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Knowing Noah

by c m


Seven years later

It is ten years since Noah and I first met, and seven years since we entered our civil partnership. Ten years of happiness and joy. We bought an apartment at 25 on the back of Noah's extremely well-paid job in the City, where he is now a highly-valued, and rapidly-rising executive. I am a partner in a successful online and social media marketing agency which I founded with two friends three years ago. We have a very comfortable lifestyle.

Or I should say 'had'. Because one day, out of the blue, just three weeks ago, as Noah was about to go into a presentation, he collapsed. The ambulance came but he was dead by the time they got there. I didn't even have the chance to say goodbye. The post mortem revealed that an entirely unsuspected aneurism in his brain had ruptured. They said death would have been almost instantaneous. I can still scarcely take it in.

Noah's parents were away visiting relatives in Senegal at the time. By the time they've got back, and with all the things that have to be organised getting organised, it's taken three weeks to arrange the funeral. I spent the first week in a daze. There have been tears. Many tears. It's even crossed my mind to finish things. My parents have been very supportive, and I moved home for a few days before returning to our apartment. I've tried going in to work, but I couldn't concentrate and got snappy with people who didn't deserve it. In the end my partners told me to take some time off - which is what I should have done in the first place.

On the upside, and as chance would have it, one of my friends is a counsellor and he has spent some time with me since Noah's death. He has helped me get things in perspective and encouraged me to start thinking about the future, and not just what I've lost. I'm 28 with most of my life in front of me. What happened to Noah is something that could not have been foreseen. Neil has helped me to think about celebrating what we had, rather than being despondent about the things we will never now get to do. Most importantly of all, he asked me at one of the sessions what I would want Noah to do if it had been me who had died.

'I would want him to find happiness. I would want him to find someone else to share his wonderful love and kindness with. I wouldn't want him to spend months mourning me. I'd want him to move on and find happiness again.'

'And what would he say to you?'

'The same,' I whispered.

And Noah's parents – who were as devastated as I was – said almost exactly the same thing.

'We know how much you loved him and cared for him, Ollie – and you were the light of his life. He adored you. But he would not want you to waste time grieving for him. He only ever wanted you to be happy. If you want to honour him, you will find a way to stay happy. He would be very, very angry with you if his death robbed you of life as well.'

And I know they're right.

And I have done my best.

The apartment was, inevitably, full of Noah. I asked his parents to come and help me, which they gladly did. They were kind but firm with me. They emptied the wardrobes of his clothes and took them away. I knew this was right, but I don't know if I could have done it if they hadn't been there. I asked them to choose some things to take away that would remind them of Noah – and to take some things for his sisters too. They also helped me clear away some things I felt like I needed permission to get rid of. And I showed them what I was keeping.

Josephine sat me down at the end of that day, took my hands in hers, and looked me in the eye.

'Ollie…I understand why you have kept many of the things you have, but listen to me. When you find someone else – and I hope you do and you know that Noah does too – some of those things have the power to hold you back, or, worse, get between you and the person you need to be with. Don't give those things that power. I don't say throw them away, nor do I say forget Noah – I know you will never do that – but remember what Noah would want for you. It will not be disloyal to move on. It will not be disloyal to put those things away rather than have them as a constant reminder – not just to you but to whoever you are with. You were a wonderful partner to Noah – the best he could possibly have had – and a son-in-law of whom we are immensely proud. Honour him and honour us by doing the right thing.'

I cried. I don't mind admitting it. Josephine wrapped me in her arms.

'You made him so happy, Ollie. You have made us happy too. Promise me you will make yourself happy again too. And do it soon. Promise me.'

'I promise, Josephine. But I don't think I'll find anyone who can replace Noah any time soon.'

'You can't know that, Ollie. It might take years - but it might happen tomorrow. And if it does, you must seize it. You must. If the right person comes along – someone kind, loving and generous like Noah – don't let him go just because you think it's too soon. That you haven't grieved for long enough. I say again, Noah would be very, very angry with you if you did that. And you know you would say the same to him if it had been you who had died.'

