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  1. gor mu

    4. Pap谩

    Thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed it 馃槉
  2. gor mu

    3. Blue

    Thank you for commenting 馃槉 Hope you like the ending!
  3. It was 3:21 am when Lucas Valverde arrived at his small studio apartment in the Almagro district of Buenos Aires. He downed half a carton of Termidor as he waited for the bathtub to fill up; the other half, he finished in the tub. He woke up at 8:39 am, still in the tub, the water long gone cold. With weak, wobbly limbs, he wrapped himself up in a towel and stumbled into his bed, where he slept until 1:05 pm. He had hard-boiled eggs and a liter of water for lunch. Then, he opened a bottle of Syrah. Ex路tra路ter路ri路to路ri路al路i路ty: the applicability or exercise of a sovereign's laws outside its territory. Example given: how Lucas鈥檚 apartment became a separate entity, well outside the jurisdiction of the passage of time. Lucas would wake up, eat, drink, and go back to sleep. Wake up, eat, drink, and go back to sleep. Wake up, throw up, down a bottle of water, go back to sleep. Wake up, piss, drink, order takeout鈥攈e鈥檇 never had Thai before, why on Earth did he order Thai?鈥, go back to sleep. At some point, looking for that tuna can he was sure he鈥檇 seen in the back of his pantry, he found the tiniest little ziploc bag, and remembered how back in freshman year he鈥檇 treat himself to the club on weekends after scoring tens on the last tests of each season. The cycle renewed again. Take half of the (most definitely expired) molly, drink, put on a sick techno mix, dance, dance, dance, sweat, drink鈥攚hen had he bought all this vodka?鈥攄ance, dance. His phone went off, and the words on the screen were dancing too. There was a loud crash, and then he was laughing, and dancing, and dancing some more. Take the other half of the pill鈥攆uck it鈥擥od, he was thirsty. His head was spinning, the whole room was spinning, he was spinning, and spinning, and spinning, and then he was tripping, and falling, falling, falling The lights went out. *** Lucas Valverde woke up in a pool of his own vomit. Finding the motivation to peel himself off the floor of his bleak studio apartment was harder still than actually doing so, even with the vertigo and the migraine and the urge to barf up another coat to the drying puddle on the linoleum floor. Tired dark eyes stared back at him in the mirror. He was still wearing his button-up, once pristine white but now stained in all sorts of colors鈥攜ellow, grey, and an angry splatter of burgundy red鈥. He ran a hand through his short brown hair, only to find it had not escaped the scope of the puke, either. He needed a shower. It wasn't until after he'd stumbled back from the bathroom that he noticed the buzzing of his phone on the table, rattling aggressively with a cascade of incoming messages, the noise amplified by the clinking of empty bottles beside it. He tried to remember what day it was. Sunday. And it was still early in the morning, from what little he could see from his meager window. He was never needed on Sundays, not with this much insistence, at least. With sluggish steps he made his way to the phone, the screen of which he was unpleasantly surprised to find cracked all across. His eyes took a moment to adjust to the kaleidoscope-like filter of the broken screen. Over ten missed calls and a bombardment of unread messages from classmates, colleagues and even Jose all jumped at him with menacing urgency. In the end, he found out from a sterile mail notice from the university's institutional newsletter. "It is with deep sorrow that the University of Buenos Aires School of Law announces the unexpected passing of our beloved colleague, Prof. Pascual Octavio Di Falco, on September 29th." Lucas put the phone face-down on the table again, his knees suddenly weaker than before. Instinctively, his right hand went to the watch on his wrist. Everything had crashed down. *** You鈥檝e got some nerve showing your face around here again after everything you鈥檝e I built this house with my own two hands, Mariela, you can鈥檛 just throw me out like Watch me I know I fucked up but And you鈥檝e been drinking again! After everything you鈥檝e done, you son of Don鈥檛 raise your voice at me, woman Go and stay with that whor The sound of the slap had probably been worse than the actual hit, echoing against the tiled kitchen walls. Lucas shuddered behind the door. A hand on his shoulder nearly made him yelp. Jose鈥檚 voice came in a whisper: 鈥淟et鈥檚 go back to your room.鈥 But the walls and bed covers were paper-thin, and all the screeching of all the crickets in the garden could never drown out the echo of that terrible sound. *** Pascual Di Falco died of a sudden heart attack on September 29th, 2019, aged 62. He was alone in his office. The renowned professor had a long and thoroughly detailed medical history dealing with a persistent heart condition he鈥檇 inherited from his father (the elder Di Falco had also died of a cardiac arrest at an early age). Gratuitous drinking and smoking had done little to lower the risks for the professor. It was sudden, but it shouldn鈥檛 have been surprising. And yet鈥 鈥淩ight,鈥 Jose said as she entered the apartment again, wiping her hands on the sides of her coat. 鈥淭hat was the last bag.鈥 Lucas nodded with as much emphasis as he could muster. A restless sigh escaped Jose鈥檚 mouth as she knelt before him. She took his hands in hers, and in her eyes he found an intimate kindness he didn鈥檛 know just how much he鈥檇 been needing. 鈥淚 know you鈥檙e hurting right now, but this鈥撯 she gestured towards the now clean apartment, 鈥溾揾as to stop. You can鈥檛 drink the pain away.鈥 He looked into her eyes, dark brown, just as his. It was the only thing they had in common. That, and far too many childhood memories they would never, ever speak of. 鈥淗e鈥檚 gone. He's dead.鈥 She pulled him in for a hug. It鈥檇 been a while since he鈥檇 last hugged his sister. It鈥檇 been a while since he鈥檇 last hugged anyone but a man who was now dead. 鈥淚 know, Luquitas. And I鈥檓 sorry. But you鈥檙e alive. Please, try to stay that way.鈥 *** The morning alarm was a portent of calamity. Lucas had spent enough time dreading the dawn of this day to be reminded of what was to take place before dusk. And yet, upon going through his notifications, he still willingly subjected himself to the torturous task of reading the institutional newsletter鈥檚 arid reminder. A few of the other professors in the chair office鈥攁ll of them unaware of what had been going down those months, of course鈥攈ad asked Lucas if he would be attending Pascual鈥檚 funeral, but he had plenty of excuses ready beforehand. Being there had never been an option. Not if it meant having to face Beatriz and Pascual鈥檚 children. Not knowing that they knew. He skipped class that day. Truth be told, he was skipping class a lot, but at least he felt like he could justify this absence to himself. Why had he set up the alarm so goddamn early? The hours went by at a glacial pace, each minute a small eternity in purgatory鈥攊f 鈥減urgatory鈥 was a good name for staying in bed watching TV, eating cold leftovers, trying (and failing) to take a nap, ignoring the sultry call of the convenience store down the block, gnawing at his ear, all reminding him of the fact there was a black hole at the pit of his stomach swallowing everything he ever thought mattered to him in life鈥. It really was a shame Jose had made him promise. Lucas hated making promises he couldn鈥檛 keep. At least he tried not to start too early. *** It was as if someone had fast forwarded the movie to this exact moment: Lucas on his knees, hands holding onto the rim of the toilet, and what felt like his entire digestive tract retching out of his mouth. The excess ethanol in his system and the primal beats of some impossibly loud music playing in the background were conspiring to make his head an uninhabitable place. Having found no success in throwing up, he propped himself up by holding the sticky walls of the cubicle, and slowly made his way back to the dancefloor. He must鈥檝e been there for a while already. He鈥檇 been before, but the name of the place turned to smoke the second the question popped into his head. It didn鈥檛 matter. Faceless silhouettes formed a sticky, dense brush, through which walking was proving to be heavy work. Lucas slid through the moving bodies as neon lights flashed on and off in improbable directions, the beat of the music drilling deeper and deeper into his insides. Shouldn鈥檛 he just have gone home? He felt a hand catching him, a figure鈥攁nother faceless silhouette鈥. In the flickering lights he saw what he thought was the rim of glasses, the length of a luscious beard. He clung onto the figure and let it move him as it wished, a Lucas-marionette for the not-Pascual. Because this was not Pascual. He couldn鈥檛 be, Pascual was鈥 Kissing him. The figure was kissing him, and Lucas let it, and tried to kiss back with as much vigor as he could gather. Something cold, slipping under his jeans; something warm, blowing into his ear. Talking. Not-Pascual was talking to him; but their languages were mutually unintelligible. So he nodded. Whatever it was he wanted, yes was the answer. You鈥檙e beautiful. Lucas was no longer in the club, but somehow the beat of the music kept digging into his ears. That, and the soft lull of a moving engine that was slowly dragging him back to sleep. He felt the warmth of another beside him, the scent of cologne鈥攕omething way cheaper than Armani鈥攁nd the light caress of a hand on his lower back. 鈥淧ascual?鈥 The other man spoke, but words are meaningless to the ear if there is nothing to process them behind it. Lucas buried himself in that embrace, and let the vodka make him forget, even if for just an instant, that it wasn鈥檛 Armani cologne. You鈥檙e beautiful. The comfort of clean sheets had never felt so foreign. Encompassing, but uncanny. A place without light. 鈥淧ap谩?鈥 Something painful, and incisive, and wet. And wrong. Everything was wrong. He meant to say 鈥淚 want to go home鈥, but surely those exact words couldn鈥檛 have come out of his mouth. It didn鈥檛 matter. He stood up. He stood up and somehow, miraculously, he managed to stay up. Long enough to walk outside, long enough to call a cab, long enough to get into the car and blurt out the first address that came to mind. Cold, biting past flesh and sawing right into the bone. Lucas Valverde had always preferred the cold, but right then, right there, he would鈥檝e killed for the slightest bit of warmth. 鈥淲e鈥檙e here.鈥 His eyes opened with the force of a shot. The hammer at his head was relentless; no longer following the beat of a wordless tune but the rhythmic flow of blood pumping into his brain. 鈥淭hat鈥檒l be 750.鈥 The number alone was enough to sober him up to a manageable degree. Begrudgingly, he paid the cab driver and stumbled out. He found himself at an eerily familiar street of tranquil single-storey homes lined with evergreen trees. Above him, the sky was painted in a palette of opaque dawn. He looked down, only to find he鈥檇 lost his coat somewhere along the way here. It didn鈥檛 matter. Each step felt like the most ambitious undertaking of his life. His hand stopped before the doorbell. Then he rang. And he rang. And he rang again. The sound of footsteps on the other side of the door briefly served as earthly tether, as did the flurry of insults in that voice he鈥檇 once feared and hated so much. He could鈥檝e sworn he heard the once-familiar cry of crickets in the garden. Why was he here? The door opened. 鈥淟ucas?鈥 A breeze made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He was here because this place had once been home. Lucas looked up at the man at the door, and said: 鈥淗i, dad.鈥
  4. gor mu

