Love - Existentially

by John Teller

Part 4

Book Two - A French Tragedy

Roger Peyrefitte

Termini, Italy. March 11th 1967.

I am exhausted, both physically and mentally; the latter because conflicting emotions within my mind are creating barriers to my ability to write; and the former because Meo, the black, curly haired sixteen year old boy watering the plants on the patio was in my bed last night.

Meo is typical of most Italian boys his age: well-endowed and insatiable. But I must not complain. I can think of worse situations to be in than this divine villa with a view across the sparkling azure waters to the Isle of Capri... The Isle of Beautiful Boys.

Meo... curly hair. Alexandre... curly hair. I must banish the thoughts. They will take me to a place I do not want to be, and yet a place I am never away from: L'école Saint-Benoît d'Ardouane, where my life began when I was two years younger than the boy on the patio. What went before was an existence and only when I met Alexandre did my life begin. But I do not want to go there just now. Again! Not after last night. Enough that I have taken my companions there already in this month of March.

My companions... the beautiful almost twenty-four year old Stuart Begbie whose father owns the villa; business partner of Jean Luc, who is my special friend and therefore a conduit to my use of the place. Stuart is delightful. It is his companion, twenty-nine year old Captain Michael Johnson who I find disagreeable at times. An odd couple. An odd English couple who, when they're together and Michael is not on one of his tours abroad, live in the county of Cornwall in England, not far from where Alain's Archibald Macintosh lives.

Meo looks up from the task of watering the many plants in pots around the patio and smiles at me. I know what he wants: to be gone. The lire are in the envelope, as they always are. Payment is never an easy thing. It places us both in our respective places: buyer – seller. I smile at Meo and nod towards the envelope. He shrugs his shoulders and his smile is broader. Then he returns to his task of watering the plants. He has good manners. Five minutes is a respectable time between knowing and accepting.

He is behind me now; kisses my neck and whispers that he cannot return for two days. I do not ask him why that is. He has his reasons. I do not own him. The envelope will be enough for a week, so it is not for financial reasons he will be returning in two days. He is sixteen years old and requires the other comforts I am accomplished at providing.

And then he is gone and I am left alone to rue the wine-induced melancholy of last evening, awaiting my companions' late greeting of this beautiful but chilly morning, wondering what their verdict will be on my revelations.

Last evening

Stuart is a lovely young man and a firebrand and utterly desirable, unlike his older companion, Michael, who is reflective and not one to make small-talk, especially with me, with whom he is never at ease because I represent The Establishment. Michael is not uncouth, and is an Oxford Scholar, but he has psychological problems that go back to his childhood. Touché! Join the club, young man! I should be your comrade-at-arms and we could fight the world together! That would be novel: an English Military Captain pederast/homosexual and a French aristocratic one; duelling with the unwashed; the ignorant; the bigots; The Church; Society and its moralistic hypocrisy. I'll join you at the top of Vesuvius and we will yell to the world that a sixty year old pederast has defiled many of its children and you can shout that you began your affair de cœur with Stuart when he was but thirteen years old, just eleven short years ago. So beware the Odd Couple! Hah! He and Stuart; Meo and I; Alain and I; Archie and Alain; Alain-Phillipe and I; Roro and I; Henry de Montherland and the naughty Doudou: ad infinitum. The world is full of us... Odd Couples! I know many more. We could hold hands and make a chain from here to Paris... a chain of Odd Couples. The Beatles could make a song about us. Odd Couples of the World Unite! But it would make no difference. The song would certainly not be a hit in The West, but it might make the Hit Parade in many other places on the globe that have not been affected by the moralistic sewage of The West.

They don't understand. Michael understands. That is why he placed his hand on my shoulder last evening and squeezed it, when I was reduced to wine-induced tears of melancholy, after I told him and Stuart the truth of what I am, and why I am what I am. Oh, yes... Michael understood. We do have something in common: we have loved the love of metamorphosis... but with different outcomes. His affair de cœur projected him from the shadows of poverty, while mine condemned me to a life of soul-searching.

Last late evening; when it happened; when all was revealed

Two swing-seats swaying beneath the stars; two couples occupying each one; Stuart and Michael; Meo and I (he, dozing, clutching my arm; head resting against my shoulder). Both couples beneath warm woollen blankets to proscribe the chill. And I told them the truth. But only in the very late evening, after the musicians had gone and Capri in the far off distance hung like a sparkling jewel between black waters and the starry darkness of an endless night sky.

Stuart Begbie.

I have a hangover. Michael will laugh at me when he awakes. He never gets hangovers. It's his constitution, he says. Working-class blood where men are men and those like me should all have gone to the guillotine. That's what he told Roger two days ago when they were having one of their many spats. Although they both profess to not liking each other, I see many similarities in them. Last night, after Roger explained everything, I saw Michael place a hand on RP's shoulder and press it hard. Contact! A first! While I was in tears... after the revelation. And when we went to bed, Michael held me very tight, and his loving was just loving. I know why. RP's revelation has affected my man deeply. He hates those who would harm children.