I nodded. But I was sure it wouldn't happen.

To my surprise and joy, amongst those who are coming to the funeral is Christophe. At 28 he's now not just a very highly paid and respected model, but the face of a major French fashion house. In addition, he's created his own line of clothing that's built up a bit of a cult following. I've even bought one of his jackets myself as a gesture of support for my favourite cousin. The fact that it's beautifully-tailored doesn't hurt either. And it undeniably looks good on me. Over the last seven years, Christophe himself has frequently been photographed with beautiful women, with many of whom it's rumoured that he's having a relationship or, in the case of the married ones, an affair. If he's bi, there's no evidence of it in the stories that surround him. As soon as I knew he was coming over, I offered to put him up for the night, and he's said yes. In fact he asked if it would be very inconvenient if he stayed for two nights, as he has a business meeting in London the following day. I happily agreed. The thought of seeing him again is a ray of light in a world that is still filled with shadow.

The funeral itself is a wonderfully joyful occasion – a celebration of Noah's life more than a mourning of his death, as I know he would have wanted. Christophe must have arrived late, as I don't see him before the service and only notice him sitting at the back as I follow Noah's coffin out of the church. At the wake afterwards, I see him introduce himself to Noah's parents who are, I am sure, pleased to put a face to a name they have heard about, but he's careful to let me spend time with all the people who want to talk to me, offer their condolences, and share their memories of Noah before he finally comes over to me himself.

'Hello stranger,' he says with a smile before embracing me. 'I am so sorry, Ollie. I know he meant the world to you. I was so grateful to have met him. He was special. I loved him too.'

'It's so good to see you Christophe. Thank you for coming. It means a lot – more than you can know – to have you here. Noah would have been thrilled. I can't wait to catch up with you later.'

One or two of those at the wake recognise Christophe from the giant billboard ads that regularly feature his face, and when they, slightly embarrassed, ask for autographs, Christophe is kindness itself, obliging them with a smile and a few words to put them at their ease.

One or two friends ask me how I know him – and are suitably impressed when I tell them that he's my cousin.

Back at my apartment after the wake, and despite having several glasses of champagne inside me, I feel in need of a serious drink - and so Christophe and I open a bottle of vodka and proceed to make our way through it as we start to fill in the gaps in our lives since we last met. We have got most of the way through the bottle when we start to reminisce about Noah – and inevitably that special two weeks over Christmas and New Year some ten years earlier comes up. Christophe asks me if we've ever done anything similar with anyone else in the intervening years.

'No, Christophe. That was something special just between the three of us – the Three Musketeers.'

He smiles at the recollection.

'That was something, wasn't it?'

I nod.

'And you,' I ask, 'have you had relationships with men as well as women since?'

He looks at me.

'I don't know if this is the right time to tell you this, Ollie.'

'Tell me what?'

He sighs, and then shrugs.

'OK. I tell you….do you remember what I said to you when you left that time?'

'Remind me.'

'I said that you had spoiled me for any other boy. And that was true.. After that, the only boy I wanted was you, Ollie. And I couldn't have you because you were with Noah. He was lovely – I liked Noah – but when we had sex those times, it was you who made me tingle with desire, not him. Do you remember when we said goodbye, we kissed each other properly – just the once?'

'Yes, I remember.'

'That kiss has stayed with me forever. It was the first, the last and the only kiss I have had with the only boy I have ever truly loved. Do you know why I have never married? Why I have affairs that don't last?'

I shake my head.

'Because I am not fully bisexual, Ollie – not really, not any more. I've only ever wanted a boy since that holiday. But not any boy…just you Ollie. The rest is an attempt to forget, to persuade myself that I can find a woman who satisfies me, who I can love. It is, perhaps, 10% of my sexuality but I have tried to make it 90%. It hasn't worked. Oh, I perform when called upon, but….' He shrugs. 'As for boys, I can look at them, but I cannot think of them in the way I think of you. I have been in love with you since that visit, Ollie. But I would never, ever have come between you and Noah. That has been my cross, Ollie, but I have borne it out of love for you.'

