Love - Existentially

by John Teller

Part 6

Book Four - When French boys stray, and are then contrite

Godard Masson – private investigator.

Madame d'Evreux escorts me into the lounge and asks me to take a seat in a large comfortable chair, sits in a similar chair opposite, crosses her fine legs, and looks studiously at me when she asks, "What do you have to tell me, Godard?"

I look directly at her and tell her almost everything. Overnight, I decided I'd do that, but I've omitted the Belgian. Only if it's absolutely necessary will I bring him into it. When I've finished, I tell her... "That's it, unless you need an opinion?"

I'm expecting tears and wrung hands, but I get a lady deciphering everything I've told her, and a firm set jaw. Some of my clients would come out with the inevitable, Have you been seen, but Madame d'Evreux does me the good service of accepting that if there was the slightest possibility that I have been seen, I would have told her. It's important she knows everything... as is, and no surprises to come afterwards. She makes a temple with her fingers and considers things for a moment, and then asks, "Names? Addresses? Telephone numbers?" I take the typewritten, single sheet of paper from my inside pocket, walk across to her, place it in her hands, and go back to my seat. She studies it for a while, and then surprises me. "Godard, I have something to tell you. I have separated from my husband. I am telling you because some of the information I used to confront him came from you. He does not know it came from you, but he is not a fool. You are one of a few I could have used. I suspect he will not be too concerned with the evidence I presented to him. He did not deny it. But look after your own back. You have my full permission to use anything you have collected for me to protect yourself. But the matters regarding my son must never cross your lips. Apart from matters that I will have to deal with, only you and I will ever know about the facts you have collected for me. Have you kept a portfolio of my son's case?"

I shake my head. "No. It's all in my head, except two copies of that information you have."

She narrows her eyes. "Is my son in danger?"

I entwine my fingers and look thoughtfully at her. "Not with Villiers or Roux. Those two don't concern me; safety-wise."

She tilts her head to one side. "You are not telling me everything, are you?"

I take a deep breath. "He spent ten minutes with a Belgian, who is a disgusting person. The reason I didn't tell you is because your son is not a fool. As you can see from the information I've given to you, your son's normal modus operandi is to spend quite a while with those who interest him? I'm thinking the Belgian was summarily dismissed by your son before anything occurred. He was not in the apartment long enough for anything to happen. Forgive me for being forthright, but even though I think your boy is a silly boy, I don't think he's an idiot. But the Belgian is not the only nasty piece of work out there. Some of them are cunning, and it's that which worries me."

She thinks for a short while, and then asks, "You think I should put a stop to it immediately?"

Her question also makes me think for a while. What would I do if I was in her situation? I decide to speak my thoughts out loud. "I've been around long enough to understand the complexities of the world, and I don't have any particular dislike of homosexuals. Well, not if it concerns consenting adults, and is kept private. May I ask you a question?"

She nods. "You may, providing it concerns the matter at hand."

I nod. "It does. Are you aware that your son is a homosexual?"

There's no ambiguity in her voice when she replies, "Yes. And I am also aware that he likes older partners. Is that unusual in boys his age?"

I shake my head. "Let's just deal with male homosexuality here. The female kind is very different. Society seems to accept those matters far more than they do two males doing the same thing. If Alain was going with boys his own age, I don't think we would be having this conversation. Boys will be boys and he would very probably grow out of any boy-boy affairs he has now. But, because of what's happening, I do think he's a homosexual. My experience of life is that most homosexuals prefer adults their own or a similar age, and conduct their affairs in private. But some adults prefer younger partners, like Alain, and for that to happen not in an abusive way, meaning that the affair is completely consensual, the boy has to prefer older partners and they have to keep the association very secret. One rarely comes across this type of consensual relationship, but if one does, then, usually, those associations are broken up immediately by parents who will not allow the association to continue."

"But what happens if the association between a boy and an older partner is not... disturbed?"

I smile at her. "Boys are transient creatures. Up to yet, I'm not aware of many instances where the boy has not outgrown the affair. Maybe it would better if they did not. Once they become older, they become more promiscuous and suffer from all the problems that normal, heterosexual couples suffer from."

"At what age does that happen?"

I shrug my shoulders. "All ages after they're into the adolescent stage, and in your Alain's case, fourteen?"

Colette d'Evreux sighs, and visibly slumps back into her chair. "You have children, don't you? Do they give you as much trouble as mine?"

I smile sympathetically at her. "Not quite, but I don't know what they get up to every minute of every day. Considering what you're going through, maybe it's better that I don't. At the end of the day, I think all we can hope for is that they grow up safely, and then it's in the lap of the Gods what they turn out to be. At least your three children have a mother who loves them. Not all children are so lucky."

