Sébastien could hear Tamlyn's voice in the kitchen and he followed the lilting sound, wondering how only a few weeks earlier he had found the noise so revolting. But he rarely heard it now as Tamlyn had kept to her promise to leave him alone and spend more time out of the apartment.
"This is your third date with him this week, isn't it?" Sébastien heard his father ask and he stopped in the doorway.
"It is," Tamlyn confirmed and giggled.
Sébastien frowned. It was only Thursday. Why would Tamlyn be spending that much time with a guy?
"You like him then?" Pierre asked and Sébastien watched as the American shrugged.
"I do like him. He's really sweet."
"He's a lucky guy," Pierre said, glancing up at Sébastien and holding his gaze for a second too long. Tamlyn must have noticed because she turned around and looked over her shoulder and then immediately stood up from her chair.
"I have to finish getting ready. I'll see you tomorrow." She smiled sweetly at Pierre and then rushed past Sébastien without a word.
Sébastien watched her walk down the hallway and then turned to see that his father was glaring at him.
"Go after her," Pierre said in French.
"No. Why should I care if she's going out on a date?"
"I don't know why you should care, but you do," his dad responded quickly and Sébastien rolled his eyes.
"Then you're more stupid than I thought," Pierre snapped at him. "Both of you have been walking on ice around each other ever since she stopped working in the store. What happened?"
Sébastien opened his mouth to lie but Pierre beat him to it. "And don't talk to me about Piper because I know that's not the reason."
Feeling slightly defeated, Sébastien hung his head. "I said something I shouldn't have and she wouldn't listen when I tried to apologize."
"What did you say?"
"That's just it. I don't know what I said but whatever it was, it was enough to make the girl slap me pretty hard across the face."
"She slapped you?" Pierre smiled and Sébastien rubbed his cheek, remembering the sting.
"And now she won't talk to me so I don't see the point…"
"The point is that you care about her."
"I don't," Sébastien argued.
"Bastien," Pierre used his childhood nickname, "this is the first conversation we have had over the past few months that doesn't involve football or the store financials so she means enough for you to want to talk about her. Now, I know that Tamlyn can be a lot to handle. I know that she can be annoying but there is something about her which gets to you. You've been struggling with your emotions around her since she showed up and it's time you did something about it."
"What am I supposed to do?" Sébastien no longer saw the point in denying anything from Pierre. He wasn't like Luc, he wouldn't drop a subject until he had his way. "She will barely talk to me now."
"Just keep trying until she does. She's hurting too, you know?"
"Going on three dates in one week? That must be painful," Sébastien said sarcastically and left the room before Pierre's knowing smile even had time to show itself.
Sébastien tried to concentrate on his book that evening but his thoughts kept traveling back to Tamlyn. He could remember the feeling of her in his arms, the exact taste of her lips and the feeling of emptiness he had felt as he watched her run out of the store. He knew his father was right, that there was a reason Sébastien couldn't get over what had happened. Weeks had gone by and he now felt stronger than ever about the silly American, however inexplicable those feelings were. Determined to speak to her, Sébastien listened carefully for her to return, ready to jump out of his bed at a moment's notice and corner her in the hallway, forcing her to listen to his apology again and again until she accepted it.
The rain that started to fall around ten that evening drowned out any noises Sébastien might have been able to hear from the entryway. He waited another half an hour, pacing back and forth in his room, trying to think of what to say to her, some valid excuse he should have to be waking her up at one o'clock in the morning which is when he figured he would have found the courage to do so. But he found neither courage nor excuse, only a headache caused by anxiety and too many visions of her gorgeous red hair.
Storming out of his room, Sébastien made his way to the kitchen, cursing himself for being such an idiot and letting Tamlyn infect his brain with her singing and her stupid stories of nonsense. But his foul mood changed instantly when he rounded the corner and saw the very object of his frustration standing on her tip toes, reaching for something high on the top shelf. Her long, navy blue nightshirt was riding up her perfectly shaped leg, her thick socks were gathered around her calves and her hair was still damp from the rain. Sébastien smiled as he watched her reach for a bowl, knowing she was never going to get to it without some help. Eventually she gave up and turned to find a chair to stand on but quickly blushed when she saw him standing there staring at her.
