“I talked to Morris,” John told Marie.
The sun had disappeared behind the house, a fire of red and orange filling the sky before fading with the promise of another hot day to come. Although the temperature must have fallen, it seemed hardly a noticeable change. It would be another very warm night.
“How is she then?”
“Your sister's mood swings are violent. He's finding things difficult. What he actually said is that one minute everything's fine, then she might get angry. With no apparent reason. She started to accuse him of abandoning her and the kids.”
Marie looked thoughtful. “Perhaps we should get some professional help?”
“I think so. I think she needs to see a doctor first.”
“Well, yes. If it’s bad... or getting worse, then she needs to see someone. A specialist, but first a doctor.”
“I’ll have another chat with Morris in the morning.”
Marie picked up the half-empty bottle left over from their light supper. “Shall we?” she asked him.
He grinned, “It’s becoming a habit, don’t you think?”
“The wine, or late nights on the terrace watching the stars?”
“Both I guess.”
An owl hooted loudly from somewhere in the shadows, cloaked in darkness and completely hidden from view. She refilled their glasses.
“Milo and Estevo enjoyed themselves today.” She had noticed how well they were getting along.
“Yes, I saw their antics. I’m not sure it put Corinth in the best of moods though. I rather have the impression she has her eye on him.”
“Estevo is an attractive young man. And Milo?”
John sipped his glass of rosé which had long since abandoned its cool freshness, overcome like everything by the heat.
“Yes, you know what I mean. Milo and our young handyman.”
“I’ve never given it much thought.”
“But he did seem rather taken with Estevo.”
“You don’t think anything's going on there, do you?”
Milo's mother smiled and raised her glass to her lips, she studied her husband a moment. “Would it bother you?”
He thought about that. “So long as he’s happy.”
“Do you mean that?” she asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“Yet, you have your opinion about him spending too much time with books.”
He looked out into the darkness, studying the nondescript shadows painting images in the moonlight, and listening to the sounds of nature.
“That’s true,” he finally replied. “But I do only want what’s best for him. I think I always have.”
She reached out and took his hand in hers. It was like the other night when they’d lingered outside, reluctant to end the day and retreat into the house.
“I know you do. You want the best for everyone.”
She leaned over the table and kissed him gently. He took her head in both hands and returned the kiss passionately.
“Did you know it’s my birthday next week?” Milo was in the bathroom with Estevo.
The young man smiled broadly, “I think you told me.”
“Yes, the first time we met. In the café.”
“Oh, yeah. You remembered.”
Estevo moved close to him, almost, but not quite touching.
“I remember everything about you.”
Milo turned to look at him. “But you like Corinth, don’t you? I always see you with her.”
“That’s nothing,” Estevo said, moving to the washbasin and picking up his toothbrush.
Estevo looked up, turning around to face him. “It’s you I really like.”
Milo's heart thumped in his chest, his mouth was dry. He felt oddly excited, and not for the first time. He looked away, blushing, slightly embarrassed. Estevo reached out and pulled him into a hug, wrapping both arms around him.
“I like you,” he repeated as if he were trying at once to convince Milo and at the same time confirm something to himself.
Milo looked up into those emerald green eyes in whose depth he could lose himself, his whole being, his very soul. Is this love unfolding? Is it something true, honest, pure? How could he be sure? Was Estevo even certain himself? He freed himself from the young man’s arms and stepped back towards the moonlight which shone a long pale beam through his half-open bedroom door.
“Milo.” Estevo's voice was almost a plea.
“I...” No more words came out. Milo looked for a long moment, standing motionless, frozen between two worlds, two choices.
Estevo stepped towards him, “Milo,” he said again.
Milo hesitated. His heart was crying out, his mind was a confused mess of tangled emotions and swirling thoughts which he was unable to hold onto. He trembled. Estevo took one more step and once again wrapped his arms around the boy. He felt him shaking and held him tight, burying his face in Milo’s hair, moving down to softly touch his cheek with a kiss of his lips, as gentle as the lightest breeze, like a whisper in the night.
