a/n: Well, I meant to have this up about a week and a half ago, but then life and computer issues got in the way. I don't know how I feel about this one, but do read it and tell me what you think.
Hanschen often walks up past the fields near the vineyard now, hoping Ernst will be there, but he isn't very often anymore. Hanschen knows that he cannot always expect Ernst to wait for him, that he cannot control Ernst as he could Mary and Desdemona, that he cannot ever flush Ernst away if Ernst doesn't want to be flushed. And strangely, Hanschen doesn't mind this loss of control as much as he thought he would. But still, every time he passes by the empty space, something stops him from sitting down to wait for Ernst himself.
It's winter now, and the ground snaps under his boots and the frost melts when he puts his finger to a tree branch encased in a sheen of white. The water slides cold up his forearm, leaving goose bumps in its wake.
Perhaps, he thinks, Ernst doesn't come anymore because of the cold. He always has been rather a delicate, waif-like boy. Hanschen's fingers overlap when he circles them around Ernst's wrist.
But he knows it isn't just the cold that keeps Ernst inside.
Hanschen kicks at a dead, brown hillock of grass, more to disguise his disappointment than anything else. Hands in his pockets, he stumbles and almost falls, catching himself just in time. The dull throb of his toe reminds him of another, greater pain.
Last week, on Sunday, Hanschen caught Ernst's elbow as he left the church. He whispered only three words: "Meet me today."
But Ernst's only answer was a swift shake of the head as he pulled out of Hanschen's grasp and went to rejoin his parents. As he watched Ernst speak to the pastor, Hanschen remembered anew Ernst's declaration last spring that he dreamed of becoming a country pastor. Hanschen thought Ernst's dreams had changed as his own had. Not that he'd ever really had any dreams before Ernst.
Even now, reliving it, Hanschen has to duck his head down under his collar, to ensure that the icy ache in his chest doesn't melt enough to flow down his face. He thinks that, in weather this cold, the tears may freeze, tiny perfect droplets of water staying on his face until he goes inside.
Going further back, he thinks he should have seen it even then. During their last meeting, almost a month ago now, the strain was palpable, like strings in the air that he could pluck at and set to vibrating, disturbing everything around them.
Bringing Ernst's hand to his mouth, Hanschen gently kissed each fingertip. He imagined that he could feel each individual whorl and indentation under his lips. Then Ernst jerked away.
"I must be going. My mother expects me for dinner," he said, rising to his knees and then to his feet, and ambling off before Hanschen could gather the sense of mind to say even one word. Ernst hasn't come since.
The first time Hanschen kissed Ernst, he told him that they would look back, thirty years from now, and it would all seem incredibly beautiful. But now he looks back, mere months later, and wonders if he can ever grasp such beauty again, hold it in his fist and keep it for his own.
Trudging through his own front door, he almost slams his fist into the doorjamb in frustration, anger at the hand that cannot keep ahold of anything good, of the one good thing that has come of this year of anger and sadness, of Moritz and Wendla and Melchior, and the adults closing their lips tighter and tighter, until they are lines no one can see but absolutely no one can cross.
Hanschen's little sister, looking frightened at the sight of his stormy face, brings him a mug of fresh milk. Flakes of ice float at the top.
That same time, that wonderful spring time of grapes and hay, Hanschen told Ernst that he would skim off the cream in life. Looking down at the wooden tabletop with grooves worn smooth and his own hand clenched around the mug, Hanschen remembers something that he has forgotten.
In the winter, the milk freezes before it can be brought into the house, and it is much harder to skim the cream off the top.