Disclaimer and trigger warning: In this novella the characters discuss very sensitive topics like depression, suicide. You will come across memories and mentions of rape and sexual violence (all off page), some explanations use graphic language. These themes might trigger some readers, so if these topics make uncomfortable you might want to stop reading.
Jon was sitting on the riverbank with his long, slender legs dangling over the water surface of the muddy Thames. This part of the river clearly earned its reputation saying it tended to lull desperate men to throw themselves in its dark waves drowning them in their sorrow. As he contemplated the foamy water wondered how far would the dirty waves carry his lifeless body. This thought seemed more important than everything he planned to leave behind.
What would it be like to die in reality? Would anyone miss him, or remember him? Would anyone remember Jon, the person or only Sweet Josue, the personality? He was going to leave behind a very questionable career in the Molly House, a bunch of clients he hated and who didn’t even know his real name. Many of them never even cared enough to memorize his “stage name”… He could count on one hand how many bothered to remember anything about him that didn’t have to do with giving satisfaction to stinky, aggressive, possessive, unrealistically rich men.
“My real name is Jon, by the way.” He mumbled to the desolate riverbank. “I am well aware how plain it sounds, fuck you very much.” How many times did he want to scream this in the face of the assholes taking their pleasure from his body. But he couldn’t. He had to endure everything. Endure his whole whole life.
So his name was Jon without an “h”. Sometimes he thought about this with a fair amount of irony: his family was so poor his parents couldn’t afford a bloody “h”. They were so poor they sold him to that wretched house. It would be all good for him, they said. He would be cared for. Working for that house would get roof over his head and food in his belly, they said. What wasn’t said was the impact on his self-esteem. He felt like shit, even lesser than shit. He was used and abused to the point he forgot how to feel like anything more. Also, nobody said anything about becoming a slave without money, and be forced to live with minimal freedom. But food in his belly (at least at some extent) and roof over his head, he got.
The first week of January was bitter cold and the wet weather brought first freezing rain then snow to the city. The weather reflected perfectly how miserable he felt. Even the snow transformed the generally gray city into a fairy realm of crystalline white it couldn’t change years of misery and bitterness.
It was hellishly cold sitting on the riverbank, he could feel the howling winds to his bones. Despite of the cold and chill, the river hasn’t started to freeze over. Although slushy and frozen bits floated on the water surface. Jon pondered, would it be warmer in the water? Would his muscles hurt from the cold? Would he be able to swim? Would it be even worth a try? Or the best conduct of events would be to plunge in and let himself sink under the muddy waves?
Maybe it would be for the best. His family would be ridden of the pest he was, and he would be finally free. Why wait any longer?
He was so lost in his own depressing thoughts, mentally preparing for ending his life, at first he didn’t register someone crumpling in a heap beside him. As he saw the movement in the corner of his eyes, he turned his head and looked at the figure beside him.
The man was rumpled, his chestnut hair in complete disarray, his great-coat wrinkled beyond salvation. God, it looked warm! Jon was shivering in his threadbare overcoat. He scrutinized the newcomer. Based on where they were, sitting at jumping distance from the swirling dark water of the Thames, they both were at death’s door. So who would care two condemned men studying each other?
The newcomer looked sad and miserable, totally renounced of life. Lot of the men coming to the house asking for his company looked usually sad, afraid even. But never that lost and clearly in misery. He was unbelievably beautiful, his pale face peppered with orange-brown freckles, the light in his amber eyes quivering on unshed tears. Jon wondered if he could remember someone like this man from the house.
God, but he was a toff. No chance he’d ever been in a Molly House like his. The Violet Lillies were exclusive, posh, but seemed to be so out of the young man’s circles, he couldn’t find words on it. The young lord would stick out like a sore thumb there. The Molly House was famous for its secrecy and handling clients with outmost discretion – no one wanted the regulars to get hung, right? But someone like this man… there most certainly must be exclusive clubs for his kind?
“May I sit with you?” He asked his voice shy, trembling slightly, his eyes half-lidded not really looking at Jon. “Until we manage to decide when to jump.”