I'm stunned. I had no idea. And there is only one thought in my mind. I have to ask.

'Do you still love me, Christophe?'

He looks at me. Those eyes still have the glints of gold in them.

'You don't stop loving someone just because you can't have them, Ollie.'

I pause.

'And now Noah's…gone?'

He smiles.

'Now Noah has gone you need time, Ollie. He was special. You were together for ten years. That does not get forgotten in a moment. But when… are ready to move on, then of course I will be here. If you want me.'

My emotions are all over the place. Noah's death. His funeral. And now the boy I have always loved second in the world has told me he loves me.

He sees my confusion.

'I'm sorry, Ollie. This was not the time for me to say these things. Forgive me.'

I go over to him, a little unsteady from the alcohol. Equally unsteadily, he stands – and we embrace.

'No. Thank you for telling me. But I think I need to go to bed,' I say.

'Yes. It has been a long and emotional day which I have just made worse - and I have to be at my best for my meeting tomorrow. Bed for me too.'

But at my bedroom door I stop. I'm not sure of much right now, but I know one thing.

'Christophe…I don't think I want to be on my own tonight. Would you stay with me? Just as a friend?'

'Of course, Ollie. Just as a friend.'

And he does. His body is as warm and comforting beside me as it was ten years earlier. And it all suddenly overwhelms me. I start sobbing my heart out, my head on his shoulder. His chest becomes wet with my tears. He puts an arm round me.

'Shhh, Ollie. It will be alright. Everything will be alright. I loved him too, Ollie; not like you loved him, but I loved him nonetheless. And I am here for you, Ollie. I will always be here for you.'

He strokes my hair and gently rocks me…and that's how I fall asleep.

When I wake in the morning, he has already left for his meeting. There is a note on the table beside the bed.

'Good morning, Ollie. I didn't want to wake you – I think sleep is what you needed. I apologise again for the timing of what I said last night, but it is the truth - and although I know the circumstances were not as we would have wished, it was wonderful to wake up with you beside me again after all these years. I will be back later this afternoon and I will bring dinner – if I am still welcome. I understand if I am not. Just call me. I hope things are still alright between us, Ollie. Love, Christo.'

I shower, dress and make myself some breakfast. Granola with blueberries. Afterwards, I walk round the apartment. I still see Noah everywhere - but I am thinking about Christophe. About what he said to me last night. About what he wrote. And about what Noah would say. And I know, with absolute certainty, what he would be telling me. 'Life is for the living' was something he said to me often, 'we only get one chance and not only should we seize it, we should choke the living daylights out of it.' I smile at the recollection. I think of his words and his parents' words. I think about my counsellor's words. And I know that Noah would want me to be happy, would want me to move on. I wonder if I can.


I smile. In many ways Christophe is already a part of both me and Noah. Noah would like that; he'd see a symmetry in it – a purpose. He'd really liked Christophe. He said he saw me in him.

His words come flooding back to me.

When we got back from that holiday, he'd said that our threesome had been like having two varieties of me in the same bed. And he said that he knew that there was corner of my heart that would always hold Christophe – and that he didn't mind; that there was lots of me to go round and that if anyone could have a corner of my heart with his blessing, then it was Christophe.

He'd seen something I hadn't even known was there.

And now?

Christophe had told me he loved me. Maybe it was out of some sense of being loyal to Noah, or maybe it was the alcohol, but I'd tried to shut it out. But in bed with Christophe, with my head on his shoulder and with his arm wrapped round me, I'd had to acknowledge the truth.

The truth.

…the truth is that I love him too. And the little candle burning unknown and unnoticed by me in the deepest recesses of my heart has exploded into a blaze of light.

