Manips in this chapter made either by me or the amazing Hildigard Brown.
Saturday - The Fountain
"Wow," Elijah said, "this is gorgeous. What's it called again?"
"The Fontaine de l'Observatoire," replied Sean. "Dedicated in 1874."
"How'd you know that?" asked Elijah, looking impressed.
It was tempting to claim an erudition he didn't possess, but Sean said, "I read the dedication plaque." He pointed at a brass plate inlaid in the pavement around the fountain, close to where they were setting up for the shoot.
"Oh." Elijah giggled. "I didn't even see that. I was distracted by the turtles."
"Cute, aren't they?"
"Yeah, but kind of an odd match for the rearing horses and the naked ladies holding the globe, don't you think?"
Sean laughed. "You have a point." What Elijah really had, he thought, was a refreshing point of view. He wasn't jaded, didn't pretend to be, and wasn't afraid to say what was on his mind. Something that was proving to be a little bit of a mixed blessing: witness the number of times he'd gotten under Sean's skin.
Yves and Henri set to work touching up Elijah's make-up and fixing his hair. Already the young man seemed, if not completely at ease, at least resigned to letting himself be worked on. He seemed much less nervous than the previous day, and Sean was glad. Surprisingly, he was more glad for Elijah's sake than for his own, although it certainly made his job easier to have a model who was relaxed..
"Did you get any good pictures yesterday?" Elijah asked, obediently standing stock still as Yves wielded the powder puff.
"Did I." Sean huffed a laugh. "Cate and Andy are going to have a hell of time deciding which ones to use in the magazine."
"Really?" Elijah sounded incredulous.
"Don't sound so surprised. You're a natural, kid, like I told you yesterday." Elijah was getting better at accepting compliments, too, only blushing a little. Although if he knew that Sean had stayed up most of the night, working in the darkroom like a man possessed long after he sent Marcel home, he probably would be beetroot red. But Sean kept that information to himself.
Yves and Henri finished readying Elijah, and Marcel inserted the first plate into the Deardorff.
"Okay, we're all set." Sean picked up the shutter cord. "Today, you are happy."
"Why am I happy?" Elijah asked, wrinkling his brow.
"Because I say you are," replied Sean firmly. "Now go over by the fountain and look happy."
Elijah went. When he got to the low stone retaining wall, he turned to face the camera. He had a smile fixed to his face - of sorts. The sort that wasn't going to photograph at all well as it was beyond forced.
"I said happy, not constipated," Sean said, and Marcel clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle a whoop of laughter.
"I don't know what to be happy about," Elijah complained.
"Well, what would make you happy right now? Do it. Get happy."
"Okay." And then to Sean's surprise, Elijah kicked off his shoes and pulled off his socks.
"What are you doing?"
"Getting happy," Elijah said, and climbed over the wall and into the fountain. The water wasn't deep, only reaching to the middle of his calves. "Brr, it's cold." He hopped from foot to foot.
"Is that your happy dance?" Sean teased.
"No, this is," Elijah retorted, and started kicking at the water, sending it in arcs through the air where it caught the spring sunlight and glittered like diamonds.
"Brilliant! Keep it up," Sean exclaimed, wandering with the shutter release in his hand, waiting for the perfect moment to shoot. "Harder," he said. "Kick the water harder."
Elijah let it rip like a footballer going for a goal in the finals of the World Cup.
"Perfect," Sean said, and then he exclaimed, "Elijah!"
In his enthusiasm, Elijah had kicked so hard that he overbalanced, and with a startled cry fell backward onto his ass in the water. He sat there stunned for a second and then started to giggle helplessly.
"Marcel, vite," Sean snapped, but Marcel was already on it, sliding the next cartridge into place.
"Another," he demanded.
Behind him, Sean heard Yves moan, "Oh, Monsieur McKellen, he will be furious. His beautiful clothes, ruined."
"Some sacrifices are worth making, Yves," Sean replied, but almost absently. His eyes were still fixed on Elijah's lovely, laughing face.
Sunday - Ghosts of Montmartre
"We're shooting in an abandoned house?" Elijah stared at the dilapidated building off the Avenue Junot with a disbelieving expression on his face.
Sean could understand. It was a sorry sight, with its broken windows, sagging shutters and peeling paint. The small yard in front was choked with straggly weeds and surrounded by a rusting metal wrought iron fence that had once been decorative but was now an eyesore.
But all he said in reply was, "Yep." And then he hoisted the Deardorff to his shoulder and climbed the front steps. The door was locked, but he gestured to Marcel, a man of many talents, and the dapper little Frenchman took out a credit card and jimmied the lock.
"Voila!" Marcel opened the door with a flourish.
Sean couldn't decide if Elijah looked more shocked or impressed by Marcel's B&E skill. It was a toss up. He chuckled and said, "Pretend you didn't see that."
"But why are we shooting here?" Elijah asked as they went inside. "Isn't it, well, illegal or something? How do you even know about this place?"
"A good photographer makes it his business to know all the best places to shoot," Sean said, avoiding the illegality question. The way he looked at it was, what the gendarmes didn't know wouldn't hurt them.
"I don't see what makes this such a great place to do a fashion shoot," Elijah said in bewilderment. "It's just a dirty old house going to rack and ruin."
