On his way home Francis notices a boy standing on the subway platform, a dozen feet away.
Slim and tall – nearly as tall as Francis himself – shoulder-length blond hair. If it's a bleach job it's a good one; he's blond in a way that Francis can't remember seeing in anyone older than five or six. The strands that fall past his ears are the colour and texture of cornfloss. Most of the rest is caught back in a short ponytail, with a sequined pink scrunchie that looks borrowed from a kid sister or a juvenile-minded girlfriend. Against his hair the colour shows embarrassingly bright.
The subway arrives. The blond boy steps into the same car as Francis, a second or two after him. It's rush hour halfway down the line and there're no more seats. The boy goes and slumps against the door on the opposite side of the car, not even bothering to grab the guardrail when the train jerks into motion. He looks tired, out of it. Scrunchie aside he's not dressed in eyecatching style at all – black jeans, white windbreaker, scuffed sneakers, black wires snaking down to whatever portable music player is concealed in his pocket. He gives the impression that he's not really listening.
Francis can't remember the last time he saw someone that beautiful.
The train slows as it pull into the next station. The boy shifts his weight, sighs, rubs the back of his hand against his nose inelegantly. Then he looks up as if he intended to do so all along, and meets Francis's gaze straight on.
His eyes are green.
Francis stares back blankly, higher cognition brought up short.
The boy blinks – one surprised sweep of long lashes – and his lips curve into a smile.
Francis looks away quickly. He pushes his glasses up, trying to make the gesture casual.
The doors clatter open. The boy swears suddenly under his breath, as if he's just realised something – forgotten object? Wrong direction? Wrong line? – and dives out of the car. Before Francis can turn around he disappears into the crowd.
Francis barely has time to punch in before his manager Thierry collars him and tells him, "Mr. Brezai's coming for a visit this morning. I want this place in perfect order and I want you to keep your head down and look busy."
It takes Francis a second to place the name. "Sorry, sir?"
"Mr. Brezai," says Thierry. "The owner."
"Oh. Sorry." Thierry is a nice guy prone to worrying, and now he's crossed the line to twitchy. "I'll do that, sir."
"You'll be the only one here," says Thierry. He looks like he can't decide whether this is a good or a bad thing. "Look busy."
There's enough work that Francis doesn't have to pretend, although the warehouse is neat enough. It's mid-morning and he's halfway through stock inventory when Thierry pops out of his office, mouthes "He's here," and heads for the door of the warehouse. After a few minutes he returns, escorting a tall, rail-thin man Francis assumes is Mr. Brezai. Francis keeps his head down and looks busy until he sees Thierry motioning him over.
"And this is Francis Bergeron. He'll be with us for the summer."
"Nice to meet you, sir," says Francis. Mr. Brezai nods. To Francis all of him looks expensive and grey, like brushed metal. Light grey eyes, charcoal-grey suit, silver cufflinks, steel-grey hair. Like "the owner of BSC Limited", right enough. He makes no attempt to shake hands with Francis, begins to turn away in fact as soon as he's finished looking him up and down.
"Carry on, Mr. Bergeron," he says. "Mr. Davis, I'd like a look at the new security system..."
There's someone standing at the door. Francis looks up and nearly drops his clipboard.
"Can I have the limo?" the blond boy from the subway says to Mr. Brezai. "Just to get downtown," he adds, stepping inside and letting the door swing closed. He doesn't pay any attention to Francis either.
"No," says Mr. Brezai.
"Joseph can drop me off and come back in ten minutes," says the boy. Francis tries not to stare. He's wearing the same white windbreaker as the other time, over a dark-grey cashmere turtleneck and tweed trousers and smart-looking loafers. The preppy effect is only slightly ruined by the blond hair that falls messily and somehow damply over his collar, as if he hopped directly from the shower into the limousine, pausing only to dress. "We can meet at the restaurant, I know how to get to Outré on my own."
"You can wait until I'm done."
"I don't want to wait. There's nothing to do here."
"Then don't do anything," says Mr. Brezai. It's a tone one might take with a dog or a very small child one has no intention of humouring. "I won't be long."
He leaves, Thierry trailing in his wake. The boy stares after them, his head held high. After a moment he turns around, looks Francis up and down with the exact same flickering gaze as Mr. Brezai, and smiles.
"Did you hear that?" he says. "I'll be stuck here for the next hour."