"I thought everyone was asleep," she said quickly, pulling her nightshirt down as far as it would go.
"No," Sébastien said as evenly as he could. He couldn't stop looking at her, she had never looked so beautiful to him as she did now.
"I wasn't making too much noise was I?"
"No," he said again. "I came for a bottle of wine."
"Rough night?" She asked and smiled at him.
"Something like that."
"Mine wasn't any better. I came for ice cream," she said, a slight giggle following.
Sébastien grinned but didn't say anything. If her date had gone well, she wouldn't be seeking comfort in a bowl of ice cream.
"Well, I'll let you get your wine," Tamlyn said rather awkwardly. She didn't know why Sébastien hadn't moved from the door, she didn't know why he was looking at her like he hadn't seen her in decades. "I really shouldn't be eating ice cream this late, it's not like I need it."
"And I shouldn't be drinking an entire bottle of wine by myself," Sébastien said quickly and took a few steps toward her. "Stay, have a glass with me."
His request, or rather his command, caught Tamlyn completely off guard and she immediately shook her head. "I can't. I should go to bed."
"Please, Tamlyn? Please stay with me." The look in his eyes was desperate, something she had only seen once before.
"Why?" She asked softly.
"Because we need to talk."
"About what? I don't think there is anything to talk about."
"You know that's not true," Sébastien said, shaking his head at her.
Tamlyn pushed a hand through her damp hair. "I don't see why you would want to discuss anything. We've been fine these last couple of weeks. I've been leaving you alone and staying out of the apartment. We've hardly said more than three words to each other."
"That is what bothers me."
"But it's what you wanted," Tamlyn reminded him and Sébastien cringed.
"No," he said quickly. "You were right, Tamlyn. I didn't know what I wanted. I was blaming you for being unhappy but," he paused and took another step toward her. "but if I was unhappy before, I am miserable without you."
Tamlyn smiled and then bit her bottom lip.
"I've said something to please you," Sébastien noted and gave her a small grin.
She nodded and then quickly removed the smile from her face. "Every girl likes to hear that she is right, Sébastien. That's no secret. Hearing it from you just makes it that much sweeter."
Tamlyn had known all along that she had been right, but what she enjoyed hearing most was that Sébastien had been miserable without her. She had been a complete mess without him. She thought about him day and night, knew that she had left him with no explanation and no reason for her behavior. What he had done, he hadn't done it out of spite or hatred, he simply hadn't known any better. She knew that he deserved to understand the truth, but once she was ready to explain it to him she felt as if too much time had passed.
She smiled again as Sébastien walked past her and pulled out a chair at the kitchen table, gesturing for her to sit down. Slowly, she moved toward the chair and took her seat, straining to look at the table instead of over her shoulder as Sébastien pulled a bottle of red wine from the cupboard and opened it. Two glasses were put in front of her and her host brother poured each of them a generous amount.
"To new beginnings," he said in French and held up his glass.
"To understandings," Tamlyn countered and they both drank, she more than he. She knew that this conversation was going to be difficult. She knew that Sébastien probably wasn't expecting what she was about to tell him, but that didn't matter anymore. He claimed he wanted to talk, and talking she could do.
"All right," Sébastien started and Tamlyn waited for the question she knew was coming. "What did I say to make you hit me that day in the store?"
"First of all," Tamlyn started, taking another sip of her wine, "I didn't hit you. I slapped you. There's a difference."
"Fine," Sébastien conceded. "Why did you slap me?"
Tamlyn took a deep breath. "It was what you said about my parents."
"Remind me," Sébastien requested and waited as Tamlyn composed her thoughts.
"You said that having my mom and dad pay for a plane ticket wasn't an accomplishment seeing as they probably sent me away because they couldn't live with me."