Michael is stirring. I snuggle closer. His eyes open and he looks at me. I love these moments. The love is still there, in his eyes, after twelve years... since nineteen-fifty-six

Twelve years, since I was thirteen years old and fell deeply in love with him when he was almost eighteen years old, and he with me. Twelve turbulent years. Had I known then how turbulent those years would become, I might not have told him that I loved him. Yes I would. I would change nothing. I love him; his strength; both of mind and body. He's just like his Dada, and his brother Alex.

I love his moustache. He grew it just for me. I told it made him look Prussian - he immediately shaved it off. I told him it made him look debonair - he ignored me. I told him it made me feel sexy - he grew it again. That's why I love him so. He'll do anything for me. Except not join the army. It was the only time he went against my wishes. I begged; I cried; I begged some more, and cried some more in temper, but still he defied me. Sandhurst Academy. Immediately he left Oxford. And now he's a Captain. Who would have thought it after his tantrums when he was younger and swore he would never join the army?

He kisses my forehead. I raise my head and we kiss with lips. He pushes me away and gets out of bed to go to the bathroom. Six glorious feet of strength and sinew and muscles upon muscles... walking, as straight as a die. His athleticism has never left him. I adore him. I would die for him: gladly. I once nearly did. When they tried to part us... when I was a boy. That's why Roger's tale of woe affected me so. I know how his beloved Alexandre would have felt. Only we boys know how it feels.

Michael Johnson.

Although the marble tiled bathroom is not heated, I turn the shower to cold. I need to recuperate. To face Him – Roger Peyrefitte! His revelation has affected me deeply, more so because he's shoved my assumptions right down my throat. And also because of that poor boy: Alexandre. Lies, lies, lies! The world is full of fucking lies! And morons! God almighty! No! Not almighty! In His name they tortured that young man. But I now feel affection for him. He was like my Stuart. Nobody could ever steal their Spirit. Nobody! Tears now, both of anger and sorrow. Nobody will see them. Not in the shower. Only my boy is allowed to see me like this.

My boy. My Stuart. He becomes more beautiful by the year. At thirteen he stole my heart; now he is twenty five, I am He. Completely, in body and spirit until death us do part.

And he's coming into the shower now, complaining he has a hangover. I chuckle. I know a way to cure it. It won't be difficult after I was not in the mood last night when we went to bed. But how could I do that after what Peyrefitte told us? It was horrible!

Roger Peyrefitte.

Last night. It was deliberate. It was Time! I could not carry the weight of it any longer... keeping it a secret from the world. The Truth!

But why last night? Alain is why last night! He has touched me inside. Roro did it too, but then it was not The Time! Alain's words to me echo in my heart: You amuse me so much that you may kiss me. Alexandre said those exact same words to me during one of our secret rendezvous. You amuse me so much that you may kiss me. So we shared a kiss, behind the chestnut tree; the only one we ever shared apart from the cheek kiss we had in the greenhouse, and it was so beautiful in its singularity that no kiss has ever again touched me as that one. I can feel it now: warm breath; hot lips; soft as down. Halfway to Paradise? Halfway to Hell? Alexandre broke the kiss, and said: That is your reward for loving me. Treasure it, as I will forever treasure yours to me, because I also love you. And then he again became the boy I loved, and the Dark Side slipped quietly away, completely under control while I was with the boy who made me what I am.

Plans! I had to make plans for the occasion. Meo was to be there. I needed boyish comfort. He would provide the tactile part of memories past, like a prop at the theatre. Music! I booked a trio from Naples: violin, viola and cello. They arrived on time and set up on the patio, shaded from the chill breeze by a screen. Caterers; from Sorrento. I have used them before. The meal: Antipasta – goat cheese and herb stuffed radiccio leaves: Buonissimo! Secondi – stracotto al chainti: delicizioso! Dolce – risotto al cioccolator: fantastico! Italian red wines from the north. White from France: terroir superior! One bottle from Ardouane... for the final toast. To Alexandre!

Dress. White dinner suit; white shirt; white dress shoes: black bow tie. I chose black for sorrow. It was apt. No carnation boutonniere – that would have been so wrong.

The scene was set for the drama I was desperate to disclose, and because I am what I am, it had to be Shakespearean in its intensity.

A hardback, dust-covered copy of Les Amitiés Particulières by my right hand.

This above all: to thine own self be true!

Michael Johnson

Last evening, before The Revelation.

Despite protestations from Stuart, I refuse to dress for dinner! He pleads with me, "Roger says it's a very special evening for him. He's asked us to! I think it's an anniversary of some sort. Please! For me, Michael!"

"He can go to Hell! What was it he said the other day? You may be an officer, but you are not a gentleman. He's right! I'm not! Not when I'm around him! I can't stand the bastard! We should never have come here. There are better places to spend my leave than with him! We should have gone to Blackpool, or fucking Canvey Island! With real people! Not false bastards like him!" Stuart begins to weep. I go to him and enclose him in my arms. "I'll wear a suit. And a tie. That's it, and I'm doing it for you... not him!"

