After Cody and Luigi had left them, Keith and Esmé and Jason had ordered another bottle of champagne and proceeded to get tipsy.
Jason looked at the other two and then kissed them each on the cheek, Esmé first and Keith afterwards, leaning across the table to reach him. With a catch in his voice, he said, “Thank you for being you, you two. I’m so glad I met you.”
“I’m glad you walked in through that door all those months ago.” Keith was a little teary too, the news that Jason was going to stay combined with the champagne, making him emotional. In his life he’d encountered so many arseholes, so many selfish, narcissistic, cruel people, men who’d hurt him during sex and had thought it their right to do so. They’d paid for it, hadn’t they? And here was Jason, a wealthy lord, the son of a fucking duke for Chrissake, who loved him for him. For him. Not because he was handsome, or rich, or sexy. Just because. He knew that Jason wasn’t in love with him, but that didn’t matter. He was a true friend. Somebody he knew he could rely on. Somebody who wouldn’t judge him or betray him.
Esmé felt again how likable Jason was, and how fond she had become of him since she had met him that first day. Some dam of sorrow broke in her, and she felt its waters flow out of her into the ether, leaving her feeling oddly drained but happy, not weighed down by the past, by her father’s rapes and her mother’s cowardice and fear. She was she; she had friends, and they were here. It didn’t matter that she was in love with Keith and that he didn’t feel the same love for her. What mattered was that they were as fond of her as she was of them.
She took Jason’s hand in hers. His hands were big and strong, with nice proportions and (she was glad to note) clean fingernails. Keith wasn’t exactly grubby—well, just a bit—but his fingernails weren’t always pristine. Jason started to stroke her hand with his, and she felt the connection between them spark a current which seemed to run straight from her heart to her fingers and back again.
“Have you got to work tonight?” he asked her, his finger tracing lines across her palm, again and again, in a rhythm which hypnotized her with a dreamy mixture of lust and affection.
“Yes. Well, I should. I have essays due. And stuff.”
He squeezed her hand then let it go. “Pity.” His grin was like that of a naughty boy, caught out in some prank; his blue eyes mischievous, electric, and alive.
She smiled at him. Keith was watching this interaction, his brown eyes knowing but kindly and warm, a small smile tickling his lips. He’d been through too much to judge, or mock. He was willing to share. She lay her head on Jason’s shoulder, and sighed, and he slipped his arm round her. “Tous pour un, un pour tous,” he said. “For ever.”
“D’accord!” replied Esmé.