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Like A Cheesecake, Part III: Into The Light

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(if there is someone by your side)

Taking two stairs at once, Joshua Or achieved the second floor. It was, however, where his energy ran down - at least the physical one - making him finish the walk in a normal manner. His condition was still far from good, but - as he told himself optimistically - he could jump to the second floor already. The more he 'trained', the better the result would be; that was obvious. He was aware that his fitness had improved a lot during those last months filled not only with climbing the stairs but also some other activities... Yet, Josh quickly ceased thinking of those activities when he nearly tripped and the bag hit his knee. He should be more careful with his shopping, he admonished himself; he shouldn't have jumped either.

Still, he was so hyped up...! Since the last autumn, he'd been driving to despair at least two people: the confectioner from the end of the street and Alain - but undoubtedly it was not futile! The problem was he couldn't find in Paris a cheesecake that he would admire as the one from Idealo. Someone older and wiser would tell him that it should be exactly that way: that those special things didn't belong to the daily life, and it was their uniqueness that made them particular - but it was not something Josh could understand yet, even though he perfectly grasped the idea of the 'icing'. Or so it seemed to him... On the other hand, who could regard a cheesecake as something special? Frankly, not even him.

Either way, sometime in October - having ascertained there'd been chances of success with Mr Clemente - he'd started to execute his plan of introducing a new cake into the assortment of the patisserie. A new type - the right one - of cheesecake. Whenever he'd happened to be present, Alain would look away (and probably sigh deep inside) upon witnessing Josh's performance of subtle nonchalance and appreciation mixed with flattery, its main message being as follows: How come there was no really good cheesecake in Paris? Mr Clemente would witness it indulgently, at first, but then he would start to seem troubled; finally, he would appear interested... and Josh would be more than willing to describe the greatness of that delicacy from the south. By that time, he'd already been pretty popular among the people on the street, and he would take advantage of it. Occasionally. After a few weeks, Mr Clemente had been completely convinced about the need to produce that wonder - although it remained unclear for Josh whether it resulted from the confectioner's professional pride or his wish to be finally left in peace. In any case, Josh had become the first taster in the 'Patisserie Bella', and quite critical, to be frank. It could be that Mr Clemente was secretly pulling his hair out upon Josh's constant dissatisfaction, yet he didn't seem like giving up, and that's how their co-operation continued.

Who was the second taster? Of course Alain - since Josh used to bring home Mr Clemente's all results of attempt to create an ideal recipe. However, it was rather hard to obtain a substantive opinion from Alain because his comments boiled down to: 'Good', 'Tasty', 'Quite okay'. Whenever Josh got into really suspicious mood, he started to doubt Alain's ability to tell cheesecake from any other pastry, for Alain would eat anything with the exact amount of enthusiasm. On the other hand, Josh was very grateful that Alain - and Mr Clemente, too - bore with his... whims. Undoubtedly, someone else would have had enough long ago, but those two must have had patience of an angel.

Josh put today's spoil (as an originator, he was given for free every cheesecake Mr Clemente managed to create) into the fridge and mused. Alain really had patience of an angel. It still amazed him - and for two different reasons. The first was Josh himself, the other... Alain. Sometimes Josh couldn't just understand that someone was able to put up with him; that someone wanted to be with him. It was so strange, so... new and unusual. And then was Alain - the man who, at first glance and judging from his personal history, seemed anything but patience incarnate. Was it about that promise that he'd made to Josh the previous summer? That he would never let him go, never leave him? Maybe. Even if Alain didn't look it, he had his honour. Even if once he'd been a delinquent and conducted himself in a way that would certainly rise objections in an outsider, he stuck to his commitments. At the same time, he lived by quite definite and clear rules and - contrary to someone else - didn't constantly cogitate on his decisions. If Josh would ask him about it, Alain would probably only give him a meaningful look and reply, 'You do know that,' without any need to dwell on the topic.

