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Miles To Go

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“You’re cheating.”

“How am I cheating?”

“I don’t know, but you are. You stacked the deck or something.”

“You were the one that dealt and you shuffled. I didn’t even touch the cards until you gave them to me.”

“.....You’re cheating.”

Sid laughs from his bunk as the blackjack game erupts into chaos below him.

Phil is pointing a finger at Jake, who keeps telling him that he didn’t cheat over and over again while Tanger eggs both of them on and Dumo complains that the crackers that they’re eating are stale.

Any thread of conversation is quickly lost as Sid turns the page of his book.

They’re all ridiculous and stupid but this is his family now and he loves them.

He loves all of this.

He loves this cramped cabin and these woods on this mountain.

There is no other place he would rather be and no other group of people he would rather be with.

The volume of their voice have hit their peak when the cabin door opens and Sully pokes his head in.

The guys stop arguing for a moment and Sid’s eyes finally flick off the page.

“Sid,” Sully says, voice crisp and businesslike, “can I speak to you outside for a moment?”

Sid nods and snaps his book shut while Olli gives a low whistle and Schultzy whispers “Someone’s in trouble...” as he walks by.

Sid rolls his eyes and gently shifts Rita, the Irish Setter that’s stretched out along the door, out of the way.

“Maybe I just won’t play,” Guentzel is saying as Sid opens the door and the last thing Sid hears before he closes it behind him is Phil saying, “Good, then I won’t have to play with a cheater.”

“Everything going okay in there?” Sully asks as they step off the front porch. The last step is a little crooked and needs to be fixed. It shouldn’t fall on Sid to do it, but if he doesn't, no one else will.

“It’s fine. You know how guys can be. I’d be more worried if they weren’t giving each other a hard time.”

Sully nods and crosses his arms over his chest. Sid buries his hands into his pockets and rocks back on his heels. The gravel driveway crunches under his feet.

“Is everything okay, Sully?”

“It’s fine, just wondering how you’re holding up without Duper.”

“I’m okay.”

It’s not a whole lie but it’s not the truth.

Years from retirement Duper slipped and got his leg crushed beneath a log. He’s okay, he’ll be okay, but he won’t work again.

Part of Sid is happy for him. He’ll get to spend time with his wife and all those children that Sid knows he absolutely adores. But there’s a bigger part of Sid that will miss him more than anything.

“I know you didn’t come all the way up here to ask me how I’m feeling.”

“No,” Sully says with a chuckle, “I didn’t. I’m here because I got a call from Gonch. He’s cashing in his favor.”

Sully and Sergei Gonchar have been trading favors back and forth since they met almost a decade ago in Germany. Sully shared his meager rations with a starving Soviet soldier and in turn Sergei saved Sully’s life from a snipers bullet. It went clean through Sergei’s thigh. He only walks with a limp when Sully is around to see him.

“He says he has someone he thinks can replace Duper.”

Sid winces. He knew this was coming, the empty bunk wasn’t going to be making the company any money in the long run. It doesn’t make it any easier.

“How does Gonch know him?” Sid asks.

“They work together at the mill in Cleveland, or at least they used to. This guy only came over a few months ago but Gonch has been friends with his family for years. He’s known him since he was only a kid. He doesn’t have any experience with logging but Gonch told me he’s very smart and eager to learn and with you to guide him‒.”

“Me?”

“You’re the leader here.”

“Kuni has years on me, and even Flower has been doing this longer than I have.”

“I’m not talking about who has been here the longest, I’m saying you’re the leader. You’re the one everyone looks to. If you accept him so will everyone else.”

“I’ll do what I can.”

Sully squeezes his shoulder in appreciation. “He doesn’t speak much English.”

Sid nods. They’ve been through that before with the Swedes and Knuckles with his German. They make it work. They all learn. There isn’t a guy in camp that doesn’t speak at least two languages even if the second is a little dodgy.

“When is he supposed to be here?”

Sully opens his mouth but he’s interrupted by a truck coming up the drive, dust kicked up behind the tires.

“Right now,” Sully says as the truck slows to a stop a few yards in front of them.

Through the dirty windshield Sid can see Gonch in the driver's seat and a dark haired man in the passenger.

They talk for a few moments until Gonch waves both hands at him and opens the door.

The other man stays in the car.

Gonch’s limp is worse than the last time Sid saw him and Sid laughs as Sully shakes his head.

“It’s good to see you,” Gonch says as he shakes their hands. “Especially on such short notice.”

“Why the rush?” Sid asks. “It’s an awful long drive, and you must have passed at least a dozen camps between here and Cleveland.”

“It had to be someone I trust. l’m not about to leave Zhenya in the hands of someone I don’t know. That boy’s mother might still be in the Soviet Union but her reach crosses the distance.”

“Why’d you have to leave so quickly?” Sully asks and Gonch scrapes the toe of his boot through the dirt.

“Things are tense in America now.” He says. “Tense everywhere. Little better up here but down there...hair trigger. Zhenya is….not one to be pushed around. He gets into some arguments with some of the local boys. It goes bad. Had to leave in the middle of the night with him and only after I bribe boat captain to get us across the lake. ”

“We don’t want any trouble here, Sergei,” Sully says seriously.

“No, no trouble. Zhenya-Geno, you should call him Geno, is a good boy. He was standing up for himself. You can’t fault him for that. You’d expect any of your men to do the same.”

“Will anyone come looking for him?”

Gonch shakes his head. “Not this far out. They’re happy he’s no longer their problem. I don’t think they care if he’s here or at the bottom of the lake.”

“Nice guys you’re working with, Gonch,” Sid says and Gonch smiles.

“Americans. Very serious.” He shakes his head at Sully then winks at Sid. “Not polite at all like you Canadians.”

“Everyone can’t be perfect,” Sid jokes and Gonch smiles.

Sully rolls his eyes. “Will they be asking you any questions?”

Sergei has established himself in America. He fits in. He has a wife and two beautiful kids.

“No. I’m only here visiting my old war buddy, like I do sometimes. Americans are very serious about their veterans. No questions. So what do you think? Will you take him on?”

Sully thinks for a moment then nods. “You owe me.”

“One of us always does.” Gonch turns around and waves towards the truck.

It takes a moment before the man, Geno, opens the door and steps out.

He’s tall and wiry and stands a step behind Gonch with a small leather bag in his hands.

Gonch introduces him as Geno, and puts a hand between his shoulder blades to push him forward.

Sully steps forward first and shakes his hand.

“Happy to have you,” Sully says as Gonch translates. “I think you’ll fit in well here. It’s a great group of guys and we'll teach you everything you need to know. Especially Sidney, here. You’ll be working with him.”

Geno looks him up and down before he holds out his hand for Sid to take.

It’s warm and smooth and Sid knows that won’t last very long. This job steals every last bit of softness that you have. Soon his hands will crack then bleed then scar and callous. They’ll never be the same. For most people, they see it as a badge of honor. As Geno lets go of his hand, Sid suddenly sees it as a waste.

“He knows some English but he might pretend that he doesn’t. He doesn’t like to speak it, especially around strangers. He’s afraid people are going to make fun of him.”

Geno says something sharp in Russian and Gonch rolls his eyes.

“He doesn’t like me talking about him while he’s standing here.”

“I thought you said he couldn’t speak english.”

“He’s better at understanding than speaking. He’ll need to work on it. You’ll pick it up quickly,” Gonch tells him. “Everyone in there talking all the time. It’ll be impossible for you not to.”

“We’ll work on it,” Sid says to Geno. “And if you have any questions just ask me. I’ll be happy to help.”

Gonch pats his hand against Geno’s back. “Why don’t you head inside so you can introduce yourself,” he says to Geno. “I know everyone is dying to meet you.”

Gonch lifts his chin towards the cabin, where the guys are pressed up against the windows, and shakes his head.

“They’re all ridiculous,” he says to Geno, “a bunch of busy-bodies. You should fit in well.”

Geno gives him an unamused look but follows Sid toward the cabin.

“You’ll like them,” Sid tells Geno as they walk. “They’re great guys, the best I’ve ever worked with. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”

Geno makes a small noise as he looks up at the trees that surround the cabin.

Sid has to push the door open since Rita’s been lounging up against it.

“Laziest dog I’ve ever seen,” Tanger says.

“She wasn’t that lazy when she chased the bear away while you were trying to get to the outhouse.”

“That happened once.”

“Once is more than enough,” Sid says as he steps over her and holds the door open for Geno.

Rita lifts her head and beats her tail against the floor.

Geno drops his bag and then drops to his knees beside her and scratches behind her ears.

Rita’s tail wags harder.

“Do you like dogs?” Sid asks and Geno nods his head without looking up. “Looks like she likes you too.”

“It’s a miracle,” Flower says as he steps forward. The rest of the guys are still hanging back. “She only likes Sid. She didn’t even care about saving Tanger that night, she just wanted to chase the bear.”

Flower sticks his hand out and Geno takes it.

“Marc-Andre,” he says, “you can call me Flower. Come on,” he says as he tips his head over his shoulder. “Let’s get you introduced to everyone else. Sid is a terrible host.”

The guys line up for an introduction and Geno says their name back to them like that’s going to help him remember but Sid can tell by the overwhelmed look on his face that it’s not working.

“It’s okay if you didn’t get everyone. I know there's a lot of guys, it’s gonna take some time.”

“Flower,” Geno says, “Rita, and Sid?”

“Yeah, that’s great. That’s a good start. You’re right here,” Sid says as he points to the open bunk beneath his own. “You’re right below me. If you want to unpack there’s a drawer beneath your bunk. Everything should fit in there.”

Geno nods and puts his bag on the bunk below Sid’s. There isn’t much in the bag. Just a few shirts and an extra pair of jeans and a few pairs of socks. There’s a straight razor and a toothbrush.

“Is that all you have?” Flower asks as he leans over him. “Sid, he’s going to freeze to death.”

“Is this really all you have?” Sid asks him and Geno nods.

“Couldn't bring much with me,” Geno says quietly. “Sergei said I could get what I needed up here.”

“We’re going to have to go into town. Get you some heavier shirts and socks.” He picks at the fabric of his coat. It’s awfully thin. “A better coat, too. Your boots look okay.”

“Go after get paid.”

“It’s going to be cold long before you get paid. We’ll have to go into town tomorrow.”

“No money.”

“I’ll pay.”

“No,” Geno snaps and Sid puts his hands up. He hates it when men are too proud to accept help.

“It’s okay.”

“Yes,” Flower says as slings his arm around Sid’s shoulders. “Let him pay for you. Sid is rich.”

“I’m not rich.”

“He’s a bachelor,” Flower explains. “He’s not sending his money home to anyone so he has it all to himself. Let him pay, please.”

“We can work something out,” Sid says to Geno, who still looks very uncomfortable about the whole thing. “You can pay me back. Think of it as a loan.”

Geno nods slowly, like he knows Sid’s never going to actually try to collect on it. Flower is right after all. His parents don’t want his money and neither does Taylor, although, that’s for different reasons. She wants to make it on her own. She’s going to graduate and get a job and get her own house and car and she doesn’t want help. Sid can respect that but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t set aside a few dollars here and there just in case. But for the most part Sid’s money is his own and he has more than enough of it.

“We’ll go tomorrow,” Sid repeats, “early.”

Geno frowns but nods. “Okay. Thank you.”

“I’m hungry,” Rusty yells. “Anyone coming with me to dinner?” There’s a chorus of answers as the guys stand up and put on shoes or pull on jackets and Geno looks at Sid, unsure.

“They serve breakfast and dinner in the cook house. We’ll take lunch with us when we start working in a few days. Dinner should be just about ready,” he says as he looks down at his watch. “I don’t know if you’re hungry or if you just want to rest. It’s up to you.”

“I’m go,” Geno says as he drops his bag back onto the bed. “Hungry.”

The cook house is at the center of camp. On the way there Sid stops and points out the small tool shed on the side of camp and the stable where the horses and mules are kept. There’s a chicken coop for eggs and meat and Geno keeps his sights fixed on the stables as they walk by.

Next are the showers and the outhouses that are on the edge of the forest.

“Warm water?” Geno asks and Sid tips his hand back and forth as Rita dances around them, anxious to get to their destination.

“Depends on how long you’ve had to wait for a shower and how cold it is out. Sometimes the pipes freeze and we have to melt snow on the stove in the cabin.”

Geno wrinkles his nose. “Awful.”

Sid laughs. “You’ll get used to it. Maybe not right away but eventually.”

Geno hums and tips his head back to look up at the pines.

“There’s a small pond down that way,” Sid says as he points down the embankment on their left. “Basically just a puddle but it freezes over solid in the winter.”

“You skate?” Geno asks, “hockey?”

“Do you like hockey?”

Geno’s answering smile is almost shy and he nods.

“That’s great, me too. We don’t have skates because they’re pretty bulky to bring back and forth from home to camp but we have sticks. We have to wear our boots but it’s still better than nothing.”

“All hockey good hockey,” Geno says and Sid beams at him.

Dinner is warm and hearty. Beef stew with big chunks of carrots and potatoes with corn bread on the side.

Sid sits across from Geno and watches him slowly break off bits of bread to dip into his stew while the rest of the crew chatter away.

“So where are you from?” Sid asks and Geno stops chewing.

“Soviet Union,” he says, like Sid should know that.

“I know, but where? Is it near a city we’ve heard of?”

Geno shakes his head slowly. “No. Not near anything. Small but lots of people. Lots of…..business? Factories? Steel mostly. Nothing like this. Never see so many trees.”

“You’ll be sick of trees by the time spring rolls around,” Flower says before he slips seamlessly back into the conversation he was having.

“I’m from a small town, too,” Sid says. “Everyone knows everyone, knows everyone’s business.”

Geno looks up from his stew. “Don’t like?”

“I love it there. It’s my home. But sometimes it gets to be a bit much,” he adds quietly and Geno nods as he picks a hunk of beef off his spoon and hands it to Rita, who has been patiently waiting at the end of the table.

The conversation around the table screeches to a halt as Jake nervously taps his spoon against the side of his bowl and says, “We’re not supposed to feed Rita table scraps. Sid says it’s a bad habit.”

Geno looks across the table at Sid and huffs a laugh and fishes out a second piece of meat.

“Mean,” Geno says as he tosses it towards Rita, who catches it cleanly out of the air.

There’s prolonged silence as Geno raises his eyebrows in a challenge until Sid laughs and the tension eases.

“You can try winning her over like that but she’s still going to like me more.”

“Sid raised her from a pup,” Flower tells Geno. “You don’t break that bond with this stew.”

“Real little?” Geno asks and Sid nods.

“I found her out in the middle of nowhere, I think someone dumped her. She was so small and so cold. I couldn’t stop working so I just tucked her into my jacket and kept going. I really didn’t think she was going to make it. I had to feed her milk with an eye dropper for weeks before she could eat on her own. She slept in my bed with me until she got too big. Now she goes everywhere with me,” Sid says as he holds his hand out. Rita rests her chin in his palm. “She’s like my best friend.”

“I thought I was your best friend,” Flower says and Tanger makes a wounded noise.

“You have another best friend? I’m hurt.”

Sid rolls his eyes and lets the guys bicker as he turns back to Geno.

“You like animals?” Sid asks and Geno nods as he smiles softly down at Rita.

“All kinds,” he says and Sid decides they’re going to stop by the stables on their way back to the bunk house.

Sid’s chilled through when they get back inside the cabin, but it was worth it to watch Geno’s face light up when he slid open the top doors on the barn and Maurice and Marilyn stuck their heads out.

Sid listens to the younger guys gently complain about the temperature as he and Horny haul in enough wood to get them through the night.

“It’s not even that cold yet,” Sid says as he pulls on his thick flannel shirt. “How are you going to make it through the winter?”

They all mumble their answers back, too garbled for Sid to really understand, and Sid laughs as he as climbs into his bunk.

He folds up one of his spare blankets and hands it down to Geno.

“Take it. I have warmer clothes than you right now. You’re gonna need it.”

“You won’t be cold?”

Sid shakes his head as he pulls his feet up and under the blankets. “I’m used to it. We’ll get up early and head into town. We’ll pick up everything you need.”

“Early,” Geno grumbles and Sid smiles to himself as he settles back against the pillow.

Sid falls asleep to the crackling and popping of the fire and the soft sounds of the guys whispering back and forth to each other.

-

Sid gets up before the sun the next morning and puts a pot on the stove for coffee.

As the water comes to a boil he scratches out a list of supplies Geno will need. A heavier coat, gloves, hats, socks, soap.

With a sigh and a stretch Rita gets up from her bed in front of the fire and bumps her head against Sid’s thigh.

Sid reaches down to pat her head as he adds shirts??? to the list. He looks up as Geno rolls over in his bed so Sid can see his face.

His mouth is parted and his hair is flat against the side of his head. He has the blankets all the way up to his chin and his grip is so tight on the edge it looks like his knuckles are turning white.

Sid adds blankets to the list and underlines it three times.

The guys begin to wake with the smell of coffee.

Flower reaches for a mug but Sid is quick to snatch the whole pot away from his reach.

“It’s for me and Geno, we’re going into town. The rest of you will have to go to the cook house.”

“Geno’s still dead to the world. Let me have a sip.”

Sid jerks away and makes a sound in the back of his throat. It’s enough for Geno to blink himself awake and let go of the blankets.

Rita spots the movement immediately and happily trots over to lick Geno’s face.

“Rita,” Sid scolds and she turns her head, tail still wagging as Geno wipes his face.

“Is okay,” Geno says as he slowly sits up. “Is okay. She’s good girl.”

“I have coffee made if you’d like some,” Sid says as he pours a mug.

“Cream,” Geno asks, “sugar?”

“No cream but we do have sugar. How much do you like?”

“All of it,” Geno says as he stumbles to his feet. Geno plucks the spoon from Sid’s hand and Sid watches as Geno drops an overflowing teaspoon into his coffee then goes back and does it again.

“I’d like to get into town early,” Sid says distractedly as Geno stirs the sugar in. “We can have a quick breakfast here, maybe take it with us, or stop in town. There’s a diner that’s really good.”

Geno nods as he takes his first sip, his face screwing up at the taste. “Have better coffee there?”

“Yeah. Better everything.”

“Then we go. Have to ummm.” He sets down the mug and rubs at his face, his hand catches on the stubble.

“Shave?” Sid asks and Geno nods.

“Early. Forget words sometimes.” He grabs his boots from where he kicked them beneath his bunk and pulls them on, laces still untied. Then he opens his trunk and pulls out his shave kit. “Will be quick.”

Sid nods as Geno shrugs into his coat and heads for the door. Right as Geno’s about to open the door he asks, “Do you remember where the showers are?”

“Can find,” Geno says as he slips out.

“Can I have the coffee now?” Flower asks and Sid shakes his head and refills his mug with the rest of it.

“You can have what Geno left.”

Flower makes a face and then grins as he turns his gaze toward Tanger, still asleep in his bunk. “Let's make him drink it.”

Sid follows Flower’s line of sighs and snorts into his mug. “Yeah, all right.”

Tanger is still cursing at them in French when Geno comes back, freshly shaved with wild, damp hair.

Sid and Flower are leaning into each other laughing as Tanger turns to Geno.

“You,” he says, “just because you’re new you think you can get away with this.”

Geno seems taken aback by the tone and the new language and Sid sits up and says seriously, “Don’t yell at him. He didn’t do anything. He wasn’t even here.”

Tanger looks Geno over and appears to soften. “Sorry,” he says. “Sorry. But you two fuckers-.”

He launches himself at Flower and Sid stands up just in time to dodge him.

“Are you ready to go?” He asks as Tanger and Flower wrestle on the floor. Geno still looks overwhelmed but he nods anyway. Sid grabs his coat off the end of the bedpost and pats his hand against his thigh so Rita will follow him.

“Anyone have any mail?” Sid asks as he digs into his pockets for the keys to the truck.

“We just got here,” Flower says, his voice muffled from Tanger pushing his face into the floor.

“I just thought I’d ask,” he says and then looks up at Geno. “I should have told you this last night but, if you want to send something back home, now’s the time. The mail doesn’t make it this far up so we have to go into town to drop it off and pick it up and we only go in once every few weeks, if that. I don’t know how long it takes things to get back there but, if you’re going to send something, it should go out now. We’ve got some spare paper if you want it.”

Geno thinks it over and then shakes his head. “No. Is okay.”

“You sure. You wouldn’t have to write a long letter. Just give them the address for where to send mail to.”

Geno shakes his head again. “No. Don’t want.”

“Okay,” Sid says as he opens the door. Rita runs out first and bounds off the steps and straight for the truck. “I made a list,” Sid says as he hands Geno the slip of paper. “You can add more if you’d like.”

