could have sworn the wretch had plucked it from his brain, for he knew what was coming next: "Make it a soy latte. Gotta watch the gorgeous figure, I guess."
He gritted his teeth. "Certainly. Take a seat and I’ll bring it over."
"Louis will do."
The day of Lestat’s performance at the cafe rolled around; Jesse and Daniel were unusually excited. Well, for Jesse it was a little unusual. Daniel was a huge music aficionado and firmly believed in promoting local bands, But Louis’s curiosity was not so much aroused by his enthusiasm for the music, which he had not yet heard for himself, but that Lestat would be present for a few hours in the cafe and completely unable to harass him. It would be an interesting opportunity to see the perpetual performer in action. He had heard a thousand generic bands, rip-offs and tributes and vocals lost amidst self-indulgent drum solos. So the singer was handsome; he had expected more from Jesse, at least.
Jesse, though, was not even scheduled to work that night. She insisted on coming along to help, and brought a couple of her girlfriends to set up the area for Lestat’s band, to rearrange the tables and spare Louis the usual haggling and arguments with the patrons over corkage fees for the night.
The cafe was packed by the time Lestat took to the improvised stage area to perform his set, so much so that Daniel had to turn people away at the door. All together, it displeased Louis a little: money was money, but claustrophobia was claustrophobia. He watched the proceedings from behind the counter, glad when the orders for food and drink trickled to a halt as Lestat performed.
Lestat’s voice was not what he had expected. It crackled with sensual energy and unhinged aggression on the more powerful songs (loud songs, Louis thought resentfully, and wondered if he were due a late-night visit from the cops) but by the end of the set he had taken a seat with a battered acoustic guitar whilst his bandmates played their instruments softly, and his voice was a baritone glide, a croon just above a whisper.
Louis was transfixed.
He came from behind the counter and sat at the table with Jesse, ostensibly to put a fresh candle at the table’s little votive holder. He placed his head in his hands as Lestat’s voice and the music lulled him. Lestat did not look over once; he was focused on the music, the lights augmenting the yellow of his hair and his arrogant good looks.
He ended the set with an encore song, a knowing cover. He crooned the words and it was only on this song that he finally seemed aware of his audience, gazing around at them. He caught Louis’s eye and before Louis could glance away, he was already staring back down at his guitar:
"But things in this life change very slowly,
if they ever change at all no use in asking why,
it just turned out that way
So meet me at midnight baby
inside the Sad Cafe.
Why don't you meet me at midnight, babe,
inside the Sad Cafe."
He finished the set, and the people around them clapped and whistled and begged for more. He declined politely, and it wasn’t until the band was packing up and people were leaving that Louis had a chance to speak with him.
"Lestat," he said. "That was good. That was really -- you were right. I really enjoyed it."
"I know," said Lestat. He practically shone with pride. "We’re heading back to Jesse’s for a drink. Why don’t you join us?"
"No," he said quickly. "I mean -- sorry, no thank you. I don’t drink anymore."
"You don’t need to apologize," said Lestat. He considered, then moved in closer and said, conspiratorially: "Come back to mine, then. Just with me," he pressed softly.
Louis shook his head slowly. He did not protest as Lestat took up his wrist, running his thumb over the veins there. "I -- it’s tempting," he said. "It is. But--"
"Is it that girl?" said Lestat. He smirked. "It doesn’t matter to me."
Louis steeled himself. He raised his eyes to Lestat’s. "Well, it matters to me . It’s not even about her, and yet it doesn’t matter to you."
Lestat dropped his wrist, baffled. "I don’t understand," he said.
Louis set his mouth grimly. "You should go. Thank you for a good performance, but I have to get back to reality now."
"You’re not making this easy!" called Lestat after him. "Bloody tease," he muttered, and turned back to his admiring fans.
Lestat did not return to the cafe the next day, and relief washed over Louis when it came to closing time and he hadn’t been bothered.
The next day swung around, and still Lestat did not show.
Louis wondered if he were sulking, tucked into a huge black leather couch in his swanky studioas Jesse had reported, with a little too much reverence in her voice.
The day after that, he had a vague uneasy feeling in his stomach. He recognized it for the attack of mindless anxiety it was, and he apologized to Daniel for snapping at him and Jesse for muddling up a complicated order and then fleeing to the back instead of fixing it.
He picked up a battered copy of a Carson McCullers anthology at the thrift store a couple of blocks away, and he sat up till late reading it. He made notes in the margins, as he usually did, and paused at a line:
A most mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp.
In the margins, he wrote:
The next day, Lestat appeared at the cafe again. He was dressed like any typical hipster, and his outfit was as carefully-constructed a façade as it was for any other. Vintage black Guns ‘n Roses t-shirt, torn along the neckline, exposing a sliver of tawny skin; skinny white jeans and heeled boots with silver embellishments that jingled with each step.
"So Santa Cruz was... an experience," he said nonchalantly, slouching against the counter. "Did you miss me?"
"I didn’t realize you were gone," said Louis. He gripped the counter tightly. "What will it be?"
"We don’t use that terminology here."
"Venti non-fat latte with caramel drizzle. And you can even write my name on it as a concession for missing me."
"Fine. Take a seat, Lestan."
"Will do, Lucifer."
Life went on as usual over the next few weeks:
"Triple venti soy, no-foam latte for Lars!"
"Venti half and half, 10 pumps vanilla -- yes, that’s right -- 10 pumps vanilla -- for Lucien!"
"It’s a wonderful drink and a wonderful world, Louis Armstrong."
"Tall -- I mean, small nonfat latte, two per cent foam, for Leonard!"
"Are you sure this is two per cent and not three per cent, Luigi?"
The stomach pains didn’t return, and for that Louis was prepared to deal with the daily blast of rage from his absolute worst customer.
He closed his eyes for a few moments, then opened them again slowly, cat-like, to regard Lestat. "Yes?"
Lestat leaned forward conspiratorially. "It appears to me… that you have misheard my name, and I have been coming to your little coffee parlor for a number of weeks now. I’m quite mystified as to how you might have misheard it…"
He frowned. "I have many more customers than you. It is, after all, a major city. I’m meant to remember all of your names?" He held up his hands. "This isn’t a tiny village in the Auvergne."
"Ah, but you remember that detail!" said Lestat excitedly. "At any rate, I think you are due for a hearing check. I can recommend a good ENT…"
"My hearing is perfect, thank you," said Louis tersely.
"Well, then, you can hear my name perfectly right now: it is Lestat. That’s L-E-S--"
"I know how to spell it."
"Do you?" he asked, with wide-eyed innocence. He picked up the cup and turned it around slowly, to show Louis where SCOTT was written in his own neat script.
"That was from yesterday," he said, offended. "And I am sure that you must have failed to enunciate your name. If I heard Scott, I will have assumed that was the name for the order."
"Be that as it may," said Lestat. He leaned further forward and took the marker from Louis’s apron pocket with offensive intimacy, and dragged the marker up Louis’s chest and neck before uncapping it. "It is written like so…" He crossed Scott out and wrote Lestat with a flourish. "You may keep this one for reference," he said, handing Louis the cup.
Louis shook himself. He took the cup from Lestat, crumpled it, and dropped it unceremoniously into the wastebin.
Lestat nodded thoughtfully. "Lancelot du Lac, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
Louis turned to Jesse. "Don’t give out my surname in future."
She stuck out her tongue at him. "Make me."
Chapter 4: Strawberry Smoothie
Daniel took a long drag on his cigarette and exhaled. He smiled pleasantly at the old man at the next table, whose eyes had narrowed in contempt. “It’s a smoking patio, buddy.”
“Can you maybe make your smoke not choke me to death?”
“No problem. I’ll just call up my good friend Zephyr and ask him to make the wind blow another way.”
“I know you work here, smartass. Don’t think I won’t tell your manager.” He leaned forward, uncomfortably reminiscent of an angry badger, his jaw tightening under his salt and pepper beard.
“Yeah? Go for it! Maybe he’ll spank me,” Daniel laughed. He shook his newspaper emphatically and put his feet up on the chair opposite.
“Excuse me,” said a smooth voice behind him.
“Look, I already said--” began Daniel. He faltered as he took in the serene young man before him, a vision of red hair, pale skin and unblinking large brown eyes, dressed in solemn fitted black. “Uh…”
“You’re in my favorite seat,” said the Vision.
Daniel snorted. But of course. “I was here first, and I’m on my break, kid.”
“Whatever happened to ‘the customer is always right’?” he asked, assuming a more dominant stance.
“When I’m on break,” Daniel said, tapping his ashes out on the heel of his boot. “I’m a customer, too.” He stuck the cigarette back in his mouth with a smile.
“Fair enough,” said the stranger. He took a chair from the next table and dragged it over.
“That wasn’t an invitation to join me,” said Daniel. He frowned. “What now?”
“I rarely see young people reading newspapers,” said the stranger. “Why?”
“‘Young people’? You’re a ‘young people,’ too, buddy. Maybe I like the feel of the pages, the scandalous personals sections...” he said, folding the paper to display the colorful advertisements for all kinds of masseuses. “Yeah, old media is dying. Why? Ooh, boy. Well, first there was this thing called the internet--’”
“You can find those pictures elsewhere. Why do you read newspapers if the same stories are printed elsewhere, too?”
Daniel scowled. “Why not?”
“Again, fair point.” He gave the barest smile, folded his arms on the table and regarded Daniel seriously. “My name’s Armand. What’s yours?’”
“It’s… I’m Daniel… but what--” Daniel trailed off, then sat up straighter and checked the hands on his watch. Still a good fifteen minutes before his boss would come looking for him.
“What are you reading about, Daniel?” The name rolled off Armand’s lips, and Daniel felt a little shiver. Something about the way he said his name, like he was testing the feel of it.
Daniel eyed this Armand again. The tautness of his skin and the brightness to his amber eyes gave off the naiveté of youth, but he seemed to hold an old soul within. “Shouldn’t you be, like, in school now, or something?”
Armand fetched a sigh and spoke with the air of someone who had given this answer many times before. “I’m a psych major at Berkeley. Second year, actually.” He paused. Daniel’s expression was not that of someone who had accepted this information. “I’m 18, nearly 19. Do you want to see my ID?” Daniel waved that away. “Alright, so you can relax.” He pursed his lips, then applied some lip balm from a tin. “I’ll bet you get carded, too. How old are you?”
“Yeah, I do get carded, but I figured they do that to try to keep the guy count down and the chick count up at bars.” Daniel chuckled and raked a hand through his sandy blond hair, feathering it. “I’m only 26 myself, but you really look like a kid, Jesus.”
“Avid reader like you, I’m sure this isn’t your dream metier. Do you like working in a coffeeshop?”
“You’re right about that. Doesn’t take a psych major to guess that. I’m in journalism. Biographies are my thing. Working at the Last Drop, well, it pays the rent. At least, it does when your roommate is your boss.” He paused, snuffed out his cigarette. He glanced up at Armand who was watching him with a little curiosity mixed with disbelief. “Just wait until you graduate, kid, see how many employers knock down your door! It’s tough, having to pay bills in this city and still going after the dream job.”
“It is,” said Armand, nodding sagely. “I worked as a theatre director for a few years and it was immensely stressful, particularly given some of the more -- how should I say it? Exuberant actors.” He grimaced, took a pull on the straw of his smoothie. “Never work with actors.”
Daniel laughed. “Oh, I’m sure it was hard controlling the school nativity play. What were you directing? A game of Duck, Duck, Goose?” He blew a little jet of smoke out.
Armand smiled. “Our last adaptation was The Seagull. And it was at the Lycanthrope, over in Oakland.”
Something quickened in Daniel. “The place that burned down?” he asked, sitting up.
“Yes, that one.”
“They said a child died in that fire. A little girl.”
“I was there,” said Armand. He seemed shrouded in melancholy at that moment. “Do you want to hear about it?”
Daniel leaned forward. “Yeah, tell me.”
“I need the apartment tonight,” said Daniel. He jumped up on the counter and ignored Louis’s glare. “Just 'till, like, midnight, okay?”
Louis leaned against the opposite counter and folded his arms. “No, it’s not okay. Haven’t we spoken about this before? I need more than a few hours’ notice, Daniel.”
“Special circumstances supercede protocol,” he said. “This one’s different. I just met him on my lunch break.”
“‘I don’t like people just showing up at my home.”
“Our home, Lou. Look, I know you like playing the Land Baron, and that’s nice and all, but I really need you to do me a solid.” He looked at Louis with wide eyes, lower lip trembling. It was his best expression of supplication and had worked before.
Louis sighed. “Fine. But get rid of him by midnight.”
“And if you could take the rest of my shift tonight as well, that would be great, thanks.”
He glowered at Daniel. “If I didn’t need you to pay rent, I’d fire you for this.”
Daniel jumped off the counter and ran his hands through his ashy blond hair. “Aw, I know you love my company, too. But thanks, Lou. I owe you big time.” He whipped off his apron and handed it to Louis. “Gotta run, need to get back and scrape all these coffee grounds off. And pick up after my messy roommate! We wouldn’t want to invite someone into a disaster zone of books.”
Louis growled, balling up the apron. “Get out of here before I change my mind.”
The door to the apartment opened. Lestat looked up from the couch -- or at least as far as he could with a huge german shepherd sprawled across his chest -- and watched as Armand walked through the door.
“Where’ve you been?” Lestat said. “The goddamn refrigerator cut out and the TV cut out, and I’ve been bored all afternoon.”
Armand gaped at him. “Tell me you turned it back on!”
“Well, obviously I didn’t ‘cause the TV isn’t on and I don’t know where the, uh, the -- I don’t know the word in English -- the box for the fuses is.”
“How are you even alive?” snarled Armand, stomping past him to the closet and flipping the trip switch back on. The TV came back to life with some game show and the refrigerator began to hum loudly. “There, idiot!”
The dog whined; Lestat covered his ears with his hands. “I’ve told you, we don’t argue in front of my son!” he said frantically. “Who’s agoodboy? Whoisit? It’s Mojo!” He continued to coo and pet the dog, who emphatically returned the affections with face licks.
“Oh, shut up,” said Armand. “I’m taking a shower. Don’t burst in this time.”
“It was one time, and it certainly wasn’t for you,” he huffed. “Anyway, where are you going? You never shower this late.”
“None of your business,” said Armand, walking quickly towards his room.
“It’s a date, isn’t it!” Lestat sat up, pushing Mojo away gently. “Finally, you scored!” He jumped off the couch and rubbed his hands together. “Tell me about her. Or him!” He gave a happy sigh. “God knows this city is full of such sexy people.”
Armand stopped at the threshold of his room, turned, and said very seriously: “I’m not telling you a thing.”
“Not even their name?” Lestat sulked.
“Especially not their name,” said Armand. He went into his room and slammed the door shut.
“Aw, c'mon! At least tell me what they do! Did you bag a hot artist again? I mean, I’m not saying you should but not having to pay rent was pretty sweet for a while--”
Armand pulled the door open. “Shut up!” he snarled.
Lestat smiled into the face of his rage. “An artist, then.”
From behind the closed door, Armand continued: “No, and you’re not getting away without paying rent anymore, so don’t go on one of your stupid irresponsible spending sprees again. When that check comes from your mother, you hand it right over to me!” He began to close the door, looked down at where Lestat had jammed his foot in the doorway, and then up again. “It’s a man, okay? I’m still not telling you his name.”
“What’s he do? What does he do!”
“He’s a barista, at that new French place on Divisadero Street. Now go away!” he said. He shoved Lestat forcefully from the door and slammed it shut. Mojo gave a startled bark.
Lestat stood there, considering. A curious weight -- gravity, or his heart, he decided later -- sank him back onto the couch.
Daniel took hold of the banister and started up the stairs. At the third floor, without turning around, he gave Armand the standard visitor disclaimer:
“Okay, it's just one more floor and you gotta watch the second to last step 'cause it creaks and old Mrs. Lamboukas next door screams bloody murder if you make too much noise in the common areas, so my roommate insists on Indoor Voices,” he said in a mocking charm school falsetto. “Though that's probably more to control me, because honestly he's a freaking despot when he wants to be..."
“Hmm,” said Armand. He followed Daniel up the stairs, and watched patiently while he fumbled with the lock at his apartment door.
“You -- just have to -- push!” he whispered frantically, body slamming the door and then bursting through.
“Malaka!” came a shrill voice from the next apartment.
“That's right, Mrs. Lamboukas! Good evening to you, too!” said Daniel cheerfully. He ushered Armand into the apartment and slammed the door shut, ignoring the shouts in response.
“Welcome to my humble home!” he said proudly.
Armand frowned. “Your neighbor doesn't like you.”
He shrugged. “So what? C’mon, let me give you the grand tour.”
“Yes, that would be good.” Armand delicately kicked off his shoes and placed them neatly by the door. “Aren't you going to take yours off?”
“I generally don't--”
“It's unhygienic, and your neighbors are less likely to hear you walking around barefoot.”
Daniel flushed. “Yeah, you're right.” He kicked off his shoes, marked Armand's impassive face, and picked them up and neatly placed them alongside Armand's. “Anyway,” he said, grabbing his guest’s wrist, “come see the apartment.”
Two steps in, Armand said, “It's very small.”
