“Aimer, tu m’as manqué. Comment étaient vos voyages?” I have not seen Mael for almost a month, and he appeared to have aged years. Each year without Marius wore on him, and he seemed particularly nostalgic this year when I talked with him on the phone.
“Mael, oh comme tu m’as manqué aussi.” I kissed him on each cheek as he opened the door to our loft apartment. I had a key but being so far removed from him with work led me to believe it was more his than mine.
“Your French still leaves something to be desired.”
I laughed, switching to English, “Spanish was my minor in school not French remember. Luckily you speak English better than my French.”
He brought me over to the small bistro table where I dumped my purse and suitcase. The one-bedroom apartment had a small kitchen and bathroom, enough for one person and an occasional guest, but my recent frequent travels made me wonder if we should spring for a bigger place. Now wasn’t a good time though. Besides my recent change in employment, Mael saved enough to start his own salon and I couldn’t be happier for him.
“How are you holding up?” The loaded question caused him to pause. I watched as he averted his gaze. Mael always got sentimental around this time of year.
“Aimer, I would like to say it is getting easier but I cannot.” He used the nickname Marius gave me. A play on the French word for love similar to my English name.
Coming in close to his body, I wrapped him in my embrace. “I miss him too.” He nodded and held me tightly. I felt his tension ease and was glad I could work in the short amount of time I scheduled to be here for him despite being busy with my new employment situation.
“Well, you need rest. Come.” He beckoned to the bedroom.
“Mael, I am not tired.”
He shook his head, “Tonight we go out and all the travel you do makes you weary. We lay down for a sieste.”
My eyes hiked up, “What about tonight?”
Walking me over to the bed, he removed my shoes before removing my coat and bringing the zipper down on my skirt. “I do not feel like staying in. I want to go to the Rocambolesque tonight.”
I sucked in my breath, “The Roxy? Are you sure?” Mael refused to return to the Roxy since Marius’ death, at least to my knowledge.
“Oui. It is time.”
He continued to undress me until I stood before him in just my slip and panties. Knowing how uncomfortable a bra could be he removed it as well. It was not strange, and it was not sexual, not with Mael. He guided me down to the bed and followed me in tucking my body next to his.
I couldn’t help but question his change to our yearly ritual. “The club holds memories.”
“Those same memories chased me for the past five years. My brother is dead. No matter what I do, I can not change it. I need to get out of the shadows.”
I smiled and even though I faced away from him, I knew he noticed. “Mael, I am proud of you.”
“Sleep now Aimer, for tonight we celebrate in style.”
I laughed, “Does that mean we are going all out?”
He returned my laugh, “Did you bring me a present?”
“Of course I did.”
“What is it?”
“Not until tonight. You just need to know that you will look fabulous in it.”
The nap stretched longer than my usual but sleep was inconsistent at best lately. Mael loved the sequined mini skirt I got him and much to my credit he did look amazing in it. If only his brother could see him.
Marius was the older brother and very protective of his sibling. From little on Mael knew he liked to dress in women’s clothes. He tried to fight it as long as possible but it was Marius who convinced him to be true to himself. Marius fought off kids who were less than kind. Marius told him the world could be his if he would just believe in himself. Therefore, Mael seemed a little more than lost after his brother’s death. I would stay early on with him in Paris but I realized, in the end, I could not help him to give up his sorrow. Mael needed to find a way to face life again on his own and no one would be happier than me to accompany him tonight at the Roxy.
The Rocambolesque, or Roxy as we liked to call it, was located in a less than upstanding part of town. The nightclub boasted an open atmosphere for us all to congregate when Marius and I would return to Paris. Marius never wanted to leave France for the reason of leaving his brother behind, but he was torn between being the protective older sibling and his American lover. In the end, it was Mael who convinced him to go. If heaven existed, I knew Marius looked down on Mael proudly.
The Roxy held certain memories for me equally hard to face but with such a surge of bravado from Mael I felt foolish even admitting it. I met Marius there all those years ago. When l saw him coming out of the private invitation-only back room on the premises he spotted me, and we were drawn to each other in a way to ignite passionate stories told of grandparents to the younger generations. Although he loved me, I knew I wasn’t enough to satisfy him and it hurt, but what hurt worse was the knowledge he would stay with me and be less than perfect because of me. Therefore, I had to let him go. Marius loved me, but he wasn’t in love with me.
I knew about his past. I knew he enjoyed sex with both men and women. He never kept it from me, choosing to be honest with me from the start. It never bothered me though. When he told me he loved me and wanted to be with me I believed it. When I brought him to the states, he said it was the second time he fell in love. And he cherished it all. The big cities of Los Angeles to the small town in Wisconsin I grew up. He loved the diversity of the climates and the hustle of the people.
But it was his third love that made him whole in a way I never could.
It didn’t take me long to find out. Marius was honest to a fault. He told me he had fallen in love with Ian, and although it broke my heart, I understood. Marius was my soul, and when you want someone to live their best life you would turn yourself inside out to give him his own happiness. Soon our union became a charade. Not on the part of Marius, but on me, so he could stay in the states and be with the one he truly loved. If given the chance again I would do the same but it wouldn’t cause my heart to ache any less.
