Thursday, October 24, 2013

chapter Nine, conclusion

to read from the FIRST CHAPTER

previous CHAPTER


That night at the Nirvana Lounge, I don't know exactly how I sensed Carlo was lying to me. Maybe it was the pauses in his narration, as if he was pondering what to tell me, and premeditating his next words.

That whole story about the Île du Blanchomme that Catherine had never mentioned... About a great friend, a true love, that Armand guy whom I had never heard of before, not the slightest mention about him in our home nor any news, ever, until publicly I had learned he had won the Pritzker Prize.

It seemed unlikely that Catherine, who was always ready to experiment with a good story, making her family and friends a laboratory for her books, had never mentioned that tropical episode... Perhaps because it had never existed?

There was something so wrong about that whole story, something missing... I was about to find out what it was, I just needed to ask the right question to unmask Carlo... Would he be able to lie so completely to win my sympathy and cool off the affection that I still felt for my mother? He had begged her feelings, and he might have never succeeded in obtaining them -- I myself had felt this way for quite some time, but I had finally understood that if I did not receive Catherine's tenderness or affection, it was simply because she had none to give. On the contrary, her support and protection would never fail me, since she had them in abundance and handed them in overdoses.

'That young god won't stop staring at us...' -- Carlo had suddenly changed the subject, returning to the Nirvana Lounge -- 'Actually, he's been watching you, Laurent, the whole evening...' -- and I recalled how Catherine was angry when my father pointed a finger at the things that he referred to, and I too was ashamed.

Gabriel was indeed looking in our direction at that moment, and instead of looking away or being ashamed to be caught on spot, he took the chance that he had been noticed to approach our table.

'Gentlemen, our kitchen should be closing soon... Would you care for anything else?'

'Yes, I want another glass of wine...' -- Carlo said, and I found out that both my parents had given into drinking after their separation -- '...something sweeter for this time of the night...' -- and while Catherine came to the point of getting drunk, just like Carlo she never missed the sophistication of getting drunk with the best liquor, and the most appropriate for each occasion, remaining elegant in their decay -- 'Until what time do you stay open, young man?'

'Do not worry about that, sir.' -- and although the handsome waiter might have been a bit bored and even sleepy, his beautiful smile disguised everything, and he answered accordingly, as he had been briefed about the occasion -- 'I can serve you wine for as long as you desire, sir.'

'Che meraviglia! This Ganymede is making me feel like Zeus on the top of this building!' -- and as the waiter did not seem to understand Carlo's analogy or allusion to his divine beauty, my father simply changed the subject -- 'Does the bathroom close with the kitchen, haha? Anyway, I need to use it now!' -- Carlo gave me a meaningful look, full of complicity, and passing by Gabriel, patted his shoulder -- 'Behave yourselves, young men...' -- he said, suggesting that something naughty could happen in his absence, leaving a trail of embarrassment behind.

'At what time do you close the restaurant, Gabriel?' -- I asked, to break that awkward silence. But the question sounded more like the old "At what time do you leave?". Probably because I was actually interested in him, and I blushed, all embarrassed.

'I am here at your service, sir, for as long as you need it.' -- did I see him wink? Despite his being perfectly professional, not yet calling me Laurent, he was still charming and seductive, and so gorgeous -- 'The instructions were clear... Do not call it a night until the conversation between you and your father doesn't finish.'

I wondered who would have given him these instructions, if the Nirvana Lounge's owner or Charmand himself. The only one who knew that I'd be talking to my father was Charmand.

'Please do not call me sir... My name is Laurent!' -- he was only a few years younger than me, but that formal treatment made ​​me feel so much older -- 'I am very grateful that you made yourself ​​available and provided us with  this night, Gabriel.' -- I was sure that he was being handsomely compensated to open the restaurant all on his won, on his night off... and I began to think if I could compensate him myself, somehow... He was really beautiful, with his blonde long hair, blonde eyes and blonde skin, all about him shining in beautiful shades of golden... Certainly an excellent model for my next painting, haha -- 'This is an historic night in my life, Gabriel...' -- I felt I could trust him, after all, he looked like an angel -- 'I am very grateful for your presence and for your help here, and if I can reciprocate in any way...'

'I'm glad I could help you with that, Laurent.' -- he smiled charmingly while pronouncing my name, which sounded a bit comical as always when an American tried to imitate the French accent -- 'I'm sorry if I intrude... I read that you will open an exhibition tomorrow, and I would be delighted to visit it... in the company of the artist himself?'

That was elegant and charming from him, I thought, to show interest in my art, and invite himself to visit the museum with me, instead of inviting himself to my studio, or even to my bed, like so many others before him had done. Even though I actually wanted him in my studio - and in my bed -- instead at the museum.

'Am I interrupting something, young men?' -- Carlo asked on his return to the table. The way he said "young men" sounded like we were two horny adolescents, and I winked at Gabriel, who smiled.

'I'll bring your wine in a moment, sir.' -- Gabriel retreated lightly, but not before having addressed me an inquiring stare. And indeed, he was quick to bring us new drinks, my father's wine and my aromatic water, and I returned his glance reassuring him that our private conversation would continue.

'Do you want to continue listening to my story tonight, Laurent?' -- Carlo asked me when Gabriel had left -- 'Its actually your story...  I do not feel tired at this late hour because I usually paint at night, a habit that makes me happy, for it reminds me of the old abandoned factory in Paris... How are you feeling, my son?'

'I'm just fine, Carlo.' -- I had slept so many nights during those two decades of my father's absence, I thought, that I did not mind losing a single night's sleep for his presence and for his story, although it was full of lies, or it was all a hoax, but this I did not tell him -- 'I'm all ears.'

'I could only calm down...' -- Carlo took us back to the Île du Blanchomme on the night of the reunion with his dear friend -- '...when we entered Armand's room and I made sure that Catherine was no longer on the bed... but I still feared she was hiding under the bed, from where she would emerge naked, as soon as she realized that we weren't in danger.'

'I've missed you so much...' -- Armand whispered softly in my ear -- 'I like your shaved face...' -- I immediately separated from his embrace before it became another kiss, when I  finally realized Catherine was sitting on the railing in the veranda in front of Armand's room. She wore a white dress that lit up her whole figure under the moonlight, a yet more sophisticated creation by Yves Saint-Laurent, and that wasn't so completely misplaced in that little island because of the new clothes Armand was wearing; despite being crumpled from the trip, his clothes were of impeccable quality and cut. Armand and Catherine matched each other beautifully, I thought, as I made a grotesque contrast in my rags, my coarse skin and my peasant looks.

