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[Commentary] Should've Been Home Yesterday

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It’s not really a pretty pond. The banks are all dried, crunchy mud, and the trees around it are still sparse and not quite green, the too-bright glare of the early spring sun cutting through them. 

Travis loves it out here.

Leah started this scene, wrote most of it. I love all of it, but especially this bit here, describing the pond and how unpretty it is. This part contrasts really nicely, I think, with Nolan’s stressed out sunrise in chapter one, and makes a nice match for opening the first TK-centric chapter.

 

He remembers, too--after going years without thinking about it--fishing out at the Hayes’ little pond a few times. Every spring Harvey Hayes would stock it with bluegill and largemouths and then invite TK’s grandpa, and when TK got to go along, Harvey would whittle down a stick TK could pretend was a cigar. He’d felt like such an adult, with the way they included him in their conversations and pretended they weren’t supervising when he gutted his own catch.

Here’s a moment of that community thread floating back up to the surface of the story.

 

Law shrugs. “He’s lived in Atlanta for like, ten years now.”

TK blinks out at the water. It’s been a whole year of getting surprised by how old he is, he thinks. By how long ago things that seem like they happened last week were. 

We’ve talked a little in the text about the timeline of this story. We’ve probably fudged the age gaps between characters a little bit, but I did the math halfheartedly the first time, and I’m not putting more effort into it right now lol.
TK, Law, Claire, and Nolan are in their late twenties, around 27-29.
Kevin, Claude, and Ryanne are in their early thirties, around 32-34.

 

All about the big lure order he just finished for one of their old high school teachers, which he’s pretty sure he hasn’t told Law about yet, and about how the guy G had bought the feed store from years ago--when the guy was retiring and was gonna close the shop--died last week. Law nods along to the lure talk, says, “Dang that’s too bad, I gotta send his daughter a card.” Asks TK, “How’s that farmer’s market deal coming?”

TK tells him how he’s got four stalls built and a fifth one half done, and how Ryanne’s got at least twelve people lined up to bring their produce and crafts in when they’re ready to open up in May or June. 

*bangs fists on table* COMMUNITY!!!!!!
I really want to talk more about this, but I want it to come up organically in the story, so it’ll have to come back later once the story is complete.

 

The way his brain feels makes TK think of how a big pot of water looks when it really starts to boil: a thought bubbles up, but then off on the other side, another one comes up and takes his attention, and then that just keeps happening over and over.

You wanna write weird and unique metaphors? Here’s my method:
1. Have ADHD
2. Give your character ADHD
3. DM your coauthor while making pasta
4. Literally any thought that pops into your head is now fair game

 

For the last day, his top bubble thoughts have been about, like, the lightbulb in his bathroom that needs replacing, getting inventory done at work, how he can convince Law to help him finish clear-coating a set of lures, if Claire and Law would like it if he repainted their kitchen cabinets for them. But the water under the surface, the little bubbles building at the bottom of the pan, have just kind of been, like. Nolan.

The phrase “top bubble thoughts” has been bouncing around my head since Leah wrote this. I love the idea of bigger, more distracting thoughts that cover over and kind of hide the smaller, more steady and constant thoughts.

 

He thinks it has something to do with how desperately he wanted to make Nolan smile and how good it felt to even have that be a challenge, a reward he could get if he worked hard enough. 

Oh, darling TK, we’re only just getting started!

 

He feels like he knows, even after just a total of, like, fifteen minutes of being around him, that Nolan isn’t the kind of guy who's easy to make laugh. He wouldn’t give it to TK just to make him feel good--not like some of the customers at the shop did, laughing kind of stilted so TK was never quite sure if they were being real or not. Nolan would make an annoyed face at TK if he was annoyed, and he wouldn’t laugh if he didn’t want to. 

Even if he finds something funny! He’s not just gonna give TK a laugh unless he truly wants to! Leah wrote this and I feel like it’s such good characterization of Nolan and of their relationship.

 

TK’d pulled up to the farm that second time, too excited about the goats to even wait till he didn’t have to shout to talk to Nolan about them, and Nolan had just let his feet drop off the chair he had them propped on and crossed the driveway so slowly, looking like, fuck. TK thinks he should have a better description, but the only thing that had popped into his head was cool as hell , with his skinny, ripped up black jeans with the bottoms turned up in little cuffs above what Claire would call “shitkicker boots.” He looked like he would fit in at some, like, underground rock show. Except for his Carhartt. 

