'Why do you want to work here?' asked Marianne.
'Well, Ms. Wolf, I think your designs are inspiring and emblematic of the world we live in today. Your blend of urban, western and African couture is, in my mind, quite revolutionary and I know I would be able to really learn a lot of art and fashion and design under your guidance,' I said confidently.
'And that's really why you want to work here?' she asked, looking at me quizzically.
'I just don't buy it Mr Keller. I've been tracking your career ever since it started with you as the face of Calvin Klein jeans. Since then, you've worked with the biggest fashion houses in all of Europe and America, and from what I've read you weren't just doing modeling work. You interned under some very influential photographers, designers and creative minds,' she said, handing me the letters of reference that Katie had sent to her, 'Why wouldn't you want to work there again, I mean Paris, Milan, New York. Those are the fashion capitals of the world. Yes I might have a great influence in the South African context but my label will never be as renowned as Versace or Chanel, at least not in my lifetime. So I ask you again, why South Africa, why Cape Town, why here?'
I wasn't sure what she wanted me to say and the fact that she was trying to creep into my psyche made me nervous. I readjusted myself in my seat and breathed deeply before responding to her question. I started speaking without any resolute answer already formulated in my head.
'I want to be close to home,' I said, 'I've just come back from Europe a few months ago and it consumed me completely. Yes I was young and had some troubles going in, but I think I came back even more scarred. Truthfully, I'm not ready to go back there. My family and friends are here, my partner whom I love above all else is here and we are finally together and happier than we've ever been and I don't want to risk losing that now. I really do think that your work is inspiring Ms. Wolf, and your designs are as innovative and creative as any I've ever seen. That is why I want to work here, for all of those reasons.'
'Thank you Mr Keller, thank you for your honesty. It's all I wanted to hear. You'll soon learn that here at Marianne Wolf we are a family and honesty is an integral part of being successful in working together.'
Marianne stood up from behind her desk and gathered a few material samples from a large pile to her right.
'So...I've got the job?' I asked, registering what she had just said.
'Yes Mr Keller, or should I call you Alex, you have the job starting Monday.'
I stood up and shook her hand.
'Thank you so much Ms. Wolf,'
'You can just call me Marianne, and it's a pleasure. I look forward to having you as part of our team. Enjoy your weekend,' she said and left her office.
I stood there for a few seconds not knowing what to do with myself. I walked out into the store, which was the bigger of two Marianne Wolf boutiques in Cape Town and the biggest of six in the whole of South Africa.
'Welcome,' said one of the shop assistants, a guy with blond hair and blue eyes and wide smile, 'It's always nice to see a new face around here.'
'Oh, she told you?' I asked.
'Yeah, I'm Levi Wolf. Marianne is my mom. I sometimes work here during the holidays. She says it draws the female clientele,' he said.
'Your mom's a smart lady,' I said and smiled kindly.
'Yeah, she's brilliant. And I'm not just saying that because she's my mom.'
'Look, a friend of mine is getting married and I have to meet him at the Carducci store to pick out a suit for the big day. I was hoping that you could tell me where it is. This mall is ten times bigger than it was the last time I was here.'
'Oh it's quite simple. Carducci is one floor up, just above our store. Just take the escalator and follow the passage above this one and you'll find it in no time.'
'Thanks and enjoy the rest of your day. I'm sure we'll run into each other soon.'
'I hope so.'
I nodded and left the shop, smiling at the youthful confidence in his final statement.
'So how did it go?' asked Dane as soon as I had settled down in one of Carducci's wingback leather armchairs.
'Yeah, did you get it? Did you get it?' asked Jason, who was also one of Dane's best men, jumping up and down in a suit that way too big for him.
'Yeah I got it,' I said with a huge grin.
'Aaw, look who's all shy. Congrats buddy, that's fantastic,' said Dane ruffling my hair.
'Excuse me,' called Jason for one of the assistants. A young Indian girl arrived. 'Can you please bring this man a glass of champagne,' he exclaimed pointing at me.
'Sir, we don't serve alcohol here. I can bring you coffee or team,' she said.
'Very well,' Jason looked at me expectantly.
'Tea please,' I said to the girl, 'and for these two as well.'
'So when do you start?' continued Dane.
'On Monday, she works from her home in Camp's Bay, so I have to drive all the way there.'
'As long as you don't have to work on Saturdays, I don't want you absent at my wedding next weekend.'
'Don't worry,' I consoled him, 'I wouldn't miss it for the world.'
'So what do you think of the suit?' asked Jason staring deeply into the mirror as though he was awaiting an answer from it.
'Too big, and I think black is better than brown,' I said getting up and surveying him properly.
I took a walk to the multitude of suits hanging on the rails and picked out a few for Dane, Jason and myself. The suits fitted snugly, which complimented Dane and Jason's well-built physiques and I continued to pick out black waist-coats and 2 black skinny ties for Jason and myself, and a chrome coloured one for Dane. He needed to stand out, since it was his wedding after all.
'Wow that went fast. I guess that's what happens when you have a professional dressing you,' said Jason.
'Yeah if it weren't for you Alex, we probably would have been here until closing time and have bought terrible powder blue suits in the process,' joked Dane.
'I'm glad I could help,' I gushed.
'By the way, what does my wife-to-be's dress look like, since you went with her to pick it out?'
'Very elegant, but I really can't tell you more than that. You'll just have to wait and see.'
'You know, I've decided not to jack off until the wedding day,' said Dane, 'I want to be explosive on the wedding night!'
'Whoa dude, overshare!' shouted Jason as I laughed hysterically.