She smiles at me. "Thank you. If you don't have anything else to tell me, or advice you can offer, we will leave the matter now. Don't write up a bill. Let me know what I owe you and I'll get the cash for you."

When I light up a cigarette and drive away, I'm filled with both admiration and sorrow for the beautiful lady I've just spent an hour with. I wouldn't like to be in her shoes, but something tells me inside that she'll cope with the situation. She's that sort. Colette said I should not reveal any of the details I've collected about her son. I agreed. But it is not so simple. I have a duty of care to other youngsters because of what I know. The situation with The Belgian requires that I break my promise. It has to be so even at the expense of my own reputation of being discrete. A child's life may be at risk if he remains at large.

Colette d'Evreux.

I have eaten nothing for lunch. I'm not hungry because of the worry within me. Everything I have planned in my life is tumbling down around me, and somehow, I have to stop the chaos. I've given matters my deepest consideration since Masson left, and although I'm not sure I am doing the right thing, I have to start somewhere. But I have to try and alleviate some of the hurt my precious boy is about to experience. I would like to do everything without his knowledge, but it is impossible. I have considered contacting Roux and Villiers and warning them both off, but if I do that, my boy may end up with someone far worse. There is one place I know he will be safe... with Archie Whittingham. It would cause a massive upheaval, but this is for my boy. But what about me? I will lose him. I will still have my girls, but for how long will that be? They are growing up. I will also miss my boy's special smiles; the uninhibited hugs he gives to me; the kisses he showers on my cheeks; the warmth of him when he snuggles with me on the sofa. He is fourteen years old, but he loves his mama and is never afraid to show his affections for me. Losing Fabien is 'just one of those things'. Losing my precious Alain will leave me devastated. So, sending him to Archie is not the answer. I would have to go with him, and I cannot do that, yet, because of the girls. They enjoy spending time in Cornwall, but they would not want to live there.

I pick up the single sheet of paper Masson has given to me. Two names. Not much about Villiers apart from he is forty years old and reasonably successful.

The other one. Pierre Roux. Homosexual. Born Bourges 27th July 1939. Nothing of note until he was arrested and charged with gross indecency with a forty year old man in Paris on 3rd September 1960. Fined and put on probation for three months. No misdemeanours since. Self employed musical technician. Resides in rented accommodation at Livry-Gargan.

There is some more information; including dates and times he has been with Alain. I decide what I am going to do.

The telephone rings out for a short while, and then I hear a sturdy voice take the call. "Hello. Saul Villiers speaking."

I take a deep breath. "Monsieur Villiers. I am Alain's mama."

His tone of voice is a puzzled one when he replies, "Alain? I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Madame."

I understand immediately what is happening. Alain has been clever enough not to have revealed his name and I feel somewhat relieved when I continue. "The young boy you met in the library; the young boy you have had sex with. He is my son. The association will cease immediately. If it does not and you see him again, you will be behind bars within twenty four hours following your meeting with him. Do I make myself clear?"

The telephone is quiet for a few moments, and then Villiers says, "The boy with green eyes? The one who dresses immaculately? About thirteen or fourteen?"

I am ready for this. "Whatever! He has been with you recently, and unless you have ten boys a day, then you will know who am referring to."

The answer comes immediately. "I will not see him again, Madame."

"Good. You will not have a second chance."

The voice is younger and less well educated than Villiers'. "Hello."

"Pierre Roux?"

"Yes. Who is speaking?"

"Monsieur Roux. You will meet me at exactly two o'clock in the Café de la Paix on the Place de l'Opéra. If you do not, you will be behind bars before the day is out."

"What! Who are you?"

"I am Alain's mama."

"I'm sure you are mistaken... somewhere, Madame."

I wonder if, again, Alain has not revealed his name, and I repeat what Villiers said to me. "The boy with green eyes. The one who dresses immaculately. He is fourteen. Now please drop the pretence."

Roux is shocked. I can tell he is, and then I hear him say, "I will be there. How will I know you?"

"You won't. Describe yourself to me, and I will find you."

Pierre Roux.

I'm in shock. I could be walking right into a Gendarmerie trap and can do nothing about it. Alain's mama was the most direct person I've ever spoken to, and there was no ambiguity in her voice. She absolutely knows about me and Alain, and she knows my name and my telephone number. That information could only have come from two sources: Alain... or someone who has told her about us. But who could that be? I've told no one, and I'm almost dead sure Alain has not. Alain is well-educated, and it's obvious he comes from a social scale well above me. He is money, and money can buy anything... except love.

