"Are you happy here?" Fabrizio had asked, while we were strolling along a stretch of rugged rocks, of various colors and dramatic shapes, that turned the Icelandic coast into a unique spectacle. Far flung, a few isolated houses dotted the landscape every now and then. Birds were infrequent and unable to crowd the skies, like the sparse driftwood just enhanced the ocean's vast emptiness. We had been all on our own for hours now, as if we were the last human beings on the planet -- or the first, since for the two of us as a couple, everything was new in the world.
It was a sunny second day at our Icelandic house, and Fabrizio, after returning from his daily jogging, had agreed to descend to the small strip of sand at the foot of our house, to sun bathe and maybe dive into the cold sea. But the beautiful patterns and colors of the rocks had beckoned me and I had engaged Fabrizio in an artistic exploration of those shores.
I knew his question had many nuances, and I tried to grasp them all before giving him the only possible answer.
Since he could not spend much time away from work, at first Fabrizio had wanted to spend just two weeks in Iceland. Traveling around the country, as it was to my taste, for just one week, while the other we would spend in a design house, as it was his tradition.
But it was also our honeymoon, the first long trip in over a year we had been together, and I found two weeks very little time for our first anniversary celebration.
"You can be a better boss and allow yourself more vacations!" had been my request, after having calculated that we would need at least three weeks to leisurely roam around the entire country on its Ring Road. "And maybe, a better husband, too!" I had laughed, because it was an unfair comment. Concerning his affection, respect and the care that Fabrizio had with me, there was no improvement possible.
At first he said that three weeks was too long. "Impossible!" he had claimed. But then, not only to content me, and as if he couldn't simply agree with me, because he enjoyed surprising me, he had decided on four weeks -- three en route, to my benefit, and one at a rental home that we would choose together.
But I knew his current question -- "Are you happy here?"-- had a certain emphasis on the here. He now wanted to spend a whole week of immobility, while I still wanted to visit some places nearby, especially the Blue Lagoon Spa.
But after having conceded 3 weeks for the road, any new tour that I wished to go on would have to be negotiated with Fabrizio.
There was something else, too, beyond Fabrizio's wish to no longer leave the house.
Are you happy here? It was as if he was asking me if I could be happy with him only, just the two of us in that isolated landscape -- that quite represented our life. He had lost his friends and family -- and after having quarreled with Dan Charmand and Darren Cox, I wasn't talking to my best friends anymore either. Just like I no longer wanted to speak to Catherine, who was still in St. Petersburg, obsessively pursuing the Russian branches of our family's mysteries.
Fabrizio had lost almost all his friends when he had brought me into his life. And since he thought I was very social, because of my eventful past in Vice City and especially in Samsara Heights, he was always worried that I would feel bored in his company only.
We never went out in a group of friends. As a couple, we went to restaurants and to the movies, and I had already noticed his being worried without knowing exactly why.
"Won't you get bored, Laurent? With me... getting to spend time just with me, all of the time?" He had finally clarified the reason for his insecurity. Coming from a very successful executive and such a gorgeous man like Fabrizio, so set in his opinions and highly cultivated tastes, his concern touched me.
Fabrizio had given up a lot of things to be with me. Not only his friends had deserted him, but his family had turned his back on him, unable to accept or understand the new way of life he had chosen. He had faced difficult and unpleasant moments because of me, and all the time I was afraid that he might regret his efforts, seeing that my company was, after all, the single thing that he had obtained in return for so many things he had lost.
"I love you, Laurent!" Fabrizio was very sweet, tender and caring when it came to love, just like he was rational and objective concerning his businesses. "Because you're the only one I need to be happy, anywhere on this planet."
His love still surprised me, like an unexpected prize I had won without having run for anything. Merit, maybe? No, it was just by luck, my tremendous luck.
After the blackout, I had returned for yet another workshop at Vice's Contemporary Art Museum, to be the last one scheduled for 2010.
"I won't be your employee any longer, Dan." I had thus clarified my position to my powerful friend, and he had finally given in and released me. The worst of the financial crisis was already behind, and many international sponsors were back.
Some months had passed since my encounter with Fabrizio at the airport, and I rarely thought of him -- only when I stumbled upon one of those topics we had shared, on which I had no one else to share with. But upon returning to Vice City, I could not resist the temptation to deliver Shantideva's book to him.