    1. Ius gentium

    Thank you! These are definitely the emotions I strive to generate upon the reader when I write. I'm happy to know enjoying it so far 馃槉
  5. You'll have to keep reading to find out 馃槉
  6. Lucas Valverde had never counted himself lucky when it came to fathers. For instance, he never met his biological dad. He did know his biological mom, though the scarce memories he had of her were not particularly fun to revisit. He remembered her voice solely for one sentence she鈥檇 uttered sometime before he was taken away on his seventh birthday: 鈥淎ll your dad ever did for you was get you in me and sign his name on your birth papers.鈥 Growing up, he would sometimes wonder what his birth father was like. He would imagine him as a fireman, or a pilot, or a rock star, or whatever daunting job was most impressive at the time, whatever cool thing he鈥檇 last seen on TV. Later in life, however, Lucas鈥檚 interest diminished, replaced instead by the cold realization that his birth father was probably just a sad blackguard like his birth mother. Lucas could鈥檝e sought after him if he鈥檇 wanted. He had the name and the national identity number鈥攖hat was enough to go a long way in the internet age鈥. But he never did. Never even tried. And he liked telling himself it was because he didn鈥檛 need it: everything he鈥檇 achieved in life, he鈥檇 achieved without his birth father by his side; so why would he want to seek him out now? On odd late nights, an insidious little voice would slither into his conscious mind and answer that question with mordant candor. Lucas hated that voice. *** Lucas woke up alone. The bed was an ocean of white satin sheets. A subtle breeze made its way through the door, making Lucas shiver. He checked the time. Pascual had long gone off to work, and he should鈥檝e been in class hours ago too. He left the phone on the nightstand again. He scanned the room, bigger in grey daylight. His eyes lingered on the closet. He knew he shouldn鈥檛. He slowly made his way over. The disapproving tug of his superego was swiftly cast aside as his hands wandered over the different fabrics, each giving off a barely perceptible whiff of that familiar cologne upon being touched. He recognized many of Pascual鈥檚 dressing shirts and sweaters and suit jackets, and some of the leather belts and suede boots. Almost without thinking about it, he grabbed a clean striped button-up shirt and put it on, cotton cold against his skin. Pascual had worn this one for a congress at the Hilton Hotel just a few weeks ago, he recalled. Then, Lucas鈥檚 attention went to the walk-in closet to the side, and soon he found himself surrounded by classy cocktail dresses, tweed coats and pumps in sensible shades. Beatriz Di Falco was an art curator鈥攖hough she鈥檇 been known to dabble in auctions from time to time鈥攁nd her taste, conventional as it was elevated, definitely made that come across. He looked around for a good while, his hands more restrained than they鈥檇 been with Pascual鈥檚 clothes. If asked, he could probably not have come up with an explanation for what exactly he was doing. He only knew there was no one around to stop him. Suddenly, his eyes caught a familiar shiny little thing carelessly discarded on a low half-open drawer. White gold and 950 silver. The watch was out of the box it鈥檇 come with, but it didn鈥檛 look like it鈥檇 been used. That, Lucas touched. He took it in his hands and gave it a good look from up close. Something about the sight of Pascual鈥檚 old Rolex and Beatriz鈥檚 precious new watch side by side on his left wrist made Lucas feel a sadness unlike anything he鈥檇 ever felt before. A gaping void installed deep within him, something so old and primal he wished he never had to tap into it ever again. He left the watch right back where he鈥檇 found it. With nothing but Pascual鈥檚 shirt鈥攖hree sizes too big鈥攁nd his underwear to cover him, Lucas went out to wander around the empty Di Falco family home, a cozy鈥攊f not obnoxiously ample鈥攁partment with rows of picture windows along one of the main avenues of the city. His brief stride through the kitchen revealed he had not the slightest appetite, despite having eaten nothing since dinner the night before. So he sat at the window sill and lit up a cigarette, watching the mid-morning traffic pass by the avenue. If he focused hard enough, he could hear the dissonant sounds of cars and hollers some ten storeys down below. So hard did Lucas focus that he didn鈥檛 hear the noise of the opening door down the hall, nor the footsteps making their way into the living room. 鈥淚t would be great if you could put that out,鈥 a tranquil voice jerked him away from his reveries. 鈥淢om hates the stench of cigarette smoke.鈥 Startled, Lucas turned to find a young woman standing by the entrance, carrying with her a suitcase and an impossible number of bags. 鈥淒elfina? I, eh, Pascual didn鈥檛 say you were coming鈥撯 Her lips pursed. She had her Pascual鈥檚 eyes, blue of piercing ice. 鈥淚鈥檒l go put these away,鈥 she said. Then, with that acute irony she鈥檇 undoubtedly inherited from her father, she added: 鈥淚sn鈥檛 it a bit too cold to be rocking boxer briefs?鈥 Lucas felt a warm discomfort travel up his neck, and he was momentarily reminded of that humiliating exchange in that first international private law class with Pascual a good year and a half ago. This, however, was monumentally worse than that. A few minutes and an appropriate wardrobe change later, Lucas rejoined Pascual鈥檚 eldest daughter at the kitchen. He tried to find any clues as to what she was thinking, but in her eyes he found nothing avert, nothing at all. She kept herself busy brewing a pot of coffee, minding herself, as if instead of her dad鈥檚 half-dressed TA in her living room she鈥檇 found a plate out of place. Lucas cleared his throat. 鈥淧ascual didn鈥檛 say you were coming back to Buenos Aires this week.鈥 He realized, perhaps a little too late, that he鈥檇 already said that before. 鈥淭hat鈥檚 because I didn鈥檛 tell him,鈥 she said, her attention still posed on getting the old moka pot to work. Lucas shifted his weight from one foot to another, discomfort bubbling at the pit of his stomach. 鈥淧erhaps I should leave鈥︹ 鈥淔or how long have you been sleeping with my dad?鈥 There was no anger, nor sadness, nor outrage in her voice. It was as if she鈥檇 just asked what size shoes he wore. Lucas found himself thanking his earlier lack of appetite. 鈥淚 don鈥檛鈥撯 She raised an eyebrow at him, as if daring him to test her wit. He looked down, to his fingers toying with the edges of his sleeves. 鈥淎 few months.鈥 It dawned on him she was the second person he鈥檇 ever told about Pascual. The first one had been the natural choice. The second, he bitterly thought, had never even been shortlisted for consideration. The sound of the coffee pressing on the pot briefly filled the silence that formed between them. For some reason, even wearing his usual day clothes, he felt even colder than before. Lucas asked: 鈥淎re you going to tell your mother?鈥 Delfina sighed in what was perhaps the first display of an emotion rationally associated with the magnitude of the situation. 鈥淣o,鈥 she said, and for an instant, Lucas allowed himself to breathe normally. Just for an instant, though, as she followed up with: 鈥淏ut my dad will.鈥 Lucas had enough dignity within him not to beg, not to attempt to dissuade her. He鈥檇 seen the look in her eyes. 鈥淚 think you should go now,鈥 she said. And he couldn鈥檛 help but agree. *** Hugo Valverde was a terrible person. Lucas tried to focus on the good things. It was a thankless mental exercise, digging through the years of morally questionable parenting to find the good parts of what was essentially a broken man. But there were some salvageable aspects to him. He and Mariela had taken Jose and Lucas into their home. He鈥檇 given them his name when the ones they鈥檇 brought with them felt too much like ashes on their mouths. He鈥檇 made sure they always had a plate of food on their table and a roof over their heads. And for as long as he was around, he never stopped pushing Lucas to do better. 