A Moveable Feast
COLORFUL DISHES and hand-blown goblets in various colors, each a unique and perfectly imperfect find from a local flea market, filled the long, rough-hewn farm table. The requisite turkey warmed in the oven, along with a bevy of root vegetables and traditional Italian pastas. Willow baskets overflowed with an array of breads, some from a local panetteria, others they’d baked themselves under Jules’s careful watch. Small candles burned a warm orange with the fading sunlight, and flowers scattered around the plates echoed their vibrant hues.
David Somers stood and raised his glass, admiring the table and taking in the heady aroma of the food. It was beautiful, more so because he’d managed to pull off the change of plans without a hitch. Not that there hadn’t been a few near misses along the way, but they were all here. Safe and sound. Happy too.
Three weeks off from his job as music director of the Chicago Symphony—he always took Thanksgiving off from conducting—this time spent at his Italian villa felt a world away from the stress of managing temperamental musicians and appeasing the symphony association. David’s partner of ten years, Alex Bishop, grinned up at him, admiration plain in his expression. David had always been well organized, but this particular celebration had been something of a coup for both of them. Years ago, David would have taken pride in having done everything himself. Now, he knew there was far more joy to be found in sharing the burden and the accolades.
Alex’s expression was playful, although David knew him well enough to also see sympathy there for what David had been through to arrange the last-minute celebration at the Milan villa. A few years ago, that sympathy would have made David bristle. Now, he welcomed it because it reminded him of how much Alex loved him.
“To good friends and family,” David said, “for whom I’m always thankful.” He didn’t even try to repress a smile as he looked at the guests gathered there. It had been a very long few weeks, but it had all been worth it. Tonight he’d sleep like the dead, but for now he would enjoy the fruits of his labor.
The guests raised their glasses and drank as David took a moment to meet each of their gazes and reflect. To his left sat his sister, Rachel, her expression loving, the light in her eyes meant just for him. It had taken him too long to accept her love, longer still to accept himself. And yet here she was, as she’d always been for him.
Jules Bardon and Jason Greene sat on one side of the table. Jason met David’s gaze and raised his glass a bit higher. At first, David had worried Jason might be unhappy leaving Philadelphia behind when he gave up law and moved to Paris to be with Jules. But ever since Jason had begun managing Jules’s jazz trio, Blue Notes, David had never seen him happier. He repressed a chuckle to think what Alex would have to say about this observation. Alex so loved to tease him about what a romantic he was underneath all the “uptight conductor bullshit.”
Along the other side of the table sat Antonio Bianchi, Cary Redding, their son, Massimo, and, bundled in a carrier, their new daughter, Graziella. She squirmed and squawked, and much to David’s surprise, it wasn’t Antonio who bent down to scoop her up and give her a bottle, but Cary. David couldn’t miss the love in Antonio’s eyes as he watched Cary. Only a few years ago, David had watched Cary nearly self-destruct. A child prodigy, Cary had long been David’s top pick of cello soloists for the CSO. But in Cary’s personal life, there had never been love or support until Antonio had rescued him from a mugging that nearly cost Cary his career and his life. Antonio, too, had known more than his share of pain. Together, they’d found their future.
Directly across from David, Aiden Lind and Sam Ryan held hands under the table. David didn’t disguise his pleasure to see this; he’d known Aiden before he’d taken the operatic world by storm, had encouraged his talent and watched Aiden’s confidence soar. Of all the musicians David had mentored, Aiden had perhaps come the farthest from his humble Mississippi roots. He knew Aiden’s confidence came in part from Sam’s quiet strength. But he also knew Sam and Aiden had nearly lost each other. This knowledge only made the secret he shared with them sweeter.
David would have loved to share the holiday with several others as well, though it pleased him that so many of the people he cared for had been able to make the trip to Italy. Each face, each smile, told a story. David knew some of those stories well. Others he hoped to learn in time. Let Alex call him sentimental. He’d deny it, even though he knew it was true.
