As usual, Georges was expected to be sociable and engaging with all the ladies and gentlemen his parents introduced him to at the clubs. Most of the people there were noblemen and noblewomen, just like the De Sarres, but that still didn’t ease the tension that he felt when walking into a full, smoky, crowded room full of strangers; these strangers all had beautiful women on their arms, hanging onto their every word and doting on them like a mother does with her child. Somewhat, he felt detached from all these people. They were nothing like himself. They were nothing like Alexandre, and to compare someone like Georges’ sweetheart to all these people was a disgusting thought for the boy.
His parents were constantly dragging him away from the beach, away from the blazing sunshine and tropical climates, to be placed in a room consisting of tipsy, disorderly men who smoked far too much. In the club, he was forbidden to be close to his secret lover for fear of revealing their secret, and this was unbearable. Far too often he would see Alexandre perched on the end of his arm chair although he felt he didn’t belong there, clutching the lion’s paws on his seat with a sullen, pouty expression on his full lips — and typically, he would be absentmindedly mixing the dregs of his wine glass with a pencil that a particularly drunk man had thrown at him earlier. He was bored, Georges knew this with a certain amount of dissatisfaction...
Georges had promised that this week would be spent with his attention and affections trained entirely on Alexandre, with nobody to interrupt their solitude. However, it was rather hard to sneak off onto the oceanfront when they were constantly shaking hands with some marquis or count.
This evening, they were to dine with somebody Georges’ parents were particularly dying for him to meet. To be honest, this holiday he was absolutely sick and tired of being paired up with some friend of a friend’s pretty young daughter. When would his parents understand that he’s not interested in the slightest?
Currently he was getting dressed into the finest black velvet dinner jacket and bow tie his wardrobe held, all under his mother’s critical instruction. She hastily gave up on letting him prepare himself long ago, and grabbed his comb and pomade to have a go at attacking his hair herself. After being scrubbed until his skin gleamed red raw and he was starting to grumble in protest, his mother let him wait with Alexandre and his father by the front door until she was dressed. Anybody could tell that she still wasn’t satisfied with her son’s appearance, no matter how handsome he initially was, but she was willing to let it go for now.
All the other young ladies Madame De Sarre had introduced him to in hopes of them becoming betrothed all ended in failure, so she wasn’t pinning her hopes on this particular young lady; she was the daughter of her husband’s old school friend — a sweet girl, but rather dull-witted and giddy, features she couldn’t help but feel were all wrong for her son.
Together, they made their way down the glistening marble staircase and into the adjoining chain of brasseries, deciding on a simple but delicate and traditional French restaurant for the evening. A sense of foreboding crept into Georges’ chest as he was ushered in front of his mother and reluctantly pushed to a table holding an elderly gentleman, an elegant-looking lady, and a young woman around Georges’ age.
The three strangers all arose when the De Sarres and Motier arrived, the man rushing forward to greet Monsieur De Sarre with a friendly kiss on each cheek and a firm shake of the hand.
‘De Sarre, I’m so very pleased to see you again!’ he cried in a big, booming voice; so big that it drew everybody’s attention towards their table. ‘And your beautiful family, too!’
The woman nodded enthusiastically and exchanged a similar greeting with Georges’ mother. Both Georges and Alexandre stood there awkwardly with the unknown teenage girl, smiling politely but still not quite knowing how to make conversation. They didn’t even know her name!
The girl grinned back in a dozy, sleepy kind of way, looking like someone who would rather be in bed at this hour. She was equally dressed to the nines in a formal grey tartan skirt and blazer, her lacy white blouse poking above her jacket, and her long, slim legs covered in silken nylon stockings. Her hair was a beautiful torrent of ebony that ended just below her collar bone in small, starlet-like waves. Georges supposed he would have thought her rather attractive if he was ever interested in girls, but as he had seldom found himself enamoured by the female sex, he regarded her coolly, although she would seek to separate him from Alexandre.
Alexandre himself wasn’t looking pleased. In fact, behind his friendly, boyish smile, Georges could almost hear his angry thoughts buzzing around in his head, and the coldness of his eyes assured him of that fact.
‘I didn’t know you had two sons, De Sarre,’ the man boomed, pointing a finger at Alexandre. ‘What’s your name, young man?’
‘Oh, he’s not our son, Monsieur Clemency,’ Madame De Sarre explained, giving Alexandre her usual frosty smile. ‘Alexandre is a friend of Georges’, a guest, staying with us for the week.’