鈥淒o better.鈥 Lucas told himself that it was enough; he need not look much beyond that. Hugo was, for better or for worse, the father he鈥檇 ended up with. And, in the very least, he could say Hugo had actually wanted him, which was more than he could say about his biological father. It did not matter that he disliked almost every other thing about Hugo. It did not matter that the taste of beer would forever make Lucas gag, or that these days Mariela would smile only once in a blue moon, or that no matter how much he excelled at everything he did, it would never feel like enough. 鈥淒o better.鈥 Lucas tried. God, he tried. He'd spent his whole life trying. So why did it never feel like it was enough? *** Lucas spent the whole afternoon after that run-in with Delfina trying to reach Pascual, to no avail. The messages went unseen, the calls unattended. His mind wandered to dark places, the darkness of which was not entirely devoid of rationale. He knew what would happen next. He knew, and yet he desperately wished he didn鈥檛. Lucas had spent a lifetime perfecting the art of lying to himself, but not even a master perjurer could escape the reality of what was unfolding before him. He cried. First, in panicked heaves; the sort of ugly cry that was only expected鈥攁nd then, still found unacceptable鈥攐f ill-behaved toddlers. Then, when his throat started feeling sore and his head began to hurt, he simply lay in bed, feeling the tickle of silent tears running down his face and pooling on the pillow. He cried far too much for someone who hated crying as much as he did. And when the texting, the calling, and the crying all proved ineffective, Lucas turned to the best next thing he had to cope with what was starting to feel like a crisis of magnanimous proportions. Luckily for him, he鈥檇 remembered to do his groceries. *** At some point he must鈥檝e texted Jose. At some point, she must鈥檝e arrived and he must鈥檝e tearfully told her everything. He must鈥檝e鈥攖he certainty wasn鈥檛 there, as he had no recollection of doing any of that鈥攂ecause she was now in his small kitchen, preparing mate as a kettle boiled on the stove. 鈥淵ou鈥檙e a mess,鈥 she said. He didn鈥檛 refute that. He didn鈥檛 have it in him to lie to her. 鈥淵ou need help,鈥 she said, and Lucas didn鈥檛 know if she meant help for what was happening with Pascual or for the growing collection of empty bottles under the sink. He didn鈥檛 refute that either, though his idea of help probably differed greatly from hers. He mumbled: 鈥淚 need him to text me back.鈥 Jose didn鈥檛 refute that. Not because she didn鈥檛 have it in her to tell him the truth, but because he was still too drunk for it to matter. *** Lucas didn鈥檛 see Pascual until the next week at class. The texting and calling had continued up until that point, but by then he鈥檇 stopped expecting Pascual to answer. He simply kept doing it because it was all he could do, and because doing nothing hurt like nothing had ever hurt before. Pascual didn鈥檛 meet his eyes as he entered that lecture hall鈥攆ashionably late as usual鈥, but Lucas never stopped looking forward to the front of the hall, waiting, waiting, waiting. He was still waiting by the time the class ended. 鈥淗i.鈥 Only a few students remained in the room. Pascual made no indication of having heard him. His eyes were posed on a pile of papers on the desk. 鈥淐an we talk?鈥 He looked up, and in those eyes Lucas found nothing but a desolate wasteland. 鈥淐an we please talk?鈥 Pascual cleared his throat, adjusted his glasses, fixed his tie. 鈥淚 believe鈥 I believe we should stop seeing each other.鈥 And that hurt even more than all of the above. *** Lucas should鈥檝e stopped then. It was the rational, adult thing to do. He鈥檇 been rejected. He鈥檇 been the meddling third party, and he鈥檇 been stupid enough to get caught. But how could he stop? Could he? He kept texting and calling, despite never getting an answer. He was sure Pascual had blocked his number. He would skip class to sit outside that old lecture hall on the first floor of the school building, listening to the echo of that familiar voice going over theories of extraterritorial jurisdiction he鈥檇 spent so many sleepless nights memorizing just a year before. And, on bad nights, he鈥檇 find himself taking the bus line 17 that passed by the corner of that Napoleon III-style building in the Retiro district. He would never get down. He鈥檇 never been drunk or desperate enough to do that. He simply watched from afar, letting the sting of those memories from the office fill him up with a venom that was not harmful enough to kill, but came excruciatingly close enough. For eighteen months of his life, Lucas had breathed, eaten and slept for Pascual Di Falco. He鈥檇 given and given up everything for him. Could anyone have expected him to simply let go? Someone else might鈥檝e, but he knew Pascual didn鈥檛. One night, having downed the one, two, three criminally cheap boxes of red wine, Lucas finally got drunk and desperate enough. *** Pascual had never asked him to return the office key. It鈥檇 probably been a mistake. The whole thing鈥攅ven the alcohol couldn鈥檛 drown out the voice of reason in his head鈥攆elt like a mistake as well. And yet, here he was, standing in the claustrophobic corridor outside the office door, his head and his heart engaged in a competition for which could pound harder inside him. His hand trembled as he reached for the doorbell. It鈥檇 felt wrong to simply barge in upstairs. It was funny, how his sense of right and wrong seemed to show up at the most random occasions. 鈥淲hat on Earth are you doing here?鈥 His arms wrapped around Pascual the moment he opened the door. His tongue turned to stone in his mouth, unmovable. His eyes itched with blooming tears. 鈥淟ucas, you can鈥檛 be here.鈥 He shook his head against Pascual鈥檚 chest, tightening his grip on the older man. 鈥淟et me in?鈥 The two stayed put for a minute or two. Then Pascual let him in. Breathing in the familiar scent of old book musk and concentrated cigarette smoke felt like coming home, and Lucas realized, rather sadly, that no place had felt as much like home as this. With heavy steps, he stumbled in and plopped down on the laid out futon. Pascual threw his glasses on the desk with a deep sigh. 鈥淚鈥檝e been staying here. With everything going on at home, I鈥︹ Lucas looked up, his vision blurry. Everything was spinning still. 鈥淵ou鈥檙e shitfaced,鈥 Pascual said. Lucas made a prolonged humming noise in assent. 鈥淟ay down with me.鈥 Pascual鈥檚 stare was a glacial gust on him. 鈥淵ou really shouldn鈥檛 be here.鈥 鈥淚 missed you.鈥 鈥淵ou鈥︹ Lucas stood up with impossible balance, landing straight in Pascual鈥檚 arms. 鈥淐an I kiss you?鈥 Pascual didn鈥檛 get a chance to answer. He really had missed him. He鈥檇 missed the way each kiss ticked with the soft caress of Pascual鈥檚 luscious beard, the way their tongues felt like they鈥檇 been made to spar against each other. 鈥淵ou reek of鈥撯 鈥淚 misssssed you.鈥 Lucas reached for another kiss, but this time it landed on a turned cheek. He whispered a plea in Pascual's ear. His hand travelled down and found its home on the tent that had formed in the older man鈥檚 pants. 鈥淟ucas鈥︹ Then came a succession of sounds that went as follows: dull, his knees on the parquet; metallic, the clinking of an unbuckling belt, deafening; the shuffle of jeans slipping down; wet, the slurp of his tongue around Pascual鈥檚 hard cock. The hand on the back of his head seemed unsure of its purpose there; first it held him back, then it pushed him in. And Lucas was all too eager to oblige. 鈥淎ah鈥︹ He鈥檇 missed this too. This, too, felt like home. The hand on the back of his head got too greedy. A string of spit fell on the ground as he gasped for air. He looked up with unfocused eyes. 鈥淧rofessor鈥︹ Pascual picked him up from the ground. And they kissed again, and again, and again, and the whole world kept spinning even as Pascual made away with all of Lucas鈥檚 clothes and as they fell without grace on the futon in a mess of mingling limbs and pained moans. 