Still too cosy to move after lots of good food, all shopped out, or grateful the weekend’s finally arrived? If any of those scenarios sound familiar, then you deserve a peaceful while in a cosy seat with your favourite beverage and a story. And guess what I have? My guest today, author Olivette Devaux, has a story in tow. One that features two of my favourite characters, no less. Kai and Attila from her Wild Horses series. Now where’s my wine glass?
I’m always happy to drop by Jackie Keswick’s place and share a story or two. It’s American Thanksgiving, a time when some of us enjoy the warmth of family, and others escape to spare bedrooms or Starbucks to finish last stories, send out last emails (like I’m doing right now,) and in general retire from the bedlam of the kitchen before we can go out and re-engage with our loved ones in a civilized manner and unaided by alcohol.
But there are some who don’t have a family to go to, and there are too many who don’t get to enjoy a decent meal, let alone a feast. I wrote this story as much to remind myself of Kai’s colorful past, as to remind myself that I’m thankful for many good things in life.
Food is one of them.
Long time ago, when I was a teen, I had been a political refugee in a foreign country and food had been scarce. Those were scary and uncertain times and we found all kinds of ways to get by. My story is happy, and Kai’s story has a happy ending as well. He doesn’t forget either, though.
This story takes place toward the end of Broken Gait, and toward the last third of Sire. I will be stealth-launching Sire sometime this weekend.
Be well, and have a happy Thanksgiving weekend!
Attila closed the refrigerator door with an air of decision that boded ill for Kai’s plans for the night.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t join Tibor and Rita at Terra Terra.” His voice was full of stubborn, petulant attitude which Kai didn’t see very often. But yes, his plans to eat more leftovers and study wouldn’t hold up to Attila’s unusual decision to go out and be social.
But Terra Terra. He’d heard of the place from the parents of the students. The rich, monied, well-fed and well-exercised parents of the obliviously entitled students who rode their rented or owned horses while the parents worked their well-paid professional jobs and spent sessions with their personal trainers.
The women always had a good manicure.
The men were trim and well-dressed. Even when they stepped in a pile of horse shit, the “stardust” wouldn’t dare stick to their designer leather shoes.
“Um.” Attila cleared his throat. “Kai, really. I can’t abide another night of lasagna we’re both too tired to cook, and we can afford to go out someplace nice.” He paused in thought. “I like this place because it’s quiet. The staff… I’ve been there before, and the staff was willing to accommodate me.” Meaning, this was one of the few places where Attila didn’t have to wear earplugs and dark glasses to keep out the press of the crowds and the din of the kitchen.
Of course, one of the few places that catered to Attila’s non-neurotypical wiring happened to be set in a rarified environment that gave Kai the hives. Kai nodded with defeat rather than acquiescence, knowing he’d go anywhere, even to the opera if need be, to make Attila happy. “Okay. If we’re going someplace nice, I better go change.”
Guilt gnawed at him as he slipped into his one pair of good trousers. He’d found them in a thrift store – one affordable place in Sewickley was a thrift store with awesome cast-offs – and he pulled on a white, blue, and gray pinstripe shirt. It went with the gray slacks, and if he wore his black riding boots under them, their neutral look and the black leather belt would pull it all together.
He turned in front of the mirror, glancing at himself this way and that, trying to divine whether he would fit in.
Did any part of him shout that he’d been sleeping on a loading dock just a few months ago?
Was his long hair tidy enough, or should he redo the coppertone braid again?
He reached for the leather thong that tied off the plait when Attila entered their bedroom. “Wow. You’re…”
“You’re so gorgeous. Don’t change the hair! You want a bit of that spontaneous mess to balance out that formal shirt.” He closed in behind Kai, slid his hands around his torso, and peeked over his shoulder. He wasn’t quite tall enough to kiss Kai’s neck, but that didn’t keep him from trying.
Kai sighed, and leaned into him. He trusted Attila not to let him fall in the confines of their private space. But what about in public? If Kai managed to act wrong, or use the wrong fork or something, if he embarrassed Attila in front of the others, then what?
Would Attila still be this loving? This forgiving of his glaring flaws?
“You’re perfect,” Attila hummed into his ear. “Now let’s get going. Tibor doesn’t like to be kept late.”
AS ATTILA PULLED into a public parking lot and paid, Kai took in the quaint town center around them. The color of turning leaves gave warmth to the silvery light that spilled from the antique-looking street. The parking lot was smooth and tidy, the sidewalks were all well-maintained brick.
Not a weed anywhere.
No cracks in the facade of affluence that was Sewickley.
No dumpsters, no loading locks.
Being a stray would’ve been so much harder here, Kai thought as he considered the small town from the point of view of the recently homeless. He doubted the local convenience store clerk would save the just-expired sandwiches for him.
