But before boarding, my name was called and I had again to report to the counter. Thinking I would be removed from the flight, I was getting ready to be tough with the attendant with whom I had been so kind some hours ago. Just to compensate Fabrizio's rudeness and insistence, since I had been the next in line, I had tried to be funny and positive with her, and now...
"With compliments from our company, Mr. D'Allegro!" smiling, she handed me a boarding pass upgraded to the first class, '"We really appreciate your frequent flights with us! Have a pleasant journey and we apologize for any inconveniences..."
My gratitude amplified by the surprise, I almost kissed her -- and I should actually have, when I found out she had placed me next to Fabrizio.
And although we seemed like cliché opposites -- the artist and the executive, one talking about meditation and the other concerned with business --, something lit inside us both the moment we realized we would be sitting side by side on the plane. I believed more in enchantment than in mere coincidences, and even to Fabrizio it seemed quite remarkable that we had been brought together again.
"I'm glad I've apologized to you." He laughed. "Otherwise, it would have been so embarrassing to have you sitting by my side..."
We still waited a long time inside the aircraft, but at least we were comfortable and being served. And while waiting in a long queue for the airplane to take off, we talked about art, about cinema, travel, music. He had watched "Malpertuis", a cult movie for the chosen few, and he had read "Tales of Love", the touching, memorable book by Nobel Prize winner Sch. I. Agnon from which I had never met another reader. He loved the Île de Porquerolles, the only place I had actually been happy during my teenage years in France. And as we went on exchanging impressions, we kept finding common interests with an astonishing ease.
I was very impressed. And thrilled -- my good intentions on the raise, despite Fabrizio looking so young. Because it was as if another person -- not just some plain person, but that elegant, well-educated, traveled, gorgeous man --, following another route, had been taking steps that were quite similar and synchronized with mine. As if we had been dancing across the planet -- me in the Pacific Ocean and France, he in his natal Italy, until our paths had finally met in Vice City.
The thought of love at first sight must have crossed my mind.
I don't remember being sleepy, but at some point during our conversation I simply feel asleep. I sure was tired, too tired even from the life I had been leading, and Vice City always made me feel exhausted.
The feeling of defeat and betrayal with Angelo's departure had left me sad and depressed for a long time -- I hadn't seen him since 1998, but it still would hurt when I recalled him. My rather ambitious exhibition I owed solely to Dan Charmand's consistent support and tyrannical, unstoppable demand. "Boy, I want to see new paintings!" Dan would often phone me to check on my production. "Show me the way to the next pretty boy... For if I don't find the next pretty boy... I tell you, I tell you... You must die!" He would sing a parody of Brecht's song, and even if I couldn't care less for whisky, the 'Alabama Song' actually got me in the mood for painting and having sex -- and with each painting and new lover, I had buried Angelo a little deeper. Not entirely, not yet, not quite, more than 10 years later.
But after that productive period, and Charmand's unreasonable charges, which kept coming also from the public and different art dealers around the world, and finally yet another romantic failure -- my superficial relationship with Gabriel --, I found myself exhausted.
It was more like surrendering, when I closed my eyes and leaned toward Fabrizio's shoulder.
He was moved by my sleep, and the way I had abandoned myself in his presence.
"We only sleep in the presence of someone we trust.", he believed. But there are sleepers who seem to rely on the world... Anyway, my almost childlike sleep gave Fabrizio a chance to observe me. Later he would say it was like seeing me naked more than if he had actually seen me undressed. "Your sleep is as innocent as a child's, Laurent, and your expression so peaceful... You smile in your sleep, so beautifully... I felt like a consummated voyeur. It seemed like I knew your secrets and saw your soul behind that pretentious veneer of the cosmopolitan artist." I even drooled on his shoulder, leaving a small wet mark on his expensive Italian suit.
He later said he started to fall for me during my sleep, and that it was the little mark my drool left on his suit that first inspired his love.
Fortunately, I woke up when the flight attendant came around with the meal.
I was embarrassed to have drooled on his shoulder, but not only for that. Actually, I was already feeling a little inferior to him because I hadn't the money to buy a painting by Richter, and I had dressed as informally as possible to catch a plane, and not to actually meet l'homme de ma vie, who in turn was impeccably dressed for his important meeting. I sat next to him at first class only by that attendant's kindness, for I usually traveled economic.
If my mother were there, watching my pitiful embarrassment, she would have immediately contradicted me. "You do have the money, Laurent. To buy a hundred paintings, if you wish." Catherine and I were made wealthy inheriting Celeste's fortune. And there was more money coming, as some inventory problems were still being solved and the amounts liberated. "But you act like you are the poorest boy in the world! Did those awful years in Punaouilo leave an indelible mark on you, Laurent?" Catherine was afraid my poor childhood had traumatized me. To be honest, I felt safer having at least a certain considerable figure in my bank account, and the 2008 crisis had scared me to death, when money seemed to vanish. I was just trying to be careful, after having spent so much money to build my dream house in Samsara Heights. "We can sell just one painting from Celeste's collection... One of the Matisses, let's say... And you'll be able to build another house. Stop being so stingy, Laurent! Your grandmother wouldn't have wanted that."
Although we hadn't exchanged such details, I had noticed that Fabrizio was some good years younger than me. The recent defeat of losing Gabriel to a guy not only more famous but also younger, bothered me greatly. All those details that surrounded our encounter were making me distraught, and so I talked, on and on, hoping Fabrizio would pay attention to my discourse and not to my travel weary clothes, my glasses, my wrinkles, my gray hair.
And that's why Fabrizio had enjoyed my sleep, when I finally shut up and surrendered, because the rest of the time, throughout the flight, I had tried too hard to seem interesting.
And by that time I did not know if he liked men or not. But he did realize and appreciated my efforts to conquer him, and finally we agreed to meet at our final destination. After business, pleasure would follow in Samsara Heights, I thought! We had even discovered a mutual acquaintance -- Andrea, the Italian restauranteur who was openly gay, and that fact filled me with hope about Fabrizio being gay, too .
Unfortunately, he would not phone me during his stay in Samsara Heights.
When I had finally decided to call his hotel the morning, since I knew it would be his only full day in town, he simply told me that he had arranged an earlier flight and wouldn't have the time to meet me.
He was dry, almost harsh at me, and I decided not to insist. Only rejection could feel worse than frustration, and I immediately withdrew.
Even if I had already hurried to a bookshop to buy a copy of Shantideva's A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life to give him as a present.
Someday I shall have the opportunity to give it to someone else, I thought, and I put it in a drawer.
I no longer thought of Fabrizio, nor of my fantasy of having fallen in love at first sight with that guy. Guys abounded, though love was rare. But why should I care?
I didn't think about Fabrizio any longer. I mean, not everyday. At least, not that much. But one day when I saw an article about Gerhard Richter on the internet, I felt like talking to him. And then, drenched in melancholy, I decided to watch Malpertuis again, that film for the few that he had also watched. And I reread Agnon, his 'Tales of Love'.
Iael stroked his head and asked:
"What are you?"
Hemdat threw back his head and answered:
"I? I am a sleeping prince, whose love woke him to a new sleep. I am a beggar of love, my backpack torn, and who drops love into it."
Reading Agnon, I thought Fabrizio was the prince and I -- I was the beggar.
And I suddenly felt a strange nostalgia for the things that I had not lived with him, nor by his side, but that still we had both lived.