Between Angelo and me there were coincidences and convergences which, ultimately, were circumstantial. But there were also differences and contrasts -- that were fundamental. And that is why our love was not destined to last.
With Edoardo, the only thing I had in common were Angelo and Catherine. And how we competed for them, specially for her. As for the rest, we were opposites in everything. If I was slightly feminine, he was totally masculine. In our fights, I would have to scream louder to try to cover his resounding, baritone voice. I often regretted my high, girly pitch, feeling I was losing my arguments just because of that. I was indecisive, soft and thoughtful, a teenager experimenting with my opinions and values, while Edoardo -- except when it came to opening his restaurant -- was very assertive and righteous, fixed in his ideals, beliefs and judgments.
I fought Edoardo like a plague, as if he was an aberration -- because, in fact, I sensed he regarded me and my love for his son as the aberration.
I was often, if not always, overreacting. I now know it, but I thought I was just defending myself from an adult bully that had entered my household. I won't tolerate being abused in my own house, I kept telling to myself.
It was never openly mentioned, but there was this expectation that he should act like my stepfather. But I never wanted him to. My father was not dead, not that I knew -- Carlo had just vanished. Edoardo's presence in my house not only aggravated my resentment towards Carlo, for having abandoned me, but it was enough to trigger revolt and a sense of justice in me.
Carlo and Edoardo could never have been more different. Where Carlo had been gentle and caring, Edoardo was strict and arrogant. Angelo was often lowering his head at Edoardo's shouts of reprimand, while I usually fought him back.
"Why don't you fight Edoardo back with me, Angelo? You are always submitting..."
"Because I need his aid to go to the US. Where else will I get the money? Will you give me that money, Laurent? Are you going to pay for my ticket and expenses?" Once Angelo had suggested that, the seed stayed with me to first sprout like a challenge, and then to become a plan. "Because if you are, then you'll have me on your side."
I did not feel like I was being manipulated, instead, I felt I had a place in his life, that I was important to him.
And Angelo was usually on my side, I have to say. He might not have been faithful to me, but he was loyal. At school, when he got picked for a group, he would usually bring me with him, too. It became an unspoken agreement with our colleagues -- if you want Angelo, you will have to take Laurent, too. Every now and then, I would be picked before him, if we were forming study groups. But when it came down to sports, my notorious clumsiness with a ball would always leave me out.
When the other kids understood what the deal was, they left Angelo for the end, to be last to complete the team, so that he could not pick me. Once, realizing what was happening, he simply enacted a stomach ache and left the gym, calling me to aid him.
"We are going to teach those bastards a lesson, Laurent! You and I, we are the team. They are the rest, isn't it so?"
Was Angelo being sincere about us? Sometimes, I am inclined to think so. Other times, I have to guess it was just another way of seducing me into his plans of going to the US.
He had already made up his mind -- he just had to convince me to join him. He had extensively spoken to Catherine, and instead of joining a Literature faculty, they had agreed that Journalism and Communications was more his field. And that's how I ended up at the Journalism School in Vice City -- I did not get to chose anything, just to follow Angelo.
But my decision took time.
"Are you coming or not?" he had been asking me for some time already, and then it turned into, "Are you joining me or not?"
Every once in a while, Edoardo tried to be nice to me.
"What can I cook for you, Laurente?"
"I don't know." I wanted to tell him to just pronounce my name properly, that would do. "Whatever."
Why care, indeed? He was always cooking pasta the Italian way, and I did not like it the least.
"Thank you for being kind to Edoardo, Laurent." My mother once told me. I knew she must have been thanking Edoardo for trying to be nice to me, too. Just because of her, we tried to make a convivial effort. "It makes me really happy to see the two of you getting along." She smiled.
Indeed, I had never seen Catherine any happier. She was looking prettier and dressing even better because of Edoardo's presence in our house and in her life. I had never seen her kissing Carlo, and though I had witnessed her kissing another man, seeing her was always kind of shocking and stirred difficult emotions in me. Why couldn't she have been like that with my father? But with time, and observing how Edoardo grabbed her waist and held her tight and was often making her sit on his lap and constantly kissing her -- I started wondering if it might not have been Carlo's own fault, that Catherine had lost interest in him.
