Maurice made the best tea and sweets he had ever tasted, but Edgar was no fool. He knew Maurice was no French master chef. The young boy with an eye patch from Sapphire Owl had assured him of that. Maurice was a cheat. Yet somehow he still had a soft spot for the boy... In the past, Maurice could well have been the boy the prefects murdered in cold blood for dragging Weston College traditions through the mud. Despite that, he knew he could never, ever bring himself to assassinate Maurice Cole. He had felt too much for him. Besides, everything Maurice did, he did it to make Edgar love him. And for somebody to do something so extreme to make another fall in love with them — save for jumping off the roof of the school (Weston had truly seen it all) — well, that was actually quite flattering, frankly. And his lips were the softest to kiss, a teasing voice in the back of his head tittered, causing the boy to shake his head and blush at the memory. Not long ago, they had made friends after the long, miserable two months Redmond had refused to talk with him. Tears prickled his eyelids as he thought of how he didn’t have enough time to say a final goodbye to his old friend before he was kicked out of the school.
Joanne Harcourt, too. He was almost as beautiful as Maurice, but twice as talented. Edgar didn’t exactly have the same feelings for Joanne as he had possessed for Maurice, yet he still loved him. Like a younger brother. It broke his heart to fall out of contact with him, but he didn’t blame Joanne for not wanting to communicate with him any longer. Because who wants to keep in touch with a murderer? Nobody, that’s who. The prefect had caught Joanne in his dormitory, wild eyed and breathless, and torn a piece of notepaper from his suitcase, scribbling out his address and postcode so he could exchange letters with him over the summer.
‘Write to me everyday,’ Edgar had panted, handing him the note and turning to leave.
But Joanne Harcourt had refused to accept it, his expression the picture of terror and deceit. He had even sobbed in front of him, and had to be comforted and coddled by his roommate. Edgar had left after being scolded by Scarlet Fox’s teacher for terrorising the poor boy. Truthfully, Edgar hadn’t a clue why Joanne was so afraid to speak with him. After all, he had only said his goodbyes and given him his address. What was wrong with that? Apparently Joanne was too traumatised by the events of the Midnight Tea Party to so much as look at his fag master. How disappointing…
Derrick Arden had also been a fag of Edgar’s in the past. And, wow, was he dazzling! Captain of his local cricket team, master craftsman at embroidery, top results in every exam, and a genius poet; a boy everybody loved and admired. But he had been six foot underground for almost a year now.
That was where he belonged! Edgar thought angrily, yet I had to get my uncle’s stupid secret society to resuscitate him from the dead. My entire soul is corrupted by evil by now. There is no longer a place in Heaven for me…I wish I was dead, too, instead of trapped in this glamorously dark paradise, putting on a false facade everyday just to impress strangers I don’t even care about. The truth is that I’m a criminal. And the only reason my heart is still beating is because the man I killed was a relative of Her Majesty. If it had been another person — Maurice Cole for example — I would be strung up by a noose in front of a bloodthirsty crowd of peasants by now. If only it had been Maurice I killed, no matter how much I adored him in the past…
The boy chastised himself for being a poor judge of character not only once, but twice. Firstly he was enamoured by Derrick’s reputation within the school. All he ever heard were good things about the young man, yet nobody knew he was a bully and a liar, hurting other students to gain access to their talents and showcase them to the red prefect. Then came Maurice, and Redmond fell for his beautiful appearance above everything else. Known as the most handsome boy in the school, Edgar knew he just had to have him; and along with that beauty came a twisted dark side that only came to the surface two months ago. Someday Redmond vowed that he would overcome his naive side and find a person to love for who they actually are underneath a facade. But right now, he felt like the loneliest man on the planet.
After James had unpacked all his clothes and hung them in the wardrobe, Edgar lay on his queen-sized bed, wondering what next. He knew he had to keep out of his uncle’s way for the time being, for he was revising over the central nervous system for the medical exams he had in over a months time. Edgar certainly knew better than to mess around talking with the servants of the Chambers estate, yet he was getting so restless, so soon it seemed to him a rather fun thing to do. He soon dismissed that thought when he remembered the last time he played out with the footman’s son as a child, his father took him over his knee and beat him until he turned raw. Surely uncle Aleister wouldn’t do that, would he? Deciding he wouldn’t, the young man quickly got changed into outdoor clothes and descended the staircase, looking for James, or any other person for that matter. Edgar was an extrovert and loved company, no matter who it was he spent time with. The bad weather was clearing up and the thought of playing tennis or croquet outside sounded amazing.
