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About the author:
Dean Amory, real name Edgard (Eddy) Adriaens, was born 21.09.1953 in the Flemish city of Aalst. He grew up with his parents and six brothers and sisters in the suburb of Terjoden. After finishing high school, he worked as a correspondent and assistant (sales) executive at a few local SMEs for 14 years. In 1986 he was recruited by Bacob Bank, and started as a relationship manager. After the bank’s merger with the Dexia Bank, he moved on to be an Electronic Banking Expertise Officer at Dexia, later renamed Belfius bank.
Here is a short sample from the book:
“Where do I start to tell the story of how great a love can be?”
For the following weekend, we had agreed to pay a visit to the Wieze Beer Festival. This was the first time that we would meet outside the Caspuciero during the weekend. I really looked forward to it. Katherine said she would bring along a newly married aunt, which also thrilled me.
Unfortunately, Wieze is about fifteen km from my place and, of course, the weather was excellent: raffles of rain and hail, embellished with a strong, cold wind that seemed to blow right through my jacket. The prospect of arriving soaking wet and frozen in Wieze, wasn’t very attractive. I weighed my alternatives, but I did not have much of a choice: Wieze is a small village without railroad connection and even travelling by bus implied changing busses twice and losing lots of time.
Hoping that Danny would like a good old Beer Fest, I drove over to him. Unfortunately, a major athletic contest was scheduled to take place the next day and he didn’t want to appear at the start line with a hangover. I recalled him he had scored his best results after a night out, but this time my arguments could not make him change his mind.
Fortunately, he was so kind to offer that he would drive me to Wieze and, should it be necessary, pick me up later.
‘Kind?’ I said? ‘Generous?’
Of course I agreed immediately. That’s when Danny came up with the second part of his proposal: “Wieze and back, that’s about thirty km! You will have to pay me for driving you, of course”
I wasn’t sure whether he was serious about making me pay for the drive. Maybe it was intended as a joke. However, his mother jumped at the idea and decided that, since petrol was not free, neither could the ride be: I had to pay.
I suddenly felt cold as ice. “For nearly two years, I have been helping you guys once a week to post advertising brochures. Have I ever charged you anything?” To no avail though: apparently the family was in dire streets, because only after I had paid my taxi fee Danny got the car out to drive me to Wieze.
It was silent in the car. All the way, I was busy plotting my revenge: No more posting of advertising pamphlets! If he needed my record player or records for a party, he would have to pay for them as well! And he could totally forget about us ever going out together again!
When we arrived at the meeting point, the church of Wieze, it was still raining cats and dogs. As I was about half an hour early, I decided to wait at a fries stand opposite the church square
The smell of fresh fries made me hungry: Since I had skipped lunch, I bought a packet and ate them with fingers trembling with cold. Everybody was hiding from the pouring rain, so there were only a few people in the street. What a disaster for October Beer Fest! I was the only customer in the booth, so I started to chat with the shopkeeper and ordered some extra fries just to while away the time.
By then, contrary to her habit, Katherine was late. I understood this kind of weather could cause some delay, but hoped she would not keep me waiting here in the cold much longer.
An hour later I was still standing under the roof of the stall. Fortunately, the rain changed to a light drizzle. Despite the shelter of the stall I was pretty wet and completely frozen. At least ten times the past half hour, I had told myself I’d better go to the first pub and hope Katherine would have the same idea when she didn’t find me at the church square. I was convinced something unforeseen must have happened, but equally convinced that Katherine eventually would show up, unless she was sick or involved in a road accident. Calling her at home was out of the question, since her parents did not know about us.
“Just five more minutes and then I’ll be on my way to defrost at the first pub!” I growled – not for the first time. I watched how another car stopped to drop off some partygoers. Two girls jumped out and struggled to open their umbrellas. Once protected against the drizzle, they looked around. It was clear that they were looking for someone. Finally, they reluctantly came my way. Even before they entered the tent, I knew: Katherine was delayed and sent them to ask me to wait a little longer! I smiled at the girls and stepped forward to meet them while they hopped under the roof.