That afternoon, I had left it inside a neutral envelope at the reception of his apartment building, the address which I had gotten from the German woman. Of course, in seeing that book he would have imagined it was me who had left it for him, and know that I had been in town.
But it was not quite what I wanted.
The conversation with Carlo had made me realize the responsibility I had had in my past for my affairs with married men. I used to think that issues with guilt must be theirs only, not mine at all, and that, if I missed the chance to go to bed with them, another guy would do it -- so why should I be the one to fast?
"Have you ever been betrayed, Laurent?" Carlo had asked me, getting a little sentimental and judgmental. That's when I had finally confessed to him that indeed all my models had been former lovers, but I could not admit it because among them there were some married men. "Then you should know this pain, Laurent."
Carlo was talking from his own experience with Catherine, who had constantly cheated on him, though he had never complained, since they were not married. Their only commitment was... what? To build a family? A family that never came to be, like Carlo had put it himself? Anyway, his pain was sincere. "And since nobody can cheat if there isn't a partner for the betrayal... Yes, you do have responsibility in that betrayal, and the suffering inflicted on a person you've never met is also being inflicted by you. Think carefully, whether you want to be the cause of that unhappiness which has made you suffer yourself, my son."
That reflection from Carlo had actually helped me to put an end to a period of great sexual (and professional) activity, and led me to attempt a steady relationship with Gabriel. But neither Gabriel nor I had made any faithfulness commitment, and I would again experience the suffering from uncertainty and doubt, which had eroded my relationship with Angelo, and our painful end when his repeated betrayals had been confirmed... Ironically, despite my forgiveness, Angelo had still and finally dumped me.
Carlo's beautiful speech had awakened me to my share of guilt, or responsibility, in that kind of affair.
Thus, in Vice City the only thing I wanted from Fabrizio was a night of good conversation. I had attached a note to the book:
Thanks for the conversation that
brought me joy and calm in the chaos.
Send my best regards to Gerhard.
And I could not resist it -- I did not sign it, but I did included my mobile number. I thought it was a harmless enough note, in the event that his fiancée was to receive and open the envelope, despite Fabrizio's name being on it.
But as the night went on and I did not get any call, I started regretting not having gone home that same afternoon after I had dropped Shantideva's book at the reception of Fabrizio's building. My hotel room had a great view over the city including the airport, and as I watched each plane take off, my sadness grew and I reproached myself for having foolishly stayed in town, waiting for a call from a guy who had been actually warned against me.
Idiot, idiot, idiot, I repeated to myself as I watched the silent, dead mobile phone beside me, recognizing my own expectations and fantasies -- despite Carlo's advice, if Fabrizio wanted to cheat his fiancée, I was not sure that I could resist such an attractive man.
He was still laughing when he called. In an instant, all the night's boredom and bad mood had dissipated, and I watched my expectations on the rise again.
"He is here right by my side, and he also sends best regards!" Fabrizio laughed, and of course I knew he was speaking of Gerhard Richter. Interestingly, he had forgotten to identify himself, as if our conversation that had ended in the lobby of the Samsara Heights airport had been just yesterday, and not months ago.
Maybe because he has also been thinking of me since then, all the time mentally talking to me, daily dreaming of me? I wished.
"Who?" I said, and just to let him know that I had recognized him, I added. "Shantideva or Richter?" and I laughed too.
"I guess Indian sages don't usually visit this part of the world." Fabrizio retorted, and laughed. My heart would swell at each laughter coming from him... I was so happy that he apparently wasn't mad at me.
"But of course they do!" Excitedly, I started telling him about one of the most interesting talks I had attended at a Buddhist temple in Vice City, while in college. Then, I had been a much more assiduous and disciplined meditator. The suffering inflicted by Angelo with his infidelity had also been a good incentive for me to try to focus and stabilize my life. Only when he had finally left me had my debauched, lavish sex life begun, unable as I was to cope alone with my tremendous suffering and rejection.
After some time on the phone, though, I realized I had been talking endlessly on my own. "I'm sorry, Fabrizio. I often get carried away with these topics, and I always end up talking too much about them..." He had been so silent that he might have put down the telephone.
"It's okay." His voice was neutral, and he was not laughing anymore. Very unskillfully, I had brought in such serious issues. "I know nothing of these matters. I was never interested in them. But it seems that these people are quite sensible." Fabrizio temporized, and fell silent.