He drops the tailgate and Rita jumps in.

“Is long list.”

“You’ll need everything on it. Winters are brutal up here and, unless it’s a blizzard, we go out in it. You’re no good to any of us with frostbite.”

Geno nods and looks at Rita. “She okay back there?”

“Oh yeah,” Sid says as he closes the tailgate. “She’s been doing this since she was a puppy.” He taps the side of the truck. “Plus this old thing doesn’t go very fast anymore anyways. Not much trouble she could get into.”

Unfortunately the truck doesn’t always start on the first try either and Sid quietly apologizes until the engine finally turns over.

“Maybe get new one,” Geno suggests.

“No, no. She’s good,” Sid says as he starts down the road. “She still gets me from point A to point B. I’m not giving up just yet.”

There’s a small smile tugging at Geno’s lips as he says “Weird,” under his breath.

Sid smiles out the front windshield.

Bathurst is a small coastal town about a forty minute drive from camp. There’s a general store and a post office. A butcher and a diner, a bar and a church.

“You probably drove through it with Gonch,” Sid says as the car bumps down the road.

Geno keeps turning around to check on Rita, who is sitting with her head hanging off the side of the truck so the wind ruffles her ears.

“You’ve known Gonch for a while? Sully said he was a family friend...”

“Yes.” Geno says as he turns around. “Since I was baby. He likes to pretend he’s not much older but I know.”

“He’s a good guy. You know he saved Sully’s life once.”

“Yes, yes, all I hear about on way here. Great hero to American friend. Save him from ambush, take out a dozen Germans. Very brave.”

“That is not the way Sully tells it,” Sid says with a laugh. “I’ve always heard he just kind of pushed Sully out of the way. It was one sniper pinned down in a clock tower with shitty aim.”

Geno laughs. “Good they meet. Now I have place to go.”

When Sid looks over Geno’s looking out the passenger side window, watching the trees fly by.

Sid parks the truck on the street between the store and the diner.

“Do you want to eat first or get the shopping done.”

“Need food,” Geno says and Sid nods then tells Rita to watch the truck before they make their way to the diner.

Margaret is behind the counter, idly tapping her pencil against her notebook when they walk in.

Her grey hair is swept up on top of her head and her red lipstick is perfect.

“Take a seat wherever you can get one, boys,” she says as she spins away to grab two mugs and a fresh pot of coffee. “I’ll be right with you.”

The rest of the diner is empty and Sid leads Geno over to his regular booth by the front window.

“Always so empty?” Geno asks. Just as Sid’s about to answer, Margaret sets the mugs down in front of them.

“It’s a Sunday morning,” she says. “Everyone is at church. Except for you two.”

“And you,” Sid reminds her and she smiles.

“I did all my praying when I was young. Now I like to think God cares more about me having enough money to buy myself pretty things in my twilight years than sitting on a pew and reading from the Bible.”

“Twilight years,” Sid repeats. “You’re gonna live forever, Maggie.”

“I only hope I live long enough for you to age just enough so that people don’t look at us funny when we go out,” she says with a wink.

Geno’s eyes are wide and dart between the two of them. “You two…” he says slowly, “together?”

“No,” Sid says and Margaret tips her head back and laughs.

“I wish. Well, me and every other single girl in town.” She turns to Geno with a hand on her hip. “I keep begging this boy to settle down with a nice girl in town. Any girl. I have plenty of friends with granddaughters who would love to make a home with him. Think of all those miles you’d save on that truck if you just drove down the mountain in the spring instead of all the way to Nova Scotia.”

“I like the drive,” Sid says, “Rita likes the drive.”

“Oh, that dog. The only woman in your life. Do you have her with you?”

“Of course. She’s waiting in the truck.”

“Make sure you stop by Pete’s before you go. I’m sure he’s got something for her.”

“The butcher,” Sid explains to Geno. “He usually has a bone for her. I won’t forget, Maggie, I never do.”

“That dog,” she says again and then smiles at Geno. “Are you going to introduce me to your friend, Sidney?”

“Sorry,” Sid says as Margaret pours his coffee. “This is Geno. He’s going to be working with us up on the mountain. It’s his second day here.”

“Nice to meet you,” Margaret says. “Are you single and interested?”

Geno puts his hand over his mug so she can’t pour. “Hello. Can have tea instead?”

“Absolutely. Would you like anything with it?”

“Honey?” He asks tentatively. “Lemon?”

“Sure thing, sweetheart. And I’m not forgetting you didn’t answer either of my questions.” She pulls a couple of menus out from her apron and sets them down. “I’ll be right back with your tea.”

“Maggie is in her sixties but she still acts like she’s in her twenties,” Sid says once she’s out of earshot. “She’s really something.”

“Sounds it.”

Maggie comes back with Geno’s tea, along with a small pot of honey and a plate of sliced lemons.

“Do you boys know what you want to eat?”

Geno orders eggs and Sid orders pancakes and as soon as Maggie steps away Geno starts to prepare his tea.

“Do you like that more than coffee?” Sid asks as Geno nods and stirs in the honey. “We can pick you up some at the store for you to make in the mornings. Just make sure you hide it from the guys or they’ll be all over it.”

Geno squeezes the lemon and frowns. “Steal?”

“Oh yeah, for sure. Anything special or sweet,” Sid says as he eyes the honey on the table. He’ll probably want to pick that up too. “You have to hide it or they’re going to take it. They’ll give it back if you complain enough but then they’ll make fun of you for complaining so it’s really easier to squirrel it away.”

Geno nods and takes the list Sid made out of his pocket. “Have pen?”

“I’ll remember,” Sid says but he’s already sliding out of the booth on his way to the counter so he can grab a spare pen.

Geno writes down tea and honey in English and after thinking for a moment adds razor.

“I don’t think you’ll need another razor. You’re going to get tired of shaving pretty quick. In the middle of winter the water freezes before you can get to it and it takes so much time. Plus the beard helps break the wind from your face.”

Geno looks deeply skeptical. “Beard is not good.”

“It can’t be any worse than mine.”

Geno eyes him. “Not that bad,” he says and Sid laughs and runs his hand over his stubble.

“You haven’t been around the guys enough. Give it a few weeks and you’ll be tearing into me with the rest of them.”

Geno frowns. “Not friends. Don’t like?”

“What? No, of course I like them. They’re all like my family. It’s just the way they are, it’s the way we all are. When they start giving you shit it means you’ve been accepted. The only time you have to worry is if they’re always nice to you.” Sid pats him on the back. “Like I said, give it a few weeks. It’ll all fall into place. You’re going to like it here. The work is hard and dangerous, I’m not going to lie, but if you catch on as quick as Gonch thinks you will you won’t have a problem. Ask questions, a lot of them. You’ll be fine.”

Geno nods looking a little overwhelmed. “You always want to be a logger?”

“No,” Sid says with a shake of his head. “Actually, for a long time I thought about playing hockey, you know, professionally.”

Geno makes a surprised sound but when Sid looks over he’s still looking straight ahead.

“What happened? Why didn’t you?”

Sid shrugs. A lot of things, really. “Just life I guess. It didn’t work out. What about you? Is this your boyhood dream?”

“No,” Geno says with a laugh. It sounds bitter. “Back home it’s hard. So strict. Not a lot of money. Is hard to think you’re going to ever leave. I get lucky, learn a little English, get to come to America, I have good job. But then ...” He trails off and sighs. “But now I’m here.”

“It must have been hard leaving home.”

“Yes. Big change. America is so big and everyone has so much, you know? Food and clothes and things. Like television. Everyone has television and so many programs to watch and the news ... tell you everything about everything. We have radio back home and only listen to Soviet station.” He shakes his head. “Miss my family. Miss my parents and my brother and is still my home, will always be, but world is so big outside the city. Had no idea. People back home still don’t.” Geno frowns down at the table then looks away to watch Maggie come out of the kitchen with their food. “Back home people wait in line for food, here they bring it.”

“Can I get you boys anything else?” She asks as she sets down their plates. “Refill on your coffee, Sid?”

“You can probably just leave the pot, thanks.”

She nods and turns back to the counter.

“Makes me feel guilty a little bit,” Geno says softly. “Have all this and back home they have nothing. What did I do to deserve?”

“You seem like a good guy, Geno,” Sid says softly. “I’m sure you did something.”

Geno smiles sadly then picks up his fork.

“Hey, how would you say that in Russian?”

Geno looks down at the fork and says, “вилка.”

Sid shakes his head. “Maybe slower, sorry.”

Geno repeats himself at half speed, twice and Sid finally says “veelka,” back to him.

Geno laughs and tips his hand back and forth. “Not bad,” he says, “but not good.” He picks up his mug. “Кружка.”

“Okay, you have to go a lot slower on that one.”

In between bites Sid names different objects, plate, table, and Geno translates it back to him in Russian, тарелка, стол. Sid never gets the pronunciation right the first time but, with Geno’s gentle correcting, he gets close.

By the time their food is gone Geno has named almost everything in the diner but Sid doesn’t remember any of it.

“I think I’m going to need some more practice,” he says.

“You want to learn? Really?”

“Yeah. We all try to pick up a little bit from everybody, even if it’s just the dirty words.”

“Oh,” Geno says with a sly smile. “Have those. Can definitely teach.”

The bell above the door chimes and three kids come running in with their parents trailing behind them. Church must have just let out.

“Maybe other time,” Geno says as he reaches for the check that Maggie left in the middle of the table.

“What are you doing?” Sid asks as Geno pulls a worn leather wallet out of his back pocket.

“Left before I got my last paycheck but Gonch gave me a little bit of money. He says is for...in case?”

“For an emergency, probably. This isn’t an emergency.” The Canadian currency looks awkward in Geno’s big hands. “Let me pay, Geno.”

“No, no. You going to buy me things at store. Can pay for food.”

“I’m loaning you the money. I’ll buy you breakfast because I want to.”

“I’m want to,” Geno says with finality. He grabs the check off the table and gives Sid one last look before he heads for the counter.

Maggie patiently helps Geno count out the correct amount of change and Sid waves to the kids in the booth across the way.

When Geno comes back to the table he’s frowning slightly.

“Everything okay,” Sid asks, “did you have enough money?”

“Money is fine. She ask me what kind of girl I like. Think maybe she has someone for me.”

Sid grabs his coat off the back of the booth and stands to pull it on. “That sounds like something she’d do. Let's get to the store, I don’t think Mr. Davis will try to arrange a marriage for you.”

Mr. Davis, as Sid suspected, is curt and professional as he takes the list from Geno’s hands, pushes his thick framed glasses up his nose, and reads it over.

“You boys are in luck. Just got a new shipment in a few days ago.” He looks Geno up and down then says, “I have some blue jeans in the back, I don’t think they’ll even need to be tailored. I haven’t put them out on the floor yet but you can come with me to the back. We’ll get the right size for you.”

Mr. Davis starts to walk off; Geno hesitates and looks back at Sid.

“Go ahead,” Sid tells him. “I have to pick up a few things for myself. I’ll be here when you come back.”

Geno goes, albeit slowly, and Sid wanders the aisles. He picks up a small jar of petroleum jelly for his lips and hands, both of which will crack and ache when the weather turns. He also grabs an extra flashlight and a package of batteries and some spare buttons and thread.

Sid is going back and forth about whether to buy a package of hard candies when Sylvia Martin accidentally bumps into him with her baby carriage.

“I’m so sorry, Sidney, I’m still getting used to this thing.”

He waves off her apology and puts the candies back on the shelf. She’s dressed in her Sunday best for church but Sid can see the fatigue behind her eyes. “It’s all right,” he says as he peeks over the top of the carriage. “How are they doing?”

“Oh,” she says as she rolls the carriage closer so he can see. “They’re a handful but Dr. Cloutier says they’re as healthy as they can be.”

The twins are dressed in their Sunday best as well. Off-white jumpers with embroidery around the collar and the smallest dress shoes Sid has ever seen.

“They’re adorable,” Sid says and Sylvia nods while rocking the carriage back and forth so they don’t start to fuss. “It’s Kenneth and…”

“Gloria. Kenneth on the right, Gloria on the left. They’re a handful,” she says quietly. “This is the longest they’ve been quiet without me physically holding them since the nurse handed them to me in the hospital. It’s almost impossible to get anything done and Craig is always so tired from work…” Sylvia’s husband, Craig, works long hours at his construction job. He also has a temper and a love for the bottle.

“I could watch them for you while you run your errands,” he offers and Sylvia isn’t too proud to accept help when she needs it.

“That would be wonderful,” she says. “I only need to grab a few things in here and then make a quick trip to the post office and then to the laundromat. I shouldn’t be any longer than twenty minutes depending on the lines.”

Sid takes over rocking the carriage and says, “Take your time.” He has no idea how long Mr. Davis will keep Geno in the back. “I’m in no rush.”

“You’re a godsend, Sidney.” She leans up and kisses his cheek. “Just the sweetest.” She kisses her fingertips and then presses them softly to the caps on Kenneth and Gloria’s head. “Mommy will be right back. Be good.”

The twins start to stir as soon as she turns the corner at the end of the aisle and by the time Sid sees her walk across the street to the post office they’re starting to whine.

Shh shhh shhh,” he soothes but Gloria’s face is wrinkled and Kenneth is starting to kick his chubby little legs. “Okay,” Sid says with a sigh as he eyes the both of them. “It’s going to be all right.”

Geno finds him less than five minutes later, sitting on a bench by the front window rocking both of the twins in his arms.

“You have babies since I’ve been back there?”

“Gloria and Kenneth here belong to Mrs. Martin. I offered to watch them while she ran to the post office,” Sid says as he nods his head toward the front window of the store. Across the street he can almost make out Sylvia’s red hat as she waits in line at the counter.

“And you said yes,” Geno says as he sits down beside him and wiggles his fingers at Kenneth. Kenneth in turn reaches out and wraps his whole hand around Geno’s finger. “Cute kids. You like?”

“Kids? Yeah, of course.” Kenneth drags Geno’s finger toward his mouth and starts to gum on it.

“Would you like to hold him?”

“Oh.” Geno slowly draws his hands back and Kenneth’s lower lips starts to wobble. “Would it be okay?”

“He’s going to start crying if you don’t,” Sid says as he starts to shift Kenneth into Geno’s arms. “Just make sure you support his head … there you go.”

Kenneth settles in against Geno’s chest and Geno untucks his necklace from the collar of his shirt. It hangs down just above his heart and gives Kenneth something to focus on.

“Did everything go okay with Mr. Davis?”

Geno nods. “Putting together everything now. He find me one of these.” Geno holds Kenneth with one broad hand against his small back and picks at the fabric of Sid’s flannel. “Thicker though.”

“Mine is pretty worn out,” Sid admits.

“Won’t get new?” Geno asks and laughs when Sid shakes his head. “Old truck, old shirt.”

“Broken in,” Sid says, “not old.”

“Truck is old.”

“Well used?”

Geno chuckles and says “cute.” When Sid looks over he’s looking down at Kenneth who is stretching and yawning in his arms.

Geno looks good with him, soft and warm and content as he gently rocks the baby back to sleep.

Sid’s so caught up in looking at him that he doesn’t notice Mr. Davis standing in front of them and politely clearing his throat until Geno knocks their knees together.

“Sidney,” Mr. Davis says, “Geno told me you’d be taking care of the bill.”

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry, The little ones caught all my attention.”

Mr. Davis nods as Sid carefully transfers Gloria into Geno’s free arm. He waits with his hands hovering over her body as Geno gets her settled into the crook of his arm.

“I’ll be right back,” Sid tells him and Geno nods.

“Can take time,” Geno says. “We’re taking naps.”

Sid collects the items he picked out for himself and follows Mr. Davis to the counter.

The bill is larger than Sid expected but it’s nothing that he can’t afford. Geno’s going to insist on paying him back but that might take a while. Sid refuses to take Geno’s entire paycheck in one go.

Sid’s chatting about the Habs upcoming season and if they have a chance to win the Cup again when Sylvia comes back.

When Sid turns around she has her hand pressed to her heart looking alarmed at the stranger that’s holding her children but a moment later she’s sitting beside him, laughing.

Sid tucks the packages under his arm when Mr. Davis finishes ringing him up and wanders over to them.

Sylvia puts her hand on Geno’s shoulder and smiles up at him.

“I was just telling Geno how charming all you boys are up on that mountain. I’ve never had a bad experience with any of you. Geno will fit right in.”

“Don’t tell the rest of the guys you think that highly of them,” Sid says. “Their egos are already huge.”

“Just between us then,” Sylvia says as she stands and smoothes out her dress.

They help Sylvia out to her car with her purchases and, after she drives off while waving a hand out the window, Geno shakes his head.

“Don’t know how she does it. Two babies, lots of work. I have older brother but few years between us. Mama got a break.”

Sid nods. “My sister is almost ten years younger than me.”

“Long break for mama.”

“Yeah, but it’s still a lot of work. A lot of the guys have kids and I don’t know how their wives do it.”

“Take care of kids or be married to them?”

Sid laughs. “Both, I guess. Why don’t you take these to the truck and I’ll run to the butcher for Rita’s treat.”

Geno takes the packages and they head off in separate directions. Sid doesn’t look back until he’s at the butcher’s front door. Geno’s leaning his elbows on the bed of the truck, petting Rita and talking to her. He’s as soft as he was with the twins and it sparks a feeling in Sid that he needs to rein in.

There’s no place for that here. He shakes his head and pushes the door open.

Back at camp the guys have scattered and are enjoying one of the last days off before work begins.

Most of the Americans are playing a makeshift game of baseball while the Canadians watch.

Rita takes her bone and plops down on the small deck of the cabin between the rocking chairs Tanger and Flower are sitting in.

“Successful trip?” Flower asks as he points to the packages in Geno’s arms.

“I think we got everything he needs. Everyone having fun?”

“Jake got hit with the ball,” Tanger says. “He’s fine, so it ended up being pretty funny.”

“Sorry I missed it.”

“Keep watching, it’ll probably happen again.”

“Gonna go unpack this,” Geno says and Sid nods and opens the door for him.

Once he’s inside Sid turns to Tanger and Flower and drops his voice to a rough whisper.

“What do you think of him?”

Tanger shrugs. “He’s all right. You’ve spent more time with him than we have. What do you think?”

Sid thinks too much. “I guess we’ll see how he does tomorrow and go from there.”

“He seems nice,” Flower says. “I think he’ll fit in well.”

Out on the makeshift diamond Rusty slides into home and Tanger claps. “Just make sure he doesn’t die out in the woods and I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

The sun sets and the temperature drops and by the time they’re done with dinner it’s started to rain.

Geno frowns and looks up at the cloudy sky. “Weather always so bad?”

“This is nothing,” Sid answers, “just wait until ...”

He’s interrupted by the sky opening up and buckets of rains come falling to the earth.

The guys take off, sliding in the mud as they push and shove themselves to be the first one back in the cabin. Rita makes it there first, somehow, and immediately shakes the water out of her coat as soon as she steps inside.

The guys are no better, tracking mud and dripping water across the floor as they get to their bunks. Most of them hang their wet clothes in front of the fire to dry but others leave them in a pile at the foot of their bunks.

Geno is sitting at the edge of his bed, carefully unfolding the clothes he got today. He pauses when he gets to the flannel. He runs his fingers over the collar before he pulls it on over his undershirt and starts to button it. Even in the low light Sid can see how the green plaid brings out his eyes.

He startles when he looks up and finds Sid watching him.

“It looks good on you,” Sid says.

“Warm,” Geno says back. “Already cold.”

“You’re from the Soviet Union,” Flower says. “When is it not cold over there? You should be used to this by now.”

“Used to it,” Geno says. “Doesn’t mean I like.”

-

They get up before the sun the next morning. It’s cold enough that their breath hangs in the air and their cheeks turn red just from the walk from the bunkhouse to breakfast.

“So,” Tanger says as he slaps Geno on the shoulder before sitting down. “Are you nervous for your first day?”

“Not nervous,” Geno says but Sid can see the way his eyes dart around and his hand sits unsteady on the edge of his mug of tea.

“You’re going to do fine,” Sid tells him. “I’m a good teacher.”

Geno smiles at him before he takes a sip of tea, his face still pink from the cold.

It’s organized chaos when they pull into the logging site and start to unload.

If Geno was pretending not to be nervous before, he’s completely given up and given into the feeling as the guys move around him, setting up their gear and pulling their tools from the back of Kuni’s truck.

Geno stands with his back to the bed of the truck and watches Sid with wide eyes when he walks up to him.

“It’s a lot, I know. But you’ll catch on, I promise.”

Sid explains the work slowly, careful to make sure Geno understands the English before he moves on to the next part.