“I’m a friend of Katherine’s. You know who I’m talking about?”
“Of course I do. I’ve been waiting for her for nearly two hours now!”
“She told me you would be. Unfortunately you’ll have to wait some more: Willy is not home yet, and she wasn’t allowed to come without Willy.”
“I though she would come with her aunt?”
“Yeah, well, whatever: I only know what she told me. W’re off! Have a good time!”
“Thanks a lot for stopping by. Ciao!”
What could I do? Despite everything, I hoped Willy was only retained by the rain and that the two of them would soon show up. By six o’clock, the rain had completely stopped. It was still very cold though, and the harsh wind was very unpleasant. I went to a pub and bought a glass of beer. Katherine had given me a neighbour’s telephone number, just for emergency cases. I decided this was an emergency and phoned her neighbour. There was no reply. I waited a couple of minutes and called again. Obviously, nobody home there!
The beer tasted like water. The floor around me was wet from the rain that had been dripping from my hair and clothes; my feet were wet and cold; my trousers were completely soaked and though I had been in the pub for some fifteen minutes now, my hair was still wet as well.
I treated myself with a cup of coffee, burned my tongue when sipping too quickly, and then hurried back to the church square. There was still a faint hope that Katherine might have arrived while I was at the pub. No Katherine to be seen though!
Surely against all odds, I remained waiting for one more hour. It was already evening and people were arriving in great numbers by bike and by car, but even more by bus. As I walked by the big parking lot at the October hall, I noticed a lot of Belgian buses, but also many buses from Germany and England, and a couple from France and the Netherlands.
Slowly I began to follow the flow of pedestrians. It was a sad walk between the stalls and along the fair attractions. It felt like every single sweetheart couple from all of Europe had descended to this little village and all of them were having the time of their lives.
Everyone, except me. I felt sad, down, lonely, and pathetic. I wandered alone among the cooing couples, alone past the happily singing youngsters, alone past the shouting people at the shooting galleries, alone past the pubs where laughing couples walked in and out of the doors …
“Wieze …” I rarely came across somebody I knew when spending a night in my hometown, Aalst. Here, the chance of bumping into an acquaintance was infinitely smaller. It started drizzling slightly again. I couldn’t care less: it even felt as if the weather fitted my mood.
What to do? I could call Danny to come and pick me up or I could walk home. But there was still that faint glimmer of hope that Katherine would show up and that we would come across each other by chance.
Suddenly I stopped and glanced at a sign board: ‘The Waggoner’s Rest’. Katherine had mentioned the name when we were planning our weekend. If she made it to the Beer fest, this was the most likely place to find her! I hesitated for a short moment. But the cold and wet and the fatigue of the long waiting forced my decision. Quenched and listless I stepped inside.
If I had hoped to find a table or even a chair to rest, I had to reconsider immediately. All the furniture had been removed from the pub and the room was overcrowded. With some difficulty, I made my way to a corner in the back of the room, where I seated myself at the floor. While slowly drinking my beer and defending it against the pushing and shoving crowd, unable to see much from the low position I was in, I still looked around in the vain hope of spotting Katherine.
I’d better return home, I decided. If only I had the energy to get up and walk away! I felt so tired that I remained seated, leaning against the wall with closed eyes.
Suddenly I felt someone sitting down next to me. Katherine?
But my scrutinizing look was met by a couple of equally investigating dark eyes, belonging to a brown haired girl in a much oversized khaki battle dress, wearing a military cap on her curly hair.
“T”es seul toi?”
I just nodded yes.
“Moi aussi, tu sais …”
As if I cared! I looked away. Undaunted, she started telling me how she had arrived by bus with a couple of friends, but had lost the gang in the swarming crowd. Hmm, dubious story, I thought, suddenly very aware that my wallet was safely in my inside pocket.
“… Mais, cela n’est guère une raison pour se sentir malheureuse, quoi?”
She was referring to at least just as much of my feelings than to her own state of mind.