Josh smiled; every thought on Alain filled his heart with warmth. He was so impossibly happy that sometimes it seemed unreal. He still didn't know how he'd deserved such happiness... Yet, presently, whenever his thoughts started to head towards doubting that joy would last, he forced himself to change the topic. Dwelling on the possibly gloomy future was senseless; sensible was enjoying that joy to the fullest - and that was what he did. Besides, he recently felt that such a good luck in private life came at a price of bad luck in everything else. For previous twenty years he hadn't experienced so many different - little, stupid, impossible - harms as in the last half a year. He'd been robbed twice. He'd had at least three terrible colds, and once he'd slipped on the street and bruised himself painfully. He'd got burned in the kitchen several times and nearly cut off his finger on several occasions. Twice, he'd been short of one point on a test, and he missed by one day a deadline of submitting an important essay because the required book had vanished from the library, and had had to write another text. Metro had had a breakdown just on his way to the exam. He'd missed the chance for an extra stipend at the very last moment because of the change in criteria, and he no longer qualified. He'd torn his new coat on the door at the station and lost a scarf as well as his credentials. The upstairs neighbour had flooded their flat, and the TV one day had simply exploded... And so on. There was no week without something new - unpleasant - happening, and Josh had subconsciously begun to await another 'disaster', a kind of: 'What next?'

Josh realized his life until now had been very ordered and rather predictable; he'd contributed to this as a person with a strong sense of purpose and responsibility for himself, which translated into precision and attention. Now he would often catch himself thinking he had no control over his own life, that - in different circumstances - could be called unlucky. However, every time he reached such a conclusion, he told himself that if he were to choose between good luck in love and good luck in daily life... then there was no real choice at all. What would he do with all the luck of the world if his life didn't contain what really mattered to him? He knew perfectly well how it was: to live without love, all alone, all by himself, without a single person he could share joy and sorrow with. Right, as far as he was concerned, he would gladly trade all luck of his lifetime - and the next ones too - for Alain. Especially that it was much easier to bear with adversities together. Whenever he reported what had happened to him again and how much he had enough of it already, and Alain reacted in one way or another - sometimes only with a glance, sometimes with some word - then those troubles could be easily forgotten. There was no point in attaching any importance to them; he just had to accept that misfortunes were part of life, too - and that was all.

The more reason to pick up and appreciate those positive things, he thought, breaking away from the reverie, and fixed his eyes on the fridge. His smile got even wider. He was almost sure that Mr Clemente had finally managed to create a cheesecake as good as the one from Idealo - at least in the meaning of taste - and hence his enthusiasm today. Quite another thing was whether Alain would feel the same way when treated with the same familiar pastry that someone else would be sick of long ago. Alain, apparently, was one of those people who ate everything and never complained about food - another thing they had in common.

Alain was out - he hadn't yet come back from his very indefinite work - but Josh had returned home earlier today. Where Alain worked - and what he exactly did - remained a mystery since he didn't want to talk about it and Josh didn't press, aware of his secretiveness and desire to keep some things to himself. Alain shared his everyday - and everynight - life with him, so Josh had to let him have some privacy. If he thought of it, he himself had some business Alain was unaware of; it was natural that way. What mattered was mutual trust, and that could be achieved without knowing the other person will all their aspects and details, right?

Josh let himself yet another moment of reflection before he set about making a dinner. They felt very good with Alain. After that incredible summer in Idealo, its memory still so unreal, they'd come back to Paris together. They'd rend a flat by rue Keller, close to the Place de la Bastille, in old but nicely maintained tenement house. Sometimes climbing the stairs up to the fourth floor drove Josh mad, but usually he motivated himself with health benefits. The flat wasn't very big, but two rooms with a kitchen and a bathroom were enough for two people. Even though windows looked to the inner yard, the place was bright, also because of light wallpaper. At first, Alain had been negative - it could be that the flat had reminded him of that shabby room he'd occupied back in Idealo - but Josh had taken liking to it at once, so he'd tried anything to persuade Alain to stay here. The main advantage was the location - close to the city centre and Josh's university, but far enough from the traffic and its noise - and the rent was very decent, for the conditions. Josh hadn't said it aloud, but the financial issues were important to him since it was Alain paying; his scholarship money could merely support their household budget... He'd never wanted to expose Alain to more expenses than absolutely necessary, even if Alain imagined he was an owner of some fortune. Well, maybe he didn't since he'd found himself a job. And, as far as he was concerned, he could do anything, starting with cleaning the corridors, through working as a porter, and finishing with giving the maths lessons; Josh had no trouble imagining Alain as a man for every job. However, now that he thought about it, his ideas weren't so complimentary for Alain every time.