Which was indubitably true. The interior was in no better shape than the exterior. The yellowed wallpaper was peeling off in great swaths and broken glass from the windows littered the stained and faded carpet. Wires protruded from holes in the walls and ceiling where lighting fixtures had once been.
"I'll show you what makes it such a great place. Follow me." Sean made for the steep, narrow wooden stairs and started climbing. Behind him, Yves and Henri who, unlike Marcel, were not inclined to embrace a life of crime, were whispering to each other in rapid fire French. He suspected Ian was going to get another earful like he undoubtedly did about the ruined jacket. Ah well.
The house was three stories high, and the top story had once been a painter's atelier. The plain white-washed room took up the entire floor. It had a large skylight, the glass cracked and dirty but miraculously intact, and wide, glass-less windows on three sides. A faint, lingering trace of turpentine could still be smelled, and the splintered remains of a wooden easel lay in one corner like a dusty skeleton.
But sunlight flooded the interior space and the view of Paris from every angle was spectacular, and Elijah said, "Okay, I understand now. But what a shame this amazing place is going to waste." He walked into the center of the room and turned in a slow small circle as if dancing with an invisible partner.
"Not entirely to waste," Sean said, watching him. "But yes, I agree. Someone needs to buy it and restore it to its former glory." He set down the Deardorff. "For now, though, it's going to provide a perfect atmosphere for our shoot. Let's get started."
Everyone settled quickly into their usual routine, and in short order the lights, reflectors and camera were ready, and Elijah was ready, too. Sean rarely noticed a model's attire except as it related to the lighting and how to use it to the best advantage, but the brown pin striped shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow, tan vest and slim fitting black jeans, along with the upswept hair style, made the elfin young man look masculine as hell and drop-dead, eye-catchingly sexy.
It disturbed Sean that he was noticing; he'd been doing this job too long to notice. But he explained it away by telling himself that Elijah was in a sense his protégé, and of course he'd notice.
"So, what I want from you today-" Sean began, but Elijah interrupted him.
"Sure, go ahead." Curious as to what he had in mind, Sean watched Elijah move to the window that had a breathtaking view of the Sacré-Cœur at the top of Montmartre. He slid his hands into the back pockets of his jeans and stared out into the distance.
"He was happy here," Elijah said at length. "Happy with his lover, a painter. Only his lover died, and the house was abandoned, and it became the haunt of ghosts. Years passed, until one day he returned, and braved the ghosts. He climbed the stairs and stood at this window, remembering how they'd stood there together watching the sunset turn the dome of the Sacré-Cœur to flame, believing they'd do so together for their rest of their lives."
There was something hypnotic about Elijah's voice, and though Sean was far from fanciful, it gave him a chill. Then the young man turned around and his blue eyes were distant and unfocused as if seeing things that didn't exist.
They stood there in thrall, Sean, Marcel, Yves and Henri, sensing that something more was going on than Elijah inventing a scenario for the taking of a photograph.
In fact, it felt almost intrusive to Sean to photograph him, but that's what they were there for, that's what Elijah's performance, if performance it was, was for. So he pressed the shutter release. The click cut through the silence; Elijah seemed to come back to himself and looked at Sean like one wakened from a dream.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to go all weird on you like that," he said, and he was visibly shaken.
"That's all right," Sean replied, but he was a little shaken himself, if he was being honest. Deciding it was best to get things back on a normal footing as soon as possible, he said, "Why don't you go stand under the skylight now, Elijah."
Nothing more was said about the odd moment, and they finished the shoot, packed up and left, locking the door behind them. It wasn't until they were back at Ian's salon and about to part and go their separate ways, that Elijah brought it up.
"Sean," he said earnestly, "it happened. What I said at the house. Those men existed. They were real. I know they were." His expression was troubled. "You don't think I'm nuts, do you?"
"No, I don't think you're nuts." Sean spoke gently. "This is a very old city. It's not surprising that the ghosts of those who lived here before linger. I expect that someone like you, an Empathicalist, would be more attuned than most to their presence."
"Did you sense anything?"
"No, afraid not. I'm more the practical, unimaginative type," Sean said. "I'd make a terrible Empathicalist."
"That's not true," Elijah said. "You already are an Empathicalist."
"What, without taking the course?" Sean joked. "Nah, I'll leave that to you and good ol' Professor Whatsisname."
"Mortensen. But it's not about taking a course, Sean. It's about what's in your heart." Elijah reached out and touched Sean lightly on the breast. "And you can joke all you want, but it knows the truth."
Then Elijah turned and went through the double doors into the salon to change back into his street clothes. Sean stared after him and wondered how it was possible for him to feel that light, brief touch right through his leather bomber jacket and shirt.
Monday - the Tennis Court
“Sean, I feel ridiculous.”
Sean raised his eyebrows. “Why?”
“Because first, I don’t know how to play tennis, and second, I have chicken legs. That’s why I never wear shorts. I mean, who would be inspired to buy tennis clothes modeled by these?” He glowered down at the legs sticking out of the white tennis shorts as if they offended him.
Sean was amused by this evidence of vanity on his novice model’s part, especially after his animadversions on modeling and the fashion industry. Elijah wasn’t quite so oblivious to his appearance as he liked to believe.
