Author's Note: So, here's the first chapter of the second draft of What it Means. No real major changes here. Mostly just fixing grammars and typos, etc. Anyway... I'm posting this as a different story mostly because my computer got a virus and all the files with the original chapters in them got destroyed, so Fictionpress is the only place I have the original chapters. That being said, I'd rather not mess with that story, because if something goes wrong and it goes boom, all of my work is gone forever. And I really don't want that to happen, so I'm just not gonna touch it so there's no risk of it going boom.
Please read and review. I like getting reviews, and they keep me motivated. There will probably be more edits and rewrites, so any feedback, good or bad, would be amazingly helpful.
Lunch had been infuriatingly uneventful. As had every other outing for the last three months. She had met Jean-Claude and his friend at an expensive restaurant that Jean-Claude had insisted was the absolute best in the area. Rose was inclined to believe him, as he had impeccable tastes and seemed like the sort of person who would have tried most of the restaurants in the area. As always, he had been a perfect gentleman. He'd held the door for her, pulled her chair out for her, he made sure that the conversation was always about something that she could talk about with as much ease as he and his friend, and he absolutely refused to let anyone else pay any part of the bill. And every move he made had been carefully and infuriatingly chaste and he hadn't given even the slightest indication that he could have been interested her as anything other than a friend.
She and Jean-Claude parted ways as they left the restaurant and, once he was out of earshot, she groaned in frustration rolling her eyes skyward as if searching for patience. She jumped as his friend spoke. "Jean-Claude got you frustrated?" he asked with a knowing smile. She shot him a withering glare, but he either didn't get the hint or refused to take notice of it. Strolling towards her, he commented, "I know he can be a bit… difficult."
When, even after another pointed glare, Claudin refused to leave, Rose burst out, "I don't understand! Why doesn't he like me?" She'd been doing everything she could think of to try to make him show some sort of interest in her, but nothing seemed to work.
Claudin answered evenly, "He does like you. Actually, I he likes you a lot. He's just very old fashioned and doesn't feel comfortable going anywhere with a young lady alone." Rose eyed him skeptically, clearly doubting his sincerity, so Claudin continued, "Look, the only reason I'm always with the two of you is because he seems to have appointed me to be his chaperone. Which, frankly, I don't have a problem with. It makes my best friend happy and I get a free meal at a good restaurant. Works out fine for me. Just, try to be patient, okay?"
A bit irately, she huffed, "Well, he certainly doesn't show it! If he likes me so much, why hasn't he said anything?"
Claudin shrugged and answered, "To be perfectly blunt, it's because he needs more time. It may be frustrating, but if you really want to have a chance with him, you're going to have to wait him out." With a faint sigh, he added, "I can talk to him and try to convince him to hurry things up a bit, but I can't make any promises." He had a feeling Rose wouldn't believe him. Jean-Claude was remarkably good at putting on a strong, confident front. To anyone who didn't know him as well as Claudin, he would hardly have seemed the type who needed months and months to pluck up the courage to talk to a girl.
With that much said, he turned to walk away, determined to go play matchmaker for his stubborn friend.
He knew Jean-Claude, and he knew full well that his friend wouldn't easily forgive himself if he lost his chance with Rose because he made her wait too long.
His eyes brightened with recognition as he saw Jean-Claude rapidly walking down the block towards his house. Claudin quickened his own pace, calling after him, "Wait up!" Jean-Claude slowed down, and Claudin caught up with him easily, commenting, "Jean-Claude, she isn't going to wait forever."
The other man looked decidedly cross, brow furrowing. However, he quickly tucked his irritation away, and schooled his features back into a calm, placid mask.
"Don't do this to yourself. I know you! You'll never forgive yourself if you let her get away because you made her wait too long. I'll do what I can to convince her to wait for you, but I'm only human. I can't make her wait longer than she feels she should." Careful to make sure Jean-Claude saw his hand first, Claudin placed a gentle hand on his friend's shoulder. "Just think about it, okay? She likes you. A lot. I guarantee she's absolutely smitten with you."
"Oh yes? Let us see how long that lasts. She will likely change her mind when I tell her… Or perhaps her father will not even let me get that far! Maybe he will throw me out of his house and forbid me to speak with her again! Or maybe…"
"Unfortunately, that's quite possible. But you'll never know if you don't try," Claudin interrupted gently.
