Love - Existentially

by John Teller

Part 24

Book Seven - Love and Lust and Chaos.

Archie Whittingham. Port Gaverne. Cornwall. England. Thursday 9th May 1968.

Despite what's been going on in my personal life with Alain, I've had to continue working. Today is a day for painting. One problem I have with painting is that it comes so natural to me that I have time to think. Not so when I'm making pottery blanks. That part of my work takes effort; complete concentration; respite from my thoughts.

Thoughts. Work has been both a blessing and a curse. There have been times when I've looked around the studio and considered closing it and going to work for my father as a fisherman. Fishermen don't meet beautiful French boys and fall hopelessly in love with them. They don't meet them in the first place to fall in love with them. But I am in love: deeply, deeply in love with the most beautiful young man in the world. And with love comes hurt. The two are indivisible, as are love and euphoria. Love – hurt - euphoria. Three emotions; all life-changing, and my life now is completely different than it was on the day before I met Alain. Before I met Alain, I existed. That existence was good. I had no worries, much like a lunatic is happy sweeping up autumn leaves in a wood. Before I met Alain I could get drunk and be happy.

The doorbell rings as a customer enters the studio. I'm not pleased. My melancholy is disturbed. In a masochistic way I am enjoying my melancholy. Alain will be here with me in less than three weeks. I will have the real thing and melancholy can be dispensed with. The real thing. The scent of his perfume that heightens my desire for him; the allure of his wonderful green eyes that have captured my soul; the smile that fills my heart with ecstasy; the sensations of fondling his being that drives me to insanity, and he will feed me the essence of what he is in that inimitable way he has: he will yell my name and tell me that he loves me while I imbibe the elixir of madness... drink of my mad love for Alain d'Evreux.

"How much is this?"

The customer has his back to me as he stands at the front window, looking at the pieces on display there. He is well dressed. Not a tourist. There's something familiar about him, but I can't put my finger on it. Perhaps it's the slight French accent in his voice. I'm painting the tips of the rollers on the Atlantic and need to concentrate. I can talk, but full attention to the visitor is impossible for the moment. By where he is standing, studying the object, I know what he's looking at: Alain's vase. I chuckle to myself. It's not the first time I have had to say it when I call across to him, "Sorry, that piece is not for sale."

"Why not?"

"I didn't make it. It was gift from a friend."

"It's very good."

"Yes it is. He's a young artist. He will be exceptional in the future."

"What is the signature beneath the vase?"

"It's the signature of Alain d'Evreux. Do you collect pottery?"

"Not usually. I was looking for something for my wife. Something that will appreciate in value. This d'Evreux; tell me more about him."

"He works here sometimes. I'm his tutor. You can't have that piece, but look out for his work in the future. It will be a good investment. I suspect that one day his name will not be out of place with Cardew and Bernard Leach; the truly great Cornish potters. He has his own style. He has his own unique trademark when he does seascapes. It comes from his sense of humour. Can you see the periscope far out at sea? You will need to look closely."

After about a minute, I hear the man chuckle. "Yes, I've found it. You wouldn't see it unless you were looking for it."

I laugh. "He fooled me for a while, and when he explained what it was, I couldn't stop laughing. I told him to do it in all his seascapes. That would be his unique trademark." Then I add, "I'm sorry I can't see to you at the moment. I'm at a particular part that I don't want to leave off. It's difficult to find one's place again if I stop now. I'll be about ten to fifteen minutes. Is that okay?"

"That's fine. May I look around? Am I disturbing you?"

"No, you're not disturbing me. Look around with pleasure."

Then I sort of forget him while I'm concentrating, until, that is, after about ten minutes, he says, "This young man who paints periscopes as his trademark; Alain d'Evreux: he's my son. I am Fabian d'Evreux."

"He has your eyes."

"Yes he does. He also has my singular determination. That's why I'm here."

I look at Fabian d'Evreux while we sit at the outside table, drinking coffee in the cool May sunshine, trying to sense what's in his mind as he weighs me up. But he's giving nothing away, so I ask, "Why are you here? Is it to stop me seeing Alain?"

Fabian takes a sip of his coffee, places the cup back in the saucer, looks directly at me, and shakes his head. "No. That would drive a wedge between Alain and I; one that could not be healed. I need your help."

"My help?"

"Alain will be here very soon... and he will probably not be returning to France for some time. I need help to keep in touch with my son. Are you aware of the situation between my wife and I?"

I shake my head. "Alain does not discuss affairs of your family with me. But I have wondered if your marriage is..."


I shrug my shoulders. "In England we would call it... on the rocks."

He smiles. "You English. Everything you say is synonymous of your maritime history, so I'll follow your example. Let's just say that it's shipwrecked, but the façade is salvageable. At the moment, Alain is the only thing keeping it afloat. Colette and I have a shared interest: what is best for Alain. However, I suspect my wife, at some point, may not give the same consideration to his welfare and put herself before Alain. Do you understand?"

"A woman scorned?"

He lets out a small chuckle. "Are you sure you've never been married?"

Despite the seriousness of our conversation, I grin when I say, "Absolutely sure. I steal other people's children, and then let them clean up the mess."

