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How did it feel to wake up and realize that one’s whole world had altered forever? I was actually surprised to have fallen asleep; after what happened last night, I thought I was going to remain awake until daybreak.
But then weariness must have seeped in, and I had drifted off. Even now, as I blinked in the early morning light, I could still feel fatigue as though it had been etched into my bones.
André … André, how could you…?
My mindless litany from last night came back, and I felt again the agony as I remembered those few insane minutes that had seemed to last a lifetime.
André had never touched me like that before. He had never lost control that way, ever. I had never been frightened of him; he had always been the kind and considerate André that I had known since I was seven years old.
Until last night.
And it had started with a misunderstanding. I could not comprehend why he would snap in two at the mention of Fersen.
“Have you been seeing him? You have, haven’t you?!”
Why would André care? But the next sentences he uttered had answered that. It turned out that he cared a lot. He had cared a lot for a long time.
And I had not known! Honestly, I had not suspected, and everything had come as a shock. This was André we were talking about, after all. This was the boy whom I had grown up with, the one who knew all there was to know about me, the one person in this world whom I knew I could always count on.
“Have you been talking to him about me?”
Yes, André (I would have wanted to say). Fersen and I did talk about you last night, but it didn’t happen the way you might imagine it to have occurred…
He was with the group that I had accompanied to dinner and, much later, to the Opera Bastille. You should have heard what the party had said about the masquerade ball. Apparently, Fersen had not been the only one who was mystified with the identity of the lady he had danced with that night.
“Madame du Deffand’s completely at a loss as to who that woman was,” said Garnier, a burly little man in his fifties who was head of the finance department of de Brun (and subsequently was Fersen’s boss). “She says it might have been one of the Italian guests, or the Scandinavians. Come to think of it, she was really very tall.”
Fersen had shaken his head emphatically upon hearing this. “She was definitely not Scandinavian, sir,” he said.
I had joined the others in laughter, if only to hide my increasing uneasiness at realizing the stir my appearance at that masquerade had wrought. If the heads of de Brun would think to make it a topic of conversation, then I really had to watch out.
It was clear that my attending that ball had been a case of bad judgment. Definitely it had been done with little consideration for the possible consequences; I had not been thinking straight when I made that decision. If that Martin woman were to know the truth…
But my attending that ball had helped, André. After that night, I thought I had finally managed to get Fersen out of my system. For the first time since meeting him, I could now actually talk to him without having to worry about making a fool of myself. I was finally going back to normal, and I have never felt more relieved in my life.
Ah, but André, things would have gone well if all that talk about the ball had ended with the dinner. But no. After the Opera, when everyone had finally gone their separate ways, Fersen had walked with me to the area where we had parked our cars.
Once again, talk had gradually drifted back to that particular night. But Fersen had been very clever. Far from rousing my guard, he had asked after you.
“He’s very well, thanks for asking,” I replied, surprised that he would inquire after you.
“Good man, your André,” he said as we walked slowly on.
“He is,” I agreed. “I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
“And he’s been with you—what? Years and years, I suspect,” Fersen said.
“Years and years,” I confirmed, wondering what he was getting at.
“He must be very happy where he is, to stay on for so long,”
he said. “I thought he’s a university graduate.”
”He is,” I said, wariness settling in. I had a distinct feeling that Fersen was trying to tell me something, but he was being deliberately vague.
“Like I said,” he returned, smiling. “The man must be very happy to be working for you.”
That was when I had taken to thinking about your situation, André.
Were you really happy to have stayed on, day after day, by my side? I had always known that I was not the best boss, nor the easiest person, to get along with. I had known that there were times when I must have been particularly demanding, particularly vexing, and yet I had never seen or heard you complain. You had always been so good and kind; you had always been there for me.
But had you done it out of sheer obligation? Had it been because you knew that I had pushed your cause in front of Father all those years ago? You had said once or twice before that you would someday repay me for that favor, and although I had told you to think nothing of it, was this your way of doing me a good turn?
You need not have bothered; you ought to have made good use of your university education and found yourself a better job than the one I could give you. Why had you wasted your time remaining by me?
And that was when it happened, André. Just then, when my thoughts had been on you, Fersen had made his move.
“Françoise,” I heard him say, and when I had turned to look at him, I had found him suddenly leaning in.
It had happened so fast. One moment he was just standing beside me, the next moment he had leaned in, placing an implacable hand on my arm while the other went to the back of my head and lifted the heavy fall of hair high up-- the way my hair had been arranged that night of the ball.
“What are you doing?” I gasped as I had realized what he was up to. I had reached up to fling his hand away. “Let me go!”