“Now, now: the realtor described it as ‘cozy’, so that's what we go with. Besides, it's Divisadero Street, prime location, what do you expect?” Daniel looked around, pleased with how they had arranged the furniture and lighting to make the space seem larger than it was in actual square footage. He flicked on the floor lamp, and dimmed it halfway down.
“Mine’s much bigger.” Armand wrinkled his nose. “And less dusty.” He ran a finger along a side-table, leaving a clean track. He made his way over to the window, took in the view of the street. The red neon light of a 24-hour diner blinked up at him.
“Yeah well, it's tidy, though. I mean, as tidy as I can get it without pissing off my flatmate.” Daniel joined him at the window, hiking it open to let in some fresh air. “Like it really could be a lot worse in here -- let me show you his room.”
They crossed the small living room area and Daniel pulled open Louis’s door. Of course, the bed was unmade, as usual. Clothes were neatly folded on a chair nearby but the floor was strewn with vinyl records, receipts, and books. Books were everywhere; strewn across the shelves, serving as platforms for some candles (he had lectured Louis about fire hazards, to no avail), on top of the vintage record player, and stacked in a pile at the foot of his bed. Scraps of paper were haphazardly arranged amongst the pages, presumably as impromptu bookmarks.
Armand made his way around the scattered debris to the foot of the bed, and knelt down by the pile of books, appraising the stack with his finger. “Manon Lescaut. I read that recently; interesting choice. I don't care much for Tolstoy. Can't abide Hemingway. Zola, hmm.”
Daniel was at the small desk, reuniting a few stray pens from the floor with their brethren in a mug there. “Don’t even start about Zola. I know too much about that stupid book. Honestly, Louis can talk all night about 19th century French railway systems. I buy one freaking train set and that was my reward.’
“Sounds interesting,” said Armand. “Will we see him tonight?”
"No,” said Daniel quickly, gently ushering Armand out of the room and closing the door behind them. “My room is like an untouched Ikea model compared to his.”
Through the living room, just off the kitchenette, was Daniel’s room. He began to walk over t to it, but Armand was already inspecting the couch and mismatched antique chaise lounge. “May I sit?”
“Please do. Can I get you something to drink? We have… uh, I think some orange juice, beer… water… coffee, maybe? On the house, y’know.”
Armand sat down and picked up a small pillow, looking at the design of the fabric. “No, thank you.” He put the pillow down and turned his attention to the window.
Daniel watched him, fascinated. He had the air of a wild thing brought into domesticity and somehow stunned by that fact. Daniel had seen a film once, of a girl who tried to tame a fox; she had invited it into the house and it had inspected its surroundings with growing horror and curiosity until it had grown frantic and escaped through a window.
“This view is pleasing, isn’t it?” said Armand. He made as if to stand up.
“I suppose yours is better,” said Daniel quickly, seating himself on the chaise and putting a foot up on the coffee table. He watched as the little red fox settled back down.
Armand shook his head. “No.”
Daniel sucked on his lip thoughtfully. There did not seem to be any subterfuge with Armand; he held nothing back but would say how things were without trying to mask anything to make himself look good. Daniel didn't think he had ever met anyone so devoid of ego, and not in a weird self-hating way like Louis, more like the attitude of someone who had no time for lies. “It's good, being on the top floor,” he said, rousing himself a little. “Less noise from the street, and nobody walking above you.”
“In their shoes,” said Armand with a smile.
“In their shoes,” he agreed. “You can just see the Bay through those trees,” he said, pointing. “And over there leads to downtown, and of course that way is the Golden Gate, across there to Oakland--”
“Do you miss living there?”
“Oakland? No, of course not. I'm better situated now.” He laughed softly. “Apart from living with the most irritating roommate. You think yours is bad because he's messy? Have you tried living with an attention-seeking loudmouth who plays guitar till 3am?” Armand kneaded at the pillow in his lap. “I don’t even care to tell you about the enormous dog he keeps. Be grateful yours isn’t a pet lover. Mine gives whole new meaning to the word.”
“Can’t say he is,” said Daniel with a smile. "Yeah, Louis -- that's my roomie -- isn't too bad. To be honest, it’s kinda lonely when I come home and he’s out. Maybe a dog or cat would help with that. But your roommate -- couldn't you move, anyway?”
Armand shook his head solemnly. “No, it wouldn't be right. He gets on my last nerve and riles me more than I’d care to admit to him,” he said, leaning back and folding his hands. “But I feel… a sense of responsibility for him.”
“Why?” pressed Daniel.
Armand's gaze remained fixed on the lights of the city, and Oakland far in the distance, remote and glittering. “He was an actor, you know, at the Lycanthrope. We didn't get on.”
“Right. You said never work with actors.”
“He was always so loud, so brash. But he was a very talented actor, and very popular among the cast. Audiences loved him. It was all a package deal.” He gave a strained smile to Daniel, then turned back to the window. “So of course I tolerated his off-stage behavior because work came first. And then there was the fire. You know what happened.”
“A piece of the scenery was too close to a stage lamp or something.”
“Yeah, I told you about that yesterday, and how we thought we had evacuated everyone.” Armand looked at his hands. The dimness of the room and the minimal eye contact reminded Daniel of a confessional booth. He wondered if Armand wanted some kind of absolution, or some words of forgiveness, but it was hard to tell; he prodded him gently for more. “I can’t imagine how it must have felt when you realized you’d all forgotten her.”
“Lestat - that's my flatmate - blamed himself.”
Daniel blinked. “Lestat?”
But Armand was going on: “He was actually responsible… he and I were arguing about blocking that day, and we actually fought over where the lamps were, and he would insist the crew put them in one space and I would overrule him and say no, it had to be in the other space, and we just were so angry and we broke for lunch, and then there was all this smoke, Daniel.” He shuddered. “I saw my mother die when I was a child. She was very sick, and in Ukraine we aren't so afraid of the realities of life and hiding from it as you are here.” Armand sighed. “Perhaps I took it well because I didn’t fully comprehend it then. Up until that fire, I thought I could handle death. But a child -- I don't even like kids, but she was so young…”
“It would mess you up,” said Daniel quietly. “That must have been hard, but I guess sometimes death can be a relief from suffering.” He hesitated, then licked his lips and continued. “You said your roommate is Lestat? It’s an unusual name, I’ve only ever heard of one.”
Armand turned to him, curious. “Yes, must be the very same.”
“Yeah, but… he seems so carefree, you know? He’s like super friendly and God, yeah, he’s really demanding and wants special treatment -- but I can’t imagine just not caring and about what happened!”
“I didn’t say he doesn’t care. We just don’t talk about it, and I don’t care to ever talk to him about it.”
“I told you, it’s not my way.” Armand rested his head against the couch and looked at Daniel curiously. “How do you know him? Do you follow his music?”
“I do,” said Daniel. “'He’s good - don't look at me like that! He is, you can't deny it. I listened to his demo CD on repeat for two solid weeks.” He ran a hand through his hair, considering. “He’s at the café just about every day to get his caffeine fix directly from Louis. It’s hilarious to watch them sparring across the counter… it’s so transparent. He's ridiculously obsessed with Louis.”
“Is he now?” said Armand softly.
“No joke, he’s there nearly every day. I mean, we're talking full on stalker at this point. Louis pretends to hate him but we all know it's a matter of time before Lestat's getting a personal tour of that post-hurricane site of a bedroom.”
“Your poor neighbors,” said Armand.
Daniel laughed again, delighted. “You're the strangest person I've ever met,” he said. “Though I suppose you'd take that as a compliment.”
“Not really,” said Armand with a sigh. “Cliché doesn't really interest me.”
“Christ, take a compliment!” Daniel tossed another pillow at him.
Armand caught it and drew his legs up. He curled against the armrest. “It’s strange how things work out,” he said contemplatively. “If that fire hadn't happened, I wouldn't be here with you tonight.”
“How do you feel about that?”
He shrugged, watching Daniel intently. “Whatever happens, happens.”
After a pause, Daniel said, “Can I ask you more about the fire?”
“Let me just grab a pen--”
Armand's eyes narrowed. “Did you invite me back here merely to interview me for some sensationalist submission to a local rag?”
“No!” he said, and wondered at how much of his embarrassment and guilt had made it into the inflection of that one word.
“I didn’t come here for a sordid poking through the ashes, some filthy exposé to be printed and sold for profit,” said Armand coldly.
“I didn’t invite you here for anything like that!” Daniel said, leaning forward.
“What did you invite me here for?”
“Why did you accept my invitation?” Daniel shot back.
Armand cocked his head to the side, studying Daniel. He stretched his legs back out and put his feet up on the coffee table, crossing them at the ankle. “If you need money, I can help you--"
“That is not why I invited you here,” said Daniel emphatically.
Armand looked around the room. “Do you have any films we could watch?” He said.
Daniel blinked. The speed with which they had recovered from what could have been the end of the evening was dizzying. He grabbed the lifeline gratefully. “Uh… yeah. Just sit tight, I'll go pick out a few and you can choose.”
He leaped off the chaise, and made his way to his own room. His books were mostly in their rightful places on the shelves, and had some discernible organization to them, his laundry was in the hamper in the corner, and only a few pairs of jeans lay strewn across the too-dirty-for-the-drawer-but-too-clean-for-the-laundry purgatory of his desk chair. He had a few framed pictures of family and friends, and a huge illustrated Vertigo poster hung above his double bed. The sheets and blanket were drawn up with hotel-like precision.
The shelf of DVDs - would he really have to make the transition to Blu Ray? - held a wide array of cinematic contributions from the last century, arranged lovingly by genre and then alphabetically; the shelf below was devoted to film theory books and scripts he had bought or attempted.
He clapped his hands together and thought of the man sitting outside the room. Deftly, he picked out a few films: Citizen Kane, The Life of Brian, Reservoir Dogs, Fantasia, and Walk the Line. He went back to the living room, fanning the options like a hand of playing cards.
“Okay, I got us--” he trailed off. Armand wasn't on the couch. Because of course he wasn’t.
Before the disappointment could follow, his gaze fell on the Red Menace, standing in the little kitchenette. “I want you to show me how to make coffee," he announced with the gravitas of a judge.
“Wouldn’t you prefer a beer? Or are you yet to pop that cherry, kid?” Daniel said, and immediately regretted his crassness. Armand didn’t answer, so he set down the DVDs and came into the kitchenette.
Armand blinked slowly. “Show me how to use this machine,” he said, touching the top of the coffee maker tower like it was a luxury car. For what Louis had spent on it, it might as well be a luxury car. “I want to experiment.”
“Uh, okay.” Daniel said, giving him a quizzical look. “Decaf, though, yeah? I have the early shift tomorrow.”
“Fine. Then we will watch a film.” His amber eyes roved over Daniel slowly, and it may as well have been a caress. Daniel inadvertently grasped at the edge of the counter for balance. Armand fetched a melancholy sigh. “But let's watch in your room. It's quite drafty in here.”
“Whaaaat,” breathed Daniel. He swallowed, composed himself. “First off, forget everything you know about coffee. And get me that big spoon.”
“You're the boss,” said Armand. He passed him the spoon and then clasped his arms behind his back, watching as Daniel began prepping his workstation. A loose tendril of thick copper hair fell forward, framing his handsome face. “Your neighbors aren't going to like me,” he said.
Chapter 6: Champagne
Louis took a sip of his coffee and savoured the taste as he swallowed. He picked up his pen with the other hand and flipped open a little black notebook. He noted down in his careful and tight cursive: “Dandelion root - complements chicory. Add.”
In one fluid motion, he slipped the notebook back into his apron pocket and set the mug down on the counter. He leaned forward on his folded arms. Both of his guests were quiet; an old woman with a pretty red scarf at a window table was watching the rain-slicked street outside, clearly looking out for someone, and Lestat de Lioncourt slouched moodily in the large sofa, feet insolently up on the table while he thumbed at his cellphone, glancing up at Louis every now and again.
Louis ignored him. It was past eight and he should really have shut up shop by now, but he had promised Daniel privacy until midnight. The café’s lights were low, the room cozy, a veritable retreat from the traffic and people outside, with soft cello music playing inside the cafe; he liked this space and did not find it a hardship to be here. He glanced at Lestat. Usually, he thought wryly.
He picked up the novel he had been reading on and off throughout the slow evening, and found his page which he had marked with a receipt:
"It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.”
It cut to the quick. He had been the object of affection for many, and was used to rebuffing the string of people in his life who had pursued and pursued him as if his autonomy didn’t matter -- and yet -- he blushed to recall how disgracefully he had behaved towards Yvette. They could have been happy. Her bright smile came to mind; yes, he had loved her and did still, right down to the faded freckles just under her eyes. Could they be so easily divisible into lover and beloved? He had taken great pleasure in lavishing affection on her and been so offended and surly when even Yvette had to excise his draining alcoholism and self-pity from her life. It was a wonder she had ever forgiven him, and yet she had, and he was grateful for it.
He was taking an age to read this book; no matter that he had read it before. It had to be savored, like the coffee.
“‘Bye now, dearie,” said the woman by the window, standing up abruptly and scraping her chair back. “Thank you for letting me wait here.” An older gentleman stood outside, umbrella open and shielding him against the rain, coming down harder now. She went out into it with him, slipping her hand into his arm.
“Bye,” returned Louis absently. He continued reading.
The minutes ticked by; the little candles at the tables gave off a little life to the otherwise darkened room. Louis made more notes in his book and hummed along to a few of his favorite tunes as they played. The rain pattered against the window like the paws of small animals, and the streaks blurred the passing headlights, giving the space a pleasantly surreal aura. It could have been captured in some painting.
“Alors!" Lestat called out. “Couldn’t you switch up the music? Play something with a little life?”
Louis glanced up at him. “This,” he said emphatically, “is a café, not a club.” Internally, Louis prayed for another customer to come in. He’d even take a pack of miserable goth teens. At least they liked their coffee unflavored and kept to themselves.
Lestat jumped up from the couch and ambled over. He was dressed smartly tonight in a slick blazer, the lapels had the sheen of a black stallion. A crisp charcoal shirt that cut just so against the tan skin of his neck, a deep red tie.
“Listen, Linus. I have a proposition for you,” he said, plucking a dark pink carnation from one of the bud vases on a table. He dried the stem of the flower on a paper napkin and tucked it into his blazer pocket.
Louis held up his hand. “Not interested. Busy.” He glared as Lestat grabbed the book from his hand and tossed it aside.
“The cafe’s dead as a doornail, my friend,” he said, gesturing at the empty tables. “And it’s past closing by like--” he shook his arm, hiking up his sleeve to reveal his huge black watch, “-- nearly an hour now, so what about this? What say you we blow this popsicle stand?”
Louis turned to his machines and popped off one of the nozzles, cleaning it with a rinse. One of Jesse’s chores, but a good excuse to drown out the nuisance.
“Not for food, you dolt!” Lestat had to raise his voice above the hissing of the water.
“Clubs and bars really aren’t my thing,"he said as he popped off another nozzle and rinsed it.
“I would never have guessed,” said Lestat blandly. “No, there’s the exhibition tonight at SFMOMA. The lead exhibiting artist is a friend of mine and I’ve got a couple of tickets spare--”
Louis shut off the water and dried his hands on his apron. “Wait, the Disaster exhibit?” He shook his head with an offended air. “The one with a Katrina perspective? I was desperate to get tickets, but they were sold out before --”
“Just using me for my connections, is that it?” Lestat teased. He adjusted his flower and leaned back with an air of having already won.
Louis stared at him mutinously. “Are you going to make me beg? Because if so--”
“Oh, shut up. Get your coat.”
“Thank you,” said Louis. He stepped back and gazed at the painting before him; a deceptively simplistic broad expanse of varying grey, black and white, a roiling sky, murky floodwaters and stark black palm trees rendered ugly. The people in the painting cried out for help from the ruins of their house, and the fragile timber frame of the door in green and the half-submerged red car were the only splashes of color in the painting. He could almost feel himself there, smell the stench of the water and again how his heart quailed at the wretched hopelessness, the decay.
Louis’s mouth twisted with displeasure.
“You don’t like it?” said Lestat, facing the painting and draining his champagne.
“Au contraire. It’s marvellous,” said Louis. He did not take his eyes from the painting. “It’s what it represents, the way they betrayed us,” he said. Then, softly, so that only Lestat could hear: “Putain!"
Lestat tipped his head towards Louis and glanced at him sideways. “You’re magnificent when you’re angry,” he breathed.
Louis turned a stony gaze back at him. “Really? This struck you as the appropriate time to flirt?”
Lestat had the decency to look ashamed. “No, I-- what I meant was... “ he turned to a passing waitress, placed his empty glass on her tray and grabbed a couple of glasses. Turning to Louis, he said “What I meant was, ‘Champagne?’”
He pursed his lips. “No, thank you.”
“Aw, you’re always serving me! The least I can do is serve you just this once.”
“Just one sip.” Lestat said petulantly.
"Champagne is not like other alcohol, it’s really mostly air..." Lestat said, studying the golden glow in his glass. He flicked his eyes up to Louis' face. "If you only drink half a glass, it's really only a quarter of a glass." He went over to the little bar table nearby. Looking at Louis like a magician about to perform a miraculous trick, he poured half of the contents of one glass into the other, compared the amounts, and then offered the lesser-filled to Louis.