'I have... something... to tell you...' -- I didn't know whether to use adjectives like "serious" or "important" and warn Armand of what was to come -- 'We have a guest.' -- I said, simply. Perhaps my difficulty with the French language was revealed in those delicate moments when the subtlety in choosing the right words would have given the right tone to the message.

'A guest!' -- Armand was surprised -- 'We haven't yet opened our guesthouse and we have a guest, already!' -- contrary to what I had imagined, he seemed happy, even delighted, and not at all worried about this unexpected event. His generosity indeed welcomed and embraced everyone -- 'And where is he? How did he hear about us?'

'There is no he...' -- I interrupted him -- 'it's a she...' -- Armand's open attitude and interest did not change with this revelation -- 'I think she's right there on the veranda, waiting for us... She... learned it from other travelers who knew you...'

'Oh, that's wonderful!' -- Armand was happy to have returned, happy to have met me again, happy to have a surprise guest... I seemed unable to stop the escalation of his happiness, and I wondered how our kiss would have contributed to make him even more elated -- 'Such good auspices, to have a guest even before we open!' -- Armand was genuinely pleased with the news, but all his exuberance faded when he ran into Catherine -- 'What is she' -- he hissed it-- 'doing here?' -- he asked me in a low voice, having turned in my direction to hide a grimace of distaste.

'She? She is our guest!' -- I replied, shocked at the disgust he showed.

'This... woman...' -- his voice began to rise and tremble -- ' not a guest!' -- I had never seen Armand so angry, nor being openly rude -- 'It cannot be!' -- he exclaimed, visibly annoyed -- 'What are you doing here?' -- he asked, in a tone much louder than normal, turning towards Catherine, no longer trying to hide his displeasure.

'Good night, Armand.' -- Catherine gave one of her artificial smiles, not the least empathetic, that actually spoiled her beauty, which had been so enhanced by the impeccable cut dress, elegant and sensual, dramatically illuminated by the moonlight and the lantern she had lit on the porch.

I shivered, and suddenly a thought crossed my mind... I thought I understood what was going on... all the time, Catherine had lied to me! Clearly, she and Armand knew each other, and by the apparent intimacy of their enmity, quite well. I searched my memory for the names of my friend's ex-girlfriends.

'You said you didn't know Armand!' -- my voice was shaky. I was astonished. One of Armand's ex-girlfriends, one of the turned down, neglected girls... and what a revenge she had prepared, going to bed with me... Dio mio! Although she could not have known Armand's feelings for me... Or had she? What was the name of Max's sister, the diplomat he had had a crush on? The way she had applied make-up and dressed, making herself just as elegant as my princely friend, making in fact a beautiful and sophisticated couple with him, as I stood there, the ragged peasant, to suddenly find myself excluded...

'I never said that!' -- Catherine replied -- 'I said I had never met him, not that I hadn't known him!' -- Catherine was keen to that accuracy with words; however, she found no counterpart in everyday life, and much less in me and my French that just sufficed. She said this without looking in my direction, haughtily holding Armand's look, who stared at her angrily.

'You're not welcome here!' -- I shivered as I heard the harsh words Armand directed to my... girlfriend?... lover?... and the future mother of my child.

'Oh, I know that, already!' -- Catherine laughed affectedly -- 'Your partner made ​​that very clear from the beginning!' -- she laughed again, while I froze and started trembling at that "partner" she had uttered -- 'It's a tradition of this island and hostel, I suppose, that guests are unwelcomed...' -- she added, wryly.

'Partner? Which partner?' -- and perhaps imagining a different connotation to the word, Armand glanced tenderly in my direction -- 'Carlo?...' -- and he pronounced my name with so much sweetness in his voice that Catherine was intrigued. She was even more surprised when my friend made a gesture of affection towards me, which I however dodged.

Dio mio! I would be the father to a son of an ex-girlfriend of Armand's... The blow that was about to be unleashed on my friend was even heavier than I had foreseen. And Catherine seemed to enjoy every second of her revenge, although she had not yet realized the true depth and nature of my relationship with Armand, I thought...

She had dressed for the occasion, and for the first time I saw her wearing makeup, looking even more beautiful, and cosmopolitan, sophisticated, wealthy -- typically, one of those Parisian women I had classified as unattainable, one of the heiresses to whom Armand had made the court. Dio mio, who is this woman?

'Didn't you say you were partners?' -- Catherine looked at me with anger, full of suspicion -- 'Aren't you... partners?' -- she confronted me, giving the word a different tone and meaning.

'Yes, of course we are!' -- Armand replied with a tender smile, imagining perhaps that I had confided her about the love that existed between him and me -- 'Although no one has to know about that in France...' -- Armand suddenly looked worried -- 'I forbid you to...'

'It's not what you're thinking, Catherine...' -- and when at the first mention of her name Armand did not react, I realized that at least she hadn't used a false name. But what was the name of that girl whom he had endured just because of the great library and readings with which she provided him? I was so nervous that my memory did not help me. Paris and the École seemed so far away from the Île du Blanchomme!

Catherine's inquiring, acute gaze flew back and forth between Armand and me, and I realized that she was beginning to understand the intensity of the connection I had with my friend, and even imagining beyond...

'You lied to me!' -- she accused me, and I gasped as I heard it.

'I... lied to you, Catherine?!' -- the nerve she had to state that I was the liar stunned me -- 'Wasn't you who spoke first about our "society"? And I wouldn't know how to describe any better my... relationship with Armand... we are like brothers, but we are not brothers, so...'

At that moment, Catherine seemed to be the most surprised of all of us!

'Then that's why you did not attend my mother's funeral!' -- Armand exclaimed suddenly, interrupting my explanation -- 'How long has she been here? What are you ultimately doing here?' -- Armand had directed the first question to me, and the second to Catherine, but I was worried about the indistinct harshness with which he had addressed us both.

'I came here to discuss business! I'm entitled to half of this island!' -- Catherine uttered, as she continued peering back and forth between Armand and me, for more clues about our relationship.

'Oh, so that's what you came for!?' -- Armand laughed -- 'You're crazy!' -- he shouted angrily -- 'I do not own this island. I do not own this house, I do not own anything! Therefore, you are entitled to half of nothing!'

On that instant, I realized that perhaps I hadn't understood everything that was happening -- or had happened -- between Armand and Catherine. Had Armand ever... married?

'Excuse me, Armand... I did not know she was a former girlfriend of yours...' -- I aimed at least on erasing a part of my guilt in the disaster that story seemed to lead to. It was not enough having betrayed my best friend, I was to be father to a son of an ex-girlfriend... or ex-wife... of his! An heiress, who had taken me for a wealthy heir myself... Dio mio!