“Viens, nous allons nous amuser ensemble!”
I decided that, since I was still hanging around, I might as well make the best of the situation. Stiff as an old man I got to my feet. She put her hand in mine and set off through the crowd, heading for the door. Gradually, my muscles thawed and I began to feel better. We walked from pub to pub. The first couple of pubs were overcrowded. So, we just made our way in and she looked around for her friends while I secretly looked around too, still hoping to find Katherine. But since none of us found what we were looking for, we immediately left again. Until we arrived at some pubs that were less crowded. Here, we paused and had a drink together before moving to the next pub.
Finally, we arrived at a pub where people were dancing. “Dansons!” she extended a hand. Noticing my hesitation, she added: “Mais, tout le monde danse!” and almost but pulled me to the centre of the floor.
It was strange to dance with her. She was used to dance, that much was obvious: the moment she started dancing, a change came over her. She moved with self-confidence and at the same time very conscious about my movements, adapting effortlessly to them and yet imperceptibly leading the dance. From the first moment, it felt as if I had never danced with anyone but her. I couldn’t help thinking I had to be careful not to let her carry me away. I could do without more Sonias haunting my conscience.
In hindsight she said little, in fact almost nothing, about herself. But she had this way to bring out everything that was on my mind and to listen attentively to whatever I had to say. I don’t doubt though that mine must have been a very tedious story, because all I talked about was Katherine. The whole time I talked about my feelings for Katherine, my hopes, plans, difficulties and concerns regarding Katherine … and all the time she never interrupted me, just asked more questions and listened to my answers. How long did I know her? How did we meet? How did the teachers react? How often did we meet after school? What were my hobbies and did Katherine have a problem with them? Did our parents know about how we felt about each other? How did our friends react?
“Elle a de la chance, cette fille”, she concluded hours later, rubbing me across the forehead with an almost motherly gesture. When it was time for her to return to the bus, I accompanied her to the parking lot and we said farewell with a friendly kiss.
Véronique … I never knew anything more about her than her first name. Whether she was French or Belgian, still went to school or worked, I didn’t know. But I do know that she helped me a lot that night. Really a lot!
Once Véronique’s bus had left, there was nothing left for me to search for in Wieze. So I walked home. A three hour walk during which there was an occasional drizzle, but fortunately nothing that I could not handle. I smiled at myself: Somehow, I was far from feeling ‘malheureux’.
Bad luck, I told myself: Just plain and ordinary bad luck. And somewhere, about halfway between Wieze and home, I started to talk to an imaginary Katherine. In English, just like I had been doing for some time after I had fallen in love with an English girl at the hotel last summer, when I had discovered to my amazement that we were taught all the wrong vocabulary at school.
It was about three in the morning when I finally arrived home. That had happened before. This time, however, the light was still on in the living room.
“But boy! Look at you! You are stone cold!” Immediately, mother was at me with a towel. “Get over here, near the fire! Do you want a warm cup of coffee? Must I get you something to eat? Where are you coming from at this time of the night? Katherine has called you three times!”
Is there anything better on the whole world than a mother? I hugged her gently and told her about Danny’s kindness, the long wait and the long way home. But somehow, I could not bring myself to telling her about my encounter with Véronique.
The next morning, a few hours later, I was surprised to wake up all fresh and energized. I hurried to school. Katherine had arrived earlier than usual. She hardly dared to come to me.
“All is over between us now, surely?”
Her words took me by surprise. I felt like if I had been slapped in the face. They woke unknown devils inside me: what if she had stayed home hoping that I would break off our relationship? God! This wasn’t a normal way of thinking anymore, I reproached myself and angry with myself, I pushed the thoughts aside. Katherine had sent her friend to warn me, she had called me three times. I must be out of my mind to think like this!
“You, crazy girl!”
Laughing, I imitated Katherine. The message was clear. Relieved, she explained how bad she had been feeling, how much she had missed me, how afraid she had been that I would be mad at her. In turn, I told her about the lonely hours of waiting and the long walk home. But again, I did not mention Véronique.