Louis didn’t move to take it.
"Take it, if just as a prop.” Lestat sighed. “You look ridiculous without an adult beverage. Don’t kill the mood for our poor starving artistes ."
Reluctantly, Louis unfurled a hand and accepted his glass. “Fine. You finish yours, and then drink mine,” he said.
“You can relax around me, you know!” said Lestat irritably. “I’m not trying to get you drunk.” He clinked their glasses together, and under his breath, “En bonne santé.”
“Then let it go,” Louis responded tersely.
“I’m an alcoholic!” he snarled in French. A few people glanced over, and he felt the color rise to his cheeks. Lestat looked around too, and stepped a little closer to Louis, protectively. Of all the places to resort to French -- an art gallery. They were probably snickering over his alcoholism now. “Excuse me,” he said, pushing past Lestat.
“Louis, wait!” Lestat followed him through the crowd of people and into the Calder Gallery. He grabbed Louis by the arm, holding faster when Louis tried to shake him off. “Now, just wait a minute - how was I supposed to --” he trailed off.
Louis glanced at him curiously, and then followed Lestat’s gaze to the sculpture in front of them; a woman, draped in a turquoise gown -- the sea? The wind? -- which tore at her face and body as she whirled a huge silver globe, caught in the very force with which she swung it. He half expected the statue to come alive, lost in that powerful dance, and send the globe crashing towards them.
He fumbled for the pamphlet they had been given at the start of the exhibition. “ ‘The Force of Nature’, ” he read out loud.
Lestat nodded a little. “It’s terrifying…” he muttered.
“There’s a quote from the artist,” said Louis. “Here, let go of my arm so I can read it properly.” He shook himself a little again, and this time Lestat’s hand came loose. He read aloud: “‘ After having seen the ravaged coast of Thailand and the Hurricane that affected the Southern States I decided to create a sculpture dedicated to Mother Nature. This would be reminiscent of the early statues made as peace offerings to the Gods in the hope of quenching their anger. ’”
“It makes you think, doesn’t it?” said Lestat.
Louis cast him a quick, suspicious look, but there was no mockery in Lestat’s face. Instead, he had turned to Louis with big, thoughtful eyes. He looked for all the world like he was holding back tears. Louis shifted uncomfortably. “Tell me,” he said softly.
“You can’t -- I mean, if something is going to happen, you can’t -- it’s so much bigger than us, isn’t it? You can’t fight the sea, or the heavens. You can’t stop fire…” he choked.
Louis came close. “Are you okay?” he whispered.
“Yeah, of course.” Lestat took a swig of the champagne. When he turned back to Louis, his face was blank, carefully scrubbed of emotion. “I’m sorry I tried to make you drink.”
“That’s okay. You couldn’t have known.” He reached up and adjusted the little carnation, which had nearly fallen out in all the commotion.
“I really didn’t know,” said Lestat pleadingly. “I would never try to hurt you--” he shut his mouth quickly, as if regretting that he had said too much.
“It’s like you said: you can’t stop some things.” He shrugged. “But you try and make it better, if you can.” He took Lestat’s arm. “Come on, let’s see the rest.”
Chapter 7: A Splash of Cold Water
Chapter by Rebness
Warning: M/M scenes of a mature nature in this chapter. Skip if this bothers you, enjoy if it bothers you in a different way. :D
Lestat padded silently across the darkened bedroom. His eyes, feline and intense, focused on Louis. He stripped wordlessly, revealing a lithe but well-muscled chest, strong golden thighs, a nest of gorgeous blond hair and, further down, his cock erect and ready.
Louis swallowed. "Where do you think that's going?"
Lestat didn't answer his churlish query, but dropped onto the bed and crawled toward him on all fours, catlike.
"You want it -- now?" said Louis, fumbling to maintain composure. He was suddenly aware of his own nakedness. He crossed his arms over his chest, feeling vulnerable.
Lestat grabbed Louis by one ankle and drew him close. "Come here," he whispered fiercely.
"Wait--" he said, placing his hands against Lestat's chest. Hard and supple, just as he had suspected. He caught his breath.
Lestat grabbed his hands and held them pinned above Louis's head. Louis tested his grip but when he realized he was trapped, he reached up as far as Lestat would let him and fell into a searing kiss. Lestat leaned down and lay on top of him, his nipples hard, the warmth of him enveloping, skin and skin and skin.
Louis groaned with pleasure; such a welcome weight. He stretched his body in supplication as Lestat let go of his hands and kissed his way down his lover's body, worshipfully. He undulated against Lestat, arching his foot with pleasure, toes splayed, as he surrendered to his lover's ministrations. He moaned when Lestat grabbed the flesh beneath his ribs and squeezed gently, as he traced the pads of his fingertips over Louis's taut belly, and trailed them below. He took hold of Louis's cock and gave it a firm squeeze.
"Hush." Lestat forced his knee between Louis's legs, bringing it to the crevasse there and bouncing against Louis's groin a few times. He laughed softly as Louis groaned, and settled down more heavily on top of him. Louis spread his legs wider and wrapped them around Lestat's waist. So close, and it was going to happen now, and he didn't mind at all.
Louis held his breath as Lestat straddled him, positioning himself between his thighs. Lestat had prepared him well, and he was eager to begin.
"Relax," was all Lestat said, and then he pushed forward without any further warning, and impaled him in one smooth stroke.
Louis gasped at the invasion, the exquisite sensation of being claimed. Lestat was within him, throbbing and hot and ready. His muscles clenched around Lestat as if welcoming him home; hadn’t he wanted this from the first instant he had laid eyes on this man? Hadn’t his body known its rightful place here, beneath him, that very day?
Lestat placed his hands at either side of Louis's head. He smiled savagely. "No more games now. Tonight you're mine. Do you understand?" He moved forward a little for emphasis; his smile was victorious when Louis sighed in bliss.
He licked his lips, only for them to be claimed in a searing kiss. "Yes," he said, feeling exposed and dominated, held in place by Lestat and helpless and wanted. "Yes..."
"Hush," said Lestat, pulling out a little.
And then he shoved himself all the way in, meeting no resistance. Louis gasped at the feel of Lestat within him, pushed up against the headboard as Lestat pulled out and in again, deeper, faster, working up a rhythm. The bed squeaked in rhythm with them. Lestat grabbed hold of his thighs in a tight grip and pulled him closer, sinking into him deeper. His own cock was trapped against Lestat's stomach; the sensation and friction was almost unbearable. He gasped into Lestat's ear: "They'll hear us. Daniel'll hear us."
"I don't care," Lestat panted. He swiped his tongue across Louis's jaw, and then kissed his way hotly down his neck.
Louis rocked with every thrust, a slave to Lestat's rhythm. He gasped and writhed and moaned as he was pounded. He raised his head a little and felt a thrill crash through him at the sight of Lestat's tawny thighs straddling his own pale ones, and the sordid wonderful sight of him plunging forward, the meshing of their bodies against one another. Nothing else had ever felt so right. He lay back, letting Lestat take what he wanted. When he started to fall apart beneath him, there was no sobbing or swearing; he could barely get the single word Lestat out, and when he did manage it to finally gasp "Les-taaaaat!", his lover growled and bit into his neck, sucking it to leave a bruise.
Louis gave a strangled cry of pleasure, the tightness in his belly uncoiled; he felt the ricochet of pleasure and warmth: "Oh, Mon Dieu!"
Louis jolted upright, fisting the cotton sheets with a force that was almost enough to rip them. His exposed skin was sheathed in sweat; a bead of it rolled down the back of his neck like the stroke of a finger. He shuddered. He glanced wildly about the darkened room, one wall painted an eerie silver by the open window. Not here. No Lestat. He’s not here. He felt the slick discomfort beneath the sheets, and shakily pulled them up to investigate."Great," he muttered. He rolled out of bed, awkwardly stripped off his soiled boxers and dropped them into the wicker hamper.
Fresh boxers in place, he turned back towards his bed, but it was like an open maw, traitorous. Water would be good. Some cold water. He licked his lips. I’m hungry. He slipped his robe off the hook on the back of the door, shoved his arms into it and fastened the sash unevenly as he made his way to the kitchenette.
He poured a glass of lukewarm water, drained it, refilled, and then set out a plate, foraging for food; pawing at half-empty tins of chocolates that were probably expired by now, crinkling bags of tortilla chips, perusing the relics in the freezer. He wrinkled his nose in distaste at the frozen vegetables. In the cupboard, a tub of almond cookies spoke to him from a high shelf, and he cradled it to his chest, pulling the back the plastic lid with an audible snap.
The door to Daniel’s bedroom opened, and his flatmate emerged, shuffling over to Louis in his fluffy blue slippers. “It’s after three,” he grumbled, rubbing at his right eye with a curled knuckle. “You assigned me the early shift and I need my beauty sleep.” He blinked, adjusting to the lights. “What were you shouting about, anyway?”
“Nothing,” said Louis, flushing. He took a large bite of cookie, and it made a protruding shape in his cheek like a broken bone. It was comical, wobbling as he chewed it. Daniel grinned but said nothing.
He grabbed at the pack of cigarettes on the counter, missed it the first time, and then planted two fingers on it and slid it in close. He tapped the bottom of the pack groggily, shook one out, and lit it at the stove. “What time did you get back, anyway?” he said, fumbling with the cigarette before wedging it triumphantly between his lips.
“You know not to smoke in here,” said Louis.
“It’s 3am and cold and I’m awake because of you, Cookie Monster." he said, gesturing at the tub. He took another drag of the cigarette. “It won’t kill ya.”
“Hmph.” Louis raised an eyebrow.
“I didn’t hear you come in,” said Daniel conversationally. “Even though you’re more than making up for it now.”
“I got back a couple of hours ago,” said Louis, reaching for the glass and taking another gulp of water. “I was quiet and respectful. Not even Mrs. Lamboukas heard me.”
Daniel ignored the gentle rebuke. “You stayed at work that long? Who needs coffee at—“
“No, I went out.” He took a bite of cookie and spoke through a mouthful of crumbs. “Gmfffey obenn.”
Louis swallowed. “I said, Gallery opening.”
“Oh,” said Daniel blandly. “Right.”
Louis snapped the cover back onto the cookie tub. “How was your night?” he said, meeting Daniel’s gaze. “Good?”
Daniel took a pull on his cigarette and breathed out the smoke to the side as he spoke. “He’s not still here so don’t give me that look.”
"What look?” said Louis, his eyes widening.
Daniel scowled. How is this guy so amazing at poker, and so terrible at concealing his emotions at literally any other time? He leaned back against the counter. "That judgey one,” he said aloud. He sighed. “It went well, if you wanna know.”
“So you’ll see him again?” Louis said, taking another sip of water and setting the glass down haphazardly.
Daniel nodded. “I think so. I hope so.” He pushed the glass a few inches further from the very edge of the counter and shrugged. “It was good. He keeps me on my toes, but I think I… I actually like it.”
“Sounds like a keeper. I can’t wait to meet him,” said Louis, already in the fridge, digging around for his next victim. “Where’ve my buffalo wings gone?”
“I think you’ve already met Armand,” said Daniel quickly. He flinched as Louis’s head came up and fixed him with a cold green gaze. “Look, I was hungry—“
“Armand?” Louis asked sharply, the wings forgotten. He shut the fridge, stood, and yes, here was the full on Judgey Look, in all its glory.
“Yeah, Armand.” He shifted uncomfortably, reached for the cookie tub next to Louis and then decided against it, his hand curling fruitlessly as he fell back against the counter.
Louis gave him a tolerant look. “Yes. I do. You should be careful with him.”
“Was there – did you ever—“ Daniel ventured tentatively.
Louis rubbed at the bridge of his nose irritably. “No, and I don’t much feel like talking about it.” He splashed out what was left of his water and set the glass in the sink with a clatter. “I’m going back to bed. Sorry for waking you.” He tightened his sash and turned to go. “And you owe me an order of buffalo wings.”
“Wait, I just need to know,” said Daniel. “I don’t want to waste my time – is there anything between you? You and Armand, I mean.”
Louis stiffened, slowly turned to face him and, as soberly as a witness on a stand, said “No.”
Daniel tapped his ashes onto a piece of junk mail and scowled at him as he took a drag on the smidgen of cigarette still remaining. “Then why warn me off?”
Louis tossed up his hands in a little gesture of supplication. “He’s just a nuisance, that’s all. Always bothering me…” he trailed off dreamily, combing his long fingers through the short dark silk of his hair as he retreated back to his room and shut the door softly.
“Of course," growled Daniel. He stubbed out his cigarette savagely.
Chapter 8: Caramel Macchiato
The morning found Jesse holding down the fort, and the café about half-filled. A couple of laptop hermit crabs had claimed the couch territory. The sunlight glinted off the lacquered wood floor, casting a fresh glow up at the ceiling. Jesse set the last of the peonies in a low vase on the last undecorated table and took a deep breath. She loved the morning shift. This was going to be a wonderful day.
Louis had texted that he would be fifteen minutes late but to go ahead and open anyway. She had the only other set of keys to the place and considered this a huge display of trust. Daniel hadn’t shown up yet, either, which was unusual, but Jesse was keeping things running smoothly.
A little boy approached the glass case, eyeing the pastries, a $5 bill crumpled in his hand. “Can I help you, sir?” said Jesse with a smile.
“What can I get for $5?” he asked, puffing up his chest importantly.
Jesse reeled off the choices while the kid considered each option solemnly. One chocolate croissant or two cake pops? What about that nice cupcake? But was the chocolate good or icky?
While she indulged the kid, she was aware of Armand strolling to the counter and pointedly folding his arms; she just as pointedly ignored him. After a few minutes, Armand demonstrated his appreciation of this little performance piece by clearing his throat loudly.
The boy turned around. “Are you sick, do you need a cough drop?” he asked obliviously.
“I am not sick. Just waiting my turn, if you could go ahead and pay for whatever it is you want.”
“My mom’s got some in her purse if you want.”
“That’s not necessary, thank you.”
Jesse waved the kid close to the counter and said, “He’s very sick, but it’s in his head, not in his throat.” she said, twirling her finger at her temple. “Here’s your change, Denis. Enjoy your chocolate croissant!” she said cheerfully, watching as he put the coins in his pocket and carefully carried the plate back to his table.
Armand inched forward. “Are you quite through?”
“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not.” said Jesse, tidying the cash in the register slowly. Armand looked around with seeming disinterest, but she recognized the irritated set to his mouth. “Alright, what can I getcha?” she asked, finally making eye contact.
“Whatever happened to ‘Sir?”
“That’s how we refer to a gentleman like Denis.”
“Ah, I see. And your genteel boss.”
“He is a gentleman as well.”
She considered. “A gentlemen about twelve percent of the time.”
“If you’re holding your breath that he’ll date you, you’ll die of asphyxiation pretty soon,” Armand said, picking at his fingernails absently.
“Who said I wanted to date him, or anyone, kid?”
“I see the way you look at him,” he said, scrutinizing the pastries.
“I look at him like all my other good paying customers,” she said, shifting her stance.
“You smile at him too much.”
“Don’t be envious, now. He tips well. Unlike some people I know, who pay with physical money like troglodytes--”
“I like the feel of physical money.”
“Yet you don’t like the feel of tipping,” she said decisively. “Ever.”
“If the service was so good, I might consider it.” He gave her a crafty smile. “I’ll take a mango banana smoothie from that gorgeous blender. Add some protein powder.”
Jesse grabbed a cup and scribbled a name on it. “Gotcha, but if you think the protein will help with your vertical challenge, you have a lot to learn.”
She looked over her shoulder as the reflection in the machine caught the slender figure of her boss as he entered the cafe. She gave him a wink, which he returned with a small wave as he started fussing over the tables in his usual manner.
As the blender whirled, she took payment and then slammed the register drawer shut with a sigh. It was one thing to pay cash when you were a kid learning to count, but her least favorite customer paying with a hundred dollar bill almost every time without so much as a cent for a tip grew a little old.
She decanted the drink and called out, “Order up for Herman!” She placed the cup on the counter and scooted it forward at him.
“That’s not my name, and you know it.”
“I must have misheard you over the blender,” she said innocently, with such an angelic expression on her face that she could almost feel the halo hovering above her. “Suits ya better, you little Munster.” She said with a smile.
Armand didn’t touch his drink. “Fine.” He drummed his fingers on the counter. “I want to speak with your boss.”
“Oh really? You’re bent out of shape about the name on your cup? Here, write it yourself.” She offered him another marker.
"It’s not about the cup, it’s the principle of the thing.”
“Or maybe you just like talking to my manager,” she smirked, tossing her hair back over her shoulder.
“He’s a better conversationalist than you, that’s for damn sure.”
There was a tap at Armand’s shoulder. “Watch your language. There are children present.” Louis said. His gaze shifted from Armand to Jesse, then back again. “Do we have a problem here?”
Armand blinked slowly, raising his cup and rotating the name to face Louis. “As a matter of fact, we do.”
Louis and Armand were seated at one of the empty tables at the wall opposite the window, affording some measure of privacy.
