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Seasons Of My Life

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"John Saxby?"

The nurse looks up from her pile of notes at the ward desk. "Bed six," she says, nodding Gheorghe to the door behind him. "Mind out, he's not in the best of moods."

Gheorghe manages half a smile. He doesn't say, when is he ever. Instead, he walks into the ward, past beds one to four, and stands at the end of bed six.

Johnny is sat up in bed, looking mutinous, in a pair of his dad's pyjamas. "Took you long enough," he says finally. It's dark outside and the end of the ward is all windows, and no one's properly closed the blinds.

Gheorghe walks over to the window and picks up one of the plastic chairs from the stack for visitors, and carries it back over to Johnny's bed, setting it down next to the bed. He sits down. There's a pause, and then he reaches for Johnny's hand, his skin pale, fingernails bitten down, a band around his wrist with his name and date of birth on. He holds Johnny's hand in his for a moment, before leaning in and kissing it.

Johnny's fingers twitch.

"It was a long way back."

Johnny shoulders go up, then down again. His hand is still in Gheorghe's.

"Does it hurt?"

"It's better," Johnny says. He'd been off since before Gheorghe had left for Romania, a bit of a stomach ache that wouldn't go away. It had taken Johnny's nan ringing Gheorghe to tell him that Johnny was in hospital having his appendix out before Gheorghe'd known it was anything serious or more painful, or that the stomach ache hadn't gone away once Gheorghe had left.

"That's good," Gheorghe says.

"Visiting's almost over."

Gheorghe nods. "I'll come tomorrow."

"What about the beasts? Can't just come tomorrow."

"I can," Gheorghe says. "Don't worry. I'll be here."

Something flickers in Johnny's face. Gheorghe's still learning to read what Johnny will give him.

"I'l be here," he says.

"If you want." Johnny looks away. There's a bottle of orange squash on the table by the bed, next to a jug and a cup. There's also what looks like the remains of Johnny's dinner. It's an unrecognisable sludge on the plate, maybe an omelette, so it's hardly surprising it's gone uneaten. There's a little TV screen pulled down on an arm from above the bed; it's playing a quiz show without the sound on.

"Are you eating?"

"Nothing I like."

"I'll bring you something."

"Don't have to."

Gheorghe has learned to read Johnny's no too. He doesn't push it. He waits a little, then laces his fingers with Johnny's, turning their palms so they're touching.

Something in Johnny's shoulders settles, just a little, just enough, and Gheorghe lets out a breath.

~*~

 

Gheorghe had called the ward in the morning and asked what Johnny was having for his tea. He'd left a message to say he'd be in later that afternoon.

When he arrives, he's not sure his message ever got to Johnny, because Johnny just looks miserable and lonely and bad tempered. They're just serving dinner, and Johnny has a plate of tomato pasta in front of him, with a little bread and butter on the side, and a pot of yogurt for afters.

Gheorghe goes to the window and gets one of the visitor's chairs, and positions it by the side of Johnny's bed. He moves the table a little closer to where Johnny's sitting, mutinously holding a fork and not eating anything. Then he reaches into his pocket and comes out with some little folded twists of greaseproof paper. Then he takes Johnny's fork, takes a little mouthful of his meal, and untwists the papers. There's salt in one, pepper in another, dried oregano in the third. He sprinkles them on - saving a little salt for the bread and butter - and stirs it all in. Then he unwraps a little packet of cheese, homemade sheep's cheese from the farm, and crumbles it on top. Then he hands the fork to Johnny.

"Try it now," he says. "It's better."

Johnny does. He never says whether he likes it more, but he always finishes his plate after Gheorghe's had a go at it.

"I''m sorry I wasn't here when you were sick," Gheorghe says finally, when Johnny's half way through eating. He's slower than usual, not inhaling his food like he does after a day on the farm.

"'S'allright," Johnny says.

"You could have rung."

Johnny just shrugs. "Don't be soft."

Gheorghe does not smile on the outside, but he is on the inside. Johnny doesn't like the phone. He doesn't think he has anything to say worth hearing, but Gheorghe would happily listen to him breathing. He doesn't like leaving him.

The nurse comes over with a mug for Johnny. She's the same one who'd directed Gheorghe to his bed yesterday. "Tea, John?"

He nods.

"Good to see you eating, finally." There's an assessing look thrown in Gheorghe's direction. "Who's this then?"

