William sat there silently hoping that she wouldn't pause her reminisces and tell him he should remember himself like everyone else did. Fortunately for his curiosity she didn't stop. He was finally talking to the right person.
"We had just come back from a short stay in America and your parents invited the three of us around for a friendly garden party. You see, at the time there was some talk of merging," she frowned. "That all ended the following week sadly."
It was clear what she was implying. It was no wonder he couldn't remember; his parents had died the week after. He had a blank space in his memory for anything around the time.
"How friendly was I with Noah?"
Noah's mother smiled at him fondly.
"You were so shy with us, so we let you go off with Noah. You weren't so shy with him. He got you to try a cake he'd made to bring and you told him it was childishly made and wasn't flavoured right."
William had a feeling the cake had been a Victoria sponge. Noah's disappointment at his lack of reaction made sense now. Noah had gone to a lot of trouble to try to recreate that moment.
"I swear your insult is why he's doing what he does now," Noah's father chipped in.
William blinked. He was the reason behind Noah's pastry chef training? It was hard to believe that a mere insult could have that effect.
"He's a pastry chef because of me?"
Noah's father nodded. "You two made a promise."
Noah's mother clasped her hands together and looked into the distance with a dreamy expression. Mr Charles on the other hand was staring at her doubtfully as if he was concerned for her sanity.
"It was such a sweet promise and to think it finally got fulfilled now..."
It was a lot to take in. Noah's mother was a little strange to say the least- that had to be where Noah had got it from. There was also the matter of a fulfilled promise which caused him to recall his odd dream.
"What was the promise?" he asked, not bothering to conceal his eagerness.
"It was a pinky promise mainly because Noah had learnt it in America."
That was like his dream, William frowned. Maybe he did remember it somewhere in the back of his mind. Whether or not it was something he wanted to recall was another thing.
"I was disappointed by the use of a pinky promise. It doesn't have the same ring as 'cross your heart and hope to die, stick a needle in your eye'," Noah's father interjected.
Mrs Charles nudged him sharply with her elbow and glared at him.
"You've got no taste. It wouldn't be sweet if they said that."
Mr. Charles rolled his eyes. "Yes dear."
William's very important question was cut off by the arrival of tea.
"Your tea is here," a familiar voice announced. "Drink it and go."
William guessed that someone had told Noah about his parents arriving as he had come in person to deliver two cups of tea. His mother looked aggrieved with his abrupt request.
"I was having fun talking to William," she protested.
"She was," Noah's father confirmed unnecessarily.
The pâtissier ignored him and served them tea without asking for milk and sugar preferences. William was even more confused by the Charles family relations now. He had almost forgotten about his own relation's visit until Noah met his eyes and raised an eyebrow at him.
"Is she really related to you?"
"She is," William admitted. "I didn't know she was even in the country."
He watched Noah's face carefully for any signs of repulsion. Nothing appeared. He was more engaged with a staring contest with his mother. It was impossible to guess who would win.
"How much did you tell him?" Noah asked after minute.
"She spent most of the time going on how about how 'sweet' you two were," Mr Charles contributed helpfully. "Shall we go?"
William had a lot of questions for all of them, but he settled for the most important one from a business perspective. It was something he had been wondering about since Noah's interview.
"Do you really not mind that I've hired your son? He was going for an interview at your company."
Noah's mother waved her hands dismissively. "No. I'm thrilled by the conclusion of 12 years in waiting."
William's mind took a while to catch up. She had to be referring to the promise he and Noah had made 12 years ago that had apparently been fulfilled.
"They don't care much about what I do," Noah interrupted. "It's fine that way. I don't care about the company either."
"We're not leaving it to him," Mr Charles explained. "He's made it clear that all he wants to do is be your-"
"That will be enough from you two," Noah's voice was icy. "Get back to work."
William was bemused by his behaviour. Noah had always remained friendly to a degree even to people like Chloe, yet he was very stern with his parents.
"We'll go," Noah's father volunteered and grasped his wife's arm. "Let's go. William, I hope your venture does well."
"Do you mean that?" William was sceptical for the obvious reason. Most business rivals did not wish each other well.
"Our pâtisserie is going to be completely different," Mr. Charles assured him and began to lead Noah's mother out. "We're not rivals in that yet."
William and Noah watched them leave. It had been an informative five minutes for William and an agonising period for Noah. William settled for asking the least awkward question.
"...Are they really your parents? They're completely different in personality to you."
Noah looked down at him. "I could say the same about your aunt."
He had a point there. Noah took the seat next to William without asking and stared at him for a moment.
"I have an idea what they talked about. Did they mention anything about a promise?"
"They did. They didn't get to tell me what it was."