"I did say that, didn't I?" Sébastien smirked and Tamlyn glared.
"You did." She took another sip of her wine and looked deep into Sébastien's eyes. She hadn't told many people this story, even some of her closest friends were only given the short version, but Sébastien was different. She knew he would take her story for everything that it was worth. "My mom left us when I was 14. She had just had my given birth to my younger sister, Celia, and married my step dad two weeks before she was born. I came home from school one day to find Celia by herself in her crib, screaming and crying. There was a note from my mom saying that she couldn't take it anymore. Two kids was enough to deal with but three was just too much. She promised to call us each Christmas but that never happened.
"My step-father was left with two children who weren't his and one infant who looked nothing like him. Jordan and I, we still don't know who our father is and we aren't entirely positive who Celia belongs to either. Still, he agreed to take care of us, which to him meant drinking and beating my older brother. He would never try anything with Celia and Jordan kept him away from me as much as possible. When Jordan turned 18, George kicked us out and it's been the three of us ever since."
Sébastien stared at her in disbelief. "How old were you when he forced you out?"
"I turned 16 one month after we moved out," Tamlyn said as if it didn't bother her at all. Sébastien stared at her, wondering how someone so oblivious could be so strong. "I found a part-time job at a restaurant, Jordan started working construction during the day and bartending during the evenings. Together we paid for daycare and hospital bills, groceries and rent. I wanted to get a fulltime job after I graduated but Jordan wouldn't let me. He said I needed to go to college so I took the scholarship in DC and kept my part-time job. With Celia starting school this year, Jordan's tips and salary are enough to pay for rent so I was able to come here. I've been saving for nearly two years for this trip."
Sébastien didn't know what to say. If she had told him this story under different circumstances, he may not have believed her. But as it was, he couldn't see one hint of invention in her face. Every emotion had seemed legitimate, no detail seemed imagined.
"You implied that my parents didn't want me," Tamlyn told him, not sparing his feelings in the slightest. "You now see that you were in fact correct. My dad, if he even knows of my existence, never claimed me, and my mom left me with a man who knocked her up one night in New York, someone she had known for less than a year."
Sébastien reached for her hand across the table but she pulled it away before he could touch her. He was hurt but knew that he deserved it. "I said it to make you angry," Sébastien admitted. "But if I had known… please believe that I never would have mentioned your parents had I known."
Tamlyn stared at him and eventually nodded her head. "I believe you."
"I really am sorry. Truly sorry."
A smirk crossed Tamlyn's face. "It's your turn now, Sébastien," she said, disregarding his apology. "I've told you why I was so upset, now you tell me why you are so angry all the time."
It was Sébastien's turn to take a long sip from his glass. After everything Tamlyn had told him, he was afraid she would judge him once he told her what had been really bothering him. His problems seemed so minimal compared to hers. "I'm angry because I don't know what I want out of life."
Tamlyn raised her eyebrows and started to smile but quickly caught herself. "Go on," she prompted.
"Correction," Sébastien smiled. "I didn't know what I wanted out of life. I have a degree which I don't want to use, I have money which I don't want to spend in Paris and I have a family who thinks I'm crazy for wanting anything other than those things which they have already handed to me on a silver spoon."
"What do you want to do then?"
"I still don't know," Sébastien smiled at her and Tamlyn felt her heart flutter. She had never seen his genuine smile before and what she was witnessing now could light up all of Paris. His entire face was smiling with his lips and it was contagious. She felt herself grinning back at him although she didn't know why.
"I'm going to travel," Sébastien told her. "I'm saving money so I can see the world but even that doesn't satisfy me. If I knew that I was going to find what I was looking for out there, then I might be content. But as it is, I don't really know why I'm going."
Tamlyn finished her glass of wine. "You don't always have to have a reason for doing things. Sometimes you should just do them for the sake of doing them, not for some ulterior reason."
"Have you ever done anything like that?" Sébastien poured them more wine and Tamlyn laughed.