鈥淧rofessor鈥︹ A languid sob died on his throat as he felt Pascual entering him again, for the first time in what had already been too long. Each forceful thrust he felt fuller, each heaving breath he came closer to being whole. It hurt, but it hurt so good. He was doing well. This was how it was supposed to be. His nails dug deep on Pascual鈥檚 back, his legs too weak to hold the lock. 鈥淧ap谩鈥︹ The warmth of Pascual鈥檚 come inside him was all too short-lived. Before he could react, the older man was dressing up again. Lucas shivered in the sheets. It鈥檇 started to rain. Pascual said: 鈥淵ou've got to go.鈥 He held himself up on his elbows. 鈥淚 thought鈥撯 鈥淲hat did you think, Lucas?! For the love of God, you鈥檙e鈥︹ Something about Pascual had changed, but Lucas couldn鈥檛 tell what it was. He looked worn down. He looked old. And when he spoke, his voice carried with it the cadence of defeat. 鈥淵ou ruined my life.鈥 Lucas shook his head. 鈥淏ut鈥 I love you.鈥 It all happened so fast. Namely, the crushing weight of Pascual鈥檚 whole body on him, the hands enclosing the width of his neck with deadly intent, Pascual鈥檚 face contorted into a deranged grimace above. How many times had Pascual choked him before? Many. How many times had Pascual tried to kill him before? 鈥淢y wife won鈥檛 look me in the eyes,鈥 the professor spat. 鈥淢y daughter, my Delfina鈥 She hates me. All because of you鈥︹ Light-headed. Lucas felt light-headed. His hands clawed instinctively at Pascual鈥檚 hold, his legs flailed hopelessly on the bed. Blue, blue, blue. There was so much blue鈥 How strange was it, the similarity it had with being drunk. He made a terrible noise as the air returned to him, followed by a flurry of coughing. None of it was enough. Old book musk and cigarette smoke had never been meant to be breathable air. Pascual spoke from somewhere outside his line of sight: 鈥淟eave, now.鈥 The lingering buzz of last-year Malbec had died on Pascual鈥檚 hands. Lucas was sober enough to silently put his clothes back on. It was still raining by the time he stepped out of the Napoleon III-style building. It was also sometime close to midnight. Lucas walked. One, two, five blocks under the gelid rain. He knew all too well how to return home, but going home was the last thing he wanted right then. The remaining battery on his phone was spent trying to call Jose, but the voicemail was the only voice he heard on the other side of the line. Home? No, there must鈥檝e been a mistake. Lucas Valverde had no such thing.
  7. Pascual Di Falco鈥檚 father had been a mason. His mother, a housekeeper. He grew up in Villa Luzuriaga, a working-class neighborhood in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. His family was neither known nor well-established; neither of his parents made it to high school, but they ran themselves into the ground to make sure their only son did. And he made it much further than that. As a student, Pascual excelled by virtue of his own merit. While many of his classmates landed snug positions at their fathers鈥 firms or pulled webs of connections into lawmakers鈥 bureaus, Pascual worked, worked, and worked. Lucas saw much of himself in Pascual. Or, at the very least, he liked to think they had much in common. It made him hopeful. Being like Pascual was all Lucas wanted. Being like Pascual, and being with Pascual. *** As Lucas鈥檚 private relationship with Pascual deepened, so did their professional relationship. Swiftly鈥攂ut not without caution鈥擫ucas began to be trusted with more and more responsibilities, far exceeding his role as a mere TA. He would take Pascual鈥檚 calls, answer correspondence, schedule meetings and, if needed, after particularly difficult days, give Pascual head on the parqueted office floor. The new position as Professor Di Falco鈥檚 personal secretary came with a stipend (Lucas had never been so glad to quit a job before) and the benefit of being able to spend as much time around Pascual as was possible barring both their ulterior obligations. He would wake up thinking about Pascual, and Pascual would be the star of his last conscious thought before his head hit the pillow at night. Despite having more free time than ever before, his grades began to falter for the first time since enrolling in university, and he couldn鈥檛 find it in him to care. His friends began to notice. They鈥檇 recriminate him for the ignored messages, the missed invitations to hang out on weekends or after school to revise. At some point, the messages stopped coming, the invitations ceased to be extended, and the friends started to be mere classmates again. Jose was livid. For all he did, she would never cease to be his sister, and so she鈥檇 never stop calling him, reminding him just how odd he was acting, how out of place it all was. 鈥淵ou can鈥檛 ditch everything in your life for this job,鈥 she would say. But he could, and he would, because it wasn鈥檛 just a job. It was all Pascual. *** Pascual Di Falco could count the people he loved in the fingers of a hand. His wife and two kids were among them. He met Beatriz鈥擝etty, to those who knew her鈥攁t an art gallery exhibition shortly after his graduation, and they married not too long after. Six years into the marriage came firstborn Delfina, followed by handsome Rodrigo. As Lucas became a more prominent fixture of Pascual鈥檚 life, he also got to know the people whom Pascual called family. Beatriz was polite, well-spoken and, even in her late fifties, decidedly beautiful. Delfina was studying abroad (she鈥檇 inherited her father鈥檚 academic prowess and secured a full ride scholarship at Cornell), but she visited often, and had proven herself to be as charming as her mother. Rodrigo, for his part, reminded Lucas of the type of boys who鈥檇 made his life a living hell in high school鈥攖hough to him he鈥檇 never been anything less than a sweetheart鈥. Lucas could see how much Pascual loved his family, and how much they loved him. Lucas hated that. And that, in turn, made him hate himself. *** 鈥淎bout time you picked up.鈥 It was night time, and Lucas had just come home from the office. He鈥檇 been ignoring Jose鈥檚 calls for a week now, and he knew he just couldn鈥檛 keep putting it off. 鈥淪orry, it鈥檚 just鈥撯 鈥淒on鈥檛 even say it. If you say it I鈥檒l go down there and kill you with my own two hands.鈥 He laughed it off, but he knew his sister well enough to recognize the hyperbole as a sign of genuine bother. He鈥檇 heard it all before. Lucas knew how much Jose disliked Pascual as his employer. But maybe, he thought, she would understand if she knew the whole truth. And if there was someone in this world Lucas could trust with the truth, it was her. 鈥淚 need to tell you something.鈥 鈥淔amous last words.鈥 He swallowed hard. Confessing a crime would鈥檝e been easier鈥攖hough he rarely stopped to think about the legality of his relationship, much less the morality thereof鈥. 鈥淚鈥檓 seeing someone, Jose,鈥 he said. 鈥淏een for a while.鈥 He wondered if she already knew, if it was necessary to put it into words. He did it anyway. And the pause that followed could have occupied a thousand words. In Jose鈥檚 voice he found more sympathy than he鈥檇 expected, but it wasn鈥檛 sympathy he desired. 鈥淗e鈥檚 a married man, Luquitas.鈥 He released a shaky breath. 鈥淚 don鈥檛 expect you to understand鈥︹ 鈥淭here鈥檚 nothing to understand. You鈥檙e screwing your boss, who is a married man.鈥 His heart dropped. This wasn鈥檛 how she was supposed to react. She was supposed to support him. She was supposed to be his confidant, the only person with whom he could share his adoration. She sighed across the line. 鈥淵ou should know better than this, Lucas. You, of all people鈥撯 鈥淚 love him,鈥 he said, his voice pathetic and weak. He knew it was no excuse, but it was all he had to say for himself. 鈥淒o you know for sure?鈥 He knew. 鈥淥f course.鈥 鈥淎nd does he love you?