Maurice woke up to the song of the colourful finches darting through the garden. Sunlight streamed in through the open bedroom window and hurt his eyes.
He carefully shifted onto his side and then his pulse quickened. Clive was still lying next to him, asleep and curled up and with his face on the back of his hand. His long, dark eyelashes twitched as if something had woken him but his breathing remained calm. A faint smell of lavender and spices lingered in the air – his shaving lotion and the natural scent of his matte-ivory skin. Like Maurice, he was only wearing drawers and covered by the sheet from the waist down.
I was afraid you’d be gone when I woke up, Maurice thought, settling comfortably to get a better look of Clive. But as soon as you open your eyes and look into mine, you will realize that you finally surrendered last night and then you’ll flee in shame, perhaps straight back to England.
My incredible, beautiful Clive, how come you tug at my heart so much? Why did I forgive you as soon as I recognized you on the beach three days ago? Is there anything at all I need to forgive you for?
My love, you shed tears in my arms last night, in this bed, shivering and whispering my name and when your crisis had died down, you started kissing me chastely like you used to when we went for walks in Cambridge and when we shared a room in your flat in London before you took your bar exam. We never got to look at one another’s naked upper bodies until a few hours ago. The feel of your soft shoulders and back was so heavenly under my fingers and your hands caressing my neck was all I longed for. Yes, there was longing, but no lust, and so you will wake up presently and have coffee and drive back to the hotel unharmed. And then I’ll miss you, because the most peculiar thing happened. I’ve fallen in love with you again after twenty-five years.
His heart skipped a beat when Clive stirred, moaned softly and slowly opened his eyes. So this would be it. He would regain his senses within a second and then all would be over.
One more minute, Maurice thought, oh, one more minute before the spell is broken. He moved over to Clive, breathed in his smell, kissed his earlobe and whispered: ‘Who had the audacity to crawl into my bed, hm?’
The other man laughed softly and gave him a drowsy smile. ‘Your silly Clive,’ he said hoarsely. ‘Good morning, Maurice…You need a shave as badly as I do and you’re not wearing your glasses…Tell me, why are you looking so beautiful?’
Clive snuggled up to him until their chests touched and kissed him lovingly, only stopping when Maurice burst into sweet, painful tears.
Josie had spent the night in a little hotel on the northern city limits of Nice. It was the first time on her trip that she had had a room to herself. The owner had not frowned at her for traveling without a chaperone or for taking along a dog.
Because or in spite of this, she had slept fitfully, dreaming of cutting lectures and roaming the woods without her textbook bag or a wristwatch and meeting a man who was waiting for her in a clearing, hatless and in shirt sleeves. Before their skins would touch, she had woken up with a jolt in a strange bed. And so she had left, woefully early and without breakfast.
She had driven around Monte Carlo and was back on the coastal road now. When Menton came into sight and signs told her that the border was only ten miles away, she slowed down and looked around until she found a post office. She parked the car, got out and hooked the leash onto Boris’s collar.
The telephone booth was cramped and dark, smelling of carbolic soap, old sweat and cheap tobacco.
She requested a number in Deauville. A housekeeper answered, squealed when she recognized Mademoiselle Durham’s voice and then asked if she was well and if she wore a hat outside. The Provençal sun could be harmful to fair English skin. ‘Madame will talk to you now,’ she then announced.
‘Good morning, Mama,’ Josie said. ‘I am sorry to disturb you so early, but I’m crossing the Italian border in a few minutes and then I won’t be able to ring you again so soon…Are you well? And Grandmama and Grandpapa…? Rain...? How amusing, it’s very hot here…’
While her mother was talking about the beach and seashells and playing golf, a helpless cry made Josie’s gaze wander to the main room through the window of the booth. A young woman was standing in a queue, looking into a pram and gently rocking it.
‘Yes, Mama, Papa is well,’ Josie said. ‘We had a lovely dinner with an Austrian gentleman and an American lady…And Mr. Hall from London joined us. All the people at the hotel were very nice and the food was marvelous…Yes, Mr. Hall was there...Yes, an old college friend.’
While Josie’s mother fell silent and made a sound that could be a gasp or an awkward swallow, the young French woman lifted the screaming baby out of the pram, pursed her lips and then gently cradled it on her bosom. An old man in front of her turned around and smiled.
‘I say, that is a surprise,’ Mama said. ‘Papa and Mr. Hall met at Cambridge. I last saw him when he came to stay at the estate, shortly after your father and I had returned from our honeymoon. That was in the summer of 1913, before you were born, my dear. Then the war broke out and we never heard from him ever since. Someone told me he emigrated to the Dutch East Indies to set up a spice trading business…I remember him as a nice, polite gentleman…And how is my darling Boris?’
The baby had stopped crying and was peacefully drowsing against its mother’s chest and sucking its thumb as she slowly moved the pram towards the counter.
‘Josie…Josie?’ Mama now cried. ‘Oh dear, there’s static on the line…’
‘I’m sorry, Mama,’ Josie stammered. ‘Boris is well, thank you.’
She had to promise her mother to wear a straw hat against the blistering sun all the time and to drive carefully on the ever-busy Italian roads. ‘I will, dear Mama,’ she said. ‘Bye-bye now.’
Boris yelped softly and tugged at his leash when they walked out of the post office. He found a fire hydrant, lifted a hind leg and moaned with relief.
She had left her car outside a grocery shop. She went in and returned five minutes later with a brown paper bag. She put it on the floor behind the driver’s seat, got a cigarette from her mother-of-pearl case and lit up. Then she saw a little café where a rotund waiter was serving wine in spite of the early hour.
When a table became available, she sat down and ordered a quart of white and water for the dog.
Smoking and drinking, she tried to remember the route she had to take to the city where she would spend the night. Then she paid, went back to the post office and crept into the booth again.
The reception clerk at the Breitner answered. He listened to her slightly blurry French words and then said: ‘I’m sorry, Mademoiselle. Monsieur Durham checked out twenty minutes ago.’