"Gheorghe," Johnny says, which in no way explains who he is. Gheorghe isn't sure Johnny has words for what they are to each other.

"Your young man, is it?"

Johnny shrugs his yes. The nurse just smiles, and gives him unsweetened tea.

"Sugar?" Gheorghe asks, on Johnny's behalf.

She gives him a little sachet, and Gheorghe tears it open and stirs it into Johnny's mug before sliding it a little closer to Johnny's hand.

"Drink that," he says. "Then you can come home."

"You tell him, Gheorghe," the nurse says, only mangling the pronunciation a bit.

When Gheorghe leaves for the night, he kisses Johnny goodnight, careless about who might see, and Johnny kisses back.

~*~

 

"You come back here this afternoon, mind," Deirdre says as Gheorghe and Johnny file out in the morning, Gheorghe with the last bit of bacon wrapped in a slice of bread, Johnny still gulping down his tea even as he's putting on his wellies. "Got a bit of something needs doing in the house."

"Nan," Johnny complains, but Gheorghe just pushes him out of the door, tearing the bread in half so that Johnny can have another bite of bacon too.

"Stop your whining," Deirdre calls after them. "Just be back here for your lunch."

Johnny's dad's still sitting at the table; he doesn't like to eat in front of them if possible.

"And you can stop looking like that too," Deirdre says to Martin as Gheorghe pulls the door to after them. "It's the right time and you know it."

The right time, apparently, is to turn the upstairs into a right mess because Johnny's nan has it in her head that they need to swap the beds around.

"Not right is it, the two of you sleeping in a single when there's a double going spare."

"I'm not having me dad's bed," Johnny tries to tell her.

"You are," Martin says. He's sitting in his chair by the window, blanket over his knees to keep away the draft. His speech is thick and slow and sometimes he can't make the words come out at all. "You are."

"Nan," Johnny says. "Come on."

"No," Deirdre says. She's got her cardigan buttoned up tight. "You either help or I do it myself."

Gheorghe puts a hand on Johnny's shoulder. "Thank you, Deirdre, Martin," he says. There won't be much room in Johnny's bedroom with the bigger bed, but maybe he can pull all the furniture into the middle of the room and give the walls a paint. He's been thinking about it. Johnny's had that room his whole life. It needs a good freshen up. Make it theirs.

"It's my dad's bed," Johnny says. "He's not having mine. It's not right."

"It'll be easier with your dad's chair if we've got a bit more room in that bedroom," Deirdre says firmly. Gheorghe knows as well as she does that this isn't an ideal solution, but it's the only one they've got. Gheorghe's staying and it's Johnny's farm now. They need a good sleep. There's a lot to do.

"I dunno," Johnny says. "'S'not right."

"You're getting on my wick," Martin says. It takes him a while to get it out. Johnny rolls his eyes.

"Well," Deirdre says. "We're doing it, with or without your help."

It takes all afternoon, but that evening, after the beasts have been fed, Gheorghe and Johnny stand in their bedroom and look at their new bed. Deirdre's made it up for them, fresh sheets, one pillow each. The blanket Gheorghe had brought back from Romania is folded over the bottom. The door's closed, and there's quiet from the rest of the house. Martin's asleep and Deirdre's gone to bed.

"It's proper, like, now, innit?" Johnny says.

"It was before." Gheorghe is as permanent here as he's ever been anywhere.

"Room for two of us."

"There was before." They'd taken to falling asleep wrapped around each other, waking up and having to peel themselves apart. He slides his hand into the small of Johnny's back, under his t-shirt. The upstairs rooms are normally a bit cold because there's no central heating and the convection heater costs money, but Deirdre must have left it on for them tonight because the room's warm.

Johnny glances at him. "You taking your clothes off, or what?"

"Or what," Gheorghe says, but he grins, and takes his jumper off.

"Or what," Johnny says, and he climbs into bed, leaving a whole acre of space for Gheorghe, who gets in after him and presses close to Johnny's back, kissing his shoulder. The space behind him lies empty.

Johnny shivers, and under the covers, laces his fingers with Gheorghe's.

~*~

 

"You get them in," Johnny says, when they get to the pub. He fumbles in his pocket for a note, and hands Gheorghe a crumpled fiver. "I'm havin' a smoke."

Gheorghe doesn't point out that they've just had one. It's a bit easier in the pub now, since it's become clear that Gheorghe's here to stay and that he does the shopping sometimes with Deirdre. She's a fierce one, Johnny's nan. Doesn't take prisoners. So it's not the pub Johnny's avoiding; they've just walked two miles to get here.