Roger Peyrefitte

Before the curtains open.

I whispered in Stuart's ear earlier that tonight was a special night to me, and would he dress suitably. He told me that he would. I pointed a hidden finger at his beaux. Stuart shrugged his shoulders, and then said, "I'll try." It seems he has half succeeded. Michael is wearing a suit, with a red tie. Good! Things are falling into place. But the beautiful Stuart does not disappoint me. Like me, he is wearing a dinner suit: white, as is the rest of his dress and footwear. Providence? White is for angels; and tonight is about the most beautiful angel who ever walked upon this earth.

To the sounds of the 'orchestra' and served dishes, we eat, and small-talk. I tell them about Alain, and without mentioning names or the fact that they live in the same county of England that he does, that he has a beaux in England. I do not mention that I have bedded Alain. That will ruin things. Captain Marvel will become disagreeable; reminding me again that I am a philanderer: a debauchee of young boys. The wine flows freely, loosening the strictures of hidden love, and Michael often strokes his boy's head. Stuart, on his part, is less restricted with his affections, and is wonderfully tactile - touching; smiling love-smiles with his gorgeous eyes; even planting a kiss on his man's cheek when he excuses himself after the meal is over. When he returns is when it all begins. Stuart smiles at me, points to Les Amitiés Particulières by my right hand, and asks, "Have you been reading your book?"

I smile at him, and shake my head. "No. I know every word off by heart."

He looks puzzled. "Then why?"

"Why is it on the table?"

"Yes. Is tonight an anniversary of some sort?"

I look at my watch. Ten fifteen. I point to the 'orchestra'. "Shall we let them go home? It's becoming rather chilly, and I think I would like to relax on the swing seats." I look at Meo and smile at him, and then speak to him in his mother tongue. "Would you like to fetch some woollen blankets? Bring four. We can double them up and be cosy. While you're in there, get the envelope, which is on the dressing table. Give it to the Fiddlers Three and tell them we are much pleased with their performance. Ask the caterers to come to me. I want to thank them."

"Have you paid them?" he asks.

I stroke his cheek. "Do I not always pay for the very best things in life?"

He grins, and goes to do my bidding. I don't miss the look of disapproval on Michael's face. But Stuart grins naughtily. We understand each other.

All is quiet on the Western Front. I am waiting, not unpleasantly, beneath the warm woollen blankets. Meo is keeping my left hand warm as he snuggles against me, his head on my shoulder. He has loosened his cotton trousers for me, and my hand is on the most beautiful hot water bottle ever invented: two silky boy buttocks; my finger caressing a part of him that makes him purr like a cat from Pompeii... before the eruption.

"You haven't told us why you've got your book. Is it some sort of an anniversary?" asks Stuart as he looks around his man.

The book is still on the table, so I pick it up and stare at it. And then I kiss it. "Today is the anniversary of Alexandre's death."

Michael bites, but his tone of voice is exceedingly sympathetic. "I'm sorry. But it wasn't this time of the year in the story."

A shrug of the shoulders. "We writers tend to make things up. The story of Alexandre and I is nothing like the book."

Michael again. "Then what was it like? Apart from Alexandre... is it all fable?"

I stare at the false cover that was done not to my taste. These publishers! They are a law unto themselves with their damned cover-designers who do not have a clue what we writers are, and how we think. All they are interested in is selling books, while we writers are only interested in telling tales. Well... not quite. The proceeds of sale of Les Amitiés Particulières has kept my bank balance healthy, and the film that was made of the book, even healthier. Beggars; buggers; writers must not be too indifferent to the financial side of what we are. I look at Michael to reply to his question. "It is the truth within a fable. Do you want to know the truth? It might spoil the fantasies within your minds that the book and the film have planted there. It will be much like discovering the boy you love is an angel and a devil both."

Michael sets me with his eyes. "My boy is not like that!"

Despite the venom in his words, I smile at him. "Indeed not. Stuart is a soul of much beauty... both without and within. In fact, were he not so, then I would not even begin to tell you the truth about Les Amitiés Particulières. That is... if you want the truth?"

"Why now?"

I look up at the stars, and sigh. "It is the anniversary; I am an old man, and the weight of truth is growing heavier."

"Why us?"

I look at them both, and smile affectionately. "You may not like me, Michael, but your love is beautiful. Perhaps one of the most beautiful loves I have known. True lovers. Would you do me the honour of unburdening a weight I have carried since I was fourteen years old? If I do not, with someone I can trust implicitly, then I fear for my sanity."

I sense a less disagreeable tone in Michael's voice when he asks, "If you don't like me, then why would you trust me? I may be an officer, but I am not a gentleman."

I look right into his eyes. "Touché. Forgive me. Sometimes you make me angry with your disposition. It was uncalled for. I was wrong. You are a gentleman, but in a world I have never inhabited. I trust you implicitly, and I cannot say that of many of the gentlemen who inhabit my world. So?"