“I’ve met someone.” Armand said, turning the cup in his hands on the mosaic table; shards of plates arranged in a series of circular designs. “Are you pleased?”
“Good. Great. I’m happy for you.” Louis replied airily.
He leaned back on his elbows and regarded Armand. “Yes, I am. Now, can you try to treat my employees with a little more respect?”
“I do. As for a certain one -- well, it depends on her.” Armand took a sip of his drink and closed his eyes appreciatively.
“Excuse me?” said Louis.
He opened his eyes again. “Jesse started it, you know. She was deliberately--”
Louis leaned forward. “That’s bullshit and you know it,” he said, tapping the table with one finger. “You love to provoke her.”
“Language,” Armand corrected him.
“This is my place, I can use whatever language I like.” Louis said coolly.
“Well you certainly protect the sanctity of this place better than your own home, I’ll give you that.”
Louis smiled. “You seem disappointed that I’m not surprised. I know you were with Daniel Molloy.”
“I had a peek into your room on the grand tour last night. Same wreckage, new address."
Louis clenched his teeth. “You have no right to judge me, or the way I keep my room.”
“I can,” said Armand. “I do.” He took another sip. “And I will, so get used to it.”
They stared at each other in silence. Jesse came over to the table with a large cappuccino clasped in her hands.
“Armand, considering our conversation earlier, I wanted to offer you a free drink.” She said penitently. He moved his smoothie aside to make space for the wide saucer.
As she set it down, Louis and Armand were both shocked to find an artisanally drawn penis in the foam. “Enjoy! Lou, It’s been a long morning. I’m on break,” she said, and made her way outside.
Mojo gave a happy boof as Jesse wandered over, carrying a bowl of water. She placed it by his feet and he began lapping it up with gusto.
“Thanks, sexy,” said Lestat, peering seductively over his shades.
“Oh, shut up,” she said. She took the seat opposite Lestat and watched Mojo drink. When he had finished, he sidled up to her and leaned against her. He presented his head on her lap for a good ear scratch. Jesse cooed at him and obliged him, throwing in a few hearty pats on his back for good measure. He panted happily and sat back on his haunches, watching her.
“Oh, look at your paws! Oh, they’re like lion paws!” said Jesse. “I swear you get bigger every day!” She laughed with delight as Mojo offered her a heavy paw. “Who’s a gorgeous boy?” she said, holding his paw briefly.
“I am,” said Lestat, tossing his hair and grinning.
“Shut up, Casanova.” She leaned forward and gave Mojo a kiss between his ears, before shoving him away fondly. She watched as he shook himself a little, tags jingling, and then flopped back down at Lestat’s feet with a contented sigh.
“Are you quite done molesting my dog?” said Lestat, pushing the violet shades up into his hair.
“I can’t help it. He’s the only one around here isn’t a total sleaze.” She folded her arms and looked at Lestat curiously. “Okay, spill it. You’re grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Did you get lucky last night?”
He shrugged. “Lucky enough.”
“So he didn’t sleep with you then,” she said. “I thought the art gallery would do it!”
“Oh, whatever,” he said, scowling. He picked up his cellphone and stared at the screen. “It was a good night. We talked.”
“You talked ? Oh, I’m sure that was--”
“Jesse,” he said, making a face. “I got Pygmalion to actually talk about something that wasn’t coffee or books. Let me have this victory.”
She tutted. “Yeah, when you put it that way…” She leaned her chin on her hand, musing. “He’s into you, I know it.”
“I do, too.” said Lestat, not intending that to come out as seriously as it did. He took a long sip of his iced latte.
“Way more than he’s into Armand , I tell ya.”
Lestat choked on his drink, sputtering, “Armand?” his eyes were piercing. “He’s into Armand ?”
“No, no!” said Jesse frantically. “Not now!”
“He was into Armand!” shouted Lestat. Mojo sat up quickly, and he placed a steadying hand on the dog’s head.
“No!” said Jesse. “The little twerp used to have a thing for Louis. I don’t think he does now, though -- I mean, he’s been practically fighting with him all morning and--”
“Armand’s in there?”
“Yes, but nothing’s actually--”
“Look after my dog!” he said, jumping up.
“Don’t you cause trouble at my workplace!”
“There won’t be trouble ,” hissed Lestat. “There’s gonna be a murder .” He stalked past her and into the cafe.
Armand watched the door to the cafe open; his eyes flicked back to Louis. “We have company,” he announced.
Louis started as Lestat de Lioncourt grabbed the back of a chair from a nearby table, dragged it backwards to join them, and dropped into it.
Lestat regarded them suspiciously. “What the hell, Armand?” he snarled.
“We’re just talking ,” said Armand, the picture of innocence.
“Oh, is that right?” he said, eyes fixed on him.
“Yes,” said Louis.
Lestat turned and smiled prettily at Louis. His expression turned cold as he shifted his gaze back to Armand. “How fascinating!” he said. “What about?”
Louis frowned. “Do you know each other?”
“We’re acquainted,” said Lestat.
“We’re flatmates,” said Armand.
Lestat shrugged. “And how do you two know each other?” he asked.
“We took a class together,” said Louis, flushing.
“That’s good,” purred Lestat. “It’s important to get on with one’s fellow students.”
“I agree,” said Armand. He sat up a little straighter. “I got to know Louis intimately .” His smile faded as Louis glowered at him.
Lestat’s expression was stony. He coughed a little, then turned to Louis with wounded dignity. “I have a request.”
“Sure,” said Louis, swallowing.
“Caramel macchiato, venti. Skim, extra shot.” He considered. “Extra hot, and extra whip. Oh, and sugar-free.”
Louis blanched. “I have some good chicory coffee I could bring over--”
“No, no, I’m quite certain.” He nodded approvingly as Louis slowly got up and walked to the counter. “To go!” he called out.
Armand watched him, a cynical expression on his face. “My, my. I can see why you’re having trouble with this one.”
“The only person I’m having trouble with is you,” hissed Lestat. “Just you wait until we’re out of here.”
Louis tightened his apron cords and resumed his post behind the counter. Okay, venti. He pulled out a large white cup, drew out his marker and scribbled their own codes for the various aspects of the order. He’d had enough of the veiled bickering with Armand for the past twenty-odd minutes, and he wrote Lestat’s name correctly on the cup, underlining it.
He glanced over the cup at the two of them. Armand sipped at his cappuccino, in a pure white jean jacket, he was a citadel on which the waves of Lestat’s leashed anger crashed. They were in public, after all, but even from a few tables’ distance, Louis could hear their murmuring grow more heated. Just as Louis was considering throwing one or both of them out, Lestat abruptly stood up and straightened his jeans and his shirt, jabbed a finger in Armand’s face with some clipped declaration that Louis couldn’t hear, and then stomped over to the counter towards Louis.
Louis turned around as if he didn’t notice this development, but he was secretly relieved. Better to contain Lestat’s ire here than have the entire cafe blow up.
In a metal pitcher, Louis poured a cup of cold skim milk and slowly added three pumps of the sugar-free caramel syrup. Lestat watched him intently. “That Monin brand?”
“Torani is better.”
“I beg to differ,” Louis said, refusing to meet Lestat’s gaze as he dipped the tip of the steam wand from the espresso machine into the milk. Just far enough in to make foam without it spitting.
“You probably should have added vanilla powder with that inferior caramel syrup,” Lestat said. He fondled a few impulse items by the register and then walked over to the side of the counter that gave him a better view of the barista at work.
Over the pleasant shhhhh of the steamer as it whirlpooled the milky mixture, Louis said: “That’s cheap. Torani is widely recognized as a pure culinary caramel syrup, and we’ve had no complaints.” He finished and set the pitcher aside. “You’ve had it before without complaint. I thought you liked it.” He looked over at Lestat despite himself and flushed, looked away.
Lestat smirked. He fondled the stack of lids like a deck of cards. “Did I say so? We’ll see.”
Placing two small metal pitchers on the espresso machine’s tray, Louis ground the espresso into the double-sized portafilter, leveled off the mound, and brought it over, clicking it into the machine.
“You didn’t tamp down the grounds,” Lestat scoffed.
“You want to come over here and do this yourself?” Louis said, flipping the espresso machine on and watching as two streams poured out into the waiting pitchers. The streams were even, light chestnut in color, and the shape of mouse tails.
"I didn’t say that.”
“We’re not hiring, anyway.” Louis shot him a sassy look and Lestat stuck his tongue out.
Turning back to his work, Louis brought the first pitcher and the to-go cup to the counter that divided him from Lestat. Ordinarily, he would assemble things at the far counter, but Lestat would just keep pestering him, so he might as well give him a better view.
With a metal ladle, Louis held back the foam as he poured the steamed caramel milk mixture into the paper cup, filling it to just a few fingers’ width from the brim. Then he tipped the metal pitcher at a greater angle, coaxing the foam out gently; it relaxed into the cup like a blanket.
He set the pitcher in the sink behind him and returned to the counter with the two espresso shots, raised them above the cup, and tipped them inwardly, mimicking the very same mouse tail streams that had come out of the machine.
Lestat made no comment, just watched, entranced, a smile tugging at his lips.
“Ordering this to go, you lose the striations that the espresso makes in between the two layers,” Louis sighed, casting a critical eye over the drink as if remarking on Leonardo’s last portrait. “In a glass mug, it can look like a storm cloud.”
“Pity I can’t take a glass mug to go,” said Lestat.
“You’d probably drop it before even crossing the street,” he muttered. He finished the drink with a healthy swirl of whip cream and a cross-hatched pattern of more caramel syrup.
“There!” said Louis, shoving it a little too forcefully on the counter towards Lestat, so that a little slopped out.
He raised an eyebrow and watched as Louis wiped it down with a napkin. “Thanks.” He took a long swig of it, and gave an approving look to Louis. “That’s near perfect.”
Louis heaved a deep sigh. “Thank you.” He began to wipe the counter down.
“Juuuust… one teeny, tiny, petit little thing …”
He whipped his head up. “What?”
Lestat cast him a disappointed look, as if truly sorry. “Did you use sugar-free?”
“Of course I did,” he said, his voice soft. “You specifically said, ‘sugar-free.’”
“Did I?” asked Lestat. He shrugged carelessly and plopped the cup back down on the counter. “Redo it. Gimme the real thing.”
Louis stood ramrod straight. “You asked for sugar-free!”
“But now I want sugar.”
“Then pour some in!” Louis said, gesturing to the self-service counter with its tower of white granulated sugar.
“See here, Lewis! Are you gonna make me a sugar drink or what?” Lestat raised the cup at Louis as if making a toast.
Louis glowered at him. “I made that perfectly according to your order. I'm charging you twice.”
“Fine, whatever. And make it grande,” Lestat smirked, leaning on the counter with his chin in his hand.
“We -- don’t -- use-- that terminology!” snarled Louis, grabbing the drink back off him, throwing it down the sink, and beginning afresh.
Jesse had come back in from the patio and looped her apron over her head, joining Louis behind the counter.
Lestat winked at her, and she narrowed her eyes back at him disapprovingly. She walked over to Louis and placed a hand on his arm. “Do you want me to make the drink?” she whispered.
He shrugged her off. “Non, non -- it’s okay. It’s what the bastard wants.”
“We could just bar him.”
“I told you, it’s what he wants!” he snapped.
He made the drink over, a sour expression on his face. This time, Lestat did not offer any comments, perhaps sensing how close he was flying to the sun. When Louis, with eyes of cold absinthe fire, slid the drink over to him, he paid up without the usual sniping.
“Thanks,” he said. “I’ll let you know what I think.”
“You ordered it to go,” said Louis. “Maybe you should go and think about it some more.” He pulled his apron off. “I have some errands to run,” he said to Jesse. “Call Daniel and find out where the hell he is.”
She flinched. “Yeah, okay.” She watched as he stuffed his wallet and phone into his pockets and stalked out of the cafe. She turned to Lestat with a sigh. “That was mean,” she said.
“He’s got to stop being such a tease,” he shot back. “And where is my dog?”
“He’s being spoiled by half of San Francisco out there,” she said, gesturing to the window. A couple were fussing over him at the table.
“Thanks,” said Lestat. “We’ve got to go now. I have a murder to commit.” He stalked over to Armand, whispered something to him, and then the two left the cafe, arguing heatedly as they did.
Jesse rolled her eyes, thankful for the brief respite. When the door jingled open again, she was relieved to see that it was only Daniel. She watched as he slouched his way to the counter. “Hey, asshole!” she said. “You’re two hours late!”
“Is Louis here?” he said.
He flicked his hair out of his eyes moodily. “I just saw Lestat and Armand. They were making a real spectacle of themselves, arguing out there. Armand was covered in coffee.”
“Oh, you know Lestat’s super jealous,” she said. “Here, can you go on washing detail? I’m really snowed under, thanks to you.”
“Jealous?” he said. “Of what?”
“Oh, Armand and Louis.” She shook her head. “How was your date? Louis tells me you met someone.”
“I did, yeah.” He ran a hand through his hair.
She grinned. “Good for you! Anyone I know?”
“Yes,” he said, meeting her gaze. “Armand.”
Jesse frowned. “Oh, you poor bastard,” she said softly.
Chapter 9: Daniel's Mug
The sun hid behind a mostly cloudy sky over Lafayette park. Midday, there weren’t too many people strolling about, so much the better for Lestat to finally have it out with Armand. They’d made some small snipes at each other on the way here, but mostly drank their beverages in silence.
Mojo was thrilled to be out and about, a bounce in his step as he went about checking the usual places where other dogs may have ‘left him messages’ as Lestat liked to think of it, and leaving a few ‘messages’ of his own. Sidling up to Lestat for a reassuring pat on his head now and then.
As they entered the park and made their way towards the off-leash dog area, Mojo took it upon himself to explore further ahead like a good scout. He knew the way.
Lestat looked at Armand. “We’re going to have to talk about Louis," he said sternly.
“Whatever for? We’re bound to disagree.”
Lestat gave a heavy sigh. “We don’t even know what we’re disagreeing about!” He tossed up his hands. “We can’t go on this way, this constant fighting--”
“I don’t see what’s to fight over," Armand said with a shrug.
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about! You act as though there’s nothing there between you and Louis, when there clearly very much… is!” Lestat said, his eyes widening. “You obviously have a past together and I want to know about it. I want to know why he looks so stricken when you’re around him.”
“Do you actually care about him? Or is this just another episode of ‘Lestat wants something he can’t have and will plow down any obstacles in his path until he gets it’?” Armand spat. “Is that the story? Because I’ve heard that one plenty of times and I know how it ends every. Single. Time," he scowled, shoving his hands in his jeans.
Lestat was taken aback. They continued on in silence for a few minutes while he considered his next words. And then, “I can tell that there’s pain between you and him. But here’s the thing… I think I’m falling in love with him. It’s very real. And I can’t let myself feel that way if…” he trailed off. Adjusted his sunglasses.
“If what, if you think about the fact that I’ve slept with him? That’s infantile.”
“No! That’s not it. Well, I do find that distasteful, to say the least.” Lestat wrinkled his nose in mock disgust. “It’s that if there’s something still between you, I’m not going to let myself into that, and…” he couldn’t find the words. What was it? What really was the crux of the issue? He wasn’t certain, but he looked off into the distance, imagining Louis’ face, those bright green eyes, the way barely perceptible dimples formed when he smiled, the defensive and almost fearful way he had looked when Armand had been harassing him. Lestat suddenly felt deflated: all the energy he had brought to fight with Armand just dissipated like the air out of balloon.
Armand turned to him and saw the change in expression. “Okay, I’ve really enjoyed making you miserable but you’re being ridiculous and jealous," he said, shoving Lestat’s arm.
“Jealous, am I?” Lestat shot him a look.
“I think you just want what you don’t have. Tale as old as time.”
“Just because I don’t have him? You think that’s all it is?” Lestat said, the menace in his voice increasing. Ah, yes. Let Armand taunt me back into that delicious fighting mood!
“Yes, I do. And if you weren’t such a complete fool, you’d know that about yourself by now," retorted Armand, not bothering to conceal the haughty tone in his voice.
As they climbed a small hill, Lestat tripped, and his half-full caramel macchiato, skim, extra shot, no longer hot, splashed magnificently across Armand’s left arm and his chest, a brown splash that would have impressed Jackson Pollock.
Armand was beyond shocked as he choked out:"You threw coffee on me!"
Lestat watched his reaction, fascinated, as if he was watching a nature program about a particularly angry beetle.
He picked up his empty cup. “Did I? How terribly foolish of me. Actually, it was a double venti caramel macchiato. With real sugar. Makes it stickier," he sneered.
Armand threw himself at Lestat with a battle cry.
Lestat caught him and they tumbled to the ground, grappling and clawing. Lestat’s sunglasses broke underneath them. “How dare you this was a vintage jacket!” Armand shrieked.
“It still is!” Lestat shouted through his laughter. “Just a different color now!” Further incensed, Armand grabbed his ear and twisted it.