It was kinda wild how Nolan stood there, combat boots and all, and kicked at the gravel and just looked like this whole place had been his forever. 

This is such a cinematic moment for me. It also stands out as one of the moments we were able to get differently from each point of view. Nolan doesn’t even think about this. He was reading on the porch and then walked to the truck. TK sees more detail in it, how Nolan had his feet propped up, how he looks at once belonging and apart from the scene around him, how he scuffed his feet in the driveway.
Something that I also love about this is that TK doesn’t think that Nolan belongs to or in this place. The farm belongs to him.

 

So while Nolan was out there being like, the coolest fucking person he’d maybe ever met, TK kept going back and forth on whether he’d been good and smart and helpful or just way too much. And then, while TK was still feeling like he’d tripped over his own feet, like, emotionally or something, Nolan just told him he had an ex boyfriend like it was nothing.  

“tripped over his own feet, emotionally”
There’s nothing really special about this line, just a way to explain the feeling, but I love it a lot.

 

Like he wasn’t worried at all who knew, like he was still in the city where gossip didn’t travel faster than TK’s mom’s sourdough gets snapped up at the church bake sale. It had surprised TK, big time, and left him scrambling for things to say, coming up with the stupidest scraps of conversation that his brain could string together. 

For a while this line was “gossip didn’t travel faster than [something].” This was one of the spots where I think Leah and I have really enjoyed writing together. It feels much less daunting to leave something incomplete when you’ve got someone who can help fill in the gaps or encourage you while you figure out exactly how to work local flavor into the text.

 

The same way he’d never told anyone about that time he’d been late to school once back in junior year and walked right past two girls from his class kissing in the parking lot. The same way he’d never told anybody about how seeing those girls made him put a name to the look he’d caught on his buddy Sanny’s face a few times over the years, when Sanny had maybe thought he wasn’t looking. Travis had been looking, though, and maybe kind of making the same face. 

I want to explore the idea of TK/Sanny more. Not in this story, but as a general concept.

 

The same way Law had never said a single word besides “I got you, bud” when TK was silent and shaky the entire drive home from some stupid fucking party where he’d talked himself into a stupid fucking corner--about Travis Sanheim, of fucking course--and some jock had asked “What, Konecny? You gonna ask him to prom or something?” like there was a wrong answer, and TK had clammed up for like the first time in his life, while some other fucker made a stupid fucking joke about their names. Actual Angel Lawson Crouse had slapped TK’s ass and said something--TK was too full of adrenaline and probably beer to remember what--and set the jocks off laughing about something else, and then pulled him through the crowd and out to the truck.

I love Law so fucking much.

 

“I guess he’s from Canada, so that’s fun,” TK finally answers, like that has anything to do with all the hundreds of reasons TK wants to be Nolan’s friend.

We had to go back and insert the moments during TK’s whole internal monologue where he thinks about Law. I really liked the idea of getting all of these millions of thoughts into TK’s head in a short span of time, but there’s like a thousand words or something of it, and it became a little TOO shocking when we finally jumped back out of his head.

 

Usually, when he starts feeling restless like this, he’ll try to stay busy: TK’ll help Law with one of the projects he constantly has going on at him and Claire’s place--building a deck or fixing up the old shed out back into a little studio for Claire or whatever--or he’ll work a few extra hours at G’s on one of Ryanne’s ideas--stalls for the farmer’s market or a little pegboard to display TK’s lures up by the register. 

But if Law and Ryanne are both busy or it’s too late to go into the store, and if his parents don’t need anything done around the house either, he’ll go out to his garage, sit down at his workbench, put on a true crime podcast, and work on lures. 

TK is entirely unaware that it’s not the Doing Things For People that makes him feel better, it’s the Being Around People. Leah and I have had a decent amount of conversation about TK’s love languages, and this is a moment where that comes up. No more detail about that this early in the story ;)

 

“The third victim was also dark haired, 5’8”, 29 years old,” the guy on the podcast drones. “Her friends described her as super friendly, a big people person, always willing to help everyone out.” TK shivers a little, checks over his shoulder to make sure the garage door is still closed. He takes out his tiniest brush--the one he uses to paint on gills and eyes--and sits back down in front of the perch.