But as a matter of fact, Sean saw absolutely nothing wrong with Elijah’s legs other than that they were rather pale. They were shapely and the calves were surprisingly well-muscled for a young man who, as far as Sean could tell, never exercised. An image flashed into his mind of those shapely legs wrapped around his waist, heels digging into his bare buttocks.
Whoa. Where had that come from?
“You’re worrying needlessly, Elijah,” Sean said, firmly banishing the intrusive image. “Just leave it up to me. It’s my job to make you and your legs look good, and I will. ”
Expecting an argument, he was surprised when Elijah’s glower disappeared and an almost shy smile took its place. “I know you will. I’m sorry, Sean. I’ll stop bitching.”
Sean felt absurdly flattered by Elijah's faith in him, and that, plus the momentary lapse into eroticism, had him resisting the urge to return Elijah’s smile, as warning flags went up in his brain. Instead he turned to Marcel, who stood at the ready not with a plate for the Deardorff, which was resting while the Canon 400D came out to play, but with two tennis rackets and two cans of neon yellow tennis balls. He knew how to play tennis, unlike the rest of them, and it was his job to teach Elijah the rudiments so he could at least give the appearance of being a tennis player.
“Allons-y, Marcel,” Sean said. “We’re burning daylight.” Which was as ridiculous as it was untrue.
Yves and Henri stopped fussing over Elijah, and Marcel led the young man onto the tennis court. He demonstrated for Elijah how to hold the racket and then he hit a couple of the balls over the net.
“Comme ça,” Marcel said, stepping back and gesturing to Elijah to take his place at mid-court. “Now you try.”
Elijah did try, Sean had to give him credit for that, but no one had ever looked less like a tennis player. He sent one ball spinning crazily off into an adjacent court, which fortunately was empty, and swung at and missed the other. Sean noted with approval that Elijah giggled when he missed the second ball and said, “Oh geez, I suck,” instead of being embarrassed or pissed off.
Marcel appeared appalled, however. “You do not hold the racket properly, Elijah.” Shaking his head, he went to Elijah and adjusted his grip on the handle of the racket. “Comme ça,” he repeated.
Elijah didn’t do much better with his next attempt. “Non, non, non, non!” Marcel exclaimed. “Here, let me help you.” He moved close behind the young man, put his arms around him and guided him through the motions, showing him how to bring the racket back and follow through correctly.
Seeing Marcel’s dark head pressed close to Elijah’s, Sean had to suppress a surge of annoyance. Was it really necessary for him to plaster himself against Elijah that way? Sean wasn’t about to tolerate unprofessional behavior on the job, and if Marcel was trying to hit on Elijah at the same time as he was teaching him to hit, there would be hell to pay.
As if sensing Sean’s disapproving eye on him, Marcel glanced his way. Sean raised his eyebrows slightly and gave him a sardonic look; Marcel flushed and hastily stepped back.
Elijah was oblivious to the byplay. Biting his lip with concentration, he gave the tennis ball a little toss as he brought the racket back and then he swung through and hit the ball squarely in the racket’s sweet spot. Instead of soaring off into space, it skimmed over the net and landed on the court - the correct court.
“Oh wow, I did it!” Elijah exclaimed, and turned to Sean, his eyes aglow. “Did you see that?”
Sean grinned, amused by Elijah’s excitement at this modest achievement and secretly pleased that it was to him, not Marcel, he’d turned first. “I did indeed see it. Well done, Elijah. But one hit does not a tennis player make. Try it again.”
Elijah used up the rest of the balls in the cans, and while his form might not be perfect, he was starting to get the hang of it. But even so, something wasn’t quite right. Sean frowned.
“Oh no, am I totally messing it up?” Elijah asked, his face falling as he observed Sean’s frown. “I thought I was doing pretty well.”
“You are,” Sean reassured him. “It’s not you.” He tapped his forefinger absently against his lips then snapped his fingers. “Got it. It simply doesn't look like you're playing tennis with someone. You need a partner. Okay, Marcel, go on the other side and hit the ball with Elijah."
It was true that Elijah would photograph better but it also served to get Marcel away from him, and Sean was aware of the easing of a tension inside him as his assistant gathered up the tennis balls Elijah had hit (or those of them still within easy reach) and took up a position opposite the young model across the net.
What followed wasn't pretty. It was one thing to toss a ball in the air and hit it. It was another to run after a ball hit by someone else and hit it back. Elijah scurried like a mouse this way and that, swinging and missing or occasionally swinging and sending a ball careening into space, while Marcel stood in the same spot as if glued there. It wasn't necessary for him to move.
Elijah stopped and let his racket fall to the ground with a clatter. He was red-faced and huffing, although some of the redness was clearly attributable to embarrassment. "Sean, this is never going to work," he said, downcast. "Can't you photograph me shelving books instead? It's all I'm good at."
As a photographer, Sean had learned that when things weren't going right, you changed tactics. Nothing photographed worse than a tense, unhappy model. But he found himself unexpectedly ignoring the voice of experience telling him to call it quits and simply pose Elijah with racket in hand and give up on taking action photos. Because, he realized with some shock, he couldn't bear the disappointment on Elijah's face. It roused in him a protectiveness that he'd never entertained for any of his previous models, even those with whom he'd had an intimate relationship.
