It had been a few days since Anderson had been asked to accompany Conan O'Brien to France to attend a conference on the use of comedy in advertisement. He was fine with the request to join, but he just didn't see where his input would come into play. Also, it seemed like it would put strain on his relationship with his partner Ben, what with another issue involving his being out of the United States, as they had both compromised and agreed to having only rare occasions separate them. It weighed heavily on his conscious, for he had accepted the invitation already. He just hoped that Ben would understand...
The looming aura of doubt still lingered, dampening any chance of positive outlook that might attempt to break through. Anderson took a deep breath as he inserted his key into the lock of their apartment, pushing the door open with his shoulder more suddenly than he usually did. His face flushed, hoping Ben wouldn’t notice his haste, though his uncertainty was cast aside for a moment once his nostrils were invaded with the scent of curry-based cuisine.
"You're home!" his boyfriend exclaimed, when he happened to look up from his task of transporting their dinner from the plastic bag it had been originally carried in to the small table that adorned the dining room.
"Yes sir, I am," Anderson answered, moving to stand behind him, encasing his waist in the lock of his strong arms, presenting him with a light kiss on the earlobe, a feature that identified the foreigner as the man whom he had come to admire so much. Another reason for his stomach to drop to his feet with paranoia at how the aftermath would unfold.
"I'm glad that you finally showed up. I was beginning to worry that you would be late," Ben confided, leaning his forehead into Anderson's.
"That's traffic for you. Besides, I would have called to let you know if I hadn't been able to make it back here on time," Anderson responded, nuzzling Ben's temple. Releasing his grip on Ben's hips, he assisted with carrying their meal to the surface of the wooden piece of furniture, facing Ben across from his seat. "Interesting choice you decided on for tonight's dinner," Anderson commented, taking his first bite of the food.
"Well, I thought it might be a nice switch from what we seem to get," Ben stated, beginning to eat. "Not to mention that it was closer."
"How convenient to our busy schedules," Anderson remarked, noticing that an opening was created for the news needing to be brought up.
"Work wasn't the reason entirely, I just didn't feel in the mood to drive all the way out there for our usual feasting," Ben answered in return.
Uh oh, he wasn't in the mood. Did that mean he also wasn't going to be up for the unexpected to come from his lips? Anderson silently panicked at whether or not there laid a hidden meaning lurking underneath.
"Was it exciting at the office today?" Ben questioned, carrying on casual conversation just like on any other normal night, not seeming to pick up on Anderson's uneasiness.
“It was pretty much the same as always,” Anderson said, before he mustered up the courage to add, “but there was a slight change that made it a little unusual."
"Oh? What does that mean?" Ben asked, interest taking hold of his tone of voice.
"Uh... I was given the opportunity to join Conan on a trip to France for a conference," Anderson answered.
"What did you say to the offer?"
Anderson couldn't help but take in a small gulp. "I accepted." he confessed, his heart speeding at the peak of the weight of pressure as the room remained silent. The chestnut brown eyes belonging to the love his life bore into his icy blue ones, unblinking while the information was processed.
"How long are you to be gone for?"
"For a week at the most," Anderson stated, which was met by a sigh.
"Mon Cheri..." Ben started off with their shared pet name for each other, striking fear into Anderson once it had been uttered from the mouth he always looked forward to kissing, which may no longer be available after the stunt pulled.
"Darling, hear me out..." he pleaded desperately for whatever way there might possibly be.
"I'm listening," Ben replied, waiting.
"I really didn't have a choice in saying no. They put me on the spot, and I felt obligated not to be negative. If I had been given notice ahead of time, I would have discussed it with you first," Anderson explained, tears starting to appear at the brink of his eyes, making him lower his gaze to the grains of the wood. Keeping his sight on the patterns, he did not notice that his partner had enveloped him into his equally stable grasp, resting his stubble-covered chin onto the shoulder that was layered in the combination of suit jacket and button-up shirt, the appropriate attire that vibrated the title of Anderson's position.