'She is what?' -- my friend looked at me stunned -- 'Didn't you tell him?' -- Armand challenged Catherine -- 'Oh, of course not!' -- he exploded -- 'You have been continuously living in a lie... how could you not be a liar yourself...'

'I won't tolerate that from you!' -- Catherine cried, advancing towards Armand.

'What is going on here, anyway?' -- I asked with a shudder, and I had to talk louder to be heard in their quarrel.

For a moment they stood silent, staring at each other. And when Armand was about to speak,  without even looking at me, holding back Armand's enraged gaze, Catherine mouthed:

'He is my brother.'

'Armand is...?' -- tears filled my eyes when I finally caught a glimpse of the terrible truth.

'Half-brother!' -- Armand replied, stressing the "half" with a disdainful tone. And as I faced him absolutely shocked, he confirmed it -- 'This is my father's daughter with that... "actress".' -- and he made it sound like "whore" -- 'My half-sister.' -- he turned towards Catherine -- 'It seems that you lost your trip, darling!' -- I had never before heard Armand talk with that acid tone, full of irony -- 'This island does not belong to me, and you are not entitled to a half of it! But how did you know about this island, for God's sake?' -- he snorted -- 'Your mother, of course! It was that... woman... who sent you here, wasn't it? To spy on my life...'

'Your life?' -- Catherine reacted with greater disdain -- 'We don't care the least about your life! Although... it seems to be far more interesting than I had imagined, and full of dirty little secrets...'  -- Catherine glanced in my direction, and then at my groin -- 'or big and thick ones, haha! I think Gaston doesn't know about your... preferences, does he? Haha!' -- Catherine laughed with malice, patting Armand on the shoulder, who jumped back as if he'd been punched.

'Gaston?! You call him simply that, Gaston?!?' -- I knew Monsieur de Montbelle's name, but I had never heard Armand call his father that intimately nor so affectionately -- 'You have no right to intrude in my family's life like that!' -- Armand yelled. He sounded alarmed when he realized that Catherine had unveiled his secret in just a few minutes -- 'I forbid you to...'

'Stop bossing me!' -- Catherine interrupted him with a cry -- 'You think of yourself as superior, but let me tell you... in fact, you are not! What about your family life? It's over! Over, don't you realize it, along with your superiority! Haven't you noticed it yet?' -- Catherine was screaming, and her cries of rage echoed on the walls just like before her moans of pleasure had been amplified by the immense silence of the Île du Blanchomme -- 'With the death of that old owl...'

 'You have no right to call my mother...' -- Armand seemed to calm down, saddened upon recollecting his mother -- 'Please respect the memory of my mother.' -- he gently asked Catherine -- 'If you were not able to respect her during her life...'

'I'm sorry.' -- she replied, unwillingly -- 'You know...' -- Catherine's aggressiveness had not subsided -- '...your attitude will have to change! A new era begins! Now, we are the official family! Just like you were able to see for yourself, my mother was the woman next to your father at the funeral of...' -- Catherine paused -- 'oh, we have always called her... I don't even know the name of the deceased... she was simply "the old owl"!' -- Catherine laughed like a teenager -- 'Yes, your attitude will have to change...'

'Why?' -- Armand looked alarmed, yet he gave no indication on cooling that exchange of resentments -- 'I don't know of any intention from my father's in marrying your mother... nor taking on you...' -- Armand completed, with disdain.

That was Catherine's deepest wound, as I would later understand. The rejected child. The illegitimate daughter. That 'father unknown' on her birth certificate. Daughter to a missing father all throughout her life -- though Monsieur de Montbelle did attend her home, and had already turned ​​it into his primary address in Paris, he had never been present on official dates like Christmas or New Year's Eve, that he officially spent at the Chateau de Montbelle. Although she had Monsieur de Montbelle's affection, Catherine had never had his public recognition. Neither his surname.

'Oh, you still think you are superior to me... But you are no longer on top, darling!' -- Catherine moved swiftly in my direction -- 'Tell him who is on top, now...' -- I blushed as I heard her allusion to our sexual positions, while Catherine embraced me and kissed me lightly on the mouth.

I looked away, because I didn't want to see Armand's reaction to that kiss -- he was so shocked at the ease with which Catherine took possession of me, demonstrating our intimacy. And she had realized how devastated he was.

'Oh, it's so easy to destroy you now...' -- she laughed triumphantly, seeing Armand's suffering -- 'Easier than I had pictured before...' -- she laughed and kissed me again, this time a wet, passionate kiss like she didn't enjoy them to be, while caressing my body too intimately, at the oddity of the moment arousing that tingle in my groin -- 'Oh, you're getting excited, babe?' -- she teased me. I hadn't known Catherine could be so vulgar, nor so cruel, and I was ashamed to have stayed by her side in that discussion -- '...But right now I'm too tired for this... I just want to go back to sleep...' -- she faked a yawn.

Catherine turned away, freeing me from her embarrassing embrace. But to my understanding, she had walked in the wrong direction, back into Armand's room, toward his bed. I ran after her.

'Catherine! For Heaven's sake! This is Armand's room... Please!' -- and as she continued to challenge me, pretending not to hear me, I clarified -- 'We need to return the room to him, please!' -- And then I realized I had used the pronoun "we". On that instant,  I dared not look towards Armand, but I could see he was shaken by a tremor at the "we". He had begun to understand.

'Do you want us to leave this comfortable bed just because he came back?' -- Catherine replied -- 'Why would we do that?' -- and she stressed the "us" in each sentence, every time she pronounced it, echoing my own "we" -- 'We are two, and he is alone... He may well sleep in the room you have left vacant.' -- she pronounced the words carefully and clearly, especially the pronouns, and she spoke turning towards Armand, making sure that she was heard -- 'He said it himself that he doesn't own anything here!'

At that moment, I realized Armand was crying, and I ran up to him. He had remained motionless since the discussion with Catherine had ended.

'Armand...' -- I did not know what else to say. I think I still hadn't quite well understood the situation in which I had gotten myself into. That complex family situation, aggravated by our gentle loving relationship... Siblings!! -- 'Armand...' -- I repeated his name over and over again just like half an hour ago on the beach, invoking it as a powerful mantra that would rescue all our wonderful past and help alleviate the terrible, present darkness.

He remained silently crying.


'Why?' -- he asked, not staring at me. And the question seemed not addressed at me, neither at Catherine nor at himself, nor anyone else.

'I think you have private things to talk to your... little buddy...' -- I heard Catherine talking at my back -- 'but don't you think that because of his return, you shall have a choice on which bed to sleep, babe, haha!' -- Catherine laughed again. She seemed to rejoice in humiliating Armand.

