As we were sitting, before we even accommodated ourselves, Fabrizio was asking "It was Andrea who told you about Andara, wasn't it?" Striving for a half-smile, he looked so cranky. "I thought I had been discreet when I inquired about you. But Andrea..." Fabrizio shook his head, between perplex and worried, "he really wants to prevent us from being... even friends."
"Sorry, Fabrizio, but I don't want to talk about Andara. And I don't mean to be rude, but I'd rather know what Andrea told you about me. You didn't call, and dumped me just like that, over the phone at Samsara Heights. I wanted so much to have met you on the day after our first meeting. As you said, our connection is special. I had even already bought Shantideva's book to give to you..."
"Pardon me for that. I also felt our connection was special, and I wanted to meet you, too. But it's not like I had imagined."
"What had you imagined, Fabrizio?" At least, we were conversing like two civilized adults.
"I don't know. When I remembered you, everything seemed so light and good, so easy. But now that you are here..." He gulped.
"Do you want me to leave?" I asked, feeling my heart beating fast, always closer to breaking.
"No!" He was fast in dismissing it. "Nothing like that! It's just that it's hard for me. So difficult, really." He seemed to struggle with the words, as if pondering how sincere he actually wanted to be. "I'm not... as free as you are."
"Your fiancée again, I suppose." I tried to say it quite neutrally, without grimacing, but it nevertheless sounded like an accusation.
"No..." It sounded like a lament. "That's not what I'm talking about. I mean, it is also about her, but not quite just." And I didn't suspect his next question. "Does your family know? I mean... You are gay, aren't you?" He couldn't look me in the eye when he asked. "Or bi... Do your friends know about it?"
The storm was approaching. The wind, though it could not be heard inside the apartment, was sometimes so strong that it made the windows shake. If I looked ahead, the clouds were already in sight, menacingly marching over the horizon. But as I turned to face Fabrizio, stars were still shining behind him. It felt like if there were two possible nights for us -- as if we had a choice, or more like necessarily to chose.
I had no reason to lie, nor hide anything from him. "My mother knows... And my father knows it, too. And I have no family members alive, other than that. An uncle that is not quite my uncle, though like me he is gay... I'm gay. I'm not bi. But never mind. My few friends in Samsara Heights, yes, they all know it. I don't have any friends from my childhood. Nor any friends that I have left back in France."
"And do they support you?" Fabrizio put such a strength and intensity in his questioning that was actually surprising, after all the nice, bland comments we had exchanged through the night so far. "I mean, your parents, do they support you? Have they been against you?"
"My mom has always supported me, her own way. She was surprised at first, but not exactly shocked." My memories of coming out to Catherine were actually some of the nicest I had from my teenage years in France, though the period prior to that day had been full of anguish and long, thoughtful conversations with Angelo, who was already my boyfriend at the time. We had decided to come out together. "My father... Carlo left home when I was thirteen, and I only had the chance to come out to him much later, just a couple of years ago..." Though that conversation at the Nirvana Lounge had been more of a recognition than a coming out. "And I'm not sure about it, but I think he knew it already from my early teenage years... Later on, it was like simply telling him that I loved sushi best of all, and that I had been eating sushi and just sushi all my life... Especially hot rolls, haha!" I laughed hard at my own spontaneous joke, but Fabrizio, who wasn't in a playful mood, looked at me shocked. "I guess it doesn't really matter for him, as long as I'm happy."
"I suppose so... Being in a family of artists..." He sighed.
There was a slight but unmistakable tone of contempt in Fabrizio's comment about my family. Was he actually diminishing all the suffering I had been through just because my father was a painter and my mother a writer -- "artists", like he had put it?
"Do you think my coming out was made any easier just because my mom dyes her pubic hair blue to match her tattoos, and my dad smokes weed he grows himself in our backyard?" Fabrizio opened his eyes wide and stared at me in surprise. "But since my mother doesn't paint her hair blue, and my dad never even tried smoking, it was not any easier for me to come out to them, just because you suppose so! That is prejudice, Fabrizio, albeit in reverse!" I was pissed off at his remark. "I had to lie and suffer a lot, and I suffered a lot from lying, until when I realized I would rather suffer from the truth than from a lie."
"Maybe." Fabrizio was still unsure about my sharing, as if it wasn't emotional nor dark enough for a coming out. "But you never feared they could expel you from home, did you? Did you actually fear they could have rejected you? I mean, can you imagine how it would have been if you were in a Catholic and conservative family like mine? I even have an uncle who's a cardinal--"
"No, I cannot imagine it!" I replied, impatiently. "Sorry, Fabrizio, but why are you asking me... and telling me these things?"