"I understand that you had to be think fast, and I am glad you didn't shoot them down. Also, you know you don't have to have my approval in anything unless you feel you need to have it, for you are an adult," Ben responded, making sure it was known to his beau.
"But I have to let you know. We're still in a relationship, and we settled on not having many
situations keep us apart," Anderson retorted.
"Of course. If you had just pranced off with no mention, then that would be a problem. As you said, you weren't really given the option, so this one won't count against you," Ben said, chuckling slightly at the last of his sentence.
"Thank you," was all Anderson could let out, holding onto the wrist of one of Ben's clasped hands.
"You're welcome. You owe me one though," Ben quipped, resting his mouth against Anderson's jawline.
"Fair enough," he grumbled, wondering what the favor had the potential to manifest into, though the mood did lighten up, tension dissolving and unleashing more affection while the two cleaned up and settled down on their shared bed for the night, Anderson's palm laying face down on the fabric of Ben's shirt, barely noticed as he was pulled closer into his side, feeling so secure as he was greeted with the subtle rise and fall of his partner's chest, convincing the ivory lashes of his eyelids to flutter to a close.
Time sped by, leaving hardly an empty moment to spare as the anchor got his belongings together for the flight, making it seem even more sudden than the proposition had initially been.
"Have you all that you'll be needing?" Ben asked, for what appeared to be the hundredth time it was mentioned, though Anderson knew he meant to be of help by repeating this.
"Yes, honey," Anderson answered, knowing fully well that it wouldn't satisfy.
"I fear you'll be missing something important," Ben stated, an obvious observation made, as Anderson took his luggage down the flight of steps, followed by Ben, who would be driving him over.
Something resonated strangely as Ben attempted to take the suitcase from the hand it was held in. "Bennie, I can carry it," Anderson told him, not wanting to burden him in any way before the seven days that were coming would tear them apart temporarily.
"I don't mind doing it. Plus, I don't want you to be tired before entering the terminal, Andy," Ben remarked, not releasing his grip. Anderson reluctantly allowed him to load the container into the trunk of their vehicle.
With the silent ride to the destination seeming to go smoothly, Anderson nestled his fluffy cloud of hair against the window frame, letting himself get caught in a reverie of what the future held for their relationship -- for just as everyone else was thinking, no matter how close or not they were to the couple in terms of knowing them personally, or mere fans. Anderson was always considering the right moment that they would finally become husbands, knowing that Ben didn't have a preference, as long as it happened when it was best for both, in case they were unable to sneak away from their careers simultaneously.
"We're here," Ben alerted his partner, placing his hand ever so softly on Anderson's thigh to get his attention. Though be that as it may, it did nothing to prevent Anderson from jumping in his seat as he was reeled back into reality by Ben's beautiful accent.
"So quickly?" Anderson asked, stunned by how it had gone by.
"We've been here for a while. I was just waiting to see if you'd come to independently. "
"You could have interrupted."
"I didn't want to disturb you," Ben returned, not wanting to argue over such a minute choice, unbuckling his seatbelt as he continued forward to retrieve Anderson's possessions, handing the single carry-on over.
"I guess this is goodbye, for now at least," Anderson sighed, resenting the departure, as was expected. Though, instead of being given a solemn kiss, Anderson was met with Ben picking up a second bag. "Why are you getting that?" he questioned, confused, as Ben shut the trunk of their car.
"Oh, I've decided that I'm coming with you," Ben stated matter-of-factly, casually facing him.
"But there was only one ticket they sent."
"I know. That's why I'll buy one at the gate."
"I might not have a lot of time to freely spend," Anderson confessed. It wasn't that he didn't want his partner to accompany him, he just was unsure that Ben would want to deal with having to stay low key throughout the whole event.
"Still, when was the last time we went on vacation?" Ben queried, presenting another point altogether.
Anderson knew the answer to that, not wanting to spoil any sort of mood that was present currently. "Alright," he told him, hoping that the person who had signed him up for it would be lenient enough to allow some freedom to explore where Ben had lived for the first part of his life. He let the exchange of words come to a halt as he took Ben's hand and was led inside.
