Makes reference to events that occurred in Chapter 5 of Funny Face. Le Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre is the traditional New Year's Eve feast in France.
Elijah discovered the note on the kitchen table when he got back to their apartment late that afternoon. A smile lit his face as he picked it up. Another billet-doux from Sean. He was adorably old-fashioned in some regards, and an unabashed romantic at heart. How many men these days wrote love notes using expensive hand-pressed note paper and a fountain pen, rather than texting a bunch of emoticons from a smartphone?
But then Sean was constantly surprising Elijah, and in the best possible ways. He loved to arrange impromptu outings, and whenever Elijah found one of his billet-doux, it meant a romantic rendezvous was on the agenda. Not that he was particularly surprised this time. He'd known something was up from the way Sean was behaving, in particular his refusal to explain his numerous mysterious absences over the past week. "All will be revealed in good time, Funny Face," was all he'd said in response to Elijah's questions.
Well, it looked as if the time had arrived, and on New Year's Eve, too.
As Elijah unfolded the notepaper, a whiff of delicate rose-scent teased his nose, and a handful of dried rose petals drifted down and settled on the tabletop. An unabashed romantic indeed, his Sean. Last time the billet-doux had been filled with gold and silver glitter stars, and the time before that with lavender blossoms.
Funny Face, the note read,
Meet me at the corner of the Rue Girardon and the Rue de l'Abreuvoir at 10:30. Formal dress required. No need to bring anything but your beautiful self. I'll be waiting.
Still smiling, Elijah gathered up the fallen rose petals and placed them back inside the note before folding it again. He kept everybillet-doux, tied up in small bundles with satin ribbon. Sean wasn't the only old-fashioned romantic in their relationship.
Elijah arrived at the corner of the Rue Girardon and the Rue de l'Abreuvoir at exactly 10:29, where he found Sean awaiting him. In the light from the street lamp, he looked jaw-droppingly handsome. Beneath his fine black wool coat Sean wore a black tuxedo with a white dress shirt, vest and bow tie, and a white silk scarf was draped insouciantly around his neck.
Per Sean's instructions, Elijah had donned his own tux, an Ian McKellen original, and although his new life required him to wear formal dress on a regular basis, it still felt odd, like putting on someone else's skin. It was worth it, though, to see Sean's reaction. His face lit up and his eyes glowed with pleasure, and though Elijah still didn't quite understand it, he knew that in Sean's eyes he was indeed beautiful - no matter how often he called him Funny Face.
"For you, my love," Sean said by way of greeting, and with a bow and a flick of the wrist produced a deep red rose with flawless velvet petals. Elijah accepted it, absurdly delighted by the romantic gesture, and thanked him with a kiss.
"Let's go!" Sean said with the exuberance of a schoolboy on holiday, taking Elijah by the elbow.
"Where are we going?"
"You'll see," Sean replied mysteriously, and set off down the sidewalk with impatient strides.
"You always say that," Elijah complained, hurrying with him, but it wasn't a serious complaint. Half the fun was in the surprise. The other half was in what happened after they got wherever they were going - sometimes sex, sometimes not, but always something wonderful.
Elijah was often bemused by how drastically his life had changed since the day Sean, Cate and the rest of the Quality crew invaded Uncle Ian's bookstore and turned it, and him, topsy-turvy. But he never experienced a moment's regret, or wished to return to the solitary philosopher hedged round with inhibitions like a thorn hedge in a fairy tale. Thank god his prince had arrived to kiss him awake.
Sean turned down a side street a couple of blocks along the Rue Girardon. As they walked, Elijah had a strange sense of déjà vu. Suddenly he exclaimed, "I recognize this street, Sean. There's the house where we did the Quality Man photo shoot." He pointed at a rusty wrought iron fence enclosing a tiny, weed-choked front yard.
"I know. That's where we're going."
"We're celebrating New Year's Eve in an abandoned house?"
"Don't be a snob, Elijah," Sean teased, and Elijah elbowed him. "Very funny," he said.
Sean's romantic rendezvous usually took place in very different locations, but Elijah was oddly glad to be returning to the house. It wasn't only the nostalgic joy of revisiting a place that had brought him and Sean closer together. He recalled the strange half-vision he'd had in the house of two men who had once lived there. It was one of the queerest experiences he'd ever had, but not in a bad way. Love had lived in that house, true, lasting, deep love, the sort of love that he and Sean shared.
