As it turned out, Claude was truly gifted in the kitchen. He came out to the dining table apologizing profusely for not coming up with anything better, but he knew what he would be making and it would take about an hour and a half to prepare everything. He then apologized again for being too afraid of insulting his hosts by even attempting to make a dessert in the kitchen of a pastry chef.
"You just worry about dinner, Claude," Keagan grinned and hugged him. "I'll go downstairs and make dessert in the shop, so I won't be in your way."
"Oh, I'll come with you, Chipper," Chay started to stand up.
"No, I want you to just rest here," Keagan insisted. "I want to do this on my own for my boss, so I can show you how much I really love working and living here."
"I'm not an invalid old man, you two," Chay pouted. "I can help with dinner."
"Not tonight you can't," Claude told him.
"Do I at least get told what I am going to be eating?"
"No," Keagan answered at the same time Claude said yes. "I'm not telling either of you about the dessert because I am making it up as we speak," Keagan continued.
"Well, I don't mind telling you both what I am making since otherwise, you will come running into the kitchen to see what I am hammering," Claude shrugged. "I will be preparing chicken cordon bleu along with pan-roasted asparagus with garlic and lemon zest, and whipped mashed potatoes." Keagan and Chay both stood there for a moment with their mouths open. "Is that not good for you guys? I could try to come up with something else, but that was what I found the freshest in the kitchen."
"I was just thinking of frying the chicken," Chay mumbled with a blush.
"And I was going to boil the asparagus," Keagan admitted.
"Clearly I need to stick around here for a while so you guys will eat properly," Claude tutted. "Man cannot live by pastry alone," he scolded, then went into the kitchen and started pounding the chicken while dancing to something that was playing on his Walkman.
Chay totally did not sit on the sofa in his living room pouting about being left alone and not being allowed to help with dinner. He was... well, he was.... He was pouting. How dare those little snots treat him like a decrepit, old geezer? Well fine, while they are fixing dinner, he will figure out sleeping arrangements. He got up and went upstairs to his room and changed the sheets on his bed, and then dumped the dirty ones on the floor of the hall just outside his door. He then went up to Keagan's room, but he paused at the door. Even though it was standing open, to go inside without Keagan there and without his permission felt like an invasion of the boy's privacy. He turned around and went back downstairs, picking up the dirty bed linens on his way to the ground floor.
"No, no, no you don't," Keagan protested and ran at his boss, trying to cover the man's eyes. "I didn't want you to know what I was making."
"I still don't, Chipper, I swear," Chay defended holding the dirty sheets up in front of his face. "I'm just doing a little laundry. You and Claude will have to bunk together tonight, but you can share my bed and I will sleep upstairs in yours. If that's ok with you, I mean. I was going to grab your sheets to throw in with these, but I didn't want to go in your room without your permission."
"But it's your house, I'm just the kitchen help," Keagan blinked at him.
"It is my house, but you are a lot more than just kitchen help and you know it," Chay corrected. "And my house or not, it's your room. You deserve your privacy. Lord knows you probably had little enough of that in the group home you grew up in. I'm not going to take it away from you now." He had to drop the sheets on the floor again as his arms were suddenly holding a sobbing teenager.
"Thank you so much," Keagan whimpered as he hugged Chay tightly. "You have no idea what that means to me, even if I don't have anything I would ever want to hide from you."
"I don't believe that, and you will never convince me of it, either," Chay told him as he rubbed Keagan's back gently. "I was a seventeen-year-old once, too, you know. Privacy is a thing and it will be respected."
"Ok, but for the record, it's ok if you want to get the sheets off my bed and wash them," Keagan told him. "I mean I sleep naked in that bed and it gets..... Oh my god! Why did I just say that? Oh my god! What am I going to sleep in tonight?"
"Calm down, Chipper," Chay urged as he pulled his assistant baker into another hug. "Wear your little workout shorts and a t-shirt and you'll be fine. Will you be ok sharing the bed?"
"I'll be ok, I'll be fine," Keagan repeated those phrases a couple of times before he suddenly jerked away. "Oh, I don't have time for this. You do your laundry, boss man, but keep your eyes away from that end of the kitchen. I want this to be a surprise for you."
"Yes, sir, laundry slave will keep his eyes to the floor, sir," Chay teased. He reached out to tickle the teen to make sure that Keagan knew he was teasing as well.