"But could you try to show some interest for Edoardo's things, Laurent?" Catherine had suggested. "I know he misses that from you..."
"You mean... His cooking?" Because his interests seemed to be limited to the kitchen, and limited to Italian dishes. Latter, he would start preparing ossobuco and other stuff that he considered delicacies, but that I thought were quite heavy. "I think I have taken at you, Catherine..." By that I meant that my mother and the kitchen had always been worlds apart... Until she met Edoardo, whom she followed into the kitchen, often staying at his side while he cooked, while she read a book. "But I shall try!" I gave my mother the answer she had wanted, and off she went, satisfied with me. I knew I was being a hypocrite, but I did not care as long as I had my mother's approval.
But I was also increasingly concerned about Edoardo's drinking habits, and how they were affecting Catherine.
"Will you help me drink this one until the end?" he would invite my mother. And maybe that would have been the second bottle of wine already, and they might open a third to share. Angelo and I weren't allowed to drink, nor did we want to. I'd rather have my soft drinks than wine, and Angelo had suffered too long from his father's alcoholism, because I think we can call it that, to be interested himself in drinking. Later, he would experiment with drugs in Vice City, but not with alcohol.
"Sometimes, he would vanish." Angelo was telling me about the time when they had lived in Vice City. "For days, perhaps. Specially when my mother had a new crisis. I know he had to make difficult decisions and take responsibilities, and how that must have been stressful for him. But why did he have to drink to escape them? A new surgery, that would put my mother's life at risk but that at the same time could save her? She was often too sedated to take part in the decision, and I had no right to say anything. My father had to take it all. And he would then disappear, be it before or after the surgery, once he had decided for it. The situation was hard enough on me, but without my father is was even worse. Sometimes, I'd skip school to stay with my mother at the hospital, where my father wouldn't show up for days. The doctors and nurses were specially nice, bringing all sorts of foods and drinks from the vending machines for me, since they knew I could not afford it. There was even a therapist giving informal, free sessions for me, and it took me a while to realize she a psychologist. I was being taken care of, if by strangers. I don't know where did my father go when he would vanish, what did he drink. I just knew he was drinking. At least he always had the decency to show up sober at the hospital, often looking like a wreck, stinking to liquor and in rags, as if he had been sleeping on the streets, and with terrible hangovers -- but sober."
I was always impressed with how much Angelo had already experienced. And touched, that it had been at such a tender age. I admired his strength. His mother had died when he was just thirteen, and I could only imagine how torturing it must have been to be left alone with a sick and dying mother at a hospital at the age of eleven, twelve.
I was being bullied at that age, but now that it was over, it did not seem as tragic as Angelo's experiences, and I was ashamed to share it with him. I felt I had been a voluntary victim while I had suffered it in silence, a coward for not fighting it back from the start. Angelo had been an involuntary victim, and although he had been a brave boy, his mother's terminal disease was not something he could fight for.
And there was certainly no point -- and no reason for him -- to fight his father.
I wasn't more concerned about how Edoardo and Catherine were often getting drunk because it seemed to do them more good than bad. And by that I mean that Edoardo, when stuffed with liquor, did not get more irascible than he already was -- quite on the contrary, he would get foolishly sentimental and even depressive, while Catherine was made silent, drowning in her own thoughts. I was just a teenager, and the love of an adult couple seemed very heavy and complicated to me. I would have my fights with Angelo -- but next we would be dancing and singing together, or running screaming through the woods, until "The Sources" where we could have sex and be as loud as we wanted. But both Catherine and Edoardo had had their sharing of suffering in the past, and sometimes it seemed too much for them to bear -- it had broken my heart to see them hugging and crying in each other's arms, once. I wonder whether they already knew about Edoardo's degenerative condition, and the disease that would kill him in less than a decade.