Fabian laughs quietly, and when he's stopped laughing, he says, "In this instance, your thievery has little to do with the mess. In fact, perversely, it has resulted in a few truths being aired, and the consequence of those truths is the inevitable conclusion that our marriage is ended. In all but name it is." Then he becomes serious again. "But I do not want to lose my children. We men... well, most of us, are not possessive. Mamas are. They think they own their children. They sometimes use them to settle scores. I do not want that to happen. I would walk out of Alain's life right now if I thought it would make him happy. But I know it will not make him happy. He needs me. Yes, that's the perversity of the situation. Rather than us owning them, they own us. We parents are a commodity to be used to better their welfare. It's how it should be. We brought them into the world, and having done so, we have a responsibility to be useful to them while we are still alive. Unselfishly useful. That's why I am here. What I need to know now is how unselfish you are prepared to be."

I'm baffled by what he's getting at, and all I can say is, "I'm not sure I understand."

He nods. "I didn't think you would. You have been kept in the dark about certain events. I told you that Alain would not be returning to France. How long does it take you to drive to Plymouth?"

"Depending on the traffic, about an hour and a quarter."

Fabian sits back and calculates my answer. "That is five hours a day travelling between here and Plymouth. That is part of the price you will have to pay for my son to be with you. Are you prepared to do that?"

"Five hours a day?"

"Yes. He is fourteen until September fourth, when he will be fifteen. He needs his education. Because it cropped up that you consider it a good place for budding artists, I have a place at the Plymouth Art School for him if he is to stay in England. You will either have to take him and bring him back, or make arrangements to do that. That's if you want him here. I have alternative arrangements in place if you cannot do that. Your friend, Stuart Begbie, has a place near Plymouth, and Alain can stay there during the days he is at school. Maybe you can work it between yourselves, but my son has to have his education. And when his mama is staying at the cottage, he will be staying with her quite a lot, I suspect. In fact, I am sure he will. She will insist on it. So, Archie Whittingham, to use one of your colloquialisms, it will not be all plain sailing if and when Alain comes to England. So, are you prepared to be completely unselfish?"

I pick up my cup of coffee, drink what's left in the cup, replace it in the saucer, sit back and look into the green eyes of Fabian d'Evreux, and tell him, "I will do whatever is best for Alain."


I nod. "Unselfishly. I love your son, but I don't own him. In fact, I see my role much like yours... I am here to be used as he wishes."

Fabian nods. "Good. Now may I ask you a very personal question?"


"You are aware of his indiscretions?"



"Alain is what he is. I have two choices... I accept him, warts and all, or we don't have a relationship."

"And you can do that?"

I stare right into Fabian's eyes. "Alain says he loves me. One can never know how much someone else loves you, but as long as he continues to love me, then his indiscretions do not interest me as long as they don't land him in trouble."

Fabian smiles. "I know how much he loves you. Trust me... I would not be here if I had the slightest doubt that his love for you is paramount above all things... even before the welfare of his mama and papa. Those indiscretions are his nature, and you must be prepared for more. He cannot help it. He is like me. But you are not like my wife. I wish my wife was like you. I have only ever loved one woman in my life, and that is Colette. And I will always love her."

I shrug my shoulders. "I'm sorry."

He smiles again, and shrugs his shoulders. "Life is not easy. Now would you do me the good grace of not mentioning my visit to anyone?"

"Not even to Alain?"

"Especially not to Alain. Especially not to my wife. One day we may meet in company. I will present myself as a stranger. You will do the same?"

I look him right into the eyes. "You have my word."

Friday 24th May 1968.

I've been counting the hours down since Alain and his mother and sisters began their journey from Paris. His sisters are staying a week; Colette, a month; and Alain is here for the immediate future. Everything is arranged, but ad hoc for this next week. Alain begins at the Art School on Monday 3rd of June. There's just one indeterminate. Stuart Begbie is seeing a woman.

I was shocked when he told me. I went to dinner with him at The Grange last Saturday evening and stayed overnight.

"I've met a girl: Isabelle Gatti," said Stuart as we were eating dessert.

I was flabbergasted. "You've met a girl? Where? What about Michael? Does he know?"

Stuart shook his head, and looked upset. "I met her in Paris when I was over there. No, Michael doesn't know. I don't know how to tell him. I've told his brother, Alex."

"And how has Alex taken it?"

"Alex is fine with it. Well, on the surface he is, but I suspect he'll be as worried about Michael as I am. I just don't know how Michael will react." He stopped eating and put his head in his hands. "I feel like a piece of shit."

Because of the seriousness of the situation, and because I was aware of the perverse consequences that, to preserve my association with Alain, the partnership between Stuart and Michael may end, I also stopped eating; placed my cutlery on my plate, wiped my mouth with a serviette, picked up my wine glass, took a nibble from it, and looked directly at Stuart. "I'm so sorry. Do you love this girl?"

Stuart nodded. "Yes. But I still love Michael. What can I do, Archie?"

"Do you intend the affair with this girl to become a permanent one?"

"I think it will be. I would have been in Paris now if Isabelle had been there. She's gone to the Cannes Film Festival with her father. He's a film director." He tried to smile. "She's hoping to become an actress."

"Do you have a photograph of her?"

"Yes. Do you want to see it?"

I nodded. "Very much so!"

He got up from the table, went into the lounge, and came back and placed the photograph on the table by me. I picked it up and studied it. When I gave it back to him, I said, "She's very beautiful. Does she love you?"

Stuart went back to his seat opposite me, and sat down. "She says she does. I'm pretty sure she does."

"Does she know about you and Michael?"

"Yes. I told her when we had our first date."

