This is the tale of Cason Banks, a young pastry chef from Surrey England who moves to London to start his career and follow in the successful footprints the Banks family are determined to keep on printing. Though Cason is relatively wealthy, moderately handsome, and determined to create a life for himself, he is also shy, and adamant love is for a certain breed of urbanites. Part 11 – Cason’s story of debauchery manages to break the ice between him and his boss, yet Cason is hiding a secret that’s eating him up a little.
Hi! My name is Christopher Sergi. I’m a novelist and a blogger currently living in the leafy suburbs of Surrey England. The Chocolate Prince will be an ongoing serial depicting the exciting life of Cason Banks as he navigates the new world of London on his search for success and love. Feel free to comment below on where you’d like to see the story go next!
Part 12 – Mixing Drinks
‘Darling,’ said Dominique, a headscarf wrapped over his imaginary hair, his large dark eyes on me from above, ‘I count seven drinks here. What’s wrong with you?’
I had not looked at him directly. Instead, I focused on the glass ceiling of the White Honey, the members-only club I had decided to at last to join up with. Mind you, it wasn’t easy. Not only did I have to prove myself to the management team by baking a cake fit for the Queen, but I also had to fork out a grand, and even with Dominique’s good word I still had to beg Caprice for a sly letter of reference.
Was it worth it, mind? Considering the fact there I was, physically on my back, flat out on a leather sofa watching the sky through the glass, darkening on what was certainly one of England’s hottest days of 2019. Seriously, I never imagined an English August to be this stifling. Thank god for air conditioning and our terrible carbon footprint. I’d even disregarded my staple espresso martini for an ice-heavy gin and tonic with an extra cucumber.
Dominique, with a drink in hand, lifted my feet and dropped them in his lap.
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘love your socks. Paul Smith?’
‘I’ve done something terrible, Dominique?’ I said, the glass base against my forehead.
‘Yes, I see.’ Dominique took off his jacket and handed it to a passing hostess, asking her for another drink and a black coffee for me.
‘No, no, I’m fine.’
‘You’ve had seven gins, darling. What have you done?’
Time to bite the bullet. He was a good guy, Dominique. Not like those fake friends I had in Surrey. Dominique was a successful person who understood the ramifications of gossip. He took entertainment in it, but knew who and who not to dish it back out to. I sat up, pulled back my hair and regaled him with the fact I’d hidden, not only a camera in Anthony Christiansen’s kitchen but also in the building’s back offices, the stockroom, and the garden roof patio, as though I were some professional detective. Give me a badge already!
‘Well, you finally took my bloody advice then?’ said Dominique.
He accepted the black coffee from the hostess and thrust it at me.
‘Don’t throw up will you, darling, you’ll get a penalty. So, have you seen him do anything yet?’
I shook my head and took a sip.
‘Ah, that’s better. No, I haven’t. And yes, I have watched him. Not even a cheeky cigarette. Seriously, if I had a chocolate shop, I’d smoke it everywhere!’
‘Oh, darling. No, you wouldn’t. If you had a shop, you’d have many an illicit rendezvous with gorgeous, fabulous people, naked… drizzling chocolate over each other’s toned bodies. I do it all the time in the gallery. Sex, I mean, not chocolate… can’t afford to get any on the art.’
‘Really?’ I asked, genuinely intrigued.
‘Of course! It’s a business owner’s rite of passage. You can’t have a private premises without christening it. Mind you, might be a little different in your case. Hygiene regulations, I suppose.’
The pair of us fell about over each other’s private hook-ups and the debauched places they took place. But in reality, it looked unlikely that I would catch Christiansen doing anything unsavoury. Despite the odd hiccup, he was wonderfully professional and devoted through and through. Cut him open and coco butter would flow.
‘And what about Gareth?’ asked Dominique, his interest loud in his lowered tone.
‘What about him?’ I wasn’t sure why I was stalling. ‘He is not gay, by the way.’
But Dominique merely looked at me as though I hadn’t tried hard enough with him, or not given the correct signals. He crossed his leg, his Stella McCartney Elyse platform momentarily distracting me.
‘Bollocks,’ he said. ‘Look, I’ve known him for a few years, and I’m telling you I’ve never been surer, darling.’
‘He isn’t, though.’ I shrugged. ‘He came over the other night. Could you believe he gave me a painting? It’s fucking gorgeous, Dominique, you have to see it. But no… he isn’t. And I don’t know exactly if I’ll ever see those tattoos ever again.’
I took a second to imagine the synthesis of chef and artist, how fantastic it would have been to one day awake to those inked muscles entwining my semi-sleepy self, and how we would just lie there for too long, until one of us felt the need to instigate the other: the perfect energy imbuement.
‘We also drank wine,’ I continued. ‘Which I, of course, assumed was completely on-point, but did you know, Dominique, there are actually straight men out there who are nice to gays?’ I hand-sliced the air. ‘No motives, zero intentions to mislead, just straight up nice guys who aren’t afraid of the stupid fucking opinion this bollocky world makes them have. Then afterwards, we had chatted about Darcie, the love of his life. He hugged the air out of me, said his piece, and then he left.’