Love! Damn and blast! It's happening again! First Sébastian and now Alain. Yes, love! I've fallen for the beautiful young man who has come into my life, and now I'm about to have my hopes dashed again. Shit! Fuck and shit!

I recognise her immediately she walks into the café. She is class, and her features resemble the boy who has wormed his way into my heart. The coat and dress she's wearing would probably pay my rent for six months... The blue flowered silk scarf thrown around her neck: food for a week. What the hell will she think of me? Blue denim and crazy hair! She's seen me. I need to be on my best behaviour, and when she gets to my table I stand and nod my head. She pulls out her own chair, sits and crosses her legs and stares at me after I've sat down again. I feel like puppy in a cage at the market. I could make puppy eyes at her, but I don't. Instead, I shrug my shoulders and say, "Sorry."

She doesn't acknowledge my apology and continues to study me. Finally, she says, "Alain. Just exactly what does he mean to you?"

I'm shocked. I expected her to tell me that I'm a filthy creature and that I'm in trouble. Shit! What the hell do I say to her? I might as well be honest. I'm in enough shit as it is, so why tell lies? "He's a lovely young man. Can I order you something?"

She ignores my last question. "You didn't answer the question. You told me something I already know. Now answer the question!"

I shrug my shoulders. "I'm not sure I know what you mean. He's a lovely young man, and we're friends."

She's very direct. "You're not friends... you're lovers. You picked him up from the library; you took him to your home and had sex with him... at least twice to my knowledge! So I'll ask you again. Just exactly what does he mean to you?"

I think about Sébastian, the beautiful boy I loved and where sex was secondary to everything we did. In fact, it was nothing to do with sex when we met. I just loved him. He loved me. We loved each other. Sex didn't happen until just before we were torn apart, and then it was only boy and boy stuff. That's how we got caught. We were at his house and had been playing about. He said his father wasn't supposed to be home for another two hours. It was Sébastian who began it. He asked me to fondle him. So I did. He asked if we could take our clothes off. So we did. He asked me to kiss him down there. So I did. He was enjoying it. In fact, he was going crazy while I did it, and when he climaxed, he yelled out loud. So did his father when he walked into the bedroom. Twenty four hours later I was hitching a lift to Paris from my home town of Bourges.

That was twelve years ago. I learned to survive. It isn't difficult in Paris if you're prepared to take anything going. For a while, I sold my body. That was the most difficult part. I am not a receiver! I learned how to improvise. You get to know your clientele. I chose those who loved boys' bodies; those who would spend all their time worshipping mine, but not abusing it. They are out there! I know, because I'm now one of them. I'd never abuse a boy unless he wanted to be abused. There's nothing worse. Because he was so beautiful, when I met Alain, I couldn't wait to get him naked and fawn over him and explore every part of him. The fact that it became a two-way street was a super bonus.

But other things have happened since the first time; things that tell me it's more than just sex, as important as sex is to both of us. We've had real fun, singing and laughing and playing real music, and Alain has enjoyed it. I've watched him and seen him do some of the things Sébastian used to do; simple things like just look at me and grin for nothing.

Sébastian. I've never stopped thinking about him. What happened to him when I ran away? I know he loved me. He told me he did. What affect did my desertion have on him? If the effects were half as bad as mine, then he'd have been deeply hurt. That's what I've never forgiven myself for: I never got to tell him that it was for the best; I never got to say sorry, even. This thing between me and Alain is going to blow up, but the least I can do is try and tell him that it was not all about sex. I think he'd want to know that.

So I'll ask you again. Just exactly what does he mean to you? I look up from the table I've been staring at, and look into her eyes. "We are friends. He means a lot to me. A long time ago, I had a friendship similar to the one I have with your son. We got found out, and grown-ups shattered it. He would have been hurt. Ever since, I've wanted to tell him how special he was to me and that I never used him. But there was nothing I could do about it. What I'm going to say now might sound like excuses to get out of the mess I'm in, but I'm being sincere when I say that the most important thing to me now is Alain. I won't get to say goodbye to him, but I want you to tell him that what I'll think about in the future is the look he gave me when I told him not to give up his dreams of being a potter to be a singer." I can't help but let out a nervous giggle when I add, "He might be able to play the piano, but he can't sing to save his life."

Alain d'Evreux.

Madame Rey stands at the head of the classroom and brings our attention by banging a cane on her desk. "You will all write a treatise of the effects President de Gaulle had on the Algerian Resolution. We've been through the subject enough for you know it off by heart, but I will be judging you on presentation today. Presentation is extremely important. Major decisions will be based on presentation of facts and intelligent supposition and the source of those facts, and how the data was collected. Get to it. I will give you a starting point: June first nineteen fifty eight when the National Assembly named de Gaulle premier and granted him wide emergency powers. Go from there and work your way through until Évian-les-Bains in nineteen sixty two. Because this is about presentation, you may refer to your textbooks. Get on with it." She sits at her desk and I catch a glimpse of the magazine she is about to read: Vogue. It seems that Madame Rey has about as much interest in the Algerian Resolution as do I.

