The interviewer is early to the Café Du Monde, waiting for Sean and Rusty Duchene. She sips her café au lait and reads over her notes as she waits. The breeze from the river feels cool, at least as cool as New Orleans gets in October.
Movement near her table has her looking up. A young slight man, blond with his bangs not quite covering the worried creases on his forehead, carefully weaves his way between tables. He picks his path to avoid bumping any of the chairs where customers sprawl and chat with friends. From the profile she’s been given, she guesses this must be Sean.
Behind him, a taller, heavier man, about the same age, with dark hair and stubble that probably appears only hours after his morning shave, rests his hand on the blond’s shoulder. He counts on the blond to lead him through the casually arranged tables as his attention drifts to the sax player filling the air with a jazzed up version of an old blues tune. Suddenly, the dark man darts left, wedging between tables to get to the open instrument case. He pulls a couple of crumpled bills from his pocket and drops them in the case. Rusty, no doubt.
Sean stops, frozen, as soon as Rusty drops his hand. With an intentness that speaks of both protectiveness and affection, he watches Rusty, smiles when he sees the money drop, and smiles even bigger, when Rusty turns back and grins at him.
That smile doesn’t drop until Rusty joins him, whispers in his ear and looks toward the interviewer. The smile fades back into his worried frown though Rusty’s hand on Sean’s back seems to make the blond man move more fluidly. That gentle gesture also seems to mellow Rusty, who gives the interviewer an acknowledging half-grin. Sean follows up with a tentative nod.
The interviewer wishes the men weren’t so uptight about this first meeting, but concedes that their attitudes are typical. Hopefully by the end of this process, they will all be not only relaxed, but on the way to being professional friends.
“Hi.” She stands, smoothing down her utilitarian khaki slacks as she extends her hand.
“I’m Sean Duchene.” He reaches for her hand, holding it gently but firmly. It’s a good touch. Not everyone judges on a handshake, but she has always thought there was more to an interview than simple questions and answer.
“Mr. Duchene.” She looks him in the eye. He looks back, almost challenging. Not unusual. No points for or against, there.
Rusty holds out his hand to her before Sean lets go.
“Mr. Duchene,” she says again, as she takes the bigger, warm and slightly damp hand. Rusty is a pumper, with a bit more of a squeeze. His eyes laugh as he looks into hers.
“Rusty, please. Otherwise, it gets a little confusing since there are two Mr. Duchenes.”
At this, Sean stands up straighter, his shoulders back. Pride. It looks good on him, gives him some maturity. He looks so much younger than the age in his portfolio. But his work history shows he’s good with responsibility.
Even as he shakes her hand, his other hand returns to Sean’s back. The tight acknowledging grin Sean gives him settles somewhere between pleasure and pain, as if Sean wants to enjoy the moment but can’t quite get there.
Both men wait until she seats herself. Southern manners. She has to admit, it’s a personal preference of hers.
As thunder rumbles out in the Gulf, she straightens her folders, showing she is ready to get down to business. “I see in my files that you are an engineer, Mr. Duchene—Sean.”
“Yes ma’am.” He clears his throat. “I’ve recently been promoted.”
He shakes his head. “I value my personal time. And my company values me. It works for us.”
She likes that answer. Confident with clear boundaries. Sean is racking up the points already.
“And you, Rusty? You work as a landscape designer, right?”
Rusty nods then swallows hard. “I do.”
Nerves have started to settle in. It happened every time with at least one of the couple.
Under the table, Sean threads his fingers through Rusty’s. It isn’t exactly a covert or discreet move, but it isn’t blatant, either. Hmmm.
“And this is new employment?”
“No, ma’am. I worked for the same company before we moved to Boston. When we moved back, I got my job back.”
“Actually,” Sean interrupts, “he got a promotion, too. Rusty is now a licensed horticulturist.”
Rusty nods again. “I found out I passed the test after we filled out the paperwork.”
The interviewer flips open the folder and pulls out her pen. “Let me amend that, then.”
She glances up as she writes. “And your hours, Rusty?”
“Flexible.” He squirms a bit, but it isn’t a nervous movement. It’s more like the kind move a man would make who doesn’t sit still very often. “I work for the family business. Everyone, my mom, dad, brothers and sister have all worked hours with family in mind.”
As she makes her note, a waiter comes up to take the Duchenes’ orders.
“An order of beignets and a café au lait, please,” Rusty orders then asks, “You want hot chocolate, baby? With whipped cream?”
Sean almost shakes his head, no, but Rusty looks so hopeful, Sean says yes, instead.
Rusty turns back to the interviewer. “If he waited for the weather to turn cold to drink hot chocolate, he’d never get to drink it.”