All of a sudden, Katherine came up with a very unexpected proposal: why not visit her at home on Wednesday afternoon? I could pretend I had forgotten my homework.
I could hardly believe my ears. If Wieze had been necessary to achieve this result, then I wouldn’t mind repeating the experience every weekend! Véronique suddenly turned into a very distant and vague memory. Visit Katherine at home! Ha!
More good things were happening that day: Until then, each day after school I accompanied Katherine on her way home up to a crossing, where we talked a while before each pursuing our own way home. Katherine had already mentioned that the crossing was not ideal for saying goodbye. Some drivers hooted when they drove by while we kissed and there was the risk that neighbours or friends of her parents would notice us. So, she had always felt rather uncomfortable with this habit of ours. On her way home, though, she had noticed a narrow cul-de-sac where we could talk longer and take leave without being hindered by prying eyes. So, that Monday we parted in a much more intimate way for the first time.
Two days later I took a bath after school and changed clothes. Of course, one can’t cheat a mother. So, when mine asked what was going on, I told her about my appointment with Katherine. She smiled and said she hoped we would have a good time together, but also warned me not to forget about my studies and ‘to be careful’.
I left the house all excited. But just outside town, disaster struck in the form of a punctured rear tire. Fortunately there was a tyre repairman close by and the man was willing to help me immediately. In no time, I was back on the road. But the wheel hardly touched the road or the tire ran flat again. I returned to the tyre shop. I was a little less cheerful this time around. The man looked as surprised as I was and repaired the tire for free. Fifteen minutes later I was back on track.
On the flat road, with the wind blowing in my back, the setback was quickly forgotten. But after only five minutes I had the third flat tyre in a row. Clearly, the devil was involved. I was too far now to return to the repair shop and it was too late to return to town, so I continued my way on a flat rear tyre, well aware of the fact that I would totally ruin the tyre this way.
When the shepherd dog announced my arrival to Katherine, I was happy to find out that Willy was not at home. “Away with the pigeons.” Katherine reported with a happy smile. Her schoolbooks were laying all over the table in the living room. Her mother was at home though, busy in the adjacent kitchen.
“Mom, it’s a boy from school!” Katherine called after we secretly exchanged a quick kiss in the corridor. “Is there a problem?” her mother shouted back from the kitchen. No, there was no problem. On the contrary ….
Katherine went to the kitchen and explained that I had forgotten which exercises we had to do for homework. If it was OK that we did the homework together? While she was in the kitchen, I looked around. I discovered a book on the table that was filled with math exercises, equations for physics and a variety of exercises of other subjects. Studying them, I realised these were all exercises that we had skipped at school.
Katherine studied a lot, this much was clear. In school I had noticed that she was good at most classes. But leafing through her exercise book, it occurred to me that I had to be careful not to get into trouble: my strength had always resided in my involvement in the actual classes. By the time a lesson was over, I would usually know enough about it to get good results at the tests. Usually, only the stuff that required studying by heart might cause some problems during exams. Until now, rehearsing the lessons the night before the exam had sufficed, more so because I was not afraid of a little cheating when necessary. But looking at Katherine’s preparations, I realized that I had not been paying as much attention in class as before and that quite a number of the exercises she had been doing were well beyond my knowledge.
Until now, only my backlog in German had alarmed me. The previous year I had automatically assumed that I would grab sufficient German by paying attention during the classes. Yet, in the meantime I was so far behind when it came to the use and declension of cases that I had registered for an evening course. Katherine too followed an evening course. Two nights a week she returned to town in the evening to study French. Unfortunately, the lessons were given on different evenings.
When Katherine returned from the kitchen, I told her about my concerns. “What are you doing after school if you’re not studying?” was her surprised reaction when I told her that I almost never opened a book at home. “Reading mostly, watching television, spending the evening at Danny’s listening to music.” She looked at me with big, questioning eyes.
