Every once in a while something unexpected happens and life changes.
My name is Paul-Michel Bellarose. I’m a foundling, lovingly adopted by Morty and Giselle Kline.
I’m on the threshold of turning 30. So far, nothing unexpected has happened in my life. It’s been routine with moments of mind-numbing boredom. But I manage, living vicariously through the characters I dream up for the stories I write which no one reads. At the moment, I’m working my way through an attack of writer’s block. My muses have stopped speaking to me which only aggravates my loneliness.
I make my living editing the writings of more successful writers. I guard against the ever-present temptation to plagiarize knowingly or unknowingly from the writings of others.
My mother, Giselle, phoned and noticed I was in the dumps. She brought some of her homemade chicken soup to my apartment.
“Mom, I’m not sick.”
“I know, but this will help.”
“Help cheer you up.”
“What makes you think I need cheering up?”
“I’m your mother, remember?”
As usual, she was right. Chicken soup was her answer to everything. A battleship could have been floated on the chicken soup she has made over her lifetime. But it’s good soup. So, I sat down at the kitchen table for the comfort of her soup, and conversation with this woman I adored. She’s Jewish but not the typical pushy mother who uses guilt to get her way. She’s always cheerful, a little less since Morty passed, but she’s still a happy mensch.
Her fireman brother, Saul, called her the evening I was dropped off at the fire station by people who did not want me. They tell me I could not have been more than a few days old. Mom had miscarried and was lactating. I was hungry and she was eager so, it was a perfect match from the moment she took me into her arms and my lips found her soft, warm breast. Mothers fall in love with their babies. This baby fell in love with its mother and never quite got over it.
When Child Services discovered Mom was a pediatric nurse they let her keep me while adoption papers were processed. I was 15 years old when she and Morty sat me down with the news of my origin. I was surprised, but the information did not affect me in the way they thought it would. They were Mom and Dad, that’s all that mattered to me.
I’m French according to the note pinned to my baby blanket. There was a note scrawled next to my name which I could not read, and there were stains which I guessed were made from tears.
My birth certificate bears the name shown on the note and a birth date of May 1, May Day. In France, May Day and Lily of the Valley flowers go hand in hand – a symbol of spring and luck. There was always a small bouquet of Lily of the valley next to my birthday cakes. But sometimes, when I looked carefully in the mirror, I wonder about my ethnicity. My complexion seemed darker than would be expected of a Frenchmen. I never mentioned it because it didn’t seem important.
Morty passed a few years ago leaving Mother behind with a broken heart. He and Giselle were devoted to one another and to me. He was ill only a few days before he passed and made Mother promise – no sitting Shiva. I think it was the only time she ever disobeyed him. It was important for her to celebrate their lives together as well as his passing. There were ten of us gathered in her home for three days. One of her friends supplied nine low chairs and one even lower for Mom. No contact with the outside world, just all of us together. It turned out to be an amazing experience. We told stories about Dad and our lives, laughing, crying, sighing, smiling, praying, and just being peaceful and quiet. Above all, we had the opportunity of getting to know one another on a more intimate level. There was only one Shiva tradition Mom broke, she wore makeup and dressed to the nines each day, explaining that Dad was watching. She wanted to look her best for him.
As the years passed, I noticed she seemed a little less vibrant. Whenever she made a fuss over me I didn’t object because I knew it gave her pleasure.
It was twilight when she left my apartment. She hugged me, kissed my cheek and whispered, “Write a love story.”
I laughed, “Mom, you’re only supposed to write about things you’ve experienced.”
“I’m workin’ on it,” she smiled as she walked out. “You need to find someone and soon. I’m not going to be here forever.”
“Don’t you dare get whatshername on my case.”
“Blooma has a perfect track record of matches.”
“Mom, please. I’m begging you.”
“Good-bye, my darling boy. Toodle.”
I was taken aback by her comment about not being here forever. I hadn’t thought how life would be without her.
I told her I was gay a long time ago but she didn’t seem to want to believe it. I chuckled, envisioning Blooma finding a nice young Jewish man for me and bringing him around for a visit. She was old world elegant and would do it with style if Mother asked. Deep within the recesses of my heart, I wished she would ask. Anything to quell the loneliness. I had plenty of friends both gay and straight but they were mostly coupled, I felt like the fifth wheel when we got together. I don’t drink, so bar-hopping in search of Mr. Right was untenable. Whoever he was, drinking and smoking were not going to be optional. I was liberal on other aspects of a relationship. Well, sort of.