They work six days a week, ten-hour days, and fell as many trees as they can.

“Have to do when cold?” Geno asks and Sid nods.

“The ground is frozen so it’s easier for the horses to drag the logs to the river about 2 kilometers south from here. In the spring this whole mountainside will be nothing but mud. Cut the trees in the fall, the horses haul them off in the winter, we float them down the river to the mill in the spring. Now we get paid by how many cords we cut and you might be tempted to work quick, but when you work quick you work stupid, and when you work stupid ...”

“You die,” Flower says as he strolls by, ax slung over his shoulder.

“No one’s dying,” Sid says, but his words do little to calm the panic on Geno’s face. “No one is going to die as long as you’re careful. Always know where you are. Don’t get so caught up in anything that you block everything else out. If someone tells you to move, then move. Don’t question it. This is dangerous work and the nearest doctor that can actually do anything for you is all the way back in town, and he won’t make the trip up here when the weather gets bad. But there won’t be a need for that as long as you’re careful.”

“All of this is pointless,” Phil says as his ax connects with a tree. “We’re getting phased out. Pretty soon everything will be done with a machine. We’ll be useless.”

“We will not be useless,” Sid says.

“You just don’t want to catch up with the times, Sid. Things are changing.”

“Well, for right now, things are just like this.” He turns back to Geno. “I like them this way.”

Geno gives him a tight smile, nerves still picking away at him as he watches Kuni and Tanger start their climb up the trees.

“They go up first on the biggest trees and cut off the limbs and the very top and then the rest of us cut down the trunk.”

“I do that?” Geno asks as he cranes his neck to look up.

“No, god no,” Sid answers. “In fact, today you’re not going to be doing anything. I think it’s best if you just observe for now. You should go sit in the truck with Rita so you can understand how things work.”

“You stick me in truck all day?”

“I keep the windows cracked for Rita, you’ll be fine.”

Geno’s obviously not happy about it as he stomps off but Sid feels better knowing Geno is out of harm's way and safe in the truck.

“Can help,” Geno says after they eat lunch. “I know how to use an ax. Used to chop firewood all the time back home.”

“Oh, yeah?” Sid asks as he leans against the truck. “And when was the last time you did that?”

Geno shrugs. “A year ago.”

“I want you to go slow, then. If you do too much too quickly you’ll be sore all over tomorrow and then you’ll be useless.”

“Not useless,” Geno mumbles as he shuts the door to the truck behind him. “Won’t be sore.”

“If you say so,” Sid says as he hands Geno an ax and watches as Geno swings it easily over his shoulder. “Jake,” he calls and Jake stops mid-swing and turns around. “Go work with Phil today, okay? I’m with Geno.”

“He’s like Baby Sid?” Geno asks when Jake leaves to meet up with Phil. “You train him to be just like you.”

“That was last season,” Sid says as he swings the ax over his shoulder and connects with the base of the tree. “You’re officially the baby of the group. You know the least.”

“Not for long,” Geno replies as he takes his first swing.

To the surprise of no one Geno doesn’t heed Sid’s warning to go slow. He keeps up with Sid, swing for swing and, even though he promises Sid that he feels fine at the end of the day, Sid has his reservations.

In the morning Geno is so sore he can barely move his arms enough to pull on his shirt and Sid hides his laughter behind his hand until Geno asks for help.

“I thought you were going to spend the whole day struggling,” Sid says as he carefully threads Geno’s left arm through the sleeve and then his right. “You should have asked sooner.”

“Is not so bad,” Geno grumbles but he can’t hide the way his face twists when he rolls his shoulder. “I’m fine.”

“If you say so,” Sid says as he buttons up the shirt. He leaves the top few undone and steps back to make sure they’re not buttoned crooked. “The shirt looks nice on you.”

Geno ducks his head and runs his hand down the front of it. “You think?”

“Suits you,” Sid says and Geno looks up. Sid’s the first to break eye contact one long moment later when he steps towards the door. “We should get going, got a long day ahead of us.

Geno works through the pain. It’s not something Sid would usually advise, but Geno is on a mission to learn all he can as soon as possible.

“Need money,” he tells Sid as he wipes the inside of his wrist over his forehead. “Have to pay you back.”

“There’s no rush for that. You could never pay me back and that would be fine, really. I don’t want you getting hurt any worse than you already are.”

Geno shoots him an annoyed look and picks up the pace, cringing each time he moves his arms.

“You’re a stubborn one, aren’t you?”

Geno gives him that same look again, only this time there’s a smile ghosting it’s way along his lips.

By the time their first paycheck comes in, Geno’s gotten used to the work. The soreness is replaced with new muscles that Geno likes to show off whenever he can and Sid likes to pretend to ignore.

Back at the bunkhouse Geno’s fingertips look soft and wrinkled as he clutches the money and tries to give Sid the entirety of his pay.

“I’m not taking all of it,” Sid says as he pulls out a few bills and pushes the rest away. “You earned that.”

“You loan to me.”

“Yeah, and I told you I don’t care about being paid back.”

Geno pushes the money forward again. Sid feels like there’s a chance he going to throw it at him and run. “I care.”

“Well I don’t. Keep it, it’s yours. You know I’m just as stubborn as you, maybe more so. I’m not taking all your money.”

“But it’s really your money.”

“It’s really not.”

Geno sets his jaw and grinds his teeth then rolls his eyes and mumbles to himself in Russian.

Sid doesn’t understand the words but the tone is sharp and clear and the guys start to laugh as Geno ducks down into his own bunk.

“You have got to teach me all of that,” Tanger says, “I have this neighbor back home that leaves his lawn clippings in my yard during the summer. I’d love to confuse him.”

“Урод,” Geno snaps and Tanger says “I’m going to remember that.”

Sid leans over the edge of his bunk and looks down at Geno. He’s scowling down at the money in his lap but when he looks up at Sid he smiles.

“Мудак,” Geno tells him and Sid whistles low.

“I don’t know what that means but it sounds bad.”

“Is,” Geno says. He lifts his leg and jams his foot against the bottom of Sid’s bunk.

Sid tips his head back and laughs.

-

“Sid.”

Sid groans and rolls over. The poker game is still in full swing but, thankfully, they’ve been mostly quiet until right now.

“Geno’s been gone for a while,” Tanger says as he places two cards in the middle of the table. “It’s been like, thirty minutes.”

“So?”

“So. What if something happened?”

“Between here and the outhouse?”

“Yeah. You should go look for him.”

Sid laughs. “I’m not interrupting him. I know you don’t have any idea of personal space but other people do. Give him some privacy.”

“I’m just saying,” Tanger says as he shuffles the cards he has in his hands, “we’ve been hearing those coyotes getting closer and closer every night. It’s winter, they’re looking to hunt.”

“I think Geno can handle himself.”

“Sully said there were a couple of wolves spotted not far from here. You’re not at all worried?”

“If you are go find him yourself.”

“I'm about to win a lot of money,” he says with a smug smile as the rest of the guys scoff. “You want me to miss out on that?”

Sid sighs and throws the covers off his body then hops down. “I swear, Tanger.”

“You’ll feel better if you go check on him.”

“I was almost asleep,” Sid says as he pulls on his boots and grabs a flashlight off the shelf.

“You’re a great team captain,” Tanger says and beside him Flower salutes.

Sid flicks the flashlight on and shines it in both their eyes before he calls Rita and they both head out the door.

Rita walks in a zigzag pattern in front of him, nose to the ground while Sid scans the area with his flashlight. The woods are quiet except for the stray hoot of an owl. There’s no coyotes and no wolves and he is going to kill Tanger. Rita barks suddenly and takes off running and when Sid shines the line further up the path Geno’s standing there with a lantern in his hand. He bends down to pet Rita then holds his hand up to his face to shield his eyes from the light.

“Geno, are you all right?”

“What you doing out here?” Geno answers.

“Looking for you,” Sid hisses. “Tanger sent me out. You’ve been out her for a long time and it’s not always safe.”

Geno pushes his tongue against his cheek. “You worry about me?”

“I was half asleep. What’s taking you so long?”

“I was coming back then I look up.” He tips his head back and Sid does the same. The sky is clear and dotted with stars. “Never see so many.”

“Stars?”

Geno nods. “Home is not like this. Even Cleveland not like this. It’s ...”

“It’s incredible,” Sid finishes for him. “I know. I’ve grown up with this, but still. It’s still incredible.”

“Make you feel small,” Geno says softly. Then he looks down at Sid. “Beautiful.”

“It’s cold,” Sid says as he bumps their arms together. “We should head in.”

Geno hums and looks back up at the sky. “Few more minutes, maybe.”

Sid wants to get back to the cabin. He should get back to the cabin. But he can’t make himself move and he stands there, next to Geno, looking up at the stars.

-

A few nights later Sid rolls over and opens his eyes.

Geno is sitting at the table in the low lamp light, tapping a pencil against a piece of paper.

He’s chewing on his lower lip and running his free hand slowly through his hair.

His pale skin glows in the light of the lantern.

“G,” Sid whispers groggily. “What are you doing?”

Geno presses his index finger to his lips. “Shhh. Everyone sleeping.”

Sid throws the covers back and hops down from his bunk. His socked feet thud against the floor.

“Then why are you up?”

“Trying to write letter.”

Sid pulls his sleeves down over his hands and tucks them beneath his armpits for extra warmth. “Oh. Is it to your parents?”

“Yes,” Geno says as Sid sits down across from him. “Hard to write.” He flips through the pages; there’s at least three of them, completely full in Cyrillic writing.

“Looks like you got a lot down.”

“Lots more to say. Lots I can’t say. Don’t even know if this will get there. Left home so quick, you know. A lot going on there. Not easy life always but still home. Still miss. Know they worry about me. Get lots of looks in America. Name, accent. Big.” He shrugs. “Some people nice. Some people ...” He wiggles his hands back and forth. “Worry?”

“Wary?” Sid asks and Geno nods. Sid knows about the Rosenberg trial. There’s a tension in America that’s hard to ignore even up here in the middle of nowhere in Canada.

“When Gonch told me where we’re going, he said it will be different. It won’t feel the same.”

“Does it?”

“No,” Geno says with a small smile. “Much better here. Everyone is little shit but is good.”

Sid laughs quietly. “Yeah. That’s a pretty good summary of the guys. Do you need an envelope?”

Geno shakes his head and picks one up from the bench beside him. “You going into town tomorrow? Early?” He fold the letter in thirds and puts it in the envelope as Sid nods. “Take now so I don’t forget. Don’t want you to wake me either. Is Sunday. I sleep in. Don’t open.”

“Geno, even if I did I couldn’t read it.”

Geno pulls it out of his hands. “Don’t know,’ he says with a slick smile. “Maybe super secret spy.”

“Ha. Hardly.”

Geno shrugs. “I see in America all those actors and actresses … maybe best disguise is pretty face.”

Sid takes the letter but doesn’t know what to do with Geno’s words.

The flicker of the flame from the candle is casting shadows across Geno’s face, making his eyes look even darker than usual.

Sid takes the envelope and holds it in his hands like it’s something special, something to be guarded.

“I’ll make sure it gets sent out,” he says, voice weaker than he wants it to be and he clears his throat. “I don’t know what will happen after that but ...”

“Thank you, Sid,” Geno says, cutting him off. He stands up and squeezes his shoulder. “You’re a good friend.”

“Thanks,” Sid says, not any stronger than before.

Geno smiles. “Should go to bed, Sid. Have to get up early.” He slowly drags his hand off Sid’s shoulder and there’s something in his eyes that feels more than just friendly.

Sid tucks the letter into the front pocket of his coat then climbs into bed, where he spends the next twenty minutes staring at the ceiling and listening to Geno settle into sleep beneath him.

-

Sid sticks his feet into his boots and sits back on the bench.

Geno has the blankets pulled up to his chin, one hand tucked beneath his head, his face lax with sleep.

He looks years younger and so peaceful. Sid wants that for him, always.

Suddenly his face twitches and his eyelids flutter and Sid stands up before he can be caught staring but Geno’s eyes never fully open.

Instead he makes a soft, sleepy sound, and rolls over so the only thing Sid can see is the top of his head.

He double checks to make sure he has the mail then pats his hand against his thigh. Rita springs up from her bed in front of the fire and scampers out the door in front of him.

The sun is hanging low behind the trees when he steps out onto the porch.

He takes a breath of the cold air, so deep that his lungs start to ache.

The fresh snow sparkles in the light and the branches on the trees hang low with the weight of it.

Rita cuts a joyful path through it, bouncing up and down so she can make it through. She stops at the back of the truck and looks up at him, as if to say, what are you waiting for? and Sid laughs as he fishes his hat out of his coat pocket and pulls it on.

He has to get a hold of himself.

-

Sid comes back from town with a burlap sack filled with mail.

“You look like Santa Claus,” says Rusty, who dances around the table waiting for Sid open the sack like a kid excited for Christmas morning.

“There’s a lot here,” Sid says as he begins to dump letters and packages out onto the table. “If you give me a few minutes I’ll sort it.”

But it’s too late. The guys are all jumping in and grabbing different piles. Sid curls away to stand beside Geno and watch the organized chaos as they fling the mail toward the correct bunks.

“Always so much?” Geno asks and Sid shakes his head.

“Christmas time.”

“Whole month early, yes?” Geno says with a frown. “Is different in Canada?”

“No. The roads will start to ice up any day now and we won’t be able to get into town. It’s better to send them early so they’re sure we get them. Everyone’s families send something.”

Geno looks down at his feet and Sid feels like an asshole. There is nothing for Geno in that pile and they both know it.

Before he can apologize Hags is calling his name and tossing a square brown package at him.

“What’d you get, Sid?” Flower asks. He’s already sitting cross-legged on his bed with a large box on his lap.

“It’s from Taylor,” Sid answers.

“Oh, is it those candies that she sent last year?” Conor asks. “I want some.”

Sid holds the package protectively against his chest and Geno frowns.

“Taylor. Is...girlfriend?”

“Sister,” Sid clarifies as Tanger snorts a laugh and tears into a letter. “She’s at school in Michigan and there’s this little shop that sells these amazing candies. She sends them as a Christmas present. I’ll let you have a couple if you’d like?”

Geno nods and Conor complains. “Sure, let Geno have some.”

Sid and Geno share a smile before Sid climbs onto his bunk to open the package.

The cabin falls into a hush after that. The guys are too busy reading letters and showing off the artwork their children made them to really talk about anything.

Tanger, Flower, and Horny pass around pieces of paper with crayon drawings and bright green handprints made to look like a Christmas tree while the younger guys unpack care packages from their girlfriends or fiancés or parents. Everyone looks happy and content and Sid clutches his lone box closer to his chest and tries not to ache.

He’s happy for them and he doesn’t think it’s jealousy but it’s something ...

“Haven’t opened yet?”

Sid shakes himself from his thoughts and looks down at Geno, who is leaning against Sid’s bunk.

“No. I guess I’m just savoring it.”

Geno tips his head to the side in confusion but Sid waves him off before peeling the tape away from the box.

There is a letter that Sid tucks away to read later and the hard candy, which he shows off to Geno. There’s also dog treats for Rita and an altogether poorly knit handmade scarf in the ugliest combination of colors Sid has ever seen. He’s sure Taylor did it on purpose and it is thick and warm so he laughs and wraps it around his neck anyway.

Geno tugs on the end of it to get his attention. “Parents send you anything?”

Sid shakes his head. “No. It’s just Taylor.”

Geno nods and presses his lips into a thin line before he ducks down and out of sight.

He tosses Rita a treat then pops a candy in his mouth. It’s sweet and cherry flavored and he’s already unwrapping a second one as he leans back against the pillow to read the letter.

Taylor is doing well in school, all things considered. She briefly mentions a book report she got a good grade on and then spends the bulk of the letter lamenting the fact that they don’t have a female hockey team.

I asked Mom and Dad for a new blocker for Christmas,’ she writes, ‘or a car. I don’t expect to get either but at least I tried.’

It’s the only time she mentions their parents in the whole letter and he’s curious about how they are while also managing not to care at all.

Sid can live with that, with this. Just him and Taylor and Rita and guys in this cabin.

There’s nothing else he really needs.

-

It takes a while for the guys to settle down that night, still hopped up on the excitement of their early Christmas gifts.

Sid listens from his bunk as they drop off one by one, rereading the letters from their families one last time before turning in.

Eventually, only Flower and Geno are still up, sitting at the table, whispering back and forth as Flower shows Geno photos of his daughters.

“This is Estelle and this is Scarlet.”

“Pretty.”

“Beautiful,” Flower corrects. “This is my wife.”

“Very beautiful,” Geno says. “Why she settle for you?”

Sid smothers a laugh into his pillow so they don’t hear him and Flower huffs.

“Bâtard,” he says and Geno’s low, rumbling laugh floats across the room.

It makes Sid close his eyes. It’s like rain on the cabin’s tin roof. He could fall asleep to this.

“What about Sid?” Geno asks, and Sid opens his eyes.

“I don’t have a photo of Sid.”

“No. Really no one for Sid. All alone?”

“Oh. Well ...”

“Can’t believe,” Geno says, his voice dropping even lower and Sid has to strain to hear him. “He’s so … nice. Good. No woman at home? No one he likes?”

“Sid, ah …” Flower sighs and Sid holds his breath to hear his response. “He doesn’t really talk about that.”

“What does he talk about?”

“Work. His sister when she writes.”

“No other family? Didn’t get anything from his parents. Is he … you know … orphan?”

“No, no, he has parents. I’ve met them, they’re actually really nice. I don’t know what went sour between them but ...”

“Went sour?” Geno asks.

Fucking Flower, Sid thinks.

“Uh … went wrong. A couple years ago he stopped bringing them up. He doesn’t want to talk about it.”

Geno’s quiet for a moment. “He ever have a girl?”

“You’re really interested in his love life,” Flower says with a laugh. “No one that I know of. But he’s real private.”

“What does he like?”

“Why, you know someone for him?”

“Just asking.”

“I don’t know what Sid likes, honestly. I don’t even know if Sid knows what he likes. He seems to be okay on his own. I mean, he’s here most of the year anyway. Usually the first one to show up in the fall and the last to leave in the spring. I guess it makes sense since he doesn’t have anyone that he’s going to miss or anyone to miss him.”

Sid winces as Flower’s words cut deep.

“But maybe he just like to work,” Flower says. “His worth ethic … crazy.”

“Crazy,” Geno repeats softly.

The conversation dies off after that and, as far as Sid can tell, they both sit in silence as the fire pops and crackles in the stove.

Eventually Geno grumbles a good night and Sid listens as his footsteps get louder and louder the closer he gets to the bunk. When he pauses Sid holds his breath and fights the urge to tuck his shoulders up to his ears.

Geno’s sighs then Sid hears the rustle of blankets being moved as he folds himself into his bunk.

In the morning Geno is jovial, talking and laughing with the rest of the guys while he eats his eggs and bacon.

A few seats down Flower is doing the same thing.

Sid takes careful sips of his coffee in between bites of his cereal and silently fumes.

They’re acting like they did nothing wrong last night. Like talking about him behind his back is something that’s okay.

What if he had told Flower more? Would he have told Geno everything? And why does Geno think he’s allowed to ask those questions? They don’t even know each other, not really. They’re friends but just barely.

They’re coworkers, and whatever vague attraction Sid might be feeling for him doesn’t matter, not when Geno thinks he’s entitled to know more than Sid wants him to.

By the time breakfast is over and the guys are packed up and ready to leave for the day Sid’s body is tightly coiled and he’s looking for a fight.

He gets one when Geno accidentally walks into him while Sid lowers the tailgate for Rita to jump in.

Geno grabs his shoulders to steady the both of them and says, “Sorry, Sid,” with a wide smile, face flushed from the cold and Sid snaps.

“The next time you have a question about me just fucking ask me,” he says harshly. “Don’t go behind my back and do it.”

The smile on Geno’s face slowly drops as the words sink in and the rest of the guys freeze in place. Jake has one foot up on the tailgate with Brassy behind him. Dumo and Olli, who had been shoving each other back and forth, slide to a stop on the freshly fallen snow.

“I’m ...” Geno stutters out and from the other side of the truck Flower says, “Whoa, Sid, easy.”

Sid rips his eyes away from Geno and grips his hands against the side of the truck, the cold of the metal bleeding through his gloves.

“And you,” he says to Flower, “don’t go running around telling everyone my shit. What I tell you is supposed to stay between us. I thought I could trust you.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Flower asks. There’s a deep line between his brows that’s never there. He’s never seen Flower’s face this serious. He doesn’t care.

“You know the next time you want to talk about me you should make sure I’m asleep first. Or at least think about leaving the room.”