Though the flight had taken a while to both take off and land, once they had arrived, Anderson saw how much it was worth coming to France, appreciating that his lover had
been so determined to come with him. Despite having to be on the job, it would be a nice break from being at home.
"Bienvenue en France!" Ben exclaimed, enthusiastically, squeezing Anderson's fingers a little too tightly.
"Care to translate?"
"Welcome to France.”
"Oh, thank you for the hospitality," Anderson stated, giving a slight peck to Ben's neck.
"Anything for my sweet," Ben answered back, returning the gesture as he led him off. They walked through the place before Anderson had to attend the meeting, his first priority upon the site. The day went by much quicker than anticipated.
As they departed, he caught up with Ben, ready to be able to do things with his beau for the rest of the time they had to be there.
"Now that you're done with the meeting, are you ready to go back to our hotel so we can freshen up before we go sightseeing?" Ben suggested as he linked his arm with Anderson's.
"That sounds like a plan to me," Anderson answered, beginning to walk with Ben down the paved sidewalk to their temporary residence. As they walked in with no spoken words between them, he came to a sudden realization. They were in a remarkable country that had recently decided upon allowing same-sex marriage, and he had come upon many mentions from people who adored him hoping he would go through with the act any time soon. It wasn't like it hadn't crossed his mind beforehand; it always did frequently when he was embracing Ben. It was just a matter of events: buying the ring, popping the question, how private it would be, and the location. Anderson could only dwell on how this city of France would serve as where they would tie the knot as Ben took a shower, probably free of any pressing decisions that would or would not be brought up. If only it were that easy...
He was lost in his own mind as Ben emerged from the bathroom, a beige towel wrapped around his hips, droplets of the opaque liquid still rolling off various intervals of his darker flesh, an overwhelming sight that usually shook Anderson from any distractions. The only thing that jarred him back from his absence was the change in weight on the open space on the mattress right beside him. "Is something bothering you?" Ben questioned, cupping Anderson's jawline, bringing it towards him so he could look his partner in the face with no way of escape as an alternative.
"I've just been running things over in my head," Anderson stated.
"Care to share your woes?" Ben asked curiously, hoping to be of some assistance to Anderson.
"Well..." Anderson started with, sighing gingerly. "I don't want to dampen your spirits, sweetie," he used as a pretense.
"Understandable. Well, let me know when you feel it's right, for I am always here to lend an ear and help guide you along," Ben gave back, resting the bottom of chin on top of Anderson's head as Anderson buried his face into the hollow of his neck for comfort.
"How did I end up so lucky?" Anderson's muffled question reverberated against the Ben's neck.
“We were meant to be, is how we came to find each other." Ben replied, giving a light laugh, rubbing his palm up and down Anderson's back in a slowly paced motion, against the fabric of his suit. "We should dress now," he remarked, realizing they had been sitting together in this position for a while now. Nodding, Anderson threw on a pair of jeans, along with a grey shirt, and his regular tennis shoes, multitasking as he snuck a few glances at his boyfriend, allowing his heart to flutter while he viewed Ben climbing into similarly casual clothes, reaching out a hand once he had finished the task, to Anderson.
Climbing down the same flight of stairs that led up to their rented room, Anderson nearly forgot about the dilemma that had crowded the interior of his skull, feeling free for a time as they trekked to the destination, though it would come with a bit of a wait for transportation over to Ile Sainte-Margurite.
"Bennie, will you hail a ferry to take us? There's something I need to do quickly," Anderson brought up from the mute veil they had came in.
"Of course, babe. Just don't take too long," Ben responded.
With a swift smooch, Anderson snuck off when Ben wasn't looking his way, having spotted a jewelry store on the block they had been on. Knowing he would lose his nerve if he didn't hurry there, Anderson went in haste, already having in mind what he was going to purchase. He paid the shopkeep, pocketing the small, black box that accompanied it, and jogged back to the place he had left Ben standing.
"Ready to go?" Ben queried, not giving heed to Anderson's sudden rush away.