Lestat cried out, rolling around, trying to shake this huge tick, and they continued rolling down a slight grassy hill, freshly clipped blades of grass clinging to them. At the base of the hill, Armand fell to cursing as he struggled to break free of Lestat’s iron grip on his forearms, and Lestat responded with a knee to the groin. Armand yelped with anguished pain and tucked his legs in submissively, giving Lestat the chance to pin him on his back and straddle him. Lestat planted himself firmly atop the slender body, panting, chest heaving, his hair sweaty and sticking on his forehead. Armand’s heels dug at the grass uselessly.
Mojo trotted down the hill after them and flopped down close by. He watched them serenely, ears pricked forward. A pair of collie pups and a little fat French bulldog ran over to him, gave him a good sniff, then noticed the more interesting spectacle.
The little bulldog bounded over, tongue flopping sideways out of her wide grin, and began tugging at Armand’s jacket. He scrabbled uselessly, trying to ward her off, but the collies were busy nipping at his ankles. “Those shoes cost $600!” he cried.
“No, babies, no!” said Lestat, pushing them away. They bounced playfully towards him, barking.
“Get them off!” shouted Armand.
“I can’t do this!” said Lestat, mortified. “We’re setting a bad example for the puppies!” He stood up, dusting the grass and dirt from his clothes. He offered a hand to Armand, who batted it away irritably.
“Go on, get out of here!” snapped Armand, pushing himself up and glaring at the dogs. One of the collies yipped at him cheekily, then dashed off, the other dogs in hot pursuit.
“What is wrong with you, Lestat? You’re just going to use him and toss him away when you’re through with him!”
“Oh, you know how I feel?” he growled. “You don’t know anything about this situation!”
“I know you,” said Armand. “I know how you burn through people. And if you think I’ll stand by while you hurt my friend…”
“I’m the one who’s hurting here!” he retorted. “You had something with him! ”
“Yes,” he said evenly. “I had something with him. Just like you’ve had half of San Francisco.” He pushed back his hair. “He’s not some angel, to be put on a pedestal and cast aside the second you become disillusioned - as you always do.”
“And you’re going to stop me, hmm?” said Lestat belligerently.
Armand squared his shoulders and looked him in the eye. “Yes,” he said. “I’ll tell him everything -- about the others, about the fire--”
Lestat gritted his teeth. “What the hell are you doing, you little twerp?” He started forward and grabbed Armand by the collar, twisting it into his fist.
“You’re hurting me, you monster!” Armand said furiously, kicking at Lestat’s shins.
Lestat loosened his grip, but did not let go. “If you ruin this for me, I swear!” He shook Armand for emphasis. “You owe me, after what you took from me!”
“What I took? That theatre was my life --”
“It was our life!” Lestat shouted. “And hers, too!” His voice cracked, and he lowered Armand back down to his feet. “We both took her life.”
“This isn’t Claudia,” said Armand, straightened his collar. “I’m serious, Lestat. We can’t fix the past, but we can make sure we don’t hurt anyone else.”
“I would never hurt him,” said Lestat hoarsely. “He’s the one, I’m telling you.” He looked at Armand solemnly. “Don’t take this away from me.” His voice broke a little. Humiliating.
“Wait. Are you telling me that the great Lestat de Lioncourt, lover of thousands, a man with so many notches in his bed post it’s causing structural damage, actually cares about someone?”
“Thousands?” said Lestat. “Only a few hundred. Give me some time.” He smiled wistfully, collecting himself.
Armand set his mouth. “Lestat,” he warned.
“I’m kidding,” said Lestat. He ruffled Armand’s hair. “You’ll have to trust me, midget. Sorry about the fight.”
“And the jacket?”
“Not sorry. It was so frumpy.” He rubbed his nose. “I did you a favor.”
Louis entered the flat, strewing a trail of debris after him. He tossed his keys onto the counter, shed his coat and left it in a nearby chair, kicked off his shoes in the parlor and placed the bag of books he had acquired onto the coffee table. He made himself an unfussy black coffee in the kitchenette and sat down with a happy sigh. He relished the silence of the flat and the lack of bickering; he picked up one of the biographies and cracked it open blissfully.
It was over an hour later when Daniel returned from the late shift. Louis ignored Daniel grumbling as he scooped up Louis’ coat and hung it in its in rightful place in the closet, locked the door, and then proceeded to unpack his paper bag of Chinese take out.
“You want some of this?” called Daniel from the kitchenette.
“No, I’m good. Thank you.”
“Are you sure?” Daniel asked. “I mean, what’s mine is always yours, right?”
Louis raised an eyebrow. “Euh… yeah.”
Daniel didn’t ask him anything further. He opened one of the drawers with a clatter and took out some utensils, piled several containers of his haul onto a tray, and entered the den. He sat across from Louis, shoved some noodles into his mouth, and watched his flatmate, chewing thoughtfully.
“You were late today,” said Louis, not looking up. “But you didn’t stay late.”
“I didn’t feel like it,” said Daniel. He stared at him challengingly.
“Hmm, just make it up when you can,” said Louis, still engrossed in his book.
Daniel’s gaze slid from him to the table, fixing on the mug there. It was a matte black mug with a bright illustration of an island, yellows and purples, white buildings and neon palm trees bursting out of it, with the moon as a backdrop. The words Night Island in fat gold cursive arched around the design. He dropped his fork onto the plate with a clatter. “You used my mug,” he said softly.
“Did I?” Louis shrugged. “Sorry.”
“You -- you used my mug when you have your own ,” he growled.
Louis did look up then, confusion written across his features. “I can empty it out, Daniel -- I’ll use another. I didn’t know--”
“Don’t you play innocent with me!” he snapped.
Louis sat up, offended. “What’s got into you? It’s just a mug!”
“Why can’t I have just one thing without you taking it from me!” Daniel tossed his noodle container onto the coffee table.
Louis frowned. “Is this…” he swallowed in the face of Daniel’s rage, closing his book. “Is this about Armand?”
Daniel stood up; he towered over Louis threateningly. “Ya think?” he shouted.
“It’s nothing, I swear to you! I don’t encourage him--!”
“Oh boo fucking hoo, it’s the ‘Everyone Loves Louis' show! How awful for you to have so many people hurling themselves at your feet. How do you even walk straight?”
“Don’t you speak to me like that!” he snapped back.
“Or what, Louis? You’ll kick me out? Fire me? Steal yet another person from me with one freaking flirty look!”
“This is ludicrous,” said Louis. “And I won’t argue with you about this.” He picked up his book and stood up from the sofa. “Good night.” He began walking to his bedroom.
Daniel followed after him. “One thing!” he pressed. “I just wanted this one thing! And you had to take that away from me as well, didn’t you?” Daniel’s eyes were glassy; he wiped at the corners with the back of his hand.
Louis whirled around. “What the hell are you talking about? I’ve never taken anything away from you!”
“Do you know how many times I’m pestered about you?” He affected a shrill tone: “What’s his name, is he single? Can you give him my number?" He shifted his weight and folded his arms. “Practically every single fucking day! And you, you just sit there and you pretend you don’t know what’s going on!”
“Oh, you think that’s fun for me? I like being harassed, do I? I just want to live in peace, Daniel!”
Daniel trembled with cold rage. “Liar!” he accused, giving him a shove and watching with satisfaction as he stumbled backwards. “I’ve watched you flirt with Lestat de Lioncourt for weeks now. You enjoy the power it gives you, in your fucking ivory tower!” Daniel pointed a finger at him. “You love it that he goes after you, that he can have anyone he wants except you.”
“You know nothing about how I feel!” said Louis, shoving him back. He ducked his head, prepared for a fight, but Daniel twisted away from him and returned to the den, collapsing into a chair. He covered his face with his hands.
“I don’t care!” he said, hands out again. “Why does literally everyone and their mom want you? You're the coldest bastard! Everyone cares about your stupid moping and your preeeetty eyes and your goddamn moldering old paperbacks, but I don’t.” His voice dropped. “I just wanted one thing, Louis. Don’t I deserve one thing?”
Louis nodded. “Yes,” he said softly, standing awkwardly by the threshold of his room. He rubbed the back of his arm. “You do.”
“Well, that’s gone now, thanks to you.”
“It’s really not what you think.”
“I’m going to look for a new place to stay tomorrow. I can handle you as my boss, but not my friend now.”
“No. Just leave it.”
“I won’t. I’m your friend.”
“Do you know the worst thing?” he said with a small, bitter laugh. “I was in love with you when we met, too, and you never even noticed. I get it, I’m not in your league, and god knows who is, but you never noticed, Louis.”
Louis blinked. “I just wanted to be your friend,” he whispered hoarsely. "I thought we were friends.”
“You poor, naive fool,” said Daniel, meaning it. He picked up his mug, looking at the scratches on the design. “People like you don’t have friends.”
Louis placed his hand over his eyes. He didn’t give any indication that he was crying, save for the shudders which occasionally shook his frame. Daniel saw it, and after a moment, he set down the mug, stood awkwardly, and went to him.
Louis flinched away; and when Daniel placed a hand on his wrist, he lowered his hands. Though his eyes were glassy and his cheeks streaked with tears, his face was carefully scrubbed of emotion.
“I’m going out,” he said, wiping at his face with the back of his ragged sleeve.
“You don’t have to do that,” Daniel said apologetically. “It’s late -- I shouldn’t have started on you. I’m tired. We’re both exhausted... Look, we’ll work it out in the morning.”
“Have your dinner,” said Louis, putting on his shoes with swift little movements. He fetched his coat from the rack and put it on. “Don’t let me take that from you, too.”
Chapter 10: Gougères
The wedding cake was almost complete. Yvette had worked hard on it, and though it was a little while after closing, she had stayed back - for the same reason she did so on many nights - to make sure the decoration was up to her very exacting standards. It was so relaxing here without anyone else puttering around, and she could listen to her own music on the boombox rather than through earbuds. The voice of Etta James filled the room, permeating the space. Yvette was filled with peace as she delicately but firmly piped a series of careful loops of gold icing, a royal filigree along the edge of the top tier.
A knock sounded at the door. She was used to such interruptions, and with practised care, did not look up. “We’re closed!” she shouted. The sign on the door indicated the hours, couldn’t this nuisance read?
The knock came again, a little more insistent. Maybe he was illiterate. She sighed.
“I said we’re closed--” she began, glancing through the glass door, she frowned when she realized that Louis was standing outside, looking wretched and wan.
She put the bag down and slipped down from her stool, opened the door quickly and ushered him in. He didn’t meet her gaze as she locked the door, in fact, he had yet to say a word. “I’ll make us some tea,” she said. “Sit down. And don’t you so much as breathe on that cake.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I’m sorry to disturb you -- I just -- I didn’t know where to go.”
Louis went over for a closer look at the cake in progress, without breathing on it, his hands clasped tightly behind his back. In the dim light, it looked very fancy, truly more sculpture than food. After a few moments, he took a seat at another stool at the workbench a little distance away, put his elbows on the table and rested his forehead in his palms.
Yvette filled a teapot with water and turned the flame on, put three scoops of jasmine green tea into the infuser. She piled a good number of the small cheese pastries from the display cooler onto a green gingham-patterned serving plate, set it before him. “Gougères,” he whispered with some wonder.
“They’re cold, but I know they’re your favorite, so you’ll eat them and you’ll like it.” She smiled. “Just let them come to room temperature first.” He nodded. The way the light struck the pastries made them seem like newborn chicks. Golden, browned at the crispy edges, a little glossy. Louis breathed deeply, began to allow the music and these surroundings to permeate him like the warmth returning to one’s hands and face coming in from an ice storm. He watched Yvette, such a loving creature, and was grateful to have her in his life.
She took out two mugs and poured the tea into them, two fingers holding the lid shut. Taking the stool beside him at the workbench, she set one mug before him. “I’d have microwaved those,” gesturing at the pastries. “But you’d have tasted the difference.”
“It’s alright, you’re the authority.” He said, picking one up, and she nodded her permission to try it. He took a few bites. Yes, very good, even if it wasn’t fresh from the oven.
She picked one up, considering it. “I also could have popped them in the oven to re-risp, but you’re not here for my delicious confections.” She eyed him curiously. He finished the pastry and took a sip of tea, set it down and looked into the dark liquid, both hands wrapped around the mug.
“So come on, what’s wrong?” she said gently.
He didn’t look up. “Everything’s a mess, and I didn’t even do anything this time -- I’ve somehow caused it by my own inaction.”
“It can’t be that bad, surely.”
He rubbed at his eyes. He felt a dam fracture inside his chest and a strong urge to spill. In a rush, he let it out. “I should just go back to New Orleans, or maybe try New York. Or I should get out of the States altogether and go back to my family in Rennes.” He sighed, shaking his head. Picked up another pastry. “Just anywhere but here.”
Yvette nodded. “Excellent idea,” she said. “You can just run and hide again.”
He flicked his eyes to her, mutinously. “New Orleans was not the same thing.” He took a small bite and set it down on the plate.
“Yes, it was,” she said decisively. “So you were guilty over Paul -- he survived, didn’t he? He’s okay now.” She took his hand. “But then the drinking, and you survived that, but oh how you torture yourself about that!”
He squeezed her hand gently. “I was a disgrace,” he said. “It was my fault, all that. I’ll never forgive myself. But this…” he shook his head. “This isn’t my fault, not this time.”
“But you just said it was. Here, you’ve hardly touched these,” she said, pushing the plate towards him.
He took the one he had nibbled and ate it quickly but delicately. “Thanks,” he said. “I doubt Daniel will save me any of his take out tonight.”
“Did you argue with him?”
“Yes, it was absurd.” He took a sip of tea.
“What was it about -- if that’s not too personal a question?”
“Nothing,” he said.
She gave him a tolerant look. “Louis.”
“He has this ridiculous notion that I’m after the person he likes.”
“Of course not,” he said with a scowl. “There’s someone else in my life. I think I’m falling for this other man, though he’s the vainest and most abrasive person I’ve ever met.” He considered. “I don’t understand why Daniel would think I would do that to him, or why I would even be interested…”
“He’s probably just feeling a little insecure. It’s an easy thing to be, around you.” She chewed her lip.
“Are you?” He met her gaze.
“Now who’s being absurd, Lis-Lis?” she smiled, primly holding her mug out.
He laughed. “If only everyone was as put together as you.”
Yvette shrugged. “Well, they can’t be. It’s taken me years to achieve this level of perfection.” She laughed softly. “Look, go easy on Daniel, okay? I like him. He’s harmless. He’s been looking for something to anchor him for a long time, so of course he’s frightened.” Her brown eyes were warm and earnest.
“Yeah, I hadn’t considered that," he admitted ruefully.
“Speaking of which, I want to know about this person you like. The abrasive one.” She popped a smaller pastry into her mouth.
He pulled a face. “Really? You’re going to make me talk about this?”
She fixed him with a mock-serious expression. “Stop being mysterious. I want to know.”
He gave a deep sigh, and looked heavenward. “What can I say? He’s very handsome, though he knows it. But more than that, he’s -- he’s kind -- I’ve seen him with this huge dog of his, and the way he is with Jesse and Daniel. I like that.” He levelled his gaze at her. “But he’s incredibly irritating - it's like he just plucks the right words from my mind to needle me and make me pay attention to him. I can’t stress enough how he gets to me.”
“I don’t know if that’s a bad thing,” Yvette mused, chin in hand. “That might be his bizarre way of showing affection, y’know? The way little boys pull on the braids of girls they like.” He acknowledged this with a small nod. “You were numb to things for so long--”
He nodded. “I know, and I’ve considered that, and how I shouldn’t throw away the opportunity to know someone who can actually make me feel.” He placed a hand over his heart for emphasis.
Yvette smiled wistfully. After a moment, she asked: “What else do you know about him?”
“So I’ve watched him a lot.” He eyed her mischievously, with a strangely proud smile. “He sings--”
“Oh, you’re a groupie!” she laughed, her warm brown eyes sparkling with merriment.
He tried to put on a stern expression, but could not stop the smile spreading across his face. “No, no, it’s different!” he insisted. “He has the most gorgeous voice. I downloaded his songs from Daniel’s phone, though I didn’t tell Daniel that, of course.”
“Of course," she tutted. “Such a happy smile on your face, then. You’re alive when you speak of this mystery man. So why the reticence?”
“I don’t know,” he sighed heavily. “It’s just-- I’m afraid of being myself. No, that’s not it.” He bit his lip, considering. “I’m afraid of letting go,” he decided finally.
“So you’ll just seal yourself away?” Her brows knit; that endearing little crease he knew of old formed between them.
The smile faded from his face. “Everyone expects things from me, all the time!” he said heatedly, his hands up. “They want me to be soft and compliant, and that’s just not me. I wouldn’t know how to be like that.” He frowned. “Why should I have to change who I am? If I don’t want to confront certain things, why should I?”
“We’ve talked about this. I warned you: You open a cafe, you have to deal with the public.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“But you’re smiling now.” she said, giving him a sly look.
“Well,” he admitted. “It’s a little about the people.” He rested his cheek against one hand. “I don’t think you’ve seen anyone as demanding as a San Francisco artiste low on coffee.”
“Oh, please,” she scoffed. “Give me that, you take the bridezillas I get in here.”
He gave an exaggerated shudder. “Non, thank you. I don’t know I’d have the strength to fend them off.” He picked up another pastry and bit into it. “You need a bodyguard or something.”
She laughed. “How about you give up the cafe and come protect me from them?”