It felt childish to complain about it, but William was annoyed with all the unnecessary secrecy surrounding their first meeting. Couldn't someone just tell him?
"That's good," Noah commented in satisfaction. "I'll get back to the kitchen in a while. I see from your lack of formal clothes, you're on holiday."
William narrowed his eyes at the subject change. "What promise did we make? I know it was a pinky promise."
"I'm not telling you," Noah said simply. "It won't mean much if I have to remind you of it. Eliza won't tell you either. James won't know."
"I thought your mother said it's concluded meaning we've fulfilled it."
"I'm not going to say," Noah said, his tone was very final and William wasted a second wondering if Noah would be a much better manager than Dave.
Noah turned to leave and William desperately tried to come up with something to make him stay so he could interrogate him more.
"Would you like to go somewhere with me this week?"
It took Noah less than a second to turn back. "Of course, where would you like to go?"
"Can you choose? There isn't anywhere I want to go."
Noah ruffled his hair and William glared at him. He hated having his hair touched.
"I'll choose somewhere."
That night William lay down in bed and fumed. He was wide awake with frustration. Why would no one tell him anything? He was 22, not a child.
He decided to go through the facts he had. It seemed to be a good place to start.
12 years ago he had met Noah's parents at a party. He had dissed Noah's baking efforts and had made a pinky promise. Apparently this promise had been fulfilled. The degree of unfulfillment was unknown as if it had been properly fulfilled there would be no need for secrecy.
William put his overactive mind to work coming up with solutions.
Meet again? That had happened.
Hire me. He had fulfilled that.
He scowled and folded his arms. William couldn't think of what it was.
Hire me and date me?
Did 12 years olds say that? William had no idea. Teenagers these days seemed more outgoing than he had been. A modern one might. Adult Noah was a flirt, had 12 year old Noah been the same?
He had realised he was gay at 14, had Noah realised earlier?
Then again, who would ask a boy two years younger to date him at 12?
"I don't care." He tried to convince himself. "I really don't care."
He kept telling himself that and closed his eyes. Tomorrow he would tell everyone involved that he didn't care if they kept it secret.
Sleep took a long time to arrive for him and when it did it was restless. Eventually he fell into a dream from his childhood.
William reached his hand out into the rosebush to pick out his favourite flower. It was a warm summer day and he was supposed to be on his best behaviour for some party or another. James had told him this was one of the more important ones.
"William, the Charleses are here!" his mother announced loudly. "Come over here and make yourself presentable."
He didn't answer and waited for her to find him. His mother's head soon emerged over the rose bush and she smiled down at him.
"I thought you would be here. It won't be too boring for you. They have a son who is only a year older than you."
He let her lead him to the veranda where there were three people waiting. The older man and woman were obviously Mr and Mrs Charles. The lanky male was obviously their son. William was personally more interested in the cake he was holding than in socialising with him like he was supposed to.
He had already had his share of the party cake on the sly. James had slipped him some when his parents weren't looking. However more cake was always fine.
His father was already socialising with them and William met eyes with the son and then averted them. His mother pushed him forward.
"You can go with him. But say hello to Mr and Mrs Charles first."
"...Hello," he mumbled.
"Sorry, he's shy," his mother said on his behalf like she always did.
"He's adorable." Mrs Charles reached out to tweak his cheek and he stepped back out of her reach.
"He can go with Noah," William's father suggested. "William, he brought cake."
"I can see," William muttered.
Noah introduced himself with significantly less awkwardness and they went over to the table of refreshments James had set up in the garden. William demanded a cup of tea with four cubes of sugar which Noah complied with. Then Noah cut a slice of the cake he had brought with him and neatly plated it for William.
"I'm hoping to get into baking, can you give me your opinion?"
William accepted the cake and chewed a mouthful. It looked all right and had a good texture. However, William was also a very strict critic as a result of eating significant amounts of cake.
"It tastes like a child made it. Too much sugar and vanilla, it's a little too flat. It needs more volume, did you even use the right flour?"
Noah looked taken aback at the harsh comments and he looked less confident.
"…Thank you for your criticism, I guess," he replied hesitantly.
"I'll give it to you anytime," William offered and had another bite. "You'd better improve. If you're good enough when I take over the company, you can work for me."
It was a bold claim to make considering it might not still be going when he was the right age to be taking over, but both accepted it. Noah held out his shortest finger.
William looked at the outstretched finger with a judging eye.
"What's the finger for?"
"A pinky promise. We've just been to America and they do it all the time there. Just link yours with mine."
William followed suit and they shook fingers.
"I promise to become good enough at baking to work for you," Noah proclaimed with renewed confidence.
"I promise to hire you if you meet my standards," William agreed solemnly.
Noah added something in at the last minute. "We also promise to date."
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