Tuesday, February 25, 2014

chapter Twelve, conclusion

to read from the FIRST CHAPTER

previous CHAPTER


Of course I knew my father could be lying to me. But perhaps "know" is the wrong verb here, since I did not know what he could be lying about. Something was still missing, something was yet being hidden from me, but I could only sense it, not know it.

And because I had been pushing away the memory of my father from my mind for two decades, now that he was present I was pushing away everything that represented any negativity toward him, from my mind and my heart. Resentment, anger, fear, contempt -- but unfortunately, my intuitions as well.

'Will you ever forgive me, Laurent?'

Ever? It sounded awfully dramatic, but Carlo was very serious when he pronounced those words, and he really meant it that way. 

Had I started forgiving Carlo the moment I had seen him, grown old and a bit saddened, at the Nirvana Lounge? Or had my heart started melting when he told me about his rough start, how he had endured hunger and cold to pursue his career? Or was it his tale of love, gay love, the love he had felt for his best friend, yet to never act it out? Were I with him the moment he had kissed Armand, for the first and the last time? Did my heart break when he had to leave his beloved friend behind -- because Catherine was pregnant of me? Had I been touched by all Carlo had done to try to build our little family? Did I value his suffering, all the humiliation he had gone through to stay by my side, his Sunrise Son? I had certainly been ashamed of my anger outburst about his mentions of the apparition... that had turned me into his announced son. 

I wouldn't call him father just like I had stopped calling Catherine mother -- for I felt that some emotional distance between me and my parents was needed so I could grow into an adult myself. Yet, it hadn't helped me in seeing them more as individuals, as real persons, and not just as people who gravitated around me, functioning mainly for the maintenance of my well being.

'Are there any pictures from your childhood in the Apennines, Carlo?' -- I suddenly asked.

Carlo was taken aghast, and for a long while he was silent.

'No.' -- it sounded like he had never thought about that before, himself -- 'There might be official documents, but I don't think they contain any photos... Not in my birth certificate, not in my school records... No, since we did not have a camera in the mountains.'

And that's how I'm never going to see the face of my father when he was a child, I thought. 

The little orphaned boy who lived a sober and rather plain life with his strict grandfather. Had he been afraid? Had Tarso often beaten or yelled at him? Had my father cried? Did he feel sad? Had he felt lonely? When did he start drawing? How had he discovered his talent? Did he have to hide it from Tarso? What had led him to decide he wanted to leave the family farm to go abroad, into the unknown? How had he learned about the École des Beaux-Arts? How did he get the money to send his drawings over to Paris? How he must have felt painfully expectant  -- or simply desperate? Did he believe he would get an answer? And when the answer had arrived, had he already made up his mind about leaving? Did he have a fight with Tarso on that? Again, how did he get to Paris?

I realized how little -- close to nothing  -- I had known about my father. How I had been blind to him as a person, to his suffering, his expectations, his fragility, his dreams, his struggles... But then... had I ever cared to know? It might have been ok when I was a child, but now...

For the last twenty years I had cultivated resentment, whenever I thought of Carlo. But the image of my father as an orphaned child, who as an adult thought he was not capable of being a good father... was heartbreaking. I had never thought on how he would feel about my silence after his escape. Probably by angrily keeping my distance I had intended to hurt him, though that intention was never clear to me -- and I actually did hurt him, and the orphaned, hurt child that still lived in him, who had already been hurt.

My silence had led him to retreat back into his own sadness, I now discovered. A place no better than the resentment where I had retreated myself.

That I was responsible, if not for our separation, but still, for our remaining apart, was certainly a haunting conclusion for me. I had always thought of myself as the victim... But if I had remained being a victim, it had been my actual choice -- that was Carlo's implicit message to me. 

From my father's point of view, as I perceived it for the first time, I might have abandoned him as well. He had to flee, but he had tried to contact me, several times after the unfortunate event -- and the truth is, in my anger, I hadn't wanted to talk to him.

I knew my father was an orphan, but I had never quite reflected about that. Had I felt a fraction of the pain he had felt? Could I imagine how it was like, not having any memory of your parents? I had chosen to forget my father -- at least I had tried --, but Carlo couldn't recall his own father, not even if he most desperately wanted it. I had made my choice to stay away from my father; Carlo had no choice about his own father. And how all that had affected him in relation to me. How his absent father had been present in Carlo's absence -- or else, in my absence from his life. What a mess. What a painful mess, and an awkward continuity and transmission of suffering.