"Because you're the only person I've ever met with whom I could share. And wanted to share them with, Laurent. Our connection is so special to me." Fabrizio sighed, and for a moment he seemed to notice the strong wind blowing outside, but he actually was lost in his own turmoil of thoughts and feelings. "I reached a point in my life where either I change it now, or it will remain the same, worthless lie until the day I die!" He touched me lightly, his fingers caressing the skin of my hand, causing me goose bumps. "When I met you, I thought you'd be the first who--"
"Do you want to try it with me?" I interrupted Fabrizio angrily. "Is that it? To see how is it with another guy? What for? To decide if you'll come out?" I was being aggressive and challenging him. Maybe that's what he needed to jump on me.
"No." Fabrizio replied sharply, showing he was in control of himself. His eyes though, shone with anger. "I know how it is with another man." I have to confess that I was very surprised with Fabrizio's honesty. I hadn't yet been able to imagine him in bed with another guy, and even fantasized about taking his 'virginity'. "'But I still don't know how is it to fall in love, to get romantically involved with another man. That would have been you."
"But?" My heart was beating faster, and I had begun to sweat when I decided to let him finish the sentence.
"People are not always as we would like them to be." he said, quite neutrally.
"This was about me, then?" He had stated his criticism and disappointment, but I still did not understand why. "And what do you dislike me so much for? I know, I don't always trim the white hairs inside my nose--" My trying to be funny sounded awful, when he briefly checked my face for all the imperfections.
"You are perfectly beautiful, Laurent." Fabrizio said it quietly, without the slightest embarrassment. "Your profile is that of a classical statue. Has anyone ever told you that you look like the Charioteer of Delphi?" His compliment was passionless, the same tone of voice someone would use to comment on the frame of a poster or the design of a doorknob. "But the gay scene seems to be always restless, and men do not ever want to leave the market, the free flow from bed to bed, do they?"
"And you're listening to it frying right now, aren't you? Is that what you want to say?" I finally had begun to understand the charges posed against me. "I'm drowning in that hot oil, right, like some deep fried shit, isn't it?" I was angry, and not just at Fabrizio. "What did Andrea tell you about me?"
But Fabrizio did not seem to hear my question -- or did not wish to answer it.
"Kurt. One of Andrea's boyfriends." Fabrizio was saying, "I met him once. In a parking lot. He was there looking for the same thing that I was... With the difference that he was hunting openly, while I did not want, nor could, be seen by anyone. It was the first time I wanted to make anonymous sex with another man, since I had begun dating Andara. I don't even know why I suddenly surrendered to that desire. I had felt that despair before, and I could deal with that anguish, without losing control. My life had become a perfectly boring lie, but it was under control. Even if my repressed desire would not let go, I still was able to bend it. Daily."
Fabrizio was silent for a few moments, looking for his next words, while I watched the storm that had already started pouring down over the horizon. I listened to the wind, hammering against the windows of the penthouse, and I suddenly recalled Carlo saying how the Île du Blanchomme had lied in a corridor free from storms. I knew the same wasn't true for Vice City, but yet, though the sea was completely rough, behind Fabrizio stars still shone. We still had a choice, I thought.
And then he continued, averting my gaze. "But not that day. Probably I would have left that filthy parking lot alone, as indeed I left it later, without anyone having seen me. And like it had always been, no one would ever know the secret that tortured and disgusted me. However, precisely Kurt was there that afternoon. Hunting, like I was. He and Andrea had an open relationship, and I think Kurt told Andrea where he had met me without any embarrassment from his part. Andrea has never mentioned anything to me. Just recently, our restauranter friend met Andara and fell instantly for her. They became best friends forever, overnight. I know they have even talked about the menu for our wedding party, although there is no date set yet..." He sighed. "I think Andrea never told my secret to her, at least not yet. But he started keeping a watchful eye on me, even through his network of friends. It was foolish of me, to talk to Andrea about you. I thought he would be happy to find a friend in common. But because of... your reputation, Laurent, he must have begun imagining things and blaming me. And I'm afraid of what he might tell Andara."
"My... reputation?" Fuck Andara!, I wanted to have yelled instead. "You think my reputation has harmed you somehow?" I tried to sound enraged, but I was just a bit angry and actually enjoying myself. It was as if Fabrizio spoke of a Laurent I hadn't yet met. "What did Andrea tell you that made you change your mind about me? About my reputation, I mean? Was it because of my... reputation that you never called me in Samsara Heights?"
"He..." Fabrizio looked embarrassed, again measuring how far his sincerity should go, "...told me what happened between you two, when you were dating."
"Ha!" I was finally feeling indignant. "Has Andrea also told you about how I became a escort and a porn actor? He loves talking about that!" Bravo!, I thought; by Fabrizio's look, I had finally and definitely shocked him. "Because it's all a lie, and that evil..." I was about to say 'son of a bitch', but I didn't want to be unfair with an unknown mother, "asshole is the worthless scum you'll ever meet!"