“I’ve heard too many horror stories about them from you! You’re on your own!” he said, wagging a finger.
Yvette sighed. “I know why this mystery man has such a powerful crush on you. You know, you were the sweetest boy, who grew up into such a gentleman,” she said. “And you were always on my side.” She squeezed his thigh. “Remember, when Drew stole my pencil case? Threatening to throw it into Lake Pontchartrain? You were right there, defending me. You got it back.”
“I had to hit him to do it! My mother was so cross,” said Louis, marveling. “Grounded for a whole month! That was torture during summer.”
“You were my hero.”
“Despite what came after?”
“Because of everything that came after. It’s what made me stick around for so long.”
“I never should have let you go so easily," he said, covering her hand on the table and curling his fingers around hers.
“We’ve had our time,” she said somberly.
“It would be so much easier than all this mess,” he sighed, and then gave her a fond look. “Besides, you’re pretty easy on the eyes yourself.”
“Flatterer!” she said, swatting him. “So, you still want to flee?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know,” he said. “I just wish it was easier. I just wish I wasn’t so afraid of what may come…”
Her other hand came up and patted his. “I love you, Louis de Pointe du Lac. I really do. But I can’t save you, and I can’t stop you being afraid of what’s to come. You already saved yourself: now you face up to the future. That’s true courage.”
He quirked an unhappy smile. ”Courage isn’t being afraid.”
She tilted his head towards her, and pressed a gentle kiss to the corner of his mouth. “It is being afraid, and going on just the same.”
Lestat had always been, as far as he could remember, the big spoon to any and all companions he took to bed with him. Mojo was no exception to this rule, as they slept in the black cotton sheets of Lestat’s massive four-poster bed. It was king size, made more impressive by the dark red Harrateen curtains draped at its head and foot. These curtains were redundant considering the blackout curtains on the windows on either side of the headboard; but his royal highness absolutely refused to be disturbed by the daily glare of Apollo.
He would, however, be disturbed by his bedmate. Mojo stirred, ears twitching to life before he rolled out from under Lestat’s arm, giving a great fangy yawn and little waking squeal, licking at his own mouth and nose. Turning to Lestat, he began the morning routine, licking at Lestat’s jawline to wake Sleeping Beauty.
‘Sleeping Beauty’ smiled under the loving onslaught, murmured a “...Hello, darling,” to his loyal dog. He rose up on an elbow, checking his phone for the time. The little numbers hovered seemingly without attachment to anything in the dense gloom; 5:58 AM. He hadn’t needed to set an alarm clock in years; Mojo never failed to get him up plenty early to start the day.
Lestat scooted to the edge of the bed and went to the windows, pulled the cord to splash light into the room. No sun. Typical misty San Francisco morning. He stretched and yawned. “I love you, Mojo,” he said musically, rummaging in his wardrobe.
The dog gave a tiny whine. “I love you,” Lestat looked over his shoulder, prompting him. The dog huffed and then let out a very human-sounding wail. Lestat had a concert t-shirt in his hands, facing the dog. Once more, “I love--”
“Oww wuwwww wooooo!” Mojo wailed softly, still seated regally on the bed, his tail wagging contentedly. Lestat grinned. They exchanged several more declarations of love of increasing intensity, until Lestat was dressed and gestured for his beloved to follow him out.
In the living room, the huge flatscreen TV flickered, a narrator soothingly describing the migration of Canadian geese. Armand was curled up on the couch, a big gold pillow under his head and a matching one wrapped tightly under his arm. The remote dangled precariously in his hand. Lestat took it and set it on the low table beside a plate with evidence of a late-night snack, a mug half-filled with tea. Then he tucked the empty hand comfortably close to its mate, and draped a chenille blanket over Armand, tucked it up around his shoulders. Being a heavy sleeper, Armand gave no resistance to any of this, or even stirred.
Lestat pulled on his Frye boots and swept his keys off the counter, quietly leaving the apartment with Mojo.
The mist felt dreamlike, and Lestat cut through it like a knife. Neon blue windbreaker. Tight black skinny jeans, torn fashionably at the knee. Handsome devil dog by his side. The streets were theirs at this hour, shared only with the occasional jogger, so he kept the leash bunched up in his jacket pocket. No need to restrict such a well-mannered boy. Far in the distance, visibility was low, and Mojo kept closer to him than usual.
Many of the shops were still closed, even The Last Drop wouldn’t open for at least another hour. So the hunt for breakfast would take some time. Lestat’s gaze fell across most of the shop windows anyway, to catch a glimpse of his own reflection with Mojo, what a figure they cut! They could easily be fashion magazine fodder.
One store window gave him pause. It was a frozen yogurt shop, offering many flavors. Chocolate, of course. Pistachio - yuck! Mango… That sparked something. When was the last time he had had that flavor? He started walking again, following Mojo to the bagel joint he knew would be open, and allowed himself to drift backwards into his own thoughts.
- One year ago.-
The wardrobe closet at The Lycanthrope is warmer than the rest of the theatre, and quieter... soft as a womb. Dust hesitates in the golden light cast by the paper floor lamps. Claudia is six years old and, despite her youth -- or because of it -- is acknowledged by the cast as the real star of the play. She is on her knees, sifting through a bin of hair scrunchies like a prospector seeking gold. She almost always comes here to accessorize before going out with Lestat for a treat during break, though she typically does not seek his approval of any of her choices. No, he’s mostly here to reach for things she wouldn't have access to otherwise, and he knows it. He sits in a worn wooden chair, one leg up on a saddle prop, watching her.
Dissatisfied with the scrunchies, she pushes that bin aside and drags over another, picking through a flock of feather boas. She pulls out a pale blue one with shimmering silver strands sewn in among the feathers, tugs it free, and displays its pretty plumage for Lestat. “Blue! My favorite color!”
“I thought yellow was your favorite…” he muses, a finger curled at his lips.
“No! Well, next to blue it is. And orange. And then pink,” she rattles off with childish gravitas, and a little breathlessly. It reminds him of Marilyn Monroe.
“…Red?” He offers.
“No. I don't really like red,” she says absently, pawing through a box of stylish ladies' hats and headbands. She lifts a little pillbox hat delicately, there is a piece of sheer black veil attached at the top, and adds: “Black, too.”
“But you need red to make pink and orange,” he presses, leaning forward and clasping his hands together.
“I know that!” She shoots him a feisty glare and a toothy grin and his heart swells.
“Well, then?” He’s just pushing her buttons at this point and she knows it.
With measured exasperation she declares: “ You can have red as your favorite.”
“And you get ALL the other colors? Brown? White? Chartreuse?”
“Yes. You only get red!” She says sternly, and rises, slinging a length of the boa across her small chest and over her shoulder. The act doesn’t last and she giggles, blue eyes sparkling with mirth.
“Fair enough.” Lestat agrees amicably. “Ready to go?”
She nods, daintily taking his offered hand.
Even though the sky is cloudy, her shoes sparkle with the sequins and glitter she added herself, asymmetrically, as she swings her feet. They are seated at a little metal table outside Bissel’s, her favorite frozen yogurt place. Claudia is making progress on a cup of mango frozen yogurt with plenty of maraschino cherries and chocolate sauce; Lestat opted for a root beer soda, but she allows him a few spoonfuls of her treat, too, in exchange for sips of his soda.
They talk about acting on these breaks, how they might improve their scenes individually and together, and he doesn’t patronize her. She trusts him; he’s had years of experience, and she often points things out to him he hadn’t considered before. When Lestat can sit in the audience and really watch her and give her his full attention, he sees her as the young sapling of what will be a legendary actress. She has the raw talent, and when she emotes, it’s not just playing attitudes as often happens with other child actors; it comes from somewhere deeper within Claudia, an ability to empathize… that much Lestat can tell. Emotions are collected and organized into an internal palette for her, and she can pull them up easily. He once asked her if she could laugh on command, and was shocked at how convincingly natural it looked and sounded, she even brought herself to tears. As she wiped them away, her cheeks still red from it, he wondered how many times she had “faked it” for him, and decided to change the subject rather than find out the truth.
Claudia gazes at him intently as she chews at a cherry, peeling at the skin with her teeth. A tinny version of Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer issues from Lestat’s hip pocket and he draws his cellphone out.
Caller: Evil Imp
Lestat snorts, presses Ignore , and sets it down on the table, eyeing it challengingly.
“Who wazzat?” Claudia asks through a mouthful of cherry pulp. She has two guesses. His mom, or their boss.
Lestat sighs. “ Boss-man .”
Claudia rolls her eyes. “Ugh. He is SO bossy. He loves being bossy.” She stirs her yogurt, fills her spoon. “He likes being important,” she says in a low voice. How mature she can sound! Not for the first time, Lestat thinks to himself that she is more introspective than half the women who throw themselves at him. She’s going to be a brilliant actress. He’s hoping she’ll remember him fondly when she’s famous, clutching at her golden statues.
“Yes, he certainly does,” he agrees.
“He likes being the boss of you mostly.”
“You can tell that?” He says. “I do feel like he gives me quite a lot of…” He wants to say ‘trouble’ but finishes with “attention.” Lestat crosses his legs as he sits back and takes a big slug of the root beer, pretending it is liquor. She nods sympathetically.
“I think he's scared of me,” Lestat says softly, setting down the bottle and holding the neck between his thumb and forefinger.
Claudia laughs, nearly chokes on her yogurt.
“You? You’re not scary!” She says this as if it’s written in stone, wiping at her lips with the palm of her hand.
“I'm not?” He’s miffed, but also utterly charmed. She shakes her head, no. “Even when I do… this?” He bares his teeth, grimaces, plants his hands on the edges of the table and looms forward at her in the most intimidating way he can. No effect. He adds a menacing growl to the performance, like Mojo might do.
“Nah. Not scary.” She shakes her head, blond curls lustrous and swaying like the skirt of a ballgown. “You don’t scare me .” So confident.
“The Unshakeable Wonder,” he muses, smiling at her. Not for the first time, he thinks about having a child of his own someday, or more truly, he wished she was his.
His phone blinks on again with a little marimba jingle.
[Text] Armand: Where TF are you 2??
[Text] Lestat: We’ll be back in 10
[Text] Armand: I’m replacing you both in 5
“Armand says if we’re not back in 5 minutes, he’s replacing us.” Lestat says, gazing at Claudia.
“Flip him the bird,” Claudia suggests without looking up, delicately picking up another cherry with her fingers. She smiles into his disapproving face. “What? You taught me that!”
He coughs to hide his laugh, and texts Armand back:
[Text] Lestat: (several middle finger emoticons)
[Text] Armand: F. U.
[Text] Lestat: That an offer?
[Text] Armand: (after a few minutes’ pause) You can't afford me, ratcatcher
[Text] Lestat: Then u pay ME
Lestat laughs and shoves his phone back in his pocket, leans forward and offers to trade a sip of root beer for a spoonful of mango yogurt.
Claudia watches him, a grin on her face. “My mom says you’re immature.”
“Why shouldn’t I be?” he says, unfazed. “Life’s too short to be serious.”
Chapter 12: A Small Scoop of Peanut Butter
Daniel pushed open the door of the café slowly, and glanced around furtively. The sign still read CLOSED – and then, in smaller, fancy script – Fermé – but the door had been unlocked. The lights were on. Neither of his colleagues were at the counter. Good, he said to himself. Finally, life gives me a break! He took a few tentative steps in -- he could see a set of keys on the counter, but couldn’t see whether they had Jesse’s goldfish charm; if they were Jesse’s, he could use her as a buffer when Louis appeared, and if it were Louis - well, he’d flee and come back later before his boss had even noticed.
He crept in farther, shutting the door quietly behind him; he cursed softly as the bell gave a little clang of betrayal - surprise would no longer be on his side. He had made it halfway to the counter when the staff door opened. He cringed. Please be Jesse, please be Jesse!
“Sorry, we’re closed—” began Louis, stepping through the staff door, because of course Daniel couldn’t get a break, and of course if anyone would have forgotten to lock the door it would be Louis, and of course he would have to face down the green-eyed judging source of his embarrassment now. Daniel hiked the strap of his satchel a bit higher up on his shoulder, fighting the urge to turn right back around and leave.
“Daniel,” Louis said softly, clutching a stack of serving trays closer to his chest.
It felt shamefully good to hear Louis say his name. Few people called him that, insisting on Dan or Danny, or some other variation; Louis had known to use his full name without ever being asked to do so.
Daniel roused himself and returned Louis’s stare. “I’m – I came in early.” He rubbed at his arm anxiously. “To make up my hours, you know.”
“Oh… right.” said Louis, then turned away and placed the trays on the counter, slipping his keys back into his pocket.
Daniel ventured a few steps closer, shyly. “Is that okay with you?”
Louis busied himself with checking the displays around the register. He shrugged. “Yeah.”
“You didn’t come home last night," he said. He set his satchel on a chair nearby and shoved his hands in his back pockets to still them from making any more nervous gestures.
“No,” said Louis quietly.
Daniel cleared his throat. “I was kinda worried about you. I waited up.” He frowned, looked down at his worn sneakers, then back up at Louis. “You didn’t sleep here, did you?”
“No, Daniel,” he said, turning and facing him finally. “It may surprise you that someone like me does actually have friends, but I do. I stayed with one of them last night.”
Daniel winced. “Yeah, about that—“
“There’s really nothing more to say,” Louis said from behind the counter, readying the various tools for the day’s use, setting several fresh stacks of to-go cups.
“C’mon, Louis. Don’t be such a hardass,” he sighed. “It’s me. I mean, we don’t hold grudges, right? Remember my signed Brando picture?”
Louis looked Daniel in the eye. “How could I forget? You told me to throw out some old papers, and I did! Maybe you shouldn’t have been so careless about something that precious to you. Three years later, and you still insist on bringing that up.”
“Hey, hey, slow down. I was going to remind you that I forgave you for that!" He came forward and leaned on the counter. “I forgave you back then, generous soul that I am, because you being my friend is more valuable than some dead guy’s signature.”
Louis leaned back against the far counter, taking all this in. He clasped his hands together, looked down at them. “You really hurt me last night.”
Daniel gave half a smile. “You know I didn’t mean it, that’s not me. I’m only human, and all that jazz. Moment of human weakness.”
“I’m not your punching bag, Daniel!” he said seriously.
“And I’m not yours! You’ve taken stuff out on me before,” he said. “In the grand scheme of things, I’ve taken more hits from you than you from me.”
Louis shook his head in exasperation. “Daniel, would sorry kill you?”
He held up his hands placatingly. “Okay, I’m totally ready to say sorry, but can you just acknowledge that my concerns were valid?”
“They were not valid!” Louis insisted.
“They were a little valid!" he retorted, folding his arms. “I mean, c’mon – look, you’re nodding now. You know they were valid.”
“You said a little valid.” Louis ran a hand through his hair, considering.
“So you agree, then?”
Louis pressed his fingers to his temple and let out a ragged sigh. “I hate arguing with you. No wonder Armand sees a kindred spirit in you when you’re both so slippery with words.”
“Uh, thanks… I guess.” Daniel felt in his pocket for his lighter. This was going to be at least a two cigarette morning.
“I’m still waiting for your apology," said Louis, flicking his eyes up to Daniel. He was closed up, tight as a crab.
“I’m sorry. I am,” Daniel muttered, his very tone unconvincing. But Louis seemed mollified, and that was what mattered to him; there would be time enough to untangle the mess later, but for now he had his friend back. He was unable to help the little sigh of relief which escaped his lips. Shouldering his satchel, he headed towards the back room to prepare for the day.
“By the way,” said Louis.
Daniel stopped and turned back to face him. “Yeah?”
“I need you to make yourself scarce from the apartment this evening.”
“Oh yeah?” Daniel quirked a knowing smile. “Lestat’s finally got a ticket for the grand tour?”
“No. I’m showing a couple of people your room.”
“Wait, what?” said Daniel, dropping his bag to the floor, his jaw following suit.
“Well, I only have a month to find a new tenant considering you’ve given your notice.” said Louis, his expression as opaque as black ice, that impenetrable.
“Are you serious?” Daniel gasped.
“Oh my God, Louis! What’s your damage? It was a normal argument, we were both saying things--” he huffed.
“I know, and I forgive you, but it seems that you can’t be my employee and my flatmate, so I am making the decision for you and helping you on your way.”
How did this all go so wrong so quickly? Daniel thought, the shards of their friendship scattered across an imaginary landscape. He could see himself grasping at the pieces and trying to get them back together.
“Louis, look at me!” he said frantically. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
After a very long moment, an impish smile crawled across Louis’s face.
“What are you--” Daniel choked out as Louis leaned forward, reeled him in by his shoulders and hugged him.
“We’re good, Daniel,” he said, giving him a playful slap to his face. “Apology accepted.”
“What the-- What the fuck is your damage, Pointe du Lac?” Daniel shuddered as he pulled open the staff door. “You had me terrified, what the hell…”
“Did I?” he asked airily.
“Huh, guess I’m not the only one with a bit of Armand to him," said Daniel. “You’re so damned scary sometimes, you know that?”
