Back in Paris, imagine me now sighing impatiently at Nicki's cynicism. "What's got into you?" My tone had sharpened as it does when I become frustrated.
He pulled away, his attitude suddenly cool. ‘I don't care if you bed the queen, my friend. You'd hardly be the first, she's a bigger whore than even you. Why do you persist in this? Take her and be damned.’
It doesn't exactly paint me in a good light, does it?
Now that doesn’t usually faze me, but I’m trying for a little candor here, and don’t forget that the Lestat I present to you here is not the same as you’ve come to know. Even monsters start being monstrous at some point, and this little anecdote precedes all that. Let me add some brush stokes of my own.
Now you have to understand this. I was about twenty years old, a handsome young devil with absolute determination blazing in my eyes. Back home I'd been quite the rake, acquiring a local reputation for dalliance (as well as occasional insanity, let’s not forget that) and Nicki knew it, of course, he must have, though we have never particularly spoken of it.
Still, I’m prone to considerable exaggeration, and right at this moment he was too. Nicki loved nothing better than to besmirch my romantic notions, which in this case revolved around the spell binding miracle of watching the magic a pretty painted woman could weave with a few gestures before the flickering footlights. He loved to try to reduce my grandiose ideals to simple rutting, to a base desire for power and fleeting sin. Well, maybe he was right, I’m not about to deny that my motives are rarely simple and never pure. Still, he never entirely understood and I'm not sure he does now and really the point I’m making here is that I had no conception of how deliberate he was in encouraging every possible vice in us, preferably the kind that would steal our future and end our days in spectacular ruin.
And, by the way, for all that, I did enjoy the attentions of a pretty actress now and then, don't think that I didn't. What I’m saying is that despite my undeniable love of earthy pleasures I wanted something finer, deeper, more enduring to follow. I didn’t know what exactly, I only knew that there was something else out there and I wasn’t going to stop until I had it. He knew well enough that I was grasping at the spiritual in that little theater, not a little painted flesh, he knew it and yet he loved to goad me. Oh but I’ll come to all that. You’ll see.
Nicki’s dark eyes held something of scornful accusation as he turned away with a smirk hanging on his lips. ‘You can’t go. Lelio," he spoke the name of my alter ego with considerable disdain, "Is otherwise engaged.’
Well I hadn't forgotten, how could I? My appearances on that rickety stage were the absolute epicenter of my life! I'm often all bombast anyway, grand ideas and no practicality. I could wax lyrical about the fine figure of Madame Vasseur, but it wasn't her that captivated me. It was the whole caboodle. Everything she represented with her painted face and exaggerated clothing -terribly décolleté- and the way her every gesture seemed to speak to me. In fact, it wasn't her at all, it was the animation of theatre and all she represented and I wanted to lap it all up. Well I could have explained this until I was blue in the face and still Nicki would pour scorn on my self-deluding debauchery. I’ve always been torn between the aesthetic and the ascetic, the sybaritic and the spiritual, and you know which prevails.
Both, of course.
And yes, we come to that subtext. We were lovers, of course, Nicolas and I. Staunch friends, companions in adventure, all that, but don’t think my heart wasn’t firmly sunk in those dark eyes and hung upon those sardonic lips. So you see, every comment he made.. why it was fully intended to sting. He knew exactly how to get to me and used that talent like the virtuoso he was. I’ve always adored a little spite. Hit out at me and I get to use my best lines. Paint me in a bad light and watch me shine.
Oh I flirted with the actresses and with every dazzled theatregoer, of course I did. I laughed with our dour landlady as she screamed for the rent and conducted a dizzy love affair with life and everyone in it. I would have flirted with the sun and the moon if I could, and I do recall teetering across the rooftops without my boots one particularly drunken night, singing at the low orb between spilling drafts of wine against my lips and the furious yells of our neighbors. For all of that, my heart and desire was pinned on Nicki, and he alone as if were something so necessary and natural to me that I paid it little conscious heed. Did he know? I’m sure of it, although those precious words of love never passed my lips.
When does the bond between passionate allies become something more than a mutual defence and expression of solidarity against the outside world, and more of a sublime connection that threatens to transcend even your conception of self, should you be brave enough to let it? Oh, and I wasn’t that brave, before you ask, at least there was a fire in my veins that blinded me to all but the tipping horizon. Until recently, I haven’t been in the least bit capable of giving up enough of myself to another and perhaps that’s the essence of love, but mark my words, I did love him.
And now I pause to address this to his erstwhile companion, who, naturally, was mine own long before.
There’s no mischief in recounting this tale, my love. I’m reaching to pick at a few buried knots that still cause me to wince so many years later. It’s been such a short space of time since his appearance rewrote his name in my memory. Some nights I can read nothing else.
So, dear reader, is that what you expected? Yes? No? Did the original account of my dearest friend and fellow escapee hint strongly enough at such passions?
Then let’s proceed to the lovers’ tiff.
Ah, but not before I tell you exactly where uncorking a bottle of ruby wine can lead your soul.