See that tall, lithe man in the expensive sneakers, running in a practiced, unhurried lope, along the Bord du Lac? That’s Gilles Dupuy, 41, busy investment counselor, confirmed bachelor and a homosexual, ever since that magical afternoon in 1981. He was thirteen then. His friend, Stephane Landry, the same age as he, was there on a sleep-over, the summer break having just begun. In keeping with the times, the rebellious 80s, Stephane had long, blonde locks spilling over his shoulders, his puppy fat still evident everywhere. Perfectly green eyes and long lashes rounded out a face fit for angels.
That day, when Gilles’ parents left to do the groceries, the two had stripped down to their swimming trunks and sprinted into the backyard pool. In there, they’d thrashed around, raced each other and helped each other flip summersaults in the water.
Much later, exhausted, they were wading toward the shallow end, when Stephane stumbled on the drain plug on the slippery pool floor and accidentally caromed into Gilles. They went down together, flaying and scrambling in the water, trying to grab at each other for support. Finally they came up gasping for breath tightly holding on to each other, laughing and spluttering in mirth. Stephane’s shock of blonde hair had matted against his head and his long eyelashes were stuck to one another in little isosceles triangles, as he threw his head back and giggled, his cherry red lips parted, eyes more green than the sky above was blue. Stephane’s back was so arched that the golden locks floated in a halo as the back of his head dipped in the water.
They were still laughing when their lips inadvertently brushed against each other. All of a sudden, all they could hear was their own heart beats. Gilles is not sure how long they clung to each other, as the time appeared to have ground to a halt. He doesn’t know what made him, but Gilles, at that instant, pulled his friend’s face up from the water till they were staring at each other, their faces almost touching, and eyes lost. Fear, thrill, concern, anxiety, guilt, urgency, all of these formed a delicious amalgam, with the unimaginable sense of being in love.
Gilles, the more assertive of the two, made the first move. He placed his palms on the small of Stephane’s back and kissed him full on the lips, half lifting him out of the water. Stephane tried to resist. “No…this is not right,” he wanted to say but couldn’t form the words. He gave in, instead, and returned the compliment with his own.
Later, after Gilles’ parents were home with the groceries, the two had hurried through their lunch and trooped out into the dense pine that stretched out from where their backyard ended. ‘We want to explore,” Gilles had told his mother.
In the dense thickets, they found a sort of cove, formed by a massive fallen tree trunk and some bramble bushes, and they snuck in. Stephane had let Gilles lay him down gently on the pine needles and then snaked his arms round his neck, pulling him down. He’d whispered close to Gilles’ ear,”I want to be your girl…”.
Genders had been decided and they’d gone at each other repeatedly, till they couldn’t take any more and lay in each other’s arms spent, wet and limp, staring up at the shady canopy, drunk with the thrill. Later in the evening, after supper, Gilles had walked Stephane home and they’d parted swearing to each other that no one would ever come to know of what they had between them.
Shortly after that day in the woods, Stephane’s father, a photo journalist and respected current affairs analyst, took up an overseas assignment in Peru as UN Special Envoy, deputed to try to bring an end to the conflict with the nationalist rebel group, the Túpac Amaru, a vicious insurgent army which dismembered alive, captured hostages and government soldiers (the group wanted to follow ancient Inca traditions set by Túpac Amaru, the last indigenous ruler of the Inca empire).
On a Sunday, as the family was driving, on a road trip over the Andean foothills near Nazca, they were kidnapped by the very same insurgents that the senior Landry was deputed to talk to, the Túpac Amaru. No demands were made and they were not heard from since.
As Gilles’ and Stephane’s parents hadn’t been close and more so because the Landrys had moved prior to the UN assignment, coupled with the fact that the Dupuy household were not exactly a TV News watching family, they came to know much later, four months later, about the disappearance. Gilles was devastated. The years rolled by but he couldn’t move on. Being successful and built like an Adonis, there had been countless overtures over the years, from both, females as well as males. Gilles had refused them all. He couldn’t let go. Nothing, no one had been like Stephane.
One evening when he was in his final semester at Stanford, he’d brought home a classmate, Brad, just for supper. From the way Brad was looking at him, Gilles’ mother immediately realized what must be going on here and confronted him after Brad had left. Gilles had confessed his complete disinterest in girls. “There’s nothing between Brad and me, Ma. It’s just that that’s what I am, hope you’ll forgive me and make Pops understand.”
Gilles’ father had sent him a card, not a week after that supper. It’d read,” I’m still your father. Come home when you can. We’ll talk. I love you, son.”
Then last Tuesday, he learnt to move on.
As was his habit, Gilles was up and at the jogging path that ran along the Bord du Lac. The man jogging a few paces behind turned out to be none other than Stephane. If there was a way I could describe to you how Gilles felt on seeing Stephane again, I would, but I’m just a wannabe writer. They recognized each other when both stopped at the same park bench to take a breather.
Through eyes blinded by tears, Gilles peered through the early morning mist,” Stephane, is that you? When were you back?”
“I’ve always been here, Gilles, right behind you…” Stephane’s voice was ethereal. At a distance, Gilles could see a couple approach, jogging. The couple, a man and woman in their sixties soon passed behind them. Funny, he couldn’t hear the thud of their footsteps. He could only feel the thump of his own heart.
Stephane leaned toward him and ran his fingers through his curly hair now matted with sweat from the jog,” You need to move on. Promise me you’ll move on.”
“Will you be there?”
“Always. Right behind you.”
As the sun started peeking over the maples, the mist lifted and Gilles found himself alone once again. He rose, took a deep breath and resumed his lope.