鈥 *** On a laid futon in a quaint Retiro apartment lay an overachieving law student and one of the most prominent legal scholars of the nation, their bare bodies shielded from the cold by nothing but a squalid bedsheet and the heat emanating off each other鈥檚 proximity. Lucas took the half-burnt cigarette from Pascual鈥檚 hand and placed it between his own lips. He left it there for a second, not inhaling, but simply enjoying the sensation of knowing it鈥檇 grazed Pascual鈥檚 lips just moments ago. The ashtray had strayed a little too close to the edge, but neither of them seemed to care. Pascual鈥檚 voice was raspy and breathless as he said: 鈥淚 could use a drink.鈥 As if on cue, Lucas stood up to pour his boss a glass of Jack, not minding the way the brumal air slipping through the window frame made goosebumps rise up on his skin. He knew Pascual鈥檚 eyes were on him. Handing him the glass, Lucas took his place back on the older man鈥檚 chest, treating the thicket of wiry hairs as his own personal pillow. He ran a hand through Pascual鈥檚 arm; thick, crass, prickly to the touch. He could鈥檝e kissed every spot on his skin, every elevated vein. He had done it before. 鈥淭he semester鈥檚 starting next week,鈥 he said, tentatively. It鈥檇 almost been a year since Lucas took up Pascual鈥檚 offer to become a TA. Pascual hummed in assent. Lucas pressed: 鈥淚t鈥檚 gonna be a year on the 10th鈥︹ 鈥淎h,鈥 Pascual rose, leaving the comfort of the sheets and Lucas鈥檚 embrace behind. 鈥淭hat reminds me. Betty鈥檚 birthday is on the 19th. I need you to buy something for her, just take the card and get whatever you think she鈥檒l find pretty.鈥 Lucas forced his throat to swallow down what was forming at the base of his stomach, dark and bitter. 鈥淪ure.鈥 He stood up to pour another glass. *** The burning taste of alcohol had always been too bitter and too familiar on Lucas Valverde鈥檚 throat. He鈥檇 never drank much before meeting Pascual. And, for a time, he only drank with Pascual: whiskey, at the office. Red wine鈥攐nly the finest鈥攁t dinner with the Di Falcos. Ritzy cocktails at conferences at fancy five star hotels. These days, however, Lucas found a stray bottle or two never failed to make it into his pantry despite never being on the grocery list. Just a couple of glasses over dinner after a long day wouldn鈥檛 hurt, he rationalized. Long days were numbering plenty. *** 鈥淲hy me?鈥 was the natural, almost instinctive response. Although they鈥檇 been side by side in almost every class during the first two years of university, it鈥檇 been a while since the last time Lucas had spoken to Martu Wojaczek. Once a loyal and diligent study partner, her friendship had been one of the many casualties of Lucas鈥檚 all-encompassing relationship with Pascual. 鈥淟ucas, you鈥檙e one of the smartest people I know. You work hard. Do you know how hard it is to find people like that in this place? You鈥檙e the kind of guy we want in our firm.鈥 It never ceased to be surreal, learning people he鈥檇 met in his first classes were now becoming established practitioners of their office. It was a natural thing, of course: that had once been Lucas鈥檚 goal, too; his north. And now? 鈥淚鈥檓 flattered, Martu, really. But鈥 鈥 Martu made an exasperated noise. 鈥淐鈥檓on, you can鈥檛 be serious about this internship with Di Falco. Have you really spent the last three years of your life working your ass off to be an ad honorem at the faculty?鈥 He looked away, beyond the ample perron of the school building, to the row of bare jacarand谩 trees by the avenue, their branches devoid of color. He knew those words had not been meant to cut deeply, but paper cuts can go deep enough at the right angle. 鈥淢aybe I have.鈥 She fixed her coat, impeccably new, as she readied to leave. 鈥淵ou鈥檝e got potential, Lucas, it鈥檚 time you started thinking of what to do with it. My offer stands, in case you change your mind.鈥 *** Chanel perfume, a designer bag, a dainty necklace of rose-tinted pearls, tickets to the opera at Teatro Col贸n. What could even begin to suit Beatriz Di Falco鈥檚 refined tastes? A one-way trip to New York and a signed set of divorce papers. The glass of wine practically poured itself for him. Lucas had been scrolling down the luxury section of the online store for an hour now, to no avail. And Pascual鈥檚 wife鈥檚 birthday was in two days. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a shiny something. He heard himself chuckle at the sweet irony. The watch on the screen was as delicate and beautiful as Beatriz herself, made of white gold and 950 silver. Understated, yet effortlessly tasteful. It was a little on the costly side, but he knew鈥攁nd that knowledge was acrid on his mouth鈥攖hat Pascual would spare no expense when it came to his wife. Lucas raised his left arm to the screen, comparing the newly purchased watch to the worn vintage on his own wrist. By the time he went to bed, the wine bottle was completely empty. *** 鈥淒o I not pay you enough?鈥 Lucas was startled by the irritation with which the response came. He hadn鈥檛 known what his intentions were when he told Pascual about Martu Wojaczek鈥檚 offer. He didn鈥檛 know how to feel about the offer himself in the first place. Perhaps, he thought, he would decide how to feel about it based on Pascual鈥檚 reaction. But this was certainly not the reaction he was expecting. 鈥淵ou pay me more than enough鈥撯 鈥淭hen what is it?鈥 Pascual鈥檚 eyes were cold; colder than usual. An ice storm was brewing behind them, and Lucas was uncovered in its way. 鈥淲ell, I鈥檓 graduating next year, and I just thought鈥︹ 鈥淚 thought you wanted to take a teaching spot at the faculty,鈥 he spat. The edge on his voice was sharper than a blade. Anger laced with mortal irony, Pascual鈥檚 weapon of choice. Lucas gulped. 鈥淚 did.鈥 鈥淎re you no longer pursuing an academic career? Otherwise I don鈥檛 see how this makes any sense for you.鈥 It took him a moment, but Lucas was finally able to recognize the sourness on Pascual鈥檚 face, the grit to his tone. It was jealousy. Pascual didn鈥檛 want him to leave. Something warm lit up inside him. The triumphant beat of a much-awaited victory march. And something that felt dangerously close to hope. 鈥淵ou鈥檙e right. Forget I said anything.鈥 *** 鈥淎re you sure it鈥檚 okay for me to stay here?鈥 Lucas had already asked the same thing twice, both times dreading a negative. 鈥淭his is my home,鈥 insisted Pascual, somewhat annoyed at that point. 鈥淚 want you here.鈥 His arms wrapped around Pascual鈥檚 neck in an upward arc, the older man taller than him by a few inches. Their kiss tasted of sulfur and cigarette smoke. The news had come like milk and honey. For her birthday, Beatriz had received an invitation to stay with friends at a quinta just across the River Plate. The younger son, Rodrigo, was vacationing in Patagonia with his girlfriend, thus leaving the Di Falco house alone for a week. A week. Seven whole days to themselves. They didn鈥檛 bother with pleasantries; they knew each other far too well for that. The welcome reception was spent in hungry kisses from the entrance to the master bedroom, a Way of Saint James from Sodom to Gomorrah. Lucas鈥檚 clothes were left somewhere near the door. The sound of Pascual鈥檚 belt unbuckling was music to Lucas鈥檚 ears. He knew it was wrong. Namely, the sick, debauched pleasure of taking Pascual raw on the king size bed he shared with his wife of thirty years鈥攖hey鈥檇 been married longer than Lucas had been alive鈥, all while the solemn faces of the family portrait looked on from the nightstand. Pascual鈥檚 fingers wrapped tightly around his neck, pace and breath derailing into erratic frenzy. Their eyes locked, steely blue on oak brown. Even like this, the senior鈥檚 body easily overpowering him, Lucas knew this was Pascual at his most vulnerable鈥攈is weakest鈥. Beatriz would never see him like this. No one else but Lucas would ever see him like this. He was his. Lucas spoke, but the words were drowned by the clamor of the shaking mattress and Pascual鈥檚 own bellowing growl as he came inside him. I love you. I love you. I love you.
  8. gor mu