Stuart wriggles in their swing seat and makes himself more comfortable in his man's arms. "Please do."

I settle back, and begin:

Act 1: overture to a tragedy.

"They were difficult times in France, just after the first war. One cannot put today's values alongside them. My parents moved to Paris when the war ended, and, on recommendation of a friend of the family, I was sent to Ardouane: L'école Saint-Benoît d'Ardouane, when I was eleven years old. So there is the first untruth in the fable. It was not Georges who arrived at the school as a new pupil ... it was Alexandre."

Stuart interrupts me. "So... Alexandre was his real name?"

I smile at him. "Oh yes. My beautiful Alexandre arrived at the college on the seventh day of November nineteen twenty. On March the tenth, nineteen twenty one, at around this hour, he died." I look at my wristwatch again. "Just before this hour he would have been crying in the coldness of his bed; abandoned by ignorant parents who considered that a childhood life in the hands of pious priests would be good for his soul... and he died because he had been told a vile, sinful lie." I shake my head and wipe away a tear with the handkerchief that is already in my hand. I will need it many times this night.

Stuart, seeing my distress, is also upset, and he, too, wipes away a tear. "How did you become friends?" he asks.

"I actually saw him arrive, but didn't take much notice of him. All I recall were the blonde locks upon his head and a boy who was obviously upset at his situation. It was not unusual. Many boys arrived in that state, especially if it was their first time at boarding school. It was the following morning when I really saw him, visibly shaking as he sat at the dining table across from me at breakfast. Breakfast! Hah! Groats and hard bread. He must have thought he was in a concentration camp!"

"Was he beautiful?" asks the alert Stuart.

"Oh yes! In fact, he was so utterly beautiful that I was smitten immediately. I am not sure even you can understand how I felt."

Stuart reaches up and strokes Michael's cheek. "I think we both do. He wasn't wearing a magic cap, was he?"

"A magic cap?"

Michael snorts. "Ignore him. He's a romantic. His school cap landed at my feet. He came to get it. I looked up into his face and fell in love with him. He still tells me to this day that it was accidental, but I don't believe him. It's a bone of contention with us... but carry on. Ignore him. He'll disturb you all night. He's still like a thirteen year old."

I look admiringly at the two lovers, and continue. "Thirteen years old, just like Alexandre, when he arrived at the school. But a naïve thirteen year old. I was fourteen years old, but the difference between us could have been ten years. My lot at boarding schools began when I was seven years old, and I was a wiley young man when I was fourteen. Wiley, that is, when it came to dealing with the pious and the bedevilled. Have you ever considered why it is that certain men join the priesthood and then choose to spend their lives in some God-forsaken backwoods, caring for children? No girls. Nuns do that. I am referring to men, those who prefer the company of boys. There is a reason for everything. In their case, it was a boy a day keeps their lusts at bay. Not every one of them. Some of them were mentally unstable in their twilight world twixt this earth and one they longed to be in: Paradise. That kind saw it as penitence: I cannot enter Paradise without sufferance. As I say, they were the unstable ones, and the only threat from them was that they thought boys should suffer penitence, too. And there are plenty of ways to dish that out when parental control is absent. But I will not speak of them this late evening. It is the others who concern my fable. But I will begin my story on a positive note. I am assuming you have both seen the film of Les Amitiés Particulières?

Michael nods. "We watched it together."

"Good! Then you will recall the time when Alexandre had been naughty and had to stand up during the meal and he and Georges exchanged looks when Father de Trennes passed behind Alexandre? I directed that scene. Well, I insisted it was perfection. That scene was analogous of the first morning when I saw Alexandre at breakfast. It was different. Alexandre was crying, and I was upset because of it. I caught his eye, and tried to reassure him with the warmest smile I could muster. He told me later that my smile of assurance had affected him deeply. It was the exact moment when our beautiful friendship began; the moment he knew he had a friend. Now I will describe everything so that you can envisage the reality of the situation and put away all romantic notions of the book or the film. Are you prepared for this?"

Michael's eyes meet with mine. "Are you sure you want to do this? I get the picture before you start, and I'm quite sure Stuart does too. Besides, I'm already angry."

"With me?"

Michael snorts again. It is something he does often – snorts – and is a dismissive signal that he should not be spoken down to. I actually like him for it. "No. Of course not! You know exactly what I mean. Don't be so damned superior!"

I shrug my shoulders and settle my finger more firmly on Meo's pleasure. He cannot understand a word we're saying, but he knows the difference in our moods and the tone of our comments. I kiss his hair to appease him, and then continue. "My apologies... for what they are worth to you. I will set the scene after you have replenished our glasses... if you will, please, Michael?" I smile at him. "For an old man who is comfortable and for a boy in my arms who is blissful?"