"No need to be rude, Laurent. I'm not here trying to judge you." Fabrizio took a deep breath before his great confession, that which made him so superior to me. "But except for just one occasion... only once..." He gestured toward me as if to say 'my only time with another man', "I have never cheated on Andara."
Now that we already know that his 'only once' actually meant 'only one man', that Helmut guy he had screwed a few hundred times, even when he had been dating Andara... And he tought he wasn't cheating on the relationship he had with her, because he had been fucking Helmut before he had met her... The Austrian guy was his primary relationship, like his original sin, and there could be no sin out of their relationship. Now that we know all that bullshit from Fabrizio, I fell having even more reasons to have exploded on him like I did. Even if at the time I did not know about Helmut, and sometimes I still wonder if that "only once" actually meant the Austrian hunk or if it had been someone else, outside the love equation that included Helmut and Andara.
"Ha! And what leads you to think that I betrayed Andrea?" I exclaimed, outraged. "Just because he told you so? Do you know what his problem with me is? The simple fact that he never actually dated me!" I had been almost snorting.
"It was not what he said." Fabrizio replied.
I suddenly remembered the queue at the airport, and how Fabrizio could be stubborn, like the spoiled child he had been.
"Oh, I don't care what Andrea says about me! I know who I am, I know what I do, and I know why I do it!" I saw saliva fly from my mouth as I shouted, and unlike my drooling on Fabrizio's suit, that wasn't very romantic. "I could not care less about Andrea! It amazes me that he hasn't talked about my career as a porn star, if it was to be so venomous..."
"It wasn't just him, telling me things about you." Fabrizio seemed determined to defend the restauranteur, and keep his accusations against me. Right, they were friends, and I was a stranger to him.
"You made a research on me, was it?" I asked wryly.
"There was no need for one, Laurent. Have you ever searched your name on Google, safe search turned off, to see the kind of images that appear?" Fabrizio raised his thick, manly eyebrows. "Or rather, the comments on your images?"
"Now I'm fascinated! Why have I never had this idea before?" But I knew exactly what pictures he was talking about... the close-ups of my sculpture's butt, my erections, my balls, my pubic hair and other explicit details from my paintings, about which I actually did not bother at all. No leaked pictures, just some unauthorized excerpts from the autobiographic video, rated just R, screening at my exhibition. "Do you want to share your fascinating findings about me... with me? But only the praise, first!" I teased him, again feeling humorous.
"Oh yeah, there is lots of praise, of course!" Fabrizio was ironic. "Especially about your... talents." He made a gesture indicating a lengthy, thick something. "There is plenty of guys that guarantee they have done it to you, and can provide details." He smiled. "You reputation seems to be... Easy to get, impossible to keep."
"If I'm that easy, Fabrizio, why don't you fuck me right now, here on this carpet?"
"That's exactly it!" Fabrizio exploded, his frustration finally giving into anger, and he punched the arm of his chair. "Because in the end you're like all the others! Fuck? Go fuck you yourself, Laurent! I thought you were different, despite knowing your fame already, through the publicity of that 'Dark Room' exhibition... All this hypocrisy about lamas and meditation... Who are you trying to fool?"
"Are we talking here about my professional reputation, Fabrizio?" I dared him. "In the Art market or in the meat market?"
"To me, the two seem inseparable... aren't they?" Fabrizio sustained his aggressiveness.
"You know..." I sighed, exhaling deeply , letting go of a part of my anger. "The disappointment is all mine, Fabrizio. I wouldn't have imagined that you were actually capable of cheating your fiancée... Although, yes--" I was tired of lies; I had decided to be thoroughly honest with him and with myself, "... like a teenager I have come here hoping to get at least one kiss from you. You know, I would have left your apartment singing hymns, had we simply kissed... But unlike you, and what Andrea says, I would never cheat on anyone. I had only one boyfriend for eight years and, unlike you, I never cheated him. Not once! You don't have to believe me. Alright!" I made a gesture demanding he let me continue, when he was about to interrupt me. "I will not deny what they say on the internet about me. It actually helps to sell my paintings, you know?" I smiled, defiantly. I could have stopped there, but my heart wanted to burst, bleeding for justice. "After that eight years relationship ended, I decided to be loyal only to myself. I never had any serious relationship since then. I never committed myself to not betraying anyone anymore. Why? Because I am committed to no one except to myself. I won't betray nor distort my desire, neither betray nor avert from my freedom. Do you understand what I'm saying here? I never cheated, Fabrizio, neither my boyfriend -- nor myself. Not even once! And I think I'll die like this, because betrayal and cheating is below my character. But you will never experience this with me, Fabrizio, because I will not risk being cheated by you, not even once... I'm so sorry for Andara. I was often cheated by my boyfriend, and after it ended, I have participated in many betrayals. But it's over now. I also regret that I have given you the impression that you could cheat on her with me."
