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Promises Exchanged at Midnight

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Lucien Rouverre had scoffed, full of scorn, when Georges de Sarre had shared his plan to run away accompanied by his wide-eyed lover. Somewhere, anywhere they could be alone to love in solitude and privacy was good for him, but wasn’t running away going a little too far?
“And I suppose you would scrape together some money and become work boys on a farm in Bordeaux?” he had laughed, “What will you do when you run out of money? When you want to go home?”
For a while, Georges couldn’t help but resent him. His lack of understanding sliced through him like a knife. And the worst thing was, Georges himself was beginning to see the flaws in Alexandre Motier’s plan… They would be caught halfway there, in each others arms, his aristocratic parents’ money stashed in his leather wallet, train tickets to Paris wedged between his precious love letters. Georges would be interrogated by the police because of this ungodly pervasion, or worse, disowned. They would be forbidden from ever seeing each other again, and both would fall into deep melancholy.
Currently, the two lovers were curled up together in the conservatory, one lone candle their only source of light and warmth in the blue velvet night. Flecks of pure gold were illuminated in Alexandre’s locks, and his eyes burned fiercely tawny in the flame of the candelabra. A pool of wax gathered on the stony floor, and what looked like demons danced ceaselessly across the huge windows and orange blossoms. Shivering violently, Alexandre crawled closer to his friend and wrapped his arms around his neck, and placed his head on Georges’ broad shoulder.
‘When will we ever leave together, Georges?’ the young boy asked, perhaps a little bit gloomily.
Warming the boy’s legs where the shorts were cut off and the socks ended below the knee, Georges rubbed his legs lovingly. ‘Soon,’ he lied, biting his lower lip.
In a moment of affection, Motier nuzzled his shoulder. Unsatisfied with de Sarre’s answer, however, he demanded an answer. ‘When?’
‘Just… I need some time to think over it all. We need a plan,’ he replied. ‘There are complications, Alexandre… So much danger in all this.’
‘But isn’t it exciting? Don’t you want to be together forever?’
‘But of course!’ Georges said hastily. ‘I just want everything to be a success. If this fails, we’ll never see one another ever again.’
‘No!’ Alexandre grimaced, baring his perfectly white teeth slightly. He could feel his temperature rising at the very thought.
‘Which is why we need time…’ said the eldest, snuffing the candle between dampened fingers. Then came complete darkness.

The following evening, the two lovers pretended to be playing chess in the school library. Really, it was a mere distraction; even Georges felt his mind slipping from the black kings and queens on his side of the board, giving Alexandre a huge advantage over him.
One by one — some in pairs, some in gangs — the children and adolescents of Saint Claude’s filtered out of the library in a stupor. When the last one had stumbled out, rubbing his eyes and repressing yawns big enough to swallow an encyclopedia whole, the chess board was shoved carelessly aside and the boys ducked beneath alternate bookshelves. Some Father, that nobody knew the name of, poked his head around the door and asked monotonously for anybody still in the library to go to bed; only on Saturdays were they allowed a bit more freedom to socialise and stay up later than usual. In his lazy manner, he didn’t choose to stroll the premises to search for naughty boys hiding from him. He just expected everyone at Saint Claude’s to be good and wholesome.
But not de Sarre. At last, when the meek Father had exited and walked a good few paces away, he stood up straight to his towering height. Helping Alexandre to his feet, they made their way, hand in hand, to the back door. It was a rusty old thing, hardly used, and with literally no oil at all. With a huge, nerve-wracking creak like fingernails on a blackboard, the night air drifted in slowly like mist over a grave.
Quickly, they crunched over the frosty lawn and broke out into a run whilst passing the headmaster’s lair. Thankfully, all was silent. All was dark. Georges’ eyes were almost bulging as he nervously dug his nails into his palms, checking both sides, left to right, right to left, and back again. On Alexandre’s face was a look of pure determination. His eyebrows were furrowed in deep concentration, and his rosebud lips were set in a stone hard, thin line. Turning to Georges, he said:
‘What next?’
Naturally, Georges had planned this in advance. Hesitating slightly at the idea, he took a deep breath. ‘Do you ride?’
‘Hm, sometimes, mainly when I’m on holiday with my family, though.’ He looked slightly perplexed, but didn’t want to say so.
‘There is a horse stable in a nearby resident’s home. I was thinking that we could ride away to the nearest town, as neither of us can drive, and public transport is too risky…’
‘But… isn’t it wrong to steal?’ asked Alexandre, even more nervous at this thought. ‘We’ll go to Hell.’
A slight snort escaped from Georges. ‘What does that matter now!’ he said in a bitter undertone, thinking of the distaste his parents would forever view him with.