He makes it sound as if he were confiding an amusing secret. Francis looks down at his clipboard, mentally totting up the remaining inventory. He's starting to feel angry, and he's not sure against whom.
"Sorry about it being boring around here," he says.
"Don't be sarcastic," says the boy. "I'd help you if I had the least idea what you're doing, you know, but I'd probably just screw it up. ...What are you doing?"
Francis ignores the question, having no desire to launch into an explanation. He turns down the next aisle, counting off the crates on either side. The boy doesn't ask again, but Francis can feel his gaze on his back, focussed between his shoulder blades like a warm laser.
"Hey, Francis," he calls after five minutes (each of them approximately a decade long). "Francis – that is your name, right? I'm Gabriel."
Francis makes a checkmark in pencil. He can hear Gabriel get down off the stack of crates he was perched on, and the scuffling noise of approaching steps.
"Are you seriously going to keep doing that?"
Francis turns around. "Your dad is paying me to do this," he says. "It's my job."
"He's not my dad," says Gabriel. "He's my grandfather."
"Same difference," says Francis, unnerved. His glasses are slipping down his nose, and he pushes them back up. Gabriel's come to a stop a little too close, whether for comfort or for politeness. His gaze is green and considering. Francis swallows and resists the urge to take a step back.
"Say," Gabriel says after a moment. "Wanna have a quickie?"
Gabriel takes his hand and pulls him down the centre aisle to the other end of the warehouse. Several dollies are parked in the corner, each half-loaded with flat cardboard crates that - Francis knows - contain disassembled plastic picnic tables. Gabriel pushes on his shoulders until he sits down on the edge of the closest one. Francis doesn't realise what's happening until Gabriel drops to his knees and starts undoing the top button of his jeans.
"What are you doing?" he screeches, grabbing Gabriel's wrist. Gabriel doesn't let go, just maintains eye contact and moves his hand lower. Francis breathes in sharply. Oh shit oh shit oh shit, he thinks.
"It was you on the subway the other day, wasn't it?" says Gabriel. "I remember. You were watching me."
"I was not—"
Gabriel cups his palm around Francis's cock, over the denim, and squeezes. Francis's mouth falls open, and he forgets the rest of what he was about to say. It feels like all the sensorial capacity of his body is focussed onto a single location.
"Just relax, okay," says Gabriel. "You kind of seem as if you need it."
Francis watches in numb fascination as Gabriel unzips his jeans and frees him from his boxers. Protests queue in his mind – what sort of bored, spoilt, fucked-in-the-head rich kid would do this kind of thing with a perfect stranger he didn't know the name of five minutes ago? – but all of them evaporate in transit to his voicebox. His body reacts straightforwardly in contrast. He's half hard by the time Gabriel has him in hand, and completely so after Gabriel holds his gaze and gives him a couple of experimental strokes. Gabriel smiles at that. He tucks his hair behind his ear, lowers his head and takes Francis in his mouth.
Gabriel sucks cock more like the act is for his own sake than his partner's; almost as if he were playing with an oversized lollipop. He laps at Francis's cock with long lazy strokes, swirls his tongue around the glans and dips his head, suckling with an air of intense concentration. His hand pumps the base of Francis's cock, the rhythm jerky at first, then steadily up and down in time with the motion of his tongue. It's dirty, maddeningly sexy, all the more so because he makes it appear so natural. It feels more than awesome. Francis can only grip the edge of the cardboard boxes he's sitting on and pant. He thinks he's going to come embarrassingly soon just from watching, but he can't stop staring.
Gabriel shifts a little on the concrete floor, curving his back and gripping Francis's knee for leverage, and starts going down in earnest. The dolly shifts alarmingly under them. Francis breathes hard, reaches down and slides his fingers through Gabriel's hair, cups his head and urges him on. Faster...
Gabriel responds obediently, stepping up the pace and swallowing Francis deeper, taking him into his throat in an disturbingly practiced fashion. It makes a wet sound like in a porn video.
I'd like to do this to him on a bed, Francis thinks. I'd like to hold him down and make him—
Gabriel chooses that moment to pull back and suck hard, swiping his tongue over the tip. Francis doesn't even have the leisure to give warning. He makes a choked noise and comes, pushing into Gabriel's mouth and spilling into the wet heat.
