Well, I'm rubbish, aren't I? Sorry guys, I just had a lot of emotional stuff happen in my life. I confessed to someone and got rejected so, I haven't really felt like writing. But I managed to finish this chapter. Thank you so much for sticking around, you don't know how much it means to me.
I'd like to say a special thank you to Dionnysia who beta-read this chapter. You helped so much! Thank you!
Fear and Loathing in London Town
As of yesterday, I hadn't heard from Francis or Matthew in a total length of two weeks. Bloody typical of Francis, that is. Take my money and affection and spit on it in a true French fashion. I had been worried sick about them – I don't trust that Francis' friends are a good influence on the impressionable toddler. I imagined all of these horrible things happening to Matthew, like having to listen to Antonio's appalling wailing whilst he plays the guitar or walking into Gilbert's bedroom after nine o'clock. And on top of that, he has an eccentric Frenchman to deal with. The poor sod.
This morning, I got a phone call from Francis (a weary Francis, at that) requesting that I babysit Matthew for the evening whilst he goes to work. Apparently everyone else on the entire sodding planet is too busy to take care of an orphaned toddler on a Saturday night. Francis had been sure to remind me of all of Matthew's traumatic experiences so far of his life, knowing very well that I wouldn't say no.
What if I'd had plans? What if I had made a meticulous plan for my weekly pub crawl? What if I had wanted to get pissed tonight? No, all of my plans had to go on hold so that I could look after Matthew, who is currently sitting in front of my television; he looks positively enchanted by the screen, as though he's been hypnotised. I can't help but wonder if he should be sitting that close to the television or not. What if there's some sort of radioactive leak from the screen filtering into his head? Francis would kill me if anything happened to Matthew.
"How about you sit on the sofa? It will be much more comfortable up there," I ask tentatively and receive a long look from the child in response. He looks a little afraid of me, which in turn is making me feel all the more anxious.
"Sofa?" he echoes.
"The couch," I grimace at the Americanism.
"Couch?" Perhaps French will help.
"Yes, the, um…can-ah-pay."
"Canapé?" Matthew just looks even more confused. Bugger.
I stop hovering in the doorway and sit on the sofa, as afore mentioned.
"Like this. This is the sofa, you sit on them." Or do you not have them in Canada?
"Oui, c'est un canapé!" He (fleetingly) seems pleased with himself and waddles over, picking up his white teddy bear. He starts to look nervous again as he struggles up on to the furniture, sitting beside me. "Pardon-moi, monsieur. I did not understand what you said."
"Sorry, my French is absolutely appalling," I reply with a groan. How the hell did I ever get any qualifications in the sodding language? "I hope that I haven't confused you too much."
But Matthew isn't listening; he's too busy watching the cartoon that he had come over with. Unless I'm wrong, it's some sort of Disney film. I never really watched them as a child but I can assume that from the singing candlestick that this is a Disney film. My only problem with this particular DVD is that it's in French. Francis seems to making barely any effort at all to immerse Matthew into British society.
Matthew giggles in delight suddenly, startling me out of my thoughts. The candlestick seems to be trying to woe a decidedly smaller clock. I don't know what it is about that candlestick, but I can't help but be reminded of Francis by it.
Not wanting to think about the ponce, I get up to grab the manuscript that I have yet to finish reading from the kitchen. I had been making tea, but it was probably cold now.
"Where is Papa?"
At this I raise my eyebrow, turning back to look at Matthew. He becomes a little embarrassed and cuddles his bear close to his chest.
"Papa…? Do you mean Francis?"
"He is Papa," Matthew grins at me, innocent as ever. I can't help but feel unnerved.
"Francis is Papa?"
"Oui," Matthew is starting to look at me sympathetically, as though I don't understand any language that exists on earth.
"Papa is Fr-"
"Where is he?" he pouts a little.
"He's at work."
"Yes." Typical of fucking Francis to let the kid call him 'Papa'.
"Oh…" and he turns back to his film but quickly gets a second wind. "When am I going home?"
"You are staying here tonight, Matthew. Francis will be here in the morning, okay?"
"The morning?" Matthew's eyes widen and his eyes begin to water. I can barely deal with crying myself, let alone Francis or his nephew. He starts to wail at a ridiculous volume, his face becoming red; tiny fists grip his bear tightly.
After getting over my agitation at the irrational reaction, I can't help but feel my chest beginning to ache. This poor child. He's lost everything and here I am being an insensitive bastard just because he wants to call his uncle his 'Papa'. Before I'm even aware that I'm moving, I'm kneeling in front of Matthew on the floor.
