Fingers trembling, shuddering breath caught in his throat, and tawny eyes cast firmly on the outside world, Alexandre huddled himself into his father’s battered car and attempted for perhaps the first time, a false smile. He knew he had to be the luckiest boy alive, but he just didn’t feel like it. Just five days ago could have been on the brink of breaking down if it weren’t for the letter in his pocket. Just five days ago he thought of suicide, the greatest sin of all… He didn’t fit into society as everybody wished he could, and he knew it so well.
‘Are you sure you really know this boy, Alexandre?’ His father, the physician, asked concernedly. ‘I was under the impression that elder boys had to keep out of the youngsters’ ways. Is that not so?’
‘Of course not, father,’ he said, crossing his fingers behind his back. ‘Where on earth did you hear that?’
‘Oh never mind that, son. Just the way things were at the time I attended school… Times change.’
Alexandre’s faux smile brightened at his convincing dishonesty. His father had always been easy to fool, so easy in fact, that it very nearly made Alexandre feel sorry for him. Alexandre’s lies were getting bigger and bigger each day.
‘Yes, I suppose they do.’
Two hours of silence had settled between the two, giving the boy time to read his letter over and over again. Each time, his cheeks flushed with delight at those sweet, calming words. In that painful hour where he knew he couldn’t bear to live, the discovery of that letter had given him a boost of euphoria like he had never felt before. Reading it now was like being gently lulled to sleep, a soft light in a long period of darkness. The boy never knew somebody that could be so enigmatic; to make him feel loved, hated, beautiful, and worthless, all at the same time. He felt dizzy just trying to fathom whether he was worth Georges’ time.
Another hour and a half passed with Alexandre’s face pressed against the glass of the old Hotchkiss 1922, the endless fields of lavender and French countryside slowly passing by his window. Shadows rose then fell as the sun slid behind the sea. A bat swooping down from a nearby holm oak caught his attention, but only for a second, as his eyes were back down on his letter to reassure him this wasn’t a dream after all.
When the Hotchkiss rumbled onto the gravel of the château’s grand driveway, Alexandre’s eyes flew open in surprise. Darkness was now a navy blanket in the night’s sky, and the warm yellow shapes of the château’s crystal windows were the only source of light. Two vague shadows towered in the doorway, one arm stretching out in a friendly greeting.
‘Aristocrats of all people,’ his father grumbled under his breath, but was ignored as Alexandre had already gathered his bags from the passenger seat and escaped from the vehicle.
A boyish grin spread across Alexandre’s features as he slammed the car door shut and raced his way over to the porch. Even that insult to his friend couldn’t hurt him now, as he was already clinging to Georges in the first embrace they had shared since the end of term. Carefully he looked up to meet Georges’ eye and beamed, who in turn grinned back. One cold hand fell on his shoulder, causing him to flinch a little.
‘I am so glad you have made it,’ an elegantly-dressed lady said, her tight-lipped smile appearing forced. ‘Welcome to our home. I am Georges’ mother,’ at her final words she smiled admirably at her son, then turned frigidly back to Alexandre.
‘Thank you, Madame De Sarre,’ Alexandre chirruped, trying his best to appear cheerful, even at eleven o’clock at night. It had taken a long time to arrive at Georges’ residence (an even longer time than originally planned, as they kept getting lost for hours at a time) and his head was still whirling with travel sickness.
When Madame De Sarre turned to leave, Georges’ eyes glistened with excitement. He pulled the youngest boy closer, letting his hands slide down to his waist. Now that his mother was gone, he tugged the crisp shirt that Alexandre had neatly tucked into his short waistband out, did the same to himself, loosened his tie, then unbuttoned the first few buttons of his designer shirt.
‘I told you we’d meet this summer. I told you!’ he said when he had finished, taking Alexandre’s hand and leading him to the first living room he could find. ‘I’m so happy you’re here. Truly I am.’