Louis went back to setting up for the day. “Being damned scary is necessary sometimes. Armand did show me that much.” He dealt the flowers out and began to set them on the tables. Blue hydrangea bunches today; a pink blush on some of the petals. He stepped back and admired his handiwork dreamily as Daniel returned from the staff room. “Did you have breakfast yet?”
Daniel shook his head. “I’ll get something later.”
“Have a few of Yvette’s croissants. They’re getting old, I was going to toss most of them anyway.”
Some ten minutes later, Jesse walked in with a pleasant greeting to ‘her boys’, and was also given a plate of day-old croissants. The three of them sat together for a while with cappuccinos made by Jesse, each with a heart drawn in the surface.
The day had finally begun.
Lestat came in without much fanfare later that morning. As Louis did not appear to be there, he briskly ordered a peanut butter banana smoothie from Jesse and brought it outside to his usual place on the patio. He barely flirted with her beyond calling her “ma chérie” when he thanked her for the smoothie.
Daniel’s break was at 11:30 and he came out with a drink and a few almond biscotti, took the adirondack next to Lestat’s.
“Hey bro,” Daniel said, offering Lestat a cookie. “What’s your poison today?”
Lestat took a cookie. “A peanut butter banana smoothie, emphasis on the peanut butter. ” Lestat nibbled at the chocolate-dipped end of the cookie.
“Yeah, Jesse thinks guys like ‘em heavy on the peanut butter.”
“This is a cup of liquid peanut butter. The banana has completely surrendered.” Lestat said, swirling his cup. “What’s yours?”
“It’s a frozen hot chocolate,” Daniel said, tipping it towards Lestat so he could see in the cup.
“Isn’t that just a chocolate milk at that point?” Lestat teased, but his heart wasn’t truly in it. The barb landed as merely a nudge.
“It’s a whole cup of fancy chocolate ice chips, smartass.” Daniel said. He took a pull on the straw. “Something’s bugging you. As your therapist, I must ask,” he said, assuming a more serious position and tipping his glasses a little to look down at Lestat. “What was your relationship like with your mother?”
Lestat laughed softly. “Well, they don’t call me a son of a bitch for nothing…”
Daniel grinned. “There’s the Lestat I know, always taking a jab at someone as he’s falling into a downward spiral!”
“Not really. She’s wonderful, in her own way. I can’t complain about her.”
“Okay, so not the relationship with your mom.” Daniel swiveled around and sat properly in the adirondack. “Is it Armand?”
Lestat didn’t respond.
“It’s Armand.” Daniel gave an emphatic sigh. “You think he and Louis... well, I thought that, too. It’s not good to be so paranoid. There’s no need to be jealous.”
“I guess you’re right,” said Lestat. He quirked an unhappy smile. “Don’t they say jealousy’s an ugly trait?”
“How do you get over it?” Lestat said, leaning back and lacing his fingers together on his chest. His expression was unreadable with those huge mirrored shades on.
Daniel shrugged. “I don’t know, you just do.” He laughed a little. “Louis’s just so unaware of anything, you know. Well, he comes across like that -- Protip: never play poker with him,” he said seriously. “You know that you’re the first person who’s been into him -- and buddy, there’ve been many -- that he’s actually kinda been into, too?”
“Really?” Lestat asked quietly.
“Yeah. I mean, don’t tell him I said that, y’know, attorney-client privilege and all that,” he said with a shrug. “But if you’re nervous, I’m pretty sure he’s feeling kinda like that, too.”
“So, I should just speak about it with him instead of sulking,” said Lestat, clapping his hands together.
“Sounds like a plan.”
“He’s here today, right? I didn’t see him earlier,” he said, standing up.
“He opened, he should be here…”
There was no sign of Louis in the cafe. When Jesse was asked where he was, she gave an airy, “Out,” and then returned to ignoring them.
“Being the boss has its perks, you can come and go whenever you please.” Daniel grumbled. “He only ever goes three places; here, home, and the library. He disappears and then returns within an hour or so. You can just hang out here and wait for him, if you want.”
“I need to see him now,” Lestat said emphatically. “You need to take me there.”
Daniel nodded. “Okay, let’s go.” He drained the last of his frozen hot chocolate and threw the cup in the trash. “Hey Jess, I’ve got like 20 minutes left on break, can you hold down the fort?” he said, turning away to catch up with Lestat at the door.
“Daniel!” she cried out.
“I’ll be right back!” he called out to her, letting the door slam behind them.
Lestat was outside already, opening up his umbrella. A hard drizzle had begun. Daniel led the way, and Lestat fell into pace alongside him.
“I just hope he’s willing to listen. Or stick around for five minutes,” Lestat muttered.
Daniel’s jeans pocket buzzed. He whipped out his cell phone, shielding it from the rain. “Ah, you’re okay,” he said.
“What’s up?” asked Lestat distractedly.
“Louis texted, he’s at the flat. Says Armand’s there, looking for me. Huh. Why didn’t Armand text me himself?”
Lestat came to a halt. “Wait, Armand’s there?” He handed Daniel the umbrella they were sharing. “Hold this.”
“Yeah-- hey, wait up! What are you running for?” He broke out into a sprint, calling after Lestat. “Jealousy’s an ugly traaaait!”
When Daniel caught up with Lestat, Lestat was looking up at the building like he might just leap up to the window of their apartment. Daniel was wheezing, his lungs felt like they were on fire; he slumped against the wall and fumbled for his keys. “What was your -- plan -- when --you got here?” he gasped. “You -- don’t know -- the code.” Lestat cocked his head at the fire escape. Bastard would have climbed up like Rapunzel’s prince, Daniel thought, rolling his eyes.
“Hit the gym,” sneered Lestat, running his finger along the names listed at the door. “Apartment 32A, got it.” He stood back as Daniel tapped in the entry code, then pushed past him and sprinted up the stairs.
“Wait up!” said Daniel, tripping up the stairs after him. “Be quiet!” he wheezed. “Jesus, I gotta quit the cigarettes…” He silently prayed that Louis hadn’t done his usual trick and left the apartment door unlocked -- He cares about some cranky old woman but doesn’t care whether my movie collection gets stolen!
And of course it was unlocked, and of course Lestat burst open the door. Daniel collided into him from behind and nearly sent them both sprawling, but Lestat was silent as a mannequin; paralyzed, really, as he took in the scene of Louis and Armand on the sofa, withdrawing themselves from an embrace.
“Lestat!” said Louis, pushing away from Armand. “What are you--”
“How long’s this been going on?” snapped Lestat, taking menacing steps into the parlor.
Daniel winced as he heard stirring from the apartment next door. “I’ll just shut this--” he said, gingerly shutting the door behind them.
“Don’t bother yourself, Daniel, I’m not staying,” said Lestat. He pointed an accusing finger at Louis. “I know what I’ve seen!”
Louis spread his hands out. “What are you talking about?”
“You and Armand!” he declared, gesturing wildly with an open palm at them both. His voice was at shouting level now.
“Don’t be absurd!” shot back Louis. He turned to Armand. “Tell him!”
Armand leaned back against the sofa and folded his arms. “We were talking about important things. I promised you I would sort things out, didn’t I?”
“By fucking him?” snarled Lestat.
“How dare you suggest such a thing!” said Louis sharply. “You don’t carry on like this in my apartment--”
“I’ll carry on however I want!” snapped Lestat. He clutched at his chest. “You’ve broken my heart, Louis!”
Louis looked at Daniel pleadingly. “Help me!” he said in an anguished voice.
“Come on, fella,” said Daniel reaching for Lestat’s arm. “I think you’re overreacting--” he reasoned, as Lestat snatched it away.
“That’s what he does best,” said Armand laconically. He held up a hand. “Look, Lestat. You can take this for what it is, or you can storm out dramatically like some cheap two-bit actor--”
They watched as Lestat turned on his heel and stormed out dramatically, slamming the door behind him.
“And… scene ,” said Armand approvingly, the consummate director.
“Oh, shut up!” said Louis, rising from the couch. He pushed past Daniel and pulled open the door, bounding down the stairs after Lestat without stopping to pull on his boots.
“You see what I was talking about?” said Armand, rubbing at his temple.
“‘Never work with actors.’ Right.” Daniel stretched, checked his watch. “We’ve got 15 minutes.”
“Shut the door, then.”
“Lestat, wait! Please , wait!” called Louis, chasing after the fleeing figure on the stairs below. “I’m asking you to hear me out--!” he cried.
He watched with dismay as Lestat pulled open the great heavy security door in the foyer. Louis descended the stairs faster, yanked the door open and launched himself out of the building, stumbling out into the rain. “Lestat, please!”
“Outta the way!” shouted a voice very close behind him. He turned, and froze in horror at the cyclist who came barrelling towards him.
Hands shot out of the haze and pulled him close, away from the street. He clutched at his rescuer. “Lestat!” he gasped against Lestat’s chest, seeking his footing in the gathering puddles. Rain pattered heavily on them both, slicking their clothes into second skins with creases and folds.
“You think I’d let you go that easily?” said Lestat gruffly.
“Now, you just hear me out, okay?” he began, trying to take a step back to avoid the gathering puddles. “I won’t have you-- mmf!” he pushed against Lestat as he was caught up in a searing kiss, but then relaxed into his arms. The rain was coming down torrentially now, and his black hair was plastered against his face, and his feet were cold on the wet pavement, but all was forgotten as Lestat pressed him closer. He surrendered in Lestat’s arms, as the kiss deepened, and the sweet salty stickiness of his mouth was all that mattered, all that mattered at all.
Louis pulled back a little and took a shuddered breath. “You taste of peanut butter. I feel like I’ve just eaten a tub of peanut butter.”
Lestat rolled his eyes and laughed. “Blame Jesse. You need to train your baristas better.”
“One of many things I need to do, apparently…” Louis said, eyeing that mouth again, lips delectably slightly bruised from their kiss. He ran his tongue along them, thoughtfully. “Where do we begin?”
“Well,” said Lestat, still holding him. “Since you seem less immune to my recommendations… take the day off.”
“You think my baristas can survive the day without me?”
Lestat shrugged. He tangled his fingers with Louis’s and gave him a fond smile. “Why don’t we just see what happens? Let them take care of things, and I’ll take care of you.” He raised Louis’s hand up to his lips and kissed the knuckles. “Listen. What you need, on a rainy day like this, is relaxing like a prince at my apartment. And I am a professional at it.”
“Teach me, your highness,” Louis smiled demurely.
He sniffed haughtily. “But of course. But first, put some shoes on. And lose those pants.”
Daniel listened to Louis thunder down the steps and quietly closed the door behind him, turning back to Armand.
“So, boss, what did you want to do for a whole 15 minutes?” he said, tilting his head curiously at Armand, who had made himself more comfortable on the couch.
Armand stretched his arms up, arching his back, that edge of Adonis muscle showing, and collected himself back in again. “We can play a few rounds of Super Smash Bros.” he said, yawning. “But you can’t play as Bowser, I--”
Daniel nodded, pulling out the controllers and turning the system on. “I know, I know, you don’t like his sound effects,” Daniel snorted, slumping down beside Armand and handing him the blue controller. “What kind of a person won’t let someone use a character because of their sound effects?”
“A classy person, Daniel. All that grunting.” He scowled. “So low-brow.”
“And your playing as Donkey Kong with that stupid ugly laugh is better?” Daniel said as he set the level. They chose avatars, and then they began to fight each other.
“Your face is tactical,” Daniel retorted.
They played for some ten minutes before Daniel began to get antsy about the time, but also because, despite his protests, Armand was killing him so easily and so quickly that it didn’t seem as fun as usual.
Daniel took a sharp breath in and set his controller down. “Well, I better be getting back soon, you murderous bastard.”
Armand smiled and began coiling up the controllers. “You still have five minutes left, by my watch.”
Daniel nodded, sitting back down on the couch. “Yeah, can’t do much in five minutes, though…”
“Well I could use a shoulder massage after such a murderous rampage,” Armand mused. “I’ve killed you about a hundred times today,” he laughed, and sat back on the couch.
Daniel was pleased for the chance to touch Armand, and he reached up, pressing his thumbs rhythmically into the muscles of his back and around his neck, ruffling his thin t-shirt as he did so.
Armand began to rock a little under Daniel’s hands, melting into the touch. He sighed, and Daniel felt a tremor of bliss in his chest. “Mmmm, that’s very good, Daniel… you have talented hands.” Armand said, turning around to face him.
“It’s all from video games, actually,” Daniel said, mimicking holding a controller. “Old school, y’know? Atari, Sega, Nintendo, Gamecube. Real men got calluses from toggles.” He smirked.
“You like controllers?” Armand asked, taking one of Daniel’s hands and putting his own against it; Daniel’s fingers were considerably longer.
“Yeah, I like gadgets, hand-helds in general. Figuring them out, taking them apart...”
Armand pushed Daniel back against the arm of the couch. “I have found that people also have ‘controls’ to them…” he said softly, stroking Daniel’s chest, his fingers sliding up under his shirt. Finding a nipple, and squeezing it, rubbing at it as Daniel moaned a little. “Some are obvious, others take more effort to find,” he said, fingers moving down the flat plane of his stomach and working at the button of Daniel’s jeans.
“I’m going to be late…” Daniel said, his breath hitching, faster now. “Louis is gonna fire me… uhnnn..” He lay back more as Armand pressed little kisses down his waist.
Daniel’s phone buzzed in his jeans pocket and Armand slipped it out as he tugged the jeans down.
“Hand me that,” Daniel said.
“Let me read it, damn you!” Daniel smiled.
“She says not to come back, café closed for the day.” Armand said, setting it on the coffee table.
“Guess we have more than five minutes, then.” Daniel said, putting his hand in Armand’s russet curls and reeling him in for a kiss. “Whatever shall we do with ourselves?”
“I have a few ideas…” Armand said, slinking back down Daniel’s body, “Going to find some controls to your operating system…”
Jesse wiped down the counter again. There was nothing to do, nothing more to clean. The café was in perfect shape. Nothing on Twitter of any interest. The few customers sitting by the window tables had left around when the rain began, which continued to volley against the windows. Even with her Sarah McLachlan CD on - which Louis never allowed when he was here - she felt terribly listless.
So when Yvette came in, a newspaper clutched over her head for protection, Jesse heaved an audible sigh of relief. “Hello? Anyone home?” Yvette said, in her most charming old-timey voice.
“Darling, I’ve missed you so much!” Jesse called out to her, like a soldier returning from war, nearly hitting her hip on the counter as she swiveled around it to run at Yvette and give her a big hug.
“I was in the neighborhood and the rain caught me unprepared, I simply had to take shelter here.” Yvette said, throwing her wet newspaper into the trash. Jesse ushered her in and Yvette sat down on the couch, shivering slightly.
“You look chilled to the bone! Can I make you anything? On the house, you know,” Jesse said, going back behind the counter and Yvette gratefully accepted her offer as Jesse made her a cappuccino. “Want one of your divine marionberry scones?”
Yvette nodded. The scones were fluffy, the pastry folded around centers of dark berries, blue around the edges, with a healthy sprinkling of large sugar crystals on top.
A few minutes later, on the couch, with a plate of scones between them: “My god, Yvette! You’re going to make me so fat…” Jesse said, popping the last bite of a scone into her mouth with a loud “ Mmmm! ” of pleasure. She licked her lips and took a sip of Earl Gray.
“Not at all,” Yvette scoffed, appraising Jesse’s figure. “Where I come from, they’d call you underfed. You can absolutely handle a few more of my scones, Ms. Reeve.” She raised her cup to her lips, sipping at the foam.
“Well, don’t mind if I do, then,” Jesse said, breaking a piece off another one.
“Goodness, I’d forgotten how peaceful it can be in this space with all those troublemaking boys gone,” said Yvette, looking around the empty room. Jesse had set the tealights early, as the clouds had rolled in and darkened the sky.
“Yeah, they can be a real handful - today was especially rough. Louis and Daniel were acting funny earlier, too…” Jesse searched for the right word. “Like they didn’t want step on each other’s toes? I don’t know if they’d argued or something,” she said. “But at least they were being friendly again.”
“That’s good to hear. Boys. Can’t blame them, they’re simple-minded creatures.” Yvette said, taking a bite of scone and licking her lips. It reminded Jesse of a fawn.
“Now that I think of it, Lestat was acting strangely, too.” she said, drawing her foot up and tucking it under her knee. She turned and leaned sideways on the couch.
Yvette smiled. “What is Lestat’s ‘normal’? Does he not always act strangely? I’ve only met him a couple of times, but his sass seems pretty much an act to me.”
“He barely said anything to me this morning. We usually flirt for a good 20 minutes. And then he was all weird about his drink, but to be fair to him it was a peanut butter smoothie, and God knows Louis gives me enough grief about how I make them. It’s always wrong!” She spread her hands. “Either too much or too little.” She sighed heavily, her hand flopping back onto her thigh. “I should ask him if he liked it, so I’ll know if that’s the right amount.”
“I think Lestat is not what he seems,” Yvette mused. “He has this act, but it’s not truly him. When he’s not speaking, you can see him better.”
“That’s true, I’ve noticed that. All this puffery.”
“He says things he doesn’t really mean. And of course he’s so brash and… well, European. He’s used the old “mocha skin” line on me.”
Jesse laughed, almost choking on her coffee. “He did not!”