"How did you meet?"

"I was with Peyrefitte in Maxims when I saw her. We were at separate tables, but we never stopped looking at each other throughout the evening. Roger spotted us doing it. He misses nothing." He giggled half-heartedly. "She thought I was his new boyfriend. He introduced us just before we left. She was with a male companion. He had to be circumspect. He introduced me as a friend from England who was staying with him on a purely business matter."

I had to chuckle myself then. "I suppose Alain and I are business. Friend business. You were helping me out. I'm sorry my problems have led to this situation."

Stuart shrugged his shoulders. "Love – existentially. We have no control over the whys and the wherefores. These things happen. You are not to blame. Blame should never be apportioned where love is concerned."

I smiled at him. "Our friend Peyrefitte?"

Stuart smiled. "Whatever else he is, wisdom is part of his makeup. He's a wise old owl. He has had to learn the hard way."

"Les amitiés particulières?"

"That was the beginning. It shaped his entire life. But are any of us type truly lucky with matters of the heart?"

His comment made me think. Warren was transient. Alain could turn out to be the same, and those thoughts were in my mind when I said, "In my simple opinion, I wouldn't call twelve years of you and Michael, unlucky. I think you've been blessed. It's beyond my wildest dreams that I could have Alain for that length of time."

Stuart smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "You are right, but it doesn't make the breaking up any easier."

"And you are going to break up?"

Stuart looked into my eyes. "I have to make a choice. I can have Michael a few weeks a year, or I can take a chance that Isabelle and I can have a proper relationship."

"And do you think you can have a proper relationship with a woman?"

Again Stuart shrugged his shoulders. "Yes, if you love them. If you're talking about the sexual side of our association, although the act is completely different, there's little difference in the outcome. Love can do that. But since I've grown up and the madness of the sex act has waned somewhat, the act is not what it's all about, is it, Archie?"

"No. But it does have its part to play. But our love precludes certain things. I have often thought that I would like to have children. I would like to have had a boy. Not in that way. I would love to have one and nurture and mentor him. I am much like your Michael. I think part of our love for you youngsters is because we want to nurture and mentor you. I think you might be surprised at Michael's reaction."

"What makes you say that?"

I smile at Stuart. "You boys! You really don't understand us oldies. We cannot be happy if our boys are not happy, and we will sacrifice everything to that end. Even our own happiness... willingly. After he's got over the initial shock, I suspect Michael will give you his blessing, and if you have children with Isabelle, he will bask in the love for your children. I have only one thing to advise you on. Michael loves you. You must make it perfectly clear to Isabelle that Michael is not a threat to you both and that he is not to be banished because of your association. That would hurt him more than anything. Losing you to Isabelle will be a blow, but it will be like the touch of a feather compared to you pushing him out of your life."

Stuart sighed deeply. "I would never hurt him like that. I love him too much."

"So... no Michael, no Isabelle?"

"I have given it much thought. In fact, I've thought of little else these last few weeks."

"Have you broached it with Isabelle?"



"I've made her a promise that I will not be promiscuous, with anyone, but she will have to share my affections. I can't just stop loving Michael."

"And she has accepted that situation?"

Stuart smiled again. "She said that if I had abandoned Michael completely after what we've shared together, then she would not want to be with me. She was quite blunt about it. She said that if I could do that to Michael, then I would be capable of doing it to her. That isn't the kind of man she wants."

I smiled at Stuart. "I am beginning to like this new girl who has come into your life. I think Michael will, too. He's not a fool. During your separations, he will have considered everything. But you will not be doing the one thing that would really break his heart."

"And what is that?"

"If it had been another man you'd fallen in love with, then he would be inconsolable."

Stuart grimaced. "I would never do that. There will only ever be one man in my life. I will always love my Michael. Now all I have to do is tell him. I really should wait for him to come home on leave to do that."

"When will that be?"


I shook my head. "No. You must tell him as soon as possible. You must not conduct your affair behind his back. Can you reach him?"

"He will be telephoning me tomorrow afternoon. We always speak on Sunday afternoons."

"Then you must tell him tomorrow."

Stuart nodded. "I will. Thank you Archie. I feel much better now we've talked. We'd better finish this meal."

I shrugged my shoulders. "I'm not really hungry. How about we get drunk and cry in each other's arms?"

And we did, and under the influence of the melancholy elixir, I cried when Stuart was telling me about the man he loved and the times they had shared together, and Stuart cried when I described how besotted I was with Alain, and how much I hoped I would have twelve years with the young man I loved.

Michael Johnson. Dhekelia, Cyprus.

(Some soulful music to listen to while you read this part. I was playing it as I wrote it. J.)

I've been invited to dine out with two of my fellow officers at a small restaurant in Oriklini, but I'm no longer in the mood to do so. Instead, I stay in my room and sit drinking from a large bottle of Zivania as I stare out at life in the barracks below me. As well as firewater to soothe a ravaged breast, Zivania is used to treat wounds, and as a remedy for colds and toothaches: but it can't treat a broken heart. That's my problem now, after taking the telephone call from Stuart.

He tried to make it easy for me; tried telling me that he would always love me; told me that he wouldn't stop seeing me. I know he's telling the truth, but the truth doesn't make it any easier. I have lost the boy I have been devoted to since he was thirteen years old. It was supposed to last forever, but forever is twelve years. I can now define forever. By the grace of God, and amplified by the sounds of the Regimental Band practicing in the square below me, I now declare forever as being twelve years and one hundred and six days. Forever begins in the schoolyard of Denbridge High School and ends in the British Army Barracks at Dhekelia in Cyprus. Fucking bravo and hallelujah!

