Brian Caleb stared out the train window at the French countryside sweeping past. He jumped when he heard a voice, and felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Excuse me, but are you in my French grammar class?"
He had a cute face. A sexy accent. But Brian couldn't place him. Grammar class consisted of sitting at individual booths, listening to tapes, staring at notes, so Brian wasn't in the habit of paying much attention to the other students. "Sorry, I'm not sure."
"Oh, well, maybe you've seen me with long hair and glasses. I had it cut yesterday, and am not wearing glasses, as you can see. So picture me in that manner."
Whether his hair was short or long, and whether or not he sported glasses, Brian would have remembered seeing this face in class. "I'm still not sure."
"Well, I noticed you," he whispered. "I'm Ondoej."
"Uh, hi. I'm Brian." He paused. "I didn't really catch how to pronounce--"
"Ondoej. You must make the 'r' roll, at the same time with a 'sh' sound, and it ends with a 'j', which in Czech is like a 'y' with a little... um, a little stick in your throat. I am not sure how to phrase it."
"Andre," Brian said.
"Yes, well, that is close enough. It has more charm, the way you say it." He scanned the length of the train car, which was nearly empty except for a family seated at the end. "Now I know this place is reserved, but as long as no one is here now, I will sit here. If it is fine with you. With your permission."
"Yeah," Brian said. "That's fine."
Was this cute Czech classmate of his just testing the waters, or had he somehow picked up on the fact Brian was gay? Brian didn't think himself obvious. But Ondoej was flirting--wasn't he?--and held eye contact, letting his arm rest against Brian's when he sat down.
He pictured the seating arrangement of the grammar class, still bothered he'd never noticed Ondoej. He then envisioned Mme. Biraud's scowl and wagging finger whenever anyone spoke anything but French. She'd even warned the students about using other languages in place of French outside of class.
"I guess technically we should be speaking in French," Brian said. "En francais, monsieur, en francais," he continued, imitating Mme. Biraud's unusually manly voice.
"No," Ondoej said, raising his hand. "Stop. I am bored with francais. It bores me." He closed his eyes and sighed.
"Ennui," Brian said, still imitating Mme. Biraud's voice.
Ondoej turned and looked again to Brian. "I wonder if you are glad you have traveled all the way to France. To study." He nudged Brian's arm. "I mean words, as well as men in Paris bars."
Brian's chest tightened. He felt an odd mix of embarrassment and elation. Did this just confirm that Ondoej was, in fact, gay, too? Or was this too optimistic? Maybe Ondoej had merely been in the vicinity of one of the clubs, and spotted Brian entering or exiting. But before Brian could speak, Ondoej nudged his arm again.
"I saw you last night, at Mix," Ondoej whispered. "I, too, get bored spending all my time in the sleepy town of Tours. Surely Tours bores you as well."
Brian looked out the window a moment, to gather his thoughts, hoping he wouldn't say something idiotic. He turned back to Ondoej. "My professor back home told me I had to study in Tours. She said that the Loire region speaks the purest French in the world."
Ondoej shook his head. "They fooled you also." He stared into Brian's eyes. "The men aren't quite so pure here either, but that is okay." He patted Brian's hand. "It makes the time here not so painful."
Ondoej's hand was warm compared to Brian's, which was like ice.
"So when you asked if I was in your grammar class," Brian said, "it was all pretense?"
Ondoej looked confused. "Pre...tense?"
"It means that you--well, that you already knew...ah, I'm not sure how to explain it. It doesn't matter. It was a dumb question."
"Well, you will explain it to me sometime. My English, it's good, but still I'm learning. So if you can teach me more English, I will teach you some Czech. But let's, for now, ignore the French."
Brian was unsure just how seriously to take Ondoej's attitude. "So...if you don't like studying French, why are you in the program?"
He shrugged. "I liked the language when I was a younger boy, but it is all so...mont...monto..."
"Exactly. But France was closer to home than Japan. I want to learn Japanese now, though."
"That's way different from a Romance language."
"It is more artistic."
The door at the far end of the car slid open, and a man started down the aisle. He paused next to Ondoej, checked his ticket, and walked on.
"If no one claims this seat, may I continue to sit here?"
"Sure," Brian said, his hands shaking gently, his heart racing just a little. "Or I can move to the seat next to yours if that stays empty. As long as the ticket agent doesn't yell at us."
"To hell with him. I paid many Euros for this sophisticated train. I won't be pushed around by him." He took Brian's hand. "I will just stay right here."
Brian felt nervous, excited, flustered, and aroused. He loved Ondoej's forwardness. He held Ondoej's hand tightly, though he was scared someone would see them. After a minute he slid his coat over just far enough to cover their hands. He didn't look up to see Ondoej's reaction. But Ondoej moved closer to him.