I sat in front of my computer and stared at the blank blue screen, “Come on Kismet, I need a story, please, please, please.”
The phone rang, rescuing me from the doldrums. Caller ID told me it was Sarah.
“Hi, Paul. We’re making plans to go to the Aragon his coming Saturday for an evening of dancing. We want you to come along. I’m having friends in for drinks and a light supper beforehand. Will you come?”
“Thanks, Sarah, but I…”
“Paul-Michel, we’ve had this discussion before. You love to dance and are so good at it. Besides, you need to get out more.”
“You’ve been talking to Mother again, haven’t you?”
“Well, yes,” she laughed.
“All right. What time?”
“Any time after 4:30, or before if you like. I’ll be home around 2:30.”
“What can I bring?”
“Please, please,” she gushed. “Don’t bring anything, just yourself. Bye.”
I hate being hustled but I could not resist Sarah, and I do love to dance. She is my cousin once removed. Not quite sure what that means but we are related.
She is younger and married to Jerry, one of the most beautiful creatures God ever dropped on this planet. He was a Catholic priest when Sarah first saw him at communion. She laughed when she told me how she moved her head forward so her lips touched his fingertips when he offered the wafer.
“He almost dropped the tray of wafers, he was so startled. When he came around with the wine chalice I kept my eyes lowered and behaved myself.”
She told me she watched him through half-closed eyes. He paused and looked back at her before he returned the chalice to the altar. Whenever she tells the tale, Jerry’s straight-faced sense of humor and impeccable timing finishes it with, “The first time I laid eyes on Sarah, I had an erection for three days,” which invariably brings the house down with laughter.
Her folks finally figured out what was going on when her attendance at mass increased to the point of creating hushed gossip. It was obvious her intent was not communion with God. Aunt Edna and Uncle Bill had a long talk with her which did little to discourage her. They panicked when she signed up for Father Jerry’s catechism class. A year later he left the priesthood and within six months they eloped.
It’s been four years since news of the elopement broke. They still act like they’re on their honeymoon. Even though Jerry was no longer a priest, his deportment remains clerical. I’m jealous of what they have together. Pea green with envy is more like it.
I noticed a subtle sadness about Jerry one evening and asked Sarah about it.
“He misses being a priest.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“His former parishioners keep calling him for spiritual support. His Bishop has been trying to convince him to apply for deaconship which would bring him back into the church.”
“What happens to you?”
Sarah smiled, “Not to worry, deacons are allowed to be married.”
“I’ve been encouraging him to do it.”
“Other than that, you two seem pretty happy.”
“We are, Paul,” she paused and looked around to make sure we were alone. “We pray together each night before bed, and before we make love,” she giggled.
“Sarah, why are you telling me this?”
“Because I trust you and you’re a writer. I want you to write a story about us.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Please, Paul. Jerry is an absolute angel from heaven. You have no idea. I think it would make a best seller.”
“Praying before sex will certainly get a lot of attention.”
“I didn’t mean that, you silly thing.”
“Is he any good at it?” I grinned.
“Just kidding, but I would like to know. The only relationship I have is with my left hand.”
“Oh, my God, I did not need to hear that. Why do I even talk to you,” she got up and hurried away. I apologized a few days later. We’re cool again. However, I do get an impish grin from her now and again. Well, hell. I can be naughty if I like. It’s not as if I showed her photographic evidence.
I attended their soirees and always brought a bottle of Cribari Altar Wine which I gleefully handed to Jerry with a smart-ass grin. Sarah picked up on what I was doing and diplomatically told me to stop it. I ignored her. I was having too much fun. She would just sigh and roll her eyes when I walked in carrying my gift.
I wasn’t sure if they had figured out my DNA was twisted, and my romantic inclinations were slightly different from theirs. At first, there was at least one beautiful eligible woman at these gatherings. After a year or so that stopped.