It's my own fault. Stuart begged and prayed of me not to join the army. He cried. He beat my chest in temper. But I had to! My years at Oxford had warped my mind. There were some wonderful fellows there, but They were there too! I studied Politics to make right the many wrongs in my country, but it doesn't work like that. They are too powerful. They... The Establishment! They're like a virus. No... more like a fucking bedsore that cannot be cured by social antibiotics. They are open about their modus operandi. Why shouldn't they be? They are very persuasive, and They control every media outlet that spews out their fucking propaganda to an unthinking electorate. They own the infamous Bullingdon Club with their fucking Dickensian shit! Uniforms that cost a fortune to advertise their thuggishness... then a few pennies compensation for any damage caused. If the working classes were to do what They do, they would be locked up and be sent to prison. But They get away with it... the ex-Etonians, and like-bred Englishmen good and proud. Not all ex-Etonians, and like-bred Englishmen good and proud are a problem. Some from those famous establishments have, throughout their lives, borne the good name of England with social pride. But all it takes is a small clique to ruin everything. The Communists do it to the Working Classes and ruin Socialism. Those are the ones I hate: the extremes from both ends of the spectrum of politics. They are the ones who have warped my mind. They are responsible for me now losing the boy I have loved for Forever.

No they're not. I'm responsible. I could have chosen a middle ground. I was offered a post at Stuart's father's business. It was good enough for Alex, so why was it not good enough for me? Am I better than my brother? Am I fuck! I'm not fit to stand in his shoes.

So, my boy has found himself a girlfriend. It could have been a million times worse. It could have been another man he had fallen in love with. If the name had been Ivan instead of Isabelle, by the time I finish this bottle of Zivania, I would probably be a fatality on the square three stories below me. I'm in partial shock. But why is it only partial? I'm not a jealous type of individual, but I have considered the possible consequences of Stuart and me being apart for so many months in the year. This scenario I am facing now has crossed my mind before, but there was always another man involved if ever I considered the worst. But this is a woman! A girl, actually. She's only twenty-one. I will have to get used to it. I have no choice. Stuart has spelled out what he is going to do. There were a few sweeteners added to his spelling out. He still loves me; he always will; Isabelle insists he doesn't break our friendship; we will have children. My boy will have children! How the hell is he going to do that?! He's a taker, not a giver. He will have to do an about turn and take on a role he is not familiar with. Get ready Isabelle, my boy is to become a fucker. Hah hah. I would like to be a fly on the wall. You will have to show him how to do it!

My boy... my beautiful boy! I love him so much! Has he ever let me down before? Never! What will happen now? The sex side of what we are will stop, and we will have to live separately, but that's it. It will be little different than how it is now: just a few weeks together... and sex. That's what we have now.

I need some advice. I'll ring Alex. He won't be pleased I've been drinking and am three parts drunk, but what the hell! I couldn't have managed without him when we lost Dada; and I need him just as much now, or I'll go mad.

"You bin drinkin', Kiddo?"

"Jusht a bit, Alexsh. Shtuart shaid he'sh spoken to you."

"How much have you had?"

I lift up the bottle, take a swig, and tell him, "Three partsh of a bottle of Zivania."

"What's that stuff?"

I giggle. "The cure-all for all ailmentsh. They ushe it over here to cure everything. You can even apply it to a boil on your arshe."

"It won't cure that bloody headache you're going to have in the morning. Are you on duty tomorrow?"

I take another swig. "Shomething like that. I'm going to be an uncle, you know."

Alex chuckles. "You are a bloody uncle!"

I chuckle drunkenly. "I mean another short of uncle. They don't make many unclesh like me, you know! I'm going to be my boyfriend'sh uncle." I giggle. "Got that wrong. An uncle to my boyfriend'sh shildren."

Alex giggles. "You drunken sod! Ease up before you get in trouble."

I laugh stupidly. "I think I am in trouble, don't you? That'sh why I'm phoning you. My big brother. My Alexsh. The only pershon in thish world I know will never let me down."

"No, that will never happen, but because I'm your big brother who will never let you down, I'm telling you now to pull yourself together."

"Yesshir... big brother. Pull myshelf together. I will. Tomorrow. Not now. I need to feel bloody shorry for myshelf. I'll finish thish bottle and go to bed. Then I'll shtart again in the morning."

"Phone me tomorrow! Do you hear! Phone me tomorrow!"

"I will Alexsh. I promish. Goodnight my lovely big brother."

"Goodnight Kiddo."

It's cold the first time I notice him: a clear-blue-sky-and-a-keen-Northerly-wind type of cold day: the type of February day where the sun warms one side of you and the other side is frozen to the marrow if, like me, you don't have warm clothes to keep out the cold. It's during the morning break at school, and I'm sitting alone on a low wall, reading through some notes I'd taken during the last lesson (English Literature), when I look up and see him. He is with a group of boys his own age: year three. I know most of them, because I know most of the boys in the school. Well, in a knowing-them-because-I'd-seen-them-before kind of way. He will be thirteen or fourteen, which is the age range for the third form. But I can't recall seeing him before.