There was something else. Edoardo was really taking his time and presence in our house to experiment and develop new recipes -- and that's how Angelo and I became the receptacle of both Catherine's developing plots and Edoardo's culinary experimentation. It might have been pleasurable, if it hadn't been oppressing.
As we grew up, the house became a prison to us. Even my room seemed too small. When we thought of Angelo moving in, we fantasized about having sex daily -- even before breakfast. But with our parents in the room next to us, we were always trying to muffle the sounds of our love making -- Angelo wouldn't moan any more like he enjoyed to, and consequently I wouldn't be as excited. Even how our bodies collided, we felt we had to soften that too.
We liberated ourselves only at 'The Sources', but even there we were afraid Edoardo would follow and surprise us.
Like Carlo before, Edoardo stayed home almost every day. He wasn't really looking for a place to open his restaurant any longer. Why should he, when at home he could cook without any pressure, and still have Catherine pay for his expenses and continuously congratulate him on his preparations?
Angelo was not concerned with the situation. He thought his father was saving their money for his trip to the US. Angelo would do everything to obtain a scholarship, which in fact he latter did, but he still needed money for the expenses of living in such a cosmopolitan town like Vice City.
All to myself, I had been brooding the idea of moving to Paris, instead of Vice City.
"Paris? It lives from glories of the past! And I am fed up with the past! The past killed my grandparents" Every now and then, Angelo would mention his grandparents, the famous archaeologists, who had died in an excavation in Algeria, even before he had been born, I think. "Plus, it is full of rats and it stinks to piss!"
Angelo had never been to Paris, but he was so ready to down rate the city. Having been born in Rome, where he lived for a few years of his childhood, seemed to turn him into an expert about the past. And he longed for the future. America was his destination and his destiny, and nothing would move him one inch away from his route. I mentioned Paris just that once to him, and never again.
I had been only once to Paris myself, when I was ten years old, in 1985.
Two years of permanence in France had gone by, before Celeste finally agreed to meet me.
"Mon Dieu, Celeste! Carlo wants to take him to his family in Italy... How can I allow Laurent to see the peasant life before seeing the civilized world?" Catherine had complained.
Of course Celeste wouldn't come to our rural home. Though she herself had bought it for her daughter -- not because she thought it was pretty, nor a good home in a picturesque part of the country. "It's just because it's far away enough from her!", Catherine had explained once, when I had asked why did we live where we live, after mentioning that the house had been given to her.
Paris allowed me the opportunity to see my own mother in a new perspective -- that of the daughter. At her former home, she was obedient to Celeste's commands. I had wanted to go to the beach, or even to the Apennines with Carlo, but instead Catherine had taken me to Paris. I expected we would go by plane, but that is the occasion when I first learned my mother was terrified of flying. It was my first disappointment in a trip that was going to be loaded with them.
I had never been to a house so luxurious as Celeste's apartment. Everything was olden and golden and smelling to history and looking classical and outrageously expensive -- though none of that was family stuff, as I was to later discover in Catherine's 'On the ex-diva's divan', my mother's greatest best-seller, yet a long way from being written.
"Is that a dinosaur's egg, grand-mère?"
Of all things, I had been mesmerized by an egg that might have been a Fabergé or a Lalique; not that I knew any of them at the time. It was big, gleaming, otherworldly -- I was fascinated.
"Don’t ever call me grandma again! Ever!" Celeste shrieked. "Do you hear me?! Not ever again in your life!' I was dumbfounded. I thought I was being formal, like Catherine had instructed me to. Other children at school called their grandmothers 'mémé'. Why couldn't I? Feeling that I was being unfairly treated I still nodded. As I assented, Celeste grew calmer, and just instructed me. 'And don’t dare touch THAT egg!"
"Don't worry, Celeste. Laurent has been warned." Catherine tried to calm her mother down."He won’t touch anything in the house. Especially not… your hair."
"If it's not dinosaur's, I bet it's an ostrich's!" I went on, proud of my knowledge.
"Mon Dieu! These children from nowadays are so wild! What have you been teaching the boy anyways, Catherine?" Celeste sounded disgusted. "I cannot believe the poor has never seen a Fabergé before!" She had patted my head, condescendingly. "This is a work of art, child."