Flower’s eyes go wide. “Oh, Sid ...”

“Forget it. I don’t want to hear it.” He taps his hands against the truck. “We have to get to work.”

The guys climb into the bed of the truck carefully, like one wrong noise or a sudden movement will set him off again.

Geno hangs his head as he falls in line and Sid yanks open the drivers side door with too much force.

Flower’s already in the passenger seat and Sid scowls at him.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing? Start the truck. It’s cold.”

“You’re not sitting up here with me.”

Flower shakes his head. “I always sit up here. You’re really going to punish me? Why don’t you just make me and Geno walk?”

“Don’t give me any ideas. Get out. Get in the back.”

“Fucking petty,” Flower spits as he gets out of the cab. “We’re not all gonna fit back there and Kuni already left with the rest of the guys.”

Sid leans out the door and calls toward the bed of the truck. “Jake, come up here.” Then he turns toward Flower and says. “You can take Jake’s spot in the back.”

“You’re replacing me with a kid,” Flower laughs and Sid starts the truck.

“Hurry up or I’ll leave you both.”

Jake squeezes past Flower and slides into the truck as Flower puts his foot on the tire and swings his body up over the side, swearing in French the whole time.

Sid steps on the gas before Flower is fully seated.

It’s a tense day. Everyone gives him a wide berth. They don’t talk to him but Sid overhears them talking about him. Tanger asking Flower what the fuck happened and Jake and Olli talking about how they’ve never seen him so upset and Rusty quietly admitting that he was just a little bit afraid of him.

Geno keeps his distance completely. He doesn’t talk to anyone about anything. All he does is shoot Sid these sad looks then look away when Sid catches him.

Sid wants the day to be over. His hands are cold and his back is sore and he wants dinner and a hot shower and to go to bed.

Finally, the sun starts to set and the guys pile back into the truck. Jake moves slowly as he climbs into the front seat beside him.

At dinner Sid eats his vegetable soup and roast pork with the space across from him that Geno usually fills, empty. He’s down the other end of the table, tucked between Jamie and Phil and frowning down at his mashed potatoes and carrots.

Sid showers and climbs into his bunk, where he wraps himself in his blankets and buries his face in the pillow. When he feels someone hovering he opens his eyes and Flower is standing right beside his bunk, frowning.

“We have to talk,” Flower says and Sid sighs and flips over. A moment later Flower is in front of him again only closer this time, having stepped on the frame of Geno’s bunk and used it to push himself up.

“I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t ever want to talk to you.”

“I know you don’t really mean it.”

“I do mean it,” Sid grits out.

“I know it won’t last forever.”

“It ...”

“I know it won’t,” Flower says. “But Geno doesn’t know that. He just thinks he lost his only friend here.”

“The other guys are friends with him.”

“It’s not the same. You’re easily his favorite. C’mon, Sid. Geno didn’t know any better. If you’re going to be mad at someone be mad at me.”

“I am mad at you.”

Flower rolls his eyes. “Yes, but you will get over it.” He puts his hand up when Sid opens his mouth to argue. “I know you will, fuck off. Talk to him. It’s getting sad.”

Across the room Geno is staring but he quickly looks away when he makes eye contact with Sid.

“Listen,” Flower says softly, “I get it. I shouldn’t have said anything to Geno about you. It’s none of my business and you have every right to be upset. But I didn’t actually tell Geno anything because I don’t actually know anything. And that’s fine. I don’t have to. But I wish if something were really bothering you, you would tell me.”

“Everything’s fine.”

“I know that it’s not.”

Sid looks away and Flower pats his arm.

“I’m here if you want to ever talk to me, you know.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“I’m your friend, Sid, which is why I’m suggesting that you patch things up with Geno. He’s a good guy and he’s so far from home, plus the language thing … Imagine what it’s like to know what you want to say but you’re not able to say it.”

Sid knows more about that than Flower knows.

“Just think about it,” Flower says and then adds, “Are we okay?”

“I’m still mad.”

Flower smiles and hops down from Geno’s bunk. “Bonne nuit, mon cheri.”

Geno waits until Sid is asleep to come to bed and the next day is filled with pleading looks from Flower as he silently begs him to please, say something to Geno.

Sid doesn’t until Geno comes to bed, early enough that Sid’s still awake with the bag of candy from Taylor on his chest.

“Good night, Sidney,” Geno says shyly and Sid unwraps another candy and pops it in his mouth before he leans over the edge of the bunk with the bag.

He squeezes the bag and shakes it at Geno until Geno sticks his hand in and pulls out a candy.

“Thank you,” Geno says and Sid pulls himself back up.

“You’re welcome, Geno.”

-

The temperature dips dramatically in the next few weeks.

Ice builds up on the windows and Sid has to wake up twice a night to feed more logs into the fire to keep it going.

It’s the type of cold that seeps into their bones and makes everything ache.

Finally, after three nights of shivering himself to sleep, Sid can’t take it anymore and leans over the bed.

“Geno, are you asleep?”

There’s a moment of silence before Geno grumbles out a yes.

“Are you cold?”

“Is freezing, Sid. Yes cold.”

Sid hops out of his bunk and takes his blankets with him. In the light of the fire, small as it is, Sid can just make out the shape of him, curled on his side with his knees tucked up to his chest.

“Move over,” Sid says as he puts his knee on the mattress. “It’ll be warmer like this.”

“Sid ...”

“All the other guys are doing it,” Sid explains. Knuckles and Rusty are trying to position themselves so they both fit on the mattress and Tanger and Flower are kicking each other beneath the blankets. “You have to. It’s the only way. The stove isn’t powerful enough to heat the room. Come on.”

Geno doesn’t budge and Sid rolls his eyes and tosses his blankets back onto his bed.

“Fine. Be cold then.”

Geno throws his arm out from beneath the blanket and grabs a hold of Sid’s knee.

“Cold,” he says as he shifts back on the bed. “Don’t like.”

Sid grabs the blankets again and throws them over Geno as Geno lifts his own quilt and lets Sid slide under.

The body heat that Geno throws off is an immediate relief from the biting cold as Sid tucks the blankets and quilts around the two of them.

He can feel how tense Geno when he tries to figure out what to do with his arm. He can’t seem to decide where to put it until Sid grabs his wrist and tugs. He pulls at Geno’s arm until it’s snug against Sid’s chest.

“Is that okay?” Sid asks but Geno’s already asleep, breath hot and even against the back of Sid’s neck.

Sid wakes up with their legs tangled together.

Geno’s arm is still tight around Sid’s chest and he’s drooling into the neck of Sid’s sweater.

Most of the guys are already awake, sitting on the edge of their beds or milling around the table with mugs of coffee.

Sid disentangles himself and sits up.

“Hey,” Flower says loudly. Beside Sid, Geno groans and tries to pull the covers over his head. “La Belle au bois dormant, finally you wake.”

Sid holds up his middle finger then rubs his hands up and down his arms. “Why is the fire so low?”

“We ran out of wood,” Jake tells him and Sid furrows his brow. There’s a huge stack of it outside. He spent hours splitting logs so they’d have enough to get themselves through the winter.

“There’s at least four cords outside.”

“We ran out inside,” Jake clarifies. Next to him Rusty is nodding his head and sipping from his mug.

Sid glares at the both of them. “So then go outside and get some.”

Rusty spins away and Jake looks down at the floor. “It’s cold outside.”

Sid swears under his breath and yanks the covers off Geno before he stands up.

Geno makes a rude noise as Sid jams his feet into his boots.

“What would you all do without me,” he asks the room and most of the guys don’t even acknowledge him but, behind him, Geno says, “Maybe sleep later?” and there’s a ripple of laughter.

Geno’s hair is wild and he’s rubbing at his eyes with his knuckles and a pang of affection hits Sid square in the chest.

“Get up,” Sid says as he tries to shake off the feeling.

-

Even with the sun shining down on them the air is still freezing while they work.

They can’t get warm even with a second pair of gloves on and taking turns sitting in the trucks with the heat on.

Sid wraps Rita in a spare blanket and she hunkers down on the floor of the truck until it’s time to head back to camp.

“It will never be warm,” Tanger grouses when they get back. “Can’t even enjoy a shower because my hair freezes before I can get back here.”

“You have to tuck your hair under your cap,” Flower says.

“I have too much hair.”

“Then you need a haircut.”

Tanger gasps. “Never.”

Sid laughs and turns toward his bunk.

Geno’s already stretched out in his bed with the covers pulled back waiting for Sid; when he climbs into bed beside him, Geno pulls the blankets up.

It’s easy for Sid to settle in beside Geno night after night. While the rest of the guys kick and shove at each other for more space, Geno curls against Sid’s body like a comma, one arm tight against his chest and and his breath warm and steady on the back of his neck.

He hasn’t been held like that in years and sometimes when he wakes up it’s easy to forget that it’s Geno snoring softly behind him and even easier to forget exactly what they are to each other. But when Geno wakes up and shuffles away on the mattress Sid has no problem remembering exactly what they are not.

Geno stopped shaving a few weeks ago and his beard is coming in in rough patchy spots that rub up against the back of Sid’s neck.

It looks awful but it feels amazing and in the middle of the night Sid lets his mind wander.

He falls asleep thinking about being back in his own house and in his own bed. The mattress is softer and the room is warmer but he’s still being held just as tightly. It makes his heart ache with want, to be so close to another person by choice instead of necessity.

He’s shook from his thoughts by the feel of Geno’s lips moving against his skin. He’s talking in his sleep, probably, too softly for Sid to hear. But then Geno slots his legs more firmly between Sid’s and his hand starts to tighten around his hip. Every move is slow and deliberate, like Geno’s giving him time to pull away. Sid stays completely still until Geno shifts his hips forward just enough that he can feel the hard length of him pressing against his ass.

Sid takes a deep breath and focuses on the feel of Geno’s fingertips working their way beneath the fabric at his hip before he pushes back and Geno quiets a moan with a hot, open mouthed kiss to the back of Sid’s neck.

Sid tucks his chin against his chest to give more room for Geno mouth against as his hand finally touches his bare skin.

Sid slams his eyes shut as Geno’s hand gets closer and closer to his dick. It’s a tease how slow he’s going and, when he shoves his ass back impatiently, Geno bites at the side of his throat.

He can’t believes this is happening. There’s no time or place for this here. It’s not safe, even though he trusts this group of guys with his life. They don’t know all there is to know about him, not like Geno apparently does.

Geno’s fingers brush against the base of his cock and it jerks against his stomach. He turns his head to the side and is ready to whisper “Geno, please,” when someone coughs and it all comes crashing down.

Sid sits up abruptly and Geno’s hand falls away. His socked feet hit the floor and drops his head into his hands as he takes a few shallow breaths.

Conor and Jake are sleeping only a few feet away. Someone is awake enough to cough and he and Geno ...

He stands up and discreetly adjusts himself before he crosses the room and tosses another log on the fire. While he’s crouched down Rita lifts her head and thumps her tail against the floor. Sid pets her side until she falls back to sleep and then he tosses a look over his shoulder before he stands.

Geno has rolled over and Sid follows the line of his shoulders and back with his eyes and tries to have a rational thought.

This wasn’t one-sided. Sid felt how not one sided it was pressed up against his ass. They can protect each other from this, their secret safe and hidden within one another and they can move on.

There’s plenty of room next to Geno where Sid can lay back down but instead he climbs into his own bunk and curls in on himself to generate some warmth. Things will probably be awkward in the morning and for some time after but eventually it’ll work itself out. Maybe one day they’ll be able to laugh about it together.

For now, Sid folds his arms across his chest, shuts his eyes, and tries to force the memory of Geno’s lips against his skin out of his mind.

-

Sid opens his eyes in the morning just when the sky is being to lighten and he’s shocked to see Geno, dressed and alert, joking with Flower while he sips on his mug of tea.

His eyes are bright with amusement when he turns them toward Sid and notices him for the first time and says good morning. He turns back to Flower and continues the conversation and Sid sits up and blinks at him.

There is nothing in his tone or posture that seems awkward or off. Sid keeps trying to catch his eye and communicate that they need to talk about what happened all throughout breakfast but Geno meets his eyes with a sunny smile pulling at his lips before he’s looking away again.

He’s acting like it never happened and, after Sid gets over the frustration of things not going the way he wants them to, he accepts that this is a quicker fix. They don’t need to have a long, drawn out conversation that makes them uncomfortable. They don’t need to laugh it off if they act like it never happened.

By the time lunch rolls around Sid has shaken the nerves out of his system and offers to grab the lunch pails out of the back of the truck.

He’s just turned the corner around the truck when he almost collides with Geno.

Sid stops short just in time but Geno reaches out and grabs his arms anyway.

“Jeez,” Sid says. “Snuck up on me there.”

Geno slides his hands down Sid’s arms and wraps fingers around his wrist. His thumb presses against Sid’s pulse point and Sid looks to his left but they’re hidden from the rest of the guys by the cab of the truck.

“Geno?”

Geno slowly rubs the back of his thumb against Sid’s skin and looks down at Sid through his lashes. “Yes?” He asks and Sid knits his eyebrows together and frowns.

“What?”

Geno stops the movement of his thumb and presses their palms together. “Movie tonight,” he says lightly and Sid nods. A few times a season a projector is set up in the cook house. Usually it’s something outdated that they’ve all seen dozens of times, but they still look forward to it. It helps to break up the monotony of the short days and the long nights.

“I heard it was the Wizard of Oz,” Sid says and Geno’s fingers dance across the thin skin on Sid’s inner wrist.

“Should be fun.”

Then he drops his hand and spins away to grab the lunches out of the truck and Sid’s left standing there trying to figure out what just happened.

-

On the beat up and wrinkled screen the tornado has just touched down on Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s farm. Dorothy and Toto are hiding in her bedroom as it’s lifted off the foundation and sent spinning into the air.

In the back row of the cook house Sid’s knee bounces up and down and there’s a storm churning deep in his chest. It’s anticipation and worry and wondering if he’s the one that’s supposed to make the next move.

Sid gets his answer when Geno stands. He blocks out the light from the projector and the guys all hurl popcorn at him as he takes his time moving out of the way.

Sid locks eyes with him even in the dark as he moves up the aisles. For a moment Sid thinks that maybe he’s going to stop beside him and take his hand.

But he keeps walking and Sid twists in his chair to watch Geno open the door and pause.

It’s snowing out, the flakes swirling in the light above the door. They catch on Geno’s shoulders and in his hair before he pulls his hat on and tugs it over his ears.

Sid waits until Dorothy squeezes oil onto the Tin Man to stands up.

“Where are you going?” Flower asks, not looking away from the screen as he shovels more popcorn into his mouth.

“I’m not feeling very well,” Sid says as he zips up his coat. “I’m going to go lie down.”

“Lay down here. Put your head in my lap. It works for the girls when their tummies ache.”

“I don’t think you have the same power over me as you do over your toddlers.”

Flower grins and throws a handful of popcorn at him. “Feel better.”

No one else looks up as Sid slips out the door. Geno’s leaning against the stable with his hands in his pockets. He looks up when he hears the door close behind Sid then rolls off the building and disappears around the corner.

Sid takes a deep breath and follows. Geno’s waiting for him by the door to the tool shed and he disappears into it as soon as he’s sure that Sid has seen him.

The door is barely closed behind him when Geno grabs him by the front of his jacket and pulls him farther into the cramped space.

He lets him go then pushes an old, rusty wheelbarrow in front of the door before he turns back around and pushes Sid up against the wall.

There’s a cobweb tickling his ear but he can’t bring himself to be bothered by it when Geno is already kissing his neck and tugging at the zipper of his coat.

“You always take so long to take hint?” Geno mumbles against the hinge of Sid’s jaw. “Freeze out here waiting for you.”

“I wasn’t sure,” Sid tells him, knees going a little weak when Geno bites down on his earlobe and finally pushes the coat off his shoulders. “I wanted to be sure.”

Geno huffs a laugh as the coat falls to the dusty floor before he pushes their hips together. He’s hard against Sid’s hip and Sid’s breath catches.

It’s been so long since he’s done this. It’s been so long since he’s felt like this.

“I’m sure,” Geno says. “You sure?”

Sid pulls on Geno’s belt buckle and Geno smiles, wolf-like in the moonlight.

It’s a race then for who can get whose hand on whose dick quicker. Their hands knock and bump into each other and they won’t give each other an inch of space to properly jerk each other off.

Finally, Geno huffs in frustration and takes a step back and Sid whines until Geno takes them both in his huge hand and starts to stroke.

“Oh,” Sid sighs as his eyes flutter closed. Geno kisses Sid’s jaw and cheek. “Shit.”

He can feel the curve of Geno’s smile against his skin as Geno’s hand speeds up. Sid, in turn, clutches at his shoulders so hard he’s sure he’s going to leave marks.

Geno starts to mumble something in Russian into Sid’s ear and the rhythm of his strokes starts to falter.

“You close?” Sid grits out and Geno nods while he snaps his hips forward. “Just come,” Sid says as he leans back against the wall, “come on, do it.”

Geno groans and ducks his head down but Sid is quick to cup his hands against Geno’s jaw and tip his face up.

“I want to see you,” he whispers and Geno bites his lip and screws his eyes shut and comes with a soft grunt. His hand slowly stops moving and his breathing becomes uneven and harsh as he tries to catch his breath. Sid pets his hair, knocking his hat off his head, and tries to ignore how hard he still is as Geno shakes through the aftershocks of his orgasm in Sid’s arms.

“Sid,” Geno whispers and Sid kisses his temple before he reaches between them and wraps a hand around himself.

He exhales into Geno’s hair and keeps his strokes short and tight.

“Can I help,” Geno whispers as his fingers lightly trace the cut of Sid’s abs where his shirt is hiked up. “What can I do?”

“Kiss my neck,” Sid pants out, “like you were last night.”

Geno hums and ducks his head so he can suck kisses into the side of Sid’s neck. Sid can’t keep his eyes open or stop himself from moaning Geno’s name as he comes all over his hand.

“Jesus, I like you a lot,” Sid says on a happy sigh as he leans back against the wall and catches his breath.

Geno grins at him, his tongue poking against his cheek. He’s illuminated by the moonlight coming through the window and Sid can’t help himself. He reaches out and curls his fingers into the front of Geno’s flannel and hauls him in for a kiss.

Geno jerks back and Sid lets him go.

Maybe that’s too much, too intimate. Maybe getting off together was just that and nothing more.

Geno looks him over then presses his thumb to the center of Sid’s lip before he pulls it back and replaces it with his own lips.

Geno hums into the kiss and Sid tentatively reaches up to thread his fingers through Geno’s hair. He wants to keep him close for as long as possible. Geno deepens the kiss and slots his leg between Sid’s thighs and they kiss until Sid’s lips feel red and raw.

“Should get back,” Geno says. “Movie over soon.”

Sid has lost track of time but he certainly doesn’t want to risk it. “We shouldn’t go at the same time. It would be hard to explain. I already told Flower I wasn’t feeling well so if I’m not there when he gets back …” Sid trails off then slides his hand around the back of Geno’s neck and kisses him until Geno puts his hands on Sid’s hips and pushes him back. “Have to go. Killing me.”

“We should ...”

“Do again,” Geno says. “Yes. For sure.”

“Oh. I was going to say go back separate.”

“Oh, yes, that’s what ...”

Sid ends his stuttering by pressing his lips against Geno’s. “But we should also do this again.” Geno’s lips curve into a smile and Sid pats his chest. “I’ll go first. Wait ten minutes just to be safe.”

The bunk house is empty when Sid walks in, which mean the movie is still playing. Which mean he and Geno had more time …

He shakes his head as he takes off his coat and his shoes. He won't regret leaving early. If they’re going to do this, they’ll have to be smart and safe. There will be other opportunities, they just have to figure out when and where.

He pokes at the fire just to have something to do and throws another log on, even though he’s plenty warm. It’s hard to tell if that’s from the flame or the residual thrum of Geno’s hands and mouth on his skin.

Just the thought of it steals the breath from his lungs and makes his fingers itch with the desire to touch him again.

He’s flexing his hands at his side when the door opens behind him and the guys come pouring in.

“Are you feeling better?” Flower asks at the same time Rita pushes her way through and Tanger says, “You left her behind.”

Rita weaves her way around Sid’s legs in excitement like she hasn’t seen him in a week instead of an hour.

“She may never forgive you,” Tanger says dryly as she rolls over on her back so Sid can rub her belly. “Hey, where is Geno?”

“I don’t know,” Sid says as neutrally as he can. “He didn’t come back to finish the movie?” “No. We thought we’d find him back here asleep or something.” Tanger looks out the window and winces. “It’s really starting to snow. When should we be worried?”