    1. Ius gentium

    I'd been keeping this one in the drafts for a while and decided to flesh it out seeing as I was on a roll 馃槃 Jose (pronounced Ho-seh, as it doesn't have the diacritic like Jos茅) is short for Josefina.
  9. Mister, here is my complaint, I鈥檓 sure you鈥檒l understand; Love is killing me, But I cannot love. I chase after perfection In me and in others, I chase after perfection In order to love. I burn in my own fire, Mercy, Mister, mercy! Love is killing me, But I cannot love! 鈥 Alfonsina Storni, Complaint [Queja] (1920) 1. Lucas Valverde woke up in a pool of his own vomit. Finding the motivation to peel himself off the floor of his bleak studio apartment was harder still than actually doing so, even with the vertigo and the migraine and the urge to barf up another coat to the drying puddle on the linoleum floor. Tired dark eyes stared back at him in the mirror. He was still wearing his button-up, once pristine white but now stained in all sorts of colors鈥攜ellow, grey, and an angry splatter of burgundy red鈥. He ran a hand through his short brown hair, only to find it had not escaped the scope of the puke, either. He needed a shower. It wasn't until after he'd stumbled back from the bathroom that he noticed the buzzing of his phone on the table, rattling aggressively with a cascade of incoming messages, the noise amplified by the clinking of empty bottles beside it. He tried to remember what day it was. Sunday. And it was still early in the morning, from what little he could see from his meager window. He was never needed on Sundays, not with this much insistence, at least. With sluggish steps he made his way to the phone, the screen of which he was unpleasantly surprised to find cracked all across. His eyes took a moment to adjust to the kaleidoscope-like filter of the broken screen. Over ten missed calls and a bombardment of unread messages from classmates, colleagues and even Jose all jumped at him with menacing urgency. In the end, he found out from a sterile mail notice from the university's institutional newsletter. "It is with deep sorrow..." Lucas put the phone face-down on the table again, his knees suddenly weaker than before. Instinctively, his right hand went to the watch on his wrist. Everything crashed down. *** Lucas remembered well the first time he met Pascual. Back then, Pascual was still just 鈥淒i Falco鈥, a name that carried with it the weight of infamy in the winding halls of the illustrious University of Buenos Aires School of Law. 鈥淒id you really sign up with Di Falco?鈥 鈥淵ou鈥檙e insane.鈥 鈥淚 thought you wanted to graduate in due time, Valverde.鈥 Even among freshmen, the legendary status of Pascual Di Falco and the subject he taught鈥攊nternational private law, with its particularly boring and unnecessarily theory-ridden syllabus鈥攚ere the stuff of ignominy, a boogeyman that even other professors enjoyed poking fun at from time to time. Still, somehow, plenty adventurous (or sometimes just unfortunately misinformed) upperclassmen signed up for Di Falco鈥檚 class each year, corresponding to the start of the degree鈥檚 advanced cycle. Lucas was one of the former type of students. He harbored a strong鈥攊f not well concealed鈥攄islike for those students who opted for the lighter classes, the less demanding professors, the easy ways out. The type of students who took the Buenos Aires prestige for granted, who simply went to class for the sake of getting their degree and moving on with their lives. Lucas had earned every single one of his exemplary grades through hard work and determination, and this time would be no different. That first class took place on a hot summer day. International private law was taught at one of the older lecture halls in the palatial school building, but not even the tall windows and even taller walls could placate the stifling humid mid-afternoon heat, which only worsened with the multitude of expectant students awaiting their first look at the infamous professor. The whole class was suffocating with the vapor of nervous anticipation. The man in question arrived thirteen minutes late. Professor Pascual Di Falco was a tall man of languid features. His hair and neatly-trimmed beard had once been a distinct shade of auburn that stood in sharp contrast with the pale of his skin; at sixty-one, however, grey streaks ran through them like a sigil of age. Wire-rimmed glasses framed his steel-blue eyes, as did dark bags brought about by sleepless nights. The first half of the class was spent on mind-numbing administrative babble and idle talk of the general contents of the syllabus. Slowly, but surely, Lucas felt his classmates settle down, the restlessness of anticipation replaced by the possibility of Di Falco being just another unfriendly professor of the bunch. 鈥淣ow, class.鈥 Lucas would never forget that first exchange. He would never forget that first tentative question posed so lightly, so nonchalantly. He would never forget the wording, and the way Pascual leaned back on his desk as he scanned the room, gauging something unreadable by his cold expression alone. 鈥淲here can we find the earliest precedents of extraterritoriality in history?鈥 At least ten hands had gone up before the question had been posed, Lucas鈥檚 included. Of course, he would know the answer to an obvious question. Professor Di Falco let the expectant class wait as he selected the person who would answer. You. The finger was pointing towards Lucas. 鈥淚us gentium,鈥 he said, loud enough for the whole class to hear. Di Falco hummed. Then, for the first time in the hour or so he鈥檇 been standing before them, his face lightened up: a knowing smirk drew on the contours of his mouth, and when he spoke, his tone was lit by sardonic delight. 鈥淲ord of advice, class,鈥 he said, adjusting the rim of his glasses, seemingly addressing no one in particular. 鈥淣o matter how much confidence you鈥檝e misplaced on yourself, sometimes, raising your hand to participate just for the sake of participating is not the best course of action.鈥 Red heat travelled from Lucas鈥檚 neck up to the crown of his head. The silence that followed that was sepulchral. He would have gotten up and left had the prospect of further humiliation not been even more devastating. So he simply sat there, hoping no one would look his way for the remainder of the class and the professor would forget he鈥檇 ever opened his mouth. Someone else might鈥檝e dropped the class after that. Other, less acidic professors taught the same subject with much less intensity. He鈥檇 taken summer courses for extra credit in years prior, by all means, dropping a class would have not affected his record in the slightest. But Lucas was not like that. He鈥檇 signed up for a class known for its difficulty, and he would not stop just because a contemptible professor had relished in making a fool of him in front of the entire class. Even back in high school, Lucas had always done particularly well in subjects when he had a reason to dislike the teacher. It was about proving himself, showing he was good enough to do well even with the authority figure against him; it was about not giving them the pleasure of grading him with anything less than stellar. In some cases, he鈥檇 ended up befriending those teachers鈥攈e was, after all, their best student, how could they not become at least a bit close?