Jon looked at him dumbfounded, even the man’s accent was posh.
“Of course your, Lordship” he answered trying to mask his own brutish accent as much as he could. In the Molly House they were taught to speak clearly not to offend the clients, but Jon never was among the most eager pupils.
They continued to sit side by side their shoulders almost touching. The companionable silence enveloped them, and Jon couldn’t be sure about the man sitting beside him, but the presence of someone not wanting anything from him eased his misery.
“Don’t call me like that” the young man said staring at the dark slushy water with frozen foam floating on its surface. “No one has ranks or positions before hurling himself into oblivion.”
Jon was taken aback by that uttered protestation. The resigned expression on the other man’s face tugged at his heart. He rubbed his chest where those sad words caused an almost physical pain. What can make a man so beautiful, seemingly so fortunate by birthright to want to end his own life? Did it matter? Maybe not. He rather not listen to it as Jon certainly wasn’t prepared to share his burden with anyone in exchange. How could he explain any of it? He surely did not want to see the mortification on that handsome face moments away from the end.
“What can I call you then?” He asked instead of offering anything about himself and making sure in the same time that the man wouldn’t start to explain his heart-wrenching story.
“Why would you want to call me any names?” The man asked in response.
Why indeed? Jon needed a moment to think it over.
“As you said we’re both here to take that final leap. Wouldn’t it be better not to go as strangers?”
He clamped his mouth shut. He chided himself for being so laughable. Knowing the other’s name wouldn’t make a difference nor making them less strangers to each other… He was almost shocked to silence when the man gave his name.
“Theodore. My name is Theodore” and the shyness and the averted gaze was back. Jon smiled at him, the other man seemed innocent, pure even. What the hell could happen to him making him seek escape this way?
“Theo” Jon said. “I like that.”
“If I were to have any friends, they might call me that.”
“Why don’t you have friends?”
“Men of my status have no friends. Only acquaintances or business associates… and servants all wishing for my demise.”
Men of his status? Wait a minute… Theodore? Jon’s eyes widened, became huge as saucers. Theodore the XIth Earl of what was it? He couldn’t recall the name, but the words tumbled out of his lips.
“You’re that Earl… The one all the newspapers are loud about his wedding at the end of the month. Star-crossed lovers and all that shit…”
Color had climbed on Theodore’s cheek painting his faire cheeks beetroot red, the blush seemed to swallow his freckles, those orange-browns spots becoming almost invisible. He swallowed hard, Jon couldn’t see his Adam’s apple bobbing because his coat completely covered his throat, but imaging it – and a whole lot of other things – almost undid him.
“The one and only. You unveiled me” his lips curled into the bitterest of smiles. The sadness was back in his eyes. “My fiancée is the finest and wisest lady in the world. Anybody would kill to have her hand in marriage. Anybody normal would be begging for her grace granted upon a lucky man.”
“Except for you” Jon whispered.
“Except for me. I am unable to marry her. It will be so unfair for her with regard to my proclivities. I wasn’t made for marriage, nor for laying with ladies. But it doesn’t matter anymore, does it?” They looked at each other for a few heartbeats, then Theo asked clearly needing some bites of information from Jon in return. “And why are you here? You now know my secret, but I know nothing about you.”
“I’m the same as you” he murmured not looking at Theo. He like that name on his lips, it tasted so sweet like the man might taste. His feelings were unspeakable, as was unbelievable to coming to like someone so much just by sitting beside him and talking to him. “But I’m not like you. I’m not a lordling. I’m just a whore sold by his family after being discovered tangled together with the stable boy. My parents wanted nothing to do with me afterwards, and got me to a place where I will be punished while forced to be myself. But I can’t live with myself this way anymore.”
So they continued to sit together, now in silence. There was nothing more left to say. They both were waiting for a sign. A sign to jump or to change their mind. Was there any reason to change it? But Jon wasn’t sure anymore about his original decision. Here he sat with the most beautiful man he’d ever laid eyes on, watching him being thorn apart by the conflict between his obligation to his rank and family and his nature. He was clearly crushed under the burdens he failed to carry.