"I think… I am rather in the mood for an opera. Would you care to join me?"
Claudin agreed. However, he commented, "Clever change of subject. If I didn't know you so well, it might have worked." In an attempt to lighten the mood, Claudin's lips quirked into a cocky, lop-sided grin and he draped his arm lazily around his best friend's shoulders, completely destroying the man's appearance of a cool, dignified aristocrat. With an exaggerated, bored tone, he asked, "And what horrible tragedy and shrill soprano are you going to torture me with this time?"
"They are not shrill," he quipped tersely. "Perhaps a Shakespearian opera this time…"
With a faint smirk, Claudin said, "Excellent! Romeo and Juliet it is! And, afterwards, we can continue our conversation about your love interest."
Jean-Claude said calmly, "It is impolite to pry." He had no interest in discussing his intentions towards Rose with Claudin. It was unnecessary, and he sincerely doubted he would even get an opportunity to let Rose know exactly what those intentions were.
However, as usual, Claudin chose to ignore Jean-Claude's not so subtle attempt to make him shut up. With a faint smirk, he said, "Good thing I don't care too much about minding my manners, then." With a somewhat mischievous grin, he added, "Oh, I know how much you enjoy a good brood, but, unfortunately for you, it's my job to make sure you keep your sulking to a minimum. Because sitting around and thinking about all the ways something can go wrong does absolutely nothing to help anyone."
Jean-Claude returned evenly, "Talking does not accomplish anything, either."
"It stops you from sulking," Claudin shot back without missing a beat.
"I do not sulk," Jean-Claude quipped indignantly.
"Oh, really?" his friend asked, raising an eyebrow, lips curling in a grin. Jean-Claude chose not to dignify his question with an answer, and Claudin's grin morphed into a frown. "Oh, come on! Yell at me, already. I know you want to." Jean-Claude was exceptionally good at hiding his emotions, but Claudin knew him well enough to understand that, underneath his façade of cool detachment, he was getting extremely agitated.
"I do not want to," Jean-Claude answered simply.
"Oh, yes you do! You don't have to play the French aristocrat with me. Go ahead and yell and shout at me. It'll make you feel better," Claudin wheedled.
"No one is playing at anything. I was born in France and I am an aristocrat. It is who I am." With that much said, he stopped walking and commented, "Here we are!" Immediately bringing any further conversation to a halt, he headed up the driveway of a large mansion, turning the key in the lock and pushing the door open. Claudin followed, not yet ready to drop the issue.
He persisted, "It isn't healthy! You can't possibly hide all you're emotions all the time! It would be enough to drive anyone mad!"
Calmly, Jean-Claude explained, "You know that I will not lose my composure in a public setting. It would reflect poorly on me and I will not damage my reputation."
Ah, yes. There he went with that damnable obsession with what everyone else in the world thought of him. Claudin didn't particularly care whether he maintained his composure. In fact, he tended to try his hardest to make his friend lose his composure just to force him to stop keeping everything to himself. In his opinion, Jean-Claude was long overdue for some sort of meltdown or tantrum. Though, to date the closest he had come to seeing his friend release any sort of negative feelings was when they watched an opera together. At least then Jean-Claude allowed himself to cry, even if he was crying or feeling angry on behalf of some fictional character instead of for himself.
He sighed, "Alright, you win. For now, anyway. Let's watch Romeo and Juliet." He had to admit, the end was a real tearjerker. Gounod had taken the not so upsetting ending of Shakespeare's play and made it absolutely heartbreaking. Even Claudin, who had been largely unimpressed by the play, found himself getting teary eyed by the end of the opera. It was more than suitable for getting the desired reaction out of Jean-Claude.
The conversation ended abruptly and Jean-Claude selected his favorite production of the opera, the one with Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna as the leads, and took a seat on the leather couch. Claudin noted with mild irritation that, even in the comfort of his own home, Jean-Claude sat with perfect posture, not taking advantage of the ability to slouch against the back of the couch or curl up in the corner the way any normal person would have. Personally, Claudin didn't see the point of having a couch at all was if he wasn't going to enjoy having large cushions and something soft to lean against. But, he knew full well that arguing the issue would have been pointless. Jean-Claude was stubborn and set in his ways, and Claudin had learned to chose his battles wisely. This wasn't one that was worth fighting, nor was it one he could win.
