"We found someone who will help fulfill Angelo's dream of progressing in life by going to the US to study in one of the best universities of that country."
Feeling confident and happy, I made this announcement in one breath. Solemnly, although the last part about Vice City's University was not exactly true. Both Catherine and Edoardo eyed me in disbelief. They had gone on a romantic date, and upon returning home, a revolution had been launched.
"She will sponsor all his needs." I observed Catherine raising her eyebrows, while Edoardo`s tightened in a frown, "At least until he can make a living on his own." Again, I was lying about Celeste's disposition. All I wanted was to make it sound so completely irreversible that Edoardo would have to simply accept is as fait accompli. In fact, he was about to utter something when Catherine touched his arm slightly, to prevent him.
"My grandmother was very comprehensive about his will..." I cleared my throat, "that is, our will... to study to become a journalist. She understands studying is very important, for us to progress in life--" I stopped, when my mother lifted a hand in my direction, indicating I had lied enough about Celeste, that she knew so well.
Edoardo turned his back on me, and just before he rushed upstairs, I gave the best news I had saved to the end.
"Angelo is so happy that he is eating again. He had pane con prosciutto..." I hesitated, but could not avoid adding, "and milk." I laughed.
My prosciutto and milk, I wanted to clarify, but knew I'd better not. After that phone call, my boyfriend had thanked me effusively, skillfully using his mouth and tongue on me. His appetite opened after he swallowed all the protein I had kept for him, in weeks we hadn't had sex -- and he had indeed eaten a sandwich I prepared him.
A week went by before another crisis between Edoardo and me cooled down. I had implied in my discourse that a father, in his present, difficult financial situation, not being able to help his son was perfectly understandable, even justifiable. But prohibiting Angelo of getting help was unthinkable, and would only reveal Edoardo's ill will.
He relented. Internally, I celebrated it as my final victory over him. The fact is, the final battle was still being fought, and his final, definitive blow, that I failed to anticipate, would come from the grave, nearly two decades after his death.
Things again accelerated. The same day Angelo left his bed, he started making international phone calls. He had a notebook with numbers and names written down. Soon, letters were being exchanged. Documents were translated and sent by fax and mail to the US. Applications were filled, long essays written and translated. Instead of the usual piles of Cds and Lps, our room floor was a labyrinth of sheets of paper and piles of books. There were guides to the US, tutorials on filling different applications, text books for English Grammar.
Aware of all that was being spent, I asked Catherine about the money Celeste had sent us on my mother's bank account, worried whether it would suffice. She laughed.
"Celeste has sent enough money to send you boys to the moon. Just don't waste it, but go on, Laurent!" She had encouraged me.
I had to study harder than Angelo for the proficiency tests. But after having learnt the dialect of the mountains to speak to Fabio, my first crush, learning English to accompany my boyfriend seemed easy. And though less than Angelo, I still had a talent for languages.
"I'm very impressed, Laurent." Catherine commented, after I updated her on the situation. She had just returned from Belgium, and I helped her unload the car, full with books. We had gotten our scholarships -- full for Angelo, like he had intended to, and partial for me, which was a good surprise. "If just with your love and dedication for Angelo." She added, "I hope he values and reciprocates your love, mon cher."
"He does, Catherine! You see, I owe him everything that is happening to me!" Now that all was settled, I was elated with the new life before me.
My mother gasped.
"Don't you think it's the opposite, Laurent?" I just blinked, and looked at my mother in dismay. She was alarmed, and clarified. "Angelo would not be going to the US without your help, Laurent."
"No mother. None of this would have happened without Angelo. He did all the paperwork and--"
Catherine interrupted me.
"You really don't see it, Laurent? Or you don't want to see it?" She inquired, looking me straight in the eyes.
I just shrugged, and carried a pile of books inside the house, contentedly observing the swollen muscles of my arms, aware that soon I would be showing them off in the US, land of the gyms.