"At Puanouilo, Celeste?" My mother had intervened, "The only eggs he has seen were from turtles… Not even chicken's." Catherine turned to me. "Be quiet, Laurent. You're embarrassing me."
I fell silent, still considering how to snatch THAT egg from my grandmother.
"What are you staring at, little man?" Celeste had inquired, the single occasion Catherine and I had entered my grandmother's bedroom. And I was struck by the fact that the room where she slept was bigger than I remembered our cottage in Punaouilo being, that we had shared as a family. "Is there anything wrong with me?"
I had immediately averted my gaze from her, to stare at something else and marvel at every single detail of the room. The bed stood as tall as me, and it was bigger than my bathroom, with curtains hanging from as high as the ceiling, all around it (and I fantasized about closing all of them and hiding myself in there, though I never had the chance to ever again enter Celeste's bedroom in our stay). There were mirrors everywhere, reflecting the same warm tone of red with which intricate stencils adorned the walls, perfectly matching the patterns of all sophisticated cloths. Yet, my feeling was that of being inside a huge animal's mouth or maybe its stomach. The dinosaur? And Celeste seemed to have been digested and regurgitated herself -- that thought perhaps gave me the terrified look that annoyed my grandmother. That afternoon, she was getting dressed to some gala event, and she was wearing a dark patterned red long dress, with matching gloves, as if she were part of the decoration, and carefully chosen to fit in. I might have been staring at her jewelry, specially, that shone like nothing I had ever seen before, and certainly not on Catherine, who had never worn anything as fancy. I might have been asking myself the question -- if my grandmother is so rich, how could I have been so poor in my tropical childhood?
"Of course there is nothing wrong with you Celeste!" Catherine had answered before me. "Laurent is just hypnotized with your stunning looks, I am sure."
"I can recognize an admirer when I see one, Catherine." Celeste had snorted, glancing at me severely as she guided us out of her room.
Catherine was in Paris to launch one more of her novels -- that was one reason. The other, that I knew nothing about at the time, was the judicial process claiming part of the De Montbelle inheritance -- details that the two women wanted to carefully discuss, and that led to a considerable amount of money later coming to the Mortinné household. Though not the desired Chateau, that remained with Armand -- my unknown uncle, at the time.
I had been brought along because Catherine thought it was time Celeste get to know me -- not because Celeste actually wanted to. And I guess my mother might have considered me of some use as an emotional pawn in the paternity recognition process she wanted to start. After all, I was the youngest De Montbelle heir, but the women could not agree on how and when to use me -- not that I was aware of any of that.
What I knew is that I was not welcome at adult's events, and since both Catherine and Celeste had many appointments, I often stayed home long hours on my own. I was not allowed to talk to the maid -- Celeste had lost her long time chambermaid and felt she couldn't trust the new ones -- nor touch anything.
"Please promise me that you won't touch anything in the living room, will you Laurent? Especially not that egg, am I being clear? It is as untouchable as your grandmother's hair, do you understand me?"
I said I did, but in fact I didn't. Not that I ever broke anything in Celeste's apartment -- I was a very obedient boy, and the way I misunderstood my mother's recommendation to avoid touching anything is that I thought I couldn't even sit on the chairs and sofas, and so I spent hours reading on the floor or either in the room I shared with Catherine, where I thought I was allowed to touch at least the sofa I slept on.
There had been a problem about that before. It was one afternoon when the two women might have been talking about judicial problems, I guess. They could have done it openly in front of me, because I was unable to understand anything. Even if they had mentioned Armand and Gaston's names, I would have totally overheard them. Because I think at that point, Catherine was going for her posthumous paternity process, and the women could never agree on that matter.
I had the bad habit of sitting and placing a foot on the chair. Catherine had quarreled with me about that before; still, I kept forgetting.
"Oh mon Dieu! What do you think you are doing, Laurent?!" Catherine had reprimanded me.