‘Oh, come here.’ Dominique pulled me in and shushed me. ‘You’ll have a reputation if you wail, darling… that’s it, oh here you are, the gracious hostess has bought you over another coffee.’
He wafted it under my nose.
‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Everything was so straightforward when I was younger. Men were so much easier to understand. Either they wanted to kick your head in, or they had a secret hand gesture to show they were interested in you. Now they walk around with fanny packs over their shoulders, get their nails done, and wear shirts two sizes too small.’
‘And want to be your best friend,’ I said, sniffling.
‘And want to be your best friend, yes.’
The White Honey had busied somewhat since I had arrived. I thought it pointless to leave now for fear of missing a networking opportunity, so we ordered some tapas and a rioja, justifying my mixing of alcohols only because I didn’t care all that much.
‘Who’s that?’ asked Dominique, pointing over to the bar. ‘He looks familiar, doesn’t he?’
I sat up a little straighter and squinted.
‘Huh, I think I work with him, or something. He’s a chef I think… oh crap, yeah… yeah that’s the other guy Anthony hired. What’s his name again? Jack, Jules… um, J—Julian! Yeah, Julian.’
‘Oh, he’s rather handsome.’
‘Nah, he’s a twat!’ I said, finishing a slice of Spanish tortilla. As far as I knew, this Julian, who had the cheek to look down on me during our first seminar, did not exactly come from money. So seeing him here posed many questions. Not that I think the underprivileged don’t deserve the splash of wealth now and then. This is London, after all; a place so expensive a garage would cost more than a four-bedroom house in Wales.
‘Don’t be so crass,’ said Dominique. ‘He doesn’t look too bad… isn’t the girl he’s with lovely.’
‘Look at him, stood over there with his elbow lent on the bar, a sodding cocktail stick in his bloody stupid mouth!’
‘Oh, Cason,’ said Dominique. ‘You need to see yourself, you’re seething!’
‘I don’t like the guy, okay—oh god, he’s coming over, pour me another glass, quick… oh my gosh, Julian, I didn’t know you were a member here!’
‘Hey, Cason,’ said Julian, looking a little bolder since I first met him. ‘Yeah, just yesterday. You guys mind if we join you?’
Now, when I’m drunk, I like to think a minor battle of sorts goes on in inside my body. My brain is very much of sound mind: it can fathom what is happening, it can assume the best and worst outcomes of a scenario, and it is never happy with the actions of every other mushy bloody tenant it has to share my body with. It’s as if all roads and bridges of reason collapse and leave the brain stranded on its own island of comprehension, unable to send out the simplest of commands, whilst the rest of the world crumbles and acts upon some misguided brainless crusade to embarrass itself, whilst the brain has no choice but to watch in horror. That is how it felt when my mouth let forth words that my head merely cringed at.
‘You’re looking rather spiffing tonight, aren’t you?’ I said to my shock. ‘No, of course, sit, sit… hello, I don’t know you, do I?’
‘No, hey, I’m Savannah,’ said the stunner Julian had somehow brought with him. ‘It’s so good to meet you… oh my god, I love your scarf.’
‘Oh,’ said Dominique, the attention now on him. ‘Thank you, darling. I love your teeth. I can tell you’re American just by your smile.’
More drinks arrived. I already knew I’d have my head in the toilet in a few hours, so I saw little point in stopping now. Admittedly, we were an odd bunch lounging there in that corner of the club. There was Dominique in another of his signature jumpsuits, head wrapped in silk. There I was, clad in an Etro paisley shirt that reminded me of Gareth. Then there was Julian, having somehow adopted the look of a modern French poet, whose turtleneck looked incomplete without its adjacent beret. And then there was Savannah, (me, unable to say her name without stressing the thick Americanism that came with it) more stereotype than archetype.
I really didn’t want Julian to sit with us. Dominique and I were doing just fine without him there, and I couldn’t help wondering if Julian had a motive for being here. I hadn’t noticed it before, but he was very confident about how he handled himself. When at work he was very much a conservative, quiet thing, probably because of his professional ethic in the presence of Christiansen. Plus, he now had this Savannah to show off in front of.
‘The way you dropped that cognac, Cason,’ said Julian, as if being the same building was the same as being in the same room when I had snuck into Christiansen’s upstairs office. ‘Hilarious. You know, I honestly thought he was going to batter you because of it.’
Savannah chuckled absentmindedly. Poor thing.
Dominique kept very quiet, sipping another glass of rioja whilst likely keeping an eye out for any clues he and I could decipher later should the evening end on a cliff-hanger.
‘And he wasn’t mad?’ continued Julian. ‘Don’t get me wrong, I mean I know you had your arse handed to you by a Lamborghini but—’
‘No, Mr Christiansen wasn’t mad,’ I said, now back on the espresso martinis. To be fair, my head now started to throb a little, but I put it down more so to frustration than dehydration. ‘We handled it like adults, and I’ve agreed to pay him back, which I’ve nearly done.’ That part was a lie, but there we go.
