Sunday, November 30, 2014

Episode 50 | Half

previous episode

"Armand is...?" Tears filled my eyes when I finally caught a glimpse of the terrible truth. I lost balance, and even if in a few seconds I regained it and was again standing on my two feet, though not as firm as Armand and Catherine, who looked like boxers on a ring, just expecting for the bell to start fighting -- emotionally it wouldn't be that simple. For none of, for the rest of our lives. 

"Half-brother!" Armand replied, stressing the 'half' with a disdainful tone. And as I stared at him in absolute shock, he confirmed it. "This is my father's daughter with that... actress." With scorn, he had 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 learn 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, adding "...or big, thick secrets, haha! I think Gaston doesn't know about your... preferences, does he?" Catherine laughed with malice, trying to pat Armand on the shoulder, who jumped back before she could even touch him.

"Gaston?! You call him simply that, Gaston?!?" I knew Monsieur de Montbelle's name, but I hadn't yet 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. I had never dreamed of seeing my friend lose control like that. He sounded alarmed when he realized that Catherine had unveiled his secret within 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, and he lowered his voice. "Please respect the memory of my mother." He gently requested from Catherine. "If you were not able to respect her during her life..."

"I'm sorry." I couldn't determine whether Catherine was being guileless, but at least it was polite. "You know..." Her 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. He seemed to relent, his anger abated, yet he gave no indication on cooling that exchange of resentments. "I don't know of any intention from my father's side in marrying your mother... nor taking on you, either." 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 made a gracious ballerina spin over her own body, and was suddenly standing in front of me. "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. The laugh she gave was as hoarse as it was monstrous. 

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

"Oh, it's so easy to destroy you now..." She declared triumphantly, watching 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. Despite the oddity of the moment, I felt that tingle in my groin that indicate my organ would surely inflate. "Oh, you're getting excited, babe?" She teased me on, rubbing her thigh against my irreversible erection. "Getting ready for our night of love?" I hadn't known Catherine could be so vulgar, nor so cruel. Maybe one blow delivered after the other had left me paralyzed,  and despite being ashamed to have stayed by her side in that discussion, I could not move away from her expert fingers, which were causing me to leak already. "...But right now I'm too tired for this..." She squeezed me hard, and I finally backed, realizing she was trying to actually hurt me. "I just want to go back to sleep..." She faked a yawn.

With another ridiculous spin, 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. In dismay, I ran after her, trying to disguise the hard-on that bobbed in my shorts, staining its front. Embarrassed, I realized Armand eyeing my swollen crotch. 

"Catherine!" She avoided my grip on her arm. "For Heaven's sake! This is Armand's room... Please!" 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 pronoun in the plural in each sentence, every time she pronounced it, echoing my own 'we'. "We are two, and he is alone..." She dropped the words like bombs. "He may well sleep in the room you have left vacant." She pronounced the pronouns carefully and clearly, and she spoke turning towards Armand, making sure that she was heard. "He just 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 his discussion with Catherine had ended, and once she had brought me to the center of stage.

"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 previously 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. But she raised a hand just like Armand would, and I dared not approach 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 speak! And it will thus be, 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 faraway.


His eyes were hollow, and his body seemed to have less substance than a few minutes ago. His presence was very faint, though he was inhaling my very out breath, 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 filthy, dark and nasty.

"Armand..." I could just moan and whimper while my friend backed 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, silently. Just like his sexual desire had been 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.

Author's note: having been imported from a former version of the story, some of the comments below are dated previous to this post. Once the plot has not been altered, just the pagination, I am keeping them since they are very dear and precious to me.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Episode 49 | Who is this woman?

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

That whole story about the Île du Blanchomme that Catherine had never mentioned... About a great friend, a true love -- that adored ex-roommate whom I had never heard of before. Not the slightest mention about him in our home nor any furtive conversations, not a single surreptitious letter, ever. In Vice City, I had by myself become acquainted with De Montbelle's -- a.k.a. Purlux Drurien -- very original work as an architect. I even smiled when I read he had deservedly won the Pritzker Prize. Without ever guessing he had reunited my father and mother -- and maybe, years later, separated them again?

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 inaccurate 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? During the entire years their relationship lasted, he had begged for 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 tenderness nor affection from Catherine, it was simply because she had none to give. On the other hand, she would never fail in her support and protection, 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 embarrassed 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?" Gabriel was being incredibly polite in my father's presence. I almost expected a bow from him.