"Matthew... M – oh God… um, don't cry, lad. Please don't cry," I place my hand on one of his knees, giving a gentle squeeze. It doesn't seem to do a lot, Matthew is taking huge gulps as he breathes, hiccupping every so often. It almost makes me want to cry, too.
"Shh," I hush, now awkwardly petting at his curly blond hair. "Come on now, it's not all that bad. You'll see him in the morning."
"Je veux Maman et Papa!"
"I'm sorry, sweetheart…" I can't believe that I've said that to him. Why am I sorry? It's not my sodding fault that Francis is a twat and that his mother has died. It's cruel of me to be so blunt about it but what the hell am I supposed to do? I have no idea how to look after children. "Look, Matthew, how about I make you some hot chocolate?"
"Chocolat chaud?" he echoes after sharply inhaling a few times to calm himself down.
He nods erratically.
Eventually, I manage to settle him down with a mug of cocoa (because I don't have hot chocolate usually). His cheeks are still pink, tears clinging to his eye-lashes. He reminds me faintly of Francis the other week when he was crying. He isn't all that much like Francis in personality, though. Matthew is incredibly sweet behind all of the tears. Soon enough, I'm sure that he'll calm down completely. Crying doesn't seem like a normality for him because he screams much too loudly, as though he's in agony. It's painful to listen to.
We spend the remainder of the evening watching the various cartoons that he's brought with him and he doesn't protest when it's time for bed. He does, however, request a story once he's been dressed into his pyjamas (which I had to help him with – it's easy to forget how difficult such simple tasks can be when you're a child).
"Yes, yes. I'll tell you a story."
He shoves a book at me and I frown a little bit. The front cover doesn't look particularly interesting, certainly not what I'd call fiction anyway. And it's in French. It's almost like he's mocking me.
I eye Matthew carefully and he tilts his head as though he's unaware of what the problem is. Surely our past experiences with my horrible French had done enough damage to his ears?
"Wouldn't you like it if I told you another story, instead? I'm sure that you've heard this one lots of times."
"Non," Matthew shakes his head. "That one."
I sigh heavily.
When Matthew has finally fallen asleep, I can't help but feel equally as tired. This is partially why I have never had any interest in children. Okay, well that's not true. Perhaps I've thought about having kids once or twice but, honestly, I don't stand a chance. Not only am I extremely unattractive but I'm in a very complicated relationship with frog face.
It's times like these that I'm glad that I have a guest bedroom.
Just as I've managed to drift off to sleep in my own bed, the doorbell rings. Bloody typical. I blearily open my eyes and check the time on my phone. It turns out that I've been asleep for several hours; it's almost one o'clock in the morning. Who the hell is at the door? I bet that it's those kids from the other week, or just some drunk git who thinks that they've come home for dinner.
I close my eyes again, ignoring them as the doorbell rings again. Then my phone begins to buzz. A new message.
Let me in, mon lapin.
Oh joy. I roll over and try to fall back asleep. Fuck him, he can stand out there all night. The phone buzzes again.
Don't ignore me.
With a sigh, I haul myself out of bed and to the front door, holding down the buzzer to speak to him through the small microphone. I can see him on the tiny screen. He looks smug, the bastard.
"What do you want?"
"Arthur, it's so nice of you to join me. Alors, open the door please. I am in need of a bed."
"Then go home," I growl in response.
"I have left my key behind," Francis is pouting now. Although it's dark, I'd recognise that expression anywhere.
"Well, that's your own fault."
"Arthur, je ne veux pas loger à la belle étoile!
" What ? " I frown, "It's too late for me to understand what you're saying in froggy language."
I want to go back to bed, I can feel it calling to me.
"Arthur, this isn't funny," Francis is starting to frown a little.
"It's not my problem. Come back in the morning."
"It is the morning."
"Well, at a more suitable time, then! Now bugger off!" I start to walk away when my phone starts to ring. He doesn't give up easily, does he? He never bloody has. Never respects my wishes.
Reluctantly, I answer the phone to hear Francis crooning. Jesus Christ.
"Quand on a que l'amour, a s'offrir en partage – "
"Francis, what do you think you're doing? I've had enough of you. Stop singing."
"Ah, in English, then? Sometimes I feeeel so 'appy! Sometimes I feeeeel so sad – !"
