The next day, Julien would not leave his room. I decided it was best to give him some time alone, since he was at least letting Lucie in to take care of him, so I took the afternoon to go to Sébastien. I could not put it off any longer; I needed to see him.
He was living in a terribly small, dark little house in the narrow streets of the Quartier Latin. Cheap rent, cheap food and liquor nearby, and plenty of young men who had just been released from the boarding schools of Paris: it was a paradise for some and a hell for others. Sébastien had always looked younger than his age, making the Quartier Latin the perfect place to hide, if that is what he preferred, or to forget me in debauchery, with more wine and sex than I could ever provide. I hoped he pursued the former and not the latter course of action. Though I wanted very much to wish it, I could not bring myself to truly wish him hurt.
The concierge, if there was a concierge, did not care who came and went because there was no sign of movement anywhere in the house as I climbed the grimy stairs. I had his letter with me, and I almost turned around, but feeling it in my pocket, I took a deep breath and knocked on his door.
He opened it immediately. Obviously no one was expected, since he was only half dressed, his shirt open halfway down, showing off his marvelous chest. “You came. Come in - I was just getting ready to go out.” The tone was friendly enough, but he did not smile.
The place was small but very clean - Sébastien had always been obsessed with keeping everything in its place without a speck of dirt. “I couldn’t exactly stop myself. You were right about a lot of things.”
“You’re in a very conciliatory mood, Charles. I should think you want to get back together.”
“I just want to talk.”
“And your brother cannot talk?”
“He refuses to leave his room. We had an argument last night and he threatened to leave, but both of us knew it was impossible for him to go.”
“What has happened to him?” Sébastien asked tenderly.
I dropped onto the sofa. “I told you about his little insurrection that failed. We were told he died. Instead, he’s been in prison for the past sixteen years. Tortured, beaten, starved, humiliated in countless ways I’ll never understand. That’s what’s happened.”
“My god.” He sat next to me on the sofa. “I’m so sorry, Charles.”
“I can’t believe what they did to him. They wouldn’t set his hand properly when a guard stepped on it, so it looks a fright, even though it still functions. They beat him every day, so many times that after a while they didn’t care anymore if he was beaten to death. And the torture - just for the hell of it, I think.” I was near tears at that point. “They branded him, Sébastien. They branded him like a common criminal.”
“You and I both know he is not a common criminal.” He leaned over and moved a bit of hair from my face. “He was never common, nor was he a criminal. Does he feel any of it was warranted?”
“Of course not.”
“Then perhaps he has not been as affected as you think. They did not succeed in beating him mentally. When was he released?”
“The day before yesterday?”
I thought a moment. “Yes. My god, has it really been only two days?”
“ So yesterday was the first time he had anything to do with people, as opposed to beasts, in sixteen years? He is doing remarkably well. I should not have been so forward, in his place, and I know I would not have relished the sight of people. Please forgive me for any trouble I may have caused him.”
“I don’t think you did any damage. Is he doing well? I wouldn’t know.”
“He is your brother.”
“Whom I have not seen in sixteen years, since I was still just a boy, who has hated me for the past twenty years of his life, and with whom I am still fighting. I do not know him at all.”
“But you know him better than anyone.”
“That may be true, but no one knows him. No one ever did know him.”
“I wish I could do something to help. What if I were to visit him? Engage him in conversation? In a couple weeks maybe - I don’t want to push him. But after some time for him to get used to things again, I don’t see how it could hurt.”
Wonderful. My former lover taking my brother as a charity case. Between the two of them, I would never be able to show my face in France again. “I don’t see how it can do any good. He won’t let me talk to him.”
“I’m sorry. Is there nothing I can do?”
“Come home with me.” I could not believe I had just blurted it out like that. Weak, weak, horrid little boy!
It had just the effect I did not want. Sébastien turned away, breaking our touch. “You know I can’t do that, Charles.”
“If you still love me, you can.”
“It’s not that simple! I am a man, Charles. I need freedom as much as I need the air. And if I am with you, I cannot be free. I cannot go back to being your slave. Yes, I love you, but I need freedom more than that. I have my liberty now - I will not give that up for anything. Not even for you.”
“By all our love, Sébastien -”
“No,” he said firmly. “I did not ask you here to debate slavery. I wanted to hear about your brother.”
“You had no other motive in writing me?”
“I asked you to come here so I could hear about your brother.” He was getting angry, but he was also lying.
Abruptly changing the subject away from Julien and back to something closer to the topic at hand, I accused him, “You cut your hair.”