The Embassy School is a block of apartments; six storeys high; on the 5th Arrondissement, and my classroom has sixteen desks in four rows of four. Only ten of the desks are occupied, and my desk is second row back and the one nearest the window. We are on the third floor and I can hear the traffic outside in the streets of Paris. The noise of the traffic is an incessant backdrop to everything we do at the Embassy School, much like the sounds of the sea when one is at Archie's studio.

Archie's studio. He will be at his wheel now. I giggle inwardly. Or he may be showing off the vase made by a famous French artist.

I have written three paragraphs when I make the mark of a tiny x at the top of the page. ...but if I see the tiny x, then I will never be sad, and I will be happy with you. And I with you Archie. I have let you down again. I don't really want to let you down. I'd much rather I was with you in our studio. I would have no need to go to the library then.

But, Archie, and please forgive me, I quite like Pierre. He's not you... the person I really love, but he's fun. The reason I go with him is because that part of my life is so demanding; so important to me. That's why I went with Saul Villiers. I would probably have gone with neither had Roger not been in Italy. But he is in Italy, and you are far away in your studio. Sorry, Archie... our studio! But Pierre is the one who is bothering me. I like him. He's fun. It's not just about that with him. He makes me laugh, and he is someone to lean on when things go wrong. Roger would have been able to do that, and you, but there is no one else except Pierre to do it now, when I need it. I haven't told mama how I feel, but not having papa around has affected me. He is like a piece of furniture that you pass every day and you don't miss until it is suddenly gone. The apartment seemed quite empty last night knowing it has lost him.> I haven't seen him since he and mama argued. What is really hurting me is that it all blew up because of me. Mama says it was in the making, but the status quo was working until I went and put my foot in it. But he has written me a letter. It was in my book slot when I arrived this morning, and it made me cry.

My dear Alain.

First of all, I want to say how sorry I am that everything has turned out how it has. Believe me, it was not how I wanted things to be. I do love my son and my two daughters and if I was a different person to what I am, then I might be able to say I would have done many things differently just to make your mama and you three happy. But life is not like that. We are what we are, and sometimes we are not in command of what we do. I have been thinking how I can make you understand exactly that, in language you can understand, and I can think of only one way. For a while now, I have been aware that you prefer the company of boys to girls. I do not love you less because you do, but that fact will change many things in your life. It has already done so. I know that your desire to be a studio potter is not simply because you love to make pottery. That is not to say that you do not love making studio pottery, but there are other forces at play in your decision not to want to follow in my footsteps. But I am comfortable with your disposition. I am here if you need me, and I will never judge you. How can I? Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.

I am, and will always be,

Your Papa who loves you. xxx

We have finished school early. Two o'clock instead of three. Madame Rey was quite poorly. I am not sure she was. She was being furtive while she was reading Vogue. I saw her tear a half page out of it, and only after that did she say she was not feeling well and we could finish off the work we were doing at home. I am beginning to recognise the signs. If I wanted to be sneaky, it is what I would have done. I have never liked her, but I dislike her a little less now.

I have more than enough money to get a taxi, but it is only thirty minutes walk to my home. It's not raining. I will walk.

The Algerian Resolution. Blast! I've forgotten the text book I'll need to finish the essay at home. The library steps. Should I? Perhaps not. The Belgian might be in there. But they will have the text book I need. I can take it out and use it at home. I'll completely ignore the Belgian if he is in there.

He is not, but Pierre is! Sitting at our table! I stare at him. He is uneasy. I am angry. It seems that I can trust no man... except Archie. And papa? I turn on my heels and get out as fast as I can, and when I'm outside, I run away from the library with tears of anger streaming from my eyes.

I am known at papa's place of employment and have no trouble being escorted to his office by a member of staff. But even I am not allowed directly into his office without his secretary says so. She phones through to papa, and he comes to his massive mahogany door to greet me, ushers me inside, and closes the door. Then he gives me that silly look he sometimes adopts, and half opens his arms.

I am crying onto the lapels of his suit jacket, and he is hugging me. It takes a while, but eventually I control my emotions. He takes out a blue kerchief from his top pocket and gives it to me. This is a display kerchief and I am hesitant to blow my nose into it. He smiles at me, and says, "I've got some more in my drawer. Let's see if you can make enough noise to bring security in here."

