Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Episode 77 | Farewell to Nirvana

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First Transmission | The Heart

Vice City, 2008
Laurent & Carlo

"Sir, will you please drive safely?" I told the driver, who grimaced. "There are too many people who drive drunk in Vice City, especially at this hour in the night." I explained to my father. "They all cross the red lights, and I don't think we should be doing the same." Every once in a while I would learn about someone I knew dying in a terrible car accident.

The taxi driver slowed down a little bit and I relaxed, drifting back to my own reflections about what I had just heard from Carlo.


I had cried a lot, upon learning how Carlo and Catherine had cheated and abandoned Armand. 

Mostly because I had also been left behind, just like that, by Angelo and Laura. Like Carlo and Catherine had made love on Armand's bed, so had Angelo and Laura on the bed I shared with Angelo. And I could well imagine the pain my uncle had felt -- when Angelo had left me for a woman, the worst feeling was the doubt that he might never have liked me. I seemed to have been just a period of doubt in his life, or a mistake -- and the proof to me was that, as far as I knew, Angelo and that woman remained married.

Not that I had been the only man in Angelo's sex life. Instead, he had had many, during those eight years of our relationship -- I just had been the first guy. Laura, like me, had been the first woman -- but unlike me, she had been and remained being the only one, as far as I knew it.

The excuse that Angelo had used so often when I had accused him of cheating on me -- "It's just sex, Laurent!" He must have been talking about the other guys, but it could also have applied to me.  With all men, as well as with me, it had been just sex for him, Angelo seemed to imply with his comment. Only with Laura, the one who had 'straightened' him, was it love. Was it?

"Why did you hide my uncle from me, Carlo?" I finally asked, when I stopped crying.

"Your mother..." Carlo paused, pondering on how to continue. "She has never wanted you to go through the same shame she has suffered a lifetime... that of being a bastard child, begging for a family name... She's been fighting for the Montbelle surname, and until she gets it, I think she wouldn't have told you..."

That was indeed a serious revelation. My mother's confident and even imposing attitudes, and a certain snobbish arrogance -- were shields? During that discussion with Armand at the Île du Blanchomme, as retold by Carlo, feeling inferior to her half-brother, my mother had proved clearly vindictive. It was a completely new way of regarding and understanding her, and I would have to make adjustments to the image I held of Catherine.

I had barely started with this process, when Carlo dropped a new information.

"Celeste, neither, wanted to have complications with Gaston de Montbelle... She had other plans, and couldn't care less about Catherine's issues about being an 'illegitimate child'."

"And you decided to obey them, Carlo, was it?" I shot, being purposely rude. "Simple like that! And very convenient, too, right? Okay, I think I can understand their reasons, but why did you also hide all this from me?" Not posed as a question, it was an accusation.

I could not have predicted my father's response. I figured out he would strongly react, yell at me, swear at me, order me to shut up.

"Yes, Laurent... I obeyed them.", he agreed, humiliated. "Don't mess with this. It's not your family", Catherine had told me. "And remember who's paying the bills in this house." Catherine often reminded me of Celeste's financial aid, that we received in Punaouilo. In fact, Catherine felt more humiliated than me, for being still and totally dependent of her mother. Held hostage, that's how she felt in that situation. She tried to constantly humiliate me, to see whether I would react and take hold of our little family... And of course I tried, as best as I could, but with the painting and gardening services around the island I couldn't really provide for us..." It was somewhat sad to see my dad so humbly defeated, knowing that he was currently one of the most respected contemporary painters. "I also felt shame, because of Armand..."

"Shame, Carlo?" I was outraged. "'Because he's gay?" I had raised my voice. Those were sensitive matters to me. "Maybe that's also why you left home? Ashamed of having a gay son, were you?" I almost spit the words on him.

"Laurent!" My father almost yelled my name, sharply. Embarrassed, like a boy who'd been scolded in public, I looked over at Gabriel... But he was no longer paying attention to us, while preparing to close the bar. He had loosened his ponytail, and he looked even sexier. I would yet see Gabriel with many haircuts, and that style was for a Conan type of movie for which he would do a screening test. "What a tremendous nonsense, Laurent!" Carlo continued. His hands were shaking, so nervous was he. "I've never been ashamed of Armand being gay. And much less of you being gay... Do you think that is the reason why I left?"

