Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
Stéphane’s always been good at making promises but horrible at following through. This is why he avoids meeting Brian at the café for two weeks.
When he promised Brian in the hotel room that he wasn’t running away, he had intended to keep it. Or rather, he had intended to at the time. It wasn’t until three days into Moscow when one of the young ice dancers had drunk himself to an allergy-induced stupor (all because of a broken heart, bless him) that Stéphane had realized that love is a little bit too destructive for his liking.
Yet he acknowledges the fact that he feels something for Brian. No, it is not love quite yet, or at least not the type of love he feels for both Roger and Carolina. It is far too early and far too soon to be truly in love and perhaps that is a good thing because Stéphane has no desire for his emotions to burgeon into something horribly gargantuan.
So Stéphane spends his last remaining days in Moscow practicing the fine art of sublimation, willing (or tricking) his heart to stop feeling for Brian.
He comes back to France shortly and mopes around his apartment, fancying himself into a self-imposed seclusion that involves burrowing beneath piles of blanket fashioned into a makeshift fort and neglecting to answer his phone.
On a Tuesday however, Stéphane decides to stop moping. It would not be fair to either one of them if he deigned to vanish completely. He summons enough courage to visit the café. He lingers at their usual corner, nursing a cup of tea that eventually turns cold from neglect.
But like all predictable events, Brian arrives. He greets Stéphane with a cup of coffee (of suitable temperature) and almost, but not quite, hesitates to take a seat.
“I didn’t think I’d see you again.”
Stéphane fidgets a bit and readjusts the coffee cup’s disposable sleeve. He only hopes he isn’t transparent enough for Brian to see through.
“How have you been?” Brian asks, putting his hand on top of Stéphane’s. It is heavy and rough yet familiar and inviting all at once.
Stéphane pulls his hand away and drops it to his lap. “I am well, and you?”
“Anxious.” Brian’s never been one for pleasantries anyway.
Stéphane focuses his gaze to the floor. The eyes are the windows to the soul and it is much too early to reveal his thoughts. So he opts not to reply as it is pointless and cruel to append Brian’s statement. The man’s only getting himself settled, after all.
Brian takes Stéphane’s chin and turns his head to face him. “Is something the matter? Have I done something wrong?”
Stéphane, having always been a non-confrontational person, pulls away.
“No, you have not.”
Brian frowns. “Then what is bothering you?”
“I think I have feelings for you,” Stéphane blurts out and then buries his face in his hands.
“Oh,” he hears Brian say.
Stéphane does not pry his fingers away to look at Brian’s expression. Or well, not so much, he opens his eyes midway to catch slivers of images from the spaces between his fingers. He loses the courage to do so and squeezes his eyes shut.
It is slightly embarrassing, not being able to stop himself, not to mention the lack of self control is beyond appalling. At the same time, the entire sequence frustrates him. He had imagined them to settle comfortably in one another’s presence first, maybe lapse back into old dialogues, and be rid of the awkwardness.
Then the conversation would progress naturally and it would be more fitting to throw in his statement in a nonchalant manner without having to seem like he parroted some soap opera heroine.
“I apologize,” Stéphane runs a hand through his hair and sighs. “That was wholly inappropriate.”
There is a slight pause. “I do not understand. You’re avoiding me because you love me?”
“You misunderstand. I feel for you,” Stéphane corrects. Brian continues to look at him with a slightly puzzled expression. “They are of two different matters, varying in degrees of emotions. Also, I am not avoiding you.”
“Are you certain?” Brian asks. “I find your inability to look at me directly as avoidance.”
“It’s just habit.” Stéphane forces himself to look at Brian straight. He also suppresses the urge to scowl.
“I don’t know why you are so upset.”
Stéphane huffs. “I am not upset; I am merely distracted. I had a lot of things to think about these past few days.”
“This.” Stéphane makes a gesture with his hand to indicate the both of them. “Us. I think we should stop seeing each other. We both know it isn’t going to work.”
For some odd reason, Brian ends up chortling. Like everything is a big joke to him.
“I do not think it will work? You put words in my mouth. Why do you think it isn’t going to work?”
“Because you and I are different,” Stéphane sighs. “We do different things and are complete opposites of one another. It’s less likely to work out; it’s just the way things are.”