Was he ludicrous feeling so deeply for him? They only met an hour or so before, but Jon already couldn’t contain the feelings filling up his chest and threatened to overflow. But looking in the Lord’s sorrow shadowed eyes, all Jon’s suffering were dwarfed by Theo’s.
He was free like the winds compared to the young lordling. Should Jon run away no-one would pursue him long. The money he could make for the Molly House wouldn’t worth the bother to get him back. But Theo? There was a snowball’s chance in Hell his family would turn a blind eye to his proclivities or to his lover should he be brave enough to keep one.
But what if…? It was madness really… Should he ask Theo to run away with him? Jon since long had learned to be invisible. He might be able to extend his invisibility to the young lordling. Maybe… He could concoct a new story about a nobleman not wealthy enough to live in big palaces with a horde of servants, therefore seeking to buy a provincial mansion. If they were creative and careful enough, they wouldn’t raise suspicion, nor would Theo’s family come after them… They would need money to get them going. Theo could easily impersonate this nobleman and Jon could pose as his valet. There’s was nothing strange about a noble seeking to buy an accommodation at a remote place, wasn’t there?
„What will happen if you jump and drown yourself?” He asked Theo nonchalantly.
Theo looked down at the dirty, dark waves. He let loose a loud sigh.
“To me? I hopefully die without much suffering. To my family? It depends. But most certainly they will be beside themselves. They will mourn me as noble society requires them to do so. If the river spit out my body, I would be buried hastily and my fiancée certainly would be forced to marry an other nobleman right after the funeral in order to make her forget her heartbreak and pain. If my body remains unrecovered from the waters that would left her time to hope for my safe return.”
Theo spit out the words “hope” with painful irony and made Jon cringe.
“I don’t want any harm to come to her. She’s my best friend, ever since I can remember.” Theo sobbed, but forced himself to continue. “And both of our families are happy that we’re in love from the very beginning. Except We aren’t. She doesn’t want a man and I don’t want a woman. And the world just does not care.”
“So if you would disappear unexpectedly, you could save both of you of a life you do not wish to have.”
“What do you suggest?” Theo asked his breath held in his lungs.
„Run away with me. No one will ever know what happened to you.”
Theo raised his gaze at him. His eyes were sparkling. He looked like someone who never experienced kindness from anyone. His eyes gradually become wide and sparkling with wonder while Jon explained him everything from Theo impersonating a no-name nobleman and him becoming his valet.
„What?” Jon grinned. „Were you never asked to do something stupid to change your life?”
„I never was asked to do anything about it. It’s the best idea I was ever proposed of.”
„So will you…?” Jon asked hopefully.
„Will I run away with you?”
„I most certainly will. As I said, this is the best crazy idea ever thrown at me.”
„Good. Then we move immediately. Leave your overcoat with your family-crest pin and your hat.”
„What? I’ll freeze to death.”
„We get you another coat, but you would want your disappearance to seem real. So don’t waste our time. How long will it take for your underlings to start worry about your absence?”
„They are might be already quite worried right now. I bailed on them hours ago.”
„Right. See? We have to go.”
Theo nodded and peeled himself out of the coat. He handed it over along with his hat to Jon who placed it beside the pavement near the river. He chose a clear path free from bushes and any obstacles to make the pile easily recognizable. Then turned the coat until the family crest was looking upward. He made sure it would be found not long after they were gone.
„And what if someone steels it?” Asked Theo.
„Nobody would. With that family crest? It’s a certain death sentence to be caught with the coat and hat when the earl’s missing.”
Theo accepted the explanation and let Jon lead the way. They needed horses to get away from London, and Jon would to get them everything necessary without being remembered later. Theo was thrilled, he felt like he could breath again. And Jon hoped he’d found someone who would treat him with as much respect as a fellow human being deserves to be treated. And maybe they even could find and exploit more in each other’s company.
Only time would tell. But they finally managed to steel some time to live on their own terms and agreement.