There were just couples in attendance, except for me. That’s when the fifth wheel syndrome set in. I decided the invitations were out of pity which annoyed the hell out of me, but I went anyway – they were family.
There was one interesting gathering a few years back when a young couple appeared and I recognized the husband. I had seen him on one of my rare visits to a gay bar. The poor guy recognized me and didn’t know whether to shit or go blind. I played it cool and pretended I didn’t recognize him. They left early and I never saw them again.
Mom suggested I write a love story. I wondered if she was in cahoots with Sarah or the other way around. Perhaps I should embellish Sarah’s quest for Jerry. After some thought, I decided against it even though I knew Sarah would have been pleased. If it were to be a love story, it would have to be on my terms, some scenario I could fantasize about as I wrote. I looked at my blank computer screen, sighed, and decided to take a nap instead. Perhaps my muses would speak to me during slumber.
It was dark when I woke with a start. Someone was at my front door trying to get a key into the lock. I looked through the peephole. It was old Harvey Clausing from the floor above. He was drunk as a skunk. “You’re at the wrong door, Harvey. Go upstairs.”
“Whaasat you say?”
“Wrong floor, Harvey. One more flight up.”
He grumbled and staggered to the stairway. I heard him enter his apartment and stumble around for a few minutes. Then all was quiet. His wife, Effie, of fifty-five years, passed away a few months ago. He hasn’t been the same since. Effie knew I was single and was always feeding me so I got to know them quite well. I empathized with Harvey’s loss but wondered if I would wind up like him.
The animated mail-doggie was barking on my computer screen. Yippee, I had mail. It was from the New Yorker, rejecting yet another story I had sent to their editor. So much for yippee. Well, this was turning out to be another non-exciting day. I deleted the e-mail and sat back in my swivel chair. Now what?
I wasn’t tired and there was a stack of editing staring at me. I decided more soup was in order and then I would go to work.
The evening of the dance soiree arrived. We decided formal attire would be fun so I got my tux out of storage and had it cleaned and pressed.
We heard the orchestra playing a two-step as we entered the Aragon and ascended the grand staircase leading to the ballroom. I was glad Sarah had hustled me into coming.
The Aragon is designed in the Moorish architecture style with the interior resembling a Spanish village. Plush seating and tables on three sides of the dance floor and an open balcony with the same accommodations. The fourth side is the orchestra stage. The setting is night time with a motion picture of slow-moving clouds projected onto the ceiling. It is quite delightful and very romantic.
Our waiter was Orlando, a friendly, elderly man who still had his wits about him. We ordered drinks and finger food.
Marge Anderson and I took to the dance floor and were improvising the foxtrot when I felt a tap on my shoulder, “May I cut in?” came a quiet, masculine request.
Marge responded, “Why certainly,” and turned to accept the man.
To our mutual surprise, the man faced me, grasped my left hand and took his position as my dance partner. I had an immediate flashback to cotillion class and Mrs. Benson emphasizing that it would be extremely rude to refuse anyone cutting in. I missed a beat and moved forward. My new partner fell in step with ease as we moved away from surprised Marge who had the good grace to leave the dance floor. I was impressed how easily he followed my lead. I don’t believe I could have done that well without some practice.
Little did I know those four words, “May I cut in?” would change my life forever. Here I was, nose to nose with another man I had never seen before. The rush of this unexpected experience had me on the verge of giggling. My smile was subdued by the serious searching expression on my partner’s face. His piercing dark eyes sparkled with mischief beneath heavy black brows. There was a kindness about them which put me at ease. The contours of his handsome face were reminiscent of Spanish heritage. His well-tailored Tux and carriage denoted good breeding and education. Wavy black hair was combed close to his head, probably with the help of a pomade. The black mustache, manicured in a style of a bygone day, completed the vision before me. And, he was a wee bit taller than I.
The music ended, he did not withdraw his hand and spoke for the first time. “Another?”
I gurgled a laughing, “Yes, of course. If you’d like.” I held my breath that some Latin American music was not next, requiring a dance routine beyond my repertoire of dance steps. I sighed when a waltz began. We moved smoothly away. I caught a glimpse of my friends watching us, and could only imagine what the conversation would be like when I returned to their company.
My partner spoke, “Do you reverse?”