I then realized why I had spoken so much, and actually wanted to continue.
I did not want that call to end. I did not want him to just thank me for the books -- Shantideva's, and another one with contemporary reviews by the Dalai Lama, which made reading the Guide so much easier -- and hang up. Even if just over the phone, I wanted so much to talk to Fabrizio.
"If I remember correctly, Richter's painting had also the name of a saint, wasn't it?" I asked, trying to prolong the conversation.
"It's true!" Fabrizio was again cheerful. "St. Andrew! A Western and an Eastern saint. I hadn't made this association."
I had scored one point, I thought, feeling all bright and original. "Since Richter's paintings all have their own aura, I imagine yours must have that too, so... you do have a saint manifesting at your place!" I decided to risk, giving a hint about my intentions towards him. "I have only tonight here in Vice City... I would love to see your Richter... But since I may not be able to... you could send me a photo by email." Why did I feel suddenly so gawky, when I had talked so many men into my bed?
Fabrizio was silent. I had invited myself to his house, but at the same time I had made a mistake saying it wouldn't be possible, as if I had some other appointment. It was to clarify that misunderstanding and to break his silence that I continued, bolder.
"Would you like to have a drink... to have a chance to chat more, Fabrizio? I'm actually free tonight. Or maybe even... Have you dined already?" I felt my chest hurt at the possibility of him answering that he had another dinner engagement, or even that he had already dined, since it was very late, and that he had to go...
"Sorry Laurent, I don't feel like leaving my house again today." Upon hearing that, I thought 'Idiot, idiot... if it was to talk to him over the phone, there had been no need to stay in this sad city.'
Then it began, that habit from Fabrizio that would fulfill our lives, when he would not only satisfy me, but as if he couldn't simply agree with me, he had on top to actually surprise me. "I just got back from the gym, and I want to take a shower now, but... Wouldn't you like to come over? I have wine and pasta at home." He suggested. "Of course, if it's not too late for you."
"I'm on my way!" I exulted. "I'll be there in a minute, then!" I feared he had mentioned the late hour not so much to be polite with me, but to give himself an excuse. I had to act fast, if I did not want to give him the chance to change his mind. "I just have to put my shoes on."
No longer thinking I was an idiot, I instead started to regret I was getting old. Younger, I would never have stayed in my hotel room on a Saturday night, reading a novel and drinking white tea, expecting a not so probable call from a straight guy that was engaged. And if in fact the guy called, he would reach me at a club, where I'd be comparing him to the diversity of men at the bar where I was, considering if he was my best option.
At other times, I would have waited for Fabrizio in the company of some other evening beau. There had been an invitation from Dan Charmand to attend a super cool reception that night, that I had refused.
But I was afraid to go out in Vice City and meet Gabriel -- and even worse, if he would be with his new young partner. Or was I afraid to go out and return to the hotel on my own, having failed in my nocturnal hunt? Gabriel had renewed old wounds that did hurt more in Vice City than anywhere else -- a wound that had actually originated with Angelo. After Angelo, I had never been in love again. For more than ten years, now. Rejection had turned into a permanent aftertaste, since Angelo had abandoned me without further explanations, when he had taken on the new relationship that he had begun, still during ours, with a supreme socialite named Laura von Tschimmel.
At thirty-five, I no longer felt exactly at the peak of my beauty. I had twice as many years as a boy of eighteen, but not exactly twice his vigor. If I had in fact double the experience, that was also what made me now feel a little tired and bored, burnt out, and that had led me to stay at the hotel room waiting for a phone call.
Now that it had come, I was as happy as I was nervous. Like a shield or an amulet, I dressed in black and gray Armani, a combination from their latest Spring/Summer catalog -- I could be tedious, but I wouldn't go wrong. If I had to chose, I'd rather be elegant than sexy -- and the fine tissue of the shirt outlining the tip of my nipples was daring enough for a first date.
Let's at least steal a kiss tonight!, I thought -- and that it might be a long, luscious kiss from that gorgeous Italian man, it will have been worth already, having stayed overnight in Vice City.
And I laughed thinking that exactly Shantideva and the Dalai Lama -- who taught me unattachment and how to get rid of desires and illusions-- had been the bait for that night. Would there be such a thing as blasphemy in Buddhism? Or would it be heresy? I couldn't care less.