"I'm sure you're good at many things besides shelving books, Elijah, and I'm positive you can be good at this, too. The Quality Man," he intoned, doing his best impression of Cate, "not only has charm, rugged good looks and pizzazz, but athletic ability as well."
"Not this Quality Man. Sean..."
"For me?" Sean added coaxingly.
He was aware that Marcel, Yves and Henri were staring at him in surprise. He couldn't blame them; he was wondering at himself. But Elijah Wood had a strange effect on him, that was plain.
"All right," Elijah said, and picked up his racket.
"Good. Now, keep your eye on the ball as it comes toward you. That's the key." Sean had no idea if it really was the key in tennis, but it sounded like sage advice, and what Elijah needed more than anything at the moment was positive reinforcement.
With very un-model-like grimness, Elijah took up his stance, balancing lightly on the balls of his feet, racket at the ready. Marcel bounced the bright yellow ball twice, then tossed it high over his head and served it, nice and easy. Wonder of wonders, Elijah not only hit it, but the ball landed in the court.
"There, what did I tell you?" Sean said, but Elijah was scrambling to reach the ball that Marcel had lobbed back. Expecting him to lunge and miss, Sean felt ridiculously proud when instead Elijah hit it back. "By George, I think you've got it," he called, and Elijah's enchanting giggle was both response and reward.
The two men continued playing, and now that Elijah was in the swing of things, so to speak, Sean started taking pictures, wandering as he did, trying different angles and vantage points. He wasn't entirely satisfied with any of them, but he couldn't keep Elijah out there running back and forth forever.
"One more rally," he said, when Elijah hit the ball into the net, and let out a groan of frustration. "Hey, you're doing great. We'll make a tennis player out of you yet."
Marcel had stayed very quiet through all this, perhaps fearing to incur Sean's wroth. But he piped up now, saying, "C'est vrai, Elijah. You are doing well, very well indeed. Encore," he took a ball from his pocket. "Vous etes prêt?"
They vollied back and forth a few times, and Sean was better pleased with the results. He was about to tell Elijah and Henri they could call it quits, when something occurred that made him very glad he hadn't.
Henri had more or less remained in the center of midcourt, as Elijah, in common with most novices, hit the ball back to him rather than try to move him around or wrongfoot him. The rallies had all ended with Elijah hitting the ball into the net or out of bounds, and from a certain tension about him, Sean deduced that he badly wanted Marcel to be the one who made a mistake, just once. In Sean's opinion a little competitiveness wasn't necessarily a bad thing, especially in the rather cutthroat world of professional modeling, and he was pleased to see this evidence of it in Elijah.
Marcel lobbed an easy shot across the net. It was a sitting duck and Elijah, almost scowling with concentration, took dead aim on it. He hit it hard and true, and the ball skimmed over the net at sharp angle. Marcel tried to run it down, but he was a step too late. He swung but the outstretched racket hit nothing but air.
"Yee-ha!" Elijah whooped, throwing his arms in the air as if he'd won the French Open final. "I won a point! I won a point!"
"Très bien, Elijah," said Marcel, grinning.
"Très bien indeed," Sean said. "Now you can rest on your laurels, Elijah. We're all done."
Elijah walked off the court swinging his racket and whistling as insouciantly as if he were Maurice Chevalier strolling down the Champs Elysées. His cocksure attitude was totally irresistible, and Sean quickly raised the camera and pressed the shutter.
Bingo. Sean had a hit a winner himself. He only hoped Elijah wouldn't kill him when he discovered that all his running around the court had possibly been in vain.
Tuesday - The Train Station
"Color me shocked," said Cate sarcastically. "You actually answered the phone."
"You're the one who sent me off with instructions not to let Elijah out of my sight. Don't complain if I've been too busy to take your calls."
"A likely story."
"But true." Well, thought Sean, not strictly true. He had been busy, but as often with photographic Elijah as with the real thing. It occurred to him to wonder what Elijah had been up to in the evenings while Sean was immured in the dark room. Hanging out at the café, no doubt, discussing Empathicalism. He frowned, thinking of the two men who had played Elijah like a fish at the café. He really should be looking out for him more, instead of leaving him to his own devices. Hell, he hadn't even asked Elijah if he'd met Professor Whatsisname yet. He'd have to do something about that, he decided.
"If you say so," Cate replied. "So, is our Quality Man working out?"
"And how. Cate, when you get the proofs I have for you, you are not only going to thank me for suggesting him, but nominate me for sainthood."
But she sounded indubitably pleased. She knew Sean wouldn't bullshit her about something so important.
"I'm turning over a new leaf," Sean quipped. "Just call me Saint Sean."
Cate snorted. "I suspect you're earning that sainthood. How is dear old Uncle Ian, by the way? I can't tell you how I don't miss hearing about him."
"No idea. When I laid out the ground rules, not mentioning dear old Uncle Ian was at the top of the list."
"And he actually listened?" Cate was incredulous.
Sean felt a touch of impatience and exasperation. "Give Elijah some credit, Cate," he said with some asperity. "He's busting his butt for us and I have absolutely no complaints about his work."
