This is a short little bonus scene that comes after End of the Line but before Lost at the Crossing. It depicts the first time Leo takes Killian to Germany to officially meet his family.
In my twenty-five years on earth, I’d hopped on and off more freight trains than I could count. It was second nature. Nothing about it frightened me anymore. For a street kid who’d wanted to bounce cities and move around a lot, it was the most economical method of travel.
It felt safe.
A few weeks ago, when Leo mentioned his father wanted to fly us to Germany for Christmas so we could have dinner with his family, I’d almost swallowed my tongue.
Jumping on an airplane had never been on my bucket list. How in seven hells was traveling thirty-five thousand feet in the air in a sixty-ton tin can death trap safe?
“Now boarding first-class passengers on flight 416 to Frankfurt,” the man on the intercom said.
Leo slapped my leg with a beaming smile. “That’s us. Are you ready?”
There was no correct answer to that question.
“Are you still blaming the ocean?”
“Yes. If there wasn’t an ocean, they would have built a train between here and Germany. If there was a train, this would be easy.”
“Flying is a thousand times easier than hopping freights. You’ll see. You don’t have to do the work. The pilot does it all, and we can sit back, have a drink, and sleep.”
“See, totally out of my control.”
Yes, I was nervous, but I’d been playing it up a bit since Leo seemed to enjoy the little role reversal we had going on. It had only been a few months since I’d taught him the ropes about freight hopping.
I hooked my tattered and worn rucksack on my shoulder, and Leo grabbed his much newer one and did the same. We’d packed carry-ons since we were only heading to the other side of the world for a few days—yes, I was still processing this. A few days!
And, of course, we were flying first class.
Leo’s father had paid for everything—our Greyhound bus ride from Halifax to Toronto, our night in a fancy-schmancy hotel penthouse near the airport, the crazy amount of room service we’d ordered, the drinks we’d consumed, and our first-class tickets.
I didn’t know how to live this kind of life. Spoiled rich kid and Killian Daniel Jessup had never been used in the same sentence before. But this life was second nature to Leo, so I did my best to copy his nonchalance and try not to look… poor.
The other option had been Leo’s father sending the personal jet to get us, but Leo had put his foot down and had told him that was silly. We can fly like normal people, he’d said.
I kept reminding myself normal people flew all the time.
Leo hooked his arm with mine and steered me toward the lady checking tickets at the counter. He leaned in and whispered in my ear. “We’ll give the lady our tickets. She’ll scan them, then we can go find our seats. Easy-peasy.”
I wondered if he could feel the tremble running through me.
Tickets scanned, we traversed a long tunnel-like thing to the end where it connected with the plane. Inside, a flight attendant greeted us and welcomed us aboard. Our seats were up front. Leo showed me where we stowed our carry-ons, then waved for me to take the spot by the window.
“You’ll love it.”
I wasn’t sure that was true.
Time would tell.
Leo settled beside me, a wide grin monopolizing his face. He wore a knitted turtleneck under his wool coat, and the dark charcoal color made his eyes shine.
“Are you nervous?” he asked, leaning in beside me to see out the window.
“Do I look nervous?”
He studied my face. “You’re a bit green.”
“No, you’re a bit green.” I stuck out my tongue, and he rolled his eyes.
Leo had taken me shopping before we’d left Halifax, explaining how beat-up cargos that smelled permanently of diesel fuel and worn-out hoodies with holes in them, along with thermals sporting unraveling hems weren’t suitable for a dinner party.
I’d wanted to say that I wasn’t suitable for a dinner party, but Leo was over the moon at the prospect of me meeting his family. So, I’d followed him from store to store as he outfitted us both in more appropriate clothing. It was once again a role reversal of the time I’d taken him clothes shopping at a thrift store in Toronto, so he was suitable to ride.
Again, the whole shopping trip had been on Daddy’s budget.
There was a distinct class difference between us, and I didn’t think it was as apparent to Leo as it was to me. This trip was so far outside my realm of normal, I felt like a newborn giraffe trying to sort out his ridiculously long legs and finding out I’d somehow been born with an extra I couldn’t dream of ever knowing how to control.
However, none of it mattered when Leo looked at me with his glacier-colored eyes glowing with happiness. When I saw them, it warmed me inside and out, and our differences evaporated.
We settled in for the flight. Leo cozied up beside me like we were relaxing in bed and not about to launch into the air and catapult to another dimension.
It was an eight-hour flight, and when we landed, his father had people picking us up at the airport. People. Not an Uber. Not a dude driving a taxi, but people. As in hired help. As in one of those dreaded men in black who’d chased Leo across the country a few months ago.
I blew out a breath. One step at a time.
The take-off was terrifying. I almost pissed myself, but no matter how many times I checked other people’s faces, no one seemed to be panicking, so it was apparently a me thing. The whole turning-the-plane-around-in-the-air bit so we were aimed in the right direction almost had me revisiting breakfast.