鈥. That intense relationship with his academic performance had guided him into finding his passion; it had led him here, to the most prestigious law school in the country. But when Lucas went back home that day, the knot in the pit of his stomach still unresolved, and opened the international private law book on the dining table, he had no idea just how close he would get to that vicious professor named Pascual Di Falco. *** That semester was bitter work. Besides his part-time job and having to stay on top of his other classes (which were, admittedly, less intense but still time consuming), Lucas took it upon himself to become an expert on the matter of international private law鈥攁s told by Di Falco鈥. He did every reading two, three, four times over. He researched Di Falco鈥檚 extensive bibliography, finding time to read some of his extracurricular books to get a broader understanding of the subject. He recorded each class and transcribed them once he got home, and that mellow baritone voice became his night time companion. And he participated in class. It took some time before he gained the confidence to speak up after that hilly first day. But after a couple of weeks, Lucas felt sufficiently ready to start answering questions鈥攂oth the professor鈥檚 and other鈥檚 students, much to the chagrin of the rest of the class鈥攚ith much success. He never stepped a wrong foot again. Most importantly, however: Di Falco had begun to take notice of him. It was in subtle hints; the way he nodded slightly when he spoke, how he looked in Lucas鈥檚 direction when he posed questions, as if expecting him to answer by default. Each passing week, each class, Lucas felt the rush of dopamine that came with hitting the right spot, saying the right thing, being acknowledged the right way. That success came at a price. His already scant social life took a dip. His sister Jose, accustomed to weekly updates in the form of either visits or phone calls, began to hound him for his negligence. The sleepless nights reading and transcribing paragraphs on international jurisdiction, theories of natural law and civil codes meant he wasn鈥檛 performing as well at the dreary customs office job Jose had secured for him. He鈥檇 never been so tired. But it all paid off eventually. It was after turning in one of the many reports the class was infamous for requiring, the last one before the final exam. The class had ended and, like the rest of the students, Lucas made his way to Di Falco鈥檚 desk to deposit the reports鈥攈e鈥檇 spent the past two nights editing and formatting his references鈥. He was about to leave when the professor鈥檚 low voice called out his name. 鈥淰alverde, is it?鈥 A shot of fear crossed Lucas鈥檚 spine. Had he finally said something wrong? Had he been answering too many questions? A few people still remained in the room, either talking amongst themselves before heading off or waiting for the next class that would take place there. The professor regarded him for an instant, his expression unreadable. Up close like this, Lucas could catch subtle whiffs of lavish cologne and something else he couldn鈥檛 quite recognize, but was undoubtedly just as expensive. His hand posed on the pile of reports. 鈥淎m I going to find references to my past bibliography on this report too, Valverde?鈥 Lucas gulped down. 鈥淚 know it wasn鈥檛 part of the curricula, but I made sure to鈥撯 Pascual鈥檚 hand, warm and firm, was a groundwire on Lucas鈥檚 shoulder. 鈥淓asy there, I never said it was a bad thing,鈥 he said. 鈥淚 actually found it impressive. Few students bother to do any further reading, let alone of my own work.鈥 Lucas felt the blood return to his face, and found himself releasing a breath he didn鈥檛 know he was holding. 鈥淚n fact,鈥 he leaned back on the desk, a gesture Lucas was all too familiar with by now. 鈥淚 was going to ask if you鈥檇 like to be a TA for my class.鈥 A spark in a leaf storm. That鈥檚 how it all began. *** Spending half his time and energy working as an unpaid TA was the last thing Lucas needed in his life. It was excruciatingly demanding. Answering student mails, grading reports, sitting idle in classes he鈥檇 already sat for the semester prior, it all took a toll on his performance both at school and work and he was aware of it. He was skipping classes and readings left and right, something he鈥檇 never even dreamed of doing before. Jose pointed it out to him more than once. She鈥檇 walked those same halls just two years before; she was all too aware of what it entailed, and of the stringent requirements of Di Falco鈥檚 class. 鈥淵ou鈥檙e not going to get anything out of it, Luquitas,鈥 she鈥檇 said. But he did. He got to spend time with Pascual outside of class, in meetings of the university chair office, and followed him around in the various other lectures and miscellaneous academic activities to which he was invited. All on the professor鈥檚 request. And watching Pascual teach from the other side was a marvellous thing. Once you got past his abstruse personality, you could appreciate the sheer weight of his knowledge, and the mastery with which he exercised the office of teaching. It allowed Lucas to focus on those things he hadn鈥檛 had time to notice before, when he was just a student trying to ace a class: Pascual鈥檚 mannerisms; the way he spoke with vast, rich vocabulary without even having to think about it; the way he commanded a whole room with inherent gravitas. Lucas couldn鈥檛 say how it happened. Or how it began to happen, rather. It simply felt natural. The more time he spent with Pascual, the closer the two became, he simply felt like he could stop hiding the way he felt. He would casually mention he鈥檇 rather sit for classes when it was no longer necessary, just to watch Pascual at work. He would take the B line train all the way to Pascual鈥檚 office just to deliver graded reports or whatever else was required of him. And it wasn鈥檛 like Pascual was none the wiser. Lucas knew as much. It was obvious he enjoyed the way Lucas fawned over him. It could鈥檝e been a thing of ego, or at least, that鈥檚 what Lucas thought of it at first. And he wouldn鈥檛 have minded that, anyway. But then there were those looks鈥 Stolen glances across the lecture hall. Furtive pats on Lucas鈥檚 back that lingered a little too long. Sometimes they would spend entire afternoons together in Pascual鈥檚 office, both of them focused on their own work, the presence of the other tantalizing enough on its own. Then there were the gifts. A half-empty flask of cologne Pascual didn鈥檛 need anymore; a signed first-edition copy of Pascual鈥檚 first book. The Rolex; rusty, leather-strapped, with a little crack near the five. It all drove Lucas insane. It was everything he鈥檇 ever wanted, but it still wasn鈥檛 enough. *** The first time they kissed, Lucas felt as though he was dreaming. It was late at night鈥攖oo late鈥, but he鈥檇 still insisted on delivering a batch of graded reports to the office. Pascual had not refused. Crossing the threshold of that Napoleon III-style 1930鈥檚 building in the Retiro district always, invariably, felt like magic. Pascual鈥檚 cozy studio office was perched near the top. Towering bookcases and perpetually dim lighting gave life to the place, and at night, the city lights poured from the tall windows as if filtered through an otherworldly veil. When Lucas arrived, Pascual was at his desk as usual, a glass of whiskey in hand, the air heavy with tobacco smoke and old book musk. He poured Lucas a shot as well, and the way his fingers lingered on the rim of the glass made Lucas feel drunk without having taken a single sip. He leaned against the desk, eyes cold as a blizzard, shirt crumpled after a long day鈥攖he sleeves rolled up, and just enough buttons open for greyed chest hairs to peek out鈥. In this proximity, Lucas felt as though air was unbreathable if it didn鈥檛 carry with it the familiar scent of Armani cologne. Pascual鈥檚 hand cupped his chin, and Lucas knew he could never break away from that touch. 鈥淵ou鈥檙e beautiful,鈥 Pascual said, and Lucas did not get a chance to say anything back.
  10. Law professor Pascual Di Falco was equally feared and revered by the students at Lucas Valverde's university. But when Lucas became one of the top students in Pascual's class, fear and admiration gave way to something else entirely: maddening, unjust, and wholly inappropriate 鈥 the love Lucas felt for his professor would eventually prove to be his downfall.
  11. gor mu