“You bet I do,” I replied happily. It was then I noticed a slight accent in his voice. Obviously European but I was unable to pinpoint it. By the time we completed the dance I sensed a familiarity about this man. I felt as if I knew him which was ridiculous but, nevertheless.
When the music came to a close, a younger man came up quickly and stood at a distance. He called to my partner with a few words I did not understand. My partner moved to the young man, they spoke briefly in hushed tones. He moved back to me and was no longer smiling. “You must excuse me,” he bowed slightly. “Thank you for a very enjoyable dance.”
I could not help myself, “Who are you?”
“Forgive me, my name is Juan Carlos Alba.”
As I began to give him my name, he squeezed my hand. “I know who you are. Good evening, Monsieur Paul-Michel Bellarose. We shall meet again.” I thought I heard him click his heels as he nodded his head slightly and hurried away.
I stood for a moment wondering what in the world had just happened to me. When the music began, I walked to my friends who were on the verge of gasping for information.
Marge could not contain herself, “Paul, who was that beautiful man?”
“I have no idea. He said his name was Juan Carlos Alba.”
“And the young man who ran up to him when you finished dancing?”
“I don’t know that either. I got the impression he was this man’s servant. He said something I didn’t understand. It sounded like infant or something like that. They whispered together. It was all very mysterious.”
Orland was nearby and jumped into the conversation, “Infante?”
“Yes, that’s it.”
“That’s Spanish. It’s a term used when addressing royalty.”
“You were dancing with royalty? You louse.” Charlie laughed, “How did you manage that?”
“I’m as surprised as you are. I tried to give him my name but he already knew it, and when he said good-bye he pronounced my name correctly. No one I know has ever done that before, including you lot. He also said we would meet again.”
“I thought you said you were French,” Claire touched my arm.
“That’s what I was told. Why?”
Claire made an observation which surprised me. “Did anyone else notice the resemblance between Paul and this Juan whatshisname?”
“Now that you mention it, yes, I did notice,” Charlie agreed.
Several others commented in agreement.
The look of astonishment that flooded my face must have caught Charles’ attention.
“Paul, you better sit down. You look like you need a glass of wine or something stronger.”
I laughed, “Wine should do it.”
“Claudette chimed in, “Well, he certainly knows how to dance. I saw you reversing and neither one of you missed a step. Why can’t I do that?”
“Because you have two left feet, my dear.”
“Shut up, Marge, we don’t need any help from you. Just remember, you were the one cut out.” Everyone laughed.
The evening continued with dancing and intermittent discussions of who the mystery man was and why he had chosen to dance with me in such an unorthodox manner.
A few days later, I stopped in to visit Mother. We were schmoozing over coffee and a piece of her sour cherry kuchen when I related the incident at the Aragon. As I described the man who cut into my dance with Marge, I noticed her demeanor change slightly.
“Did he tell you his name?” I noticed her pensive tone as she sipped her coffee.
“Yes, it was Juan Carlos Alba.”
The color drained from her face. Her hand shook slightly as she placed her cup on its saucer.
“Mom? What is it? Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. It’s nothing.”
Something I said obviously stirred a memory, she attempted to divert the conversation but I would have none of it. “Ok, Mother. Let’s have it.”
She sat back in her chair, sighed, and shook her head slightly.
“I swore I’d never tell you this.”
“Oh, go ahead. I’m all ears.” I wonder now if I would have been as flip if I had known what she was about to dump on me.
It turns out she had an affair with the heir to the throne of Spain when she was a young girl working for the Red Cross overseas.
“He was so beautiful and so dashing, I simply could not resist him.” She looked up at me, “Though I did try. I didn’t realize he was part of the royal family until I was about to leave Spain. I should have suspected something because of the young man who was always at his side or nearby. He addressed my suitor as infante, which meant little to me at the time.”
My heart sank when I heard that word. It couldn’t possibly be the same person.
“Toward the end of my stay, one of the nurses I worked with overheard the term being used. She explained that the man I was seeing so often was of the royal house and more than likely a son of the King.
“The affair ended when I was transferred back to the United States. I discovered I was pregnant not long after returning. Because of my pending engagement to your father, I went to visit an aunt on the west coast when I began to show. I returned after you were born. My parents took you to the fire station and left you with a note which contained false information to divert any suspicions, they made sure your Uncle Saul, who was a fireman at the time, would find you. He called me because of my nursing experience. I took you home and adopted you.