The last time they'd entered the house, it had been via what might kindly be termed 'non-traditional' means - Marcel making use of a credit card to jimmy the lock. But this time, Sean took from his pocket not a credit card but a key. He inserted it in the lock and turned it, and the door readily yielded.
"How on earth did you get a key?" Elijah asked.
"Connections," Sean replied vaguely.
"You're being even more annoyingly mysterious than usual, you know," said Elijah.
"Am I? According to you, that's not possible." Sean was grinning. "Now come on. Time's a-wasting." He ushered Elijah inside and flipped a switch beside the door.
The dim light revealed the same sorry scene Elijah recalled from his previous visit. This time, though, instead of a dirty old house gone to rack and ruin, he saw beneath the dust and cobwebs, the peeling wallpaper and broken glass, the kinds of architectural details that showed someone had put a lot of time and effort into its construction.
What a shame, he thought sadly, but Sean didn't allow him time to dwell on the house's pitiful state, but led him directly to the staircase. As they climbed the narrow wooden stairs to the third floor, an artist's atelier, a flickering yellow glow appeared as of candlelight, and the sound of music reached Elijah's ears.
"Sean Astin, what have you..." Elijah began, a flush creeping over him as he realized what the surprise must be, and then his voice trailed off as he reached the landing at the top of the steps. "Oh," he breathed. "Oh Sean."
The large open space had been transformed into a scene of utmost enchantment. Candles dotted the floor, dozens of them, filling the room with warm golden light. A portable stereo sat on the floor, with Sean's iPod docked in it, playing Benny Goodman. A table and two chairs had been placed on a rectangular rug in the middle of the room, directly beneath the large skylight. Though it was cold outside, the room was warm, for the glass in the three large windows had been replaced and a propane heater was running.
But that wasn't all. At the far end of the atelier, where once a broken easel had lain in the dust, was a mattress, made up with a comforter and pillows.
Elijah advanced slowly into the room, his mouth literally hanging open. He'd loved the atelier the moment he set foot in it months earlier, and now, seeing it restored at least in part to how it must once have been, his eyes teared up.
"What do you think?" Sean asked, watching him with a curious half-smile.
"I... I'm overwhelmed. I can't believe you managed all this."
"I had some help," Sean said. "Legal help, in case you're worrying," he added.
"I'm not. And anyway, it was your idea, and it's beautiful. Sean, it's beautiful." Elijah threw his arms around Sean and hugged him hard. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
"I want our first New Year's Eve together to be special," Sean said softly. "I can't think of a better place to spend it than here. Now, give me your coat and go have a seat at the table. I don't want our dinner to get cold."
Elijah, bemused, removed his coat and handed it to Sean, and then went to the table and sat down. It was covered in a fine linen tablecloth, and set with elegant gold-rimmed china plates, crystal champagne flutes and sterling silver flatware. A cut-crystal vase filled with red roses and baby's breath stood in the middle, and on a corner rested a silver champagne cooler filled with crushed ice in which a bottle was chilling. A rolling dining cart held numerous dishes covered with domed silver lids.
Sean dropped their coats on the end of the bed and joined Elijah at the table. He didn't sit down, however, but removed the lid from a tureen. "How does lobster bisque sound for starters? And rack of lamb for a main course. I planned a proper réveillon - when in France, do as the French do."
"It sounds fabulous," Elijah exclaimed, his stomach growling in anticipation.
"Why don't you open the champagne while I serve the soup?" Sean suggested, picking up a soup ladle and bowl.
"Should I shake it up first?" Elijah joked.
"Don't you dare. That's a '75 Dom Perignon, I'll have you know," Sean growled, and Elijah giggled. Sean took his champagne very seriously.
The champagne opened with a satisfying pop, but no dramatic froth of foam, and Elijah poured them each a glass. When Sean was done serving the lobster bisque, which smelled heavenly, he sat down and picked up his champagne flute.
"To us," he said, holding it out.
"To us," Elijah echoed, and gently clinked his glass with Sean's.
The champagne was superb, and the food equally so. Sean was an unabashed gourmand, and this was another area in which Elijah's horizons had been broadened in the months since they'd gotten together. But excellent as the food was, Elijah was burning with curiosity to find out how Sean had gotten access to it. Try as he might, however, he couldn't winkle any information out of Sean.
"Later," was all he said.
Elijah abandoned his attempts, and truthfully, with the moon and stars shining down through the skylight that had been cleaned and repaired, and the lights of Montmartre winking beyond the windows, with Sean sitting opposite him, his skin warmed to a honey-gold by the candlelight and his green eyes shining with love, the answers could keep.