“Yes, I did,” he snapped. “What does it really matter?”
I gently tucked a strand behind his ear. “I like it. It forces you to leave it down, which I find to be an improvement.”
Very quietly, almost too quietly to be heard, he admitted, “I very nearly cut it all off when I first left you. I chopped off great handfuls before I realised what I was doing, how much the idea of it would hurt you.” He stood and, turning away from me, thrust a hand into his hair. “You had better go.”
“Sébastien,” I pleaded.
“You had better go,” he said with more force, pushing me away again. “I have to finish dressing.”
“Maybe you think you’ve changed, but you haven’t.” I knew I was being petty again, starting a silly argument, but I didn’t care.
“Maybe I haven’t. What does it really matter? Everything was always for you - always.” He quickly turned to face me, his blue eyes flashing. “Do you ever think about what I gave up for you?! Everything! I could have been something, but I gave it up for you. Pretending to be your servant just for the few moments we could steal from the rest of the world. Did you ever give a damn about my own dreams? Of course not. Charles is the only important one. He has been the important one ever since his brother died and left him the heir to great things he did not want. Do you have any idea why I admire your brother so much? He was given a choice between freedom and slavery, and he chose freedom. He did what he wanted, said what he wanted, wrote what he wanted, and then died how he wanted. I chose wrong, and I regret every lost day. Every day I spent alone, brushing your coat, cleaning, doing everything a servant would do just to get one kiss late at night when you were too tired for anything else. I don’t regret the time we really spent together, but I regret wasting my life. At least Julien’s life meant something. I grew up in Paris, remember? I can’t forget the barricades. His life, and his death, meant something to a lot of people. He tried to do a great thing. What have I ever done? What have I ever been able to do, under these constraints?!” He sank to the sofa, worn out with anger, but still talking. “I wanted to teach - did you know that? I wanted to teach German and English, help children read Shakespeare and Goethe in the real language, not through the eyes of a translator. I went to university not because I had to but because I wanted to. I studied philosophy because it fascinated me. And now, to earn enough to keep this room, I translate English serials for penny magazines! If I were still twenty-two, I could start as a private tutor to some rich man’s children, but start out life at thirty-two? I’m too old. You took my youth, Charles. You took every chance I had and gave me nothing but hopelessness and heartache in return. I love you - god help me, I will always love you - but I cannot be with you. Please go. I must finish dressing.”
I did not know what to say - not a single word of apology, a catty comment, a complaint, a sign that I gave a damn. All I could do was stand there because I knew he was right. The past nine years had all been given to me, as he followed me in everything I did. I almost slipped out without a word until the worst possible comment came to mind. “You know, blame your precious Julien for destroying your life, but don’t blame me. It’s his fault.” Julien’s presence was taking a toll on me. I never acted like this when he wasn’t around, but now I was quickly becoming the fifteen-year-old he hated so much.
Sébastien looked at me, his delicate features hardened with anger. “Do not lay blame on the innocent. He was dead to the world when all of this happened.”
“If he had been alive, we could have had a life together!” I was screaming. I knew how foolishly I was acting, but I did not give a damn.
“Not with my dreams! You don’t let your children near a fag. I know it’s just as much my fault for pursuing the relationship, but because of your situation, I never had any choice but pretend to be your servant! I hated every minute of it. Maybe if you had been strong enough to say no to your father and become an artist, as you wanted, we might have each had a chance! Perhaps I could have kept going at university and become a professor. If that had happened, we could have had the life we both wanted. But it is useless speculating what could have happened if either of us had been stronger. Your own weakness is more to blame than your brother’s death.” Sébastien’s anger made his eyes burn with the intensity of the sun. “I think you should leave,” he finished firmly.
“You - you -” I could not seem to get anything else out.
“I wish I could tell you to go to hell, but we both know I wouldn’t mean it. Go home and talk to your brother.”
I went home. I always did what Sébastien said. And as I walked home, I could not help thinking about Sébastien, and Enjolras, and Julien. I knew there was a superficial physical resemblance between Sébastien and Julien’s best friend, the leader of the revolution. I knew it because that was what had attracted me to Sébastien in the first place - that pale blond hair, those blue, fiery eyes, the surprising delicacy of his face. Of course Julien had picked up on the resemblance. It was plain as day. But was it really just superficial? I could tell Enjolras to fuck off - he never cared for anyone, and he stole my brother. But I couldn’t help being affected by Sébastien. I had known it would be a bad idea for Sébastien and Julien to become friends. Was that because I knew how much like Enjolras he was? Or did I know nothing and only suspected and perhaps hoped?
