The vineyard was their safe haven.
No one knew they were there, besides a few workers in the fields, who couldn’t care less about the two boys laying in the grass. They never stole any grapes, never caused any trouble. They just enjoyed each other’s company for hours on end.
Ernst loved it, more than he could ever express. There were evenings when he would do his homework alongside Hanschen, their books splayed across the grass. There were evenings in which they talked for hours on end, about nothing, and yet about everything. And then there were evenings where all they would do is lay on a blanket, holding each other close, the sounds of their breathing and the nature around them becoming a soothing lullaby. Those evenings were Ernst’s favorite.
Though he would never admit it, Hanschen was a different person in the vineyard than at school. Ernst saw it every time they met up. The way his eyes softened, and his entire body seemed to relax, as well as the occasional appearance of Hanschen’s honest, genuine smile when Ernst did something the blonde boy found cute or funny.
In the vineyard, it seemed as if the two boys were surrounded by this bubble, unharmed by the world around them. Despite the homework they had, and despite the constant reminders of the fact that they could not be together in public, the vineyard was heaven. The vineyard was sacred, it was their place.
It was a warmer day, towards the end of April. Ernst left the school building after Hanschen, as to not draw attention to themselves, before racing to the vineyard after breaking the clearing. Hanschen had already set up their spot, a blanket laid out in the grass, and his shoes and socks tucked neatly in a corner of the blanket. Ernst quickly followed suit upon seeing Hanschen, placing his own shoes and socks in the opposite corner, as well as his satchel next to them.
‘What are we doing today? Your books aren’t out,’ Ernst signed in confusion, sitting down on the blanket.
‘I thought, perhaps we could just lay here and enjoy the beautiful day? If you’d like?’ Hanschen replied, leaning back on his elbows.
The dark haired boy nodded, moving closer to the blonde. ‘That sounds excellent,’ he grinned, placing his head on Hanschen’s shoulder. Hanschen combed his fingers through Ernst’s hair methodically, brushing some of the stray pieces from his face as Ernst fiddled with the top buttons of Hanschen’s school shirt. One by one, the first three buttons came undone, exposing Hanschen’s mosaic of freckles. The two boys’ legs became a jumbled heap, intertwining together into a soothing puzzle.
‘There are some days I wish we could be as open as some people are,’ Ernst mused. ‘Like Greta and the forest inspector.’
‘The love they share is accepted by our community, my love,’ Hanschen reminded. ‘Ours, sadly, is not.’
‘It’s not fair,’ the ebony haired boy sighed. ‘I just want to talk to you in school and not have anyone suspect things.’
Hanschen nodded, pressing kisses into Ernst’s hair. ‘I know, but we’re safe here. We always will be. And, thirty years from now—‘
Ernst laughed, a smile drawing across his lips. ‘Thirty years from now this will seem like pure bliss. When we both will have wives and this will just be a distant memory.’
‘I’m not so sure about a distant memory, Ernst. Why do you say that?’ Hanschen questioned.
‘Well, we’re both going to find wives that make us feel comfortable. And the two of us...this…will just feel like a dream-like memory from our school years,’ Ernst explained. ‘That’s all. I guess I’m just afraid.’
‘That’s so far in the future, there’s no need to worry about it now,’ the blonde signed. ‘We can just stay here and enjoy each other’s company.’
‘Alright, that does sound nice,’ Ernst nodded, closing his eyes for a brief moment. His mind began to wander, imagining his life if he didn’t marry a woman, but rather spent his life with Hanschen. It would involve a life of hiding, since no one would be able to accept them, nor could they be married. However, Hanschen made Ernst happy. Not comfortable, but happy.
The daylight began to dwindle, and the day laborers in the vineyard retreated in for the night. Hanschen and Ernst were the only people left in the vineyard as the sky darkened, and the first few stars began to appear. Both boys knew their time together for the night was drawing to a close, however neither wanted to separate. Once the sky became an inky twilight, Ernst pulled himself away from Hanschen and gathered his things.
‘Tomorrow, my love. I have to get home,’ he explained, pulling on his socks and boots. ‘I will see you at school.’
‘Yes, most definitely,’ Hanschen agreed, gathering his items as well, before giving Ernst one last kiss as a goodbye.
The two then parted ways, and Ernst began the short walk back to his house. The roads were silent, almost like a ghost town as he made his way back to the quaint Robel home. Ernst gave a silent prayer as he walked up the steps, hoping that he wouldn’t be interrogated too much, however also a prayer for better days ahead for Hanschen and himself.
Dear God, I know what the Bible says, but I have never loved anyone as I love Hanschen Rilow. Is there a way we could be correct? Our love is correct? Ernst thought, hoping his silent prayer would be carried above as he opened the door.
‘Ernst Robel, where on earth have you been?’ his father questioned before he could step foot inside the threshold.
‘I was studying with Hanschen Rilow, Papa, as I do every week, and then I went to the church. I must’ve lost track of time, I’m sorry,’ Ernst apologized, his head hung low and the guilt of lying building in the pit of his stomach.
‘Well, if you were at church,’ Frau Robel sighed, calming her husband. ‘Right up to bed.’
‘Yes, Mama,’ Ernst nodded, running up the stairs before letting out a sigh of relief. Perhaps God had heard his prayer about better days. Now there was only hoping that things were to improve even more.