When he woke with the early morning sunlight, Milo couldn’t believe it hadn't been a dream. Had that really happened last night? He was alone in his bed, but he could almost feel the warmth of their embrace, as though he were still in Estevo's arms. Thinking about what had happened sent waves of excitement through his body. He felt full of energy, charged up. So charged up he thought he might explode. He jumped out of bed and went straight to the bathroom. Then nervously, very slowly, opened the door to the adjoining room. He peered in and looked at the little camp bed his father had set up. It was empty. Estevo was not there.
He closed the door and quickly stepped out of his pyjamas and into the shower. He stood under the spray of warm jets which caressed his body, and his thoughts turned to Estevo. Throwing on a t-shirt and shorts, he went to look for the young man. But before having a chance to explore the house, he bumped into Amelie.
“You’re in a hurry,” she grinned, blocking the staircase.
“I’m trying to find Estevo.”
He frowned at her, annoyed at being held up by her stupid questions. “Have you seen him?”
“Yes, I might have.”
She is almost as bad as her sister, he thought. I wonder where she learned that?
“Amelie, have I done something to annoy you?”
The question made her think, pausing for a moment. “Well, I’m not sure. But you know something?”
Now he was intent on finding out why she was acting like this and what was going on.
“If I tell you... but I’m not sure I should.”
Milo sat down on the stairs. Obviously, she had something to say to him. But what? He wanted to be nice to his little cousin, and he didn’t want to ignore her. She, on the other hand, might have felt he had ignored her. They had not spent much time together this summer. Well, he was listening now.
“Come and sit next to me, cuz,” he patted the step.
She looked at him, hesitated a moment, then sat down next to him.
Glancing at her he said to her “Tell me what’s on your mind.”
“Are you sure you have the time?”
Ouch. That was a little dig, but he ignored the remark. “Come on, out with it. Of course, I have the time. I’m sitting here, aren’t I?”
“Well, you probably won’t believe me anyway.”
“I saw your mother and my father together.” She had her head down and was speaking in a low voice as if talking to her knees.
“And,” she repeated to emphasise what she was about to reveal, “they were kissing.”
“Yes, kissing. Your mother was kissing my father.”
“Like this.” She looked up at him and pouted her lips, making a smacking sound.
“Are you sure? You’re not making this up, are you?”
With that, she poked her tongue at him, stood up, and rushed upstairs. Milo was left sitting there, wondering.
“Ah, Milo. What are you doing sitting here?” his mother asked.
“Oh, ah, nothing. I was looking for Estevo. Then Amelie stopped me.”
“Well, could you please do me a big favour?”
He looked down at her, standing at the bottom of the stairs. “What?” he asked.
“Your father forgot his cheque book. He’s gone into the village. Would you go after him?”
She climbed up to where he was sitting and held out the cheque book.
“Do I have to?”
She gave him one of her stern looks. “Milo, you’ve got nothing else to do.”
“Well, I was going to go find Estevo.”
“Estevo has got work to do. You can find him later.”
There was no point arguing. She was his mother, after all. He stood up and took the cheque book from her.
“Where will he be?”
“I’m not sure. You could try the doctor.”
“Yes, he may be with Alain. Or if not, Monsieur Fournier. Just look around, you’ll find him.”
Resigned to his task, he moved on down the stairs and went to find the old bike. It was very hot again, and he didn’t feel like walking the three kilometres.
There was a shed of sorts, a kind of lean-to that was about as dilapidated as everything else. The bicycle was there, leaning against some garden junk. Milo extricated it and surveyed its condition, which was not great. For one thing, the tyres were flat. The pump, luckily, was attached to the bicycle, so he set about inflating them, hoping that they would be good enough for the ride into the village.
It was as he finished preparing the bicycle that Corinth appeared. Grinning, she asked, “Seriously, Milo. You’re not gonna ride that thing?”
“I don’t feel like walking to the village. So yeah.”
“If you’re not back by supper, we’ll send out a search party,” she chuckled, turning away.
“Your sister told me something.”
That statement stopped Corinth, who turned back, looking at him. “Yeah. What exactly?”
Pushing the bicycle towards her, he frowned. “I don’t know if she was making it up, but she said she saw Uncle Morris kissing my mum.”