Leo found my panic amusing. He buried his face in my shoulder and giggled—fucking giggled—the whole time. I almost broke his hand with my death grip, and I wasn’t sorry.
It got better once we were cruising at altitude.
“Are you okay now?” There was still a hint of humor in Leo’s tone. His cheeks were flush from his laughter.
I scowled. “Whoever invented flying should be shot.”
“They’re dead already.”
“Well, then they should be brought back to life again and shot.”
Leo pinched his lips together, but his giggle snuck out. “You know this is less dangerous than hopping freights, right?”
“You’re doing amazing.” He leaned in, and my worries vanished when his silky soft lips connected with mine. He lingered in my space after. “Thank you for agreeing to this.”
I smiled, my fears evaporating for the moment. “Anything for you.”
But if flying hadn’t caused enough apprehension, the moment we landed—another experience I didn’t care to repeat—the true source of my anxiety surfaced.
I was in a country I didn’t know, surrounded by people speaking a language I didn’t understand, and off to officially meet one of the richest men in the world—whose son I happened to be sleeping with.
And I was a nobody.
As we left our gate and headed outside the security area, I was surprised to hear a decent amount of people speaking English, but there was a definite barrier. I could tell I wasn’t home any longer.
“Oh. Stefan is already here,” Leo said, staring at his phone while guiding me by the arm toward a busier section of the airport by a pick-up zone.
Stefan. I remembered the name. He’d been one of Leo’s bodyguards.
“I told Dad to send him.” Leo grinned devilishly. “He’s gonna be pissed he got grunt work.”
There was a bounce in Leo’s step, and I knew he was excited to see his family. He’d left them all for little old me. Some days it didn’t seem real.
I clung to the strap of my tattered ruck and flashed a quick glance down at the nice trousers and fitted polo I wore under my new fancy jacket. I’d even gotten a haircut, but a fraud was still a fraud even if you dressed him up as someone else.
Before we’d gone far, I tugged Leo to a halt. “Do I look okay? I feel like a fake. Do I look like I grew up in a box? I mean, I didn’t, but I’ve lived that way for a lot of years. Can you tell?”
Leo’s eyes softened with his smile. He took my face between his palms, smoothing thumbs over my cheeks. “You look perfect.” Then he pecked my lips. “And I love you.”
“I love you too, but I don’t know what to say to your dad… or anyone. I feel out of place. Is he going to reprimand me for dragging you on dangerous train rides and teaching you to be a bum?”
Leo chuckled. “No. He’s done that already. He’s over it now. He just wants to get to know you. You’re important to me, so you’re important to him.”
“I’m a high school dropout. What if he asks about my education?”
“Then you tell him you haven’t decided what you want to take yet. You’re still sorting out life.”
Then I asked the one question that had been eating at me since we’d decided to take this trip. It was stupid and born from my insecurities, but I couldn’t seem to shake it.
“You’re still coming home with me, right? You aren’t going to change your mind?”
“Of course, I’m coming home with you.” Then he kissed me properly, and my worries came down a few more notches.
I hadn’t officially met Stefan during the whole ordeal in the fall. When Leo pointed him out, my pulse spiked, and eyes bulged. The man was a brick wall of intimidation.
“Stefan,” Leo called, waving a hand as he picked up his pace, dragging me after him.
The brick wall smiled, and his scare-level decreased from an eleven to about an eight.
It turned out Stefan was a cool guy. He greeted me with a handshake and slap on the shoulder. His accent was thicker than Leo’s, and he stumbled over his English a bit, but I was grateful he made an effort, knowing I didn’t speak German.
Leo’s family didn’t live in a house. I was sure the correct term was mansion, but somehow it didn’t seem to fit the enormity of the estate where the Van Eschen family lived. During the drive, Leo told me there were two tennis courts, both an indoor and outdoor pool, an infrared sauna, a massive walk-in wine cooler and humidor, a vast outdoor kitchen and patio area suitable enough to accommodate hundreds of guests, about a jillion bedrooms and other rooms with uses that seemed so trivial to a guy like me.
Oh, and a private cabana near the immense hot tub, which Leo seemed quite proud of for some reason. When I’d asked if he’d ever had his very own cabana boy, Leo and Stefan exchanged a look and laughed. Leo wiggled his brows, and I decided I didn’t want to know anymore.
“What time are the guests arriving?” Leo asked.
“No guests,” Stefan said as he found a vacant spot to park in a massive ten-car garage, housing vehicles I’d only ever seen in magazines.
“What do you mean? Father said there would be a dinner party.”
“No guests. Party of five this evening. Your father wanted this to be a private affair. Christophe will come. That’s all.”
Leo fell silent.
Stefan chuckled. “Don’t worry, Leopold. The dinner party you refer to is set for tomorrow. He did not deceive you. Tonight, your father wants to meet this special boy who has stolen you away. He wants to spend time with his son.”
Oh, boy. No pressure. Just Leo and me and the ‘rents. Oh, and Uncle Christophe. Yikes. I couldn’t even hide in a crowd.
