For more than a decade, renowned chef Alain Tiessart has been married to his restaurant, driven to make it one of the finest in Paris. But time is slipping away. Lonely and ready for a change, he packs up his bags on one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year and drives into the French countryside.
Retired Brit Simon Hastings is prepared to spend Bastille Day as he always does -- quietly and alone. When his oldest friend arrives on his doorstep prepared to spend the next few days together, Simon is surprised but welcomes him in. He’s even more surprised when Alain suggests they move their relationship to a deeper one.
Unwilling to jeopardize their friendship, Simon turns him down, a decision Alain accepts gracefully. Until a friendly bet and an eager young man cast Alain in a new light. Now, Simon doesn’t know what he wants. Or who ...
“Did you know you’re my oldest friend?” he asked, almost casually.
“No. I didn’t. You haven’t kept in touch with anybody from school or anything?”
Alain shook his head. “I spent too much time trying to make a success of everything. First me, and then Rêver. Most friendships require effort I never took the time to extend.”
“I don’t think anybody could blame you for putting Rêver first. It feels like dozens of restaurants open every year, only to close six months later. Rêver is a testament to your hard work and talent.” Simon filled his glass and took a sip of the wine, letting the full flavor linger on his tongue. “You’re my oldest friend here in France. And one of the few I’ve wanted to keep.”
“Because I feed you.”
“You feed me the best food I’ve ever eaten.” Simon tilted his head. “We’ve established what I get from the relationship. Why did you take the time to make an effort for me?”
“You were never an effort. You...” His fingers caressed the back of the bench, slow, languid movements as if it was impossible for him to be still, even here. “I never had to try and pretend with you. You’ve always taken what I’ve offered, and accepted it. Without judgment.” There was another flash as he lifted his glass to his smiling mouth. “And you have exquisite taste.”
“I guess it’s a good thing I had the audacity to demand a meeting with the most talented young chef in Paris, then.” He covered Alain’s hand with his for a moment, feeling the map of burns and cuts on his skin that bespoke of years in a kitchen, and squeezed his fingers quickly. “I’m glad you chose to take your first holiday here. I’ve missed seeing you.”
Alain downed the rest of his wine in a long swallow, but rather than hold it out for another refill, he bent down to rest it on the ground at their feet. That left his hand free when he straightened, and Simon was surprised to feel it come to rest on his bent knee.
“I wonder if it’s necessary for us to feel quite so lonely while I’m visiting,” Alain said. “I wonder that quite a bit, actually.”
Simon studied the hand on his knee for a beat, though it wasn’t completely unusual. Alain often became casually affectionate the more he drank. And Simon didn’t have any problem with being touched. But this felt a little different somehow.
“I haven’t felt lonely since your arrival.”
“Neither have I. I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks.”
“Weeks? Earlier you made it sound like this was a more recent decision as you planned for the holiday.”
“Oh. Did I?” Alain grimaced, though he didn’t pull back from where he touched Simon. “Well, I suppose I’ve been found out then.”
“Yes, you have. But I can forgive you for deceiving me. If you had a good reason.”
Alain didn’t respond. The fingers on Simon’s knee stretched, moved along the inside of his thigh in a gesture more suited for lovers than friends. His mouth opened to comment on how the wine was affecting Alain tonight, but then the man in question slid slightly closer, the hand resting upon the back of the bench now tickling along Simon’s nape.
“I guess I thought that if you knew the truth, you’d disappear,” Alain said quietly. “You are very good at that, you know. There were times when months would go by, when I knew you were traveling, and I would think of you and wonder if I would ever see you again.”
“You should know that I always find my way back to Paris, even when I think I never want to see that damned city again.” Simon kept his voice light, but it made a rather shocking contrast to Alain’s serious tone, and his even more serious touch. That contrast, more than anything else, made Simon uncomfortable, and he regretted it as soon as the words left his mouth. He swallowed and tried again. “I’d never disappear on you, Alain. Our friendship means too much to me to harm it like that.”