Then the weight of what had happened soaked in. It was over. Sébastien and I had fought, and now it was impossible for us to reconcile our differences. He had changed: he was more intense now than ever. I could not argue further. I went home. I spent the evening alone with my spinning thoughts. I did not think they would ever calm down.
The next day, Julien would not leave his room, and I knew I had no right to force him. I was not about to become my brother’s keeper - Julien was certainly not my prisoner, and he stayed by choice. Sunday was strangely normal. Many of the servants liked to attend mass in the morning, and as Father never had any objection, I saw no reason why the practice should not continue. I paced in the study for a long time: I do not even know where my thoughts went, though they were likely on everything. Finally, for the first time since I had come to Paris, I entered the library.
The library was not mine, though the rest of the house was. From floor to ceiling, all the books belonged to Julien. His flat was full of books - so many we put them all in the library, moved the library to the study, and moved the contents of the study to Father’s bedroom. Seeing all his books in there always made me feel as if I was closer to him again somehow. But when I received that telegram, something told me to stay out - the library was his, and I would be trespassing. Even worse was the prospect that certain of my father’s paintings had not been put into storage. An excellent portrait of Julien used to reside in the library, with his beloved books, and I could not bear to see it. Seeing him again as he had been was not anything I intended. But I found myself at the door of the library, hesitant, but finally opening it, unsure of how I might feel seeing such things again.
The first sight on entering the room was exactly what I had not wished to see, and I quickly looked away. It was truly an excellent portrait, not terribly formal or stilted, but Julien as he had been a year before he died. There was no point in seeing it. A friend of his had been an artist, and when he was killed with Julien, his wife had insisted we take the two portraits she had - the one in the library and a much smaller, experimental painting my father kept in his bedroom. Both have always haunted me, as if Julien was still looking down at me disapprovingly, even though that was not the expression on either canvas. I avoided the portrait and started looking at the shelves and shelves of books. Julien’s entire flat had been filled with them, and they all came to rest in our library. Suddenly, I heard a rustle of fabric behind me. I turned and saw Lucie trying to sneak out the door behind me.
“Lucie!” I could not help being sharp - she was an upstairs maid and should never have been in the library, especially without apron and cap as she was.
She dropped the book she was holding. “I’m sorry, monsieur. I’m so sorry. Please. M. Julien asked me to get a book. I’m sorry.”
I went and picked it up myself, as no one else was going to. The fables of LaFontaine. His personal copy, the red leather cover faded and scarred and stained just as I remembered it, the brownish colour of the spine, the gilt lettering tarnished by constant use. It was a hundred years old, and looked it, and he accepted nothing else. “He asked you to get a book for him?”
“Oui, monsieur. This particular one.”
“Why are you not at mass?”
“I stayed home to look after M. Julien, monsieur.”
“Did he ask you to?”
“Oui, monsieur.” Julien had asked Lucie to stay? And bring his copy of LaFontaine.
“Why are you not properly dressed?”
She flushed a bit at the question. “I was getting ready to go out, monsieur, when M. Julien rang and asked for the book. He asked the same question you did, monsieur, why am I not dressed as usual, and when I told him I had been on my way to mass, he asked if I would not mind staying with him this morning.”
There was still some obvious fear in her eyes. She knew perfectly well that things were not as they should be. “You know how to read?”
“Oui, monsieur. M. Combeferre taught me when I came here.”
“And he asked for this book?”
“How did he ask?”
“What exactly did he say?”
“He asked if any of his books were here, monsieur, and I said I thought so, and then he asked me to see if I could find a copy, any copy would do, of LaFontaine’s fables. And he said his copy was red, with gold writing on the side, but the side was so faded it was brown. It is a very old book, he said, monsieur. And I am to take it up to him immediately.”
I had no choice - he had asked her, not me. I handed her the book. “Then finish your task, Lucie.”
She quickly thanked me and fled from the library. I could not very well follow on her heels, though it was what I most wanted. Instead, I stood looking at the rows of books without actually seeing them. That was his copy of LaFontaine. He had read to me from it. We had read from it together, after I learned to read, he reading one, I taking the next. We had spent many hours together with that book - to have him ask a maid to take it to him almost seemed a crime.
It was absurd to think such things. She was a maid. Her purpose was to serve us. Why on earth should Julien have called me to ask for a book? The suggestion was ludicrous. And he was obviously not yet willing to see me. I considered going up there, then disposed of the idea. He was still angry, which is why he would not come down himself for a book. He did not want to risk seeing me. I was not anxious for another fight, either.