Brian exhales loudly. “That is an arrogant assumption; how can you tell for certain?”
“Maybe because I know myself too well,” Stéphane says softly. “Getting to know each other breaks the magic and I want to preserve our memories together when it is at its best. It will not be like before Brian, back when we knew nothing about each other. You will figure out all my flaws and wonder from time to time why you even bothered to put up with me. You will have to deal constantly with my erratic behaviour, and then you and I will get into fights because I am insolent, needy, and self absorbed and, God, things will be utterly horrid.”
It is the most honest Stéphane has ever been.
“You are a coward,” Brian enunciates each word slowly. “You run away from even the thought of possibly having to tackle future complications.”
The bluntness cuts through Stéphane like a knife. In hindsight, he knows he deserves it. It does not mean that the remark does not hurt, however.
“Now I remember why we can never be friends.” He grabs the strap of his bag from the back of his chair. So Brian has said his piece, perhaps it is time for him to leave before more regrettable words are exchanged.
“Why? Because I tell you the truth even when you do not want to hear it?”
Stéphane does not answer. He is not obligated to. He simply stalks out of the café knowing he will not be back anytime soon. Or maybe, forever.
Brian packs. He is done with his film, done with adopting a fake English accent, done with serene mornings sitting at a beautiful café, done with idle hopes, done with Montmartre and most especially, he tells himself, done with Stéphane.
It was extremely foolish of him to think that years of animosity and indifference could be erased by a few hours’ time together. It has always been a problem with Brian.
If the reader has yet to discern what this problem is, let us put it plainly: Brian is a romantic. He believes in love even when it seems the odds are insurmountable, when the likelihood of two souls ever joining in harmony is piteously infinitesimal, even when his parents divorced after years of marriage, Brian still believes.
But apparently, his conviction isn’t enough.
Not all love stories have happy endings, as a matter of fact, most love stories have horrid or gruesome or sad ends.
It disheartens us to think that this might just be one of them.
Stéphane goes about living his life like usual.
It is not a hard feat; a whirlwind of political galas, ice shows, press conferences, publicity stunts, and humanitarian efforts. Three months of nonstop subterfuge, charming the public with his child-like antics, and frolicking with big name personalities.
He avoids celebrity magazines; he does not even bother watching the local news anymore.
When all of it is over, he flies to Lausanne. For vacation, he tells Oliver. Oliver does not question his decision and merely cancels all of Stéphane’s appointments for the weeks to come. This makes Stéphane feel slightly guilty. After all, his plan of confining himself to his childhood home does not a vacation make.
After two weeks of moping in his room, Sylvia drags him by the collar to the Cine Qua Non to watch the latest movie in the Bond franchise.
Stéphane finds it ironic that even when Sylvia tries to make peace with him, she still ends up offending.
The next day, he leaves the house willingly—tells his parents that he’s meeting some old friends. He piles on heaps and heaps of scarves and sweaters and hats, and tops everything off with a pair of sunglasses. He walks around his neighbourhood then boards the metro.
He ends up in a tiny, obscure theatre and watches James Bond again for less than 15 francs.
Ironically, it is when Stéphane is bending down and grabbing his ankles that he realizes he has never stopped feeling for Brian. And all right, when pressed to admit it, he is also very much in love with Brian.
Because no one in their right mind would ever attempt to watch a James Bond film more than twenty-seven times. That is what Sylvia had told him when he dragged her to watch said film with him on five separate occasions. Especially after that one time when he had ended up sniffling on her shoulder and telling her how he ruined his life by being such a dense and egotistical prat.
Stéphane topples over and nearly hits his head on the bars of the inner-thigh machine. His fitness instructor, Grace, gives him an exasperated look.
He smiles at her sheepishly and declares, “I’m in love with Brian.”
Stéphane flies back to Paris the next day and rushes to the café immediately. He waits patiently and consumes three scones and four cups of coffee. He waits until Elsabeth shakes his shoulders and tells him they are closing.
Brian does not appear.
But Stéphane is optimistic; maybe Brian will be there tomorrow.
Stéphane visits the café every single day without fail. He spends an hour or two reading pocketbooks or staring off into space, whichever seems more appropriate for the day. He no longer invites friends to join him; he is selfish, he fears that building new memories on top of the old ones will allow Brian to completely slip away from him.