He had flown overseas from Italy to Vice City, leaving his adored hermitage in the mountains just to be present at my vernissage -- and according to what he had just said, he would have flown in earlier... Anytime I had called? Would he have visited me in Vice City during my University years? Maybe, if he had met Angelo, he would have helped me out of that sick relationship... At least, he would have comforted me at the end of that love affair... Maybe, if I had broken our silence. Maybe -- but I hadn't been aware of the importance of that silence, my stubborn silence, nor what it had meant and how it had affected Carlo.

'He seems to be a good boy, don't you think so, son?' -- my father broke the silence.

Carlo was talking about Gabriel, of course.

Ted, the old guard that was my friend, had come upstairs to ask us to leave only when the museum's cleaning staff had arrived, early in the morning. 

'And there is a very fine young man waiting for you outside, Laurent.' -- and Ted had winked at me. He had seen me in action before, picking guys at the museum, be it in the exhibition rooms, the cafeteria or even at the library. 

'He must be really interested in you, Laurent, to still be up at this early hour...' -- Carlo murmured, as we had descend the stairs towards the sidewalk, where Gabriel had laid himself in a very sexy pose. He was wearing fancy clothes that outlined a body in great shape, and I felt my lust on the rise again.

Gabriel hadn't even slept. He had left the Nirvana Lounge to take a shower, eaten something and now he was on his way to a rave, and he wanted me to come along with him. 

'No, it's ok if you don't want to come...' -- he tried to hide his disappointment when I had refused his invitation to join him for the party... or perhaps he had acted out a disappointment he did not actually feel, but that he thought might be sincere to show as part of his interest in me... It was hard to say when Gabriel was acting or being sincere, especially because he was not a very good actor. 

But he had come to the museum -- and he knew our destination since he had called the taxi for us -- not only to invite me for the party. He actually had a message to deliver.

The phone at Nirvana Lounge had started ringing after Carlo and I had left. Gabriel wouldn't usually have picked it, since he was on his way out already, but he feared we had left something behind and answered it.

It was Catherine, calling from Russia.

'I think she is very worried... but also mad at you, Laurent.' -- he was whispering, and I was not quite sure if he wanted to be discreet, or if he simply wanted to come closer to me, so that our bodies were again touching -- 'I did not understand her English very well, and I don't think she understood mine either.' -- Gabriel had laughed, and I had shivered at his warm breath up my ears -- 'But from what I understood, she's been trying to reach you on your mobile all through the night, but seems like you've kept it off... Then she gave me your number...' -- Gabriel had a quite charming wink, and he looked happy as if he had already discovered a secret about me -- 'and I tried to call you... and it is off indeed, isn't it?'

It was so annoying that Catherine had tried to reach me at the Lounge. Her silence could sometimes last for weeks, without her phoning nor texting me in a no news starvation policy that I had almost grown used to; but all of a sudden, when she felt like she needed to talk to me, nothing would stop her from actually finding me, buggering my friends, calling consulates and embassies and airlines until she finally reached me. I hated that, and how it was done at her neurotic convenience. 

But I was nevertheless touched with Gabriel's effort to let me know about my mother. And thinking about it now, I guess he was, above all, trying to be nice to her -- he had already googled her, and had been very impressed with her international fame. For the next two years, I was to endure his fawning interest in my mother and her literature. Though Gabriel was that new sort of actor who relied mostly on his looks and did not have much culture in general nor ever tried to improve it, like he tried to cultivate his biceps, the pectorals and ripped abs. He
hated reading, but he turned Catherine Mortinné's novels into a sort of homework.

'Lau...' -- I hated how he had nicknamed me -- '...don't you think I could play Giorgos?' -- Gabriel had questioned me one day, mentioning a character from one of Catherine's bestsellers. But I have to confess I had never read my mother's books. Not that I hadn't tried. I had begun a few of them, that I saw lying around our house in France -- but I could recognize the stories among those being told in my everyday life -- actually, being experimented on me -- and they did not seem to hold interest for me any longer, now that they had been written. "Guess what has happened to this friend of mine!", Catherine would say, but there was no friend, she was just trying on me a new character, a line or a fictional event she was working on. It had been just a trick to attract my interest, but in time I started feeling it was actually a lie, and a way of using me, just too often. I was always the first to have to listen to her newly invented plots. And that's how I had  gradually lost interest in her books and stories, though obviously I never declared it openly, for I still feared losing her. 

'Yes. He is gorgeous.' -- I agreed with Carlo, though not feeling truly thrilled -- 'And everybody seems to be very impressed with his beauty.' -- that, I have to confess, I feared was a bit vulgar. But maybe it was just his way of dressing.