'Catherine!' -- I ran up to her -- 'Be quiet, for God's sake!' -- I begged.

'Quiet? I was quiet for a whole lifetime! Now it is his turn to be quiet! And listen as I speak! And it will be so, from now on, are you listening to me?' -- Catherine cried towards her brother, as if Armand was on the other side of the house, on the other side of the island, across the world, and not there, just outside his own room -- 'Now we will talk and you will just listen... Silently. And obey, too! Your family has ended, my darling... but mine, it restarts and continues here, renovated, stronger!' -- with a gesture that dismissed me, Catherine moved away towards the bathroom.

'Armand...' -- like the fool I actually was, I ran back to Armand's side, when I thought I heard him sobbing, and I could finally see why Catherine had spoken to him in screams. I had her same impression, that Armand was so distant.


His eyes were hollow, and his body seemed to have less substance than a few minutes ago, and his presence was very faint, though he was inhaling my very outbreath, for we were that close. 

Yet, I could not hug him on that moment, so distant and untouchable he seemed to me. Pure by nature, more beautiful than ever, gracious as always -- and in contrast, I felt dirty, dark and nasty.

'Armand...' -- I could just moan and whimper while my friend walked away from me.

He walked slowly down the porch, towards that which had been my first room in the house. He walked quietly, still glancing at me, astonished, as if not recognizing me more anymore... 

Armand cried softly, quietly. Just like his sexual desire was discreet and without any eagerness, his grief too was subtle and calm. His countenance was placid, and if it had not been for his tears, I wouldn't have guessed his sorrow. Apparently, I was more desperate than he was.

If he had been incapable of grabbing me to make love to him, he showed himself incapable of accusing me of his immense unhappiness also, and simply took distance from me, silently crying, so diaphanous and delicate in his grieving.

'Armand...' -- I whispered one last time.

But instead of listening to my call, he seemed to hear the sea, towards which he turned his head, staring at it for a moment, with a gentle smile, wet with tears, and then he entered the room with the single bed that I had previously occupied.

I did not find the courage to go after him.


But on that cold and lonely afternoon
Will you fade or will you bloom?


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

chapter Nine, continued

to read from the FIRST CHAPTER

previous CHAPTER


I don't know how many times I had to say "No thanks" that evening.

The other passengers on the boat became aware of Catherine's sickness, and I had to refuse all the native medicine and the drinking and eating stuff that they tried to give us. They seemed like good people -- the young woman with the malevolent gaze didn't reappear -- but I did not want to risk our health.

When we disembarked, I did not have to ask around on how to get to the hospital nor look for transportation -- some of the most helpful passengers took care of that for me, while I occupied myself solely with Catherine.

The hospital was an old mansion on the other end of the Elder Sisters Islands -- two long and narrow islands, connected by a single bridge, with a very busy commercial port -- and although it was clean, its antiquated appearance did not inspire any confidence. Fortunately, Catherine was so tired that she did not refuse to go in.

Having disembarked, her condition began to improve almost immediately. I left her resting on a deck chair and went in search of doctors. At that early time of the day there were only nurses on duty, but they provided medicine for Catherine.

She took the saline solution intravenously right there on the porch, and a couple hours later she was much better already. Catherine had given up going shopping in search of clothes and books, but she had not given up her main mission on land -- calling France to talk to her family. She hadn't heard from them for at least 6 or 8 weeks -- that was the period, I figured, we had spent together on the Île du Blanchomme.

She was very upset with the difficulties in going through an international call, and her mood worsened when she finally succeeded but a maid reported that Catherine's mother was still sleeping, and she was not allowed to wake her up in any case.

'I'm not "any case", you idiot!' -- Catherine cried, enraged -- 'I'm her daughter! And you'll wake her up for me, just because I'm telling you to do it! You have no idea the world's end I'm at right now, and how difficult it is to get a connection here!' -- she snorted -- 'And she has sent me here, she is responsible for this! Now go!'

They finally agreed  that Catherine should call again within an hour, giving time to the maid to wake the mother. During that period, Catherine became impatient and refused to leave the public phone area, shooing other users away -- even when they called her to the exams.

'Not now!' -- and she so fiercely dismissed the nurse that the poor woman blushed and seemed to accept Catherine's orders -- 'Once I'm finished here. Now I have more urgent things to do. Do you understand what I'm saying? Do you understand French at all?!?'

When she finally reached the number, and her mother answered, Catherine asked me for privacy.

'Don't you have a list of errands here on the island?' -- she suggested -- 'You can go, I'll be fine.' -- she tried to dismiss me.

But I did not want to leave the hospital before someone took care of Catherine -- I thought she could simply walk away, now that she was feeling better, and go shopping... or even board a boat back to France.

Since I wasn't watching Catherine, I don't know how long she stayed on the phone, for when I realized it, she was no longer there. A local lady informed me that "the foreigner" had entered the hospital with a nurse, and I could finally calm down. But I only felt at peace after I saw a doctor arrive, and I ran up to her to tell her about Catherine's heatstroke and the food poisoning.

It was while waiting for news from Catherine -- if she would remember my existence at all, since she hadn't bothered warning me that she was going to the exams' area --, that it suddenly dawned on me that I had left the Île du Blanchomme deserted... Armand and I had never talked about my leaving the Île -- I had been in charge of taking care of the island, and I had with genuine happiness accepted getting stranded there...

I hadn't considered the possible danger of abandoning the island like that, to no one... I knew of pirate ships on those seas, but the news were they assaulted other vessels, not islands... But what could I have done? Send Catherine on a boat and let her seek a hospital on her own? To be by her side I had to leave the island. And my conscience was peaceful, having made the ethical choice between the safety of an individual and a property.

But there was something else that I had not thought of...

What if Armand came back during my absence? What if he had been on one of the boats which we had crossed coming to the Elder Sisters Islands? What would he think upon not finding me anywhere? How could I have left not a single note? Nothing... How would he react to my unexpected disappearance? I was afraid that he would think of something sinister, like maybe I had drowned, having been swallowed up by the treacherous currents around the Île du Blanchomme... How could I have been so giddy? I'd have to apologize to my friend.

And not only that. Away from the Île, I realized how much I had put myself in a complicated situation... What would I say to Armand upon his return? And what would I say to Catherine, when he returned? What was there to say, actually? 

I had to believe that she would be kind to immediately return the bed and room to Armand, but how to explain him why she had occupied it in the first place, and why I had moved in with her, and what Catherine represented to me -- and what did she represent, in fact?

That long afternoon, when Catherine was in the hospital undergoing the exams, for the first time I had a notion of the complicated matters which I had gotten myself into. 