Glasses refilled, I begin my preamble. "L'école Saint-Benoît d'Ardouane. A rambling old place. Not at all like the settings in the film; which was a more religious setting. The school was probably a chateau when it was originally constructed. It had a chapel; a single dining room; rooms for tuition; dormitories; an infirmary, etcetera. Sanitation was basic; bathing facilities the same. Privacy did not exist. At least, for the boys it did not. And in the winter months there was one common denominator about all parts of it: the cold. The cold was pervasive. The chapel was freezing; classrooms not much better; and dormitories had a single woodburning stove set in the middle, which was lit fifteen minutes before bedtime. When the contents of the stove had burned through, that was it, and on really cold nights, each morning at five o'clock when we were forced to rise, inside the panes of glass was a layer of ice almost as thick as that outside. It was like a cold store."

Michael interrupts me. "My bedroom was the same. When my brother and I were kids, we would dive into bed and snuggle together, shivering until the warmth of our bodies had thawed out the bed, and in the morning I could do my homework on the ice that had formed on the insides of the sash window."

I smile at him. "Stuart has told me of your childhood. But you had your brother to keep you warm. We boys had no such thing. We adopted the foetal position and made the best of it." I chuckle. "Until we were thawed through and could do what all little boys do when they go to bed. That is... if we were lucky enough not to have been chosen by one of the priests for their nightly relief. Some of the boys actually enjoyed it. Their acquiescence paid dividends in many ways, not least a hot drink and few sweetmeats and a warm fire in the hearth. If they were really lucky, they got to stay in the warmth of a shared bed until just before five o'clock."

Stuart asks, "What about you? Did they choose you?"

I look at the stars, and memories come flooding back. "Occasionally I did succumb if I felt it was to my benefit, but I preferred the company of my peers. I knew I was homosexual since I was ten years of age, and I was also aware of my preference for younger boys. It is what I am: a pederast. Always have been; always will be. I am what I am."

"Is that why you liked Alexandre?" asks Michael.

I shake my head. "My primary thoughts were of concern for him. Alexandre was not the first boy I had seen in distress at his situation. Most of them adapted quickly. Those who did not, lived a life of misery until they were old enough to leave."

I have caught their attention completely. Time for:

Act two: Amitiés Particulières.

"Over the following days I made it my business to deliver as many smiles to my beautiful boy as I had the opportunity to do so. And then, when we became better acquainted, I begged, stole, and borrowed whatever I could to become his Amitiés Particulières. My wonderful friend, Claude, who was portrayed as the stoic Lucien in the book and the film, helped me enormously. He knew of my affection for Alexandre, and because he was a loved boy, by an older boy, Antoine, he enjoyed sharing in our adventures to make Alexandre's life more comfortable." I chuckled. "One always needs a confidante. Claude was my right hand in many things." Again I chuckle. "But not in that way. I was his confidante where he and Antoine were concerned. And so, throughout that winter, we managed to make Alexandre's life bearable."

Stuart again interrupts. "You loved Alexandre, but did he love you? And forgive me for asking, but what exactly were your feelings for him?"

I smile at him. "Be patient, my sweet boy. All will be revealed before the wine is too much for us." I kiss Meo's hair. "Hopefully, it won't be too lengthy, or my lovely Meo will be too tired for anything! I will continue, and answer your question, which is a really important one. I can only answer it as second person." I wipe my eyes. "He who could answer you in the first person is no longer with us, and I can only tell you what he said to me. But I will do that after I have answered the second part of your question: what exactly were my feelings for him. As you know, I love beautiful boys, and I will not be a hypocrite and say that the thought of sharing a bed with him that way did not ever cross my mind. After all, he was probably the most beautiful boy I have ever seen. He had locks of gold upon his head; eyes of blue that touched my soul; a body that could only be described as 'pretty', but once I was inside his head, I discovered a boy with a disposition that was more beautiful than earthly charms. Did I desire him that way? Yes. Was it my primary goal to take him to my bed? Absolutely not! It was not the way it was. I have known only two occasions in my life when the spirituality of the affair was more important than the physical side, so much so that the physical side was not even on the agenda once our love was sealed. I have described my love for Roro to you before, and now I am telling you of the original love that dare not speak its name, and yet is the most beautiful love of all: that between two boys."

Michael pulls the blanket from around Stuart. "Your turn to fill our glasses! Off your backside and top us up!"

Stuart pulls the blanket back, strokes Michael's cheek as he's staring into his eyes, and says, "You do it! It's chilly."

Michael grins, and does as his boy tells him. The episode is most moving to me. They are very much in love, and I find myself wishing I had been at the school when they first met. It would have been beautiful watching their affair de cœur in its developing stage.