He suspects it's the girl at the bar having a drink. The girl with the short fringe and the leather jacket. The girl with the friend Johnny fucked in the toilets that time he tried to fuck everything up and almost succeeded.

"All right," he says. "But don't be long."

"Stop your mithering," Johnny says. He's already cupping his hands around his cigarette, trying to get it lit.

Gheorghe goes inside and orders them two pints, topping up the fiver with some change from his pocket. He holds it in his hand, ready to pay. The girl's watching him.

"Is that Johnny outside?"

"Yeah," Gheorghe says, as Gloria fills his two pints.

"He all right? My mum says he was in hospital."

"Yes," Gheorghe says. "It was his appendix."

"Painful," she says. "You here for good, then?"

"I hope so."

"He looks happier," she says, nodding outside. Johnny's doing a bad job of pretending not to watch them. "My mum says he's been drinking less."

"Gossip's bad."

"Sometimes it's just looking out for people." She's leaning over the bar now. "I'll get these. Gloria, how much?"

"You don't need to do that."

"Maybe I do," she says. "Go on, get a table." She pauses. "My name's Robyn, by the way."

"Gheorghe," Gheorghe says. "And thank you."

He doesn't know what to say to her when she comes over with her drink. They sit at the table in the corner with her pint and his pint and Johnny's untouched one.

"Are you at university?" he asks finally.

"Yeah," she says. "It's holidays, though."

"No friends with you this time?"

"Nah," she says. She glances through the window at Johnny. "He was an idiot, you know."

He doesn't know what she does know. "I know," he says. Then, to make it clear. "We made it up."

"I can see that."

"I left and he came to get me." He doesn't know why he's telling. He doesn't know what Johnny would want him to tell. Probably nothing. Johnny doesn't say anything out loud if he doesn't have to. He still doesn't. Gheorghe knows a way inside though. No one else does.

"Did he now," she says.

"Did you go to school together?"

"Yes," she says. Johnny must have finished his cigarette by now, but he's still not coming in. "He was nice at school, Johnny was. Dead quiet, though. Kept it all inside." There's a pause. "Then his dad had that stroke. He was never going to get out of here before that, but now he's really never."

"He came to Scotland to get me."

"Probably the further he's ever been." She looks out the window at Johnny. "You've come a long way, though, haven't you?"

"Romania," he says. "I think maybe he's come further than you give him credit for."

She glances at him. "Oh yeah?"

"Yes," Gheorghe says. Not everyone's journeys have to be measured in actual miles.

"What are you doing back here?" Johnny says, coming over. It's cold out, and he rubs his hands together before pulling out his chair.

"Visiting my mum, aren't I?" Robyn says. "You know how she is. Tells me she's missing me, then I come home and there's a box of my stuff she wants me to, like, chuck out or whatever because it's taking up room."

"So you come here to gawp at the locals."

"I'm local," she says. "Uni's not forever, you know."

"Like you'd come back," he says. "Like anyone would ever come back here."

"I did," Gheorghe says. He waits until Johnny looks across at him. "And you did. With me."

"Yeah, well," Johnny says. There's a hint of pink across his cheekbones. "That were different."

"Uh-huh," Robyn says. "Was it now." She waits. No one says anything. Johnny's cheeks are still a little flushed, but he has just come in from the cold. "I might come home for the summer holidays. If you need any help on the farm, you should let me know."

Johnny looks at her. "What are you on about? Like you'd come up and work on the farm, all hours, covered in dirt."

"You do it," she says stoutly. "You both do it."

"Yeah, well," he says. "That's different."

"I heard about your dad. I'm just saying. If you need someone for the holidays."

"We might make cheese," Gheorghe says, when Johnny doesn't say anything.

"Like we can afford all the faffing about getting it all set up," Johnny says. They've had this conversation before. They'll have it again. Johnny isn't saying no. He just doesn't like change. And they haven't made money before.

"It's good cheese," Gheorghe tells Robyn. "Sheep's cheese."

"I like cheese," she says.

"So does he."

Johnny drinks more of his pint. It means, let's not talk about this now.

Gheorghe doesn't mind. They've got time. It's them now. Them and their farm and their future.

~*~

 

Gheorghe has a blanket around his shoulders. Someone's brought him a cup of tea and a biscuit. It's not the kind of biscuit he has when he's at the farm; it's bigger and thicker and chewier, and out of a paper bag.