I had been furious with Catherine for coming uninvited to the Île, and for being an involuntary guest, but now that I had voluntarily gotten involved with her... I could even have explained to Armand a non-paying guest, but how to explain... a lover?

Suddenly, I saw myself hoping that Catherine would decide not to return to the Île du Blanchomme. 

I'd return on my own -- that would be the best, in case Armand was already on the island -- and I would send her things by boat. And if Armand hadn't returned yet, I'd be alone again, waiting for his return. I'd never mention Catherine's existence to him, nor her passage through the island. 

That would solve everything -- erasing that episode. A bit shocked with myself, I saw how readily I would have dismissed her.

Since there was no true love, just some romantic envolvement from my part, if I looked at it coldly I thought I would again and simply submit my desire. I was sure to achieve that... or maybe redirect it toward Armand? 

I had never been so confused and wrong, thinking that just like I had used on Catherine what I had learned of love and desire from Armand, I could now reverse the flow and instead, use on Armand what she had taught me.

For some minutes I cherished that idea, and I thought I would share it with her -- my suggestion was that she'd stay on the Elder Sisters Islands, from where she could easily board a boat to return to France. Or maybe she would agree that we cooled off our relationship, returning to its previous state of cordial coexistence, and in such a state we would welcome Armand -- like the involuntary guest and host she and I had been from the start. 

I finally realized there was at least one thing that was greater than my desire -- my cowardice. The fear of hurting Armand, deeply and irreversibly... losing him.

But looking at Catherine, obviously in a state of shock and devastated, coming out of the hospital's door accompanied by the doctor with whom I had talked in the morning, I immediately lost the courage to desert her.

'I am sick.' -- she said, in a low voice -- 'Or I have been... You were right, food poisoning...' -- she sat on the steps -- '...and the heatstroke. But they say you took good care of me...' -- she tried to smile -- 'and of my skin...'

'Grazie, Dio! Did they give you some medicine?' -- I asked, sincerely relieved.

'But... there is something else... something terrible...' -- and before I could ask, she said quickly -- 'I'm pregnant.'

'You are...' -- I felt my heart stop for a few seconds and then madly accelerate -- '...pregnant!'

'I'm in the first weeks. It's still time to interrupt it...'

'What are you talking about?' -- I was scared -- 'How could you do it? We cannot do it, Catherine, we cannot do that!' -- I cried in desperation.

'What do you mean, we?' -- I guess I had again chosen the wrong words, and she was enraged -- 'What are you talking about, we? This is my body, and I do with it as I wish!'

'I will not let you do that Catherine!'

'Let me go! You have no right... This is a tragedy! What's going to become of my life?! This ruins everything!! '-- she screamed -- 'I can't have a baby! I'm too young to have a baby! I don't want this baby!'

'Please, Catherine...' -- one of the nurses had come out to check what Catherine's screams were about -- 'I think we are disturbing the other patients...'

And suddenly Catherine ran, fleeing the hospital's grounds.

For a moment I was motionless, taken by surprise with the news of her pregnancy, and above all surprised with Catherine's reaction to it, and finally, with her sudden escape.

But being weakened, she could not go very far, and I soon caught her.

I could not -- or would not -- understand Catherine's reasons for being so sad and mad with her pregnancy.

I was just surprised. It was my first couple relationship, and naive, inexperienced as I was, in no moment at all, while we made love several times a day, I thought I was repeatedly depositing my seed in her -- even though sometimes it was so abundant that it came out seeping between her thighs, and I'd then lick it and...

There were all these details that I could not have told Laurent, ever, and not during our reunion at the Nirvana Lounge. So I completely omit our visit to the hospital in the Elder Sisters Islands. Nor I wanted him to be aware of his mother's initial rejection of being pregnant -- because at that moment there was actually no Laurent. Catherine was considering aborting a faceless, nameless and almost formless baby, as she perceived it. 

Nor did I want to brag about having convinced Catherine to keep the baby, because it was not what happened.

Although Catherine had never mentioned the Île du Blanchomme to Laurent when telling him about his birth, she enjoyed using the anecdote that he had interrupted her vacations with his premature birth in a remote part of the world, implying that he had also interrupted her academic career. And maybe that's why he asked me that night at Nirvana Lounge:

'I know that I was not a planned baby... It was an accident, of course...' -- Laurent tried to smile, but it was clear that  having been generated by chance was one of his sorrowful burdens in life -- 'Were I at least a wanted baby? I mean...'

'You were an announced baby, Laurent!' -- I interrupted him immediately -- 'It's true there was no family planning for your birth, but you have been blessed even before your birth! "The Sunrise Son", remember?'

'Yeah, I know... But what about Catherine? I have so often heard her anecdote... "I took holidays from the university and never returned... Instead of a nice suntan, I was given a premature son at the end of the world!"' -- Laurent imitated his mother's blasé intonation -- 'She was always reinforcing that I was prematurely born... Not just a couple of months ahead, but years ahead in her life... She always made ​​fun of it, but I never heard her sincere feelings about it...'

'She was... worried...' -- What else could I have told my son? It was heart-wrenching, telling a lie about something so foundational in his life, but the truth was too cruel -- 'Largely, I think, because of me... I was so... immature, inexperienced... and she must have thought... how can this goofy man be a father and head of a household?'

Partly, it was so true.

'Can we go to a hotel?' -- she asked, still sobbing, on the street that was almost deserted at that time of the night.

'A hotel?' -- I mumbled. Suddenly I realized I had not thought about our lodging. I had intended to spend as little time as possible on the Islands, and I had wanted to check the schedule for the next boat right there on our arrival... but with Catherine's sickness, I had forgotten everything.

'We are going to a hotel, aren't we?' -- Catherine groaned in disbelief, and she almost fainted when she saw the surprise on my face, and realized how much she was lost in my company.

I had brought enough money for the groceries -- Armand's money -- but at no time I had thought about our hosting... I was an inexperienced traveler, and if I were alone in such a situation, I would not mind sleeping rough, right on the streets.

But with Catherine, especially the state she was in, it was impossible.

She turned away from me and headed to a bench on the square next to the hospital, where she lay crying.

I did not know what to do -- I was scared, worried and sad. I was lost.

Despite knowing of her enthusiasm and dedication to her academic career, I was slow in understanding how threatened she must have felt, thinking of all the things she saw herself losing with that pregnancy. And I knew nothing about her dysfunctional family situation, that would lead her to hide that pregnancy, if she could not get rid of it.

'Let's go back to the hospital!' -- it was the only idea that occurred to me -- 'You'll get hospitalized the next few days as I purchase the groceries and find out when the next boat leaves...'

'Are you crazy?' -- she cried -- 'I did not come here to be hospitalized! And I will not go back to that shitty hospital...'