Glasses refilled, and I continue. "The Good Fathers were ignorant about our affair, but Alexandre was often punished. Why? He simply would not succumb to their desires to bed him. In that regard, he was unflinching and would have gone to the guillotine rather than have his body defiled by them. There was not a punishment invented by the Good Fathers at L'école Saint-Benoît d'Ardouane from which he did not suffer. I taught him many things, not least how to avoid being punished so often. We boys had our own ways of avoiding the excesses of abuse, even using one Good Father against another to attain our ends. The scene in the book of George's betrayal of Father de Trennes was an amalgamation of our wiles and cunning. As I've told you previously, not all the priests were abusers. There were some who were simply mad; so devoted to God that they became a refuge for us. One was Father Chastain." I chuckle. "That was almost providence. Our two greatest protectors were Father Chastain and the chestnut tree that grew within the grounds. Chastain, if you are not aware, is a name derived from the Latin: castinea, which means chestnut tree. Alexandre and I had many amusing moments when we were discussing it, and we would often tease one another, pretending we did not understand which mode of refuge we meant when either of us said we would use castinea for whatever scheme we would be devising. So, we would meet either behind the chestnut tree or in the greenhouse."

Michael is smiling when he comments, "So it wasn't all bad."

I smile back at him. "Of course not! Despite everything, most of our time together was beautiful. We became a foursome: Claude and Antoine, and Alexandre and I. Comrades at arms against The Establishment." I look Michael directly in the eyes. "You and I share some things. That is why I put up with your rudeness."

Stuart giggles and snuggles closer to his man. Then he looks up at Michael and says with a smirk on his face, "See, I told you he wasn't all bad."

Michael chuckles, takes a large nibble from his glass, grins at me, and says, "Touché. Please continue."

I smile. "Castaine: castinea. The chestnut tree. We had our one and only real kiss behind it. I don't want to relate the intimate details about it, but it was platonic and was to seal our love forever. Well, I will tell you. It's important that I do so on this late evening. I was free. Alexandre was doing duties with Father Castaine and we arranged to meet by the chestnut tree at seven thirty. It was a cold, dry evening and I was wearing a stout overcoat to keep out the cold. When Alexandre came to me, he used the excuse that he was taken with 'the runs' and needed to use the toilet, and that he might be some time, and because of that, he was wearing only indoor clothes. The moment he arrived, I opened my overcoat and allowed him to enjoin me, and then I enclosed him within it to keep him warm. He had his hands clasped to his chest and his hair rested against my face. I kissed his hair. He lifted his head and smiled at me, and said, You've just kissed me! I laughed, and then denied it. He laughed, too, and called me a liar. So I admitted that I had. He asked me why I had kissed him. I told him the truth. I told him that I loved him. (I wipe away the tears that are forming.) He stared at me for a short while. Those serious, beautiful eyes of his bored into my soul, and then he smiled before he said, You amuse me so much that you may kiss me again, but we will use our lips this time. A proper kiss. So we did kiss; the most wonderful kiss I have ever known. It was soft and warm; a kiss of the purest and truest love; and after it was over, Alexandre said to me, That is your reward for loving me. Treasure it, as I will forever treasure yours to me, because I also love you."

Silence. Tears from me. A lengthy respite as I gather myself while I stare at the stars and the lights on The Isle of Beautiful Boys across the still waters. I do not want to continue, but I have made my bed, so now I must lie on it and continue my fable. Thankfully, my two acquaintances have remained silent. They understand that it is difficult for me. Even Meo senses my distress and snuggles closer. In his own way he loves me, and he knows I am hurting. Thankfully, he will never know how much. Time for:

Act three: The tragedy.

"Sunday, February sixth, in the year of Our Lord nineteen hundred and twenty one. I arranged to meet Alexandre in a place we had previously met secretly a few times, by the river that runs through the Ardouane valley. You may recall the place I describe in the book but which is not in the film... where I see Alexandre walk out of the river and we exchange glances and I pick up the flower he dropped. That actually happened. It was beautiful." I smile. "One of those very rare moments when the dark side of me emerged. Had it been anyone other than Alexandre, then I would have courted him for a different reason. But forgive me. I am digressing. On that Sunday, we met by the river and held hands as we walked beside the still waters." Again I smile. "My words would suggest this is becoming like a fable from The Bible. We discussed many things, and especially how we would meet when the school year ended. I knew it would be difficult; probably highly unlikely that we could arrange such things given that our homes were distant, but Alexandre was in such a good mood that I could not say anything other than positive words to him. His father was a doctor, and he said he wanted to be a doctor, too. It was a nice day, sunny but cold, and Alexandre had the fun within him that day. We came to a secluded part of the river, sheltered from prying eyes by alders that abounded the river bank, and we sat for a while, staring into the slow-running, still water. Then Alexandre grinned at me and asked if we could go for a swim. I protested that it was far too cold. He laughed at me and called me a sissy boy. I told him that even if we did go into the river, we had nothing with which to dry ourselves afterwards. He had an answer to that; he said we could use our undervests."

Stuart interrupts me. "I would have done the same thing. I once made him take me swimming, when we were out cycling."

Michael interrupts Stuart. "Not in bloody February you didn't!"

Stuart chuckles. "Yes, it was the middle of summer. Carry on Roger."

