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My summer of love

The next afternoon Gauvain called me to his parlor. His looks were grave and dreadful, as though he hadn’t eaten or slept in a day. I, in turn, felt radiantly alive. The sun which spilled unremittingly from the windows seemed to envelop my frame and pour light out of me. I had been transformed by my love into a new being. I wanted to share my joy with my beloved brother—convince him of my total happiness—but something within me warned me to keep my head.

I had almost forgotten about the doctor’s death sentence till I looked in Gauvain’s eyes again and saw the sorrow writ there. “My darling,” he said and came upon me. He wept over my hands, then pressed me close. I surrendered patiently to his embrace, feeling none of the grief he expressed. He looked into my eyes. “What can I tell you, angelic one? How can I…? Yesterday, I thought you heard… because you ran away.”

I turned away from him. I would look like a fool to agree to the doctor’s pronouncement, with the happiness on my face. I nodded my head slowly. I gestured toward the door, where I had eavesdropped.

“Then it is as I thought. Oriente… I have poor tidings to bear. I wonder if it will break me more than you.” This last, an aside. “I must go away for a while. I know not how long. In the event of your sickness, I cannot bear to part from you, knowing not how you will be when I return. But, my darling, I am determined that you should have the best of everything. We have struggled along badly for a while… but with your illness… are nearly broken.” His voice faded to almost nothing with shame—shame for something far beyond his control.

I turned back to him, the shining happiness blighted from my face, and took his hand.

“I am going to Baden Baden to hire a consultant for the vineyards. We need an overseer, and more groundskeepers. Within a year… or two… we should turn a profit, or at least have something to borrow against.”

I nodded encouragingly.

He seemed relieved at my agreement. I know he thought he was my only lifeline, and that his absence would break me. He called for a servant and spoke to her in low tones. “In the meantime, I have made arrangements for Oskar to look after you. When you were children, you were very fond of each other, and I know you remember, as does everyone in the castle, the violence of your grief when he was parted from you. It seems right, therefore, that Oskar become a brother to you in my absence. As…” In a much lower tone he continued, “he is, in truth.”

Quickly I turned away from Gauvain and stepped to the window. There was nothing he might have said to me that would shock me more. Nothing would control the scarlet flush of guilt upon my cheek, or the panic on my face.

“Oriente… do you care for him still? Does my pronouncement disturb you?”

I turned to him, my smile determined, and pressed his hands with my own in affection. I did all I could to convince him of my approbation.

Just then Oskar entered the room. He was hot and dusty from the vineyards, his clothes disordered, his hair clinging to his temples. I looked at him across the room with unreserved affection. He did not look at me. I could not guess what he thought—if he was pleased or not by Gauvain’s request.

Now I know he must have felt deeply guilty at his deceit, aware that in continuing one relationship, he was severing the other forever.

Gauvain left us shortly, with numerous arrangements of his own to make that morning. He was leaving quite soon for Baden Baden.

Oskar came across the room to me in long strides, took my hands in his. With relief I melted against him and he kissed my forehead. “My darling,” he whispered. “Gauvain told me everything. Last night, you learned. How bold you were to bear it and come to me with no indication.”

I wished that I could tell him how little it mattered to me when I was in his arms, but I looked at him, and I think he knew.

“This summer is our very own. I will love you more than any person was ever loved and leave you with no desire to glance beyond into the abyss. You are mine, Oriente. Now—mine in truth.”

His passionate kiss broke through the last of my shame and reservation. I wrapped my arms around him, and we were only just parted when Gauvain entered the room again.

“You have conversed. Will this arrangement prove to both your satisfactions?”

“I will do my very best for her, my lord,” Oskar said.

Gauvain left the room in visible relief.

I was still overtaken with the enormity of the situation. The memory of my loving brother’s smile stabbed my very heart. He would never have knowingly tolerated my love for Oskar, yet he had arranged a situation that would protract our tenderness to its utmost.

“Your brother tells me that you play the pianoforte,” Oskar said, “every afternoon before tea. I would be obliged if you would play for me thus. I have arrangements of my own today that will detain me, nearly till then.”

When Oskar left me, he took a little of the light with it. I only felt bitterness about my situation when I was alone. I took my sheet music to the pianoforte and practiced with a new fever. I had never had much incentive to be good—but my first performance for my lover was something different.

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