If there was one thing Charles hated with all his being it was the cold. He couldn't stand it. No matter how many layers of sweaters and how thick his coat was, he was permanently cold. That being told, being a wedding planner and not having a car - even though owning a car in New York City was, what others would call, a death penalty - fucking sucked. The damned sidewalk not being cleaned of the heavy snow that kept on falling, was also an impediment. Even more so considering he ran all of his errands on foot. He never once complained when it was raining, years and years of living in England helped him get accustomed to that kind of weather. Or when it was too sunny and you all but melted on the ground, the heat of the sun amplified by miles of concrete, too many cars and people, and unnecessary buildings.
He couldn't stand it.
He was trying to walk faster, but his boots kept on sliding over the snow. In times like these he hated his job. Especially since he was up since six a.m. sorting out details for the upcoming weddings. At eight in the morning his phone rang for the first time, which wasn't a surprise, some of his clients called him earlier than that. One bride, that he couldn't for the love of God remember the name of, called to yell at him over the phone that there was a mistake at the store with the bridesmaids' dresses. They arrived in tones of peach. Not lemon like she asked for! We had an agreement, she was yelling. They didn't. Not when
Charles kept on telling her that lemon on the bridesmaids' dresses would clash with her wedding theme.
He managed to convince her. Or so he thought. Not after that giant scandal she pulled on him on that morning. He tried so hard to make her give up on that color, saying that the pictures would turn out not as good as she would have hoped for. And also, the bridesmaids hated that color.
It's my wedding day. I have to be the most beautiful.
Suit yourself, Charles thought bitterly, telling himself that it was the last time he didn't trust his gut feeling about someone. As awful as it may have sounded, he was pretty sure that this bride and her groom were to be separated in less than a year.
He was thinking so hard about everything that he didn't notice the portion of ice until he was skating over it on wobbly legs. Thank God for that hand that grabbed the hood of his coat, trying to stabilize him before a strong arm wrapped around his waist.
"Charles! Are you alright?" Magda's concerned face cleared before his eyes. "Thank God for Erik's quick reflexes."
So much for catching a break these days, he said to himself before turning towards his savior. Surely it was his life mission to stumble upon Erik whenever he looked like a dork. His glasses were already fogging up with the force of his blush when he realized how clichee everything was. The two of them tangled in the middle of the sidewalk after Erik saved him from a nasty fall.
Thankfully the other man seemed to believe that as well, for he retreated his arm slowly, but kept his hand around Charles bicep just to be sure. Charles realized that Erik didn't look any better. They haven't seen each other in a week, and that was one week too long, but something must have happened to Erik in that week. He looked tired. Sad, hunched over like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, dark marks circling his eyes due to the lack of sleep.
"Are you alright?" he asked and even his voice was rougher around the edges.
"I'm fine, thank you." Charles squeaked. "That would have been a tragedy considering how busy I am these days."
Erik's eyes flared with amusement and his eyes creased at the corners, before he bowed his head graciously as an acceptance of Charles' gratitude.
"Hello you two, fancy meeting you here!" the wedding planner exclaimed nervously, tearing his eyes from Erik to kiss Magda on her cheek.
"You as well, Charles. What are you doing around here?" Magda asked, accepting the kiss.
"I was going home from adverting a crisis involving a bridezilla, a few dresses and poor taste in colors. What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for Erik's mother to arrive. We were thinking about having brunch here."
"Oh that's wonderful." Charles replied, inhaling deeply when the sweet smell of clove filled his nose.
He turned towards the source of the smell, surprised and the tiniest bit aroused when Erik took a slow drag from a cigarette, puffing the smoke towards the sky.
"I didn't know you smoke." Charles blurted out by accident, making Erik chuckle and Magda laugh nervously.
"He doesn't." she said something before Erik could. "It's a bad habit that he picked again, I'm trying to make him quit."
"It's a form of relaxation, so to speak." the wedding planner shrugged his shoulders.
"It's a form of dying faster." she groaned. "It's not healthy in the long run, it causes a lot of problems. Especially since if you're trying for a baby."
