More than twenty years later, I still don't know what to make of that episode.
Was Angelo teasing me, or was he threatening me? Hadn't I known that I did not deserve such a handsome boy? Hadn't I known that it was by sheer luck that he had sat by my side -- had he spoken Mandarin, I'd never met him. And hadn't I known how fortunate and lucky were I that our friendship had incorporated kissing, which later expanded to sex? Obviously not because I was extremely handsome to be able to attract The Hottest Boy in School... Hadn't I known that he could dump me any time? I didn't need Angelo to tell that there was a crowd behind me, a long line eagerly waiting for a chance with him.
He certainly was playing with my natural insecurity, and from that day on, I regarded the girls at school, along with the good looking boys, as a veritable menace.
It was also as if Angelo had caught a glimpse of the future. Though I don't know of any other girl in his life, it was only when he met Laura von Tschimmel that he finally decided to dump me.
Now, that conversation makes me think of Garcia Marquez' book 'Chronicle of a Death Foretold' -- seen in retrospect, a very appropriate description of my eight years love relationship with Angelo. But I hadn't read the book yet in 1991, though I had seen it around in my house.
That conversation helped to accelerate things again. I was so terrified of losing Angelo that I decided to try a double move, involving Catherine and him.
"Would like to move in with us, Angelo?" I knew how sad it was for him to return during the week days to the roadside motel where he shared a cheap room with his father. And how, instead, he loved coming home with me on weekends.
"Are you serious, Laurent? You want me to move in with you? You mean like... share the room with you and all?"
"We already do it, don't we?" We even shared the bed, sometimes. "But now it wouldn't be only two days a week... How do you like that?"
Angelo had howled and cheered and spun on his heels in amazement.
"And do you think Catherine will agree to that?" He asked, after he had kissed me more passionately than ever.
"I'll talk to her." Suddenly, I understood what that implied, and I was apprehensive. "But maybe I'll have to... open up about us..."
"You mean... Like..." Angelo was taken aghast, "You are coming out to your mother?!"
I wouldn't have ever. Not at sixteen, and not in a small community in rural France. If it weren't for Angelo.
It was an strategic move -- I did not want to risk losing him for anyone else, and I thought I'd better bring him under my wings. Bring him home, into my room and bed, literally. I mean, I already gravitated in his aura of beauty and charisma -- but so did many other people; of all ages, I must say. Angelo was a charmer, and I was just another of his victims -- willingly, his main victim, but still one among various others. Somehow, I felt it was my turn to try to bring him into my orbit.
And I had just envisioned how to do that.
I carefully chose the right moment, or at least I tried to. When Catherine was going out into town, all dressed up and with many interesting appointments ahead of her, she was at her best.
"Mom. We have something..." I glanced at Angelo and as he grimaced, I knew I had chosen the wrong start. "I have something... to tell you about..." Not "us" again, I pondered, "...about me."
"What is it, mon cher?" That afternoon, she did not seem to be in a hurry, too, which was even better.
"Angelo is my boyfriend." I blurted.
I don't remember what I was expecting my mother's reaction would be. Catherine was not dramatic, so nothing tragic would come from her -- she wouldn't cry, scream, try to hit me nor leave the room. But who knows from what depth come people's reactions in stressful moments?
Catherine's reaction was funny, and unexpected. She went blank. For a whole minute or so, it seemed like she was absent. She froze in a gesture, her eyes lost their focus, and it was clear her mind was wandering elsewhere, as if she had left the room. Had she retreated because of the shock of my revelation? Was she perplexed? What must she be thinking? What were her feelings?
The logs burning in my uncle's cottage in Sweden liberated a very fine smell, and reminded me of how I had waited in agony, while listening to the crackling and watching that other fireplace in the living room of our house in rural France, twenty years ago, for what seemed like the longest minute of my life.
How young, how fragile, how fearful I had been!
"Are you telling me..." Catherine finally blinked, her presence slowly returning to our cozy living room. "Are you telling me that you are gay, mon cher?" She wasn't upset; she sounded curious.
"I am. I am sorry, mom. I..." I whined.
"No!" She exclaimed. "Don't be sorry, darling. There is no problem there. It is alright... It might..." For a few seconds, she went blank again, "It might bring you some difficulties in life, I guess, but... It's perfectly fine with me!"
