"Can we talk about this when I've actually had some sleep?" William requested.
He needed to mull everything over before he answered that question and opened a can of worms. Firstly, James knew he liked men. No one would ask that question outright unless they knew the person they were asking was gay. Then there was the fact that James thought he and Noah could be an item. It was too much to think about in his current fatigued state.
"If you prefer," James answered respectfully.
James opened the car door for him and William got in the backseat so he could be more comfortable. He put on his seatbelt and was asleep within seconds. The next thing he knew the car was in the drive outside his house and the sun was starting to set.
"William, I'm too old to be carrying you inside," James informed him. "If you want to actually sleep tonight, you need to be awake for the rest of the afternoon. I'll make you some tea."
William yawned and took the hint. He felt awake enough now to not fall asleep for a few hours. James followed him in and led him to the kitchen. The butler filled the kettle and set up the crockery while the kettle boiled. William sat at the table with a plate of biscuits and waited for James to ask the dreaded question.
"Please could you clarify your relationship status with Noah Charles?" James asked again once he had served tea.
William rearranged his rumpled hair and considered the question. Was Noah his friend? They were close enough now. He could escape from the implications of the original question by saying they were just friends.
"I hired him and now he's… a friend."
James handed him his teacup with his preferred amount of sugar.
"I'm glad you have found a friend, young master. Do you perhaps get a feeling that Mr Charles might want to be more than friends?"
James had a good point there. If he ignored the issue of his own feelings and just considered Noah, it was clear that he was flirting with him. He had become so accustomed to all the pickup lines that they lost their intended meaning.
"He does say some very flirty things," he agreed. "He's just done them so often that I've got used to it."
His butler didn't say anything and sipped his own cup of tea. William debated if he should see if James's stance on a certain subject had changed. It would at least distract him from talking about homosexuality.
"James, when did I meet Noah first?"
His butler smiled gently over his teacup.
"I told you, I'm not telling you. You have to ask Noah or remember yourself. If I told you, it would spoil it for you."
That had to mean that something very important had happened between them. He really couldn't remember anything though. Did that random dream he had the previous week have anything to do with it? Had he made a pinky promise?
"It wasn't when we were babies?"
James shook his head. "I don't think Mr Charles would remember me if he had been a baby at the time."
"Of course. Where did this meeting happen?" he probed, hoping James wouldn't clam up.
"At the manor."
That was interesting, not that it helped him much. Plenty of people had visited the manor before it burnt down. Perhaps he could ask Eliza, she might have been there. The best people to ask would have been his parents, but they were no longer around and he still didn't know why they had died…
"Is it okay if I never remember this meeting?"
James refilled his empty teacup.
"Mr Charles doesn't seem to hold it against you," he commented. "There's a lot you don't remember in that time period sadly and you might never remember any of it. He will understand that."
So it was really around the time his parents had died. He was never going to remember it now. It annoying.
"I wouldn't dwell on it," his butler advised. "There's another matter I would like to discuss with you."
William looked up fearfully. James was going to ask if he was gay and he wasn't going to be able to deny it. He had never been able to lie to James.
"I think you should take a holiday very soon; your health is taking a strain. You've had too many colds recently. Your father wouldn't have strained himself like this. You have many people working for you that could have helped you resolve the latest production issue. William, you didn't have to do all by yourself," James told him.
William listened silently. He knew James was right. His health was weak and the winter season always made it worse. He just didn't want to leave Quinn's Sweets alone for too long, he had inherited it and he had to keep it going. There was the added issue of his poor mental health tiring him out as well.
"There's a shareholder meeting I need to be at," he said weakly.
"Take a week's holiday after that," James said, his face was unusually stern and serious. "I don't mind where you go, I just don't want you anywhere near the office."
On the first day of his holiday, William looked over the travel brochures James had procured for him. They were mostly for places he had wanted to go to as a child and had never had the opportunity. It was odd to look at some of them and remember asking to go there.
Maybe he was better off only looking at the ones in London. He didn't want to stray too far away. What if there was a problem at Quinn's Sweets?
"Tower of London or London Eye?" he asked aloud and sighed.
He dialled Eliza's number. He needed advice from someone that actually had a social life and wouldn't make fun of him for asking.
"You want travel advice from me?" she asked sounding very confused. "I thought you were just going to laze around the house."
"James is hinting that he wants me to leave the house at some point. Should I visit a tourist attraction?"
"I wouldn't go alone, you'll get crushed," she advised. "Take James with you?"
"I'm not taking my butler with me," William retorted. "I'll stay at home."