‘James?’ he called into the empty hallway, glancing anxiously left and right. If he distracted his uncle from his work… ‘James?’ he asked again, louder this time.
There was no reply. And the thought of getting into Aleister’s bad books for yelling frightened him to the core. Uncle Aleister was rumoured to have a cult of black magic as well as a secret society! Enrage him, and anything was possible… Studying made him cranky, Edgar knew from experience — especially when there’s a racket going on in the background.
A new idea formed in Edgar’s mind. Instead of calling for a servant to talk to (his uncle had no wife, lover, nor any children to play with), he decided to go for a walk in the nearby forest. Forests were always full of mystery, and heavens knew Edgar needed some kind of adventure. The most excitement he would find in the Chambers house amounted to lying prostate on the plush rug, listening to his weird uncle mumble various parts of the nervous system whilst wildly flicking through his books on neurological and psychological medicine! He was bored senseless, and he had only been there for two hours — this was worse than at home! And he thought Uncle Aleister was fun to be with… Of course he didn’t know about the secret arrest Aleister went through when found guilty of human trafficking.
Clipping a leash onto both Lady and Evangeline, Edgar shrugged on his blazer, tied his hair back with a black ribbon, and set out the front door, telling James he’d be back for tea later on in the afternoon. Outside the air was crisp and fresh, smelling of freshly mown grass and sea salt from the nearby seaside. The birds chirruped amongst themselves in the oak trees as red squirrels twisted and twined around the trees, chasing each other and squabbling noisily over territory. He peered up through the branches at the blue tits and starlings, a dull ache starting in the base of his chest as they reminded him of the swans at the old Swan Gazebo. The boy pulled a face and carried on his journey to the start of the forest.
They walked for twenty minutes, pausing at every animal noise, breathing in the fresh air, allowing the dogs to sniff around when they found unusual smells, and ultimately enjoying the peace and quite. School was quite the opposite. His life was constantly governed by the ringing of bells and a rule book he never even bothered to read. Not only that, but there was always constant background noise of boys from different houses arguing (especially Violet Wolf), reminding each other of the rules (Sapphire Owl), and sometimes even fist fighting (most definitely Green Lion). As the prefect, Edgar was expected by everyone to sort things out. And when the headmaster went away on a tour of the world, he left Edgar and his fellow prefects to sort everything out. In actuality, his stay at Weston was a nightmare, only slightly sugar-coated by the fact he had almost absolute control. Right now he was wondering why he even bothered to miss the stupid place! He knew the school would be a mess without him… Right…?
Two dogs either side of him pulled and tugged him onward as they panted and whined to be let off the leash. Sighing, he unclipped them and tapped their noses gently, warning them to be good and come back to him when he called. They raced off, soil and old fallen leaves from the previous Autumn spraying their owner in their wake. Edgar was now alone. Completely and utterly alone. A phobia he never knew he could possess… Soon regretting freeing his uncle’s dogs of their leash, he called after them, but there was no pounding of paws in the distance, nor any yapping in reply… With slight panic gripping his heart, he almost sprinted in the direction they went; splashing through muddy puddles without a care that they would soil his black trousers, and the ribbon falling loose in the process. Edgar stopped, panting hard. He had been running for nearly ten minutes straight and there was still no trace of Lady and Evangeline. How hard could it be to loose two extremely silly, extremely soppy, golden blonde dogs in a lush, velvet green forest?! They had only been let loose for about half a minute, but they had vanished into thin air! Edgar knew he was in big trouble when he returned home dog-less. But what he didn’t know was what his uncle would do to punish him?