Where did the homeless sleep around here? Were there even any? How would the local police treat them if a man down on his luck had to camp out on a park bench?
“What’s wrong?” Attila asked. Kai hadn’t even realized he had come up to his side.
“Sorry,” Kai said, feeling all kinds of self-conscious. “Usually it’s you who has to deal with social anxiety, right? But…. but I feel like people will give me one look, and they’ll know.”
“Know that I don’t belong. Know that I’m just pretending to, you know, have money.”
Attila’s fingers slid between Kai’s, and his thumb rubbed his wrist in an apparent effort to soothe him. “I’m sorry you had to go through all that.” He swung around so they faced one another, although Kai couldn’t quite meet Attila’s gaze in the uncertain light of the street lamps. “But think, you were okay having pizza with the same people. This is no different.”
It would cost more, and the crowds wouldn’t be casual families and college students. Kai bit his tongue.
“Just do what I do when I feel out of place.” Attila’s tone was lighter than usual, as though the turn-around in their situation was funny. “Just pretend you belong. Pretend you’re someone you’re not.”
“A dom?” Kai couldn’t resist but quip.
“If that’s what it takes, sure. This will be a pleasant evening with family, Kai. With my best friend and his wife.” The corners of his mouth lifted in a hint of a grin. “Funny that my brother-in-law would figure stronger than my sister, but… but that’s how things have developed over the years. In any case, both he and Rita have been working hard and the Thanksgiving craziness will be upon us in just weeks. They need to get out as much as we do.”
ATTILA GAVE HIS lover a sideways glance as the maitre’d led them to the back of the room. They sat by the fireplace with modest, pleasant flames licking the gas logs.
A concession to convenience.
But still nice.
No need to be a perfectionist about everything, Attila chided himself. His focus should now be on Kai and on his palpable discomfort. He was faking it well to the uninitiated, but Attila knew him well enough to read the shoulders pulled back and chest thrust forward as a defensive gesture and not a sign of habitual good posture.
He would relax. He would relax and enjoy this, and Attila would make it so.
Their table was turned on an angle that was at odds with the rest of the seatings, which was Tibor’s doing, because neither Tibor nor Attila liked to sit with their back to the door. Attila smiled, thinking of the battles they had waged over the gunfighter’s seat over the years.
They exchanged hugs. Rita kissed his cheek, then turned to Kai. “Good to see you again.” She did a double-take. “Wow, and you do clean up nice! You’re… you’re amazing. Doesn’t he look amazing, Tibor?”
Tibor growled a greeting and shook Kai’s hand, then pulled him in for a bro-hug. “I’m so glad to see you guys I could cry. What a day!” He waved at the waiter. “Now we can have wine. And I’ve ordered us appetizers. I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!”
“That’s gross and you know it,” Attila said acidly, responding to an old taunt the way he always did.
They both laughed.
“It’s oysters this time. It’s almost the end of the season.” As she sat back down, she glanced at Attila and Kai with a bemused look. “Not you too, Kai! Are you another one of those people who can’t abide to have his back turned on the room they’re in?”
Ah. Attila assessed the situation, and leaned into Kai just enough for their shirts to barely brush. “Go sit next to Tibor. You can watch my back.”
Kai’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re okay with that?”
“I am when it’s you watching my back,” he said, not exaggerating too much.”Besides, not seeing the rest of the people…” A relief. “Nice. And the fire’s nice too.”
“Only if you’re sure,” Kai said, but the relief in his voice screamed gratitude.
“Very sure. Now let’s see what’s for dinner.”
NOBODY CALLED HIM out for not knowing the difference between a Syrrah and a Malbec, and even though Kai knew he’d end up driving, he had a bit of each.
“I love the currant and black pepper in this one,” Tibor said as he leaned back in his chair with mischief in his eyes.
Kai pressed his lips together and studiously exhaled as Rita drew a poorly-disguised gulp of air.
“The Malbec has less tannin,” Attila countered. “It’s softer and more buttery.”
A foot ran up the inside of Kai’s calf.
Sock, no shoe.
He snapped his gaze at Attila, who sipped some more of the wine so red, it looked black in the intimate lighting at their table.
Attila’s eyes laughed. Attila’s foot slipped up Kai’s thigh. Attila’s toes pressed on his crotch, and wiggled.
What to do, what to do? They were in this fine place where the cost of one dinner would hold a homeless man for a whole week, and Attila was playing naughty footsie with him.
Judging from Rita’s reaction, so was Tibor. He wondered who would be driving home. Both Tibor and Rita put away over half a bottle, making up for Kai’s restraint.
Gah. They’d end up making out on the rear bench of the truck’s cab as Kai would drive them home, safe and sound. That’s what friends did for one another.