"It was difficult in other ways, which I will explain. But you should be aware that despite the adverse situation regarding the temperature, by that time, Alexandre had acclimatised to cold conditions. He would not have survived up to that point had he not done so." I look at Stuart, and grin at him, "We of the older generation are not like you today. Alexandre would have been correct had he called you two, sissy boys."

Michael grins, and Stuart giggles as he settles into Michael again. "Carry on," he says, still grinning at me.

So I do. "As I was saying, not only the cold was difficult. Our affair de cœur to that point was one conducted in full dress. What Alexandre was proposing was that we stripped naked. I was uneasy with it, and I told him so. Now we come back to the book and the film where Alexandre asks Georges: Georges, do you know the things one should not know? To which Georges replies that he does. Then Alexandre asks: Do they interest you? And Georges replies that they do not. That conversation was verbatim. So after hearing that from me, Alexandre got to his feet, and laughing like the sprite he was, stripped completely in front of me. Then he jumped into the cold waters, and after he had shivered his way to fun, yelled at me that I was a sissy boy again. So I joined him. Had I known then the consequences of doing so, I would have walked away and accepted every taunt he could ever throw my way. It was the beginning of the end. But I did join him, and we had a marvellous time, and never did our frolics change from fun to anything else. Apart from the fun we had, there was only one other positive thing I can take from the moment: I got to see the completeness of the boy I have loved most in my life. He was a vision of loveliness than has never been equalled before or since, and I have been fortunate enough to set eyes on some of God's most delightful creatures. Other than telling you that Michelangelo would have adored him as a model, I will say no more."

Stuart asks, "What are the consequences you are talking about?"

I take another drink from my wine glass, and this time it is more than a nibble. "Two days later I was taken with pneumonia, and then to hospital. I was never to see my beautiful Alexandre again. He died before I could do so. Claude was too upset to tell me, so it was left to Antoine to impart the bad news. It was the work of the Devil, and carried out by one of his acolytes; those pious hypocrites who use my beautiful Catholic religion for their dastardly deeds: the priests of L'école Saint-Benoît d'Ardouane. There was one particularly evil one; Le père Morel. He had been Alexandre's suitor since when he first arrived, desiring him as he had done me when I first arrived at the college. For a while, I allowed him to use me, and then he became infatuated with another boy. I was discarded and my treats dried up. He was a cunning old man, and in Alexandre's case, had been prepared to wait for the moment when he could strike like a viper when my boy was at his lowest ebb; when he was so distressed at my long absence that he sought refuge in the arms of a man who was indeed a family friend. Actually, it had been Father Morel who persuaded Alexandre's parents that the school would be good for his spirit. Alexandre thought he would be safe with him, and when, in deep distress, he told him why he was so upset, the Good Father was so incensed and jealous that he informed my boy that he had just been informed that I had been given the Viaticum – the last sacrament of the dying."

"Bastard!" That from Michael, who now has tears in his eyes and is comforting Stuart, who is sobbing openly.

I look at Michael. "That English term I have heard often, but in my country it has no particular meaning other than an illegitimate child. However, I will accept the way you use it and apply it myself. He was indeed a bastard! Alexandre ran crying to Claude, explained everything, and then walked from his dormitory that night to the river where we had fun together, and at the exact spot where we had bathed, he drowned in the cold waters." Through my sobs and tears, I manage to say, "Do you see the significance in that? More than the kiss behind the chestnut tree, those moments we shared by the river were the most beautiful to him. Try as I might, I have never been able to comprehend the full significance of that."

It is quite a while before Michael gets up from their swing seat and picks up the empty bottles. He walks around me; stops by my shoulder; places a hand on it, and says, "I do. But you may not want to know the truth." And then he walks away, saying to Stuart, "It's time for bed, young man."

When he is gone, Stuart comes to me and wraps his arms around my neck. "Will you be alright?"

I reach up and clasp his hand. "Yes, thank you. Michael is right. It is time for bed for you two, and I would like to sit here with Meo for a while before I turn in. Your man is a good man, and beneath that harsh exterior he is very thoughtful in the right way. I have unburdened myself, and now he knows I need time to recover from the ordeal. I cannot do that with platitudes."

Stuart kisses my cheek. "Michael's beloved father died. He would speak to no one. I saw him in his distress at the funeral. Platitudes were useless. So I went and called on him without invitation. It was our first time. It was the moment when he began to recover. You can't bring Alexandre back, but the love you have in your heart should not be locked away. It is far too precious. Use it in a good way. Alexandre would not want you to do anything else. Goodnight."

The curtain falls, and I have had an audience without equal.

Michael's wise words: I do. But you may not want to know the truth.

I do know the truth. I just won't admit it to myself.

Michael Johnson.

Roger is sitting at the patio table, drinking tea. I pull out a seat, and ask, "May I join you?"

A smile. "Yes. Please do. Meo has gone and I was contemplating this beautiful morning." Roger takes a sip from his cup, replaces it in its saucer, and says, "I hope last evening does not sit disagreeably with you. If it does, I apologise."