 Carlo had been blinded by Gabriel's beauty, just like Ted had -- Ted who had once even alerted me about a guy I had shown up at the museum with, who he knew was into drug dealing. But Carlo, though he wouldn't show it, was alarmed with my sex life, and how he thought I was risking my health. He was still to give me his lecture on my responsibility in going to bed with married or compromised men, on the next couple of days to come that we would spend together in Vice City. 

That visit to my exhibition had left Carlo dazed and fearful, and perhaps feeling guilty or even remorseful. He had more than once asked if I had really had sex with all those guys I had portraited, willing that at some moment I would say it had been just a fantasy. He was also trying to understand where my suffering and what he reputed as a destructive behavior came from -- and I had to talk him off and around my secret, always trying to make Angelo seem the main source of my attempted revenge on men.

Neither preachy nor romantic, Carlo was also trying, on the other hand, to talk me into a stable relationship with Gabriel. Without mentioning it, he had seen my confusion, how lost I was in the paths of my heart, and he thought Gabriel would do as a good enough guy to help me settle down a bit. And I guess I wanted to be talked into romance at that point in my life, I have to confess. And I also wanted to see Carlo in his fatherly figure again, and I did not mind what in other times and terms I might have considered like an intrusion.

It was very early in the morning and the city was still quiet. In the past, at that hour, I would be jogging at the beach, and I thought I might go back into that healthy habit if I was to again spend more time in Vice City, because of Gabriel and my lectures and workshops scheduled at the Museum after the opening.

Carlo had invited me to have breakfast with him at the small guesthouse where he was staying. He had had one of his paintings sold for a million dollars, yet he had remained very humble, a man of simple habits. I wondered if his passion for sports cars had subsided, too. But I had more pertinent question to ask.

'Did you try to contact Armand while you were in London?' -- or maybe even from France, I thought. Why not? "He never belonged here. He had to go live his own kind of life, which did not include us", Catherine had said about my father's departure. She might be thinking of Armand, and how she had interrupted their love affair. But from what Carlo had told me, she was actually talking about Jaella, the gipsy girl, and her son -- that was Carlo's other life, back then. But was there really a Jaella?, I wondered. I had no whatsoever recollections about a gipsy girl in our house.

'No, I didn't, Laurent.'

'But do you know where he is living now? I mean, he is still alive, isn't he?' -- a few years ago, Armand had won the Pritzker Prize, that's the only thing I knew about him. I had always admired his work, even without knowing he was my uncle.

'I'm not sure where he is living now... But your mother should know. At least, her lawyers should know it.'

'Would you mind...' -- my father wasn't very enthusiastically talking about Armand, and I tried to be tactful -- '...if I try to contact him, Carlo?'

'These are old wounds in the family, son.' -- Carlo sighed, and looked away through the window --  'I hope you understand that.' -- though sitting next to me, his voice seemed to arrive from another dimension of time -- 'Give yourself some time and afterthought before you do anything. These wounds have existed prior to your birth. Maybe there is nothing you can do about them. And talk to your mother, first. That's all I ask from you. But no, I won't try to prevent you from talking to Armand.'

That was final, and I understood it from Carlo's tone. He wasn't going to say anything else about it. 

It  had sounded like he was talking about himself somehow, too. Those family wounds had existed prior to his clumsy participation in the De Montbelle affair. He had not only gotten entangled, he had actually worsened things when he had left Armand for Catherine -- or ultimately, for me. That's what was striking me hardest at the moment. That I had parted my father from his only and true love.

"You are my only and true love, Laurent, haven't you understood it yet?" -- I would hear it from Carlo a few years later, but just not yet, not in that taxi, not only 12 hours since we had reconnected, after a 20 years separation.

'Does Armand know about me?' -- and my voice trembled as I asked that. They had hidden my uncle from me, and I wasexpected they would have hidden me from my uncle. Otherwise, he would be in the known all those years, yet avoiding me. Pretty much like he had done with my mother, his half-sister, avoiding her after he had learned about her existence. For a moment, I could grasp what Catherine had felt, the humiliation that Armand's silence and indifference destiled.

'I believe so. I should think your mother has done everything to ensure Armand knows about your existence.' -- and though it might not have been my father's intention, he had made it sound like I was a piece of propaganda in a war.