That’s what family did.
The waiter ghosted to their table as though he didn’t take steps like regular people. His black slacks and shirt blended with the stone and wood of the walls, giving him a ghost-like quality. “Was everything to your satisfaction?” He looked around as though he knew it was.
Which it was. Satisfaction didn’t begin to describe it. More like heaven of the senses, Kai thought before the press of Attila’s foot cut his musings short.
“Would you like any of this to go?”
Kai’s plate glistened with few errant streaks of sauce. There was nothing to put in a little box on his end – all he had been served, the oysters and the bread with olive oil, the grilled asparagus and rosemary-scented potatoes and the steak with its amazing chestnut and roasted shallot sauce – it all sang in his veins and in his heart.
No wonder people were willing to pay good money to eat at a place like this.
“No, that’s fine.” Rita waved her hand over the half-eaten plate dismissively. Half a duck was a lot to eat, Kai imagined.
He wondered what duck tasted like. He’d caught a pigeon once and had dressed it and plucked it and roasted it over a barrel fire by the river, but it had smelled nothing like Rita’s leftovers.
Tibor had finished his fish, and Attila had only poked around on whatever he got. Some pork with apples and mustard. It wasn’t great, not to Kai’s palate, but it was food.
“I’m fine too,” Attila said. The pressure of his foot intensified.
But Kai wasn’t fine. Not by any stretch.
He cleared his throat. “I’ll take it if you won’t,” he said. “If you don’t mind.” And now he was the center of their attention, with all of them looking. He saw the surprise on Rita’s face and the embarrassment on Attila’s.
Shit, he had done it now. Now they’d all know that he used to eat other people’s scraps like a stray dog. He had “STRAY” tattooed on his forehead.
He pushed his chair back.
Attila’s foot fell to the floor. The loss of contact almost made Kai shudder.
The waiter cocked his head at Rita and Attila with a question in his eyes. “It seems like your entrees have a new fan,” he said smoothly. “Would that work for you?”
“Yes, yes of course,” Rita said, and waved the dish away. “I probably should’ve asked for a box, but you know how it is. You end up all these uneaten leftovers in the fridge a week later.” She gave an uneasy laugh.
“I AM SO sorry,” Attila said as soon as the waiter was out of earshot. “That was horribly thoughtless of me.” And it had been.
“It’s okay.” Kai’s voice drifted as though from far away, and Attila wondered where had his mind gone just then. Was he back on his concrete loading dock? Did his memories go back to the days of his no-ID, no-job reality of fishing coins out of water fountains while he struggled to get his life back on track?
Despite his well-groomed, model-gorgeous exterior, his partner bore scars hidden to the eyes of the others. Except Attila wasn’t just some anonymous “other.” He was his lover, his mentor, his friend. He had known how uncomfortable Kai had been even entering this place, a place of understated luxury and no-questions-asked service.
He had told him to fake it. To pretend to be someone else, someone more confident and unscarred. Someone who belonged.
Except Kai did belong, and so did the hunger of his soul.
“No, it’s not okay,” Attila said. He bent to the side and slipped his foot back into his leather loafer. “And you’re right. There’s no earthly reason to waste all this good food.”
Rita looked at the menu, then said brightly, “They have a wonderful chocolate cake here. How’bout we get dessert to go?”
When Attila gave her a confused look, she winked. His sister, a tough-driving negotiator who didn’t take prisoners, was making sure Kai had the sweet treat he’d never get for himself. “Excellent idea,” Attila said, knowing he’d end up feeding his cheesecake to Kai.
Of the two of them, Kai was the one with the sweet-tooth.
Kai had been the one who figured out that Attila liked the dark chocolate and mint milkshake precisely because it wasn’t cloyingly sweet.
“You guys don’t have to do that.” Kai’s eyes glistened. He blinked, then smiled.
The smile was forced, but Rita and Tibor wouldn’t know that.
“We shall order as many chocolate cakes at it takes, Kai.”
As many as it takes to make you feel welcome, and included, and one of the pack. As many as you can eat before you decide that the treat is common and forgettable.
As many as it takes to forget that wretched loading dock.
“You’re too much,” Kai laughed. It came out broken.
“No, love. I’m not enough.” Not after his depressive bouts and dark moods, not after watching Kai pick up the slack for him through a foggy wall he couldn’t break. Not after –
“No, Attila. You’re way more, and that’s more than I deserve.” This time, the smile lit up Kai’s face, focused entirely on him. No traces of cold concrete lingered as he had managed to banish his difficult past.
This time, Kai’s smile was genuine.
©2018 Olivette Devaux
About Olivette Devaux
Catch Up with Olivette Devaux’s
Wild Horses Series
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Amazon