He is laughing; a bubbling, carefree, open mouthed, show-your-beautiful-white-teeth laugh, because he is on the receiving end of trying to retrieve his school cap, which is being tossed from boy to boy. The cap goes high in the air, and the Northerly wind catches it. The wall I'm sitting on is to the South of them, and the cap lands at my feet. The boys go quiet. I'm a senior, and a prefect in this school, and seniors and prefects, when they're studying, should not be disturbed by silly junior games.

I pick up the cap. It's a good quality one, with a lining. (Unlike my own, which I was required to wear at his age, which had none.) There's a name in it. I read it. Stuart Begbie.

Stuart Begbie is walking towards me now. The laugh has gone, but underneath the windswept, tousled blond hair, he's smiling. "Sorry," he says with a twinkle in his beautiful blue eyes.

One glance. That's all I have time for. I drop my own eyes. Nothing new there. I'm shy. I always have been. I mumble, "It's not a problem, Stuart." And I hand it back to him and sneak another quick glance at him.

Rosy cheeks; a nice nose; full lips; slim; small-for-his-age. Almost too beautiful to be a boy.

His leather gloved hand takes the cap from me, and his partly broken voice is soft and warm and friendly. "Thank you, Michael."

And he's gone, and the boys begin their boisterous game again.

But now he's gone for good. I've lost my precious boy: the boy I fell in love with the moment he looked into my eyes, and that's why I tip up the Zivania, drink what's left in the bottle in one go, and then throw the empty bottle against a metal locker. It smashes into a thousand pieces. Through misty eyes, I stare at the shattered, glistening shards. That bottle is my life now. Then I put my head in my hands and cry until I fall off the chair and allow myself to drift into the wonderful peace of being the drunken fool that I am.

Stuart Begbie. The Grange. Plymouth.

"Will he be alright, Alex?"

"He'll be fine, Kiddo. He's feeling sorry for himself. That's to be expected. But he's a Johnson. He'll get through it. He's getting drunk on some stuff that cures boils on your arse. God knows what that is?"

Tears are rolling from my eyes when I reply, "It's Zivania. Oh, God... what I have I done?"

Alex's voice is firm when he says, "Stop bloody crying. What's done is done, and both of you will have to learn to live without one another. It's not just one-way. There are going to be times in your life when you'll wish you were back with Kiddo. But you've made your bed, so now you must lie on it. But always remember this... your Alex loves you. And you'd better warn that bloody wench you're going with that I come with the baggage of what you are. If she ever tries to come between me and my Pigs-Trotter-Boy, she'll end up in the bloody River Spree with a bag of bloody cement tied to her bloody ankles!"

Despite my despair, my Alex makes me giggle. "It's the Seine, Alex. The Spree is in Berlin."

Alex snorts. "Whatever! Nobody comes between me and my two boys! Do I make myself bloody clear!"

I sniffle. "Yes Alex. It won't happen. Despite everything, I'll always be a Johnson. I'm not sure if Michael will phone me again. If he phones you, will you let me know that he's alright? Please!"

"I told you! He'll be fine! He'll get drunk on that bloody stuff he's drinking, and in the morning he'll get on with life. He might get drunk tomorrow as well, and the day after, but he'll pull through providing he knows you haven't lost your affection for him. That's the key to all this shit. For God's sake, all you've done is found a bloody woman! It isn't as if you've sold your arse to a bloke! Now phone me tomorrow and I'll give you another bloody rollicking to keep you on your toes!"

I drop my head and fiddle with the biscuit crumbs on my plate. I'm doing this because I know that what I'm about to say cannot be done with eye contact with Michael. He will shrivel into nothing if he sees me looking at him. "Michael, I want to be more than your special friend. I think I love you." I keep my head down and wait for a reply. It seems to be an eternity before Michael answers, and then it doesn't come by words. Michael's hand comes across the table and he squeezes my hand so tightly and for so long that it hurts. I'm ecstatic. He doesn't need to say anything. What will follow now, may take some time, but I now know for sure that Michael feels as I do.

The special memories of that moment at the swimming baths when we declared our love for one another is seared into my mind. I also recall the moment when he looked into my eyes for the very first time, after my school cap had landed at his feet and I went to get it from him after he picked it up. That's all it took: one look into his beautiful eyes, and I lost my heart to him. That's when I fell in love with him. But a love like ours never ends. It's impossible. I still love you Michael. I always will.

Archie Whittingham. Port Gaverne. Cornwall. England.

Friday 24th May 1968.

They're late. Alain said he would be here around seven. It's almost eight now. I hope nothing has happened to him. Perhaps the flight was delayed. Perhaps the train was late. Perhaps the traffic from Plymouth is held up for some reason. I'm worrying about an hour's delay. It's silly. They've travelled from Paris on an airplane, a train, and in a taxi to get here. Of course there will be delays. Nothing runs smoothly. He'll be tired. The bed is made. Clean sheets. Both photographs placed in full view. You and Me on his bedside cupboard. He'll kiss it when he sees it. It will be the beginning of what comes after. I want to go outside and wait for him. But that isn't how it works. The studio is locked. The side door is open. That's where he'll come in.

Alain d'Evreux.