I could not help looking at the portrait as I left the library. At that moment, I realised for the first time that very little had changed in him. I do not know how Feuilly did it, but in that painting, Julien’s eyes looked as pained as they did the last time I saw him. There was much we never understood of each other. What could possibly have happened to cause him that much pain? Was any of it my fault? Questions that will never be answered are always the most insistent ones. I apologised to the portrait for prising. It was hardly the first time I had apologised to that picture.
Yet I could not let it go. As I climbed the stairs to return to the safety of the study, I could see that Julien’s door was not completely closed. The servants had all left, except for Lucie, and I thought I heard the murmur of voices. God forgive me, I was never one for spying, but Julien has always done things like this to me. I silently crept up to the door and put my ear to the crack.
Julien was reading aloud, finishing “The Mouse and the Lion”. His voice was getting better - it was no longer so raspy, though he did not speak loudly. When he finished the last stanza, I heard him say, “Your turn. I fear if I read too long, I will get a headache.” His tone was apologetic, but not ill tempered.
Lucie’s voice came next. “Very well, monsieur.” And she continued with “The Grasshopper and the Ant“. She could not read very well - Julien corrected her gently several times, as he had when we would read together. It was strange to be listening to such a familiar scene. It was almost as if all that had happened between us was nothing, and I was six years old again. But he was with a maid, being patient and kind to her, instead of seeing me. I would never understand Julien. He thanked the help, as if they existed. He insisted on being very good friends with god knows what sort of people - that artist, Feuilly, was from the streets. You could tell by looking at him he would never be respectable. And though that friendship was in the past, it would certainly have a long shadow.
Julien apparently took the book again when she had finished, reading the next couple himself.
“Is your head hurting you again, M. Julien?” I heard Lucie ask with concern when he stopped.
“It is nothing.” There was a pause. He cleared his throat. Another long pause. “Thank you.” And then he proceeded again, stopping at the end of the next fable. “I think perhaps that may be enough for today.”
“Shall I go?” Lucie asked.
“No, please stay. How long have you been here, mademoiselle?”
“Nearly ten years, I think, monsieur. Yes, nearly ten years.”
“My father treated you well?”
“Yes, monsieur. He taught me to read, himself.”
“And my brother?”
“He has been very kind. May I ask something, monsieur?”
“Of course. I am surprised a well-trained servant has the nerve to ask.”
“What happened to you?”
“Charles did not tell you? I have been in prison. Which is why the light hurts my eyes.”
“Why? You’re a gentleman. How could they do that?”
“Because I was involved in what had been unpopular and illegal political activities many years ago, and I was imprisoned rather than executed.”
“Thank you. I know I should not have asked.”
“You should have been told. You’ve been confused for a few days, I’m sure.” At that point, having been crouched for so long, I lost my balance and fell against the door. “Did you hear something?” I stayed motionless - I was afraid that if I moved, I might make more noise. As it was, perhaps it could be explained away.
“Perhaps. I am not sure.”
Suddenly the door opened, and I fell into the room. When I looked up, Julien was standing over me, and Lucie had her hand over her mouth and was shaking. My own servant was laughing at me. “Charles, if you wished to see me, you should have knocked.” But there was something in his eyes that could almost be considered laughter. “This behaviour is beneath you.”
“I’m sorry.” I slowly stood up. “I can’t even think of a bad excuse, much less a good one.”
“At least you do not insult my intelligence with drivel.”
“I’m going.” Jesus, why is it that in his presence, I turn back into a fifteen year old fool? Sullen, bitter, and pushing back at every turn.
“Good day, Charles.”
And so I ended up back in the study, having heard the worst - Julien was more willing to talk to Lucie than he was to even see me.
Monday morning I determined to get some work done - I had ignored it for too long. Thus I was already in the study trying to go over some papers when Lucie came in to do her morning work. At least this time she was properly dressed. She tried to excuse herself, but dusting is hardly a distraction. We both worked in silence for a long time until it finally became too much for me. Had it been anyone else, I would never have said a word. But Lucie was whom Julien preferred, and I had to speak with her.
“Lucie, what do you think of my brother?”
“What, monsieur?” She seemed surprised by the question.
“What do you think of him?”
“You want me to tell you, monsieur?”
“Yes, Lucie, I am asking for a reason. Tell me what you think.”