A De Montbelle heir! I didn't care about the princely name -- although, of course, Laurent D'Allegro et de Montbelle sounded awfully nice, regal even!  Nor did I care about the fortune I was entitled to, no matter how humongous it might be, like I actually cared about my recently expanded family, my newly acquired history and ascendancy. Like I cared about my uncle. But the answers I now longed for would not come from Carlo. 

I wondered what Catherine would say about my father's story. Would she deny it? What parts would she try to twist it in an unexpected way? Would she come up with new lies? Catherine was a writer, and sometimes it seemed to me she was a professional liar, not quite realizing the boundaries between her imaginary world and real life -- since she went about life burdened by the lives of many people inside her head and heart. 

She must have been pondering about that for the last 33 years. I mean, what she would tell me when the truth was revealed? That's probably why Catherine had called me so many times during that afternoon, prior to Carlo's arrival. She could not extensively know what Carlo would tell me, but she had a good hint. And that's why she must have been so anguished as to try to reach me at the Nirvana Lounge during the wee hours.

Carlo and I had again fallen silent, each with his own thoughts.

And it was not a heavy, annoying silence, that enveloped us in that taxi. 

I had been exposed to that kind of peaceful quietude before, and I knew that Carlo was concentrating on his breathing, calming his feelings and his thinking.

As a child, I used to be intrigued that my father, at the end of each day, would retreat to the back of the mansion's garden, but on the opposite side of where our little cottage was, and after sitting, he would retreat even further -- into himself. There was no other adult doing that in Punaouilo, and I found it rather curious.

And the more intrigued I was since Catherine's reactions to those sitting periods of Carlo's were always so strongly negative. 

"Go hide yourself, Carlo!" -- she would shout at my father, without even lifting her eyes from the text she might be reading or writing, as he stepped out to the garden.

And of course I had followed my father to check where he was going to hide. But he just sit in the open, silent and immovable, day after day, in a place of the garden where everybody could see him, from the distance even. How could someone hide and yet be seen by everyone?

"Your mother thinks I'm hiding because she thinks I'm trying to escape when I do meditation." -- and of course my next question was what meditation was, and what was it for? -- "To calm my mind and my heart." -- And I had to ask what the mind and the heart were -- "They are the rooms of the house where your thoughts live, and where your feelings live..." -- and our questions and answers sessions on the topic went on and on until we were called for dinner by Joanna.

"Won't you die, dad? Won't you become stupid?"

I worried when my father said he was trying to silence the thoughts in his mind.

"One might become livilier, Laurent, and more inteligent, with a clearer and sharper mind by meditating." -- and I'll never forget how he had demonstrated it. First, he had me to thoroughly paint and draw and scrible a single leaf of blank paper. Then, when the paper was full, he instructed me to add a new drawing that had to be more beautiful than everything else that already was on that piece of paper. Of course there was no space, and when tried to draw on top of everything else, it became blurred, unclear, dirty -- "Now, if you erase one corner, you'll find that space... And the more empty space you make, the more room you have for new things to come up... In your mind and your heart, equally."

I did not try meditation until many years later, and I'm not sure I actually recalled the insights Carlo had shared with me when I was a child.

I was very desperate at the last months of my relationship with Angelo, and someone had suggested I tried meditation. I don't remember who it was, but I do remember my first retreat of total silence, and how after a few hours I had been annoyed by my own mental voice, continuously commenting and complaining and endlessly chatting in my mind -- and how I had told myself, quite unwise and unpolitely, to shut up.

Nothing ever helped me to overcome my grief and that feeling of being hollow like meditation did -- and the realization that I was actually empty, too, my mind just like a blank screen were many projections came and went by, thoughts, perceptions, feelings -- sadness being just one of them, and just as impermanent and unstable like all others. And it lost its power to take hold of me.

Over the years, I quit meditation. Because it made me feel dettached and parted me from the young and wild crowd of my own age, who was into partying, drinking, dancing and having sex. As much as it brought me peace and put me in contact with the timeless present, meditation had made me feel displaced, old, and out of my own time -- and I don't know why I pictured being atemporal a bad thing to happen to me. 

For meditation was very effective in lessening not only my suffering but also decreasing my lust, but instead of persisting in that path of mental freedom I had joyfully and carelessly chosen to join the lively and loud gay crowd for ten years. Blame it on my youth?

But now, by my father's side, in touch with his peaceful silence, and in contrast to the turmoil in my mind and heart, I again felt like getting in touch with that aspect of myself I had pushed aside.

Mostly because now I perceived meditation as something linking me to Armand and my De Montbelle blood, a noble transmission -- coming through Carlo -- I had never dreamt of. I actually wanted to ask whether my uncle, that surprisingly wonderful new presence in my life, had remained being my father's only master on the so called spiritual path.  