Yapping in the distance caused the boy to look up from the forest floor where his tears were silently falling. A broad grin spread across his face and he raced to where the noise came from. It was five minutes before he was there, and somewhat, he wished he hadn’t. Edgar really didn’t feel like talking to anybody…
A young man stood stock still with his back to him. Edgar couldn’t see him clearly from behind the branches he was hiding, but he could see a head full of blond, lustrous curls that looked almost like silk in the hazy light from the sun. In his hands was a loaded shotgun, which he recklessly tapped against his legs as he presumably waited for somebody. A pile of game birds lay in a heap at his feet, eyes glazed over by death, and coated in something that looked suspiciously wet — almost like dog saliva.
‘Aha!’ Edgar yelled as he leapt from his hiding place — most likely startling the boy he was watching mere seconds ago — to find his two dogs laying near the pile of dead pheasants, one of them watching contentedly as the boy added more birds to the collection.
The boy let out a small scream and clamped a hand over his mouth, almost dropping his gun and peering over his shoulder anxiously. When he saw who it was, he turned back around to face his end of the forest, heart thumping in his chest wildly. Edgar in return was equally as surprised, and especially so to find his old friend in such an extraordinary place.
‘I’m sorry to startle you,’ he said gently, approaching him with the smallest smile he could manage. In actuality, he was suppressing tears of joy. ‘I see you have my dogs, Maurice.’
‘Ah, um, yes. I think they were attracted to me by the pile of game birds,’ Maurice giggled softly, his cheeks flushing a pale pink. ‘They’re really sweet,’ he said, rubbing Lady behind her ears.
The shotgun was still in the boy’s hands. Loaded. Edgar wished he would put it down or at least let all the bullets out of it.
‘What are you doing here?’ Edgar asked after an embarrassing silence. He stared intently at the gun. Maurice, getting the message, reluctantly laid it down beside him.
‘I live on the other side of the forest, silly. Now I’m wondering the same about you. I thought you lived all the way over in Dover.’
‘I’m….’ Edgar paused. ‘Staying with a relative for the summer.’ He looked at Maurice and laughed awkwardly, ‘My parents don’t want me about, so I decided to live with my uncle instead.’
‘Aleister Chambers, huh?’ Maurice said silkily, nodding slowly. ‘I’ve heard a lot about him… And I had no idea you were related!’
‘Yes, he’s the viscount. Um, what exactly have you heard about him?’ Edgar said cautiously. Whatever he heard about his uncle couldn’t exactly be good…
‘Well, um,’ Maurice paused, willing for something nice about his neighbour to come to mind, but nothing would. ‘He’s apparently training to become a doctor, right? Wouldn’t it be marvellous to have a doctor in the family!’
What he really wanted to say was that the viscount of Druitt was an absolute mental case, and the neighbourhood weirdo, but he didn’t want to offend his friend by insulting his family members, did he?
Edgar beamed happily. ‘Yes, he’s got a medical licence but doesn’t work right now. He wants to major in neurological medicine, but first he’s got all these exams and courses to finish first… which is why he’s so dull to be with right now… I’m just hoping I’ll learn something by spending time reading some of his text books, but they’re all really complex for me to even think about. I’ll never be a doctor at this rate!’ Fully aware he was babbling like an idiot, he stopped for breath. ‘Anyway, how is your summer going?’ he added to be polite.
Really all this small talk was setting him on edge. The last time he spent time with Maurice Cole, Maurice went crazy and kissed him! Just looking at his cute, girly face reminded him of that day — and truthfully, that was something he would really rather forget... It made his cheeks burn with shame when he realised that kissing another boy wasn’t as bad as his mother warned him it was.
‘Good so far,’ Maurice lied, biting his lip and lowering his emerald gaze from Edgar. ‘My big brother and I are out hunting for game, but he’s disappeared off somewhere. And that was when these two dogs of yours came and slobbered all over me and my birds.’ He laughed and bent down again to play with the cocker’s big droopy ears.
Truthfully his summer had been awful up until now. His brother was a tyrant, always telling him what he can and can’t do (wearing makeup was one of them), and just generally beating him up over silly little things. When he complained about it to their father, he just thumped him on the back and told him to man up. His mother suggested going into the forest to shoot some birds together and clear the air. Truthfully, that had to be the stupidest thing that ever escaped the loathsome woman’s lips. Stanley and Maurice had spent the whole time together, apart. At the first opportunity he could find, Stanley vanished into the trees. Maurice missed the days where they loved each other; where he could call his brother ‘Stan’ without being hit, and where he wouldn’t have to be worried about being insulted for being ‘effeminate’ or ‘queer’ in his brother’s books. As he was 16 and his big brother was 21, it seemed Stan had no time for him anymore… He was always off doing something. Whether it be reading books about the economy or going out dancing with stupid girls, Maurice knew none of those things should be more important than spending quality time with his younger brother. Nowadays it just seemed like he hated him, and Maurice couldn’t blame him.