‘You guys make chocolate,’ said Savannah, pointing out the obvious. ‘That’s awesome.’
‘Not yet, babes,’ said Julian, his arm now behind her back. ‘Cason and I are in an apprenticeship.’
‘What is it you do, Savannah, darling,’ said Dominique, having pried his grip from my wrist at Julian’s use of the word babes.
‘I’m a’ actress,’ said Savannah, looking away shyly. ‘I’m sort’a new. I play a dead girl in some crime drama.’
‘Wonderful,’ said Dominique. ‘Isn’t that wonderful, Cason?’
‘Oh, yes,’ I said, noticing the timepiece on Julian’s wrist. ‘New watch, Julian?’
Julian flourished his wrist out over the table, the light catching the rectangular face of a Cartier Tank watch. I’d walked passed enough boutiques in my short stint as a Londoner to know real from fake, and I could tell the thing was the real deal.
‘So how long have you two known each other?’ I asked, changing the subject for I was already bored of Julian’s boasting.
‘Just a few days,’ said Savanah excitedly. ‘A friend introduced us. I just have such a thing for English boys.’ She sought a lock of Julian’s hair and curled it around her finger. ‘And I love your boss! Julian tells me you’re really into him.’
‘Dominique, I don’t feel very well,’ I said, grabbing his hand this time.
From fear of repainting the walls, Dominique had me on my feet within seconds and rushed down the hall and into the gents. After checking the coast was clear he urged me to hack up everything I could muster before someone walked in.
‘Sorry, darling,’ he said. ‘But people talk, you know.’
I had only half listened. For once in my life the thought of chocolate made me sicker, and I could feel the blood vessels popping under my eyelids with every impulsive heave that had me on my knees. After a minute I collapsed by the basin, guilty to have disgraced what was possibly one of the nicest toilets in London. Why had I allowed such a first world problem to usurp my level-headedness? So Gareth was straight, big deal. Julian had scored a hot American girlfriend and bagged himself a Cartier watch, so what? Again, my brain told me to sh’nap out of it, in its best Cher impersonation, whilst my body flopped and slopped in a mess of self-pity.
Dominique squatted on the loo seat and fished a purse spray from his handbag. He ran a hand through my hair pityingly, which led to a torrent of tears I immediately regrated allowing.
‘Oh Dom,’ I said. ‘I really liked Gareth. Why couldn’t it have worked out?’ I pulled a wad of tissues from the dispenser, dabbing here and there with little accuracy. ‘He was so nice to be around. He was so funny and handsome, and his paintings… oh my god, they’re so beautiful. Have you seen his paintings?’
‘I have, darling, yes,’ said Dominique. ‘Many times. You’ll meet someone else, you’ll see.’
The door to the gents opened, and Julian rushed over, poking his head around the corner of the cubical as if he had some right to do so.
‘Hey, buddy,’ he said… fake bastard. ‘How you doing?’
‘Oh, yeah, fine,’ I lied. ‘I’ve just had a lot tonight, that’s all.
It was here Julian explained his understanding of my predicament, going as far as to pity me over a certain artist. How on Earth he knew about Gareth I could only imagine. He must have heard it from some snitch within the circle. But the most intriguing of all was his recommendation. Giving how I was now theoretically on the rebound, Julian suggested I make more of an effort with Anthony.
I straightened to attention. Puking up had given me a dash of much needed sobriety.
‘There’s so much wrong with what you just said,’ I told Julian.
‘No, no, hear me out,’ he said. ‘A mate of mine told me he saw Anthony in a gay nightclub last week. Seriously, if the guy likes dick, he’ll probably be into yours.’
‘You don’t talk to gays often, do you?’ said Dominique.
‘Nightclubs are dark,’ I said. ‘You’re mate must’ve seen a lookalike.’
But still Julian persisted. He was adamant his friend was no liar, and that even he himself could pick up on a chemical attraction of sorts between Christiansen and myself. But still, I dismissed it as pure gossip, telling Julian to politely mind his own fucking business and bugger off back to sexy Savannah.
On my way home, Dominique keeping me up, I used the night air to return further to my ever so fun normal self. But what Julian had said, despite its lunacy, had stuck. For starters, Anthony wasn’t the nightclub type. He was too classy for that rubbish. And secondly, there was nothing to suggest the man had any interest whatsoever in men. In fact, I don’t even think he was into anything. But turning into Harding Mews, my bad calling to me like an eager Syren, I told Dominique I was ready for a little more sleuthing, involving another hidden camera, and a tour of the Soho nightlife.
I really hope you’ve enjoyed part 12 of Cason Banks’ story. The Chocolate Prince is a weekly serial introducing new characters and exciting new adventures for Cason and his new friends as he navigates the difficult yet rewarding city of London. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, make sure to sign up for my monthly newsletter to be the first to know when the next part of The Chocolate Prince is up!