Attorney Charles Barnett thought it was all over for him and his heart. In the three years since his partner died, he hasn't felt so much as a spark of attraction to another man. That suddenly changes when Charles is assigned a new case and meets his new client.
Recent widower Philip d'Autremont has been traveling in all the same circles as Charles, but somehow they've never managed to meet. Now that they have, both men find themselves falling hard and fast.
But there's more than one hurdle to Charles and Philip beginning a love affair, much less maintaining it: Philip is on trial for murder, a politically ambitious and homophobic district attorney is determined to convict him, and Charles is responsible for Philip's defense.
Charles’ expression was a little odd as the four of us climbed the steps leading to the entrance of the restaurant, and we were barely inside when I began to understand why. The maître d’, a good-looking young man who was a poster boy for the quintessential Italian, saw Charles and literally sprang from behind his little podium and trotted quickly forward to greet us instead of waiting for us to come to him.
“Charles,” he said, ignoring the rest of us while giving Charles a hug and a kiss on both cheeks European style, “it’s been too long since we’ve seen you. Wait right here while I run and get Mama and Papa.” Before Charles could reply, the young man literally ran to the back of the reception area and disappeared from view for a minute or two. Then he returned, followed by an older Italian couple, who in a matter of minutes were all over Charles with hugs and kisses. The woman, who was short and heavy with an enormous bosom, rushed forward with outstretched arms, saying what sounded like “Shar-leeee,” followed by a stream of Italian. The man, an older and heavier version of his son, greeted Charles somewhat less noisily but no less demonstratively.
Their greetings were in rapid Italian, and to my surprise, Charles responded in kind. After a few minutes of this, they seemed to run down for a couple of seconds -- perhaps they needed to catch their breath. It was then that they noticed the rest of us for the first time, after which there was more Italian, and I managed to catch a reference to ‘Roberto’, obviously a question as to his whereabouts, because I heard the word morte quite clearly when Charles said it. This prompted another stream of Italian, followed by more hugs and kisses. Both the man and the woman were obviously upset at the news, and there were tears running down the woman’s cheeks while her husband merely looked uncertain as to how to act. I looked closely at Charles and saw that he, too, had tears in his eyes.
William and Henry looked at me with puzzled expressions, so I took a stab at explaining and said, “I’m not sure what’s happening here, but I can guess. Charles met his first lover, Robert, when he was a sophomore at Harvard and Robert a freshman at MIT. They lived together in Cambridge until Charles finished law school, then in Atlanta until Robert died three years ago -- this was obviously one of the places they frequented. He told me last week that there might be a few ghosts waiting for him in Boston -- he hasn’t been back since the last time he and Robert were last here.”
Henry summed the situation up for both of them, saying, “Oops.”
The Italian conversation had ground to a halt by this time, and Charles introduced me to Luigi and Maria aka ‘Mama’ Leone, the owners, and their son Tony, the maître d’. Luigi repeated my name, exaggerating the pronunciation, and said, “This is a French name, yes?”
Charles chuckled and said, “Perhaps originally, but his family has lived in Louisiana for about three hundred years.”
This prompted a short round of Italian. When it finally subsided, I said, “What was that about?”
“Well,” Charles said, “Luigi has no love lost for the French, and that places a cloud of suspicion over you that even three hundred years in this country doesn’t quite remove. However, he’s going to overlook your tainted ancestry due to the exalted company you’re currently keeping.” At that, he grinned.
“Thanks a lot, I think.”
The owners were obviously fairly well acquainted with William and Henry, and Tony finally led us to a table in a very nicely appointed dining room, where Charles and I were placed on a banquette along the wall and William and Henry were seated opposite. Tony left us after handing us menus, and when the four of us were alone, Charles said, “In case you’re wondering, Robert and I discovered this place the first month we were together. We used to save our money and come here almost every Friday or Saturday. After he came out to his parents and they cut him off, we both worked here every weekend for two years. The Leones became very much our family in Boston.”
Henry said, “When was the last time the two of you were here?”
“The year before Robert died -- about four years ago.”