an excerpt

Aiden looked down at the grounds of the resort. Once more he imagined the structure in its heyday--coaches and perhaps several automobiles rolling up to the entrance on a cold winter night, the glow from the lights indoors fanning out across the snow, music from an orchestra carried with the wind.

As Sebastian unpacked the picnic basket, Aiden noticed from the corner of his eye Sebastian stealing several glances. Was he trying to gauge Aiden's level of artistic appreciation of the entire scene before them?

"May I ask you something?" Sebastian said, uncovering a plate of ham and placing it on a cloth to his left.

Aiden smiled. "You seem fond of doing that."

Sebastian looked down to the task at hand, as he pulled out a dish full of grapes. "What, this?"

"No, I mean asking questions."

"Oh, that." Sebastian flushed. "I'm sorry. I'm being too forward."

"No, no, it's fine," Aiden said.

"Well, then, in that case...we started chatting about family situations last night. One topic I didn't get a chance to bring up, regarding your journey is, I guess, well, simply put--since you've spent time wandering from home, are you leaving behind a... wife? Children?"

"Ah, no," Aiden said, "nothing like that. I'm alone."

"I see." Sebastian took out an unsliced loaf of bread. "We have that in common, then. I mean, not that I'm alone, as you could plainly see, but that I've never...I don't have any sort of attachments." He glanced up at Aiden. "So fair's only fair now. You're free to ask me a question."

Aiden smiled. "I see. So that's how this works."

"Unless you want to create a different set of rules."

"I never really liked that word," Aiden said. "Rules."

Sebastian nodded. "I grew up around rules. Rules posted all around these grounds. I always imagined some of the guests being put off by some of the signs plastered on just about every wall and tree--No Entry, Do Not Stray From Path, Employees Only, Do Not Drink From Stream."

"My father," Aiden said, "didn't so much dictate rules to us, but made strong suggestions. Along the lines of, ‘If you don't do X, you'll end up in a horrible situation doing Y, but it will be all your doing.'"

Sebastian began plating a dish. "My parents were free spirits, really ahead of their time, at least from what I can remember. They were the direct opposite of all these signs. But it was their downfall too, I think, the fact that they tried to do too much outside the mainstream, and really, you can't run a business without making a profit, so..." He motioned down toward the Cebren Spa. "Operative word...demise."

The wind shifted, and droplets of water clung to their skin.

"So, since it's my turn," Aiden said, "I'll ask you the same question. Have you any attachments, outside the people I've met so far?"

"None," Sebastian said. He handed Aiden a plate.

Their eyes locked for several seconds. Aiden marveled at the crystal blue of Sebastian's irises.

"Have you visited many museums, Aiden?"

He nodded. "My mother was fanatical about art. One of the reasons I pursued it, though I do honestly have a passion for it."

"Then have you...have you ever had the experience when you come across the subject of a painting, and you see a face that simply mesmerizes you, in a way that you can't stop thinking about it, and sometimes you have to turn away from it because on some level it consumes you?"

There was no hesitation on Aiden's part, which surprised him, as well as gave him a flutter of excitement, for the tone in Sebastian's voice, and his mannerism, reminded him of a an afternoon many years ago with a classmate from his preparatory school. Was this...was this conversation steering down the same path? "Are you familiar with Ghirlandaio?"

"Is he from around here?" Sebastian asked, but before Aiden could answer, he added, "I'm just joking, of course."

Laughter bubbled up inside Aiden. He couldn't help himself from chortling. "All right. I wasn't expecting that."

"But I interrupted. Go on. Ghirlandaio."

"Yes. The Resurrection of the Boy. In the Sassetti Chapel in Florence. It shows St. Francis's resurrection of a boy, performed after St. Francis's death. The Sassetti family is depicted, along with Florentine citizens of the day. Most notably is Ghirlandaio himself, on the right, looking at the observer. His gaze, the position of his hand on his hip...there's something so..." Aiden hesitated. "So alluring about him." He swallowed, waiting for a reaction from Sebastian. "And the artist has a face not dissimilar to yours."

Sebastian looked up at him. They smiled shyly at one another. Like schoolboys. Just like his experience with Mason Granger those many years ago.

"The artist lacks the color of your eyes, though," Aiden said.

Sebastian turned away. "There's a wall painting--a fresco--in one of the suites of the Cebren Spa. A scene from one of the Greek myths. I was never sure which one. There's a figure that used to captivate me...it still does...and when I saw you on the hillside that first time I thought, foolish as it sounds, that a Greek god had come to life."

It happened in an instant, and was an echo of his time with Mason Granger; as though Aiden had drifted into a different plane, he brushed the top of Sebastian's hand, his thumb moving gently along the soft skin, tracing the length of his fingers. "This seems like something astral," Sebastian whispered. "Something that's been stuck in my dreams." He paused. "I felt I was the only one on Earth, then I saw your eyes in that shelter, and it was...so strong...so tell-tale."

Aiden nodded, studying the contours of Sebastian's profile, the wavy locks of hair, the light stubble. He moved his hand to cover Sebastian's, and their fingers intertwined. Sebastian sighed.

Aiden could feel his trembling, and realized that he was trembling himself. It was borne of both trepidation and elation. Sebastian closed his eyes. His breathing slowed. Aiden inched closer to him. He reached up with his free hand and with the tip of his finger traced Sebastian's cheek.

If Sebastian had on his mind either guilt, terror, fear of castigation--it must have all dissipated as it had for Aiden as they leaned in to one another. Their lips met. Aiden reveled in the warm wetness of Sebastian's lips; the breath falling gently on his skin, the pleasing blend of muskiness and wood smoke and soap and rosewater.

They kissed until a branch snapped off to their right. They pulled away from another, both laughing when they saw a squirrel jump to another tree.

Their eyes met again. Both their faces took on a rosy glow. Sebastian leaned in toward Aiden again, but this time the interruption was not from wildlife.

"Sebastian!" A voice from below called to them.

MacGregor hurried along the pathway.

Sebastian inched from Aiden. "Gilbert? We're over here. Near the waterfall."

Branches rustled in the distance as the wind gusted. Soon MacGregor appeared at the edge of the path, his face red. "Is everything all right?" Sebastian said. "What's the matter?"

MacGregor looked at them both, his eyes darting back and forth, then down at the picnic spread, and back up to Sebastian. "Your grandfather. He's..."

Sebastian stood up. "What is it, Gilbert? What's happened?"