He shook his head and got to preparing a meal. It didn't matter whether Alain worked physically or mentally; he needed food nonetheless. Josh consider himself rather poor cook, but even he could make simple food - and one of his deep dark secrets was a correspondence course in cooking. Actually it was pretty amusing - and quite embarrassing - story that originated from Idealo and last summer. In short, as soon as she'd learned about his plans for the nearest future, Cecile had offered she would give him some cooking lessons and had been so enthusiastic about it that Josh had had to use all his wit to not offend her with his refusal - and it was what Erwin had advised him to do right away. In the end, it was Erwin that had got him out of trouble, telling his wife up front that she should first brush up her own skills before she started to teach others. It was hard to tell whose interest he'd wanted to protect in the first place, but the fact was that Cecile, who'd never lacked the ability to look at herself in a critical way, had swallowed down his remark and enrolled on a cookery course... and since then had been sending Josh all the materials, once she'd used and absorbed them herself. Apparently, she felt they were on the same side of the barricade... Josh didn't mean to miss that opportunity and would sometimes prepare something from the recipe... and kept tucking the consecutive issues of "Perfect Housewife" magazine behind the textbooks and notebooks, wondering occasionally what to with them once the academic year was over and he had to return the stuff to the library.

The dinner was already on the heat when Josh, washing the dishes, mused over his two friends he'd once again left in Idealo. The memory of the last summer could still warm his heart, even though there were things he remembered very vaguely, mostly due to the elation he'd been in... and chronic lack of sleep had done its job, too. Initial surprise of Erwin and Cecile when he'd told them what had happened during their absence. ('You really can't be left alone, not even for a moment...') Erwin's anger that no explanation could avert. ('Never in my life have I been so mad with you.') Josh's persistent attempts of alleviating the situation and nearly humiliating entreaties that Erwin forgave Alain after all. ("No, no and once again no! I can't trust him, and I can't understand how you can.") It'd lasted the whole holidays and indicated that good-natured and gentle Erwin had been really furious - because he'd always cared so much. Of course, Josh would never hold it against him, but he'd wanted that their relation be back at normal before they parted again, and hadn't given up. In the end, he'd got his own way, and in the last week of August Erwin not only had ceased shouting at him but also had met with Alain and had a real man-to-man talk with him, its content Josh could only guess at. And their parting at the station had been a show of the greatest friendship in the world... well, would have been, if not for Erwin and Alain trying not to talk to each other and Cecile constantly giggling up her sleeve upon that comedy performed by the three men. It was with some relief that Josh had left Idealo although he'd known perfectly well that he would start missing his friends as soon as he reached Paris. And he did - but now he could bear with that longing easily since he had the most important person by his side.

He turned down the heat and ran down to throw the rubbish. On his return way he met Mrs Bonnet, who lived on the first floor and used to chitchat with him on a regular basis. Josh tried to maintain good relations with his neighbours, and he truly liked Mrs Bonnet, who, despite her talkativeness, was friendly and helpful old lady, and so he decided to spare her a moment now as well, mindful of the boiling dinner nonetheless.

"Well, you see, my dear, we've been wondering a lot about you and Mr Alain," the woman said right after her remark on the weather and rising prices of vegetables. "You don't look like brothers... Am I right that you've come from the south? I imagine Paris is expensive and not everyone can afford to rent a flat by himself. And, of course, it's always nicer to have a company of someone you've already known from before. I bet you attended the same school, right? You must've been mates in your home-town, haven't you? You seem very close friends... hmm?"

Josh opened his mouth to answer that, essentially, it held true, but that moment loud steps echoed on the staircase, and the two of them were passed by Pierre Roland, a young journalist from the fifth floor, who above all couldn't stand overly curious people; he must have been in hurry for the evening shift. Before Josh or Mrs Bonnet managed to greet him, he threw out, never slowing down, "I bet they're lovers, you nosy old hag!" The next moment he vanished on the ground floor, and only bang of the main door could be hear before the silence fell again.

Mrs Bonnet shook her head in disapproval and, upon seeing Josh's stupefied expression, spoke with a clear consolation, "No use caring about the idiots, dear. They only talk through their hats. And that specific one everyday seems as if he got out of bed on the wrong side." She looked down the stairs and then, in a voice that surprised Josh much more that the earlier remark of the journalist, she added, "He's probably jealous. Don't worry about it," she repeated and withdrew into her flat. "I've baked some cupcakes with custard, I want you to have some."

"My dear Mrs Bonnet," Josh choked out once he finally recovered from the shock, "we already have a dessert... some cheesecake from Mr Clemente... We really shouldn't eat so much sweets."

"Ah, I see," the neighbour replied with resentment, "my home-made baking can't compare with the delicacies of our precious Mr Clemente..." Then she blinked, even before he managed to oppose. "I'm of the opinion that eating so much sweets will only do you some good. You're both so skinny. I bet university students often starve...?"