Sid lets the guys argue back and forth as they try to nominate who is going to go out and look for Geno if he’s not back within the next twenty minutes.

They’ve narrowed it down to Dominik and Phil when the door gusts open and Geno steps in, face flushed and snow swirling around him.

“Where the fuck have you been?” Tanger asks. “We almost sent Phil out after you.”

“Went for a walk.”

“But it’s snowing.”

“Yes,” Geno says as he takes off his hat. “Is why I come back.” His hair is a mess and Sid knows it’s at least partially because he had been grabbing onto it as Geno jerked him off.

“I can’t believe you didn’t stay to watch the movie. The Wizard Of Oz is a classic.”

Geno shrugs. “I already see.”

“You probably saw the weird Soviet version,” Phil jokes.

“If it was Soviet version, lion wouldn’t be so scared. Only bravest back home.”

“Yeah, all right. If you say so. I’m just glad I don’t have to go out there and save your ass.”

“My ass best,” Geno says as he winks at Sid. “Worth saving.”

-

In the morning Geno meets Sid’s eyes over breakfast and hides his smile behind his mug of tea. When Sid gets up for a refill, Geno follows.

“We do again tonight?” Geno asks and Sid steadies his hand against the old tin coffee pot before he picks it up.

“We have to be careful,” Sid says slowly as he pours his coffee. “If someone finds out ...”

“No one finds out,” Geno says. “You think they care if they do?”

“Do you really want to find that out?”

“Only want to find you,” Geno tells him in a rough whisper. He claps his hand against Sid’s shoulder in what would be a friendly and innocent gesture if it wasn’t for the way his hand lingers, just a beat too long. “Tonight?” He asks and Sid nods. He wants more, he feels like he’s always going to want more.

“We’ll figure something out,” Sid says and Geno smiles before he starts back to the table and picks up the thread of the conversation like he never even left.

Geno doesn’t act any differently during the day and Sid tries to follow suit. He tries not to stare too long or stand too close. It’s not an easy task but somehow he keeps his mind on his work and, before he knows it, the sun is starting to slip behind the trees and the guys are calling it a day.

Sid’s whole body buzzes on the way back to camp and he keeps flicking his eyes up in the rearview mirror to catch of glimpse of the back of Geno’s head.

It’s like that during dinner and in the showers, Sid’s whole body wound tight at the mere thought of touching Geno while Geno seems relaxed, joking around with Phil and Flower and ignoring every look Sid shoots his way.

He keeps waiting for Geno to give him a sign and it’s not until everyone is back at the cabin that he realizes he might have missed it.

Geno isn’t there and, in between the nightly card and chess games, it’s easy for Sid to slip out the door.

There are a set of footprints leading to the shed and Sid does his best to step in them so he doesn’t leave a second path but Geno’s legs are so long it’s almost impossible for him to keep the same pace.

The door to the shed opens as he takes his last step and he’s pulled through it by the front of his jacket and then immediately backed up against it.

“You always going to take so long?” Geno asks, fingers still curled in the fabric at his chest and his lips just barely hovering against Sid’s.

“I’m worried about our footprints. If someone sees ...”

“You worry too much,” Geno says before he finally swoops all the way in and kisses him. “Stop worry, just feel.”

“One of us has to worry,” Sid says as Geno moves his lips hotly down the side of Sid’s neck. “I don’t think you’re taking the risk of this whole thing seriously and I just.” He clamps his mouth shut when Geno’s teeth scrape against his skin.

“Don’t think,” Geno says, his voice a husky whisper that sends a shiver down Sid’s spine. “Don’t worry.” He flicks open Sid’s belt and undoes the button. “Just feel.” He pulls at Sid’s zipper and Sid tips his head back against the door and shuts his eyes. He takes a deep breath as Geno’s hand touches his skin and he just feels.

It goes on like that, stealing moments when they can. Sid surprises himself when he realizes he’s the one that likes to push it. He drags his hand down Geno’s back, the soft flannel warm against his palm as he gets up from the game of checkers. He likes the way Geno stares after him and the way no one else seems to notice. There’s power there, doing something he wants in plain sight after years of hiding.

They sizzle. Like damp wood crackling and popping as it tries to light and, as soon as a door shuts behind them and they’re alone, they catch fire.

It doesn’t take them any time at all to learn the shape of each other as they trace the path the moonlight lays on the other’s skin.

They get together when they can but it just never seems to be enough and, on a cold but clear Sunday morning, Sid takes both rifles off the wall and hands one to Geno.

Geno takes it with unsure hands and looks up.

“Get your boots on,” Sid says as he fishes out a few shells and puts them in the pocket of his shirt. “We’re going out.”

Geno follows behind him while Rita runs ahead, unbothered by the snow and cold and just happy to stretch her legs.

Geno calls for her when she dips behind a ridge and out of sight but Sid waves him off. “It’s all right, she’ll come back.”

Geno doesn’t respond and when Sid turns around he’s a few yards back looking incredibly uncomfortable.

“Have to tell you, Sid. Can’t hunt. Can’t shoot things. My papa tried to take me when I was really little and I start crying as soon as I pull the trigger. Didn’t even hit anything but I can’t kill. Don’t know if I can watch you do it either.”

Geno’s shoulders are hunched and he’s holding the gun away from his body. He looks a little red around the eyes already. Warmth blooms in Sid’s heart.

“Do you hear that?” He asks as he leans the rifle safely against a tree.

Geno stops and listens, tipping his head back and forth before he finally shakes it. “Don’t hear anything.”

“It’s really quiet,” he says as he steps closer to him, unzipping his jacket and pulling off his gloves as he goes. “No twigs snapping or anything.” He takes the rifle out of Geno’s hand and places it with his own. Both are still unloaded. “Sometimes it’s like that. Sometimes the forest is so quiet that there’s nothing to hunt.” He backs Geno up against the tree and slides his hands beneath Geno’s jacket. “Sometimes I come back empty-handed. It’s no big deal.”

Geno looks over his shoulder, back toward camp. They’re not that far out, maybe less than a mile, and Sid understands his concern. After all, Sid’s the one who’s always saying they should be careful.

But today they have their space and their time.

“No one is coming after us. They’re not coming out in the cold and most of them have probably fallen back to sleep by now.” He kisses the underside of Geno’s chin. “Plus it’s dangerous to be out here walking around where they know people are hunting. They know better than that.”

Geno finally comes to life and grips at Sid’s arms. “Really alone?”

“All alone.”

“Kind of cold.” There’s a hint of a smile tugging at his lips and his eyes light up when Sid lays his glove warmed hands against his stomach.

“I guess we’re going to have to keep each other warm then,” he says and Geno grips him tighter and pulls him in for a kiss.

When they get back to the cabin, they’re chilled through but happy. There’s a deep purple mark just below the collar of Sid’s shirt that he’s going to have to pass off as something else but no one bats an eye when they see their empty hands.

“No luck,” Flower asks, not even bothering to look up from the book he’s reading.

“I think maybe it’s too cold,” Sid says as he hangs the rifles back up. “We’ll try again next week, maybe?”

Geno nods and Flower says “still going to be cold next week” under his breath and Rita breaks any tension that might be hanging when she jumps into Tanger’s bunk with him, soaking wet from the snow, and flops down.

“Sid,” Tanger yells as he rolls out of the way. “Your damn dog.”

“Just trying to be your friend,” Geno says and Sid laughs as Rita stretches all the way out with her head on Tanger’s pillow.

-

“You seem happy,” Flower says as he pokes Sid with his blocker.

Sid is short on breath as the guys slide around in their boots on the iced-over pond in front of them. The puck has been lost to a snowbank for the past fifteen minutes and Rusty and Conor have been trying to dig it out.

In the meantime they’ve been passing a hard chunk of snow back and forth, playing keep away and trying to fire it past Flower or Muzz.

Geno is amazing out there, all long legs and soft hands and loud laugh.

“It’s a nice day,” Sid says. It’s still cold but there’s no wind and the sun is shining and Sid has yet to ever have a bad time playing hockey.

“Yeah,” Flower agrees, “but it’s more than that. Lately you’ve seemed … lighter. I don’t know.”

It’s the sex, Sid thinks as he knocks the packed-in snow off the treads in his boots. It’s the tension-relieving sex he and Geno have been having a handful of times a week for the last month.

“Did you and your parents work it out,” he asks, and Sid laughs because that’s the very last thing he’s done.

“No, that’s not going to happen.”

“Sid ...”

“Flower, it’s fine. It’s a nice day and I’m feeling good. Let’s not ruin it with this, okay?” Across the pond Shears holds up the puck and yells.

“Sid,” Geno calls from the other side of the ice. “Come on, my team.”

“That’s not fair,” Jake yells and Phil tosses a snowball at him.

It descends into chaos quickly, everyone hurling snow as Sid and Geno work their way toward the middle of the ice, narrowly avoiding flying ice and snow as they go.

“Crazy,” Geno says, face bright. “Everyone crazy.”

“Stupid,” Sid says back, but he’s beaming as he says it and they’re so caught up in each other that Sid doesn’t even notice Flower watching them through narrowed eyes.

-

He puts the conversation about his parents behind him, so he’s a bit blindsided when Geno brings it up a week later.

They’re back in the shed and Sid’s frowning as he slips his belt back on. He doesn’t understand why Geno insists on pulling it all the way off when all he needs to do is undo the buckle.

“So. You always know you’re ...”

“Yeah,” Sid says as he nods his head. He doesn’t know what word Geno has on the tip of his tongue but he’s not sure he wants to hear it. “Yeah. Except for that one year in high school when I pretended I didn’t.”

“What happen?”

Sid fastens the buckle and puts his hands on his hips. “It didn’t work.”

Geno laughs. “You ever have … boyfriends?”

“Not really. There have been guys but … nothing serious. They’re friends really.”

“Parents catch you with friend? That’s why you don’t talk?”

Sid looks up.

“Flower says ...”

Sid laughs, sharp and bitter and Geno presses his lips together. “Yeah,” Sid says finally. “They didn’t catch us but they figured it out.” There’s a splinter deep in his palm and he picks at it with his blunt nails. “I could have denied it and things would have been fine. We would have all forgotten about it and never talked about it again and I would’ve had parents that actually wanted to speak to me. But I didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Why should I?” Sid snaps. His hand is going to start bleeding with how deep he’s digging. “I’m their son, they’re supposed to love me no matter what, right? They should be able to handle this one thing. I’ve never done anything else to them. I’m a good son.”

“What happened to your friend?” Geno asks carefully.

“He denied it. He got married quickly after that. Last I heard his wife was expecting.” He shrugs then winces as the skin around the splinter turns red.

Geno grabs his wrist and pulls Sid’s hand to his mouth then presses his lips gently over the splinter.

“You are good,” Geno says softly and Sid looks down at their feet. Geno’s are bracketing his own, locking him in and he has no idea how Geno can make him feel so small yet too big for his body at the exact same time. “Maybe parents change mind someday,” he says and Sid rolls his eyes.

“You don’t know my parents.”

“Know you, though. Know you’re worth it.”

“You don’t even really know me,” Sid says as he pulls his hand away. He doesn’t look at Geno’s face as he carefully maneuvers around him. “We have to get back, I’ll go back first. Your fly is still down, by the way.”

When Sid gets back to the cabin Flower looks up from the card game in front of them then tugs at Sid’s belt loop as he passes.

“You missed one,” he says as he lets go of the loop and puts three cards down on the table.

“Shit,” Sid says under his breath and undoes the buckle so he can fix it.

-

“The road is clear, Sid, Sully said so. Let’s get out of here and get into town. Flanders is waiting for us. Real alcohol is waiting for us.”

Sid slowly chews his dinner while Tanger stares at him, waiting for an answer.

Sid keeps chewing. He swallows, then takes another bite and Tanger slaps his hands on the table.

“Sid, fuck off.”

“If you want to go into town to a bar then go. Why are you asking me? You don’t need my permission.”

“No, but we need your truck and your boring old person nature. Somebody has to make sure we don’t kill ourselves on the drive home. We need someone to be the mature adult.”

“You’re married and you have a kid,” Sid points out. “You’re much more mature than I am.” He nods toward Flower. “And you have two kids.”

“Yes,” Flower agrees, “but we’re still fun.”

“And I’m not?”

Flower and Tanger share a look and then a laugh and across the table. Geno tips his head from side to side in a so-so motion. Sid lightly kicks his shin and Geno smiles without looking up from his pot roast.

“C’mon, Sid,” Tanger pleads. “If you’re not going to do it for us then do it for the babies.” He snaps his head toward the end of the table where Jake, Zach, Dominik, and the other young guys are sitting. “You want to deny them their first crack at real liquor and real ladies?”

“Yes, Sidney,” Geno says from behind his mug of tea. “Think of the children.”

“We’ve been cooped up in the cabin for weeks,” Flower says, and Sid sighs because he does have a point. It’s been one snowstorm after another lately. It’s kept them from work. It’s kept him and Geno from having any alone time.

“Just go without me,” Sid says, holding eye contact with Geno. “I’ll stay with whoever else doesn't want to do.”

“We all want to go,” Tanger says and Sid raises an eyebrow, still looking at Geno.

“Are you sure?”

Geno doesn’t say anything and Sid rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “Fine. I’ll go.”

“Atta boy,” Tanger whoops as he crowds in close and presses a sloppy kiss to the side of Sid’s face while Geno tries not to laugh. “Boys!” Tanger announces to the rest of the table. “We’re getting drunk tonight.”

“What so great about bar?” Geno asks as he climbs into the truck beside Sid.

“Nothing,” Sid answers as he jams the key in the ignition. The truck complains a few times before she finally turns over. Sid turns on the headlights and watches as the guys figure out the best way to fit themselves into Jamie’s Buick and Tanger’s Lincoln. “It’s cheap booze, a jukebox, and a couple of pool tables and dart boards.”

“And women?”

“Yes,” Sid says in a huff. “Women. If you’re interested in that. You can probably guess why I’m not excited to go.”

“Could be fun,” Geno says lightly as he pats his hand against Sid’s knee. He leaves his hand there as he says, “We’re all alone here in your truck.” He drags his hand up Sid’s thigh, his fingers pressing against the inseam. “Awful long ride into town, especially at night, and then all the way back here.” He stops his hand right before the apex of Sid’s thighs and Sid almost groans in frustration. “Could be fun.”

There’s a knock on Sid’s window and Sid jumps while Geno yanks his hand back, their antics thankfully unseen in the dark cab.

Sid hastily rolls down the window and Flower sticks his head in. “Jake has to ride with you,” he says. “We tried to make him fit but he couldn’t. Odd man out.”

Jake opens Geno’s door and Geno starts to move over before Flower stops him.

“Might want to let Jake sit in the middle. He’s smaller. It would be a better fit.”

Geno stares at Flower and then at Sid before he shakes his head and gets out of the truck so Jake can take his place. It’s a tight fit but somehow they make it work and Flower taps his hands against the truck.

“Great. We’ll see you guys in a bit.”

Sid rolls up the window as Flower crosses in front of the headlights so he can get in Tanger’s car.

He and Jake and Geno are pressed so tightly together it’s almost impossible for him to get the truck in gear and he sighs heavily when they finally start rolling.

“You were right, G,” he says sarcastically. “This is a lot of fun.”

Sid and Geno take their time joining the group once they get out of the truck. They walk across the dark parking lot with their shoulders brushing as Jake hurries ahead to to stand behind everyone else while Tanger blocks the entrance and lays down the ground rules for the younger guys.

“I’m not your dad,” he says, “and I don’t want to be and I shouldn’t even have to say this but you boys better fucking listen. We are going to treat the women in there with respect ...”

“Why talk about women so much?” Geno whispers to Sid from their place in the back of the group. He’s married with kid. A lot of them married with kid. They don’t ...” He stops and touches Sid’s elbow to get his attention and, when Sid looks up, Sid can see the mild panic in Geno’s eyes.

“No, god no,” Sid says with a shake of his head. “He would never. All these married guys are full of shit. They’re just trying to make themselves seem manly in front of the younger guys. You’ll see when we finally get in there. They won’t dare to make any kind of move.”

“... and remember,” Tanger continues, “if there’s a baby nine months from now you had better believe you will be there taking care of it.”

“Can you shut the fuck up so we can get in there sometime tonight,” Phil asks. Before Tanger can answer he’s gently shoved out of the way by Jamie so Dumo can open the door.

“Did you even hear a word I said?” Tanger asks Geno as he and Sid close out the line into the bar. “I saw you two back there whispering.

“I hear,” Geno says as he pats his hand on Tanger’s shoulder. “Baby in nine months, I take care.” He turns Tanger around and pushes him through the door that Sid is holding open. “Don’t have to worry about me.”

Tanger laughs as Geno drops his hand from his shoulder in favor of running it quickly down Sid’s side and pinching at his hip before ducking inside.

The bar is loud and warm and the guys split up as soon as they’re inside.

Half of them head to the bar to start ordering drinks while the other half scout out tables, pushing them together and grabbing free chairs where they can. Before Sid can even get his coat off there’s a bottle of beer on the table and a waitress at his side.

Carol MacDonald is young and beautiful and, for reasons Sid doesn’t quite understand, has taken a deep interest in him.

Every time Sid comes to the bar she’s there and trying her hardest to get Sid to finally take her up on her offers and take her out.

Tonight her brown hair is up and curled and her lips are painted red. Her black polka dot dress makes her look sweet and innocent even though the way she’s leaning into Sid is anything but.

“I was wondering when you were gonna come back and see me,” she says, flirty smile only leaving her face so she can pretend to pout. “It’s been so long.”

“The roads,” Sid says. “They haven’t been clear.”

Carol rolls her eyes but her smile is back. “Don’t you go blaming the weather, Sidney. Did you miss me?”

“I ...”

“Excuse me.”

They both turn to Geno, standing beside them with two bottles of beer in his hands. He gestures with one of them to the chair that Carol is standing in front of. “Can I sit?”

“Oh,” Carol says as she steps out of the way and farther away from Sid. “Of course.” She looks Geno up and down and then looks at Sid. “Sidney, if I knew you all were coming tonight I would have called my girlfriends.” She shoots a fleeting look at Geno. “We could have had fun.”

“Still could,” Geno says. “We just get here and the babies want to stay for a long time.”

“The babies,” Carol says with a laugh. “Your friend is adorable, Sid. How come I haven’t seen him around before?”

“This is Geno’s first year. Carol this is Geno. Geno, Carol.”

“Nice to meet,” Geno says and Carol beams back at him.

“Nice to meet you, too. I should really get back but, if you boys need anything else, just let me know.”

“Sure,” Sid says with a nod and Carol leans in again.

“Anything,” she says, voice dropping as she drags her eyes up and down his body. “And I mean anything.

“Okay,” Sid says tightly before glaring at Geno over the top of her head as Geno barely holds back a laugh. “Thanks.”

“Anytime,” she says with a wink before she saunters off and Sid sits down heavily as Geno finally starts to laugh.

“It’s not funny.”

“Sid, you have girl here?”

“No,” he says defensively as he pops off the bottle cap on the side of the table. “She’s attached herself to me on her own. I don’t know why.”

“Sure, Sid,” Geno says sarcastically. “You don’t know. Couldn’t possibly be the way you look or how you act. Very nice young man. All the girls like.”

Sid rolls his eyes and reaches for one of the bottles Geno brought. “Did you buy me a drink?”

“Maybe I buy two for me. Girlfriend already bring you one.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Sid says before he leans in. “You know that. She’s just … attached herself to me. I don’t know why.”

Geno laughs into his drink. “Oh, okay, Sid. Don’t know why.”

“I don’t. Look at me.”

Geno’s face scrunches up in confusion before he smooths it out and leans across the table. He drops his voice so only Sid can hear and says, “Sid, look at you a lot. I know exactly why she like you.”

Sid blushes under his heavy stare and picks at the label on his bottle.

Geno leans back and takes a long pull of his drink. “So this is what you do? Just sit and be boring?”

“Why does everyone think I’m boring?”

“Because you’re a little bit boring. Sit here all alone.”

“I’m not alone,” Sid points out as he raises the bottle to his lips. “You’re here.” He takes a long pull and delights in the way Geno’s eyes never leave his mouth. “And you’re far from boring. Entertain me.”

Geno glances around the bar and shrugs. “Could play darts, could play pool.” He raises his drink to point toward the other side of the room. “Could sit here and watch married guys be stupid.”

Sid twists in his seat and looks across the bar. Horny and Hags are deep in conversation with each other, bodies twisted away from any admirers. Tanger is talking to a waitress but his back is straight with tension and it’s obvious that his eyes are never leaving her face while Flower stares down at his hands and occasionally nodding along.

“I told you they’re ridiculous.”