There was a brief silence then Cate said in a conciliatory tone, "All right, I'll give him credit, mainly for giving you no cause for complaint. That truly must be a first. But I do have a bone to pick with you. Ian is not amused that he had to have that black leather jacket remade after Elijah went swimming in it. I had to listen to him wax eloquent on the topic for twenty minutes yesterday, and promise him that Quality would pay for the replacement. It better have been worth it, Sean."
"It was, trust me." Sean had spent the bulk of that night working in the dark room, finally tearing himself away at four a.m. to snatch a few hours' sleep and regretting the necessity.
"Funnily enough, I do trust you. Well, where are you and the Quality Man off to today?"
"The Gare du Nord." Sean consulted his watch. "And I'd better get going or I'll be late."
"Don't let him throw himself under a train in a fit of remorse over embracing the dark side. I don't want to have to pay to replace another outfit."
"Your concern for Elijah's well being overwhelms me, Cate."
"No model is irreplaceable, Sean," she said, a warning note in her voice. "You know that as well as I do."
But as Sean disconnected and pocketed his phone, a knot of tension lodged in the pit of his stomach at the thought of something happening to Elijah. Maybe once he'd have agreed with Cate, but no more. As far as he was concerned, Elijah was irreplaceable.
As a model, of course.
"These gloves have no fingers," Elijah said when Sean met him outside the salon. He held up his hands.
"What, you've never worn fingerless gloves before?"
"Noooo. Should I have?"
"They're what all the fashionable Empathicalists are wearing these days, didn't you know? And pretty soon thousands of other men will be wearing them, too, thanks to you."
Elijah scrunched up his face. "That's so weird. Why would anyone wear something just because I do?"
Sean huffed a laugh. "What do you think this is in aid of, Elijah? The whole point is to get people to buy not only the magazine but the fashions featured in it. If we do our job right, then Ian and scores of other people - the fabric manufacturers, the clothing manufacturers, the shops that sell the clothes, the people who work for those shops - benefit. Trickle down economics, in its most basic form."
"I never thought of it that way," Elijah said slowly. "It's a huge responsibility, Sean."
"It is," agreed Sean. "Okay, maybe we aren't finding a cure for cancer or solving the world's problems, but fashion is big business."
"And hard work," Elijah admitted. "I didn't understand that, either, when you proposed I become a model. I thought people like that Orlando guy had it pretty easy, just striking a pose and standing around. Uncle Ian's right: I still have a lot to learn about Empathicalism."
Which put Sean in mind of his conversation with Cate earlier. "Speaking of Empathicalism, have you met Professor Whatsisname yet?"
"Mortensen. And no, I haven't. I haven't been back to the café. To be honest, I've been so tired every night I just grab a bite to eat and crash at the hostel."
Sean had a sense, from a certain self-consciousness as he spoke, that Elijah wasn't being entirely truthful with him. Perhaps he'd met someone and felt, rightfully so, that it wasn't any of Sean's business. Why that should bother him so much, when he'd blithely assured Elijah that he could have a love affair every hour on the hour in Paris, Sean couldn't say. He should be happy for him.
Spurred by an emotion he refused to call by its real name, jealousy, Sean said, "You can't spend a week in Paris and not experience the nightlife, Elijah. Tell you what, Thursday, after we're done shooting the collection, I'll take you out to celebrate, a proper celebration, Parisian style. What do you say?"
Elijah smiled, and his eyes sparkled with delight. "I'd love to."
"Then it's..." Sean almost said 'a date', but he caught himself in time. It wasn't a date, just a friendly coworkers' night out, that's all. "It's a plan. But first, we've got a lot of work ahead of us." He opened the door of the taxi idling at the curb and held it for Elijah.
"All right, today I'm looking for heartbreak and suffering. Trains and lovers parting: they go together like chocolate and croissants."
"So I should pretend I'm a modern Anna Karenina? Do you want me to throw myself under the train?" Elijah indicated the sleek silver TGV high speed train behind him.
"We'll see," Sean joked. Despite Cate's crack about that very thing, and his own reaction to her crack, the very idea was patently absurd. On a list of 'least likely to imitate Anna Karenina', Elijah Wood had to be pretty far up the list. "For now, give me wonderful, noble self-sacrifice."
He took Elijah by the arm and positioned him near the front of the train. "Okay, here's the scene: your lover has just kissed you goodbye." Sean tilted his head to one side, leaned in and kissed Elijah for the third time, a matter of fact, setting-the-stage kiss this time, although a part of him was aware of the exquisite softness those thrice kissed lips. "You may never know that kiss again, or love again, for that matter."
He stepped back. "Yves, put some tears in his eyes. The Quality Man isn't afraid to shed a few tears."
Yves went up to Elijah with a dropper filled with artificial tears. "But there are tears in his eyes," he said.
"Good," Sean said, picking up the shutter cord. "You're not only a model, you're an actor. All right, Elijah, give me the works: heartbreak, longing, tragedy." He frowned. "Wet your lips."
"Wonderful!" At that moment the TGV's horn sounded, reverberating around the platform, and it started to move. "And now step away from the edge of the platform, would you? You're giving me the willies."
A single silver tear glinted on Elijah's cheek; the heartbreak appeared so real, it scared Sean.