‘Ah, nice to meet you, Alexandre,’ the amiable man said, shaking the boy’s hand vigorously. Looking around at all the other diners, he added, ‘Say, why don’t you all sit down.’
After seating themselves at the rose-strewn table and having their chairs pushed in by Clemency, the adults made idle chatter whilst waiting for the waiter to arrive; talking of past school days — omitting the scandalous things they did to prank several teachers — distant relatives, religion and economy. At one point they surprised Alexandre and Georges by commenting on how cute their matching suits were: Alexandre’s entirely in white and Georges’ mainly a luxury black velvet.
Again, the boys and the young lady were left to a pregnant silence, each studying their menus although it was the most interesting thing they’d seen in their life.
Just after the waiter had taken their orders, for Georges, the room seemed to become heavy with an atmosphere he didn’t like. The tense feeling in his chest from before returned, telling him that there was no escape. His parents were getting down to business...
‘Georges, this is Jeanette Clemency, the girl I was telling you of,’ his mother began, smiling maternally and placing a loving hand on top of Clemency’s although she already considered the girl her daughter-in-law. ‘She’s fourteen years old, the same as you.’
‘It’s very nice to meet you, Jeanette,’ Georges said as politely as he could manage, completely aware of the girls big blue eyes staring him fixedly up and down. Subconsciously, he stood his desert menu up in front of his face and folded his arms as a manner of defence.
‘Nice to meet you, too,’ she replied sweetly, catching her mother’s eye and flashing her a toothy smile.
The conversation lagged for a while after that, but thankfully the first and second courses arrived, busying them for the time being. However, that didn’t stop them from picking up from where they left off earlier, putting the boy right off his food whenever Jeanette was mentioned.
‘We’ve heard a lot about you, Georges, from your mother, haven’t we, Jeanette?’ the girl’s mother said, her eyes alight as she considered Georges. ‘Such a handsome young man you are, and very intelligent, too. I’ve been told you attend Saint Claude and are top of almost every class!’
‘After dinner, why don’t you and Jeanette go out for a walk and get to know each other better?’ Madame De Sarre suggested in her typically cold, instructive voice.
Before anybody could get a word in, Alexandre quickly interjected with a pouty, ‘I’ll come too!’
Under the table, Georges’ fingers gently slipped between Alexandre’s fingertips and squeezed, stroking his friend’s much smaller, softer palm with his left hand. Still, the younger boy’s face remained a moody mask. His distrust of Georges just about made his teeth clench with annoyance.
‘Oh, no, sorry, sweetheart…’ Madame Clemency said, shaking her head. ‘I was wanting it to just be your friend and my daughter, you see…’
Madame De Sarre was about to agree and Alexandre about to protest, but Georges was too fast for them both: ‘Actually, I’d like for Alexandre to come along; it will be much more fun that way.’
‘Well, I suppose that would be fine…’ she said reluctantly, drumming her fingernails against the mahogany of the tabletop. ‘Why don’t you three go along now, while us adults talk things through. There is a lot to arrange for the future.’
‘Goodbye, boys, Jeanette. We’ll be at the Ladies and Gentleman’s club all evening until quite late at night, so go back to your rooms when you’re done talking and get an early night.’
That last sentence from Jeanette’s mother made both Alexandre and Georges freeze with horror, but instead of waiting for the former to double-take and show the woman what he thought of that idea, the eldest dragged Alexandre away by his wrist, his strides long and fast, his movements slightly jerky with nerves; Jeanette trailed behind, equally looking like she didn’t exactly want to be with them, as she twiddled with the fabric of her skirt.
Together, they made their way out of the brightly-lit lobby and out onto the beach. All signs of the deep blue sky seen earlier had vanished as the ghost imprints of the moon and stars gemmed the soft waves, and the sky was cast warm oranges and reds. Outside there were no hints of loud, drunken men in the social clubs, and for once there was a deep, calm silence. Strings of fairy lights were strung high above the sand and water, linking one palm tree to another and creating more sparkles onto the water’s surface.
As there were no adults around to tell them what to do, after a few minutes of forced small talk such as “what part of France do you come from?” and “what school do you go to?”, the girl and two young men decided to go their separate ways. Jeanette made her solitary way east, her knee-length skirt and dark hair fluttering in the slight breeze as she dragged her heels through the sand, caking them in seaweed and crushed shells, as Georges and Alexandre went west, all signs of formality vanished.