“Years ago,” he continued as the warmth of the wine relaxed the tension in his neck and shoulders, “my sister suggested a tradition. More than just giving thanks, she asked that each of us share something specific in our lives we are thankful for.” He rested his hand on Rachel’s shoulder. “I called the tradition overly sentimental. Maudlin.” Rachel’s knowing grin told him she remembered the conversation just as well as he. “But I went along with it.” He laughed, then added, “As often happens when I assume the worst, I found myself enjoying it.”
He glanced at Alex, who nodded his approval.
“Fortunately, those who know me appear to tolerate my stubbornness. I suppose that’s yet another thing I have to be thankful for.” David took another sip of his wine. “But you didn’t come here to listen to me prattle on, did you? So I’ll do my part to continue the tradition and tell you that more than anything, I’m thankful for you, my friends and family. For making the trip to Milan at the last minute. For helping make this wonderful dinner.” He raised his glass once more. “Thank you.”
Alex leaned in and kissed David as he settled back into his seat. David had always hated public speaking. “You did good, Maestro. And not just the speech. All of it.”
“There’s one thing more I have to be thankful for,” David said against Alex’s ear.
Two weeks before
DAVID TAPPED his cell phone, shoved it in his pocket, and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“Something ruffle the maestro?” Alex grinned up at him from the couch, his bare feet tucked underneath him, a pile of staff paper scattered about the floor and coffee table. He’d printed out a score for a new composition and managed to knock it off the printer tray. Of course, all the page numbers at the bottom of the sheets were cut off. Damn thing was at least thirty pages and would be a nightmare to organize.
“Nothing that can’t be managed. Unlike your score.” David raised an eyebrow and Alex saw the ghost of a grin on his face. “You could just reprint it, you know.”
“What? And waste paper?”
“You’re stubborn,” David said as he picked up several of the pages and set them on the coffee table before joining Alex on the couch. When Alex said nothing, David leaned over and feathered several kisses over Alex’s neck. “Delightfully so, of course. But stubborn nonetheless.”
Alex sighed contentedly and pushed the rest of the music onto the floor. Fine. He’d reprint the damn thing. Later. “Who was on the phone?”
“Aiden.” David spoke the name with his lips so close to Alex’s ear that Alex nearly gasped. David’s voice just did that to Alex—that sexy baritone seemed to resonate through every part of his body. Alex was pretty sure David knew what it did to him too.
“Aiden? I thought he and Sam were in Australia.”
David pulled away and offered Alex a sardonic eyebrow. “Austria.”
“Oh, come on!” Alex laughed. “You know I can hardly keep track of my own schedule. Now you expect me to keep up with his?”
“Not even the correct continent.” David went back to kissing him.
“What was he calling about?” Anything to keep David focused on his neck.
“The party in Connecticut is off. They’re also postponing the civil ceremony in New York for now.”
Alex shot up off the couch. “What? But we’ve been planning the reception for six months now! It’s only two weeks away. What the hell happened? Are they okay? I mean…. Shit. You know what I mean.”
David smiled—a strange expression for someone who’d just learned that he’d wasted four months arranging the party to celebrate Aiden and Sam’s wedding. Caterers, musicians, guests, and a dozen different schedules to coordinate.
“Okay. Fess up. Why are you smiling?”
“Aiden and Sam are fine. They’re just postponing it.” David appeared entirely calm. Too calm. Happy, even?
“Postponing? They’ve been doing that for two years now.”
“Fine. Three years. So why are you happy about it?” Alex pressed. Of course, David was yanking his chain, but he liked that. Anyone who thought David Somers didn’t have a sense of humor simply didn’t know him.
“I’m happy,” David said as his eyes brightened, “because there’s a good reason for it. In fact, there’s a wonderful reason for it.”
Alex laughed. “What reason would that be?”
“Who might be the more appropriate way of say—”
“David,” Alex warned.
“Graziella Michaela Redding.”
“Graziella? You mean….”
“Mother and child are doing quite well, I’m told.” David grinned outright this time.