"I do things like that all the time. They clear my head, make me remember what is important."
"Example," Sébastien demanded and smiled at her again. He couldn't believe how easily they had fallen into this conversation. He felt as if he didn't want to hide anything from her now that he had finally opened up. Talking to Tamlyn was liberating and he felt as if he could tell her his deepest and darkest secrets and she wouldn't judge him.
"Tonight is a great example," she said with another laugh. "I went out with Henri, this very cute guy I met at school. We've been dating for about two weeks now and he's been showing me all over Paris and we've been having a great time."
"But?" Sébastien prompted.
"But I don't like Henri that much," Tamlyn sighed dramatically. "He's the sweetest guy ever, he never lets me pay for anything and always tells me how pretty I look and how cute my accent is. But that's about all there is to him. He's smart and all, but not very funny and lets me talk for far too long. Even I get tired of hearing my own voice when I'm around him."
Sébastien laughed. "So why do you still see him?"
"Well that's just the thing," Tamlyn said, straightening her back. "I have no reason to keep seeing him but no reason to call things off. What else am I supposed to do? I've been working nearly 30 hours a week and taking care of a small child for the last five years of my life, not to mention going to school full time, and now I'm here and I can't afford to go out with the girls and I can't work in the cheese store, as dull as that sounds, and I can't hang out in the apartment for fear of running into my horrid host brother, so what else am I supposed to do?"
"Am I really horrid?" Sébastien asked, fearing her answer.
"Yes," Tamlyn said. "You are terrible. And I know that I provoked you on so many occasions but you never gave me a chance."
"I'm sorry," he said with a small smile. "What you said about me blaming you for being miserable was absolutely correct. I shouldn't have taken it out on you."
Tamlyn studied his face for a second before nodding her head. "Apology accepted. I'm sorry I knowingly irritated you."
They stared at each other in a mutual understanding, both of them smiling at their small victories and conceded defeats.
"I guess living with each other should be a little easier now," Tamlyn smiled at him but Sébastien frowned. No. Living with her would not be easier now. He longed to touch her again, feel her against him and hold her until all of her pain went away. He didn't know if she felt pain any longer. She was strong, but he wanted to show her that there were people in the world she could trust. People besides he brother she could count on to never leave her.
"So," she said, sipping her wine casually. "You said you didn't know what you wanted out of life, but you are going to travel even though you don't know if you'll find what you are looking for. What are you looking for then? What do you want?"
Sébastien smiled. He was glad she was asking questions, glad that she felt comfortable enough with him to push him for answers. And he knew this next answer would shock her beyond belief. "That's simple. I want you."
Tamlyn blinked and then laughed. "I'm sorry, what?"
"I want you," Sébastien repeated, not stuttering or hesitating. "Ever since I kissed you, I knew that I had found that one certainty, that one thing I wanted." Admitting this out loud was actually quite terrifying for him. He had never admitted it to himself, even in those ideal daydream scenarios that ran through his head whenever he thought about Tamlyn and this conversation. But there was no doubt in his mind that Tamlyn was supposed to be in his life. No one had affected him like she had, nothing had moved him as much as her story had.
Tamlyn sat back in her chair and gave him a puzzled look, not exactly surprised at his statement, yet not fully believing it either. "About that kiss," she started. "Why did you do it?"
Sébastien smiled again, his genuine smile that made Tamlyn's heart jump in her chest. "I wanted to do something to anger you. You had slapped me and I didn't want to physically hurt you but I knew I needed to do something. I didn't really think about it until it was too late."
Tamlyn nodded her head. "Right. That's the worst excuse for a kiss I've ever heard."
Sébastien laughed. "But it's the truth. And now I can't stop thinking about how I'm going to get you to kiss me again."
Tamlyn laughed this time. "That is never going to happen."
"To start, this is the longest conversation we've ever had and if you look at our history, we can barely go ten minutes without fighting. Then there is the fact that we live together and I can't have you just kissing me whenever you please. That would just be weird."