Noah had known. And he hadn't minded. And I had never loved Noah any less because of it – how could I when I hadn't even recognised it was there? But Noah had known. And he'd given his permission. If not him, then Christophe. And now there was no him. But there was Christophe. And though my candle had been burning unrecognised for ten years, Christophe's had been blazing all those same ten years. And where mine had been hidden without my knowing, he had had to hide that burning flame from me, from the world – and from himself. Bury it deep inside. Conscious of its presence all the time.

He must have endured such pain. And instead of feeling sorry for myself (a habit I hate but can't seem to do anything about) I now feel nothing but sorrow for Christophe's pain.

But this I can do something about. I send him a message.

'You are, and always will be, welcome. Things will always be alright between us.'

Christophe gets back at about 4. He's carrying a bag of groceries.

'Meeting go well?' I ask.

'Yes…but I'm thinking of turning them down. I've been doing this non-stop for seven years. Traveling here there and everywhere. It probably sounds glamorous, but it isn't. Petulant models, arrogant photographers, agencies who seem to think they own you. I want a break. My clothing business is going well and needs more time spending on it as well. Maybe it's time for a change.'

'Talking of change…please could we talk?'

He raises an eyebrow.

'Of course. I'm intrigued.'

'Please, let's go and sit down.'

We go through into the lounge and I sit down on the sofa beside him. I tell him about everything I've been thinking about that day. About Noah. About him. About my future. About what Noah's parents told me. About my candle.

And I tell him I love him.

He smiles and reaches out for my hand which he holds between the two of his.

'Are you sure, Ollie? It isn't all…too soon, too sudden?'

'I'm sure Christophe.' I look into his eyes. 'I think we conducted our courtship years ago, long before we ever had sex – we just didn't know that's what it was at the time because it wasn't…if you see what I mean. And do you remember what you said before we parted after that time Noah and I came to stay?'

He smiles. 'I think I said that if you were not with Noah, I would be asking you to be my boyfriend.'

I nod. 'And I said I'd say 'yes'. So perhaps all we are doing is picking up where we left off. Not so much 'sudden' as 'delayed'. Unlooked for, perhaps. Unexpected, certainly. But salvation for both of us in our different ways. And salvation is never too soon or too late. It is just salvation. To be seized when it presents itself.'

He stands up and lifts me to my feet.

The previous day we had embraced as friends. Now we embrace as much, much more.

We look into each other's eyes and he kisses me. And I feel his tongue on my lips and I can't resist. And my cousin Christophe and I kiss properly…for the second time.

…but this time we know it marks a beginning and not an end. The beginning of a new chapter in our lives.

I lead him into the bedroom and we strip. His familiar, long, curved cock is as I remember it. We hold each other, naked flesh to naked flesh. Hardness to hardness. We kiss and I run my hands down his back, onto the firm mounds of his bottom, pressing myself into him.

'I thought this day would never come, Ollie,' he says.

'Just take me Christo.'

We lie on the bed. Unlike ten years ago when I was hampered by my ankle, this time I am facing him, able to see the unalloyed joy and pleasure on his face as he enters me. This first time doesn't last very long. He is full of desire and he cannot control the urgency of his need for me. I don't mind. He's been waiting ten years.

'Sorry, Ollie…'

I put a finger on his lips.

'Don't apologise. We have all the time in the world. Just having you inside me again is enough for now.'

While we may not have the instant recovery times of the eighteen-year olds that we once were, we still have plenty of stamina – but after two hours we are exhausted, emptied, sated - and just can't keep the smiles off our faces. And I know Noah understands – and is rejoicing.

As we lie there, I run my hand over Christophe's chest. He puts his hand on top of mine, intertwining our fingers. Joining us together.

Eventually I break the silence.

'So,' I say, 'what's for dinner?'

'I bought some rabbit – which given what we've been doing, and hopefully will keep doing, is perhaps appropriate.'

'And how are you going to cook it?'

'With cider and mustard.'

'Sounds yummy.'

I cuddle up close to him, enjoying the warmth of his body against mine.

'Why have we seen so little of each other since that time with Noah?'