We sat opposite each other at the big table, the open books in front of us untouched, the homework forgotten. We had both taken off our shoes and while talking about our pastimes and hobbies, our dreams and fears for the future, we caressed each other’s legs under the table. When my foot moved too high, Katherine would occasionally giggle foolishly, or she would pinch my foot between her thighs and squeeze. It was obvious that she enjoyed doing homework with me. And so did I.
At five o’clock, her mother asked if I wanted to stay for a sandwich. To my surprise, Katherine quickly answered: “We have just finished, Sean is just about to leave.”
“You will have to eat something anyway, so why not stay and eat with us?” Katherine’s mother insisted with a big smile. So I did stay for a sandwich, but it struck me that Katherine behaved very nervously.
“So, you are that Sean?” her mother tried to start a conversation.
“But mom!” Katherine snapped back with unexpected harshness.
I did not understand the intensity of her reaction.
“Sean has a flat tire,” Katherine added unsolicited, “he must hurry in order to be back in town in time to have his moped repaired.”
Her behaviour surprised me more every minute. By now, she was looking really tense. Why? There was no reason for me to hurry! I hadn’t mentioned anything of the kind. What was going on here? After the lovely afternoon, the quick meal was something of an unexpected anti-climax. I was under the impression that Katherine wanted me out of the house as quickly as possible. After two sandwiches, I thanked her mother and got to my feet. It was obvious that Katherine was relieved to see me go. All the worrying and nervousness disappeared just as quickly as they emerged.
“Thank you, my crazy boy!”
“What do you mean? What did I do to deserve all this gratitude?”
“Hmm!” She winked cheerfully at me.
“Nooo, seriously now: Why must I suddenly run away like a thief?”
“I will explain when there’s more time!”
And with a big kiss she basically pushed me outside.
Half an hour later, at the tyre repairer’s we discovered that a screw lodged into the back wheel casing had caused the repeated punctures. Because I had driven with the punctured tire, both the inside and outside tires needed to be replaced. To my big surprise, the man charged nothing for the repair.
The next day, Katherine kept her promise. As I had already suspected, she had been surprised to find out how late it suddenly was and had been afraid that her father and Willy would have found me at their home when they returned with the pigeons.
“Aha! Daddy shouldn’t know about us!”
“No. I already told you so, didn’t I? You know, Sean, the problem is that he would immediately realize that you were not at our home to do homework. And even if he didn’t, Willy would surely have started with innuendos and jokes, to make him understand. And, trust me on this: it is better for both of us that he doesn’t know!”
“My guess is that your mother isn’t blind either.”
“Nooooo, but she’s my mom. One has to start somewhere. Maybe, with time, she will become our ally.”
I still didn’t quite understand why it was so hard for some parents to understand that not having a boy- or girlfriend at the age of seventeen would have been much more worrisome than the opposite. I couldn’t understand either what all the fuzz and mystery that Katherine made about it could possibly be good for. What kind of relationship do you have with your parents when you can’t even tell them who you’re spending your time with? Still, I had to relay on Katherine’s judgement. Also, I was all too well aware of the fact that I did keep some things hidden from Katherine too. OK, Sonia had been a big mistake and it would be suicide to tell Katherine about her. But the fact that I hadn’t even dared to mention Véronique surely was proof that our relationship still required a lot of work.
Friday afternoon the goodbye in our secret alley took a little longer than usual. I teased Katherine, warning her that her parents would send Willy back to find out where she was hiding. “I couldn’t care less right now!” she whispered, pulling me close against her. “When I’m with you, why bother what the rest of the world is thinking?”
Exactly at that same spot, where at that moment our love felt so indestructible, and precisely on the same day of the month, I would be begging her one month later only, to tell me if she still loved me.
The question sounded strange in the silence around us. Stranger still because we just stopped kissing and hugging each other just as tenderly as ever. It was a scary question to ask after one more month of endless and blissful happiness. Yet I felt no regret for this expression of deep doubt.