Gabriel makes a muffled sound of surprise, but ducks his head and catches most of the semen in his mouth, eyes sliding closed. A bit of it spills whitely from the corner of his lips, dripping down to his collar.
After a moment he stands up, pressing his hand against his mouth – and promptly loses his balance. He braces himself with his free hand against Francis's shoulder; Francis catches hold of his arms before he can fall over.
"Are," he says, and has to stop. It comes out on the second try. "Are you okay?" Gabriel nods, eyes wide. He looks as if he's aware laughing would be disastrous under the circumstances and is trying not to.
"Mmnf," he says, bats Francis away and stumbles off. Francis lets his hands drop to his sides and stares blankly at the spot on the warehouse floor where Gabriel was kneeling. A few seconds later he hears the toilet flush, and rouses himself enough to do up the front of his pants.
That takes a couple of tries too. He's still shaking.
Gabriel runs the sink for what seems like a long time, but in actuality is probably a couple of minutes. Francis imagines him trying to get Francis's come out of his cashmere sweater. Eventually the faucet is turned off, and footsteps approach, stopping just beyond his field of vision. He looks up.
"Here," says Gabriel. He has indeed taken off the sweater, and is in a short-sleeved t-shirt, looking flushed and even more mussed than before. He holds out a damp wad of toilet paper. "I couldn't find any Kleenex, sorry."
Francis stares at him for a second. Then he reaches up, grabs Gabriel by the wrist and pulls him into his lap. He slides his other hand around the nape of Gabriel's neck, draws him close and kisses him.
After a moment he feels Gabriel relax, startlement dissolving into willingness. He opens his mouth a little, letting Francis slip his tongue between his teeth.
He tastes obviously of spearmint gum, not like he's been giving a blow job. Francis supposes he's grateful. He lets go of Gabriel's wrist and slides his hand down the other boy's back, tugging his shirt up and baring warm skin. Gabriel half-sighs into Francis's mouth. He leans back a little, reaches up to pull Francis's glasses off, then winds his arm around Francis's shoulder and kisses him again. Francis supports his weight and moves his other hand down to the buckle of his belt.
Gabriel's more than ready. Francis has to lick his palm a few times to get him properly wet, but once he does it doesn't take very long to set up a proper rhythm. Gabriel makes breathy little moans as Francis pumps his cock, grinding his hips back against him in a highly distracting manner. It makes his pants slip further down, bunching around his thighs. He clutches at Francis for support, head lowered, hair falling over his eyes.
When he comes he cries out, tensing in Francis's arms, and Francis feels hot, thick liquid spurt over his hand. Some of it hits the concrete floor, splattering with a wet sound.
Gabriel is still in the bathroom when Thierry and Mr. Brezai return, not fifteen minutes later, and they have to knock on the door to tell him they're leaving. To Francis he still looks like capital-S Sex when he reemerges, but mercifully the others appear to notice nothing remiss.
He doesn't look at Francis, and Francis swallows whatever he was about to say.
"Lunch is postponed," says Mr. Brezai. "Something else has come up."
"Fine," says Gabriel. He meets Francis's eyes briefly, but Francis can't tell what he's thinking. "Let's just get out of here."
Francis gets a call on his portable as he's about to leave the house. It's Eric, one of his co-workers at BSC.
"Thierry wants you to come in now."
"It's not my shift," Francis says.
"I know," says Eric. "Thierry wants you to come in anyway. He says he needs to talk to you."
Of course something's wrong. There being nothing so sensitive as a guilty conscience, Francis even has a sinking suspicion he knows what.
He doesn't realise how wrong is wrong until he walks into Thierry's office to find Thierry hovering anxiously and Mr. Brezai ensconced behind the desk, a remote control in his hand. On a metal filing cabinet in the corner sits a small television set Francis can't remember ever seeing turned on. It's on now. Several CCTV tapes lie next to it.
"You want to explain to me what the hell happened here?" says Mr. Brezai.
"Fuck," says Francis. "Fuck!"
"I gather you did," says Annick. "Are. I mean are."
"Shut up," says Francis.
Annick shrugs. She uncaps a Corona with an assembly-line neat motion of the elbow, plugs the bottle with a chunk of lime from the plate in front of her and hands it to him.
"Fine," she says. "I'm not going to lecture you, you're smart enough to draw your own conclusions. But you have to admit to a certain inherent humour value."