Stefan insisted we head into the main part of the house, and he would make sure our bags were brought to our room. He and Leo shared a few quick words in German, and Stefan gave me a wink and took off.
“Shall we?” Leo offered his arm.
My palms were sweaty, but I swallowed my apprehension and followed him inside. We found Leo’s dad and his Uncle Christophe in a room that could have fit my entire house back in Halifax. The ceilings had to be twenty feet high, and an entire wall of windows overlooked a picturesque landscape that, had I not known it was real, I would have assumed it was photoshopped.
“Leopold!” his father exclaimed when we went in.
He held his hands wide, and Leo walked into his arms, taking the bear hug and returning it with equal strength. “Father.”
I’d met Roland Van Eschen once before. In an interrogation room in the jail in Calgary. He’d been less than pleased to make my acquaintance then. The man beside him had his steely-gray eyes on me. Although he looked a lot like Roland—younger—he shared a lot of similar features to Leo.
The man offered a smile and held out his hand. “Christophe. Nice to meet you.”
I returned the shake. “Killian. You’re the guy who taught Leo to play euchre.”
Christophe laughed right from his belly. “Yes. He’s almost worthy.”
“Hey, I’m a great player,” Leo said, breaking away from his father’s embrace. “Killian could do with a few lessons.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, I suck.”
Roland chuckled and held out a hand. “It’s good to see you again, Killian. Perhaps we should have a predinner game.”
“Oh, that would be bad. I really do suck. I wasn’t being modest. Ask my friends. No one ever wants to partner with me.”
“It’s true,” Leo said.
Christophe laughed again. “I say we do it. I’ll take you for my partner. Your inexperience doesn’t scare me. We can put these two in their place.”
“Okay. I warned you.”
Euchre at least felt like a familiar game and something I could handle.
Roland insisted on predinner drinks—which he made strong enough to burn a path down my throat and left me coughing and wheezing after a tiny sip.
Then, the older man slung an arm around my shoulder and guided me toward the door. “Let’s go. Perhaps a cigar too. Do you smoke, Killian?”
“Um… not well.”
“I’ll teach you.”
Which was how I ended up in an exquisite game room, puffing on a Gurkha Royal Courtesan cigar—which Leo had whispered cost over a million dollars each—which, in turn, made me choke and sputter and almost die right there on the game table because… What… The… Fuck!
The drinks stopped burning. The cigar—which felt too expensive for me to even touch—wisped a fine trail of smoke into the air, leaving a sweet scent behind as it gathered in a low cloud above us.
By the time we were informed dinner was served, I was drunk and lightheaded—and Christophe and I had lost two games of euchre for which I’d simply shrugged and announced, I told you so.
Christophe chuckled, and he and Leo vanished as Roland and I tidied the cards. When I turned around and found him gone, panic burst through the haze of inebriation.
“Tell me, Killian. You are staying in Halifax with your parents right now, is that right?”
“Call me Roland.”
Yeah, that felt awkward.
“No more jumping on and off trains, right?”
“Not right now. Not in the winter.”
He hemmed. “What are the plans for spring?”
“Well, that’s usually when I head to Montreal, so we’ll probably do the same. We haven’t talked about it.”
Another hmm noise. “On a train?”
I shuffled and wished I had another drink.
When I didn’t respond, he smiled. “You’ll take care of him, right? He doesn’t know the world like you do.”
“I believe you. Tell me, would it upset you or Leo and this”—he snapped his fingers as he searched for the right words—“way of life if I ensured you had a place to settle when you didn’t want to travel?” His forehead wrinkled, and he shook his head. “Apologies. I don’t have the right words to use.”
“You mean when we aren’t catching out or hopping cities?”
His jaw tightened, and I knew the idea of Leo taking those risks unsettled him. “Yes. For example, you like to stay in Montreal during the summer. Where do you stay?”
“Oh. Um, in the past, I stayed with my great aunt Nona. She’s not my aunt. She’s just a sweet old lady who lets me sleep on a ratty couch in her garage if I mow her lawn. But I guess that won’t work with Leo. The couch is too small even for me, so… I don’t know. We’ll figure it out.”
“What I’m asking, Killian, is if you or Leo would be offended if I made sure you had one place to return to whenever you required it. Like in Montreal.”
“It’s Christmas. I want to offer my son this gift, but he’s been stubborn about this new adventure in life, and I don’t want to give him something that would upset him or you.”
Roland chuckled. “Come. Let’s eat, and after dinner, you and I can share another cigar and chat. Perhaps you’ll know better then.”
Roland swung an arm around me and guided me out of the room like I wasn’t some homeless guy who’d taken his son away from a life of riches and luxury. He treated me like someone important. Someone who mattered.
In the end, Killian got an apartment in downtown Montreal for Christmas. Roland tried to give me a box of cigars—a box—to take home, which I declined. When he’d argued that I needed a Christmas gift as well, I told him I already had the best gift of all.
Leo, and the welcoming acceptance of his family.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed!