(mun sydämellä on kypärä)
Josh opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling for a while. He didn't know it. He was in some unfamiliar place... which didn't seem unfamiliar at all. Then he turned his head, spotted geranium in the pot and remembered his location right away. The room was filled with the bright light of morning. He grabbed his watch - it was almost nine o'clock. He must have been very tired to sleep so long, even though he had gone to bed pretty early. On the other hand, recently he felt sleepy for the most part, but regardless of how long he slept at night, he never felt rested in the daytime...
He wondered what it was that had waked him. The door was ajar - he hadn't closed it as Erwin's and Cecile's cat had decided to accompany him in the night. It must have left for breakfast some time ago... Josh got up and headed for the bathroom. The cat passed him in the corridor, its green eyes flashing in the shadow. The hosts were nowhere to be seen, but the noises from inside the flat indicated they were both at home.
The apartment had appeared to be quite big and very cosy. The small hallway leaded from the entrance to the bright living-room, which posed the central part. To the right, there was little room whose window looked to the Azalea Street. To the left was the kitchen, where one could eat meals in less formal manner. Behind the kitchen was a corridor leading to three rooms: the bedroom, guest-room and bathroom.
Josh looked around and, upon seeing a lot of books and a wardrobe, realized it had to be Erwin's room, temporarily turned into a guest-room. Erwin and Cecile apparently had separate bedrooms in order not to tempt fate... Then, where could Erwin sleep now? Ah, probably in that little front room; there was a couch, too. Cecile obviously occupied 'the bedroom'. Josh hoped he didn't inconvenience his friends too much... Maybe he should suggest he would sleep on the couch? The next moment he decided he knew what would be the hosts' reaction and resigned. In relation to him his friends were strangely obstinate. He smiled lightly at the thought.
His morning toilette finished, Josh made his way towards the kitchen, where sounds of normal morning activity came from. He was about to knock on the door when the cat slipped out from behind it and then jumped onto the windowsill, never honouring him with a glance. He could hear Erwin's and Cecile's conversation more clearly now, and its topic made him postpone the knocking until later.
"... that you didn't tell him!" Cecile said, somewhat disappointed.
"I couldn't. And I'm not going to anyway," Erwin tried to speak calmly, but there was agitation in his word.
"He said everything is okay."
"You couldn't possibly believe him? You've seen him. If not for his eyes, I would have never recognized him. He's changed so much..."
"He deserves some peace at last. Fond hope will only make him suffer."
"I'm his friend. I have to take care of him, whether he likes it or not."
"Don't treat him like a kid, Erwin! He's a grown up man now!"
"Being grown up has nothing to do with it."
"Why are you so bent on not letting him a chance to be happy?"
"Because I'm a realist. That man has hurt him once, and there's no guarantee he won't do it again. You're too much of a romantic, Cecile."
"Let me remind you, Erwin Argue, we wouldn't even be here if it was not for me being a romantic."
The silence fell, and Josh felt dizzy. Erwin and Cecile were talking about him... They were arguing because of him! What could it be about? Cecile was of the opinion Erwin should have told him something, while Erwin believed quite the contrary. At first, Josh thought he didn't like the fact they were hiding something from him, but then he concluded it could be better that way.
'Coward,' he told himself - and he didn't come up with any retort.
Eventually, he knocked on the door and entered. Erwin and Cecile turned their faces to him, both looking somewhat guilty.
"Good morning," he said shyly. "I couldn't not hear your talking..."
"I hope we didn't wake you?" Erwin rushed to apologize.
Josh shook his head. "I've already got up," he reassured his friend.
Cecile observed him closely for a while, but then she turned back to put a kettle on the gas stove, frowning and clearly displeased. "Breakfast will be ready in a moment," she said. "Sit down. Are fried eggs okay?"
"I love eggs," Josh answered truthfully.
In fact, he would eat anything she prepared. In the residence hall he had to make meals himself - except for lunch, of course - and everything tasted the same. It was quite another thing to eat a meal prepared by someone else... He sat down by the small table and stared at his hands, having no courage to ask what they had been talking about earlier.
"Is it just me, or have you lost some weight since the last time we saw each other?" Cecile asked casually, busy with his breakfast. "Do you remember to eat properly in Paris?"
"I..." he started - and paused, not really knowing how he should answer.
"I suppose you have a lot of classes... But don't forget, 'A sound mind in a sound body,' she kept talking, her tone akin to that of a mother. "Breakfast is the most important. You used to eat for two when in the dorms, that's what Erwin told me. Or, maybe, it's just your metabolism? That you eat a lot and lose weight anyway?"
Josh remained silent - as did Erwin, who kept staring at him, his brows knitted. He tried to smile. "It's probably as you say," he replied finally. "Well, it's normal that you don't eat regularly when at university. It often depends on your timetable. Sometimes you have no lunch break, but some other time you may pop out to the nearby restaurant. I am a fan of their sausages. And those baguettes... I'm telling you, delicious," he tried to sound enthusiastic. And then he asked himself why it was that he had to lie to them.
"I bet they have good pastries, too," Erwin joined the conversation. "You've always had a sweet tooth."
Josh didn't even blink when a sign of Shelly flashed before his eyes. "But they are no match for local ones," he replied.
"Croissants with pudding are Cecile's speciality," Erwin suggested, casting his fiancée a timid look. "While we're at this, it's been a while since we ate them..."
"You're a parasite, Erwin Argue," Cecile replied, pouring hot water on the tea. "But I'll bake some for Josh. It seemed he had no-one to look after him," she added negligently.
"Cecile..." Erwin started.
"No, Erwin. Cecile's right," Josh interrupted him and then turned to the girl, "But you know, university student isn't exactly the age you need to be looked after any more."
"Oh, Erwin doesn't see his studying a problem," Cecile threw lightly, but then her voice softened, "But I think myself that everyone needs some care, regardless of their age." She turned to him. "And I wonder when you, Josh, are going to find someone to look after you."
Josh twitched. Suddenly, he felt an irrational urge to leave. "Me? I suppose... in due time," he replied, averting her eyes.
He tucked a strand of his hair behind one ear and fixed his gaze on the tablecloth, feeling more and more uneasy when no-one was saying anything. The pan sizzled, and Cecile took the eggs from the heat. The next moment a tray with breakfast was placed before him. Rolls, eggs, butter and jam. And a teapot with Earl Grey.
Cecile's hands were trembling. Hesitantly, he raised his eyes on her and, with pang of guilt, saw tears in hers. She turned around. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Why?" he asked dully. It was him who felt guilty here.
"Josh, what has happened to you?" she asked in a strangled voice, still turned from him.
Josh stared at the plate. Suddenly, he'd lost his appetite. "To me? What do you mean?" he tried to sound cheerful and failed miserably.
Cecile looked at him over her shoulder and then sat down facing him. Her eyes were glistening. He tried to withstand her gaze, even though all he wished in that moment was to stare at his own hands.
"When we met, I thought you were... a rascal," she said. "You wouldn't stay still, and you were... absolutely insufferable." She tried to smile. "But it was your charm. You had biting tongue, could pick anyone to pieces, fought tooth and nail, and never, ever, gave up. And we are so alike. Maybe that's why we teased each other all the time, don't you think?" Now her smile reached he eyes, and Josh almost felt like smiling back. "It wasn't so long ago, remember? But now... Now you seem a stranger to me. I have a feeling that when I blow at you, you're going to fall over. You're but a shadow of your former self... When I look at you, I'm close to tears."
"I'm sorry," he whispered. He felt very bad.
Cecile shook her head. "Really, what has happened to you? Where has that vim and vigour of yours gone? That constant advancing? That courage to fulfil your dreams?"
Josh looked at the eggs and took a fork. "Maybe I simply grew up?" he said. "Grew out of the childish daydreams and stopped chasing an illusion?"
"Dreams aren't illusions," Cecile objected, straightening on her stool. "And who said that being a grown up is boring? Look at us," she stood up and cast a glance at Erwin. "We're still love-struck like a pair of teens, and that's because of our dreams."
"Apparently, you were lucky," Josh muttered, picking at his eggs.
"We were. But you know very well we had to help our luck a bit, too!" she raised her voice.
"Cecile..." came from Erwin's side.
Josh froze and blinked a couple of times. All of the sudden, he felt he was getting angry. "Are you saying I didn't try enough?" he asked quietly. "That I didn't help my luck? You have no idea how much I tried!" He put down the fork and looked up at her. "But you know, with two guys it's not so easy like with a guy and a girl! Do you understand it? Maybe in your case it was love at first sight, or maybe you did have to put some effort in order to be together. But in your case it was more or less natural!" now he was almost shouting. "While I am... a freak who cannot but fancy normal guys! Guys who are now living happily with their women! Don't blame me for not wanting to go through something like this again!"
He didn't even notice he'd got up. He was breathing fast, and his cheeks were burning. He just couldn't listen to that... Maybe he had turned out to be a loser, but he couldn't listen the accusations he hadn't done anything...!
In the same time he was ashamed of such an outburst. He had just arrived here, and he was already squabbling and couldn't behave normally. He wanted to apologize, but his throat was clenching. So he only stood, fixing his eyes on his breakfast again and unable to really see it. He felt like a complete ingrate.
However, when he dared to look at Cecile, he realized she didn't seem hurt or offended. Quite the contrary, it seemed to him she was pretty satisfied. A smirk on her lips, she said, "What if I told you Alain Corail has never got married in the first place?"
In the silence that fell Erwin's sigh was very loud.
Josh blinked, unable to move. Unable to think anything.
"Cecile, why-" Erwin started.
"You will be quiet," his fiancée silenced him. "I haven't heard anything sensible from you so far."
Slowly, Josh sat down, trying to bring under control the chaotic emotions filling him. When the first shock was gone and he was able to think again, he felt anger boiling over in him. Erwin hadn't told him something like this? He had kept silent for a whole year? Why? How could he...
He clutched his fingers on the knife, and then he relaxed them. That anger... It was so childish. Reaction of a little boy who wasn't told a secret. In fact, there was nothing to be angry about.
He tried to calm down fast beating of his heart. Alain hadn't got married? But he had hurt Josh twice with his decisions, even before that. And he had never given Josh to understand that Josh had been important to him. One kiss didn't mean anything - even if for Josh it meant so much. There was no use building new hopes. Just like he had told Cecile, he didn't want to suffer again.
But, for some reason, his heart wouldn't calm down.
"Do you still love him?" Cecile's voice cut through his thoughts and asked a question he couldn't ask himself. He looked at her and shook his head. He didn't know. "It's all right. Take your time to think about it," she said, pouring him some tea. "But I can see there's still life in you. That's good."
He nodded mechanically. He still couldn't utter a word.
"I'm sorry for what I said," Cecile kept talking. "I didn't want to hurt you. Neither of us want." She moved closer to Erwin, who then put one arm around her shoulder. "But you're already hurt... and it's very hard for us to see you like this. If it were possible, I would give away half of our happiness so that you could be happy," she said helplessly. "But it's like you said: everyone has to find their own happiness. Josh, and... Don't believe that. Don't believe nothing good awaits you. You are a great person, and you deserve to be happy. Right, Erwin?"
Erwin kept silent, and Cecile had to elbow him. "That goes without saying," he spoke, having trouble to check his emotion.
Josh clenched his teeth. He had no courage to look at them. He blinked a few times to dry his eyes, and then he set about eating.
Breakfast tasted much better he'd expected.
Cecile banished both of them from home since she planned to do some cleaning. Erwin wanted to help her, but she gave him a menacing look and ordered him to disappear from sight. And take Josh with him. Thus, Erwin disappeared along with Josh - to the park.
They were sitting on the bench and staring at frolicking children.
"You must think I'm henpecked already," Erwin spoke with a blush and then added, "I expected you to make such comment yourself..."
Josh was about to lower his head but checked himself. Really, he should start acting normally at last... The thing was that recently 'normally' meant an urge to vanish into thin air or, at least, become invisible.
"I think you've... always been," he said, smiling.
"Ha ha..." Erwin replied but seemed pleased anyway.
Josh realized the happiness of those two didn't get to him like it'd used before. He felt relieved at the thought. If he couldn't be happy himself, then he could at least enjoy the fact his best friends were. That they had found each other, and they kept nurturing their love. That they had succeeded.
"So, the wedding is on Saturday?" he made sure.
Erwin nodded. "Though it doesn't really feel like," he admitted.
"Well, one could say you've been married for years, only looking at you," Josh noticed.
Erwin grinned. "Cecile is really great," he said in a soft voice, beaming, and then he ran one hand through his hair. "I'd never expected to find my future wife at the age of fourteen."
"She didn't let you off the hook," Josh agreed. "But... don't you regret it sometimes? You know, it's somewhat eerie, that you're going to spend the rest of your life with the same person... You didn't even try how it would be with someone else.
Erwin shook his head. "I can't imagine myself being with someone else." He looked at him. "And you, Josh? Can you imagine being with someone else than Alain? Oh, I shouldn't have!" he called when Josh lowered his gaze.
Now it was Josh who shook his head, thinking of his answer. Frankly, he had no idea. That time, three years ago... when he'd been young and foolish, he couldn't imagine not being with Alain. Life had revised his dreams. What did he feel now? He'd learned that Alain was still... available. How did it make him feel?
His heart sped, that much he was sure of. Apart from this... he was all at sea.
During the last year... he had been under the impression he'd no longer been alive. That he'd been vegetating day by day. He'd lost all hope, he's lost his... dreams. They brought only suffering. He could no longer imagine himself with someone. He didn't see himself by someone else's side. Maybe he'd lost ability... to feel love.
Erwin shook him, his gaze worried. Josh tried to wipe off his face all those emotions that must have appeared on it due to his reflection. He shook his head. "Sorry, I spaced out..."
Erwin took a deep breath, apparently frustrated. It seemed Josh's behaviour annoyed him. Josh wasn't at all surprised. Erwin remembered him... different. Surely it wasn't an easy thing to accept - or simply stand - Josh as he was now. Erwin and Cecile remained the same... while Josh had changed. In Erwin's place, he would be annoyed as well. The problem was what he could do with it.
"Maybe I'll do the talking since you have some difficulties," Erwin suggested somewhat exasperatedly.
Josh refrained from apologizing again. It wouldn't be wise to irritate Erwin more... "Then, tell me... Tell me about... Alain's wedding," he asked in a low voice.
Erwin gave him a searching look and then sighed. "Cecile just had to say it, " he didn't sound contented. "I think you should forget him-"
"Erwin," Josh interrupted him, his voice still soft. "You've always cared about me, and that's something I'm very grateful for, but... But I think you can tell me and not worry. I'm not going to get any funny ideas into my head, the less run to him and hurl myself into his arms."
They were looking each other in the eye now, and this time it was Erwin who broke that contact, as if ashamed.
"Erwin," Josh went on, lowering his voice to a whisper. "You've forgotten how... how much you encouraged me to confess to him. Remember?"
Erwin lowered his head, guilt written all over his face. "I shouldn't have..." he said quietly. "You knew him better, after all. You understood the whole situation better... I'm sorry."
Josh shook his head. "It wasn't your fault," he said with a sigh. Suddenly, he realized he had never told Erwin what had really happened. Erwin had had only the superficial knowledge of the whole thing, remaining unaware of the details. All he had known was that Josh had been madly in love with Alain, doing everything to get close to him. "It wouldn't have worked... regardless of what I did and didn't," he whispered.
He had been right all along... and this time the realization was bitter. He had been right about losing Alain - whether he would have confessed to him or kept his feeling to himself. He hadn't taken into account yet another option: that even if Alain had cared about him... Josh would have lost him anyway.
How could he believe he wasn't cursed? As if the Fates wanted that he was never happy.
Besides... Apparently Alain hadn't cared about him enough, after all. One kiss didn't create any bond. Even if for Josh that bond had been created much earlier.
He stirred and looked at Erwin with a guilt. He was really hopeless. Just like Erwin had said: he was not good in having this conversation. "Do you remember that week... when the school ended... in second year?"
Erwin nodded. "You were completely distracted and... you kept saying, 'He'll come back,' while I didn't know where that faith was coming from."
Josh clenched his fists on his lap and swallowed. And then he told Erwin about his last night with Alain, on the day of Graduation Ceremony. He remembered that day so clearly... in all details... Funny, as he couldn't remember his last year at all... it had blurred, merged into one, all days so alike... But that particular June day from three years ago... He could see it with superb clarity. As well as two moths preceding it.
"He kissed me, Erwin," he disclosed. "We kissed. He was with me... wanted it," he spoke, feeling the touch of Alain's hand and taste of his lips. "I didn't tell him, but he... wanted... me." He blinked. "But it was likely due to alcohol," he whispered, seeing Erwin again. Erwin looked as if wished to vanish in thin air. "It was just as you had said," Josh continued in a distant voice, aware his words were accusatory. "He did something he wouldn't do when sober. And... he couldn't come to terms with it. That's why he left. I bet he was mortified... and didn't want to have anything to do with my any more. You know... it's not so hard to understand," he finished quietly, lowering his head.
"He hurt you!" Erwin uttered. "You can't just 'understand' it!"
"People hurt one another all the time," Josh replied, his voice emotionless. "It's what life is about. And... Well, if one kiss was so repulsive to him, then all the better... that nothing else happened," he added in a whisper.
Erwin banged his fist against the bench but didn't say anything. He was clearly upset, but he couldn't find words to express it. Josh wondered whether he believed what he had just said himself... or was it that such rationalization was only one form of self-torment.
"In any case... he didn't come back. And the rest is well know," he summed up. "To you, anyway," he qualified, feeling his heart speed up. "How it was with that wedding? I understand it didn't took place...?"
Erwin stared at him for a while, as if still assimilating Josh's story. Then he shook his head and rested against the bench. "If only it 'didn't took place'... It was a scandal. Well, I don't think people expected anything better of him, but it didn't keep them from being excited for a whole month afterwards."
"Then, what happened?" Josh realized he was on tenterhooks.
"Everything was ready. Bride, guests and priest... Everybody was waiting... And Alain didn't show up. One could say, a runaway groom."
Despite his usual stupor, Josh felt he was dumbfounded. "He didn't show up?" he repeated sheepishly. "On his own wedding?"
Erwin nodded, and Josh was surprised to realize his first emotion was, paradoxically, compassion. "And she... that girl... was waiting there?" Erwin nodded again. Josh leaned against the back. "He did it," he whispered. "The same thing he did to me... He ran away. He left her."
"Bastard," Erwin added, although it seemed he did it because he felt obliged.
Josh didn't care. Despite everything, he tried to imagine how that girl must have felt - a person he didn't even know... whom he should hate... Maybe... maybe she had been in love with Alain? While he had left her...! Josh felt dizzy. Oh, he could identify with her situation very well... After all, he'd gone through it himself. Maybe not to such an extent, and definitely not in the presence of witnesses – a wedding! - but still. He wouldn't wish it on his worst enemy.
"Why did he do it?" he asked, more himself than anyone else.
"I guess he's just so," came from Erwin's side. "He's not good at relationships. He fears obligations."
Josh felt a pang in his chest. It made sense. He knew pretty well that Alain was quite a distrustful person with a low self-esteem. It was never a good combination. Apart from this, Alain always feared to lose his important persons. Just like... just like him.
Josh realized - or maybe he'd known it all along - he couldn't despise Alain. After all what Alain had done to him and hurt him... The wish for Alain to be happy was still there.
But it was quite another thing whether he still loved him. He thought he didn't... He felt empty inside. It was like he'd told Erwin: he didn't intend to run to Alain. In the first place, he didn't know how Alain would react upon seeing him.
It was likely he didn't even remember him.
He swallowed, realizing he'd ignored Erwin once more. He turned to his friend, but Erwin was in his thoughts too. Troubled. Josh wanted to tell him not to worry so much... but he knew how Erwin would respond. Warmth filled him again. Erwin was his friend. The only he'd ever had. A real and best the friend one could ever have. And maybe Josh wished the life to give him more... but he couldn't not appreciate Erwin's existence. He was full of remorse at the thought he had been neglecting him for a whole year. He'd been so selfish... And Erwin still cared about him.
Josh drove away an absurd thought he wished he could be happy just for Erwin's sake.
He looked ahead. Children ran on the park alleys, chasing the pigeons, and their mothers talked to each other. Older couples walked slowly; the younger had yet to show up... Everyone seemed to enjoy the beginning of the summer and the calm it brought along. The day was sunny and warm; the holiday had already started. It seemed there was nothing evil in the world and everything was bright and cheerful.
Josh thought he'd like to once again experience that feeling of optimism that had used to accompany him before... that belief everything would be all right.
He straightened on the bench and turned his face to the sun, closing his eyes and listening to the beating of his heart, that hadn't slowed down even for one moment during his talk with Erwin.
My heart wears a helmet - "Mun sydämellä on kypärä", Samuli Edelmann