But I guess we were also tired and weary from such a long conversation to be willing to still carry it on. There were too many things I had to take in, and I'd probably need to be on my own to start on that process. But by having accepted my father's invitation for breakfast, a step had been taken into the future, into a new common future, that's how I felt it now, and farther away from the shattered past.

It was simply a meal, but also a confirmation that our relationship had been reestablished, without the need for words, nor any formal treaty -- that's how I felt as I followed Carlo up the stairs to  the dining hall of his hotl. More like a guesthouse, really, a very homely feeling to it, with family photographs on the walls and lots of artcrafts and hand made stuff as decoration.

'Good morning, Carlo!' -- we were greeted by Janice, the owner, who at that time of the morning doubled as the cook and the waiter as well -- 'And you must be his son... What a handsome young man you are!' -- her familiarity was a bit awkward, but it probably just meant that Carlo had spend some time talking to her about me, I thought... And I still hadn't figured it out -- 'I'm bringing you today's special, is that right, guys?'

So, I was being expected at the guesthouse. 

That made me again reflect on my father's expectations and intentions for our meeting at the Nirvana Lounge. How he must have carefully pondered on what he was going to tell me -- and what not.

'Why did you call me, Laurent?' -- lost in thoughts, I had left Carlo for a moment, and his voice sounding so close to me, like it hadn't happened in the past twenty years, brought me back to the table -- 'Only now, after all this time?'

Because Dan Charmand had suggested it, that was the clearest reason of all. But I could not mention it to my father. Dan had thought on the prestige my father's presence would bring to my exhibition, and to his museum as well (and in fact, the brief apparition of the "Hermit of the Brushes" at my show would cause a certain frisson in the Arts World) -- I did not care about that, really. But when Dan had suggested it, he was simply translating a message that had been long sent from my heart but had gotten lost in the mist of my hectic life and had never arrived... back at my heart. I wanted my father to see the celebrated painter I had become.

I had felt lonely, and I had felt lost, without my father. But if that was the reason, I should have called him earlier, much earlier, when I was actually feeling desperate.

Now it was truer that, with my exhibition about to open in such a prestigious museum, I had felt stronger to dare talk to him again.  What if he would again reject -- but had he ever rejected me? -- or disdain me? What if, like Catherine, he would come up with some excuse to refuse my invitation?  I could always hang up the phone with a shudder, and go back to my success -- or the success I expected my exhibition would bring. And my success as a painter would be the best revenge I could take on my father -- or the best reconnection, as things had turned out.

"Hurt people hurt other people." -- Darren, my best woman friend in Samsara Heights, had once pompously remarked.

And her psychobabble, which wouldn't venture far from the poolside where we'd spend a lot of time together with my other best friend, Brazen, wasn't bad, actually. She had been talking about my wounds related to my father, and to Angelo -- she had no idea about what had happened in the years between them, but she could sense my suffering was greater than I'd let her -- or anyone else -- ever know.

'I don't know, Carlo. It felt like the right thing to do. Something I wanted to do. After all this time.' -- I wasn't lying. I just wasn't clear about my own intentions. I had dreamed of and hoped for that reunion, as much as I had feared it.

'I'm glad you did it, Laurent.' -- but somehow, Carlo's half smile indicated how he did not seem satisfied with my answer. Probably, just like I sensed his insincerity, he had sensed mine, too. 

The specials arrived, but I didn't feel like eating. I had too much to digest in my mind, already. 

Loads to reevaluate.

And suddenly it occurred me -- I had guessed it right!

I was going to die at 33 years old. Just like Jesus Christ. I had known it!

But instead of dying on the cross, I had died in a conversation. The Laurent I had known, the anecdotes about my birth, the facts about my family and my ancestors -- but especially the way I had pictured myself as a victim of my father's carelessness and negligence... all of it had died during that night.

And again like Christ, I felt I was resurrecting. But not immediately so. Not confidently so. I needed time. I needed space. I needed distance. 

'Carlo, I need to leave now...' -- I tried to say it as quietly as possible, afraid I'd hurt my father's expectations for that breakfast he had ordered for us in advance -- 'I have to get some rest before I face the journalists, the patrons and the rest of the mob tonight... And maybe you should do the same...' -- but, in fact, I just wanted to be on my own. I was pretty sure my mind would spin without letting me rest.

'Would you wait another minute, Laurent? Janice should bring dessert in a moment...'