“Cary and Antonio’s baby?”
“Born last night. Almost five pounds. Three weeks early but doing well.” David stood up and wrapped his arms around Alex’s waist. “A good reason to postpone a wedding, don’t you think?”
“The best.” Alex kissed David. “Should we plan a visit in a few weeks?”
“A few weeks?” David’s sly grin made Alex chuckle. “Just because we can’t have the party to celebrate doesn’t mean we can’t take advantage of the opening in everyone’s schedules.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“Thanksgiving in Milan. It’s been years since we’ve been able to get everyone together.”
“The villa?” David’s Italian villa was certainly large enough. “But—”
“Is that a problem for you? Last I looked at your schedule, your next performance is in Buenos Aires in three weeks.” David nipped at Alex’s earlobe.
“No… it’s not… ah…. Shit, David, I can’t think straight when you do that!” Alex shivered and closed his eyes. “And no. No problem for me. But didn’t you give the staff at the villa the entire month off?”
Alex knew David had completely forgotten about that particular detail. He frowned, then said blithely, “We’ll just have to do it ourselves. Jules and I can handle the cooking. You and Jason can get the place opened up. Rachel can help you with the rooms.”
“You’re serious about this?”
“Am I ever not?” David pulled at Alex’s earlobe with his teeth. “I’ll call the travel agent and look into rebooking all the air travel.”
Another kiss, a nip, and then: “The travel agent. Too complicated to handle that much rebooking online and you needn’t trouble yourself with that. Just call Jules and Jason and let them know we’ll meet them in Milan on Saturday. I’ll text them the flight information as soon as I have it.”
“Ah…. Okay. Sure. Jules and Jason.” Alex could handle that. He’d been meaning to call Jules to see how the Blue Notes album was coming along anyhow. He’d joined Jules and the other members of the trio on several of the tracks when he’d been in Paris three weeks before.
“Good.” David brushed his lips against Alex’s. “And one more thing.”
“Hmm?” Focus, Bishop, focus!
“This.” David pushed Alex onto the couch and began to unbutton his shirt. “First things first. Always.”
THREE DAYS later, Alex and David stood on the front steps of the villa, suitcases in hand. Waiting. “Why are we standing here?” Alex asked after a few moments passed and David said nothing.
“I seem to have forgotten my key.”
“You’re joking.” Of course David was joking. This was David, after all. Always prepared, always—
“I’m not joking.”
“You really don’t have the key?” Alex had only seen David make a few mistakes since they’d been together. David clearly had no idea what to do. The irony that he’d planned the entire get-together at the last minute but had forgotten something as important as a key was hardly lost on Alex.
David rubbed his chin, then turned to Alex. “I’ve never had to unlock the door.”
Of course! David’s housekeeper had always done it for him. Alex chuckled.
“I fail to see the humor in this.”
“Oh, it’s very funny.” Alex shook his head, then kissed David. “But someone around here must have a key, right?”
“Normally, yes. But Gianetta is with her family in Verona, and the caretaker is in France visiting his relatives and won’t be back until the first of December.”
“Then we’ll just have to get creative, won’t we?” Alex set the small bag he’d been carrying down on the stone path and turned to survey the grounds. From where they stood, he could see the dirt road that led through the rows of grape vines. At the edge of the vineyard was a small building made from the same stone as the main house. He headed over to the building and David followed behind.
“What are you thinking?” David asked as they reached the door. Unlike the main house, this building had no lock.
“I’m thinking,” Alex said as he opened the door, “that we need some tools.”
The shed, while dark, was surprisingly neat. Tools covered the walls, very few of which Alex recognized. Not that he had much experience with tools, but many looked like antiques. The vines that stretched down the hill from the main house were a working vineyard—no doubt some of the tools were for tending the vines. Alex nearly tripped over a box as he reached what he’d been hoping to find: a folding ladder.
“Help me get this outside?” he asked David, who eyed him warily before picking up one end.
“What do you have in mind?”
“The windows on the upper floor of the house don’t lock, do they?”