As Jean-Claude selected to use English subtitles, Claudin grinned a bit sheepishly and said, "Thanks," fully aware that it was for his benefit.
"You are quite welcome," Jean-Claude answered. Of course… Because it would have been rude of him to sit and enjoy the opera while the person sitting next to him had no idea what was going on. Never mind that if the roles were reversed Claudin probably would have thoroughly enjoyed watching and quietly laughing while his friend tired to figure out what was going on. But, Claudin wasn't the perfectly polite, aristocratic gentleman Jean-Claude was. And he was quite glad that he wasn't. He didn't think he could function if he was always trying to appear content and pleasant, or attempting to please everyone for the sake of courtesy. It just… Wasn't the way people were meant to live.
But, he knew he would be hard put to explain that much to Jean-Claude, so he kept his mouth shut and watched the opera.
He had to admit that, for all his teasing, the soprano really was fantastic. She wasn't at all shrill or unpleasant to listen to the way Claudin claimed all operatic sopranos were when he ribbed Jean-Claude about his rather unusual taste in music. Granted, it also wasn't something that Claudin would have decided to listen to if not for his friendship with Jean-Claude.
The scenery was also quite beautiful. Briefly, he wondered where they filmed it. He was sure that Jean-Claude had told him at one point or another—or at least a dozen times...—but he simply couldn't remember. Oh well… He'd consult his good friend, the Internet, later. He couldn't help but smile has he glanced briefly at his friend. He had leaned forward slightly, dark eyes wide with wonderment and awe. A smile crept its way across his face and he murmured under his breath, "Beautiful…"
His voice, usually so cool and neutral in tone, was almost childlike, laden with anticipation, as he commented breathlessly, "Juliet's aria is coming up."
And come the aria did!
His eyes narrowed in ecstasy. He was completely enraptured. Nothing existed save the music. He murmured quietly, "Fantastic! Absolutely fantastic! Such agility—and so high, too!" When it was over, his eyes were bright and he seemed to radiate absolute glee. And just from listening to an exceptionally well-sung aria! Claudin couldn't help but envy the music's ability to influence Jean-Claude. If he could only manage to extract a fraction of the emotion these operas did, he would be a happy man!
In fact, in the beginning, before he had begun to acquire a taste for opera, he had only agreed to watch it with Jean-Claude because he had seen just how much of a positive influence it was on him. It was almost as if, for a few short hours, he could forget who and where he was and completely abandon his inhibitions. It was good for him.
And he did cry in the end. He watched, murmuring softly, "No! Dieu! No!" But, despite his hushed, desperate entreaties, the tragedy came to pass and the couple's short-lived happiness came to a miserable end as they died, side by side, each in the arms of the other. And Jean-Claude cried. Albeit silently. He cried for the loss of life. He cried for the loss of love. And he cried for the loss of their brief, naïve hopes for happiness. Claudin remained silent, unwilling to alert his friend to his presence, lest it cut short the effects of catharsis. If Jean-Claude wanted to remain detached from the emotions present in his own life and replace them with artificial contentment, then he should at least be able to cry for someone else and experience sadness through woes that had no bearing on his own life.
When it was over and the screen turned black, Jean-Claude wiped his eyes and made to apologize for his lack of decorum. Claudin cut him off before he could get so much as a word out, saying firmly, "Don't you dare."
It was, at this point, the customary end to an opera. Jean-Claude would come to his senses and feel compelled to apologize for not behaving in a way that he though to be proper and Claudin would immediately put a stop to any such attempt. He said gently, "Don't be sorry. I know… I know you wouldn't let just anyone share this with you. I'm glad you trust me enough to let me be here."
As was customary in their conversations, there was a very abrupt change in topics. "Now," Claudin began, with the smile of a dentist who was trying to explain to a child that something really wouldn't hurt, "I believe it's time for us to discuss Rose."
Jean-Claude remained stubbornly silent, unwilling to discuss the issue.
"What are you more afraid of, Jean-Claude? That her father will say 'no', or that Rose will end up rejecting you?" Again failing to pry an answer out of Jean-Claude he placed a hand on the man's shoulder, ignoring the way Jean-Claude tensed, continuing, "If you're afraid of her father, then don't ask. No one expects you to ask her father for permission before going out with her."
