On the inside of the book cover was written "George." Estevo stared at the name, he felt betrayed. He never expected his mother would lie, not to him, and she had. They were very close. He loved his dad, but when Albert had left, there were just the two of them. It was a battle which they had been losing until Milo’s father intervened.
He sat on the back step looking at the pile of gorse bush remains, weeds, and other vegetation he’d been cutting down, pulling out of the ground and raking into one huge pile. All afternoon he’d worked with a fury that didn’t seem to have had any effect on the rage boiling inside him. She told him that the book was from his father. How ironic, of course it was from his father, only his father wasn’t Albert. It all made sense. Why he’d left. But not exactly, because he knew Albert loved him like his son, even if he wasn't. This changed everything. Christ, he buried his head in his hands, Milo’s mother and aunt were his half-sisters!
It was a very ill-chosen moment when John appeared. Estevo was so caught up in his thoughts he was oblivious to the world and hadn’t heard anyone approach.
“You’ve been working very hard,” John smiled, looking down at the young man on the step.
Estevo on hearing his voice jumped up. “What’s going on between you and my mother?” His tone was full of vitriolic accusation.
Milo’s father was taken by surprise, he was not expecting a furious confrontation.
“Whoa! Calm down. Nothing’s going on,” he replied, trying to keep a steady voice.
Corinth, Milo, and Amelie were coming up the drive, back from their afternoon at the river.
“That sounded like Estevo shouting,” Corinth glanced at Milo.
“And your dad,” Amelie added.
They carried on walking, Milo said nothing, but wondered what was going on. Corinth and Amelie marched up the steps onto the veranda and disappeared into the house. Milo hung back and skirted around to the rear. He stopped at a distance and listened.
“You’ve been seeing my mother.” Estevo threw the accusation at Milo’s father.
“No, not like that. It’s nothing like you might be imagining.”
“She told me everything.”
Estevo's face was screwed up in anger. Milo had moved a few steps closer and could clearly see the two of them. His father happened to glance back in his direction.
“Milo, can you go inside, please?”
His father’s voice was composed but very firm. He wasn't about to argue, and turned to leave them alone.
“I don’t understand how you can be like that,” Estevo accused him, glaring at him like he was a guilty man in the dock.
Milo heard that, before quickly moving back to the veranda and going inside.
“Your wife’s father and now you,” Estevo spat out.
“No, Estevo,” John stepped towards the boy. “I have only been helping your mother. To sort things out. I drove her to Montpellier because she needed to get there. Only helping. There is absolutely,” he said that word very slowly, “nothing going on between us.”
“Why should I believe that? Everybody lies. Even my own mother. Why are you any different?”
John felt immensely sad, full of remorse for the boy, for what had happened.
“I promise you. I swear that there is nothing going on. I’m very sorry. Your mother didn’t warn me about this.”
“Warn you? What? So you could prepare some story.” Estevo turned away.
John thought he was going to leave. “Wait. Please wait.”
He didn’t feel like waiting. He didn’t feel like listening anymore. He felt only that he wanted to get away, but he hesitated a moment.
“It’s true we feel responsible. I want to help. You know I couldn’t say anything. No one could.”
“Who knows?” Estevo angrily faced him.
“Marie and myself. Nobody else.”
“Do I believe that? Does it even make a difference?”
John wanted to reach out to him. He simply didn’t know how to. Marie had said he always wanted to help everyone. But that doesn’t always mean he got it right or even did the right thing. Who knows? Maybe it would have been better forgotten about.
“Maybe I did the wrong thing,” he looked at Estevo.
“The wrong thing?”
“Yeah. I shouldn't have done anything. Shouldn't have interfered. Tried to help. You and your mother.”
Estevo sat back down on the step, almost collapsed. Suddenly the anger was gone. His fury had simply evaporated, like water vaporised by the sun, it vanished. John moved and sat down next to him. They didn't look at each other, didn't speak, just sat there vaguely staring at the cleared ground and pile of vegetation.
The table was laid for dinner, nothing grand, a quiche, cheese, and salad. The crickets were playing their usual chorus. Mariane and Morris were talking, she seemed in good spirit. Corinth and Amelie were helping, bringing a bottle of wine, water, and plates from the kitchen.
“Milo. Can you go find your father and see where Estevo is.” His mother placed the quiche down centre table.
Morris was saying, “Someone told me the crickets only make music at night, but it’s not true. I heard them lunchtime.” He laughed and touched his wife gently on the arm. “What do you think?”
She grinned, “About the crickets coming out to sing in the day or whether I’d call it music?”
Milo was standing watching all this, wondering about going to find Estevo and his father. Trying to work out what they had been arguing about. Was it about him? No, he shouldn’t be paranoid.
“Milo, supper is ready. Go and find your father.”
He gave her a little smile and headed off towards the back garden. His father was sitting on the step but stood up when Milo approached.
“Supper’s ready. Maman said to come and get you both.”