'It's getting cold, Catherine...' -- a damp wind had began to blow, just the same as I remembered on my first night in the Islands, when I had slept on a table -- 'Aren't you hungry? Thirsty? I'm almost sure they would feed us, if I'd talk to someone there...'

And so it happened. Catherine was physically weak and too mentally shaken to oppose me, and when the nurses understood our situation they immediately took her inside.

There was no place for me; however, they let me sleep on the porch.

During those days I went all over the Elder Sisters Islands in search of good and cheap food, while Catherine was hospitalized -- "held hostage" as she would put it -- and with the passing of time, or was it talking to someone, she decided to keep the baby. 

That's what I believed for many years, until Catherine confessed that it was the woman doctor with whom I had spoken and who had examined her, after having tried to lecture her, finally threatened to report Catherine to the police if she tried an abortion. 

That's how and why Laurent survived -- how could I have told him this?

I ate, slept and showered in the hospital, thanks to the kindness of the medical staff, but I was forbidden to visit Catherine -- on her own orders.

My beard grew and as I hadn't brought clothes to change, by the end of those days I had the homeless appearance that had so worried Armand at my arrival on those same Islands. 

I confess that I didn't even want to think about him -- whenever I noticed my mind racing towards my best friend, I'd start singing a song or doing anything else to distract and occupy me mentally. But thinking of Catherine and the baby wasn't calming me, either.

Our return trip to the Île du Blanchomme was as painful for Catherine as our departure, and this time my concern was much higher. But there was no medicine that she could take without harming the baby.

Fortunately, my fears proved unjustified and Armand had not yet returned to the island, and everything had remained untouched.

'What do you want to do now, Catherine?' -- I asked her, not really knowing what to say.

'I do not know... My life seems to be over... I've never wanted a child... My career, that's all I care about... How will it be, with a child?!' -- she seemed as lost as me, but full of sorrow.

'Have you spoken to your family about it?' -- I didn't know what had happened during the days when Catherine remained out of reach at the hospital, and I myself had no family with which we could rely on. And we were going to need help...

'Of course not! They cannot know, not yet...' -- Catherine seemed to panic, just at the thought of it -- 'I must first return to France... Then maybe I can tell them... Oh, just to think I'll have to go on those boats again... they shall kill me!' -- she was still feeling seasick -- 'But maybe they would also kill this embryo... Maybe I should take more boats... Is it possible to throw up a baby?' -- she grimaced in disgust at her own idea.

'Catherine, for heaven's sake!' -- I was scared that she insisted about the abortion. And I was glad we were on those tropical, farway islands... if it had been France, Catherine would have already gotten rid of the baby. I shivered at that thought. If getting pregnant on her holidays in the Indian Ocean had been Catherine's bad luck, it had been Laurent's good fortune, enabling him to survive.

'What is it?' -- she replied, angrily -- 'What's the problem? I'm keeping the baby!' -- she changed subjects, and her expression changed from sadness to alertness -- 'Do you have money? I'll need money! I need to return to France!'

I realized that Catherine's plans did not include me -- nor the baby, actually. Maybe she wanted to get rid of me in order to get rid of the baby? But I had no money, and the only way to get it would be asking it from Armand... I would have to lie to him, at best, or demand payment for my work on the island... For a moment I felt so desperate that I considered taking all the money he had left in a safe at the office, but I suspected it was not enough to buy two international tickets.

For several days, Catherine remained silent, lost in her own thoughts.

She did not refuse my company, and never sent me away, but again she did not look me in the eyes, and her own eyes looked hollow, as if she was elsewhere.

I took advantage of her silence to do some reflection myself -- to come to the conclusion that I did not know what to do. I just knew I had to wait for Armand, and lie to him about Catherine, and make up a good lie about having to return to Europe with her... I knew how my sudden departure would hurt him, but a little less if I could hide my relationship with Catherine... and the baby... I would leave, he would miss me -- but at least he wouldn't hate me. 

Catherine spent her days at Armand's office, writing and reading. It was as if clinging to the activities she loved most, she did not have to think about the baby, nor how she would have to give them up with his birth... To not think of the baby, nor of the future she dreaded, she engaged in writing, as she had been doing daily in her recent past at the Université.

As she retreated to the office, I worked in the garden, which had returned to a wild condition. I had abandoned it since Catherine's heatstroke, and didn't have much time or will to work on it after we started having sex. The brambles and weeds had won their battle against me, and just looking at Armand's gardening detailed plans made me tired, feeling they were excessive for that tiny, deserted island no one really cared to visit.

I resumed painting the external walls of the house, sure that, if Armand was already on his way back to the Île, they would still be unfinished when he got home  -- although, in the period of time he had been away, I could have painted two houses of that size, hadn't Catherine arrived with the paint gallons. And I did not want him to be late any more -- I needed money, and I would charge him for my work, however incomplete.

My mental confusion was the largest I have ever experienced in my life. I ruined a painting, trying to paint without concentration nor inspiration -- and since I hadn't bought more canvas, I suddenly lost interest in that activity, too.

I took up meditation, however, and in my sessions the luminous boy reappeared, and that was the moment when I changed my perception about him... That boy did not represent my future only, he himself had a future -- my son... he was announcing himself to me!

Once, to my great surprise, Catherine joined me on the beach, and set herself in the meditation position beside me. I rejoiced, thinking that maybe the boy would announce himself to her too, so that she could catch a glimpse of our wonderful son before he was born -- hoping she would not be too frightened. 

But she sat for no more than five minutes, and I could never convince her of the benefits for herself and for the baby in cultivating peace and awareness, compassion and equanimity during the pregnancy.

As she would explain later, no matter how boring the yoga sessions had been, she had at least learned how to take control of some parts of her body -- most notoriously, her pelvic muscles -- but meditation... to be sitting in silence for so long without doing anything... It's stupid and useless, she said, when I can sit still and be silent... reading a book, though! It's a waste of time -- were her final words on that matter. Forever.

'What name do you think giving our son?' -- I asked all of a sudden, one day, when our silence was becoming uncomfortable. Catherine had been dozing on the hammock and, although it was in the shade of the coconut trees, and even if the sun was already going down, I was afraid of another heatstroke that would affect the baby, and I went up to her.

'Is it that what you've been thinking about?' -- she replied, disappointed that those were the first words breaking the long silence into which we had retreated -- 'Shall we live forever on this lost island? Shall we raise the child here? How will she attend school?' -- she poured the questionary on me.