I feel him tense.

'You need to ask? To be near you but be unable to express my feelings for you, to tell you how I felt…to touch you…it would have been torture. And I don't know if I could have hidden my feelings.'

'Of course. How stupid of me.' I change the subject. 'So how many of these super models they photograph you with and imply that you are sleeping with have you actually slept with?'

He half smiles.

'Maybe two. Most of the affairs I've had have been with dancers, singers or media types. The hangers on that go with my lifestyle. In my experience, models rarely sleep with models.'

'How many altogether?'

'Ten…twelve...I don't know. None of them counted. None of them was you. Please can we not talk about them. They represent all the mistakes in my life. All the lies.'

There are tears in his eyes. I can't believe I've been so insensitive.

'Oh God…I'm so sorry Christophe. What was I thinking.'

'It's OK. It's better to air these things. But I want to forget them all now. Now I have you. Now I have the only person I have ever loved. Now my life begins.'

I take him in my arms and hold him close to me.

'Nothing matters but this, Ollie. Nothing.'

When we get up, we just put on a couple of bath robes. We both know that we're going back to bed after dinner – even if it's just to kiss and cuddle. We go through into the kitchen and Christophe empties the things he's bought out of the bag and begins to cook.

'Glass of wine?' I ask.

'Mmm, yes, thank you.'

There is only one appropriate thing to open, and I pop the cork off the champagne bottle and pour us both a glass.

'To Noah,' says Christophe, 'may he rest in peace.'

'To Noah,' I say.

'And to us.'

'To us.'

Christophe is a confident cook. I offer to help but he is happy to do it on his own. I settle for refilling our glasses with champagne. When ready, the rabbit is delicious, and the red wine that's he's bought to go with it is a perfect match. He's also brought a couple of lemon curd tarts to follow which are at once sharp and sweet – as they should be.

We clear up, look at each other, and without the need for words go back to bed.

He just wants to run his hands all over my body. To touch, to feel to stroke – as if reassuring himself that I am real. I'm not complaining. His touch is sensuous, soft and thrilling. I get hard, but he barely brushes it. It is not sex he seeks but contact. He hugs me to him and then he kisses me.

'This is real, isn't it, Ollie?'

'Yes Christophe; real and utterly wonderful.'

We spend the next few hours catching up on all the rest of the things we have done since we last met. I hold him close to me as we do so. We occasionally kiss. We occasionally let our hands drift down into each other's groins, gently caressing the hardness that we feel there. We cup and squeeze one another's balls, but it is out of affection rather than lust. We are two old friends rediscovering one another. I am tingling with pleasure. I don't want it to end. Ever. But tomorrow he is due to go back to France.

'What are we going to do tomorrow, Christophe? Do you have to go back to France?'

'When I finally have you in my arms? I don't think so. I'll send a message saying I've been delayed. I will need to go back – at least for a day or two – after that, but we can have tomorrow together – if that's what you'd like?'

'I can think of nothing I want more. Except perhaps for you inside me again – if you can.'

'Oh I think I can manage that, Ollie.'

Afterwards we sleep. The best night's sleep I've had since Noah died. I expect my friends will all think it's too soon. That if I'd really loved Noah, I wouldn't dream of being in another relationship so soon. But I know that Noah doesn't think that – and nor will his parents. And if I'm honouring them, then no-one else's opinion matters.

The next morning, once Christophe's made his call (he tells them that I'm a wreck and he needs to stay), we go back to bed and spend most of the day there.

And we talk about where we go from here. I have an idea.

'You know you said you wanted to take a break from modelling?'


'Well… if you really mean that you want a break…and, well…I was going to take a sabbatical anyway, so could we…would it be possible…for us both just take off for three months…rediscover ourselves, spend time together…make sure that this is what we both want.'

'That sounds wonderful, but…'

'But what, Christophe?'

He shakes his head.

'But nothing, Ollie. It ought to be impossible, but why not? You and me being together ought to be impossible but it appears not, so why not everything else. Yes…yes, I would love that. I'll have to square it with my agency, but this is the quiet time of year and if I turn down the offer I had yesterday….well, why not. It would be fantastic.'

With this idea in place, the thought of Christophe leaving is somehow more bearable, although our goodbye is protracted and tearful. But I eventually wave him off with a lightness in my heart.

My partners are fine with my request for a three month sabbatical. They assume it is for me to get over my grief and I see no reason to enlighten them. In some senses, it is actually true.

Christophe's agency and client are very understanding. They even think that the publicity around their top model putting a grieving cousin ahead of work will play well to their corporate values and their customers' sensitivities.

But I do take the time to tell Noah's parents the truth. They are genuinely happy for me. Their approval is all I need to have to know I have made the right decision. I ask them not to tell my parents until after Christophe and I have had our three months away, just in case something goes unexpectedly wrong. And Christophe and I will need to face both our sets of parents together when we get back.

It takes a month for Christophe to finish the assignments he has already agreed, and a week for me to tidy up some loose ends. I spend the rest of the month – in consultation with Christophe -putting together and booking a schedule for our trip. Christophe and I meet up every weekend either in Paris or London. We spend most of the time in bed. For Christophe, it is as though he is catching up on ten years of starvation. Like a man stuck in the desert without water, he comes to my oasis to drink time after time. I'm not complaining. He is a kind and generous lover who gives as much as he takes, and we enjoy discovering the things each of us particularly enjoys.

Eventually the magic day arrives. Christophe flies into Heathrow and we meet in the departure lounge. We have put together an itinerary that mixes travel, relaxation and exploration. We start with a week of doing nothing in the Maldives before doing the Inca trail in Peru. We have a bizarre week in Las Vegas before going to spend a luxury week in Hong Kong and then walking part of the Great Wall of China. And that is just the start of it. In short, we have a ball.

And the more time we spend together, the more we realise that we belong together. We rediscover all the things we used to laugh about as we were growing up. We find we share the same views on almost everything. And the sex is wonderful too. Over the months, as the initial urgency of our love-making decreases, it is replaced by an increase in intensity. And we discover that what we both really enjoy is oral sex with each other. Not that we don't enjoy being inside one another regularly, but the most intense, the most drawn-out and the most satisfying times we have are when one of has the other in his mouth – or we both do so together.

Christophe also tells me more about his clothing company. He says that what it really needs is someone to run the business as it is now has the potential to become more than just an offshoot to his modelling.

'I don't really want to do it myself, Ollie – what do I know about the mechanics of running a business - but I can't see any other choice.'

It feels as though a lightbulb has gone off in my head.

'I could do it for you, Christophe.'

'You? Really?'

'Yes. I effectively do that for the company I'm a partner in now. I look after the staffing, I oversee the operations and admin, I do the business and financial planning. You want a change…maybe I need one too. After all, everything else in our lives is changing.'

'I would make you a partner in my business, Ollie – if you really mean it.'

'What's the cost of buying in?'

'No cost. My gift to you.'

I shake my head.

'No, Christophe. That's very kind, but we would do this as business or not at all. I am not poor. I will sell my stake in the business I'm in – and I have Noah's life insurance as well. And our savings. And the apartment if necessary…'

'Oh, it will not come to that, Ollie. It is a good business but modest – at the moment. But you really wouldn't have to buy in.'

'Yes I would Christophe. For my own self-respect if nothing else.'

'Then maybe that just proves what a wise choice you might be for me. In every way.'

He leans over and kisses me.

'Of course I'd need to take a look at the operations and the finances – for both our sakes – before I could commit, and I'd need to get up to speed with the differences between French and British corporate law, employment law and governance. Not to mention learning proper French in pretty short order.'

Another thought occurs to me.

'Do you have a good accountant?'

'Stephane is excellent. I was thinking of asking him to come on board as Finance Director if I – we - decide that the potential for growth is really there.'

'That sounds perfect – provided he and I think we can work with one another.'