His face aches.

The bike, the one he'd been riding when the van had hit him, is still lying on its side in the middle of the road. There are police here, just a car and a couple of officers, one of them directing the small but steady stream of traffic around the bike and the van.

He's been breathalysed. One of the police officers wasn't sure about Gheorghe's accent, but he's only had tea today, nothing stronger. Neither had the other driver, but he's got a cut on his head that might need stitches. Gheorghe's just bruised. The woman in the house across the road's rung up to the farm. She's the one who'd brought him tea and a biscuit. His hand shakes a bit, but he is a bit knocked up. He'd been at the junction when the van had hit him, neither of them going at any particular speed.

He hears the roar of Johnny's Landrover before he sees it come over the brow of the hill. It needs a good going over and a bit of a tune up before its MOT, but neither of them have had the time or the inclination.

Johnny parks behind the police car and jumps out even before the engine's properly died away. He looks about as shook up as Gheorghe feels.

He hurries across the road and then comes to a standstill a few feet from the back of the ambulance. Gheorghe is sitting on the wall by the open back door.

"What happened?"

"Accident," Gheorghe says. He puts the cup down on the wall next to him so that Johnny doesn't see his hand shake. "Just an accident."

"You all right?"

"Course," he says. "Don't know about the bike."

"Bugger the bike," Johnny says, which is shit, because he was whining about the cost of putting the Landrover in for its MOT, let alone fixing the bike. He clenches his fists. "Bugger the bike."

"Johnny—"

"I thought—" his voice catches. He stops himself. "Are you hurt?"

"Just bruised," Gheorghe says, and he stands up to prove it. Everything aches.

Johnny nods, the smallest inclination of his chin.

"I'm all right," Gheorghe says, which is mostly the truth, and then Johnny makes a choked sound and moves, closing the distance between them and wrapping his arms around Gheorghe's bruised shoulders, hiding his face in his neck.

Gheorghe doesn't cry but he could cry at this. He rests his hand in the hollow between Johnny's shoulders. He doesn't care who's looking.

"My nan called me in and she told me and I thought—" Johnny stumbles over his words. "I thought you'd be on your way to hospital."

"I'm not hurt."

"I can drive you to hospital."

"I don't need to go." He doesn't.

Johnny pulls away from their hug. His eyes are red. "Are you lying?"

"No." He shakes his head. "I was at the junction. I came out from behind the parked car, the van took the corner too sharp. Just came off the bike."

"Ambulance man just said painkillers and a bit of rest." It's the woman from the house opposite, the one who'd brought him tea and the blanket. "You can take him home, John. Keep an eye out for concussion—"

"Concussion?" Johnny looks wild.

"Just in case," she says. "I'll ring up your nan. Tell her too. You take him home, hey? We'll look after the bike when the police are done with it. Sort it out later."

Johnny still hasn't let go of him, hands tight on Gheorghe's arms. "Are you sure? He's all right?"

"He's just fine, John," she says again. "Few bruises, isn't that right, Gheorghe?" She'd learnt his name when she'd brought him the blanket. She'd rung the ambulance too, come straight out of her house at the sound of the accident. "Don't you go getting upset, John."

Because Johnny was. Johnny, who didn't, who couldn't. His shoulders shake. His eyes are wet.

"I thought—" he says.

"I know, love," she says. "It's all all right. It's just a bit of a shock. You get your lad here home, have your nan make you both some tea. Tell her I'll be up later."

"Come on," Gheorghe says, to Johnny, who keeps it all locked up inside. "Take me home."

Johnny looks at him, wild-eyed. "I thought you were hurt."

"No," Gheorghe says. "It's all right. I'm all right."

"I didn't know what I was going to do."

"It's all right," Gheorghe says, even though it feels like he's jolted every bone in his body. "I'm all right."

Johnny just keeps on looking at him.

"We'll go home," Gheorghe says. "Come on."

"I thought—"

"I know," Gheorghe says.

The woman from across the road puts her hand on Johnny's shoulder. "Come inside," she says. "Both of you come inside. Cup of tea. Get this one warm before you drive home." She tucks her hand into Johnny's arm. "Nice lad this one. Better than some of the lads round here."

Gheorghe lets out a breath. It shakes. He picks up his mug from the wall he was sitting on, and follows Johnny across the road, and inside.