But it had been too late.
There had been a moment of silence as he stared at me in amazement. “It was you,” he finally said, his voice no louder than a whisper. “That night…it was really you…”
I had felt then that my heart would stop. I had not said anything, merely lifted a trembling hand to my mouth as I felt the tears well up.
“Françoise, I’m so sorry,” he said, shock mingling with sorrow in his features. “All this time, I did not know…I had not realized…”
What could one say in times like this?
Frozen as my mind had been, I was able to shake my head. “No, you couldn’t have realized it, and I understand why,” I said in a whisper. “Please don’t say anything more. I’ve already given up, you see. There are two kinds of love in this world: one of joy, and another of agony; and I know…I know there is no way we’re ever going to attain the first one.”
“No, Françoise,” returned Fersen, tears falling from his eyes by this time as well, “there is only one kind of love in this world, and it is full of agony.”
And I had known then that despite everything that had happened in the few minutes that had just passed, his mind was still somewhere else; he was still talking about Antoinette. Had I needed a clearer signal, André? Apparently not.
“I know this day will come eventually,” I said after I could speak again. “I’ve kept delaying it, hoping it would not arrive. But it has. It’s over now, Fersen. Now is the time we say goodbye.”
He had shaken his head. “Please don’t say that, Françoise,” he said quietly. “I know that after tonight, we will not think of each other again the same way as we’ve always done, but it would be unbearable for me to think that I shall lose a good friend like you whom I respect deeply. No matter what happens, don’t forget that we will always be the best of friends. Nobody will be able to take that away from us.”
“I won’t forget,” I promised as I finally got inside my car.
The ride back home had been a blur. Wine had not been able to assuage my lacerated feelings. And did you know what, André? In times like this, there was but one recourse for me and it had never failed me before.
Almost before I realized what I was doing, I had taken out my cell phone and dialed your number. But then reason had flooded in at the last minute and I hastily hung up.
What on earth was I going to do? Ask you for a pat on the shoulder after breaking up with a guy whom I never had a relationship to begin with?
Almost immediately after hanging up though, my phone had begun to ring. It had been you.
Several more times you had tried to reach me, and I had almost answered the last one when you abruptly hung up in mid-call.
Sitting on my bed, I had rested my aching head in my hands for a moment. Fersen’s words about you had come to haunt me.
And then you had come along, and you had answered my question, though I would not have been able to imagine in a million years that you had felt that way about me. I could never have anticipated your feelings, so long bottled up, that broke like a dam and very nearly swept us away last night.
Last night, I had seen you weep; I had tasted your tears as you pressed your face and lips against mine. I had felt the shock of the cool sheets underneath me as you tried to pin me down on the bed, and in contrast to that the searing heat of your body on top of me. Now, sitting on my bed under the bright autumn sun, I could still see some of the faint marks that you have left behind on my arms. I had not known your arms to be so strong, so hard… so warm. And the way your lips had branded mine…
I closed my eyes and shivered at the memory of your punishing kisses, thinking that it was best to forget everything as soon as possible.
Today, I was determined to show you and everyone that things were going to go on as it had always been. I was going to show you that I had relegated the things that had happened last night to some far corner of my mind where it would never stray out to torment me. I was going to show you that as far as I was concerned, nothing had happened.
But then, what was lying in wait for me when I got to the office? Nothing less than your resignation letter, propped on top of the files that Rosalie had readied for me. As I read your short paragraphs and my eyes caught your neat signature on the bottom of your statement of wanting to leave, anger such as I had seldom felt surged through me.
You must see, André, that it’s not that easy. You’re not Fersen, whom I could and did allow to slip away. If you were to go away, what was to become of me?
It was downright selfish, and I had never thought of it that way before. Deep down inside, I felt as though I had partly supplied an answer to the question that I had asked you last night: I had never tried hard to dissuade you from taking up the post of personal assistant because I wouldn’t know what to do without you.
So you must understand that I couldn’t just let you go—in the same way as I couldn’t run away from you-- no matter what had happened last night. We were bound by more than twenty years of friendship to allow last night’s incident to get in the way.
And so I had torn your resignation letter in front of you then, André.
I hope you would understand…
As for me, no matter how I would try to shove it out of my mind, no matter how much I would wish otherwise, I knew that everything did change last night. And I know, André, that you know it, too.
We shall not speak of the Incident ever again, but I will never forget how you have awakened fear in me then…and something else.
You have awakened something else in me last night, André …
To Be Continued…
pubblicazione sul sito Little Corner del marzo 2007
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