"Well no, it's not that bad," Josh laughed. "Even as we speak I have a dinner on the heat. Actually, I must go now..."

"In that case, I'm going to bring the cupcakes later," Mrs Bonnet decided, and Josh suppressed a sigh, asking himself inwardly whether Pierre wasn't right after all; neighbours could be troublesome.

However, when Mrs Bonnet indeed stopped by some time later, the talk they had, proceeded in a completely different way that Josh had expected. First of all, the old lady didn't question him about the details of his living with Alain but instead told about her only granddaughter Anne, who a few weeks earlier, just before Christmas, had announced that she wasn't interested in boys and then, a bit later, introduced her friend to her parents.

"Her girlfriend," Josh corrected instinctively before he realized it.

Mrs Bonnet looked at him closely, and then nodded with some reserve before continuing her story. About how Anne's parents were astonished and disconcerted. About how they didn't know how to react. About how dejected was Anne herself, but also determined to have her way accepted. About how Christmas had been quite sad, its atmosphere far from normal. About how she herself had no idea how to talk with Anne and, in fact, didn't want to see her for a while - which pained her because she lover her granddaughter will all her heart. And how she still couldn't really pull herself together. Josh listened to it silently and no longer wished the neighbour shouldn't have come. After all, Pierre was wrong, accusing all neighbours of nosiness; it appeared there could be more behind it.

Finally, Mrs Bonnet fell silent and gave him a somewhat helpless look. It was obvious that conversation distressed her, and Josh wondered how he could console her. "You and Mr Alain too... You're not just friends, right?" she asked in the end, and Josh was sure it hadn't come easy to her.

He hesitated only a moment and then nodded, looking her in the eyes. Hiding it from her was pointless. Besides, they'd never particularly been hiding it; it was just that he and Alain weren't people that put their relationship on display. What other might think about them wasn't really their business. "No, Mrs Bonnet," he said. "We aren't."

The look in woman's eyes didn't change - there was still only sadness in it, which he welcomed with relief, but with some satisfaction too. For a while now, he'd been thinking that no contempt would meet him from her side, and now he was sure. "And how... how did your family reacted when... when they learned about it?" Mrs Bonnet asked in a low voice. "Your parents? Other relatives?"

The stab in his heart was so faint he almost didn't feel it. "I was orphaned in early childhood," he replied gently. "I have no living relatives... Well, in any case, I don't know of any. I was brought up by a foster grandfather, but he died long ago as well. Still, I'm sure that, had he lived-"

He paused, surprised, when Mrs Bonnet involuntarily raised her hand as if she wanted to stroke him on the hair. She lowered it right away; maybe she realized it was an adult man sitting in front of her. "I had no idea... Forgive me," she said.

He shook his head. "But I have two wonderful friends, who are like brother and sister to me, and support me in anything," he responded, smiling. He could never think of Erwin and Cecile without a smile. "And then there's Alain..." he added in a softer voice.

Mrs Bonnet kept staring at him with some greediness and seemed to listen to his words quite attentively. The flat was pleasantly quiet. In the kitchen, the fridge was humming; in the bathroom, water was whooshing in the pipes. Through the window came the sound of children playing in the yard. Slowly, it was getting dark; the January evening was falling.

"And you are... you are happy together?" the old lady finally asked, as if it hadn't been a few minutes since he'd spoken. "Ah, but you are," she replied herself at once. "You must be, everyone can say it. Someone who has such bright eyes and laugh that way can't be unhappy."

It made Josh smile again.

"Yes, that's it!" Mrs Bonnet went on. "How I wish Anne smiled like that, too...!"

"In that case, Mrs Bonnet, you should keep treating her as your beloved granddaughter," Josh stated the most obvious truth under the sun. "That's all what Anne needs now: support and acceptance of her family. People like me or her are often disliked by others, and thus it's so important to be able to rely on those who are important to us; that way, it's easy not to care about what other people think. I'm sure you can understand it...?"

The woman nodded slowly, and then her face brightened a bit; for a split second, she seemed much younger. "My husband and I... We got engaged against our families' will, and it was close that our parents turned their back on us. Long time passed before they accepted our decision... our love," she said in a lower voice, looking in the distance. "I can still remember how hard it was for me when my mother didn't want to talk with me. She didn't even want to see me..." She focused her eyes on Josh again and frowned. "Yes, you're right. No-one should experience such things," she admitted. "When I think that Anne... Now I see that I was thinking only of myself, how selfishly. Not for a moment have I thought of her and about how she felt. I didn't imagine how hard it was for her, too." She wiped tears gathering in the corner of her eyes and took out the handkerchief.