~*~

 

Johnny comes home from the shop with a couple of tins of fruit cocktail and a packet of biscuits that he puts on the arm of the sofa next to where Gheorghe's sitting and watching the telly.

"What are they?"

"Biscuits," Johnny says, as if Gheorghe's stupid.

Gheorghe can see the tins of fruit cocktail through the plastic bag. "Did you get your dad's medicine?" he asks, instead of wondering why there's a packet of biscuits with his name on it when Johnny's never bought him anything, or been to the shops once since they'd met.

"Yeah," Johnny says. Deirdre had forgotten to go to the chemist so Johnny had offered to go instead. "Got there just before it closed."

The biscuits are Lotus Biscoff biscuits, which Gheorghe hasn't had before. When he opens the packet, they're all in individually wrapped packets of two biscuits each. He takes one out carefully, unwrapping it and catching the crumbs in his palm. Johnny stands at the end of the sofa with his carrier bag, and watches.

"Thank you," Gheorghe says. "They're very nice."

"You haven't eaten them yet."

"I can still say thank you."

"Where's Nan?"

"Upstairs with your dad."

Johnny nods, then impulsively leans down and kisses the corner of Gheorghe's mouth.

Gheorghe grins. He tilts his chin up, asking for another one, and Johnny rolls his eyes as he crouches down, bag going down on the floor as he wraps his arms around Gheorghe's neck from behind and kisses him again.

"Thank you for the biscuits."

"They're just biscuits." Johnny's gone a bit pink. For a moment, Gheorghe imagines him standing in the shop in front of the biscuits, choosing some just for him. Such a small, insignificant moment in a life. Such a big thing in Johnny's.

"No, they're not," Gheorghe says. He takes a bite of one of the biscuits.

"Don't get weird about it," Johnny says. "You'd think I'd asked you to get wed or summat, the way you're going on. They're just biscuits."

"They're nice," Gheorghe says. He offers Johnny the second one from the packet, and Johnny takes half of one, but looks a little bemused by it. He waits until Johnny's put it in his mouth. "You could be asking, you know. I might even say yes."

Johnny really does go red at that. He shoves a little at Gheorghe's shoulder. "Shut it, you."

"You shut it."

"No, you."

Gheorghe grins, and pulls Johnny round and onto the sofa with him so that he's sprawled across Gheorghe's front.

"My nan will come down."

"She knows we get up to worse." He busies himself settling Johnny in front of him, and wrapping an arm around his waist, getting comfortable. "And we're just watching television."

There's a pause before Johnny's answer, his quiet, yeah.

There's a picture on the mantelpiece that wasn't there before; a little 6x4 snapshot of Gheorghe's family. Deirdre had made space for it when he'd got back from Romania the last time. She dusts it now, regular as clockwork. There's another one of his blankets over the back of the sofa, the twin to the one they have upstairs on their bed. Sometimes in the evenings when it's cold, he puts it over Johnny so that he can get warm. Gheorghe doesn't like it when he gets cold.

He's not going anywhere. He hopes Johnny knows that now. He's here to stay.

~*~

 

"Are you mad?" Johnny asks, "How the hell do you think we're going to find the money to set up an actual fucking dairy, what the fuck do you think's going to happen? Bloody cheese fairy comes down or whatever and gives us, like, a fucking wad of cash or what?"

"We could do it," Gheorghe says stubbornly. He's been to the library in town, read the books, been online. He's even talked to some other farmers who make cheese locally. They've said he and Johnny can come and look around, but Johnny is fucking terrified of change and won't go near it.

"We could not," Johnny says. They're in the barn, hoiking great big bales of hay around. Gheorghe's got hay down the back of his overalls, and it itches. "What do you think you're on? It's not even your fucking farm."

Gheorghe rolls his eyes. "It's our future," he says. "I'm not letting this farm go the same way my parents' farm did. I told you that. It's got to change. That's what you told your dad, isn't it? It's going to change."

Johnny drops a bale. "Where are we going to get the money?"

Gheorghe tilts his chin up. "We'll get it," he says. "We don't need to have it all straight away. We've got the sheep. There's a farm near Hebden Bridge that just started out with a portakabin. You've just got to want it."

Johnny looks at him. "I do want it," he says finally. "Course I want it. Just don't know how we're going to get it. It's not exactly nice up here, is it? Middle of fucking nowhere. Half the time I don't think you're going to stay."

"I'm staying," Gheorghe says. "I'm staying 'cause I'm with you."