"Get out of here," Keagan squealed as he ran away from the tickle. "You are interrupting my prep time."
Chay put his laundry into the machine and then turned to climb back up all of those stairs to Keagan's room again. This time, with permission, he walked into the room and over to the bed. He reached out to grab the top sheet, and then froze as he remembered what Keagan had admitted to downstairs a few moments before.
"He sleeps naked in this bed," he whispered as he stared at the bed. Against his better judgement, he turned and left the room as it was. He walked back down to the laundry machine and started it up. He would sleep in the scent of his Chipper Sunshine Boy. He would hate himself for it, and feel guilty in the morning, probably, but he could neither help nor stop himself. He wouldn't touch Keagan, but just for tonight, he wanted to know what it would be like to fall asleep with that scent in his nose and in his mind.
When he got back upstairs to the living room, Chay thought he should check to make sure Claude didn't need help finding anything in the kitchen. Ok, so he was feeling bored and left out again already. It was his house, after all. He should be getting to do something besides just the laundry. He opened the door to the kitchen and walked right back out again. He had just gotten his mind off the idea of Keagan rolling around in his bed naked and he walks in to see Claude in the upstairs kitchen wearing nothing but a jockstrap and an apron while he sang along and danced to Karma Chameleon.
"These two are going to be the death of me," he mumbled as he went back to the living room and slumped onto the sofa.
"You gonna die with a smile on your face, though, ain't you?" Chay turned to see Cassius standing in the doorway of the living room. "I thought you said you only had eyes for a bit of sunshine, anyway."
"When your eyes see what that one in there is wearing, or rather isn't wearing, then you can tell me how I'm supposed to react to that," Chay snorted. "Go ahead in there and tell him that you're here for dinner as well. I want to watch this."
"Claude No Name! Is that the way you dress to prepare other people's food?" Cassius yelled out from inside the kitchen. Chay heard the sound of dishes hitting the floor and breaking and he winced. He opened the door from the living room to the kitchen in time to hear and see a very red-faced college boy getting dressed in a hurry.
"No, sir, I'm sorry, sir," Claude was blurting as he got tangled in his pants as he tried to yank them up his legs with both feet in one leg hole. "I was so hot in here," he whined but he saw Cassius' face and stopped that line of thought immediately. "I'm sorry, sir, it won't happen again, sir. I swear never again."
"It better not," Cassius growled. "You want to cook like that, you better find that one kitchen where you're allowed to dress like that for cooking. This ain't that kitchen, Claude. Now have you got enough food for me to join you guys for supper?"
"You're going to.... OH man, if I'd known you were going to be here I would have fixed something better," Claude whined as he put his shirt on over the top of his apron.
"You might want to take that shirt back off and try again," Chay teased from the doorway.
"Oh my god, I am so sorry, Mr. Sugarman," Claude blurted. "I shouldn't have stripped down like that, but it was getting so hot in here and.... And I have no excuse, sir. If you don't want to eat what I have prepared, I will understand and I will find some way to pay you back for the meal you'll have to buy for tonight, since I used up pretty much everything you had in your kitchen except for a few canned goods and other side dishes." He opened a couple of the cabinet doors to show Chay what was left in them.
"For shame, Sugarman," Cassius blurted. "Really, man? You live right here in New Orleans and you have a box mix for making gumbo. That is just beyond wrong and sad."
"Hey, I'm not originally from here, for one thing. For another, my specialty is baking, NOT cooking," Chay defended then cried out as Cassius carried the offending item to the trash can and dropped it in using only two fingers as if he were going to be infected by the contents of the meal in a box.
"You get the hungries for some gumbo, you just let me know, my friend," Cassius told him firmly. "Friends do not let friends eat box gumbo mix."
"And if Mr. Cassius can't fix you some, I will, and we will make sure that Chipper knows how to make it, as well," Claude added.
"We will?" Cassius asked emphasizing the we. "And what did you just call a prince of the LeVeau family, Claude No Name?"
"Please, sir, he ordered me to call him that," Claude defended himself. "I'm sorry if I spoke out of turn, Mr. Cassius, sir. I'm sure my gumbo won't be anywhere near as good or famous as yours."
"Famous?" Chay questioned.
"Yeah, yeah," Cassius hemmed and hawed a bit. "Ok, so I might own a somewhat popular restaurant here in town."
"Wait.... Are you telling me that you are the LeVeau of LeVeau's on the Levee?" Chay blurted.