"Yes, I want another glass of wine..." Carlo said. Where I to find out that both my parents had given in to drinking after their separation? "...something sweeter for this time of the night..." Catherine, now and then, reached the point of getting drunk, and just like Carlo she never missed the sophistication of intoxicating herself with the best liquor only, and the most appropriate for each occasion. At least, they tried 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! This place should be called Olympus Lounge, instead!" Zeus and Ganymede? I gasped. Was my father making passes on Gabriel? As the waiter did not seem to understand the analogy, nor the allusion to his divine beauty, Carlo 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 of complicity, and passing by Gabriel, patted his shoulder. "Behave yourselves, young men..." he said, suggesting that something naughty could happen in his absence, walking away and 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.

"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 even in his working costume, looking 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 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. His beauty was stunning, 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. "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..." Though 'angel' was closer to Angelo as a name, making me wonder if could actually trust any angel.

"I'm glad I could help you with that, Laurent." He smiled charmingly, while elaborating to pronounce 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?"

So he knew who I was! I was flattered. Had he volunteered to work because he had seen pictures of me, perhaps? Nevertheless, 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 -- and not just 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 with light, gracious steps and even a slight bow, 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 took the opportunity to return 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 might be a hoax in its entirety, but I decided to not share my suspicion with him, not yet. "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, even more sophisticated in it's simplicity than her everyday fancy dresses, probably another creation by her beloved Yves Saint-Laurent. It wasn't so completely misplaced in that little island because of the new clothes Armand was wearing; despite being crumpled from the trip, they 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 demonstrated.

"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. I wasn't sure, but I thought his hands were shaking.

"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 his ex-girlfriends.

"You said you didn't know Armand!" My voice was shaky. I was taken aback. 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, dryly.  "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 unwelcome..." she added, wryly.

"Partner? Which partner?" And perhaps imagining a different connotation to the word, Armand glanced tenderly in my direction. "Carlo?..." 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 indignation, 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 my 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.

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 us all.

"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 at 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. Because they seemed to have a partnership. Had Armand ever... married?

"Excuse me, Armand... I did not know she was a former girlfriend of yours..." I aimed at least to erase a part of my guilt in the disaster that stream of events was leading 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. "You were living in a lie!"

"What is going on here, anyway?" I asked with a shudder, and I had to talk louder to be heard in their quarrel. I was still following the clue that Armand, before leaving France for his one year trip, and without my knowledge, would have married some heiress, like his social duty required. But such a marriage for him would have been a lie... And for her, too, like she was now accusing him. Would he have abandoned his wife, fled to the Indian Ocean -- where he had tried to pair with me?

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

"He is my brother."

Friday, November 28, 2014

Episode 48 | Kissing D'Artagnan

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

"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. Not from me, but during the days she had spent at the hospital, she had heard that they not only robbed, but raped and often killed their victims. "Do you have a gun? Why are you taking so long?" She tried pushing me off the bed, but I was immovable like a rock. "You have to go now to check what it is!"

They were no pirates, I knew. Yatchs wouldn't come to the Île du Blanchomme either -- in fact, no boat that couldn't maneuver the treacherous currents was able to approach the island. And the regular boat, that hadn't come to the Île in a week -- I often miscalculated -- was bound to, in a couple or more days. Anytime from sunrise until sunset, but not in the evenings. 

Unless it was a De Montbelle yatch.

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, stimulating her fiction and deceiving her -- or so I thought. "Be prepared..." I couldn't picture Armand entering the room to find Catherine naked on that bed, " hide, okay?"

And suddenly I hurried, thinking that maybe in my delay, he could already be climbing the stairs. I ran down to the beach in panic.

Even from a distance, I recognized his elegant posture, the sky and sea behind him like a mantle adorning his noble figure. 

The prince, shining brighter than the moonlight and the myriad of stars multiplied on the surface of the water, beaming in his own radiant, pure aura -- while I felt exactly the opposite, plunging into darkness.

Lighter than when he had departed, he was not wearing a single backpack -- having arranged for the next boat to bring his trunks along with the things he had bought in Europe to finish furnishing the house. The boat already in the distance, it seemed like he was an apparition himself, not having disembarked but descend from Heavens, like a ravishing angel.

"Don't you recognize me?" he cried cheerfully, from the other side of the beach. "Won't you come give me a hug?"

But I couldn't move, not daring 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 draw in any closer.

While I remained paralyzed, 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 happy, on one side. Pretty much. Very much, indeed. I just wasn't happy that I would unmistakably disappoint and hurt him.

"What is it, mon cher Carlo? Don't you like my goatee?" He asked humorously,  his voice as musical as ever, 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, caressing his chin, as if suggesting that I should be the one doing it. Yet, I remained at a polite distance from him.