‘Thank goodness we’re away from that!’ Georges said, almost sighing with relief. ‘My parents are so intent on arranging me to become betrothed with some girl, and there’s nothing I can do to persuade them otherwise.’
‘You can’t get married, though! What about me?’ Alexandre demanded, ignoring the fact that he was trying his best to escape the arrangement. Usually he was a sweet, friendly boy, but whenever he felt that his particular friendship with Georges was under threat, he would become irate and irritable for days.
‘I will do everything in my power to get out of it, Alexandre — I promise.’
‘I’m not going to marry the girl. I’ll run away… We’ll run away. Besides, we have plenty of time… Perhaps my parents will have a disagreement with Jeanette’s parents and the whole thing will be called off.’
‘We’re only talking of about four years! That isn’t a long time at all, and by then you will have probably completely forgotten about me,’ Alexandre whined, stopping in his tracks to draw himself up to his full height and stare hatefully at his friend’s black silk bow tie.
Georges stopped also. ‘There’s no chance I’d ever forget about you, Alexandre. You’re both my best friend and first love, and despite being so naive about matters of the heart, I would give anything to spend the rest of my life with you although we were man and wife. If I can get away with it, I shall never marry, even if it means being chastised by my family.’
All hints of being annoyed had disappeared from Alexandre’s face and had been replaced by a deep flush and gentle smile.
In a quiet voice, he said, ‘I’m sorry for being short-tempered with you, Georges, I was simply irritated at the idea that you might be attracted to that girl, Jeanette. Someday, I would love to be with you, too. Maybe we could live together in Greece, where you will be a writer — or a diplomat, as you once mentioned. Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of us were a girl and we could get married and be in love without any lies or secrets!’
This last sentence he said sounded deeply sad and regretful.
‘Perhaps some day two men will be able to wed,’ Georges suggested hopefully, although there was a fragment of doubt within his facial expression. Mainly he was saying this to get the youngster to smile again.
‘I doubt that,’ said Alexandre glumly, brushing his hair out of his eyes. ‘Everybody seems to hate homosexuals.’
Somewhat, Georges was surprised. In all the time he and Alexandre had been together, they had never referred to themselves as homosexuals even once. In fact, he had barely even thought of it that way. Alexandre and himself were simply two people in love, just like he had always thought of Lucien and Andre as two people in love.
‘Why is it so wrong?’ the youngest questioned, thoughtfully tracing his finger along the lush baby pink of his lips. ‘Why is everyone so against us?’
‘Because it’s not only against the law, it’s against the Lord’s wishes.’
‘Why? We’re not serial killers.’
‘God created one man and one woman, not two men or two women,’ he answered, gazing deeply at Alexandre’s hurt expression. His own eyes were dark and brooding, and his heart was beginning to ache at the memories of Father De Trennes and Father Lauzon’s reactions to their relationship. ‘Plus, we can’t reproduce,’ he added, cheering up slightly to give a quick smirk.
Alexandre snorted. ‘I suppose that’s true, even if it is old-fashioned.’
He looked although he were about to fall into a melancholy again, so Georges gave him a gentle, playful push in the chest so that he tumbled backwards, perhaps a little bit too dramatically for the force of the push. Usually Georges would find it childish to roughhouse (with an exception to that one time in the hay at Saint Claude), but today he felt that the situation called for it... The blonde boy stumbled backwards until he fell on his behind onto the carpet of sand. At first he appeared hurtfully surprised, although he had thought that Georges had done it to be malicious, but his face soon broke into a broad grin and his eyes lit up with boyish excitement.
‘Ow,’ he said as he landed on a particularly sharp, jagged seashell. ‘You’re mean, Georges!’ He picked up the broken scallop and chucked it at him, letting out a giddy yell of laughter as it hit him square in the chest.
Alexandre leapt to his feet as it appeared his friend was getting ready to attack him back; he was about to dodge and run, when all of a sudden the eldest collided with him, grabbing him around the waist and swinging him around as easy as a rag-doll caught in the wind. As the weight of the both of them plus the element of surprise was too much to bear, the eldest one of the two toppled over, Alexandre tripping over him and following suit.
From the other end of the beach they could feel the girl’s penetrating glare (after all, she had been told by her mother that Georges loved her, and despite being painfully slow she could understand quite well that this wasn’t the case; his affections were anywhere but with her) but chose to ignore it as they rolled over and over on the sand, giggling and roaring with contagious laughter.
