There is Élie, awkward but ever-cheerful; his brother Michel, bolder, stronger, and impetuous; Eugène, the poet with wonder-struck mismatched eyes; Matthieu, clever, hot-tempered, with an eye for pretty girls; Jean-Baptiste, Nicolas, Pascal: men who wander through Alexandre's life, men he considers friends.
And now there is Jeannot: only a boy, with blue eyes that make his head spin, a sweet shy smile that twists through his dreams, a slim form he fiercely adores. Alexandre aches to touch him, hold him, see whether he can possibly be real, but he cannot -- will not. Friendship, he tells himself firmly, must be enough.
Alexandre wakes to freezing temperatures, his breath visible when he peers out from beneath the huddle of blankets and beloved. Jeannot is asleep, curled in his arms, their bodies closely entwined, sharing their heat.
He presses his cold nose against Jeannot's neck, eliciting a protest and a squirm. "Dieu! Aimé, 's cold," Jeannot murmurs indistinctly, and he smiles, wrapping his arms tighter around the boy. Jeannot only burrows deeper into their warm cocoon, still half-asleep.
Later will come numb fingers, frozen paints, the worrying expense of fuel. For now, winter means a warm bed and Jeannot, and contentment.
"You cannot heal yourself with grief, Jeannot." Eugène's solemnity is fitting in this dark club, filled with smoke, whispers, still forms, lassitude. "You must sleep," he insists, and Jeannot is too weary to protest. His friend leads him to a couch, presses a waxy, bitter-smelling pastille into his hand.
"It is only poppy," Eugène says; his odd-colored eyes are earnest. "It will help you to sleep. It will help you to forget." Right now, forgetting sounds better than anything in the world to Jeannot. He slips it into his mouth, and after a time his pain dissolves into hazy nothingness.