The sun is low to the west: next stop America to warm those souls over there. The taxi tops a hill, and because the window is open I can smell the sea air, and before me is a vista I love dearly: the Atlantic Ocean and the green fields of North Cornwall that slope gently down to it. Red sky in the morning; sailors take warning. Red sky at night; sailor's delight. That's what Archie has taught me. Tomorrow will be sailor's delight. It's a magnificent sunset. The sun is just touching the sea and the sky is a maze of colours the nearer it gets to us: from deep red through yellow to blue, and across the dark sea that looks so real one could walk on it, is a reflective path of white directly from the setting sun, and the path ends where I know Archie's studio is.

Mama turns in her seat and says to my sisters and I, "That is the most beautiful sunset we've ever seen here." She wipes her eyes with a handkerchief. "I adore this place."

For the first time in quite a while, the taxi driver speaks. "Tis God's country, Ma'am. You seem be welcome 'ere."

Mama dabs at her eyes again. "I think we will be. I know someone down there who will be pleased to see us."

Sitting next to me, Dominique squeezes my arm. Down there is the man I love. He will be worried. We're running just over an hour late. Mama is pretending everything is normal. So are my sisters. But I'm not normal. My throat is dry with nervous tension and I'm having difficulty swallowing. I want to cry, but I can't do that. It will upset everyone. I have to be strong. I hope Archie is not waiting outside for us. Please be inside, Archie! Please! I will come to you! I don't want anyone to see me when I see you.

The taxi stops. I smile at my sisters. They smile at me. Mama gets out. I get out. She places the shoulder bag containing my overnight things on my shoulder, adjusts my clothes and brushes my hair straight with her fingers, cups my head in her hands, kisses me on the lips, looks into my eyes, and says, "We'll see you in the morning. Not too early. You'll need a lie in after the long journey."

I smile at her. "See you in the morning, Mama. Good night."

The taxi pulls away. I watch it disappear down the hill until it turns the corner, take a look at the horizon where only half the sun is visible, and then I turn away and go to the side door because Archie has the 'Closed' sign on the studio door.

The side door is open. I go inside, through the kitchen, and see Archie on the sofa in the lounge; the room is lit only by the fading colours of the sunset streaming through the front window. He smiles at me. I smile at him. He pats the sofa by his side. I drop my shoulder bag on a chair and go to him. We sit side by side. He turns his head and looks at me. "Was it a tiring journey?"

I look at him and study his face. I'm trying to contain the emotions, but my chest shudders and gives me away. I clench my teeth and try not to cry, but when I see tears rolling down Archie's cheeks, I can contain myself no longer and I throw myself into his arms.

I have never felt grief like this before. It's actually painful. So this is what a broken heart feels like! I can't breathe; my chest is spasming with the emotions of the deepest love imaginable for the man who has me in a vice-like grip as he pours kisses all over my face and our tears become a river of wetness that flows from our cheeks and down our necks, and all the while we are making noises of love; calling each other's names as if the other is far away; the hollow sounds of passions unfulfilled; cries of need for each other. And there's real pain, too, as we claw at each other, needing to feel that which we love. But these things are just the beginning. We both need more than tears and kisses and cries of despair and scrambling fingers: we need to be You and Me.

No other man can do this to me. Roger; Saul; Pierre; their loving is as nothing compared to the real thing with the man I love more than life itself.

No sooner are we on the bed and have become You and Me, than we both arrive at that supreme moment of pleasure that only Archie and I can achieve: becoming one completely in every sense of the word. But our supreme love is not satiated easily. It goes on and on, and each time we are sharing explosions of pure lust; something a love like ours cannot be without. We cannot separate emotions and feelings and lust and love and hurt. They are an integral part of this crazy love we have for one another, and when it is over, we are both covered in bruises and bites and scratches: the result of four days abstention from me, and a week from Archie. My man has done me proud, and I carry his produce in and on my body with a feeling of massive narcissism. My man has not got away lightly. His body hair is matted with Me.

You and Me over, we lie side by side, professing our deep love for each other. Only once do I disturb the equilibrium. I say sorry. The moment I say it, Archie pushes his fingers roughly against my lips, and the look in his eyes is enough to tell me that he has no interest in that part of my life. Then, the tiredness of my long day overcomes me and I drift off to sleep in the comforting presence of the man who I have now loved for half a year and more.

I am not aware what time it is, but I suspect this is a new day when I am in that half-awake world between consciousness and slumber; so tired that I cannot stir myself enough to rise. But what is happening to me is so beautiful that I do not want to enter the reality of a new day – yet. I am naked, on my back, in the star position, and I feel my lover's presence towering above me, taking that which he wants and needs: the body of the creature who loves him. His lips desire what I am, from the tips of my toes to my forehead; slowly teasing from me the ultimate moment; and when, after I have gifted to him the very essence of the boy he loves and am still in that dream world, he covers me with the bed sheets, places a soft and loving kiss on my lips, and leaves the bedroom. Just for a short moment I bask in the knowledge that I am in the only place I want to be in this world – my man's home where I do not have to dress and scurry away like a thief in the night, as I do with the others, and then I go to sleep again.

Archie Whittingham.

Half awake; bleary eyed, his sultry lips even more alluring through tiredness, wearing my oversized dressing gown that is so long on him that only his ankles and bare feet are visible below the hem, Alain comes into the studio. He comes behind me as I'm painting, wraps his arms around my neck, nibbles on my ear, and then kisses my cheek. Despite the smell of the paints I am using, I can smell him: that unique smell of a boy aroused from slumber, which I would like to bottle and sniff like a drug addict, and my cup of love runneth over once again. I take in a deep breath, and say to him, "Good morning Alain. I love you."