"What the fuck for," Johnny says, chucking the hay bale on top of another one. "What the fuck do you want to be with me for?"

Gheorghe grabs his arm. "Because I love you," he says. Johnny's eyes widen. "I love you and you love me. Don't you?"

Johnny swallows.

"Don't you?"

"Course I do," Johnny says. He's reaching for Gheorghe even as Gheorghe's reaching for him. "Course I fucking do."

They fuck on the hay bales, both of them half in and half out of their overalls, the smell of hay in their nostrils and scratching at their skin and under their nails. Johnny fucks him with spit for lube and it hurts and it's dirty but Gheorghe fucking loves him and he wants this as much as Johnny does. He pushes Johnny onto his back after he's come and Johnny hasn't, and finishes him off with his mouth, spitting Johnny's come onto the ground afterwards, mud and hay and dirt and love.

They lay together after, Gheorghe with his cheek pressed to Johnny's shoulder, a moment of respite in the middle of their day.

"You know that paint you got," Gheorghe says.

"Yeah."

It's a tub of emulsion, for internal walls not external, a can with a bash on one side and a reduced sticker on the other side. It's sat in the shed for a few weeks now, with no movement either onto the shelves or into the house.

"Did you have plans for it?"

There's a pause. "No."

Gheorghe leans down and touches his mouth to one of Johnny's nipples. They're pebbled against the cold. They need a blanket, or to at least cover up again, but neither of them do. "So, would you mind if I painted our bedroom with it?"

"When are we going to have time for that?"

"This weekend, I thought."

Johnny's playing with Gheorghe's hair, running his fingers through it. "It's a day's work. What about 't'beasts?"

Gheorghe shrugs. "We can make it work."

"You keep saying that."

"I keep being right." There's another pause, a longer one this time. "We could put some shelves up, after."

"You've got those books in a box," Johnny says. "The ones you brought back from Romania last time. I've seen 'em. Put them on a shelf."

"It'll be nice," Gheorghe says.

"I suppose," Johnny says, and then he rolls Gheorghe onto his back and takes his cock in his mouth.

Gheorghe lies back and thinks about their bedroom, and them, and their future, and - after a bit - he comes.

~*~

 

Johnny's not at the table when Gheorghe finally comes down from the top field where he's been mending the fence.

"Where is he?" he asks, sitting down to a plate of corned beef and onion sandwiches and a big mug of tea.

"He's been in for his lunch already," Deirdre says.

"He's busy," Martin says. Deirdre's feeding him soup because he's been having some problems chewing recently. It's more doctor's appointments and a trip to the hospital. Johnny goes silent if Gheorghe tries to talk to him about it, but they all know his dad's getting worse.

"Busy doing what?" He likes Deirdre's corned beef and onion sandwiches.

Deirdre looks at him over the top of Martin's soup. "Go down and see him, after, if you like. He's down on't main road."

"All right." He eats the rest of his lunch quickly, finishing it off by downing his tea.

"Careful," Deirdre says. "You'll get indigestion."

"Maybe," Gheorghe says, but he takes a spare cheese sandwich with him to have on the way.

Johnny is down by the main road, at the bit where their track meets the road. The old farm sign is on the ground, and Johnny's putting up a new one.

"A new sign?" he asks, before he gets down to where Johnny is.

Johnny stops hammering. "Yeah," he says. "Is that a cheese sandwich?"

"Would you like half?"

"Yeah, all right," Johnny says. "Do you want to see?"

"I didn't know we were getting a new sign."

"Well, we are," Johnny says. He steps back, considering. "Have a look, come on."

Gheorghe tears the bread roll in half and hands over half to Johnny, who looks nervous.

He should, it turns out, because when Gheorghe turns back to look at the sign, it says SAXBY FARM in big letters, and then underneath it says J. SAXBY AND G. IONESCU. Their names aren't big enough to see if you're driving past, but if you're stopping, then you see them. Gheorghe's name next to Johnny's.

"I didn't know how else to say it," Johnny says, awkward like. "So everyone would know it wa'n't just mine anymore. It were both of ours. Cos it is, right? You're putting as much into it as I am."

"What's your dad and nan say?"

Johnny shrugs. He eats his sandwich. "My nan picked the sign up for me yesterday, like. She's not thrown us out yet. And that old sign was falling apart."

"Farm's not though, is it? Not anymore."

"No," Johnny says. "Not anymore."