"Oh, maman..." Of course, I got very emotional and started crying and hugged my mother and started sobbing... but stopped when I realized she was a bit concerned that I was wetting her shoulder and the fancy fur that adorned her designer's coat.
"It's alright, Laurent, it's alright..." As my mother patted me, I felt like laughing. Years of desperation and agony were ending right there. All the lies -- except one, that I would carry on my whole life through, and the secret it conceived --, they seemed now a futile effort, before my mother's smooth reaction to my coming out. All the worries, all the fear, all the deceit, all the anticipation, the shame, the guilt -- everything dissolved, at least for a few minutes, while I lay in my mother's arms.
Catherine was first and above all an intellectual -- and as long as she could understand something, she could cope with it. My best guess is that her immediate reaction was to rationalize my coming out so that she could deal with it. And that's why it had been so smooth, almost like a celebration between my mother and me. With my boyfriend right there to witness my incredible luck.
And for a little while, I was appalled. School, society, religion and all the rest of the fuckers and bigots would again step in and try to reduce me to misery for the rest of my life, but for a moment, with my mother, I felt free.
"I am happy for you boys!" She hugged Angelo, too, who had been watching everything in dismay.
He had tried to rehearse my coming out with me, but the fact is I did not know what I was going to say until the moment the words actually sprang out. Angelo was pissed off that I had come out through him -- but in fact, it was very skillful of me to include him in my statement. It immediately turned us into official boyfriends, at least before Catherine's eyes. It made her think Angelo was also gay. And because she thought that we were thus going to support and protect one another, she started treating him with even more care and consideration.
Angelo, of course, realized he had fallen in my trap, but he was flattered with the renewed importance Catherine gave him -- and with the years, he would turn the position of being my official boyfriend to his own benefit.
From that day on, Angelo stopped fighting our relationship. He must have come to the conclusion that being my boyfriend was as good or as bad as being anybody else's. Specially when there was no one around. "I only stick with you because there are no others... You are all I need..." How could I forget it?
But I knew my mission was not over yet.
"Mom. There is something else..."
"Mon Dieu, Laurent! You could have at least invited me to sit, don't you think, mon cher?" She giggled.
"I thought you were in a hurry, mom..." I tried to apologize. Even in the most dramatic moments, Catherine was trying to educate me.
"What gave you that idea, Laurent? Anyways, it's nothing bad, is it? I don't think I can take in much more today..." Catherine was fanning herself. Maybe we had been standing too close to the fireplace, and she was too warm in her tweed coat. "Too many emotions, do you understand, dear?"
"No, this is good!" I breathed deeply, "Can Angelo live here with us?"
I heard Angelo gasp and next, Catherine froze again, her eyes losing their focus. What was she thinking? Where had she gone?
"By live here with us... You mean, move in with us?" Catherine then turned towards Angelo.
Before she said anything, he blurted out, "I know nothing about this, Catherine!" -- he had quit calling her Miss Mortinné. At her own request, done rather humorously, unlike Celeste, who had screamed at me when I called her 'grandma'.
I did not understand why Angelo lied to my mother, when he should have backed me. Later, he said he felt like punching me, for he had never seen anyone so unskillful with words. "Why, when I have tried to help you with that, Laurent? You're so arrogant sometimes! It's just because your mother is such an intelligent person that your words did not lead us into a catastrophe!"
"Angelo has a father." Catherine pondered, "I will have to talk to him about that first. But even before that, let me think some more. Angelo, what do you think about that? You seemed to be as surprised as I am..." And only when Angelo had said quite nonchalant that it was "okay" with him, Catherine decided to give it some more thinking. "I don't know, boys... This is totally unexpected! I can't answer it right now. And I really have to go... I'd better go, just before you have something else to tell me, mon cher!" She giggled. "Mon Dieu! I'm late for theater! Bye darlings, and behave well!" She headed to the door, but just before walking out, she glanced in our direction. "Boyfriends, are you? This house is going fall!" Again she laughed, a bit nervously, and by the way she looked at us, maybe she was thinking for the first time of all the things we had been doing in her absence. Sex, a lot of sex indeed. Then she blinked, and off she went.
We would still have plenty of time to convince Catherine about Angelo moving in.
And when we finally did, we celebrated it as if we had been admitted to Heaven.
Little did we know that the flames of hell had just started burning.
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.