Ya boy is NOT 5’10”.
We got comments on him listening to true crime (real fact if you didn’t know!!) but not on this bit specifically, so I’m not sure if it exactly landed. The description here isn’t a throwaway line. TK is so freaked out by it because--pronouns aside--it matches him pretty much exactly!

 

“Heads up, little man!” TK’s a few feet away from Gavin’s favorite perch--the stack of feed bags closest to the cash register--when he tosses his mostly-empty water bottle in a gentle, underhanded arc. Gav only fumbles the catch a little before grinning up at him, and TK flings his arms up and cheers.

TK has absolutely googled stuff about the stages of kids’ development (not in those words, obviously) and has like. read Ry and G’s baby books. He’ll always be humble about it (“I don’t know shit, but it’s good for him to practice catching things, right?”) but he’s SO invested in Gavin’s life.

 

When he gets to the counter, he slides behind it, reaching across Ryanne to tuck his keys back into his little cubby under the desk, next to his phone. “Matthew and Brady say hi,” he tells her. “The beans are lookin' good, and Keith’s clearing extra space for more corn this year.”

In my head, there’s like, two little cubbies under the counter. Ostensibly, they’re both for whoever’s on shift, but the handful of part-timers that have rotated in and out throughout the years all end up leaving TK’s preferred one to him.  

 

It’s maybe kind of weird, but this is one of his favorite things: the click of the pricing gun, the weirdly comforting smell of bug spray from a bottle that came a little unsealed, just being around some of his favorite people.

There’s a specific smell that I find so comforting in shops like this: animal feed and fly spray and a little bit of dust. It feels warm, both in temperature and in emotion.

 

Time doesn’t, like, fly, but he’s in a groove and everything kind of turns into a steady background hum of the soft music playing in the store and Gavin sounding out words off the backs of feed bags and a handful of customers coming and going.

There was a whole section here, maybe 600 or so words that had to get cut for pacing. It didn’t do all that much for the story, but initially TK spent part of his lunch break helping Gavin read things. I really like the idea of Gav growing up with TK taking on a role somewhere between older brother and cool uncle.

 

G frowns. “I just said something stupid when they were in here before, and it was so fucking--” Ryanne slaps at his arm without looking up from her computer screen “--awkward. I’m pretty sure it seemed like I was being a d-- being rude but I was just.” G shrugs, looking uncomfortable the way he always does when he has to, like, talk about his feelings.

I don’t think G is, like, unfeeling or anything, I just think in this universe he’s a little awkward about it. He grew up in this place, same as TK and Law, and being soft and showing affection is still uncomfortable. I don’t want to put all the work of emotional growth on the women in this story, but I do think Ry had a big effect on him over the years, and has helped him get better at using his words for stuff like this.

Part of this, also, is something Leah and I discussed as we wrote the original shop scene with G and Nolan. G is, at least in this universe, more of an actions-over-words kind of guy. Why doesn’t he apologize to Nolan in the moment, when he can tell Nolan’s uncomfy? Well, he initially does in his own way: he gathers himself, finishes the transaction in a very professional and helpful way, and then takes the time to very sincerely say it was nice to meet him to, like, wrap up the interaction in a personal way so it’s hopefully clear he doesn’t have a problem with Nolan.
(Turns out, he’s still not sure that’s enough, so he tries to work it out a little better by having TK put in a good word for him, too.)

 

“I don’t get it. Like, what did you say to him?” TK kind of can’t imagine Nolan being bothered by G being accidentally gruff like he sometimes is.

G runs a hand over the back of his neck, wincing. “I just thought, like. Because Kevin always called him Patty, I--figured that was his wife or girlfriend or something?”

“You told him you thought that?” TK asks, a little shrill.

“They came in separately, so I didn’t know it was him!” G snips back, defensive, before sighing. “He overheard. And I don’t know if they’re just roommates or if they are whatever--y’all know I don’t care, but I kind of feel like Nolan thought I did--” G winces again.“So if they come in, can you just say something to them? Like, that I’m not a homophobe?” 

We initially didn’t have G explaining what exactly happened, it just cut to Jimmy coming in, and I think we were gonna come back to it later? But clarity, resolution, not letting the reader misunderstand G’s mishap for too long, etc etc, so it got put back in.