~*~

 

"Are you planning on giving away all of our profits, or what?" Johnny asks when Gheorghe opens a block of cheese and cuts it into tiny cubes before sliding it onto a plate in the middle of their stall.

"It's a good thing to do, letting people try the cheese," Gheorghe says without rancour. He stands back. He hadn't been too sure how it would go, taking their cheese to market, but so far it's going all right. They've sold a bit and had a bit of interest and Johnny's gone for a wander and come back with two cups of tea. They're mostly selling the stuff they used Mr Brillby's dairy to make earlier in the year, when they were still wrestling with how best to make a go of their cheesemaking.

"It's giving it away," Johnny says. "You're cutting it up and giving it away."

"I'll give you away in a minute," Gheorghe says. Johnny's wearing one of Gheorghe's sweaters under his coat, and he's pretending he isn't so that Gheorghe doesn't bring it up. He hasn't worked it out yet that Johnny wearing his clothes makes Gheorghe want to kiss him all over. "I am going over there to talk to the bread stall."

"Why?"

"Because," Gheorghe says, and leaves.

It ends up being a good conversation; the bread stall takes a sample plate of the cheese and Gheorghe takes a sample plate of their bread. They're close enough together at the market that they can direct customers to each other with ease. Johnny, however, is sullen when Gheorghe gets back.

"Are you jealous?" Gheorghe asks finally.

"They're good looking girls," Johnny says, of the two women running the bread stall.

Gheorghe rolls his eyes. "But you are my good looking boy," he says. "Stop fishing for compliments."

"I'm not," Johnny says, and kicks the table leg.

Gheorghe takes him by the shoulders. "This is why you live on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere, isn't it? No other people. Just sheep and cows."

"No," Johnny says, not meeting his eyes.

"My good looking boy," Gheorghe says. "Our good looking sheep. Our good looking cheese."

"Cheese i'nt good looking."

"Ours is," Gheorghe says. "You are." He tilts Johnny's chin up. "Don't be an idiot."

"I'm not," Johnny says, and he isn't, after that. Not any more than usual, anyway, and when it comes to lunchtime he disappears and comes back with two more cups of tea to have with their ham sandwiches from home. They eat in between customers and afterwards, when there's a quiet moment, Johnny kisses him on the cheek.

They stop for chips on the way back through Keighley, and eat them in a car park with the windows wound down.

"It was all right, that, wasn't it?" Johnny says finally, licking up salt and vinegar with his fingertip.

"Which bit?"

"All of it," Johnny says. "Us. Cheese."

"Our good looking sheep."

"Our good looking sheep," Johnny agrees.

"Get away with you," Gheorghe says, in his best approximation of a Yorkshire accent.

Johnny bursts out laughing, and he's still laughing as he reverses them out of the parking space, and starts to drive them home.

~*~

 

It's evening by the time they finish up. It's almost getting dark, but instead of setting out for the quad bike, Gheorghe sets off up the hill instead, heading for the top. Johnny runs to catch up.

"What are you doing?"

"Walking," Gheorghe says. "You coming?"

"Course I am," Johnny says. It's been a long couple of days of lambing, even after bringing most of the ewes down to be nearer the farmhouse. But they're done now. Gheorghe could probably sleep for a week if given the chance.

They're farmers, though, so there's never a chance. He strides on instead, up to the crest of the hill and to the moors stretching out in front of them for miles and miles and miles, the sun just starting to dip beneath the hills on the horizon.

"It's beautiful here," Gheorghe says.

"You said that before," Johnny says, next to him.

"I meant it before," Gheorghe says. It's different up here today, though. The world's different. Johnny's different. All of them; Deirdre and Martin and Johnny. The sharp edges seem blunter. Johnny's desperate, endless, self-destructive loneliness is gone. There's just him left, and Gheorghe loves him. He loves him.

"We could get wed, you know," Johnny says. "If that's what you want."

Gheorghe looks at him, trying to read Johnny's face. "Are you asking?"

"Get away," Johnny says, but he doesn't look away. He's… he's smiling.

"Are you asking?" Gheorghe asks again.

Johnny's chin tilts up. "Mebbe," he says. Then, "I want to be with you. I only ever want to be with you. That's what I want. That's what I keep wanting."

Gheorghe lets out a breath. "All right," he says, and Johnny's smile turns brilliant.

The sunlight fades to dusk, and Gheorghe smiles back.

[end]