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R is for . . .

Peter and Charles stood on the hotel balcony overlooking RIO DE JANEIRO‘s Copacabana Beach, glad to be above the press of bodies. It was Réveillon and nearly midnight; soon the fireworks would whistle into the air and pop open over the water like star-spangled umbrellas. Not that Peter thought they were likely to hear much over the music and crowd noise.

Four hours before, he and Charles had quietly toasted the new year over a dinner they’d taken in their suite. Because four hours before it had been midnight in London. Now they merely waited for Rio to catch up.

“It’s also a religious festival here,” Charles remarked as they leaned on the railing. “It’s why so many are wearing white. They will offer gifts to the Queen of the Seas in the hope of good luck for the coming year.”

“If only it were so easy,” Peter murmured. What had the past year brought him? Six lovely months with Charles before he’d traveled for work and come home to Hell. Peter thought of the pretend passport with which he’d first lured Charles to his flat. Only so very real now, and like Dante, Peter was now a world citizen, welcome anywhere but home.

Below them, the crowd began a low chant that gradually got louder, and Peter realized they were counting down the final seconds of the year. Shortly afterward the first garden of fireworks bloomed in the dark skies. Beside him, Charles stepped closer, slipped an arm around him. When Peter turned to look at him, Charles planted a wine-infused kiss on him, and for that moment Peter forgot to feel sad. “Beatrice,” Peter sighed when their lips parted and was immediately sorry when Charles flushed, looking stunned.

“You,” Peter hastened to explain. “You’re my Beatrice. My guide through . . .” He gestured at the the beach, the ocean, the world beyond.

“But better than a figment of your imagination, I hope,” Charles said, still eyeing Peter as if unconvinced of his veracity.

“Well, I’m no writer,” said Peter. He looked again at the writhing crowd and thought it looked very like a pit of Hell. What circle might this be?

“It’s been nice traveling,” said Charles, his gaze following Peter’s, “but we’ll have to pick somewhere to stay eventually.”

“Not until spring,” said Peter, his words weighted with reluctance. “Places are always at their best in spring.”

The last of the fireworks ebbed away, but on the beach the people showed no sign of dispersing. They would dance and drink and shout and sing through the night then jump into the waves at daybreak. And the Queen of the Seas? Would she accept them or spit them out?

All at once Peter couldn’t stand to watch or listen any longer. He turned away from the railing and met Charles’s uncertain eyes, and before Charles could turn away, Peter caught hold of him and returned the kiss one hundred fold. Because if his homeland was to be Hell, Peter was determined to enjoy it.



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