Yvette nodded solemnly. “He did so. And when I called him out on it, he did apologize. But then he said he was merely ‘ speaking ze language of leuve!’ she said in her best stereotypical French accent.
Yvette set her cup down and faced Jesse seductively. “” Ah my darling Yvette, if I were to write lyrics about you, I'd be absolutely required to compare your divine dark skin to mocha, or another delicious dessert …’” Yvette went on, assuming a more confident posture and running two fingers along Jesse’s cheekbone, ending at her chin.
“Perhaps not mocha, too, ‘ow do you say -- pedestrian -- for such a magnifique flower in the Savage Garden of this world, perhaps pecan mousse,” she slid closer to Jesse on the couch and held her chin still, and planted a chaste kiss on her lips.
They both fell apart into peals of laughter, nearly spilling their drinks. Jesse rubbed at her cheeks. “Oh good lord, that is Lestat! You should do that for him, show him what it looks like!”
Yvette gave a ladylike little huff. "Well I told him right then, “I'm not your darling, and there are plenty of non-edible things one might compare my skin color to, if describing it was so required." "
“Good answer,” Jesse said, clinking her cup on Yvette’s. “Anyway, I would have said ‘Light walnut,’” she teased, her finger on Yvette’s arm.
“Hey!” Yvette said indignantly.
“Not the food, the wood!” she said with a cheeky wink.
“Whatever. My scones have a better tan than you do, Ms. Mashed potatoes.”
Jesse assumed a mock offended air, but broke out into a pleased grin all the same. “I happen to love mashed potatoes.” She said with a smirk. Then, more seriously: “Yvette, no one is coming in,” she sighed. “Let’s go to the movies.”
“Won’t Louis be upset? You know, profits?”
“Pfft, I’ve held down the fort for weeks during this drama. He can handle one short day.” She gathered her things and texted Daniel:
[Text] Daniel: Don’t come back. Closing up for the day.
They left the café together, arm in arm, under Jesse’s umbrella.
They walked down the Santa Cruz shoreline with shoes in hand. It was late afternoon and the breeze rolling in from the Pacific was a pleasant counterpart to the California heat.
Lestat looked off into the sunset, the light catching in his hair and eyes. Their arms brushed occasionally as they walked along the water’s edge. There had been lively conversation about nothing in particular for some twenty minutes, and once they’d kicked off their shoes, a calm lull in the conversation had fallen. Louis stole a few glances at Lestat, finally seeing him without all his bravado and flourish; he seemed younger somehow, more endearing.
Lestat took a heavy breath in, and let it out through his teeth. “There’s something I need to confess to you, Louis. And this weekend has been marvelous, I’ve loved every minute - but I don’t know how this will go down with you.”
Louis froze. “Oh, mon dieu. What is it?” he said, with the air of one used to having happiness snatched from him and now resigned to the fact he was going to lose it once again.
“You know,” said Lestat, assuming the tragic air of the confessor. “I actually don’t like coffee.” He stared glumly out at the waves.
“What!” Louis said, reeling. He dropped his shoes. The ocean, unshaken by this revelation, continued to lap at their feet.
“Well, I don’t.” Lestat replied, his gaze still fixed on the horizon. “Always tasted like - I don’t know - hot dirty water to me.”
Louis glared at him, and shoved at his shoulder. “Oh, so you just came in for the venue, to play your music, is that it?” Louis said. “Thought you deserved your audience?” He shook his head. “Do I even know you at all? How can you dislike coffee!”
“No! Of course not, I mean...” Lestat finally looked at Louis, full in the face. His eyes full of the last rays of sunlight, and a little glassy. He tilted his head just so, better to catch the fiery golden sun and turn his eyes a melancholy blue.
“It was just that! Just getting your spotlight! Such falseness!” Louis scoffed.
“No, you were the reason -- are the reason.” Lestat went to take his hand and Louis backed up further.
“What, the reason you forced yourself to drink three gallons of coffee a week through fall and winter?” said Louis, a smile coming to his face in spite of himself. It was right there, but he needed it said, explicitly. “The reason you drove me half-mad with your ridiculously complicated orders? You wanted…” he looked away and then back again, hugging the backs of his arms. “What exactly did you want?”
Lestat’s fingers twitched; he almost reached out for Louis again. “Louis… I just… wanted an excuse to be with you, to be around you, and so I used the best way I knew how.”
“It can’t have just been for me…” said Louis gingerly, letting Lestat take a step closer.
“Well, it was! Don’t you believe me? Why else would I be here with you now?”
“I… I guess,” said Louis placatingly, but Lestat’s expression stayed somber.
He gently put his hand on Louis’ arm, and let out a breath, as if he had been holding it. “Can we sit for a little while?”
Louis eyed him skeptically as he sat down on the sand, drawing his knees up, his toes curling in the soft sand. Lestat sank down beside him and fingered a sea shell.
“Truth is… After what had happened at the theatre last year, I didn’t know that I could ever perform again,” Lestat said. “I didn’t think that whatever I had to give was worth anything to anyone.”
Louis frowned, peering at him sideways, his eyes green slivers. “You’re still talking of performance--”
“If you’ll let me get to it! I’ll tell you!” Lestat shot him a sharp glance. He looked back down at the shell, his thumb on the smooth pink inner surface. “I didn’t think I could give anything to anyone. Until I saw you. I realized that I only ever needed one person in my audience, just one… If I could only touch one, make that connection, it would be worth an auditorium, no, a stadium of applause. Someone who saw me for who I really am.”
“What good is performing for the masses? They can’t really reach back. But you, you did. Ever since that first day we met. I saw that there was something in you that matches the… something in me. No one else inflames me like you do.”
“‘Inflames’? What, are you calling me abrasive?” Louis smiled a little.
“I’m saying that I feel like… “ Lestat began. “I can be real around you. You can take all that I throw at you and you’re not frightened away. You see me.” He looked at Louis again, childlike and soft.
“Do I?” said Louis whimsically.
Lestat gazed at him with such sweet expectation, fear creeping into his eyes. It was striking, this handsome creature, wisps of golden hair falling artfully about his face as if he had them on command, but he didn’t. Such soul. All of it bared now, with only the thinnest protective layer still up. To Louis, it was irresistible.
Louis took his face in his hands and kissed him, quickly. Then, before waiting for a reaction, again, deeper, his sandy fingers moving up and into that luscious mane.
He leaned back and caught his breath, Lestat’s hands had come around him and drawn him closer. Louis gave him a little nod, nuzzling his head against Lestat’s shoulder.
“I see,” muttered Louis.
“So,” said Lestat, wrapping his arms around Louis’s waist. “You forgive me for my little show?”
Louis nodded. “Of course I do.”
He tweaked his lover’s nose affectionately. “And we, Montague and Capulet, can be together despite the great insult I do you over my hatred of coffee?”
“Ah, that. It’s nothing. You just haven’t found the right blend yet,” said Louis. “We’ll fix that.”
“You’re a stubborn thing, aren’t you?” said Lestat. He didn’t sound pleased.
“Just trust me,” said Louis. He kissed him again. “I know exactly what you like.”
“And here I was hoping we could just do Champagne like normal people.”
“Lestat! Didn’t I--”
“Yeah, yeah I know. No adult beverages,” said Lestat, giving him a playful squeeze as he stole another kiss.
Early morning sunlight slanted in through the large windows of the café; the street was relatively quiet at this time on a Sunday.
"Okay,” said Louis, slapping the counter. “You've been coming here for months, and you’ve never ordered the same drink twice."
"Guilty as charged,” smirked Lestat, leaning against the counter. “I told you, I haven’t found anything I like. Dirt water.”
“Lestat…” he began warningly.
"Everyone has a signature flavor," Louis began, taking a fresh mug off the shelf. "Daniel likes Americanos. Jesse prefers an English Breakfast Latte."
He began to prepare a drink, and Lestat watched his hands with interest." At first, I thought you were trying to keep me on my toes, but, I realized: you don't have a signature flavor."
Lestat was a little taken aback. "Oh? Is that so? Have you decided on one I'm allowed to order from now on, my little caffeine-dealer?"
Louis flashed his eyes at Lestat, a flare of pure green for an instant, before returning his attention to his art. "I have actually gone a step further than that and designed a signature blend, just for you."
“Just for me!” said Lestat, tossing his hair back dramatically. “When did you come up with this?”
“I've watched you for weeks,” said Louis.
“Oh you have, have you?” said Lestat, eyes darting to the side, then back again.
“Yes, and I believe I've worked you out, Monsieur.”
“Now, just hold on--”
“You don't like strong coffee,” said Louis, grabbing a cup. “You took a sip of that espresso and you made the strangest expression -- all screwed up.” He squinted his eyes and puckered his lips, and Lestat laughed despite himself. “So no coffee,” he said, wagging his finger.
He reached below the counter and pulled out a chopping board.
“Dandelion. A very persistent weed, but with that golden flower. Very you.”
“Ah, yes. Good old Lestat Pissenlit.” He cleared his throat as Louis watched him disapprovingly. “Sorry, go on.”
“Now, you know the other name.”
“Yes,” said Lestat, and he bared his teeth.
“Dents de Lion. I've thought about them so much.” He gave Lestat a sly smile. “Well, your mouth, at least.”
A jolt crashed through Lestat and he gaped. “You can't just say stuff like that-- and, and smile at me like that, and expect me to stay composed!” There had been more than a little biting already this weekend; another of Lestat’s recommendations that proved to be enjoyable.
“Concentrate, Lestat!” He held up the flower. “Now we don't use the flower - look at that yellow, so evocative - but the root. It gives the drink an earthy, slightly bitter tone. You liked the latte I made you with dandelion extract.”
“I did? I confess, I don't remember that one.”
“That was the ‘Scott’ day, I believe.”
“Why that stupid ugly American name? That one was a bit far.”
“They helped me distinguish my tasting notes,” said Louis. “Anyway, into the drink this goes.”
“You like Cajun spice.”
“I do,” said Lestat suavely. “Very much.”
Louis tapped his nose. “But not too much. You're too French for a good dose of chili. We shall have to change that, introduce you to Creole cuisine slowly.”
“And who's going to invest their time in educating poor Lestat Dolittle?”
“Me, of course,” said Louis. “Now pass me that bag, the one with the little fleur-de-lys.”
Lestat scrambled to grab the spices. “What's in this? Rat poison?” he laughed, opening the top carefully and sniffing at it curiously.
“Hardly. I’d need much more for a rodent your size.” He smiled as he took the bag, flicking his gaze up to Lestat’s, and then back down. “It’s chicory, peppercorns, cardamon, and… cloves. The smallest dash of ginger powder. This isn't quite a New Orleans blend, but I think you'll like it.”
“Oh?” said Lestat. “Seems to me like you do a lot of thinking.”
“Observing, primarily,” said Louis blissfully. He mixed the ingredients with some coconut butter, then tipped them into a small pot and added water. He set it to boil and stood back, folding his arms.
“Now what are you doing?” asked Lestat.
“Heating it up. It'll only be five minutes.”
“Okay. Well, you better not be making notes on me.”
Louis took hold of his hand. “I told you, I’m on your side.” His eyes were earnest and caring.
Lestat opened his mouth to say something sarcastic, then closed it. He nodded a little. “Yeah.” They sat in silence for a few minutes; the whirring of the machine was soothing. He focused on the gentle pressure of Louis’s thumb on the back of his hand. After a little while, he roused himself and gazed past Louis, to the machine. “Is it ready?”
“Just about,” said Louis, releasing his hand. He poured out the drink into a glass mug, set a small chocolate biscotti next to it on a saucer, and placed a teaspoon at the side. He carried it carefully to Lestat, and then set it lovingly in front of him. “Once you taste this, you’ll never go to another café again.”
Lestat stared at it reluctantly. It looked like any other of the various drinks he had ordered already. “What if I don’t like it?”
Louis set his mouth in a firm line. “Care to try it before you make a decision?”
“Well, okay,” said Lestat with a put-upon sigh. He took a reluctant sip.
“What do you think?”
He held up a finger. “Shh… shh… I’m percolating.”
Louis gave him an affectionate smile. He watched as Lestat took another sip -- no, a gulp -- closing his eyes and swallowing. When Lestat opened them again, they were were shocked, and almost violet. He looked at the cup and then back at Louis, as if some sorcery had taken place.
“Alchemy! That -- the flavors , mon Dieu!” He set the cup down and made a rolling gesture with his fingers. “The taste -- there’s none of that bitterness , you know?”
Louis smiled. “I know,” he said softly.
“I can taste the chicory, the freshness,” purred Lestat. “And something a little sharp, but not in the way of the coffee--” He took another sip.
“That’ll be the dandelion,” said Louis. He came around the counter and leaned in close to Lestat, as intimate as a lover. “What else?”
“It’s perfect,” said Lestat. He wiped some of the drink from his lips. “I can’t believe how right it is. Thank you for this -- for -- for taking the time …” he trailed off. “Nobody’s ever really taken the time…”
Louis put a hand on his arm and came closer. “Eh bien,” he said, and kissed him gently. “It’s my pleasure.”
“It’s you in a cup,” said Lestat. “All that spiciness and sweetness, that subtlety…” He reached up and carded his fingers into Louis’s hair, moving the dark silk back.
“Such things you say!” Louis scoffed, draping his arms up on Lestat’s shoulders. He snaked a hand into his hair.
“But I need to compare it to the source,” said Lestat, setting his half-drunk cup down, looking at Louis’s mouth.
“What? Are you going to drink me up?” Louis said, biting at his lower lip. Lestat’s other hand had taken hold of his hip and tugged him closer.
“I just might,” he said, his lips brushing against Louis’s teasingly. “You’re my signature blend,” he murmured, and pulled him in for a triumphant kiss.
That's the end! If you want to try the Signature Blend yourself, here's the recipe:
Chapter 15: Epilogue
The room was a comforting grey haze; the twilight hour before dawn. Louis lay dozing on his side, Lestat curled around him, a hand possessively clasped against his belly. Not that he minded; he felt safe and wanted in Lestat’s bed. He snuggled into the pillow a little more, sighing contentedly.
“Merde!” he gasped, wiping at his face in disgust. He jolted upright, breaking out of the warmth of Lestat’s arms.
Mojo watched him, panting, a big goofy smile on his face.
“Hmm? What is it?” said Lestat sleepily.
“He did it again,” growled Louis. He pulled the sheet up, and used it to wipe his face free of the dog drool.
“Aw, he likes you!” said Lestat, rubbing Louis’ thigh reassuringly. Then, to the dog, “Good morning to you to, my sweet baby boy!” he cooed. The dog jumped up on the bed and dropped to a crawl, pushing his way between them.
“Can you get him off the bed, please?” said Louis testily.
“No, he’s good here,” said Lestat, running his hands along Mojo’s ruff. “Are you lonely on the floor, my darling? Are you? Do you want cuddles?”
“I don’t want to cuddle him,” muttered Louis, checking the bedside clock. ”It’s 5am and I’m tired.”
“Look, I’ll just get between you,” said Lestat, hefting the dog across him and transplanting Mojo to his other side. “And -- voila! -- a nice Lestat sandwich, with the two people he loves most in the world.”
“Dogs are not people.”
Lestat covered Mojo’s ears. “How dare you, Pointe du Lac!” he whispered frantically. “Don’t hurt his feelings.”
“Lestat, we are covered in hair,” said Louis. He brushed his hand along the bedsheet and held up an offending clump of German shepherd fluff. “There’s hair on the pillow, and on the blankets, and there’s hair in -- well, it gets everywhere. Do you think we could get him a nice little bed and put it in the den?”
“You want me to put him outside?” he asked calmly.
“That wasn’t a real offer!”
“Look, you don’t have to be jealous,” said Lestat, still stroking the dog. “I understand you don’t want to share me. But I’ll give you the same pep talk I gave him--”
“You gave your dog a pep talk?” Louis threw up his hands. “Why am I not surprised?”
“I told him,” said Lestat, with wounded dignity. “I told him that my love is not a limited quantity. There’s plenty for both of you!”
Louis folded his arms, a grudging smile coming to his face. “Oh? And how did he react to this talk?”
“Well, he licked me,” said Lestat, matter-of-factly. “He showed his acquiescence to the situation with tongue.”
Louis tutted. “Well, I’m not going to lick you.”
“C’mon, just a little lick,” said Lestat coaxingly. He moved closer and tickled him, grinning as Louis gasped and swatted his hands away, fighting to repress his laughter. “C’mon…” he crooned.
Louis scowled, but then he came forward and licked a swathe right across Lestat’s lips. “Now let me go to sleep. I’m not good when I’m sleep-deprived,” he grumbled. He followed Lestat back down onto the bed and nuzzled into his neck, while Mojo placed a possessive paw on Lestat’s chest and whined softly. “I guess I’ll just have to share you with my canine rival.”
“Just more love to go around,” said Lestat. He stroked Louis’s hair, and surreptitiously picked a tuft of Mojo’s fur from it, discarding it quickly.
Lestat lay supine, his lover curled up against him one on side, his arm around his beautiful dog on the other. If he could just be like this -- forever -- but no matter; he was good at embracing happiness, and this was the closest to it he had ever been.