"Carlo, please continue..." I requested, taking the chance to evade my father's touch, removing my hand to wipe the tears away. Catherine had never mentioned that episode, nor any other story about the Île du Blanchomme. Would it have been to protect me, or actually to protect themselves... that they had lied to me?
May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes,
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes,
May all sentient beings never be separated from bliss without suffering,
May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.
And my desire, so inconvenient and imperious, that dominated me even in such a delicate situation... You know Laurent, we cannot judge and classify things as plainly good or bad, and always in the same category in all situations. Because in my prudity I could not bear looking at Catherine's naked body, for it seemed I disrespected her with my eager eyes, I decided to cover her whole body with a wet sheet... It was what seemed to finally relieve her, promoting her evaporative cooling, as I had read in the manual, and she fell asleep.
That evening, a fierce storm fell on the Île du Blanchomme, opening a new season. I had watched many threatening thunder storms sweep the Apennines, but I had never had that feeling of insecurity before. Herr Weissmann's house did not offer much protection, and even closing the curtains of all rooms, they were a feeble wall against the thick rain, blowing open like sails in the wind. I guess I had felt more protected being enclosed by the high mountains, while the tiny island seemed on the verge of disappearing bellow the ocean -- and for a while it did, indeed. The soil vanished before my eyes, as waves washed across the island and crashed against the poles that sustained the house -- and I could just hope they were strong enough. For the first time, I lifted the stairs, as Armand had instructed me. There was a moment when I was helplessly wondering what do in case the house would collapse, and how to save the sick girl -- but the fury of the tempest did not last more than two hours, and again the skies cleared. Next, stars were deviously twinkling like fake testimonies -- the garden had been destroyed, rocks tumbled in the pool where the water had turned murky, and the wind had broken two tall palms and uplifted another younger one.
All through the storm -- and for many hours more --, Catherine slept, while I ran around trying to safeguard the house against the gushes of wind and rain, but always returning to her bed to diligently reapply the wet sheet over her body -- though, in fact almost everything around her was soaking wet. The rain, that had invaded her and all rooms in the house, and the winds, had cooled the night, and I was glad that the temperature was much more agreeable for the girl on heat.
Having hanged carpets and curtains along the rail of the veranda to dry, I then washed her beautiful dress that was stained and smelling to vomit. 'Yves Saint-Laurent, have you heard of him?' she had once asked me. But even if in my Parisian years I had never learned about that couturier, nor anything else concerning fashion -- that seemed otherworldly to me --, I could notice the outstanding quality of the piece, and I washed the fine cloth very carefully, as if washing the adored young woman herself.
I cleaned the remains of her vomit that the rain had not washed away from the veranda, and in the bathroom. But it was washing her lavish dress that I saw myself finally somewhat turning into a guesthouse employee -- happily serving and taking care of the young woman, like she had wanted from the start.
I had to be room service for Catherine as well, as I'd spend many days and nights caring for her. I lived long days of tension and uncertainty, since I was not sure about providing her the proper treatment. But her condition seemed to gradually improve.
When she finally overcame the heatstroke, her skin was still in a horrible condition, and I started to care for it, never forgetting to keep her from dehydrating.
I still remember when Catherine finally came out of unconsciousness. She suddenly opened her eyes, and when she saw me and realized the whole situation, she wept silently. Then she tried to rise from bed, and howled in pain, nearly losing consciousness again. The look of anguish in her eyes was that from a person who, being independent and self-assured, suddenly saw herself fragile, helpless and submissive, and whom, usually superior and arrogant, felt humiliated to have urinated in the sheets.
"Don't you worry..." I murmured, sweetly. "I'll take good care of you."
It was embarrassing to touch Catherine... even if, wrapped in a cloth, my fingers were not directly in contact with her... so intimately between her thighs... skimming against her moist opening... for the first time... not as a man, but as a nurse. She cried when she forced herself to get up to go to the bathroom, and again when we decided together that she could not do it, even with my aid. And she cried when she had to ask me to put a glass between her legs so she could pee without getting off bed, and cried again as I cleansed her after that.
Another recommendation in the manual was to apply moisturizer, and despite having remembered that coconut lotion given by the natives to Armand, who actually had wanted to apply it on me, I delayed taking that other step. Simply for not wanting to touch Catherine without her consent... but since she could not bend over nor stretch her body without feeling too much pain, she agreed that I apply the lotion on her body.
She noticed my embarrassment before her nakedness -- and so much greater than her own discomfort it was, that it actually reassured her, and she started feeling safe under my hands. According to Catherine's own words a few years later, she was able to see in my eyes and gestures how 'very pure' I was -- and a virgin, too, she had identified.
"You're doing well, merci." She encouraged me, as I ineptly but gently moved my hands on her body. My peasant hands, recently roughened by the work in the garden, were like sandpaper in contrast to her delicate skin. They must have felt awful, and that was one reason to avoid the most intimate, sensitive areas like her breasts, between her thighs, the buttocks -- the other reason being my shyness.
