Not a single cloud blemished the pure, baby blue sky; the early May sunshine filtering through the oak leaves and casting speckled shadows down onto the boys below. The grass was untouched velvet, stretching the entire length of Weston College’s gardens. A grand series of mansions towered high above the treetops, but were too far away for anybody inside to spot them without a pair of binoculars. Cheerful flower gardens held pansies, wild roses and daisies. To the left, a broad meadow was dotted with wildflowers, one single horse chestnut tree standing strong in the middle of them all. Only the sounds of birdsong and the occasional toll of a bell could be heard.
There came a titter from under the oak tree. ‘Are you certain we should be out here, skipping class, prefect?’
The eldest, a tall boy with extremely long blond hair, grinned devilishly. ‘Of course! I am the prefect, after all. I can do what I please!’
The second boy giggled again. It was a girlish, adoring laugh that sounded just like the chime of a bell.
‘You are truly wicked, Redmond!’
‘Please, call me Edgar whilst we’re alone,’ he chuckled. ‘And are you not the boy who decided to come along with me, Maurice?’
‘Hmm,’ the youngest boy pouted a little. ‘I suppose, but I’d much rather be out here with you. It’s such a fine day… Much too fine to be kept indoors listening to that silly bastard drone on in Latin.’
‘Language, Maurice. I could still give you a Y or two if I were so inclined,’ Edgar teased.
Maurice let out a moan, but his eyes were twinkling.
‘Please don’t, prefect,’ he pleaded, batting his eyelashes at Edgar.
‘Then stay for a while. I’ve got an Arithmetic lesson I’d really rather avoid.’
‘Of course,’ Maurice said. He knew he didn’t have a choice in the matter — and besides, he’d much rather be by his prefect’s side no matter what the situation was.
‘Want a cigarette?’ Edgar offered, slipping a packet of hand-rolled tobacco out of his blazer pocket. ‘I took them from a first year sneaking them in his letters from home. They’re Egyptian silk.’
He waggled them enticingly in front of his peer’s face.
‘Of course,’ Maurice said again, looking uncertain this time.
‘You’ve had them before, haven’t you?’
‘All the time,’ Maurice lied easily, his honest smile not slipping for a mere second.
The eldest handed him one, not picking up on the fact that his peer’s clothes smelt nothing like the unmistakably strong smell of tobacco. Maurice held it between his thumb and forefinger, and stared at it for longer than was normal for somebody who smokes all the time. His eyes flickered up from the cigarette to catch Edgar’s mahogany eyes and drop down to the lawn again.
Edgar noticed his hesitant expression and lit up his cigarette for him. Maurice put it to his lips anxiously, unconsciously mirroring his prefect’s body language. He inhaled too deeply and choked on the toxic fumes coming from it. His friend watched on, amused.
‘You liar,’ he chortled, grinning from ear to ear. ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire!’
‘You’re being rather juvenile,’ Maurice said through gritted teeth.
He would never become angry with his idol, but today he came very close to being slightly irritated. Nobody had called him out on his lies before. Nobody. Yet somehow he found it kind of thrilling…
Edgar pushed him lightly in the chest, a sly smirk lighting up his pallid features. ‘No, Maurice. That would be childish.’
Maurice pretended to gasp, but it translated as more of a snicker than an exclamation. ‘How on earth did you of all people become a prefect?’
The prefect took his cigarette from his lips and sighed, gazing out into the sky in mock innocence. ‘Good looks, charm, wealth, gentility…’
‘Modesty?’ Maurice offered.
With no chance to escape, he was wrestled to the ground in a hysterical fit of giggling and squealing, Edgar pinning him to the grass by almost sitting on his stomach and seizing both of Maurice’s wrists. The youngest boy’s chiming giggles turning to cackling laughter and yells to release him. His fingers intertwined with Edgar’s in an attempt to push him off, but the eldest was too strong to budge. Edgar chuckled, knowing fully well that he was the victor of this particular match.
‘I received your letter,’ he smiled amiably whilst still sat on top of his peer. ‘I really admire high-quality poetry, and this was quite excellent, Maurice.’
Maurice beamed, a dull dusty pink flushing his cheeks. Usually he requests other boys in his year to do all the mundane chores that being an underclassman requires, but this poem he had written himself. He was really quite pleased with his work, but refrained from giving it to his prefect until about two days ago, when he finally plucked up the courage to do so. Not only was Edgar notorious for both his excellent prose and poetry, but he was intelligent enough to work out the hidden meaning between the lines. Maurice had very low self-esteem, so was reluctant to give the poem to his idol, telling himself he would be laughed at and pushed away. Not only that, but the old bedroom warden was becoming very suspicious of the two boys; always asking them if they need to confess anything to the priests. If anybody were to find this poem, the boys would be expelled without a second chance…
‘Thank you, Edgar,’ he said as modestly as he could manage, ‘I am very pleased you like it!’
‘I have one for you, too, Maurice,’ Edgar revealed, taking an envelope from his breast pocket.
Maurice was written in black calligraphy writing, the M swirling and curving in a delicate, well-crafted script. Tied around the outside was a silky crimson ribbon, contrasting to the creamy off-white of the parchment. With trembling fingers, the boy dared to open the letter, his breath caught in his throat, and his heart racing wildly. His wide green eyes skimmed the paper, and almost swam with tears at the words. His prefect watched contentedly as a blush spread across his features.
‘It would be an honour to be your fag, Edgar,’ the fifteen year old said softly, reaching out for his hand. ‘And I shall do my best to serve you in the years to come!’
‘I’m very happy you—’
‘Wretches!’ came an angry voice from across the grounds. An elderly man was storming towards them, his fists clenched either side of his body. A rosary was strung around his neck and his long, flowing robes billowed around his ankles.
Both boys jumped up from where they were sat, looking more amused than frightened. Edgar snickered before grabbing his new fag’s hand and turning around to run off in the opposite direction. The Scarlet Fox dorm master stopped in his tracks, realising they would be too fast to catch and punish — then turned back to the main school building to mark Chemistry papers. That rose in the eldest boy’s lapel meant he would be next to impossible to give a good caning to. Perhaps he would pass his punishment on to the younger boy beside him?
Maurice and Edgar raced all the way to Swan Gazebo, hardly pausing for breath. The other prefects watched on in dismay; their fingers were intertwined, a healthy blush to their cheeks, and both of them were laughing and taunting the dorm master, who had already given up trying to chase them. Their faces softened when Maurice was introduced. The grief and horror of Derick Arden’s death was already leaving Edgar Redmond’s psyche by the relaxed, cheerful expression on his face, and almost all of them knew it was all thanks to Maurice Cole.