Their legs entwined together, tangled, as Motier attempted to go one way as De Sarre seized him from the other, catching him in a vice-like trap with his own legs. Spluttering, gasping for breath, Alexandre finally found enough brute force to kick him off, swinging his hips upwards so that he flew to his feet, gaining advantage over his friend. However, his victory didn’t last long, as his ankle was grabbed by Georges like the monster from under the bed. He was flung down on top of Georges, almost banging their heads together and biting his tongue as he landed. Despite wanting to yell out in pain, he let out a raucous scream of mirth, his eyes reddening and welling with repressed tears of both elation and hurt.
Georges smirked wildly, writhing under him although he knew very well that he could gain advantage and escape any time he wanted to; it was simply more fun to pretend to be endangered by this little boy. Their screams and cries and howls could be heard all the way over at the social club, yet nobody stirred from their drunken stupor to investigate the mischief and mayhem.
Sand had gotten into Alexandre’s mouth, mixing with the metallic tang of his own blood. His stomach churned from the taste, plus the amount of laughing he had been doing, and his throat was aching dreadfully. Slowly, they calmed down, guffawing dying down and hearts becoming a steadier pace. A heavily panting Alexandre straddled Georges’ waist, gazing down into his companion’s almost-fuchsia face. As well as having sand in his mouth, he also had it mingled into his blonde hair, prickling at his golden eyes, and rubbed deeply into his once-pristine alabaster suit…Peering down at De Sarre, he was exactly the same. Their play had been far too rough, and both boys showed the signs…
‘I think we should go back to the hotel room before mother finds us in this state…’ Georges panted, swiping the sheen of sand from his forehead with a shaky hand. ‘She will be irate if that girl tells her what we’ve been doing.’
After agreeing mournfully Alexandre allowed himself to be led away to their room. Inside, the stench of salt and sea was much less pronounced and instead was replaced by the welcoming scent of air conditioning and rich perfume. Covered in filth and gaining a number of stares from the few sober people that were there, they walked the palm tree-flanked lobby and ascended the pristine marble staircase, granules of evidence from the beach leaving a narrow trail behind them, just like Hansel and Gretel from Grimm’s Fairytales.
Georges slotted the key into the family quarters they shared and a narrow strip of light from the hallway revealed a spic-and-span parlour, everything in its place. He flicked the light switch on to dim, sent the fans and air conditioning into action, then wrestled his way through his mother’s house plants until he found the bedrooms.
‘Let us get changed quickly,’ he said, padding his way across the plush carpet, barefooted. ‘We’ll have to throw our dirty clothes into the laundrette as soon as possible, to make certain that mother never finds them.’
He made his way to the open window, the billowing curtains sending a refreshing breeze across the room. Alexandre was close behind him, his head gently resting against Georges’ upper arm as he opened the curtains to reveal the crystal-like stars twinkling above. Peering down, he was surprised to find Alexandre clad in only his undershorts.
‘How long have we got until your parents get back?’ he asked, gazing shyly at his feet. Anybody could tell that he was feeling self-conscious; out of his comfort zone.
‘Alexandre,’ he said softly, moving away. A dusty pink lit up his cheeks. ‘I don’t suppose we have long, and besides, there is plenty of time for that in the future…’
It was true that Georges did want to make love to him — for the intimacy of their friendship rather than for the sake of blind lust and gaining forbidden experience that only a married couple should share… The boys had to keep their purity intact. What they were doing already was sinful and disturbing in the eyes of the Church and in the eyes of the Lord, they knew as much from the priests at their school. They were unclean. Devil children. Evil and immoral. Dirty, disgusting creatures that should be dealt with before they infected the rest… Black sheep among pure white sheep. And most of all, it was driven into Georges mind that that was what they were: poisonous.
He did want to love him. He did want to comply with Alexandre’s wishes, for they were exactly the same as his own… But what if they were caught? What would happen then? They would be separated and forced to go to different schools. Perhaps even a different kind of school — a tougher, more ferocious school full of insanity and coldness; let it be driven into the boys that what they were doing was wrong!
The young boy stroked his finger across his cherubic lips. ‘Just one kiss?’
Georges bent his head down slightly, cocking it to one side as Alexandre wrapped his hands around his neck and leaned in to the embrace. The kiss was somewhat deeper than usual, a new experience for the both of them. Panting slightly, they separated at the sound of a banging at the front door.