“But that’s not what you told me.”
“I had no choice. Your father didn’t know and I wasn’t about to tell him.”
“So, what you’re now telling me is that I’m not adopted after all. I’m actually your son.”
Tears welled in her eyes as she nodded her head.
“Your father never would have married me if he knew the truth.”
“So, if this Juan Carlos Alba is the son of the man you had an affair with, then he’s my half-brother.”
She began to sob softly, “Yes, I’m so sorry.”
“But why did he seek me out after all this time?”
“I don’t know, Son. I wish I did.”
I looked at her face and the pain she was in. Suddenly I knew. “The affair didn’t end when you left Spain, did it?” She didn’t move as the tears cascaded down her cheeks. “Mom?”
She shook her head slightly, “No, it didn’t.”
“Why do you keep lying?”
“I’m so ashamed.”
“Ashamed? Ashamed of what for heaven’s sake?”
“I did love Morty.”
“Of course you did. As for your love affair, there’s nothing to be ashamed of, not with me. I think it’s very romantic. But the Shiva? You made such a fuss about it. I don’t understand.”
“Penance for my adultery. Before your father passed he told me he knew about the affair and didn’t care. He said there was nothing to forgive.”
She got up and left the room. A few minutes later she returned with a shoe box which she placed in front of me, kissed my cheek, and sat down. “I asked you to write a love story a while back. Here’s what you will need.”
I opened the box and found it filled with letters tied in different sized bundles with different colored ribbons. I looked up at her, “From him?” She smiled and nodded. I could tell from her expression that a huge weight had been lifted from her soul. She was no longer alone with her guilt.
“How long did it go on?”
“Not very long. You were about five when he stopped writing. The letter on top is the last one.”
I took the letter from its envelope and opened it. “Mi querida Giselle, mi Corazon, my son was born today. His name is to be Juan Carlos Alba, infante of Spain . . .”
I stopped reading, put the letter down and looked up. “You knew the moment I mentioned the name.”
She nodded and wiped her eyes.
“He must have known. His father must have told him. Did you ever mention me?”
“I did but I never said he was the father. He must have assumed.”
“But what an odd way of introducing himself. And he did say we would meet again.” I chuckled, “he’ll probably show up at the supermarket, but it’s sure to be when I least expect it.”
I took the letters to my apartment and read each one. There definitely was a love story that needed to be told. I spent hours grilling Mother for details to fill in the blanks. In those brief five years, they met many times here in America. It was very difficult for her to talk about it. Finally, she confessed she did tell him about me. He knew I was his son.
“You won’t tell anyone,” she pleaded.
“Mother. Don’t put me in a position like that. I don’t know.”
There was Juan Carlos, where was he? I’d have to eventually tell him. Weeks passed without word from him. I was forever looking over my shoulder in hopes he would appear. Finally, I called Sarah.
“Hi, Paul. How are you?”
“Sarah, could you arrange for another group of us to go to the Aragon for a dance night?”
“Paul, what is it? You sound so strange.”
I told her the story. “I’m hoping he’ll appear there. I know this sounds silly, but I need to talk to him. I’m hoping the magic of the Aragon will repeat itself.”
“Yes, of course. I’ll get on it immediately. Not this weekend, but definitely figure on the following Saturday. I’ll confirm as soon as I’ve talked to everyone. This is so exciting. Thank you for asking me to help.”
The following Monday afternoon she called and confirmed that all was arranged. We’d meet at her place for drinks and a light supper and then on to the Aragon.
That Friday, Mother came for dinner, and to discuss the draft of the book I was writing. We were having coffee when there was a knock at the front door.
“It’s probably Harvey from upstairs.” I got up and walked to the foyer. Without checking the peephole, I opened the door and my heart leapt, “Juan Carlos!”
“You are not listed in the phone book or I would have called first. Have I arrived at an inconvenient moment?”
“No, you haven’t. Please, come in. There’s someone here you need to meet.” He looked at me curiously as he entered. Mother had heard me call his name. She was in the kitchen doorway as we came down the hallway.