The maid comes to the table and brings me a fresh pot of tea. I thank her, and she leaves. Stuart comes to the table and I pour him a cup of tea, add the two sugars he likes, a drop of milk, and hand it to him. He thanks me and moves his chair to be closer to me. I look at Roger. "How are you feeling this morning? It was not easy for you."

He smiles, and shrugs his shoulders. "Life must go on. I've been considering what you said."

"What I said?"

"Yes. About the truth of things."

I look at the man who I have never liked but who has moved me deeply by his tale of woe, and tell him, "To me, it's simple. We spend half our lives hiding away from the truth. We hide it not only from others, but from ourselves. When I first met Stuart, I lied and almost convinced myself that I was not a homosexual. By the same token, by the absence of revelation, I lied to my brother. The same applied to a wonderful man who was both my teacher and my mentor and who became my adopted father after my beloved Dada passed away. But those who care for you can see through one's lies or omissions. Then, when I fell in love with Stuart, my house of lies came tumbling down and I was revealed for what I was... an eighteen year old who was madly in love with a boy of thirteen. I was ashamed of myself, but those who loved and cared for me saw no shame in my situation. It's time for you to accept that your wonderful Alexandre thought of you that way, and you must stop denying to yourself what your real feelings were. The fact that you both suppressed them is admirable, and was the right thing to do at the time. That den of iniquity you lived in was not the proper place to reveal your real feelings. But at the end, Alexandre was sending a message out to the world. He thought you were dead or dying, and he wanted to join you. So he chose the truthful way. Anything else would have been a betrayal of your love, and at that time, he had only himself to answer to. May I ask you a question?"

Roger, almost in tears, looks at me. "You may."

I take a deep breath. "Was he naked when he was found in the river?"

Roger shudders with intense sorrow. "Yes. Apparently, they discovered him naked, and fastened around his wrist by a bandage was a sheaf of letters I had written to him. They never discovered who the letters were from. We signed in code."

"How did you discover all these things?" I ask him.

Roger smiles through his tears. "Boys. In a college such as ours, there are no secrets. When I met with Claude and Antoine some six months after Alexandre's death, they told me everything, including that Alexandre removed all his clothes before he went into the river, and I was able to ascertain that it happened by or very near where we bathed." He looks at Stuart. "The final scene in the chapel is true. After I met with Claude and Antoine, I pledged my life to it being a shared one of two souls."

Stuart asks, "Is he still with you?"

"Oh yes! I am as much he as I am myself. He is my guide in all things. I spoke to him only a few days ago, when you first arrived. I asked him if you were suitable to know the truth."

"And did he answer you?" asks my boy.

Roger stares at us both for a moment, and then smiles. "I told you. Did I not? And now may I ask you a question? Will you promise faithfully to keep secret what I have told you?"

Stuart replies that he will, and I stare at the dapper old man. "I give you my word, but only while you are alive. One day, when you and Alexandre are together in spirit, do I have your permission to reveal the truth of things?" I chuckle. "When I have retired, although I can never master your skills, I may become a writer."

Roger chuckles. "You have my permission, but my life will not be over for many years. I have scores to settle."

"With Father Morel?"

Roger laughs. "Oh no! Providence was kind to me. After I was over my illness, I never went back to L'école Saint-Benoît d'Ardouane. I feigned continued illness and eventually managed to get my parents to send me to a decent school in Paris. I have never been back since, not even to play havoc with the ghost of Le père Morel."

"The ghost?" asks my Stuart.

I see a gleam in Roger's eyes when he grins at Stuart, and says, "Two months after Alexandre's death, he, mysteriously, died tragically. Apparently, even though he had been of a jolly disposition throughout the day, he took cyanide in his wine late one evening. Fortunately, le gendarmerie never discovered that the last person to see him was Claude, who never revealed that he had been invited to the Good Father's room that evening, after lights out. Did I tell you that Claude's father was also a doctor?"

I chuckle, and then I begin to laugh, and then we all begin to laugh. Then Roger gets up from the table and says, "Excuse me. I brought a special bottle of wine to the table last night, but we never got to open it. It's a vintage from the grapes of Ardouane. I know it is early to be drinking wine, but I would like to propose a toast to a very special person in my life. Will you join me in that toast?"

I smile at him. "It will be our honour."

The bottle is open. Roger fills our glasses, and then sits down. He raises his glass. "To Alexandre."

Stuart raises his. "To Alexandre, the most beautiful boy who ever lived!"

I raise mine. "To Alexandre, may he find peace and love and have fun with you for the rest of your time upon this earth, and to another very special person... to Claude!"

We toast Claude, and then my boy punches the air. "Well done, Claude!"

Roger Peyrefitte.

Michael and Stuart have been gone two days and I am missing them. But my mind is much easier. I smile. Alain is back in Paris now. Only yesterday I received a telegram from him.

England has been wonderful. Better than I could have imagined. I cannot wait to be back with A. But I am missing you. Ax. Hah!

He is missing me. More like he is missing my silk sheets.

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