His remark makes me giggle, so I blow hard into it, and the sound echoes around the large room. When I've cleaned my nose, we both giggle. He puts a hand on my shoulder and leads me to the leather chaise – the comfortable part of his office – and we sit down. There is a telephone on the small table by the side of the chaise and he picks it up and orders coffee. Then he says, "Did you read the letter I left for you?"

I nod. "Yes Papa. It was a nice letter. That's why I am here. I wanted to thank you for it."

He smiles at me. "How is Mama? How are the girls?"

I stare at him. "You haven't asked how I am!"

He firms his lips. "I don't need to. You're not here just because of the letter. That is a conduit to the real reason. You've had your life turned upside down, and you are upset. You are fourteen years old, Alain, trying to deal with things that most adults would have difficulty dealing with. Please don't think I am in any way belittling you. I would never do that." He shrugs his shoulders. "Sorry. I did do that when I was angry when you told me you wanted to be an artistic potter. But being fourteen years is both a delight and a curse. The world is your oyster, but it is also your gaol. You are trapped in that strange limbo-world where you feel you should have the freedom to choose, but adults keep telling you that you can't make choices."

Before he can continue, coffee is brought to the office. Papa pours, and adds just one sugar cube to my cup, and I find that so meaningful. Papa didn't need to ask how I like my coffee. He already knew I took only one cube of sugar with coffee, and I am in little doubt he knows I have two in tea. When I've stirred my coffee and added a little cream, I ask him, "Are you angry with me?"

He leans back into the chaise, takes a sip of his coffee, and then half smiles at me. "No, Alain, I am not angry with you. What have you done that should make me angry? Made a choice that I would not have made for you? Who is to say my choice would be the right one? Maybe your choice to become a studio potter will be the right one? One makes choices in life, and only time will tell whether they are the right choices or the wrong ones." He waves his left hand in an arc. "This room. I get bored in here... many times. When I was a child, I wanted to be a film star." He chuckles. "Much like you wanting to be a train driver when you were eight years old."

His remark makes me giggle. "I still do. Archie laughed at me when I told him."

Papa looks into my eyes. "Archie. May I ask you a question about him?"

I suddenly feel sick inside. It had not been my intention when I came here to talk about Archie. So I just shrug my shoulders.

Papa recognises that I am uncomfortable, and smiles at me. "Sorry, Alain. I only wanted to ask if you are happy when you are with him. But it's a silly question. Of course you are. So I won't ask it. Instead, I'll ask you if you really think you are good enough to become as good as he is. I do hear he is very well regarded in that field. Maybe he could set up a studio in Paris. I would get to see more of you then."

I look into my papa's eyes. They are just like mine; green and beautiful. Neither mama or papa know that I know about what he gets up to when he's away, but scandal has no boundaries. I've been hurt when I've heard the rumours, but I understand. Men cannot help but be enchanted by my own eyes, so will women not also be enchanted by his? Apart from one major difference, we are very much alike in some ways. So I say to him, "We will not become strangers, Papa. I promise you."

I know papa is moved by my words, because his eyes are a little misty. But he hides it well when he smiles, and says, "Good. Then I have only one more thing to ask of you... look after your mama for me, even at the expense that I may suffer if you do so. She loves you very much." He puts down his cup. "Now it is time for you to be getting home. Would you like me to get a car to take you?"

"Yes Papa, please. But may I ask you to do a favour for me?"

"Yes. Of course you may."

And when the limousine is taking me home, I am planning. Seeing Papa and receiving the answer to my question has made it so much easier, especially because he did not order the car for another twenty minutes while we were discussing things.

"I have told Pierre Roux I will ring him at ten in the morning. What do you want me to tell him?"

I hear mama's statement and question, but it has gone over my head. I am still reeling from the knowledge that she has used a private detective to get the information she has presented to me. She has not told me she has done so, but it is the only way she could have known everything about me and who I have been seeing, and why, and my tears are of both shame and deep anger. But behind the tears, I am thinking. The Papa within me is at work. He did not get to be Conseiller des affaires étrangères by being an idiot! I look at Mama. "I called at the library on the way home from school to get a text book I needed for my homework. Pierre Roux was in there. Tell him to go to hell."

Mama is shocked. "Are you sure?"

I've stopped crying. "I am sure."

"Did he see you?"


"What did he say?"

"I didn't give him a chance to say anything. He tried to say something, but I walked out. May I go to my room now Mama?"

"Yes. I'm sorry about all this, Alain, but you must believe that I did it for your benefit."

I take a deep breath to contain my anger. "I know, Mama. Thank you. I have learned a very valuable lesson from your actions. May I have the day off from school tomorrow? I think I will be too upset to concentrate. Unless, that is, you have your ladies coming for tea in the morning?"