"Mrs Bonnet, nothing happened that can't be undone," Josh rushed to assure her. "The most important thing is that no-one rejected Anne. There are many parents who cut themselves off their child completely upon learning that... he or she loves people of the same sex, even though it's not something one can control. But neither you nor Anne's parents did anything like that, right?" The woman nodded. "You see, Mrs Bonnet," Josh went on, "it's only natural that you were surprised. I think it's always a shock for a family," he tried to talk in a wise voice of a future psychologist, even though they had yet to study such things, so he simply trusted his intuition. "Usually, parents don't expect that their child will be... abnormal."

Mrs Bonnet flinched. "How terribly you speak now!"

"I don't like that word either," Josh replied. "'Normal' meaning 'common, occurring in most cases.' No-one can deny the relatives the right to feel sad, maybe even disappointed. I think such reactions are inevitable. People can hardly help their emotions... It's not about how old one is. Both parents and children have right to feel the way they do, just like everyone else. More important is not to hurt each other, not intentionally... Mrs Bonnet, you've forgiven your parents the way they treated you when you got married against their expectations, haven't you?"

"Yes. At first I was resentful that they didn't accept my choice, but then I understood that they were concerned about me. They wanted the best for me and were upset with my decision. I know they wanted me to be happy."

"But you also know that a person can create their own happiness only with their own hands, even if parents may think differently."

"Yes," Mrs Bonnet said again. "My husband and I lived over forty years together and were truly happy. Jean died two years ago..." she added in a softer voice and fell into silent reverie; Josh didn't interrupt her.

Only when the clock struck five he repeated calmly, "Everyone creates their happiness by themselves. I'm sure that Anne will, too. And I am equally sure that she won't suffer any harm from her family. You just need time to get used to her choice... not that it was any real choice..."

Mrs Bonnet looked at him and then clutched her hands on the fabric of her skirt. "I think we've already wasted enough time. I'm going to call her tonight and ask her to drop in the next Saturday."

"That's what you wanted to do all along, didn't you?" Josh guessed with a smile.

For a while, the older woman was silent, and then she answered, "Yes, you're probably right. I longed to see her all that time, I just didn't know how to treat her... and it seemed to me that new... thing stood between us."

"But now it'll be easier for you to talk with her?"

Mrs Bonnet nodded. "She's my only granddaughter. I've been loving her for eighteen years. Why should it change now?"

Josh straightened his back. "If you only knew how many people need such words... How many different people."

Mrs Bonnet wiped her eyes again. "Then you really... You really can be happy, too?" she asked somewhat shyly.

"Of course. Just like anyone with the right person. We are just like everyone else," he stressed.

"And there's no reason to be... concerned about?"

"Maybe Anne's girlfriend is a shady person...?"

"By no means!" the neighbour seemed offended. "A university student and a good girl."

"Then you see yourself," Josh replied, trying to remain serious. "And my Alain... He was a school delinquent, and now everything goes smoothly for us."

Mrs Bonnet blinked. "I haven't heard any complaints. Everyone here likes you because you're decent. And you can never be sure in tenements; sometimes it's all drinking and rows, night brawls and so on. Here, it's quiet, so the air is good. Except for that one from the fifth floor," she added sourly. "Fortunately, he keeps to himself."

"In that case, I wonder how Mr Roland..." Josh paused, deep in thought. "He couldn't possibly hear anything...?"

"Don't worry. In this kind of building, sounds hardly spread vertically," she assured him at once. "Sometimes you can hear through the walls, but your bedroom is by the gable, isn't it? It's impossible that the people from the next building noticed anything..."

"Mrs Bonnet...!" he called out with a blush.

"What? But you don't just sit and hold hands, do you?" she asked, and Josh had no idea whether her surprise was faked or not.

"I think you went from one thing to another too quickly..." he muttered although actually he felt like laughing.

"I just..." now it was Mrs Bonnet who seemed at a loss, "I decided to think of Anne and her friend... or about you and Mr Alain... the same way I think of my husband and myself. While we weren't angels, definitely not... I can tell you that we were intimate with each other until the very end." She mused, apparently deep in her memories. "I suppose you think it's obscene what I say, don't you?" she asked, looking askance at him, and quite provocatively.