Edgar grinned, his entire face radiant. Maurice knew he shouldn’t be thinking about kissing him again, as he found out the hard way that he didn’t like it the last time they kissed, but he just looked so handsome and proper. Besides… his brother was gone, and they were all alone now…
Maurice moved closer to him and gestured for him to sit with him on the makeshift bench. As his trousers were already ruined by the mud he had ran through earlier, Edgar had no objections to sitting on an old log. He sat next to him, perhaps closer than was really necessary — or appropriate — and smiled.
‘I’m so happy to see you, you know, Maurice. I was so crushed before, to think I couldn’t even say goodbye to you… But now we can spend the entire summer together! I really missed you.’
Maurice glowed with happiness at Edgar’s words. Yet something within him couldn’t help but wonder:
‘And what about Harcourt?’
Edgar had known his old fag for a very long time, and came to know what he says sometimes isn’t really what he means. He knew Maurice and his ways of acting really well by now. The boy could be complicated. Just like himself… It was a good thing Redmond could read between the lines. As well as knowing his insecurities and insane jealousy, Edgar also found out his terrible hatred of Joanne Harcourt.
Well, in a way you did replace him with Harcourt, He thought to himself, carefully watching Maurice’s sullen pout. It’s really no wonder he gets so miserable when he’s mentioned.
He saw Cole eyeing the shotgun like he intended to actually use it, and quickly mumbled: ‘He refused to even write to me.’
‘Oh, that’s good!’ Maurice bubbled before flushing and correcting himself. ‘I mean—’
‘You don’t have to pretend for me, I know you hate him,’ the eldest boy said grimly, his lips pressed together in a sly smile. ‘But there’s no need to be jealous anymore, he is too frightened to even write to me, so you have me all to yourself.’
‘Frightened? Why frightened?’ Maurice questioned, feeling a little uneasy. What could have gone on between the two to make Harcourt afraid?
‘Ah, forget I said anything,’ Edgar said, his tone suggesting that if Maurice so much as mentions Harcourt one more time, then he won’t be in the best of moods. ‘It doesn’t matter anymore.’
Maurice dropped it. Yet in his friend’s mahogany eyes was something so dark that send chills down his spine.
‘Wait a minute…’ Maurice said, ‘that reminds me. Why weren’t you at school for the last few weeks of term? You just vanished all of a sudden, and it scared me. Were you sick? Now that I think about it, neither were the rest of the prefects.’
‘I was expelled,’ he confessed, but said nothing more.
‘Drop it, Maurice. I don’t want to talk about it, especially not to you.’
‘Well, alright,’ Maurice said huffily. ‘And there I was thinking you were just avoiding me!’
‘Now why would I do that?’ Edgar asked, gently turning Maurice’s face to look at him directly. ‘We’re friends, remember. Even if I still find it hard to forgive you…’
Maurice could feel the heat creeping to his cheeks one more time at this touch. The thought of kissing Edgar was unbearably sinful (especially as his older brother could be secretly watching from afar), but so tempting right now. He leaned a little closer until his head was almost on the ex-prefect’s shoulder. As Edgar’s hair was loose — a sight Maurice had never seen before — he could admire the length of the lustrous blond hair he possessed, how silky soft it looked, and how much he ached to run his fingers through it and kiss his cherry red lips.
‘School just won’t be the same without you,’ he said dismally, feeling Edgar freeze a little at their closeness.
Edgar grunted, wishing he would stop talking about Weston College. It was making him feel close to tears.
‘You hair looks gorgeous like this, Edgar,’ Maurice purred, his green eyes sparkling like jewels, as he knew he was doing something naughty. He didn’t have to put on airs when the rest of the Swan Gazebo weren’t there. ‘Do you usually wear your hair down like this in the holidays?’