“Mother, this is Juan Carlos. My mother, Giselle.”
“Madam, I am so honored,” he took her hand and kissed it.
“Oh, my God, you look just like your father. Please, come in and join us.”
“It will be my pleasure. Thank you.”
The next two hours flew by with questions and answers and stories. We showed him the letters and the story I was writing. Finally, Mother left with promises that we would all meet again, and soon.
Juan Carlos and I were alone. “Where is your man? The young man with you at the Aragon?
“I sent him home to Spain.”
“It’s none of my business, but why?”
“Spain is no longer my country, my home. I have been banished by my family.” There was a sadness about him as he spoke.
“I don’t understand.”
“I am maricón.”
“I believe the English word is gay.”
“Oh, I see. And they banished you for that?”
“It was necessary to preserve the dignity of the royal house. We are very conservative.”
“Boy, I’ll say you are.”
“You are not offended?”
“No, no, not offended. I’m pretty liberal when it comes to that sort of thing.” I almost choked on my own words.
“I am so happy. My father was very distressed but he had no choice. He wanted me to find you so I would not be alone, without family.”
“A wise decision. But why the meeting at the Aragon?”
“I had only discovered where you lived that very day. I could not wait for a more opportune moment to meet you. I was informed that you left your home dressed in formal wear. So, I dressed accordingly and we followed you and your friends.”
“Well, you certainly caused a stir when you cut into my dance with Marge.”
“It was not my intention. I thought it an opportunity to observe you up close before introducing myself.”
“Do men dance with men in Spain?”
“Oh, yes. It is quite common. I was surprised that it is not customary here in your country.”
“Yeah. Well, we tend to be uptight about things like that.”
“You were offended?”
“Oh, no. Quite the contrary. By the way, my friends and I are going to the Aragon tomorrow night. If you’re free, perhaps you would care to join us.”
“Yes, I would like that. Your friends will not mind?”
“Oh, no. I’m pretty sure they will be okay with the idea. We’re dressing formal again.”
“Yes, of course. Where shall I meet you?”
“Here. We’ll go in my car about 4:00. You can be here any time beforehand. Come early and we can talk some more.”
“Thank you Paul-Michel. You have been most kind. Until tomorrow, good evening.”
He didn’t click his heels or nod his head but the gratitude of being accepted was all too evident on his face. Needless to say, he was more than warmly received by my friends who ganged up on us and kept cutting in when we danced together. It was another fun-filled memorable evening.
I encouraged Juan Carlos to assist me in finishing the book about Mother’s romance with his father, our father. He was able to add details only a close family member would know. I was astonished at how much I learned about my father and the life of royals in Spain. We became friends during the process of developing the book and then found we had no reason to be together when the book was accepted by a publisher.
I began to understand why Mother had difficulty in refusing the attention of her Spanish suitor. Juan Carlos is also charming, charismatic, funny, self-possessed with all the adjectives one could assign to an intelligent, well brought up, educated royal. But as our friendship grew, I began to notice a deep-seated struggle to be who he was never permitted to be. He was living a disciplined life that was expected of him. The joie de vivre was missing, probably because he was maricón and did not know how to break through that barrier and live his heart’s desire. I wasn’t sure, but it began to pain me to see him struggle for personal recognition for who he really was beneath the suave, self-assured exterior. I’m certain no one noticed what I was seeing.
My friendship for Juan Carlos flowed naturally into caring for him and beyond until I realized I had crossed the threshold into love, a new experience for me. It came as a shock when I realized what was happening. I wasn’t sure how to handle it. I was further confused when I began to wonder what he was experiencing in our relationship. I was reluctant to make an adolescent romantic move and make a fool of myself, but at the same time, I was determined to let him know how I felt. Was he as reluctant as I was to make a move? I was tempted to call Blooma and ask her advice. I’m certain she would have the answer.
At one point I thought of cooling our relationship and not see him so often. The book was finished, it would be a perfect excuse. But that would be banishing him all over again. I couldn’t do that to him. He needed me as part of his family. After all, I was his brother if only by half. Being brutally honest with him did not seem to be the answer either. I finally decided to suffer in silence. I’d leave it up to Kismet to solve the problem.