“Yes, but is different to see.”

The waitress puts her hand on Flower’s shoulder and Flower’s whole body goes stiff and his eyes widen and Sid and Geno laugh loud enough to draw dirty looks from the locals.

Eventually they finish their drinks and join Dumo and Olli at the pool table and play darts with Kuni and Cully.

Sid drinks just enough to feel a pleasant buzz and knows to stop when Geno puts his hand at the small of his back as he squeezes by him and Sid leans into it.

“I should probably switch to water,” he says and Cully boos him while Kuni goes to collect the darts.

Slowly, most of the guys migrate back together at one table. Sid feels good enough to openly watch Geno at the other end of the table as he talks to Dumo on one side of him and Jamie on the other.

Geno looks good. He always looks good, but there’s something about him tonight … the looseness of his shoulders or the way his hair is pushed back or the color on his cheeks from the alcohol. It’s something, and Sid can’t look away. He doesn’t until Tanger elbows him in the side and pulls his attention away.

“Your girlfriend wants to dance,” he says and Sid swings his head around toward the bar.

Carol is leaning against it, smiling and crooking a finger at him and Sid immediately spins back around, a move that Tanger finds hilarious.

“Stop laughing,” Sid hisses. “She’s gonna hear you.”

“Sid,” Phil says with a shake of his head. “When the hell are you going to give it up and give in? You’re crazy not to.”

“She’s a sure thing, Sid,” Tanger tells him. “I mean, look at the rest of these idiots giving it all they have.” He gestures toward the bar, where Jake is red in the face and stuttering to a pretty brunette in a bright red dress. He’s not the only one having a difficult time. Conor and Rusty don’t seem to be doing any better and Knuckles looks like he’s forgotten English. “They’re all going to be shot down and you’ve got a really pretty girl waiting for you. If I was in your shoes I’d be gone by now. Fuck, I’d quit my job and get a job in town just so I’d be close to her.”

“Good thing you’re married then, huh?”

“I’m just saying. What’s wrong with her?”

“There’s nothing wrong with her. She’s nice and very pretty and very … confident.”

“So then what’s the problem?” Sid lifts the glass to his lips. “I don’t know.”

“Not your type?” All eyes swing to Geno on the other side of the table. He’s relaxed, sitting back in his chair with one arm hanging casually around the back of Phil’s chair.

“Yeah,” Sid says. “She’s not my type.”

“Bullshit,” Phil says. “She’s everyone’s type.”

The guys agree and Geno leans forward. “So you don’t want?” he asks Sid, and Sid finally takes a drink and shakes his head. Geno already knows this. “Then you won’t mind if I go get?” Sid freezes. All the guys whistle low.

“You want … you want to go … with Carol?”

“If you don’t mind?”

“No.” Sid shakes his head and puts his glass down. “I don’t mind. Go on, go for it.”

Geno smiles and slides his chair back. Tanger practically dives across the table to grab his arm and stop him.

“Wait a minute, Geno. I’m not saying you couldn’t catch Carol’s eye, but she’s spent years pining after Sid. Years. You think you can just walk over there and make her forget? Sid’s the most eligible bachelor on his mountain.”

“Until I show up,” Geno says as he stands. “You see. I show good time.”

The guys laugh and Sid sets his jaw. Geno nods at him before he turns around and strides across the bar.

Carol is smiling when she turns after Geno taps her on the shoulder. It falters when she sees that it’s him, but then Geno leans in and says something into her ear and she laughs and hits him softly on the arm.

A moment later he’s leading her out onto the dance floor and holding her close as they sway to the music.

“Well, well,” Flower says. “Shouldn’t underestimate him.”

“Lost your girl, Sidney,” Derick jokes.

“It’s the accent,” Dumo says. “Girls love accents.”

Sid knows it has nothing to do with the accent. Or at least not exclusively. It’s everything about Geno altogether that make him so charming. His wide smile and warm hands. His sense of humor -- the way he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and the way he listens when you talk.

He watches as one song fades into another and Carol drifts closer and closer to Geno until their bodies are flush against each other.

By the third song Sid has had enough and he pushes his chair back. “I think I’m done for the night.”

“What are you talking about,” Tanger exclaims. “It’s barely even ten.”

“I know but I’ve had as much fun as I’m gonna. Going to bed early sounds pretty good right now.”

“Boring,” Olli sing-songs and giggles into his drink while Justin chokes on his own beside him. Sid should stay and make sure they don’t pass out on the restroom floor but he can’t. He has to go.

“You drove Geno here,” Flower points out. “How is he going to get back?”

“He’ll have to squeeze in with someone else. Sit on their lap if they have to.”

“He is not fitting on anyone’s lap.”

“Then someone will have to sit on his.”

“Carol, if he keeps playing his cards right,” Tanger says and the table bursts into laughter. “If this is about Geno and Carol, you can’t get mad at him over it. You told him it was okay.”

“I’m not mad,” Sid says as he looks out over the dance floor. Geno’s hands are low on her back and her wrists are crossed behind the back of his neck.

He looks at over Carol’s shoulder and then pulls back and kisses her. Her fingers wind through his hair.

“Maybe I’m feeling a little foolish.”

“Hey, there are other pretty girls here, Sid. You can find someone else. You could probably still get Carol back.”

“I’m fine. I’m gonna head back. Don’t drink too much. You don’t want a headache tomorrow.”

“Okay, Dad,” Flower says with a roll of his eyes.

Sid looks back at Geno and Carol, still kissing and swaying to the music, and tries to calm the sharp pain in his chest. He shouldn’t feel like this. Geno was never his. What they have -- had -- exists in stolen moments when there’s no other option.

He’s not like Sid. He doesn’t like Sid.

The December air is refreshing against his flushed face as he walks to the car. It’s snowed enough for him to to have to clean off the windshield and, before he can open the door, his name is being called and Geno is jogging across the parking lot.

“What are you doing out here?” Sid asks.

“You leaving?”

“There’s nothing for me in there,” Sid says. “What are you doing? Carol’s going to be disappointed if you keep her waiting.”

Geno doesn’t say a thing, just steps into Sid’s space and forces him back against the truck.

“Don’t care about Carol,” Geno says, voice low and smoky as he bends his head down to kiss him. It’s too much, too much tongue and too much teeth but Sid claws at Geno’s shoulders and doesn’t let him go until they both need to breathe.

“You taste like lipstick,” Sid says, still trying to catch his breath.

Geno wipes the back of his hand against his mouth and steps back. “Going back? Coming with you.”

“Then get in the truck.”

Geno smiles, a flash of brilliant white teeth again the inky night before he moves back in for another bruising kiss.

He’s there and gone again, circling around to the other side of the truck and climbing in.

As soon as the lights of the town disappear from the rearview Geno is sliding across the seat and pressing his lips to Sid’s jaw and his hand between his legs.

Sid says his name on a sigh as Geno’s teeth graze over his pulse point and his fingers squeeze him through the denim of his jeans.

“You can’t do that now, not while I’m driving.”

Geno tugs on his zipper and flicks his tongue against his earlobe. “Then stop driving.”

Geno smiles against Sid’s skin as Sid groans and steers the truck safely off the road. He turns off the headlights and kills the engine and immediately turns to pull Geno into a bruising kiss.

Geno presses one hand to Sid’s face and deftly pops the button and slides down the zipper of his jeans with the other. He makes a frustrated sound against Sid’s lips as he tries to pull out his dick.

“You wear long underwear?” He asks and Sid nods.

“It’s cold,” Sid says defensively. “I didn’t know this was going to happen.”

Geno kisses him once more and says, “Always going to happen, be prepared,” before he pushes himself sideways back against the passenger side door.

Sid’s confused for a moment before Geno is bending himself in half and his head is in Sid’s lap. Geno finally gets Sid’s dick out and wraps his hand around the base and his lips around the head. Every muscle in Sid’s body tenses and hands grip the steering wheel until they start to ache.

“Geno,” he pants. “Fuck.”

Geno looks up at him through his lashes, head bobbing in time with his hand slowly twisting up and down the shaft. He can’t take Sid very deep with his mouth at this angle but it’s still more than enough, it’s still the best thing Sid’s ever felt.

Slowly, he uncurls one hand from the steering wheel and puts it on the back of Geno’s neck. Geno hums (Sid’s toes curl in his boots) and leans back into the touch. He slides his hand into Geno’s hair, not pulling, just holding and Geno’s hand dips down a little lower between Sid’s legs. He cradles Sid’s balls against the palm of his hand and Sid’s hips shift up on their own.

He apologizes when Geno chokes, pulling off to cough and take a deep breath.

“You can’t do everything at once,” Sid says as he pushes his thumb against Geno’s lips. “I can’t,” he continues on a breathy sigh.

Geno sucks Sid’s thumb into his mouth as he jacks him off, dragging his hand up and down Sid’s cock, twisting his wrist at the head and using more pressure on the down stroke.

“Want to taste you,” he says as Sid’s thighs begin to shake.

“It’s gonna be over quick,” Sid warns. “I can’t hold out.”

“Good,” Geno says as he bends over Sid’s lap again. “I’m hard, too, want to come. Tired of waiting.”

Sid’s laugh breaks off into a moan as Geno tongues at the slit before his swallows him down.

Sid lets his head tip back against the seat and he screws his eyes shut so he can just let himself feel. Geno’s mouth is hot and wet and his hair is soft beneath between Sid’s fingers and every time Geno hums it’s like an electric current shooting up his spine. He can feel his orgasm building rapidly and he tugs at Geno’s hair and chants his name as a warning but Geno simply bats his hand away and doubles down, sinking lower on his cock. Sid comes with his hands gripping the steering wheel and Geno’s name on his lips.

“Jesus, Geno,” he says softly as Geno pulls back, rubbing the back of his hand against his mouth and then licking his lips. “Fuck.”

“Good?” Geno asks but he doesn’t wait for an answer before he’s unzipping his own jeans and sitting back in the seat.

Sid uncurls his hands and reaches for him. “Let me help,” he says and Geno grabs him by the elbow and pulls him over, manhandling him until Sid is straddling his lap.

There’s not enough room in the truck for this, not for them. Sid can’t find a good angle to grip Geno’s cock, he can’t twist his wrist that way, it won’t be good. Sid desperately wants this to be good for him.

“I can’t like this,” Sid says as their hands bump against each other. “This isn’t the best way. Let me just ...”

Geno holds Sid in place by the hips then drags his hands down his thighs.

“You stay here,” he says, “want you like this. Want you close.” He presses their foreheads together. “Just like this.”

“But it’ll be better ...” Sid starts and Geno laughs.

“So stubborn,” he says as he pushes his hips up, and from where Sid’s sitting he can just see the tip disappearing into the loose circle of Geno’s fist. “Know what I like,” Geno continues. He presses a kiss to the side of Sid’s neck, breath stuttering as he pulls away and his thrusts become a little frantic. “Like you. Like you here. Don’t need to do anything but you kissing me.”

Sid brackets Geno’s face with his hands and kisses him with everything he has. He licks at the seam of Geno’s lips until he parts them and Sid curls his tongue behind Geno’s teeth like he’s trying to pull the sounds right out of Geno’s chest. Geno grunts softly as Sid presses closer until he can feel Geno’s hand bumping frantically against his stomach. He’s so close, Sid can tell, and when Sid bites at Geno’s bottom lip Geno groans and goes still beneath him until he slumps back against the seat.

Geno’s face is blotchy and red and his hair is sticking to his forehead with sweat. Sid pushes it to the side as Geno wipes his hand against his shirt.

The windows of the truck are fogged up and it smells like sex and Sid laughs when he thinks about Flower sitting in this exact seat in the morning.

“What’s funny?”

Sid shakes his head and grows serious. “When you were dancing with Carol, were you trying to make me jealous?” Geno licks his lips. “Maybe, little bit.”

“Don’t,” Sid says. “I don’t like that.”

Geno nods slowly. “Won’t do it again.”

Sid nods and leans back against the dashboard, still sitting across Geno’s knees. Geno doesn’t seem to be in any hurry for him to move but he does run his hands up his thighs to get his attention.

“Sid, okay?”

“Why are you even here right now? Carol is -- fuck, any of those woman are ...”

“Not you,” Geno says simply as he cups Sid’s jaw. “Want you.”

“Why?”

“Why not?”

Sid laughs. It sounds loud in the gentle quiet of the truck. “A lot of reasons. This is stupid.”

“Like stupid. Like you.” He runs his hand down Sid’s chest and cups him through his jeans. He’s soft and still sensitive and he tries to twist away from Geno’s touch. “Like all of you.”

“I can’t go again. Not this soon. Not after that.”

Geno’s answering smile is smug. “By the time we get back to camp? We’ll be the only ones there. Should probably take a shower. I’m sticky. Bet there’s lots of hot water. We could use it all.”

“The guys will hate that.”

Geno hums and kisses his his jaw. “Should do then.” Another kiss. “For sure.”

Sid’s fingers are beginning to cramp as they tightly grip the top of the divider between the shower stall. Geno is pressed flush against his back, one hand around Sid’s hip and the other curled around Sid’s dick.

He spreads his legs and drops more weight onto the divider in an effort to keep himself upright as Geno thrusts against him and mumbles what Sid assumes to be filthy, filthy, words about his ass in Russian.

Sid’s skin starts to goosebump from being outside of the stream of hot water at the same time Geno’s thrusts become erratic.

“Close,” he growls into Sid’s ear and Sid nods. They can come together if Geno keeps twisting his wrist just like that. Geno reads his mind and adds a bit more pressure with the twist and drops his forehead to the back of Sid’s shoulder as they both come. “Sid.” Geno says softly as he kisses between his shoulder blades. “Perfect.”

Sid laughs and Geno makes a quiet noise then pulls Sid beneath the spray.

“Should tell me you’re cold,” Geno says as he runs his hands up and down Sid’s arms. They’re covered with goosebumps

“I didn’t even feel it,” Sid says. Everything else was so overwhelming and distracting. He looks up at Geno as the water slides over both their bodies. Geno tips his head up and they kiss until the water runs cold.

Sid is leaning back against Geno’s chest, reading in his bunk, and Geno is trying to make sense of Sid’s damp curls at the back of his head when the trucks pull up to the cabin.

Rita sits up when she hears the first car door slam and Sid cranes his head to the side to give Geno a goodnight kiss before he is up and moving to sit at the table.

Tanger and Kuni are the first through the door, looking annoyed while the rest of the guys stumble in behind them.

Olli and Justin are holding each other up and Dumo is carrying Shears on his back, his hands tucked beneath Conor’s knees. Even Flower’s face is flushed.

“Drunks,” Tanger says with a shake of his head. “All of them.”

“Did you have fun?” Sid asks as Geno stands and helps Hags and Horny to their bunks.

“No,” Tanger snaps. “Once you left, so did all their good sense. I had to watch these assholes make fools of themselves all over the bar and then listen to them sing O Canada in shitty French the entire way here.” He jerks his thumb at Flower, who is leaning heavily against his bunk. “Even this one wasn’t any help.”

“I had,” Flower stops and hiccups and Tanger rolls his eyes, “fun.”

Tanger scoffs and begins to gather his supplies for the shower. “I’m getting a headache. I need a hot shower and for everyone to shut the fuck up and go the fuck to bed.” He looks at Sid and then glances at Geno, taking in their damp hair and he drops his towel onto his bed. “Did you -- fuck you, you used up all the water.”

The rest of the guys start cursing at them and Sid tries to apologize while Geno lies back in his bunk with his hands clasped behind his head.

“How is that even possible?” Flower slurs. “What were you doing in there for that long?”

“You know my back has been bothering me,” Sid says, and it’s not even a lie. “The hot water felt good.”

Flower cocks his head to the side and Tanger switches to rapid fire French and even though Sid only catches ever few words with how quick he’s going, he gets the gist.

Sid feels genuinely bad about it until he looks over and catches a glimpse of Geno’s amused smile. He’s looking back at Sid with warmth in his eyes and the noise of cabin, Tanger yelling and Conor and Rusty singing and Justin and Olli arguing about who is going to throw up first, all fades away.

It is only them.

-

Something shifts after that.

Geno is softer with him. He holds Sid’s face in his hands like he’s going to break when they kiss, and even though Sid tells himself over and over that this is just sex, it’s just physical, he can’t seem to stop his heart from stuttering in his chest every time Geno looks at him.

He knows it’s pointless. The weather will begin to change soon and the work will be done and Geno will be gone along with it.

He can’t see a happy ending here and he’d do both of them a favor by ending it before they get any deeper. Sid can’t seem to help himself though, and when Geno wraps his hand around the back of his knee as Sid hops down from his bunk to get his attention, Sid gives it to him.

“What are you doing up so early?” Sid asks as he crouches down to Geno’s level.

Geno blinks sleepily at him. “Thought I’d go into town with you, maybe.” He raises his eyebrows. “You want company?”

Twenty minutes later they’re pulling out of camp with Rita sitting between them.

“Sorry we can’t fool around or anything with her up here,” Sid says. “But I can’t put her in the back. It’s too cold.”

“It’s okay, Sid.” Geno rubs Rita’s ears and she leans into his touch. “It’s just nice to be here alone with you. Don’t need sex.”

“Really?”

“Sound so surprised,” Geno says with a laugh as he stops petting Rita and reaches for Sid’s hand. He brings it to his mouth and presses a kiss to his knuckles. “Nice with you here.”

Sid smiles and they hold hands over the gear shift the rest of the way into town.

“Divide and conquer,” Sid says when he pulls into a parking spot along Main Street. He finally lets go of Geno’s hand to put the truck in park, then pulls out the list of errands that he has in his pocket.

Geno frowns as Sid rips the paper in half and hands one over.

“You do what’s on your half and I’ll do what’s on my half and we’ll be done more quickly,” he explains, but Geno’s pout only deepens.

“Separate?” He asks.

“Well, yeah. It makes the most sense. Why? Did you just want to follow me around all morning?” Geno looks him over slowly, paper still pinched between his thumb and pointer finger and says, “Can think of worse people to follow around.”

Sid nods and plucks the paper out of Geno’s hands. “Oh. Okay then. We should probably get going.”

They don’t make it very far before Geno shoulders him into the alley next to the tailor and manhandles him behind the dumpster. Sid laughs into their first kiss.

“Romantic,” Sid mumbles against Geno’s lips and Sid can feel him smile as he tries to get his hands beneath Sid’s jacket.

“Am very romantic. What do you want next, flowers? What’s your favorite?”

“Sunflowers,” Sid says and Geno pulls back to look at him.

“Have lots at home. Pretty.”

“Oh yeah? My mom used to grow them. She’d have so many and they’d all be taller than me ...”

“Not hard to do,” Geno says and Sid pinches his side. Geno kisses an apology onto the top of his head. “I get you sunflowers, somehow. That romantic enough for you?”

Sid kisses him lightly. He feels Geno’s smile against his lips. “It’s a start.”

-

On the first warm day Sid leans over Geno’s sleeping form and shakes his shoulder.

“Geno. Geno. G.”

Geno groans and rolls over, blinking a few times before he gets his bearings.

“Sid. Something wrong?”

“Get up,” Sid whispers. “I want to show you something.”

Geno blinks again then closes his eyes. “Sleep. Want to sleep. Sunday is for sleeping.”

“Come on,” Sid says as he pulls at the blankets, not letting up even as Geno swats at him. “It’ll be fun.”

Geno makes a rude noise and rolls over so Sid leans in and whispers directly into his ear: “Just you and me. No one else around for miles.”

Geno’s eyes snap open and he scrambles out of bed while Sid shushes him and begs him to be quiet.

“You’re gonna wake up the others,” Sid whispers, stifling a laugh as Geno puts his shoes on the wrong feet on the first try.

“Sleep like dead,” Geno whispers back. “Where we going?”

“You’ll see. Just come on.”

“We bring Rita?”

Sid shakes his head and glances over to where Rita is still sound asleep on her bed. “Not this time. We’ll make it up to her.”

Sid starts the truck on the third try and Geno laughs when it finally rumbles to life.

“Knock it off,” Sid grumps but it’s hard to keep the frown when Geno drops his hand to Sid’s thigh and leaves it there as the truck bumps down the road.

They roll the windows down and Geno tips his head into the warm sunlight that’s beginning to filter through through the trees.

His eyes are closed and his hand is still on Sid’s thigh and there’s a small smile on his face as the wind ruffles his hair.

He is perfect and Sid takes one hand off the wheel and lays it over Geno’s.

Geno turns his head but Sid keeps his eyes on the road. He doesn’t need to look over at him to know that Geno’s smile has spread across his whole face.

Twenty minutes later Sid takes a left down a side road and Geno sits up a little straighter in his seat.