The last battle, in the war that our household had become, was to be lost by Angelo. Against a surprising coalition formed by Catherine, Edoardo and me.
My boyfriend wanted to leave France as soon as possible. That still was a possibility that we could join the University for the Spring term. But for that, we should leave before Christmas to arrange accommodations before classes started, since there were no dorms.
Edoardo not just insisted, but forced Angelo to attend what he called the 'last' Christmas and New Year's Eve they would spend together. My guess is that he new about his degenerative condition already, but hid it from his son.
Angelo gave in, trying to set our departure for January 1st, since classes would start only on the 6th.
It was Catherine to raise impediments, then. To begin with, she was alarmed that we would fly. Worse, that we would fly during Winter. News about snow storms in the US were just too frequent. Angelo tried to make her see we were flying to the South of the US.
'Where Summer is everlasting', he assured her.
One evening, that I recall being in November, around Angelo's birthday, the four of us were watching television. Suddenly, to the sight of stranded people sleeping on benches of closed airports, Catherine had responded with abundant tears. It was rare that my mother would cry, at least in public. I was heartbroken, and astonished that she did not hide her emotions. Leaving the sofa I shared with Angelo, I sat at her feet. Edoardo took her hand in his hand. At my mother's tears, Angelo pressed his hand to his chest, as if he had been stabbed and was trying to stop the bleeding.
Not a single word was uttered. My mother just sat there, silently crying. Even when losing control, she remained elegant and discreet. When the news changed to the latest gossip on François Miterrand's secret daughter, she let out a deep sigh. A secret daughter herself, with dignity she stood up, and quietly made her way to the bedroom. A few moments later, Edoardo followed her.
Left alone with Angelo, I gasped when I gazed in his direction. He seemed to have fainted on the sofa, one arm covering his face, the other hand tugging his clothes around his chest. For a moment, I feared he could attempt suicide again. But no matter how bad Catherine's tears had been for a birthday present, indicating the Spring term was an aborted plan, the US still shone right before Angelo.
He would just have to conform to our parents wishes. And be patient.
New Year's Eve dinner was never a tradition in my family.
Since it would be the last occasion the four of us would celebrate something formal living under the same roof, it promised to be a big event.
The problem was -- Edoardo wanted to cook. Foreseeing a greasy ossobuco and plain pasta, I placed my protests.
"We are in France, not in Italy." I stated. Full of confidence since Celeste had started backing us, I no longer feared confronting Edoardo in front of my mother. "I'm not eating anything but French food." I said, clapping my hands, like Catherine would sometimes do, and as I had seen in a documentary about Tibetan Buddhist monks. " French food, or I won't eat."
Without much drama and further ado, I won that battle, too.
Catherine made reservations at the only Michelin starred restaurant in our region. Dressing our best clothes as an attempt to lift our spirits for the occasion -- a gloomy farewell, more than a celebration of the year to come, when we would split -- we got ready.
Upon seeing Edoardo starting my mother's car, I started complaining.
"I won't get inside this car if he is driving." I announced. Calmly. Instead, it sounded like a shot.
A few minutes passed, as I stubbornly paced near the car. The road starting at our door turned into a cul-de-sac. Catherine and Angelo tried to dissuade me. But then and there, I promised myself I would not die in a car accident caused by the man I loathed.
"We are getting late, Laurent. Please!" My mother begged taking the passenger's seat.
"You can go, then. I'll stay. Happy New Year to everyone!" I said, loosening my tie. Only when I backed a few steps towards the house, did Catherine realize I was not just bickering. Motioning Edoardo out of the car, she let loose a strange choreography.
"Mérde!" she uttered, stepping out of the car and going around the front of the vehicle to take the driver's seat.
Only when Edoardo stepped out, too, did I approach the car again. From the inside, Angelo observed us with a bored look. True hostility ensued when Edoardo bumped violently into me on his way to the passenger's seat. Gasping, I fell against the car's door. But in a moment I regained balance to, in turn, push him against the car, too. Even if only slightly drunk, Edoardo bumped against the car and then fell to the right. The mirror held him, before breaking. My mother screamed, and that seemed to take Edoardo over the edge -- he ripped the hanging mirror off the car and threw it on the floor. We did not hear the crash because Catherine started blowing the horn in rage.