Little did I realize Kismet was already at work when I received a call from Sarah, announcing she was pregnant and wanted me to be Godfather. I was stunned and told her, no.
“Why not for heaven’s sake?”
“I’m gay, Sarah. You don’t want a gay man responsible for your child if something happens to you.”
“What do you mean why not?”
“Well, for heaven’s sake, Paul, what difference would it make?”
“Of course I knew, and I don’t care about that.”
“He thinks you’re pretty cute. He said if you were a woman he would probably have had second thoughts about me.”
“No, he didn’t, but I think you’re cute. And what about Juan Carlos?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are the two of you an item yet?”
“Don’t give me what. Everyone could see the two of you hit it off at the Aragon.”
“I gather nothing has happened.”
“Looks like you’re gonna have to take the bull by the horns, metaphorically speaking, of course.”
“Very funny. I’ve thought about it, but I’m scared.”
“Nonsense, it’s very simple Paul-Michel. You simply pin him up against the wall and tell him you’re in love with him.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Of course you can. That’s what I did with Jerry.”
“I did, after catechism class one evening. He was so relieved he broke down and cried in my arms.”
“Oh, Sarah, that is so beautiful.”
“Try it. Don’t let love slip away. You’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”
“You’ve been talking to Mother again, haven’t you?”
“To be truthful, yes.”
Several days later Juan Carlos was ready to leave my apartment. He opened the door and was about to walk out when the now-or-never impulse came over me. I slammed the door shut and stood face to face with my surprised half-brother, and then proceeded to screw it up royally, stammering, stuttering, hemming and hawing. I finally said, “I love you, Juan Carlos.” I stared at him, waiting.
“I love you too,” came his bewildered response.
“That’s not what I meant, goddammit. I’m in love with you and I want you to stay.” There it was, out in the open once and for all. Tears welled in my eyes. I couldn’t see him clearly or how he was reacting to what I had just said. Suddenly he grabbed me so violently we fell to the floor. For a moment I wasn’t sure if he was going to beat me up for saying what I had just said.
I had read about passion but had never experienced it until that moment. It took my breath away, I began to sob with relief. The convulsions of Juan Carlos’ body, as he sobbed, told me I had done the right thing.
When our passion cooled, we both lay close to one another on the foyer floor. He turned to me and whispered, “I’ve never loved or been in love before. Thank you.”
He was thanking me. How priceless was that? After a moment I whispered back, “Neither have I.” We laughed. Then I asked, “Do you smoke or drink alcohol?”
“No,” he grabbed my hand, “Do you?”
I smiled, “Nope.”
We were still on the foyer floor enjoying a contentment I had never experienced before when the phone rang.
“I just made some chicken soup and it’s especially delicious. Come on over if you have nothing better to do.”
“I’m on my way. Can I bring Juan Carlos?”
“Yes, of course. There’s enough for a small army.”
The soup was delicious, but I think a bowl of sand would have tasted just as good. I had not quite recovered from my do-or-die move on Juan Carlos. I could not take my eyes off of this beautiful man. Mother said nothing but I’m sure she knew something was going on which was evident when she spoke to Juan Carlos, “I’m so happy you’re here with us. I hope you will become part of our family.”
Juan Carlos was very gracious and thanked her, “It would be my pleasure, Mrs. Kline.”
“Giselle, Juan Carlos, please.”
“Yes, of course. Thank you.”
Juan Carlos’ graciousness never wavered as he became an integral part of my family, and especially with me. I often thought his consideration and respect bordered on adoration. If nothing else I began to follow his example much to the delight of Mother when she whispered, “He is so good for you.” I could not have agreed with her more.
Sarah called and wanted to know if I had changed my mind about being godfather.
“Yes, Sarah. I would be honored to be your child’s godfather.” Then I told her what happened in the foyer.
“Oh, Paul, I’m so happy for you. I want Juan Carlos to be godfather also. Will you ask him for me?”
“Yes, I will. That baby is going to be spoiled rotten.” Sarah began to laugh and cry. She hung up without saying anything.
Several weeks after Juan Carlos and I became ‘an item,’ as Sarah put it, I invited him to move in with me. He accepted and said little else, but his gratitude became obvious in his subtle attentions to our relationship. His devotion taught me what I needed to know to strengthen the tie.