The jokes continued until we were out of the mall and had gone our separate ways. I couldn't remember a time when I had laughed so much. I then drove the short distance to my previous high school to pick up Jacob for his mid-semester break, which would last a week, and drove home.
By the time we reached the farm the sun was already almost completely submerged behind the mountains which formed the valley in which our farm was cradled. I awoke Jacob who had fallen asleep in the passenger seat and dropped him off at the main house and then drove the short distance to mine and Hugo's. It was no our home.
When I reached the house I noticed that Hugo's muddy Wellingtons were placed beside the front door. He seemed to be home early, usually always returning homes once the sun had completely vanished. I entered the house. It was cold and dark. I switched on the lights in the kitchen, dining room and lounge, which shared a single living area and also turned up the AC a few degrees higher than normal. I made my way to the bedroom and found it dark too with the curtains drawn. I switched on my bedside lamp and found Hugo's clothes strewn across the floor. I heard him in the shower. I picked up the clothes from the floor and laid them neatly on the bed, something Hugo normally did. I took off my coat, hung it up and sat on the edge of the bed and waited for him to come out of the bathroom. After ten minutes I heard the sound of the shower seize and five minutes later Hugo appeared in the steam filled doorway with a towel around his waist.
'Hi,' he said, sounding surprised to see me sitting there and staring at him.
'Hi,' I said back.
I watched as he dried himself off properly and wrapped one of the fluffy white robes around himself. When he was done he turned to look at me. I motioned for him to sit next to me, which he did. I moved behind him and sat with him between my legs, facing his back.
'What's wrong?' I asked, knowing that everything wasn't alright.
He gently took hold of my ankles and slipped my shoes off as he spoke.
'My grandfather, the one I stayed with in France, passed away this morning.'
I now had my hands on his shoulders and I felt the tension within them. I could him trying to keep himself together, composed. I rested my head against his back and spoke into the robe.
'I'm so sorry, I'm so, so sorry, I know how much you love him.'
I put my arms underneath his and crossed them over his chest and hugged him to me. He squeezed my thighs in appreciation of my sympathy. This was the second loved one Hugo had lost in the past three years; first his mother and now his grandfather.
'How did it happen?' I asked him.
'Heart attack,' was all he said.
We stayed still and silent for a few minutes before I spoke again.
'When's the service?' I finally asked.
'It's next Sunday morning, on the estate.'
'I want to go with you,' I said.
'You have a wedding on Saturday evening remember, your best friends' wedding,'
'Clare and Dane will understand,'
'No, they'll understand if I don't make it, but you...you have to be there and I won't have it any other way. Your friends need you there,'
'And you don't need me with you?'
'I'll have you for the rest of my life. I'm sure I can get through, at least, a couple of days by myself,'
'At most a couple of days,' I teased.
He relaxed a little but still had his guard up. I changed the subject.
'What do you want for supper?' I asked.
'I'm not really hungry,' he replied.
'Like hell you're not really hungry,' I said, knowing that he was or least would be soon.
'Really, I'm not,' he persisted.
'Well, ' I said slipping my right hand through the front of his robe an drubbing his tummy, 'I'm going to make you something anyway. You'll be hungry later, chicken soup?' I suggested.
Hugo didn't say anything but simply nodded his head slightly. I got up and made to leave when Hugo grabbed my hand, kissed it and held it to his cheek. I moved toward him and placed my other hand on his cheek. He looked up at me and I leaned down and kissed his forehead.
'I love you,' I said.
Hugo nodded affirmatively and let me go.
While I was busy preparing the food in the kitchen Hugo came in and stretched himself out on the sofa in the lounge. He was silent, no doubt thinking about the two and a half years he spent living and working with his grandfather in Burgundy, on the estate which he loved so dearly. I let him ponder while I made the soup and didn't disturb him until I had finished.
I put the food on a tray and took it to him. He had his eyes closed and I nudged him with my knee. He sat up and took the tray from me.
'Thank you,' he said.
'Were you sleeping?' I inquired.
'No, just thinking,' he said sounding not quite ready to expand on what he was thinking about. Hugo wolfed down the soup and toast, like I knew he would. I watched him quietly as he ate but he didn't seem to mind. When he was nearly done I returned to the kitchen, poured some milk into a mug, warmed it in the microwave, and took it to him. I stood behind him and passed the mug over his shoulder. He held it quietly, with both hands, in his lap. I rested my hands on his shoulders and drew them up to his neck. I reached around with my right hand and stroked from his jaw line to his chin and all the way down to his throat. As I laid my hand over his Adam's apple he gulped heavily and I knew he was fighting hard to hold back the tears. I climbed over the back of the sofa, took the mug from him and placed it on the coffee table where the tray now was. I straddled him and put both my hands around his neck. He wouldn't look at me and his body was lame.
'Hey, hey Hugo, look at me,' I said placing my hands over his ears, half consoling him, half trying to get him to look at me. Finally he did, and I saw the pain he was in. His eyes were red with sadness and glistened like to large puddles of water under a red sunset. I kissed his lips gently and his body shuddered. The tears streamed down his face now and he cried deeply into my chest. Here was a grown man completely heartbroken and I was determined to be strong for him.
After he had purged, I made him drink his milk and go straight to bed. In his absence I had some of the soup while calling my dad to tell him what had happened. When I was done I slipped into bed behind Hugo. We were both naked and I pressed as much of my skin as I could against his. He ended up turning around and placing his head in the crook of my neck and a leg across my midriff. He held me to him. I put one arm around his back and the other over his arms. I kissed the top of his head. For the first time in our relationship Hugo was the one being cradled and I reveled in the feeling of the one being able to do it.