Charles almost choked on his own tongue at the words and he heard Erik inhaling sharply through his nose. Right. Kids. Because they were a couple. A soon to be married couple that had been together since forever. It was only natural that after having a long-term relationship, marriage and kids were the next logical steps in their lives. Even though the knife that got stuck in his heart ever since meeting Erik twisted a little, making him bleed on the inside. He wanted to say something, he really did, but he was afraid his voice was going to crack. Thankfully a voice cut sharply through the cold and the sound of Charles' heart breaking.
"Erik! Was machst du hier draussen?"
The one whose name was called turned abruptly, completely forgetting about the hand sustaining Charles.
"Mama. Eis. Achtung!" Erik replied, moving the help his mother through the mountain of snow.
When Charles turned it was the first time in his entire life when he felt like he's seen a ghost. The same imposing sillhouete, tall and proud, but at the same time sweet and gentle, wearing gray splashed hair in the same French braid that he knew how to make. Even though she was mostly hidden by the layers of wool and a thick scarf around her neck, Charles could recognize those eyes everywhere. The eyes that were the same color as the man before him: stormy, mysterious and the most beautiful he had ever seen.
"Edie?" the wedding planner yelped, not knowing how to react. He was pretty sure the woman before him didn't recognize him anymore. He changed a lot since he was thirteen.
But her eyes widened and he was suddenly being pulled in a hug by skinny, yet very strong arms.
"Charles! Mein Junge. Liebling, I can't believe it. Is this really you?"
He felt the tears pooling in his eyes, hot and heavy like lead and he nodded his head.
"Oh, Charles. I missed you, Schatzi."
Of course he ended up having brunch with Edie, Magda and Erik. The older woman wouldn't have it any other way, even though he insisted not to impose on a family gathering. At some point Erik dragged him inside by the hand and showed him to a table because he was too stubborn to even budge and they were getting desperately cold.
Now, he was sat listening to Edie switch from heavily accented English to rapid fire German, trying at the same time to explain to both Erik and Magda how she and Charles met.
She was his tutor. Back when he was just a teenager. Back when his mother was still alive, when he wanted to make him the best gentleman in the whole New York. A lot of his good memories regarding his last few years in Westchester involved Edie. Afternoon tea. Traditional German food cooked with love and the most fun tutoring hours he's ever had in his entire life.
"He found me on the street." Edie laughed, shaking her head and gripping Charles' fingers with her hand. He brought it to his lips to place a kiss on her knuckles. "I was talking to Erik, in German, as we always were, and this little cutie waits for me to finish the call and ask me if I speak German very well. He wanted to be tutored and he hated the teacher his mother picked for him."
"Truth be told, Mr. Shaw still gives me the creeps to this day."
"That's because he was a pervert, Schatzi." Edie muttered, shaking her head. "I tutored him for a year. It took him a lot to learn German."
"Maybe I just liked the company." Charles grinned and turning to Erik he said: "I remember her talking about you. Mein Erik is der Beste. He's in college. Vielleicht triffst du dich, wenn er nach Hause kommt. Ich bin sehr stolz auf meinen Erik."
"Ah, your German is still good, darling. You make me proud." Edie beamed. "How do you know Erik and Magda?"
"Oh, I'm their wedding planner." Charles said as a matter of fact, only to feel Edie still next to him. He looked up to see how Erik's eyes widened before he remembered.
"I told my mother about you."
"What did she say?"
"She believes that this, between us, is a once in a lifetime thing."
Edie knew. Edie knew about what was happening between her son and the wedding planner. Even though Erik was positive she wouldn't judge Charles felt immensely embarrassed. Wrong in every way possible.
Even a little bit dirty. Edie knew that her son was lusting after the wedding planner, and that the wedding planner didn't do anything out of the ordinary to stop him.
Magda was smiling while taking a sip of her drink, clueless to the tension between the other three people at the table. She asked a question Charles didn't hear and the conversation started to return to normal.
When Edie shifted, placing her hand over his sweaty palms he felt like he could breathe again.
"Alles ist gut." she said to them and Charles wanted to believe her with all his being.
If only, he thought bitterly.
Nothing was alright.