Soon they were riding side by side through the bitter wind, densely packed, inky trees blurring into vision in the fleeting seconds the horse galloped by. Cottages, country fields, roaring windmills, and men on midnight bicycle rides passed them and payed them no mind. Nobody came out of their houses to investigate why two school boys were riding horses in the dead of night although their lives depended on it. Even the horses behaved without the use of whips or aggression. In that moment, things were a dream.
Eventually the duo came to a small town area, at least twenty miles from where they had started up; they were so close to the enigmatic Paris that it almost physically hurt. The youngest of the two wanted to go on despite his fatigue, but Georges was far to sensible to allow him his own way.
‘We need to find somewhere to stay the night,’ said Georges wearily, as he had forgotten how much hard work and willpower horse-riding took.
Within five minutes they came upon a shabby-looking motel. Only two out of the five letters were glowing, and soon enough, the fourth letter began to flicker on and off. Paint was peeling from the walls, and outside, Georges was abashed to find, the streets were clogged up with prostitutes. Indeed, it wasn’t the best place that either boy had ever stayed, but if it had a door with a lock, and a bed, it was good enough for them. Besides, with the money the de Sarres had, anybody at Saint Claude’s would have expected him to stay at a five-star hotel overlooking the Eiffel Tower. This place provided great protection.
Alexandre’s legs were shaking as he dismounted the stallion, and bowlegged, he made his wobbly way to the lobby entrance.
‘There are vacancies,’ he whispered to Georges, eyeing the surrounding women nervously, and clutching his horse very closely by the reins.
‘Good, now let’s tie the horses to that shed over there,’ Georges whispered in return, ignoring the prostitute that was trying to catch his eye, and pointing over to the run-down shack that vaguely reassembled a shed.
Anxious to get out of the obvious limelight, they quickly tied the reins to a high beam, Alexandre hurriedly giving both horses a stroke on the muzzle. As both strode towards the lobby, a woman with long dark curls and heavily-lidded eyes caught the eldest by the arm:
‘Hello, you naughty boys!’ she cooed, batting her eyelashes and reclining against the door frame in order to thrust out her breasts. Running up and down their bodies with her eyes, she continued, pulling up the hem of her very skimpy dress to straighten the hems of her stockings; ‘Are you looking for a fun time with a good little girl like me?’
Frightened, Alexandre jumped back five feet. Thankfully, Georges took over, being older and more able to deal with these kinds of situations… He bit his lip and pushed past her without meeting her eye once, grabbing his companion’s wrist and leading him into the warmth of the motel. After forking out a chunk of franks (birthday money that Georges had held onto for a rainy day) and writing false names into the mouldy guest-book, they trailed to the second floor and stole into their temporary bedroom.
It was all really alien to Alexandre, so jarringly real, that for a second he almost couldn’t believe where he was. His lower lip quivered, but he caught himself just in time, letting out a little shrill laugh.
‘Here starts our new life together,’ he beamed triumphantly, throwing himself down onto the queen-sized bed. So much emotion was pounding through his young head.
Closing and locking up the rotting door, Georges joined him on the bed. They were both so exhausted that they fell asleep right away, without undressing or bothering to wish each other goodnight. All their dreams were fogged up with overpowering guilt, all night long... But the only thing Georges would admit to was being irritated with himself for forgetting to steal even more money from his parents, whilst he had the perfect opportunity during the summer holidays.

The following morning, the two boys groggily arose from a hectic slumber and slowly pulled on fresh clothes. After being splashed by ice cold water which woke them up to a great degree, the two suddenly became aware of the situation they were in: about five miles from Paris, with the rest of their lives ahead of them, and money burning a great hole in Georges’ pocket… they could do absolutely anything they wanted! Anything in their wildest dreams! With great excitement they flocked into the streets in contrasting suits, so happy that they forgot it was an unusual sight for a passer-by to see two adolescent boys holding hands like lovers.
For the first few days they spent in Paris, everything was so new and exciting that they almost forgot to eat three solid meals a day. Despite all the travelling, neither boy could muster up an appetite; everything was just so adult, so grown-up… and there was just this overpowering feeling of being free for once. In Paris they were having the times of their lives, visiting the moulin rouge and watching the ladies dance the cancan with beams upon their heavily made-up faces, touring the famous art museums filled to the brim with Greek and Roman treasures, and daring themselves to enter Paris’s finest underground gay bars — secret from the rest of French society — where they found themselves either politely ignored by those sober, or indulged continuously with cigarettes, champagne, expensive wine, and flattery by the men who were rather tipsy and unaware that they were just boys.
Alarm was spreading the country, however… It was impossible for the son of a wealthy marquis to go missing without raising concern, as Georges was sobered to find one rainy evening whilst ambling home to the hotel with Alexandre. “MISSING” screamed the front page. His whole body became numb as he saw his own face staring back at him at the newspaper stall. Alongside his own profile was Alexandre’s — perhaps the sweetest, most innocent picture of him yet, further riddling himself with guilt as strong as a tempest. The urge to turn heel and cry swam through his hazy mind. But instead, he smiled grimly.
Lowering his head from view, he muttered a quick: ‘A paper, please,’ and handed over a few coins.
Back in the safety of the motel, he could read in peace. Alexandre was currently asleep in bed beside him, snoring softly; Georges could take comfort in this. Really, he would go to extremes to hide this particular article from the gentle-hearted, sensitive boy, and when he was done, he ripped off the front cover and exited the hotel room in order to flush the scrunched up paper down the public toilet.
It had detailed how distraught parents of both parties were, the shock and surprise of the teachers at Saint Claude’s, and how everybody was praying for the missing boys every night. And throughout, tears had trickled down his pallid face. Gulping as he watched the paper disappear to the murky depths, he knew it was time to move on from beloved Paris.