He heard Johnny's voice calling out Eliza's name so he said good bye. She was going to be busy in his absence and wouldn't have time to give him tourist advice. Then he heard a shriek from Eliza's end and he understood why once he overheard a mention of a certain name.
"You might want to visit Quinn's Cakes," she said hesitantly. "...Aunt Mel went there this morning."
William groaned at the mental image. He had two aunts, one was Eliza's mother and he had lived with her after his parents' death until he was 18 and inherited the company. She was strict but had looked after him well. His other aunt from his father's side was completely the opposite and he rarely saw her. She was a very busy socialite and was always flitting around the world making a nuisance of herself and being embarrassing.
"Did she embarrass me?"
Eliza didn't give much away. "Dave said she was all over Noah."
William winced. He really was going to have to visit Quinn's Cakes to clear up any misunderstandings. Not that he would be able to look Noah in the face after knowing his aunt had been all over him.
"I understand. I'll go over there now."
"It's for the best." Eliza was in agreement. "You can also ask Noah if he wants to go anywhere with you on your day off. Aren't you two friendly?"
Quinn's Cakes was bustling with people and William was happy to see that customers were buying lots of cake which meant that the profits were looking healthy. He could only see a few free tables when he reached the counter.
The first employee to recognise him was Sam who the youngest member of staff and the most cheerful.
"William! You're finally here, I haven't seen you for ages."
"You saw me last week," William corrected, but he didn't mind.
Sam leaned over the counter and whispered something that was lost in the cacophony of noise around them. William took a guess at the lost words. It wasn't hard.
"Is it about my aunt?"
Sam nodded and William looked around fearfully. Was she still here? It had taken half an hour to reach the pâtisserie after getting ready. Hanging around was certainly not his aunt's style so she probably wasn't around.
"She left a while ago after causing some chaos. I'll tell you about it," Sam answered. "What would you like to order?"
William surveyed the selection available. There was quite a range and he was a little disappointed to see a 'not available sign' for the fondant fancies. He went for genoise cake and chocolate chip cookies. Sam gave him a staff discount and promised to visit his table.
He managed to find an empty table in the main seating area and dug into his sweet treats. The chocolate chip cookies tasted different to the ones Noah had made for him before. These ones tasted like the butter had been smoked.
Sam came into view bearing a tea tray that William hadn't ordered.
"I've brought your tea," he said and leaned down to whisper in his ear.
"Someone told your aunt that you're very close to Noah so she demanded to see him."
William covered his face with his hands. Aunt Mel had forever mourned his lack of friends and romance so whenever it looked like he was close to someone, she evaluated them and made everything worse for him. She didn't know he was gay and he could be sure about that because if she did she would have arranged him gay blind dates by the bucketful instead of straight ones.
"Is Noah okay?" he asked.
Sam made a face and William's imagination went into overdrive. Aunt Mel had probably stormed into the kitchen right in front of the customers.
"She was really into him and kept asking him out."
William had never felt so mortified in his life. What had he done to have Aunt Mel be related to him?
"Anyway, Noah is okay. He's in the kitchen, should I tell him to come out and see you?"
William shook his head. He was too embarrassed to see Noah right now. Noah wouldn't want to be his friend anymore like everyone else when they met his aunt. It would have been less trouble for Noah to meet Eliza's mother. All she would have done was complain about his hair.
Sam left him after that and William returned to eating. It could be worse; Aunt Mel could still be around. Knowing her she would turn up at his house later and give him her opinion.
"Can we sit here?" a polite female voice asked.
William looked up to see a middle-aged couple standing by his table. He looked around to see that it was very busy again and there wasn't another table free.
"I'll go," he said, very keen to leave.
"Please don't, I wanted to talk you, William," the woman said.
William looked at her sharply. She was completely unfamiliar to him and so was the man. Judging from the matching wedding rings, they were a married couple. Both had brown hair and the female's eyes looked familiar.
"Why?" he asked simply.
"We haven't seen you since you were 10," the man said.
It began to dawn on him. He had a good idea who they were and they looked familiar the more he looked at them.
"Mr and Mrs Charles?" he asked doubtfully.
He was sure they were Noah's parents. They knew his name and they had the right characteristics. The woman he suspected of being Mrs Charles laughed.
"You must have recognised me," she said with a wide smile.
They sat down and William stayed seated for the time being. He wasn't sure what they wanted to talk to him about. Personally, he had harboured no interest in ever meeting his business rivals in real life, hence his inability to recognise them. If they came to talk about business, he would just leave.
"You've grown up a lot since that party," Noah's father said. "You were so small and got on really well with Noah. We were sad that you two never met again until now."
William realised that the answer to all his questions was very close by.
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