This prompts another question.

'Does the business make enough money to support the cost of doing this? Especially if you want to give up modelling.'

Christophe smiles. 'The business makes very good money already – and I'm sure you and Stephane would make it do even better. As for modelling, maybe I will still freelance a little – but I don't want to be tied to one company any more. And look…I am 28…how many more years of being a model in demand do I have? I will get old and grey and they will not want me. Maybe even you will not want me anymore.'

'I don't care if you go bald, fat and wrinkly; you are beautiful on the inside as well on the outside. Just like Noah.'

The last words have sprung unbidden and they make me catch my breath before I can continue.

'And though I love your body and find you hopelessly attractive, what I really love is the you I have always known - the favourite cousin – the you I loved long before we ever had sex. And you will always be all of the things you were then. Generous, kind, funny, intelligent. All that. And anyway, I just bet you'll be one of those annoying people who is as handsome at 68 as you are at 28. It will be me who's bald and wrinkly.'

'I don't think so, Ollie. And like you, I don't care.'

He pauses, and a little grin appears on his face.

'But maybe you better fuck me again right now just in case.'

'How could I refuse,' I say.

Over the coming days, the more I think about it, the more excited I become at the prospect of taking on a new venture. Christophe, too, seems increasingly keen on the idea. We are in bed when we next discuss it.

'OK. When we get back, we will both have to have discussions with the people we currently work with, but you might as well come and take a look at the business as soon as possible. This is exciting, no? You will be my new partner in every sense! And you would be happy to move to France?'

'Yes. The only place I'll be happy is where you are. It will be a new start in every way. And if we don't want to sell the London apartment, we could let it.'

'That is up to you, Ollie.'

'No, Christophe, it is up to us. If this time away together has proved anything, it is that we are meant to be together. So we make these decisions together from now on.'

'Ah. But there is one decision I have already made on my own, Ollie.'

I frown.

'Really? What's that?'

'I want you right now.'

'Good decision,' I say, afterwards.

And that's what happens. I visit Christophe's business in France and I like what I find. My partners are happy to buy me out. Christophe's fashion house is very understanding and wishes him well at the end of his contract. His agent is disappointed; it is the end of a nice income stream, but he is happy that Christophe will still do occasional work. I do a crash course in business French which, alongside the time I spend with Christophe, soon has me nearly fluent. When Christophe and I go to tell my parents about us, they are at first pleased Christophe and I have spent so much time together, then shocked when we tell them that we have become a couple, then pleased again – especially once they discover that Noah's parents are genuinely happy for us too. When we tell Christophe's parents, they are initially stunned that he is gay, then typically phlegmatic about it - as is the French way. And it helps that they already know and like me. As Aunt Sarah puts it,

'Keeping it in the family at least means we know what we're getting. You're someone I'd be delighted to have as a son-in-law, Ollie. And if that happens to be as my son's partner, it may be unconventional, but so what?'

The press are interested for about two weeks that Christophe has terminated his arrangement with the major fashion house, then it is old news. And no-one bats an eyelid at Christophe and I sharing a house. What could be more natural than one cousin living with another when they are business partners?

Christophe, Stephane and I set about growing the business – which we do. It grows faster and more profitably than in even our most optimistic forecasts. Christophe and I make a lot of money – much of which we enjoy giving away.

Three years on, Christophe and I get married. He still has remnants of his faith, and I am happy to concede my petty intellectual objections to make him happy. It is an altogether wonderful day. It makes the press – but the French are much less excited about these things than the British tabloids would be.

I also look after Noah's parents and his family. When Kofi is diagnosed with cancer, I ensure he gets the best private treatment and, happily, he is still in remission. I am godfather to Esther's eldest boy – and they all love Christophe as much as I do. Life is good.

And I have never forgotten Noah, the beautiful boy who showed me what I was and made me more than I would ever otherwise have been. And I know that he is happy that Christophe and I are together - sharing and extending the happiness that he first brought me.

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