As I ran my fingers over her body with great care, I secretly delighted in not only being able to finally touch her, but also in how my touch, astonishingly enough, seemed to please the girl.
"Oui, c'est bon..." Her voice trembled as she tried to encourage me. I had already noticed her smooth skin aroused by goose bumps, the fine golden hair on her thighs and forearms all erect, after my fingers had rubbed them. But I did not know whether she was reacting to my touch or to the temperature of the cool lotion, in contrast to her warm skin.
I tried to control myself when I was with her, but sometimes, when I went to the kitchen, I gave in to my desire. As I would leave our massage sessions, my shorts dripping pre-cum, I masturbated wildly on the farthest corner of the veranda, closing my eyes to be filled with all the lovely details from her body, visual and now tactile as well. I kept telling myself that this relief would help me avoid embarrassing erections in her presence, when my main concern should be to help relieve her pain -- with those same hands I used to satisfy myself.
I had become a connoisseur of her curves, and when I was away from the bedroom, my hands could perfectly recreate her body in the air, to the slightest details, like her eleven moles. I sensed that, when I took hold of a brush to paint again, my strokes would forever have changed after having caressed Catherine -- I just couldn't have guessed that it would take so long to go back to my easel.
When she slept, basically I took care of the garden, which depended on me as much as the young woman did -- and there was so much to be redone after the storm. But for many days I did not work. Not because I could not -- I did not want to. I dedicated myself to Catherine, only. I slept on the floor of Armand's bedroom, on the carpet at the foot of the bed where she rested, or sometimes when it was too hot, in the veranda.
It was also on the veranda in front of her room that I took my meals, and I resumed my meditation sessions right there on the carpet next to her bed. For many days I didn't paint because the easel on the beach was too far away from the room, and I didn't want to risk not listening when she called me -- and I just thought it not worthwhile bringing my easel upstairs. And I didn't paint the walls because the smell of the paint made her sick, even more than the coconut smell of the moisturizing lotion -- and of course, I did not want to have that stink of paint on my hands, risking she would ask me to stop rubbing her just because of their strong smell.
I felt that between Catherine and me there was an increase in that same tension that I could recognize from the first few days spent with Armand on the island -- and that had diminished only with his coming out, when the sincerity of our friendship had been reestablished, to a greater level, even.
But with Catherine my tension was higher, because I feared that, at her condition having improved, she might decide to leave the island. The boat would be arriving any day now, and my tension grew at each new dawn. That boat seemed to come to end cycles, and none of them lasted more than a week -- Armand's permanence on the island, and Catherine's too. I felt gloomy -- no longer did I want to be left alone, not again. And I thought that maybe my distress now was equivalent only to Armand's anguish, who had had hopes and expectations until the very morning he left.
But now it was me in his role, desiring Catherine and watching the days go by without any realization; emptiness and despair growing in me.
A new season, that I could not name, had arrived, and cooled the weather. Though it rained lightly every afternoon, storms rode by only in the distance. Armand had already informed me that the Île du Blanchomme had been chosen for a Portal Island also because it was safer than others, being located on a 'dry corridor', along which storms swept by -- but hardly ever hit the island, that was usually blessed only with the outskirts of the rain.
Days went by and I watched Catherine's health clearly improving. But I did not feel proud of myself. Though she still complained from pain and her skin was far from their normal, delicate appearance and texture, I felt guilt when I did not celebrate the fact that she was again able to stand up, and once a day walk to the bathroom. I no longer had to put the bowl between her thighs, and though we did not have to go through that embarrassing moment any more, I have to confess I felt disheartened at her progresses.
One afternoon, we heard an engine's noise approaching the island.
"Is it the boat?" she asked, rising slightly from the bed, where she had been resting.
"I think so..." I had also heard it, and the flock of seagulls preceding the boat, but hadn't mentioned in case it went unnoticed for her. "But I think you are not in conditions to leave..." I murmured. I know, what an irony, thinking that previously I had wanted to throw her out of the island, and I smiled internally. "Unless you think you should go to a hospital..." I had to suggest it, against my will, but knowing it was my duty.
"I don't think I could get on that boat..." She smiled, with a grimace. She still felt very sick and was often nauseated without having nearly eaten. "Can you host me for another week here?" Suddenly, she seemed worried. "Do you think the natives will come for us? Why are they making so much noise?"
"No, they won't." I calmed her, feeling calmer myself with her response. "They usually are noisy. And nosy..." I laughed. "But not so much as to come upstairs, I think. They must be delivering more provisions, or whatever Armand has ordered."
"Won't you go down to the beach to check?" She delivered an ironic smile. "Will you be hiding here, like on the afternoon of my arrival?" she asked, humorously blinking at me. "And what if new guests have arrived?" she laughed.
"One more reason to stay hidden..." I was delighted with her laughter, the first I heard since her arrival. "...here with you."
And that's how Catherine's stay on the Île du Blanchomme started prolonging for more than a week.
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.