But I hadn't heard it. I had been engrossed in entertaining thoughts about the dinosaur's egg. It was the one thing to make my grandmother and Paris special and unforgettable to me -- I never thought I'd actually see one. And of course I could understand Celeste was so nervous and careful about her rare egg.
"Laurent!" My grandmother had yelled at me. "Take off your feet from that chair! Now!"
I startled, but because I was far, lost in the Mesozoic Era, it took me a while to follow her command. My delay caused great commotion between the two women. It was the only time I saw them raise their voices between them -- Celeste was outraged, Catherine was embarrassed, and I was in trouble. They would sometimes shout at me, but even when they were talking about urgent matters of which I knew nothing -- like the De Montbelle legacy and the Chateau's most probable destination --, they never quarreled. It was more like they battled each other with the swords of sarcasm and gird, but all was done very elegantly, because there was a subtle duel on vanity between mother and daughter, too.
"And you too, Catherine, for that matter! Why do you have to sit on the sofa arm? Gosh, where are the civilized people in this world?" Celeste had taken the chance to reprimand her daughter, too.
"Maman, when will we go back home?" I wasn't happy at all in Paris. I missed my father, and I was bored to hell.
"Soon, darling. But I still have some appointments here. Oh Laurent, couldn't you be more considerate and helpful?" I knew what she was talking about. Not exactly on purpose, I had again placed my foot on the sit of an armchair while we waited for Celeste. When I realized what I had done, at Celeste's angry glance as she emerged out of her bedroom, where she had been dressing for hours -- I had frozen. My nervousness, that made me paralyze, was taken as defiance by my grandmother, and she had demanded from Catherine "How much longer do you plan to stay?"
Catherine would no longer forgive another fault from me, she had warned.
"Please try to show respect to your grandmother. She is our host! She rules here, do you understand? She has been spoiled by the admiration of her fan club for decades now, and she can't bear anything less than that... Do you understand, Laurent?"
"But she treats me like a baby..." I had complained. Even the few toys Celeste had handed me were for babies, and probably for girls. They might have been Catherine's, I guessed, though I never asked.
"Like a baby? I don't think Celeste can treat anyone like a baby, darling, not even a proper baby..." Catherine might have been opening her heart about her own upbringing, but I was not able to comprehend it then.
The first time Catherine and Celeste had taken me around Paris, they were bewildered at how confused and afraid and excited I was at seeing so many cars and the crowds of people. I had continuously stumbled against the passersby, and startled at horns of cars and the engines of the buses. Thus, I was not allowed out of the building on my own, and could only go down to the lobby and hang out there. Since I was not allowed on the apartment's balcony either, for safety reasons, at least at the ground floor I was able to glance through the windows into the street. But Celeste lived on a rather quiet and exclusive street, and there wasn't much going on outside either.
So that my Parisian experience wouldn't be thoroughly associated to confinement, Catherine did take me around Paris every few days. She had no idea what to show to a child, and she couldn't quite fathom what my interests were -- apart from the sea, at that age I might have had none. I might have wanted to meet the King of France, whomever I thought he was, probably the convergence to Charles Magne and Louis XIV or XV, but my mother told me they were dead.
"Do you want to see their palaces, Laurent?" Catherine had thought of Versailles, but I wasn't enthusiastic. Why would I want to see another luxurious residence, when that was my only daily experience of Paris?
Visiting Mademoiselle Mona Lisa had also occurred to me.
"Oh no, not that, Laurent! She is just a dwarf surrounded by a big, nervous crowd. You probably wouldn't catch a glimpse of her!"
She would take me to the Louvre, some other day. But that day she was tired, and impatient, and we ended up just wandering around, like often we did -- from one ice cream parlor to another, that's how I remember Paris, which was actually nice.
"Is the sea far from here? That river is going there, you know, Catherine?" I had learned at school that all rivers flowed to the sea, and I was fascinated with that promise. Wouldn't I reach the sea if I threw myself into the Seine? I had run along the banks for a few minutes, thinking that maybe the ocean would be after the next curve. But of course I never met it in Paris.