The blood ran cold in Georges’ veins as he went to go investigate. Alexandre threw on some clothes in the bedroom they shared. Thankfully it was nothing but some drunkard aristocrat thrashing about the corridor and singing a dirty song.
‘Ah, you’re dressed,’ said a surprised Georges as he returned to the bedroom.
Alexandre was stood stock still in the centre of the floor, his arms rigidly by his side and his face deadly serious. The clothes he was wearing were exactly the same as the ones they had discarded in the closet, except beautifully clean and smelling of lavender and fresh cotton.
‘Who was it?’ he asked anxiously.
‘No one,’ Georges reassured. ‘Run this comb through your hair, you’ve got so much sand in your beautiful locks!’ he added with a slight chuckle.
Willing to please, Alexandre did as he was told. Once again he stood to attention.
‘I will get changed now, so why don’t you sit in the parlour and see to the piano we have in there.’
When he returned as equally debonair as Alexandre — dabbing his father’s cologne onto his neck to disguise the unmistakable aroma of the beach — the boy was already sat at the piano, moodily stabbing at the keys.
‘What is the matter?’
‘Oh, nothing, Georges.’
‘Are you certain? You look so sad.’
‘Really it’s nothing. Please sit down, will you.’ He replied hastily, the melancholy brooding still in his eyes. Georges knew he was still thinking over Jeanette and future plans for marriage; no doubt his own parents would be trying to find him a suitable partner in a little under two years…
Georges complied. He sat directly next to Alexandre on the piano bench.
‘Are you going to play me a song?’ he asked hopefully, taking the boy’s petite hands into his own and rubbing them.
‘Not today. Sorry. I’m just not in the right frame of mind.’
After a few minutes of pure silence, feeling the cooler night breeze flutter in and wrap around them like an icy blanket, Alexandre rose from his seat and opened the patio window. The eldest could only see his back, but from the dark aura that was coming his way in huge inky waves, he knew that Alexandre wasn’t content at all. Sadness pricked Georges’ chest. It didn’t matter how much they loved each other, how much they wanted to be together forever, it always came down to this. Nowhere, not in one place — not in Saint Claude, Georges’ own home, this exotic French paradise, or probably even in Greece — would they feel their hearts could belong in unison.
He selected a vinyl record from his mother’s collection and sent it spinning onto the gramophone. Upbeat swing music blared from the room and into Alexandre’s range of hearing. The boy turned around just as Georges approached him.
‘Would you care for a cigarette?’ he asked, taking a puff of the one he had already lit. The light from the stars plus the red glow of the tobacco end was the only source of light on this side of the building, casting both boys in shades of navy and deep marine blue.
‘Thank you,’ said Alexandre, perhaps a little colder than he had originally intended. He accepted the match from his friend and began to smoke, this time without choking on the fumes. Still, it tasted disgusting and made his head spin, but it was slowly but surely getting better.
‘Are you sad?’ Georges asked over the music.
‘…Yes.’ Alexandre replied, reluctantly.
He let out a deep, heaving sigh. ‘We have so many secrets that sometimes it gets rather complicated. I have nobody to talk to but you,’ and realising that what he had said had hurt Georges somewhat, he added, ‘well, I mean about our love, not just in general. Sometimes I think that we are lonely despite having each other, as we would never be accepted by society… These feelings we share… People think we’re mad.’
Even though he had often found himself along the same line of thought, Georges said: ‘You think too much, Alexandre. It’s not healthy to brood on this dark subject — you’ll find yourself getting depressed and miserable.’
‘That’s true,’ the youngest perked up, or at least pretended to. ‘Let’s forget about all this. We’re meant to be having fun!’
Georges’ favourite song came on: a jazz song written by the Englishman, Charlie Barnet, but rather popular with the French this year. It was called “Skyliner” and had a cheerful, romantic tune. He thought of asking Alexandre to dance with him, but before he could so much as manage the first syllable, the muffled sound of a key clicking in the lock was detected from behind a musical mask. Quickly, the duo sprinted as fast as they could to the bedroom, climbing into bed fully clothed and cocooning themselves inside the silken blankets. They feigned sleep as the dainty adult footsteps of his mother echoed on the tiles, followed by the graceless elephant that was his father. Soon enough, they found themselves drifting off, their final thoughts before they were plunged into a dream exactly on par; hopefully tomorrow would be a better day.