Francis takes a gulp of beer and grunts.
"I'm sorry. That really sucks. What are you going to do now?"
"Find another job. What the hell else am I supposed to do?" Francis runs a hand through his hair, the gesture suggesting to Annick that any moment he would start tearing at it. "Fuck!"
"Why didn't you just – I don't know—" The non-idiotic options are legion. "Ask for his phone number? Or say you'll go with him after your shift? Or use the washroom instead?"
"Because—" Francis stares into the golden depths of his Corona. "Because I'm an idiot," he says.
Annick looks at him thoughtfully. "No, you're not," she says at length. "He must've really been something."
The doorbell rang.
"There they are," Annick says. "One sec."
Francis stays in the bedroom, luxuriating in unsociability, while she goes and answers the door. In the ensuing babble he can distinguish Drew – sweetie, we are soooo late, I am soooo sorry – Alexandra, her roommate from the modeling agency, and even Jordan. Then a completely unexpected voice makes him lift his head.
"—But we did bring an awful lot of beer to make up for it. I really hope you didn't wait for us to eat, anyway?"
No, Francis tells himself. No way. He stands up and goes to the hallway, ducking through the multicoloured bead curtain.
The occupants of the vestibule turn at the clattering noise, and at least one of them looks entirely surprised.
"Hi," says Francis. He's looking at Gabriel, who stares back at him mutely, eyes wide – a six-pack of beer dangling forgotten from either hand – but Drew is the one to respond. She dives for Francis with a squeal, hitting him at about chest level.
"Francis! I can't believe you actually came! I am soooo glad to see you!"
"Of course I came," says Francis. "Hey, Alex. Hey, Jord." He looks down at the top of Drew's head – the familiar mass of brown curls is twisted into buns Sailor Moon style and held by sequined pink scrunchies – then back up at Gabriel. Who doesn't look surprised anymore, and instead is smiling at him. At Drew.
"Francis," says Drew, "this is Gabriel. I don't think you've met?"
"No, we have," says Francis. In the corner of his eye he sees Annick raise her eyebrows, and glance from him to Gabriel and back. He can't be arsed to care. Fuck it, he thinks.
"Oh," says Drew. "Sorry, silly me. I could've sworn you weren't there the other time."
"Well, Francis isn't really a party animal," says Gabriel. He looks like he's about to laugh. Francis balls his hand into a fist behind his back, where no one else can see it.
"I hope you didn't get into any trouble the other time," he says.
"No, of course not," says Gabriel. "Why would I have?"
"That's good to hear," says Francis. Drew looks between them, confused.
"Sounds wild," says Jordan. "But can we—" He makes a gesture with the general sense of get out of the front hall. Annick claps her hands smartly.
"Okay, guys," she says. "Take your shoes off, sit down, I'll go grab the bottle opener. Let's make a night of it."
"That's my girl!" says Gabriel. Francis turns around and goes back to the bedroom.
Francis gets another job after that, at an ice cream parlor north of Prince Arthur Street. It's closer to his place and theoretically leaves him more time to socialise, but he avoids large gatherings of his friends and acquaintances more assiduously than ever. Gabriel is everywhere he's invited, most often with Drew, always the laughing, glowing centre of attention. After a few times Francis stops attending and starts working through his stock of polite excuses.
He runs out a month and a half later, in time for Annick's birthday – which he can't and wouldn't miss in the first place. Annick likes to entertain, and by eight o' clock the apartment is crammed standing-room full, everyone laughing and drinking and trying to make themselves heard over Santana on the stereo.
Gabriel's there, of course. Francis retreats to the bedroom as soon as humanly possible, not meeting his eyes.
He doesn't think he's angry with Gabriel anymore, precisely. He's not sure what he is. But he's getting tired of not being able to think of a single word to say to Gabriel when he's there, and even more tired of not being able to look away. Even when he's not in the same room – like now – it's as if he has nothing better to think about.
Annick ducks into the bedroom, tosses someone else's tot bag on the bed, and shoots him a sour look as she passes under the bead curtain. "Don't strain yourself or anything, Mr. Antisocial," she says.
Francis sighs and heads for the living room, downing his drink beforehand.
He's halfway down the hall when he hears a burst of shrill laughter.
"—And then he was like, flapping his arms like this—"
Drew is sitting sideways on an armchair with her feet hanging over the armrest, nearly falling over the side giggling.