"No, I am invited out in the morning. At eleven. At Madame Fontaine's, but I will be back for the afternoon. Of course you can have the day off. We will spend some time together in the afternoon, and then we will talk about things."

I nod, and try to smile, and then kiss her cheek. "Goodnight Mama. I'll see you in the morning."

In my room, I throw myself onto the bed and bury my head in the bed sheets and thump them in anger. Now, my tears are pure rage and self-loathing. I get off the bed and grab my snowman and go back to the bed again and curl up into a ball and press it to my breast so hard that it is hurting. Never have I felt so much remorse. I have betrayed the man who truly loves me; the only man, except my Papa, who I can trust: Archie... my beautiful, lovely, loving Archie. The thought of him makes my anger recede. I can feel his fingers on my cheeks; his soft words in my ears telling me how special I am; his completely unselfish loving; the look of joy and love in his eyes when he is so proud of what I am and what I have achieved. I can hear him speaking the words he has written: When I cannot completely drown myself in my work, I pick up your vase and sit by the front window and follow every stroke of your brush; delight in the tiny pinkness of the children by the sea; the old man with his pipe and sea-waders sitting on his fishing boat; the small black vertical line out at sea that puzzled me and you wouldn't tell me until two days had passed what it was, and I howled with laughter when you told me it was the periscope of a submerged submarine. But they were not just tears of laughter that fell from my eyes. Mixed with them were tears of pride that you could achieve such a creation. I adore it, and it is priceless to me.

I love you Archie, and from now on I will never again betray you. Je t'aime. Je t'aime. Je t'aime. Ad infinitum.

Pierre Roux.

I am in complete disarray. Alain was gone before I could explain things. I should have gone after him; grabbed him and made him listen to me. But I didn't. My fucking life is full of I didn't. I should not have left Bourges without telling Sèbastian I loved him and that I was going because it was best for both of us. But I didn't. I'm a coward. Maybe worse: a complete idiot who does not deserve anything. I'm not worthy of Sèbastian... or Alain.

But what now? Tomorrow I'll be getting a phone call from Alain's mama telling me of his decision as to whether he wants to see me again. She might as well not bother now. I know what his answer will be.

She was damned ruthless. She spelled it out in no uncertain terms: I was the best of a bad job, but we could continue our association providing I kept him out of danger. Out of danger! What the fuck was he doing in the library? For Christ's sake! Is he insatiable? Is he a boy nymphomaniac? If there is such a thing? He was certainly insatiable in my bed, and even when I was driving him back to the car park he couldn't keep his hand off my leg. And elsewhere! Maybe the gendarmerie should have ordered me to keep an eye on him and not the Belgian. Bastards! Utter bastards! What did they say? The ugly one with the scar on his forehead: Call it community service. Three hours a day; from three until six. It's better than serving five years in gaol for molesting that boy. So what is your answer?

My answer was to land me in a situation where I have lost the boy I am falling in love with. Maybe it would have been better to have gone to gaol.

Colette d'Evreux.

He answers the telephone almost immediately, and I can hear the despondency in his voice when he says, "Hello. Roux speaking."

"Alain saw you in the library, so you know the answer. What on earth were you doing in there after all that has gone on?"

"Madame. I don't know who you employed to keep an eye on Alain, but I had a visit from the gendarmerie. They threatened to put me in gaol for molesting your son unless I spend three hours a day in the library keeping an eye out for a Belgian, who is a nasty piece of work. Alain came in; he saw me and walked out before I could tell him what I was doing. Please explain that to him."

After I have explained things, Alain is silent, so I have to ask him, "Well? What now?"

He shrugs his shoulders. "Things have changed. When you have gone to Madame Fontaine's, may I use the telephone to speak to Archie?"

"Yes, of course you may. And Pierre Roux?"

He takes a deep breath, and sighs. "I will write to him. I don't want to see him, or anyone else for that matter. And I won't be giving you any more trouble. That is over."

I'm puzzled. "No more Archie?"

He looks at me, shocked by what I've said. "No Mama! That is not what I meant! You won't stop me seeing Archie, will you?"

"No. It was never my intention to do that. Your comment was ambiguous. I'm sorry. Of course you can speak to Archie. God only knows... he's the one person in your life who doesn't worry me. In fact, as soon as I can sort a few things out here, I want us to go to Rose Cottage. But it might be a couple of months."

There are tears in his eyes when he says, "Yes Mama. I'll speak to Archie about it."