When they'd finished dessert, a sinfully rich chocolate torte with raspberry sauce and whipped cream accompanied by more champagne, Sean pushed back his chair and got up. He went to the stereo and fiddled with his iPod, and the music changed from Benny Goodman to Andy Williams singing Moon River.
"May I have this dance, Mr. Wood?" Sean asked, holding out his hand.
"Sean, I can't dance worth a shit," Elijah said.
"Let's try this again, and this time, Mr. Wood, please observe the proprieties," Sean said patiently. "Now, may I have this dance?"
How did he do it? Elijah wondered. How did he always manage to make Elijah overcome his inhibitions and fears and laugh as he did?
"I'd be delighted, Mr. Astin," Elijah replied, getting up and going to him.
"There, that wasn't so hard, was it? Besides, anyone can do the kind of dancing I have in mind." Sean pulled Elijah into his arms, holding him tightly. Elijah rested his cheek against Sean's chest and closed his eyes, and lost himself in the moment as they turned in a slow circle, swaying back and forth, their feet barely moving.
And then that queer sensation Elijah had experienced the first time he'd been in this room crept over him, and suddenly he seemed to 'see' with some other vision, and that vision showed him two men, one tall, with hair greying at the temples, the other short and slight and much younger, and they were dancing, just as he and Sean were dancing. But it was daytime, and sunshine was pouring through the skylight, pooling around them like liquid gold, and an old-fashioned phonograph was playing a tinny, scratchy tune he didn't recognize. Canvases, some blank, some covered with oil painted scenes Elijah could not quite make out, rested against the walls, and at the far end stood an easel and on it was another painting, of a dark-haired young man, and though the features were blurred and indistinct, Elijah knew it was the young man dancing with his lover.
They were happy, so happy, these two men, despite a looming threat that hovered around them, although what it was, Elijah couldn't say. The love between them was almost palpable, while at the same time he sensed a sorrow fathomless as the sea...
He came back to himself with a start, and looked up at Sean almost dazedly.
"Is everything all right?" Sean asked with concern, holding him away with his hands at Elijah's shoulders.
Elijah gave himself a little mental shake. "Yes, I'm fine. Too much champagne, I think." He didn't feel prepared to tell Sean about his quasi-vision yet. Later, he decided, when he'd had time to absorb it. He smiled and said more easily, "Good thing I don't have to drive anywhere."
"I covered every eventuality," Sean said, glancing toward the bed. "Or tried to." Then, unexpectedly, his expression grew serious. "Elijah, I've heard it said that what you're doing when the old year ends predicts what you'll be doing in the new. So I think now is the auspicious time to explain how I was able to get the key to this house." He released Elijah and reached into his breast pocket, pulling out a plain white envelope. "The answer is in here." He held out the envelope to Elijah. "Go on, take it and open it." He glanced at his gold wristwatch. "Not to rush you, but we only have a few minutes before it's midnight."
Baffled, Elijah took the envelope and opened the flap. Inside was a single sheet of parchment paper. He withdrew it, unfolded it and stared. It was clearly some sort of legal document, written in French, and although he couldn't read most of it, the address of the house was printed on it and at the bottom was Sean's distinctive signature. It could be nothing else but a deed of sale.
"The house is ours now, Funny Face," Sean went on. "We need a permanent base in Paris, since we'll be spending so much time here, and I remembered how you said what a shame it was that such an amazing place was going to waste. So I made some inquiries and discovered it was for sale. It needs a lot of work, of course, but most of it is cosmetic. And I think we could have fun restoring the house, bringing it back to life."
Elijah couldn't speak. His heart was choking him. Sean had remembered what he said, all those months ago. He'd remembered, and even more, Elijah knew that he'd understood the strange connection Elijah had felt with the men who had once lived here. And so he'd done this incredible, generous, amazing thing. For him.
"Elijah? Say something. You're scaring me."
"Oh Sean, if you ever again try to claim that you're no good at empathy, I will... oh, I don't know what I'll do, but it'll be good, I promise you." Tears ran freely down his cheeks. "I've never been given such a gift in my entire life. Oh Sean!" He cast his arms around Sean's neck, and as he did, bells began to toll clamorously and fireworks lit up the sky around the Sacré-Cœur.
"Bonne année, Sean," Elijah shouted over the cacophony.
"Bonne année, Funny Face," Sean shouted back, lifting him exuberantly up and twirling him around.
And as they kissed, their very first kiss in their new home, the ghosts of two men merged into one, and every remnant of sorrow fled that place, never to return.
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