"I sure am," he told him, as they walked up the gangway onto the boat that would carry them across the shimmering water, sitting beside Ben and shifting closer as the transportation began its motion. It split the waves from the bow as it went along, the sun lowering upon the horizon, transforming the fast fifteen minutes into a moment of pure romantic bliss for both men. Getting up, Anderson led Ben onto the shore of the island, slipping an arm around his waist.
"It's a majestic piece of history," Ben muttered in awe, taking it all in slowly.
"It sure is. A couper le souffle," Anderson stated, though it would have been better if his serious claim hadn't been met with laughter from others mixed with Ben's. "What?" he asked, clearly confused.
"Honey... I appreciate that you're practicing my language, but you butchered that single word," Ben told him, blushing as he repeated it correctly.
"Oh, I see," Anderson replied, his cheeks flushing too.
"Aww, it's alright. You'll learn," Ben added, realizing it made him feel self-conscious.
"I'll keep trying," Anderson agreed, leading him off in a random direction, peppered with more embarrassing efforts at speaking his tongue. They stopped suddenly beside a stream to catch their breath from the walk.
"Are you having a great time so far?" Anderson asked as they paused from the activity.
"Yes sir," Ben answered joyfully, sitting atop a nearby rock that overlooked the brook.
"Good, because there's something I wanted to bring to your attention while we're out here."
"What might that be?"
Taking a deep breath, Anderson's heart sped up as he slipped the container out of it's hiding place, opened up the lid, and leaned down on one knee. "I wanted to ask if you would elope with me so we can get married," he told Ben, daring to look him in the eye. For a moment, Anderson was convinced that the longer they stared in this stretch of silence, the more he was likely to be rejected, until Ben kneeled onto the forest floor, wrapping his arms around Anderson's neck.
"Yes, I will marry you, but I'm not going to elope."
"Why not?" Anderson asked, his heart sinking.
"You know as well as I do that both of our parents would kill us if we didn't allow them to celebrate our big day with us," Ben reasoned.
"I see where you're coming from," Anderson stated, feeling guilty that he would consider doing that to his mother. "Also, you have no idea how happy you've made me," he added, tearing Ben's hand away gently and pushing the engagement band into place onto the fourth finger of his hand, his soul flickering with the affects of love's change into a new bond.
"I can't begin to tell you how much both you and this moment mean to me," Ben responded, marveling at the adornment, at how the ring radiated with the aura of such emotions that flowed between them for this relationship they were so committed to all along, much like the water that filled the patch of earth carve into the ground.
"Is that why you left me to retrieve the ferry?" Ben questioned, interrupting the mute surroundings to ease his suspicions.
"Yes. There was a shop close by on our route, and I just couldn't resist, because in our hotel room, I flaked..." Anderson explained.
"No wonder you were so nervous." Ben concluded. "You know I wouldn't have denied gaining the title of being your husband," he added, combing his fingers through the snowy strands of hair he loved to pet.
"True. I just wanted to do it right, and this setting seemed better."
"I'm touched that you wanted to impress me. But, if I'm going to wear a ring, I think you should."
"You know how I feel about keeping our personal lives secretive."
"Coming from the man who told the world at the GLAAD awards that we are, in fact, a couple." Ben argued, chuckling as he ruffled the area he was stroking.
"Fine. Where will we get it from?" Anderson asked.
"You should know," Ben retorted playfully, helping him onto his feet and taking him back down the same path they had went on to arrive at the place where the next level of their relationship had been reached.
Once they were on dry land, Ben took his partner into the store where Anderson had purchased the piece of jewelry he now displayed ever so proudly, slipping it onto Anderson's ring finger, agreeing that when he was on the air, he would not wear it, in case he might raise his left hand up in front of the camera and expose their secret to those they both did not want to know prematurely, for even walking around in public it was easier to shield from anyone's view. The exchange left a weight pressing on Anderson's heart that he enjoyed the presence of, hoping that it was mutual, as they would now become much more connected than previously, an occurrence that he was so glad had finally came into existence.
Now all that remained was the spreading of the news to the people in their lives who should be notified, a new nervousness that was sure to be aroused when they got home from the journey they had embarked on.