“Sid? Not way to town.”

“I never said we were going to town, did I?”

Geno tilts his head to the side and narrows his eyes. “Sid, where you taking me?”

“You’ll see,” Sid says loftily and squeezes Geno’s hand until he relaxes back against the seat.

Geno looks like he’s almost fallen asleep an hour or so later when Sid turns onto a dirt road. He wakes when the truck hits its first pothole and rubs at his eyes.

“Did you have a nice nap?” Sid asks and Geno sounds petulant when he says, “How we still driving?”

“Just a little bit longer,” Sid tells him and Geno rolls his eyes but picks up his hand again anyway. He can feel Geno getting antsy in his seat and, thankfully, it’s only another ten minutes before the truck climbs over a hill and the lake comes into view.

The shore is rocky and lined with evergreens and the water is so smooth and calm it reflects the clear blue sky above it and the still-snowcapped peaks of the mountains in the background like a mirror.

“Oh,” Geno says as he tips forward and stares out the front windshield.

“It’s going to be a nice day,” Sid says as he parks the truck parallel to the water. “I thought this would be fun. I brought lunch for us. It’s in the back.”

Geno scans the surface of the lake and then the treeline before he turns to Sid.

“No one else here?”

Sid shakes his head. “No one ever goes out this far. We’re the only ones around for miles.” He thinks that’s going to get him a kiss at the very least but Geno is throwing open the passenger side door and sliding out. “What do you think you’re doing?” Sid asks as Geno pulls his shirt over his head and kicks his way out of his shoes without untying them.

“So warm, Sid,” he says as he gestures to the sun with his free hand then yanks at his belt buckle. “Going in.”

“The water is going to be freezing. It’s fed from streams that come straight off the mountain.” He juts his chin toward the peak. “There’s still snow up there. You’re going to freeze.”

Geno jerks his thumb at the center of his chest. “Soviet. Used to cold.”

Sid laughs. “You’re always cold.”

Geno shakes his head and yanks his jeans down so he can step out of them. “Warm now. Going for a swim.”

Sid leans back against the truck. “Have fun.”

“Why you bring me here if not for swim?”

“Because the sun is out and it’s pretty.”

“You pretty,” Geno mumbles as he finally kicks off his jeans and runs toward the water in only his underwear.

He dives straight in and, when he surfaces, he shouts so loudly that birds in a nearby tree take flight.

“Sid! Is cold!”

“I told you,” Sid says and laughs as Geno flounders for a moment, trying to get his arms and legs to work. “I’m surprised there’s not still ice on the surface.”

The laughter abruptly stops when Geno drags himself to the shore and makes a beeline toward him. “Don’t even think about it,” Sid warns and tries to dodge him.

But Geno’s arms and legs are longer and he wants to grab Sid more than Sid wants to get away.

Geno wraps his arms around him from behind and bends his head so the water from his hair drips down the back of Sid’s neck.

“You smell like lake scum,” Sid laughs as he buries his elbow into Geno’s ribs and tries to squirm away. Geno holds him tighter and presses a kiss to the side of his neck then lets Sid twist around in his arms so they’re face to face.

Geno’s hair is plastered against his head and there’s water clinging to his eyelashes.

When Sid kisses him he can feel the tremor in Geno’s lips. He pulls back and takes Geno’s hand. “Come on, let's get you dried off.”

There are blankets in the back of the truck that they spread themselves out on. Geno convinces Sid to take off his wet shirt and drape it over the side mirror to dry before before they stretch out next to each other.

The sun is strong and it doesn’t take long for them to dry off.

Geno’s hair is the only thing that’s still damp when he gets his knees on either side of Sid’s hips and bends down to kiss him.

“рот,” Geno softly says as he kisses him again.

“Rote?” Sid repeats with a question in his voice and Geno sits back and laughs before pressing his fingertips to Sid’s lips like he’s going to mold his mouth into the correct shape as he says it.

He laughs out “hopeless,” and kisses Sid again before he has a chance to defend himself. He presses a soft kiss to the tip of his nose before he says “нос,” then slides his lips over and places a loud, smacking kiss to his cheek and says “щека.”

“I’m not going to say it back if you’re going to make fun of me.”

Geno shrugs and bends down to kiss the shell of Sid’s ear. He pulls Sid’s earlobe between his teeth and Sid feels the fight drain out of him.

“Yхо,” Geno whispers and Sid sighs as Geno starts to drag his lips along his jawline. “Челюсть.” He looks up briefly before he bites lightly at Sid’s chin and says, “подбородок.”

Geno moves slowly down Sid’s neck, picking a spot and kissing and sucking until he’s a moment away from leaving a mark before he moves on to a new spot. Sid wraps his arms around Geno’s shoulders and threads his fingers through his hair. Geno’s voice is soft and breathy when he says “шея,” against the base of his throat and Sid curls his fingers around Geno’s ears. Geno slips from his grasp and starts to kiss down his chest. He pauses over his heart then sits back and places his hand square in the middle of Sid’s chest. “сердце,” he says then he takes Sid’s hand from where it’s resting on his thigh and brings it up to his own heart. “сердце.”

“Sert’se,” Sid repeats slowly and precisely and Geno nods, clearly pleaded in the pronunciation.

“See, you getting much better. Couldn’t get worse but still.”

“Oh really?” Sid asks and Geno nods again and laughs when Sid fakes trying to sit up.

Geno puts his hands on Sid’s shoulders and pushes him back down until Sid relaxes back against the blankets.

Geno stares down at him and lets go of Sid’s shoulders in favor of tracing the cut of his hips where they disappear into the waistband of his jeans.

“Красивый,” he softly says and Sid pulls his eyebrows together in confusion.

“What is that?” He asks. “Hips?”

Geno shakes his head. “Beautiful. You’re beautiful.”

Sid rolls his eyes and brings one of his knees up to knock Geno in the back. “Stop.”

“You don’t think? You are. Most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Just look around you,” Sid says as he makes a broad gesture with his arms.

Geno doesn’t look away as he says, “I only want to look at you.”

Sid shakes his head because Geno is the beautiful one. He’s beautiful and wonderful and entirely too much for Sid to handle and how he ever managed to catch his eye Sid will never understand.

Sid pushes himself up in his elbow so he can wrap his hand around the back of Geno’s neck and pull him down for a kiss. Geno goes easily enough and their bare chests press together along with their lips.

They kiss deep and slow and Geno rolls his hips against Sid’s; Sid can clearly feel where this is headed.

He planned for this and, along with the sandwiches and bottles and Coca-Cola that he packed for lunch, there’s a jar of Vaseline.

He pulls away from Geno so he can reach into the bag. Geno frowns down at him, annoyed at the interruption. When Sid places the jar in his hand, Geno’s frown slides into confusion.

“Sid, what ...”

“Have you ever done this before?” Sid asks, and Geno’s eyes go wide.

“Sid, never done any of this before.” He looks down at the jar and then back up at Sid. “You like?”

“Yes, but only if you want to.”

“Don’t know what to do.”

Sid leans up to kiss him then twists off the top of the jar. “I can show you.”

It’s a slow process.

Geno stills his fingers each time Sid makes a sound and, by the time Geno is three fingers in, he’s starting to get frustrated.

“It’s okay, Geno,” Sid says, his voice breaking off into a gasp as Geno’s fingers twist just a bit. Geno winces at the sound and stops moving.

“Don’t want to hurt you,” Geno says and Sid squeezes his eyes shut and tries to push himself down on Geno’s fingers.

“You can’t. You won’t.”

Geno looks unconvinced but with some gentle persuasion that quickly turns to desperate begging he gets a bit more bold. Geno curls his fingers and presses in and doesn’t stop when Sid starts to sob his name. His other hand, which had been tensely gripping Sid’s thigh, curls around his hip and holds him in place.

“Okay,” Sod pants out. “I’m ready.”

Geno looks unconvinced and maybe a little nervous but he doesn’t question him as he pulls his fingers out and Sid’s opens his legs up even wider.

It’s slow going but it’s worth it for the soft, punched out sound Geno makes when he’s all the way in. He holds himself above Sid like he’s afraid to move until Sid nudges him with a heel to the small of his back.

“You okay?” Sid asks, voice tight as he tries to control his breathing because even this is so much.

Geno nods and presses their foreheads together. “Yes. Just a lot.”

Sid strokes his hand up and down Geno’s back until he slowly starts to move his hips and draws a ragged breath from the back of Sid’s throat.

“It’s good,” Sid says quickly so Geno doesn’t get deterred. “Keep going, just like that.”

Geno gains confidence as his subtle rolls turn to thrusts and he kisses Sid quiet, swallowing down his moans and sighs as he threads their fingers together.

Geno comes first with Sid’s name and then an apology on his lips. Sid kisses him quiet and keeps his thighs wrapped around Geno’s hips so he can’t pull out.

“Not yet,” Sid says as he pulls one of his hands out of Geno’s grasp and reaches down to wrap it around himself. He’s close. It won’t be long. “Just stay like that.” Geno drops his head to Sid’s shoulder and buries his face in his neck. He’s spent and useless and warmth blooms in Sid’s chest as he tightens his grip. Geno gets it together just enough to press an open mouth kiss to Sid’s shoulder and Sid gasps as he spills over onto his fist.

Sid catches his breath and parts his thighs so Geno can pull out. Sid winces at the empty feeling but it’s easier to breathe when Geno shifts away to lie beside him.

“Is it always like that?”

Sid turns his head to the side and finds Geno staring at him with kiss-stung lips. Again, Sid is hit with a wave of affection.

“No,” Sid says as he reaches out and pushes Geno’s sweaty hair off his forehead. “Well. It hasn’t been. It’s only that good with you.”

Geno preens then ducks in to kiss him. “Bet you say that with all guys, though.”

Sid laughs. “Do you want the compliment or not?”

“Yes, yes,” Geno says as he presses another brief kiss to his lips. “I want. Can we do again? I can do better.”

“You did great.”

“Yes, I’m know.” Geno climbs back on top and Sid groans, because taking the bulk of Geno’s weight when he’s wildly turned on is one thing and another when he’s just coming down from the rush of an orgasm. “But I can always be better and I want to ...” He kisses him. “Practice.” Another kiss. “A lot.” Kiss. “With you.” He drops his head onto Sid’s shoulder and presses his face into his neck and Sid laughs and bats him away.

“Your beard tickles,” he says then taps Geno’s chin. “And it looks awful.”

Geno rears back in mock outrage and Sid laughs even harder. “Does not look awful.”

“It’s all patchy and weird.” Sid reaches out and smoothes his hand against Geno’s cheek. “You said yourself you can’t grow a good beard. I’m agreeing with you.”

“Not supposed to agree. And you didn’t have problem with beard when we have sex. I think you like.”

“I like you,” Sid says and Geno’s faux scowl settles into a soft smile. “Can I ask you a question?”

Geno hums and nods for him to continue.

“How did you know this would work? I mean, that first night in your bunk, how did you know how I would respond? What gave me away?”

“Nothing give you away,” Geno says slowly. “I took chance. I thought maybe you like but I didn’t know. I thought if I was wrong you still a good guy. You wouldn’t make me feel bad or tell anyone. Wouldn’t get me fired.” He frowns. “Or worse.”

“No,” Sid says. “Of course not.”

“So I think if I’m wrong then I’m wrong. But if I’m right … most lucky.” Geno kisses him softly and says, “I’m most lucky.”

“You’re perfect,” Sid says, voice full of awe, and Geno shakes his head.

“Not perfect.” He kisses the corner of Sid’s mouth. “Just lucky.”

Sid kisses him full on, nipping at his bottom lip and and holding him close and they’re well on their way to Round 2 when Geno’s stomach grumbles and Sid laughs.

“Shhh,” Geno says as he moves in for another kiss. “Don’t laugh, keep kissing.”

Sid pats Geno’s sides and says, “We should eat. I brought sandwiches.” He looks down at the sticky mess that’s smeared across their stomachs and wrinkles his nose. “We should clean up and then we should eat.”

“Why clean up when we’ll just get dirty again?” “Because I’m not eating with this all over me.” He kisses Geno again before he slips out from underneath him and hops out of the bed of the truck. “Are you coming or not?” When he turns around Geno is sitting on the edge of the tailgate with one leg tucked against his chest and the other dangling down, toes just touching the dirt.

Sid opens his mouth and the I love you he wants to say gets stuck in his throat, thick and heavy and sweet like syrup and all he can do instead is hold his hand out.

Geno smiles and drops his other leg before he jumps off and reaches for him.

The water is cold enough to curb any lingering arousal and, after they clean themselves up, they climb back into the bed of the truck.

They sit on opposite sides and tangle their legs together in the middle while they eat. Sid laughs as Geno tells him an animated story from his childhood about his brother. As soon as they’re done eating Geno grabs Sid by the wrist and pulls him into his lap.

“We have all day,” Sid says as Geno’s hand stroke up and down his back. “There’s no rush.”

Geno kisses him like he has all the time in the world as his hands map out every inch of Sid’s body that he can reach. In turn, Sid rides him slowly. The muscles in his thighs strain with effort to keep a languid pace as he plants a hand in the middle of Geno’s chest for leverage. Geno’s heart beats like a drum beneath Sid’s palm as Geno’s fingertips dig into his hips. It’s hard enough to leave a mark but Sid doesn’t tell him to stop, he can’t. He wants Geno to leave his mark on him. This time is borrowed and he wants to remember it.

Later, Sid covers the smudges with his own fingertips as Geno dozes with his head on his chest, tucked right beneath Sid’s chin.

The marks are just barely there. No one will be able to notice or ask questions but Sid knows they’re there and that’s enough.

Geno mumbles something in his sleep and Sid lifts a hand to his hair. He runs his fingers through it, pausing to scratch at the back of his neck before moving back up to his temple. Geno snores softly and Sid smiles then drops a kiss to the top of his head.

The sun is shining down on them, warming their skin and thawing their bones after the long winter. This is as perfect as it’s ever going to be for him. There is nothing more he could ever want.

They’re smiling and pink-cheeked when they get back to the cabin. Rita greets them by throwing her body against Sid’s legs and demanding to be petted.

“Where did you guys disappear to?” Tanger asks as Sid drops to one knee so Rita can lick at his face and Geno skirts around him.

“To the lake,” Geno announces. “Sun, water, lots of fun.”

“Why weren’t we all invited?” Jake asks and Sid pats Rita’s side once more before he stands up.

“Nothing was stopping you from going on your own.”

“Would’ve been nice to be invited is all,” Jake mumbles.

“Well, maybe next time.”

Geno looks over Jake’s head at Sid and winks. “Maybe, but also maybe not.”

-

The weather gets warmer over the next few weeks, save for one freak snowstorm at the beginning of April.

The ice melts off the river and the banks swell as most of the younger guys head home for the summer. Sid claps Jake and Shears and Rusty on the back and tells them to be good and that he’ll see them in the fall.

“You say goodbye to babies?” Geno asks as he steps up beside him. He just got done saying goodbye to Dumo and Olli himself so Sid’s not sure how much room he has to tease. “Talk to Sully,” he says and Sid turns to him. “Can’t pay me because I’m not working but says I can stay until I figure out what I’m going to do. Where I’m going to go.”

“What are you going to do?”

Geno shrugs and watches everyone pile into Tanger’s car. He drew the short straw so he’s the one that has to drop them off at the train station in Dunlop. He honks the horn, clearly unhappy about how long they’re taking to load up and Geno laughs.

“Don’t know,” Geno says. “But we figure out.”

The only thing Sid can seem to figure out is that he doesn’t ever want to say goodbye to Geno.

They spend as much time together as they can but, with fewer men around, it’s harder to blend into the chaos. Tanger and Flower are so nosy that every minute away is questioned and needs to be accounted for. Sid wants to tell them to fuck off, but that would probably only make things worse.

Today Sid takes Rita for a walk in one direction while Geno sets out for a hike in the other. They meet up about a mile and a half from camp in a small clearing with long-stemmed white daisies and bright yellow dandelions and buttercups popping up around them as they lie in the grass.

Rita curiously follows a fat bumblebee as it flies from flower to flower, pulling her head back abruptly when it buzzes too close to her nose.

“Want to take you somewhere,” Geno says as he props himself up on his elbow to look down at Sid. He taps his finger in a steady beat over Sid’s heart and Sid lazily runs his knuckles against Geno’s jaw. “Somewhere that we can be alone.”

“We’re alone now.”

“No. Somewhere different with a big bed. Good mattress and soft blankets.” He rubs his fingers against the wool quilt beneath them and wrinkles his nose. “Lots of pillows.” He drops a kiss to the side of Sid’s face and Sid hums. “Hot shower. Big shower.”

“There’s a hotel in town.”

“Everyone know you. People would talk if you and I get room there.”

“We could go a few towns over.”

Geno shakes his head. “Want to take you somewhere new. Maybe somewhere warm. Don’t ever wear too many clothes.”

Sid wrinkles his nose. “I don’t like the heat.”

“I’m know, I’m know.” He kisses Sid on the lips now and Sid doesn’t let him go. Geno swipes his tongue into Sid’s mouth and Sid groans as Geno swings his leg over Sid’s thighs. “Maybe I make it worth it though.”

Sid laughs against Geno’s lips and when Geno pulls back his eyes are bright.

“Come home with me,” Sid whispers, his hand tangled in the hair at the back of Geno’s head, keeping him close.

The light on Geno’s face dims, just a bit.

“Come back to Cole Harbour with me for the summer. You don’t have any other plans do you?”

Geno shrugs. “Was going to maybe find small job somewhere.”

“You can do both. There are things for you to do back home. Or you can not and we can spend all our time together. I live alone on a lake. It’s a nice house. It’s got a big bed with soft sheets. I can get more pillows. No neighbors for miles so we don’t have to be quiet.”

“Sid.” He breaks the hold Geno has on him and falls back to his side. “Ask a lot.”

“I’m offering you a place to stay.”

“It’s a lot, Sid.”

“Well you mean a lot to me. I think it’s a good offer.”

“Yes,” Geno says as he picks a blade of grass out of Sid’s hair. “Best offer but don’t have papers. Could be hard.”

“I’ll vouch for you the way Gonch did.”

“Gonch in America,” Geno says tightly. “Something goes wrong he’s not here. Not his fault.”

“What could go wrong?”

Geno’s eyes widen as he looks down at their entwined legs. “Could be problem.”

“It won’t be.”

“We just live together then? People don’t talk about that?”

“No.”

“Your parents won’t ...”

“My parents,” Sid starts more loudly than he meant to and Rita looks up from the bee. “My parents ...”

“Your parents.” Geno says. “Your family, your town, your life. Could be big problem.”

“You’re not a problem.” He brushes Geno off and sits up. “Stop saying that.”

“Tanger and Flower say I can stay with them ...”

"Then what difference does it make,” Sid shouts. “What’s the difference if you stay with one of them or with me?”

“Difference is that they have wives and they don’t have parents that know something about them no one else is supposed to. There won’t be questions or rumors … no one can get hurt.”

“Except me, I guess.”

Geno sighs and hooks his hand around Sid’s bicep and doesn't let go when Sid tries to pull himself free. “Not doing this to hurt you, Sid. Doing this to protect you. Protect both of us.” He leans in slowly, giving Sid enough time to move if he wants, and kisses his cheek. “You’re good. You think everyone is as good as you.”

“No I don’t,” Sid snaps, sounding enough like a petulant child that Geno laughs softly.

“You deserve whole world,” Geno says and Sid slumps against his side.

“Then come home with me.” He feels Geno heave a sigh. “Just think about it, please? Just think about it.”

Geno kisses the side of his neck and wraps his arms around him.

“Okay,” he says. “I’ll think.”

-

A week later the logs are moved down the river to the mill and the remaining handful of men start to pack up for the season.

Kuni and Cully have already left and Sid sits on Kuni’s mattress, stripped bare for the summer, and watches Geno fold the flannel shirt and put it in his bag.

They’re the only ones in the cabin and when he shuffles his feet against the floorboards echoes through the empty space.

“You still haven’t decided?” Sid asks and Geno pauses before he picks up his hat and tucks it into his bag.

“Sid, is hard.”

“Come home with me. It’s easy. I have the space and everything.” He pushes himself up and crosses the room. He puts his hand in the middle of Geno’s back and feels him sigh beneath his palm. “Rita loves you. I love you.”

Geno turns and wraps his hand around the back of Sid’s neck and strokes his thumb against the the hinge of his jaw.

“Come home,” Sid whispers and Geno pulls him against his chest to kiss him, soft and sweet.

Sid deepens the kiss, like this alone will be enough to convince Geno to come with him. They’re so caught up in each other that they don’t hear the door open.