"Give him my best regards when you speak to him. Tell him he must come to dinner when we get there." I place a hand on his arm. "The same arrangements as last time. We will be tired when we arrive. The girls and I will sort things at the cottage. We won't need you getting under our feet. Book a room at Archie's for the night."

Alain begins to cry. I lift my arm, and he folds in to me and sobs his heart out.

When I leave to go to the tea morning, I am a little late, and still my mascara is not quite right.

Alain d'Evreux.

The moment I hear Archie's voice, what I feared might happen, happens. I burst into tears and cannot speak, and only after a number of frantic requests from him can I blubber into the telephone, "I love you Archie. Je t'aime! Je t'aime!"

Archie Whittingham

I walk out into the fresh air and look across the headland. I need to breathe: to regain control. Never in my life have I been so upset, nor felt so helpless. I'm trembling with emotion and so shocked and shattered that I have to sit in one of the outside table chairs to stop myself falling to the ground. And the reason I'm like this is not because Alain has poured his heart out to me and told me on the second call because he could hardly speak on his first call, about the affairs he's had, but because I love him so much that it hurts not to be able to hold him in my arms and take away his hurt. I don't care what he's done. All I care about is that my boy is hurting.

I need help, but the person who I know might be able to help me, Michael Johnson, is away. But there is one other: his partner, Stuart Begbie. He's a youngster, but he understands.

Thankfully, Stuart is available when I ring and I ask him, "Stuart, are you busy?"

"Yes. What is it Archie? You sound upset."

"I am. Sorry. It's Alain. He's just telephoned me from France and it's damned awful. I needed to speak to someone. Michael is still away, isn't he?"

"Yes. He went off not long after we got back from Italy. Can I help?"

"I don't know, but I need to speak to someone or I think I'll go crazy."

"Can you meet me at The Grange?"

"No. I wouldn't trust myself driving while I'm in this state."

"Okay, Archie. You stay there and I'll come to get you. The traffic from Plymouth won't be too bad at this time of day."

Stuart Begbie

"I'll make us coffee. Or would you like something a little stronger?"

Archie shakes his head. "Coffee will do fine. Thank you."

While I'm making coffee, I'm thinking about the man sitting in my conservatory, and the boy he told us about when we were having dinner here just after the New Year: the French boy, Alain, who he's fallen in love with.

It was about four years ago when we first met Archie. Michael was in the army and I was still at university. Michael was on leave and we decided to take a holiday on the North Coast of Cornwall. Michael loves Cornwall. He did some of his military training at Bude, not far up the coast from where Archie has his studio. Like father, Michael is a midlands lad born and bred, and he has a great interest in pottery from the midlands. In fact, almost every piece of pottery in The Grange, our home, near Plymouth, comes from the factories of The Potteries. Michael collects it. He loves it. So, when we visited Archie's studio one day, Michael was home from home and he and Archie got on like a house on fire.

After I left University and father asked me to serve my time at the Plymouth depot of our business, and because we spend many of Michael's leaves here, we decided to buy The Grange: a Georgian house in fifty acres. Father's company owns it, but to all intents and purposes, it's ours. It helps in other ways. Mother and father never have to explain our homosexuality to their friends in the north, where they still live.

It takes one to know one. Archie was one of the few people who never questioned our relationship. Michael and I discussed it, and because Archie was not married and never seemed to show an interest in women, we suspected he might be queer. It was the photograph that eventually gave Archie away... the one of the boy Warren. It was rather funny, actually. It was about two years ago. We caught him red-handed when we were over on the North Coast and popped in to see him. He was painting a plaque; copying a photograph of a boy, which was on his painting desk.

Actually, it was Michael's brother, Alex, who started it all off. He and his wife Carol were staying with us, along with their two sons: Alexander Johnson 3rd aged nine, and Michael aged seven. Michael's brother Alex, being Alex, is a person who always says what he thinks and doesn't give a damn whether people like it or not, which is why I love him so dearly – along with many other facets of his wonderful character – when he looked at the plaque Archie was painting and at the photograph on the desk he was copying from, picked up the photograph; looked at Archie; looked at Michael; looked at me, and grinned. Then he asked Archie, "Who's the boy?"

I literally saw Archie shrink at the question, and he mumbled, "Just a boy who stayed down the coast. I took a photograph of him."

Alex chuckled like mad and slapped Archie on the shoulder so hard with his big hand that he almost knocked him off his seat. Then Alex said in his wonderful midlands accent, "Don't be shy, lad. They't in good company here with thase pair o' buggers." He pointed at Michael. "He wus courtin' Stuart when he wus thirteen an' they't not go wrong wi' them as friends."

My head almost disappeared into my shoulders; Michael looked daggers at his brother; and Carol glared at Alex, and said, "We can't take you anywhere! It's none of your business!"