Estevo stood up and glanced at Milo. Obviously, something was wrong. He didn’t need to speak, the look said it all. They walked back in a sort of icy silence. Milo’s mother looked up at both of them but did not comment as they sat down opposite each other. Estevo hardly ate and said nothing throughout the meal. He seemed only to get annoyed when Corinth and Amelie asked questions. Luckily, Mariane told them to behave and “Leave the boy alone.”
Milo would have liked to say something to Estevo, anything, just to find out what happened. But the tension was almost palpable, so he kept quiet. Later, he listened at the door of the bathroom until he was sure Estevo had finished before he entered. In bed that night he couldn’t stop wondering about what might have happened.
Sunday was his birthday, but although he was looking forward to it, there were also dark clouds in the sky. Would Estevo stay for his birthday? Usually, he went home at the weekends and with the argument he’d overheard, it was possible he wouldn't come back. It had sounded serious. What about himself? What should he do? He’d avoided Estevo and his father. On the one hand, he wanted to know what that dispute was all about, but on the other, he was concerned it might involve him. What if his father thought they were too close? Or worse, if he’d found out something was going on between them. But there was nothing going on. Although Milo definitely had thoughts in that direction, he still wasn’t certain how Estevo felt.
His mother had told him they might have their little celebration inside, as the forecast for the weekend was a risk of heavy showers. Standing on the veranda, he surveyed the clouds rolling across the sky. They didn't look too ominous but did lend to the gloomy atmosphere, when usually there were clear blue skies.
It occurred to him that he had sorted nothing out with Amelie, and what she did or didn't see. When he thought about her, he wondered what other rumours, true or not, she might have been spreading. He wouldn't put it past her to say something about him. But that aside, he probably — no, definitely — needed to find some courage. First, he needed to deal with his big issue. He couldn’t solve other people’s problems if he didn't look to his own first. None of these thoughts helped lift the gloom of the afternoon.
“What’s going on with you?” Corinth had sneaked up on him whilst he was in a world of his own, thinking.
Startled, he turned around. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Were you expecting someone else?”
“No. Of course not,” he frowned.
“Well, don’t get all upset. I only came to see what you were doing.”
“Uh! What I’m doing? Nothing. Thinking. Staring at the clouds. Wondering about everything.”
“Oh, I see.” She gave a little smile.
“You probably don’t. You don’t dwell on things.” He looked at her. “It’s my birthday Sunday and...”
He didn’t finish, she moved a step closer. They were practically standing face to face.
“If you can’t change it, don’t let it worry you.” She sidestepped to lean against the wall of the veranda.
“But I do...,” he paused, “let it worry me. Everything.”
She turned her head to look him in the eyes. “And what, might I ask, is everything?”
He sighed, “You know half of it. My mother and your father. The argument between Estevo and my father. And all the rest.”
“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York; and all the clouds that lour’d upon our house.” She turned away from him and stared off into the distance, watching the breeze rustling the leaves in the tree tops.
“So now you’re quoting Shakespeare at me,” he laughed.
“Well, it seems to have made you smile.”
She did always have a way to lift his spirits. It was as if the ease with which she herself moved from the shadowy gloom to the light, she was able to share and pass on to others. At least to him, anyway.
“It is kinda apt. And the last thing I expected to hear from you.”
She turned around and faced him again. “I sort of started all this off if you remember. You found me tearfully contemplating our parents' possible divorce and the end of our summer. But we’re still here. Although the summer looks like it might rain on your party.”
That made him laugh. He reached out and touched her arm.
“I do like you, cuz.”
“Yeah, I know. Even if we are rivals, huh?”
“Oh, come on Milo. Don’t do the innocent stuff. Yeah, rivals.”
She tutted her lips. “Over the young man who is right this minute working in the house.”
Milo felt himself blush.
“There, you see. You can’t hide your feelings. Not from me. We’ve known each other far too long.”
He thought about that. It was odd it had not occurred to him before, but she was right. They had known each other since they were little, and they had shared countless summers together, growing up.
“That’s one of my problems,” he confided.
“What is? Not being able to hide your feelings from me? Or is it what those feelings are?”
“Both. And not only from you. From everybody. And of course what they are.”
“And how does Estevo feel?”
“You tell me. I don’t know, do you?” he smiled at her.
She had succeeded in both lifting his gloomy thoughts and freeing his tongue to talk about himself and his emotions.
“My opinion?” she asked.
“Yes. I trust you.”
“Of course I do. So tell me.”
“It looks to me as if it’s all in the balance.”
“All in the balance?”
“Yes, Milo. If you think I am the fountain of all knowledge and have an answer for you, I don’t. I’m not your mother. I don’t have a crystal ball, and I don’t know what Estevo feels. Any more than I know exactly what’s going on, or if these clouds will bring a storm. Sorry, but I have no answers.”
“Never mind. I have to work it out myself.”
She moved in closer, leant forward, and planted a kiss on his cheek.
“I’m sure you will. We all will.”
She turned and walked back inside the house. A distant rumble disturbed the darkening sky.