"Yes, he is," Claude confirmed. "Didn't you recognize him?"
"I can't say that I have had the privilege of eating there," Chay mumbled a little shyly. "I...umm... I'm usually too busy with the bakery."
"Well, tomorrow night you have a table in your name," Cassius said firmly. "I will not take no for an answer either. Consider it a business dinner."
"A business dinner?"
"Yes, I have an idea I would like to talk over with you," Cassius nodded. "In the meantime, I am still waiting to hear if I am eating here tonight or not," he added as he frowned at Claude.
"Oh yes sir, you can have my portion," Claude agreed quickly. "I can fix myself that can of cream of chicken soup I found."
"Canned soup, too?" Cassius gasped as he stared at Chay, who blushed and shrugged his shoulders.
"But I make good beignet," the baker grinned.
"You ain't right in the head, man," Cassius grumbled as he shook his head. "Get on out there and sit yourself down. Me and the kid here will take care of dinner." He turned to Claude and asked, "What did you fix for them? I don't want you to miss a meal just because I showed up."
Chay left them to whatever it was they were going to do and went back out to the living room. A few minutes later, Keagan walked into the room carrying a dish in oven mitts. Cassius and Claude both came out of the kitchen sniffing loudly, and were met at the table by Chay who was doing his own deep breathing investigation.
"I hope you like it," the teen said with a blush. "I wanted something nice to go with the wonderful meal Claude said he was fixing, so...." He set the pan on the dining table on a trivet. "Pear and almond paste tart," he announced with a hopeful grin.
"Sunshine, my prince," Cassius said as he wiped a little drool from his chin. "How much is Sugarman paying you? I bet I can do better."
"Not likely, Mr. Cassius," Keagan giggled. "It's not so much the paycheck as the fringe benefits."
"What you mean by that?" Cassius asked suspiciously.
"He rescues me from danger, he gives me a place to live, he gives me a job, he buys my grandma's furniture for me," the teen listed off counting on his fingers.
"Ok, ok, I get the picture," Cassius said with a relieved sigh. "My apologies for thinking something else, Chay."
"No apology necessary," the baker waved him off. "I wasn't sure what he meant by that either at first."
"Ok, well, let's eat," Claude announced. "I'm really sorry, Mr. Sugarman, but I owe you for a set of dishes. I dropped a few plates when Mr. LeVeau startled me earlier. Once the three of you eat, I will wash a plate and eat then."
"That won't be necessary, Claude," Chay assured him. He walked over to a hutch at the side of the room and opened a door at the bottom. He brought out some Christmas themed plates. "We can eat off these until we can replace the others. There's no rush. Actually, I have wanted an excuse to replace that set, anyway. My mother gave me that set when I left home for college."
"Oh, Mr. Sugarman, I am so sorry," Claude blurted. "I didn't realize that they were a family heirloom."
"Chill, dude," Chay laughed. "Mom gave them to me because she hated them, too. My going to college was her excuse to make my dad buy a new set for her. My father's Aunt Muriel gave them to her when she moved into a retirement home. I wanted a set of Mardi Gras dishes, but I was afraid it would be too cliché. I will get them now anyway, so thank you."
"I keep messing up and doing stupid things and you guys just keep making it all better," Claude sniffled and wiped a couple of tears from his face. "I never expected to get this kind of reaction when I came to apologize to Keagan and make sure he was alright after that party. I never should have joined that stupid frat. I knew they had a bad reputation, and not just because most everyone on campus knew they were the gay fraternity, either. I just wanted to find others like me, though, you know?"
"I do know," Keagan said as he hugged his friend tightly. "That's why I chose to come this far from the children's home to go to college. Well, that and the program I will start next semester is much better here than at the college back ho... up there."
"What program is that, my prince?" Cassius asked him.
"I'll be switching my major to English with a focus on creative writing," Keagan answered. "And stop calling me your prince. I'm just Keagan."
"I'm sure Mr. Cassius is trying just like I am, Keagan," Claude spoke up. "It's just that he and I have grown up in a culture based on a lot of things that you don't quite understand, yet. Mr. Cassius even more than me, if he has any of the family gifts. I don't... I mean I didn't have any of my family's gifts, so I just got training in the basic etiquette for interactions with the other families. Now, I don't even have the name."