"Yeah, sometimes I think so!" I lamented, finally expressing a grief that had consumed me for the last twenty years. "But how could you know, isn't it, Carlo?" I changed to an ironically cheerful tone. "You were not there when I decided to come out."

"Laurent... My son..." Carlo murmured and timidly tried to place his shaky hand over mine, that I gently withheld.My hand was shaking, too, and I placed it on my lap, securely out of his reach and far from his sight. I did not want to show any more signs of weakness. Carlo had hurt me enough for a lifetime. And I wanted to take control of that whole conversation and put it back on track.

I had a plan. "I think we need to go, Carlo." I said abruptly, and he startled. "Gabriel is willing to close."  I pointed out the bar, where the beautiful bartender stand just waiting, with nothing else to do.

"Okay, Laurent..." Carlo mumbled. "But I wouldn't like for our conversation to end like that, my son..."

Actually, neither would I, I thought. But I could not bear to sit at that table with my father any longer. I was almost feeling nauseated, and the fancy restaurant seemed like a prison now. I had to breathe fresh air. And I had just had an idea. For hours Carlo had kidnapped me into his past -- now my turn has arrived!

"Shall we go, Carlo? Can we go to another place?"

"At this time, Laurent?" Genuinely surprised, he slowly blinked, and I thought me might be sleepy.

"Are you tired, Carlo?" Just then, did I realize he might have been suffering from jet lag. He had flown in from Italy just for my vernissage. Quite a long trip, and yet I had not yet thanked him. Somehow, I felt it was his obligation, and somewhat an obligatory diplomatic attitude from his part, after an absence of twenty years.

"Oh no! I've told you, I love the night time to work on my paintings. And since I have arrived a few days earlier, I'm not tired at all...But do you think other places will still be open at this hour?"

A few days earlier? My father had been in a town for a few days, but still had arrived late to our appointment? I felt sick, too sick even to argue with my father. I just wanted to flee.

"In Vice City? All the worst places will be open!" I laughed. Didn't I know them all? "Or the best, depending on what you are looking for..." It depends on whether you want to keep your pants on, I wanted to tell my father. I was feeling aggressive, willing to shock him. "Have you ever been to a nightclub with a dark room, Carlo?"

"I went to some nightclubs in London, Laurent..." Carlo seemed ashamed to tell me that, "but I  don't think they had that room specifically... You want to take me to Vice City's night life, is it, son?"

He was simply too naive to be teased. "Let us go, Carlo?" I prompted him, without answering his silly question.

We bid Gabriel goodbye, and my father was quite warm as he embraced the barman. I hadn't received a hug like that from him when we had met, some hours ago. He even wanted to give a special tip to Gabriel who, however, refused.

"Young man, you need to think about getting another job..." He sounded so fatherly, and it brought echos of a distant past to me. "This restaurant will not last long, seeing the frequency we had today. It's a shame, but..."

I stared at Gabriel, and he glanced at me. I could not help laughing loud. We had held that secret between us for a whole evening, and it no longer mattered, actually.

"What is it, boys?" Carlo asked suspiciously. "What's the catch here?"

"This restaurant is closed on Mondays, Carlo!" My father's surprised, confused look was amusing. "Yes, the restaurant has opened tonight just for us, so that we could talk quietly..." I laughed again. "Have you enjoyed your private night at one of the fanciest restaurants in the country, Carlo? Of course we owe our meeting to Gabriel, who agreed to work today, and also to the second chef... I believe she's gone, right?"

Carlo stood motionless and speechless for some time, digesting the new information, as I hugged the beautiful bartender. It must be fate, I thought, that another Angel, named after an archangel, is coming into my life. But may Gabriel be not like Angelo, I wished, as I hugged him. We brushed our faces, and our bodies seemed to perfectly fit in an embrace, foreshadowing how great sex between us would be. "Thank you, Gabriel..." I whispered in his ear. We were so close, and the energy flowing between us so intense, that if my father had not been present, we would surely have kissed.