Alex ignored her; looked at the photograph again, looked at me, and said, "He reminds me of you." Then he looked at Archie, and asked, "Is he still around?"

Archie, defeated, shook his head. "I haven't seen him since he went home."

Alex put the photograph back, slapped Archie on the back again, and said whilst holding my upper arm in a vice-like grip, "Never mind, lad. Worse things 'appen at sea. If you're very lucky, you might meet a boy like my Kiddo 'ere. Now let's see if you can find us a nice big vase with a seaside picture on eet." He pointed at Carol. "Go an' look round and find summat." He picked young Michael up his brawny arms, and said to young Alex, "Now don't you be gettin' touchin' anythin'. This man 'ere is best potter in the land. I'll cut yer fingers off if I so much as see yer touch owt!"

I remember that evening when we arrived back at The Grange. There was a massive fall out between Michael and Alex. Michael was furious, but Alex stood his ground and kept winking at me. It all ended up fine as usual. It always does. There's too much love and too many shared memories between Michael and Alex for anything to come between them. And the final outcome was that Archie and Michael and I became special friends after that. Whatever Alex is; he's got a unique ability to speak the truth in such a way that one can only shrug one's shoulders and accept the inevitability of that truth, and that's exactly what's happened now. Archie is here because he is with his own kind. I was once exactly the same as his Alain, so if anybody can help him, it's me. I know how the boy will be thinking.

Archie has calmed down and regained control of his emotions when I say to him, "I have a friend who lives in Paris. He was at father's villa in Italy when we were there. He's a writer, and one of us. He said he would be home in April. I'm not sure if he's home yet. I can phone him."

Archie stares at me strangely. "What's his name?"

"Roger. Roger Peyrefitte. One of father's business partners is like us, and he's friends with Roger. That's how Roger got to know about the villa. He rents it from father a couple of times a year for a month or two. Father is always too busy to use it. Michael and I use it more than mother and father do. Michael doesn't like Roger, but I get on famously with him. He's a rogue, but he's a brilliant writer. He wrote Special Friendships. Have you read it?"

Archie shakes his head slowly. "It's a small world."

I'm puzzled. "Do you know him?"

Archie nods his head affirmatively. "I've not met him, but he's met Alain."

It suddenly dawns on me what Archie is saying, and I stumble out, "Alain and Roger?"

Half an hour later and I'm left shaking my head. Archie has told me everything, and I feel sick at heart at what he must be going through. I think I would hate the boy he loves if it wasn't for one thing: I'm not too old to recall the feelings I had when I was fourteen years old. Those crazy, insatiable desires when testosterone is going crazy in a fourteen year old body, especially one that has already tasted the forbidden fruits. I had them. I remember the things I nearly did when Michael went away to Oxford. But it was different back in those days, and Alex did keep his promise and get me and Michael together as often as he could, and rarely did we go more than two weeks without seeing each other. But Alain and Archie are talking in months and not weeks. It will all depend on Alain. If he's as bad as I was at his age, then I can understand the temptations, and all it has taken is opportunity. Roger, the old pervert, has few scruples if an opportunity presents itself, and, strangely, he's still desirable to boys at his age. Meo adores him, and it isn't all about the money he gets paid. I understand why. I'm older now and more in control, but if I was as old as Alain again, I'm not sure I would be able to resist his charms if Michael was away for months. As for the affairs Alain has been having with men who are on the prowl for boys, I put that down purely to boyish hormones.

I place a hand on Archie's. "Boys do silly things at times. I've just been thinking back to when I was fourteen and how I used to feel at that age. But the main thing is that Alain has telephoned you and told you everything. I'm trying to stand in his shoes. He'll be disgusted with himself. He'll feel he's betrayed you. His confession is tantamount to throwing himself at your feet and asking for forgiveness."

Archie is wringing his hands. "I've told him... I don't care what he's done." He looks into my face and I can see the pain in his eyes. "I really don't! I'm not stupid! I understand all the things you've just said. What's worrying me is that I need to tell him to his face. He can't possibly understand unless he actually feels what I'm saying; not just hearing it. Some things can't be done on the telephone! Look at me now. This is what he needs to see, and then I can tell him to his face that the way I am is not because he's been with somebody else, but because I want to stop his hurt. But I can't just get on a plane and go to him!"

The moment Archie says that, something clicks in my head. Michael calls me his 'devious bastard'. He's not wrong when I'm plotting anything that will make us happy, but now those same brain cells I use for our advantage, I can also use for Alain and Archie's advantage, and I look at Archie, and say, "No, but I can. And when I've finished with your boy, he'll understand perfectly how you feel."

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