“Don’t believe it. She’s playing stupid games. Probably annoyed with you.”
“Why? What have I done?”
“Nothing Milo, but that’s the point. She feels left out since Estevo arrived.”
“Oh, come on. He’s only been here a couple of days.”
“Yeah, well. I don't know.”
“And if it's true?”
“If it’s true, then it’s what I told you before.”
“Getting divorced, you mean?”
“Guess it has to be a possibility. But I’m not thinking about it anymore.”
Milo gingerly got astride the old bicycle. “No?”
“Bon voyage,” she laughed, watching as he pedalled down the drive.
Maybe he too shouldn't think about it? Corinth easily moved from one state to another. If something troubled her, it didn’t rest long on her mind. He, on the other hand, over thought things and brooded, leaving him incapable of doing anything.
With a metallic clunk, he managed to change gears as he hit the road and picked up speed. Now he thought what a good idea the bike was. There was no traffic, just the open road, along a meandering stretch of tarmac that shimmered with the rising heat. The good thing was it was flat, with no hills on the way to the village.
There was no sign of the old Peugeot when he arrived, but he did notice the same teenager he’d seen before playing around, that first day when he’d visited Monsieur Fournier for a haircut. The boy looked at him and smiled, which Milo thought a little odd, but he stopped. He waited as the stranger crossed the square and came up to him.
“Bonjour,” he said, greeting Milo.
“Hi. I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?”
“Maybe,” the boy replied, giving a sideways glance.
Milo noticed someone leave the café across from them. He wondered for a moment if his father might be there, but the car certainly wasn't.
“Yeah, you were mucking around with some mates. Over there.” He pointed to the stone bench.
“Estevo's working at your place.”
The statement took Milo by surprise. He nodded, watching the boy.
“I’m Olivier,” the boy announced, extending his hand.
“Milo.” Milo shook Olivier’s hand.
It was a firm handshake, and an actual handshake not a fist bump. Milo thought the boy held his grip a long time. He felt he was being scrutinised.
“It's great,” Olivier said, letting go of Milo.
“Yeah, because they really need the money.”
This made Milo reflect on things.
“Your dad’s over at his house. If you're looking for him?” The boy smiled again. He had a nice smile, and he seemed to know everything. Milo figured being a small village, everybody knew everything that went on in the place, but he’d never given that idea much thought. He was surprised, though. What was his father doing at Estevo’s house?
“I guess I’ll go and find my dad.”
“You know where he lives?”
“No,” Milo blushed, feeling rather stupid. Olivier didn’t seem to notice or mind. He only smiled.
“Come on then. I’ll take you.”
Milo walked back across the square, accompanied by Olivier.
“Have you known Estevo long?”
“About a year. Since they arrived.”
They walked on in silence. Milo thinking how different things were. He’d never talked to anyone in the village before, anyone his own age that is. Olivier seemed really nice as well.
The boy stopped and pointed. Looking along the road, Milo spotted the Peugeot.
“Maybe see you around.” Olivier turned back, leaving him standing alone.
Just at that moment, he saw his father come out the front door, kiss a lady, whom he assumed to be Estevo's mother, then get into the car. He watched as his father drove away and Estevo’s mother went inside. Curious, he continued along the road, wanting to see the house.
It was a house that looked like any other, not very different from those on either side. A stone step led up to the front door, and there was a metal grill at pavement level in the middle of the wall. There was a large front window with the shutters not quite closed. Milo stood there, staring at the house. Why was his father visiting Estevo's mother?
He turned and walked back to the square pushing the bike, running a lot of different thoughts through his head. Olivier had gone, the whole place had an air of complete desertion. He walked past the café, idly peering in through the large glass window. He caught the recognisable shape of Pierre with his back to him at the far end of the counter. If he wasn’t mistaken the only other occupant was the same man he'd seen when he first met Estevo. He was sitting at probably exactly the same table, he imagined, with a newspaper spread out in front of him. Some things never seem to change.
But for Milo, things felt different, like a page had been turned. He couldn’t explain it, it was just different. He got on the bike and headed back home.