Jean-Claude answered, "But it is necessary. Her father will be an impartial third party with just Rose's best interests in mind. What he decides… What he decides will be what is best for her, and I will not go against his wishes."
"But don't you think Rose can make her own decisions? And wouldn't just ignoring the urge to get permission from her father make everything so much easier?" Claudin wheedled, wishing he could make Jean-Claude see reason.
Jean-Claude shook his head, persisting firmly, "No. Rose… It is too easy for young women to be blinded and… and influenced by their emotions. And I am biased, too because I want to pursue her. But her father will not be blinded by any preconceived notions about me and he will have only Rose's best interests at heart. My own desires will not influence his decision."
Claudin sighed, "Alright. But, do try to work up the nerve to talk to him soon, Jean-Claude. Rose isn't going to wait forever." With an encouraging grin, he added, "Besides, whether you do it now or wait 'til later won't change what her father'll think of you." Attempting to bolster Jean-Claude's confidence, he added, "Besides, you've got money, you're descended from a long line of French dukes, and you know how to make a good impression on people. All of that works to your advantage."
"Unfortunately," Jean-Claude commented, "That is not always enough. At least, not anymore…"
"Well, if things don't go the way you want them to, I'll still be here for you. And Rose isn't the only charming young woman in the world. If things don't work out, you can always look for someone else."
Jean-Claude didn't look entirely convinced. He wasn't sure he could handle rejection again.
Rolling his eyes, Claudin stood up and walked across the room, picking up the phone. He placed it in front of Jean-Claude. "Call her. Explain to her that you want to meet with her father before you two go any further in developing a relationship." Grinning, he added, "Think of it as the first test. If she doesn't turn out to be some kind of Amazon, attack you for being sexist and chauvinistic, and run for the hills, than you've got a chance." Grimacing when Jean-Claude suddenly looked even more hesitant than before, he added, "I was kidding Jean-Claude! Lighten up!"
He picked up the phone, staring at it as though he expected it to grow fangs and tear his hand off.
"Call her, or I'll do it for you," Claudin threatened, wishing Jean-Claude would do something other than sit and agonize over all the possible ways things could go horribly, horribly wrong.
Nervously, he dialed her number and picked up the phone. His heart sank as someone other than Rose picked up. Still, he managed to hide his nerves and put on the mask of a confident, arrogant aristocrat, greeting, "Good evening, Monsieur Madeleine, this is Jean-Claude DuPonte. I was wondering if I might have the pleasure of speaking with Mademoiselle Rose. … Yes, my friend and I met her for lunch earlier today. … Really? I am pleased she had a good time. … Thank you very much Monsieur, have a good evening."
"Mademoiselle Rose? … Yes, it is Jean-Claude. I have a question to ask you. … I would… That is, I am interested in pursuing a… deeper relationship with you, however… I was raised in a very old-fashioned family and I would feel uncomfortable having a relationship without the consent of your father. So perhaps we could… Next Saturday? …Very well, Mademoiselle. I shall look forward to it. I will see you then. … Take care."
When he got off the phone, Claudin asked, "Are you feeling alright? Tell me the truth."
Jean-Claude, realizing that Claudin knew him too well for him to get away with lies or half-truths, answered uneasily, "No, I am not alright. I…" He trailed off, taking a deep breath. That had been abominably stupid. He wasn't ready to move further yet… He wasn't ready to be tossed out and have his heart broken again…
Claudin hastened to re assure him, "You're going to be fine, Jean-Claude. I promise." With a smile and an attempt at a jovial tone, he added, "And if it doesn't work out, you can hit me. Really hard. Okay? Or you can make me go fencing with you and whack me with one of those skinny sword things"
He shook his head and murmured, "I…"
"It'll be okay, Jean-Claude. You'll be okay. You've got the charisma and manners to make a good first impression. And everyone always says that the first impression is the most important, right?" Privately, Claudin couldn't help but feel relieved that Jean-Claude was allowing him to at least attempt to reassure him. It wasn't something that happened very often.
However, Jean-Claude merely shook his head and sent up a desperate but futile prayer begging God to keep Saturday far, far way.