He gives my ear a sharp bite, and giggles. "Good morning Archie. Je t'aime. Je t'aime. Je t'aime."

I giggle. "How are you feeling?"

He ruffles my hair with his nose and I hear him whisper, "Bruised; battered; tired; satisfied. And you?"

I put the final touch to a blade of grass on the vase I'm painting, turn my head up to him, look into the beautiful green eyes of the boy I love, and whisper, "The same, but I am in love. What more is there to be said?"

He smiles, caresses my lips with his, and says, "Why not try: Would you like a café au lait, Alain? That would be a good start."

I chuckle, place the paintbrush in its receptacle, wipe my hands with a cloth, and get up. Then I take hold of his shoulders and stare into his eyes. "I'll make you one. Better get you out of here. If anyone comes in, they'll think I've been molesting you."

Alain is by my right side at the breakfast table and he refuses to let go of my hand. So, using my left hand and his right one, we prepare a light breakfast of croissants and café au lait poured from a jug I've made. I'm useless with my left hand, so it's Alain - giggling like the small boy he is because I insist on having butter on mine – who, while I hold them, has to use just one hand to cut the croissants and apply strawberry jam. Then he pulls a face and does a "Yuck!" when I tell him to add a little Cornish Clotted Cream to mine. His face is even more beautiful when his eyes are amused, and they are amused when he scrunches up his face and watches me take a bite from it. Another, "Yuck!", and then he dunks his plain croissant into his milk coffee, and devours it. I think it's the most beautiful breakfast I've ever eaten. We can't stop giggling as we juggle everything between us, and Alain eats four croissants to my two. But he's a growing boy, as I discovered last night when we were in bed... and his produce is more plentiful! I bought six croissants from the bakers yesterday. I make a mental note to order a dozen in future. He will need them!

When breakfast is over, Alain, still insisting he does not let go of my hand, helps me clear the breakfast table, and when that is done, I realise why he's been holding my hand. As soon as the breakfast things are cleared, he drags me into the studio, locks the door, turns the sign to 'closed', and then pulls me hastily to our bedroom. Only then does he let go of my hand, and when he unfastens the dressing gown and lets it slip from his shoulders and I see the result of what is in his mind, I know our work day is beginning as last night ended.

Alain d'Evreux.

You and Me. This morning I needed my shoulder bag before we became You and Me. Roger began the tuition, but Pierre is the one who has taught me to perfect my presentation. It was done in the bathroom, before we had breakfast; before Archie knew I was up and about and making arrangements to go back to bed.

Archie is on the bed, ready for me. Ready for me!

Holding You and Me in my hand, I kiss our precious creation, staring at Archie as I run my lips sensuously over the hard, white glaze. Then I lick it, every part of it, and thrust it at Archie to do the same while I hold it. He accepts my authority, willingly, as he lies naked on his back on our bed, and I know by his state that he is aroused at what I'm doing. More than aroused; he is enraptured by the actions of the boy he loves, as I knew he would be. I am becoming an expert at teasing the best out of my men. But what went before with my other men was a prelude to what I really desired but could not have. Until now, that is. And now I have it: my beautiful Archie; my reason for living; the only man on this earth who can truly give me what I want: lust and pain, and love. So I take what I want; what I need; in abundance, until I am prepared to wait for the next time. But something beautiful has happened this time. When it's over, I have no more need of it. So I take the other part of Archie that is indivisible from that I have just had... his love, and when I am satiated with that part of what we are, only then do I grin at him and tell him he can now open the studio.

He looks at the clock on the bedside cupboard, and grins when he says, "Af'ernoon openin'. I be 'avin' Charlie the Painter do me a new sign. While you be with me boy, I be openin' af'ernoons only."

I roll on top of him and stare down into his beautiful eyes. "You be openin' af'ernoons only, boy. You be gettin' Charlie the Painter do that sign, boy!"

Archie roars with laughter, and as I watch my Archie so amused, tears flow from my eyes and onto his face. They are tears of immense happiness.

Stuart Begbie. The Grange. Plymouth.

It's late. Almost six when I get home. I notice that the gardeners have been. The place looks really tidy, and I see they've even cut the ivy that's been overgrowing the multi-paned Georgian windows, and which I asked to be done two weeks ago. It certainly looks better. I want it to look better. Isabelle is coming to stay with me for a long weekend beginning Friday 14th of June.

I've picked up the mail from my post-box at the road end of the long drive to the house, and as usual, there's a sheaf of letters bundled together with an elastic band, and when I get into the house I go to the kitchen and place them on the large pine table that Michael bought at a local auction, along with a matching set of eight chairs.

Michael. I've not spoken to him since I told him it was over. I waited all this last Sunday for a call from him, but it never came. I've phoned Alex to ask him if he's heard from him, but Michael has not phoned him either. Alex said Michael was sulking, but he'd get over it. I'm not sure he will. Although it's me that's broken it off, I certainly haven't got over it. Despite what's going on with Isabelle and me; I've been unhappy since the phone call. I wake up thinking about Michael, and I go to bed thinking about him. The really strange thing is, although I knew I wouldn't be seeing him until September, I'm missing him now more than I usually would. You get used to not seeing the person you love when you know you'll be seeing them again, but not knowing when – if ever – I'll see Michael again, is breaking me up. What is he doing? He can't have done anything silly. I would have been told. So would Alex. What's really worrying me is if he's affected like he was when he lost his Dada. He bottles things up. Alex told me that he didn't cry for a week after Dada died, and then Alex managed to get it out of him, and when he did, Michael howled like a caged animal.

