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Sans Souci


He asks, “What brings you to the estate?” and you know that you and your boyfriend are going to say different things.

“Fresh air, close sunlight,” Gregory says at the same time you say, “Relaxation, and the fountains,” and then Gregory laughs, and you smile, and the desk man smiles, and everybody is playful and winking.

But Gregory’s wrong, and you’re right. The fountains are the reason for the trip. Even now, he won’t speak it out loud to a stranger. Too ashamed, or fearful. He is always this way.

The desk man, whose name is Crow, leads you and Gregory to the cottage where you’ll be staying. The sunshine does feel close, and wonderful. There are hedges everywhere, and wild bent trees, and everything smells like a clearer, cleaner version of your mother’s perfume. Men are scattered around, some wearing white robes, most wearing nothing at all. They’re resting in the shade, hands on each other’s thighs, loitering by the flower beds and rain-sloughed statues, or cutting majestic swaths through the big blue swimming pool. Most of them are older than you.

There are braying sounds deeper in the groves at the edge of the lawn, and every so often a bush will shake and a high whistle of a laugh will float through the air.

“There are always fresh towels in the lobby and outside the bathhouse,” Crow says as he opens the door to your cottage. Huge masses of green vines cover the walls, spitting out pink and red flowers. Gregory looks behind him, two fingers nudging his glasses, and you realize that the cottage has a perfect view of the pool and the naked men swimming in it.

“There is someone at the desk at all hours except between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., so please plan your lock-outs accordingly,” Crows says and hands Gregory the door keys. “We advise against the use of psychedelics at this elevation and encourage an open mind and healthy diet. If either of you have any questions—”

“Where exactly are the fountains?” you say, before Gregory can find a way to put it off. Crow looks to you, then Gregory, and you feel a lick of fear because it is clear that Crow, who has surely seen man after man, couple after couple, brave the altitudes and pay the steep prices to gain entry, knows exactly the weak kind of person you are with Gregory.

“The trail is at the end of East Garden. Up through the mountains, three miles past the temple ruins. The owner of the estate has made it very accessible.”

“Does it get confusing,” Gregory says as he tries to fit the enormous keys into his pockets, “or ineffective, or, whatever, if there’s other people with you?”

“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Crow says. “Not many people in the summer season are looking to fall back in love.”

A crystalline splash makes you and Crow and Gregory look out the cottage window. A tall, dark-haired man emerges from the pool, naked and freshly shaved. Gregory nudges his glasses again before he turns to look at you. The look seems apologetic.

Or maybe the elevation has already thinned your blood, and you’re only imagining things.


The fountains are really basins, or pools, or something. You think “fountains” isn’t really the right word. The water burbles up from within the ground and has been doing so since the beginning, the Beginning-beginning, Crow says, geysering into the broken-tiled, scooped-out divots of earth where you and Gregory are soaking now. Early gloaming light is all around. From where you sit in the water, jagged rock driving up against your ass, you can see down into a deep valley. Dots of deer, pin-pricks of trees. The water is warm, steaming, and there is sweat dripping into your eyes.

You suggested holding hands, but Gregory said that didn’t feel sacred or meaningful enough. He thought the best way to do it was to sit at opposite ends of this fountain, or basin, or pool, backs turned away from each other. Some kind of ritual separation before the vapors wormed their ways into the nasal cavity to fix everything up.

Like Crow predicted, there is no one else around. “Is it working for you?” Gregory says.

When you close your eyes, the water feels less like water, and more like hot moss growing inside you. But you hold, waiting, because you’re not sure if you’re in love yet.

“I don’t know,” you say. “I feel warm.”

“Me, too.”

There is also the problem: will you be able to recognize the feeling of being back in love? Or are you only aware of what it’s like to be in love-love, the fresh kind of love that’s as obvious and immediate as a brick to the nose? Back in love seems more complicated. It could feel like anything. It could feel like hot moss growing inside you.

“How long do we give it?” Gregory says. He always loses patience first. But you need to stop thinking like that, like every situation is a test, or competition.

“Look at me,” you say. Gregory does. His wet hair is stuck to his forehead. You swim over and sieve your fingers through it. Gregory laughs. He moves close and places a hand against the back of your neck. His brine-y, sticky kiss stirs a little kick inside you.

Gregory pulls away and nods, like everything has been confirmed. “Yes,” he says. “I’m in love with you.”

The peace that empties through you is breathtaking. The rocks around you are humming. The light is fading in the softest way it knows how. Gregory’s hands are the same but new, wrinkled and soft from the water. You’re shedding old skins. The fountains did as promised. You’re both ready to be back in love.


There are a group of men in the cottage next to yours. They are screaming with laughter when you and Gregory return still wet from the fountains. The nights in this place seem not so much black, but more like that peeled blue darkness that’s as transparent as onion skin, and there are lights everywhere: in the trees and on the lawn, by hedges and groves. Little fires and hanging lanterns and fireflies sizzling against the forever sky.

The men are drinking heavy, honeyed wine outside. There are many of them. Their voices sound like music. They are beginning to take off their clothes and throw them into piles on the cool grass. A redhead with a beard tries to look at Gregory as he passes by, and two long-haired men holler at you, promising good drink and company. Gregory gives a small wave and you shake your head with a smile, following him inside the cottage.

He is the one to initiate the sex, which feels like a small, important miracle. His hands move over you in the ways you first told h