Catherine asked those questions without waiting for my answers, nor giving me time to reflect on them, as if she didn't expect me to have the ability to answer them satisfactorily. Or maybe she was afraid to hear more clumsiness from me. I realized how much she did not trust me -- and how, in fact, I showed to be untrustworthy, totally naive and unprepared for such a complex situation that was taking over us.

'Will this guesthouse ever be profitable? Shouldn't you be concerned with how to sustain your family?' -- she inquired, introducing me to the practical problems, not angrily, just showing her disappointment -- 'What other income do you have? Has your family many properties? Could we live in one of them in Italy?'

I shivered at the thought of Catherine living with my grandfather in a sober and dark stone house lost in the Apennines, without any comforts, many hours away from the closest village. And I realized that as Armand's "business partner", she imagined my life to be very different from what it actually was, giving the same princely status of my wealthy friend to me.

'And it won't be a boy. I do not want a boy.' -- Catherine said, and I then realized that she had actually thought about it, despite having criticized me -- 'It will be a girl. And I want to name her Sophie.'

'What if it's a boy?' -- I insisted. The apparition made me so sure that yes, we would have a son.

'If it's a boy, you can choose his name. I do not care. Since it's a French name, I'm pleased with whatever.'

'When do you think we could return to France?' -- she asked me one afternoon, immediately after having praised the nice, new shirt I was wearing, that I had borrowed from Armand. I was happy that she had spoken in the plural, including me in her plans ... or maybe she was just talking about herself and the baby... two, rather than three?

I explained her I needed to wait for Armand.

'Will you undo your partnership with him?' -- she asked, and she then wanted to know about other details of our "business" -- 'Will you be reimbursed for your part on this island? Or will you have to pay a fine?' -- Catherine seemed very concerned with money and social status, and I was ashamed to tell her about my real situation, afraid that she might simply leave.

I said something vague and generic about the hypothetical partnership, so as not to have to tell her more lies.

Next, I asked her discretion upon Armand's return.

'I thought you were closer friends...' -- she was surprised, but also pleased with my request to keep the pregnancy a secret -- 'Nor would I want... a stranger... to know about it.'

But I did not dare to anticipate that we would have to vacate Armand's room when he arrived.

And so, we expected my friend's return each day, he who would decide our lives -- although Catherine, I thought, was unaware about how much we depended on Armand! Crazily, in the know that I would hurt him, I still expected him to be good and generous to me.

Again, Catherine and I were close to one another, as if enjoying the last days of that tropical paradise reserved only for us. I could see that she was still upset about the whole situation, and looked worried every time she thought about her return to France and to the Université. But with a shrug, she seemed to get rid of her worries and fears, deciding to take advantage of our idyll that was bound to end.

We had some happy days, eating and drinking and talking at length and even dancing, though Catherine was often nauseated, caused now by her pregnancy instead of food poisoning. I started caring even more for her, but also with more joy, because it was caring for a health condition and not a disease.

We lived in total freedom and our intimacy became greater since it turned to be not only physical but also emotional, now that our fates seemed to have a future in common.

And despite my concerns, we resumed our love making.

'Doesn't it affect... harms the baby?' -- I asked naively.

'Harm?' -- she was intrigued.

'I don't know... Penetrating you... Am I not.. poking the baby?' -- in fact, I was afraid that our sexual activity could cause an abortion, a possibility with which Catherine was still counting, it seemed. And I shivered in fear at the thought that I'd be assisting in some sinister plan to get rid of the baby. She aroused my desire and I naively helped her to... killing my own son was inconceivable to me!

Catherine laughed so hard at it, and I was embarrassed.

'Darling, you don't know anything about anatomy, do you? Your dick is big and thick, but not so big that it gets in my uterus... Haha! And harder, harder now!' -- and with a series of shivers, I saw Catherine come, and just then I released more of my redundant seed into her.

But Catherine took advantage of my doubts and fear to start topping me, as she would do for the rest of our lives, taking control of me with the excuse that my weight could harm the baby.

 I realized unequivocally the enormous pleasure she felt at being in control during sex -- and I never tried to take that control back. Although, in fact, over time I realized that this was exactly my own power -- not only giving her great sexual pleasure, but also giving her the pleasure of having control. 

And I could see that, if at some moment Catherine seemed passionate and surrendered to me -- though actually I was to surrender myself to her, to her commands that over time became silent, with no need for words, so that I knew exactly how to please her -- it was when we had sex.

For it was just sex, always.

I had my romantic fantasies, my longing for love, perhaps because I was an orphan and had received none -- except Armand's love, that I had experienced only partially, and now I wanted to get the whole thing from Catherine.

However, she was unable to give it to me, having herself received so little from her family, as I would discover later.

One night, Catherine, who unlike me was a light sleeper, suddenly awakened me.

'A boat!' -- she nudged me -- 'I heard a boat arriving!'

'It can't be... At this time?' -- I lazily replied, not willing to wake up at all, after having checked by the light outside that dawn was still far -- 'Boats never arrive at night here...'

'Can it be pirates then?' -- Catherine panicked. She had heard that they not only robbed, but raped and often killed -- 'Dou you have a gun? Why are you taking so long? You have to go now to see what it is!'

I was sure that there were no pirates. Finally, I got dressed, very slowly, preparing my heart, and saying goodbye to the bed and the room that I should never have occupied, at least not in Armand's absence, much less take it with someone else.

But I did not dare to ask Catherine to vacate the bed due to the owner's arrival.

'If it's something dangerous, I'll shout.' -- I told her -- 'Be prepared...' -- I couldn't picture Armand entering the room to find Catherine naked on that bed -- ' hide, okay?'

Even from a distance, I recognized him. 

The prince, shining bright under the moonlight, or perhaps shining in his own aura -- while I felt the opposite, plunged into darkness.

'Don't you recognize me?' -- he cried, cheerfully -- 'Won't you come give me a hug?'

But I couldn't move, not daring to approach him -- not so much because I did not want to go close to my friend, but because I didn't want the moment of fatally losing him to move in any closer.

Armand ran up to me. I felt I could start crying at any moment, but I tried to pretend I was happy to finally see him. And I actually was, on one side. Very much. I just wasn't happy that I would certainly disappoint and hurt him.

'What is it, mon cher Carlo? Don't you like my goatee?' -- he asked humorously, as I stood still and silent before him -- 'Haven't you said that The Three Musketeers was your favorite novel during your teens? Don't you think I look just like D'Artagnan?' -- he laughed.

My beloved friend. He looked older, even more dignified and princely in his musketeer looks. And incredibly beautiful. In fact, I had never noticed his physical beauty, not that way, not like in that evening of our reunion. His skin was as beautiful and well treated as Catherine's... Dio, I thought, why couldn't he have been a woman?