Sleepy and confused, Alexandre was hauled out of bed, washed and dressed by the fretting, fumbling Georges. Legs shaking, he followed the boy down the rickety staircase and out into the open world, as blindly as a sheep follows a border collie.
‘What’s the matter?’ he yawned, for it was five o’ clock in the morning, and pitch black outside if it weren’t for the gas lamps surrounding them.
Georges fell into a spot of darkness. He stopped for a moment and placed down their cases. Then he sighed and put his face in his hands. Suddenly jolted awake, Alexandre went to him and touched his arm in support.
‘I simply can’t keep this a secret from you any longer…’ he whispered, wrapping the smaller boy in his arms. ‘They’re all looking for us desperately. Our parents are in deep distress, and my mother has fallen ill with grief. Your father has offered a thousand franks he can’t afford to anybody who finds you, and apparently your brother can’t cope at school any longer with you gone… They think we’re dead!’
‘But… we can’t go back now!’ Alexandre angrily protested. He looked on the verge of crying, torn between his family’s happiness and his own.
‘I know it’s selfish, but we just can’t go back. They’ll demand the truth from us, and we’ll never see each other again.’
Alexandre thought for a while. ‘We need to get further away — to the channel, to England!’ he yelled, suddenly becoming excited at the thought.
The child inside him was becoming more and more apparent as life decided to get harder and harder…

Eventually they both compromised by moving on, ironically, to a farm nearer to the channel than Saint Claude’s. If things became dangerous, they would simply use the remains of Georges’ money to hop across on a ferry to Maidstone. It wasn’t the glamorous, luxurious life that they often dreamt of, but it was better than separation. In fact, Georges wasn’t exactly pleased to be following Lucien’s sarcastic recommendation, and yet Alexandre seemed happy running around all day with dogs, cats, horses and the newborn piglets, so he was happy too. They got paid for all their work by the hour, and even were allowed their own room to share in the cottage, where they slept in the same bed. Of course, the couple owning the farm were under the impression that the boys were Francois and Aubrey Bruno, poor brothers that had escaped from the orphanage and were not, under any circumstances, to be disclosed to the police… Naturally they were not aware of what happened behind closed doors when work was over for the evening.
Things stayed that way until two months later in February. That was when their world came crashing down, poignant, like a meteor to the ancient world. Whilst shopping for Monsieur and Madame Barousse in the local village market, a hand came down like the claw of a monster on Alexandre’s shoulder. By that time the two boys were swarthy and healthily lean and muscular, but the policeman still recognised the duo from their photographs…
‘Boys!’ he hollered in mixed surprise and ecstasy. He couldn’t believe that it was he who found the long-missing schoolboys; he that would receive one-thousand franks.
Alexandre swung back his foot and was about to kick in self-defence, but he was grabbed by Georges before he could act on that impulse. Dragged away by his comrade, they broke out into a run. The man, just as frustrated as determined, followed suit, scattering tomatoes and leaves of lettuce as he zig-zagged after them. People gawked, and some pointed, only just realising that they were the two Saint Claude’s escapists. A roar of excitement for the chase echoed throughout the market. Soon, the boys were apprehended by everybody; men, women, children, dogs… Their eyes were wild with terror as an arm was swung around their waists and they were lifted into the air as easily as a rag doll.
‘Let me go!’ Alexandre screeched and kicked, as he was carried away in the opposite direction to Georges.
And that was the last Georges ever saw of him. His last memory was of a screaming, desperate child, before he soon decided to end it all in the bathroom of his chateau.