“You really won’t reconsider?”
He shook his head. “I’ve never had any interest in that kind of career. I like where I am now. I’d rather stay as I am.”
She sighed. “Alright. I won’t push you any more. I only thought that maybe you’d had a change of heart since some time had passed.” Gathering up her papers, she slipped the folder into her bag. “Well, I won’t take any more of your time.”
But something had distracted him, and from the sound of it, it was apparently a second visitor. Leaning forward, he craned his neck to peek around the kitchen corner.
“Welcome home,” he called out quietly. Cécile twisted around from where she sat on the island stool to see the pretty face emerging from the darkness. Setting down her purse on the granite, she leaned up to kiss her husband. Cécile glanced away, blushing.
“How are you, my darling?” he murmured.
Wrapping their arms around one another, they apparently forgot the presence of the third wheel in the room. Embarrassed, she tried to decide whether to clear her throat or not – what exactly was the etiquette for a situation like this? – when she heard, “Hello, Cécile. It’s nice to see you again.”
“For me as well.”
“I hope you’ve visited with good news, and not any bad?”
“Oh, no. Lelouch has been keeping me happily busy. I just came to double-check some things, what with the imminent new year.”
“He hasn’t kept you chained to your desk, has he?”
Cécile smiled warmly. “Happily. As his manager, I’d much rather have too much to do than too little.”
“Yes, well, enough about business,” he said. “The work day is over, and now it’s time to wind down. Cécile, would you like to stay for dinner?”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t. I-”
“Do join us,” said his wife. “We’d be happy to have you join us. Maybe then I can find out a thing or two what exactly Lelouch does all day. He’s always so secretive.”
Laughing nervously, she caught the twinkle in her eye before allowing herself to relax. So she had just been joking about that last part.
“But seriously. Stay, Cécile. It’s been so long since we’ve been able to talk.”
“I’d hate to impose…”
“Oh, nonsense,” he said. “You’re as good as family at this point. We’ve certainly suffered through enough together to be.”
“Then I suppose I could stay…”
The couple smiled at her, and the older woman couldn’t help but flush; they were just so beautiful and perfect in every way. It was hard to believe sometimes that they were just as human as she.
Then again, there were the memories of their earlier years to draw upon.
“I’m going to go wash up. I’ll be right back.”
“Okay. Come back soon.” He refused to let go of her hand as she pulled away. “I miss you already.”
“You’re the worst.”
But everyone could hear the grin in her voice. Returning his attention to the stovetop, he quietly hummed to himself. Setting her purse down on the empty stool beside her, Cécile leaned forward.
“Do you mind if I ask you something personal?”
“By all means, please do.”
She studied him as he plated the sizzling asparagus. Throwing the small towel over his shoulder, he set the frying pan down before reaching for the fettuccine alfredo.
“Lelouch, have you been saying no because of C.C.?”
It wasn’t until he had pulled out the lemon pepper chicken from the oven when he finally replied. Distributing each onto their waiting plates, he silently busied himself with his task before emptying his hands and wiping them on the towel.
“…Partially. But not completely.”
“I just wanted to ask. I feel terrible for always asking the same question. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
“It doesn’t make me uncomfortable,” he said quietly. “I just…would rather not. As I said before, I like my life right now as it is. I don’t really want much out of my career; just enough money to live comfortably with C.C. Be able to give her whatever she wants. And so long as I have time to spend with her, I’ll stay as I am because it works for me, and I know it works for her too. I don’t want to ruin this.” Glancing up at her from where he had been staring at his slippers, he said, “I’m perfectly happy as I am now.”
“Then I won’t ask again,” she promised.
“If I do happen to have a change of mind, I’ll make sure to tell you. But for now, my answer is no.”
“Answer to what question?”
They both turned to see C.C. strolling into the kitchen. She had changed into somewhat more comfortable clothes (though by no means was it what she normally changed into after her usual evening rinse) and seemed sufficiently more relaxed. Her short top exposing her belly button, she reached up for a couple wine glasses. Her husband stood up to help her.
“Would you prefer white wine, red wine, or some rosé?”
“Oh! I’m not sure if I should drink wine tonight…” she said softly. “I drove here.”
“It’s a Friday,” C.C. said. Smiling not unkindly at her, she cheerfully added, “And Lelouch will take you home. Right?”
Blinking, Cécile was overwhelmed by the charm of the couple. It was just so… You wanted to say yes to them, regardless of your own opinion, simply on the virtue of not wanting to disappoint them. The younger woman set two glasses down as her husband brought out some other stemware.
“For water,” he explained.
“It’s because he’s European,” his wife said sarcastically. But the two smiled at each other anyway, as did Cécile. How could she not? Were there not two others more beautiful and lovely than them?