Dessert for breakfast? The thought of more food was disheartening. For a moment, I felt exhausted, pushed beyond my mental limits. I couldn't take anything else in. My personal story had just collapsed. My mother had thoroughly lied -- exactly like her father, Gaston de Montbelle -- and consistently hidden things from me. When I had always thought she was my only ally, the only one to stand up and support me. Anyways, the only family I had remaining.

And then...

'What is this?' -- I gasped. 

But it wasn't so hard to guess what it was about, when I saw Janice coming from the kitchen with a beautiful and colorful cake.

So my father had known, all the time!

 He was aware that my vernissage had been scheduled for the day of my birthday -- a present given to me by Dan Charmand.

But Carlo had given me the greatest gift of all, flying all the way from Italy and spending the afternoon and night prior to my birthday with me... and the way our conversation had unfolded, he had even spent the first hours of my 33th birthday with me. But I thought he did not know about it.

And now that. 

I was trying to hold back my tears. 

I hadn't properly celebrated many birthdays in life. In Puanouilo, because we did not have the money, and the only guests at my parties had been my parents, Joanna and Will. And in France, because my parents did not have many friends to invite, and I did not get along with any children from school, but also because with their quarrels there was hardly ever the right mood for partying at our home. 

'Happy birthday, Laurent!'  

'Happy birthday, my son!'

With an agonizing whine, a crane had been started at a nearby construction site -- I had once rented an apartment in that same neighborhood which was now under intense real estate speculation -- and Carlo drew me closer to him so that I would hear his wishes. 

My father's victory had been anticipated -- for I have to confess I had felt jealous of Gabriel, when Carlo had hugged him so warmly, and I had thought it quite unjust that on our departure he had even embraced Ted, the guard at the museum -- so that, defenselessly, I fell into his arms.

"Cordelia mia,

Un abbraccio è una battaglia?

Tuo Giovanni"

I guess it's because Carlo had already mentioned Kierkegaard in our conversation during that evening, in his Parisian exchanges with Armand, but still, it's funny how that passage from "The Diary of a Seducer" popped into my mind -- and in Italian, since I had read the book translated into that language.

The battles that had preceded that hug had been fought internally, for the most part of this war. I had considered myself to be the greatest victim, but I now saw it hadn't been true.

There were many dead. Carlo's parents, and his grandmother, Tarso's wife, that he had never met. Tarso himself, dead for a few years now. And Marie Heléne, Armand's mother, gone forever into her elegant retirement. And Gaston de Montbelle, grown senile not so many years after her, until he had faded into death. Celeste had lasted longer, though her last years, spent in the agony of dementia, shouldn't count as years she had truly lived. And Edoardo, too, Angelo's father and Catherine's last partner. 

 Strangely, I felt all those people present in the hug I exchanged with my father.

We were just a few survivors left -- but still, overnight my family had grown bigger, if just with the addition of my uncle Armand.

And as a De Montbelle heir, I felt a new empowerment with the intention to mend my family's complex situation. It was still unclear how I should proceed to bring Carlo and Armand together again, or how to promote a fresh start between Armand and Catherine. And for that matter, reconcile Carlo and Catherine, too.

Which was so naïve of me.

As if they hadn't tried before. Through letters and telephone calls, through lawyers, even. As if it hadn't already happened, to a certain extent, without me knowing it.

"Have you told him, Catherine?"

"I haven't, Carlo. Are you going to?"

My parents had spoken a few times before my reunion with Carlo, like they had been speaking to one another over the latter years, at least once, when Catherine would update Carlo on me. And they hadn't fought the least to arrive to a common decision on what should be revealed during that evening at the Nirvana Lounge to reconnect me with my father -- and what must be kept hidden. 

Over their last telephone call, Carlo had learned from my mother about my upcoming birthday -- and thus, I owed Catherine that birthday cake for breakfast. A fact I wouldn't be aware of until years later. After all my dad had said, the best I could do was give Catherine the benefit of doubt, before condemning her for all she had done -- or should I blame Celeste, instead?

But blaming and attributing responsibilities -- or taking responsibility -- would have to wait.

That morning in Vice City -- the town I had inhabited the longest, where I had loved and suffered the most, the city where I had built my career while letting everything else around me fall apart --, I was happily led to think that my father, who usually lost track of time, who was always forgetting and mistaking dates, hadn't forgotten the day of my birthday over the years.

'Should I open the champagne?' -- Janice asked us, cheerfully.

I usually don't drink alcohol -- have I mentioned that already?

But today...