‘No, my hair tie came loose,’ he answered coolly, not liking where this was going.
Ouch. Maurice hated that tone. So resentful... So cold, just like his older brother.
‘It’s so handsome,’ he said gleefully, reminding Edgar a little of a naughty fairy in a fairytale his mother would often tell him as a child. ‘And soft, too,’ he added, playing with the long strands of hair.
Suddenly the younger boy leaned so close Edgar couldn’t stand it any longer. All his concerns and predictions disappeared, however, when they became inches, centimetres, and even millimetres apart. The only thing he could feel was Maurice’s delicate fingers stroking his hair. The younger smiled contently and cocked his head to one side, emerald eyes flashing like a cat’s. He let his eyes drift closed, his carefully made-up eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks as he took in a deep breath.
Edgar felt drunk. Completely intoxicated, as the boys hands fell from his hair in down onto his chest, his fingertips feeling gently like little spiders legs. He closed his eyes, ready to feel Maurice’s lips against his own. But they never did.
‘Maurice!’ Came a male voice, causing Edgar’s eyes to flutter open. ‘Maurice!’
‘Sorry,’ Maurice whispered, looking about as disappointed as Edgar felt. ‘That’s my big brother calling.’
A boy older than Redmond prowled into the clearing, eyeing both boys with disgust. He looked like he was in his twenties, and was the complete polar opposite of Maurice. With dark brunette hair and glacial blue eyes, he could have been a complete stranger. Yet he wasn’t unattractive. Quite the opposite, Edgar supposed. He possessed a heart-shaped face and peachy skin, large yet frosty azure orbs, and neatly combed, formal hair. And it seemed, the boy wasn’t exactly a stranger after all. If he could cast his mind back two years ago, this boy was the prefect for Scarlet Fox in 1887. Stanley Cole.
As the man kept staring, Edgar felt he had to say something, anything, just to stop that penetrating stare. He couldn’t believe this boy was Cole’s brother. Not at all.
‘Edgar Redmond,’ he smiled confidently, offering his hand to shake. ‘How do you do?’
‘Pleasure,’ the boy said sarcastically, ‘I’m Stanley Cole. His elder brother,’ he jabbed a finger at Maurice and completely ignored Edgar’s outstretched hand.
The elder boy looked at Edgar although he were something disgusting on the sole of his shoe. A look that almost drove the poor boy crazy, as he was used to being the best of the best, the man that drove all the ladies (and some of the men) to swoon; Scarlet Fox prefect, and the viscount’s nephew, high among society. Biting back a rather unnecessarily aggressive reply, instead he smiled calmly and pleasantly, hoping for Maurice to get him out of this uncomfortable situation. He always used to, knowing his fag master well.
‘Brother,’ Maurice simpered, mincing his way over to Stanley and looking as comfortable as Edgar felt. ‘You’ve been gone a long time. So long, in fact, that I got bored of waiting for you to get that bird, and almost went home. Edgar’s been good company. Don’t you think we should invite him around for dinner sometime?’
‘I don’t think that would be necessary,’ his brother retorted, not even bothering to sound polite this time. ‘Besides, we have a lot of shooting practice to do.’
He glared at Edgar ferociously although to say, “you can go now”. But Edgar refused to move, instead, picking up Maurice’s fallen shotgun and slinging it over his shoulder, and smirking triumphantly.
‘Mind if I join you?’
‘I would love for you to join us,’ Maurice quickly interjected, placing a hand on Edgar’s upper arm, although to comfort him. Both boys knew they needed as much comfort as they could get with Stanley around. ‘And I’ll bet you have much better aim than Stan. He only managed two birds.’
Sitting down and crossing one leg over the other, Maurice smirked playfully as he watched both men competitively shoot birds from the air — each one as eager to win as the next — and all for his sake. The two seemed just about ready to give up on silly old birds and turn on each other with their guns. Now he knew how a maiden from medieval times would feel, watching her two loves compete over her heart in a jousting tourney. It was bloodthirsty, yet romantic; and that was what the sixteen year-old found himself loving most of all, as he sat in a pile of corpses as sweet as a mountain of chocolates and love letters.