His voice is low and guttural, barely in tune. I start to smile before realising that he's butchering The Velvet Underground.
"Oh, shut up! Fine, you can come in," I hiss momentarily forgetting to keep my voice down. I hang up on him and stomp unceremoniously to the door, pressing the button to open the door downstairs. Francis arrives within a matter of moments – I only live on the second floor, after all. I open the door for him and he grins at me, toothily and sly. He slips out of his black parka and passes it to me, to hang up.
As I am reaching upwards to place the coat on the hanger beside the door, I feel him press up against my back, arms around my waist. He kisses my shoulder and I try to think about how unpleasant his stubble feels as it brushes against my bare neck.
"I want to go to bed," I grind out before elbowing him sharply in the ribs. Despite stumbling backwards and yelping melodramatically, I know that he's fine. "Don't forget to take your shoes off." I eye him carefully before turning on my heel and heading straight for my bedroom. Francis (unfortunately) is following me. I make sure to switch off the lights as I go, immersing the moron into darkness every so often.
He makes a show of taking off his belt and his socks, much to my chagrin. I roll over in bed, facing the wall adjacent from him. Damn Francis.
The said man clambers into bed beside me (now trouserless) and snuggles up against me like a small child in search for its mother's teat. What a disturbing thought. His head presses against my back and I hear him sigh. It isn't a nice sound, like he's relieved.
I really don't want to turn over. I want to sleep. I need to sleep. I shut my eyes and attempt to convince myself that I don't give a fuck. But when he sighs again, I have to turn over to look at him. Francis takes advantage of my new position and curls himself even further around me.
"How was work?" I mumble. He grimaces.
"I hate it there," he whispers, forehead against my shoulder. "You know, they have banned me from the kitchen now."
"Why on earth have they done that…?"
"I kept trying to make the food taste nice."
I laugh quietly and wrap my arm around him, palm flat on his back. "Oh really?"
"Mm," he confirms, scratchy chin nuzzling into my chest now. "What do I do, Arthur?" Francis' voice is small, as though he doesn't really want to ask me. I know that he would never ask me something like that if he could see me. He doesn't like to expose himself to other people, but I suppose that I don't either. In that way, we are horribly similar.
"You need to do what you want to do. I know that money is an issue in this particular case but you can't do something you hate forever. You're bloody well educated, Francis. Why don't you use that brain of yours for once?"
I didn't say that he was clever.
"I want to paint. I can barely afford to pay my rent. I cannot buy any materials or canvases."
What the hell is a canvas?
"Francis, I know next to nothing about painting, so I don't – "
"They are what you paint on, mon amour," he sounds amused and I feel somewhat stupid.
"T-that wasn't what I was going to say, you impertinent git."
"Bien sûr," Francis smiles. "Arthur?"
" What ? " I arch an eyebrow.
"Will you sing to me?"
"I like your voice. It is extremely soothing for my broken soul after a long day at work."
Never did he say that I was any good at singing.
"Um, I suppose so…" I can feel my cheeks turning pink. "I'll show you how to sing Pale Blue Eyes properly."
"Bon," Francis settles against me, comfortable.
"Uh… sometimes I feel so happy. Sometimes I feel so sad. Sometimes I feel so happy, but mostly you just make me mad," I can't help but feel on show even as his breathing begins to slow. "Baby, you just make me mad. Linger on your pale blue eyes," I murmur, much quieter. "Linger on your pale blue eyes…"
And then I realise that despite everything, despite how Francis is an uncouth sod with an irritating French accent and nice hair, that really… really, I do care for him. All the things that we say, we never directly compliment one another but we never insult each other, either. I don't think that there will ever be a time where I want to hurt him like that.
I brush his long hair from in front of his eyes and press a gentle kiss to his temple.
The door to my bedroom opens slightly and there in the doorway, I see Matthew. He's clutching his teddy bear tightly in his arms; he looks terrified.
"Yes, I'm here, poppet. So is… so is Papa."
"Can I sleep with you? There's a monster under my bed," he quivers.
"Yes," I say softly, feeling far too sentimental for my own good. "Can you get up on to the bed?"
"Mhm," Matthew scrambles upwards and on to the mattress. He instantly nudges his way between Francis and I but I can't complain.
We sleep somewhat peacefully until Matthew decides that it's time to get up, at six AM. Francis stays in bed and I make him breakfast (which he refuses to eat). When they have to leave, Francis pulls me off to the side to kiss me.
God, I think I love him.