"Of course I don't think that. Quite the contrary, I regard you as an exceptional person, Mrs Bonnet," Josh replied from the bottom of his heart and then burst out laughing, happy to notice that the old lady finally brightened up.

"That talk really helped me," she confessed. "I'm glad I had courage to come here."

"You can always talk with me," Josh said on the spur of the moment.

"I'd talk your ear off," she replied with auto-irony. "Thank you for today. I'd like to repay you for it..."

"Mrs Bonnet, what are you talking about? You're very strong. And you made a decision even before coming here, I've done anything..."

"You've done very much, my dear. I think I'll be able to finally talk with my daughter and son-in-law, for until now we've been avoiding that topic as if it didn't exist while in reality none of us could think of anything else. Ah, but we've eaten all cupcakes!" she noticed. "I'll bring more."

"But we still have that cheesecake..." Josh tried to protest.

"In that case, I'll be frank; I just want to have a closer look at Mr Alain," she confessed with a spark in her eyes. "A delinquent you say... In his youth, my Jean was pretty much a rascal himself, but after we married he settled down and became a teacher. I can't deny that I liked that cheeky smile of his, and sometimes I did miss it..."

Josh sighed inwardly; Mrs Bonnet started to overwhelm him. "Alain is very good at maths..." he said for some reason and then rebuked himself. Really, was mathematical skills the only thing he could praise Alain for before strangers? For Heaven's sake, he wasn't a kid...

"Oh, then, you know, maybe sometimes he could stop by and help me with household accounts?" the neighbour exclaimed buoyantly. "My eyes give me trouble, and my memory is no longer what it was..."

Suddenly Josh was glad Alain couldn't hear it. Apparently, everyone had a tendency to underestimate him, and Josh was the first... "I'll give him your regards, Mrs Bonnet."

"Tell him he's always welcomed for tea. Both of you are. Or I'm going to tell him myself." Josh rolled his eyes, hearing that. "Thank you, dear. You're really good and wise man."

Josh shook his head. "I'm very immature. I just say what I think," he replied, somewhat abashed, and looked down.

"Sometimes it's the best thing to do," the old lady decided. "Nowadays people too often hide behind glib words, while their hearts are full of envy and spite. Or maybe it was always like that, I don't know..." she said distractedly before fixing her eyes on him again. "In any case, don't worry about that hack. He would say anything to tease me. But this time he miscalculated, ha-ha!"

"Then, you think he doesn't really...?"

"Devil only knows. He's clever, I'll give him that," Mrs Bonnet admitted reluctantly, "so he might have guessed, if such an old hag like me guessed. But I don't think he would make a song and dance about it, he's not that type," she decided and got up.

"As I said, you are exceptional, Mrs Bonnet," Josh said cordially, rising as well and wondering distractedly who it was that the old lady reminded him of...

He saw her to the door. In the staircase, she turned to him again and say, "I'd really love to do something for you, dear."

It was that moment that an inspiration struck him. He looked around to be sure no-one could hear them and then asked in a low voice, "Do you have some time to spare?"

"I have so much free time that I must busy myself with gossiping to fill it," she replied ironically.

"Then..." He hesitated, aware how stupid would sound what he was going to ask, but once he'd made up his mind... "Maybe you could teach me how to cook?"

Mrs Bonnet raised her eyebrows in astonishment, but then she patted him on the shoulder. "No problem, dear," she answered with sympathy. "Drop in whenever you like."

"I'm sure it won't be more than two, three times per month," he replied with some embarrassment, but he was really glad she hadn't commented his unusual request in any other way.

"I'll be pleased nonetheless," she assured him, and he could believe her.

"Thank you very much, Mrs Bonnet."

The woman smiled at him and started to descend the stairs. Josh closed the door and returned to the living-room. Looking at the couch and the armchair, where he and the neighbour had spent a longer while, he realized that from this day he would feel even stronger that he belonged to this place. The conversation with the older woman had pleased him a lot, but at the same time it reminded him of one thing that had been out of his mind for a longer time: that in this world were also people who didn't sympathize with the likes of him. That thought was almost bitter, but he could relieve it with confidence that at least Mrs Bonnet wasn't one of them. Josh smiled at the memory of the elder woman's enthusiasm. Yes, some people were good by nature and cared about others regardless of anything. As long as he had them around him, everything would be all right. Now he was even happier that he'd persuaded Alain that they stayed here; they might have ended much worse...

The sound of a key being turned in the lock interrupted his reflection and made his heart leap.

Alain returned home.

Millenium, "The Circles of Life"