“How do I look?” Mael came into the living room where I stood lost in my own thoughts. I turned away from the window seeming to not notice the lights of Paris anyway. Returning a forced smile to my face, I brightened when I saw him, “I was right. That skirt is you. You look, très beau.” He curtsied and turned around showing off his look.
Mael on an off day looked haggard and tired, but when he was on, he shined. The blue sequined skirt played up his shapely legs in his black pantyhose. The stilettos accentuated his strong calves making his ass look fantastic. He chose a black basque that went up modestly considering he didn’t have the chest to pull off anything more risqué. He fashioned his long brown hair in curls and it made my own hair look dull by comparison. His makeup? Flawless.
“Mael, you will drive all the men wild.” Being a transvestite proved a challenge. He had been deemed too feminine by some of his boyfriends and not feminine enough by others. And some men only took him home as a novelty, using him for some perverse fantasy only to rebuke him the next day. I watched his struggles and felt for him. He was a kind, gentle man few understood, and he so desperately wanted to find his soulmate.
“You look très beau yourself. What I wouldn’t do to have your hair.”
“My hair? You’ve got it all wrong. My hair is so thick, it takes a whole day to dry when I wash it. If you weren’t the best hairdresser in France, I might not even be able to take care of it as well as I do.” Mael had been styling my hair since I met him. As a master at design, it had gotten to the point I wouldn’t let anyone else even touch it anymore. No one could style it like Mael. He worked at a mid-level salon during the day but had bigger dreams. If it wasn’t for investing in my idea first, he would have his own place by now. It only drove me to make my business successful as soon as possible so I could pay him back.
“Absurdité. Marius always loved your hair. He called it ‘feu gracieux.’” Graceful fire.
With the mention of his brother, the gaiety of the room dampened. “Well, he wouldn’t know considering his hair looked stylish right out of bed in the morning.” If this night were to come out as a positive experience I needed to know if he was ready for whatever lay ahead. “Are you sure you are up for this?”
Mael looked me in the eye and nodded impressing me with his drive. “Let us go. Toast to a wonderful man and live like there is no tomorrow.” With that, he grabbed my hand and walked me out the door.
We garnered a taxi to the nightclub knowing our consumption of alcohol would prevent either of us from driving. If Mael was set on celebrating the life of his brother, it guaranteed a full night of festivities. Once outside the nightclub, we entered easily enough although a line waited to get in. To the trained eye, Mael was a commodity, a draw. One that most nightclubs looked for to liven up the party and Mael was in rare form tonight.
Settling in at a table, we ordered alcohol right away but I held back. Although Mael understood the magnitude of tonight as we sat drinking in his brother’s honor, I also knew his propensity to drink himself into a stupor when he was depressed and I wanted to be there for him. I took over protecting him when Marius died as a way to keep him in my life and I took my job seriously.
We drank, we danced, and we were hit on, although neither of us was in the mood to gain the attention of a lover tonight. That was until close to midnight.
Mael snagged the attention of a distinguished-looking man in his mid-thirties. Sharply dressed in business attire he appeared more of an intellectual than into frivolous fun, but after being introduced I saw a lighter side to him. His short-cropped hair reminded me of Ryder but that was where the similarities ended. Shorter than Ryder he also had less definition in his shoulders. His face had stubble on it that made sense for a man this time of night coming straight from the office. Although good-looking and seemingly sincere, I was always skeptical of any man who had an interest in Mael. I couldn’t watch him get hurt again.
After a brief spin on the dance floor, Mael made his way back to me as he looked over his shoulder to the waiting man, “We are going to leave. Ibrahim and I would like some privacy.”
I glanced over at Ibrahim and then back at Mael. “Do you think that it is wise? I mean, you don’t know him.”
He laughed, “Ibrahim knows what he is getting into. Even before I spoke to him.” Mael’s voice was his giveaway. We always laughed over the indistinct falsetto he used when he talked with a prospective lover and at least there would be no misconceptions but it still worried me.
He stopped me, “Please, Aimer, I know you love me and want to protect me the way Marius did but sometimes you need to give in and try to love again. Meeting him tonight on the anniversary of Marius’ death is a good omen. It is almost as if Marius conjured him for me.” I saw the hope in Mael’s eyes and as much as I wanted to take over for Marius, I knew I wouldn’t always be able to protect him.
“Come. We will share a ride.” His hand pulled mine in gently and a tenderness rose in his eyes and I wondered if his speech about love was more for him or for me.
Shaking my head, I pulled my hand away and nodded to the man waiting for him. “No. Go. Have fun. I will find my own way home.”
He kept his look reserved, so I insisted, “Please Mael. If you don’t want me to be protective of you, then you have no right to be protective of me. Besides, I know my way back.”
Giving me a large smile, he kissed my cheek. “We are going to Ibrahim’s place. You have the apartment to yourself tonight. Don’t wait up for me.” I laughed and looked over again at Ibrahim.
“Go easy on him. He looks a little... intense.”
Mael grinned, “I hope so.” He laughed as he gripped my hand for a slight squeeze before turning to his date and leaving into the night.
I intended to finish off my drink and leave, but what I spotted next had me stopped in my tracks.