Today is day 189 for Stéphane.
Production for his morning show has just wrapped up and he is due for the Marriott gala in four hours. Instead of preparing or sleeping, he decides to spend the intervening hours eating croissants and drinking coffee, reading Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘L'Invitée’, a book he purchased a week ago at some rundown second-hand shop simply because the author’s name sounded smart and he was, admittedly, a very pretentious person.
Stéphane hears the door chime and pays it no heed. He’s tired of being disappointed.
He goes through two pages and stops completely. It is quite a depressing book but it does not interest Stéphane much; he has enough angst to deal with on a normal day, reading about it would be close to masochism.
Stéphane puts down the book and finds himself looking at Brian. Or rather, Brian’s crotch (he is seated after all and Brian is upright).
This is definitely not how he had imagined the scene to unfold in his head. But then again, he should be resigned to the fact that things hardly ever come out the way he wants them to.
So instead of greeting Brian with a warm “hello”, all he manages to say is a surprised: “You’re here.” Somehow, the phrase sounds accusatory and not modulated enough to sound sorrowful or passionate or sweet or dramatic or any of the emotions Stéphane intends to project.
Stéphane looks up and stares at Brian, still in disbelief—unable to reconcile with the fact that Brian is finally in front of him. Yet he is still so handsome, so very handsome.
So he tells Brian this because it might just be his last chance to do so or it might possibly help him along the line. He does not know.
Brian smiles at him and sits down. Stéphane still does not know what this all means; he also does not know what the future will hold but maybe this time he can welcome the uncertainty of it all.
Years later, when asked about his relationship with Stéphane, Brian will say that it was fate that brought them together. A nauseatingly mawkish answer, yes, but one he believes to be true nonetheless.
What else would have compelled Brian to eschew the restaurant in his hotel in favour of a small café quite a distance away, a café which just happened to be one which Stéphane frequents at nearly the same time?
That strange impulse one sleepless night to go to the café and try to lull himself into some semblance of relaxation by reading the newspaper only to find himself face to face with a distraught Stéphane and have their very first real conversation?
And how would one explain the strange compulsion Brian felt, eleven months after Stéphane had run away from him, while attending a movie premiere in Paris to decline invitations to the after party and walk the streets alone until he stumbled upon that very same café only to see Stéphane through the glass storefront?
Of course the story could have ended there, with Brian seeing Stéphane and making a hasty retreat but as proven time and again, Brian is a romantic and still hopelessly enamoured with Stéphane – has been for quite some time and though he may be an honest person, sometimes even the most honest person may find it difficult to be completely truthful to themselves.
What Brian had dismissed as a twinge of old infatuation at the beginning of this tale and thought to have been rekindled by constant exposure to Stéphane has actually been something that has been burning ever-present in the background of his consciousness.
See, he had never really fallen out of love with Stéphane – for while his head might have convinced him to give up on his feelings, his heart (convinced of its superiority in such matters) has never cried out its defeat.
Another thing about Brian; he is as stubborn as he is quixotic. (This is a bone of contention between Brian and Stéphane. Brian is stubborn while Stéphane is fickle and it only their shared conviction in their love that allows them to see past one another’s flaws and try to tamper their less than admirable qualities – and is that not what love does to all people?)
But do they live happily ever after?
As much as two people who are not characters from a Disney cartoon can live happily ever after (and no, Stéphane is not actually a Disney prince, no matter how many children – and Brian – claim him to be so).
My Notes: After seven years of attempting to collaborate, i_l0ve_my_az and I have finally, finally completed a story. This is a monumental event as we've been through several fandoms together (consequently grown as writers as well, despite our disparate fields of study). We've poured in the same amount of dedication to finish this baby off--sat down in several restaurants and cafés to discuss (not to mention each other's houses when we felt too cheap to go out), and hell, even went to a Zipline and streamed through the sky in an attempt to come up with new scenes (I exaggerate, I did this purely to cater to my own whims and dragged her along because I'm an insufferable little toaster). Though we handled one character POV respectively, we tried to make sure each scene was threaded together so as to not sound too disjointed. We tried to adapt each others' tone as well, and even down to the posting, we've actually managed to equally divide work and load. So yes, wonderful experience, writing it is a reward in itself. <3