"Someone will have to pay for this!" She shouted, looking at me through the mirror.
"Sure." I retorted, "The person who broke it. But he doesn't have--"
"Shut up, Laurent." Angelo said, coldly, before Catherine could reprimand me.
"Shut up, Edoardo." She said, when Edoardo entered the car, swearing in Italian.
Catherine still protested one last time, before starting the car. "This will ruin my gown!" -- and from then on, there was only our silence and the sound of the engine accelerating.
We made it sharp on time, thanks to Catherine dangerously overtaking all cars and trucks we met on our way.
The restaurant had been someone's house. I mean someone important, famous or historic -- but I did not care to check who. There was an extraordinary garden around it, that could rival Monet's . The murmur of crickets blended to the soft spray of fountains, underlined by invisible toads sitting on the margins of the water mirrors, spoke of enduring summers and sequestered winters. The trees canopies stood like a mass of dark clouds lingering over the garden, but above them, stars shone in the crisp clear night. Pale lights placed on the floor along the paths illuminated the bushes bearing perennial varieties of flowers.
Catherine took Edoardo by the arm to explore it.
What an extreme change, I thought. The same person who had ordered Uncle Will to cut all the bushes around our cottage in Punaouilo was inspecting the flowers and letting out sighs and exclamations of contentment. Wearing a gown of black velvet covered with hand painted flowers in red and orange, Catherine looked like a flower bed moving among other flower beds.
Edoardo followed her like the sequitur of a queen, in an attitude of adoration. While my mother had eyes only for the flowers, I noticed how his eyes never left her figure, as if she was the only thing he could see. No matter how much I loathed him, I had to give in to the fact that he truly loved her. He seemed to have quieted her sexual appetite -- and Edoardo himself seemed to be faithful to my mother.
She looked impossibly beautiful and young. A woman of over forty, she seemed to be thirty, or even a couple years younger than that. Just slightly older than when she had given birth to me. I had grown to be eighteen, almost nineteen, while those nearly two decades had imprinted only a few more years on her.
Her fountain of youth, I knew, was the Italian man standing by her side. I wish it had been another Italian man -- Carlo, my father. But with him she had only quarreled, while with Edoardo she hardly fought.
That evening, despite my bellicose disposition, I finally realized the woman my Catherine was -- not just my mother. And Edoardo too -- the man he was, and not simply Angelo's father. And how that woman and man lived a great love. How, as parents, they might have worried about our trip to the US -- but as a couple, they might be secretly relieved at the fact that we were leaving them alone, to their own story -- their love story.
When Angelo went to the washroom, while we waited to be seated, I overheard the murmurs of Catherine and Edoardo's conversation.
"I love this place, already. Don't you, chéri? So many magnificent flowers!" she exclaimed, delighted with the arrangements that decorated a table at the entrance hall. Personally, I found the whole atmosphere too old fashioned, and not as sophisticated as I'd have expected. I had my doubts that Celeste, for instance, would approve of the restaurant. Rather provincial, she would have nailed.
"Fiori?" I heard Edoardo asking Catherine. "What flowers? I don't see any flowers..."
Catherine gazed at him in disbelief, inspecting his countenance. Had he drunk too much? But Edoardo went on, before she could say anything.
"I see only one flower!" He whispered, in a husky voice. And because his French was often not clear enough, he took her by the waist. Softly, yet very manly, in a gesture that made me think of how passionate their sex life should be like. "There is only one flower for me." he added, pulling her closer. Catherine seemed to offer no resistance, a subtle smile on her lips telling she was enjoying it. "The only flower I need in the garden of my life."
Of course, they had kissed, despite being a public. I simply turned my back to them, embarrassed.