When he applied to the University for a position as associate professor of history and art, I began to learn who this man was and the extensive education he had acquired. Being involved in the academic world gave him a sense of belonging which he yearned for.
Juan Carlos was fluent in five languages which enhanced their eagerness to have him on staff at the University. He could not have been more pleased when I told him I was interested in learning to speak Spanish, making it quite clear I did not want him to teach me, but would he find the right class and tutor to accomplish my ambition. I learned immediately that Castellano was the dialect I should learn; within days he found the class and tutor I needed.
When Sarah’s Jerry returned to the Church as Deacon, I began to think of marriage to Juan Carlos. Was it possible? I was afraid to ask until Kismet took care of the problem also.
I asked him to teach me how to Tango properly. Of course, he was delighted to accommodate me. As I became proficient in this beautiful style of dancing, he nonchalantly mentioned that La Cumparsita, the music we had been working with, was a favorite of a newly married couple’s first dance after being married. I couldn’t help myself and began to laugh, “Are you by any chance proposing marriage to me?”
The look of surprise on his face told me he was not; and then his face lit up, “Si, Paul-Michel. ¿Te ofenderia si te lo pidiera?”
“No, Juan Carlos, it would not offend me.”
“¿Quieres casarte conmigo, Paul-Michel?”
Yes, Juan Carlos, it would be an honor to be married to you.” When tears welled in his eyes, I thought of Sarah the night she pinned Jerry against the wall in catechism class.
As my relationship with Juan Carlos took root, it dawned on me that my last name, Bellarose, was not actually true. By all rights it should have been Alba, seeing who my father really was. Mother was pleased when I mentioned that I was thinking of changing it. But I wasn’t sure what Juan Carlos’ reaction would be. Thankfully, my concern was unwarranted. When I gathered enough courage and suggested that I take Alba as my last name, Juan Carlos froze for a second, then grabbed me and held me so close I could hardly breathe. “I would be so honored if you would do that.”
Gestures like this continued to amaze me. His view of, and reaction to life was so different from mine, I could not help but emulate him in my desire to be more at one with this treasure.
It was almost a year after Juan Carlos stayed with me that Jerry performed our marriage ceremony and Juan Carlos and I became partners for life. I had difficulty believing it was actually true. I was no longer alone and Juan Carlos had the family he longed for. The ceremony took place at the Aragon Ballroom with about one hundred friends in attendance.
The Aragon catered the affair. Orlando supervised the wait-staff. Chicken soup was on the menu, of course. When a large stand of red roses in the shape of two hearts intertwined was delivered to the Aragon, Juan Carlos’ face became plaintive.
“What is it? This is so beautiful.” He handed me the envelope that came with the delivery. The inscription was in Spanish and simply said, ‘Best Wishes on your Marriage.’ There was no signature. The transport receipt indicated the order originated in Spain. I said nothing. I helped him place the tribute.
After the ceremony, when the music began for the first dance, Juan Carlos and I, dressed in identical tux, stepped onto the ballroom floor and flawlessly performed the Tango La Cumparsita. When it ended, Juan Carlos kissed my hand and looked into my eyes, “Te amo, Paul-Michel.”
“Te amo, Juan Carlos.” I’m not sure he heard me, the audience was yelling and screaming as they poured onto the dance floor and surrounded us. But I’m certain he read my lips and my heart.
Everyone refused to let me finish another dance with my new husband, they kept cutting in.
When Blooma cut in I announced, “I hope you’re not going to take credit for Juan Carlos.”
“No, my dear, I’m not,” she laughed. “I doubt I could have done as well.” High praise, indeed, coming from a professional match-maker.
While dancing with Sarah, she grinned from ear to ear and asked, “Do you pray before making love?”
“Sarah, our lovemaking is a prayer.”
She said nothing but I saw the tears welling in her eyes.
I felt a tap on my shoulder, “May I cut in?” came a quiet, masculine request.
Sarah gleefully exclaimed, “Yes, you certainly may,” and released me into the arms of Juan Carlos. I thought of Mrs. Benson, my cotillion teacher, and laughed when Juan Carlos and I refused to let anyone cut in during that dance.
Every once in a while something unexpected really does happen and life changes forever.