And that love, which had not vanished from the gaze Armand poured over me... Why couldn't I requite it? Why would I rather face Catherine's look of disdain and distrust, to beg some feeling from her, while the love of my dear friend seemed to flood on me through his eyes?

How many months had passed? So much had changed in my life -- and in his?

One thing, however, had remained unchanged. Once again, I was sure I loved Armand, and he loved me, though not in the same way. And I was sure I did not love Catherine, and surely she did not love me. Nor was I in love with her -- but I was delighted with the idea of the life which I could have with her, and the promise of having a family... for the first time in my life!

'What is it, Carlo? You're frightening me... Did something happen? Or am I smelling bad from the trip?' -- Armand laughed nervously.

And finally I hugged him -- with all my love, and all my pain. Knowing him, there was no fantasizing about a love triangle, where the three of us lived together in harmony on the Île du Blanchomme. That 'free love' talk that was often heard in the seventies was not for any of us, nor for Catherine, the third part of that impossible triangle.

I embraced Armand also because I could no longer remain under his expectant look, and I kept hugging him for fear that there might be no other hug following that one -- a goodbye hug, perhaps? 

And I kept on hugging him so as not to have to face him again.

'Oh, how I've missed you...' -- he whispered in my ear, his goatee rubbing against my cheek -- 'Did you miss me too?'

'How was it in France?' -- I asked abruptly, instead of answering his heartfelt question, and he noticed I had changed subjects -- 'Did you get there... in time?' -- I pretended to be as happy as he was, but I mentioned his sad family affairs to gradually decrease Armand's joy. It was like trying to drag him into my darkness, since his light could not enlighten both of us.

'My mother died the day I arrived...' -- and I noticed that actually Armand was saddened -- 'According to my father, I extended her suffering with my delay... It really seems that she waited upon me... Although she was barely conscious, because of the heavy drugs she was taking to ease her pain, she was very agitated when I walked into the room, and yelled something that sounded like my name... "Ahhhaaaannnn..." nothing more than that, but according to the nurses it was her first effort to articulate a sound after such a long period of only groaning... She was disfigured, all swollen, and even if emanating a horrendous smell, I hugged her... and she died that afternoon.'

'I'm so sorry, Armand...' -- and I again had the opportunity to hug my beloved friend, one last time, regretting all the more because I would tear his heart apart -- 'And the conversation with your father?'

Armand was surprised.

'I wasn't expecting this conversation to happen on my arrival, but since you are asking...' -- Armand was very serious and uptight for a moment, to suddenly burst out in laughter -- 'My father found out about your coming to the Île du Blanchomme! We were naive to think that we could use his name and his influence for you to travel for free, all the way to these islands, without it arriving at his ears...' -- Armand laughed again, and gave me some alarming news -- 'The next time we travel, you will have to use a false name because he promised to make you "persona non grata" on all his friends' fleets...'

'My God...' -- I groaned, thinking about my return to Europe with Catherine -- 'You told your father that you had been just waiting for my arrival, to then return to France?'

'Of course not, Carlo!' -- Armand laughed -- 'But he guessed it and...'

'He blamed me for your delay and for prolonging your mother's suffering... Oh my God!' -- but actually what I was thinking was that I had harmed Monsieur de Montbelle directly by delaying the long-awaited death of his wife... I was the one to blame for the delay in that emancipation he was longing for... Dio mio!

'Don't worry, mon cher Carlo...' -- Armand had noticed my state of despair before Monsieur de Montbelle's renewed hatred -- 'My father is not a violent man, nor is he spiteful... And we're together in all this...' -- it was touching to realize my friend's effort to improve my mood and reassure me, and I tried to pretend that same happiness he seemed to radiate -- 'He won't do anything against you, since it would be against me, his own son... No, don't you worry, he will not harm us...'

He stayed silent for a moment, gazing into my eyes, perhaps giving me the chance to finally say that I had missed him too.

'How silent and vast the night on the island is...' -- Armand finally said, with a sigh, as I remained silent -- 'I'd almost forgotten how beautiful it was... I'm glad to have rented a boat to come immediately, instead of waiting there for the next scheduled one... I'm so happy to be here... with you, mon cher Carlo... But let's go... upstairs?' -- he looked at me expectantly -- 'Let's go... to the bedroom?'

With Armand in my arms, tenderly embracing him, I could not help think of Catherine naked on his bed, and all the things I had done to her in that room, on that bed, Armand's bed. 

Would she have understood my message and would she have put clothes on? At least she had not appeared on the veranda yet.

'Shall we?' -- Armand reached out to me, inviting me to go hand in hand with him. Why did he have to be so soft and polite even upon manifesting his desire?, I thought. I wish he would have jumped on me, ripped my clothes off and... I would not have failed him.

'Armand...' -- I said his name in a whisper, remaining motionless. 

The pain in my heart was so acute.

'What is it, Carlo?' -- the way he pronounced my name... It had never sounded any more beautiful, sweet... and sexy. My friend returned to where I stood, puzzled and paralyzed.

'Armand ...' -- I repeated his name like a mantra, trying to evoke through it all our lovely past history.

And I did not premeditate what followed.

I did not measure the consequences.

I did not think the importance and significance that it would take, in view of what happened later.

I did not think -- I just gave in to the despair and hopeless love I felt at that moment.

I took Armand's face in my hands, the face that for the first time I noticed to be so beautiful -- and closing my eyes, because if I kept them open I might not have done it -- I kissed him.

Perhaps the clouds had moved away and the moonlight lit up with greater intensity, or perhaps Armand's light had engulfed us both, his immense love dissolving my fears and my darkness...

Will this kiss last?, I thought, as I kissed Armand passionately, kissing him with all my soul, though not being able to respond with my body, as he was doing as well.

Will this kiss last a whole life? Will it survive tonight?

'Let's go upstairs...' -- he again invited me, and I realized I might have made a mistake when I saw Armand beaming, while he dragged me towards the stairs, running. Oh my God, I thought, as I realized I had given him the wrong clue to what was going to happen next. 

I should better have punched or slapped him -- but how could I?

I had him stop for a moment at the top of the stairs, imagining that our noise and voices would warn Catherine, giving her time to prepare and to dress, if she hadn't yet.

'I haven't painted the entire house...' -- I said, apologetically -- 'You know...' -- and I wanted to introduce the subject of having a guest, which had kept me from taking better care of the island, from finishing painting the house and tending the garden...

'No problem at all!' -- Armand said cheerfully, interrupting me -- 'Now that I'm here to stay, let's paint it together! We have never painted anything together, have we?' -- he was truly elated, and I could no longer detain him, as he pulled me by the hand into the house, and through the bathroom towards his bedroom.