Wednesday - Bois de Boulogne
It was drizzling when they left the salon for the Bois de Boulogne, on the west side of the city. But by the time they reached the location Sean had scouted for the shoot, a grove of ancient elm and oak trees, the drizzle had stopped and the sky was beginning to lighten.
Elijah didn't remove the raincoat that enveloped him from neck to ankles, however. "I have something in mind," he said, and disappeared into the trees with Yves and Henri, carrying the makeup cases, in tow.
Sean watched them go, thinking humorously that Yves and Henri would probably follow Elijah if he intended to jump off a cliff. The two men had developed an undoubted devotion to the Quality Man, and not because he had a complexion merveilleux as Henri put it or eyes like fenêtres au ciel as Yves had enthused. No, it was because Elijah was kind, he was unspoiled, and he treated them with respect. Even more, he was interested in them as people, and Sean suspected that Elijah had learned more about Yves and Henri's personal lives in a few days than he himself had learned in years of working with them off and on.
"Do you know what this is about?" he asked Marcel as they set up the equipment.
"Je ne sais pas, Sean," his assistant replied, with a Gallic shrug. "But Elijah, he has what you call 'hidden depths'. I like him, very much."
"Oh?" Sean tried to keep his tone neutral.
"Not in that way, I promise you. Have no fears," Marcel quickly added.
"Fears? I don't know what you're talking about, Marcel," Sean said brusquely, ignoring Marcel's skeptical look. "Now hand me that filter."
Yves and Henri emerged from the trees, looking pleased as punch and secretive as shit.
"Are you ready?" Elijah called from the trees.
"A few more minutes," Sean called back.
"Well, hurry up!"
Sean couldn't help but grin at the impatience in Elijah's voice. He'd come a long way from the unsure young man who had stood frozen with indecision in front of the candy display at the supermarket.
With one last check of the light meter around his neck, Sean said, "Okay, we're good to go. Whenever you're ready, Elijah."
Almost before the words left Sean's lips, Elijah stepped out from behind a tree.
"Holy shit," Sean exclaimed, while behind him Marcel frankly gasped and Yves and Henri let out matching sighs of statisfaction. "You look fabulous."
Which was a complete understatement. Sean was knocked on his ass ten ways to Sunday by the pure, unadulterated eroticism of the vision before him. My god. My god, every single woman and man who looks at him is going to want him, he thought, and it didn't take any talent as an Empathicalist to arrive at that conclusion.
For the first time he could ever recall in his career, Sean found himself reluctant to immortalize beauty on film. He didn't want other men seeing those bedroom eyes with their 'fuck me' message, or the dusky nipples partially revealed by the transparent gauze shirt, or the exposed belly and the tantalizing trail of downy hair that disappeared beneath the waistband of his black leather pants and begged to be followed by a questing hand until it reached the cock visibly outlined by the soft leather and closed around it...
"Sean? Aren't you going to take a picture?" Elijah asked.
"Of course," Sean quickly said. "Wet your lips."
Elijah did, and Sean took the picture. He forced himself into a business-like mode, having Elijah strike different poses and move from spot to spot. But the image of Elijah in that moment when he stepped out from the trees overlaid them all, like an erotic filter. He couldn't get it out of his mind then or later that night in the darkroom when he pulled the photo paper from the wash and confronted, not only the 'fuck me' look in Elijah's eyes, but his own desire to answer it.
It's an illusion, he told himself. You know that better than anyone. Elijah had proven that he could be whatever he needed to be to fit the occasion: laughing and light-hearted, wistful and longing, broken-hearted and grieving, or sensual and inviting. It didn't prove anything except that Elijah was one hell of a great model.
And later, back at the Meurice, that Sean wasn't too old to have a wet dream inspired by him.
Thursday - The Wedding
Over a breakfast of superb coffee and delicious, if fattening, chocolate croissants, Sean decided that the events of the night were the result of not having had sex for too long combined with being in the company of an incredibly attractive young gay guy for too many hours. His body was giving him a message: go get laid. Which was weird, because work had always before been a sovereign remedy for horniness, and never before had he been as enthralled by and engrossed in a project as he was in photographing the Quality Man.
He didn't get it, but he decided not to worry about it. After all, it was the final day of the shoot. Only the wedding photos remained and his part was done. Tomorrow, Elijah would be at the salon, conducting interviews with the press after lunch, and later that night showing the collection to the glitterati of the fashion world.
As for Sean, tomorrow night he'd be on a plane, winging his way home to New York, where all the photo shoots he'd postponed in order to go to Paris awaited him, and life would return to normal. Or as normal as the hectic, sometimes maddening work of a fashion photographer got. Sure, he had a sense of let-down at having to leave Paris - his sojourns here never lasted long enough - but such was life.
"What do you think?" Sean asked Elijah. "Pretty kickass place to get married, I'd say."
Elijah looked around him at the romantic little church, the picturesque lake complete with a brace of graceful white swans, the abundant trees and spring flowers, but the glow of enthusiastic appreciation that Sean had been expecting wasn't there.
"It's beautiful," he said, but in truth he sounded rather sad.
Sean studied him. Elijah had been subdued all morning, ever since they left on the longish drive to the location of their shoot, the medieval Église de la Reine Blanche in the countryside near Chantilly.
"Is everything all right, Elijah?" he asked with concern. "You seem kind of quiet. You're not coming down with something, are you?"
Elijah shook his head. "No, I'm fine. I just feel so dishonest, dressed up as the groom for a non-existent wedding to an imaginary bride."
"You've been playing pretend all week - on the tennis court, at the train station," Sean pointed out. "How is this different? I don't understand."
"Yes, I know." Elijah shrugged. "Look, it's not important. I'm being foolish."
But it was important to Sean, and he immediately set about finding some means of cheering Elijah up, and not simply because he didn't want to photograph a groom who looked like he was on the way to the guillotine rather than the altar.
"I know what the problem is. You don't have any flowers." With a flick of his wrist Sean produced a pair of pale pink roses. "No self-respecting groom should get married without a boutonniere," he said, flourishing them with a smile.
Bingo. As always when Sean performed some sleight of hand, Elijah reacted with almost child-like wonder and delight. "How do you do that?" he asked, diverted.
"Trade secret. If I told you, I'd have to kill you," Sean joked, pleased with the success of what was really a very simple magic trick. "I'll pin the flowers on you."
He stepped close to Elijah, his gaze focused on the lapel of the tuxedo jacket the young man wore. But as he slid the pin into the fine white satin, he was aware that Elijah's luminous blue eyes, framed by sooty lashes, were fixed on his face. He could feel them almost as a palpable touch, and it was distracting enough that he nearly stabbed his finger with the pin as he pushed it through and fastened it. Pay attention, he scolded himself. He could almost hear Cate's voice bemoaning, "Another jacket ruined! This time you're paying for it, Sean."
"There," he said, managing to secure the pin without shedding a drop of blood. He glanced up and met Elijah's gaze. Dear god, those eyes, he thought, captivated. He brought them to life each night in the dark room, marveling at the manner in which they caught the light and at how they expressed the subtlest nuances of emotion. But even so, he was never really prepared for how they looked in real life. And right now, with Elijah dressed in monochromatic white and black, their blue was so deep and so intense that Sean felt he could stare at them forever and still not have enough.
"Oh, mais quel époux charmant!" said a voice. Startled, Sean swiveled his head to see a black-frocked priest leaning on the ornate stone balustrade above them. He wasn't certain if he were more annoyed or relieved by the interruption. "On ne me pas dit qu'il y aurait un mariage aujourd'hui," the priest went on. "Mais entrez." He gestured toward the open door behind him.
"I'm afraid you've got us wrong, Father," Sean said. "No one's getting married today."
"But such a handsome groom," the priest said in admiring, if heavily accented, English, gesturing at Elijah.
"This isn't my tuxedo," Elijah said.
"We're here to take some pictures," Sean explained, going up the shallow stone steps to meet the priest. "Nous sommes ici pour photographie pour la magazine de la fashion," he added in French, raising the Canon that hung around his neck. "I'm sorry, perhaps we should've asked you for permission first." That was Cate's influence, he thought ruefully. Just show up and shoot and brazen it out, that was her motto.
But the priest didn't appear put out, only disappointed. "No wedding? Oh, quel dommage!" he said. "But of course you may take your photographie."
Relieved that the kibosh wasn't going to put on the shoot, Sean said, "Merci, Father," and retreated down the steps. But at the bottom there was only empty space where Elijah had been standing.
"Marcel, did you see where Elijah went?" Sean asked his assistant, who was taking equipment out of the back of their rental van.
"He went that way," Marcel said, pointing to a path that led behind the church.
"Thanks." Sean quickly strode after Elijah, still at a loss to understand his peculiar behavior.
"Elijah," he called when he caught sight of him. But Elijah didn't stop; he kept walking so that Sean was forced to run after him, holding the camera to keep it from bouncing on his chest. "Elijah, please stop."
Elijah did stop, but he stood with his back to Sean and his head bent, looking vulnerable and even younger than his years.
It felt oddly to Sean as if he were approaching some wild creature, a deer perhaps, that might bolt and run at any moment. "Elijah? Help me out here. What's going on?"
With a sigh, Elijah turned to face Sean. He looked rueful. "I'm sorry," he said. "I don't know what's the matter with me."
"That's all right," Sean replied. "Forget about it and relax a while. We've been working too hard. It's understandable if you're feeling tired and out of sorts."
They started walking, side by side, down a gentle grassy slope, and the peaceful beauty of their surroundings seeped into Sean's soul. He hoped it was having the same soothing effect on Elijah.
"I suppose we'll be going home soon, won't we?" Elijah said after a little while.
Aha, thought Sean, seeing the light. "That's it; you're probably homesick," he said. "Well, there's just this last picture and then you'll be through."
"And then what happens?" Elijah asked quietly.
Sean shrugged. "We go home."
"What do you mean?"
Elijah halted and faced him. "I mean, will I see you anymore?"
Sean huffed a laugh. "If you continue modeling, sure. I can get you all the bookings you can handle, and then, well, we'll be working together nearly every day."
At that Elijah finally smiled and said, "Then I'll model."
"Good," Sean replied, touched by the implication that Elijah wanted to continue modeling simply to see him. "Well, we'll put you to work right now. Stand over here, will you please?" He led Elijah to a spot where the church rose behind him, creating a wonderfully romantic backdrop. "Excellent."