Our relationship was so different from what I had known until then that I had not the tiniest doubt that I’d never before loved anyone the way I loved Katherine. It wasn’t my love for her that I was not sure about. It was everything else. How long could we continue in this way? Was she satisfied with a relationship that did not progress in any way? What exactly were her expectations? Wasn’t it time to take a step forward?
Apparently there were no easy answers. Very much like me, Katherine also constantly searched for confirmation of my love for her. But there were differences: her main concern was that I would get tired with her and would cheat on her with some other girl. After all this time she was still afraid that I might return to the dancing hall after she went home, to continue partying with other girls. This continued fear on her part never stopped convincing me of her feelings for me and stroked my male ego. Simultaneously, it annoyed me that she still didn’t trust me more.
As for me, even after all this time, my feelings for Katherine never ceased to surprise and energize me. The way I felt about her, was very much like a miracle to me: when I kissed her goodbye, I sometimes feared that I would never see her again. When she touched me unexpectedly, I could get really confused, forget my words, and almost forget where I was. Sometimes when I looked at her as she was sitting there next to me at school, my eyes would fill with tears of joy.
My love for her was almost palpable, as a second entity living inside of me, inspiring me, guiding me, warming me inside out, changing me and influencing everything I felt, thought, said or did. I felt a better, more respectful, happier person because of her and yet, still after all these months of meeting every day and spending so many hours together, all of this felt so new, so different from anything that I had experienced before. It made me feel uncomfortable with myself at times and question its very reality.
I read in some women’s magazine that your first love is not always the first person that you kiss or date, but the person you compare all others to. Hard as it seemed to imagine that there would ever be others, this much I was sure of: to me, there could only ever be one first love. And my first love was Katherine.
“Are you sure that you really love me?”
“How can you even ask, Sean?”
“But I do ask. Often I feel like I don’t understand you well enough. I feel that I don’t know how you really feel or what you really want. I’d give anything right now just to find out how you feel about me at this very moment in the deepest depths of your heart and soul!”
“You can keep everything, silly boy. I’ll tell you: I love you, Sean. Really. I have been with a number of boys, but it was never like this. Never! Please believe me when I tell you that I honestly cannot imagine ever losing you! Not ever!
“Are you being serious?”
And she had pressed herself against me, hugged me and buried me under a pouring shower of kisses: in my hair, on my face, in my neck, on my lips, on my hands.
Two times in just as many months I had suddenly been overwhelmed by moments of severe doubts about the sustainability of our relationship. Twice she had reassured me, convinced me of the authenticity of her feelings and the stability of our relationship. On the way home after such moments, my fictional Katherine hovered next to me and I would be talking to her all the way home.
Katherine struggled with similar periods of doubt. Then it was my turn then to reassure her. I was not always equally happy about the way that I soothed her mind: Had I not fenced all too easily with empty one-liners and had I chosen the right arguments when telling her that part of loving somebody is to also trust? That we must set our beloved ones free, knowing that true lovers will never abuse the trust we put in them, nor leave us?
My own attacks of doubt scared me most though: I had no previous experience with this kind of feelings. They made me feel scared, terrified, confused and even ashamed. On the other hand, they also confirmed what I already knew: I had never really been in love before; otherwise this should not have been as new as it was. Sure, I had known periods before when I suffered with loneliness. I was familiar with the pain and grief of losing a girlfriend. But what I experienced now was so totally different. This was pure panic and, strangely enough, panic rarely caused by anything Katherine had said or done, but mostly just by my own fear of losing her.
By the time we met again Saturday morning, we both had taken some distance from that last outburst of panic. At school we talked extensively about our doubts and fears and agreed that the fear of losing each other was normal just because we loved each other and that the depth of our moments of crisis were proof only of the depth of what we felt for one another. Katherine closed with a surprise question:
“Tell me, boy. Do you really regret striking terror in me like you did yesterday?”
“Oh, yes! Really, Katie, I’m so sorry for scaring you. It’s just that I love you so much!”
“So, you’re really sorry, are you?”
“Well, then that will amount to one act of contrition and three Hail Maries. That is, if you’re really sincere!”