“Living in New Orleans must be very different than living in Boston,” she says, making small talk.
“Both have good things going for them,” Rusty says.
“But here is where family is. That gives New Orleans a real edge,” Sean adds.
The interviewer frowns. “I’m glad you brought that up. I didn’t see any relatives for you in the reference section, except for your sister, Sean.”
Sean’s shoulders tense. Uh-oh. Not good.
Rusty leans forward, challenging. Protective is good. “All those Duchenes we listed are just as much Sean’s family as mine.”
The interviewer lifts an eyebrow and waits. It’s a technique that rarely fails. After all, the couples she interviews needs her approval, so they usually give her what she needs.
Sean’s eyes turn bleak then move to unemotional. Then Rusty squeezes his hand, and Sean’s face softens into sadness. “No grandparents. No aunts or uncles. And I’m estranged from my parents.”
He doesn’t look away. No guilt. No shame. But a deep, deep sadness.
The interviewer wants to comfort him, but that isn’t her mission today. Instead, she sips her coffee, gives herself a moment, then asks, “The circumstances?”
A waiter takes that moment to arrive with his tray, breaking into the thick atmosphere as he sets down their order.
Both Sean and Rusty thank the man. Good manners. But etiquette isn’t enough.
Sean pushes his cup around, but doesn’t drink from it. Instead, he looks up, makes sure she is paying attention, and says, “When I was sixteen, I came out to my parents. They said they were not going to have a gay son. So now, they have no son. Is that going to hurt our chances?”
The interviewer looks down at their folders. She has to. She can’t keep looking into those eyes that look so desperate for acceptance.
“I don’t have any records on you before you became a legal adult. I’m not allowed to ask how you survived on your own at sixteen.” She knows how to ask the question without breaking the rules. Whether Sean answers or not can’t really be held against him, technically. But this isn’t about him. It’s her job to protect those who can’t protect themselves.
Like someone should have protected Sean.
“I wasn’t on my own.” The desperation leaves his eyes, replaced by a love that can’t be missed.
“I had the Duchenes. Rusty’s parents took me in, made sure I got through both high school and college, gave me all the love and support any guy could ask for.”
Still, the interviewer knows, it hadn’t been the ideal situation.
“And” Sean leans forward, his eyes begging her to understand, “I’ve been to counseling. I still go on occasion.”
“I’ve gone, too,” Rusty breaks in, as if he needs to lend his support to Sean in this matter.
“For me,” Sean adds.
“I got a lot out of it, too, baby.”
It’s very good to know that Rusty supports Sean in this way.
“If you need to talk to any of my counselors, if you need private information, I can–”
The interviewer stops him as she makes a notation. “We may get into that later.”
At the hint she dropped that there would be a later, both men look at each other, sending relieved signals between them. Smart men. Connected me.
She takes a look at her watch, more to bring the interview to a close than to know what time it is.
“I think we’ve had a good interview. I’ll assess the information we’ve covered and get back to you.”
As she stands, both mean scrape their chairs back to stand also.
Yes, manners count a lot with her. So does a strong relationship between the applicants. Good financial standing is a plus. Flexible and family-oriented hours a big plus. Even the counseling sessions Sean seemed so worried about could be slotted into the good side of the column.
While, officially, it was too soon to tell, she has an instinct for these kinds of things. Her instincts right now says that this couple would be perfect. Just perfect.
Some days, being a social worker is very rewarding.
In Chris Cox’s stories, men climb steep mountains of emotion and brave treacherous valleys of personal growth on a journey to love. The Bayou Boys series is about deep relationships, about finding yourself as well as your soul mate, and about learning to feel right in your own skin.
Sexy and complex, Chris’ writing delivers the stories that touch readers’ hearts. Born and raised in Louisiana, Chris worked as an electrical engineer before chucking the corporate ladder and becoming a full-time writer. Chris resides in Louisiana, where the gumbo is hot…but the men are hotter.
You can check out more about Chris Cox by visiting www.chriscoxwrites.com, on Facebook at www.facebook/chriscoxwrites and on Twitter: @ChrisCoxWrites.
The books are (and there are substitutions available for people who have copies)…
Rusty wavers in his trust but takes and chance and agrees to follow him to Boston. Alone for several weeks in a strange city, Sean is determined to make friends on his own. When Rusty arrives, this new Sean makes him feel insecure. Crushing student loans, being unable to find a job and suspicions about the nature of Sean’s friends strain an already tenuous relationship. A trip home for the holidays reminds both men of all they’ve left behind and makes them reevaluate what they want in their future.
On the verge of wedding vows, a career crisis threatens to bring their lives back full circle. Money, moves and men…will this longtime love last forever or will life in the big city destroy their young love?