    Epilogue

    It definitely gave Lauti some closure 馃槉 Thank you for reading and commenting!
  12. gor mu

    Epilogue

    Thank you! Heartbreak can definitely help or propell creative process, but I suppose it just didn't work as well with me. And yes, the ending might've been a little foreseaable, but I think it fits nicely 馃槉 Take care as well!
  13. gor mu

    Epilogue

    I took a long drag of the cigarette, letting the stinging substance sit around in my throat for as long as I could before releasing it into the air. The smoke dissipated beyond the balcony and into the street just as a coal-black bumblebee flew by, likely attracted by the cranesbills and begonias of the lovely old lady from the apartment down below. Today was the day, and I wasn鈥檛 quite sure how I felt about that. I heard the iron-framed door slide open behind me, followed by a loud sigh that carried with it the cadence of loving disappointment. 鈥淎gain, Lautaro?鈥 I turned to Valent铆n with a defeated shrug. He sat down on the other side of the table and placed a kettle on it, hot steam slipping out its spout. 鈥淗ow long did you manage this time? Five months?鈥 I took another drag, the final one, and stubbed the filter on the edge of the railing. 鈥淚 stopped counting a while ago, to be honest.鈥 I felt Valent铆n鈥檚 stare on me, but I did not have the strength to engage in that discussion. He knew that, though, so when he spoke, it was about a different thing entirely. 鈥淲hen are you guys meeting today?鈥 Well, it was not a different thing entirely. In fact, it was possible I鈥檇 broken my hard-earned tobacco temperance due to that very thing. 鈥淎t five. I told him to meet up at that caf茅 on the corner of Corrientes and Florida, you know the one? His hotel is like, two blocks away.鈥 Valent铆n hummed in assent. His lips curved upwards just slightly, all-knowing. He took a sip of mate, poured water on the gourd again, and passed it to me. 鈥淎re you nervous?鈥 I held the gourd on my hands for a while, letting its heat transfer into my hands. Autumn was just around the corner. 鈥淎 little, I think.鈥 鈥淚t must be weird, after all this time.鈥 鈥淵eah, kind of. I just don鈥檛 know if me feeling nervous is justifiable.鈥 Valent铆n chuckled. 鈥淚t鈥檚 too early for you to be psychoanalyzing yourself.鈥 Standing up, he placed a hand on my shoulder and a kiss on my head, both as warm as the gourd in my hands. 鈥淎re you passing by the workshop today?鈥 I asked. 鈥淚 left my jacket the other day.鈥 鈥淣ah, I have class till seven.鈥 鈥淥h.鈥 I paused, then took a sip of mate. 鈥淐ome pick me up?鈥 He rolled his eyes, but I already knew that was a yes. For the first time in the day, I allowed myself a smile. 鈩 It鈥檇 been a while since I鈥檇 last sat for coffee downtown. The clinking of silverware, the echo of a dozen simultaneous conversations and the sound of smooth instrumental jazz all faded into a single cacophony in the distance as my eyes focused on the view from the window: fast-paced passersby and traffic gave life to the scene, while storefronts and changing lights dotted it with color, saturated against a beige-grey canvas. 5:22 pm. He was late. I wasn鈥檛 sure why I鈥檇 expected any less. Punctuality had never been Noah Schmitt鈥檚 forte. I took a sip of cortado, only to find it鈥檇 turned lukewarm, and caught myself damning the moment I鈥檇 chosen to sit inside as the urge to light another cigarette grew awry inside me. I did not presume to know myself well enough to accurately predict my own emotional reactions to unexpected situations. The last two years of therapy had done much to open my eyes in that regard. But when I received that Facebook message from Noah letting me know he would be in town and he wanted to see me, I managed to surprise myself with the sheer amount of seemingly erratic responses that arose within me. First, of course, there was shock at hearing from a person from whom I had essentially seen nothing but sterile Facebook updates in three years. Then, perhaps surprisingly, excitement: time and experience had long made me get over my teenage crush and the resentment that followed said crush鈥檚 anticlimactic demise; plus, for better or for worse, Noah had been my best friend for over five years 鈥 from middle school up until my departure from New Haven 鈥 and I could still recount many good memories of the times we spent together. But for a couple of days now I鈥檇 found myself blindsighted by subtle, rumbling nerves; a stomach not full of butterflies but gnats. 5:25 pm. I was in the process of standing up to go outside and have that smoke when I noticed a tall, sharply-dressed man with a confused look on his face crossing the threshold of the caf茅. Noah had changed a lot in those three years we鈥檇 been apart. He approached my table after a wave of my hand. 鈥淟?鈥 he greeted unsurely. These days he wore his hair short. The 17-year old peach fuzz I鈥檇 once envied and adored in equal parts had grown into a neatly-trimmed beard. Had he done a double take as well? To be fair, it was possible I鈥檇 changed quite a bit myself. 鈥淣oah. Long time no see.鈥 He sat down across me. He looked around, as if unsure of what he was supposed to do or say, exactly. It was a strange look on him, my brain instinctively comparing him to the Noah that existed in my memory: confident, carefree, the kind of kid who just walked into places with the certainty that he鈥檇 get what he wanted, even if he wasn鈥檛 quite sure of what that was even as he crossed the door. This Noah looked mature enough to recognize confidence alone wouldn鈥檛 take him everywhere. He looked, I thought, a bit more like me. I said: 鈥淵ou came alone.鈥 It was an observation rather than a question. He flashed an abashed smile. 鈥淵eah, Allie鈥檚 sorry she couldn鈥檛 come. She鈥檚 still a little jetlagged.鈥 Allie was, I鈥檇 learned, his long-term girlfriend and now consecrated fianc茅e. Despite the divergence in our life paths it seemed both Noah and I had gotten lucky with our choices in high school sweethearts. 鈥淚t鈥檚 so weird seeing you after all this time,鈥 he said, and I couldn鈥檛 help but agree. 鈥淲hat鈥檝e you been up to? We barely talk these days鈥 Understatement of the century. I did not say that. I spent the following minutes giving a somewhat r茅sum茅-like rundown of what I鈥檇 done with my life in those three years we鈥檇 been apart. Finishing high school, taking a gap year, going to uni, changing my major when I realized I hated psychology with burning passion, and landing my current job as a minor administrative worker at a local public school while I finished my degree to become a social worker. Then, of course, there were the parts that one does not put on a r茅sum茅. My relationship with Valent铆n. Moving to a small, run-down apartment with him. Saving money between the two of us to get a better place. How he was splitting his time between uni and the workshop. How much I loved Valent铆n. I might鈥檝e underscored that part. Probably still not enough. 鈥淲ell,鈥 he said once I was done. 鈥淪ounds like you鈥檙e doing great.鈥 Almost instinctively, I tried to find any insincerity in his voice. I did not find any. I cleared my throat. 鈥淲hat about you? Congrats on your engagement, by the way.鈥 His smile was warm and loving, and I got to see his eyes light up at the mention of his marriage-to-be. He was happy, and I found I was happy for him, too. 鈥淵eah鈥 You might鈥檝e actually met Allie at some point, she was a sophomore at school when you left.鈥 I shrugged. New Haven had never known me as the social type, anyway. 鈥淎fter high school I got into Gateway and Allie 鈥 Allie鈥檚 a freaking genius, so of course she got into Yale Law. I think you鈥檇 like her. But yeah鈥 I realized college life鈥檚 not for me pretty early on, so I鈥檝e just been working as a photographer and doing some freelance gigs, nothing crazy. And Allie鈥檚 got her mom鈥檚 bureau鈥︹ 鈥淎 little nepotism never hurt anyone, right?鈥 He laughed. 鈥淧retty much. Well, this trip is mostly coming out of Sylvia鈥檚 pocket, so I can鈥檛 complain.鈥 鈥淚t鈥檚 one hell of a trip, that鈥檚 for sure,鈥 I said. 鈥淔rom here it鈥檚 Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, right? The whole Andean way.鈥 He nodded over his cup of coffee. 鈥淵eah, we鈥檙e doing most of it on land, it鈥檚 much less expensive that way. But Allie loves travelling and, well, you know I鈥檇 never even left the Northeast, so it鈥檚 a pretty sweet experience.鈥 鈥淵eah. I bet鈥︹ We fell silent for a moment, soft jazz softly reappearing into my the forefront of my attention. I focused my gaze on the window again, but even from the corner of my eye I couldn鈥檛 help but notice just how much the years had favored Noah. I mentally cut my teenage self some slack for helplessly falling head over heels for him. His fingers toyed with a sugar packet for an uncharacteristically long moment. Then, he said: 鈥淚鈥檓 sorry for dipping on you back then.鈥 I turned to him. 鈥淲hat do you mean?鈥 I knew exactly what he meant. 鈥淚t鈥檚 just鈥 I don鈥檛 know. It was weird not having you around. We saw each other every day and one day you just left, and then we never talked anymore. And I know it鈥檚 mostly my fault. So, yeah. I鈥檓 sorry.鈥 There had probably been a point in my life, sometime between winter and summer of 2018, when that apology would have meant everything to me. Today, it was merely welcome. In my mind there was nothing to forgive, the offense long erased from the records. I didn鈥檛 know if it was correct to say I鈥檇 forgiven him, but I鈥檇 certainly forgotten. 鈥淲e had our own lives to take care of. Senior year鈥 there was so much stuff going on for the both of us. I don鈥檛 hold it against you.鈥 His lips pursed. His eyes were still on the sugar packet on his hands. He opened his mouth, but no words came out. Now I couldn鈥檛 help but stare at him. 鈥淚 just鈥︹ He looked up at me. He had dark brown eyes, sable-brown, like Valent铆n鈥檚. And yet, they were so much unlike Valent铆n鈥檚. 鈥淚 knew how you felt about me, L.鈥 I blinked. He鈥檇 known? Was it funny or cruel? Was it both? It was rotten fruit from a beautiful tree. This was supposed to mean something to someone who no longer existed, someone I no longer was. No. Instead of meaning, there was the dull prick of an old needle, the lack of an edge not quite enough to deprive it of its sting. A minute passed. I found my voice, not without some effort. 鈥淒id you always know?鈥 He looked out the window, seeking grit in that framed view of busy Corrientes Avenue. 鈥淚 don鈥檛 know. I guess so, yeah. Part of me always knew.鈥 I nodded. What else was there to say? 鈥淚鈥︹ What was I even supposed to feel? I took a sip of cortado, ice-cold by now. 鈥淚 was a kid. I grew out of it. I鈥檓 thankful for the friendship we had.鈥 He nodded, too. 鈥淚鈥檓 sorry about that, too.鈥 I took a deep breath. I would鈥檝e killed for a smoke right then. 鈥淒on鈥檛 be. I鈥檓 not.鈥 We bid our goodbyes with the promise of seeing each other sometime within the following three years. It was a sufficiently long time-frame for it to not be impossible. Still, I didn鈥檛 fully love the idea of making promises I wasn鈥檛 100% sure I could fulfill. I walked out into the street, cold with the westward wind. Around me passersby still teemed about. I鈥檇 finished my cigarette by the time Valent铆n鈥檚 bike pulled up on the side of the ever-busy avenue. 鈥淵ou good?鈥 I put on my helmet and secured myself on the bike, my arms wrapped firmly around him. 鈥淗onestly? Never been better.鈥 The engine roared. We were going home.
  14. gor mu

    IX.

    Thank you so much! That means a lot to me 馃槉
  15. gor mu

    IX.

    Thank you so much for reading (and for commenting, always)! No spoilers, but the epilogue might be set sometime in the future 馃槉
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