Alexandre squeezed his hand as he was pushed into a chair opposite the fireplace. ‘I missed you.’
‘But it’s only been a week, Alexandre,’ Georges laughed, but his voice broke slightly and the laugh sounded tense. ‘I missed you, too,’ he added, noticing his friend’s worried expression.
‘Just think, a week without those nosey priests,’ the youngest joked, ‘a week without confession or punishment, nor terrible food and bedtimes at nine o’clock. We can do whatever we please, whenever we please. No secrets, and no interruptions from anybody.’
Despite the serene manner he spoke, by the look on his face, the boy was still mulling over his months at school; Georges could tell by the way his chocolate orbs darkened, and the ever so slight change in atmosphere.
‘That is all smashing, but are you not forgetting something, Alexandre?’
‘What is that?’
‘What is the date today?’
‘The 16th July?’ He answered, brows furrowing a little before the recollection hit him. ‘Ah, yes! Happy birthday!’
Alexandre leapt from his seat to perch on the arm of Georges’ chair. Gently gathering both Georges’ hands in his own, he squeezed, then averted his eyes regretfully.
A smirk curved the eldest boy’s lips. ‘And what did you get me for my birthday?’
‘Nothing. Nothing at all.’
‘But that’s just what I asked of you, don’t you remember?’ Georges said with a grin. ‘”Alexandre gave him nothing.”’
‘That is terrible though… It feels wrong. I wish I could have gotten you something.’
‘There is something I want for my birthday, though,’ he said, caressing Alexandre’s small hands in his own. ‘Something from you.’
‘I’ll give you anything, Georges,’ he said solemnly.
The youngest boy leaned over to peck Georges on the cheek, but was refused. Pouting slightly, he asked whether he was being teased. With his hands still grasping Alexandre’s within his own, the aristocrat placed his mouth against the rose pink of the boy’s softer, voluptuous lips and let them brush across, gaining a little gasp of surprise. Scarlet dusted his cheeks, just like the first time they kissed in the greenhouse, yet Alexandre closed his eyes and let his friend press his lips on his own again and again.
‘Happy birthday, Georges,’ Alexandre beamed when they had broken apart, ‘I really love you.’
‘And I love you, too,’ he replied, brushing the stray hairs away from his face.
Alexandre pushed the subject further, ‘We will always be together, won’t we?’
It seemed like more of a statement than a question to Georges, so naturally, he agreed. The last time he hurt Motier’s feelings was when he mentioned Lucien was his friend… It had taken a seemingly expensive bottle of lavender water and a poem to win him over, and Alexandre was back to blowing kisses from across the dining hall and passing romantic letters again.
‘Do you think I’ll go to Hell?’
Georges studied him seriously, a slight frown on his face. ‘Gracious, I think not. Who on earth planted that idea into your head?’ He knew the answer already and regretted asking. Father Lauzon.
‘The man I confessed to… He said Satan wants me. I am becoming a rebel, and there is no saving my soul.’ The last sentence he said was spoken with a sheepish grin, yet there was no mistaking the tremor in his voice. ‘I don’t want to go to Hell.’
‘You are not going to Hell,’ Georges said sternly. ‘Alexandre Motier is the purest boy I know — sure to go to Heaven.’
‘Do you really think so?’ Alexandre enquired excitedly, his hands gripping the arm of the chair.
‘Of course I do. Now, no more morbid talk, we get enough of that at school...’ He shook his head, certain he would never set foot in Saint Claude again, even if it would save his own soul.
It was at that moment that a maid bustled in, struggling with Alexandre’s trunk and a heap of fresh linen almost as big as her. Both boys flinched although they had been caught doing something wrong, but the maid paid them no attention and simply told them it was time to retire for the night, Madame De Sarre’s orders. Reluctantly, Alexandre paused, smiled sadly in Georges’ direction, then dragged himself to his guest bedroom where the servant made his bed. Despite the irritation of being interrupted, Motier was bubbling with happiness. This was going to be the best summer by far.