"Is Paris bigger than Punaouilo, maman?" We had been walking the whole afternoon and the city seemed to have no end, and that had been one more of my silly questions directed at my mother. To my understanding, if we had walked so much on the island of my birth, we should already have met the sea.
!Oh, mon cher, of course it is..." Catherine hadn't been mad at my ignorance, but heartbroken, instead. "Oh Laurent, I hope you will someday overcome those years wasted at that useless, uncivilized hole..." I hadn't understood if she was addressing my beloved Puanouilo or our rural residence, "...and become a citizen of the world, one day..." She was really upset about it, because she had been feeling sorry for own exile in the tropics.
One event stands above all from our stay in Paris.
My mother had taken me to the carousel at the Jardin des Tuileries. I had never seen anything more beautiful and intriguing before. At first, I had just observed as other people were merrily riding it -- the ups and downs of the enchanted animals, the constant yet smooth going round, the dazzling lights and the joyous music were overwhelming to me. Then I had wanted to ride it myself, and after the first round I had demanded another one from Catherine.
"I want to ride on all different animals, maman, can I?"
Catherine was generous with me, and she had instructed the keeper to count the times and let me ride as much as I wanted, while she would go check on some books in a nearby store.
Riding it without my mother watching me wasn't so much fun, though -- and it even seemed dangerous. So many strangers were coming and going and addressing me, saying I was a pretty boy, patting me on the shoulder and head, or even pinching my cheeks. I wasn't used to that, and soon I was scared. But I was afraid to leave the carousel, since I did know where to search Catherine, so I kept on riding, holding onto the same horse round after round -- until I feel asleep, and the keeper had to take me off before I was catapulted off the carousel.
When I saw myself on the ground, still dizzy from sleep and so many merry go rounds, I had started crying. I was afraid -- I was afraid my mother had abandoned me, like she had before, in Punaouilo. "Where do you live? What is your address?" People tried to help, but they just scared me more with questions I did not know how to answer. How would I get home, how would I find Carlo?
I was still sobbing when Catherine finally returned. To avoid the criticism of people who were actually concerned about me, she had swiftly taken me away from the carousel. And I guess when she was about to admonish me, she realized how terrified I was, and instead she congratulated me.
"You were a wise boy, Laurent. I'd forgotten to tell you that if, in any case you get lost, don't try to search for me. Stay where you are. I'll come looking for you, do you understand? Don't move, stay wherever you are! Get it, mon cher?"
I tried to, but I don't think I could.
My mother was asking me to trust her? To actually believe she was always coming after me? But how long could that take? My crying in the afternoon had turned into sobbing with the night, and that carousel in Paris had taught me a lesson I wish I hadn't had to learn, ever.
I doubted, in case I'd like to move to Paris, that I would be welcome at Celeste's apartment. I had never seen her ever since, though I received a generous sum of money from her every birthday and Christmas. What if I asked her to pay for Angelo's ticket to the US? I knew we were heading towards the uncivilized world, according to her, but since we had always been living in the uncivilized world -- as she regarded whatever lay outside the bounds of her personal experience of Paris -- it didn't really seem to make any difference, did it?
Finally, the restrained intimacy that was oppressing Angelo and me, and the fights that still ensued between Edoardo and me -- there was a point when we had overcome the border of the swearing, and it was really nasty how often we called each other the worst names in Italian and French --, or even between father and son, and how that affected Angelo and me -- it made me decide for Angelo's project of living abroad.
And when I did, Angelo was not as happy as I thought he would -- and should -- have been. He was more relieved, and a bit blasé, as if he couldn't understand why it had taken me so long to agree with him.
"Better late than early!" he had just commented, before kissing me. Angelo was a great kisser, passionate, and I gladly surrendered. "Now we have a decision, there!"
But I was still uncertain of my move. It merely seemed better than not moving at all.
But when Angelo and I communicated our decision of studying abroad to Catherine and Edoardo, things again accelerated and my choice took the feature of an irrevocable promise to my best friend and lover.
"You are going to love it there, Laurent, you'll see!"
Yet, the only thing I could clearly see was my love for Angelo. Desperate and dependent, I was addicted to him -- and I called it love.
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.