He moved a short distance away and raised the camera to his eye. After fiddling with various settings, he said, "Okay, I want you to look to your right. Pretend you're watching your bride walking solemnly towards you on her father's arm while the Wedding March plays. Perfect. Now, how about another smile?" But Elijah's somber expression didn't change.
Sean lowered the camera. "Something is wrong."
"No, why?" Elijah said in a completely unconvincing manner.
"Because you're the saddest-looking bridegroom I've ever seen; you look as if you've been jilted." He walked toward Elijah. "Remember: this is your wedding day. It's a day you've been imagining all your life." He went on, unaware of the emotion that crept into his voice or of how he altered the sex of Elijah's imaginary 'bride', "You're going to marry the man you love: the man who loves you." He placed his right hand under Elijah's chin and gently turned his face toward him. "He's the only... and you're..."
Sean completely lost track of what he was saying before the look in Elijah's eyes, the same look he'd seen when he was pinning the boutonniere to Elijah's lapel. Only now, as if a curtain had been raised or an obscuring mist blown away, the message that look carried became clear to him, and he wondered how he could have missed it. You fool, he thought. This wasn't Elijah being a great model. This was Elijah being a man, a man who wanted Sean as much as Sean wanted him.
And dear god, did Sean want him.
On the thought, the floodgates opened, and a tempest of passion swept through him; never in his life had Sean experienced anything even remotely like it. Last night's wet dream wasn't even in the same ballpark. He didn't try to fight it, didn't want to. Whether he made the first move or Elijah did, he could never afterward say, all he knew was that Elijah's arms were wrapped tightly around his neck and his lips, those soft, soft lips, parted eagerly beneath his own.
Sean had kissed Elijah three times before, but they hadn't been real kisses, only pale imitations. This, though, oh this was a kiss, the kind of kiss that rocked a guy's world and knocked him on his ass. And to his surprise and delight, Elijah not only proved Sean's contention that philosophers wanted to be kissed, but he proved that they were damn good at it, too.
But the kiss, though amazing, wasn't enough to satisfy Sean. With a possessive hunger previously alien to him, he impatiently shoved the Canon, trapped uncomfortably between them, out of the way, and slid his hands down the soft superfine wool to cup Elijah's rear and pull him close. Far from resisting the intimate contact, Elijah pressed into him with abandon and made a guttural, needy sound deep in his throat as their groins touched.
It was that abandon, and what it might ultimately lead to at a time and in a place completely unsuited for unsuiting and getting naked, that gave Sean the strength to stop when he would far rather have pushed Elijah down onto the lush spring grass and made love to him.
"No," Elijah instinctively protested when Sean ended the embrace, shifting his hands to Elijah's shoulders and holding him at arms' length.
"Elijah, we've got to keep our heads, unless we want to give the good Father a heart attack," Sean said.
Elijah was gripping Sean's biceps with convulsive force. As Sean's words penetrated the haze of desire fogging his brain, Elijah relaxed his hold and with a resigned sigh let his head fall forward until it rested against Sean's breast.
They stood that way for a minute or so, not speaking, and as sanity returned, Sean was filled with an aching tenderness even more foreign to him than the passion that had shaken him to the core.
"You okay, Funny Face?" he asked softly, lightly stroking Elijah's cheek with the backs of his fingers.
Elijah raised his head, and his face was radiant with joy. "Oh Sean, I thought it would never happen. It seemed like all you were interested in was a working relationship, and after yesterday, when I practically threw myself at you and you didn't even notice, I didn't think I stood a chance."
"Oh, I noticed all right, believe me," Sean said wryly, recalling his sticky belly and sheets. "But I thought it was just you being a fantastic model. What can I say? I'm a blind idiot - which is one hell of an admission for a professional photographer to make."
Elijah giggled. "I never want to go home," he declared. "I love Paris and I love modeling. And I love you." He caught himself, and with a horrified expression jerked away from Sean.
"What did you say?" Sean stared at him in amazement.
"I love Paris?" Elijah replied feebly.
"That's not what I heard." Sean started pacing, a hand to his forehead, while the scales fell finally and absolutely from his eyes. "Well, shit," he said. "Shit." What he felt wasn't lust, but another four letter word beginning with 'l'. The big one. The 'L' word: Love.
"Sean, forget that I said it," Elijah said in an agonized voice. "Please?"
"Forget? Are you kidding?" Sean felt incandescent, like a Roman candle about to go off. "Elijah, I love you, too."
"You do?" Elijah looked gobsmacked.
"Yes!" A giddy sensation had Sean rushing at Elijah, scooping him up and twirling him madly around. "I love you, Elijah Wood," he shouted, as if announcing it to the world, which, in a sense, he was. "I. Love. YOU!" He set Elijah down, and the young man's face was flushed and his eyes were brilliant as stars. "Now let's finish this damned shoot, so we can get the hell out of here and go someplace we can be alone."
With a pat on the ass, Sean herded a giggling Elijah back to the spot where he'd been standing when everything, Sean's life included, was turned topsy-turvy. Only this time, Elijah looked straight at Sean, and there was no need whatsoever to tell him to smile.