West Hollywood: Present day
On the morning of the night I met the man who would forever change my life, my brother, Jonas, had called me to say he and his husband, Ted, would be in town for a couple of days over the weekend—and could they stay over at my place?
“Sure,” I told him, “and maybe you’d both like to go dancing Saturday night.”
My brother is two years older than me, and at thirty, he’s already been in a five year relationship with Ted. They live up in Portland but come down to LA about twice a year—usually on short notice, like the time I’m talking about. That was okay though, because, until I met him, I really didn’t have a life. Oh, I had friends, boyfriends on a couple of occasions, and a fairly decent job managing a small Italian restaurant.
It just all seemed kind of pointless at times—a dead end, if you will. I would become restless or listless when I gave too much thought to it, so I tried not to.
Jonas was always on about me moving up to Portland—a much healthier town that LA, in his opinion. Maybe he was right, but I liked LA—the noise, the crowds, the endless traffic. It was alive, vibrant, and to me, home.
After hanging up the phone from my long talk with my brother, I started to get ready for work. I was lucky—I could walk there from my apartment on Rugby. No traffic snarls for me to contend with. La Fortuna, the little restaurant I managed just off Santa Monica, was a bustling place, and sometimes we’d stay open a little later to accommodate some of our slower diners. I always hate to be rushed through a good meal—and I wouldn’t do it to my customers.
This particular night, though, was kinda slow, so I told the chef and the waiters they could take off early, and I’d lock up by myself. After counting out the bank deposit for the following day and stowing it in the night safe, I headed for the door then saw him.
He stood at the window reading the menu. Tall, about my height, a slender, athletic build, thick, dark hair combed back from a delicately boned, pale face. His eyes—I couldn’t see the colour in the dark—fixed on mine as I gazed at him through the door window, and he smiled, a shy, somewhat weary, smile.
I opened the door. “Hi,” I said. “Sorry, we just closed.”
He nodded. “I understand you have a very interesting wine list,” he said, with a trace of an accent...French, perhaps.
I smiled. “The owners pride themselves on it. Perhaps, another night you can sample some of their specialties.”
“Why not tonight?”
Without my seeing him move, he was suddenly standing very close to me, and I was staring into his midnight-blue eyes, my jaw feeling a little slack.
“Uh...sure,” I said, stepping back, opening the door wider. “Come on in.”
“Thank you.” His bare arm brushed mine as he entered, and I felt a tingle like an electrical charge pass over my skin. He wore a tight black T-shirt, black straight leg jeans that enhanced his slim build, and a pair of black cowboy boots. The man in black, I thought, admiring the perfect curve of his butt and itching to put my hand there and stroke it. He smiled at me, and I had the uncanny idea that he knew exactly what I was thinking.
“Nice place,” he said. “Every time I pass by, it’s always looked very busy.”
“Not tonight,” I said.
“No. That is why I came. So I could see you.”
“See me?” I gulped slightly. “Oh, you want a job or something? We’re actually not hiring right now, but—”
He laughed lightly. “No, I don’t need a job. I just wanted to meet you. I have been admiring you from afar for some time.”
“You have?” I gaped at him, unsure how to react to that statement. No one had ever admired me from ‘afar’ before—at least, not anyone I knew of. I’m okay looking, I guess...six feet, one hundred eighty pounds, chestnut brown hair, hazel eyes. I don’t work out regularly, but I run and that keeps me in shape.
“Why do you act so surprised?” he asked, sitting at one of the tables and returning my stare with a smile that could only be called thrilling.
“I’m not used to people saying things like that, I guess.” I moved to the bar. “Can I get you a glass of this week’s house specialty?”
“If it is red, that would be very nice.”
I tried to stop my hand from shaking as I poured his wine. Pull yourself together, I told myself. He’s just a guy—a little strange—but a guy, nevertheless.
“Won’t you join me?” His dark eyes bored into mine as I leaned forward to put his wineglass on the table.
“Uh...sure.” I poured myself a glass, then sat at the table opposite him. “I’m Ron, by the way,” I said, holding out my hand.
“Jean-Claude.” His hand was cool and dry, his grip firm.
“I thought you sounded French,” I told him, pleased with myself.
“It’s amazing how one’s accent clings, even after so many years away from home.”
“How many years could that be? You’re still young. Are you here for studies?”
“No. I am here by necessity. I was exiled from France many years ago.”
“Well, let us say, self-exiled.”
“Oh yeah, we get a lot of that in the States,” I said, not knowing what I was talking about.
He chuckled. “Am I making you nervous?”
“No, not at all.” I picked up my wineglass. “Cheers. I hope you like it.”
“Salud.” He raised his glass in salute then took a long sip, closing his eyes and savouring it in his mouth before swallowing.