"Well, if it was up to me, I would adopt you as my big brother and you could have my name if you wanted it," Keagan said sincerely. "You've been great to me the last couple of days, everything I could have ever asked for in a brother."
"Do you mean that, Prince Keagan?" Cassius asked seriously.
"You're doing it again," Keagan scolded the big black man. "Yes, I meant it. When I got to this town, I didn't know anyone at all. I was so scared of getting lost on that huge campus. That's why I agreed to go to that stupid party in the first place. I was hoping to make some friends that would help me learn my way around and stuff." He turned and hugged Claude at this point. "You did that, plus you have stood up for me a couple of times when guys that had been at the party were saying stuff about me."
"I didn't know about that," Chay blurted and put a hand on Keagan's shoulder protectively.
"Nor did I, my prince," Cassius practically growled. "Claude and I will speak further of this very soon. In the meantime, the prince has spoken, so mote it be." He slammed his hand down on the table making the table shake. "I will bring the queen and Mr. Henri here tomorrow so that they may hear the good news from your own mouth, my prince."
"What news?" Keagan blinked in confusion.
"The news that you just adopted me as your big brother, Keag," Claude whispered as a tear rolled down his cheek. He looked over to Cassius and asked, "Does this give me a last name again?"
"It sure does, but you know, I have been very bad-mannered around our Prince Chipper Sunshine here. I don't think I have ever gotten your last name, my... Keagan." Claude and Chay both chuckled seeing the large well-built man cowed by a glare from a scrawny little teenager. He then turned that look on them and they stopped instantly. Something about seeing any expression other than happiness on Keagan's face made them immediately try to bring that happiness back to him.
"My last name always got me picked on, so I don't tell people unless I have to," Keagan blushed.
"It's my name, too, now, so anyone that wants to pick on you has to go through me first," Claude said firmly.
"They will have to go through the whole LeVeau family, and that has never led to good results for anyone," Cassius told him.
"Personally, I think your name is lovely and even though the kids in the home and your schools may not have meant it nicely all the time, I'm sure there were some that knew you well enough to know that the name fits you," Chay said as he pulled Keagan into a hug. "I would call you that, too, because it's so adorable and cute and it's so you. I like Chipper, too, though, especially knowing the backstory on that one."
"Oh, now I will have to know that story too, little bro," Claude teased.
"No, not tonight at least," Keagan blushed intensely. "I'm only giving you Gooey Bear because apparently, you're my actual brother now, so you're stuck with it, too."
"Gooey Bear?" Cassius blurted with a raised eyebrow that looked like something a Star Trek science officer would do.
"My last name is spelled G U E B E R T, and it is not pronounced like the video game QBert," Keagan said with a touch of long earned hostility.
"Of course it's not," Claude sneered. "Guebert ("pronounced Gwe bear") is a fine French name. I have to say, though.... I agree with Chay. You are an adorable little gooey bear."
"I am not," Keagan pouted which only succeeded in making him look more precious to the three men around him.
"French names are common enough down in this part of the state that I don't think you will find that many people making fun of it," Cassius told him. "I had an older brother that served in Vietnam and died over there. His commanding officer wrote my parents a very touching letter and even came to see them once he got home. My brother had died saving his life and even though he was injured badly enough to be discharged, he wanted my family to know that my brother was as much a hero as a man could be in that stupid war." The big man wiped tears from his eyes as he continued. "I still remember it like yesterday. He drove up in a little black Ford Falcon with a bright red interior. That was a pretty little car. He brought his wife, and little boy with him. Tiny little boy with the brightest blond hair any of us had ever seen, and blue eyes that seemed to see right into your soul. Oh my God."
"I remember a teenage boy taking me into a kitchen and giving me the yummiest candy ever," Keagan whispered as he stared at Cassius.
"My younger sister got so mad at me for letting you eat all the pralines because she was visiting a friend that day and she came home and they were all gone," Cassius laughed. "You were the cutest little thing running around with your sugar buzz."
"Cassius, you saved my life that day," Keagan said solemnly. "We were on our way home from that visit when a log truck jackknifed in front of us. If I hadn't been laying down in the back seat sleeping off all that sugar, I would have been standing up on that hump in the floor like usual and I would have been killed with my parents."
"No.... they.... that very day?" Cassius sobbed. Keagan could only nod as he too wept. They hugged each other tightly and Claude and Chay joined them. "Aunt Dixie needs to know this," Cassius finally whispered hoarsely.