David frowned. “You can’t intend to climb up there. If you fall—”
“I’ve climbed much higher in my day.” Alex nodded to a spot under one of the side windows. “Before I met your sister, I broke in to a few warehouses.” He’d been nearly sixteen and running from the foster-care group home where he’d been living when Rachel had quite literally saved his life. She, too, had been living on the streets when she’d found him passed out in the middle of a blizzard. They’d lived together until he’d left for college three years later, and he still thought of her as his sister.
“Broke in to?”
Alex laughed. “Not to steal anything. There wasn’t anything in them to steal even if I’d wanted to. I just needed a place to sleep. The top floors were warmer and most of the offices weren’t locked.”
“I see.” David looked extremely uncomfortable. “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have anything to apologize for, David.” Alex offered him a reassuring smile. He wouldn’t have said it, but knowing what he did about David’s upbringing, he figured he’d had the better deal as a kid.
Alex opened the ladder and put his weight on the first step. It was old but sturdy. “Spot me, okay?” he asked.
“All right.” David appeared unconvinced. “Just be careful. The closest hospital is a good hour from here.”
“No problem.” Alex climbed up the ladder. The second-to-last step put him just shy of reaching the window frame. Not close enough.
“I really don’t think this is a good—”
Alex climbed one more step, wobbled a bit, then reached out for the windowsill. He pushed on the wood with the heel of his hand. It didn’t budge.
“Alex,” David said, sounding genuinely worried now, “I don’t think this is a good idea. Surely there must be some other way inside.”
“Don’t worry. I can do this.” Alex hit the window harder this time, and the two sides swung inward. Unfortunately, he used a bit more force than he’d intended. The ladder shook, and Alex teetered on the platform. He struggled to regain his balance, but the smooth leather soles of his dress shoes slid against the wood.
Shit. He reached for the windowsill and scrabbled for purchase on one of the rough stones of the ancient façade that stuck out a few inches, right under the sill. His feet found an indentation where the grout had deteriorated a bit. He prayed the stones were in better shape than the mortar, since he figured it was at least twenty feet down to the stone patio. There was nothing to break his fall. He needed to get a grip on the sill to steady himself.
“Alex!” David shouted from below. His voice shook with concern.
The narrow perch did not crumble. Alex used the stones to push himself upward and tried to latch on to the sill with his free hand. Again, his shoes slipped and he missed the wood. One of his shoes fell onto the flagstones below and made a tapping sound as it hit.
By now, the muscles in his right arm were protesting and his fingers were numb. Pain lanced from his forearm to his shoulder, sharp and deep. He couldn’t hold on much longer—even having his toes freed to shore up his foothold wasn’t enough to support him. He reached for the window frame with his other hand and began to haul himself up.
He ignored the splinters that dug into his hands and arms as he took a deep breath and swung first one leg over the sill, then the other. He landed unceremoniously on the floor of one of the guest bedrooms. For a moment he just sat there, trying to catch his breath. His heart pounded against his ribs. Sweat dripped into his eyes and stung. He wiped his face with the back of his hand.
David. He needed to let David know he was fine. It took him a full minute to get to his feet. His legs ached and his only thought as he flexed the muscles in his hands was to be thankful he hadn’t broken anything. He wobbled over to the window. “I’m okay,” he said as he peered outside a moment later.
David looked up at him, stone-faced. Alex knew that look. It was the look David reserved for temperamental artists in the middle of a meltdown or taxi drivers who tried to gouge him. Alex had never been on the receiving end of David’s “icy stare of doom,” as Rachel liked to put it.
Two minutes later he unbolted the front door and met David outside. “Sorry about that,” he said, hoping to head off the lecture he was pretty sure was on the tip of David’s tongue.
For a moment David just stared at him. Then, without warning, David grabbed him around the shoulders and pulled him tight against his body. When David spoke, his voice was barely a whisper. “Please don’t ever do that to me again. I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you.”
Alex returned the embrace and sighed. “I won’t,” he said. “I promise.”