My beloved friend. He looked older, even more dignified and princely in his musketeer looks. And incredibly handsome. In fact, I had never noticed his physical beauty, not with that fatal intensity, not so pronounced like in that evening of our reunion. His skin was as beautiful and well treated as Catherine's... But why did that skin have to be covered with hair? That mustache, towering over his delicate lips, I wish it hadn't existed... Dio, I thought, why couldn't he have been a woman?

And that immense 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 feelings from her, while the love of my dear friend seemed to flood freely 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 lead with her, and the promise of continuation of the D'Allegros, and the perspective of having a family... for the first time in my life!

"What is it, Carlo? You're frightening me..." His voice trembled, and he drew one step closer to me, while I remained motionless. "Did something happen? Or am I smelling bad from the trip?" Armand laughed nervously. But he must have known he smelled exquisitely -- I could already feel the perfume he was wearing. In new, comfortable cotton clothes, of dashing white and light blue, he was like a piece of a fresh morning opening into the night. Sophisticated despite a bit weary, Armand seemed to embody and bring back the Europe and Paris I missed most -- that I had experienced in his company.

 I finally 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. Not even 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 -- would there still be a goodbye hug, perhaps? 

And I kept on hugging him so as not to have to face him again. I feared he would be capable of reading my eyes.

"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 my improvised strategy was to bring up 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 illuminate both of us.

He gulped, and stood still for a moment, before letting out a sigh to answer me. "My mother died the day I arrived..." I felt no satisfaction when I noticed that my plan had worked, and Armand was actually 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 final pain, she became very agitated when I walked into the room. She couldn't have possibly seen me, because she was blinded, and she couldn't move because she had practically rotten to be..." Armand's voice broke. He took a deep breath, and continued, "A living corpse. Yet, she yelled something that sounded like my name... Ahhhaaaannnn..." He imitated her guttural sound, and I felt him shiver. "Nothing more than that. But, according to the nurses, it was her first effort to articulate a sound after a long period of only groaning... She was disfigured, all swollen..." As if seeing his mother in her deathbed again, Armand closed his eyes, and his eyelids nervously flickered. "And even if she emanated a horrendous, putrefied smell, I hugged her... embracing her very decay, and all her suffering, feeling for that rotten flesh and the bones that seemed to break with my hug, the same love, immense love, the greatest love I had ever and always felt for her. She died later, 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 apart his already shattered heart. "And the conversation with your father?"

Armand was surprised, and tried to catch my eyes to sense my mood and intentions, as I prolonged our conversation, mercilessly jumping onto the heaviest matters. I avoided his gaze, burying myself in his arms.

"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, mon cher Carlo!" My surprise made me lift my face towards him. "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..."

"Mon Dieu..." I groaned, already 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!" My friend laughed. "But he guessed it and..."

Was Armand's gaze filled with so much love that he could not see the consternation stamped on my face? "He blamed me for your delay and for prolonging your mother's suffering... Oh my God!" I immediately understood the consequences of having directly harmed Monsieur de Montbelle 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 finally noticed my state of despair before Monsieur de Montbelle's renewed hatred. He held my head in his hands and made me face him. "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. But how long would he remain my friend? "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, perhaps giving me the chance to finally say that I had missed him too. I let him hold my head in his hands, but I still avoid his eyes. I was embracing him, but nevertheless I felt we had already parted.

"How silent and vast the night on the island is..." Armand finally said, with a sigh, as I remained quiet. "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 but 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 had gone ahead, but while I remained motionless, he reached out for me, inviting me to go hand in hand with him. Why did he have to be so soft and polite even upon manifesting his lust?, 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 despairing 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 wondered, as I embraced Armand passionately, kissing him not just with my tongue and lips but with all my soul. Though not being able to naturally respond with my body, I rubbed mine against his, without requiting his excitement but still with the same intensity and strength that he applied to his arms and hips. I tried to surrender to the cadence of the lust with which he enveloped me -- I tried my best. 

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

He took the initiative to interrupt that kiss, probably thinking others would ensue, during the night of redemptive love making we had ahead of us. "Let's go upstairs..." He murmured his invitation as if it were the line of a poem, and I realized I might have made a mistake when I saw Armand beaming. He dragged me along, sprinting towards the stairs, and I still did not resist him. 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?

We were both breathless, from kissing and running, and 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, as we stood before the walls. "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 my apologies. "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, dashing through the bathroom, towards that which used to be his bedroom.

Author's note: having been imported from a former version of the story, some of the comments below are dated previous to this post. Once the plot has not been altered, just the pagination, I am keeping them since they are very dear and precious to me.