 

TK’s mind is spinning and he is never gonna let G live this down and he’s already thinking about how he’s gonna spin this into a joke to Nolan but also make sure he feels, like, safe or whatever, but the bell over the door rings then, and Jimmy, this old farmer TK always helps, shuffles in. TK thunks the countertop with his forehead for just a second while he, like, gets control of his brain and his breath again, and then he pushes back in his chair and spins it around, slipping into his most charming customer service voice.

TK is so fucking thoughtful. thought-full.

 

TK’s eyes crinkle at the corners as he smiles wide. It’s so easy to fall into this kind of chatter, this pattern, with the older guys he grew up helping out on weekends.

Maybe this is an ADHD thing, maybe not, but I feel like TK probably has the same kind of contradictory brain ability that I do where we either:
1. Get distracted and completely lose track of whatever thought was happening first, or
2. Can have multiple threads of thought running at once and as soon as the second one is over, we can pop right back over to the first as if nothing ever interrupted.
I like to think the second option is what’s happening here with TK’s thoughts about Nolan. That’s all sitting on a backburner while he switches into customer service mode, but it’s not gone at all.

 

TK snags a little pack of powdered electrolytes he’d only just stocked, then hauls one of the fifty pound bags of goat feed up and over his shoulder.  He thinks for a second and then puts the bag of electrolytes in his mouth, giving Gavin a grin that’s all teeth and holding out his empty arm for G to load the other feed bag onto.

This is purely fanservice. It’s me, I’m the fan. I wanted to get this bit in here where the reader can ogle TK for a minute without it having anything to do with Nolan. Attractiveness doesn’t have to be through the lens of a relationship 100% of the time.
(Although I do love to imagine Nolan seeing this later down the line and getting a little hot under the collar.)

 

When TK gets back inside, Jimmy and G are debating the merits of different grass seed mixtures and how many packs Jimmy needs for the field he’d had fenced last fall. As soon as he makes it up to the counter, both sets of eyes are on him, sharklike.

“Woah, boys, I’m just the hands around here,” he laughs, “I can grab a calculator, but you know my brother’s the one with a degree.”

This whole scene is just a vehicle for two things:
1. Getting into G’s head a little bit about his introduction to Nolan, and
2. Getting the biggest heart eyes emoji you can picture onto the page about TK.

He knows SO much and he’s SO good at seeing and putting together the little details to make a big picture. G and Ry know it, the old guys who practically raised him into this career know it. Could Jimmy and G figure out which grass to plant and how much? Yeah, sure, but TK has such good observations and insight into WHY his choice is right.

We talked a bit about River for the Sea, Leah’s fic, here and the difference between that TK and this one. Here, he doesn’t necessarily see himself as stupid, but he certainly doesn’t put himself on the same tier as his brother or Law, who both left for college. It’s not really that he didn’t think he could do it, but that he wanted to do this, wanted to stay more than he wanted to go.

 

TK steps behind the counter and fishes his phone out of the cubby. He glances at his notifications--a text from Law, some new messages in his family’s group chat, and one text from a number he doesn’t recognize. He gets distracted by it for a second, reading the words instead of just flicking past them and opening up his calculator app the way he would with any other text: who sells goats .

G and Ry and probably their part-timers keep their phones on them at work or keep them under the counter and regularly check them, but TK just throws his in at the start of each day and then only takes it out at the end of the day or when he’s going out on deliveries. Everyone knows this, and would probably just call the shop or text Ry or G if they really needed him.

 

TK shrugs out of his jacket and throws it over the back of a chair, then tosses his phone toward the sofa. It bounces off a cushion and he can hear the muffled thump of it landing on the floor. Whatever, he’ll get it after he sits down. TK pulls a glass out of the dish rack, fills it with water at the tap, and then props the fridge open with his shoulder so he can drink and look at what he’s got at the same time.

When he sits down and picks his phone up from under the coffee table five minutes later--fresh glass of water and some warmed up leftover pizza in hand--he’s got a message back.

TK texts for little stuff and for work, but I think this TK is much more of a phone call person. He’s used to answering questions and giving advice for work in a way that’s more playing tag than an in-the-moment conversation. Getting a text back from Nolan before he’d gotten back to his phone was not what he expected!