"My god, if he weren't famous," she says. "But I would so buy that dress if I had the money, you know, the black and white one? I could eat it up."
"Seriously," says Alexandra, "it's such a huge show, I can't get over it. It's an amazing break."
"It is," says Gabriel. He's leaning over the back of the armchair. As Francis walks in he straightens, tugging fretfully at the collar of his shirt. Francis has time to notice he looks unusually pale.
"Does anyone else find it's hot in here?" Gabriel says to no one in particular, and sways alarmingly. Francis catches him by reflex, and has to drop to his knees, because Gabriel is so much dead weight.
"Gabby!" Drew shrieks. Someone drops a glass, mercifully not nearby. Gabriel stirs in Francis's arms, then struggles to a seated position. The entire scene occurs in no more than ten seconds.
"I'm okay," he says quickly. "I'm okay. I just – I just need a glass of water or something – oh, thank you, Alex sweetie. I'm fine, just felt dizzy for a second, carry on."
Despite his protests, it takes some time for the party to get going again.
"No, take it," Francis can hear Annick saying as he passes by the kitchen door. "Everybody loves the meatballs. Either you take them or you sit down and try them now."
"All right, all right." Gabriel emerges from the kitchen laughing, plastic bag in hand. "Thanks, Annick. I'll bring you back your Tupperware on Tuesday."
"You do that," says Annick. Gabriel sees Francis and gives him a wink before brushing past.
Francis glares after him. "He was perfectly fine," he says when he hears the front door close. Apart from being a drama queen.
Annick turns around, arms akimbo. "Francis Bergeron," she says, "I have had it up to here with you. What, do you think you're not being obvious?"
Francis blinks. "I—"
"Do you even have—" Annick throws up her hands. "You know that little stunt you pulled that got you fired? Don't look at me like that, I know who it was. Gabriel had a fight with his family and they kicked him out of the house. He hasn't been back since."
There's a silence. Annick sighs at Francis's expression and tucks stray bangs behind one ear.
"I'm not supposed to tell you this," she says. "Actually he didn't say anything to anyone but Drew kind of – I cornered him afterward and he told me. He slept on Drew and Alexandra's couch for a few days, I don't know where he's staying now. And no, I don't know what he's been eating. Francis?"
Francis brushes past her and makes for the door.
Annick's apartment complex backs onto a members-only sports club frequented by wealthier residents up the hill, swimming pool and tennis courts walled in by tall, opaque wire fencing. In between runs a gravel alley where the trash cans and recycling for the buildings are placed. Gabriel turns at the mouth of the alley and stops. Francis stumbles to a halt, breathing hard.
"I told her not to tell you," says Gabriel, after a moment. His eyes are calm and watchful, like those of a cat.
"Why not?" says Francis, feeling a stab of frustration. How is it fun to make me assume you're being a dickwad?
"Because you'd think it was your fault," says Gabriel. "Kind of like you do now."
Francis opens his mouth and shuts it. "It's half my fault," he says.
"No, it isn't," says Gabriel. "It's my fault you lost your job and it's my grandfather's fault for being an asshole, that's why I got kicked out. It was going to happen sooner or later anyway, I don't mind."
"Annick thinks I'm sleeping on park benches or something. I'm not, I'm staying at a hostel, once I get paid for this job I can start looking for my own place, I have money, I'm not starving or anything." Gabriel looks at his feet, looks back up again. "I get hypos sometimes. It has nothing to do with it."
"You can come to my place," says Francis. It's out of his mouth before he knows what he's about to say. Gabriel smiles at that and shakes his head.
"Sorry, no," he says. "I don't like imposing on my friends."
"Am I your friend?"
Gabriel stares. Then he has to take a step backward because Francis took a few steps forward, and it's that or be walked right into. Two more steps and he's backed up against the fence, Francis catching hold of the chain links on either side, hemming him in.
Gabriel blinks up at him for what seems like minutes. Then he looks down, away from Francis's face. From Francis's angle the curve of his lashes makes him appear oddly young.
"Look," he says. "I know you don't really like me. I mean, you like me but you think I'm an over-privileged airhead or a slut or whatever. But it's okay, really. You don't have to do anything."
"No," says Francis. "I don't have to do anything." He leans down a little and kisses Gabriel, coaxing his mouth open, just like the first time.