Geno leans back to take a breath then goes stiff beneath Sid’s hands. “Sid.”

Sid looks over his shoulder and spins around.

Flower is standing in the open doorway, lips parted and eyes wide with shock.

Outside the cabin Rita barks and Tanger tells her to be quiet. A car door slams and an engine starts.

The only sound inside the cabin is Sid’s heart pounding in his ears.

“Flower,” he says and Flower shakes his head.

“Geno,” he says, eyes unblinking as he stares, “can you give me and Sid a moment alone?”

Geno touches the inside of Sid’s wrist with the tips of his fingers and Sid nods to him.

“It’s okay. It’s all right. Just give us a minute.”

Geno doesn’t move and Sid turns all the way around to face him. “Go,” he says. “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”

Geno looks unconvinced and he moves slow as molasses across the room. He pulls himself up to his full height as he slips by Flower, meeting his eyes before he steps out the door and shuts it behind him.

There’s a long stretch of silence that Sid’s the first one to break.

“Marc-Andre.”

“All those Sundays you’d go off together. Those hunting trips where you would come back empty handed.” Flower shakes his head and says softly to himself, “What did I think you were doing?”

“Geno doesn’t like to hunt,” Sid says, a small smile pulling at his lips as he remembers the conversation. It disappears when he notices Flower’s still serious expression. “Just say what you want to, Marc.”

“What are you doing? Have you thought about …” He shakes his head and gives up. “Have you thought about this?”

Sid laughs and it sounds funny to his ears. “This isn’t a new thing. It’s not a spur-of-the-moment decision. This is who I’ve been. You never thought ...”

“I don’t know what I thought, Sid.”

“Well, what are you thinking now?”

Flower shakes his head then says, “But what about a family? Kids? You’ve always wanted them.”

“It’s not unusual for people to want what they can’t have.”

“Sid.”

“It’s not like I’m alone. You guys here are more like my family than my own parents have been to me these past few years.”

“Your parents,” Flower says under his breath, like he’s just connected the dots. Sid barrels on.

“And maybe one day Taylor will have kids and I’ll be an uncle. Plus there’s Duper’s kids and Estelle and Scarlet.” He pauses as dread fills him. “You wouldn’t … not let me see them would you?”

“No, God, of course not. Vero would kill me.”

“What about you?”

Flower presses his lips into a thin line. “You’re my best friend. Fuck, you’re more than that. You’re like my brother and I would never do anything to hurt you, but Sidney.” He sighs and holds his hands out at his sides, obviously distraught. “Sid, there are laws. Aren’t you worried?”

“Of course.”

“Christ, and Geno. A Soviet. You couldn’t have picked anyone else?”

“I didn’t pick him. You don’t pick who you fall in love with. I love him,” he says with more force. It feels good to finally say out loud. “I can’t control the way you feel about this and I can’t stop you from telling Sully or the rest of the guys.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Flower says. “I’m not going to do that.”

“He makes me happy,” Sid continues, “I think we make each other happy and I want …” He trails off and takes a deep breath. “I want everything with him. I want as much as I can. Whatever he’ll give me. Whatever we can have. Do you understand that?”

“You’re really happy?” Sid can’t stop the smile that spreads across his face. It feels like it lights him up from the inside out. “Yes, so happy. I’ve finally found someone,” he says and Flower’s smile start with just the barest quirk of his lips.

“Geno? Really?”

Sid laughs and scrubs his hand over his face. “Yes, he’s … God, Flower, he’s everything.”

“I’m happy you’re happy,” Flower says. “You of all people deserve to be happy.” He looks at the closed door behind him. “I should send him back in here. He’s probably out of his mind right now.”

“Marc, are we okay?”

“Of course, Sid, always.”

Flower opens the door and Geno, who has been sitting on the front steps with his head hanging between his shoulders jolts upright.

“Have a good summer, Geno,” Flower says, patting him on the shoulder as he walks past. “Hope to see you in the fall.”

Geno watches him walk off then strides into the cabin. He blows past Sid and his outstretched hand and goes directly to his bunk.

“Geno, it’s okay,” he says as Geno grabs the remainder of his things and jams them into his bag. “Geno.”

“Talk to Tanger,” Geno says gruffly. He yanks the zipper on the bag closed with enough force that Sid’s sure it’s broken. “Going to drive me into town and drop me off. I have money for train and I’ll go from there.”

“Go where? What are you talking about?”

“Figure it out. I’ll figure it out.”

“Geno, it’s okay.” Sid puts his hand on Geno’s shoulder and Geno flinches away. “Hey, Flower’s not going to tell. He promised. It’s okay.”

Geno shakes his head and throws his bag over his shoulder. “Have to go. It’s done, Sid. It’s over.”

“No it’s not, you’re not listening to me, it’s okay.”

“No,” Geno snaps and swings around. “It’s not okay. Flower knows.”

“He’s not going to tell.”

“So? So what? He knows, someone else could know. Someone else find out and then they tell. This is not … me and you ...we not.”

He’s struggling to find the words and Sid waits patiently with his heart in his throat.

“You think too much, Sid. You think this is something … you think about future and home and everything okay.” Geno flaps his hand between the two of them. “This was never anything. Was only fun, something to get us through the winter. Didn’t mean anything.”

“Bullshit,” Sid says quietly. “That’s bullshit.”

“Never meant anything. Was just fun, not love.” He looks Sid right in the eye and says, “Never loved you. Can’t. Won’t.”

Tanger honks the horn outside and Geno looks over Sid’s shoulder at the door.

“Have to go or Tanger leave without me.” He adjusts the bag on his shoulder and holds out his hand. It stings like a slap to the face.

Sid crosses his arms over his chest and takes a step back, face set and stony.

“I don’t need that,” he says and Geno slowly withdraws his hand. “I’m not pretending like this wasn’t what it was. I love you and I know you love me. You can act like this was nothing to you, but I won’t. I know and I’m not forgetting it. Sorry you can’t leave here with your conscious cleared. I’m not doing that for you. This is your decision. Live with it.”

The horn sounds again. A second later Tanger is yelling, “I’m leaving in thirty seconds with or without you, Malkin,” and then Geno is gone, walking across the dusty floorboards and out the door without looking back.

Sid listens to the car start and rumble down the road and then Rita’s feet tapping across the floor to him.

“Sid?” Flower’s voice floats through the cabin but Sid doesn’t turn around until he feels him standing behind him. “Oh, buddy,” Flower says as he looks him over and Sid steps into his open arms.

-

Rita starts getting antsy when he pulls into his driveway. It’s another half-mile to the house, but it’s like she knows where she is and she’s happy to be back home.

She’s twirling on the seat and trying to get into Sid’s lap by the time the house comes into view, her tail and body wagging in excitement.

He leans across the seat and pops the door for her and she jumps out. All Sid hears as she tears around the side of the house are her paws against the dock and the splash when she hits the water.

Sid shakes his head fondly as he climbs out of the truck and looks up at the house.

It looks like it made it through the winter with minimal damage. There are a few downed limbs around the property that he’ll have to pick up, and the gutters around the deck will need to be cleaned, but aside from that the house is in good shape. It’s a relief. He loves this place.

When he first found it three summers ago it was run down and abandoned and, after a lot of hard work, Sid managed to turn the house into a home.

Every detail, from top to bottom, was hand-picked by him; everything from the stain he used on the front porch to the paint color on the walls.

It has just enough space for him and perhaps, someday, someone else. He frowns as he grabs his bag out of the back of the truck and tries to push away the idea that for a few weeks he thought maybe that someone would be Geno.

He hefts his bag onto his shoulder and calls for Rita, who appears -- soaking wet and blissfully happy -- around the side of the house.

Sid smiles and leans down to scratch behind her ears. It’s okay if it’s just the two of them for now.

“You should probably stay outside and dry off,” he says as he climbs the steps and unlocks the door. Rita pushes it open with her nose and runs through the house and Sid sighs. “Or you could go jump on the couch while you’re all wet. That’s fine too.”

As soon as he shuts the door behind him there are footsteps bounding down the stairs and he doesn’t get any time to prepare before Taylor is throwing herself at him with enough force that he stumbles back against the front door.

“I’ve missed you,” Taylor says and then she’s abruptly stepping away and kneeling down so she can say hello to Rita who is bouncing up and down in excitement. “You’re all wet,” Taylor says with a laugh as Rita licks her face. “We’re gonna have to go swimming again later, aren’t we?” “What are you doing here?” Sid asks and Taylor rolls her eyes at Rita before she stands.

“God, Sid, you could at least pretend to be happy to see me, or you know, at least say hello.”

“Hi,” Sid says and Taylor nods. “What are you doing here? Did you break in?” She rolls her eyes again and Sid remembers just how young she really is.

“You gave me a key a few summers ago, remember? Right when you got the place.” Taylor looks down at Rita and claps her hands together. “I have a treat for you,” she says as she starts to walk into the kitchen with Rita right on her heels.

Sid drops his bag at the foot of the stairs and follows. “That key was supposed to be for emergencies.”

She looks at him gravely over her shoulder and says, “It was an emergency.”

“What happened?”

“I’m going to stay with you for the summer.”

It doesn’t answer his question and she doesn’t offer up any follow up information as she opens the fridge and pulls out a bone wrapped in butcher paper.

“She’s not eating that in the house,” Sid says and Taylor mumbles “mean” before she opens the the back door so she can let Rita out. “Thank you,” he says once she closes the door. “Now are you going to tell me what happened? Do Mom and Dad even know you’re here?”

She looks down at her feet and Sid groans and reaches for the phone on the wall. “Taylor, you didn’t run away, did you? You have to tell them where you are, I’m sure they’re worried about you.”

Taylor slaps her hand over the phone so he can’t pick it up. “They know I’m here. I had a huge fight with them in the parking lot of the train station in Halifax when they came to pick me up. I told them I was going to spend the summer with you and then I got on a bus and came here. They’re not worried about me. They didn’t even try to stop me.”

“What did you fight about?”

Taylor looks up guiltily and an unspoken you passes between them.

“Taylor,” he says, trying to skirt the line between disappointed and touched.

“They’re being ridiculous about you,” Taylor says with a stamp of her foot. “They’re not talking to you and you’re not talking to them and no one will tell me why but I’m sure I’m on your side about it. I’ve had enough. It’s been years, I had to do something.”

“What’s going on between me and Mom and Dad doesn’t have anything to do with you. You shouldn’t let that ruin your relationship with them. They love you.”

“Then they have to love you too. They don’t get to pick and choose between their kids like this. It’s either both of us or neither of us. Please let me stay here,” she begs. “I’ll help out around the house. I already aired the place out. It doesn’t even smell a little bit musty in here, does it? And I can take Rita for walks.”

“Rita kind of takes care of herself.”

“I can cook,” Taylor says desperately. “I went to the store and stocked the fridge for you and I can make dinner tonight and breakfast in the morning. Please, Sid, please.”

“Okay, all right, you can stay but you don’t have to do any of that. I’m not going to make you earn your keep.”

“Thank you, Sid,” Taylor says as she hugs him again. “But I am going to make dinner tonight to welcome you home. Right now you should go unpack and take a shower, maybe take a nap too.”

“I don’t need a nap,” Sid says and Taylor pats his shoulder.

“You’re getting old, Sid, just admit it.”

Despite his best efforts, Sid does fall asleep after his shower. He wakes up as the sun is just starting to go down and there’s clunking happening in the kitchen below.

Taylor is pouring dressing on a salad when Sid comes down.

She greets him with a smile before she says, “Do you feel better, old man,” and Sid laughs sarcastically but grabs plates and utensils and helps her set the picnic table outside.

They have grilled fish for dinner and Sid lets her have a beer for the hard work and Sid’s impressed by how she acts like it’s no big deal until she starts to burp the alphabet.

“Don’t they have etiquette classes in that expensive school Mom and Dad send you to?”

“Yes,” Taylor says with a groan. “They’re awful. The whole school is awful. I swear they’re more focused on teaching us how to find a husband after we graduate instead of getting us into college.” She takes another swing of her beer and looks so distraught Sid contemplates getting her another. “Plus the hockey thing.”

“They still won’t budge on that?”

“No. I talked to the dean and everything and all he could say is that it’s too dangerous. I told him that was the point. I fought with Mom and Dad about that too. I told them a school a few towns over was starting a women’s league and I wanted to transfer. They refused. They wouldn’t even listen to me when I told them how much happier I would be there. It’s like they don’t want me to be myself.”

She takes a slow sip from her bottle, her gaze resting beyond Sid’s shoulder and out over the lake.

Sid makes a sympathetic noise. Taylor has no idea how much he understands.

That night he lies awake in bed, the mid-afternoon nap to blame for his messed-up sleeping pattern.

The windows in his bedroom are wide open and the cool early summer air flows through, blowing the curtains in the breeze and carrying in the chirps of the tree frogs and crickets.

Rita is asleep at the foot of the bed with her chin resting across Sid’s left ankle as moonlight pours over the corner of the quilt.

He cranes his head and looks out the window and up at the moon, full and bright and hanging high in the sky.

Geno is out there, somewhere, he thinks. He could be lying in bed alone just as Sid is, staring up at the same moon. Or he could be with someone. Someone nameless, someone he doesn't care about and never will. A place holder. Or he could be with someone he’ll learn to love. Someone he can actually be with. A replacement.

He’s not sure which one hurts more, but he can’t shake the melancholy feeling that twists itself through his ribs and around his heart.

-

Taylor makes breakfast in the morning and he makes lunch. They trade back and forth on dinner.

Together they drag the fallen limbs deeper into the woods and Taylor holds the ladder while Sid climbs up and cleans out the gutters. He reads out on the patio while Taylor swims laps in the lake. He burns and then tans. He keeps himself busy and, for Taylor, he does his best to keep a smile on his face.

She’s always been able to see right through him and he feels like it’s only a matter of time before she figures out his biggest secret. He doesn’t need to speed the process up by acting like a heartbroken teenager.

With time he’ll get over this.

It just hurts like hell to wait.

-

Sid has been home for a little over a week when Taylor sets a cup of coffee down in front of him then leans her elbows against the counter with her hands folded beneath her chin.

“You want to tell me about him?”

“No,” Sid says as he picks up the mug and takes a sip. Then, he panics and says, “Who? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The coffee burns his tongue and he doesn't need to look up to know that Taylor is rolling her eyes.

“Whatever guy has you moping around like this.”

“I’m not moping,” he says then shakes his head because shit. “There’s no guy. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Taylor pushes herself back from the counter and stares at him. “I bet I do. This is why Mom and Dad aren’t talking to you, isn’t it? Or why you’re not talking to Mom and Dad. I don’t know which one it is but I don’t care. You can talk to me.”

Sid puts the cup down and stands up. “Leave it, Taylor, please.”

She groans. “Why are you so stubborn?” she asks with her hands on her hips. “You’ll feel better if you talk about it.”

“Taylor.” He says her name like a warning, one that she blissfully ignores.

“I’m staying with you all summer,” she says, following him out of the room and toward the stairs. “You can’t run away from me like you ran away from him.”

Sid turns on her. “I didn’t run away,” he snaps and Taylor takes a step back with wide eyes. “It wasn’t me. I wanted him to come back here with me but he was the one who took off. He didn’t want me. I love him and he doesn’t want me. Is that what you wanted to hear? Am I supposed to feel better now that I’ve said it? Because I fucking don’t.”

His whole body is drawn tight with anger and sadness and loss and he expects Taylor to shrink back -- to hate him. He’s never acted like this before, not around her, and she is another person that he is going to lose.

Instead she throws herself forward and wraps her arms around his neck. “I’m so sorry,” she says as she holds him close. Sid’s frozen for a moment before he pats the back of her head and tries to quiet her. “It’s okay.”

She shakes her head and pulls back. There are tears in her eyes and her face is red. “I didn’t know, Sid, I’m so sorry.”

“I know,” Sid says, “it’s okay.”

He holds her just as Flower had held him.

-

“I hate him.”

Sid looks at Taylor over their dinner and shakes his head. “You shouldn’t.”

“Why not? He hurt you. I hate that.”

“It wasn’t his fault. You don’t understand how things are. It’s complicated and hard and unfair.”

“So then it’s complicated and hard and unfair together. I don’t know why you both have to suffer alone. I don’t get it.”

“I hope you never do,” he says. “I hope you find someone and it’s easy. You don’t have to worry about it or get hurt. I hope you just fall in love and that’s it. You deserve that.”

Taylor covers his hand with her own. “So do you.” She squeezes his hand. “You really love him, don’t you?”

Sid shrugs, going for indifference, but it doesn’t work because Taylor squeezes his hand even harder.

“Can I please hate him?” She asks as she pinches her thumb and forefinger together. “Just a little?”

Sid laughs softly and nods. “Okay. I’ll allow it.”

-

Taylor seems hellbent on taking his mind off Geno.

She talks nonstop about her friends at school and what they’re doing over the summer or whatever funny thing Rita did while they were out for their morning walk.

But her favorite distraction is setting up a net in the driveway and demanding that Sid shoot a puck at her over and over again using his full strength.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he says as he lines up his next shot.

Taylor gives him an unimpressed look and knocks her blocker against her glove. “Don’t flatter yourself,” she says and Sid chuckles as he takes the shot.

It flies over her left shoulder and into the back of the net.

“You didn’t even try to stop that,” he says as Taylor straightens up in the goal and looks over Sid’s shoulder.

“Sid?”

There’s a yellow taxi coming up the drive and Rita jumps off the deck and runs at full speed to meet it as it rolls to a stop.

“Who is that?” Taylor asks and Sid shakes his head. He’s not expecting anyone.

Rita barks as she jumps up to look into the back seat and Sid’s about to call her off when the door opens and Geno steps out.

He has his bag over one shoulder and bright, yellow daisies in his hand.

He’s speaking softly to Rita, who is winding her way around his legs as the taxi turns around and starts back down the drive.

“Sid,” Taylor says. “Is that him?”

Sid nods. “Yeah. Yes.”

She steps forward with her stick raised. “You want me to get him?”

Sid grabs her arm and holds her back. “No, it’s okay. Can you go inside so I can talk to him?”

“Okay,” she says slowly, not taking her eyes off Geno. “If you need me I’ll be right inside.” She shakes her stick. “I’ll be ready.”

Taylor scowls as Geno comes closer and turns on her heels.

“Sister?” Geno asks as Taylor slams the front door behind her.

Sid shuts his eyes and flinches at the sound. It’s an old door. He just fixed it and it doesn’t need to be slammed like that.

He finds his voice and says, “Yes, that’s Taylor.”

“A goalie? Crazy like Flower?”

“No one is as crazy as Flower.”

“But still crazy.”

Sid’s about to get offended but he follows Geno’s gaze up to the house. Taylor is standing in the front window, holding the curtains back with one hand and her stick with the other. She looks as threatening as a little, blonde 15-year-old girl can be.

He waves her off and the curtains flutter closed. “Why are you here?” Sid asks and Geno tears his eyes away from the window. “How’d you even know where I lived?”

“Flower. I ask for your address and he tells me he kill me if I hurt you. These are for you.” He holds out the daisies and Sid’s slow to take them. “Know you want sunflowers, but they not ready yet. Ask every florist in Halifax and everyone say same thing. Not ready until midsummer. I say I need sunflowers, very important. They tell me, ‘Your girl, she must be very special if you go through all this for her.’ I say yes.”

“But why are you here?”

The smile slips off Geno’s face and his shoulders drop. “Nowhere else to go,” he says and Sid’s blood boils.

“You think you can just show up because you don’t know what else to do?”

“Nowhere else to go because there’s nowhere else I want to be. Everything I say to you that day … wasn’t true. Only say because I think will be easier. Maybe you hate me and you won’t hurt. Maybe I hate myself little bit and I think you can do better than me. Won’t feel so guilty.” He touches Sid’s hand. “Didn’t work. I love you, Sid. Never should have left you.” He cups Sid’s face with his hand and Sid leans into the touch. “Going to be hard and it’s going to hurt sometimes. We’re going to have to pretend and lie and it won’t be fair but would like to stay if you still want me. Wrote to my parents. Told them I’m staying in Canada. Found love and can’t leave.”

Sid takes a sharp breath. “What did they say?”

Geno shrugs. “Didn’t get letter back yet. Probably won’t. Not going to be happy some nice, pretty Canadian steal me away but … can’t help.”

Sid laughs wetly and reaches out to touch him. Geno eagerly moves into Sid’s space and wraps his arms around him.

“Told them I can’t come back because I need to go home.”

Sid pulls himself out of Geno’s arms. “What are you talking about?”

Geno presses his hand over Sid’s heart, solid and warm then leans in to press their foreheads together. “Home,” he says, “finally home.”