“Well, monsieur, when you brought him here, he looked such a fright. But he’s a real gentleman, monsieur. Calls me mademoiselle, remembers my name, he’s always so polite.” A real gentleman. Yes, that always did describe Julien.
“What else can you tell me?”
“He’s got ever such a nice voice, calm and deep and nice to listen to. And he asks me to talk to him, and he talks back, like I’m not the maid and he’s the master, but like he cares what I’m saying. I don’t know that he does, but it’s nice to think.” Wonderful. Julien had never once looked at a girl, but he was making the maid fall in love with him.
“Did he tell you what he has done?”
“Did he tell you why he was in prison?”
“Sort of, monsieur.”
“Because he is a murderer and a traitor. He killed innocent men while betraying his king.” I knew it was wrong as I was saying it, but I had to do something. How could I continue to allow Julien and Lucie to become friends? I could not let him make friends with the help, even if I did have to spite his nature in order to prevent further tragedy.
Lucie was shocked. The colour drained from her face and she froze. “He - he wouldn’t. M. Julien is a gentleman. He couldn’t.”
“He did. Ask him. He cannot deny it because it is the truth. It is clean enough in here - you are dismissed.”
She was so shocked that she simply left the room, without proper acknowledgment. I said nothing - I already knew I had done the wrong thing. But it could have been so much worse.
Somehow I found myself in the library again. I ran my fingers down the spines of the books, along the shelves, desperately trying to empty my brain of what I had just done. I randomly, or so I initially thought, pulled out a thin volume. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Why had I chosen that one? Of all Julien’s books, why did I find Frankenstein? Julien was not the monster. Perhaps a bit monstrous looking, now, his skin the colour of death and that scar as bad as any on Frankenstein’s monster, but hardly the sort to strangle a child, a wife, a friend. He did not have it in him. Which is what Lucie said. He did not have it in him to murder the innocent. Yet he had. I could not believe that after fighting twice on a barricade he had still not killed. And the men of the National Guard were guilty of nothing. But then all soldiers commit murder. Julien’s friends were shot and bayoneted and god knows what else. They were killed as brutally as they tried to kill the Guard. Yet in spite of the horror of their deaths, they acted against the state. Treason has always been punishable by death. Why should their deaths be considered any different? Only the executioners varied. They committed a terrible crime, and the price was paid. Julien should have paid with his life, as did the others. No, that was not true. Julien did not deserve to die, did not deserve to be treated as he had been. And that feeling meant everything else was on end.
There has always been right and wrong, and kings have always ruled France, and when they did not, chaos reigned. That was the order of things. Julien and his friends had tried to usurp that order. Yet suddenly, the same usurpation had succeeded. France was suddenly thrust under a republic. It was what Julien had wanted. He was my brother, and I loved him, but I would never understand him. Some things are beyond the grasp of the unimaginative, he would say. I did not think myself unimaginative. I had been something of an artist, once. I read the same books he did. Could we really have been born so different as to believe in different values?
I was interrupted in my thoughts by Thérèse coming to tell me that a boy from André’s had come with several boxes: Julien’s clothes. I ordered them taken up to my room so I could see what exactly had been brought. Boots, some linen, and unfortunately not the suits I had hoped would arrive first. My own choices, not his. Grey pinstriped trousers and a red waistcoat were the first items I saw. As it was, the closest to his own choices that I could offer Julien were a black suit in a fashionable cut and the red waistcoat, which I had ordered be cut very conservatively. It was my own fault. I had not anticipated a quarrel, and I had not specified what should be ready when. There was a note saying the greatcoat would be ready later today and would be delivered by evening. Yet another day that Julien could not go out, another day wasted.
All I could do was leave his things where they were and knock on his door. I entered as soon as I was permitted. Julien was sitting by the window again, watching and seemingly waiting for something.
“And what is it you want of me now?” he asked, turning towards me.
“I came to say that some of your clothes have been delivered and I thought you might like to get dressed properly.”
“And you could not send one of the staff to tell me this?”
“I wanted to tell you myself. And to apologise for yesterday. I don’t know why I did it, and I’m terribly sorry.”
“I had thought you would have grown out of such nonsense.”
“I had thought so, too. Apparently, we were both wrong. It won’t happen again.”
“I should hope it would not. Though I have not seen anything so ludicrous in some time.“ A smile seemed to flash across his lips without staying.
“I was a fool. I must have looked it, too. Lucie was laughing at me, was she not?”
“Of course. The singular way in which you landed across the doorstep could inspire no other reaction.” He did not smile again, but there was laughter in his eyes.