I make a gin and tonic and sit at the table and look around the kitchen. This was Michael's domain. This is where he displays all his kitchenalia: his corkscrew collection; his extensive collection of horizontal blue and white striped Green's Pottery on the pine dresser; the many antique meat-mincers hanging from one of the black oak beams in the ceiling; the collection of Georgian pewter tankards hanging from the next one; Doulton jugs from the next one, and by the back door, a multitude of silver-topped walking sticks in the large Minton majolica umbrella pot. It's the same throughout the entire house. Everywhere I go I see Michael's presence. Each item has a story. We were here or there together when they were purchased. Only the things he's brought home from his travels don't have the Him and Me stamp on them. It's a dilemma I didn't consider. I can't live here with Isabelle. This is the Michael and me part of my life. But neither can I dispose of it. This house is the love we shared. I sigh and lean back in my chair, take off the elastic band from the sheaf of letters, and as I sift through them, one letter makes me feel faint when I see it. It's a familiar BFPO (British Forces Posted Overseas) letter, and I know who it's from.

And tears flow freely from my eyes when I'm reading it.

My dearest Stuart.

Please forgive me for not getting in touch with you before now, and I know you will have missed my Sunday phone call, but what I have to say could not be done by talking directly to you. You will understand that better than anyone. Since the day I met you, you have always known that I have difficulty saying the things that are in my heart. No doubt you'll remember the difficulty I had in the beginning telling you that I loved you... in the swimming baths, and you told me you loved me, and all I could do was squeeze your hand. Had I phoned you, it would have been just the same. But I am better at it when I write to you. So that's what I have done, and the words in this letter are from my heart.

I will start by saying that even though things have changed, I still love you. How could I not do? I have loved you since the moment I set eyes on you, and I will love you when I take my last breath upon this earth.

But things have changed, and we must deal with that change. I began to deal with the change by getting drunk for three days. On Zivania! I know you well enough to know that you will be crying when you read this letter, but I also know that you will giggle through your tears when I tell you that I was so drunk that I spent half of one night singing our school song, at the top of my voice, and as you know, I can't sing to save my life. I only stopped singing because I lost my voice. I was croaking like a frog, and as you know, Frogs can't sing. Maurice Chevalier is about the worst singer in the world. He can't hold a candle to our Jesse Belvin and Goodnight My Love. I was singing that, too, through my window to all the guys in the square below me.

Anyway, I didn't get into trouble for my drunkenness. In fact, I've become a bit of a hero since. I mean, how could I not be? Captain Johnson singing Goodnight My Love when Major Rivers was trying to address the evening parade. That's hero stuff to the Other Ranks. After three days they locked me up for twenty four hours to dry out. Then I had to go and see the Colonel. I told a white lie that was not a lie. I told him that I'd just lost the most special friend I'd ever had in my life. They thought I meant the friend was dead, and I didn't enlighten them further. They thought it was gallant of me to be so attached to someone that I would risk my army career to lament 'your demise'. Of course, even though I was out of my head, I didn't tell them about us. Why should I? You and I are nobody else's business!

Which brings me back to the excuse I made? While I was drunk, that's what I was thinking, that I'd lost the most special friend in my life. But that's not true. I haven't lost you. Things have just changed between us. That's what this letter is all about. I've had time to consider things.

My dearest Stuart, you have my full blessing to be with your Isabelle. In fact, after digesting everything, and considering what our future would have been as two doddering queers growing old together, I am quite looking forward to this new stage in our lives. So, you will present Isabelle to me. If she passes muster, then I will be best man at your wedding, and I will give you away, willingly, with all the love in my heart I have for you. Then I will look on your family (if you are capable of reproduction, which, considering our time together, I find difficult to imagine), as my own.

So, my beautiful boy, because only you will be able to decipher my words because only you know me completely, you will know the words in this letter are sincere. Am I sad at losing you? Of course! But I have had twelve years and one hundred and six days of being with the most wonderful person in the world. And it's not over yet! We have the rest of our lives to savour what has been, and what will be.

So now you can stop crying. I have, and when I speak to you on Sunday next, we will speak about what we will be, and not about what we have been.

I love you my special friend.


Ps. Best you telephone Alex and put him out of his misery. I didn't want to speak to him until I had made things clear to you.

There's a half-moon directly above The Grange, lighting up the home Michael and I made our own. When I arrived here from work, I despaired at what I was going to do with it, but Michael's letter has changed everything. I will change nothing. I have no need to now. The lack of kisses in Michael's letter have made me think that way. There was also another omission. Michael always ended his letters to me with Forever yours. Only now do I realise the significance of those words. They were a seal of our togetherness. Now I realise why Michael got drunk. Without malice, the tables have been turned on me; I feel hollow to my core, and I know I have lost the most precious thing that I will ever have in my life. Why? Love – existentially?

I recall Alex's words. There are going to be times in your life when you'll wish you were back with Kiddo. But you've made your bed, so now you must lie on it. As always... you are so right, Alex. In fact, something else has come into my mind that I didn't think about. Because of the path I have chosen, Michael is now a Free Man. What I have done, Michael may also do, but Michael may find a new boy to replace the one he's lost. Oh... my God!

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