And I knew it was time to be silent and leave. The strong, insistent wind was so annoying, my heart helplessly responding to each hard blow against the windows. The receding stars no longer were a possible alternative for that evening.
"Never, Laurent!" Fabrizio exclaimed; seemingly, he had calmed down after my speech. "I never meant to cheat Andara with you. I'll never repeat that, as long as I live. It's the kind of thing that erodes a relationship. And if you could please stop repeatedly mentioning my one fault. I confided it to you because... "He paused, and tried to smile. "I don't know. I have no idea why. I had never told anyone before. Or rather, I know it... At this moment in my life... for me to make the crossing... so that I can even get into the boat... I wanted somebody calling me from the other margin, on the other side of the river..."
I had goosebumps when I heard Fabrizio using that analogy so dear to Buddhism, the crossing to the other margin -- from suffering to enlightenment --, in regard to his own life.
Again, I thought that no other man had approached my heart like Fabrizio.
But it was too late -- in that evening and in life, and I had decided to leave.
"Where are you going, Laurent?" He had jumped from his chair, startled, when I stood up and started walking towards the door.
"You know, I thought that our meeting would be the definite one in this life." I had decided to leave silently, since I owed Fabrizio no further explanations. "I really felt it, Fabrizio!" In fact, I still felt like it. L'homme de ma vie, but I was not going to confess it. "But just like you had imagined you couldn't trust me, because you thought I was so frivolous, unworthy of your trust... and now you... we discover otherwise... I came here tonight thinking that you were the most trustworthy man, to find that it is not so... We were wrong from the very start! That's why there won't be any start for us!" I could not help but again point his fault, that same one flaw he had thought to be a characteristic of mine. Betrayal was an issue that tortured and anguished me, for it was not simply a topic, but rather my painful experience.
And Fabrizio had stirred a lot of suffering, rejection and resentment in me.
"No. Don't even stand up Fabrizio. Enjoy that view... the storm is finally arriving." The first, thick drops of rain where splattering the tall windows of his penthouse. The fierce, unstoppable storm engulfing the entire landscape was a majestic view. And poetic, since at the far corner of the windows, stars shone still. "Storms must be so beautiful to watch from your apartment... No, please stay there!" I almost shouted, as I saw him moving toward me. "I can leave on my own, just like I entered."
And even without sprinting, in an instant I had reached the door.
"Funny..." Suddenly, an idea had occurred me. "Since I met you at the airport, I have never had sex. I didn't know what had led me to this spontaneous chastity. But now I realize it... Thinking of you was enough to end my loneliness, like sex never succeeded in doing. Agnon in the place of sucking, Malpertuis instead of rimming, Richter but no fucking..." I felt my body was awakening again. I felt sexy, as I saw myself going out through his door, into Vice City's night with all its promises of easy fun. "Today, however, the loneliness begins again."
And my sex life too, I thought. Vice City was a vast playground, and I knew where to get my favorite rides.
"Buona notte, Fabrizio." I aimed for my best Italian accent. I was clearly choosing not to even be his friend, like I usually did with most of my ex-lovers, that I enjoyed mercilessly dumping. "A-non-rrivederci!"
That evening, I hit Fabrizio hard, and I had hit him deep.
At first, he had been disappointed by his own misjudgement about what he had perceived being my faulty behavior and frivolous character. But at last, and after all I had said, he had felt embarrassed about himself.
He would later tell me that, having gone up to his room and coming across Richter's painting, standing gloriously lit behind his bed, he had begun to cry.
And he hadn't managed to stop crying before he finally fell asleep, exhausted.
He had just understood that he would have to undertake his personal crossing all on his own, and could not count on me nor anyone.
Days went by, as he strived to forget me and my visit, our encounter and conversations -- but just by looking at the paintings of Richter, Soulages and Serra, he continuously recalled me, and our remarkable connection. Even when Andara was in the apartment with him, I was also there, always there. Right behind their bed, on the wall, there was Richter, and Richter was me. According to Fabrizio, I never left his house, and his heart, and even if upon getting to the other margin he would not find me there anymore, he still wanted to make the crossing.
From my part, I felt ashamed at my outburst, and I had been saddened with my lack of understanding for Fabrizio's pain, and for having instilled in him an even greater guilt and shame.
I thought maybe everything would have been different if I had concentrated on his suffering, instead of abandoning myself to my own. I still lacked so much understanding, and compassion, and generosity.
But later, together, we also reached the conclusion that, had we become friends, maybe he hadn't performed his personal crossing.
If we had become friends, we might never have become lovers.
I had to go away from him to be able to find him next to me.
And Fabrizio had to lose himself, to conquer me for the rest of our lives.
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.