The Unused Room Ch. 03byvelvetpie©
Dawn spiked soft rays of sunlight into the bedroom and found Caiden standing at the window, staring out across the expanse that stood between himself and Ground Zero. He hadn't been able to sleep and he knew why. The place of Hardy's death had called to him all night, begging him to visit and Caiden had resisted, knowing that nothing but pain and desolation waited for him there. His dreams were filled with snapshots of their lives together and he could do nothing but sleep through them, waking every few hours to sob the hurt and anger away.
Michel's knock drew him from the window and he opened the door, pleased to see him. "Good morning."
"Take this, will you? It's killing my arm!"
Caiden gratefully took the carafe of hazelnut vanilla coffee that Michel was trying to balance along with a huge platter of donuts and danishes and escorted him into the apartment. "You didn't have to do this, Michel."
"Yes, I did and it's Patria's fault."
"Yes, Patria. P-A-T-R-I-A. My mother." Michel unwrapped the platter while Caiden rummaged around in the cabinets for a couple of mugs. "I told her about you and she showed up this morning with this."
"Does she think I'm starving?"
"No but she thought that you wouldn't be thinking about feeding yourself."
"So she decided that I should OD on pastries?" Caiden laughed and Michel shrugged, pouring the coffee. "Oh, well. Tell her I said thank you."
"You can tell her yourself. She's making dinner at my place tonight and you're invited."
Caiden paused, wrapping his hands around the mug. "I don't know, Michel."
"What are you going to do, eat these for dinner, too? Come on, Caiden. You've been cooped up in this place for too long."
"I'm not cooped up, Michel."
"Yes, you are. You told me that you knew you had to let him go and all you're doing is moping around in here with his memories." Michel bit into a cheese Danish and chewed, observing the other man's face. "Come have dinner with me."
Caiden looked into Michel's brown eyes and gasped. For a moment, he thought Hardy was standing there, staring at him with his usual smirk but after he blinked, he found his neighbor peering strangely at him. "All right, Michel. I'll come."
"Great!" He finished his coffee and headed for the door. "See you at seven."
Caiden watched him leave, wondering if he was losing his mind or if Hardy was trying to tell him something.
* * * * *
Promptly at seven, Caiden knocked on the door of number twenty-three and grinned when Michel flung the door open. "Welcome." He took the bottle of wine from Caiden and ushered the young man in, heading for the kitchen.
Caiden found himself standing in the midst of a gallery of canvases, some finished, others bearing the brash strokes of an artist at a crossroads, searching for his muse. Bold colors slashed here, muted pastels crept there and others just rested on the fabrics, waiting for Michel's guidance.
"Very much so. You're very gifted, Michel."
The young man shrugged. "I don't know. Keeps a roof over my head, I guess." Caiden didn't know very much about art but he knew that Michel was just being shy about his talent. "Come and meet my mom."
Michel's mother was not what he expected but then he had never expected to meet a petite French woman who attacked him as if she'd known him forever. Michel just stood back, watching as Patria Fontaine embraced Caiden with the strength of ten women, bussing his cheeks.
"I am so pleased to meet you, Caiden. Did you eat the danishes I sent you?"
"I ate one, ma'am."
"One? Only one? You're much too skinny!"
Michel put his arms around his mother and grinned at him. "Don't argue with her. It's useless."
"But he is too skinny! Look at him, Mickey!"
"I am looking at him, Mama. He's not that skinny!"
"Yes, he is. You come with me, young man. Let's put some meat on your bones."
Michel could only laugh as he watched his mother lead Caiden away. Dinner was chicken Cordon Bleu with white asparagus in a béarnaise sauce and Caiden ate heartily, feeling better than he had in a long time. Somehow, just being with Michel and his mother made his heart feel lighter. Joking and laughing, he felt almost as if ... almost as if he was sitting across from Hardy, listening to another one of his crazy stories and falling head over heels in love with him yet again. His eyes caught Michel's and a spurt of adrenalin suddenly tightened his chest as Hardy's ghostly visage overlaid his Gallic one, then dissipated like morning fog. While Patria set about packaging the leftovers, Michel gave Caiden a tour of his studio, sensing that something had changed within the young man.
"This is my current favorite." It was a charcoal drawing of his mother and himself, launching a newspaper boat into a lively stream. Caiden could see why. Michel's attention to detail was exquisite and the look of innocence on his deftly limned face made Caiden's heart leap in his chest. He looked up and saw that same innocence in the eyes that carefully regarded him. "Caiden?"
Something overtook him for a moment and he found himself reaching out to Michel, letting his fingertips linger on his downy cheek, then slowly drift down to Michel's plump lips, gently tracing their rounded outlines. "Thank you."
"Thank you? For what?"
"For being Hardy's friend," Caiden removed his fingers, suddenly shy and awkward. "And for caring about me."
Michel watched him move away, his eyes following the young man. If I have my chance, Caiden, you'll never forget that someone cares about you.