"Thank you, Laurent..." Gabriel corresponded to my hug with his whole body, and I felt he was as aroused as me. "Will we ever see each other again?"

"Of course we will! Here, take this." I drew from my pocket the envelope with the invitation for my vernissage at Vice's Contemporary Art Museum, for that same day, in the evening. But I handed him the invitation only. Since I had written Carlo's name on the envelope, I just crumpled and threw it in the trash. "There will be a VIP cocktail before the show opens to the public. I would love to see you there, among the VIP!" Again, we hugged. His beautiful blonde hair felt so soft under my hand, while his chest was so firm and broad against mine. I had goosebumps when I let go of his body, and found myself longing for another embrace of his strong arms.

"Rather impressive, Laurent!" Carlo commented, while we waited for a taxi downstairs. "I wonder how you did that... Such an exclusive and expensive restaurant just to ourselves? Have you sold a painting for a million, too?" Carlo giggled. "Gabriel is your friend, right? Is he the owner, by chance?"

"Oh no, Carlo!" I smirked, sounding like a naughty child. "I had never seen Gabriel before, not until this evening!" Though I think I'm going to see him more often, I thought, but did not tell my father. I paused for effect. "Dan." I proclaimed, quite simply.

"Charmand?!?" I acquiesced, enjoying Carlo's shock. "What have you got to do with him, Laurent? Is he the owner of that restaurant? Because Charmand has his tricks, for making money..." Carlo looked sick with the possibility of having dined Charmand's food, ready to vomit it if I  had said yes.

"No, of course not!" I replied, amused on seeing my father so upset. "Dan made ​​the selection of artworks for the restaurant. Those portraits. He is friends to the owner. But it was him who asked the owner to open just for us, tonight."

"And why would he do that for you, Laurent?" Carlo was suspicious. And probably jealous, too. I think Carlo had already noticed how Dan Charmand had taken the place he had left vacant in my life. Dan had been the major male elder figure in my life... sometimes, I guess, like a father to me.

"Because he likes me!" I replied emphatically, and made another pause, savoring Carlo's annoyance. "Or maybe because we were just a few French expats living in Vice City, at that time?" Carlo seemed to doubt my justifications. "Okay, Dan is not fond of many people, and almost no one likes him. But he likes me, and I also like him. I enjoy his company and conversations, I listen to his advice, I trust him. He might be obnoxious and rude to many, as well as snobby and arrogant... but just until chapter five, do you understand it? And I read further into his story. He has always aided me here in Vice City." I could not help but think that, at first, it had been out of guilt for betraying me with Angelo, but now I wanted to believe it was for my talent as a painter. "And then I moved to Samsara Heights, at his suggestion, and he continued helping me there... And maybe, Carlo, he is also doing it to please you. I think he would like to invite you to set an exhibition of your works at VI/CAM..." 

Dan had asked me one favor in exchange for that exclusive evening at the Nirvana Lounge. And it had been to deliver that invitation to my father, "But only if the conversation between you goes well!", he had conditioned.

"What a hypocrite!" Carlo snorted, and falling silent, took a few steps to the side. Giving his back to me, he pretended to glance at the city and its tremendous high-rises artfully illuminated. 

He must have been hurt -- and I'm afraid I was glad. After all, I had planned so many different times, by so many distinct means, how to take revenge on my father. I demanded atonement. Maybe he could justify why he had ran out on me, why he hadn't made contact for two decades. Still, I longed for his apologies. At least emotionally, I could not help but still try -- and rejoice, if I did hurt him.

I hadn't known, and it would still take me a couple of years to discover, that for a long period Dan Charmand had been a fierce critic to my father's paintings, that he had classified as "outdated and repetitive", when Carlo was still a relatively young painter, having just moved to London, shortly after leaving France, already a commercial hit, but still struggling to be taken as a serious painter, and not just fashionable or decorative. 

If Carlo had gained success and recognition, it wasn't thanks to Dan Charmand. Hitting the father and caressing the son -- but I could not have known that, and neither did I have a chance to ask, because our taxi arrived shortly thereafter. 

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