Sébastien couldn't argue any of that with her. They did fight like crazy and he wasn't sure he would be able to stop himself from screaming at her if she started to annoy him. And she was living with him until the following June which would make things very awkward if they were to engage in anything more than a friendly relationship. But there was that part of him that wanted her more than anything, that part of him which yearned for her and needed her.
"I don't care," Sébastien said. "I think that despite everything, you liked that kiss and wouldn't mind if I kissed you again."
Tamlyn blushed, partly embarrassed because he was right, partly turned on by his sudden confidence which so many French men possessed yet Sébastien, up until now, seemed to channel into hatred for her.
"Maybe that's true. But it's still not a good idea."
"It's probably not," Sébastien agreed and leaned toward her. "But sometimes you should do things just for the sake of doing them."
Tamlyn smiled and then saw the urgency in Sébastien's eyes. She couldn't deny that she had thought about that kiss, thought about how it would have been completely amazing had the circumstances been different. Sébastien had felt so strong with his arms around her, so sure of himself as he forced her to kiss him. She wasn't used to surrendering control like that, but she had felt temporarily safe with him, even if it had only lasted for a matter of seconds.
She leaned closer to him and smiled. "Did you want to try it right now?"
"If you don't mind," Sébastien said in a very laissez-faire manner which caused Tamlyn to giggle. "I promise, it will be nicer than the last time."
"Oh, really?" Tamlyn laughed as Sébastien's hand reached for her face.
"Really," he said, his voice deep and rough. Tamlyn closed her eyes as his face neared hers. Her lips were tingling in anticipation and she nearly fainted when she finally felt his mouth touch hers. His hand reached for the back of her neck and held them together as he gently kissed her. She could taste the wine on his lips and then on his tongue as he softly deepened their embrace. Soon, Tamlyn felt herself reaching for him, wanting to feel more than just his lips. Her hand touched his face and she felt his scruffy chin and jaw, his smooth cheek bones and then his unruly dark hair. She heard Sébastien's chair being shoved to the side and felt him stand up without breaking the kiss. She followed suit and they stumbled around the table in their rush to hold each other, both finally finding their footing and pressing against the other with an unparalleled sense of urgency.
Sébastien had been right. This kiss was far and beyond the last one they had shared. It was better than any Tamlyn had ever experienced and she never wanted it to end. Sébastien kissed her again and again, each time surprising her with how soft yet commanding he could be. She ran her hands up and down his spine, through his hair and over his shoulders, loving the feeling of his reciprocation as he grasped at her hips and lower back.
But she knew it had to stop when she felt herself reaching for the buttons on his shirt. She couldn't get carried away, not here in the kitchen, not after all the progress they had just made. She pushed lightly on his chest and took a step away.
"Enough," she said, regretting it instantly. Her eyes opened and she watched as Sebastian's face went from bliss to complete satisfaction in just a fraction of a second.
"For now," he stipulated and she laughed. She liked this new Sébastien, the one who could joke with her and, dare she say it, flirt with her. He was still almost a complete mystery to her, but she knew that was the part that intrigued her, the part she liked the most.
"We're in trouble, aren't we?" She smiled at him.
"Yes," he answered. "A huge amount of trouble."
A simple nod of her head was enough for both of them as they were left with the understanding that they were absolutely crazy to hope for anything good to come of this. But that didn't matter to either of them. Whether this was something that would last or something that would leave them both with broken hearts, they both knew they needed to see it through. There was no denying it anymore, no point in trying to avoid it or hide behind empty insults and clever mocking. That kiss put them in it too deep and there was no backing out.
"Goodnight, Sébastien," Tamlyn said, stepping around him as she smiled up into his grey eyes.
"Goodnight, Tamlyn," he replied and watched her blush and walk away.
The half empty bottle of wine was forgotten, as were the glasses on the table and the turned over chair on the floor. Sébastien went to bed that night with a clear head and a heart full of anticipation for the first meaningful thing he had set his mind to accomplish.