“I’ll have someone bring up your clothes.”
“You may as well bring them yourself. I do not like arguing with you, Charles. It makes us very petty, indeed, and I take no joy in it.” It was as close to an apology as I could expect. I should have expected nothing - it was almost entirely on my side.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know why it happened. I don’t want to fight you; it just seems to happen. I - I’ll be back with your clothes.” I left the room before I said something more I might regret. Apologies are more difficult than arguments. They must be worded so carefully. I returned with a set of clothes as quickly as possible. “They are going to send the overcoat tonight, as soon as it is finished. Once you’re dressed, I’ll have someone come in and put everything right in here.”
He nodded. “Charles? Thank you.” And then he turned away again. I had been dismissed. I left him to himself, going back to the study and fiddling around with papers more than working. Julien appeared a few minutes later. For a moment, he almost looked like himself again. Impeccably dressed, standing tall, though nothing would ever hide his twisted cheek or eliminate the awkwardness of his movement on an ill-set leg.
I smiled. “You look infinitely better. I assume you’ll come down for dinner?”
“Of course. I came to tell you that I think I will take a walk in the garden. I will not be out long, but I want to feel the wind. You need not worry. I simply did not wish you to find an empty room.” He turned and walked back out without another word, his face still expressionless. I did not argue. It was best to let him do as he wished. He had promised dinner together. It would still be awkward and quiet, but it was a start.
Or so I thought until dinner. When Julien came and sat down, I could tell something was wrong. The bitter March winds had worn some redness into his pale face, making an improvement in his colour, but his eyes were darker. He was angry about something.
“What did you tell Mlle Lucie of me?”
“What?” At that point, I had actually forgotten how much of an ass I had been.
“What did you tell Mlle Lucie of my crimes?”
And then I remembered. I could feel the blood rushing to my face. “Only the barest truth,” I responded quietly.
“Murder and treason? Is that how you see what I did?”
“I was angry. I should never have said anything.”
“You should have held your tongue. I have put it in those exact terms many times myself, and it still does not explain those sixteen years of hell and death. Since you cannot understand, and you are not of the judiciary, you have no right to judge me.”
“You’re right, I don’t.” I do not think he expected me to admit it. “I don’t have the right to assume anything about what you did or what they did. Nothing makes the least bit of sense anymore, so far be it for me to try to make sense of it.”
“Do not engage in sarcasm. Why did you say it? You scared her. She is an uneducated young woman who is inclined to believe all her superiors tell her. I am more concerned with how it left her than that you think it the truth.”
“I don’t know,” I replied sullenly.
“You do know. It is the sort of thing a jealous lover would say, painting any faults in the worst light possible.”
“Fine, you want the truth? I was jealous. You go to her instead of to me. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten that you taught me to read from La Fontaine. I couldn’t watch that keep happening. Is nothing of the past sacred to you? Not this house, not our book, not the government, not even God. Have you no respect for anything?!”
“I have a great deal of respect for what is good in the past. And of course I remember how we would read La Fontaine. You were five years old, and I was sixteen, and you would crawl into my lap and help me hold the book and we would read together, each taking a different page. And I would purposely make mistakes so you could feel we were on a level, that you were helping me as much as I was helping you.” It was true. Julien would make mistakes simple enough for me to correct him. I had forgotten it until he brought it back to the forefront of my memory. “You know my religion and my political beliefs. They are in direct conflict with yours. But that does not mean I have no respect for the past. This house was not home to me. Nice was home, the salt air and the smell of peach blossoms in the spring, and sailing out of sight of land so it was just me and Henri and the sea and the stars. This house was a temporary lodging house. I was here for Christmas and nothing more. And Christmas was rarely happy. It always seemed so forced. In Nice, if we were going to fight, we fought. We did not make excuses. Life was real, not a façade. And it was not in this library we spent most of our time. It was in the nursery at home, with the clear, unadulterated light and pure air. That is what I remember. It is those memories for which I have the greatest respect. We are not the same people. We grew up in different worlds - yours was the more sheltered because of the mistakes our parents felt I made. But we do share some things. Do not make mock of them because you think me incapable of understanding, incapable of emotion.”
I was immediately ashamed. Everything he said was correct. “Let’s say no more of it. I’m sorry. We should let it go at that.”
Julien nodded, and we began to eat. Dinner was not silent, as it had been, but it was difficult. It was a relief to part at the end of the meal. Only after many more meals together did we begin to talk without fear of argument. The relief was tangible. We had not been able to speak without repressed anger in twenty years.
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